I’m sitting here waiting for paint to dry… it is the biggest piece I have painted.
I tell myself that I am not depressed… that I am not really all that sad.
I tell myself that the darkest days, the hardest days are behind me.
And I realize that sometimes I spend time worrying about depression.
That I have anxiety about anxiety.
That I am often more worried about slipping into that darkness
Worried about being alone
Worried about not having that rigid and busy schedule for work
Worried about not having people around
Worried about me… and my thoughts and my head
Worried about what I tell myself …inside
And then the reality is that
There is a yard full of ivy in LA that needs to be pulled.
I have no money.
There is a bathroom here and a fence around my yard that need lots and lots of work.
There is lots of work
An art show
At least three books to read
And I tell myself that I have no fucking time to be depressed.
It’s too hot anyway.
I don’t think that I will get over the death of my son.
I don’t think I will ever get over that feeling that I have to be here for Ethan.
I don’t think that I will ever get over that feeling that somehow, in some way that I wasn’t… that I missed something.
And I know that I will always be one phone call from knowing a very different present… one in which Ethan is alive and I have a much different set of problems to deal with.
I don’t think I will get beyond that fear of losing someone else close to me…
And I don’t think I will ever stop wondering if my life is somehow supposed to be very very different.
And I will always wonder what his life is like in this other reality. Where Ethan is alive and graduating college and living the whole rest of his life… and I get to watch.
So Fathers Day is upon me again.
There were times when he was young that I would stand at the door of his room and listen to both my boys sleep.
And there were times when I held him high…
And when I held him close
And put my head against his small chest to hear the beats of that tiny heart.
And to know now that that sound is missing from this earth
That the world is absent that solid rhythm
Is much more than any father should bear
And yet I bear that silence.
There are times now when I stand at the door of an empty room
And I listen to the silence
And times when I hold my empty arms high
And hold my head against the empty sky
And listen for the sound.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” It isn’t in the bible.
The bible does talk a lot about love. It says that you will know that people are Christians by their love one for another. That everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. It commands us to love… love one another. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemy. Love those who persecute you. It is a tall order.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Patient, kind, not envious or boastful or proud… I’m going to put up with a lot. I’m going to be giving and forgiving. I am not looking to get some thing. I’m not in this for me. I don’t care what you did. Your “sin” is irrelevant. I forgive you. Empathy… I feel for you. Love is that human connection. A deep human connection. One that says, hey, I am with you. I got your back. And it is going to cost you. No greater love, the book says, is there than laying down your life for someone…
You can’t love someone if you aren’t for him. You don’t love them if you don’t have his back. You can’t love if you aren’t willing to risk it, to pay whatever cost it may exact from you. It has to be more than pity. It has to be more than a religious agenda to make converts or earn eternal brownie points. You have to be willing to take someone… even an enemy or persecutor, and find a connection. To be on that person’s side.
So the next time someone is out there loving the sinner and hating the sin… if that someone is you, ask yourself if you have this sinner’s back. Are you with them? Are you for them? Or are they just some mark, some piece in an agenda to get something for yourself. Love is a tall order.
When my son took his life, I asked, “Why?” Everyone asked why.
And I think about that question, because there really is no reason that would suffice…
That would make it make sense. That would make the pain go away.
And we always want to know… how to interpret it. How to wrap it up. How to make it all neat and tidy…
We see it whenever there is a celebrity suicide.
For a moment we discuss it like it is a serious topic, that we should do something about.
For a moment we grieve and pay tribute
And construct some sort of neat narrative
That will turn that person’s entire life into some kind of cautionary tale
About drugs or fame or mental illness
And how sad it all is.
And the press asks why and pretends to have an answer…
Maybe given by an expert. But I think about the question.
And somewhere they are burying a girl that is gone too young
And the mother will ask the priest why.
And the girl that was bullied or the boy molested or the kid that is outside every group…
But the news will cover that one that was on Facebook.
And there is that article about the kid that was eight.
And at the edge of that reservation, the spring melt reveals yet another cluster
Quietly covered by a hand full of bureaus… each asking why so many young indigenous kids end their lives.
And they talk about 21 vets that kill themselves every day.
And talk about PTSD. And mental health. And veteran’s services.
We ask why. 21 times a day. And some people will give you some very good answers.
Because why matters.
And I think about the question.
We ask the same kind of things about mass shooters,
The kind that just snapped. And we want to know why…
Or about that celebrity overdose… or the child of celebrity.
And all of them or any of them
Could be the modern equivalent of that after school movie.
A morality play.
A little red riding hood warning to stay on the path.
And we have to tell each other why it happened.
We have to tell ourselves why it happened. Give an answer.
It becomes a song that is sad
Or a poem no one reads
It is the cautionary tale
It has a beginning and middle and end.
It has a lesson, like a fable.
That is supposed to keep us from killing ourselves
By accidental overdose
By intentional act
By not staying on the path
And talking to wolves.
Somewhere in some garage is cleaning up the blood
Using gloves and bleach
And somewhere a father is walking in a cold damp night…
Counting his steps and watching his breath dissipate.
And somewhere a child grows up wondering if his path
Will follow his father’s at some age…
A life of addiction punctuated by a loud bang.
All wrapped up with a tidy bow.
Not because we ask why, but because we answer…
And we accept the answer.
And I think about the question.
And maybe we are asking the wrong question.
I am driving and hit by that wave of sadness and it is neither unusual or unexpected
Home is up the mountain. The sun is setting. And the music on the radio reminds me of my son. Ethan… there is so much I miss about you.
Grief is such a selfish thing. It is about me and my feelings and what I lost. It isn’t about who I lost… but what I miss, what relates to me and my pain.
I am lost in thoughts and I take the mountain curves under a beautiful vermillion sunset… briefly thinking about the Scottish broom blooming along the highway
And the places where it has been hacked up and carted away.
I know this about Ethan… that in a specific way, he “got” me like no one else.
And I could riff on some idea, and he wouldn’t make a face or walk off
He could laugh or join me… and add comments and color…
And it let me walk down these paths in our discourse
of wild imagination. Or journeys into the absurd and strange and trivial… I found someone to come with me on the journey
And it didn’t make me feel stupid or lost. To play with words or concepts or ideas.
And find in those, new places..
But now I do walk those paths alone.
And I share with no one… at least not at length.
Lest they remind me that I am repeating myself
Or offer that half smirk that says that and more.
Or simply ignore it as another random comment and go on with something else.
I drive home feeling sorry for myself
Singing to “Black Hole Sun” not knowing the significance of the day
Thinking about the box of watercolor markers
With the fruity smells and trying to remember what smell went with what color.
I am told, by people who haven’t ever taught in a classroom quite a lot about what is right or wrong for education. How kids are pampered.
I am lectured by people who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since they were a high schooler and Reagan was president all about common core and discipline, and the specific correct pedagogy and methodology and curriculum that should be implemented immediately.
I hear about how ADHD can be solved with hitting. Or how the kids are coddled and how everyone gets some kind of trophy. And all the drugs are bad.
I am told about greedy teacher unions and out of control kids that can’t read
And how all this could be solved if we just hit them hard and often with wooden paddles.
The kind with holes.
I am shown videos of either Russian or Israeli kids quickly and accurately field stripping assault rifles and told how our kids should do that.
I am shown John Wayne tossing a child into a pond, because that is how swimming should be taught. (Because drowning really isn’t a thing.)
All this and I look at my kids.
They aren’t taking the AP Calculus test this week with thousands of their peers.
Or looking forward to new experiences at a far away college
Or even guessing at who will be in their classes at state college
Or wondering how community college will be different.
I look at them and don’t think they need to be hit more.
That violence in their lives needs to be turned up more.
Or that they need more proficiency in battlefield weapons.
There are no trophies. Or paddles with holes.
There is no John Wayne.
Just school and my classroom
And me telling someone to put away his cell phone.
And that bored stare, that says, “how am I ever going to use this?”
I look at him and think about the fact
That ignorance is never an advantage.
And I hope he will do well
And ten years from now.