Friday, February 26, 2016

Mere Mortals: Take This Life.

Once again I'll refer you to this post if you have no idea what this series is about. This is the fourth installment.

Track Four: Take This Life.

Before there was even a chance I could see your face. A whole life projected through my eyes, in my mind, a story worth living at a lumbering pace. What do we do now? How can we live now? I'm still bleeding but my hospice must depart. What is home when I've lost my heart? Fiction fills holes in my tattered and torn soul, I can't let it go simply because your absence makes it so. I know life is pain, but let me believe in these lies, let me defend perfection in my mind. What do we do now? How can we live now? I'm still bleeding and my hospice must depart. What is home when I've lost my heart? Hold me, hit me, thank me, scold me. I can't see what I've done wrong. Please don't ask me to move on. Please don't ask me to move on. Please forgive me.

Just before Christmas, 2010, myself and the band guys went to the now defunct Burton Theatre in Detroit to see Black Dynamite, a "blaxploitation" spoof. "Black-comedies" (African-American comedies...not to be confused with dark-content-comedies) are about the only sort of movies we can convince our drummer to spend his time viewing, so we went with bells on knowing he'd be super jolly to see this. As the previews started I received a picture-text from my wife of a positive pregnancy test on ye' old flip-phone. We hadn't been trying, but we hadn't been not-trying, regardless it was still a surprise! I called her and we gushed over the phone for a bit. New worlds and futures opened right up before us. Two weeks later she experienced some discomfort and bleeding, we went to the doctor to investigate. Surely enough, our suspicions were true, she had miscarried. It is amazing how quickly we can build visions of the future in our minds and emotionally attach to those ideas. In an instant, we were right back to 'normal,' but with a giant vacancy in our minds, and so we mourned what could've been. 

Nearly four years ago my wife, Candice, took a job with a company that photographs newborns in local hospitals. Primarily she provides photos of precious, squishy, wrinkly little babies in baskets, but more regularly than we wish, she's asked to perform "demise" shoots for parents who've lost their baby through complications. With no real script to follow or procedures on how to handle these instances, she approaches parents with her own understanding of their loss, and with a natural grace she captures beautiful images of their child. Then hours, or days if they're lucky, parents have to return home with their vacancy. In the grande scheme of things, we had it easy. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to go a full nine months only to say to 'goodbye' upon delivery. 

We have a beautiful four and a half year old little girl now. Her conception was wrought with fear and reaching the safe zone of twelve weeks was grueling. We continually hushed ourselves when we'd start talking about the future, uncertain that future would come. But with time, and a lot of knocking-on-wood, it came. It is hard when dealing in such uncertainties not to blame oneself for doing something wrong. It is hard to accept that sometimes there are no reasons for such loss. Even though our kid is alive and well, we still blame ourselves for any complications she has. Did we take enough vitamins when she was in the womb? Are we setting appropriate boundaries? Are we encouraging the behaviors we like to see enough? Are we doing what is best for her? Are we unconsciously repeating habits we hate? Are we failing her? Are we forgiving her trespasses? Will she forgive ours? ARE WE FAILING HER? I've been reassured by parents I love that the fact we are asking such questions means we're probably doing better than we give ourselves credit for. But the fear instilled, and the self-blame instilled from the child we lost, prior to her, still rears its ugly head.

This song stands with those who've lost, in an instant, their ideas of what the future looks like and the grief that comes with having to let go of what could have been.

(If you'd like to read more about the sort of work photographers are doing for those experiencing this sort of loss, this is a great article.)

(photo stolen from Pinterest.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Mere Mortals: Swallowing Sand.

As I did with the second installation of this series, I'll again refer you to this entry so you know what in sam-hell I'm babbling about with this third portion. 

Track Three: Swallowing Sand.

I can't explain to you how fucking scared I am of being right. With my own eyes I've seen horror perched in the corner beckoning my soul. With my own ears I've heard the whispers of the lost, wishing they’d only listened to me. The clerics are weak, the scholars blind, no one will seal your fate, no man, nor mind. Believe with me and we can be free. I need this relief. Together we’ll dismember clocks and burn the calendars, smash the hourglass and scatter Time’s sands. We’ll walk into the sunrise hand in hand. We’ll walk into the sunrise hand in hand. Deep down you must feel some of what I feel. My blood is yours, you must somewhere inside know this is real. I can't lose you. Believe with me and we can be free. I can't lose you, believe with me.

As I've surpassed ten years now at my job, I've seen many faces come and go. Whether it be coworkers, managers, or simply customers, I've seen a lot of faces, and I've seen a lot of changes. I'm not the kind of person who is out to meet new friends at every turn, but sometimes customers stand out just enough to warrant a genuinely warm greeting and inquiry into their life every time I see them. Jane (not her real name for reasons you already know) is one of them. She complimented my organizational qualities during our interaction and said she sought me out because my, what I would call OCD-ness, impressed her. One day she asked me if I was a church-going man, I told her I'm not. She explained that she got a "sense" I was, and I was only one of a few she got that "sense" about at our store. Hearing something like this is always strange to me. I suppose I might hold myself in a manner that echoes my upbringing, or that perhaps in some sort of pseudo-clairvoyant way, she got a "sense" I was of her tribe. I get that in theory. I have "senses" about people here and there, which I then quickly scold myself for having because what do I really know about this stranger? Judging books by their cover is a dangerous practice...but the gut is also wise at times. Over time she started to ask me questions about whether I'd experienced anything supernatural lately, an itch, or a inclination, because she'd been praying for me. I always chuckle and say: "not yet." 

Soon after she developed a comfort with me, perhaps because of my temperament, or perhaps because she needed an aspiringly patient ear, she explained her daughter is dying. Not only is her daughter's complication untreatable, but she's also a non-believer in the afterlife her mother ascribes to. She is not 'of the faith.' Which means Jane will, in a matter of time, lose her daughter physically and metaphysically. I now try to keep conversation light, but can't un-know the things I do about her faith and her daughter, so I ask how she is. Nothing is ever better. Nothing is ever easier. But she still has faith that it will get better, that it will get easier. 

Years ago, when I was still in college, my grandfather passed away. I was still a faithful guy, but becoming skeptical of certain aspects of Christianity. Mainly, that everything had an answer and a reason. I remember, as we were gathered for a family dinner amidst the funeral arranging, my mother saying something along the lines of "I'm just happy to know he's in a better place." In my arrogance, I challenged my grieving mother as to whether that was true. It was an ugly utterance and a miserable time to voice such sentiments. I still beat myself up for it. The idea in those moments that the person you just lost is no longer with you and that you'll never see them again in any capacity is an unbearable thought, surely even to those without belief in an afterlife.

The weight of believing your beloved, the fruit of your womb, your one and only child will leave this world prematurely and be banned from the heaven you aspire to, perhaps even condemned to the very opposite, must be crushing. While I don't share Jane's faith, I feel with her, I imagine the impending loss she's coming to terms with, I mourn with her. In my own way I pray her faith moves mountains and she receives the miracle she's waiting for. I hope Time's sands will scatter and she never has to let go or say "goodbye."

(photo stolen from: 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mere Mortals: Mouths to Feed.

So I don't come out of the gates with some reading that makes zero sense to you, you can gather the context of this series of posts here. If you already know where I'm going with this, read on...

Track Two: Mouths to Feed.

Will you look me in the eye? Will you call me by name? As the winter is closing in my pace adjusts against the wind, racing toward the setting sun, my past I can't outrun. It's hard to watch you live in love. If only you knew my loss, could learn of loss. I once found pleasure in the smell of fire, broke bread with old friends who'd always inspire, sat long and contemplated desire, but I've made my bed. I chased my demons into the darkness only to find a home in hell. Will you look me in the eye? Will you call me by name? Will you see the me I used to be? Youth is wasted on the young. If only I could go back to that moment and hold my tongue. Catch the butterfly long enough to breathe its beauty, then crush its wings. Then perhaps you wouldn't have to feel anything. Just a smile and a nod without pity's encroach. Please feel nothing, for I am not of this world, I am this world.

In the few years after the housing crash of 2008, NPR was chock full of heartstring-plucking stories that regularly focused on what might be characterized as "regular people" who in one fell swoop lost everything and wound up becoming the previously unthinkable: homeless. Hard working middle-classers were losing their jobs left and right and consequently losing their homes too. These stories put a scent in the air, so thick it was almost visible, that reminded us "regular folk with stable jobs" to give thanks for what we had. I'd hear customers regularly say things like: "hey, just be thankful you have a job," or "you've got some job security here, people will always have to buy food!" There was a palpable sense of fear and it was hard not to succumb to it. Creative endeavors for many of us were trumped by clinging to our steady paychecks and workplace provided healthcare plans. Too many had lost too much for us to take these for granted. For the first time the lines were blurred, any one of us could wind up homeless. 

I've never known hard times. I'm lucky that way I guess. But I do know the struggle of not knowing what to say or how to actually help those who are chronically in need. It is paralyzing at times. My good will over-ridden by my fear of being a sucker. I imagine most well-intentioned benefiters of luck have experienced at one time or another a situation where they thought there was a real chance they were helping someone, only to see the same person the following week, saying the same lines, with zero recollection they gave you that very line barely a week ago. 

Last week while driving we passed someone holding a sign that said: "Shelters full, any help appreciated." I looked at my wife and just asked, "how CAN we help?" Social media has done a pretty good job at providing information of where you can refer someone who needs shelter for the night. I even screen-capped the info on my phone, in case. But when the help that is instituted isn't enough, what do we do then? I wondered if our couch would be helpful. I wondered if giving more coats or blankets would be helpful. I thought about Eugene again and his relationship with my father. I thought about Julia. I tried to imagine what either of them might say if given the chance. 

This song is an attempt at empathy. It's about trying to wrap my head around the chain of events that can lead to and perpetuate homelessness. It's an attempt at trying to see individuals. It's an attempt at letting go of the experiences that have hardened my heart to those in need. It's about opening the discussion about how I or We CAN actually help. It's about trying to become a better steward of humanity. 

(Timothy Schmalz's "Homeless Jesus" photo stolen from this article.)