At work today, I started the morning in a meeting devoted to role playing a campus crisis with casualties. Later in the day, an email from a friend told me of the passing of a former colleague. In the evening, Erin and I attended a group session about death and grieving.
My first memory of death was in third or fourth grade. Each morning I’d get to school early — my mother was a teacher at the school — and I’d go to the cafeteria to help the lunch lady’s son, a first grader, put the chairs down for the day.
One weekend that winter, the boy and his father went fishing on the reservoir and never returned. Their bodies turned up a few weeks later.
Over the years, I’ve attended the funerals of classmates and teachers, the parents of friends and a few relatives. I started my first website, Zuiker Chronicles Online, just before my grandfather, Frank the Beachcomber, died. At that funeral, in Chicago, my friend John Ettorre drove up from Cleveland to show his respect.
In this country, said the grieving session leader tonight, we give people three days to deal with death.
In Vanuatu, death gets a year: in the first few days, the village gathers at the deceased person’s hut and wails for an hour or so. A church service, a simple coffin or body wrapped in pandanus mats, a hole in the ground. Male family members don’t shave for 30 days, at which point there’s a village feast. At a year, another feast, and the grieving is over.
But the missing remains.
Last week, Megan Lambert died in Chapel Hill, and I’ve been so damn busy at work and at home that I haven’t yet observed her passing (obituary is here).
Megan was the mother of a child at my daughter’s day care, and on the mornings that I was dropping off Malia, Megan and Tristan were usually a few steps ahead of us. Our greetings were brief, usually as we passed in the tight hall between the restroom where the kids wash their hands and the classroom where they spend their days learning and playing, and I was hurrying out of the center and on my way to work.
Until Megan was struck down in her youth, I did not know her name.
I did not take the time to know her story, and here I am on the eve of the ConvergeSouth conference where I am to lead a session on storyblogging and oral history and memoir writing.
Sobering, to be faced with my inadequate connection to a human being so close, and now gone.
Megan Lambert, I’m sorry. May your soul rest in peace.
Big rains rolled through Chapel Hill and Durham last night, delaying the start of a dinner party at my home, but my MEASURE Evaluation colleagues made it. This meal was my way to thank them for helping me enjoy my time at that job.
As I fell asleep last night, I remembered a dinner party that Erin and I were invited to back in December 1996. Ann Sethness and Jack Smith had hosted us in their Bratenahl condo, along with former Ohio Governor Dick Celeste and his wife, Jacqueline Lundquist, and Progressive Insurance’s art curator Toby Devan Lewis.
Ann knew that Erin and I were planning on applying to the Peace Corps, and since her friend Dick Celeste had been director of the agency under President Carter, she arranged for us to spend a few hours talking about international service and travel — President Clinton had just appointed Celeste to be ambassador to India. He promised to put in a good word about us to the Peace Corps director at the time, Mark Gearan (Celeste’s protege).
Readers of this blog know that we got in, and had a fantastic experience in the Republic of Vanuatu. A few weeks after that dinner, Toby Lewis gave us a personal tour of Progressive’s new building and the fabulous art spread throughout (view the art). My favorite was the Frank Gehry fish lamp in the office of Progressive CEO (and Toby’s former husband) Peter B. Lewis.
That was last night’s recollection.
Tonight, driving home from a visit with my mother in High Point, I stared into a full moon obscured at times by streaking strands of rainclouds. That vision reminded me of a night nearly 15 years ago.
This was the summer after I graduated from John Carroll University, and Erin had come to visit me in Illinois one last time before I moved out to Hawaii. We didn’t know if and when we’d ever see each other again, and when it was time for Erin to fly back to Cleveland, we simply sat at the gate — a time when family and friends could freely walk the concourses — holding hands. When Erin boarded her plane, I walked out of the airport into a stormy night. Looking up, I saw the full moon erupt out of the clouds, and I knew I’d see Erin again.
Here’s the poem I wrote a few days later (it makes references to my friend, Stephan, and my mother, who also had departed recently via the air):
an uncertain moment
hanging between an instancy and eternity.
what to say, sitting here,
no words to articulate the feeling inside,
a smile suffices.
to be left, alone,
to walk empty concourses
one left with tears to Toulouse,
another with eyes twinkling love,
mother gone with exhaustion, seeking.
uneasy but necessary,
runways that take can also return.
As I was enjoying moonlit memories, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts came on the radio, singing “I love rock n’ roll.” And that had me back in 1982 sitting in a diner booth in Caldwell, Idaho, where my dad would take me for pancakes. Each booth had a flip-case connected to the diner’s jukebox, and as I was flipping through the names of the records one Saturday morning, I recognized a song I’d heard on the school bus that week. Any time I hear Joan Jett’s anthem, I sing along as loudly as I can.
In the car tonight/moon shining, dinners dancing/loving my mem’ries
Last week, Ethan Zuckerman wrote an enlightened post about Fiji Water, and tonight I finally got around to reading the Fast Company article that prompted his post (I subscribed to Fast Company a few weeks back, and the first issue was in pile of mail when I got home yesterday): Message in a Bottle by Charles Fishman. I urge you to read this, too.
I’ll admit I’ve purchased and savored my share of Fiji Water over the last few years. I don’t often buy bottled water — I don’t drink much water, and I usually just find the nearest water fountain or a glass of tapwater — but when I do, I search out Fiji Water.
I have an affinity for that water, for it connects me to my time on Paama Island in the Republic of Vanuatu. During my Peace Corps service on that island, whenever I’d hike up and over to the east side, I could gaze out over the wide Pacific, and if I’d paddled away from Paama, past Lopevi volcano and eastward, the next stop would be Viti Levu Island, Fiji. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I was gazing in that direction, the Fiji Water bottling operation was just getting underway.
The water we drank on Liro was rainwater collected in a large cistern in the middle of the village, and we filled our bottles a few times each day (ignoring the occasional mosquito larvae). Halfway through our service, we paid a man to build a cement catchment behind our house, our own supply of water that would also help supply the growing school we served. The project was delayed when Avok, the carpenter, got a bad case of malaria. (Read this new National Geographic feature on malaria.)
I’ve thought about water a lot. Exactly 15 years ago, just out of college and soon to be headed to Hawaii, I holed up in the DeKalb Public Library for a few nights, researching water politics of the Middle East and predictions for the role of water in the 21st century. Erin laughed at me at the time, but came to understand.
In Hawaii, water was everywhere. When I wasn’t out on a surfboard or bobbing in the swimming pool, I was enjoying the delicious water that’s taken from the Oahu aquifers.
Today, with climate change worries, water is an important topic. NPR’s Richard Harris had two good reports today about drought in Arizona (here and here), and in New York, the health commissioner wants more people to drink tap water.
Anyway, after reading Fishman’s article, I’ll be buying less bottled water — an infrequent bottle of Fiji Water for memories of the South Pacific, and to support the locals there — and drinking more of the free stuff at my easy disposal. You?
Fabulous weather again for my time in Cleveland, and I’ve been getting out and about.
The other night, I met up with my OneDomino partners Jack Ricchuito (he’s got a new book out soon: Conscious Becoming, Jack Solpa, Tim Turritin and Rich Bonitz. It was good to see them again to talk about our model for a fast, flexible network of consultants, a business plant that will continue to percolate.
Around Cleveland, I’ve noticed a lot of smokers, but also headlines that the Cleveland Clinic is implementing a new hiring policy that will not give smokers jobs at the massive hospital system.
Maybe helmets are next? Few riders of motorcycles or bicycles seem to wear helmets here.
One morning last week in Cleveland, I noticed a work crew along the highway. They were slowly picking up trash, and seemed to be chatting. It was an remarkably beautiful late Spring day for Cleveland, the Cavs were in the playoffs, and the city was feeling good in its Rise Up! campaign.
The languid pace of the men’s work reminded me of a hot afternoon in which I was part of a work crew, raking rocks to make a rich man’s private golf course in Illinois. Mr. Rich walked up on us, and, finding us in conversation, upbraided us for being slackers. We took our lumps, but when he walked away, we griped and bitched for the rest of the day, frustrated that we’d been caught in a lull and not earlier when we had dust in our teeth and rocks at our feet.
I’ve hinted at my exasperation before, but I’ll say it more clearly: hearing the news out of Israel and Palestine for the last 20 years has inured me to the struggles in the Mideast, since the factions there don’t seem very interested in peace. (I’ve even entertained the notion that every nation send its best bulldozer to level the Temple Mount, and then see what’s worth fighting for over there. But of course that’s an ignorant and idiotic idea — every oil company sending a rig, now there’s an idea).
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Six Days War between the Arab nations and Israel. Listening to the NPR series on the Six Day War, watching the documentary Six Days in June on UNC TV, and reading through the BBC News feature on the 1967 Middle East War has given me insight into the layered history of the region and renewed my interest in news from there.
Meanwhile, on NPR yesterday, author Ann Fadiman discussed the familiar essay. “The hallmark of the familiar essay is that it is autobiographical, but also about the world,” Fadiman says. She was asked whether blogs are the next stage in the familiar essay. “There are a lot of terrible blogs,” she answered, but many bloggers “write beautifully.”
The StoryBlogging idea is still percolating — storyblogging blends oral history, memoir blogging and family stories — and so I was interested in hearing what Fadiman would say about the type of blogging I’ve been trying to do for the last seven yeasr. “The hallmark of the familiar essay is that it is autobiographical, but it’s also about the world. A lot of bloggers I read do just one or the another and don’t combine the two.”
Next week, I’ll be in Cleveland, and I’m planning on writing a few familiar essays — storyblogging entries — here at mistersugar.com. I’ll call them Cleveland Chronicles. Watch for them starting Monday.
And, on The Story yesterday, Dick Gordon talked with hockey coach Neil Henderson (starts at 31:30), and whether you like or understand hockey, this is a fantastic conversation to hear. Henderson, in his Canadian accent, imparts wonderful lessons about playing hard, ignoring insults and working for your achievements.
Anna just woke up to go the bathroom, and she crawled into Erin’s side of the bed.
“Why aren’t you sleeping, Dad?” she asked me.
“I’m folding clothes and paying bills and other stuff,” I answered.
“You’re not having fun,” she said as her eyes closed again.
Edited 4/22/07: changed “are” to “aren’t”
As Erin can attest, I make lists — seems like I’m always writing lists of activities and tasks and people to call and bills to pay and goals to achieve. Since the NC Science Blogging Conference ended in January, I’ve had a stack of leftover yellow announcement cards, and on the backs of them I’ve taken to drawing my little square bullets and whatever action item has flitted across my mind.
Over the weekend, I came upon a link to Behance, and I ordered an orange Action Pad and a stack of Action Cards. These look pretty cool and useful, though my yellow conference cards are cheaper.
And, at her Brazen Careerist blog, Boston Globe colunnist Penelope Trunk confesses to being a list maker, too, and she suggests If you don’t like writing lists, buy a new pen.
Guest blogging by Tom Michael
How many times must you reinvent middle age? I was looking forward to – and fast approaching – the traditional definition myself, but you keep moving the goalposts. Put it back and please act your age.