Poem: Nostalgia

game players

If it’s not too early,

a bit premature for a fellow not quite ready,

I should like to look backward

on the imaginary continuum of then and now.

How marvelous it would be

to gaze beneficently

upon my childhood,

smiling

and maybe weeping softly

at all that’s been lost.

 

We called it the Court. Forty yards of hard-packed grass.

A giant elm was one goalpost, and a shorter piney thing was the other

and there was an asphalt ring around it

for racing and chasing

and we spent our childhoods there,

inventing games, skinning elbows, making friends, running away and running back

being boys

unable to imagine we would one day miss it all terribly,

as though it were dead,

as though it weren’t still there,

where it’s always been.

. . . → Read More: Poem: Nostalgia

Family Problems

family problems

In the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, where thousands died and hundreds-of-thousands more were left homeless, almost everyone I spoke to asked the same question: My Filipina wife — was anyone in her immediate family affected?

Everyone was greatly relieved to learn that, no, none of my wife’s immediate family members were harmed by the storm. To these kindhearted and compassionate inquirers, the absence of death, injury, or property damage to my wife’s closest relatives was a great relief, a kind of silver lining to the dark cloud of death that descended on her birth country. By some sort of strange spiritual calculus, it was understood and taken for granted that blood relations are intrinsically more important, more valuable to us, than everyone else – with the exception of those who are welcomed bloodlessly into the family through adoption and marriage. . . . → Read More: Family Problems

On the Death of a Child

little_angel

A daughter has died.

She was also a wife and a mother and a sister. She was 41. She follows to the grave a brother, who died in a car accident when he was 18.

What does one say to her parents? How flimsy and impotent words seem in the face of these outrages, when the natural order of life has been confused and perverted. For anyone who hasn’t suffered the incomprehensible losses this family has endured, it seems preposterous to offer comfort and encouragement. What qualifications or insight could we have? Only they, we imagine, fully understand the intense grief that accompanies the death of a young son. And now the pain of losing an adult daughter. It’s really almost too much for words, too much for any parent to bear.

I have no explanations. I have no answers. I don’t understand. No doubt . . . → Read More: On the Death of a Child

Brooding on Death

ella

The remains of my dear friend Ella the dog arrived from the crematorium in a nice fabric-covered box. The ashes themselves were in a plastic freezer bag, which was probably a good thing, since in addition to a fine grey powder there were many pinky-nail-size bone fragments and flakes from the few teeth Ella retained at age 109. (I hypothesized that her acute arthritis might have had something to do with the surfeit of calcite clusters.) How strange and puzzling to be confronted with a couple of double-handfuls of carbon dust and realize it is a version of your great pal, reduced to her essentials. Or inessentials.

We spread Ella’s ashes in Runyon Canyon, the nature preserve and dog park where I found Ella as a 3-month old, and where she spent many happy hours bounding and hiking and sniffing interesting aromas. I don’t know if . . . → Read More: Brooding on Death

Ella Konik: 1993-2008

mike_ella2

Ella Guinevere Konik died peacefully last night at home in her bed, surrounded by family. She was close to 15 1/2.

Frank Sinatra once told an interviewer, “They say you only live once. But if you have a life like mine, once is enough.” Ella’s time on Earth was like that. A white-lab and greyhound mutt, she was adopted at 3 months and spent much of her adult years spreading joy. Ella was a licensed therapy dog and the subject of my book “Ella in Europe” and the Animal Planet TV show “Ella & Me.”

She was friends with everyone, a beautiful soul encased in white fur.

We miss her.

The Kindness of Forgetting

We Will Never Forget

This week I witnessed something I had previously only read about: the sudden onset of temporary amnesia.

My friend recently lost her daughter to a brief but devastating illness. She had watched her daughter die. The pain of losing her child eventually became too much to bear, and her brain stopped remembering that it had happened. She knew who she was and where she was, but she had forgotten that something terrible had happened to her precious offspring. My friend seemed to have a vague sense that something was amiss, but she declared that she didn’t understand what had happened to her daughter or why she was far from home. Nothing made sense.

Eventually, after several hours of persistent questioning and answering, her memory returned. The next day she had no recollection of having lost her memory.

The human brain, as we . . . → Read More: The Kindness of Forgetting

Sandrine Pecher: 1970-2006

Sandrine

My great friend, traveling partner, and constant source of encouragement, Sandrine Pecher, died Tuesday morning after a nine-month battle with lung cancer.

Sandrine had valiantly accepted whatever treatments the medical community could offer, including several different chemotherapies and radiation. Just last week, she told me that new lesions had been detected on her liver, but that she was determined to begin another regimen of toxic infusions and carry on the fight. She never resigned herself to death. She never acknowledged that she wasn’t going to get better. She loved life, and she wanted to live, no matter how nauseated and achingly painful most days were. “I don’t want to die,” she said. “I’m not ready.”

This was a woman so filled with vitality, with that thing we call a “beautiful spirit,” that even while the insidious disease attacked her organs she was continuing to bring joy . . . → Read More: Sandrine Pecher: 1970-2006

Self Destruction

The End, sponsored by homo sapiens

Depending on one’s quotient of Puritanical self-abnegation, the follies of other less disciplined souls often inspire the pensive equivalent of a scoff. Of the fatty we think, “Surely he knows that a diet of doughnuts and fries will only make him more obese.” Of the smoker we think, “Surely she knows that smoking causes an encyclopedic litany of health problems.” Of the degenerate gambler, or heroin addict, or alcoholic, we think, “Poor thing, his compulsions are stronger than his will.” We see others destroying themselves, and we pity them.

Then how ought we view ourselves as a species? Only the most unreasonable among us at this late date can keep a straight face when denying the phenomenon of global warming. We know we’re killing our planet (and ourselves); we know the polar ice caps are melting; we know a cycle of . . . → Read More: Self Destruction

My Dad, One Year Later

Spirit vision of our father's

Today is the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death.

People who have lost loved ones often say, “I think about him every day.” Before losing my father Eugene, I was skeptical. Was it possible to think of someone every day who wasn’t present, someone with whom communication or any other form of interaction never occurred?

I know now that it is possible. My daddy is in my thoughts every day, and many nights. As the calendar has crept toward late-summer, the time of year when Eugene came to live (and die) with me, he’s been in my dreams, an observant wraith who notes with approval (or not) whatever antics my subconscious concocts. Knowing there’s nothing more tiresome than hearing someone recount his nightly visions, I’ll refrain from details. The important thing is that he’s been with me, if only in imagination.

No one can say with certainty . . . → Read More: My Dad, One Year Later

Eugene Konik, 1936-2004

Eugene Konik Book

My father Eugene Konik died yesterday, August 25th at 3PM, of congestive heart failure.

Family surrounded him at his hospital bed, and we held his hands and cradled his head as he passed on. If any death can be said to be beautiful, my dad’s was. His heart gradually stopped beating and his breath slowed gracefully; his face was utterly serene; and though he was unconscious, the sounds of loving voices and reassuring affirmations filled his ears. Until his last day, my father fought death with a resolve and mental strength that confounded the limitations of his physical maladies, but when it was time to go he didn’t struggle or suffer. My father died in peace.

We will miss him.

Eugene Konik was born in Chicago, Illinois, the first child of Polish immigrants. World War II raged during his childhood, and the Korean War occupied his early . . . → Read More: Eugene Konik, 1936-2004