A Time for Charity and a Time for Michelle (Shelly) Skow

Have you ever had one of those epiphanies or sudden feelings that the world is a wonderful place to be?  A time when you felt guilty for all of the pessimism, cynicism or negative thoughts that you had about humanity.   One of those days when you know that Sartre (“Hell is other people”) was terribly wrong.  At this moment, you know people are special and you would not want to be in any other possible world.  Well, yesterday Karen and I had one of those days.  Saturday the 29th of June. 

The day started out more or less inauspiciously.  I had received bad news from my biopsy the day before that my Gleason Score (A measure of the virility of cancer in the prostate) had gone from 6 to 7 or from mildly aggressive to moderately aggressive.  My doctor wants me to move out of “wait and see” to some other treatment mode “to be determined.”   I was not in the best of moods as the day begun. 

A few weeks before, I had noticed a flyer in one of the town store windows for a benefit or fund raiser for some local resident who had some problems.  Apparently the fund raiser was to help defray medical costs.  I see many more of these type efforts today that I have seen in the past.  Fundraisers for veterans, for animals, for sick people, for sick children.  They all tug at you heart but there are so many needy people today and one has only so much money to go around.  You give to any charity and your mail box is deluged with requests from other charities everywhere from Venus to Neptune.  I supported Obama during the last campaign and now I am get campaign fund requests from every Democrat in Congress, the Senate, the House and the Moon who is running, planning to run or has run for office.  It’s enough to make you switch parties except the Republicans would probably be no better.  Everyone asking for money, more money and even more money!

Nevertheless, my thoughts about Michele (Shelly) Skow the subject of the fundraiser here in Frederic were sympathetic and I thought “Heck, let’s go to the fundraiser and help out with whatever we can.”  I mentioned it to Karen and she was receptive.  I should add that I had no idea who this woman was nor I have ever met anyone who was related to her or who even knew her.  I put a note on my calendar to remember the date.  Saturday afternoon (The fundraiser started at 3PM) I reminded Karen we had planned to go to this fundraiser.  She asked me what it was for.  The paper that I had given her with information was nowhere to be found and I had to admit I did not remember.  I only knew it was a good cause.  I told Karen we could find out when we got there.  We briefly discussed how much we could afford to donate and off we went.  To Hackers Bowling Alley and Restaurant for a fundraiser for a woman I had never heard of before three weeks ago. 

When we got to the parking lot, we were quite surprised.  It was packed with cars and people were parking across the street.  I noted “Wow, she must really know a lot of people.”  We walked in and looked in the hall.  There were a number of tables set up for wristband donations, food with a donation box, raffle tickets for a large number of prizes and a silent auction.  We looked for a box to put a check in and decided to put it in the box with the wristbands.  We passed on the bands but left our check in the box.  We then headed to the food area. It looked like most potlucks one encounters in our area.  Rolls, Sloppy Joes, beans, and lots of the usual deserts, brownies, cookies and coffee were in abundance.  We picked up plates and each grabbed an assortment of edibles.  I had to remind myself that this was not about food but about helping Shelly.  

We took our plates to some tables which were occupied but not as full as some others and found a couple of seats across from an elderly looking couple.  I think everyone looks older than me.  Somehow I never grew up mentally.  I asked Karen what she wanted to drink and I headed to the bar.  The selections were to be expected.  I ordered a light beer for Karen and a regular Bud for myself.  Now if you know me, there is almost nothing I loathe more than the standard domestic Bud except a Bud light.  I am a fine connoisseur of small batch beers hand made with love and thought.  Of course, knowing that such beers did not exist at Hackers, I was okay with swilling down a Bud.  I just hoped none of my legions of fans would see me drinking a Bud.  The bartender (I noticed a sign next to their tip jars that all tips would go to the fundraiser), passed me two cans and popped the tops for me.  I handed him my credit card which he handed back. “We don’t do plastic he said. There is an ATM across the street.”  With some mild irritation (Who doesn’t take credit cards these days?), I headed to the Holiday Station.  I was suddenly conscious of how kind and thoughtful the bartenders were that they would give up their tips to help add to the fundraiser.  Probably someone they did not know either.

When I entered the Holiday, I said “Hi,” to the young woman who was at the cash register. I see her a lot there and she is always friendly.  She said “What are you up to today?” I replied “I am at this fundraiser for Shelly Skow, do you know her?”  She said “Nope.”  Then a very funny thing happened, she said, “If I give you some money would you put it in the donation box for me?”  I said of course and I took some cash from her hands.  I finished getting my money from the ATM and headed back to the bar at Hackers. I paid the bartender for the two “beers” and left a dollar tip.  I then took the Holiday Station clerks’ money and put it in one of the donation boxes. I must admit I peeked to see how much she had given me.  I was quite surprised at the amount.  She had given me 8 dollars. Now eight dollars might not seem like much to you but I know that this woman is a single mom raising a child on a Holiday Station clerks’ pay.  Eight dollars is not a small amount to donate to someone you do not even know.  And she was not even getting any Sloppy Joes.

Back at the table, I found Karen talking to the two people we knew from town (the only two people we had seen that we knew at this point) and she had asked if they knew Shelly.  Another surprise, they did not.  They simply saw the notice and wanted to help out.  Shortly after, another friend from town came over to our table and upon asking the same question, we received the same reply “Nope, never met her and do not know her.”  I started a conversation with the “elderly couple” across from us, thinking they might know of Shelly.  I thought perhaps they were grandparents or even great grandparents.  But no!  They did not know Shelly either.  They came for the simple reason of helping someone out who needed help. 

After finishing our gourmet dinner of chips, beans and Sloppy Joes, (Did I not mention the Buds?) we decided to go over to the silent auction table.  There were a surprisingly large number of items and Karen decided to bid on a potting chair.  She put a bid in slightly above the last bid.  She remarked on how nice the chair was and how nice she thought it would look in our garden.  I thought, “She will never win with a bid only five dollars above the last bid”, so I upped the bid when she was not looking by about 10 dollars. This meant that anyone wanting this item would have to go up 20 dollars more than the bid before Karen.  I thought this was good strategy.  I did not tell Karen at the time that I had “outbid” her. 

We left the fundraiser and headed home.  We both took a short break at home and then we headed up to a place called “Log Cabin Hollows.”  It was too nice an evening to say inside and we wanted to see if they were going to have a Saturday night music jam.  About 15 years ago, a brother of a man I know in town started these music jams out at this resort and campgrounds.  We attended one about two years ago and it was fun.  Not quite like the music jams at the Minnesota Bluegrass Festival or the ones in Mountain View, Arkansas, but still some good music you could listen and dance to without your eardrums breaking.  As we drove up to Log Cabin Resorts, Karen and I discussed the fundraiser. 

I was already quite surprised at the number of people we met who did not know the recipient.  I was also very surprised to find so many nice objects that were donated by the local merchants and townspeople.  These merchants are not Wal-Marts or Costcos.  They are small town local stores who have been suffering from a poor economy and the competition coming from “Big Box” retailers within a few miles. There is a joke that every store in town is for sale and has been for several years.  This is not just a joke but reflects the hard economic conditions up here and how difficult it is for local merchants to make a living.  Many of our local stores are for sale.  Nevertheless, places like Daeffler’s (our local meat market) who donated all of the meat for the Sloppy Joes and a “basket” of food as well for the auction gave more than generously.  Karen and I were touched by the compassion and kindness exhibited by people for someone many of them did not know and had never even met.  And when I think of the Holiday Clerk who also wanted to help out and would give a good portion of her income to do so, I can only be grateful to live in a world full of such kind and generous people.  

The newspapers give us a daily diet of evil and mayhem.  The Tele adds to the store of menace and murder that we are endlessly confronted with.  Serial killers threaten us from the pages of most novels that litter the NY Times best seller list only to be replaced by an even more twisted and malevolent killer.  A new trial replaces the last gory trial that dominated the news for six months or so.  Everywhere we turn, we see evidence of the depravity and inhumanity that the media must want us to believe is the world we live it.  However, it is all a mirage.  We are living in a fantasy world of carnival mirrors that reflects a reality that does not exist.  The illusion we see shows us a depraved, destructive, disastrous, execrable, foul, harmful, hateful, heinous, hideous, iniquitous, injurious and loathsome world that no one in their right mind would want to live in. 

I have never been nor probably ever will be accused of being a Pollyanna.  I have no rose collared glasses and I grew up in Brooklyn NY.  I am Italian and Irish and my father was a Post-Man back before we had Post-People.  Nevertheless, I believe that 99.9 percent of the world is good.  I might even be low in my estimates.   If you think of a world with this much good and this little evil, then what would this world really look like?  I think this poem by Aileen Karg sums it up:

A World of Wonderful People

We live in a world of wonderful people
throughout the universe.
We live in a world of wonderful people
where friends are friends with us.
With “hellos” here and “hellos” there
and “How are you today?”
“I hear the stock market’s down,
but there’s plenty to go around
and there’s health and happiness we see,
in the likes of you and me.”
We live in a world of wonderful people,
who love and work and care,
for beauty, strength and honor,
we find it everywhere.
We find just what we look for,
we find it every day,
in this world of wonderful people
God gives to us along life’s way. 

By Aileen Karg

Well, this morning I got a call.  I won the potting chair at the silent auction.  I told Karen and she was excited.  I said she can place it in the garden but I get to pick the flowers.

Time for Questions:

How can we see the real world when we are bombarded daily with images of evil and depravity?  What can we do to help others see the real world?  How can we fight the cynicism that surrounds us?  How can we make a difference in the world?  What if we rejected all of the pessimism and turned off the TV and News and never bought another serial killer novel or movie?  What does it do to our children?  What will they believe about the world when they grow up?  Is it what you would want them to believe? 

Life is just beginning:

PS:   If you would like to send funds or donations to help Michelle (Shelly) Skow, send a check in her name to me and I will make sure it finds its way to her.  She has a Facebook page at


My address is:  John Persico, 202 Peake Avenue South, Frederic, WI:  54837



Kentucky Music Week

Sorry about not doing any blogs last week.  Karen decided that she would like to do Kentucky Music Week and I thought “why not?”  We had the time and we had the money so we planned the trip and decided to camp out for six nights at My Old Kentucky Home State Park.  Karen took the car each day to the Music Week site and I took a bicycle to go touring each day.  The Music Week is really more of a music camp for adults, though there were several younger children there learning to play dulcimers, banjos, fiddles and a few other instruments.  Karen is a dulcimer player and also is learning to play the banjo.  She had five classes a day for five days and was excited about the prospect of “learning” all day and playing all evening.  I was excited about the prospect of touring museums, monasteries, distilleries and Bardstown historic sites.  If you are interested in seeing the pictures I took of the event and my adventures, go to my Facebook page and see my Kentucky Music Week album.  I posted the pictures that I took in an album but somehow each of the individual pictures also was uploaded under “photos.”  If anyone knows how to quickly delete 201 individual pictures from the photo section, please send me an email or comment to describe how. I want to leave the album but get rid of the individual pictures. 

Each night, Karen came back to our campsite and I made supper. Sometimes I cooked over the fire pit but more often over our old but tried and true Coleman two burner stove.  We had stuffed pork chops, catfish, tuna steaks, ribs, shrimp stir fry, and salmon on different nights.  In the evening, were the music jams and we would generally go to a jam together.  One night I went to the musical “Steven Foster” by myself.  It was wonderful music and a great stage production.  The last night of the week, we got together with folks at another campsite and we jammed until 2:30 AM.  I could not believe that I stayed up so late.  We shared a bottle of Evan Williams’s bourbon that I purchased at the Heaven Hill distillery and we ate a bunch of Pecan Turtles that I purchased at the Sisters of Charity Nazareth monastery. 

I found a new use for an IPAD.  I had brought mine along and fully intended to write a few blogs during the week.  In truth, I was having too much fun touring etc. to be disciplined enough to sit down and type.  However, I found that during a jam, musicians sometimes think of songs but cannot remember the tunes well enough to get started.  So I went to my tent, took out the IPAD, typed in the camp WIFI password and lo and behold, the music players ( I listen and do not play) would think of a song to play.  I would look it up on YouTube, play a few notes or bars and we would be off to the Camptown Races.  The latter is one of the songs we jammed that last evening.  It was also played during the Stephen Foster musical.  I had many memories of the South as these old songs were played.

The Camptown ladies sing this song,
Doo-da, Doo-da
The Camptown racetrack’s five miles long
Oh, de doo-da day

Goin’ to run all night
Goin’ to run all day
I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag
Somebody bet on the gray

When I was young, I remember my mother singing or playing many of Stephen Foster’s songs. I was born in Fairfield, Alabama, just outside of Birmingham.  We would go down “South” every few years to visit my mother’s parents on their farm.  I remember walking the country roads which were then still dirt and gravel and going by farms with chickens, pigs, goats and cows.  There were often disputes over whose chicken was eaten for supper each evening as chickens ran loose and were often “fair game” for the frying pan.  The last time I remember seeing my grandfather, his was the last farm in the midst of a new suburban development that wanted his old farm demolished.  However, he held some sort of a land grant or some other legal entity to the property and the city could not condemn or confiscate his land until he died.  He still had many goats when he passed away but I never did learn what happened to them.  He would often “pit barbecue” a goat when we came down to visit. I still remember how great they tasted.  I also remember being chased around the barnyard by some of his “un-barbecued” goats. 

Well, Karen would come back each evening and I would ask her “what did you learn today.”  She was always excited to talk about her day.  I thought that as the week progressed she might become more blasé or perhaps even bored with her routine of five classes each day and a special activities section. This was not the case. She loved each day and when the final day of classes came and went, she was ready for another week of classes.  She loved every minute of the music week. 

We would then turn to my exploits which I “showed” rather than “told’ Karen with the pictures you can see posted.  Something I did “tell” about was the various people I met each day.  From the retired military colonel “Mike” at the Civil War Museum, to the Director of Economic Development at Bardstown City Hall, to Peggy Jones at the SCN monastery, the most interesting part of each day was the people I ran into while on my travels.   Each day brought new places to see and new people that I would meet.  For me, the people that I met while out adventuring were the “icing” on the cake.  Peggy Jones, the volunteer at the monastery is a 75 year old blogger who taught me some things about blogging that I did not know. You can go to her site at http://www.dayofthelily.blogspot.com/ ; Peggy uses the Day Lily as a theme for her site and she says it is because:  “My namesake. Daylily, holds her head up high and gives her all for just one day.”  Such a positive wonderful and beautiful attitude about life and what better way to depict it then with a flower!  Everyone I met was friendly, helpful, interesting and often suggested new places to visit or sites to see. I learned something from everyone I met.

Well, all things had to end and it was finally time to come home.  I am now seated in front of my computer in my Frederic home and getting ready to go out for a run.  Next week, it is time for another biopsy at the Mayo Clinic but that sour note pales in light of the fact that summer seems to finally be here. It was cooler weather all over from Arizona to Wisconsin to Kentucky and some skeptics even wondered if we would have summer this year.  Everyone noted that the weather was much colder than in previous years.  As they say though, there is no place like home.  I am glad we went on the trip but equally glad to be back.  I love the little town up here and the people are so much fun.  If there is a moral or Morel to be drawn from this blog, I am not sure what it is.  I generally write something that I hope can inspire or excite or make a difference to the world.  Perhaps you will find a hidden message here or perhaps not. If you do, send me a comment and tell me what you found. I am sure I will be as excited about it as you are.

Time for Questions:

Do we need adventures in our lives? Can we find adventures closer to home?  Should we be more satisfied with the status quo? What’s the point of going anywhere?  Why leave our front porch?  Who needs to meet new people anyway?  Or do we enrich our lives each day by new adventures and new friends? 

Life is just beginning.





Gandhi’s Seventh Social Sin: Politics Without Principle

We need to start off this discussion of Gandhi’s Seventh Social sin with a review of the definition of the term “Principle.”  There are many who would argue that politics today has too many principles.  Each side whether Democrat or Republican is firmly ensconced in their philosophical party principles which leave no room for discussion never mind negotiation.  A firm conviction that we cannot negotiate on “principle” has led us to some of the worst political situations we have seen in the long history of the USA.  We have always had “party” politics and there have always been back-room negotiations and political logrolling but never in our history have we seen the type of standoffs that seem to characterize Washington politics today.  Could these political standoffs be caused by rigid adherence to Party Principles?  Is Gandhi off-base with his Seventh Social Sin?  Do we need less principle in politics and not more?  Let us look at what the term “Principle” means by reviewing three different definitions or perspectives. 

Here are three different views of the term Principle

  1. A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.  – Online Dictionary
  2.  A basic truth, law, or assumption – The Free Dictionary
  3. A principle is something primary that helps in explaining phenomena. A principle can be some existing factor in nature (principles of nature and being, or it can be a logical proposition or judgment (principles of reason) that is a starting point of a valid argumentation. The principles of reason cannot be proven, since in order to prove anything you need to have a starting point, and a starting point is a principle.  – http://www.hyoomik.com/phi205/arche.htm#arche2

Here are some examples for the third definition.  These are: “Principles of Reason.”  I add these so we can be more concrete in our discussion and less theoretical, if that is possible given the nature of the discussion.  Nevertheless, perhaps these examples can help us think more clearly concerning the concept of principles. 

  • The principle of non-contradiction: the same thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. The same proposition cannot be both true and false.
  • The principle of excluded middle: Either a thing is or it is not, there is no third possibility.
  • The principle of the reason of being.  Every being has a reason of its existence either in itself or in something else.
  • The principle of finality: Every agent acts for an end.
  • The principle of causality: Every effect has a cause.
  • The principle of identity: Every being is that which it is.  Each being is separated in its existence from other beings.

We have two issues raised by Gandhi’s Seventh Social sin that I think we must answer. 

First, does politics really need principles?  What purpose do they serve and why are they needed?

Second, can you have too many principles in politics and how do we determine if that is the case?

To answer the first set of questions, let us see what the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence has to say about Gandhi’s interpretation of this sin:

Politics Without Principles:  Gandhi said those who firmly believe in nonviolence should never stand for elections, but they should elect representatives who are willing to understand and practice the philosophy. Gandhi said an elected representative is one on whom you have bestowed your power of attorney. Such a person should be allowed to wield authority only as long as s/he enjoys your confidence. When politicians indulge in power games, they act without principles. To remain in power at all cost is unethical. Gandhi said when politicians (or anyone else, for that matter) give up the pursuit of Truth they, or in the case of parties, would be doomed. Partisan politics, lobbying, bribing, and other forms of malpractice that are so rampant in politics today is also unprincipled.  Politics has earned the reputation of being dirty.  It is so because we made it dirty. We create power groups to lobby for our cause and are willing to do anything to achieve our goals.  Not many among human beings have learned how to resist temptation, so who is to blame for the mess we find ourselves in?

In this interpretation, Gandhi implies that the “Evil” of politics comes about because of the lack of ethics that characterizes much political gamesmanship.  We would have to assume that the need for principles reflected by Gandhi’s ideas is connected to the need for a higher standard of behavior then what we most often see in our politicians.  Thus, politicians are unprincipled and unethical if they engage in lobbying, power games and other manipulative endeavors.  However, Gandhi does not clearly describe what an ethical political principle would be. We have to assume that most politics as practiced today would be considered as unprincipled by Gandhi.  Yet he does not provide us with a clear set of ethical political principles.   I conclude my answer to the question: Why are principles needed? as follows:  To provide a clear ethical path for political behavior and to help guide politicians in their search for truth.  

For the second set of questions (see above) we are dealing with a different issue.  If we accept that some political principles (unknown what they are) may be needed, then we must ask if too many of these principles might indeed be injurious to the political process.  I have already noted that we are frustrated today with politicians who are taking oaths to standby their party principles and thus gridlocking the entire political process.  Does this mean, we already have too many principles or do we have too many of the wrong principles?  To answer this question, let us take as an example a key principle that the Republican Party has stood for and see how our system of political ethics might be played out using this principle as a guide.

It is well known that many of our elected officials have taken an oath not to increase taxes under any conditions.  The Norquist Pledge as it has been called was taken by “95% of Republican Congressional representatives.”   Many would argue that this is a bedrock principle of the Republican Party.  However, is it really a principle?  Is it a fundamental truth?  Looking at the three definitions for a principle that started this blog, does the Tax Pledge meet the requirements of a “Principle?”  If so, what evidence is there to link truth to the assumed outcome that we expect to be attained by a rigid adherence to this principle?  Will not increasing taxes always benefit the public good? Is it always best for the common people if taxes are decreased?  Will we all benefit by having fewer taxes?  A fundamental principle should have some fundamental truths or facts to support it otherwise what is the point of the principle?  Either a principle is true or it is a hypothesis.  If it is true, the results should be self-evident.  If the principle is merely a hypothesis, than good logic suggests that we should not be too certain of its validity until more evidence exists to either prove or disprove the principle. 

The logic of my argument so far seems to move me towards the suggestion that “Not allowing any tax increases” does not constitute a valid ethical principle.  I see no evidence that the greater good is always served by this principle.  Perhaps there are other party principles that might be less amenable to my critique since I simply selected one of the “principles” we hear most about and are most familiar with.  No doubt “too many” of these so called “party” principles would wreak havoc with our political system.  IN fact, we see this happening already.  I suggest we should call these unsubstantiated or principles either as false principles or hypothetical principles.  This would give more credibility to Gandhi’s Seventh Social sin.  Unfortunately, it still does not answer the question as to what a set of Ethical Political Principles might look like.  The following principles are one set that has some merit.   It includes eight principles that were taken from a paper by John L. Perkins titled:  Humanism and Morality.     

Non-maleficence: Do not harm yourself or other people. 
Beneficence: Help yourself and other people. 
Autonomy: Allow rational individuals to make free and informed choices. 
Justice: Treat people fairly: treat equals equally, unequal’s unequally. 
Utility: Maximize the ratio of benefits to harm for all people. 
Fidelity: Keep your promises and agreements 
Honesty: Do not lie, defraud, deceive or mislead. 
Privacy: Respect personal privacy and confidentiality.

You can see from looking at these principles that our problem is still not solved.  Some of these principles conflict with others and life is still not simple.  The Principle of Fidelity suggests that the Norquist Pledgers are doing the right thing.  However, you may also notice that this principle may be in conflict with one or more other principles on our list.  For instance, what if allowing a tax increase actually maximizes the ratio of benefits to all people?  Thus, the principle of keeping your Norquist Oath is in direct opposition to a principle that says to do no harm to others.  Very confusing!  Alas, life is never simple and no moral or ethical code can be found that does not have both contradictions and complexities that make conduct difficult.  This latter fact makes a strong case for holding any principle as a hypothesis and not allowing ourselves to be overly strident in its interpretation.  

In conclusion, I must admit to finding this Seventh Sin of Gandhi’s to be a very difficult one to follow and to provide any kind of a prescription for.  I discovered many authors who argued that an ethical or moral code for politicians is impossible and even counterproductive.  I also found many who argued that the need for a moral code for politicians is as important as for any other field of endeavor.  I lean towards trusting Gandhi in support of this Sin.  He has proven to be wise and insightful in almost all of the beliefs that are associated with his life.  Perhaps, I will see more clearly the argument for this Seventh Social Sin as I grow in wisdom.  For now, I am content to accept that our politicians need:

  1.  Moral guidance and moral principles to conduct politics with.
  2. The ability to search for truth as a fundamental principle underlying all other principles
  3. The acceptance and recognition that they may be wrong and being too exclusive of other options is a recipe for ineffective government and politics.  

Time for Questions:

What do you think? Do our politicians need a moral code or set of principles?  Do they already have too many principles? How strongly should they adhere to their principles? Should they be willing to compromise on these principles?  Is not allowing a tax increase really a principle?   Should they stand firm on this principle regardless of the outcomes?  When should we be willing to compromise our own principles? 

Life is just beginning.



The Death of a Loved One.

I have been asked to write a blog dealing with the death of a loved one. As I have grown older, I have suffered the loss of many a friend and relative. That is a price that we pay for living too long. There are other prices but perhaps none as steep as this one. A friend of mine has joked about my rather cavalier attitude towards death. She has summed up my comments as “Well, we are all going to die sometime.” I realize that my comment and attitude is not very consoling. However, for me it has been a convenient shortcut to simply acknowledging death and moving on. I have also noted that it seems hardly a week has gone by in my last twenty years that I have not witnessed the death of someone who has been a friend or relative. I doubt whether my life is much different than others unless I am a more astute observer of death or unless I am simply less caring.

I read the book “On Death and Dying” many years ago. The stages of grief that were identified as something we all go through upon the loss of a loved one are perhaps interesting and even useful but in some ways are very similar to my comment in that knowing the stages may not be very consoling. It is one thing to have an intellectual knowledge of death but an altogether different thing to have a personal emotional experience of death. For instance, despite all the deaths I have witnessed including my parents many friends and most of my relatives, I have never experienced the death of a life partner. I have gone through a divorce after 16 years but a divorce is not the same as death. True, it encompasses a degree of pain and loss and suffering but I cannot quite equate that with dealing with the loss of a close personal partner that one has lived with for most of their life. I think this would be a very different experience. Whether or not it was expected or unexpected would have some influence on how one dealt with it but maybe less than one would think. The aspect of “expectedness” is another intellectual concept which does not deal with the emotional relevance of death.

One day I was coming in to see Karen, my spouse who loves to sleep late. She is normally a very late sleeper and I am not usually too concerned when she sleeps in. However, it grew quite a bit later than usual and I decided to “peek” in to see how she was doing. When I looked at her prone body, she did not appear to be breathing. I immediately put my head to hers to see if I could detect any breath. I could not. My immediate reaction was to panic and shake her. I started crying. Suddenly she turned over and asked “What was wrong.” I was beyond relief. In that single moment of thinking she had passed away, I had experienced a degree of pain, sorrow, suffering and loss that I have never emotionally experienced before. Karen and I have been living together since 1989 and going together since 1983. I know that someday we will part and on an intellectual basis, I have accepted the inevitability of it. However, I suddenly found that I have not accepted the inevitability on a personal emotional basis and I wonder now if I ever will be able to.

I have to say I do not cry very much but I did that morning. I seldom cry at funerals but I cried at my Dad’s funeral, Sister Giovanni’s funeral and a few friends whose services touched me quite a bit. I have cried every time I have read or seen a production of the “Little Match Girl.” I have cried over the song “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” There is something that evokes sorrow in me that has more to do with loneliness than death. I have never seen any scales of loneliness related to the death of a loved one but I might assume that some correlation did exist. I have a 98 year old Aunt and God-Mother who is one of the most positive older people I know. She has lost two of her three sons and her husband of over 60 years. She continues to love life and other people. I asked her three years ago how she keeps such an attitude when she has seen almost all of her friends and loved ones pass away. Her reply was that she simply makes new friends. I am sure she loved her sons and husband as much as the next wife and mother but she simply chooses to move on. I contrast this with a comment that I heard about Thomas Jefferson who felt that at the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence he was no longer a part of this life. The following is a quote by Jefferson on aging:

1815 February 5. (to John Vaughn). “…nothing is more incumbent on the old, than to know when they should get out of the way, and relinquish to younger successors the honors they can no longer earn, and the duties they can no longer perform.”

I see a vast difference between Jefferson’s attitude on aging and my Aunt’s attitude (at least as reflected in this quote.) My Aunt has not gotten out of the way. She still performs duties and tasks to help others. Indeed, that Christmas when I was talking to her, she was leaving after dinner to serve meals to the elderly at an “Old Folks Home.” I jokingly asked her if she was not “Old” and she pensively replied “Why I guess I am, I just never think about it.” She lives in the present and maybe that is the elusive secret of happiness or satisfaction. Osho says that for too many of us the only thing that exists is the Past or Future. We are either so busy trying to recapture memories of “better” times or else we create possible futures that we hope will bring us “better memories” than we had. I have noticed that all of the great religious leaders have stressed the importance of living in the present. Jesus said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:25-34

Buddha noted: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” I could give writings upon writings that speak of the need to live in the present but would this help you deal with the loss of a close personal partner? Good advice seldom deals with emotions. What then to say to anyone who suffers a loss of someone they have lived with, loved with and known for most of their lives? Perhaps nothing! Maybe this is just the time to be with this person. I would suspect that the feelings of loneliness would be almost overpowering. Is it any wonder so many people seem to die shortly after the death of a long term partner? What can you really say in the face of what this person is going through? Almost anything will sound cold or trite. Just feel for a second what this person must now be feeling.

Most of what we desire in life can summed up as: Fame, fortune or power. We strive to accomplish as much wealth, attention or power as we can. We think these three goals will bring us the happiness and security that we all seek. Deep down inside we are all insecure insignificant beings who feel that somehow money, fame or power will bring us the significance that assuages our sense of loneliness and inadequacy. But it never does. The nearest anything ever comes to doing this for us, short of an emotional and spiritual awakening is the love of a close personal partner.

I would not trade all the fans, all the Facebook friends, all the media glory, all the TV fame, all the money in the world or the highest office in the world for the love of my partner Karen who intimately knows me and cares about me. Karen brings me coffee, bandages my cuts, asks me how I am doing and what is wrong, cuddles with me for no reason, walks with me, consoles me when I am feeling inadequate, supports my stupidity, tolerates my quirks and even my sometimes meanness and poor dispositions. How many of the Rich and Famous have anyone in their lives like I do? Those of you who have or had had a long time personal partner or loved one know what I am talking about. How to lose such a partner and go on with life? I am sorry if I do not know the answer or the secret. Give up or trudge on? Can you make a difference for others? Can you help share the pain and help others deal with the pain you are now feeling? What can you leave the world after your partner leaves you?

If you have had a partner like I have, you have experienced the greatest gift in the world. That this gift will someday be taken away from you is inevitable. That it will cause you great pain and sorrow is perhaps also inevitable. In the end, we come back to the beginning. Life goes on. You were loved and you were needed. There are others who are not loved and who could benefit from your love. There are others who are not needed and who could benefit from being needed by you. The biggest gift we can ever give others is the gift of ourselves. When a gift has been taken away from us perhaps it is time for us to find a way to give a gift of ourselves.

Time for Questions:

What is your experience with death and dying? How have you handled the death of a loved one? How have you helped others who are going through this pain? What will you need when you lose your partner or a close loved one? Can you share any experiences with others who might benefit from your experience?

Life is just beginning.

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