Dick Doyscher: A Man for a Few More Seasons

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The world is full of extraordinary people, but Dick Doyscher is not one of them.  Therein lies the problem.  We are inundated with news of extraordinary people, some stupid, some evil and some great.  We have become accustomed to news of people who have won 4000 gold medals, who have made $50,000,000,000 dollars with a new line of running shoes, who are four year old virtuosos that can sing the Soprano role of Gilda in Rigoletto and dance “Thriller” better than Michael Jackson could, or nut cases who have gone out and shot 45 people with a single round that we ignore people like Dick.  Dick is not extraordinary, but he is remarkable.  To paraphrase the “History Guy”, Dick deserves to be remembered.

As we get older, we no doubt read more and more obituaries.  The typical obituary is not like an obituary for Princess Diana or Kobe Bryant.  People write books about the rich and famous.  The typical obituary for the common person is one or two paragraphs long usually ending with something like:

“They worked as an air conditioner repair person for thirty years until they retired.  After retiring they took up gardening and were known for helping their neighbors plant flowers.  They were loved by all and will be dearly missed.” 

Perhaps a beautiful life rolled up into a few paragraphs and a short sweet ending.  You still know little or nothing about the deceased except that they loved flowers and died.  So sad.

Well, I wanted to say something about Dick while he is still alive.  You should know why he is a remarkable individual because I am sure it will not be listed in his obit. He is now 80 years old as he loves to remind us.  He is fond of saying, “Well, when you are as old as I am.”  I think he knows this drives me crazy.  I will perhaps never be old enough to say “I told you so” to Dick since he will either a.) always be older than me or b.) when I turn 80, he will not be around anymore.  So really, I am writing this blog about him as a way of getting even with him for all the times he has flaunted his age in our library group.  But before I tell you why he is remarkable, a short background on how I came to know Dick.

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Ten years ago when we moved to Frederic, I discovered a bunch of guys (See the “Old Library Guys”) who meet daily in the Frederic Public Library for free coffee and donuts.  There are about seven or eight of these guys who are sometimes joined by wives or women in the library.  We are not gender exclusive, but our conversations tend to be around politics, cars, guns and local goings on.  A few years ago, we created a “Last Man Standing Bottle.”  We purchased a bottle of “Old Grand Dad 114 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey” (Seemed appropriate) and sealed it in a wooden case with seven of our names on it.  Two of the men on the bottle are now deceased.  Dick and I remain among the living with three other men.

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When I first met Dick, I cannot say that I was impressed.  He was a retired mechanic with a younger attractive wife (Gladys, who I will talk about later) and no formal education beyond high school.  Dick liked cars and guns and Lorie Line.  He did not show much interest in reading the great books, traveling to exotic places or listening to classical concerts.  He did like one pianist name Lorie Line than he had heard but felt little need to explore other pianists.  I nicknamed him “Dick the Stick.”  This was short for “stick in the mud.”

By all known stereotypes, Dick should have been a classic Red Neck.  Now even Red Necks can be kind and caring individuals and you might be thinking that perhaps Dick the Stick was a kind individual who lent money to other people and helped them dig their gardens.  If so, you would be dead wrong.  Dick does not believe in lending money.  He says we should go to the bank for that and he does not do much heavy lifting since he has a bad back.

So nothing remarkable about Dick yet.  But as the years went by, I started to learn more and more about Dick.  Politically, he did not conform to stereotypes.  He is one of the most open minded and creative political thinkers I have ever met.  He argued with me for years that the USA is in a sort of decline like the Roman Empire.  It took me several years to come to believe that he is probably right.  Nevertheless, he supported Obama and even voted for him despite his belief that we were wasting our time voting.

Many of our politicians seem to thrive on fear or greed.  Many of the constituents that continually reelect these self-serving politicos swoon to the melody of greed and fear.  The politicians pander to these base needs as they extort more and more money for their never-ending re-election campaigns.  The broader interest of the world is suborned to the petty greed and fear of their constituents.  Dick is not swayed by either fear or greed.  Dick is clearly a global thinker who sees beyond any narrow horizons to think about the good of others and not just his family and friends.

Now Dick has been a hunter and still has a cache of guns in his house.  But again breaking stereotypes for such men in the North woods, Dick is no supporter of the NRA nor some of the rabid positions they have taken on gun control.  Dick is a pragmatist when it comes to gun control and supports an element of sensible controls without trying to take all guns away from the second amendment supporters.

54bd1b7c4e715_-_trophy-wife-george-hamilton-1209-04-deI mentioned his “Trophy Wife” Gladys.  I will probably have to duck some punches when she next sees me for this slight, but the standard stereotype is an old guy that marries a younger woman who is a gold digger willing to give up her youth and beauty for money and support.  Gladys loves to travel, but Dick the Stick says, “My traveling days are over.”  When I first heard many years ago that Gladys was going on an exotic bike, hike or kayak trip, I thought to myself “Well, Dick, you will never see her again.  She will find some kayaking stud and that is the end of your relationship.”  To my surprise, Gladys returned home.  Over the years she has gone on many trips abroad without Dick the Stick and always comes back.   Dick is more than supportive and never questions her trips or the financial aspects.  He is one of the least jealous men I have ever met.  They respect each other as individuals, and each pursues interests both together and apart.

Gladys the “Trophy Wife” mirrors another remarkable aspect of Dicks character.  Both are very caring individuals without being obvious or obtrusive about it.  Dick befriended Brian Rogers who was one of the men in our “Last Man Standing” group.  Brian had cerebral palsy and was becoming more and more disabled from the disease.  Dick seemed to know just how to help Brian and they became very close.  Brian would not take charity or help from anyone and was very independent.  However, they formed an almost symbiotic relationship with Brian helping Dick with his depression and Dick helping Brian with his cerebral palsy.  It was a beautiful relationship which ended when Brian died.

Dick has helped other men in the group who need help.  I am often surprised by his ability to transcend insults or sometimes mean-spirited attacks by people in our group.  He will forget the insult and if he sees that the person needs help, Dick will make a phone call, pay a visit or extend a hand to help.  I will say “Screw him Dick” and Dick will say “He is not feeling well” or “He has had a string of bad luck.”  I will stick by “Screw him” but not Dick.  He is always willing to forgive and forget any slight that I have seen leveled at him.

His wife Gladys works part-time with a community church, but I have often seen her at other churches where she helps out with the events or dinners.  Many of the churches in our community have an aging population and need help with volunteers because of the older ages in the church.  Gladys has done more than her share to help other churches.  I mentioned that she mirrors Dick, but it is fair to say that it works both ways.  Dick mirrors Gladys in her compassion for others.

beaver tshirtNow less this sound too much like a soap opera, I should point out some of the character flaws that are obvious with Dick.  He once had a battle with some beavers that resided on his property.  These beavers were adept at building a dam using a stream that flowed near a road leading to Dick’s house.  The dam would cause the water to back up flooding the road.  Dick would go out there and break up the dam but faster than you could say “Dick the Stick” the beavers would rebuild the dam.  I asked Dick why he did not shoot the suckers.  Dick replied that he promised Gladys that he would not kill them but try to get them to relocate.  So periodically Dick would come in with his back aching from breaking up the dam and I would say “Give me your rifle and I will shoot the suckers for you.”  Dick would never do this.  I finally bought him a t-shirt with “Beaver Advice” on it.

new-2018-summer-vladimir-putin-t-shirts-menI mentioned that Dick does not want to travel anywhere (Except maybe Duluth).  I would attribute his “been there, done it” to a possible birth or brain defect but to be fair Dick did go to England, Peru and a bunch of other countries when he was younger.  Furthermore, unlike some people, he is always interested in hearing about the travels of Gladys and others in the group.  I am going to Russia this coming year and I keep telling him that I am going to have an audience with President Putin.  Dick often jokes about Putin and his strong political resolve.  I may bring him a Putin t-shirt when I come back from Moscow, assuming that I am allowed to leave the country.

Well, “That’s all Folks” as Porky Pig used to say.  I am not expecting Dick to go anytime soon.  But in case he does, you will all know some things about him now that probably will not be in the Frederic Inter-county Leader.  I think he is a remarkable man and maybe if he reads this, he will remember me in his last will and testament.

 

Death in Arizona City

There are many ways to die but most of us will not get to choose the way we die.  Saturday on a three-mile dusty stretch of two-lane highway between Sunland Gin Road and Arica Road in Arizona City, two people died.  One made a choice, the other did not.

It started out as just another sunny and cool January morning in Arizona.  At 8:30 AM, I dressed to go for a run up at the Casa Grande Mountains.  I was going to drive to the post office first to pick up a delivery that Alexa had told me was made.  She had also told me what the merchandise was and I was excited to get it. The post office in Arizona City is only open between 9 AM and 11 AM on Saturday and I intended to go there first to be sure that I got there before it closed.  I then wanted to go to the Health Fair that the Chamber of Commerce in Casa Grande was putting on.

The Health Fair was scheduled to start at 10 AM and end at 2 PM.  I planned to get to the fair about the time that it would start.  There are always a lot of handouts and goodies at these fairs and the earlier you get there, the more stuff you can pick up.  I thought I could squeeze a decent run in sometime between the post office and the health fair.  I had to be back home from the fair before 2 PM to pick my wife Karen and her friend Nancy up.  The three of us were going to Tucson for a Dulcimer Jam that would start at 3:30 PM.  Following the jam, we were going to have a potluck and some conversation.  Thus, I was a man with a tight schedule.

I left my house at about 8:55 AM.  I live about two miles from the Arizona City Post Office. The parking lot there was not crowded, and I immediately found a place to park.  I went in and checked my mailbox but there was no package notification in my box.  I then went to the desk and asked the clerk to check if any packages had arrived for PO BOX 2498.  She said, “No problem” and went back into the storage area.  She returned shortly.  “Sorry, she said, but there are too many packages to check and they have not been posted yet.  You will have to wait until Monday.”  I left the Post Office moderately disappointed and headed up to the Casa Grande Mountain Park by way of Sunland Gin Road.  It is about 4 miles from the Post Office to the Arica Road Trail head.  There was little traffic on the way, and I arrived at the trail head about 9:15 AM.

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I put my extra gear on, mostly some pads and armor and commenced running up a trail.  I was not sure how long I wanted to run but I figured maybe 40 minutes or so.  I run with armor because it helps when I fall.  Running these mountain trails, it is not a question of whether I will fall, it is only a question of when.  I have already hit the ground twice this year.  One was minor and no pain.  The other hurt and left me bruised.  After falling, I laid on the ground for a while and stared at the clouds drifting by before trying to stand up.  Finally, I got enough courage back and the pain had subsided enough to enable me to finish my run.  Bruised, battered and my confidence shaken but knowing that I still had a few more runs in me before I called it quits with my running; I finished my run.

However, today was different.  I started off feeling very well and with over fifteen trails to chose from, (I often add or change my route depending on how I feel) I felt strong and decided to run one of my favorite routes.  I was about fifteen minutes into the route when I heard the sirens start off in the distance.  It is not unusual to hear sirens, but these did not stop.  They went on and on for what seemed like forever.  I guessed based on the direction that they were coming from that it was an accident on Sunland Gin Road.  I had two reasons for believing this.  First, this is the major and heavily trafficked route out of Arizona City and second, speeders and impatient drivers seem to abound on this section of Sunland Gin Road.  Last year, three people were killed when a driver drifted across the lane and rammed head on into an oncoming car.  Anyone living in Arizona City has seen several near misses on this road when some driver decides to pass them with little margin for error.  It does not matter that it is only three miles long or that the speed limit is 50 mph, many drivers do 70 mph or more on this road.  I assume following anyone doing the speed limit drives some of these impatient people crazy.

I finished my run in about 37 minutes and got back to my car.  I put my gear in my car and pulled some pants on over my running tights.  I drove off at a few minutes to 10 AM.  I went down to Sunland Gin Road but did not see anything amiss as I made a left turn to the freeway.  It took me about ten minutes to arrive at the Promenade Mall where the Health Fair was being held.  I parked across the street, walked through the car show outside the Mall and into the Mall area.  There I saw the Chamber of Commerce booth where some friends were handing out tote bags.  I greeted my friends (I volunteer at the Chamber on Wednesdays for four hours) and proceeded to systematically visit any booths or tables that either interested me or had some good swag.  It was about 10:15 AM.

I stopped to chat at several booths.  I do not like to appear greedy and just grab the swag and I usually find some vendors who might be helpful to me for any number of reasons.  Nevertheless, I picked up two calendars, 2 mini-calendars, several pens, a banana, a bottle of water, a sweat band and lots of good information relating to home improvement.  I finished going up and down each aisle and double checked to make sure that I did not miss any vendors.  On my way out, I met two more friends who were vets and briefly said hello.  I ended up hitting the men’s room before getting to my car.  It was now about 11 AM.

I took the freeway back to Sunland Gin Road but decided to get off on Jimmy Kerr Blvd. which runs parallel to the freeway.  I wanted to come back to the intersection of Jimmy Kerr and Sunland Gin so that I could pass Carl’s Jr. and stop in for a breakfast burrito.  I went about two miles down Sunland Gin road and suddenly realized that Carl’s Jr. was on Toltec Road and not Sunland Gin.  Burger King was on Sunland Gin.  I decided to just go home and skip the burrito.  As I neared the top of the overpass that connects the I-10 exit to Sunland Gin, I could see in the distance many police cars and lights and it appeared that the road was blocked off.  I had time to make an immediate left turn onto I-10 before I was committed to trying to drive down Sunland Gin Road.  I doubted that going down Sunland Gin Road was possible.

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I headed south on I-10 and got off on Toltec Blvd.  I drove over to Carl’s Jr. and parked. I went in and they were no longer serving breakfast burritos since it was past 11 AM.  They did have some breakfast burgers left so I ordered one and a drink and proceeded to call my wife Karen to tell her about the accident.  It was now two hours or so later then when I had first heard the sirens and the road was still blocked.  As it turned out, the road was not opened until about nine or ten hours later.  We both surmised that a really bad accident had happened on Sunland Gin Road and (Sad to say) we both knew why and how.

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I arrived home and after some relaxing, showering, changing up and loading the instruments and food in the car we left for Tucson.  The jam went great and about 20 people were playing various instruments but mostly dulcimers.  We ate at 5:30 PM and conversation carried us to nearly 8 PM.  We packed the car up and headed back to Arizona City.  I had not thought any more about the accident until we were near our exit.  As we approached, we saw a lot of cars that were coming down Toltec Road which normally would have been coming down Sunland Gin Road.  Apparently, Sunland Gin Road was still closed.

As soon as I came home, I logged onto a Face Book chat group for Arizona City where residents bring up issues and ask questions about what is happening in the area.  Of course, the questions were about the accident and what could be done.  It seemed like everyone knew that two people had died.  Given the history of this road, it does not take a rocket scientist to surmise that two cars had hit in a head-on collision.  The only real question was how many were in each car and how many had died.

One person made a choice to pass and died.  The other person did not make a choice and died involuntarily. 

The following is an excerpt from the Arizona City Facebook chat with a typical selection of comments and questions regarding the accident:

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As you might notice from these comments, the range of solutions varies widely.  Some want more policing.  Some want a passing lane.  Some want a four-lane highway.  Some want better driver education.  Some want people to smarten up and not be in such a hurry.  It is a difficult issue.  People don’t usually respond well to persuasion and people do not want their taxes to go up to pay for new roads.

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So, what will we do?  Are these deaths the cost of riding the highways?  Are we content to simply let more people die on this road?  Not very difficult to decide unless it is you or a loved one who will die.  The cost/benefit equation can change very radically when it impacts us personally.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 10 of the Year 2020

Following is a Day 10 Excerpt from my book “The Sigh of Time.”  There are 366 daily reflections to help you to think about time and its impact on your life.   It is available on Amazon Kindle for the bargain price of 4.99 cents.  Fifty Percent of all my royalties on this book will go to KIVA.    Amazon Books.

Here is one of the most useful thoughts about time that I have ever heard:

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” – Matthew 6:25, 33-34

It does not matter whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or even an atheist. The above reflection helps us to put our life in perspective.  We worry, worry, and worry about things that we cannot control.

Another thought about time that I always find useful is from the Alcoholics Anonymous book:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – The Serenity Prayer of AA.   What do both thoughts tell you about time and about life? They are asking us if we are too concerned with the future or the past to live a good life today.

Do you worry about things before they happen? Are you a worrywart?  Are you trying so hard to control life to prevent anything bad happening that you have no room for the good to happen?  What if you lived your life more in the present?  Do you really know what you can control and what you cannot control?  How can you get more balance and start living more in the present/?  Would you be happier if you could?

 

The Day I Joined the Air Force – Part Two

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Our lives and destinies revolve around the choices and decisions that we make.  I had already made one of the three most important decisions that would change my life forever.  In Part 1, I described my decision to join the United States Air Force.  Some might argue, that it was fate that made my decision and that I really had no choice.  Others would argue, my decision was more reactive than proactive and thus was not really a choice.  I will not defend myself.  Like an artist who refuses to describe their painting, I will let you decide if I chose or did not choose in each of these decisions.

In Part 2, I will describe the second decision that changed my life.   But let’s go back to my plane trip first.

lackland tiUpon landing at Lackland AFB in Texas, I along with all the other new recruits was ushered off the plane where our T.I. or Training Instructor was waiting for us.  After telling us that we would address him as Sir, he ordered, screamed, yelled and instructed us until we were able to get into some type of formation.  You can imagine the chaos that ensued when a bunch of green rookie “boots” tried to form into a military squadron.  It was early morning and I was dead tired.  I had not been able to sleep at all on the plane.  I presume many of the other “boots” were similarly exhausted.  Nevertheless, it was going to be many hours before we would meet our cots and be able to get to sleep.  In the interim, we would march all over the base getting haircuts, clothes, food and taunts (known as Jody Calls in the military) from other squadrons that often went like this:

Rainbow, Rainbow, don’t be blue

Our recruiter screwed us too

Sound off – One Two,

Sound off – Three Four

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The term “rainbows” was applied to new recruits who had not yet received their uniforms or haircuts and were marching in civilian clothes.  Our civilian “uniforms” made us stand out like sore thumbs, much to the delight of the more “advanced” squadrons.  Their pointing and taunts made us wonder what was in store for us.

Basic training lasted 12 weeks.  It did not take long for me to develop friendships with the same type of guys that I did in high school.  This was generally guys who had little or no respect for laws, traditions, rules or anything getting in the way of a good time.  Needless, to say, one would quickly realize that guys like this (myself included) would not be a good fit for the military.

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Hanging out with my new friends, I soon became involved in a few minor infractions which broke rules and traditions.  Air Force basic training had many rules and my motto had always been that: “rules are made to be broken.”  My friends agreed with this motto and it seemed like we were on a collision course with the military.  My one saving grace was that I did not really find the physical aspects of the military very difficult to deal with.  I had always been athletic and drills and PT (Physical Training) were easy for me.  I even found them kind of fun.  Nevertheless, I was not sure of many of the other restrictions that chafed at my sense of independence.

Then it happened.  One night after lights were out and I was sound asleep, I felt a hand on my shoulder and a voice saying, “Wake up, Wake up.”  I am a pretty light sleeper and I sat up and saw one of my three “good” buddies who was standing next to my cot.  Roger whispered, “get dressed, we are leaving.”  “Where are we going?” I asked.  He replied, “We are going to rob the BX (Base Exchange) and go to Mexico.  We can have a great time.”

A jumble of thoughts went through my head.   I had previously been arrested for breaking and entering.  The idea of getting away with a base robbery sounded like a stretch.  I was tired and it was late at night.  I responded with “Have a good time, I am going back to sleep.”  That was the end of that.  I did not see my three friends for another six or seven weeks.  I made the second major decision of my life, but I am still not sure what the deciding factors were.

Several weeks later, an officer requested that my T.I. send me to his office.  My T.I. told me to report to the JAG (Judge Advocate General) Corp office and to see Lieutenant Perry. I went to the JAG office and reported to the officer who requested to see me.  “Airman Persico,” he started.  “Do you know Roger” and he named the other two of my former friends.  “Yes, sir” I replied.  “Well, they have requested you as a character witness in their upcoming trial.  Seems like you were their only friend on base.  You are hereby ordered to report to this office in two weeks.  (I do not remember the date).  I am representing them at their court martial trial for theft and going AWOL (Absence without official leave).  Dismissed!”

Two weeks went by and I had a lot of time to think about what I was going to say.  I would wow the court with my elocution and polemics.  In no time at all, I would have the charges against my friends dismissed.  I was confident in my ability to persuade the court.  I left my barracks at the appointed time and found my way to the courtroom where the trial for my friends was being held.  I gave my name upon entering and took a seat that was assigned to me.  I was soon called to the stand and told to swear that I would tell the whole truth etc.

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An officer, I would never know if he was the defense or prosecuting attorney asked me my name and if I had any knowledge of the three men on trial.  I replied that I did and then I started in on my rehearsed defense.  I was quickly told to be quiet and to only answer a question when asked or I would be held in contempt and find myself in the brig along with my three buddies.  My questioning went on for five minutes or so and it seemed like everything I said only dug a deeper hole for the defendants.  When they were through with my testimony, I was dismissed and told to report back to my squadron.  I felt like a total failure.

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My friends all received time in jail and a dishonorable discharge.

I soon left Lackland AFB for my training assignment in Biloxi, Mississippi AFB as a Radar Technician.  I would never see or hear from my former friends again.  I often think back upon the decision that I made and the impact that a different choice would have had on my life.   Did I make a choice or was it destiny?

In Part 3, I will describe the third of my 3 most important life decisions and the impact that it has had on my life.

“We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.”  — Ken Levine

 

 

 

 

When I Die?

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“Every now and then I think about my own death.”  Martin Luther King was only thirty-nine years old when he said these words and shared his thoughts about what he wanted his life to stand for.  I think about these words a great deal these days but more in connection with my own life.  The thought that someone only 39 years old had to contemplate the ramifications and implications of death is alarming.  No one should have such worries until old age.

“It is necessary to meditate early, and often, on the art of dying to succeed later in doing it properly just once.”
― Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before

I don’t know when I started to think about dying but at age seventy-two, I suppose it is worth reflecting on.  Wasn’t it Socrates who said that the “Unexamined life is not worth living?”  Death is one part of life that many of us may put off thinking about until perhaps it is too late.  I have had ample evidence that death is inevitable.

My grandfather died at the age of fifty-six when I was only eight years old in 1954.  My father died in 1985 when he was 60 years old and I was not yet forty.  My mother died in 1994 when she was 68 and my oldest sister died in 2002 when she was fifty-five years old.  I have had many other relatives and friends who have already departed this world at an earlier than expected age.  I seldom am surprised anymore by anyone else’s death.

Every now and then I think about dying and how I will succumb to Charon.  Will I go willingly? Will I go honorably?  Will my life have meant something?  Will I have made a difference in the world?  The how, when and where of death holds fascinating opportunities for reflection.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
― Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Occasionally, I think about going out of this world, fast.  I had a Yamaha FZ1 up to 160 mph on the I35 going to Duluth one morning.  A crash at that speed might not have been going out in a blaze of glory, but it would have been quick.  I wonder if it would have been painless?  That would be a plus.

Sometimes I think about going out heroically.  I dive into some icy river or rush into a burning house to save some poor soul.  I don’t make it.  Will the world remember me as a hero or some idiot with heroic aspirations who failed at his hero task?

Part of me would like to die in bed.  I think of the remark that Clive Cussler made that the best way to go is in bed with your accountant telling you that you are ten dollars overdrawn in your account.  I would die peacefully with my beloved Karen and sister Jeanine at my side.  I would use my last breath to tell them how much I love them.  No pain but no heroic antics either.  Sort of a blah death in a way but it does have an appeal.

I was doing a morning run this week when the thought of dying kept intruding into my run.  I sometimes think about how long it would take a bullet to hit me when I run in the mountains and desert.  There are always some folks who seem to prefer shooting near the park rather than in the approved shooting ranges on the other side of the Casa Grande Mountains.  I can hear the boom of their shots echoing across the desert valley.  I wonder precisely how long it would take a stray bullet to strike me?  A friend of mine said much less than one second.  I count the seconds anyway after I hear a boom and wonder what my last thoughts will be.

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Death accidently shot while running in the mountains would no doubt be a fast but ignominious way of dying.  I am opting for something a little more glamourous.  I think about the headline in the Casa Grande Dispatch the next day.  “Man accidently shot while running trails in the mountains by MORON exercising his Second Amendment rights.”  Man and MORON would be linked for all eternity.  How will anyone weave this into my eulogy?

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”
― Banksy

Some of you reading this might be thinking “This guy is really morose, maybe even suicidal.”  The experts say that reflecting on death too much might not be healthy and might be evidence of suicidal tendencies.  However, (as you might expect) other experts say that reflecting on death is a normal and even important aspect of aging that may help prepare us for the coming trials of old age.  A quote I rather like goes like this “Old age is not for the faint of heart.”

My sister (who seems to know everyone in the State of Rhode Island) is five years younger than I am and manages to go to at least one or two funerals a month.  I avoid funerals, but I prefer them to weddings.  While funerals may be no more honest than weddings when it comes to the things people will say about the departed, at least funerals preclude any errant delusions of grandeur (For example, living happily ever after).  How many newlyweds will manage to live happily ever after?

I have always said (half-jokingly) that I want to go first.  I want Karen to live on long after I pass away and have a good life.  Many of the things I do today are in a sense to help prepare for that eventuality.  I had expected that Karen would no doubt survive me as women generally live longer than men.  Besides, my life has been lived much faster than Karen’s and thus I have used up more of my “thread of life.”  However, with old age I have had second thoughts on this expectation.

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
― Shannon Alder

A few weeks ago, I was sharing a bottle of Brandy and some cigars with two friends, when I said that I hoped that I would go first as I could not think of being alone in this life without Karen.  One of the other men astonished me when he said, “I want my wife to go first.”  I immediately assumed that he was being selfish but being curious I asked him why?  He explained very sincerely that his wife had been quite sick and that he had no one else to take care of her.  He did not want to leave her alone without his help.  I was moved by his charity and unselfishness which suddenly made my position seem quite the opposite.  Selfish!  Selfish!  Selfish!

Another joke I have often made was that I married a nurse so that she could take care of me when I was old and feeble.  I always thought this was funny.  In the last few years, I have had a different perspective.  My spouse (who really is a nurse) is getting older and frailer.  The wear and tear of aging is very visible in new creases, new lines, slower movements and lower energy levels.  The realization hit me like the proverbial brick a few years ago that I might be taking care of her rather than the other way around.

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I doubt that anyone who knows me would ever think of me as a “caregiver.”  But I have always been a pragmatist and so I have started taking some caregiver classes and classes on aging.   I have also taken one on the various aspects of Dementia and Alzheimers.  I will grow old along with my spouse and do what I can to take care of both of us.  I may not always believe that the “best is yet to be” but I will do my best to help make this possibility a reality.

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“To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils.”
― Socrates

I don’t want to glamorize getting old but neither do I want to disparage the possibilities that old age has for many of us.  I will never know the how, when or where of my dying, but I can live my life the best I can and each day try to be the best person, husband, friend, father and neighbor that I can be.  Each day life offers me more choices to grow old with dignity.  To face the difficulties of aging more boldly and maybe even heroically.  To paraphrase Martin Luther King, when I die:

  • Don’t tell them about my titles
  • Don’t tell them about my degrees
  • Don’t tell them about my jobs
  • Don’t tell them about the books I wrote or the places I have been
  • Tell them I wanted to be a good person and was honest enough to know that I usually fell short.

Time for Questions:

Do your ever think about dying?  What do you want to be remembered for? How would you like to die?  Do you think you will go fast or slow?

Life is just beginning.

“In the end, I won’t say that I have ‘NO REGRETS’ because that would be bullshit.  I have more regrets than I can count.” —  J. Persico

 

 

Where Can You Find Beauty?

Of course the answer to this question is that beauty is all around us.  However, some things seem more beautiful than others and they are either worth being noted or worth being found.  (And yes, I realize Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that is a cliché.  Some things are indeed universally beautiful.)  If noted, they are somehow singled out for special attention.  They may become landmarks or tourist attractions like: Niagara Falls, The Grand Canyon or Carlsbad Caverns.  If you have ever visited any of these places, you know that you can stare and stare and stare at them for days.  You want to somehow drink or absorb their beauty.  You can walk around them and from different vantage points they provide a different panorama of beauty.  I am sure you can add many places or items to the list that I call “Noted” beauty.  By the way, “noted” beauty may include people, place, things or even ideas.  Someone noted that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was beautiful in its simplicity.  Matthew R. Crawford in his blog “Albert Einstein on Beauty, Science and God” believes that:

“what drove Einstein to his scientific conclusions was a conviction that nature displayed a beauty that was discernible, and that a characteristic feature of this beauty was simplicity.”

There are many lists of “beautiful men and women.  Every few years, the list of notable women beauties includes such familiar celebrities as:  Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, Amanda Seyfried and Halle Berry.  These are just a few of the many notable beauties who get nominated each year for the “most beautiful woman in the world list.”  I keep waiting to get nominated for most beautiful man in the world but alas to date, my name has not appeared on any lists.  They keep picking guys that would be low on my list like:  Matthew McConaughey, Brad Kroenig and Josh Harnett.  So there is no accounting for taste which is why some people say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”   However, I have already stated that this is a lie.  Some beauty is universal.  The beauty of a rose or a humming bird or a newborn baby can be put on a list of things that are universally admired.

Then there are the items that I will put in the “unnoted” beauty list.  Unnoted beauty is beauty that surrounds us or that is often hidden to our eyes either because we take it for granted or because for some reason it has not become popular.  Many “beautiful” items become fashionable and then are assumed to be beautiful.  The “notable” beauty list is full of such items.  These items have the weight of public opinion on their side.  For instance, the Mona Lisa is considered to be one of the most beautiful pictures in the world and no trip to Paris is said to be complete without a visit to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa.  Right?  Well, sorry but I don’t agree.  Not only would I say it was not worth the effort, (Go to the Louvre anyway, you will not be disappointed) but I did not think it was such a great picture and NO, the eyes did not follow me.  I am not sure where that bit about the eyes comes from but I think many viewers must have been sucked up into a form of mass hysteria if they really believe the eyes followed them anywhere.

“Unnoted” beauty surrounds us as well and unlike notable beauty, unnoted beauty is most often free.  You have only to open your eyes and you can find unnoted in everything that encompasses you. Sometimes unnoted beauty is found in the least likely places.  On our trip back to Wisconsin from Arizona, Karen and I stopped for two days in Bisbee, Arizona to see some sights.  We went to the art shops, clothes shops, and antique stores and spend a day in Tombstone watching reenactments of the “Old West.”  One night we went out for a walk (We stayed at the Bisbee Grand Hotel which I highly recommend).  Prices, food, service, rooms were all incredible.  For $65 dollars a night we had a wonderful room and a great hot full breakfast each morning.  The view from the balcony which we ate out on was spectacular and in the saloon next door on a Tuesday night we were able to hear a great live Klezmer band called the The Underscore Orkestra which played for three hours a variety of jazz, Balkan and swing music.  They were staying in our hotel and traveling around the world performing.  You can find their schedule at their website.  If you enjoy some eclectic music you will really enjoy the Underscore Orkestra.  If you see them say hi to Jorge and Joshua and Willo for me.  They were fun to listen to and talk to as well.

To return to our walk, we decided to journey up hill, Bisbee seems to have two parts, uphill and downhill.  We had already toured downhill so we decided to visit uphill.  As we walked by a number of shops we came to an area where there was a large town hall and some municipal buildings.  Right behind the buildings was a large church.   We always enjoy looking in churches to see how they are decorated.  Most churches would not be on any list of notable beauty but you can often find some very beautiful artifacts in them that are not on any tourist list or brochure.  Unfortunately, today most churches now are locked except during service hours.  Since it was nearly 7 PM, we did not expect the church to be open.

stpat6Remaining an optimist, I walked up the steps to the church and pulled on the door.  Sadly, it was locked. As I started to walk down the steps, I heard a voice call out “Would you like to go inside.”

I saw a young man in a pickup truck starting to climb out and approach me.  I did not want to importune him but since he offered, I said “sure, thanks,” He told us his name was Jesus and then opened the doors and turned the lights on for Karen and I.  When he did, we were astonished.  As the Millennium generation like to say, it was awesome.  Before us, were the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen in my life!   I don’t want to brag, but I have been in many churches and cathedrals including the Vatican, Notre Dame and St. Patrick’s in New York.  Never in any place in my entire life, have I seen a more beautiful set of stained glass windows.  There were two large ones at the front and two at the back of the church, a ceiling window and stained glass windows along each side of the church.  Karen and I just looked and looked. We did not have our camera.  Finally, while we did not want to leave, we decided we should probably let Jesus go home.  I had introduced myself to the man that let us in and he told us a little about the church and we exchanged names and thanked him profusely for letting us in.

On this special evening in Bisbee, Arizona “unnoted beauty” was displayed before us in two ways.  The first is obvious. We saw some beautiful art that was not on any tourist list I have yet seen.  I should mention, we went back the next day and the church was open so we went in again and this time we took some pictures.  I was also so impressed that on the morning we left, I rose early and went to a 7:30 AM mass they held at the church.   Jesus was there as were about 7 or 8 other parishioners.  I found out that the name of the church was St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church.  A subsequent web search revealed the following facts about the church.  I should note that none of these facts were evident at the church or in any local tourist literature that I saw while in Bisbee.  Hence, I still proclaim this to be an “unnoted” treasure and beauty.

Perched 200 feet above the floor of Tombstone Canyon in historic Bisbee, Arizona, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church stands as a monument to the exuberant determination of the town’s early residents to transform a primitive mining camp into one of the largest commercial centers in early Arizona.

bisbee

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Gothic Revival church is a copy of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in the Irish district of Whitehaven, England.

St. Patrick’s 41 stained glass windows were designed and produced by Emil Frei, whose work is recognized as an unsurpassed example of Victorian-style stained glass.

The Bavarian-born Frei (1869-1942) studied at the Munich Academy of Art before immigrating to the United States in the late 1800s. In 1900 he opened the Emil Frei Art Glass Company in St. Louis, Missouri.

Now for the second example of beauty that day, it is not as obvious as the windows but it is even more beautiful than the wonders of the church.  Think about this for a minute.  It is 7 PM at night, you have been doing construction work all day and it is time to return home to your family and a hot meal.  Just as you are getting ready to start your car and head home, two yahoo tourists walk up to your church and appear to be trying to gain entry.  You are not a tour guide or the pastor and you do not earn one cent by abandoning your original plans to go home and letting them in.  Furthermore, you have no idea how long they will remain or whether or not other tourists will suddenly emerge who want to come in.  What would the average store clerk do? What would the average store owner do? And bear in mind, store clerks are potentially making some money off of visitors.

Jesus had nothing to gain and yet he took the time to let us in, talk to us and tell us some brief facts about the church.  So what was this “unnoted” beauty of which I speak?  I am talking about “beauty of the spirit” and that night in Bisbee, Jesus showed us what a beautiful spirit really was and how it gave to others with no thought of reward or privilege gained.   Jesus was not the parish priest and he had no responsibility at all in the area of perhaps talking to potential parishioners.  What Jesus did was done simply out of the beauty of the man’s heart.

“The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.”  – Albert Einstein.

“Of life’s two chief prizes, beauty and truth, I found the first in a loving heart and the second in a laborer’s hand.” – Kahil Gibran

Time for Questions:

Do you look for beauty in unexpected places?  Do you find that beauty can lie in ideas and spirit and not just in things and glamour?  Do you raise your children to see the beauty of life and not just accomplishments or rewards?  How do you find beauty?  Do you have enough beauty in your life?  Can you still find beauty despite growing old and more infirm?  Can you help others by sharing your beauty with them?

Life is just beginning.

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” — Ashley Smith

 

Four Remarkable People on a Quest

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Part 1 – The Meeting

Once upon a time, there were four remarkable men.  Well, actually there were two remarkable men and two remarkable women.  A confluence of circumstances brought them together in perhaps one of the strangest coincidences in history.

Jamal was from the north.  He was one of the highest scorers to ever take the Mensa Genius Examination.  When he was only four years old, he developed a program to block credit card companies from calling his parents on their cell phones.  When he was seven years old, he developed a new form of cryptocurrency which was impossible to hack, easily transferred, had high usability and presented a respectable means of acquisition.  The currency was so popular that Jamal became a billionaire when he was 15 years old.

Isabella was from the south.  She graduated when she was 12 years old from the University of São Paulo with a Ph.D. degree in Physics and Philosophy.  She burned through required credits like a hot knife going through butter.  She had no problem paying for her tuition since she was hired by the University of São Paulo physics department to help with a particle research project they were undertaking, while she was earning her degree.  When she graduated, half of the physics departments in the world tried to hire her.

Li Na was from the east.  She was born in Chengdu, a sub-provincial city which serves as the capital of China’s Sichuan province.  She was the only child of an older couple who really wanted a boy.  Li Na learned to play soccer, baseball, table tennis and hockey at a young age.  She wanted to please her parents.  She was an excellent athlete who competed in all four sports in the Olympics.  However, her athletic abilities were far overshadowed by her intellect.  Li Na had mathematical abilities that rivaled any mathematician in history.  She could take any number and give you the square root of the number down to 1000 roots without a calculator or even an abacus.

When Li Na was fourteen years old, she decided to tackle all six of the remaining Millennium Prize Problems set by the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2000.  Li Na was able to solve all six of them within a month, but she decided it would be unfair to accept the prize money as the solutions were so easy.  She therefore rejected the prize and kept the solutions to herself.  Corporations all over the world engaged her with solving problems that defied normal mathematical solutions.  She gave her money back to her parents to help support them and to put into savings.  No one knew what she was worth, but it was assumed that she was a mega millionaire.

Elijah was from the west. He was born in California in a commune that practiced a form of communal marriage.  Elijah was never sure of who his father was, and he seemed to grow up with several mothers.  At an early age, Elijah showed a talent for music.  When he was three years old, he taught himself to play a violin.  At four, he learned to play an oboe and at five, he learned to play a harp.  When he was six, he took first place in the Menuhin Competition beating out every other contestant regardless of age.

As remarkable as his talent for playing music was, Elijah’s skills and abilities in the area of composing music were even more incredible.  He had written six operas, twenty movie scores and five symphonies before he was 16 years old.  Orchestras all over the world were playing his compositions when most people did not even know his name.  Elijah hated publicity and avoided any of the usual celebrity events.  He donated most of his money to help other aspiring musicians.  He was well known among musicians and performers for his humility and kindness towards others.

cafe-wrenEach of our four remarkable people were into their middle years when by chance they met at a small cafe and restaurant in a town called Luck in Northwestern Wisconsin.  Luck is a small town of about 1200 residents, which in its heydays was the home of the Duncan Yo-yo.  In fact, it was once known as the Yo-yo Capital of the world.  Sadly, Yo-yo’s had declined in popularity and so had the fortunes of Luck in terms of prosperity and jobs.  Now perhaps, the high spot of Luck was the Wren Cafe.  A place that had excellent food, good beer and a unique ambiance imbued by its extremely creative owner Stephanie Lundeen.

The café is well known to locals and to many of the cabin people who come up on the weekends to enjoy their sojourns from the “big city” of Minneapolis.  Li Na, Elijah, Isabella and Jamal were each brought there by friends who were locals and who knew that the Wren was a very good place to eat.  The Wren being a small place and small towns being where everyone knows everyone, introductions were soon flying like falling Wisconsin snow.  Our four remarkable people sensed that a new chapter in their lives was about to begin.

Thus, at 12 PM on a cool summer day in Luck Wisconsin, Li Na, Elijah, Isabella and Jamal experienced a nuclear fusion of intimacy.  The result was like a billion tons of dynamite going off at once or the largest fireworks display in the world.  The talent that each had was like a magnet that created an instant bond between the four.  Finding other people of comparable abilities and demeanor was something that they had only dreamed about.  They all found the rapport and affinity they had for each other to be amazing.

After an hour or so of rapid conversation intermixed with more general discussion with others in their parties, our four remarkable people decided to meet again when they could have more time to discuss their lives without anyone else present.  Unbeknownst to their friends and families, Li Na, Jamal, Elijah and Isabella all had serious inner doubts that they had never been able to share with another living soul.  Each believed that they had found some kindred souls with whom they could share their secrets and perhaps find some piece of mind.  They agreed to meet again at the Wren the following week.  It was a week they knew they must spare from their busy lives.

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Part 2 – Four Doubts

For several years now, Jamal had begun to feel that there was no meaning to his life.  He had even contemplated suicide because he felt that he had nothing left to live for. The world did not seem to have people that cared about anything but their new smart phones or how fast their Internet speeds were.  Life was one vast merry go round with people constantly jumping on and off and reacting to whatever the current fads and trends were.  Nobody cared about anything but how much money they had and how many things they could buy.  Jamal desired to know if there was a true Purpose in Life or if life was simply meaningless.

Elijah had many of the same feelings as Jamal.  Elijah no longer found value in anything in life.  Everything he had ever owned or purchased soon became worthless in his mind.  The best yachts, cars and homes that anyone could buy could not make him happy.  Fame and talent and beauty all seemed to fade over time.  People were fickle.  One minute they loved you and the next minute they loved somebody else.  Elijah knew what it was like to be famous and admired but it had lost any value to him.  He thought that being known as the greatest musician in the world would satisfy his inner longings.  Even though he had obtained this goal, it did not seem to provide the value that he had hoped for.  Elijah longed to know if there was any true Value in Life or if everything was really worthless.

Isabella had once believed that there was a hidden truth to life that remained to be found.  She had studied physics and philosophy thinking that they would lead her to this truth.  She had spent many years searching for this truth.  However, every time she found a truth, she soon realized that it was also a lie.  The prophets and great religious leaders had always taught that “The truth will set you free.”  Isabella could never find the talisman that would set her free.

She desperately wanted to believe that there was some truth to existence and that life was more than just a series of lies and deceptions.  She had a desire to find this truth, but she had become increasingly discouraged.  Each day she read the news and only found “Fake Facts” and deceptions masquerading as truth.  The world seemed to have misinformation and disinformation but no truth.  Isabella wanted to find the Truth of Life.

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Li Na was another tormented soul.  A brilliant mathematician, she could not discover a single constant in life.  Every time she thought she had found a concept in mathematics that would provide such a constant, Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem would rear its ugly head proving still again that it is impossible to find a complete and consistent set of axioms for mathematics.  If mathematics had no constants, how could life have any constants.  Was is simply true that death and taxes were the only constants in life?  Li Na wanted to believe that there was more to life than simply death and taxes.  Li Na desired to find the one Constant in Life that would really make life worth living.  If she could find this constant, she believed that it would put her soul at rest and she might find true peace on earth.

Part 3 – The Doubts Unfold

To Be Continued:  I will publish the next part of this story when it is finished.  I appreciate your patience. 

Time for Questions:

What do you think so far?  How do you like the four people in the story?  Have you ever shared similar doubts?  What did you do about them?  What do you believe about life?

Life is just beginning. 

“Doubt as sin. — Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality

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