Thursday, February 26, 2009

Goodbye, My Friend

After an exceptionally sad turn of events a good man has died today, and I am torn. This past (almost) year has been a nightmare of cancer and hospitalization and chemo and strength of will and character, with the ever present deterioration of health, worsening of pain, and erosion of hope.

I am torn because I remember before he was ill: laughing at the shenanigans at work, wearing jeans on Fridays, little pot belly hanging out, racing through the plant getting things done, yelling at the guys when they were slacking off, sharing funny tales of peers and associates, eating junk food, questioning stupidity with a bewildered how-hard-can-it-be “Right? Huh? You know what I mean?” The man was literally the lifeblood of the place … we all knew that if anything happened to him we’d be in trouble. I'd love to have him back.

I am torn because I remember when we first realized his pain was serious (his legs went right out from under him a couple times; if the guys hadn't been nearby to catch him he'd have hit the floor), and its steady progression, and the shock of hearing his initial doctor’s visit resulted in immediate hospitalization and surgery. I remember when he returned to work weeks later with a walker, in physical therapy, because the surgery had removed a tumor on his spine and now there was nerve damage. He used a walker for what became the rest of his life.

I am torn because when he first returned to work from surgery he was in such high spirits: the absence of pain was that good. He knew he had cancer, was in treatment, but was all smiles because it simply did not hurt anymore. He told stories of the drill sergeant mentality of his therapists, who just wanted the best for him but, man, were they tough!

I am torn because that first chemo didn’t work, nor the next, nor the one after that; he got thinner and thinner, and eventually the pain returned. Gone was the little pot belly, then every extra ounce of fat … he became the most emaciated person I’ve ever actually known. All his clothes were too big and cinched in tight. His skin wasn't loose the way it is when one loses weight on a diet … it simply tightened up like his body was burning away every bit of excess there was. He became gaunt and his skin took on the likeness of tissue paper, with a pale greenish gray cast.

I went on vacation the 1st week of February, but my last day before I did I picked up a super soft throw pillow for him to sit on, because he had so wasted away that even his cushioned executive's chair caused him pain. I will never forget the difficulty he had standing while I slipped the pillow under him, nor way he sounded when he sighed as he sat down and thanked me for it. I had a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat. I only wished I had picked it up for him sooner.

That was the last time I saw him … he was hospitalized again while I was on vacation, and when I returned he was still in the hospital. He went home to hospice care last week, and his brother notified us that he has passed today, with services most likely Monday.

Just a few days ago as I drove to work Coldplay’s Viva la Vida played, and I burst into tears, thinking of him. I’ve heard the song since (one of the guys even sang it on American Idol last night), and every time I cry. From now on, a least for the time being, this will be his song, because that’s how it speaks to me:

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn't believe what I'd become

Revolutionaries wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

I’d been conversing lately, asking for one of two things: if it isn't in Your plans to give him a miracle and cure him, then take him Home as soon as he’s ready. Well, he was ready today. I am heart sore for his loved ones, but I truly do believe he is in a better place. I will miss him; I think more than even I can imagine right now.

So now as I sit here downing my package of Pepperidge Farms Mint Milano cookies (I may just finish the whole thing), I think how fitting is this poem by Mary Frye:

Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush, I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there; I did not die.

And, finally, I bellow the words of Seether, because when I do I feel better; they affirm my belief in God, “Take the light, and darken everything around me. Call the clouds, and listen closely; I'm lost without You … I call Your name every day, when I seem so helpless; I've fallen down, but I'll rise above this, rise above this doubt.”

Goodbye, my friend … I will miss you.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dichotomy (dī-kŏt'ə-mē) (dahy-kot-uh-mee)

The Players:

Michael Phelps - 23, U.S. swimmer, 14-time Olympic champion, has more Olympic gold than any other athlete. World Swimmer of the Year 2003-2004 and 2006-2008, American Swimmer of the Year 2001-2004 and 2006-2008. Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year 2008. Has millions in endorsements with such companies as Speedo, Mazda, Omega, and VISA. Announced the Michael Phelps Foundation with a bang by donating the million dollar bonus he received from Speedo for his Olympic performance. Diagnosed as a child with ADHD, and took up swimming as an energy release and focus aid. Got a DUI at the age of 19.

Tom Daschle - 61, Democrat, spent four terms in House of Representatives 1979-1987, former U.S. Senator (D-SD) 1987-2005, U.S. Senate Majority Leader 2001-2003, co-author of “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis” about health care reform, nominated by President Obama to be the Secretary of Health & Human Services.

Under Fire:

Phelps - Currently under fire for a photo depicting him taking a bong hit.

Daschle - Currently under fire for: 1) failure to pay, among other things and due to “unintentional oversight”, $128,000 in taxes for a private car and driver, even after he had it researched by his accountant; and 2) huge financial ties to big dogs in the health care industry to the tune of over four million dollars.

The Scrutiny:

Phelps - The media, that bastion of the old bait-and-switch, is toying with the idea that Phelps should lose his endorsements, but why should he? The companies backing him claim this is a non-issue, as it should be. Let’s not forget the coveted 18-24 year old demographic doesn’t take issue with pot (nor, for the most part, do many other demographics), it can even be said this episode may make Phelps more relatable (e.g., bankable).

During this age of instant information and precious little privacy there are few who are unaware most top-level Olympic athletes live very different lives than the rest of us, and with the amount of public scrutiny Phelps underwent before, during, and after the 2008 Summer Olympics there can’t be many left who think his formative years were even remotely similar to theirs (or their children’s).

While I understand holding role models to a higher standard, it infuriates me that the media, and people in general, insist on calling anyone a role model who may move the news. Where are all the stories of a-day-in-the-life? Why do we only hear about these supposed “role models” when they’ve done something “wrong”? Isn’t a true role model the person one wishes to emulate or aspires to be because s/he has what one wants (e.g., skill, talent, lifestyle, abilities), and if so, doesn’t that include the entire package?

A kid who dedicates his young adulthood to acquiring and maintaining the skills to be the very best at a physically demanding sport does not spend much of that time experiencing the social interactions of his/her counterparts (e.g.,partying). Of course he’s going to cut loose later!

Daschle - There is absolutely no excuse for any U.S. politician to have any tax issues whatsoever, in any way, shape, or form. Every politician should be held to the highest standard imaginable in these regards, period.

Yes, Daschle may have been left holding the proverbial tax bag once Timothy Geithner was confirmed Treasury Secretary after having cleared up his own little tax debacle but really, how can anyone possibly justify three (this includes Nancy Killefer, who was nominated to oversee budget and spending reform) serving politicians with tax problems allowing themselves to be nominated for key positions? And these are just the three we know about. Does anyone else see the irony here? We’re to entrust our nation’s finances to people who can’t handle their own finances responsibly?

The Bottom Line:

Phelps - Since when do we care about a kid smoking pot? In this instance I say let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Otherwise shut the hell up and get over your bad self.

Daschle - If he doesn’t withdraw on his own, President Obama should do it for him. With the lack of trust the U.S. currently has for leadership it is not important to always be right, but rather to admit when wrong and take corrective action.

Of course, half my aggravation/point is kind of moot now, seeing as Daschle has just withdrawn his name, with President Obama’s support, from the nomination …
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