I believe we leave traces of ourselves everywhere we go and among everyone we meet. Over a lifetime these fragments of others meld with our own essence to create the people we are.
My special friend, Terry Nelson, has apparently died. I say apparently because it’s something I can’t yet accept. It just doesn’t make sense.
Of all the people I’ve known Terry is one of the few whose very existence inclines me to believe in God, His goodness and His famously mysterious ways.
I wish I could tell Terry that. He’d laugh like hell and say, “Man, we need to get you another drink.”
Terry is one of those rare people I’ve known who always wears a smile. Always. I never saw him down or angry. He speaks with a persistent and infectious chuckle. He pays attention to every word I say, nodding his comprehension and agreement. He responds with a sterling compliment: “Dave, that’s exceptional”, he’ll say, and then give me a brief, positive reflection on what I had told him. He often leaves behind a nugget of revelation.
A few moments spent with Terry always makes me feel better about myself.
The eddies of life as they are, swirling, mixing and moving apart, I haven’t seen or spoken with Terry in years but the traces of him that migrated to my soul have made me a better man.
I guess the reason I can’t believe he’s gone is that he isn’t. He lives large in each of us who loved him.
We all say we want to live each day as if it was our last but we don’t. We live responsibly and follow rules of behavior that sometimes tug at the free spirit within us like a dog straining at the leash.
We try to be people others will approve of.
Randall “Bunky” Jacobs did not.
“Uncle Bunky burned the candle, and whatever else was handy, at both ends. He spoke in a gravelly patois of wisecracks, mangled metaphors, and inspired profanity that reflected the Arizona dive bars, Colorado ski slopes, and various dodgy establishments where he spent his days and nights.”
Bunky didn’t care what anyone thought of his life of self-indulgence. Though some would surely judge him harshly it seems pretty obvious that Bunky just plain didn’t give a shit.
Yet, those who knew him loved him.
“His impish smile and irreverent sense of humor were enough to quell whatever sensibilities he offended. He didn’t mean any harm; that was just Bunky being Bunky.”
He died far younger than necessary I suppose. Still, his obituary tells me that Uncle Bunky got more out of 65 years than most of us would in 165.
“In lieu of flowers, please pay someone’s open bar tab, smoke a bowl, and fearlessly carve out some fresh lines through the trees on the gnarliest side of the mountain.”
Bunky surely had his regrets. The obit doesn’t mention a wife or children though that doesn’t mean he didn’t have them. I’m guessing he did not and that might have been a sore point for him. Who knows?
It’s impossible to know what a man on his death bed is thinking. Did Bunky wish he had done things differently or did he simply enjoy his life, accept his fate graciously and look for the exit? The obit suggests the latter.
“I’m ready for the dirt nap, but you can’t leave the party if you can’t find the door.” – Uncle Bunky
I’ve decided I can admire Bunky without idolizing him. I don’t think he’d want to be idolized anyway.
Maybe he could have lived longer and even happier in some respects, maybe not. That’s a personal matter we’ll all have to decide for ourselves.
Either way, there’s something about Bunky or his legend that I love.
It’s Saturday morning, my favorite time of the week.
I slept well and longer than usual. I’m drinking coffee and enjoying a North Texas spring rain with Amelia.
Saturday morning is luxurious because it allows me guilt-free time for my mind to wander. This morning it has wandered to short attention spans. I’m not sure why, probably because I was reading people’s kneejerk reactions to mere headlines of slanted news articles posted on Facebook, but it’s Saturday morning. Let’s not go there.
I just start thinking about stuff.
By now we’ve all heard that the memory of a goldfish lasts just three seconds.
Turns out that’s a myth. It is fun to think about a goldfish looking at me through the glass, taking one quick trip around the bowl and upon seeing me again wondering, “Who’s that?” It’s just not true, apparently, though I don’t know that anyone hasn’t researched it but wouldn’t be surprised if someone has.
I don’t know why my mind wandered to that this morning but further cogitation led me to this gem of serious scientific research: The Attention Span of a Fly, by Bruno van Swinderen, Associate Professor at the University of Queensland Brain Institute.
In his abstract summary (abstract is his scientific word, not my snarky comment) he explains:
In the brain recording preparation, local field potential (LFP) activity in the 20–30 Hz range was found to be transiently associated with novel images and suppressed for competing, non-novel images.*
I don’t know about you but when I read that I throw in my cards and admit that this man’s brain spins at a much higher frequency than mine. But I still wanted to know the results of the study, so I poured another cup of Joe and dug in. Here’s what I managed to decipher:
A wild fruit fly can remember an image for nine to twelve seconds.
Ponder that for a moment, not the finding as much as the fact that there are people who want so badly to know this sort of arcane and arguably useless information that they will dedicate their lives to its exploration.
(And no, I didn’t realize there is such a thing as a domestic fruit fly, as implied. Let’s not go there just yet. Maybe in a future post.)
I’m not making fun of Professor van Swinderen, far from it.
With just a little more digging I learned that he’s a highly respected authority on human brain function and it turns out that understanding the human brain requires some experimentation with fruit flies. (Wild ones, at least.)
At the end of it all I’ve learned a factoid but I also discovered Professor van Swinderen, a fascinating man doing interesting and important work in ways I would never have imagined.
Yes, my brain goes in wildly unexpected places when unshackled from its daily requirements. It’s what makes Saturday mornings and my occasional writing sabbaticals so rewarding.
Now, for the snarky comment:
Nearly nobody will read this blog, much less consider for themselves the attention span of a goldfish or a fruit fly. Nor will most people consider the importance of this sort of research. Based upon a headline they’ll label Professor van Swinderen a loon.
Most of us construct our serious thinking these days from social media, blasts of ill-constructed pre-determined opinions posing as fact. We don’t bother to read, think for ourselves nor spend five minutes investigating truth by looking for the bigger picture. We just don’t have the time.
We carry all the recorded information in all of human history in our pockets. Think of that! — It’s mindblowing, but we don’t take time to appreciate it nor to be fascinated by our own amazing minds nor allow ourselves time to just think.
We’ve got other stuff to do.
When you come right down to it we’re fruit flies, by choice.
–May 16, 2020
*Bruno van Swinderen(2007)The Attention Span of a Fly,Fly,1:3,187-189,DOI: 10.4161/fly.4561
Bruno featured podcast, A Grey Matter: https://qbi.uq.edu.au/podcast-general-anaesthetics-and-consciousness
The whole world is gripped with fear. COVID-19 is killing people, overwhelming health care systems and forcing the global economy to its knees.
As I write this we’re all being told to stay home, wash our hands constantly and don’t touch our faces. We’re told to stay at least six feet apart lest Armageddon takes us all, one hapless victim at a time.
Mass media reports are hysterical.
What if this is a Grand Plan? What if God is hitting the reset button and putting us back on the right path?
If you don’t believe in a supreme being that’s fine. I’m not sure I do, either, but hear me out.
Whether this crisis is real or manipulated as some believe, whether or not the threat to human life is real or overblown it is undeniably real in the changes it has brought to all of our ordinary lives.
People are staying home. Families are forced to spend time together, to play games and to remember – or learn for the first time – what it means to be a family.
There are more people walking the streets of our neighborhoods than ever before. They’re staying safe but being brave, acting cheerful and neighborly. I’ve gotten waves and smiles from people on our street I’ve never seen before. Social media is giving us glimpses of families and friends engaged in happy play in the safety of their own homes.
Kids have never had it so good. Not since I was s child in the 1950s.
Our dogs have never known such loving attention and companionship as they do now, the kind of love they’ve always given us.
We’re home. We’re fearful but we’re learning to rediscover our humanity and the meaning of life on our own terms.
Even the terrorists are setting aside their fratricidal tactics to ensure their own safety. ISIS recently told their own death squads to hunker down. Think of it, people who willingly blow themselves up to take innocent lives are suddenly fearful of their own mortality.
Change is in the air, all around the world. It’s a terrifying time to be sure. But what if it’s just meant to be, for our own good?
The New Testament describes Armageddon as both a place and a revelation of events that many deem to foretell the end of the world.
What if it’s really a new beginning?
Believe what you will of the existence of God and Revelations. I don’t know what to believe. That stuff is over my head. But I do see something resulting from this pandemic, real or imagined, that is more hopeful than we might have ever dreamed possible.
We’re setting aside our petty differences, putting careers on the back burner and finally finding time for each other.
This may be much more than a silver lining around a dark cloud. It just might put us back on a path we lost a generation or two ago.
Family, friends; do unto others.
For now at least, love, decency and kindness seem to be in vogue.
I embrace it and look forward to a better, happier world when this is all behind us.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts with me, here.
Nobody could have imagined something like this. Life as we’ve always known it has virtually ground to a halt around the entire civilized world. Here in the U.S. many public gathering places are closed indefinitely. We’re told to socially isolate and self-quarantine.
Wash your hands, stay six feet apart.
Rumors are flying that martial law will soon be imposed and we’ll all be prisoners in our homes.
How could this happen over a disease that most people survive? As of today there have been 287,000 confirmed cases and 11,900 deaths around the world. We’re warned that the numbers will go much higher but if the percentages hold most of us will be just fine. Except, maybe, financially for the immediate future.
The shutdown of businesses is crushing the stock markets. Hundreds of thousands of people are out of work and here in the U.S. the number of lost jobs is expected to soar into the millions.
It’s like something from a sci-fi movie.
This blog is a diary, really. I write it for my own future memories and for my children and theirs.
Perspective: It’s a grim time here in the First World. And yet, I can’t imagine life in desperately poor countries where this disease is just another relatively minor pain in the ass for people who live with deadly diseases and devastating poverty every single day of their lives.
By comparison our First World has a slight sniffle. We’re fine.
Perspective: I awoke this morning well rested to a beautiful early spring day, my beloved wife beside me. I made coffee as the dogs waited for their breakfast.
Our kids and their families are hunkered down and healthy, as are most Americans.
When all of this is just a memory toilet paper will be the iconic symbol of COVID-19 in America. We have a panic-induced shortage of it but life goes on.
Some people think this is all a lie or at least overblown. Far more people die each year of the flu, it’s true. We just accept that, so why all of this now?
I think the world is getting its act together as a species, globally responsible for the first time in human history. From the local store owner wearing latex gloves to state governors implementing mandatory restrictions of assembly and movement and nations closing their borders we are working together sensibly, cautiously.
Congress is working in bipartisan near-harmony, for God’s sake.
This will all be over sooner rather than later because Americans and citizens of every other nation in the world are reacting to a crisis with serious actions and measured perspective.
While you’re cooped up in self-quarantine with your family this weekend and for what might be days and weeks to come, make it a special time that none of you will ever forget. Give your kids joyous lifetime memories of the time their family came together as families had in generations past.
This, too, shall pass.
My dear mother always said to me, “This can be a good day or a bad day. It’s up to you.”
I read this story on Fox News a couple of days ago:
A couple married for nearly 50 years had just enjoyed a cocktail on their deck, where they talked about their inevitable deaths.
As they walked back inside their Vermont home, a piece of ice fell off the roof and fatally struck 73-year-old Linda Freedman Scharrenberg in the back of the head, according to the couple’s daughter, Jodine Meyers.
In the porch conversation, Meyers said her father told his wife he didn’t know how he could live without her.
Sometimes coincidence borders on creepy. And if you think about it for more than a moment it can make you question your disbelief in fate.
Another news story I recall telling on the radio many years ago was about a man fishing at a lake while his family was preparing a picnic table nearby. He hooked a very small perch and it made him laugh. Lifting the tiny fish still on his line above his head he called to his wife and kids, “Hey, look at this whopper!” As she grabbed for her camera the guy looked up at the sunfish dangling on the line over his head, throwing back his head in laughter.
The fish wiggled off the hook, fell into the man’s open mouth and lodged in his throat suffocating him.
Sometimes even God can make clumsy work of things left until the last minute.
Have you ever stopped to think about what you want your final words to be? Neither have I but I’m thinking about it now.
I was surprised to learn this morning that Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York currently running for president, was apparently the final thought that crossed Kirk Douglas’ mind before he died last week at the age of 103.
According to this morning’s New York Post, Kirk’s son, actor Michael Douglas, told Bloomberg supporters, “I don’t know if he was pulling my leg or not but one of the last (things) that he said in the hospital when he saw me, he asked me to lean over close to him and I leaned over close to him and he said, ‘Mike can get it done’.
The Bloomberg volunteers went wild.
Excuse my skepticism but really? The man’s final thought was about presidential politics? He’s 103, on his death bed, and his lasting legacy statement was a campaign endorsement?
If I was his son, and let’s be frank here, Michael Douglas is 75 and he could follow his father into the Hollywood Forever Cemetery any minute now, I would be devastated.
Why didn’t he tell me how wonderful I am in movies?
Why didn’t he say he just say he loved me?
I’m thinking it was a misunderstanding. It’s more likely that Kirk Douglas, in his weakened condition, thought someone had asked him who should deliver his eulogy and he gave the obvious answer, his famous son, Michael.
“Mike can get it done.”
Or maybe that’s not at all what he said. I interviewed Kirk Douglas a few years after his stroke. He was very kind and gracious but his speech was severely affected and he was hard to understand.
He may have just said, “I’d like a cookie, please.”
Anyway, this got me thinking about my final words. If I could plan ahead to say something memorable, something adorable, pithy, brief and quotable on my death bed, what would it be?
You know me. I’d want to do something funny like bolt upright in wide-eyed amazement and say something that seemed to come to me in a blinding flash of revelation: “Death! Yes but no! There is no death! I get it now, the true meaning of life is…………..!”
And then I’d plop back into my pillow, eyes closed, never to open again.
The reality is I’d probably just tell whoever was near me how much I love my family, how I’ve lived a life filled with love and laughter. I’d just say I’m happy.
That would be nice.
You know what would really be a pisser, though?
What if you thought of exactly the right words and practiced until you were able to express them with the skill of a classical Shakespearean actor, the perfect words uttered in perfect understated sincerity (I’d try to channel Peter O’Toole). Then you smile wistfully, a blessed child about to return home; a small tear would trickle down one cheek.
Your family would sigh and sniff; a muffled sob, hugs all around.
They’d take turns squeezing your hand and kissing your forehead.
Then twenty minutes later you wake up and realize, “Shit. Now I have to think of something else to say.”