Pandemic Diary: #NamingTheLost

Two days after my father, William Robert (Bob) Aldrich died of COVID-19 (May 10) in Hyannis, Massachusetts, I was a participant in an online video meeting. Just before it was my turn to speak, something caught my eye: a cardinal, small but rich red in color, alighted on the Rose of Sharon bush beside my window.

Not many birds choose to visit this bush; it is crowded with thin branches and it is smack against the side of the house here. Also, the flowers are not in bloom yet; when they are, the bees will comprise approximately ninety-eight percent of the bush’s visitors rather than birds: through the day, the sound of bumblebee collisions with the window next to the Rose of Sharon punctuates my day.

The red of the cardinal caught my eye, because red always does, and birds are somewhat rare on that exact spot and cardinals rarer still (this was the first time). I mentioned it as I spoke, mostly to make a joke about the fact that the previous speaker’s cat had leapt into her camera frame. (Her cat had chased this bird to me, was the quip. I’m a dad joke waiting to become a father.) Someone all but said that the cardinal was my dad; I do not remember if the thought was that a bird’s visit is spiritual or a cardinal’s visit is.

Red cardinals are the males of the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis); my dad was male, of course, but his hair was red when his hair had color. Red so noteworthy that his nickname in his hometown was “Red.” My friend had no way to know this.

I do not believe in a spiritual world, but sometimes it can almost seem (even to me) that the spirit world wants my attention. I do believe in a spiritual life in that I believe the only point to life is love; perhaps that is not “spiritual,” perhaps it is.
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A Christmas Tree

How (not) to cut down your own Christmas tree.

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Tree trimming was my least favorite type of trimming when I was young. I still lack the eye-hand coordination required to decorate a tree correctly; in fact, I believe that almost every tree I have attempted to decorate was quietly fixed upon my departure.

A beloved girlfriend one Christmas credited me with the expansion of her notions of tree decoration—she said, “You’re the first person I’ve known who does not put all the decorations on the ends of the branches,” which is true, I sometimes place them on the middle or sometimes closer to the trunk; and 2. We found that I had overloaded one section of the Christmas tree with the same color ornament (albeit on different sections of the branches!) and this needed to be quietly fixed.

Christmas can be a challenge for someone so rarely festive, like me.

One winter’s day long ago, a dear friend enlisted me in a project to cut down a real live Christmas tree from a local Christmas tree farm so that her son could experience a Christmas just like the one she and I had never, ever had.
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The Tin Man: A View from 50

Let us gaze in the mirror alongside the subject as he assesses life on the morning he crosses the half-century point. He needs a helpful, objective view. Thank you for helping.

From the top, the hair. He has a full head of hair, and the ratio of follicles that still produce dark-brown versus white interlopers remains 80-to-20 in favor of dark brown. He has a single white hair visible on his right hand, which he has nicknamed “Memento Mori.” There is white in his beard, so he shaves, but white hairs have not yet appeared on his legs.

The ratio of brown to white is such that a friend asked him several years ago which brand and color dye he uses, which shocked and pleased him at the same time because he does not dye his hair. This is because he is proud of his full head of dark hair as if it is a comment on his positive qualities as an individual rather than an accident of genetic inheritance.
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Infinite Love

“The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men. As far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.”—G.K. Chesterton, “The Flag of the World,” Orthodoxy

The suicide is committing, from his or her terrible and terrifying and terrified point of view, genocide. Humanity-cide.
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Who Do I Trust?

My first instinct, which is that my first instinct can not be trusted, is usually wrong. This often puts me in any number of conundra.

The paragraph immediately above gives a clear example: My typing fingers wanted to write “conundrum,” then wanted the plural form. But what is the plural of conundrum? My all-too clever brain thought: “conundra. That’s funny. It’ll get a smile from someone.” The someone who smiled was me, which was enough to make it so, and I typed “conundra” for “conundrums.” But I go look it up and learn—thanks, World of Information!—that since conundrum does not come from a Latin root, but sounds like it might have, the proper plural is “conundrums.” Further, the word “conundra” has existed for a long, long while as a humorous, mock-educated plural form for plural problems. “Mock-educated.” That’s me, so it remains “conundra.”
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Graceless and Grateful

It was as if every wish I had made in childhood for a hole in the ground to open up and rescue me had been answered in reverse …

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I bear a scar from the first Valentine’s Day that I had a reason to celebrate as Valentine’s Day, as a part of a couple.

Until my current relationship, my romantic history was a long walk alone in an empty field, punctuated by moments in which I interrupted someone else’s walk, attempted to try a relationship, and discovered that I try people’s patience instead. (All the women I have dated are brilliant and accomplished and I was lucky to get to know them; I was stuck at age 15 for an astonishingly long time, however.)

My love right now, my soul mate, Jen, is quite brilliant and accomplished, and for the first time in my life, four-plus years now, I am an equal partner and have opened myself up to having an equal partner. Not too bad for a 47-year-old 15-year-old.
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Bearing Witness

One afternoon, my friend and I were waiting for her car to be serviced, so we sat in the waiting room to discuss the things good friends discuss in waiting rooms when coffee is being given away.

An elderly woman, still wearing her winter coat indoors, was sitting alone across from us, barking inarticulate sounds to herself. Sometimes, when she would hear laughter, she would rock forward, and, with a smile on her face, direct some louder sounds in the direction of the others, as if she was participating in the joking and merriment. Then she would slump back and the stream of non-language would continue, sometimes in a sing-song, sometimes with a note of fear and anger. Was she alone here? Had she wandered in off the street? That was not possible, as the street was Route 9.
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Love vs. Terror

After years of domestic abuse, a lovely young woman (a friend of my girlfriend’s, but I met her several times) took her own life today. She leaves behind children. Her husband, the person from whom she was trying to escape for years, is today posting sympathy-begging messages on Facebook, the likes of which are stunning. At least, I am stunned.

Perhaps I should not be, as I have been writing columns for years about human rights violations in nations controlled by repressive regimes around the world. Repression and torture do not need a national policy to make them real. Repression happens on a sliding scale, from the size of a nation to the size of the back of a man’s hand. And no one can measure the cruelty of words.

I am angry, I suppose on her behalf, little good it does now. Angry that there are individuals who treat their world and their “loved ones” like a repressive nation treats its dissident citizens: he threatened her with overwhelmingly expensive legal battles to extricate herself from the pain he was inflicting on her, and she felt driven to make attempts (plural) on her own life. And then, his hands clean because he did not end her life (he also did not save it) he began to fill the airwaves with messages posted “more in sorrow than in anger” about how his wife abandoned him today. (I have this fantasy that my friends in Anonymous will launch an “Ops” attack against him. Pah. To what end?)

Maybe someone who feels the need or desire to hurt themselves today—perhaps to strike out against someone who is hurting them or perhaps because they may not want to die but they can not imagine continuing to live—may read what follows.

Perhaps publishing this phone number right here, today—1-800-273-TALK (8255)—is the only reason for this website’s existence. It is the national suicide prevention hotline number.
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