Generations

Ok Kids, here’s a little something to think about; The world is a strange place, the people in it even stranger. Generation Next, Millennials, Generation Why, Generation X, Boomers, The Greatest Generation and whatever the generations preceeding this were called are no different from each other. Every generation consists of protesters, protestees, workers, loafers, bullies and bullied, leaders, followers and everything in between.

lgglszx9tk2exkfywdhpqwThe Boomers you are OKing today are you, thirty years ago. Same vision, same fire inside, same contempt for the elder generation, same scorn, hopelessness, desire and dreams.

Oh, and the biggest thing we all share; the same frustration.

The people who rise to the top of the pile and make the most noise are remembered, the rest of us do our damndest to survive, squeak out a little happiness, live lives of quiet desperation and watch the madhouse unfold.

Life is hard. It’s hard for everybody, young, old and in between. It’s not the age and experience, race, sex or sexual orientation that matters, it’s the soul of the individual that creates harmony or discord.

So nurture that soul, ignore the temptation to discredit those who came before you, or are just now finding their place in this nuthouse called Planet Earth. The same types of people have been drawn to politics since Day One, and those are the people we all need to keep an eye on.

They are not us. They simply are good at convincing those of us who are too busy living that they know what is best.

They do not. They know what is best for them.

We are the fuel that they use to push their agenda. We have the power. It is up to us to take care of each other the best we can, because when all is said and done, each and every one of us who makes it through this existence will understand exactly what it was like to be young, in the middle, and old.

Neil Peart 1952-2112

“And the meek shall inherit the earth…”

So begins Rush’s epic 2112.

2112

“We’ve taken care of everything
The words you read
The songs you sing
The pictures that give pleasure
To your eye
One for all and all for one
Work together
Common sons
Never need to wonder
How or why”

I didn’t understand exactly why, but the song spoke to me in ways I’m just now beginning to understand. It is about rebellion, plain and simple. Rebelling against indoctrination into group think. Freedom from oppression. The majesty of the individual, and the beauty each and every one of us is capable of achieving on our own, by ourselves and for ourselves.

“Look around this world we made
Equality
Our stock in trade
Come and join the Brotherhood
Of Man
What a nice contented world
Let the banners
Be unfurled
Hold the Red Star proudly
High in hand.”

It is a hard rock anthem against socialism. It is brutally honest, stark and powerful. And I didn’t even know it. I just liked it.

Years later, I found Ayn Rand. Her novel, Atlas Shrugged was suggested to me by a casual acquaintance who shared my love of end of the world stories with a message of hope. That book helped shape my political philosophy with its message of individual achievement being an honorable goal.

“I see the works of gifted hands
Grace this strange and wondrous land
I see the hand of man arise
With hungry mind and open eyes”

The potential for greatness was crushed by those in power for the protagonist in this song, using Neil Peart’s words, not unlike the climate plaguing the world today. We are seduced with promises of fairness, safety, equality and comfort at the expense of freedom of thought and action. We are embroiled in a race war, a privilege war and a war against the individual. Hard work leading to success is scorned, wealth criticized and individual competence considered secondarry to participation in mob activity.

Rest in Peace Neil Peart.

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OK Boomer, Time is Up

By Michael Morse

We are doomed. People born between 1945 and 1980 are toast. In an anomaly of history, the life expectancy of this group is trending downward. We are living shorter lives than our parents did, and our kids will live longer than we will.

Our parents were led to believe that sugar was great, and harmless. They were sold on the idea that packaged food and TV dinners were safe and affordable. They didn’t look at ingredients on those cardboard boxes. They simply opened them up, popped them into the microwave and, presto! They passed out antibiotics like Halloween candy, and a fever began at 104 degrees.

I didn’t drink water until I was 25. Hi-C, Hawaiian Punch, Tang and powdered lemon flavored sugar did quite nicely, thank you. Add to that a glass of hormone-laden, pasteurized, chemically-enhanced antibiotic-fueled milk for breakfast and you did a body good! Every table had a sugar bowl on top with a tablespoon buried in it, right next to the giant ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts. Even our favorite breakfast cereal, Sugar Frosted Sugar Cubes, was topped with a few tablespoons of table sugar before we poured the poison milk on top and dug in.

Our moms smoked like champs when they were pregnant, dads didn’t worry about 737feelings, and spare the rod they did not. We are the seen-and-not-heard generation. Our opinions did not matter until we could contribute to the family budget, which was usually around eight years old when we got out first jobs. And even then, what we said was ridiculed, unless what we said was in total accordance with the house ideology. Dissension was forbidden, and rule-breakers were beaten.

We played outside. But don’t think for a minute that we reveled in fresh air and sunshine, swam in pristine lakes and rolled in dew covered grass. The water we played in was pretty, once you got past the oil slick on top, and the sand that lined the banks of the gurgling streams contained all the colors of the rainbow, provided for free by the jewelry factory upstream that dumped their chemical waste out the window. The grass we felt under our bare feet was chemically treated by our dads, whose motto was, “Death to All Living Things Except Perfect Grass Blades!”

Me, my brother and our band of misfits were specially blessed: we grew up in walking distance of the state airport. It was only four miles away, security was unheard of, and there was an easily scaled four-foot fence keeping demented children off the runway. Because we were not demented, we scaled that fence, hid in the tall grass at the end of the runway and waited. As soon as an airliner hit the gas for takeoff we would break cover and run behind the jet engines. The wind from the turbines was powerful enough to knock us over. We smelled like pollution for a week, but it was worth it!

So now we carry our DNA-altered, GMO-experimented, sugar-molecule-tired old bodies into our Golden Years. We feed our youngsters organic food, listen to their world views and drink lots of water. We will die young, but they will live forever.

Michael Morse (mmorsepfd@aol.com), a monthly contributor, is an author and a former captain with the Providence Fire Department.

When we lighten the darkness

candleOriginally published in the Providence Journal

My Turn: Michael Morse: When we lighten the darkness

It’s dark now. Streetlights have been on for an hour. Headlights in the distance approach, mingle with my own, then disappear. Snowflakes dance in and out of the beams of light before being crushed by my tires.

Two hours until dinner, the bags of groceries sit silently next to me as I speed toward home, hoping to get the contents of those bags into edible form long before all of the lights go out and we retreat to dreamland.

It seems like yesterday it was light well past the dinner hour, and people walked their dogs past my home, sneaking a quick look to see if Mr. Wilson, our fearless protector, would be in his spot on the back of the couch in front of the picture window, watching the world go by. His presence was comforting, I think, as they glanced our way and then moved along. They too are gone now. It’s too cold for walking, and poor old Mr. Wilson stares at the deserted street until bedtime.

December is the darkest month. If I allow myself the luxury I can bask in the gloom and cold that accompanies the end of the calendar year and look to the skies waiting for the winter solstice. Or I can join the happy souls who refuse to let something as natural as the seasonal shift interfere with their ability to celebrate.

Those lonely rides home from work, or school, or endless errand runs, are far more enjoyable in December, when what could have been a dreary landscape has been transformed into a magical display of human ingenuity. People make the miracle happen, people who brave the cold and wind, and perhaps the depression in their souls to shed light on a darkening world.

We know that those dark days will not last forever but, even so, brightening them, even a little, by placing a candle in a window, or a string of little lights along the roof line, or perhaps a few dozen of those lights along the fence and in the bushes — and while we’re at it, maybe the trees could use a little illumination, and a few lighted deer on the lawn would look nice, and a giant snowman over there, and a full-sized Santa and all of this reindeer on the roof, a menorah in the living room window and a nativity scene over there, a few spotlights to illuminate the front door, even though the wreath and garland are already lit, and maybe …

I love Christmas lights. I love the way they look. I love the way they make me feel when I look at them. I love leaving my house at four in the afternoon and turning them on, knowing full well I won’t be home till long after the timer turns them off.

I used to turn them on only when I was home to enjoy them. Then I realized the lights aren’t about me, or even for me. The lights are for everybody, just as everybody else’s lights are for me.

I’m glad I realized that. It makes me like the lights even more.

Ok, Boomer

We’ve all heard the same lines, and have probably spoken them:

“When I was your age…”

My parents loved nothing more than to tell us kids how easy we had it. We believed every word until we grew up and saw for ourselves just how hard our own lives were.

Now that we are older, and have some stories of hardship and suffering of our own to tell, along comes the youngsters with their tales of woe:

-There’s no jobs!

-College loans are unfair!

-Mom’s basement is damp!

-Everybody is trying to kill me!

The Greatest Generation survived world wars, nuclear proliferation, Cuba and the explosion of broadcast media. My guess is the Latest Generation will survive as well. We all want to believe that our moment in history is the most prolific, important and difficult. I’m no different. I honestly believe that if my generation — that being people now between the ages of 45 and 65 — didn’t destroy civilization, then civilization is indestructible. We lived our lives with abandon, grew our hair, wore ridiculous clothes and knew without a doubt that we were the only people on Earth who mattered.

Today’s world is a little different. People no longer see for themselves what all the fuss is about, all the fuss is brought to them every minute of every day. Living life through an inanimate screen isn’t truly living, and a false sense of reality prevails.

Ask anybody between the ages of 15 and 30 about the state of civilization and be prepared for a doomsday response. It matters not that the opinions expressed are a bit warped, what is important is that they believe it.

“Contrary to popular opinion, violent crime is on the decline. Since 1995, violent crime in the United States has decreased by nearly half from 685 incidents per 100,000 Americans to 366 incidents per 100,000 Americans today, according to estimates released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Since 2010, the violent crime rate has dropped by 9.4 percent. In some states, crime rates have declined by more than twice the national drop.”

That was reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Try telling that to today’s generation, who truly believe that their time on earth is the most unfair, dangerous and difficult moment in history. Try telling them that people survive. The kids of today that we worry about, the ones with their devices and unwillingness to venture out of their houses to play are going to become old, and have a lifetime of experience to pass on to the ones coming after them.

I imagine that the stories of hardship they will tell the next generation will be filled with unfulfilled dreams, the harsh reality of being human and strength of character needed to survive. I wonder how long this cycle has played itself out.

Did the soldiers heading to war in 1942 hear their fathers telling them that without mustard gas war was easy? How about their parents, telling their sons that war with guns was too genteel? Was the Great Famine considered luxury living to Irish people who lived before 1845, and ate rocks at night to keep their bellies full? Was the bubonic plague simply an inconvenience to the parents of the people living in the 1340s?

Every moment in history comes with its own set of danger and opportunity. We all like to think that we overcame great adversity to reach whatever it is that we consider success.

Truth is, we all have something great to overcome. If you were able to put The Latest Generation into 1942, they would rise to the occasion, just like the Greatest Generation did. We react to challenges as they arise.

None of us is more heroic, more focused or any better than the people who come before or after us.

It isn’t our fault that people from my generation had more challenges, hardship and uncertainty than people at any other time in history, and the resulting opportunities were great. We were simply in the right place at the right time.

Running with the Fox

I scramble around, working like a fool; thousands of EMS calls a year, every year for twenty years, trying to make a difference, thinking I have, hoping it isn’t all for nothing. I know that in a hundred years every person living now, at this moment will be gone, and all new people will inhabit this earth. The overpowering urge to do something that matters dominates my thoughts when I think of things like that, how fleeting our time here actually is, and how soon we will be forgotten. It’s a crazy world we live in, but at least everybody will be different a hundred years from now

That I am a Rescue Captain on one of the busiest ALS vehicles in the country counts for something-I think. At least I tell myself so. Some days things all come together, like there is some cosmic plan where everything makes sense. Other days, not so much:

Dim lighting illuminates the living room turned bedroom, a commode sits by the window, recently cleaned, the smell of Lysol mixes with the smell of dying, the familiar aroma that stays with us as we journey through the years. The couch is pushed to the side for now, but it will be back in position where the hospital bed now sits, tomorrow, maybe, definitely by weeks end. She’s tired, sick and ready, waiting to go, but life is funny, those that wish and pray for it to end must wait while others never get a chance to know the peace and satisfaction that comes from a life well lived. The family is prepared, and the vigil is underway, I’d be surprised if there isn’t a schedule somewhere, making sure she won’t die alone.

A light rain falls in the inner city, freshening the decay that coats the gutters, bringing with it a much-needed rinse. The rain mixes with oil that has accumulated on the roadways since the last rainfall, four weeks ago, the combination turning the street into a skating rink. The kids in the car don’t know enough to be careful; they haven’t lived long enough to experience a rain slick road on a lazy afternoon. The fact that the cops are on their tail and they have a grand in the glove box and a bag of rocks under the seat throws caution out the window as the driver hits the gas, skids through an intersection, sideswipes an innocent person’s car then slides into a little tree, it’s trunk barely five inches in diameter, but enough to encroach the passenger compartment, and kill the teenage girl who wanted so badly to sit in the front seat. She never had a chance, never thought it would end before it got started, never grew up, or old, or learned that it could all change in an instant.

She’s in the bathroom of her rented third floor apartment, bleeding, a lump in the toilet floats; the pain in her abdomen seems miniscule now that her heart is broken. It’s her third miscarriage, her husband is at work, and has no idea, she’s alone, truly alone now that their child is gone. She fishes it out of the bowl, and wraps it in a facecloth, and calls 911, and sits on the bathroom floor and cries. We arrive, and have no idea the turmoil going on inside her, or what she carries in her facecloth, only that she is bleeding, and needs us. She sits on the stretcher as we ride in silence toward the Emergency Room, wondering if she will ever have a family, and if the immortality that creation brings will visit her, or will her legacy die with her, and her empty womb.

Another girl screams as we wheel her into Woman and Infants, she’s crowning, the baby’s head pokes out just as we transfer her from our to their stretcher, seconds later another baby is born in Providence, the nurses take over, I wipe my brow and thank the rescue gods we made it in time as the umbilical cord is cut and the new mother turns her head and tells the nurse to “get that thing away” from her. She will be smoking crack within the hour now that she got rid of the curse in her belly, not that the curse stopped her from smoking before, she was high as a kite when we picked her up from a condemned building that was littered with addicts and their paraphernalia.

He’s building a fence, been digging for a few hours, his chest hurts, he ignores it, keeps on digging. A neighbor finds him unconscious next to a pile of dirt and calls us. The neighbor knows CPR and starts, and we continue, and do our thing, and get a pulse, and in the hospital they continue and get him breathing on his own. We consider it a victory and get back to work, where another guy is sitting watching TV, feels chest pressure, takes a nitro and calls us. He has two stents, and a history of open-heart surgery, and he’s a diabetic, and he eats bags of chips and drinks bottle after bottle of coke and weights almost four-hundred. He goes to the cath lab. Then home, and back to his chair, and his chips. The man digging holes for his fence posts goes to ICU where he stays for a while, then dies, never regaining consciousness. He was fifty-one.

We deliver babies, pull people from wrecked cars, administer the right drugs at the right time and truly make a difference, most of the time. It’s funny how we tend to dwell on the other times, when all we can do is wonder. I took a walk today, slow at first, then faster until I was almost running. Then I was running, not a graceful sprint by any means, just arms and legs pumping, my heart racing, feeling good just to be alive and well. The neighborhood where I now live is like a park where people put homes. Different trees sprouting different flowers, the ground erupting with different colors every day, the grass, freshly cut this weekend glistens with moisture from an early morning shower, only now the sun has appeared, and with the warmth the water evaporates giving the air a freshly showered feel.

No cars today, most people are at work, just me, the birds and just me. When I think my heart is ready to explode I slow down and stroll the last half-mile, just enjoying the sounds around me. A fox sprints away from my bird feeder as I walk up my driveway. He looks a little old, gray around the whiskers and not as fast as you might think a fox would be. My neighbor who knows everything told me that foxes are not necessarily nocturnal, so rabies probably isn’t a factor. Too bad Mr. Fox didn’t hang around; we could have had breakfast together.

I’ve been told my Grandfather had a pet fox named Reginald. Maybe I’ll catch this guy and keep him.

Nah, I’ll just let him be.

Far From Okay

Far from Okay

 

Shots were fired into a crowd on Westminster Street in the West End, just past midnight. One person was shot, a hole in his hand and another in his thigh, near a femoral artery. The wounded leg grows as the seconds tick, blowing up to twice its normal size.

“It’s just a leg shot, I’ll be okay, right?” asks the diaphoretic patient, his heart rate skyrocketing and his blood pressure crashing.

I look him in the eye and tell him we’re doing everything we can and open the ringers to full flow while my partner sinks a 16 in his other arm. . .

He went to the bathroom and didn’t come out. When we arrived at 0122, he was Code 99. CPR started; IVs going; one, two three defibrillations; tied to a trauma board; carried down two flights of stairs and out of a million-dollar home on the East Side.

“He’ll be okay, won’t he?” asks the man’s wife as we rush into the night and the waiting ambulance.

“We’re doing all we can,” I tell her. “Call somebody and meet us at the hospital. Please don’t drive.”

And we’re gone. . .

Their car crossed the line, sideswiped another car, crossed two lanes of traffic, and crashed into a utility pole–the wooden ones, the ones that don’t give. The car was demolished, the three kids whose night came to a sudden end at 0314 were critical. More rescues were called for, the most critical of the group extracted first. She’s the driver, she appears intoxicated, and she is worried about her friends.

“Are they okay? Will they be okay?” she repeats herself over and over as we restrain and immobilize her, put her on the stretcher, then put the 02 mask over her face. Her questions are muffled now but the same. “Will they be okay?. . .

She’s on the couch in her modest home in the North End; it’s a nice house, well kept, pictures of little girls on the mantle, schoolwork on the fridge. Her face is swollen, her arms bruised.

“Where is he?” I ask.

“Gone. He’s drunk. He hit me then left.”

She doesn’t want to go to the hospital. We bandage her up, wait for the police, offer our condolences, and leave. Her boyfriend is under arrest. It’s 0430 when she asks, “Is he okay?. . .

The group home calls at 0600. It’s a respectable place on the South Side, usually no trouble there. One of the residents didn’t wake up. He’s sitting in a recliner, TV on, eyes open, syringe and spoon on a little table next to him, near the TV Guide.

“Is he okay?” asks the group home manager.

“No. He’s dead. . .

I know she was up late; I try not to wake her. I slip under the covers, put my arm around her, and close my eyes. It’s nearly 0800, home at last.

How was your night?” she asks, before returning to sleep.

“It was okay.”

Blackness.

I wake up. She’s been awake for hours. It’s afternoon, probably late, might be time to get back to work. She’s busy, doing the things that normal people do, laundry, some food for the night, both for me, and for her. We’ll be separated again, me back to the city, her, alone. Again.

Sometimes I wonder which is harder; leaving home or staying in it. At least I have some excitement to look forward to, even if it comes with a price.

She gets to look forward to me coming home, only I never return the same way I left, and every shift tears another piece of my humanity away, leaving her with less and less of the person she used to love with abandon.

Now, I wonder, will she abandon me? Will she continue to sleep alone in the bed we once shared? Will she tolerate my silence?

Sometimes things are far from okay.

 

Newer Year

The world is going mad, and has been for quite some time. Just in case you think the end is near, allow me to offer some perspective; I was a kid in the sixties, a teenager in the seventies, a young man in the eighties, an older young man in the nineties, a middle aged man in to 00’s and still in the middle in the 10’s. During my time on earth, things have remained pretty much the same. It just seems we are closer to the edge these days. In reality, we have been teetering on it since somebody invented us.

Yeah we have terrorists to deal with, and thugs a plenty, seems like everybody has a cause these days, some injustice or another to protest about, and let the world know how oppressed we feel. Truth is, we are no worse off now than we were fifty years ago.  It is understandable that the youth of today feels hopeless. They, more than any other time in history are aware of every little mistake that somebody makes, every act of terror, every abuse of authority and every tragic occurrence. We are all bombarded with images of grief and destruction- every day, day after day. It’s enough to drive a person mad.

Imagine for a moment World War II with Twitter. Or Viet Nam on Facebook. Or Columbine on Instagram. The general population would have been horrified if they knew what war looked like up close and personal, and had their inboxes inundated with every heartbreaking story that happened, as it happened. But just because we were unaware does not mean that these things didn’t happen far more frequently than they do today. The world is a violent place. Having our homes and minds violated by that violence has created an atmosphere of doom and oppression that simply does not exist in our everyday lives.

I spent a quarter century as a firefighter/EMT in Providence, RI, a small city filled mostly with of beautiful  people and more than a few violent ones. I responded to hundreds of shootings. I never saw a gun except on the belts of the police. I’ve never met President Trump or thought much about him personally, yet I am drowning in an ocean of images and opinion about things that have little or no impact on my day to day life.

By allowing these images and opinions to become reality, I have, in effect created a false reality that I need to override on a daily basis. Because I have lived longer than a lot of people, and remember nuclear bomb drills in grade school, daily overdoses in high school, stabbings in nightclubs, race riots, the KKK, assassinations, genocide, famine and true oppression I am able to do so. I know that terrible things exist. I also know that I have a very good chance that terrible things will not happen to me, hence my cheery outlook for the future.

I worry about you. Without the perspective gained from living in the present, and seeing for myself that though there are dangers lurking everywhere, those dangers will not affect me, a doomsday attitude may very well overtake the optimism needed to thrive in a difficult world. I wish I had the power to make social media go away, at least until we have the opportunity to grow as human beings, and understand that in a world full of people, focusing on the horrors that some unfortunates experience will only invite depression and anxiety into your lives.  Being aware of heartache, danger and the potential for catastrophe is far different than inviting it into your thoughts every day, and letting it fester.

Life is for living, not watching. Live your life, taste it, feel it and enjoy it. Be aware, not afraid. Know that kindness overrules cruelty, and that though it takes time to see and understand it, life is ultimately fair. There is a reason for it, and some day that reason will be clear. Until then, just breathe it in and make your place in the world beautiful.

In the time of the chimpanzee, I was a monkey

I was at Wal-Mart the other day, picking up our usual stuff, cleaning supplies, vitamins and some light bulbs when I wandered down the Halloween aisle. I’m drawn to that stuff, always have been, though I haven’t really gotten in on the adult Halloween Party bandwagon, it’s more of a trip down memory lane for me now. In the middle of the Freddy Krugers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Angry Birds and Sexy Kittens was an adorable little Monkey Suit.

I’m four or five, ready to go. My first real costume is on, and has been for hours. It’s a monkey suit, complete with a nice long tail. We got it from Sears, and I can still smell the monkeenewness of it, the faint plastic, the elastic that got caught in my hair as I put the mask over my face, the “soft” at the end of the tail. It was a great costume, and a great holiday at my house.

Mom and dad were lots of fun then, we bought a record called “Spooky Creepy Sounds from the Haunted House,” or something like that, and my dad would run an extension cord out of a window and hide the record player in the bushes and let it go on repeat during the trick or treat hours.

A light post sat quietly at the end of our driveway three-hundred and sixty-four days a year, but on October 31st a scarecrow would lay at the foot of the post. Unsuspecting kids would start for our door, enticed by the creepy sounds coming from the bushes, go to the door, get a spider dropped on them from one of the upstairs windows (cleverly set up with a retractable line) and if they survived and made it to the door, they would be greeted by a ghastly apparition, my mother, sometimes with a stocking over her face and a hooded, leopard velour cape over her head.

Some kids actually managed to get some candy, and it was never the cheezy little bars, we went all out, giving some really good treats, full sized Reeses Peanut Butter Cups or Butterfingers, sometimes we would put a few together and wrap them in a baggie, but it was always worth the trip. Of course, once the trick or treaters bounded down our front steps with their bounty, the “scarecrow” at the lantern would come to life and scare the bejeses out of them. My father could always lie still for hours, and he put that skill to good use come Halloween.

As we got older it was more fun to stay home and enjoy the night rather than run around the neighborhood acting like a bunch of fools, egging cars, waxing windows and terrorizing the little kids. We did plenty of terrorizing right at home, thank you very much. Dad let us be the scarecrow now and then, and we would fight for the honor. As time went on, people were on to us, but they would still make the trip, parents making sure the new ones got a taste of some real Halloween fun.

It was silly, goofy in a great way, a bit inappropriate at times and completely insane and out of character, but it helped connect us as a family, and now, all these years later when I see a little monkey suit at Wal Mart I’m right back in the jungle with the people who matter most, and who live forever because they were not afraid to let loose now and then, and show their kids how to have a little fun. Remember, times were different then, parents were authority figures, not to be questioned, and not at all concerned about their kid’s feelings or self esteem. They raised us they way they saw fit, and goddammit nobody would tell them otherwise.

Yesterday, I wrote about my mother’s unfortunate experiences toward the end of her life. She had a rough time of it, that much is certain, but after her stay at Butler Hospital, and once properly diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder and put on proper medication was making remarkable progress, putting her life back together, enjoying her family and gaining some independence. The last time I saw her standing she was boarding a plane at Green State Airport heading to North Carolina to spend a week with my sister Susan and her family. It was quite an adventure for her, and I’ll never forget the way she looked as she walked down the boarding ramp, the airliner waiting and a new life ahead of her.

She had a massive stroke a few days after she arrived, and never walked, or talked again, and died in a nursing home eight years later.

Every year I break out the Leopard Print cape, and feel the softness of it, and pull it over my head and scare the kids who dare come to my door on Halloween. It’s in the cedar closet in my basement, where it waits all year long.

Memories cannot wait, they must be created every day, because we just never know what the future has in store. Life goes on, we go away, but the impressions we make last forever.

Senators

Rest in peace Senator McCain

“Hello Senator Reed,” I said without considering that maybe he preferred to be left alone. It was too late to take it back so I pressed on.

“Don’t you have people to do this stuff?” He chuckled at that, and replied with a little grin, “I sure do. Me!”

We made small talk for a few minutes; comfortable things gray haired guys talk about at a hardware store. I wasn’t purposely avoiding political talk, it just didn’t come up. I did offer my condolences for the passing of his colleague, Senator John McCain, figuring the two of them must have been friends.

“Sometimes we would get heated, and when it looked like we were getting nowhere, John or I would mention the reason for the impasse was because he was an Annapolis man, and I was West Point or vice versa, and the tension would evaporate, and we could get back to work.”

The respect and admiration for his former friend, adversary and fellow Senator was genuine. I was fortunate to witness his true depth of emotion, and the cynicism I had allowed to fester for years was granted a welcome reprieve. We were silent for a time, both lost in thought. For Senator Reed it was no more than a passing moment on a Sunday afternoon and a comfortable chat with a constituent. For me it held far more significance.

I got to see the man behind the press releases, and the carefully worded responses to pointed questions concerning national security, budget matters, the president and whatever tragedy warranted a senatorial response.

The people turning the engines of our country; people like me, people working part time at Lowes on a Sunday afternoon are not often privy to the people who represent us in Washington. We are spectators to the grand schemes portrayed on the twenty-four hour news and our social media feeds. We get the two dimensional view, the cardboard cutouts and the edited versions of the events of the day. We hear speeches that are far too often written by teams of writers, and vetted by focus groups and checked and rechecked for anything that might expose the person speaking as one of us.
Every now and then one of us has an opportunity to connect with another of us who happens to be a United States Senator.

We talked about Highland Falls, a little town that lies on the Hudson, next to West Point. I told him about a little RV park that my wife and I stayed in last year, and how the proprietor sat on his porch that once was a railroad station telling us stories about his past.

The old man talked about the history of his little place, which as it turns out both of the senator and I had been profoundly impacted by. I spent a leisurely summer day on the banks of the Hudson, gabbing with my wife and a nice old guy about history, and President Lincoln who had disembarked on the very spot I sat on. Senator Reed told me the story of how he and his classmates boarded a similar train from the same spot that Lincoln had stepped off of, and rode the tracks all the way to Philadelphia.

“It was the last year they used the train,” he said. “We filled it. It was quite a ride.”

As we spoke my mind was filled with images of the Senator and his classmates in 1971, the specter of Viet Nam and growing discontent at home hanging over them as they rode the same tracks that had transported troops to battlefields in Gettysburg, presidents to Washington and regular people to the city to find work. It was kind of overwhelming.

But gray haired men can’t whittle away the whole day gabbing, there is work to be done. I took my right hand off of the handle of the broom I had been holding during our conversation, shook the Senator’s hand and finished sweeping.

I actually enjoy that job; it gives me time to think.

 

https://www.reed.senate.gov/news/releases/-four-ri-fire-departments-granted-11m-for-new-truck-and-rescue-equipmentsenators