Your thoughts are requested

For all of you waiting for the next installment of the Curate story. ..

I am hung up on a major detail.

How does our protagonist capture the lost?

I don’t want it to be cheesy like the magic box, Al a Ghostbusters.  I have the stories lining up in my mind,  but I have yet to find a satisfying way for the capture to happen.

Please feel free to share your thoughts.   And you are welcome to share posts on Facebook as well.

Let’s see if we can add a few more eyes to these stories.

And thanks for reading.

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A View of the Sunset

Pardon this attempt at a Tony Robbins moment… Chicken Blogsoup for the Soul, if you will.

My careers have all shared one common thread…working with older adults in their transitions in life.  Life to death.  Independent and spry to debilitated under nursing care.

It has been a blessing.  I have learned a tremendous amount about life, and how to live it.

No matter how lovingly and painstakingly you build the house of cards of your life, a single gust from the right angle will scatter it to the winds.  And you are left with nothing except a decision.

Rebuild it.  Or give up.

That great font of wisdom, American Cinema, summed this beautifully in a single line from Tim Robbins in “The Shawshank Redemption.”

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

When the bank account drops to a level that makes you suck in a breath, remember those words.

No matter how shitty your life seems at the moment, there are people who will (Right at this moment) gladly trade lives with you.

It’s hard to believe this sometimes.  Even I am living one of those situations right now.

When I do allow myself the luxury of self-pity, the waters don’t go very deep.

Because Ed always pops into my mind.

Ed was a resident of one of the retirement communities I worked at.  He was well off, financially, but his life was not without its heavy burdens.

He and his wife moved in together when he could no longer care for her at home.  He himself had been debilitated by strokes, which moved him slowly but surely down the path to incapacitation.

His gait was unsteady.  He progressively lost his ability to speak.  His health was failing.  The epicenter of his life, his wife, died with he at her bedside.

But he never lost his spirit.  Or his ability to laugh.

When I first met him, he could say a few words to me  like “Dan”, “hi”, “good.”

But his signature was a thumbs up.

He would toddle down to the pool to swim laps in the morning in his big, white robe.  His demeanor might make you think he was on vacation at Club Med.

“Mornin’ Ed!  How are you today?”

Thumbs up and a crooked smile.

During his tenure there, he lived in every part of the community.  Independent apartment,  patio home, Assisted Living, and lastly, our skilled nursing home.

When I would need a morale boost, I would visit Ed.

His children would apoligize to me for the amount of time I had to spend with him on transferring him from one area to the next.

But I loved it.  And him.

He’d throw an arm around me when we walked in the hall.  I’d pour drinks for him at Happy Hour (he did enjoy his wine, regardless of doctor’s orders).

His laugh was infectious.  I remember when he was in our Assisted Living neighborhood, and he really, REALLY wanted a 2 bedroom apartment.  His children warned me (with mock severity) to not tell him of any coming available.

But he found out anyway.  He was a smart man.

His daughters showed up at my office door, defeated.  “Come on,” they said.  “Let’s show it to him.”

It was just down the hall from his one bedroom apartment.  I was standing in the empty 2 bedroom with his daughters when I heard the door to his apartment open.  Actually I heard him giggling before his door opened, and it became a full laugh as he scooted his walker up the hallway.  He was getting what he wanted, and he knew it.

Hearing him laugh made his daughters and I start laughing and shaking our heads.

This was pure Ed.  Living life on his terms, and his only.  Always seeking out the little things that made him happy.

Later, before I left that job, I visited Ed in the skilled nursing center.  He had a private room (of course) and he was watching our new skilled care expansion being built from his window.

By this time, he could not speak at all, but utilized a small computer to speak for him.  His daughters were there with him.

He pointed out the window and typed.

“When” said the computer.

“A few more months, Ed.”

“I want to be there,” said the computer.

His girls were clearly tired of the nearly half dozen moves that he had made in the past couple of years.

“Why, Dad?”  With more than a little edge of irritation.

He typed. And the computer said,

“a view of the sunset.”

That got me.  When his life had nearly seeped away, he still had enough spark to request the simple beauty of a sunset in his life.

I don’t know if he ever made it.  I left that job shortly thereafter and he died soon after that.

My heart is full of little holes that were made by people I have lost through the years.  Ed is one of those holes.

Because he taught me.  He taught me that your life is what you choose to make of it, no matter what the circumstances.  He taught me that you can laugh, even in the face of adversity.  He taught me the power of a smile (even a crooked one) and the effect it can have.  He taught me not to be afraid of a good, old fashioned Arm-around-the shoulder hug.

He taught me to constantly seek out my own view of the sunset.

And you should, too.

My DNA – Blame the 0.5%

My DNA is unique.  As is yours.  I am a 100% authentic individual.  I, and I alone, am me.

This goes beyond my lifelong non-conformity.

I believe its roots can be traced right back to the Stone-Age.

I promised a couple of months ago to give you words.  (Note:  I never claimed good words, just words.  Even Shakespeare wrote some crap.)

Today’s words are strictly about me.  Feel free to click off and move along to more interesting daily activities.  Here goes:

I have never met my mother.  Or my father.  My biologicals (as I call them) were not married, and apparently during the pregnancy it was decided to put baby me up for adoption.

I harbor no ill will towards them.  Let me make that clear.  I was adopted into a family that tried their best, despite their own struggles.

Periodically in life, my mind wanders back to those biologicals.  Where are they now?  Are they alive?  Is their life happy?  Do they wonder about me?  Ever?

All my life, I have felt alone.  The degrees of aloneness (if that’s a word) depends on what’s happening in my life right at that moment.

But alone.

I was a shy, nerdy awkward kid, and I have bloomed into a shy, nerdy, awkward adult. But alone.  Even marriage and fatherhood has not fended off the feeling.

When I turned forty, I was in the midst of one of what I can only call a Dan decision.  I had a job that had turned from fun and pleasant into an absolute nightmare in just a few short months.  My stress levels and blood pressure were at all-time peaks.  So, rather than stay and do the walk-of-shame when fired from said job (which I could tell was on the horizon), I did the only thing that my being would allow me to.

I quit.

I had no back-up plan.  No new position lined up.  No savings.  Nothing.  The best way I can describe the feeling is what I can only imagine that sky-diving with no parachute might feel like.

But the day I walked out, I felt the best I had in years.  As I pulled out of the parking lot, I updated my Facebook status.

“Elvis has left the building.”

A few days later, the reality set in.

I beat myself up.  Married.  Kids.  Debt up to my ass.  And now, turning 40 and unemployed.

What a fine life you’ve carved out for yourself, my mental Dan told me.

There are just somethings I cannot do.  And not be my honest self is one of those things.  It goes back to my earlier statement.

It’s a Dan thing.  You wouldn’t understand.  Sometimes I don’t understand.  Kind of like this blog.

Anyway, during my “sabbatical” I decided to hunt up some info on who I really am.  Maybe that might explain some of this mystifying behavior.

I called the adoption agency with some questions, under the guise of gathering some health history.  Those of you who might not be familiar with adoption, in this state, adoption records are court-sealed.  So I knew that names and addresses were out of the question.  But when the solitary traveler seeks, he takes what he can get.

A friendly gent answered, and I told him what I sought.  He called back within an hour and asked me to grab a pen and paper.

He then read me all of the notes from the intake workers (probably nuns) that occurred during the process.  Some highlights:

Father is Strikingly good-looking (it might help to view that in the context of a sexually-frustrated nun making the observation) and obviously a trait he didn’t share with me.  Selfish bastard.

Mother physical description:  25, 5’11, brown hair, green eyes.  (My wife’s exact description, except age, by the way)

The gentleman described how I was presented to my mother in the hospital 3 times during her stay.  Each time, she would have to hold me and hand me back to the social worker and confirm that she was willing to give me up for adoption.

Sounds absolutely brutal to me, but I get the gravity of the decision she was making.

The last time I was presented to her, she made a comment that the social worker wrote down.

“He certainly is a handsome baby.”

Every time that I think about that line, I cry.

I don’t know if the tears are for me or her or the both of us.  But I cry.

That experience scratched that particular itch for a while.

This summer, on Facebook, I found a study at Washington University for smokers and their DNA.  I decided to sign up, not for the money, but for the free DNA analysis.  I would receive a complete breakdown of what I was and where my roots were.

6 long weeks passed from giving the sample and getting the email.  Which I got last week.  Some of you who are Facebook friends may have seen the status post.

So, without further ado, my DNA is as follows:

96.5% European, broken down something like this:

2/3 British/Irish/French/German

1/3 Italian/Sardinian

2.9% Native American – I knew that there had to be some in me somewhere.  Native blood is strong and powerful.

0.1% Sub-Saharan African

Holy shit, I’m black.  A minute percentage, but I’m pretty sure I know where the black landed on me.  😉

For your mathematicians out there, you are asking for the remainder.

0.5%

And the last note on the report:

0.5% Not identified.

And therein lies the answer.  Whatever that 0.5% is, that’s where I believe the soul of who I am is.

Not identified. Uncommon.  Unexplained.  Raw, Neanderthal DNA still scratching at the rocks and howling at the moon.

0.5% that seems to win my heart and mind every time.

So when you read things here that you don’t understand or enjoy, blame the 0.5%.  That’s what I plan to do.

Slackin’

Yes.  I’ve slacked.  Last week at this time I was taking in the serenity of the Wisconsin Northwoods.

Loons, owls and bats skittering across the sky were my companions as I spent the vast majority of the time in a chair looking at the lake, while occasionally feigning interest in whatever it was my kids were doing.

Hell, as long as they didn’t risk life or limb or break someone else’s shit, I really didn’t care.  Gotta be honest.

I needed the respite.

I’m a self-admitted introvert in a series of jobs that demand me to be 180 degrees opposite my nature, like Obi Wan having to be Darth Vader from 8am to 5pm for 40 hours a week.

It takes a toll.

Writing is the place I truly feel at home.  Lost in words, stitching together the seamless phrase, turning the occasional metaphor on its ear. 

This is where I belong.

But Life gets in the way.

Work, kids, 6th grade homework, dishes, laundry,a lawn that never stops growing (which is why i always wonder why anyone would fertilize and water with such green zealotry… makes no fucking sense to me at all – you just have to cut it that more often)

All of these roadblocks to dodge in order to get me to where I want to be.  Right here.  Having our little fireside story hours and I regaling you with tale after tale.

The Muse packed up her shit a couple of weeks ago.  I pounded out the opening scene to the Curate story and then…

My fingers became mute.

I have a draft of the next scene, but it’s not flowing.  It’s like pulling teeth for every. single. word.

And I find myself pondering “how many beers and American Spirit cigarettes must I consume to bring her back to me?”

Fickle bitch that she is.

So I haven’t forgotten you dear reader(s).  Things are not coming to me quite as fast here of late.  But I want to write something.  Anything.  Wordlust fills my mind.

Bear with me while I chase her down like a dog.

Thanks to all

Greetings to the two or three of you who might actually be reading this.

What I just posted was the opening scene to the Angel story I mentioned in a post last week.  Thanks to everyone who gave their thoughts and ideas.  They were all great.  This is just the path that the story organically took, so please don’t think for a moment that I didn’t give each idea careful weight and consideration.  I hope that you enjoy it!

Curate of Souls

“Do you remember, Gerard?” the angel asked me from across the battle-scarred table.  “Remember how it felt the first time you accepted His will?  How good it felt?  How loved you felt?”  His gaze was intense…burning right through me.  His eyes were a brilliant silver color.

I must be dreaming… and I really hoped that the bikers that surrounded us were totally ignoring this conversation.

“Don’t you want to feel that way again?”

I couldn’t answer.

“You still believe.”  It was more of a question than a statement.

I just stared at him.  The silence was answer enough.

“Don’t you?”  Baleful.  Chiding.

“I don’t know what I believe anymore.”  Fifteen years of doing His work on earth left me scattered emotionally and faithless.

“You were tortured by leaving the work.  Can’t even describe how it feels, can you?”

“I have enough to answer for without adding that to His list.”

“At least you had the option of walking away.  Some of us don’t get that luxury.  But the price for walking away is what you’ve been feeling.  Just a tiny taste of Hell.”

“How do you know that?  How could you know that?”

Occasionally some biker would glance over at the table and wonder what I was on, sitting by myself and staring intently at the empty seat in front of me.  The whole conversation was silent, strictly in the minds of the angel and I.

“You are the curate of lost souls.”  The words rang like steel against marble.

My temples started to throb and I felt my blood pressure rising.

“Ezekiel 25:17.”  The angel was clearly hopeful that this meant something to me.

“What?”

“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.”

“Why me?  Don’t you need someone pure?  Someone like you?”

He smiled.  Indescribable eyes.

“No.  We need someone… He needs someone who can think like they do.”

“Who are ‘they’ exactly?”

“The damned.  Lost souls.  Eternally suffering.  God’s lost children.  Just like you.”

I felt the creeping sting of shame and anger, like anyone stung by deserved insult.

The angel continued, “You’ve been astray yourself, thinking your deeds unseen.  But they weren’t unseen, Gerard.  No matter how hard anyone wished they were.”

“So what is this then? Punishment?”

“Atonement?  I can see why you might think that.  But you never really believed Him to be that way, did you?”

“You were the one who just mentioned my tiny taste of Hell.”

“That wasn’t Him.  That was you.  Your own soul feeling the pain of knowing His love and then turning your back on Him.”

“I didn’t turn my back… I just simply couldn’t do it anymore.”

The eyes.  The angel’s eyes started to glow.

“Couldn’t or wouldn’t?  You lost your faith.  You lost your belief that your strength came through Him.”

My anger cranked up to full steam.  “What is this?  I did it.  For fucking years I did His work.  What did I get for it?  A paycheck and the burden of knowing what the true nature of this life is.  I saw and I felt the agony of good, faithful people handed tragedy that they did not deserve.  I saw countless unanswered prayers from bedsides of the dying…prayers that ‘never fail’.  Novena after novena… all the while I’m having to taking dead babies from their mother’s arms…it was just…”

What was that I saw in the angel’s eyes that changed?  Did the pain I felt slip in and scatter his focus a bit.  I saw an opening and decided to keep digging.

“Where was He when these horrible things were happening?  Where was He?  It’s a fair question.  Go ahead and think about it.  I’ll wait for answer.”

The waitress slipped past the table, trying not be noticed.  She wondered why I hadn’t said a word since walking in.  I hadn’t asked for a drink.  She was grateful I hadn’t.

No answer came.  I knew it wouldn’t.  Long ago, in my studies, I came to the conclusion that when the prayers of His own Son went unanswered, my own would be quite farther down on the list.

“What is it exactly that I am to do?”

There was no answer in the angel.  His look intensified.  “They will be drawn to you.  To destroy you.  All you need to do is make them notice you.  The rest will just happen.”

“’Drawn to destroy me’…sounds wonderful.  You’re not really selling me on this gig.  What if they catch up to me?  I don’t like the idea of spending my life as demon bait.  Tell Him I said ‘no thanks.’”  I got up and headed towards the door.

I walked out and threaded through the row of choppers and bikes, cautious not to touch any of them.  I was a lot more afraid of pissed-off bikers than I was of supernatural trash.

My car was parked just up the block.  I slid in the seat and keyed the engine.  As it cranked up, I glanced to my right and nearly jumped through the driver’s side window.  The angel was sitting to my right, hands folded in his lap.

“How shall I put this?  You really don’t have a choice.  Well, you do have a choice.  You can either do this with our protection, or do it without.  But you will be pursued by them.  You always have been.  You’ve just never known about it.”

“Why me?  What have I done?”

“You’ve simply been chosen.  Chosen by both sides,” the angel continued “before you were ever born.  You are of the Nephilim bloodline.”

I remember reading of the Nephilim in my seminary days.  They were the offspring of Angels and human women, known by their large size and were sought out and destroyed as abominations.

But they must have missed one.  One who was able to be sheltered and protected.  One who would go on to father future generations.  But enemies remained, and they still hunted.

My gut started feeling hot and loose…pure fear.

“You remember feeling terrified at times and not knowing why?  It meant that one of them was very close to you.  Close enough to feel your heartbeat.  You were in the gravest danger and your instincts were putting you on alert.  Even though you couldn’t see anything, you could sense the danger.”  The intent stare was back.

“But nothing ever happened. It was just nerves. Nothing ever happened.”

“You don’t think so?”  The angel’s look was long and telling.  “No thanks necessary.  You’re welcome.”

Being a Funeral Director

I’ve been asked many times “how do you do what you do every day?”

I only wish  knew.

I took a five year sabbatical from funeral directing from 2007-2012.

It started out as the best feeling in the world.

It wound up being the wildest five-year roller coaster of my career.

But here I be, back in the dismal trade, as writer Thomas Lynch puts it.

And I face another day, with absolutely no clue as to what may await me.

Death.  Tragedy.  Murder.

All in a day’s work for a select few of us that choose to work on that shadowy border between life and death.

At least medical professionals occasionally get to savor the victory of pulling someone back from the beyond, someone who will hopefully heal and spend their remaining days giving thanks for the good fortune that the Universe bestowed on them.

Me, however, and the others in the trade, don’t get that luxury.

Nope.  We are the ones who are called upon when the last glimmer of hope for life and survival has faded and winked out.

Many of us drink too much, smoke too much, act out sexually and a host of other destructive behaviors to cope with that feeling… that indescribable feeling that you get when you tenderly lay the body of an 8 year old to rest who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Or when you see the empty stare in the eyes of one of the countless bodies that you encounter.

You try to find hope in faith.  Perhaps the gaze of the spirit of that person has fallen upon the beauty and serenity of Heaven, and the joyous reunion that they are having with their loved ones who have gone on before them.

But some days, those words in the holy books ring quite hollow, and faith and hope are scarce to come by.

I’m not feeling particularly maudlin today.  It’s just another Monday to me.

But I felt compelled to write.  To share with you the words that ride the cerebral rapids in this mind of mine.

Today could be a good day.  I just don’t know.  But in about 45 minutes, I’ll be showered and shaved with my funeral game face on.  Ready to serve, comfort and assist.

It’s what I do.

It’s the work that I believe that God and the Universe have designed for me.

Happy Monday to all of you that have far more normal jobs than I.