Last week the equestrian world blew up with the news that a once shining star of the sport had taken his life. He was under investigation by the newly formed (2 years ago) US Center for Safe Sport for allegations of sexual misconduct and his friends say he was broke, reputation ruined, and had nowhere to turn in his effort to clear his name. I am not writing this for “that” debate. I am far from qualified to speculate on either his mindset or the truth or extent of the allegations against him. I only offer this as a basis for the following.

This is not the first time I have taken on the subject of Safe Sport. The Center came to be, based on the Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 which was signed into law in 2018. At it’s heart, in the aftermath of the Larry Nassar/USA Gymnastics debacle it is designed to make sure the NGBs (National Governing Bodies) of Olympic disciplines do everything in their power to protect youth in sports from physical, mental and sexual abuse which includes bullying, threats and shaming. So what’s the problem you ask?

So far, no problem. Everyone can agree that children’s safety, in sport or out, is paramount. Safe Sport seems to be doing a good job at the education and training part of their mission. It is the resolution program where I part ways with them. It is my opinion that they have a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mentality and they hide behind the reasoning that they are not subject to the same due process tenets because they are a private, non-profit. They have no transparency and by that, I do not suggest they release names of those coming forward with claims of abuse. I do, however, suggest that they not publish the names of the accused on their website until a resolution has been reached. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the names are published before any in-depth investigation.

I have been quite vocal in my opinions though I have never addressed the guilt or innocence of an accused, the validity or lack thereof of an accuser, nor am I interested in the names of the accusers. Again, I am neither qualified to determine guilt or innocence nor is it any of my business who these people are. My argument is with the policy and it seemed fairly simple to me that to exercise my right to abide by a current law while working to amend or change it was purely within my rights…HA! You see, this debate suffers from what every debate in our country currently suffers from; irrationality.

There is a popular forum on a magazine website for equestrians. Those in lockstep with Safe Sport are up in arms with those who don’t agree. They have been rallying each other to screen shot comments from other social media outlets with the names and comments from those with a differing opinion and forward them to Safe Sport and the USEF (United States Equestrian Federation). Sorry to burst your bubble kids, but I have already written letters voicing my opinions to the USEF and the twenty-nine senators who sponsored or co-sponsored the Safe Sport Act…signed ’em too. So your attempts to ‘out’ me and those others who disagree as “supporters of abuse” and “just scared because we are afraid we are next” is comical. Oh, by the way, I used my actual name in my communications instead of a cutesy screen name for your anonymity on the forum.

These same forum groupies have begun a list of those that have donated to a GoFundMe page for the family of the man mentioned above. Evidently support for someone’s family is also considered by them to be support of sexual abuse. You guys ever hear of Joseph McCarthy? Well, he had this list of people that didn’t agree with him, and…well, you should Google it.

Finally, I have been accused of victim shaming. I want to amend policy, not abolish, and I am victim shaming. Now I know amend and abolish both start with “a” but I can assure you that’s where the similarity ends. I want to have a debate over the policies of an organization in existence for less than two years and I am victim shaming. I never suggested any person coming forward with a claim of abuse didn’t have a right to speak and be heard and I am victim shaming..

Well, herein lies the problem. I, and others, have a differing opinion on this important and complicated subject. Instead of a dialogue, those of you that stand steadfastly with Safe Sport against bullying and threatening take my words and send them to the USEF and Safe Sport; to do what I’m sure I don’t know but you hope the idea of it scares me and makes me stop. Those of you standing against shaming want to publish the names of those disagreeing with you to, I’m guessing, make them ashamed of their actions. Anyone seeing a pattern? No? Oh my…

Our family has lots of great Dads; fathers of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Overall, they have been, and continue to be, examples of hard work, selflessness, compassion and love. Oh yeah, occasionally they are also there to point out that line in the sand and make sure you know the consequences for crossing it because, well, that’s their job too.

But just days away from Father’s Day this is not about them though I love them all. This is about the man I called Dad. Tomorrow will be the 28th anniversary of his death and that year, on Father’s Day I went to his funeral. For a long time that is what stuck with me…a Father’s Day funeral. But what a disservice to the man he was, the father he was.

My Dad loved to point out that he was the only father he knew that informed the mother her child had been born. You see, they had arranged to adopt me before my birth and it just so happened on the morning I arrived in the world my mother and grandmother were shopping for baby clothes. My Dad put a big sign proclaiming “It’s a girl!” on the back door to greet them when they returned.

As a father of the 60’s and 70’s, looking back I believe he was ahead of his time. He thought I was very smart, probably much more so than I am, but he encouraged me to never be ashamed to have a brain, to never stop learning, to challenge myself. He set the bar high but never criticized if I didn’t meet it. He simply gave me some new tools and set it a little higher. He taught me that competition and effort and failing were all part of life and were things to be embraced rather than shied away from. As a man of example, he walked the walk. In his late seventies, he suffered from macular degeneration. He couldn’t drive, something he dearly loved, and many everyday tasks became a struggle. But he arranged to go to the local Society for the Blind and took Braille classes, coming home each time to study and practice. He didn’t know the meaning of “give up”.

I could write pages about him and before I’m gone I probably will, but this Father’s Day reflection is really about what you learn about the people you love from, often, the most unexpected places. I’ve heard from people how my Dad had an effect on them; often small things, sometimes not, but things remembered to this day.

When I was growing up, in the fall it was common for the neighborhood to rake their leaves into piles in the gutter and burn them. We had a huge front lawn, giant trees and raking was no small task. There was a family in our neighborhood of four boys and two girls. Two of the brothers were walking home past our house and of course, couldn’t resist kicking each pile of leaves to oblivion. Before they even reached the corner, my Dad appeared with rakes. One of the brothers told me years later that my father made them rake up everything they had spread out, which he acknowledged was correct. But what stuck with him was that my Dad brought out three rakes and worked with them to clean it all back up.

My Dad was a pilot. He had a small private plane and loved to fly every chance he got. Some high school friends of mine told me years later about how my father took them to the airport and took them up in his plane, even letting them “fly” once they were airborne. They all counted it as one of the coolest memories of that time in their life.

Shortly after my birth, my biological mother had plans to move a great distance and was going to be driving alone. My father had only met her twice, but he arranged to have her car picked up from her workplace and paid for an oil change, tune-up and four new tires before her journey.

There are many other stories I have only heard in the years since his death. He never talked about them, never looked for accolades or praise, it was a part of who he was and the satisfaction he got from doing the things he did was reward enough for him.

I knew he was a great guy and I loved him, but it is such a gift to know others appreciated him as well. It would seem part of the measure of a man is what he does when no one is watching. As we approach Father’s Day, I hope many of you can appreciate the fathers in your lives that do things for us and for others every day. And if you have a story, tell it, it is an immeasurable present. Happy Father’s Day!

The tendency to abdicate personal responsibility and allow government and sanctioning organizations to preside over us in a “nanny state” runs rampant through our society these days. Whether we are subject to mandates and laws regarding plastic straws, reusable bags, or mandatory labels that the hot coffee just purchased is actually hot, we can’t escape it.

And the reason we tolerate it? It is certainly not the ‘spoonful of sugar’ suggested by Mary Poppins but rather a shovelful of guilt. Guilt that we are never enough; never do enough and aren’t good enough or responsible enough to protect the environment, ourselves, or our children.

Now, the industry in which I’ve worked my entire adult life has jumped into the guilt trip with both feet, or shall I say hooves. After the somewhat recent disclosure regarding sexual abuse and the Olympic gymnasts, all governing bodies of Olympic sport went insane, in my opinion, and formed SafeSport. At it’s core, SafeSport aims to educate and enlighten athletes and others about the warning signs of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and to provide tools for reporting on abusers. This is not a bad idea, we can all agree we must eradicate the dangers to our children wherever we find them. But here is where SafeSport and I part ways.

From the outset, SafeSport has proceeded with a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ policy. Based on possible infractions, people have been removed from their jobs and banned from even setting foot on a horse show grounds until SafeSport decides the case. A man well-known in the industry was banned for life; notable in that he had already been dead for years. He was not offered due process, a jury of his peers, or the ability to face his accusers because he was already dead. I did not know him personally nor his accusers so my judgement is not on the truth of the claims against him, but in my opinion a token pronouncement to make an example of him decades later makes a mockery of anything SafeSport might be trying to accomplish.

At it’s heart, SafeSport is a CYA (cover your ass) move for these governing bodies in sport that don’t wish to be involved in future litigation. By requiring every member 18 & over that wishes to participate in a United States Equestrian Federation Show as well as parents, officials, etc. etc. to complete mandatory testing, the USEF is effectively saying, “Not our fault, they took the test.”

All the above is sadly, old news to those involved in equestrian sport. The body that was put in place to oversee horse shows, year-end awards, and protect the animal has ventured into, yet again, new ground. As of June 1st, they have implemented policies regarding ‘electronic communications’. Adults in the sport may not communicate with a minor on email or social media unless another adult is copied on the communication. Adults are not to accept “friend request” by a minor and it’s suggested the minors like the fan page of the adult instead. Really??? How many among us have fan pages…or want them?

What really disturbs me is that with this latest pronouncement it feels as if all trainers that communicate with their students via text, email or Facebook are being considered to be unworthy of trust and under suspicion for their obviously shady motives. If I was a trainer, I would be offended. If I hadn’t already told the USEF to shove it and not renewed my nearly 40 year membership I’d do it now. The problem is these adults in the horse world are over a barrel. It is the way they make their living and they can’t tell them to go to hell as easily as I did.

Listen, we can all agree the abuse of children is beyond repugnant and we should all do everything we can to protect those that cannot protect themselves. BUT, I don’t need help, and tests, and mandates and sanctions on my communications to do that, and neither do most of you. We all need to be alert to things that don’t seem right, but in today’s climate, to paraphrase Tina Fey on SNL, “Bitch, I can’t be any more alert than I already am!” When do we stop letting organizations tell us what is best for us, how we should behave and how we should feel? There are not only two choices; to drink the Kool-Aid of guilt or to look the other way. I never had a nanny and I don’t need one now. Damn straight if I witness abuse of any nature to a child I’m going to sing like a canary as are most adults I am acquainted with. I never need SafeSport to tell me I should, that’s the difference.

The airwaves are awash with the story of thirty-something Empire actor, Jussie Smollett, who arranged a fake crime, tagged it as a racist, homophobic hate crime and completed the story with props (in the form of a hangman’s noose) and a reference to MAGA for the full effect.  It is said he concocted this nightmare because he was unhappy with his salary and needed publicity and already there are “activists” coming forward asking if so many resources of the Chicago PD would have been brought to bear if it was a person reporting black on white crime.  Seriously?  This is a problem of one self-centered, cusp-riding millenial.  He caused it, not the police.  But in today’s climate when a story so many wanted to be true isn’t true the fall back position is deflect, deflect, deflect.

First, can we all agree that this is a disturbed, narcissistic, nearly middle-aged man that seems to be truly just concerned with himself and what he wants.  He was part of a poorly executed quasi-crime which he peppered with props, buzz words guaranteed to get a reaction, and as a true Trump-hater threw MAGA in for the knock-out punch.  And before anyone spontaneously combusts though I perceive this as pure vitriol from the left, there is plenty to go around emanating from the right as well.

So I pose a question that I can’t seem to get an answer to…don’t you feel stupid, John Q. Public?  The moment something like this happens, or in this case, doesn’t happen, our Twitter feeds, YouTube, and Facebook posts take the side of the righteous.  By the way, that can be either side depending on what you believe.  We look to our chosen political hacks….cough…er, heroes, to take to Twitter and in 280 characters or less tell us yet again what we are to think and/or feel.

Aren’t you tired of being manipulated?  Tired of Jussie, Donald, Kamala, Nancy or thousands of others jumping on the bandwagon of crafting a story to fit their own purposes and advance their own agendas?  As an aside, it is of note that many of those morally indignant officials are backpedaling and deflecting as quickly as humanly possible because they reacted to the story they wanted rather than wait for the actual facts.  This is not the first time. This engineering of thought has no side, no party, everyone is doing it and we are bombarded minute by minute, day by day by our so-called leaders who couldn’t care what happens in your life beyond your checking the box next to their name.

Are there people out there who care?  Absolutely.  Whether the cause is climate change, human rights, pro-life, or the 4-H club in their community there are people that work tirelessly and passionately for what they believe,  what they are given the right to believe in this nation.  You will rarely hear their names because they are just working, not attempting to coerce and manipulate. 

It is not wrong to seek out like-minded individuals and work toward what is important to you, but spend a little time to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Don’t let these people, whatever and whoever they support, convince you to jump on the bandwagon of their self-servitude.  Use the brain you were given to discern what is important to you instead of being just another character in someone else’s self-important morality play.

I am working on my third book. Really…I am.  It may be the last in the series, or there may be a prequel in store to address the earlier life of my main character.  But today I noticed a problem, if you will, as I found myself on Amazon ordering three new books.  They are not my books, and I should be writing rather than contemplating reading the works of others.  But I cannot escape the desire I have, in fact, the desire I think many of us have from a very young age to be entertained, to learn, to be challenged and inspired;  in short, to have someone tell us a story.

When I was very young I loved the times when my mother or father would read to me.  One of my favorites was Over and Over by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Garth Williams.  It is a book about the seasons, holidays, and the passage of time.  It was comforting somehow, to learn that time has a pattern, a flow, and the illustrations nearly jumped off the page each one was so beautiful.  I never tired of the story, my daughter loved it too, and I purchased a copy for my granddaughter several years ago.  So not only is it a much loved story but a family tradition of sorts.

As I grew I devoured Nancy Drew mysteries and demonstrated an early love of animals by reading everything in the genre’ I could; Black Beauty, The Incredible Journey, My Friend Flicka, as well as the series of horse books written by Marguerite Henry including Misty of Chicoteague.  I read Sounder by William H Armstrong, a story about a coon dog, but even more about a sharecropper’s family and the inhumanity and racism they faced.  Every time I opened a book, I was begging someone to “tell me a story” and I was rarely disappointed, learning about other places and lives different than my own all while being entertained.

In high school I continued the animal “theme” reading and rereading James Herriot’s wonderful stories of life as a county vet; seeing every rolling dale in Yorkshire, England and feeling every loss of an animal and triumph of the healed as if they were my own.  At the same time I was assigned the read of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. It was one of the singularly most horrific stories I have ever read made all the more awful by the knowledge that it was based on the truths of the lives of working men in factories at the turn of the century.  But it was compelling, I read every page and learned about man’s inhumanity to man.  I still have a copy of it in my library today.

My many years as an adult have produced more amazing reads than I can chronicle but have given me such appreciation for those with the ability to tell a story, capture their readers and make them feel something.  Several decades ago I discovered the author Jane Smiley, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for her A Thousand Acres.   Her beautifully written books tell stories that are often gritty, tragic and poignant but I love her writing.  It turns out that Ms. Smiley is a rider and a horse-lover and she has written many wonderful books with horses as the theme; Horse Heaven and Barn Blind to name two.  I had discovered her as an author long before I met her at a horse show in Pebble Beach, CA.  She was kind enough to sign my copies of her books and though they are dog-eared and the pages are yellowed. I am so proud to have them. 

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, did something as a writer that at once was so simple and yet so brilliant I would love the opportunity to pick her brain about how she made magic (no pun intended).  She wrote a world with the elements that every child and adult can understand; school, the mean teacher, the beloved teacher, the brainy kid, the best friend, the bully, good and evil, etc. and seamlessly incorporated a well-planned and tightly woven fantasy world into it.

Anne Lamott, a resident of nearby Marin County, CA, is funny, open, self-depricating and every time I read one of her books or a shorter piece of hers I find myself nodding my head or saying to the dog, “that’s it exactly!”  I look forward to every word that leaves her fingertips.

Finally, Elizabeth Gilbert.  She is probably most recognizable as the author of Eat, Pray, Love but it was her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, that gave me the push to begin writing my own tales.  Though I had written all my life there was great fear to trying to tell a story of my own.  She didn’t make me write, but she spoke to me as a writer to let go of whatever I was afraid of and challenge myself.

My reading tastes are as eclectic as my tastes in music and I’m sure we all have something different that speaks to us, inspires and engages us.  I believe we all have the insatiable desire for someone to tell us a story.  For some it is the written word, for others maybe on film, but done well these stories make us think, laugh, cry, question, love, hate and immerse ourselves with other people, places and situations whether real or fabricated.  Therefore, I refuse to feel guilt with my book purchases today.  There will be time to write but also time for others to “tell me a story”.

 

I don’t know how my BFF of over fifty years voted or how she feels about most issues of the day.  Do you know why?  I don’t care.  Our relationship is based on shared interests, sense of humor, and genuine appreciation of each other.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I needed her she would be there in a heartbeat.  She has my back, she laughs at my stupid jokes, and she is a constant I wouldn’t want to be without in my life.  That’s all I need to know.

I have no idea what candidate or cause du jour my next door neighbors support.  I don’t care.  Our relationship is based on forty years of looking out for each others animals, keeping an eye out when one of us is away, and handing Christmas cookies over the fence in December.  Our major concerns are sharing the cost of replacing a common fence or wondering whether the nearby levee will break in the winter storms.  They are good neighbors that share a love for our little community.  That’s all I need to know.

I haven’t a clue the political party of choice for most of the people with whom I shared my work environment for over 30 years.  I don’t care.  They are hard-workers with a love of the horse and of the outdoors.  They all share equal grief in the loss of a friend gone way too soon or joy in each others success in the sport.  That’s all I need to know.

Here’s a thought…maybe the things others contribute to our lives; sense of humor, Christmas cookies, love of animals, or whatever floats your individual boat, should start having equal standing with the bunch of power-hungry people that only care which box you check on your ballot.  Maybe actions should once again take center stage over words.  Maybe we should spend more time on appreciation of each others strengths and much less on anger over sound bites and protest mantras.  It will take work; anger is easier but the reward of finding the good, the actual good, in those lives that intersect with yours, even though they may not think as you do, is immeasurable..  It’s just a thought.

 

There are monsters that live in my computer screen.  I see them at all times of the day or night; it appears they never sleep.  I have noticed they seem to exist in relatively equal numbers of young and old, male and female and the most dominant among them feed themselves successfully on anonymity, ego, self-righteousness and a hefty dose of ignorance.  They are the social media monsters.

I belong to a closed Facebook group that shares the common bond of geography.  It is a community group that I joined because I found it helpful in times of natural disaster; flooding, fire, etc.  It also proves beneficial in a neighborhood watch capacity.  I left the group voluntarily a year or so ago because it was clear that although a large group, numbering in the thousands, the primary contributors are the same thirty to forty people.  Furthermore, it is this small, yet vocal subset that share their endless opinions on everything from the bug on their front porch to the meth heads that may or may not live down the lane.  These people were not actually the monsters.  Social media is all about sharing opinions, so if I wasn’t interested…and I wasn’t…it was my decision to leave.

I rejoined the group recently.  I came back for the previously described benefits and hoped the rest could be ignored but that is when one of the larger monsters began to appear again and again; relentless in her quest for supremacy.

She is not a young fiend but a grandmother like myself.  I have never met her, nor at this point do I ever want to, but through her legion of daily posts I have learned more about her than I ever wished to know.  She is a champion for animals and in that regard it would seem her heart is in the right place but that is where any positives I could share come to an end.

The problem is if one does not feel exactly as she does about an issue, or care for their animal exactly as she wishes it to be done, or pose a correctly worded inquiry, then hell hath no fury like this woman will unleash.  In the few short weeks I have been back in the group, she has been at the center of at least three major shit shows.  She insults, belittles, makes liberal use of the snarky terms “buttercup”, “honey”, and “snowflake” and yet is dedicated to repeating again and again the certainty of her superiority.  While disparaging others she continually refers to her spending copious amounts of money to “do the right thing” by her animals, argues in circles when she can’t make a solid point and when backed in a corner will resort to “well, I have more important things to do than argue with you”.  This is usually her comeback by post 50 or 60.

Most recently, she jumped into a discussion about horses; something I can say I know something about.  Not only did she give completely wrong information she inserted again and again how she had a horse with the same problem but SHE had spent copious amounts of money to correct it because SHE was a good horse owner.  It should be said that the discussion was regarding an old, unthrifty animal in a pasture of younger, fitter animals.  Sometimes you just can’t fix old; backs will dip, ribs will show, lips will hang.  You help them the best you can until it is time to say goodbye.  Oh and by the way,  hard riding is not the cause of a sway back…just sayin’.  

I use this local monster as an example of a much larger problem.  In a world where bullying is decried at every turn, these screen monsters are the worst kind of bully.  In a fight to make themselves relevant, to matter, to boost their self-confidence, they spend hours on the keyboard insulting, degrading, and belittling anyone whose views are not their own.  Do I have a blog to be relevant?  Certainly not, I have a blog because I like to write.  Do I blog to shove my views down a readers throat?  Maybe to provoke discussion, but no one is required to agree.

You must fight the urge to reason with them.  Opposition feeds them, it empowers them, and more than anything, the monsters don’t care.  They receive a type of gratification from this behavior which they are unwilling to relinquish.  

The common response when I bring up this issue is, “Well, just scroll past.”  At the core, this is, of course, true.  But on the days when there is far more scrolling than actual catching up with friends, seeing family pictures, or having a, heaven forbid, civil exchange of ideas, all I see are monsters; multiplying, relentless, and never going away.

 

As Mother’s Day approaches I have some thoughts on motherhood.  Where did we get so off track on the idea of what makes a good mother?

When did we begin believing that it was expensive and elaborate themed birthday parties, or the complete absence of gluten, germs of any kind, or peanuts within a half mile radius of our homes?  What led us to believe that filling every spare moment of a child’s life with lessons, practices, meetings and homework so that they fall asleep at the dinner table is of some benefit?

Furthermore, when did we start to believe that being a good mother meant being a friend first and an example second?  Why did we decide to abdicate the teaching of things like good manners and respect for those around us, or giving up on the idea that integrity is a more valued commodity than being cool?

These are of course, generalizations and before everyone hastens to inform me about their friend’s sister’s nephew that has a life-threatening peanut allergy, I know, it happens.  But the message is not in the details.

To all the mothers approaching “your day” exhausted, stressed and overworked…oh well.  That’s life.  There are a bunch of fathers out there feeling the same way and that’s what we all signed up for by being a participating member of the human race.  Instead of trying to meet the expectations of Hallmark or your socially ambitious neighbor when it comes to what makes a good mother, I submit an alternative.

First and most basically, love your children.  Among other things love them by setting a high, yet attainable, bar and continue to give them tools to learn how to reach it.  Goals are not bad, competition is not bad.  Learning to work hard, strive, and sometimes fail in the attempt of acheivement is not bad, it is confidence building at its best.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT love them by doing whatever they want in order to ‘make them happy’.  News flash, they are often not happy no matter what you do and they will often be sure they hate you, frequently well into adulthood.  This has nothing to do with you…remember that.

Second, give them the gift of learning to be alone.  Not alone with their smart phone or the flat screen, but alone with a thought-provoking book, alone flat on their stomach in the yard or the park examing a blade of grass and trying to make it whistle, even staring at the wall as they begin to contemplate existential theory.

Third, try not to fight their battles (remember they will hate you).  Instead of railing against the bully; which by the way, bullies are not a new phenomenon and they have existed for hundreds of years, give them the ability to render the bully powerless.  And no, things like this are not easy.  But the idea that life will often present itself as difficult is a better lesson than the one about ‘you are unique and special and deserving of nothing but unicorns and glitter’.  While we may wish it so, it is a disservice to suggest it.

Finally and most important, do you put your head on the pillow at night knowing you have done your best?  Don’t buy the hype or accept the pressure of a society that wishes you to feel bad that you don’t do enough, try enough, buy enough; that you are not enough.  Don’t wonder if you are perfect, you aren’t; none of us are.  But if you have done your best then you ARE a good mother, case closed.  It is all any of us can do and even then, sometimes children will go astray, they’ll make bad choices.  No matter.  If you can end each day with the knowledge you did the best you could and you will make the same effort the following day, you are enough.  You ARE a good mother.  Happy Mother’s Day! 

I am working on the second book in my Silver Shores series.  The working title is “Pros and Cons” and I am about 25,000 words into a book I forsee will end around 90,000.

 Writing has always come easy to me.  I’ve written a lot of crap in my life, but I’ve never been at a loss for words.  There was always something to say.  But when I was but a few chapters in to this new story the man, my dear friend, that served as model for my character, Patrick, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  He died exactly three weeks after his diagnosis.  To say I was devastated doesn’t begin to describe it.

Make no mistake, these books are works of fiction.  However, they are based in an industry, a world if you will, that I spent most of my career involved with and there were traits, good and bad, of actual people that I incorporated into my characters.  The character of Patrick though was my friend to a tee.  There were a few liberties taken to drive the story but his essence was there…no doubt about it.

There are two reasons I must have done a good job; first, those that read the book and also knew him  recognized him in the character and I wanted that.  Second, those that hadn’t met him still recognized and remarked on Patrick’s goodness, his kindness, and of how much they liked him; exactly the reaction my friend drew wherever he went.

Though it may be a strange concept to non-writers it is absolutely true that one’s characters exist.  They speak to the writer with their own unique voice and their very individual personalities.  They “demand” the dialogue and action involving them play out a certain way.  But, they also show their compassion, their humanity, their empathy. 

On the day “my” Patrick left us, I was working on a scene where he played a major part.  I just stopped writing…I couldn’t do it and it has taken me several weeks to sit down at the keyboard again.  He has more he is anxious to say, more he wishes to contribute and I fear I cannot do him justice.  I don’t know that I possess the ability to portray him as he should be.

Writing is easy, until it isn’t.

  

It has been a week of devastating news for some of my friends and for me of course, because they are my friends.  Terminal illness for one, and a serious diagnosis and surgery for another has shaken them to the core and shaken those that love them.  I have begun the process of grief which may seem odd and ill-timed but a quote has come to mind this week that explains much.  Sadly, I don’t know the original author so the quote will stand as “Author Unknown”.

“Grief, I’ve learned is really just love.  It’s all the love you want to give but cannot.  All of that unspent love gathers up in the corner of your eyes, the lump in your throat and in that hollow part of your chest.  Grief is just love with no place to go.”

Such a succinct description, yet grief seems to overflow into other channels.  All those channels involve love, but the tentacles of grief reach to unsuspected places.

I find myself grieving for the life I’ve loved.  With each friend or loved one that succumbs to stroke, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, the prediction that “no one is getting out of here alive” is slammed home.  I have lost the carefree spirit that (wrongly) believed I was immune; the feeling as one friend explained to me regarding her life, “I thought I was Superwoman.”

I am grieving for how little it seems love can really do.  We desperately say “I love you” again and again, hoping it will somehow be enough before that final parting.  Hoping the feel of that love can be carried within each other.  But though love is inarguably a spiritualistic buoy, it cannot heal, it cannot cure, it cannot reverse the trajectory of a life nearing its end.  We cannot wield love to do the very thing we would wish primarily to do.

And now, I grieve as the idea that we are given a wonderful life and opportunity to do something good in the world, no matter how big or small, proves itself to be more than we thought.  Just when we find the cognizance to appreciate the happy wag of a dog’s tail, the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, the value of a true, loyal friend, we have already begun the descent to the stage in life where these things are imminently finite.  Trying to make an impact on the world may not be nearly as important as making and impact on our own world..

Grief is truly love with no place to go and there will always be love left over; it cannot all be spent as it regenerates again and again with hope and promise and optimism.  We owe ourselves the feelings of grief and its ultimate healing properties yet just as much, we owe ourselves the promise not to squander appreciation and love of what we have been given.  This is not original thought, but there is a constant need to remind ourselves again and again to honor ourselves and those that go before us.