Monday, May 30, 2016

Closing Chapters

Late yesterday afternoon, I returned home from my annual Boys' Trip.  I've been doing these trips for 22 or 23 years.  None of us who started the trips can remember the exact year we started, but we know within two years due to other significant events that happened around that time.  It's funny how life works that way.  This was the shortest trip we've done in I-can't-remember-how-long, and it was really the first trip I didn't look forward to attending, because we scattered the ashes of my best friend Greg, who committed suicide on October 27, 2015.  In addition to being my best friend, Greg was one of the core three on the Boys' Trips.  I didn't merely attend this trip, or co-plan the trip, I planned it... every minute detail... because I couldn't do any less for my best friend, or for those who came to pay their respects.

We scattered the ashes into the Upper Iowa River near Decorah, Iowa, on a partly cloudy, warm spring Saturday morning.  Even though it was still mid-morning, there were children playing, splashing and laughing  in the water a short distance upstream from us.  In a slightly odd twist, as we scattered the ashes, the children started moving downstream toward us.  Just before they got to the point of encroaching on our space, a kid who was onshore, but downstream of us, and apparently with the kids playing in the water, hollered out for the upstream kids to back away.  I'm reasonably sure he knew what we were doing.  The kid deserved props for recognizing and respecting what we were doing, whether or not he knew the full extent of the symbolism.

Greg's girls were the first to grab a handful of his ashes and toss them into the river.  At first they were giggling and smiling at running their hands through the ashes, and, after tossing the ashes into the water, they enjoyed watching the ashes dissipate, simultaneously floating downstream and sinking to the river bed.  Somewhere along the line though, things started sinking in, and the levity departed from the scene, leaving the sorrow, and a hollow sense of loss in its place.  I had hoped that I'd be able to complete the ceremony without shedding tears, but I failed spectacularly... as did virtually everyone else.

The time and place we chose to scatter Greg's ashes is the most appropriate I could possibly imagine.  Greg loved the outdoors... camping and canoeing particularly.  The Upper Iowa River is where our Boys' Trips started, and it's the river that we paddled most often.  Additionally, Greg had a vision of being on the water when he retired.  He wanted to complete his cabin cruiser and motor up and down the Mississippi.  He won't have his boat, but I suspect that some of him will make it to the Mississippi, and possibly even to the Gulf of Mexico.

After scattering Greg's ashes, a smaller group of us canoed the river for a couple of hours.  It was a great little trip.  Virtually no paddling work required... long enough to enjoy the water, easy enough that Greg's wife and kids could safely paddle, and short enough that children weren't screaming "I'm bored."

During the float, I fulfilled a promise I made to Greg about a decade ago.  You see, I've known for 20 years that suicide was a possibility for Greg.  During a conversation about his depression, I told Greg that if he ever committed suicide that I'd piss on his grave.  Well, he thought he'd have the last word by getting cremated, but that's not the case.  I held back some of his ashes, and took them on the canoe with me.  When it was time, I pulled to shore, took the ashes with me, unceremoniously dumped them on the rocks and dirt a little ways from the waterline, and I pissed all over those ashes.  When I got back to my boat, I told a couple of friends what I'd done, and they added their fond farewell to those ashes.

When I made the promise, I had hoped that I'd never need to fulfill it.  When I decided to follow through, I didn't know what to expect... sadness?  a welling of anger?  a bit of morbid humor, knowing that I had the last laugh?  What I felt was flat and empty.  There was no sadness, anger or humor.  It felt as though I was fulfilling a promise, nothing more.  I was, however, mildly amused that my friends followed in my footsteps.

Toward the end of the trip as I looked at the rock ledges lining the left side of the river, and the woods on the right, I remember thinking "Greg, you're supposed to be here, fucker!"  As I continued to appreciate the panorama, I felt the sun's warmth, and a gentle breeze from behind me, and I heard... no felt... Greg's presence as he said "I am here, dumbass!"

Aside from scattering Greg's ashes, the trip didn't suck.  Planning the trip was pretty miserable, but attending wasn't so bad.  Others talked about doing trips like this in the future.  The fact is though, that I'm not sure if these trips will continue.  You see, Greg was the person that started this tradition.  Many people through the years have attended, but Greg, Darin, and I... three boys that grew up together, and have known each other for 30+ years... were the core of the group.  Greg is gone.  Darin's health prevents him from enjoying the outdoors like we used to do.  This means that I'm really the only one left who could do this... and I kind of realized over the weekend that scattering Greg's ashes not only bid farewell to Greg, but also probably means that there will be no more of these Boys' Trips... at least not in it's current form.

I honestly, genuinely, sincerely, hope that Darin and I can continue doing something over Memorial Day Weekend.  And I honestly, genuinely, sincerely hope that I can occasionally coordinate weekend trips like this in the future.  But I think that the Boys' Trips as I have known them in the past are probably as dead as Greg.  I didn't intend to, but I think I managed to close two huge chapters in the book of my life this weekend.  I'd rather have kept writing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Wonderful Visit

For those of you who don't know, I volunteer with the Cedar Valley Humane Society.  As a volunteer, I go to the pound each month, select a dog, and take it to a nursing home to interact with the residents.

As I mentioned in a previous post, last month's visit was the worst.  I found out that my all-time favorite resident had died.  This month's visit, however, was probably my best visit ever, and it almost didn't happen.  Upon arriving at the animal shelter, I quickly determined that none of the animals were suited for a visit; they were all to energetic, and I didn't want to risk the chance of a dog jumping up and hurting a resident.  As I was preparing to cancel the visit, one of the employees offered to let me take her dog.

The employee, who will remain nameless to protect her anonymity, introduced me to Lola, her one year old teacup chihuahua.  Lola was curious, but also very quiet and mellow... a perfect fit for the visit.  When I got to the home, I realized quickly that Lola was a good fit.  Virtually everyone there was delighted to meet Lola, even people who aren't usually interested in seeing the dogs I bring.  They were particularly pleased to be able to hold the pooch, who was completely content to be held and adored by the residents.

I also met a new resident who was absolutely delightful, and we chatted for several minutes.  I believe that I am going to greatly enjoy getting to know her.  She's an incredibly humble, thankful, charming and happy soul.  I was also pleased to see a couple of people who were admitted for short term rehabilitation, and found out that a woman I'd met a couple of months ago will be going home in a day or two.  At my last stop, Lola fell asleep in the resident's arms, apparently exhausted from all of the attention she received.

Though not all visits are fun per se, they are all very rewarding, and today's visit will remain in my memory for a long time to come.  It was a welcome contrast to last month's visit.  I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the anonymous employee at the Humane Society who so generously allowed me to take her baby.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

LGBTQ Movement Seeks to Add Another Letter

Sarah Ellis, the CEO of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), has announced a campaign to add another letter from the alphabet to the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) movement's collection.  Ellis was quoted as saying "Over the years, we in the LGBTQ movement have made tremendous strides in gaining acceptance in society.  We are firmly convinced that a large portion of this success is our own policy of inclusiveness regarding letters of the alphabet."

Ellis went on to note that the movement stayed in relative obscurity until they added 'Q' to the mix.  "With this in mind," she said "X is an early favorite to add to the collection.  There seems to be a consensus that the letter X is representative of the LGBTQ community as a whole."

"Though it's 1/26th of the alphabet, it's almost never used, and it's among the last letters," one aide said during the press release. "We want to raise the profile of X and promote inclusiveness," the employee continued, "but there are a couple of dark horse entries, such as A and K because we haven't yet included a vowel, and we haven't added an average letter.  Eventually, we hope to include all 26 letters, and we may even move on to the Greek alphabet."

A final decision on which letter to add is expected later this year.