After years of study and having compiled the observations from field researchers from all over the world, we can definitively conclude that Life is messy.
So it is with some chagrin, I admit the degree to which I have come to rely on my wave machine. Masquerading as a clock radio, I remember first unwrapping the gift and looking down my nose at the various sound buttons arrayed in a circle around the device. “Really?”, I thought to myself, not wanting to appear unappreciative, “Why does anyone need to have any more noise in their life?”. My life was quite noisy enough without bringing the sounds of birds, rain, forest insects or rolling surf into my bedroom. Besides, being able to quickly fall asleep has rarely ever been a problem.
But times change, and so too has my perspective. Now I rely on the audio smorgasbord sitting on my dresser. Crickets at night calm the occasional bout of the midnight crazies. Asking the soft sounds of birds at dawn to work through the night enhances my creativity while I sleep. And lately, I’ve been playing the sounds of waves, each slipping up on a sandy beach while I do my focus time each morning [see:https://dan4kent.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/breathing-glasses/]. What I hadn’t counted on was having company during my mind’s mental walk each morning. I certainly hadn’t counted on my companions being those I’ve loved in the past…some of them no longer here. Any fan of Theresa Caputo (Long Island Medium) wouldn’t be surprised to hear how having my Uncle Paul or one of my grandparents join me on my mental stroll along the seashore has brought me genuine clarity and comfort. So even with a daily grown-up life filled with due dates, outstanding balances and trips to the grocery, I have gained new appreciation for good noise.
But alas fellow traveler, all noise is not good.
This time, last week, I was watching Youtube clips of Jonathan Winters while puzzling on why North Korea would want to start a war with the South – knowing the U.S. would not hesitate to step up and help defend our ally. And all because of this one 29-year old guy, Kim Jong Un who wants things on his peninsula to be messy? Why? And the other missile guys, the Iranians. What was up with them and their intentions?
Then, we had Boston – Boom. And all that disappeared from view.
All those runners being cheered on by friends and family as they came together for one iconic race. For 117 years, Bostonians had gathered, not to watch the running of the bulls, but rather to cheer each other in a marathon display of human grit and stamina, conquering a course unlike any other in the world. And then, a block away from the first blast, there was another – Boom.
And a little big-grinned 9-year old, Martin Richard, was among the dead and injured. In the moment Martin was dying, regular people, in ways so uniquely American, were transformed into unlikely heroes as they ran, not away, but towards the carnage of the blast sites to help people they didn’t know.
Marathon volunteers, off-duty fire fighters like Matt Peterson, other runners, shop keepers and secretaries – all instantly galvanizing around one singular purpose. Death and severed limbs, like Life, can be very messy. But there we were, each of us – no matter where we were standing, being there together – helping where we could and with what we had…even if it was our silent prayer as we watched the horror unfold from our TV sets.
One interview I saw during the wall-to-wall news coverage of the attack and its aftermath was of a Bostonian telling the camera crew that “…when you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us”. What struck me about his declaration wasn’t his rhetoric, but rather, his tone. He wasn’t speaking with playground bravado or making a threat of a bully. Rather, he was making a simple affirmation of what we’ve demonstrated since our Founding. We’ve come from everywhere. And when the chips are down, we figure out a way to become one in those moments. While I understand how some in the world would like to see us whimpering in a corner made wet by fear, that’s not what happened on that bloody street in Boston. We closed ranks. We showed up in the moment of crisis. It’s what we do. Some of those folks knew each other last Monday. Many of them did not. But without any prompting from anyone, all of them waded into the mess without hesitation or reserve – as one.
In the same week and in rapid-fire succession, we also saw the U.S. Senate fail to lift even a trigger finger in response to the gun violence at the grade school in Newtown; or the movie theater in Aurora; or the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI; or the campuses of either Virginia Tech or Columbine.
The anniversarial memories of the Oklahoma City bombing and the disaster with Branch Davidians in Waco, TX were also brought back into vivid focus when a fertilizer plant just outside of that Texas town blew up and destroyed much of everything around it, snuffing out the lives of the fire fighter and paramedics responding to the explosion. Noisy, messy and bloody.
And while we’re talking about what Texans have lived through this week, let’s not forget Kim Lene Williams, 46, the wife of a Texas Justice of the Peace Eric Williams being arrested, both now charged in connection with the assassinations of Kaufman County District Attorney Michael McLelland and his wife, Cynthia and Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse, gunned down as he walked into a courthouse on January 31st.
And then, as if any of that April foolishness wasn’t messy enough, we learned an Elvis impersonator in Tupelo, MS was mistakenly arrested for sending envelopes laced with ricin to various government officials – including the White House. Which leaves us with the reality that someone did it. Jeesh…talk about post-911 flashbacks!
And then it rained in Chicago…and rained and rained.
That same morning, after watching the team coverage on the news, I had driven to work only to be confronted with at least of foot and a half of water between me and my workplace. Ironic, in that I’d been the guy shooting off my mouth about the idiots that drive through flood waters. And yet? There I was, slowing down to assess the situation. I watched several trucks make their way through the water path I needed to take while wondering if our faithful Buick were up for the task. It was in that moment of doubt, I reached up and touched the silver and brass angel, still clipped up above on the visor from when the car had been Elsie’s (my partners mom). I know it sounds nuts, but as soon as I touched it, I heard her say ‘Go…slowly. But go‘. And even though the water was up to the bumpers, I came through safely. The only impact of my water crossing was a little squeak or two as the vehicle dried out, but the car starts just fine and runs great. What made feeling her voice significant to me was this week marks the 5-year anniversary of her death. She loved me like a son and I loved her like the mom I didn’t know I had. And now, looking back, I’m almost grateful the Cancer chose to take her quickly, not forcing her to linger in its grip. Even in her last days in hospice, she knew what had become our normal routine and waited for me to get off work so the two of us could get to the hospital. We walked into her room that day like we had all the others. She saw us. Smiled and then slipped away. The afternoon she died was messy for me. So it is, with Death.
Sure, she was just one woman, but in loving us the way she did, she also showed us there was a way through the agony of the loss. It was her time.
A couple of weeks ago, almost as a lark, I began asking her to join me during my mental walks by the sea shore each morning. And on several occasions over the past few weeks, she has accepted my focus-time invitation. I have felt her beside me as we talked. But mostly, we just stayed silent, listening to the sounds of waves and the gulls as we walked. I miss her. But her death isn’t messy anymore. Remembering her is quietly powerful in a sub-dermal pulsing kind of way I can’t quite name. But what I do know is it is good. It was Love. It was real and it was mine. It still is.
So this week, with one bomber dead and the other recovering in the same Boston hospital as many of their targets, Bostonians will be burying their dead and getting back to normal. In Chicago, we’ll be cleaning up the flood damage while the people of Waco continue to look for the many still missing.
So while we’re doing that here, why not take a minute to turn on some noise of your own where you are? Go walking with someone you love. Invite them – alive or passed – it doesn’t really matter. Just step out and ask them. Do that and the next time Life puts you in the middle of a disaster, you’ll be better equipped to look it square in the eye and say (repeat after me): “You mess with me and you’re going to have to deal with ALL of us. What’s it going to be?”
Life, like really good sandwiches, is messy. Take big bites and forget the napkin. Join me in being one of the messy ones. Do something wild. Love thy neighbor.
Martin Richard, Age 8 Krystle Campbell, Age 29 Lingzi Lu, Age 23
Sean Collier – MIT Campus Police Officer, Age 26
PHOTO CREDITS and ATTRIBUTIONS: art-is-messy-5-carol-leigh: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/art-is-messy-5-carol-leigh.html; north-korea-missiles via Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images; Image via Wikimedia Commons: http://mashable.com/2013/04/05/north-korea-missile-range/; Boston Bombing_Daily Mail UK_964x567: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/04/16/article-2309545-1950E329000005DC-191_964x567.jpg; Matt Peterson Boston Area Firefighter_© 634×513 and Martin Richard (8-Years old): http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2311093/Boston-bombing-2013-Off-duty-fireman-Matt-Patterson-pictured-rescuing-boy-tried-save-Martin-Richard.html; Read more about Matt Peterson: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/off-duty-firefighter-rushed-save-boy-article-1.1321912 and http://www.iafflocal739.org/index.cfm?zone=/unionactive/view_article.cfm&HomeID=278538; boston-bombing-heroes-responding_66467_600x450: http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/664/cache/boston-bombing-heroes-responding_66467_600x450.jpg; Arrests in Texas Murders: http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/17/justice/texas-da-killed; chicago-floodingjpg-bcf6ce179d59fc3e_large by Scott Stewart, Chicago Sun-Times via AP: http://www.nola.com/weather/index.ssf/2010/07/cleanup_under_way_in_chicago_a.html; 132-40208-momlosingit-1366322087: http://files.mom.me/photos/2013/04/18/132-40208-momlosingit-1366322087.jpg; 130420064701-02-boston-celebrates-0420-horizontal-gallery: http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/dam/assets/130420064701-02-boston-celebrates-0420-horizontal-gallery.jpg; Boston Strong Arms: http://www.wmtw.com/image/view/-/19798736/medRes/2/-/maxh/358/maxw/538/-/ut2bsl/-/Mobile-09-jpg.jpg; http://asmartrock.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/how-innocence-died-the-boston-marathon-bombing/; Pat Summerall: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324345804578427280752083350.html and Pat Summerall Source: http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/9192932/thousands-tribute-broadcaster-pat-summerall; Jacoby Dickens: http://milwaukeecourieronline.com/index.php/2013/04/20/funeral-services-announced-for-seaway-bank-chairman-jacoby-dickens/and Jacoby Dickens Source: http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20130416/NEWS01/130419857/seaway-banks-jacoby-dickens-prominent-black-financier-dies; George Beverly Shea: http://www.theoverflow.com/george-beverly-shea and George Beverly Shea Source: Source: by Margalit Fox (Published: April 17, 2013) @ http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/arts/music/george-beverly-shea-billy-grahams-singer-dies-at-104.html?_r=0; martin-richard-8-krystle-campbell-29-e-lingzi-lu: http://imguol.com/2013/04/17/17abr2013—montagem-mostra-fotografias-das-tres-pessoas-que-morreram-no-atentado-a-maratona-de-boston-da-esquerda-para-a-direita-martin-richard-8-krystle-campbell-29-e-lingzi-lu-1366233335296_956x500.jpg; Sean Collier (MIT Campus Police Officer): http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/19/us/bombings-slain-cop/index.html?iid=article_sidebar and http://www.bing.com/imagenewsfetcher.aspx?q=http%3a%2f%2fcol.stb01.s-msn.com%2fi%2fEF%2fDAB51B60BA6CC1FC48EB01CE85630.jpg&sz=195×135; Boston Flag – inset: boston-marathon-explosion-ap-1-041513: http://www.baynews9.com/content/dam/news/images/2013/04/boston-marathon-explosion-ap-1-041513.jpg
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