Still Sad After All These Years

I found myself weeping unexpectedly this morning.  People gave money when Tom died to fund a scholarship for a graduating senior at his high school alma mater. This year’s recipient sent me a lovely thank you note and I felt compelled to write back, proving once and for all that I am the daughter of Irene Robertson who was once accused of writing thank you notes for thank you notes!

I always feel vulnerable this time of year as it was right about now in 2014 when we got Tom’s diagnosis. He stayed positive throughout, but I was steeled for certain defeat from the get-go and watching chemo sap his strength and joy did not help a bit. Early June is such a beautiful time here, iris and peonies in full splendor and the temperatures usually perfect, but I still remember walking around in a fog for weeks. How could my strong, handsome, brand-new husband have cancer that was “treatable, but not curable”? It seemed like a bad joke and in some ways still does. Wait 55 years to find true love and have it snatched out of your tight grasp while still a honeymooner.

I wrote to the scholarship girl about Tom. I told her he would be pleased to be helping someone headed for a career in Interior Design as he had the soul of an artist. I told her a few stories about him and the beautiful house in Davisburg that he designed and built with his own hands, the watercolors he painted, the exquisite boats and guitars he made. I told her he could fix anything and shared the story of  our trip to France where he immediately endeared himself to the large family group we were staying with by fixing the broken dishwasher. Didn’t matter one whit that he couldn’t speak a word of French. They loved him anyway, as pretty much everyone did.

Just last week my niece told me some great stories about her boys, both of whom loved Tom dearly. She found her son singing away on head phones to the song “My Old Man”. He asked her if she could guess who it reminded him of and she said “Your dad?” but he said it was actually Tom. He has also stopped playing tag because Tom once played it with him and now it makes him sad. The amazing thing is that these boys were tiny when they knew Tom. The fact that they remember him at all is miraculous and that they remember him so fondly is a thing of beauty and makes me feel so much less alone in my grief, which has more staying power than I ever would’ve guessed.

So, when exactly do you stop loving someone you have lost? The answer, of course, is never. Love has no beginning, it has no end. I’m sure that’s a song lyric, but it’s true. I will love him until our souls do their happy dance in heaven and will then love him all the way through eternity, whether that means coming back to earth as a bird or a cow or an Oak tree or if it means floating somewhere like a wisp of cotton. I don’t care, just as long as we are reunited in one way or another. Because this love we had, this great big huge, breath-catching, life-giving love is not over. Not by a long shot.

It felt ok to cry while I wrote about him. It is very sad that he isn’t here anymore. Not just for me. For his friends and his family and Alyssa and my niece and her husband and boys. For the neighborhood boy he wanted to help make guitars. For his best friend who could talk to him about anything. For the family he lived next to briefly and impacted forever.  Every life he touched he made better. His core of calm and kindness just made you want to be and stay in his presence. I knew it when he was here, but I know it more now.

I miss you sweetheart.  Alyssa’s playing your guitar and singing Cat Stevens while I type this.  Just another way your love lives on in our lives. Keep spreading love up there. Or maybe that’s all there is up there? Just love. Endless fields of love. I hope so.


Behind the Wheel

I live in Michigan and we have something unique besides a mitten shape. We have the Michigan Merge. I thought everyone had this until I read an article by someone who moved here from elsewhere. It turns out in other states (and possibly the rest of the civilized world) people approach merging far differently than Michiganders. In other places folks use all the lanes provided right up until the point where one is being eliminated and then they take turns merging into the remaining lanes. What a concept! Everybody just keeps driving as they normally would until they need to do something different.

In Michigan we are both paranoid and overly compliant. The very SECOND we see a sign that our lane will be disappearing at some point waaaaay down the road, we honor the contract we signed at birth (or whenever we moved here) to IMMEDIATELY move over. Never mind that this causes a huge slowdown in the flow of traffic and leaves perfectly good pavement empty for miles.  We are worried that failure to move now will result in being stranded at the point of the actual merge. We have been taught that merging at the merge point is rude and that others will resent us for it and will drive bumper to bumper in order to prevent us from entering their lane. And, in fact, anyone who dares to ignore this sacred custom may be subjected to harsh treatment including horn blowing, third finger raising and in some cases a particularly aggressive form of shaming where a car that has already pulled over comes back out just far enough to keep custom-breakers from using the perfectly good lane.

I have tried to discuss this insanity with otherwise intelligent and reasonable people who will not budge. When I admit that I always drive in the soon-to-be-eliminated lane right up to the merge point, there is a collective groan and the occasional hiss and boo as they shout “I HATE those people!” The collective wisdom seems to be that I think I am better than everyone else, special, not required to follow the rules. But there are no actual rules in effect here except to get over before the lane goes away. I have received my fair share of tickets over the years, but have never once gotten one for “failure to merge three miles early”!

This leads to the broader topic of Road Rage. Having driven on the unbelievably congested 6 lane freeways in southern California I can certainly appreciate how people would lose their minds and start acting out all over the place.  The relentless sunshine alone might put me over the edge. I get it. But here in sleepy, gray little Michigan my biggest commute is about 5 minutes, so on the rare occasion when I am out in rush hour traffic it is a shock. I had to go to the dentist at 8 a.m. this morning and truly feared for my life. People drove 85 miles per hour in almost bumper-to-bumper conditions. Once when I tried to create a little breathing room between my car and the one in front of me, some guy came barreling up on the left and swerved into my lane nearly taking off my front bumper. I honked at him briefly and he gave me what looked like a well-rehearsed finger salute, first with his right hand in his rear view mirror and then with his left out the driver side window. WOW. Equally troubling was my powerful urge to skip the dentist and follow this jerk to work to give him a piece of my mind or maybe shame him in front of colleagues or customers.

My daughter was driving to a certain large university (the identity must be kept secret for fear that certain relatives might become overly excited and start sending her T-shirts and cup holders) on a look-see trip and was cut off in this fashion twice. She had thankfully taken my nimble small car with great brakes as she is convinced she might be dead if she’d been in her slow old Chevy.  I recently watched a guy in a fast car weave in and out of very heavy, fast-moving traffic causing nearly every driver he cut off to have to brake. This crazy behavior is what gets people killed as happened last week when I-75 was completely shut down due to a double fatality case of road rage.

The answer here, of course, comes straight from Buddhism. Detach. Get in your car with nothing invested in the trip save your safe arrival. Let the anger, frustration, speed and bad behavior of your fellow drivers stay right where it belongs–with them. Breathe and keep your eyes on the road and your mind on something pleasant–like living long enough to eat dinner with your family that night. And remember that whatever is making these drivers so bat-shit crazy has NOTHING to do with you so don’t take anything they do personally. They are either having a bad day, week, (life?) or trying to punish everyone else for the troubling fact that some people refuse to observe the Michigan Merge.