The enduring power of imagination: Bedtime story, 1997

In my basement today I found a copy of a newspaper column I wrote in April 1997. I am reprising it here, with edits, for my three sons — now 27, 24 and 22.

The allure of the mud — if not the mud itself — had worn off my three boys by early afternoon Sunday, a cold, raw day.

We went inside, where a raucous game of “wall ball” ensued in the family room. I searched for a less destructive activity. In the corner amid a stack of cassette tapes, I found an old favorite, “Best-Loved Stories Told at the National Storytelling Festival,” which I hadn’t played for them in quite a while.

Because my two oldest sons are 8 and 6, I knew their memories of the stories would be incomplete. The 4-year-old wouldn’t remember them at all.

So I broke out the milk and cookies and had them sit down and listen to four of my favorites. All the stories were recorded at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn., sometime before 1991.

My boys must have thought it strange, as they listened in utter silence, to see me laughing and wiping tears from my eyes at the same time.

Compressed in these four tales are invaluable lessons of love and pain, forgiveness and acceptance, life and death.

“Flowers and Freckle Cream” by Elizabeth Ellis deals with a 12-year-old girl’s painful self-consciousness about her looks. Jay O’Callahan’s “Orange Cheeks” is a joyous celebration of a 6-year-old boy’s relationship with his wise grandmother. “A Friend of My Father” by Maggi Kerr Peirce is a hilarious and poignant tale of life and death in Ireland. And Steve Sanfield’s “Could This Be Paradise?” is a clever parable about the grass always being greener on the other side.

The boys laughed at the funny parts, of course, and the two older ones seemed to be figuring out how to react to the painful parts.

That night at bedtime, my 6-year-old asked if they could hear an original story.

I said OK, but they had to help me create it. I ripped a sheet of paper into tiny squares and wrote a story element on each — “a color,” “a problem to solve,” “a boy’s name,” “a girl’s name,” “a cool place,” and so on.

I folded the scraps and put them into my oldest son’s Seattle Mariners baseball cap, and had each boy pick one without peeking. Because it was his idea, the 6-year-old went first and chose “a problem to solve”  . . . “Rats eating clothes!” he said. (Oh, boy.)

The 8-year-old had to come up with a boy’s name: “Eberhard.” (Whose idea was this, anyway?) The 4-year-old, who picked “a cool place,” looked at me with his bright green eyes and said, “California.” (This one’s going to be trouble.)

The story I came up with wasn’t all that compelling, and may have contributed to the 4-year-old’s bad dreams that night.

It was the heroic tale of Eberhard Smithfield III, who lived in a mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean. With the help of Madeline the Maid, Eberhard figured out that a raccoon that had been wreaking havoc in the Smithfield mansion’s laundry room had found its way in by climbing through the clothes dryer vent.

(I know it was supposed to be a rat, but how could I send them off to never-never land with images of a disease-carrying rodent in their heads? Raccoons aren’t much better, but at least they’re cuter).

Now, a bedtime story isn’t complete without a moral, but I didn’t figure this one out until I was finished: Keep it short. (My 6-year-old fell asleep during the telling.) Or maybe I should just put in the cassette tape and let the pros handle it.

The greater lesson, of course, is that stories have incredible power — the power to help children laugh and think and feel, to use their imaginations, to figure out how to cope with their small world and the more harrowing grownup world to follow.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if the stories come from a professional on a stage, or from a rank amateur sitting on the floor of a dark, quiet bedroom.

According to the National Storytelling Festival schedule for 2015, Jay O’Callahan is a featured teller. (“Thank you, Grandma!”)

Posted in Irish Investigations, Children, stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

In Syracuse, NY, why do we accept mediocrity?

A busy intersection in Syracuse, NY. Faded pavement stripes and signage lead to driver confusion -- and frustration.

BEFORE: Faded pavement stripes led to driver confusion — and anger — for years.

It took way too long for a frustrating, often dangerous traffic situation in Syracuse, NY, to be remedied.

What did it take?

Two e-mail exchanges, three years apart.

How the solution came about is not as important as what the long-standing problem really symbolizes — a struggling city’s low self-esteem, pervasive apathy and chronic acceptance of mediocrity.

For the past seven years I’ve driven through and walked across a particularly busy intersection a dozen times a week. Harrison-at-Almond is a major connector to hospitals and universities, and is at the foot of a ramp to a highway.

The striping on the pavement of the five northbound lanes faded at least three years ago.

I saw regular incidents of driver confusion, frustration and road rage. Because of ambiguous overhead signs and a lack of paint to clarify lanes and directions, some drivers in the middle lane who had a green light thought the adjacent red turn signal was for them.

So they sat there. And held people up behind them, resulting in horns, shouts and dangerous maneuvering to get around them.

This went on for years, until last week when . . . an e-mail was forwarded.

In 2012, I wrote to the state transportation department about the intersection. The overhead signs and signal heads had recently been re-positioned, but the problem persisted because the lanes weren’t clearly striped. There was a misunderstanding over whose responsibility it was to paint the lanes. Nothing was done.

After that, I did what everyone else did — nothing — except shake my head every time I saw the same scenario of frustration unfold.

Two weeks ago, I decided to revisit the issue and e-mailed the state. A state traffic engineer wrote back and copied a city traffic engineer on the e-mail. After a followup from me, the city acknowledged it was responsible for striping the lanes.

The work was done in less than a day. (The “after” photo is below.)

I’m not pointing the finger at government entities as much as I am at those who live, work, drive and walk near that intersection. I include myself among those I’m disappointed in, since I gave up in 2012 after just one inquiry.

Thousands of other motorists and pedestrians endured that potentially dangerous situation for 1,000 days or more. (The crosswalk paint was basically invisible, and that’s been re-striped as well.)

Unless someone can show me that the city or state ignored years’ worth of complaints about this intersection, I’ll assume no one else bothered to say anything.

Sure, Syracuse has more important things to worry about (see the New York Times “Spike Nation” story about our synthetic marijuana problem). And yes, there are bright spots, energetic residents and business owners who are doing their best to revive a once-thriving place to live and work.

But the Harrison-at-Almond intersection is a clear example that we’ve come to accept here as the norm — an inconvenient, frustrating and unsafe situation that’s easily remedied.

So look around where you live. Are there teeth-rattling potholes, eyesore buildings, litter-strewn roads? Are you dealing with sleazy slumlords, surly parking lot attendants, incompetent contractors?

Don’t expect anything to change on its own. Call or write whoever you have to. And don’t wait three years to follow up, as I did.

The same intersection in Syracuse, re-striped.

AFTER: The same intersection in Syracuse, re-striped.

Posted in driving, Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

‘I can’t go into Canada — I’ve got felonies’

It wasn’t exactly the welcome we expected when we crossed the border.

We drove to Michigan last weekend, cutting across Ontario, Canada from western New York to save a couple of hours.

After crossing into the U.S., we pulled into a “welcome center” to stretch our legs. A few other vehicles came and went while we took a bathroom break, raided our cooler for sandwiches and walked the dog.

We had the entire parking area to ourselves, and started getting organized to get back on the road.

“Sir! Sir! Can you help me out?”

I turned around to see a large man who must have emerged from the welcome center.

“With what?” I called back. My “spidey sense” kicked in. There were no other vehicles in the lot, although there was another parking area for trucks out back.

“Directions!” he called out.

“I’m from upstate New York, so I don’t know how much I can help!” I replied. I kept a distance between us as I sized up the situation. I’ve been told I think like a cop, which can be good and bad, I suppose.

“Let me get a map,” I called out, trying to sound annoyed or at least aloof, and walked back to the car. At this point, Michelle was getting her phone out.

I strolled back to the man, who stayed where he was, about half the distance between the building and our car. Not another person or vehicle in sight.

I unfolded the map as I walked over to him. He outweighed me by about 100 pounds, but for whatever reason I wasn’t scared. Wary, certainly, but calm.

The man had a piece of paper with directions and addresses scrawled on it, and said he didn’t know how to get to Detroit. I showed him where we were, and that he needed to take I-94 westbound.

He seemed confused by the map, and I was waiting for the request for a ride, which would have been denied. The whole thing seemed “off,” not quite right.

That’s when he said, “I can’t go into Canada. I’ve got felonies.”

Plural.

OK, so this was a little awkward. But I didn’t react, and just reiterated the route he needed to go, even pointing toward the highway ramp and adding that Canada was in the opposite direction.

I folded up the map and may have wished him good luck as I walked back to our car. End of story.

But we wondered if it could have ended differently. Badly.

As the man and I parted, Michelle was standing outside our car, phone in hand. If he noticed her, did he think she was looking up a Google map to help him? Or was she ready to call 911 if needed? (It was the latter, as things didn’t seem right to her, either).

Where was his vehicle? Maybe it was on the other side of the building, where several truckers had parked. Had he asked anyone over there for directions?

I had been close enough to him that I could tell that he had recently washed up, maybe even showered. If that were the case, how long had he been driving? Had he been driving at all?

And why, since we were already in Michigan and he needed to go to Detroit, did he mention he couldn’t go into Canada? And why volunteer that he’s a felon?

The most nagging questions: Was this an innocent encounter with a directionally challenged person, and we were overthinking it, overreacting? Or was he up to no good, and thought better of it when he saw Michelle with her phone at the ready?

We’ll never know, of course. But too many things just didn’t add up.

The only certainty is that we’re forced to balance our desire to help others with our personal safety. It’s not cynicism. It’s common sense with a little “spidey sense” added for good measure.

Posted in crime, driving, Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

‘What the Lord would want us to do’ in South Sudan

Former "Lost Boy" John Dau. Photo by Michelle Gabel.

Former “Lost Boy” John Dau. Photo © Michelle Gabel.

History is in danger of repeating itself in the African nation of South Sudan, where a generation ago a lengthy civil war killed an estimated 2.5 million people and displaced millions more.

In 1987, 12-year-old John Dau and other young boys fled violence in Sudan and began walking across Africa, separated from their families, seeking shelter and safety.

They became the Sudanese “Lost Boys,” 3,800 children who eventually were resettled in America.

“You couldn’t tell if you were going to survive that day,” John said, noting that many boys died from disease, malnutrition or animal attacks. “We went through that for 15 years.”

John settled in Syracuse, NY, in 2001, and said he had three options: Try to recover his lost childhood . . . Be bitter and ask God, “Where are you?” . . . or “Take it from where I am, and move on.”

John chose to move on. He’s now at the forefront of relief efforts in South Sudan, a sovereign nation formed when it gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

The John Dau Foundation arose from the connections he made with First Presbyterian Church in Skaneateles, NY. The foundation built a medical clinic and hospital in South Sudan in 2007, thanks to what John called the “big American hearts” who have donated money and provided medical care.

“We’re able to deliver life-saving medical treatment,” John said in an interview. “The generous American people have given us a platform to be able to heal. . . . It’s no longer hopeless.”

Former "Lost Boy" John Dau after his presentation about conditions in South Sudan.

Former “Lost Boy” John Dau after his presentation about conditions in South Sudan. Photo by Jim McKeever.

John spoke recently at a gathering in Syracuse’s ArtRage gallery, where the current exhibit, “Impressions: South Sudan,” showcases photographs by Syracuse photojournalists Michelle Gabel and Bruce Strong, who made separate trips there in 2009.

John’s talk followed a showing of the documentary, “Duk County: Peace is in Sight in the New South Sudan,” filmed in 2011. It is an incredibly powerful 40 minutes, and the story it tells is as inspiring as it is gut-wrenching.

The film follows a visiting medical team from the United States that performed eye surgeries on hundreds of South Sudanese. The volunteers restored the sight of children, adults and elderly alike.

The documentary’s portrayal of gratitude and joy amid extremely harsh conditions is powerful. The team returned in 2012 and restored eyesight to another 600 people.

But violence has returned to South Sudan.

In late 2013, the John Dau Foundation’s clinic was forced to move nine miles away after rebel fighters looted all of its supplies. The buildings still stand, but are empty.

Bloody conflict has intensified in recent months, including the rape and murder of women and children, according to media reports. Animosity between the leaders of two powerful tribes sparked the renewed violence.

The clinic continues to treat people — more than 130,000 thus far, John said. Trained staff provide maternal health care, nutrition screenings, vaccinations, infectious disease treatment and many other medical services.

And, John told the gallery audience, it doesn’t turn anyone away.

“Those who destroyed the clinic, their children, the women and elders, their families can get care,” he said.

Treating and healing all people regardless of what tribe they come from, John hopes, will help bring peace. “We’re helping them. That’s what the Lord would want us to do.”

Living in America for more than 13 years has shown John that people can live in peace. When Americans get together, he said, they talk about movies, travel, their jobs. “When South Sudanese people get together,” John said, “they talk about war and losses — who lost who, and how many people you’ve lost.”

He hopes the fighting stops and peace returns. In the meantime, the John Dau Foundation has work to do in South Sudan.

“What we do is help people who need help the most,” said Executive Director Daniel Pisegna. “We can help people in so many ways.”

To help the foundation’s efforts, visit its website.

John Dau speaks to a group about life and conditions in South Sudan.

John Dau speaks to a group about life and conditions in South Sudan. Photo by Jim McKeever.

Posted in Africa, Irish Investigations, war | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Information overload often brings more heat than light

MLKinjustice copyInformation overload got the better of me the past two weeks.

It’s not that I didn’t want to keep up with the SCOTUS rulings, the South Carolina church murders, and the escape and capture of two convicted murderers in northern New York.

I went online often to catch up, and there was just too much — too many posts, too many tweets, too many angry, polarizing comments.

Too much noise.

I tuned a lot of it out, figuring the passage of time would bring some welcome light, rather than heat, into the court of public opinion. So, with a nod to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words above on his memorial in Washington, D.C. …

The South Carolina murders and the Confederate flag: Why did it take the premeditated murders of nine black church-goers by a white racist to force an entire nation to do something about state-sponsored racism?

Let’s look around. Are there other symbols besides the Confederate flag in our midst that we accept, or will continue to ignore, until another act of hatred wakes us up? (And has anyone noticed that eight black churches in the south have caught fire since the murders?)

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The SCOTUS rulings

When I toured the Supreme Court a couple of years ago and looked up at those nine chairs, I was in awe of our nation’s history, its Constitutional foundation and its balance of power. Sitting in the very chamber where decisions have been made to shape this country (school desegregation, due process, the right to counsel, etc.) was almost overwhelming. I felt proud and fortunate to live here and now. 

Last week I tried to educate myself on the dissenting justices’ positions on the Affordable Care Act and especially on same-sex marriage. I couldn’t understand such opposition to equal rights, and hoped for a reasonable explanation based on their interpretations of law and the Constitution. 

Starting with Justice Scalia was a mistake, as the snarkiness in his dissent on same-sex marriage was far from informative, and downright discouraging. And I had more than a little trouble with this statement from Justice Thomas: “Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved.”  

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

The Dannemora prison break: A convicted murderer (who dismembered one of his victims) was shot and killed by authorities Friday, three weeks after he and another inmate escaped from prison. Two days later, his fellow escapee — a cop-killer — was shot but captured alive.

Comparisons to films like “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Cool Hand Luke” (by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others) and speculation about who would portray these two bad actors in a movie, made me cringe. The escapees didn’t vandalize parking meters, or spring from the imagination of Stephen King. They killed people, including a sheriff’s deputy. So why make mythical cult figures out of them?

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Posted in American History, Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Bicycle Around America update: A promise from Switzerland

Lukas Amann, a supporter of Brian D'Apice and Bicycle Around America, poses on a mountaintop in Switzerland.

Lukas Amann, a supporter of Brian D’Apice and Bicycle Around America, poses on a mountaintop in Switzerland.

Brian D’Apice’s Bicycle Around America adventure has gained momentum and an outrageous amount of support from across the country.

Friends and strangers have donated to Brian’s designated charities (Pencils of Promise and Connecting Families), put him up for the night, fed him, invited him to speak at schools, etc.

And then there’s Lukas Amann, a young man who is supporting Brian spiritually and physically from thousands of miles away.

Lukas and Brian met in Thailand, and I’ll let Lukas share that story below. But first, here’s part of a message he sent to Brian before his 10,000-mile solo trek began May 4.

“Chances are there will come a point where sh*t hits the fan and things get rough. And when that happens, it’s nice to know you’re not alone in your suffering.

“So, I combined several of my jogging routes into one big one that leads through part of Zürich and up Üetli-Mountain, where this pic (above) was taken.

Brian D'Apice

Brian D’Apice

“So when you feel like giving up, shoot me a message and I will run that 15k route (9.3 miles) the very same day, no matter what. That way, you can be sure that on the opposite side of the planet some guy is torturing himself with you for your cause and can – at least to some degree – feel your pain. All the best from Europe!”

Brian was touched by Lukas’ offer, although he has yet to take him up on it. The first 1,400 miles have gone quite well.

“I have not had a day rough enough to ask him to do that,” Brian said this week after a day of riding in Ohio. “I don’t want to jump the gun, but I feel I may never have a day that rough. This is mostly because of how I ‘enjoy’ the challenges of a trip like this. . . . I appreciate his willingness to suffer with me as I enjoy suffering with the people for whom I am raising money.”

Here are excerpts of Lukas’ account of how he met Brian, and why that meeting left such an impression:

I met Brian when I traveled in Thailand. I was doing this journey as an adventurous holiday trip, but I was also seeking an approach to spirituality and wanted to get into meditation which is so widely practised in numerous monasteries there.

Eventually I was introduced to the world of spirituality by this American guy, Brian, who stayed at the same room in a youth hostel. He was having a vivid conversation about religion and society with a German guy who also stayed at the place, when I entered the room.

I was very interested in what Brian was saying and the three of us spent some days together in Chiang Rai, visiting a museum, eating baked grasshoppers, playing football (soccer) with a traditional ball made from bamboo and most of all, having lots and lots of talks about spirituality, mindfulness and meditation. Brian was and is deeply inspiring and contagiously positive person to me.

We did not keep contact a lot, but as I hit rock bottom for a while, he was one of the very few people who I very much felt like getting in touch with and seeking advice. If you’d ask me which accidental acquaintances I am most grateful for in my life, he’d belong to that small bunch of people.

Posted in Irish Investigations, poverty | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

‘Community Build’ house looking more like a home

'Community Build' house  will soon be home to three men from the Rescue Mission of Greater Syracuse.

This ‘Community Build’ house will soon be home to three men from the Rescue Mission of Greater Syracuse.

The “Community Build” project in Syracuse to house three formerly homeless men is nearing completion.

Two months ago, a group of us from Upstate Medical University spent a day volunteering at the property, which was in pretty sad shape.

We went back Friday to do more work, and the house is looking more like a home. The three men are slated to move in by the end of July.

It’s an exciting transformation to behold. On our first visit in April, I wondered why anyone would bother to try to save the house from demolition.

Assorted volunteer groups have been helping contractors in many phases of the project. I’ll post another update this summer when the work is done.

IMG_3360

Main room, with stairs leading to three bedrooms.

IMG_3359

A view from the center of the house toward the street.

One of three upstairs bedrooms.

Posted in Homeless, Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Free smiles for volunteers at 5K fundraiser

Paige's Butterfly Run

Happy participants in Paige’s Butterfly Run 5K in Syracuse. This group entered the “centipede” division and ran the 5K tethered together.

This is the fourth year I’ve volunteered at Paige’s Butterfly Run, a 5-kilometer run in Syracuse that benefits children (and their families) receiving care at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital.

The run is named for Paige Arnold, an 8-year-old who died of cancer 21 years ago. Her parents started the Butterfly Run in 1997, and it now generates more than $200,000 per year for the hospital. Paige’s has raised more than $2 million overall for treatment, research and family assistance.

My job each of the past few years has been to stand at either the 1- or 2-mile point on the course with a stopwatch and call out the elapsed time as runners go by. The faster folks always want to know their pace, so I have to call out the time frequently — and loudly — as the lead pack goes by.

I continue that for several solid minutes as the middle of the pack cruises past. My voice usually starts to go hoarse, but I can ease up as the crush of runners thins out and is replaced by joggers and walkers.

Girls on the Run

Girls on the Run.

At Paige’s Saturday, there were dozens and dozens of green T-shirt-clad “Girls on the Run” — girls in grades three through five, running with a coach, in a program designed to foster empowerment through running.

In some cases, it was hard to tell if the girls were glad to have hit the 2-mile point, or discouraged that they had 1.1 miles to go.

But along with the other volunteers at my spot (a group of high school students from Paige’s home town), we offered enough encouragement to get a lot of smiles in return.

We counted on their coaches, including many moms, to take it the rest of the way. I’m confident there were even more smiles at the finish line.

Posted in cancer, children's hospital, Irish Investigations, running | Tagged , , , , | 21 Comments

Bicycle Around America: It’s all about gratitude and compassion

Brian D'Apice

Brian D’Apice

Brian D’Apice is more than 800 miles into his 10,000-mile Bicycle Around America, a solo journey around the perimeter of the lower 48 United States.

Gratitude and compassion are the driving forces behind Brian’s ride, which is helping two international charities. After two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army, Brian earned a college degree and then spent almost three years in Southeast Asia, teaching and working.

He saw extreme poverty. Lots of it. And he wanted to do something about it.

Brian D'Apice speaking to high school students.

Brian D’Apice speaking to high school students in Central New York this week.

He woke up one morning in Vietnam with an idea, and Bicycle Around America was born. The journey began May 4 in New York City. Brian, 30, will make it back there in about 11 months, after what he hopes is a successful trek that will raise $100,000 — and a lot of gratitude and compassion.

Michelle and I had the pleasure of hosting Brian this week, when he took a break from his grueling riding schedule to speak to students and meet fellow veterans in Central New York. (He’s looking for more speaking engagements along the way).

Others who had never met Brian embraced his cause, put him up for the night, fed him, took him shopping, donated to Pencils of Promise and Connecting Families.

He’s encountered plenty of good will throughout New England and New York State.

PJ and family, one of the many who have reached out to help Brian -- and feed him -- during his 10,000-mile bicycle ride.

PJ Zoccolillo, one of the many people who have reached out to help Brian during his 10,000-mile bicycle ride. PJ hosted Brian at a barbecue, and gave him a care package for the road, including a Syracuse University T-shirt.

“The generosity of the people I’ve met on this trip has been astonishing,” Brian wrote in his Bicycle Around America blog this week. “I’ve found that people genuinely want to help a good cause. I’ve seen it time and time again and I’m not even 10% of the way through the ride!”

I’ll be updating Brian’s progress throughout the year, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BikeAroundUSA) or on the Bicycle Around America Facebook page.

Brian will soon ride through western New York, Ohio, deeper into the Midwest, across the Great Plains to the Pacific Northwest … down the coast to San Diego, across Texas  … to Florida, and up the coast.

It’s an incredibly challenging trip, but Brian is more than prepared and more than capable. Besides a steady tail wind, he could use some help along the way. So if you’re anywhere near where his route takes him (the map is on his website), he would be grateful for a comfortable bed and a hearty meal. He’ll even do the dishes, as he did time and again at our house.

You won’t regret meeting this young man.

Here’s a two-minute newscast and interview with Brian on a Syracuse television station, a writeup about him by my blogging buddy Mark Bialczak, and an Irish Investigations post before he set out from Times Square.

Posted in Irish Investigations, role models | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Why the sense of urgency? The numbers don’t lie

cropped-nightsky2.jpgI turned 58 a week ago. Amid all the birthday cheer on Facebook was a post from a childhood friend, sharing that his mom had died that very morning.

That sad news reinforced what I wrote the next day to thank everyone — I have much to be grateful for, yet there is a relentless sense of urgency to live the rest of my years in a deliberate, meaningful way.

One of my friends, a wonderful writer in his mid-50s, messaged me and wanted me to dig deeper, to explain what I meant. I’ve been drafting a response. Here’s part of it:

On the drive to pay respects to my friend’s mom, I thought back to the last time I had been at that funeral home, when my former basketball and football coach died. I thought it had been two, maybe three years ago. I looked up his obit the next day and it said he died six years ago, but there’s no way . . .

The route to the funeral home took me past the gas station where I worked in high school. Gas was 37 cents a gallon, and I made $2 an hour as a pump jockey — a 40-hour week netted $64.22 after taxes. The calendar says that was 40 years ago, but there’s no way . . .

Seeing my childhood friend and his brothers was a bit surreal, especially at their mom’s calling hours. But I took comfort in telling them — and their dad — the great memories I had of hanging out at their house as a kid. The calendar says that was 45 years ago, but there’s no way . . .

I’m not in denial, really. I know how to add, and the numbers don’t lie.

I figure I have 10 years, 20 if I’m lucky, to accomplish all I’d like to. Each year goes by faster than the one before.

The urgency, the need to live deliberately, gnaws at me every day.

It’s tempting to sell off most of my possessions and head west to make a go of it — as a freelance writer/editor, as an advocate for the homeless, as a mentor, as an aging distance runner, as a . . . I don’t know.

Maybe there’s something I haven’t yet discovered or considered.

But the window is closing. Slowly, yes, but it is closing.

Soon after my mom went into a nursing home in 2002, I looked around one day at all the residents and thought, “Is this it? Is this all there is?”

That’s not the last chapter I want to write, not how I want this story to end.

Posted in Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , | 45 Comments