This is a story of my friend Ben. I had the honor of working with Ben at Goodwill for about four years, give or take. He was about my sons’ age. Ben is a squirrely sort of dude. Think typical IT nerd, complete with glasses (no, they weren’t taped up), a book worm. Born to study, born to learn. Quirky sense of humor. Sometimes exposing itself at the wrong time, leading some to think him a bit socially awkward.

Whenever you needed something, Ben was there. Willing to pitch in and help. Many of you have heard of my “Creek Days”, those days once a year when I enlist as many friends as I can to help me remove trees from the creek behind my house. It is wet, muddy, backbreaking work. Ben was always the first one to volunteer each year, wearing a PS2 cable as a belt (“hey, I didn’t want to ruin a good belt!”). I told you…a bit quirky. Only two people have ever come to Creek Day more than once. In the five years of conducting Creek Days, Ben only missed once.

Over the years, Ben would pop into my office to talk. We shared many stories, stories of family, of friends, of life and music. 

I loved Ben’s story about meeting his wife Taleigha. He had two tickets to the Foo Fighters and no one to go with, so he posted on Craig’s list. Taleigha answered. They had moved in together a few months later, and were married a soon after. I had the pleasure of meeting Taleigha a couple of times when she visited Ben at the office. She had the brightest most beautiful smile, especially when she talked of Ben. Theirs was a beautiful love story. But with a dark side. Taleigha had cancer…brain cancer. I have never seen two people fight so hard. Fight against the disease, fight against the healthcare system, fight against all the odds.

They lost that fight and Taleigha passed away on June 17, 2018.

A few weeks after she passed, family and friends were gathered to remember her. It was the first time I had seen Ben since her passing. There he was, looking awkward in his suit, greeting everyone that attended. I hugged him, kissed him on the cheek, and barely croaked out the words “Bennie, I’m sorry, there are no words” between my own tears. How he continued to hold it together I will never know…shock maybe.

The service was a beautiful tribute to Taleigha. Her family and friends remembering her through their words and music. The pastor, who had known Taleigha since she moved to the area, and who had married them eight short years ago, spoke of Taleigha and her love of music and animals and people. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. And then…and then…and then Ben made his way to the pulpit. There are no words to describe the strength, resolve, and tenderness as he read his words…their love story…pausing only once or twice to maintain his composure. I cannot do it justice, so instead, I leave you with Ben’s own words.

“Almost two weeks from today, July 27th, will mark 10 years to the day that I met Taleigha Lugenia Victoria Elizabeth Clayton, now Frederick. We bonded quickly, that day, over a shared love of science fiction — particularly the X-Files — and through the hope that had been reignited in our hearts by a young senator from Illinois. We hadn’t planned for more than lunch, but decided to see the brand new X-Files movie released two days prior. It was an absolutely terrible movie, made better with great company.

The moment I first walked into her apartment, a week later, and was greeted affectionately — like an old friend — by her “shy, aloof” cat Mayo, I think we both knew that we had found in each other a partner who complimented our best selves.

Taleigha told me that night about her brain tumor. She wanted to make sure I was okay dating someone (it had been a week and, yes, we were dating) who had fought through such a dramatic battle against cancer. My reaction was to hug her tight, and to give her the first of many thousand kisses I would give her over the years. It was truly the beginning of our life together.

Five months later, we celebrated with friends as that young senator was elected as the first African American President of the United States. A month later, she had moved in with me — my new roommate. We knew we were far more and that we would be together the rest of our lives. Six months later our family unit would become complete when our beloved cat Mara joined, at Taleigha’s urging. We would later mourn that completeness, as we both wanted a family together — more than even the cats could provide.

From a proposal on the beach in Florida, to moving into our new home — not “Ben’s Condo” anymore but “our home” — to a wedding at the heart of this very city surrounded by many of the same friends and family here today.

And for a time, things were good. We traveled, dined, fought, saw concerts, and enjoyed each other’s company and the company of friends. Our love grew in the light of our young hopes and dreams. We talked about starting a family.

But cancer is a thief, and a villain. When her diagnosis came back, 5 years, ago she told me “I love you” and, quoting Doctor Who, “I don’t want to go.” For five years, we fought tooth and nail against this villain. During that time, we still traveled, dined, fought, saw concerts, and enjoyed each other’s company and the company of friends. We grew our love in a darkness that I truly hope no one here ever experiences.

And during that time, I powerlessly watched as the beautiful, eloquent and talented woman I fell in love with had nearly everything stolen from her. It took her career of helping others, it took her dexterity and the the wondrous piano music she played, it took her grace with words, it took her independence when it took her ability to drive, it took her hair (that she was so proud of), it took her memories. It took her ability to walk, to feed herself, to speak all but the easiest of phrases and words. And then it took her away from me. The only things she had at the end were her sense of humor and her capacity to love. Her last day on this Earth, she laughed softly at some silly joke I made and she told me “I love you.”

Taleigha’s favorite author was CS Lewis. She left me a little gift, as she had a passage bookmarked in his journal, A Grief Observed. In it, Lewis wrote of remembering his own wife as the person she was, not the picture of the person constructed in his mind. There is a tendency in all of us to remember departed loved ones as their ideal. Taleigha was very loving, but she could hold a grudge and be extremely stubborn — the Gumm in her, as she would say. She was kind, but she could be bossy and demanding. She was courageous, strong, and brave, but she had many many fears, especially of spiders!

We all love Taleigha, but not because she was perfect. She wouldn’t want to be remembered as perfect. She was flawed — as we all are — and we love her because of those flaws that made her human and because of the wonderful qualities she exemplified everyday, qualities that we could strive to achieve.

A friend, in offering me a small amount of comfort — call it a Quantum of Solace, for she loved James Bond too — reminded me of a quote from one of Taleigha’s other favorite works: Harry Potter. He hadn’t realized it was a favorite of hers, so I think of it as providence.

“Love as powerful as her’s for you leaves its own mark. To have loved and been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”

My love to all of you. Thank you.”

We love you, Bennie!

Friends, Music, Life

 

“What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening!”

About the time the Original Cast album of Jesus Christ Superstar was released in 1970, I was moving from the small farming community of Lebanon, Indiana to Evansville, the third or fourth largest city in Indiana. Little did I know the opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber would be the soundtrack for much of my teenage life and become the impetus for a spiritual journey that has lasted for decades.

The life we lived in Lebanon was idyllic; small town USA. Dad was the minister for the Baptist Church, a community leader, incredibly respected. In the minds and hearts of many he was right up there with The Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and the Pope. I whine a lot about being a PK (preacher’s kid), but truth be told, I was extremely proud to be my father’s son (and still am!).

I never saw myself as one of the popular kids, but, I did have a lot of friends. We had grown up together either at Central Elementary, at First Baptist Church or both. We played Little League baseball together, we played sandlot ball together, we were in Scouts together; Jeff, Tim, Randy, David, Jeff (Jeff was a very popular name), Charlie, Lisa, Betsy, Jill, Susan…and, many, many more.  

In the spring of 1970, we were promoted out of the sixth and into the seventh grade…Junior High School! Filled with pride, excitement and just a touch of anxiety! We said our goodbyes and went on summer break and vacations vowing to that we would all stay close friends in the much larger Junior High.

It was during this summer of 1970, our parents announced we were moving to Evansville. God was calling dad to a new congregation, in a much larger city, away from all our friends, away from the life we new. But, how could you argue with God’s call? We were going to move in October. For me, this meant six weeks at the Lebanon Junior High School, a chance to say goodbye to all my friends.

For me, this meant a return to elementary school. Yes, Evansville schools at the time were K through 8, and High School was 9 through 12. So, after achieving one of life’s greatest rewards of going to Junior High, I would be back in elementary school. Devastated does not begin to describe it.

For me, this meant having to try out for the baseball team, instead of “graduating” from Little League to American Legion ball where all the coaches knew me and my abilities. It meant, not being good enough to be “drafted” for the league and having to play in an instructional league that was one step above sandlot.

For me, this meant joining a Scout troop with twenty kids I did not know. Twenty kids who did not take scouting as seriously as my friends and I had. They didn’t wear a proper uniform or even try to progress through the ranks. Me, in my fully pressed and immaculate uniform, with my sash filled with merit badges, and my rank of Life Scout stuck out like a new kid never wants to do. Heck, most these kids even smoked on camping trips (OK, I was a little naive and sheltered).  

The first day in my new school, my new elementary school came. The principal took me to my new home room. 25 kids who had grown up together. 25 kids who had already been in school six weeks. 25 kids who started at the new kid as the principal introduced me to the teacher. The teacher who stood me up in front of the class and asked “who can show Jeff around the school and introduce him to everyone?” 25 kids whose 50 hands were glued to their desktops and whose eyes refused to make eye contact. Finally, a hand raises and I hear voice say, “I’ll show him around.” (Thank you to Hal Bloss for being my first friend in Evansville! (and one of the longest lasting))

One of the people Hal introduced me to that day was Charlie Hagan. In 1970, I was just beginning to discover music, the Monkees, the Beatles, the Partridge Family (yes, I confess). Charlie and I began to explore music together. (He even let me listen to his album by the Rolling Stones!). Together we dreamed of becoming rock stars, even dressing like them…bell bottoms, puffy-sleeved shirts in wild colors, clothes patched with American Flag cloth, chokers…you get the picture.

I was learning to play guitar, Charlie the drums. Together with Jimmie Gains and Jeff Wilhite, we formed a band called the E’ville Spirits, though I don’t think we ever played a note together, Charlie and I would jam for hours on end.

We started writing songs together, Hagan ‘n Ton, destined to be the next Lennon & McCartney or Jagger & Richards. Honestly, we wrote very little music, we wrote lyrics and dreamed. We designed album covers and we even played for a school assembly. To this day, I can remember Hal being our biggest fan. “I know you guys are going to do it”, he would say.

A couple years passed and now it was time to go to high school. Charlie and I had written at least five “albums” of song lyrics by then. But, life was about ready to change again. Charlie’s family were devout Catholics. Charlie would be going to one of the Catholic High Schools. Ugh! Well, we could still get together on weekends to “rehearse”! Then, more news came. Charlie was an accomplished dancer, performing in multiple productions. Over the summer, he had been accepted into a boarding school in Illinois. It seems the boarding school focused on dance as well as academics.

Before he left for school, Charlie had one last gift for me. As we were saying our goodbyes, each trying desperately not to cry, he reached into a box and gave me his well worn and scratched copy of an opera, really, an opera!??! Yeah, I knew that Tommy by the Who was a rock opera, but this one wasn’t about a pinball wizard…of course, it was Jesus Christ Superstar.

I had heard parts of it coming from my older brother’s room and liked it but I had never really listened to it, never really heard the words, never really felt the impact…until then. I listened to it over and over and over again, I memorized the words, I learned some of the music. This was controversial…at a time in this teenagers life when he was starting to question authority and status quo. It was mesmerizing.

The story of the week leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, told from the perspective of his betrayer and his friend, Judas. It was a story of Christ’s humanity. For me, it was the first picture of Jesus as a man. It was the first time he felt real, instead of a character in a bible story. The Opera was met with protest when it was first written, In fact, Rice and Webber could not find anyone who would produce the play. Instead, they turned to the record company who had produced “Tommy” for the Who and released it as a concept album.

When the play was produced, it was met with picketers at the theatre. Christians felt it depicted Jesus as too human. The Jewish community felt it portrayed them as the assassins who killed him. It was a multi-faceted story. Yes, it was set in the year 30 AD, but it was as much about the political unrest of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Prophetically, it even serves as a picture of the political climate in 2018.

Perhaps the biggest outcry then as of now, is the ending. The story ends with the crucifixion. I have to admit, it bugged me too back then (however, I will say, the ending to NBC’s production on Easter Sunday 2018 was awe inspiring). But, back in 1972 and 73, it felt incomplete. I was starting to enter my “Jesus Freak” phase, listening to Godspell, Larry Norman, and Phil Keaggy. In 1973, the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar hit the theatres. Our entire church youth group went to a screening.

In the movie, there is a moment, a moment that stopped time. It was at the end of the scene for the song Trial Before Pilate. You know the one? The one with the 39 lashes. That scene. The actor who had just flogged Jesus 39 times. Stops. Panting. And stares quizzically at Jesus. THAT scene. That quizzical look. What was he thinking? What was he feeling. I began, what was to become a lifelong obsession with research and learning.  I had to know more.

I was soon to learn about Ius Gladii, the right of the sword. Dating back to roman times. It was the right to issue punishment (including flogging and crucifixion) for crimes. I read descriptions of the whip, medical accounts of the flogging and of the crucifixion. I had to write the ending, the “proper” ending.

What started as a simple poem “Ius Gladii – The Right of the Sword” grew into a full rock opera, title “He Has Risen” The story of Christ from the burial to the ascension.  I still remember snippets. From Ius Gladii:

When you stood staring quizzically
At my prophet King
What did you think of my lord then?
Was he different from the rest?

And from the title song, “He Has Risen”

He Has Risen
Just as he said
He Has Risen
Just as he said, he would

I can still hear the melody in my head when I type those words.

I would spend the next two years honing the lyrics, studying music theory and composition to be able to write the orchestration, and working with the late Mark X. Hatfield to turn my music scores into reality and bring the words to life. Alas, Mark was probably the only one that ever heard my rock opera. It, like the hundreds of songs (lyrics) I wrote in me teens and twenties, lost to time.

When it was time to enter college, I decided to study Music Theory and Composition. That decision was heavily influenced by composing (and I use that word loosely) my rock opera. While I learned very quickly one had to have talent (and play an instrument…rock guitar did not count) and changed my major, I continued to write song lyrics and poetry well into my 30’s.

I won’t be as bold as to say Jesus Christ Superstar saved my life, but to an awkward, pimple-faced, shy teenager it was magic and I can say, it forever changed his life!

Friends, Music, Life

 

“What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening!”

About the time the Original Cast album of Jesus Christ Superstar was released in 1970, I was moving from the small farming community of Lebanon, Indiana to Evansville, the third or fourth largest city in Indiana. Little did I know the opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber would be the soundtrack for much of my teenage life and become the impetus for a spiritual journey that has lasted for decades.

The life we lived in Lebanon was idyllic; small town USA. Dad was the minister for the Baptist Church, a community leader, incredibly respected. In the minds and hearts of many he was right up there with The Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and the Pope. I whine a lot about being a PK (preacher’s kid), but truth be told, I was extremely proud to be my father’s son (and still am!).

I never saw myself as one of the popular kids, but, I did have a lot of friends. We had grown up together either at Central Elementary, at First Baptist Church or both. We played Little League baseball together, we played sandlot ball together, we were in Scouts together; Jeff, Tim, Randy, David, Jeff (Jeff was a very popular name), Charlie, Lisa, Betsy, Jill, Susan…and, many, many more.  

In the spring of 1970, we were promoted out of the sixth and into the seventh grade…Junior High School! Filled with pride, excitement and just a touch of anxiety! We said our goodbyes and went on summer break and vacations vowing to that we would all stay close friends in the much larger Junior High.

It was during this summer of 1970, our parents announced we were moving to Evansville. God was calling dad to a new congregation, in a much larger city, away from all our friends, away from the life we new. But, how could you argue with God’s call? We were going to move in October. For me, this meant six weeks at the Lebanon Junior High School, a chance to say goodbye to all my friends.

For me, this meant a return to elementary school. Yes, Evansville schools at the time were K through 8, and High School was 9 through 12. So, after achieving one of life’s greatest rewards of going to Junior High, I would be back in elementary school. Devastated does not begin to describe it.

For me, this meant having to try out for the baseball team, instead of “graduating” from Little League to American Legion ball where all the coaches knew me and my abilities. It meant, not being good enough to be “drafted” for the league and having to play in an instructional league that was one step above sandlot.

For me, this meant joining a Scout troop with twenty kids I did not know. Twenty kids who did not take scouting as seriously as my friends and I had. They didn’t wear a proper uniform or even try to progress through the ranks. Me, in my fully pressed and immaculate uniform, with my sash filled with merit badges, and my rank of Life Scout stuck out like a new kid never wants to do. Heck, most these kids even smoked on camping trips (OK, I was a little naive and sheltered).  

The first day in my new school, my new elementary school came. The principal took me to my new home room. 25 kids who had grown up together. 25 kids who had already been in school six weeks. 25 kids who started at the new kid as the principal introduced me to the teacher. The teacher who stood me up in front of the class and asked “who can show Jeff around the school and introduce him to everyone?” 25 kids whose 50 hands were glued to their desktops and whose eyes refused to make eye contact. Finally, a hand raises and I hear voice say, “I’ll show him around.” (Thank you to Hal Bloss for being my first friend in Evansville! (and one of the longest lasting))

One of the people Hal introduced me to that day was Charlie Hagan. In 1970, I was just beginning to discover music, the Monkees, the Beatles, the Partridge Family (yes, I confess). Charlie and I began to explore music together. (He even let me listen to his album by the Rolling Stones!). Together we dreamed of becoming rock stars, even dressing like them…bell bottoms, puffy-sleeved shirts in wild colors, clothes patched with American Flag cloth, chokers…you get the picture.

I was learning to play guitar, Charlie the drums. Together with Jimmie Gains and Jeff Wilhite, we formed a band called the E’ville Spirits, though I don’t think we ever played a note together, Charlie and I would jam for hours on end.

We started writing songs together, Hagan ‘n Ton, destined to be the next Lennon & McCartney or Jagger & Richards. Honestly, we wrote very little music, we wrote lyrics and dreamed. We designed album covers and we even played for a school assembly. To this day, I can remember Hal being our biggest fan. “I know you guys are going to do it”, he would say.

A couple years passed and now it was time to go to high school. Charlie and I had written at least five “albums” of song lyrics by then. But, life was about ready to change again. Charlie’s family were devout Catholics. Charlie would be going to one of the Catholic High Schools. Ugh! Well, we could still get together on weekends to “rehearse”! Then, more news came. Charlie was an accomplished dancer, performing in multiple productions. Over the summer, he had been accepted into a boarding school in Illinois. It seems the boarding school focused on dance as well as academics.

Before he left for school, Charlie had one last gift for me. As we were saying our goodbyes, each trying desperately not to cry, he reached into a box and gave me his well worn and scratched copy of an opera, really, an opera!??! Yeah, I knew that Tommy by the Who was a rock opera, but this one wasn’t about a pinball wizard…of course, it was Jesus Christ Superstar.

I had heard parts of it coming from my older brother’s room and liked it but I had never really listened to it, never really heard the words, never really felt the impact…until then. I listened to it over and over and over again, I memorized the words, I learned some of the music. This was controversial…at a time in this teenagers life when he was starting to question authority and status quo. It was mesmerizing.

The story of the week leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, told from the perspective of his betrayer and his friend, Judas. It was a story of Christ’s humanity. For me, it was the first picture of Jesus as a man. It was the first time he felt real, instead of a character in a bible story. The Opera was met with protest when it was first written, In fact, Rice and Webber could not find anyone who would produce the play. Instead, they turned to the record company who had produced “Tommy” for the Who and released it as a concept album.

When the play was produced, it was met with picketers at the theatre. Christians felt it depicted Jesus as too human. The Jewish community felt it portrayed them as the assassins who killed him. It was a multi-faceted story. Yes, it was set in the year 30 AD, but it was as much about the political unrest of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Prophetically, it even serves as a picture of the political climate in 2018.

Perhaps the biggest outcry then as of now, is the ending. The story ends with the crucifixion. I have to admit, it bugged me too back then (however, I will say, the ending to NBC’s production on Easter Sunday 2018 was awe inspiring). But, back in 1972 and 73, it felt incomplete. I was starting to enter my “Jesus Freak” phase, listening to Godspell, Larry Norman, and Phil Keaggy. In 1973, the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar hit the theatres. Our entire church youth group went to a screening.

In the movie, there is a moment, a moment that stopped time. It was at the end of the scene for the song Trial Before Pilate. You know the one? The one with the 39 lashes. That scene. The actor who had just flogged Jesus 39 times. Stops. Panting. And stares quizzically at Jesus. THAT scene. That quizzical look. What was he thinking? What was he feeling. I began, what was to become a lifelong obsession with research and learning.  I had to know more.

I was soon to learn about Ius Gladii, the right of the sword. Dating back to roman times. It was the right to issue punishment (including flogging and crucifixion) for crimes. I read descriptions of the whip, medical accounts of the flogging and of the crucifixion. I had to write the ending, the “proper” ending.

What started as a simple poem “Ius Gladii – The Right of the Sword” grew into a full rock opera, title “He Has Risen” The story of Christ from the burial to the ascension.  I still remember snippets. From Ius Gladii:

When you stood staring quizzically
At my prophet King
What did you think of my lord then?
Was he different from the rest?

And from the title song, “He Has Risen”

He Has Risen
Just as he said
He Has Risen
Just as he said, he would

I can still hear the melody in my head when I type those words.

I would spend the next two years honing the lyrics, studying music theory and composition to be able to write the orchestration, and working with the late Mark X. Hatfield to turn my music scores into reality and bring the words to life. Alas, Mark was probably the only one that ever heard my rock opera. It, like the hundreds of songs (lyrics) I wrote in me teens and twenties, lost to time.

When it was time to enter college, I decided to study Music Theory and Composition. That decision was heavily influenced by composing (and I use that word loosely) my rock opera. While I learned very quickly one had to have talent (and play an instrument…rock guitar did not count) and changed my major, I continued to write song lyrics and poetry well into my 30’s.

I won’t be as bold as to say Jesus Christ Superstar saved my life, but to an awkward, pimple-faced, shy teenager it was magic and I can say, it forever changed his life!

Sounds of SilenceThey were a last minute Christmas gift…tickets to see Art Garfunkel. In fact, they were so last minute our seats were in the very last row, a row with only two seats, tucked way in the back of Orchestra Left. The concert was a month after Christmas. As it turned out, timing could not have been worse…or perhaps timing could not have been better.

In the four plus years since Mom died, we have been on a journey.  Even before she died, Mom knew there was something not quite right with Dad, but didn’t know what. It would be almost three years to the day after her death that we finally had a name for it: Behavioral Variant Frontotemporal Dementia, bvFTD for short. Being on this journey with my father is an honor, but it has been (and will continue to be) the hardest journey of our lives..

The week leading up to the concert was a blur. We knew Dad was growing more frail by the day. His falls were starting to happen much more frequently. We knew his cognitive ability continued to decline, his ability to make basic decisions for his own comfort and safety (decisions like to wear a coat, hat and gloves when the temperature was below zero) was fading away. His need for more and more prompting to perform the most basic of the activities of daily living, such as getting dressed, or even eating, increased at an accelerating pace.

And then, the delusions. Somewhat rare in bvFTD cases, but then bvFTD is a rare form of dementia, and especially rare in someone so elderly. In the course of six weeks, Dad relayed several “stories” as fact: visits from mom (dead over four years); a shopping trip he never took; and, the adoption of three children just a few days prior. It was this story that triggered the nursing staff at his assisted-living facility to alert the administrators and the administrators to call a meeting with me (his Power of Attorney) and my wife, Carmen, his primary caregiver.

Time…time…it was time. Time to move Dad, yet again. This time he would be moving to Hickory Hall, otherwise known as the memory center. We all knew it was time, honestly, it was probably past time, however, this was a step I was hoping to never have to take…why couldn’t his body give out before his mind? I scheduled a call with my siblings to talk over the plan. At the advice of staff, we would tell him Wednesday morning, I would take him out of his apartment, Carmen would pack what things he could take, movers would come, and when the room was ready, he and I would take that dreaded walk to Hickory Hall.

It would be easier on Dad if he didn’t have time to think about it. For us on the other hand, we didn’t sleep for days…second guessing the decision…dreading the conversation…second guessing the decision…honestly, being a little pissed at God…second guessing the decision…

Wednesday. The Day. As the grey Indiana morning light began to dimly light our room, we realized the freezing rain predicted the night before was indeed here. School closings, traffic accidents, and meteorologists filled our morning news. After steeling ourselves for yet one more difficult conversation with Dad, the move was postponed a day. Another day (and night) to dwell on the upcoming conversation and the second guesses.

The move would now be Thursday. The day Carmen and I were to be going to dinner at our favorite restaurant and then enjoying the Art Garfunkel concert. My god, we were going to be exhausted. No way to get refunds at this late date. Wednesday evening we set out clothes for working through the move, and another set to wear to dinner and the concert.

The next morning was not much better, but at least the roads at least were clear. As I tried to get in a couple hours of work before our appointment at the retirement center, I noticed a car stopped in our driveway just outside the gate. Carmen donned her coat, hat and gloves to slip-slide her way down the gravel drive (hey, I said the roads were clear, our driveway, however, was still a sheet of ice). It turns out the woman had hit the ginormous pothole a couple blocks north of our house. Her front right tire was flat and the rim bent beyond recognition. She had called a tow truck.

Well, at least it was a distraction. Some time later, I saw another car pull into the opposite end of our U-shaped drive and navigate around to the gated side. After Carmen donned her coat, hat and gloves and made her way down the drive, we learned it was the woman’s husband. He collected her wheel covers from down the street, talked with her for a bit and then proceeded to back out the full length of the drive, running over one of the driveway markers in the process. Ugh!

Finally, the tow truck arrived…and parked in our yard (ugh!) while the tow driver changed the tire on the car. Two hours after first pulling into our drive, everyone was gone, leaving behind the two wheel covers the husband had retrieved.

The distraction gone, it was time to head across town. The conversation with Dad lasted about 30 minutes. He debated as he had in the past. The bitch about this disease is because the cognitive abilities and executive functioning are so degraded the afflicted person does not have the ability to understand they are sick. In the four or five years Dad has been battling this, only once has he acknowledged he has any sort of problem.

The way I describe the difference in this move and the one 18 months ago is this. 18 months ago I was very frustrated with Dad (me not yet understanding the disease). I was able to use that frustration to be stern with him as I told him he had to move. THIS time however, all I felt was heartbreak. It was all I could do to remain strong, yet compassionate; remain firm, yet empathetic. Hell, it was all I could do to keep from crying.

After the conversation, we helped Dad finish getting dressed and I took him down for his morning meds and to occupy him for the next five or six hours. Carmen had about two hours to get his belongings packed and the furniture marked before the staff would arrive to relocate what things he could take with him. Looking around the apartment, I had no idea how she was going to accomplish it. Who am I kidding? I had no idea how I was going to occupy Dad for six hours. I could take him to a museum, but he was so weak he would last about an hour. I could take him to a movie, but they don’t start for another two hours.

As we walked down the hall, I started talking about our beloved Indians. Dad and I had been going to baseball games together for several years. I have never been too sure if he is going “for me”, or I am going “for him”. At any rate, for four hours seven times a summer we hang out at the ballpark taking in a game. Watching players come and go. Laughing at the way the lines are laid. People watching. And talking of my baseball “career”. In Dad’s mind, I was an all star Little League catcher. Leading our team to the league championship. Orchestrating our big win on the final day of the season. (For you Scrooged fans, insert a joke here about the Courtship of Eddie’s Father). Reality was far different. While I loved the game, I really sucked as a player. My role at the all-star game? Catcher? Outfielder? Pinch Hitter? Benchwarmer? Nope…I gave the Little League Pledge before the game, I hadn’t even made the team. So…maybe a silver lining in this dementia-thing (sorry, I have to joke or I would cry).

As we sat at the nurses station, Dad would tell everyone that would listen (and many that wouldn’t or couldn’t) that he was being put in prison today. He was moving to the memory center. My mind was still on how to pass the time. That was when Larry arrived. Larry is probably Dad’s oldest friend. The two had worked together for many years at a couple of different churches and organizations. Our two families were dear friends. Larry stayed with us throughout the morning. Shared lunch with us at the noon hour. And, sat in the library with us while we all talked, waited, and passed the time.

I kept up with Carmen’s progress via text messaging. After lunch I ran back up to the apartment to disconnect the television, DVD player and computer. I was amazed. I still don’t know how she did it, but everything was ready to go, even with the movers arriving 45 minutes early. The move began. Carmen now shifted from packing to un-packing. I headed back down to Dad (and Larry).

A couple hours later, it was time. The room was ready. We hugged Larry goodbye, and Dad and I made our way to the memory center. I don’t know what was going through Dad’s mind. What was going through mine were the images from 55 years ago of a scared little boy being dropped off at Kindergarten for the first time, not wanting to let go of his father’s hand; the images from 35 and 30 years ago of a young man dropping his own sons off at their first days of school…and, them pleading with me not to go.

Carmen had done a wonderful job of getting Dad’s room ready for him. Many of the things that he holds dear were placed around the room. Here and there I could see touches of my mom. I doubt Dad saw any of it that first day. One of the nurses took him by the hand to show him around the facility, while Carmen and I finished a few things. When Dad returned he wanted to lay down. We hugged him…kissed him…and said goodbye.

We spent the drive home recapping the day to each other. Exhausted, emotionally, physically, exhausted. We plopped down on the couch. We had about an hour before dinner. What we wouldn’t do for a power nap. Nope…brains on overload. Instead, we sent a quick update to the sibs, trying as much as possible to keep them in the loop.

We changed and headed out to dinner. Nothing could push the thoughts of Dad out of our minds. It dominated our dinner conversation. Even the French and Dirty martinis couldn’t take the edge off. We ate, taking a bit longer than planned, then rushed to the concert, arriving just a few minutes before show time. We made our way to our seats…very last row, a row with only two seats, tucked way in the back of Orchestra Left.

Neither of us had seen Garfunkel (nor Simon for that matter). The show was a combination of Art singing and telling stories from his sojourn across the United States years before. We loved the format. Art’s voice betrayed his age when he sang, the stories ranged from humorous, to touching, to downright strange.

As the opening strains of the first song, “The Boxer”, filled the hall, Carmen began to cry.

I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told…

…When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station…

…In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains…

*Lyrics: Paul Simon; Copyright Universal Music Publishing Group

As he talked and sang, we were barely holding it together. At one point he relayed a story of talking with his father. I wish now I could remember the quote. I have tried to find it online, but to no avail. Something about telling his father, “You were the author of your life, your story set the stage, so I could be the author of mine.” Something like that…I really wish I could remember. What I do remember, is both Carmen and I inhaled audibly when he said it.

Late in the second set, Garfunkel paused, looked at his notes and said, “Ah, the words that change the course of my life forever…”

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

Using another Scrooged reference, “Niagara Falls, Frankie.” I was now sobbing uncontrollably, my body convulsing….but still singing along….

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

To my right, Carmen was doing the same, tears streaming down our faces…

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

All the emotion from the past week came pouring out. I am sure the people in front of us thought we were nuts…

Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

Carmen dug tissue from her purse and by the end of the song, we had pulled ourselves together…

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence

*Lyrics: Paul Simon; Copyright Universal Music Publishing Group

Maybe, perhaps, the very last row, a row with only two seats, tucked way in the back of Orchestra Left was exactly where we were supposed to be that night…sitting among the sounds of silence…  

The Land of Serendip

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, lived a King, his three Princes and his one Princess, and their wonderful spouses and families. When we last visited the Land of Serendip, the Princes received a visit from an Angel, we now return, 18 short months later…

The King of Serendip was about to embark upon another journey. The Prince of Whitetail issued a proclamation on the King’s behalf. “Hear ye, in the name of the King! Let it be known across the land, the time has come for the King to leave the Forest of Hawthorne and reside instead in the Village of Hickory. The Princess of Whitetail and I will see to it he has the necessary comforts for the journey and for the winter ahead.”

As the word spread throughout the kingdom, messages were delivered from the Prince of the Western Lands, the Prince of Raymond, and the Princess the Green Lakes. Each messenger brought words of support and the offer to travel to the Forest of Hawthorne if need be. The Prince of Whitetail sent them on their way with assurances there was no need for them to undertake such journeys.

The day of the King’s journey was soon upon them. The Prince took the King by the hand and led him from the Forest, while the Princess and her porters packed some of the King’s belongings to be sent on ahead to the Village of Hickory. The King was distressed, he did not want to leave the Forest. The Prince and the King halted at the shop of Maidens of Medicine for the King’s treatments and to ensure his room at the Village of Hickory was ready for his arrival.

The wait merely added to the Prince’s feeling of dread for the journey ahead. He tried valiantly to relieve the King’s distress, while the dread mounted within his soul. His mind was racing with thoughts of threads to pull. What was that sound? The sound of someone approaching. The Prince looked momentarily without recognition, but then…the veil fell from his eyes to reveal Sir Larry of Sayre! Why was he here outside the Forest of Hawthorne?  

Familiar with the journey ahead and being a long time friend of the King, and much older (and therefore somewhat wiser) than the Prince, he’d come from afar to provide the magic of listening ear to the King. As the sands in the hour glass slowly moved from top to bottom, he was there to share the burden of the Prince and Princess. Through his laugh, through his stories, through his heart of empathy and compassion, he was able to lessen the King’s distress and cause the Prince’s dread to nearly vanish.

As mid-day faded and the shadows lengthened, it was time. The much older (and somewhat wiser), Sir Larry of Sayre, with a tear in his eye, bid adieu to the King and Prince as they took the road toward the Village of Hickory to meet the Princess.

The King and Prince arrived at the Village of Hickory, where the Princess was just finishing up with the King’s room. She had done a wonderful job preparing the way and ensuring even the smallest detail was tended to for the King.

Thank you, Larry. Thank you for not asking, because the answer, as you knew, would have been “Nothing”. Thank you for knowing what was needed even when I did not. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being present. You gave us more than you will ever know…then again, maybe you do.

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colours anymore, I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

I first met Brandon Tidwell in 2009. My son Brad was launching his Hip Hop career with his first gig at a local dive. Honestly, I didn’t know much about hip hop music or performances. As Brad took the stage, he was joined by his college roommate as his DJ and another guy. I would learn later his name was Brandon Tidwell. His role was that of “Hype Man”. A Hype Man is somewhat of a backup singer. He interjects throughout the song with the intention to hype the crowd and highlight some of the lyrics. (I have to admit, I learned that later, as well).

What I did know was that, in contrast to Brad whose energy exploded on the stage, Brandon barely moved. When he did interject, it was very tentative and hard to hear. This first performance did not bode well for a long career as a Hype Man.

I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love, both never to come back
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
Like a newborn baby, it just happens everyday

Over the course of the next five years, Brandon grew as a performer. His confidence increased, his stage Paint It Blackpresence blossomed. He was truly living up to his role of Hype Man and friend, even serving as a groomsman in Brad’s wedding to Holly.

Another thing happened over that time. Carmen and I got to know Brandon and his family: wife, Bobbi Jo, son Timmy, and daughter Avari. Brandon was not only Brad’s Hype Man, but he was also one of his best friends. What we saw in Brandon was an incredibly loyal and supportive friend,  a man who loves his family and puts them above all, a man with a huge heart.

I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door and must have it painted black
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black

No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing happening to you
If I look hard enough into the setting sun
My love will laugh with me before the morning comes

That huge heart belongs to a man who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Brandon loves deeply and he hurts deeply as some of his Facebook posts will show.  He is a man that feels emotional pain for himself and for others in his life.

Given the time we all spent together, we knew nothing of his extended family. We were stunned to learn of the death of his mother, Vicky Hensley on September 5,  2015. After being a heavy smoker, her cause of death was listed as COPD. Brandon’s huge heart was broken. His posts revealed his pain to his Facebook world. Her funeral was a simple service and his mother was laid to rest.

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colours anymore, I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

Barely seven weeks later, Brandon’s father, Mark Hensley, died on October 29, 2015 from his long battle with ALS.

I wanna see it painted, painted black
Black as night, black as coal
I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black

Thus began Brandon’s journey through the “year of firsts” without both his parents. The pain in his heart was almost unbearable. He tried to hide his tears. For the most part he was successful. He threw himself into coaching Timmy’s baseball team and doting on Avari. Through it he tried to be the best husband he could for Bobbi Jo.

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, their birthdays…those were tough days. The visits to the cemetery…the pain broke through. Christmas 2016…

…..

In the days that followed Christmas, Bobbi Jo’s father, Tim Marcon came to visit. Never one to sit still, he spent the time helping Brandon by fixing some things around their house while Brandon was at work. He came across an old stereo. It had belonged to Brandon’s dad. It hadn’t worked in years. In fact, it probably hadn’t been played in ten years. Yet, Brandon could not bear to get rid of it.

Tim opened the cover, cleaned it, reconnected some wires and soon had it playing music for the first time in a decade. When Brandon got home from work, his father-in-law encouraged him to give it a try. With a lump in his throat, he pushed the power button. The stereo came to life. He noticed there was a CD in the player. Long forgotten, stuck in the player the it had died. Reaching down, he pushed “Play”…

I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love, both never to come back

The words and music hit him, hit him hard. Now, I don’t know if you believe in such things, but, it may have been dumb luck…a coincidence, or maybe, just maybe, it was his father’s way of telling Brandon he and his mom miss him too. Their hearts are broken that they had to leave so soon.

When Brad relayed the story to me, I knew Brandon had been “painting it black” for over a year. When Mick and Keith were writing of pain, depression and loss five decades ago they were describing exactly the pain, depression and loss Brandon was feeling.

Perhaps what his father’s stereo was trying to tell him was the pain of loss never really goes away. You will always miss those who have left. Don’t let that pain colour your world, don’t let the loss turn your world to black, don’t miss the moments with your beautiful family and your friends. Remember those who have left, share the stories of your memories, make sure Tim and Avari know your mom and dad.

I can hear Brandon now…”I know, I know, but I don’t know HOW”. To answer that, I will turn again to the sages of my generation, Mick and Keith.

From “Waiting on a Friend”

A smile relieves a heart that grieves, remember what I said
I’m not waiting on a lady, I’m just waiting on a friend
I’m just waiting on a friend, just waiting on a friend
I’m just waiting on a friend, I’m just waiting on a friend

And…”Let It Bleed”

Well, we all need someone we can lean on
And if you want it, you can lean on me
Yeah, we all need someone we can lean on
And if you want it, you can lean on me

Brandon, we are are here for you. Together let’s make 2017 a year your parents would be proud of!

Jeff, Carmen, Brad, Holly, Jeremy, Donny, Charity, Braxton & Jordan

Paint It Black
Written by: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
© Abkco Music, Inc
Waiting on a Friend
Written by: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management US, LLC
Let It Bleed
Written by: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
© Abkco Music, Inc

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(Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Jason FisherToday, I am very excited to feature a Guest Post from a friend and colleague of mine, Mr. Jason Fisher. He is a consummate professional and one of the most talented and intelligent people I have had the pleasure of working with. His bio follows this post. Over the years, we have enjoyed several conversations about camping of all kinds, but more specifically, wilderness camping. Last week he was late for work, late for a meeting, but, his “excuse” blew me away. Let him tell it in his own words:

I may have saved somebody’s life today. Well, me and two other thoughtful passerby’s, to give credit where it is due.

So, let me set the stage. I was on my way to work, about 7:40am, cutting it a little close for arriving at a meeting with my boss, my boss’s boss, and a few others, when I get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on the interstate. Three lanes of traffic barely moving, brake lights as far in front of me as I can see, and course, it’s raining.

Music is how I pass the time. Air drums and all the words to my favorite songs. I probably provided some comic relief to everyone nearby. Good.

I finally neared the source of the traffic and see that it is a white car driving very slowly on the left shoulder, nearly scraping the concrete barrier between the northbound and southbound lanes. As I drive slowly past, I see that the man driving is slumped over, clearly unconscious or worse.

I pull over immediately and jump out. The white car starts angling back across the three lanes of traffic. I quickly catch up to the car and ran alongside of it banging on the driver’s window.

Thankfully, he woke up just as we were getting to the right shoulder and he stopped the car. That was also when I noticed another guy had stopped his car right behind mine and ran up with me. A lady also had stopped with us and dialed 911.

As the guy who ran up with me and I were talking to the older gentleman who was just unconscious, but now was dazed, confused, and oddly wanting to drive away, I’m thinking, “I know this guy”. We keep talking to him, insisting that he is not OK and he needs to stay right there.

It took a minute for me to realize who the other good samaritan was. We both seemed to realize it at the same time. He is…my wife’s, aunt’s, brother-in-law’s, daughter’s boyfriend that I had met once at a Christmas party last year. Clearly no blood relation, but he is also a Marine, so that makes him my brother.

Sorry, I got away from the story of that man’s life. He seemed to stay in a confused state, I suspect maybe medication or blood sugar. Anyway, help arrived very quickly and I didn’t stick around for the rest. I’m sure he will be fine. Plus, by now I was really late for that meeting!

As I am driving away, I realize how many cars there were in front of me in that snarled traffic, it really weighed on me then, and throughout the day, that they all went by at slow speed, not noticing or not caring.

There were easily a couple hundred cars in front of me.

Nobody stopped.

If you were driving north on I-65, approaching Indianapolis this morning around 7:30-8:00 and drove by that white car holding everyone up, shame on you!

It really doesn’t take a couple Marines to chase down a car moving at idle speed on the interstate. It just takes a single shred of decency and an ounce of compassion for your fellow man. So what if you get wet and late for work?!

On the bright side, emergency services were quick to arrive after that lady contacted them, my bosses were understanding of my tardiness to the meeting, and I know my brothers will always have my back!

Jason, I’ve got nothing to add, except respect. You already had my respect as a colleague, but on that day, you earned respect at a whole new level.

Mr. Fisher is an IT professional with over 20 years of experience consulting and supporting infrastructure systems.  He is the Infrastructure Manager and Senior Systems Architect for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, which includes 57 retail locations, Commercial Services (contract manufacturing, packaging, and janitorial services), 12 charter high schools for youths and adults, as well as the Nurse-Family Partnership; all together over 80 locations in a variety of industry verticals.

He came to Goodwill in 2012, inheriting an aging, overcapacity and critically failing infrastructure.  Together with Goodwill’s leadership, he embarked on an infrastructure transformation, utilizing cloud architecture and leveraging the expertise of critical business partners.

Jason is an Indianapolis native and served in the United States Marine Corps. Outside of the office, he also enjoys hiking and camping with his wife and two children, coaching youth athletic teams, and practicing wilderness survival.

 

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It was mid-November. It was a day of firsts. First time to ever attend a Catholic Funeral Mass. First time to be given an Easter Egg at a funeral service of any kind. First time ever seeing someone hand out money at a funeral. First time seeing someone deliver a eulogy while wearing rabbit ears. And, first time taking a photo during a funeral service (hey, if you saw someone delivering a eulogy while wearing rabbit ears, you would have taken a photo too!).

I knew the service was going to be different before I even arrived. This was, after all the funeral for my my dear friend’s mother…just 15 months after my own mother’s passing. I wasn’t confident I would even be able to make it through. But, I had to make it through…for him.

As the service began, I was initially struck by how little I knew about my friend of twenty years. Were these things I knew and and forgotten? Were these things that went in one ear and out the other? Or were these things I never knew in the first place? I seemed to remember he had siblings. Did I remember there was one brother and one sister? I seemed to remember his father had passed many years before. Did I remember he was paraplegic?  Some friend I was.

One by one family members and friends made their way to the front of the church. As they spoke a picture was painted, a picture of a mother, a friend, a teacher, a devoted parishioner. There was the daughter who spoke of a mother who taught her what it means to be a lady; the son who read the story of his mother’s life in her own words from a letter discovered among her belongings; the lifelong friend who spoke of schoolmates who had been best friends and co-workers for a lifetime. And then…and then there was my friend.

family, friendship, Dennis Cuffel“OK, everyone we are going to play a game! Everyone has to listen, and there are going to be rules!,” he shouted as he approached the microphone…wearing pink rabbit ears. He then told the story of the infamous “Cuffel Easter Egg Hunt”. He started by asking who had even heard of the Egg Hunt. Of the 90+ people there, most everyone raised their hand. “Who has participated in the Easter Egg Hunt?” Very few hands were lowered.

He went on to explain the rules of the Hunt. There were 92 eggs hidden (90 this year and 2 left over from last year that were never found). Inside each egg was, not candy, but a number. After all the eggs had been found, his mom would call out numbers.

“Number 1, who has number 1? You get a nickle.”

“Number 2, who has number 2? You get a dollar.”

“Number 3, who has number 3? You get a ‘Happy Easter’.”

This would continue until all 92 numbers had been called. Prizes ranged from 5 cents to twenty dollars to a “Happy Easter” greeting.

“Ok,” my friend continued, “when you came in you were given an egg. Everyone stand up and open your egg. Ok, if you have numbers 1 – 3, sit down and have a Happy Easter. If you have 5 – 39, sit down and…Happy Easter.” He continued until three people remained standing. “Who has number 40 (her year of birth)? You get five dollars.” He walked out into the church and handed the woman a five dollar bill. “Who has number 74 (her age at death)?” You get ten dollars.” Finally, “who has number 4 (her treasured grandchildren)? You get $20.”

He then went on to talk of his mother. The lessons he learned from her, her love of games. He talked of her spirituality, her unconditional love,  her compassion for others, her selflessness. As I sat there, I realized I knew more about my friend’s family than I thought.

Mrs. Cuffel, I never knew you, we never met. I have known your son for over twenty years. After having attended the celebration of your life,  after hearing the stories, sharing in the laughs, the smiles and the tears, I realized, through your son, I DO know you. You raised a wonderful family. You raised a wonderful man. Spiritual, compassionate, a great friend. You should be proud.

Dennis, I love you brother. Have a Happy Easter!

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