Monday, November 14, 2011


Of course his present is late.  As my father says, the day I get a birthday gift to you on time is the day you need to worry about the state of our relationship.  That said, I did mail it today.  It is small and not early extravagant enough, but it does contain an important message--I love you brother.

He came to us on September 11, 2001.

I know, right?  Accompanying my sister to a weeping home, he let us be as we were.  Laughing one moment  and heartbroken the next, he rode our roller coaster, finishing the ride with the pirate eye patch and earring that Matty and Rayner determined was just the thing for a new friend on an old day.  We'd have proposed if he hadn't gotten to it.  But he did, and here we are ten years later celebrating his life from more than a few locations.

"A good man is hard to find," said Flannery O'Connor. Life is tough and begs the easy answer, the angry retort, the default method.  But I have seen him walk beyond these, quietly teaching the young men watching him that authenticity and quiet strength, partnership and kindness really are possible in this jaded world.

Bob Otsuka, you are a gift to so many people.  And unlike me, you're always on time.

Happy day, happy year, happy life.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thanks of a Grateful Nation

They are invisible, even today.  

Is it not amazing to realize that they walk among us?  No tattoo of bravery to let us know they jumped out of planes, tiptoed through jungles, or suffered night after night of bitter cold and little food.  They buy apples and milk at the grocery store and wait in the lobby of the doctor's office, and we brush against them daily, with little knowledge of the sacrifices made--loves lost, nightmares found, greatness achieved with no witness but the dead.

We've had our fill of gut-wrenching failure this week, humanity looking worse for the wear.  Today our best will be on display.  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Life Today

I've been fiddling with another blog entry, but work has been busy and I have another project as well, so I’m finding the inspiration for great ideas a bit lean.  I have had a few thoughts--insubstantial little trickles which could very well be left unsaid, given the fact that there is no one breathlessly waiting for these words.  

Still and yet, yet and still.

Which brings me to point #1.  The above phrase is from a book I read maybe 20 years ago with a book club comprised of terrifically smart women.  I had about a million kids at the time and three hours at book group was like going to Stanford for a semester.  In fact, given how many children we all had, it’s a wonder we didn’t open meetings dancing around the room shouting, “We’re free!”


The book was Run with the Horsemen by Ferrol Sams and the phrase, spoken by two sisters on a semi-regular basis, eventually made its way into our family lexicon.  The Brothers K gave us, “Hay, grate!” and this summer Mary Karr’s remarkable memoir, Lit, offered up, “Build a wall around the day and don’t look over it,” a thought I just texted to my sister today.

The joys of reading are incalculable and recited by far more auspicious observers than I, but one of the best is the way a book makes its way into shared consciousness--one more bridge across the rivers of relationship.  These phrases are touchstones, ritual mezuzahs we tap as we pass back and forth into each others lives.

I went to Philadelphia last week to see Daniel in The Merchant of Venice and The Venetian Twins, which got fantastic reviews from the Inquirer.  He and I spent four days talk talk talking and I got to see a life I'd only been able to imagine since last January. Ghana came down from NYC and spent the night in the garret with me.  I ran every day and got to eat at my colleague Casey’s favorite restaurant in the whole entire world (Alma de Cuba--Best Mojito Ever). I cooked for a crowd and saw the WORST MOVIE I HAVE EVER SEEN*, made bearable by the Rocky Horror-like attitude of the people I was with, and came home with clear eyes and a full heart.  My gratitude runneth over.

Tony La Russa is a smart guy and a manager who will go down in history.  But really, someone should talk to him about his hair.

I am listening to music again, another glad development. Matt Nathanson and Mat Kearney are currently on replay and I am wondering when I will tire of them.  I’m not going to say this reminds me of my Archie’s, Sugar Sugar phase, but writing that just made me feel some anxiety.  That said, If I Left the Zoo is playing now and 12 years later, Jars of Clay can still be the cure for what ails me.

Mary Glen lost her room key awhile ago.  She was going to have to pay $107 to have a new one made, but didn’t get to the office in time because of a busy day....which included class, allergy shot, and an email letting her know that someone found her key.  Dude I love when that happens.

I can make just about any dessert there is.  But seriously, what is better than a s’more?

My friend Elizabeth has a big time job with a big time company, a husband, two kids and a very busy life.  Last week I got hung up at Midway Airport and called because I thought she might have insider information, which was a little like calling the mayor's office to ask about road construction on I-70 (I realized this after the fact, of course.  At the time it seemed a perfectly fine thing to do.)  Not only did she call back, but she kept me updated until things were moving again, all while doing her actual job.  That woman is a keeper.

Rayner Fredrick, look at you playing college basketball five years after a coach said you didn’t have what it takes.  Haters gonna hate. Ballers gonna ball.

It’s a gorgeous day outside.  I’m done taking those for granted.

* The Three Musketeers.  It’s still too painful to discuss.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

You All Know Who You Are

It’s been 10 years since we left New York, a healing decade in which I learned to appreciate the skyline in my rearview mirror and love the plains with specificity and devotion.  Embracing my life and my people here, I put down roots that I thought would grow forever.  And then one day my mailbox held a package with a Riverside Drive return address and just like that, an old lover walked through the door.  

The Porch Where It All Happens is what Gina called the painting she sent, a tribute to the three years we spent at The Cathedral School.  They were days of life and death-- 100 year old steps bearing witness to grief unspeakable and laughter so loud it drew public chastisement (We are still trying to teach students here).  There were public debates and private glances, yet through it all, unseen hands knitted together a unit that miraculously still survives.  Some people go to New York to see theatre, and some to revel in art.  I go to New York because, to my grateful wonderment, there is still a seat in the garden for me.  

But you cannot hear from an old love without taking a bit of inventory and it’s been the fortnight for that, memory trawling me back through different lives and other porches.  I’ve heard from someone who joined me when our existence was measured in single digits and shared meals with a few who knew my unlined face.  I began a new timeline with one and sent a family email to another with whom I share no dna--both of them The Right Answer for the days the universe carried them in.

I returned to Kansas City once before--17 years ago after two years away.  Feeling like an out-of-towner, I realized how completely life had moved on without me.  I was wieldy, lemme tell ya, with five tiny companions for every step outside the house, so it didn’t look like much would change. I don’t know if I actually prayed, or if the heaviness in my heart was enough, but I remember wondering--Is this it?  Except for a few add-ons through the years, Have I met all of the people I will know?  

And then this small, smoking, swearing, high-powered career woman was standing on my porch.  It was the unlikeliest of friendships, me with naps and after-school pickups and hers a life of Senators and eventually Presidents.  Yet through some crazy mix of need and persistence we found a place in the middle where each of us shared the overflow that was exactly what the other one needed.  It was the beginning of the rest of my life.  

From that day on, old friends and new were received as the miracle they are, held with an open hand and the knowledge that, Lord have mercy, we needed each other.  I laugh to consider that question I asked, the pieces of my heart since scattered across the country and held in people I never knew I would visit, much less grow to love.  That’s the thing about porches--anyone can come up and have a seat.

I feel the ground moving, hands loosening roots that I have tried desperately to protect.  I don’t know where they will put down, but thanks to Gina, I know there will be a crowd.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Much Abides

“We’re 300,” says Jim cheerfully, as he enters El Comedor, Airstream creation of the visionary Patrick Ryan.

Our host is as confused as the rest of us, until everyone realizes that we have arrived at this night, with six momentous birthdays in the rearview mirror.  Patrick is suitably impressed, though perhaps not as much as when we tell him we have known each other since we were 90.  I think of this throughout the night as we seize joy exponential from an evening that we all knew promised at least joy squared.

According to Mary Glen, El Comedor, loosely translated, is “dining room”.  It is an apt moniker.  Patrick Ryan is a culinary genius, and better food critics than I have written of his many skills, but the truth is more complicated than that.  I’ve eaten in a lot of great restaurants, but this is the first time I felt like I was at The Perfect Dinner Party.  Like Juliet Binoche’s mysterious Chocolat, there is more to Ryan’s food than meets the eye.  

I’d sent an email, tasking all diners to bring an offering of some kind to the party and the results did not disappoint. Poetry, music, beloved literary passages, and even eggs from hens who are a down payment on a future life--all were gifts brought with no pretense and received with a thankfulness which would have bewildered our younger selves.  Pondering the potency of the evening, I realize that our chef is an unaware but ardent contributor.  We listen as he tells us his story and understand that we are not just having dinner, but partaking in his dream as well.  In a day and age where anonymity rules, Patrick Ryan forces you to reveal yourself before you ever even set foot in his dining room.  And once you do, the closeness of the kitchen, the walk up window traffic, of Max and Katie serving you like its not a job, makes you realize that what you’ve been given is a priceless commodity indeed--community in its purest form.

Gratitude hangs heavy on me, even amidst the laughter.  Reading glasses are passed around and a few more pictures taken.  We stand in the parking lot not so many miles from the parking lot where we all met, and say our goodbyes knowing that, at least in the morning, we will feel 300.  But for now with our fingers on the pulse of holiness itself, words unbidden come to mind.  I copied them down on a piece of paper in 1995 and have carried them through states, both mind and United, knowing their truth more intimately with each passing year  

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Tennyson: Ulysses

My mother taught me to send a thank you note when you’ve been to someone’s home for dinner.  
Patrick, I’m hoping we’re square.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Just One More Offering for the Basket

"We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be." — C.S. Lewis   (thanks Matty)

There is nothing and everything to say.  

Ten years ago today we watched helplessly as the place we loved and still thought of as home was shaken to its core.  Our fault lines were being tested and stretched and in a few years we too would come down in a cloud of smoke, skittering papers and personal belongings into the universe.  But back then we were merely exiles.  Strangers in strange lands, two and three hours...a lifetime really, away.

The morning began with two reports, a phone call that my uncle had suffered a heart attack and a radio alarm clock with an even more ominous tale.  Five minutes after I got downstairs, bleary and uncomprehending in the California dawn, the looping replays of the first tower would be replaced by live footage of the second.  The children awakened and made their way downstairs, each reduced to tears and confusion as we watched the scenes repeat and add new horrors.

No calls were going in or out, which prevented us from knowing that not one friend was lost.  Some had been running late for work, one made her way through the streets with colleagues covered in ash, but the ensuing days would reveal no deaths in our circle.  Only heartache for those we did not know, a grieving city, and us with arms that would not reach.

A decade finds us rebuilding in the many places we now call home.  The man who came with my sister for dinner that night is now a beloved family member, flowers he carried and the pirate eye patch and earring he allowed two little boys to adorn him with, just one more addition to family lore.  We have passed through high school once, twice and almost five times, visited colleges and gotten jobs.  One child has returned and embraces the city daily while others visit, relishing the moment when the M60 drops them at a corner they once called home.  

Ten years is a lifetime.  Ten years is a minute.

This week it has seemed the latter.  I see in sharp relief the friends since lost and resurrected now in memory; the rubble that made way for new purpose rising from the ashes.  Watch the tape of September 11 and grief is shrapnel lodged for 40 years--an ache that can surprise you.   Survey the landscape of all that was lost--what today might have been, and it is searing pain.  

But walk in the space between--on down that road ten years, and turn to see the mountains climbed, unexpected comrades found, and hope once again rising.  The journey we did not wish to take has made us who we are.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The End

And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

The flight home from LAX is a two-parter, made more thrilling by the waits to see if my stand-by tickets will produce actual seats.  I snag the last spot on the last flight of the day from Denver to KC and then question my luck when I walk across the tarmac and see the jet.  I am no longer the Class A Nutbar aerial neurotic I used to be, but I whip out my dying phone, snap a picture and text my mother, ‘Propellers!’  

The flight is what you might expect, but I am not.  The bumps and turbulence which lurched through me on Thursday’s flight west are such a distant memory I’d have climbed on a helicopter if that’s what was waiting. I disembark at KCI, retrieve my carry-on, and head to the sidewalk to wait for Daniel, my days away rotating like double dutch ropes in my head.  Where to jump in?

The problem with art, be it writing, music, dance, or clay, is that life is large; its beauty so exquisite that words drag and dances muddy.  On August 16 our friend Don DeJardin slipped out of his skin and walked into another existence, an act that defies description, a hole in the universe that does not repair.  Sorrow that carries with it the dearest kind of fellowship.

The DJ’s entered my consciousness in the summer before 6th grade.  I was skittish, having experienced previous dual family vacations that ended in tears and vows of Not Speaking.  But this one was different from the start--a large family whose offspring cleared dishes and included the younger ones in Mother May I; parents who asked other people’s children questions as if they cared about the answer.  

They were sophisticated Philly dwellers who were nonetheless delighted by a vacation to the fishing and tsotchke hamlet of the universe--Branson, Missouri; the capstone to this glorious trip being a trail ride and steak dinner in the Ozark mountains.  Don, at the time the GM for the Philadelphia 76ers--a fact so lost on me it is as if it did not exist--did manage to register in my child’s mind as a can-do guy, so when he appeared at the trailhead in stiff Levi’s and a red bandanna around his neck, I fully expected him to do rope tricks later in the evening.  Had I known the closest he’d ever been to equine life was the mounted police in his native Queens, I might have been watching a bit more closely when his horse (the only undeceived member of our party) headed for an exit through the woods.  

The ensuing years brought a move from the right to the left coast, one final baby dropped from left field, and a surprise shift that took my own family to the golden state where visits to the house on Lombardy Road became more frequent.  You never knew who might show up in the kitchen for breakfast, join you for a Dodger game, or drive to the grocery store because three more friends had arrived before dinner.  It’s the place where I learned the joy of making room.  According to Don and Sondra, you could always set another plate at the table.

The legacy of such a life is its own reward.  It is the rare man whose sons-in-law weep for his loss, a testimony I observed through my own tears, the rows in front of me filled with friends and memory.  Years had separated us, yet the ensuing days delivered DeJardin life in its most familiar and intoxicating form--intimate conversations, side-splitting laughter, a natal celebration, trips to the grocery store, and a table packed elbow to elbow, save one.  In death, as in life, Don was bringing us together; my own family, other friends, his children and grandchildren and the bride of his youth still living in the shade of that magnificent tree.

The propellers whir and darkness falls as we fly above the plains, a beautiful sunset recalling the joy made possible when we choose to embrace the journey and not fear it.  The loss is whole and my words are part, but this much I know--somewhere in paradise there is a tall man in a red bandanna with a very big grin, making more room at the campfire.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Decoration Day

Decoration Day, now referred to as Memorial Day, was first celebrated by African American freedmen at the cemetery of 257 Union soldiers whose gravesite was labeled, "Martyrs of the Race Course" on May 1, 1865.

Warning: This blog post has swearing in it. You should probably just navigate away if that is problematic for you.

I celebrated Memorial Day like we do here in America by planting thousands of impatiens, painting my front door, making a trip to the hardware store, and cooking a turkey burger.

It was quiet here, which gave me time to reflect on Memorial Days past, back when there was more memorial and less day.

I’m not sure exactly when my obsession with military history began, but it started with Vietnam. With tiny little children in every direction, I devoured memoir, strategy, and history between Dr. Seuss and Charlotte’s Web. I wept over Tim O’Brien’s brilliant The Things they Carried, and was consumed by China Beach, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket among others. It was the beginning but not the end.

In the years that followed, other wars found their way to my bookshelves and combat movie marathons became ritual on Memorial and Veterans days. We traveled to DC and bore witness to greatness, absorbing the history inherent in our every breath. We watched parades and saluted at Fleet Week and clambered aboard long docked warships.

I knew a lot. Enough, on one particular day, to realize that I knew nothing.

I had friends who had cancer and whose parents had died. People with Downs Syndrome kids and cheating spouses. Some who couldn’t afford groceries and some who could drown in their money and their sorrow. Living in a reality I could not conceive, they were on the front lines, while I, in the words of those brave men and women who served in Vietnam, was a REMF—a rear echelon motherfucker. (I told you there'd be swearing. It's over now)

It's funny that I remember so vividly the moment I knew this; the alternating relief for my good fortune and shame for my easy lot in life; the uneasy sense that there were no stripes on my sleeve or blood on my uniform and if I wanted them they were going to cost me.

Today I thought about that moment. About how much I miss my brave and amazing children who slogged through Europe with Band of Brothers because they understood, far earlier than I did, that life is a fight.  I thought about the men and women whose minds have forgotten their heroism, and those who call on it daily because there are children to raise and lawns to mow while a beloved is in Afghanistan.  I remembered again that only those who haven't served are eager to pick a fight, and those who have, search for peace the rest of their lives.

The days since that revelation have seen iron bonds forged with comrades in arms, years and people gone for good.  I had to get tough and get going and God help me, I hope I never have to fight those same battles again, but if I do it will be ok.  There is blood on my uniform now. That doesn't make me special--it makes me part of the human race.  Look around and rejoice at the battle scars which surround you, the inspiration to be found when we see grace amidst the fight.

Here's to life at the front.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Golden Day

Seventeen years ago today I was living in a town that hadn’t grown more familiar over time.  The yard was an archeology dig with layers of accumulated blizzards somewhat offset by highly efficient snow removal.  Going out involved getting four children, ages 6 ½, 5, 3 ½ and nearly 2, dressed to the point that no one would call the authorities.  But that day there was a break in the action, a bit of a thaw so that you felt like perhaps, it would not be always winter.

It snowed the next day of course.

But at that point it no longer mattered because there was new life in my arms and spring in my heart.  Matthew Fredrick, known from the moment he joined us, as Matty, had arrived.  And although my children were tiny themselves, it was from the beginning as if Matty was everybody’s baby.  There were challenges—deathly food allergies in an era when the words ‘gluten-free’ drew nothing but a blank stare—but even this was faced together.  Six pairs of eyes always watching, multiple hands held out to cross busy city streets, laps for sitting never in short supply.

I worried about this sometimes.  Wondered if a day in the future would come when his wife would look at me and say, “What were you thinking?  He’s completely helpless!”  But it didn’t turn out that way.  When he went to school his kindergarten teacher said, “He does for his classmates what has been done for him—tying shoes, helping with schoolwork, seeing those who need a friend.” 

Today is his Golden Birthday, the natal celebration when one turns as old as the date of one’s birth.  Seventeen is my favorite number, but this was a much shorter trip than I imagined on the day he arrived.

Happy Birthday Matty Fredrick.  You are loved. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dedicated to the Ones I Love

My love had to travel this year, to far-flung places, and some that only seem far and so it was last week that I was standing in line at the Post Office, mailing boxes of pink and red to children of mine who are somehow now adults.   I thought of young parents, the joy of all that awaits them—burbling vowels and consonants unspooling into language, construction paper and Valentine boxes, hope and heartbreak—life.

We have some extra genes in this family, the Valentine gene for one.  Sara Kate and Glenn taught me that it was a day to be celebrated, perhaps even a month, and so February has always been more bearable than the rest of the winter for us.  But the Baby Freak gene is another.  Go ahead, hold your adorable bundle in front of any of this crew and watch us TRY to walk past you without stopping--peripheral vision on the alert, we will screech to a halt every time.  And so, in that Post Office queue I remembered kissing tiny feet and hands, precious words written in faltering letters, and the years when a broken heart was a simple repair.  I thought about how much I loved those days, how fascinating those children were to me....and how little I knew.

Today I see the Love that birthed these five amazing humans, that carries them still; the sonorous resonance of lives I cannot fully comprehend--mystery engraved on their very dna.  The persistent will to climb, or figure things out by yourself, or eat books like food, are not simply personality traits, they are hidden doors that will unlock the life you are meant to lead.  I look back to years gone by and realize, We have no idea what wonders are hidden in the people around us.*  How could I have known; how could I have lived without constant gaping astonishment, if I had understood then, the true nature of the flowers that were blooming before my eyes?

We are an imperfect crew, lest you get the wrong idea on this day of love.  We’ve had mountain highs and Death Valley lows, and we’re in some of them right now.  But this year, on a day when I will not see any of them face to face, they are in sharp focus in my heart, shoulder to shoulder and atop a hill, the sun coming up behind them.  It is glory only partially understood, but from where I stand, it's quite a view.
* The Guys, a play by Anne Nelson

Thursday, February 10, 2011

18 Degrees Fahrenheit

It is February and there is so freaking much snow that I pretty much want to cry when I leave the house.  I hold my breath when I step outside and do the fifty-yard dash from the parking lot to the security entrance.  In other words, I’m cold and apparently my brain is too.  Here, however, are a few thoughts that managed to thaw out.

         My wonderful new job is in a museum and at some point I had the brilliant idea that I would power walk its halls of glory when it was closed.  The temp is perfect, the views are gorgeous and I can crank up my Ipod and run the marble stairs to my heart’s content.  One day I really overheated and headed out the nearest door to cool off in the covered parking garage. On my unsuccessful 5th or 6th attempt at trying to get back in, the director of security services happened to return from lunch.  It was a humiliating trek through the proper entrance, visual evidence of my escapades scrolling on security screens before my eyes.  About halfway up to my office I realized…Oh, I work in a Museum.

         Daniel is in Philadelphia for two months doing a play with Alex Burns, an amazing director who directed him in R&J.  If you live within spitting distance, go and see the Quintessence Theatre Group’s production of Don Juan because these are brilliant minds at work.  And there’s a bonus too…you know how there’s always one person currently designated the World’s Oldest?  Well, I think the guy playing Don Juan might be the currently designated Best Looking.  For someone who mostly fell for skinny and sense of humor, it’s more of a clinical fascination than anything, but I’m telling you, there’s good looking.  And then there’s This.

         I am not trying to tell God how to do his job (oh no I would never do that) but seriously, life would be so much easier to figure out if passive aggressive people lit up or changed color when they were behaving badly. 

         Last week was Chinese New Year, which was celebrated well at my place of employ.  The festivities caused me to consider how much I love new beginnings---January 1st, Rosh Hashanah, the first day of school, Easter, and the dark waiting of a new moon every single month;   even Monday, that much-maligned day of the week, feels like blackboards freshly washed and waiting for chalk white thoughts to cover them.  God’s mercies are new every morning but sometimes I need to turn a page to remember that.

         February 5 was our favorite Welshman’s birthday and in spite of good intentions, no well wishes made their way to Oxford.  Happy belated birthday Rahman—may this be a stellar year.

         The other day I was shopping for Valentine’s Day and I thought, Good lord, at this time of year I crave color so badly I could eat a 64 pack of crayons.  One of our neighbors in the building in New York had this fabulous winter scarf in a hot pink plaid, and when I complimented it one day he said, “In February or March there are days when it’s this or the gun.  I think choosing this is best.”  In the midst of a gray sky and snow blinding lawns, my $7 rings from Target are the cure for what ails me.  The stones will probably fall out in May, replaced with lilacs and forsythia.  Now that’s what I call a good investment.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gay like Happy?

I think the tragic feeling is invoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing -- his sense of personal dignity.

On Friday night I was a pretty blank slate.  Yeah, I’d read more than my share of military history, and had a general sense of where the armed forces had triumphed and failed over the years.  But when I walked into the Spencer Theatre for KC Rep’s production of Another American Asking and Telling, all I really possessed was a vague sense that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was another red tape snafu.  A game of Twister gone horribly awry and it was fixed so it was over, right?

Thanks to Marc Wolf, I know better now.

That night I met Miriam Ben-Shalom, a decorated drill sergeant, and the daughter of a WWII veteran, who wanted nothing more than to serve her country.  An offhand comment led to a commander asking her one question.  Picture it suspended, the answer hanging in the air between the work that defines you and public humiliation:  “Sergeant Ben-Shalom, are you a homosexual?”

There was a reason they said Don’t Tell. 

In 1976 Miriam Ben-Shalom was discharged by the Army she loved.  And how did she repay this betrayal?  By spending the next 35 years trying to get back in.  She stands on stage, piercing eyes, rigid with anger, with sorrow, with shame.  Except it wasn’t her.  It was Marc Wolf, asking and telling like somebody’s life depended on it.

We saw people on both sides of the issue, portrayed by an actor who so thoroughly inhabits each soldier, that you would swear there was trickery involved.  Every time he did it, moving seamlessly from a chain-smoking, eye rolling WWII era Southern nurse who did not check the box marked Homosexual because, “That was for, prostitutes or something and I wasn’t that,” to a hyperactive, medal heavy Colonel who commented and twitched his way through his experience with a squadron of one gay man and ten sociopaths, leading him to declare, “and that’s why gays don’t belong in the Army.”  Interestingly, I recognized this soldier the moment Wolf opened his mouth—an outspoken and often lonely critic of the Vietnam war.  He’d gotten so many big things right. 

And yet, are we not merely a compilation of our own experiences, unless we hear the lives of others?  Will we allow ourselves to feel the grief of a mother whose child arrives in a closed coffin, thanks to his brothers in arms; the loss to an officer of all he held dear, his children casualties in the rubble; truth, the gift that emerged from a very public hell.

Each word spoken is verbatim from the interviews Wolf spent three years and all of his savings, gathering.  The words hang around your neck for hours, hilarity and tragedy weaving their weighty garland.  But the performance is a tour de force; an acting master class that is not to be missed.

Plays like this are the reason we have theatre.

Another American Asking and Telling at KC Rep January 14-February 6, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Daily Grind

Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.
Studs Terkel

       Do work. Rayner Fredrick 

Today I got my first paycheck at my new job.  And while there have been paychecks, over the years, that elicited enthusiasm, I do not remember one bringing me so much joy.

The unemployment statistics churn out week after week, anticipated by stockbrokers and Obama's press secretary and the governors of states who are trying to figure out how in the HELL they are going to make 2+2=5.  But to millions of gainfully employed folks who are going about the business of life, they are just one more unfathomable number in a world filled with them.  

14.5 million people in this country are out of work.  
Until last Monday I was one of them.

And then, just like that, I was getting up at 6 and praying early and wearing clothes that weren't jeans.  I was thrilled.  I was terrified.  I wanted badly not to disappoint.  I made my lunch and got a security badge and the next thing you know, I had been there for two weeks.

The funny thing was I hadn't thought about the money.  Of course the initial sigh of relief could have been heard in New Guinea, but once I started, I didn't even think about it.  A hungry man appreciates food; a hot one, the AC; and a lonely one, companionship.  You might be groaning about getting up and going wherever it is you have to go in the morning, but when I rise, all I can feel is grateful.  So when Mike the mail guy handed me the big envelope with checks for my department I didn't even open it right away.  I passed the other checks out to my colleagues and then came back, found my letter opener and saw in black and white the exchange I had made, of effort for reward.

I have gotten bigger checks in my life.  But this one is, and probably always will be, the best.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Our Girl in Cape Town

She is sleeping now, this daughter of mine with whom I wait in airports, holding hands and saying goodbye--tears and joy our now-familiar mix.  A world away in summer, in Africa, while I contemplate once again the gift of her life.

The breakup of a family means many things, most of them a grueling kind of sorrow.  Yet, like any trial by fire, what rises is lasting treasure, a gold refined to its very essence.  I see all of my children gleaming in the sunlight and brushing ashes from their hair and shoulders.  But right now, today, there is just one story to tell.

She is extraordinary, this one.  Her first grade soccer coach called her The Pit Bull and yet when she wasn't demolishing opponents she was picking daisies, skipping downfield and tending to scrapes on the sidelines.  Over and over we moved.  Changing schools like so many cardigan sweaters yet each time she managed to find her way to the dearest friends, attracting loyalty and kindness with a gentle nature anchored in steel.  Unknown at the beginning and beloved at the end, every single time.

How astonishing that such friendship would be mine as well.  Too cautious for my own good, I put up walls around my heart, fearful that my children would feel overly responsible for my joy and knowing that they were working hard enough to hang on to their own.  But at some point in her freshman year of college Mary Glen shared that she'd told someone I was her best friend and all I could think was, Me?  It was the first chink in my armor.  Piece by piece we tore down the walls of parent and child and rebuilt ancient ruins, cities long devastated, until what was between us was so dear I could not have imagined it to exist.  She is, as Kris says, the closest witness to my life, total honesty and intimate secrets sandwiched between the hilarity of daily life and the binding cement of a hard journey walked together.

She adores Friday Night Lights and old Alias, and Slings and Arrows.  She has loved and lost, and loved and loved, growing and maturing so that life does not carry the same mistakes back to her doorstep, but instead the best kind of man.  She keeps a list of quotes on her wall a la Franny and Zooey and every time I read them I feel the deepest kind of joy to know such a soul so intimately. And perhaps most amazing of all, she has not only opened up her life to me, but offered up her friends as well, willing us to know each other, pushing me past my reticence to an entirely new life.

She is the woman I always wanted to be.

But for the next three months, she is on the other side of the world.   And even in an age of technology, tonight it's just a bit too far.   I'm counting on gratitude traveling fast.