Let’s see if I can pick up the pieces of this mess.
First, wow. Thank you. Thank you to each of you for caring enough to take the time to voice your concerns. I imagine quite a few people typed out replies only to decide that what they had to say wasn’t elegant/important/relevant enough to post. Sadly, their thoughts now fade into oblivion. However, you that responded, fists or hearts bared, took a risk and put yourself out there, even if you were still covered under the cozy pseudo-anonymity of the internet*. Kudos. It’s a lot like watching karaoke. Even the ones who can barely keep a tune have my respect because they do it. They get up there and sing. I cheer them sometimes more than I cheer the super-stars. Life is 80% showing up, ready to play. You did it. You got up and sang. Please know you each have my respect for chiming in.
* I will always have more respect for those willing to attach their name to their post. Responding anonymously, on the karaoke scale, is like singing off the side of the stage, hidden by a curtain. Still scary, yes, but boo. If you are too apprehensive about attaching your name to something you have to say, why are you saying it? Stand tall and speak your mind, even if your voice shakes. Trust me on this – mine does every time I post on this blog…. Like right now.
Just like with watching a bad karaoke singer, it’s impossible to help the person who is up there on stage doing a terrible job (a.k.a. “the best they can do.”) You struggle with them because you want them to be great. In fact, part of you NEEDS them to be great. Thus, with every high note they mangle, you squirm in your seat. The pain on their face reflects the pain on your face. You want to help, badly, but you can’t take the mike and make them look good. They are there on stage alone, naked for all the world to see (and hear.) So, as your only option, you chime in loudly with your own version of the song. The worse they croon, the louder you howl. But, just like the person on stage who realizes all too late, you find you just think you know how the song goes. You are human. You stumble at the same places they do. But the mumbled, jumble mess of togetherness provides a nice supportive blanket of voices crying out in semi-unison, smoothing out the rough spots, all focused on helping the person on stage tough it out and make it through the song. When it’s done we all cheer. Some karaoke is a team sport.
We all want to help out the poor schlep on stage – selfishly, altruistically…. Who cares about the reason if the goal is the same, right? It’s all about helping them get through the song. Some people in the audience are even well qualified to offer help by way of knowledge gained through experience or training or whatever.
However, what is certainly not helpful is shouting out singing lessons while the person is on stage. In fact, it’s rather annoying. “Shoulders back!” “Sing from your diaphragm!” “Open your mouth wider and pronunciate!” Imagine the distraction. It would be a mess. The singer would be annoyed, embarrassed, and probably respond angrily and irrationally, despite the obvious intent of the “helper.” People in the crowd would chime in, no doubt, showing solidarity to the one on stage, the one with the soft underbelly exposed. It would be an uncomfortable situation, to say the least. And the one who genuinely offered help, the one with the training or experience that saw an opportunity to throw in a learned hand, would feel burned and confused and hurt. Gosh, what a difficult situation born from a ubiquitous and overwhelmingly human desire to lend a hand. Both magical and human to the core. Tragic by way of a common love for mankind. Is there anything more truly, beautifully human?
Who would you want in your audience, were you to sing? The wailers and howlers? Or the teachers? In a book called Crucial Conversations, the authors argue that the best decisions are made when what they call the Pool of Shared Knowledge is filled by those with a diverse base of experiences. In another book called the Wisdom of Crowds the authors argue that the decisions of the average crowd are usually far better than those made by any single member of the group. Both arguments share the same base – that together we are smart.
Well, I’m amazingly lucky (and touched.) For what ever reason, you (yes, you!) have decided that you are going to continue to read what I type. And you (well, some of you) have decided that you are going to voice (or have voiced) support, recommendations, howlings, or advice. It is all raw. It is all very real. And it is all very wonderful. I am, yet again, the luckiest guy on earth. And I’m proud to have you all with me on this continued journey, where ever it may lead. Thank you.
The one person who hit the nail on the head, Don, said “Maybe Maggie kept the beat in the relationship.” Well, that was more true than you can imagine for numerous reasons. The most immediate and recent reason was that for the last ten months (that’s most of a year, every single day) the driving force behind almost everything we did, daily, sometimes hourly, was medically-based – keep Maggie alive. Think about that for a moment. Every single step we took, every trip to the store, every decision we made we had to consider how it was going to affect my sweetheart for TEN MONTHS! And, if we I messed up, she suffered. Worse, if we I really screwed up, she died. The stakes were high. For ten long months (that’s 7,200 hours straight!) Gradually, it got worse. Our existence was slowly engulfed in medical care. The cancer ate away nearly all that we had that was normal. Sure, we fit in some fun stuff but chemo treatments, CT scans and medicine schedules really set the beat. Maintaining her health was the snare drum of our lives. And that was just the last ten months. We’ve been playing this record for two and a half years, in varying intensity.
Think of it this way. Imagine one day, getting out of bed on a normal day and someone suddenly straps a fifty pound weight to your back. For me that day was January 5, 2007, eight-hundred and fifty days exactly before Maggie died. At first, it knocked me silly. Fifty pounds is heavy and takes some getting used to. But I did. We did. And for a while, that was all I had to carry – fifty pounds. I got stronger and adjusted the way I walked. I had to crouch down a little to balance the weight so I wouldn’t fall over but in the grand scheme of things, no biggie. We still danced. Occasionally, however, a few more pounds would be dropped here and there onto my back. I’d adjust, walking a little more bent over but we kept on dancing. At the end of September of last year, another fifty pounds was suddenly dropped on me. Quickly following that, the really heavy weights started to hit. The overwhelming burden forced me to walk hunched over, stiff and encumbered. But the weights didn’t stop. They kept on coming. Toward the middle of March, my knees started buckling under the weight. April was a blur of unbelievably difficult steps. Then in May… … …well, in early May someone took all the weights off my back.* Gone. And now I have to learn how stand up straight again. Eight-hundred and fifty days. I don’t even remember what standing up straight feels like.
* I’m finding as the days drag on that all the weights aren’t actually gone. They’ve just been replaced with different ones. And my cheerleader is gone.
I thought seriously about closing down this blog. Of course I did. Who wouldn’t? But, you know what I believe? For every single person that I lost because of my crass comments and show of anger, there will be (or are) at least ten who are struggling with the same issues I am, for what ever reason. Some of them are mired in such deep emotion that they have lost their way. I can’t offer THE way out. Hell, I’m not sure I can find my own way at this point. But I can offer the way I’m headed, right or wrong, good or bad, crass, insulting, emotional, raw, or whatever. When all the lights go out and you can’t see anything else, sometimes all you need is just one flicker to give you perspective enough to steady yourself. Even if the light is not in the direction you intend to head. I can humbly offer just and only that, a single glimmer of light.
(By the way, my voice is still shaking.)