A more beautiful place

This holiday season, as they call it, I am thinking  and feeling about my family. For some reason knowing you’re likely in the home-stretch of things allows you a sharper awareness of the immense love you feel for family members, most all gone from life. I’m grateful for my instincts because I don’t mind being present in the experience.

Family life ended for me in December, 1969,  two months after my 16th birthday; an essay for another time.

Of course there are tears, at times, and, of course, there are momentary flashes of fury. Fury at the loss, at how long its been, fists clenched, and, literally, nothing and no one deserving of a blow exists on this planet. The stone cold fact is, nothing and no one deserving of that blow has ever existed on this planet.

So I allow the feeling of fury until it passes. It always does.

These days I’m thinking of my mother and father, ,Grandma and Grandpa, Mommom and Poppop (my mother’s parents), Uncle Harry, Aunt Dorothy, Uncle Peter, Marjorie, my sister, Rebecca, my childhood friends, a number gone now. My brother, Bobby. I think of my other mother, Leona, my birth-mother — a better human being has never walked the earth. We were  reunited on January 8, 1987. We were emotional and spiritual twins. She was an angel. I bet she still is!

Now, if there is something after this life, it damn well better include more time with these beautiful human beings  or else I’m not interested. When I walk through the beautiful museum hallways in my mind, all the above are there, masterpieces all.

There’s never been a more beautiful place than family.

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Shedding the excess

Getting older finds me methodically reviewing my involvements in life. I’m identifying situations, endeavors, and people I’ve mistakenly allowed to drain me of time and energy.  Getting older puts the unavoidable fact that none of us lives forever in sharp relief. So, I’ve said to me recently on more than one occasion,  why not shed everything and everyone I identify as being an unhealthy drain of time and energy.  Accurately identifying who and what falls into this category is is not always easy and not always painless.

The plus side to the shedding-the-excess endeavor is more time and energy becomes available. For example, I’d like to visit a friend of mine named Dave Hausman. Dave  owns Big Dave’s Bagels in North Conway, New Hampshire. I’ve known him for years and its been too damned long since I’ve seen him. I’ve never known anyone with more integrity, and, the man is brilliant-smart and deeply compassionate.  I miss him and his remarkable wife, Susan, who matches him on the integrity, smarts, and compassion fronts. There are other people and places that fall into the Dave category. My nephew, Joseph Kahrmann, his wife, Tara, and their children for instance. I respect no one anymore than I respect my nephew.

I’d like to go back to the places of my childhood and walk around my old neighborhoods. The hamlets, towns and villages. The streets of New York City, the place I was born, and where so much that makes me who I am today happened. Of course I will continue to write and read and advocate for those being oppressed.

I think the shedding-the-excess endeavor aligns me more with what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” Earlier this afternoon I was reading a long piece of writing my birth-mother Leona wrote to me right after we reunited on January 8, 1987. We were separated on October 9, 1953;  I was seven days old. Her emotionally courageous and loving and heartfelt missive ended with the words, “My son, my son, I’ve always loved you.”  And she did, always.

Not long before she died of liver cancer on December 19, 2001 I asked her if she had any advise for me in life. “Yes, Peter; be good to yourself.”

I know that freeing myself from all that makes living the life I’ve imagined more difficult is exactly what she’d want me to do.

I love my mother, born Leona Patricia Clark, my whole wide world.  I love my life my whole wide world too,  all the more because she gave it to me.

My Mother Dancing

When someone I love dies the years seem to pick up speed. They fly by. My mother Leona was 68 when she died nine years ago yesterday. It doesn’t feel that long ago. She was and always will be one of the greatest discoveries in life for me. She had to give me up for adoption when I was a baby. We had my first seven days together and that was it. She was only 20 when she handed her son over and returned home utterly destroyed. This is not the missive to explain all this, or how I know all this other than to say we left nothing about the subject and circumstances of my adoption untouched by conversation.

We were reunited on January 8, 1987, a moment in both our lives so filled with emotion for the both of us I’m surprised we didn’t burst. But then again, we were cut from the same cloth. To be more precise, I am cut from hers. She had the ability to not only allow moments of enormous amounts of emotion, she welcomed them.

She also loved to dance, and dancing contains worlds of emotion. She may have suspected that, like her, I found it and still find it impossible to remain physically still when music is on. To this day I find myself utterly baffled by people who can sit still while music with, say, Latin rhythm is on. I always want to tap them on the shoulder and ask, Don’t you feel that? However, she certainly had no idea I’d danced professionally and when I was a little boy my family would play music just so I could keep dancing, I couldn’t get enough.

The evening my mother and I reunited and found each others arms again we went to her home, after first going out for coffee. There my “new” sister, Sunday, said, “If you’re in this family you better love to dance.” My friend Dane was with me. Dane looked at me and said, “You want me to tell them.” And so he told them about my days dancing with the Joffrey Ballet and dancing pretty much every time I ran into music.

On October 2, 1987, the first birthday we had together since the day I was born, my mother and I went out to dinner, and then we went to a club and danced all night. She was a great dancer, the greatest dance partner I’ve ever had.

I love you, Mom, miss you terribly, and I’m still dancing.

I’m Tired of Goodbyes

All of us deal with loss in life. Loss of loved ones whether through death or people going separate ways. We deal with loss of jobs, loss of physical or cognitive functioning for all kinds of reasons and so forth, loss of friends or, more often than not, people who said they were your friends and turn out to be, well, full of shit, even though you meant it.  Anyway, you get my point. 

Loss and the threat of loss has many faces. I have en ex-wife who deals with a rough medical condition that threatens her life. Knowing she is in this fight upsets my heart and soul so deeply there have been time I have cried my eyes swollen.  While our marriage ended, I will always love this woman for who she is. She has perhaps the most widely creative mind I’ve ever know and has a sense of humor that can shame many a comedian. I asked her once if she could find a way to let me know when we had entered the handful of days in the month when it was clear she was the shining image of perfection and I was all that was wrong with the world. She smiled and said she’d try and think of something. Not long after this I was sitting in bed reading one night. She came into the room carrying a huge carving knife, looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes, and said, “Still awake? I’ll be back.” The two of us burst into laughter.

I can’t speak for you but there are people who will always be deeply important to me. The woman I just talked about is one of them. Always she will be family in my heart.

Having said all this I should add that I have dealt with my fair share of loss. I think the singular biggest barrage of loss for me occurred in 1969 when my aunt, grandmother and father died in a matter of months and weeks after my father’s death I was placed in reform school and disowned by the family. Having been adopted, which along with the gift of a loving family, if you actually wind up in a family that loves you and shows it, leaves you with an abandonment button the size of Wyoming, the loss of my second family shattered my universe and ability to feel safe in it.  And so, today, I don’t take kindly to fly-by-night friendships and cast a wary eye on those who say they will always be my friend or always be there for me.

However, I find I have added a new layer of self-protection that I suppose is both poignant and humorous. My affection for fictional characters and the difficult I have when faced with losing them. I am, for instance, broken hearted that this is the last season of Monk. I love the man and will miss him. Recently I began watching and a series on Netflix called “Monarch of the Glen”.  I love this series and I am early in season two. But, like the complete ass I am more than capable of being, I went on the web to learn about the series and its upcoming seasons. To my horror, I learned that some cast members leave the series and new ones join the series. That’s all well in good but some of the characters that are leaving I love. Richard Briers plays the older laird and his character is so deliciously delightful he’d fit right in with Pickwick’s mates. Now that I know some are going to leave the show, I can’t get myself to keep watching. I don’t want to go through the loss.

And then there is this amazing detective series out of England called “Foyle’s War.” I am swept up in sadness now knowing I have watched all the episodes. In fact, I put off watching the last episode for weeks just to avoid having to say goodbye. I’m tired of goodbyes.

I must apologize to you, my reader, because this is a rather self-absorbed essay. Let me just tell you that if you say you love someone, mean it, and don’t flitter off like a speck of dust in a strong breeze the minute something doesn’t go your way. If you are thinking of adopting a child I think that is wonderful. Being adopted is how I met my father, the greatest gift life has ever given me. But don’t adopt a child unless you are rock solid sure of two things: that you will love the child and be loving too the child. Not being able or willing to express the love you have for a child inevitably translates into tragic results.

One last thing, I would appreciate it if you would get Monk to stay, Richard Brier to return to “Monarch of the Glen” and “Foyle’s War” to come up with more episodes.  Oh, and keep my ex-wife in your prayers. She is always in mine.

 

Words From My Mother

The handwritten date on top of the faded page read, “Wednesday 1-8-87”, the day my birth-mother and I were reunited after 33 years apart. The handwriting is hers. I have stumbled on six pages of a journal she kept starting that extraordinary January day.

Her very first line collapses me into tears. “Received a phone call that made my life complete tonight.” The phone call she is referring to is the one I made to her from the lobby of the Stamford Motor Inn in Connecticut, no more than five miles from her house. It was our first contact in the world after we were parted by life when I was seven days old.

The phone call was a culmination of a search that had begun only months earlier on October 2, 1986, my 33rd birthday. One of my closest friends in the world, then and now, Dane, was with me. Dane was the perfect companion on this day because he too was adopted.

My mother first thought I was calling to give her bad news about a family member, but then, as she writes, “He said I was born October 2 in the French Hospital in New York. I said, Oh my God, my son Paul – then, please don’t hate me. He said, I don’t hate you Mom. After that it’s a blur. Found out he was just down the street at the (Stamford) Motor Inn….I said I’d be there in 20 minutes. I believe I was there in 10 minutes. Changed my clothes, told my daughter Erin what was going on (I did during the phone conversation), couldn’t find my keys, my glasses… During the phone conversation when I said I’d be there in 20 minutes, Peter (his name is Peter, not Paul) started to tell me what he would be wearing. I said, I’ll know who you are. Also when we were on the phone he said, I’m 33 years old now. I said, I know THAT. I was shaking and don’t really know how I drove the car to meet him.”

“When I got the the Motor Inn he got out of his van and walked towards me, he reminded me of my brother. We hugged and hugged and he said, “Hello Mom, we made it.” I really only heard Mom.

To read these words for the first time, more than eight years after her death in December 2001, I am reminded to my core how close to two of us became and how close, in a very real way, we always were.

Of all the challenges I’ve ever taken on in my life, searching for and finding my mother, Leona Patricia Clark, is the one I am most proud of and most grateful for. A few pages in she calls me her “personal eighth wonder of the world.” She is certainly mine.