Dad

He was my first ‘follower’.

When, after thinking and talking about it for ages, I finally started this blog as a way of writing about some of the things that I deem important, my Dad was the first one to subscribe to colemining.  Even though the blogging world was a bit of a terra incognita to him.

He always encouraged us- me and my two sisters, and pretty much anyone else who came into his charismatic sphere and stayed for any length of time- and he knew that I had things to say that needed to be said.

He was my biggest fan.

Always.

We were so very fortunate- growing up and now, as adults- to have been raised by parents (and an extended family of grandparents and aunts and uncles- biological and otherwise) who encouraged us to find our own way in the world and pursue those things that most resonated with us, personally.

You see, they knew that they had raised us to be concerned about things larger than just us, that they had instilled in us the reality that we are part of a community.  They trusted us- and they trusted themselves- enough to know that they had created three responsible, independent and thinking citizens of the world.  Individuals who learned the most important lessons that can be taught- and who will hold firm to the mandate that shaped both their lives: that we are all required to do our best to leave this world a better place than we found it.

Our own paths- guided by intelligence (both inherited and nurtured) and kindness- perhaps kindness above all else- are the legacy of two wonderful people that anyone who ever met them feels privileged to have known.  Being supremely lucky, I got to have them as my parents.

When Mum was diagnosed with a form of early-onset dementia, Dad became her constant and always-doting companion and care-giver.  We often forget that our parents were people before they became our parents, but, through Mum’s long illness until her eventual death, we got to witness the playing out of a love story that Hollywood couldn’t come close to imagining.

One of their oldest, dearest friends sent this memory to me- all the way from Australia:

It is always so sad to lose one’s parents, regardless of their age or yours. It is the end of an era. Take comfort in the fact that he had a great, happy, long and useful life. When we were young and used to go out together, it was such a joy to see your parents — a couple so very much in love — I think your Dad beamed from ear to ear during the whole of their wedding ceremony! It was also the very first time that they had ever met or even heard of (her boyfriend at the time, now husband of many decades) as I was otherwise engaged, so the invitation did not include his name. Whilst other friends heartily dispproved, when I contacted your parents, they graciously said, “whoever you choose and want to bring to our wedding is alright by us. We want you to be happy and you both will always be welcome in our house” and they certainly stood by their word and the rest is history. We have never forgotten their kindness and generosity over the years.’

And this:

 ‘How time flies — it seems like yesterday when your Mum would call home to see if Rick had written and if there was a letter, she’d fly home during lunch hour to get it. So all of us knew that it HAD to be serious! Your paternal grandmother said she KNEW it WAS, as she didn’t think that your Dad was capable of holding a pen in his hand, let alone producing a letter as he had never ever written to HER when he was away so Betty HAD to be very special to get even one line from him!’

That last bit was news to me and is so veryvery ironic, I can’t even tell you.  It has become a running joke- in our family and beyond- that Dad must be on the no-fly lists of a whole bunch of countries- starting with our own.  He LOVED to write letters.  To politicians, especially.  And had NO problem AT ALL spelling out exactly where they are falling short of his expectations of them- and the responsibilities of the job to which they were elected.  (See?  I come by it honestly.)  I guess all those love letters he wrote Mum served to loosen his pen…

I lost my Dad this week.

We lost my Dad this week.  My sisters and I, and everyone who knew him.  The condolences and memories that are flooding in a constant stream into inboxes and voicemailboxes are markers of the impact that this man had on his world.

You may not be aware of it, but those of you who are kind enough to spend some of your precious time hanging with me here in the WordPress World also lost him.

All the words I write, all the truths I seek to discover and all the stories I try to tell, they all have a kernel- and sometimes a great deal more than a kernel- of my Dad at their heart.

Another of his lovely friends wrote this in an email to me today:

‘When I think of your dad I always think of him as a seeker of knowledge and truth.   I see him with his beloved books reading passages to us that he thought needed to be read aloud and discussed.

I think of him in the middle of many and varied lively conversations holding us accountable for our opinions…

I don’t need to tell you how proud he was of the three of you. He wanted you all to find your own path and pursue it with zest. He would tell us all about what was going on in your lives. (Don’t worry he didn’t divulge any of your secrets).  He loved to read your “colemining” blog and was especially touched when you wrote about your grandfather.’

Yes.  I definitely come by it honestly.  I am my father’s child.  Of that, there is no doubt.

He was proud of us.  There is, truly, no higher praise.

I was proud of him.  All my life.  The person he was filled me with constant pride and amazement.  His ethical conscience and concern with social justice was unmatched.  His life was spent in service to others- to ideals that are bigger than any one person, certainly, yet, somehow, seemed summed up in his very being.

He led by example, instilling in us the reality that boundaries- of race, religion, socioeconomic situation- are human creations– and, as such, subject to constant examination and re-evaluation.  Prejudice- of any kind- is unacceptable.  Unexamined beliefs have no place in rational discourse.  People matter.  Outdated ideologies do not.  Except as cautionary tales and reminders of how far we have evolved and developed as civilizations.

The Shuffle Daemon hit me hard, on the way home this evening.  It does that, sometimes.  Picks up on what I’m thinking and figures out just what I need to hear.

This is that morning
It’s waiting for you
The face of destiny
Standing before you

This is zero hour
Now is for you
Can you feel that power
Inside of you?

Through this priceless moment
In your possession
Answers to mysteries
Stand in succession

This is zero hour
And there’s no way back
Can you feel that power?
In its arms you’re wrapped

All through the night-time
‘Til the sun comes in
Now heaven’s open
Just to fly right in

Now you stand in that garden
This is that vision
Out on the world’s edge
It’s your baptism

This is zero hour
And your hands are free
Can you feel that power?
It’s ecstasy…

There is irony, I realize, in including a song called Heaven’s Open (the version isn’t the best quality, TBH, but it’s the only one I could find) in a post dedicated to my father.  Dad didn’t believe in heaven.  He was all about the importance of this world– and about living a life that positively affected this world.  If he believed at all in destiny– it was about the need to create and fulfill one’s own goals- schooled in experience and education and awareness and engagement with the world around him.

You gotta know that I don’t believe in heaven.  But, as I wrote in the post I reblogged yesterday, the idea of heaven, as a metaphor, or archetype, drawn from our shared mythology as a means of dealing with loss and pain, is beautiful, and so very human in its hopefulness.   So that, along with the evocative power of the lyrics of that song…

The Shuffle Daemon knows.

Mike (or, in this case, Michael) wrote the song in 1991 as part of the final album he was contractually obligated to provide for Virgin Records- with whom he had something of a contentious relationship (after he pretty much ensured the success of the label for that Branson guy with the success of Tubular Bells).  It’s a kiss off.  A lovely and elegant kiss off, but a kiss off all the same.  It’s about new beginnings- and it’s about finding the power within oneself to move past the things that have kept you stagnating.  Or imprisoned.  Or confined in any way at all.

I love Mike Oldfield.  He is a musical master.  And an interesting character.

I love my Dad.  Dad loved music.  It was a significant part of his life and he made sure that it was a significant part of ours.  He was also an interesting character.

He spent much of the last few months imprisoned by his own body, laid low by various infections that the doctors couldn’t quite seem to get a handle on controlling.

He’s not imprisoned any longer.

Thank you for giving us the tools to create our destinies, Dad.  Wrapped in the arms of the power you gave us, we will try to live up to your example.  We will leave the world a better place than the one we inherited.  Just as soon as we figure out how to navigate a world without you in it.  Which we will.  Eventually.  You taught us well.

Heaven’s Open, Dad.  Fly right in.

Dreaming of You

This was the first piece I posted, over a year ago, back when I was at the very beginning of this journey and trying to find my voice and figure out just what I wanted to do with this little space of the WordPress World.

At the moment I’m filled with things I NEED to be writing about, but the words won’t come. For many reasons- grief, exhaustion, uncertainty among them.

Looking back over the things I’ve shared this past 12 months, this, the first post, deals with the same thing I’m attempting to get a handle on now.

Loss.

While I try to do a little bit of ‘practicing that which I have a tendency to preach’ and gathering of emotional reserves, I’m also trying to remind myself that our stories continue to draw us together- even when we are faced with the very foundations of our lives being torn apart.  We can, sometimes, find the peace we need to keep on moving forward in our past reflections.  Hoping that this will be the case for me right now.

colemining

Today I had occasion to stop and think about the way people move in and out of one’s life.  It came up over coffee with a friend.  She was remembering the loss of one her childhood companions, gone 20 years today, killed in a random skiing accident.  Her first thought when I pressed her to talk about him was that he died doing what he loved best and that fact used to give her some measure of comfort, since it defined the person he was.  She went on to talk about how, not unlike the death of pivotal politicians or celebrities, she remembered exactly what she was doing when the call came, and precisely how she sprang into action to ensure that she could get home to say goodbye to him, despite the fact that she now realizes she was in shock.  At 22 she had felt loss before, but…

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‘I Sing Myself to Sleep…’

Insomnia.

Sucks.

Not a new thing, or even something that’s all that rare, but frustrating nonetheless.

Likely stems from the fact that I took a mental health personal day and spent it doing ‘me’ things.  I DID have an appointment in the morning, but I spent the bulk of the day doing little more than reading and writing.

Once upon a time that was how I spent pretty much every day- with time for social interaction and long walks in between.  It was a pretty ideal workday.

Reality (horrible, stinking reality) dictates that I don’t get to do that anymore.  While I still spend the bulk of each day reading and writing and interacting with people, it is no longer on my own terms and with subjects and people of my choosing.

I know- tiny violins of sympathy playing all around me.

Whining about days of yore isn’t actually what this post is about (although who doesn’t love a good whine every now and again?) so I’ll stop the wallowing tangential train and get back to the point.

I did a lot of reading.  Mainly online stuff; friends’ blogs (like this one, and this, and this one too), some articles of academic interest that I’d saved ages ago and never got around to- but I also picked up a novel that I’ve read a number of times before (I do like the re-read) for the TTC trip to the doc and got caught up in the story- even if I know it practically by heart by now.

I finally set that aside and got to some serious writing- work on this blog (hence the back-to-back posts), an academic article, and that book that somehow never seems to get finished.  Every time I look at it I hope against hope that the writing angels (or daemons- I’m not prejudiced) have completed it for me, but so far that hasn’t happened.  So far.

Regardless, it was a productive and highly enjoyable day.  Setting my own pace and moving from one thing to another at will is a wonderful luxury.  I know I have weekends in which to do that sort of thing- and some weekends I DO do that sort of thing- but there is something decadent about being able to be both dissolute and industrious on a weekday.

It felt like playing hooky.

Everyone else was at work.

It was as hella hot and steamy as Hades in the summertime outside, but the house was cool and quiet.

I ran all kinds of things through this ol’ brain o’ mine over the course of the day.  My reading brought me ideas for potential new writings and the writing reminded me of more things I’ve been wanting to read…  Not enough time.

Usually getting things on paper (figuratively- I have given up the ink and paper for the computer pretty much exclusively now) helps me sleep.  Once it is out of my head and preserved for posterity I no longer need to think about it.  All those ideas and issues that have been circulating for the past while have been swept out of the corners into which they were tucked when I had others things on my plate that were taking priority.

I sorted out a plot point that had been plaguing me for weeks, sketched out two additional chapters, linked a couple of draft posts together for further examination later, finally wrote out a dialogue that has been eluding me AND took on board some of the wisdom that other writers have had to offer- about the state of the world of late, the wonder of discovering new people, places and things… all kinds of good stuff that helped to quell some of the existential anxiety being fed by some of the world’s most current of events.

So the brain should have been all calm and ready for some rest.

Instead, I tossed.  And I turned.  I had that appropriate (and hilarious) ad for Tylenol PM for company (“Why is the word ‘abbreviation’ so long?  What if the hokey pokey really IS what it’s all about?”  That’s some GOOD copy!) as it cycled endlessly through my head over and over and over…

I resisted getting up and grabbing the Shuffle Daemon.  Listening to music actually keeps me awake (unless I’ve had a couple of beers.  THEN I’m usually out like a light before the first song has ended).  I can’t help paying attention to the lyrics I love so much and the words get in the way of drifting peacefully into slumber.

I’ve never been a big fan of the non-vocal music (despite many trips to Massey- and then Roy Thomson- Hall to see the TSO) so I don’t have much lyric-free music in my collection.

Except Mike Oldfield.  Who I love (Opening Ceremonies of England’s Summer Olympics?  Spectacular!).  But his symphonies alternate between the quiet and the bombastic (or spooky, as the case may be- Tubular Bells, anyone?) so the lulling is often interrupted by the demon voices and such.

As I lay there considering getting up to try the ‘couple of beers’ remedy, THAT song (up there ^^^^) popped into my busy brain.

James.

James.

Love them.  All their stuff.  This one reminds me of an old friend I haven’t seen in way too long and always makes me feel better about things as I run through my memories of him.

So I tried to take their advice and ‘sing myself to sleep’.  Then the words got in the way (why is Gloria Estefan sneaking in?  Can’t stop the musical infiltration- whether or not it’s something I actually like–  it seems).

They’re just SO GOOD.

As always, when I listen to James, I choose to ignore (editor’s prerogative) Tim Booth and Jim Glennie’s affiliation with the, um, sect (yes, let’s call them a sect.  Cult makes people squirmy.  Even if there is some reason to be squirmy in this case…) LifeWave.

Yes, this affiliation seems to make it into the songs (‘I believe this wave will bear my weight so let it flow’) but again, choosing to ignore…

As the lyrics chased themselves through my head I had to appreciate how well they suited my overall mood this week, and reflected some of the things I’d been thinking about and focusing on:  Letting go, feeling crazy/down/defeated- then okay again- then back to crazy/down/defeated, and, most of all, that no one is ever alone in feeling that they’ve been to ‘some far out places’.

Those who:

Feel the breath of sadness

Find they’re touched by madness

Find themselves ridiculous

(who are)

In love

In fear

In hate

In tears

Sit down next to me

We can all sit together in the awareness that we share these things in common.  All of us.

And when those ‘secrets I can’t keep’ and ‘insights of the day’ prevent me from sleeping, I can always hear some James in my head, telling me they’ve been there too.

At some point the words reassured me enough that I slept- and got up ready to meet the new day.  Even if it wasn’t a save my sanity personal day and I had to get to work.

James.

Love them.