Category Personal Reflections

Lamenting Sam Shepard…and the Cruelty of ALS

An old friend of mine has been stricken with ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease, in some ways the most devastating medical diagnosis a human being can receive. There is little to no pain in ALS, so at least that takes it out of the realm of suffering common to rheumatoid arthritis, bone cancer and other diabolical conditions specializing in pain delivery to undeserving innocents.

But in its eventual robbery of nearly all human muscular activity save for blinking the eyes and perhaps an occasional partial smile or frown from a minutely functioning facial muscle or two, ALS has no parallel in its reduction of human physical function to levels not seen even in newborns and embryos.

Almost making it worse is that there is zero loss of cognition, so there is no escaping the full gravity of one’s plight.

And last week, we found out that playwright and sometime actor Sam Shepard died of the same wretched disease, a de...

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The Old Dead Shit of a Late Spring Garden

I know I’m not the first person to realize that gardening is the world’s most ubiquitous and consistent metaphor factory. Prepare the soil, plant a bulb, weed and water a patch of dirt, then have at it on matters regarding one’s place in the world and desire to do right by it.

Where else this side of church is one allowed to stand naked (metaphor there, too…) before the creation while pondering its meaning and relevance to one’s life?

So on yesterday’s late, late spring day, a certain correspondent of yours found himself deep into mounds of decaying poppies and grasses in his backyard, exclaiming to no one in particular: “Gosh, there’s a lot of old dead shit in there!”

And fall was nowhere in sight, smell or sound.

It turns out this is one of gardening’s boundless number of secrets: that death, and the need to move its remnants out of the way, is pretty much a four-season proposition...

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Fever Dream (and a Dog’s Relentless Love)

It’s a dream, but the images are sharp as daylight. I’m on one of our well-traveled byways, nearing a crosswalk on Summerfield Road. Shenzi is about six feet out on her leash, and she inexplicably ambles out into the road a few feet before I am there, disregarding all her training. I pull back on the leash and she is a little slow to respond. Then I see cars are dangerously closer and she is still out a few feet on the roadway.

Now I pull more emphatically on the leash, but Shenzi, again inexplicably, digs in. I easily overpower her, but as I pull her to safety toward me I see the leash and her collar are kind of tangled at the top of her head. No squeals or cries, but as I reel her in I confront a horrid sight.

She is looking directly into my eyes but her left eye is grotesquely swollen and bulging and beginning to leak fluid...

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Hungary and Syria: A Tale of Two Diasporas

We are born into a particular place to particular people, absorbing the world we find and then habituating to its rhythms and requirements. The routine of being cared for intimately in a state of comfort and stability is our natural desire and need; children cannot thrive without it.

That said, human beings grow to become curious, adventurous and mobile creatures, often, though not in every case, ranging far from our original habitats in voluntary pursuit of economic betterment and new experience.

There is an involuntary shadow side to our mobility, however. Sometimes, life confronts us with forced relocation when famine, political upheaval or war (those three are often related) give us little choice but to leave our nests and strike out, in desperate circumstances, for the great unknown.

When this involves great swaths of a population, it merits the biblical term “diaspora.” (Deuteronomy 28:25, from ...

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Taking What Comes

So we make our plans, God and the fates rather quickly having their laugh at our folly while merrily shuffling the deck of our future.

Fifty-two possibilities from the get-go, eventually multiplied a million-fold by the cards still to be lain down in front of us, where they are joined by others in new configurations, or discarded by us, our volition exercised, in favor of yet more possibility.

But doesn’t every boy want to be a fireman when he grows up?

There are the genes, of course. Parents 5’1″ & 5’5”; you will not be playing center for the Lakers, no matter the compelling golden glow of those uniforms and your most fervent prayers.

The randomness of birth and its attendant geography, the weight of the land and the history of its people branding themselves upon you.

The Russians, the Spaniards, the Saudis, the Fijians and Turks.

The Swiss, the Italians, the Mexicans and Aussies.

National stereot...

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