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Why did Grandma die, doesn’t she love us anymore?”

When my mother was dying several years ago, we gathered for a week at her bedside, all eleven of us, her children, coming in from all parts of the country, also numerous grandchildren.

My mother’s body was shot, after living with cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a host of other maladies, including my father who now had Alzheimer’s. She’d had enough; it was her time to go.

When I was growing up, we went on weekly picnics in the nice weather.  My mother loved to sing; she had a beautiful voice. She and my father, whose voice was not as exceptional, would lead us in the old songs that they grew up with. We would all sing around the fire at night and on all those drives to and from.

So, around my mother’s bed, we sang these same songs. When we got the words wrong she would jump in and help us. Then she died.

I missed when she passed out of her body and briefly burst into tears when one of my sisters said she was gone.

The next day I was hanging out with my nieces. Jana, a very vivacious eight year old, was very sad and angry.

“Why did Grandma die?” she asked. “Doesn’t she love us anymore?”

She could not understand why her grandma, who had held on until everyone had come in from Illinois, California, Connecticut, and Colorado, would abandon her. Jana sorely missed her.

I explained that Grandma’s body was all worn out, that it was very hard for her to stay alive when she was so old and so sick.

I said it was time for her to leave her body and go on to something else like a caterpillar in a chrysalis becomes a butterfly. “Would you want Grandma to stay the way she is, all sick and broken down, just because you don’t want her to go away?”

Jana’s face changed. Still serious, but now a little lighter, she asked, “Is Grandma a butterfly?”

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Is this too personal an operation to speak to those who know me? Tom Green featured himself getting a testicle removed on national TV. That included the severed organ and vomiting. I don’t know if he has gone in for reconstructive surgery, preferring to remain one of the elite sporting only one ball. There are cases, one is mentioned in the movie, In and Out, and one that entails the main character of J.P. Donleavy’s, The Onion Eaters involving a group of men with three. So perhaps a donor could be found for Tom if he desired.

But getting back to my predicament, I’ve been working too hard with my body for over 30 years—carrying and working with heavy ladders, climbing the same. And then restoring them to the roof of my vehicle, not to mention all the scrubbing, equipment, and  furniture moving and other miscellaneous activities I’ve engaged in. In the past I also had a carpet cleaning business, using a truck mount, an even more strenuous undertaking.

I knew I had one hernia and suspected the second, but the doctor found a third. The doctor, by the way, is known as the Hernia King of Connecticut, because he performs more of these operations than anyone else. And since he has done more than anyone else, this self appellation as King has credence. After all, wouldn’t you want a delicate operation done by the most experienced guy?

To make a long story longer, the appointed day came, and because of  issues with Patrick, my son, I ended up being dropped off at Bridgeport Hospital at the last minute. This made me quite tense and short tempered. I was not too worried about the surgery, having been assured I would not awake from the anesthesia in excruciating pain. I was upset, however, by the prospect of being late.

Fortunately I was dropped off on time. The third floor holding room had a sign telling us, the surgery attendees, to sit tight and they’d come and get us—no check-in; so I was never completely sure I was in the right place. Finally after 45 minutes of waiting, someone came out and informed us they’d be taking us soon, and my doctor’s name, Kenler, was mentioned. I took this as a good sign that I was in the right place.

At long last a couple of us were guided into a room to disrobe and put on “the gown with the open air solution for one’s ass”. My clothes went into a bag with my wedding ring. The nurse assured me that now, I was a free man. So I asked her if she had a wedding ring on—she did and added that as soon as my wife returned I would be asked to don said ring again, since I belonged to her—my window of opportunity closed as rapidly as it opened. I must say, in an aside, that this ring represents one of the most important things in my life beyond my integral involvement with life itself.

Then commenced a wonderful parade of intake personnel: data compiler, robe adjudicator, Indian anesthesiologist, Filipino scrub nurse, shaving specialist who informed me she had to “remove this sweater, but don’t worry it will grow back,” the PA who would assist the doctor, and of course, his lordship himself, the Hernia King, who drew on my abdomen a game plan, discussed risk analysis, and engaged in a brief but harmless badinage about his well-deserved appellation that should be just shortened to King.

One disconcerting aspect of this whole introduction was the PA telling me I’d be out of commission for not just two weeks, as I’d been told might be the case due to the healthy, virile specimen that I am, but six weeks of no lifting more than 10 pounds (then again, one report said 16 and another 20).

That is why I’m writing this disclosure of my medical affair. What else am I going to do? I can’t even vacuum the rug. The upside is the Valium—I am not afraid and in good spirits, just sore. I didn’t really want to go to work today anyway, and the drugs and dictum of having to rest on doctor’s orders, removes the guilt, shame, and fear that are sometimes my constant companions.

If this missive sparks in you, a desire to communicate with me, please write, either as a comment to this post or at larry@optonline.net.

This is my first real surgery. Just as becoming a father had done for me 30 years ago, this is another initiation for me into the human race of which I often observe but sometimes avoid engaging. More than ever, I feel we are all in this together, that I’m a part of you and you, a part of me.

I suspect grandchildren will be the next big thing for me. And finally, my dying will bring it all full circle.

A way a lone a last a loved along the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.     Finnegans Wake

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My grandfather on my mother’s side (I never knew my other grandfather) was a grumpy, stern man. I can’t ever remember him smiling. Even his wedding picture looked grim. This manner, I always attributed to that famous Germanic humorlessness. As Robin Williams once said, “They killed off all the funny people.”

However, I came to realize that perhaps this brusque, unfriendly manner had its source in something else.

He grew up on a farm in Austria, about 25 miles outside of Vienna. Not far, as it turned out, from my grandmother, whom he met only after coming to this country. My grandparents spoke both German and Hungarian since their territory switched hands so many times in their youth. They acquired English later, here. They both came over on the boat after World War I. My grandfather had been conscripted and fought on the Eastern front on the German side. He was probably 18 at the time. He was captured by the Russians, who, not known for their hospitality towards their enemies, imprisoned him in Siberia for several years. He didn’t like to talk about it. I always pictured an interminable train ride across a bare, forbidding landscape, followed by a long internment in a snowy place far, far from home. I think all he ever said about it was that they cut down trees, and it was cold.

When my giant family (there were eventually 13 in all, including my parents) would visit, we would sleep on a pullout couch, a bed, and cots spread all over the dining/living room of their tiny one-story home.

During the day, my brothers and I would occupy ourselves with riding my parents old balloon-tired bikes, playing wiffleball in the yard, and our all-time favorite, pushing each other in my grandfather’s green wagon with the ball bearing wheels. It was amazingly fast, and steered easily, and we would careen around the tiny sidewalks that skirted his gardens of flowers and vegetables and wended the passageways through his perfectly manicured hedges. It was a blast and we would howl with delight. Grandpa, on the other hand, would yell at us to slow down and watch out for his borders and hedges that we were always crashing into. One time he caught me by the hair, and then shook me by the shoulders after we bashed into and made a serious dent in the front hedge.

In the evening, we would watch TV. My father, who always took over wherever we went, commandeered the recliner. The rest of us would be on the floor, dining room chairs or pullout couch.

One time we were watching a war movie about World War II. My father loved to watch these. He was a signalman in the Navy in the South Pacific during the latter part of the war. However, he was fortunate never to have seen any action.

“Grandpa, why don’t you sit down and watch TV with us?” My father said, with that magnanimous ‘your house is my house’ tone of his.

My grandfather refused, turned around, and headed back to the kitchen. As he left, he spoke in a typically grumpy tone, this time tinged with pain, “I’ve seen enough war.”

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My conservative friends would insist it is rightly all our responsibility because we all rely, to a great extent, on corporations for our livelihoods. We either work for them directly or work for those who work for them. We rely on them for nearly all our services from utilities, groceries, and gas to our mortgages.

So who better to foot the bill? Corporations are only doing their jobs right—making profits for their shareholders? They are designed to make profit any way they can and if atrocity is what is needed, well atrocity is what we get. Perhaps we could do two things to change this egregious situation:

  1. Change the primary goal of corporations from profit to the greater good.
  2. Make it illegal for corporations to influence politicians with contributions of any kind including job offers.

The first just means to put general human welfare above profit-making, obviously a corporation needs to make a profit but not at everyone’s expense.

The second would change our oligarchy2 back to a government of the people. Media time could be provided free on a percentage basis for all viable candidates—after all, we the people own the airwaves.

Campaigns have gotten so expensive that politicians by necessity need to sell their souls to be in the game. The cost of campaigning not only takes our “leaders” away from their jobs, which should be what they’re assessed on, but also dumps billions of dollars down a dark hole from which there is no return.

The Ego

 Where does this greed come from? It seems that these CEOs and Wall Street traders (traitors?) with their millions and billions still do not have enough. They apparently want the money so badly that they either blind themselves to the harm they are doing to the rest of the world or feel, as the kings of old, that they have a divine right to this wealth, and that the misery they cause is deserved by those who suffer it.

I know that I want more money. Everyone I know is striving to make more money to better their situation.

It seems to me that this is the nature of the ego. The ego always wants more even at the expense of others. We people of this world seem immersed in egoic consciousness. However, many of us find a way to rise above those self-interested, self-preserving tendencies.

Enlightened self-interest lies in the realization that there are no others—We are all interconnected. To care about the welfare of others is not so big a stretch once it is realized that helping and caring for others is helping and caring for ourselves, and that if I hurt another, I will suffer too.

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  1. Worse than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, which was, up to now, the greatest environmental disaster in US history. Mobil has so far managed to fight paying the punitive damages going all the way to the Supreme Court where they were whittled down to a tenth of the original. Of those, Exxon hasn’t even paid all the interest and is trying to get the victims to pay the $70,000,000 in court costs.
  2. Governance by a small group.

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So now I’m writing number fifteen and wondering why I’m really doing this. What do I have to gain by writing it—what’s my real ulterior motive?

Is it something sinister? Well, no, not sinister, but maybe selfish. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, making a living as a writer, etcetera and this is a way to accomplish that, or so, I think:

  • I’ve always been a little naïve, perhaps purposely. I don’t want to see everything about the potential results of my undertakings, fearing that if I did, I would lose all hope. So I maintain this piece of hope by blinding myself to the possibility that my dreams will not come true—I like pie, it is my favorite food, and soon I’m going to write a short piece about how I got my grandmother to teach me to make pies, and how I used to make eight to ten of them for family holidays. So, I think a little pie in the sky is good.

Now if this is indeed a selfish, self aggrandizing undertaking, why should you read it? (And when I say you, if I’m not being naïve, then I mean those 40 some friends, family, acquaintances, and contacts who I have so far intrigued or coerced.) Perhaps you should read this because there’s something about what I say that touches you, is meaningful to you because you are a human being trying to make your way through this life too.

Therefore, I invite you to read on if you want to. I am glad for an audience to share this with. If not, and you’d like me to take you off the list, email me (larryr@optonline.net). Saying something like “Please take me off the list.” Or “Please remove my name.” I’ll understand. I also get way too much e-mail that I do not read.

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When I was in high school, I held a war poetry reading. It was during the Vietnam War. I liked poetry, but not the war.

I put up signs to meet in a classroom during lunch period. I also talked to my friends—many were onboard with the idea and said they would read.

When the time came for the meeting, who shows up besides my friends but all the pretty girls in the class. In particular one I had a crush on—most every guy did, she was beautiful. She even did some modeling.

These girls didn’t show up to help put on the poetry reading, they came because they thought someone was going to read some poetry to them. There I was standing on the dais with all these admiring females (or at least I thought so) looking up at me, expecting to hear some poetry. So I obliged them. I recited my favorite poem, Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty“. A poem that I’d hand copied and sent anonymously to the girl I had a crush on.

It was well received by the group, but less than nothing came of it. The girls were disappointed that this was not going to be a reading, but only was an organizational meeting. While some agreed to read, none turned up for the rehearsal. And, because these “popular” girls even evinced an interest in the production, my antiestablishment friends refused to have anything to do with it.

On the day of the actual poetry reading, none of the girls showed up to read or even listen, only a few students attended and one faculty member, Mr. Brown, the band director.

The six of us guys sat onstage on stools and took our turns reading the poetry I’d selected to a nearly empty auditorium. One of my friends, since he was for the war, read Richard Lovelace’s “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” whose final line is “I could not love thee, dear, so much, Loved I not honor more.”

I read Randall Jarrell’s, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” in a deadpan. It is a hypnotic epitaph by a soldier who in the last line gets washed out of the turret with a hose.

At the end, Mr. Brown told us he found the reading moving. Then he asked us how it made us feel. I was taken aback. I was against the war; I liked reading poetry; I thought what we’d done there was pretty cool, but I didn’t have any real feelings about it. I looked at him with my mouth open. I’d been so wrapped up in the production; I’d lost sight of why I was doing it in the first place, which was to move people about the war. And here I was, unmoved. “I don’t know,” is all I said. The irony of the situation left me feeling hollow.

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I did a little research when I wrote the last post. I wanted to be able to say that the Allies, after the Second World War, followed the Geneva Conventions at the Nuremberg trials. To my dismay, I discovered that the trials did not follow international law. Another item I found dismaying was that American treatment of German POWs immediately following the war, was not up to very high standards either. A disputed but excessively high number, by some accounts up to 20%, of German prisoners died during internment in American camps in Europe. In spite of the fact that there were plenty of supplies and accommodations, prisoners were extremely undernourished and were kept in camps where there was barely enough room for them. Apparently Eisenhower wanted them punished with some of the same harsh conditions the Germans inflicted on others. Oddly enough, 98% of American prisoners returned alive from German prison camps (See paper).

War brings about atrocities from all sides. This is not to exonerate the Germans or Japanese whose behavior was hideous; the Allies had every reason to seek revenge. It’s just that war brings out the worst in all of us and should be a last resort. The Second World War had to be fought to save the world. WWI and the Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars seem to have given us nothing but death, dismemberment, paralyzing grief, and mental anguish.

I like the idea of a Nonviolent Peace Force  that can go into volatile areas to help deal with problems at their root before they erupt into violence. We spend just the tiniest fraction of our budget on prevention as compared to our military budget (by some accounts, over 50% of the total national budget) solely for putting out fires after they’ve already started or paying for the consequences of our past wars. If what we want is world peace, this is a tad backwards.

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