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After You, I Insist

I am forty-eight. not old by a long shot. But still, this year, as I begin to think of myself as fifty, as half-way, I and my friends, my close friends, those long friends, those who have been with me for decades, for lifetimes, and those with whom I cannot recount decades but feel as though lifetimes have been spent in their splendid company, with those friends I have begun discussing who goes first.

Perhaps it is the death of my wife nearly two years ago. The shaking out of any sense of permanence and security. The blowing of the ram’s horn, the clanging of the cymbals, that shocks off the clinging illusion that anything lasts but love.

Perhaps it is the suicides, both successful and non,  that have surrounded me. The conscious choice to leave on one’s own terms.

Perhaps it is just age.

I have been asked to perform a wedding. It is an honour and a joy and I will happily bundle myself up to Boulder to help write vows and join Joyce and her Ryan in wedded (we hope) bliss. I also performed the naming ceremony for her daughter, my god-daughter, Sloan.

She told me, you know, I have you in my will. I knew why. She has it that I am supposed to do her funeral as well.

Joyce is younger than me by about seven years. She does Pilates, Jujitsu, dances, lifts weights, fight tigers, climbs poles, eats nails, and I think every bit of her gorgeousness is made of warm, soft and cuddly indestructibility. Near as perfect a human female body as I think anyone could imagine, like an android from a science fiction story. Heinlein’s Friday.   And she wants me to do her funeral. Barring a (lucky?) strike by a space toilet fallen from orbit or a sudden disease (like I don’t know those happen) I can’t see her going first. I told her so.

“Well, you’d better quite the pilates and Jiu Jitsu and start eating crap then, because otherwise, I’m pretty sure I’m going first.”

This morning I sent her a text.  “You know… You are the only person who knows everything. Did you know that?  You had better NOT go first. No one else knows all the stories.”

It’s true, though I’m not sure how this happened. We are very much alike, she and I, in so many ways that nothing I say surprises her. Nothing. She understands it all. She always has. Never a laugh except at our similarities and how funny humans are. Never a shame, or a judgement, or even a question. She knows it all. All about the kids, their stories growing up, about Lee and love and life with her and after her. She knows who I am and how I am and loves me anyway.

Someday, I will be on my deathbed, unless I’m on the grill of a truck, of course, or inside a bear, and there will be stories. That is a good thing. How sad to be dying and be, one would hope, surrounded by loving family and friends, and have no stories. How terrible for the children to have had no embarrassments to recount, no mishaps to retell, no tall tales to let grow over time. It will never be said of me that I worked, came home, slept, and did it again. No, there will be stories.

When Lee died, when we had her memorial, it was stories.  All night. The all night slumber pool party memorial and story-a-thon. I told so many. So did Lee’s mom, and sister. And Craig, and others. And Joyce had her share. She told them in the living room, she told them sitting with the kids, Sef, Alek, Ari, on the kitchen floor, each story leaving their faces a bit more red.  She told them as we all divested ourselves of our various bits of cloth and jumped into the pool. She told them over drinks, and breakfast, and whispered them to me when I could not sleep. She knows the stories.

And she wants me to preside over her funeral. No, dear. No. She needs to tell the stories. So the kids can pass them on. So everyone can laugh, or sigh, or cry, or shake their heads, or wonder how on Earth I made it that far.

And she wants me to preside over her funeral. Joyce, I think you shall have to preside over mine. And everyone better laugh. I know they will.

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Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Family, Social, Suicide

 

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Songs from the Well, on the Radio (and win a free copy!)

On my way downtown, to chant Chenrezig with our Tibetan Buddhist group, I got a call from Java John Goldacker. Photographer, artist, radio personality, and illustrator of Bud the Spud and River Dragon. As I was passing the studios of WFIT, no less. What timing! He wanted to know if I could pop in to discuss Songs from the Well, which is already an Amazon bestseller (ranked #9) after just one day. (Buy it here.)

Could I? Chanting could wait, I thought. Let’s do some good in real time, right now and, what do you know, the truck had already turned into the studio parking lot. Smart truck.

We discussed Songs from the Well, Lee, and love and loss and, of course, music. And you can hear it Saturday night, 4/20/13 in the 7:00 hour, on WFIT 89.5 FM or at http://www.wfit.org/

And I got to pick one of Lee’s favourite songs for the show. You’ll have to tune in to find which one. And I got to choose which Brevard Busking Coalition song too. NOT one Java John’s ever played before. Which one? Tune in to find out!

First one to post the answer to either will win a free copy of the book. Please post the answers in the comment section here or use the contact form on the homepage of adamtritt.com.

Java John doesn't know what to say. He lost his wife, Jenn, to cancer as well.

Java John doesn’t know what to say. He lost his wife, Jenn, to cancer as well.

What one person said, and I agree:

Want to do something to directly help families dealing with cancer?
Struggling yourself or know someone coping with the serious illness or loss of a loved one?
Have five bucks to share?

Buy this book.

Songs from the Well: A Memoir of Love and Grief, from award-winning poet and author Adam Byrn Tritt, is the remarkable chronicle of his love for his wife, Lee, his sudden and heartbreaking loss of her to brain cancer, and his struggle to find a way back to life. It is based on essays, blog postings, and poetry that he created throughout his relationship with her and in the time since her passing. His hope is that his experiences will help others grappling with a loved one’s serious illness or loss, as well as their friends and families. 100% of the author’s proceeds from the book are being donated to the Cancer Care Centers Foundation, which helps patients and families dealing with cancer.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Books, Writing

 

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Hair

I had pulled the car out of the garage and set up a chair.  Months earlier I had purchased a Norelco family hair cutting kit, and electric razor and attachments, for next to nothing at a garage sale. I had no idea why, but I brought it home, and now, now, it was plugged in and ready to be used.

The chemotherapy had left your hair in clumps.  It fell into the shower drain, left bits on the pillow, left itself on the couch. Each bit that fell, you cried. I watched as you turned once, as I held you up in the shower to see your hair on the drain.  Out of the shower, you stood, facing the mirror, clutching at your hair, pulling it out in clumps, tears falling, falling into the sink with the strands from between your fingers.

Hats you didn’t like. The scarves you used have been all given away.

You said you wanted your head shaved. I offered. You said no. You didn’t want me doing it. You didn’t want that to be the memory of my hand.  You wanted Unena to do it. Only she would do.

We were sitting on the couches in the living room. We wanted to go out, the three of us. It would be one of the last nights we would go out, you and I. Maybe second to last. But first, your hair.

How did it come to this? Who once was the patient, now helping care for you. Who once you treated, now holding you up, walking with you, one of the few people you trust.

And she fell in love with you.  And you with she.  And I with her. What a strange circumstance. You, with barely a female friend all your life—you, straight as an arrow—seemingly, obviously, so in love. And it bothered me not one bit. That a blessing of love would come to you, with so little time left, made me smile. How much bigger our hearts were now that our hearts were breaking.

A folding chair in the garage. Craig’s chair. The one he left here for himself to use, unfolded, set by the open garage door. You, helped to the chair, sitting. A towel around your shoulders, on your lap. The razor plugged in. Hesitation. And she starts.

I can barely look at the razor as it glides over your scalp, and look down instead. Hair falling. Falling to your lap. Falling at your feet. Falling to the floor in soft puffs, blowing as the breeze would catch it, swirling around the garage and, then, out the door.

What did not swirl out of the garage, I swept out. Out, over the drive way. Out, into the grass. Let the birds have it, you said. Let them. What good to hold on?

Others might have saved your hair. But we discussed it. Decided no. Let it blow. Let it sail. Let it be carried by the wind, by birdwings and raindrops. Let it become the stuff of nests, work into the soil, seeds will grow, eggs will hatch and new life will come into the world nestled in your hair, and your hair will be all around us, around me, surrounding your home, in the ground and the trees, in the water, always there, always there, like you. Always there. Some of you, always there.

And the razor stopped. And all I could do was kiss your head. But I think Unena got there first. And that was OK. It was her hand that had done the deed, performed the mitzva, loosened further your already tenuous connection to this world.

I have a picture of the two of you. A month later. The last time you were out. The night you made her promise to take care of me. The night you made me promise to take care of her.  Your heads are pressed together. Your smile. You smiled like that when you held your granddaughter. You smiled like that when you saw me. You smiled like that when your children came to see you after long absence. In less than a month you would leave us, and I don’t think I ever saw you smile quite that big.

Lee and Unena August 2011

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2013 in Culture, Family, Social

 

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Love Means Never having to Apologise for Saying “Sorry, You don’t get to treat Me like that.”

Loving someone, even deeply and completely, does not automatically confer a sprinkling of pixie dust that creates compatibility.  It takes work. And even then, work will not make two people fit who do not. Like sanding, it may take off rough edges, but will not make something into a new shape. That would be to make a new person in a shape that fits. Such love is not for the person, but an image or ideal, an imagining. Work will not make a miss-sized or miss-shaped shoe fit. You may get it on, but it won’t get you anywhere.

There have been a spate of “Love me as I am” graphics on the Internet lately. The latest says “The person who really loves you sees what a mess you can be, how moody you can get, and how hard you are to handle. But still wants you in their life.” Bad punctuation aside, this is a load of trite, treacly tripe not worth the pixels it takes to render it. The “hard to handle” part of the poster is the part I find most, well… hard to handle. Sure, no one is perfect. As one friend said, we are “Perfectly imperfect works in progress.” But the poster isn’t saying that – the poster is saying this : “Hey, even if I’m a complete and utter basket-case that makes you crazy, so inconsistent that you cannot even build trust in me, if you love me, you’ll put up with whatever the hell I do to you.”

There is a quote that has been going around that is attributed to Marilyn Monroe. “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”  Let’s look at this. That’s a bit like saying “You love me, so I’m going to feed you fishsticks. If you don’t like eating fishsticks, you sure as hell don’t deserve to eat fresh salmon.”   What we should be saying, both men and women, to our lovers, is this. “You love me and you deserve my best all the time. I love you and want you to have my best. But sometimes, like all people, I’m at my worse. And thank you for dealing as best as you can with that as well.”

Love doesn’t mean putting up with abuse. And love should mean doing our best to modify the inconsistencies, the moods, so there is stability.  Without stability, nothing can be built.

Look at is this way -these posters usually come with graphics that have beaches, and hearts, and flowers, denoting femininity in some way, so we know it is aimed at men and regarding women. What if we changed the graphics to denote something that is culturally understood as masculine.  For the sake of argument, perhaps a garage. Or a beer can. Telling women that, as a guy, I can be unstable, inconsistent, moody, snappish, and hard to handle but, if you love me, you’ll put up with my lack of desire to control myself, lack of interest in seeing how my behavior affects you, and whatever nonsense I dish out.  How far would that get?

And a guy who puts up with that, no matter how much he loves a woman? And, to be fair, any woman who puts up with that from a man? We’d say they have a lack of self-respect. Maybe they don’t love themselves or respect themselves enough. Or perhaps they feel they can’t do better or don’t deserve to be treated better.

These posters perpetuate an idea that any feminist, female or male, should rail against. The idea that a woman isn’t responsible for her behavior and, if a man loves her, he’ll just deal with it. That men are, by duty, stable and consistent – the emotional anchor in a relationship – and that women are creatures of emotion only and may be absolved of responsibility for upheavals in a relationship. Upheavals that men must simply weather. It’s time for these posters to go and for women to stop posting them. They owe it to their daughters. They owe it to their sons. They owe it to their lovers. They owe it to those who fought for women to stand on equal footing.  They owe it to themselves.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Culture, psychology, Social

 

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The Feather and the Weight

Someone asked me if I remembered the good times. Why I could remember the details of the bad times, but not recall the specifics of all the good ones. I answered.

Because the good times are so much more ephemeral. Evanescent. Even among the grandness of life, the good, the joyous, is found in the seemingly insignificant, made up of moments, small kindnesses, sincere unbidden smiles, the touch of the hand, a glance. Whispers. They possess an ineffability that affects us deeply but leaves its mark on our inner world. Like religious experience, they are hard to grasp, but exist no less. Over time, they add up to goodness. Each not so different than another, but with a feeling of being filled with goodness though one may cast about for specific examples.

And the bad times. They come like startling punches to the gut amid the good moments. So surprising, the shock embeds the details in memory.

Some days we get up, look outside at the gorgeousness of the day. And we feel filled with joy and delight. But what particular sunny day do you recall? How many? But the storms amid them? The horrific storms we remember, blow by blow.

The good becomes ubiquitous. The bad embeds in space and time.

The good does not diminish but persists even though we cannot point to it.

And the bad can fade, unless it is refreshed. Unless the storms come again, and again. Punched too often, one becomes sore and shy.

It doesn’t minimize the goodness at all. But our memory treats them differently. Joy and trauma do not process the same way. Pleasure and pain are not remembered alike.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2013 in philosophy, psychology

 

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If I Could Show You Your Heart

If I could show you
Your own heart
You would fall
In love with you.

You would see what I see:
The Universe flaming into being
And newborn light
Leaping from star to star.

You would see
The birth of suns
Comets spinning into space
And planets coming to life,
Life upon life.

You would see
Celestial bodies in love
Drowning in each other
And their children
Populating the skies.

If I could show you
Your own heart
You could see mine
Deep inside, smiling.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2013 in Poetry

 

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When I held You

The moment I held you,
nested with your body,
wed thigh to thigh,
belly to back,
breath to your neck.
The moment I held you
The sigh, the sleep
my hand rising and falling
with each of your breaths,
you, my inspiration.
The moment I held you
when your body let go,
when your soul, let loose,
held to mine, soul to soul,
and I could no longer tell
whose soul belonged to who.
The moment I held you
when the distance disappeared,
when separation ceased,
when all became you and me
became we and naught else existed
but us and still you are all with which
I am filled.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2013 in philosophy, Poetry, Uncategorized

 

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