marley

Who holds your hand
when you’re alone?
— the prophet patty larkin

I’m no expert on either, but given the choice of herding cats or keeping up with four little boys at the same time, I’m taking my chances with the felines.

We’re at the beach, and there’s not a cat in sight. But lots of boys.

We’re in the last evening of a weekend of honoring our niece Sarah. We’re preparing to float a small lantern with a candle in it, but the boys are totally missing the solemn nuances. They’re here for the adventure.

I must confess: I’m not really a kid person. It’s been a fun weekend watching the show in the backyard: They chase each other, chase the dogs, chase the basketball, get chased by the dogs, stop by the splash pool, eat the mango Otter Pops I had wanted, repeat until falling over asleep. It’s sort of like watching the Nature Channel except nobody gets eaten and they don’t switch to the treehouse guy after an hour.

But I’m purely a spectator. My closest encounter with kids tends to be Which Row on The Plane is That Screaming Child Going To Take Surely Not Back Here Oh My God NONONONONO Dear Mo I Was Just Kidding About Loaning You My Headphones.

But it’s a beautiful beach, and the kids are hilarious. The first one to arrive at the water is throwing rocks with abandon. No, I don’t actually know what throwing with abandon means, but it seems dramatic. Then we look up to see one of his shoes floating out to sea. He points proudly. I applaud his creativity.

There are four boys, ranging from maybe 2 to 4. I have no idea how to tell how old kids are, given they don’t come with any sort of “best served by” labels, and asking someone would require conversation. I’m not really a people person. Yes, this is a recurring theme.

They are loving the beach. There are feathers and clam shells and driftwood and crabs in various states of disrepair and So Many Rocks.

Marley, maybe the youngest of the four, brings me a rock. He sits it beside me and points. I congratulate him, not sure if it’s a present for me or if I’m to guard it. A while later, he brings another. No kid has ever given me this sort of gift before. I’m not sure how to reciprocate. I could give him my iPhone, the only thing I currently have with me, but what if he turns out to be one of those Android weirdos? I just tell him thanks. I’m honored.

The craziness goes on, and the sun begins to go down. I’m pretty much kidded out, so I go walking down the beach, looking for a better view of the setting sun and a little respite.

That’s when I hear it. “MARLEY!!!! MARLEY COME BACK HERE!!! SOMEONE GET MARLEY!!!”

I look up ahead, and there he is. He has managed to make his way down the beach away from the group. I’m thinking it should be exciting for someone to catch him.

And then I hear those terrifying words:

“Oh, never mind, Gary’s getting him.” They have mistaken my escape for a rescue mission.

And so here I am: Mano a Kiddo. How do you even do this? My only experience is trying to corner the cat, who at the first sign of attention on my part goes under the bed for the rest of the day. But Marley gave me rocks. I owe him.

“Yo, Marley,” I call out. He looks up and stops. I catch up to him and stick out my hand.

And then.

He reaches up and grabs two of my fingers. I’ve only known him a couple of days, and even then I’m just the weird guy who hides in the corner of the backyard. But he’s just reached out and turned his life over to me.

I tell him it’s not socially acceptable to wander off from the crowd, hoping his cognitive skills are not yet at the point where he will realize that’s exactly what I was doing myself. I tell him his mom is worried, because that’s what moms do. I tell him we should probably get back, though I’m guessing at this stage of life he’s only hearing Larson’s “blah blah Ginger.” He just looks up with me with the biggest eyes I will ever have the joy of staring into.

And so for a few seconds, I’m his entire world. I’m the guy who has his back in a world that’s too scary for children. He’s counting on me to get him out of this. I just stand there looking down at him. How do parents do this? I’m terrified to have custody of this little bundle of humanity for two minutes. How do they take on this job for 18 years?

And then it hits me. This feels pretty terrific. A little guy to bring me rocks and sneak away and chase wet frisbees with a puppy. A tiny life to embrace and love as he grows into anything but a journalist. Dear Edward R. Murrow, please not a journalist.

He just stands there looking up at me. It’s up to you, he’s thinking. Get me out of this one and I’ll buy you a beer in 19 years or so.

I take a photo of that little face staring up, because I never want to forget that moment. After 62 years of being devoutly anti-children, I find myself wondering. What If.

We walk back, two pals hardened by combat. He hugs Mom and rejoins the mayhem, we launch the lantern, we go home.

The next morning, we’re at the airport. A woman with a screaming baby decides that standing 3 feet away from us is the best way to shut the kid up. I make scary faces whenever the kid looks over at me. I am not big on kids. I might have mentioned that already.

But then I pull up the photo of Marley on my phone. I guess a little screaming never hurt anyone. I’m going deaf anyhow.

What If.

I wish I had kept those rocks …

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the keys to a good marriage, part 8

mo: i look like a dude.

me: but you’re an attractive fellow.

the key to a good marriage is always knowing just the right thing to say.

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once upon a beach

Put a candle in the window
‘Cause I feel I’ve gotta move
Though I’m goin’, goin’
I’ll be comin’ home soon
Long as I can see the light
— the prophet fogerty

 

 

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dear nicole

Hi. I hope you’re OK, even though I know you’re not. Which, I suppose, is the point of hoping.

We’re still at Kellie’s house, at least till the chocolate croissants run out, which shouldn’t take long.

Kellie and I were talking yesterday when she mentioned my blog’s recurring references to “prophets.” I think she looks upon prophets in the biblical sense. I tend to put “prophet” before anyone I quote. I’m not sure she likes that.

So I explained. Poetry and songs can be prophecy. You hear or read something, you stash it away in your memory, and it comes to mind years later in a way you never would have thought of when you first heard or read it.

For me, songs are a lot like the Bible. Words that transcend what the author wrote, providing signs and solace and advice and inspiration, your own interpretation that can be completely different from what the author intended.

You know what Kellie’s house is like. Calligraphy sayings are everywhere, and many of them are Bible verses. But tucked in among old and new testament wisdom is this one:

“Take these broken wings and learn to fly.”

It was written by a prophet from Liverpool named Paul. It’s a song about civil rights and a random bird whose call he heard in India. But that one lyric in Kellie’s artwork on the wall in her home says so much more.

Maybe that’s what the butterflies and owls and crows we’ve been encountering are trying to tell us. How can you go on with life after such a tragedy? You’re feeling so broken.

You do what you must, the prophet McCartney says. Take these broken wings and learn to fly. That’s all you can do. It’s what she would want you to do.

Today’s the first day. You must learn. You WILL learn.

Never doubt a prophet …

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the keys to a good marriage, part 7

I’m standing alone in an empty spot practicing my eulogy. Mo comes walking up and stands next to me, putting her arm around me and gently patting my bottom. I am touched.

Then she says, “oh. you didn’t bring your wallet” and walks off.

Hmmmm. Maybe this should be filed under “the keys to financial success.”

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once upon a celebration

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend,
but I always thought that I’d see you again.

— the prophet james taylor

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dear sarah

I have a confession. I have no idea how to write a eulogy. But I DO know how to write a letter. So with the help of the people who love her most, that’s what I did.

Dear Sarah:

Hi. i’m Gary, your Aunt Mandy’s hubby. You probably don’t remember me. We met at your sister’s wedding a long time ago. I was accidentally going into the ladies’ restroom at the reception — not the best way to encounter relatives for the first time — but you stopped me at the doorway.

Thanks.

We’re having a celebration today, and you’re the guest of honor. It’s not a funeral, because your memory is never going to leave us.

I can see you rolling your eyes. Stop it.

There’s so much I didn’t know about you. Such as, you were born on July 2, 1983. I DIDN’T know this because thanks to Aunt Mandy, my iPhone calendar has always said your birthday is July 3. It’s lucky your auntie is an artist and not an accountant. It also explains why she was always a day late with her birthday wishes to you.

I DID know that Ward and Vicki were your proud parents, and Nicole was your older sister, best friend and partner in crime.

And I know your memory will be kept alive forever by aunts and uncles and nephews and a niece and grandparents and great aunts and great uncles and dear friends — both human and furry — and co-workers and classmates and cousins and second cousins …

… and what exactly IS a second cousin?

And why do family reunions always include green Jell-o with weird stuff mixed in? But your mom says you like macaroni and cheese with broccoli, so maybe it makes sense to you. But I digress.

You got off to life with a fast start and never looked back. Your mom says your labor only lasted 3 1/2 hours, an early sign of your independence. I’m guessing she was in a bad mood the entire time, so getting out of there was likely a smart move.

She also says this about you. Warning. Be prepared to scrunch your nose and say oh, Mom.

“35 years ago, a beautiful soul was born into our family: you, Sarah Ann Wegner. You blessed us with your beauty, elegance, humor, fierce independence, spicy personality and your joy of helping other people.

“You were so happy and intelligent, and you loved to have fun.”

I know, I know. Mom stuff. Hey, I warned you.

Your dad says hey. He wanted to tell you this:

“i called you SayBay, which is short for Sarah Babe. I want you to know that as a babe, when you looked up at me with your innocent blue eyes and sweet nature, you changed me.

“You and your sister Nicole inspired and helped me to be a better person (and boy, did I need it). I will always thank you for that.

“Occasionally I called you Lucky 13, your favorite number, because it appeared that you were very lucky. The world was your oyster!

(Oops, sorry. You HATE oysters, and most shellfish for that matter. Oh, and chicken bones.)

“But your early successes were because of your willingness to work long and hard for what you wanted. It was a joy to watch.

“Sometimes, as with all people, life events hurt you. And since you knew how it felt to be hurt, you strove to not hurt other people. (Except when you were playing soccer against the boys team. Such a stud on the pitch).

“While you were growing up, you always made me proud to be your daddy. Memories of your infectious laugh and sweet, sweet smile will stay with me forever. Big hugs from down here!”

Well said, Ward. You’re lucky to have him for a dad, Sara.

And speaking of lucky, you were lucky to have had so many four-legged friends. If I knew nothing more about you, I would love you because you loved animals.

And those names! Buddha, Taffa, Link, Dusty, Alex, Jesse, Ellie Mae, Maggie, Mister and Rion. You just missed Rosie. I wish you were here so she could gnaw on you instead of me.

I also wish you were here so I could ask why you named your chinchilla Turdle — T-U-R-D-L-E.

Or maybe I don’t want to know.

“Money can buy you a fine dog,” the philosopher Kinky Friedman wrote, “but only love can make him wag his tail.”

You caused so many tails to wag. What finer legacy could you ask for?

But I would also love you because you were a fellow procrastinator.

Your mom says she would tell you Not To Call After 9 p.m. because she had to get up early for work, and your conversations tended to go on forever.

So, naturally, you would call at Exactly 8:59:59.

As a journalist who enjoys pushing deadlines to the last second, I admire this greatly. Your mom, not so much.

You were a smart kid who combined straight A’s with athletic greatness. You were on the Varsity High School Soccer Team!! Of course, soccer isn’t a real sport, since you don’t even use your hands. Sorry, Moeller boys. Yay, Croatia!

But you played volleyball and softball as well, so you’re OK by me.

In an essay about yourself during your school years, you wrote:

“I’m usually happy. I like to be this way because life is short. There is no point in wasting it being mad.” Even as a young person, you were wise.

You went on to graduate from the University of Washington with a sociology degree, and later added a paralegal certificate. This led to a career in Seattle, and then San Francisco, because Seattle wasn’t quite cold, rainy and foggy enough for you.

And that’s where you lived the rest of your life.

Henry David Thoreau said, “My life is like a stroll upon the beach, as near the ocean’s edge as I can go.”

You and Thoreau must have been kindred spirits, Sarah. You truly lived your life near the ocean’s edge.

Still, you never forgot where you came from. Your mom says you planned to visit on your birthday this year to see your new niece. Maddie is so beautiful, Sarah. Please watch over her.

Your sister wrote this on your 35th birthday:

“Sarah loved tiny things, glass animals, funky music, odd art, finger foods, baked goods, animals, and her friends.

“She loved everyone, and could make friends with every person she met, even strangers on the street. She always saw the good in people that other people wouldn’t.

“Sarah asked my kiddos questions, even if they were too shy to answer on FaceTime. They would tell her stories, and sometimes they wouldn’t quite make sense, but she still listened.

“I used to pray and hope that Sarah would be back. I wanted so badly for my kids to know her like I know her.

“She was the best friend a person could ask for. I miss her.”

Your mom says you were the embodiment of carpe diem, seizing every day throughout your too brief life.

Thoreau said, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”

You only lived 35 years, Sarah, but you found your eternity in countless moments along the way.

Your mom wants you to know this:

“There is not one second that I am not thinking about you, baby girl. Not one minute that I don’t wish you were here, and if I could, I would go up to heaven and carry you back home.

“I love you and will always have you in my heart, and you will carry a piece of my heart with you in heaven.”

Yeah, I know. Moms are sentimental. But she carried you for nine months. Cut her some slack.

Your dad adds this: “My mantra is … ‘What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger.’ I am still waiting for the stronger, but it will come. Right now I just have a strong case of missing you!!”

There’s a lot of that going around lately.

And your sister says: “It’s weird the stuff we miss when people go. I want so desperately to hug Sarah. Her hugs were so gentle, and yet so tight.

“I miss her. I know she is with me. In my heart. In my mind. In spirit.

“I see Sarah everywhere. In the giant yellow and black butterfly that landed as I was playing with the boys today.

“In the sunset.

“I even see glimpses of her in my kids. In the million voicemails that I never got around to deleting and am so, so glad I didn’t.  Sarah sang to me.

‘Hello my baby,
hello my darling,
hello my sister girl.’

“Right now as I’m writing this, with millions of tears streaming down my face, the alarm clock in my room just randomly went off. I didn’t set it.

“I wonder if it’s your way of saying hello.

“I’ll never know if these are really signs from heaven, but I’ll never stop looking for them.

“Happy 35th birthday, my sister love. Words will never be able to describe how much I miss you.”

Yeah, Sarah, I know. You’re hating all this attention. Remember that time you were riding in the car with Nicole? She texted to you from the front seat.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS SISTER IN THE BACKSEAT OF MY CAR SMILEY FACE!

You wrote her back. “Thanks … Merry Christmas to you too, weirdo.” The perfect sister yin/yang.

But then there was the time Nicole worried that the distance between you would disturb your sisterly bond.

You replied: “No, it won’t. Our bond will never be disturbed.

“You have no idea how much I miss you and how much I want to be with you all the time,” you told her.

Maybe that’s the bright light we carry away from this darkness. That bond will never be disturbed.

You will live on in the hearts of everyone in this room.

We will come across things every day that make us think of you. A photo. A laugh. A memory. A chorus of “Sara Smile” on the radio.

The author Mitch Albom said, “Love is how you stay alive, even after you’re gone.”

You are loved so much by the people here. You’re going to live a long, long time.

Well, I guess that’s it. If heaven is like San Francisco, you probably need to move your car to avoid a parking ticket.

I hope you’ve settled in to the next life and all’s well.

Please keep ringing Nicole’s alarm clock at weird hours, and know how much you’re missed down here.

“Death ends a life, but not a relationship,” Albom said.

You’ll never be forgotten by all the people whose lives were better because they knew you.

Thanks for everything. And happy Sarah Day.

With much love,

all of us

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