memory

Once More Around

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

– Heraclitus

Anniversaries are the mile markers on the road of life. An anniversary reminds us to remember: something, somewhere, someone… in a way that acknowledges the passage of time. How many times around the sun since your birth, since you took that job, since you met your match, since you lost a loved one.

They can elicit joy or sadness, anticipation or dread. Anniversaries are marked with fireworks and parades. They are marked with the lighting of a candle, a walk on the beach, a reverie. And there are those we may choose to let pass without notice.

I received an email today reminding me of an anniversary I would never have been aware of. It was from WordPress:

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Well thanks, I guess – but wait a minute! I only started this blog a few months ago. What’s this “1 year” stuff? I jumped into the Wayback Machine (Gmail version) to see what I was doing with WordPress on 28 January 2013. And there it was. Mystery solved: I registered with WordPress one year ago today so that I could follow my friend Kimberly’s blog: UnorthodoxFoodie.com – a delicious mix of restaurant reviews, foodie notes, snippets of life in Los Angeles, wisdom, art, literature, gardening and her continuing adventures with compadre mysterioso: Cute Gardener. You don’t have to live in LA to enjoy Kimberly’s scrumptious writing, but I warn you: she makes your tastebuds yearn for so much more than that supermarket chicken you just dragged home for dinner.

While I was looking at my year-old email inbox, I was reminded how the timeline of that day unfolded, and of an anniversary that I am all too aware of today.

There was the flurry of emails to and from Lauren. Her husband Mac was in the end stage of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a hideous disease that slowly turns the lungs to stone. There is no known cause, no treatment, no cure (except lung transplant, for the few who qualify). Mac had been diagnosed two years earlier, and that first year post-diagnosis was more or less life-as-usual, with some shortness of breath. He could still play golf with his buddies in the inferno of a Scottsdale summer. No problem.

But, the next year (2012) would not be so kind. Mac’s ability to get oxygen became increasingly compromised. Thom + I, with our friends Mandy + Greg from London, converged on Scottsdale that March to celebrate my 50th birthday with Lauren + Mac. Six months later, we were all back in Arizona – this time to escort Lauren across the 50-year line.

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This group has always traveled extremely well. We go from lunch to pool to cocktails to dinner to nightcaps with military precision. Talking, gossiping, laughter – always laughter. This long weekend in October 2012 was no different. Except that we all knew, I think, that this would be the last time we would all be together with Mac.

Not four months later – one year ago today – I was Googling and calling hospice providers in Scottsdale to make sure Lauren had all the info on options available to her and Mac. But it was too late. He was already gone. And now, depending on how you slice it, this is the first anniversary of Mac’s death. Or the 52nd. Or the 365th. For Lauren, I know, there are times when that is delineated in hours, or heartbeats.

Even the tallest mountains seem smaller as you travel farther away from them. This is also true on our emotional landscapes, though the speed at which such distances are covered is not a constant. These are very personal journeys, and few rules apply equally. The simple truth is, time heals. Just don’t ask me when, or how.

Mac and I met in the late 90s when he and Lauren began dating. Or, we met in the early 80s, when he owned the West Fourth Street W4ST SaloonSaloon, just steps from my apartment in the Village. That was a favorite spot of mine to hang out by the fireplace on a winter afternoon. He and I often speculated about how our paths had crossed that long ago, and reminisced about that great neighborhood.

So, it’s hard for me to think of Mac today and think of him as gone. Because it’s so easy for me to hear him telling one of his ten thousand stories of his adventures in New York and the seemingly fictional characters he encountered. So easy to hear him laughing before getting to the end of his own story. It’s just so easy to remember him being happy. Here’s to you, Mac. Slayer of dragons. Teller of tales. Tender of bars. Duffer. Husband. Friend.

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[013] The Photo You Don’t Take

The last call of the day for lap swims on Sundays is 4:30–6:00pm, and for once I was early. It’s nice to be able to do a marathon instead of a sprint; it’s just a different kind of workout.

The West Hollywood Swimming Pool is located in the newly redone West Hollywood Park, with parking at the adjacent West Hollywood Library. (And now you know why we shorten it to Weho.) Well, there was bit of a traffic jam at the 5-story parking structure, with a car just sitting in the entrance. I walked over to see if the driver was having an issue with the “Press This Button for Ticket” dispenser. Turns out, the maximum number of cars had entered the structure, and the smarty-pants automated dispenser was waiting for a car to leave before permitting another to enter. Makes sense. I’ve just never known a parking structure in LA to fill up! A sort of vertical gridlock. We all just patiently waited another minute or two for another car or two to leave, and our god-given right to park was restored.

I guess that’s all by way of saying what a gorgeous day it was to be in the park. The sport courts were full of people playing, uh, sports. The lawns were full of sunbathers and frisbee throwers and dogs a-fetching. The playground and picnic areas were packed with kids and their parents. Have you ever watched a bunch of kids in a playground? They’ve never met before, but one or two bossypants get everyone organized and they make up games and rules and play and have fun. And someone ends up crying. Just like real life. It’s similar to a dog park, where dogs of all shapes and sizes just… get along. Adult humans seem to lose this cooperative instinct somewhere along the way. (But that’s another post.)

As I walked from the parking structure into the park, I saw more than a few people pointing their smartphone cameras upward, and my eyes tracked along that trajectory. All those photos that were sunday cloudssnapped at that moment will never do justice to the skyscape that caught everyone’s attention – but here’s one anyway. (Little did I know that this was the before shot.)

Fast-forward an hour, as I’m slicing my way through the water. (I may actually be plodding through the water, but it feels like slicing. Let’s go with slicing.) The pool lies on a north-south axis, so every odd-numbered lap (on my way to 90 today; just sayin’) gave me an eyeful of western sky. And on one of those southbound slices – Holy Vesuvius, Batman! – the sky had burst into flame! It was breathtaking, luminous, blood red. So intense that for a few long moments I considered that Something Very Bad had happened to produce this effect. Like a meteor strike… or the Hawaiian Islands had gone off like volcanic Roman candles… or maybe Google had found a way to turn the sky into a high-def screen.

Then, for another long moment, I contemplated getting out of the water and drying off sufficiently to reach into my gym bag, pull out my phone and snap a pic of these artistic atmospherics. But I just kept swimming. With every other lap, more color had drained out of the sky until it had cooled to a dark ember of a cloud. The whole passion play couldn’t have lasted more than ten minutes. But what a show!

I don’t have a snapshot to share with you. But I can close my eyes now and experience what the setting sun did to those high, white clouds. It’s more than a visual; memory can function this way as a sixth sense. Or a sense in all five dimensions. Instead of looking at a static photo, my mind is reconstructing the entire experience, including the view through my goggles… the sound of the water splashing around me… the smell of chlorine… and tagging this memory with the thought I had that, sometimes, it’s the photo we don’t take that stays with us.

The photo I didn’t take today makes me happy.
Day 013 #100happydays