About “Moses”

I am convinced that it is a much better thing to know someone is dying than for it to be a surprise — though I’m less sure that this is the case in the first person rather than the second or third. My Grandfather’s decreasing health was a familial reality for a number of years, and at one point he and my Aunt decided that it was time for him to move from his small apartment in Michigan to live with her in North Carolina. Supported by an understanding workplace and her own angelic character, she was able to care for him in for the last years of his life in a manner saturated with serenity, dignity, and love.

As we knew the end was drawing near, my Dad and I planned to go and visit him. My Dad was himself recently out of the dramatic hospital stay that inspired Another American Childhood, so it felt like an appropriate time to go on such a visit, wreathed in a feeling of uncertainty regarding anyone’s health and the wobbliness of the days and hours stretched in front of us.

We stayed a few days. My Grandfather was comfortably supported with medication and a group of friends who had encircled him during his time in Raleigh. It was March of 2011. He primarily sat in a recliner in my Aunt’s living room, dozing in and out and chatting with us when he was awake. I started writing this poem during one of his naps.

We flew in on Friday and back out again early Sunday morning. I can still hear him saying goodbye as I closed the door behind me the morning we left, before dawn, to catch the plane back home. “Goodbye, Rog.” As his name, my Dad’s name, and my name are all Roger, I don’t know if he was saying goodbye to me or my Dad specifically, but I did know it would be the last time I would hear him say our name, and the thought of it left me unable to reply. A couple of days later, he joined my Grandmother in whatever it is that comes next.

Because it happened so quickly after our departure, it became easy to interpret the timing of his passing in a way that suggested he had waited for our visit, either holding on tighter to the rope of life in the days that lead up to it or letting it slip between his fingers shortly after. It is a compelling thought and one that is, selfishly, emotionally appealing. Regardless of its truthfulness, it was an utter relief that we were able to see him one last time; such an amazing, peaceful relief. I’ll never forget it.

In a random way, I had been listening to Ingrid Michaelson’s Everybody album every dark morning that winter as I drove into work. The song “Men of Snow” became associated with my Grandfather and has been paired in my memory with the beautifully haunting music Howard Blake wrote for the animated version of Raymond Briggs’s The Snowman, another snowman who had, too soon, “gone and melted all away.”

Here’s Mr. Schmitt’s note regarding this timeless photo:

Before our first child was born in June 2011, my wife and I decided to go on one last travel adventure. Spending the holidays in the Galapagos Islands was one the best memories I’ve had in my 36 years. There is nothing quite like sitting on the beach next to sea lions celebrating Christmas. During our trip, we also had the good fortune to visit the Ecuadorian capital of Quito. What most people don’t know about Quito is that it is the second highest capital city in the world. To put it in perspective, Kathmandu, Nepal, is at an elevation of 4,865 ft., while Quito is at 9,350 ft. The crown jewel of Quito is the Basílica del Voto Nacional, which is the largest neogothic basilica in the Americas. It was very hard to get a photo of the church as the entire city is covered in clouds. Fortunately, just as I was leaving, the clouds opened up and I was able to snap this photo.


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About “The Art of Palm Crossing”

Tina and I started dating in 1991 (on July 20th, to be overly specific). At the time, her maternal grandfather was battling stomach cancer. His suffering was evident the first time I met him. That October, on Sweetest Day, we went to the movies; I think it was “The Fisher King,” a movie I remember literally nothing about. When we came home, we learned — in those days before cell phones — that her grandfather had moved on while we were out. As she melted against the wall of the laundry room in anguish, a chill ran through me. She should have been at home that night.

Her grandparents had come to Detroit from Sicily in the early 1950s and were, as is the case is many Italian families, the sturdy foundation upon which their entire family was stacked. A few years earlier, her Uncle had died far too young from cancer as well. These two events drew an indelible line across their family map and the disease has colored every doctor’s visit and annual checkup since then.

I wrote this poem in the months after his passing. One of the tangible things he had left his family was the tradition of making palm crosses. Tina and I had to figure out how to make them by gently unraveling one of his and then refolding it.

Dave went the extra mile and made his own for the picture:

I’ve seen these before and never thought I had the dexterity for it. Delicate manual projects usually crumble under my frustration. Out of curiosity I checked Google for videos on making palm crosses. There are many, so I watched and I thought, if I screw this up, maybe Andy will have some better ideas. So being a good Catholic still in possession of last Easter’s palms, I gave it a try. (Note: this is easier if they aren’t so dry.) In shock at my successful failure to destroy a dry palm, I set up the shot on a satin pillow case cover, freshly unfolded from the linen closet. With a little help from Andy on post processing, we decided to use it.

After finding a YouTube video on how make a palm cross, I used my own palms and shot this in my living room in my rental home near the south end of Lake Leelanau. July 31st, 2011. DL

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About “From All Anxiety”

Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress. –Milan Kundera

Over a year ago, the day after Christmas 2010 — my son’s thirteenth birthday — my Dad called 911 because he was having an extremely hard time breathing. It was late morning as best we can figure; to emphasize the drama, he happened to be home by himself. I received a call just before we were about to have some cake that evening that he was “missing.” His car was home. His cell phone was on the table. His shoes were near the door. A scary two hours later, we caught up with him in the emergency room, maybe eight hours after he had made his call for help. If we are connected on Facebook or you follow my other blog, I probably shouldn’t repeat myself. Let’s just say it was the start of a terrible month.

I began writing “From All Anxiety” on January 1st, a few days later, after he had been transported to the University of Michigan’s CICU, which had very literally saved his life a few years before. The hours in a hospital are rarely pleasant — something ominous lurks behind every door, every tone, every loudspeaker crackle — but they are even worse when your patient is in an extremely serious place, unable to communicate with you, and the path forward is uncertain. Eventually, sitting in the uncomfortable visitor’s chair next to his window overlooking the helipad and, a bit further on, the Huron River, it felt like it was time to write something down, if only to preserve my fragile sanity, and as the writing went on I had the idea that it was also time to pull this collection together.

At the start, I wasn’t sure if the poem was going to be an elegy or a narrative, if he would ever even read it. We were lucky. Fifteen months and probably three hundred games of Words with Friends later — it turns out to be a good way to keep connected — I continue to be inexpressibly thankful that he was able to pull through that extremely difficult month. (Except, of course, when he has just played a 100-point word, which is frequently.)

The Detroit image that Andy captured always felt like a natural companion to this poem. My dad grew up in Detroit and I did just outside it. I worked in the Renaissance Center for a few years and always admired its broad-shouldered stance on the river and the views it gave us of the city. And the emergency life preserver, tucked into its strange yellow cabinet, was just what we had been looking for.

Here’s Andy’s caption:

As a child, Windsor, Ontario, only existed for me as the first of many cities on the way to family vacations in Niagara Falls, Toronto or Montreal. When I turned 19, it become a legal speakeasy where my college buddies and I would spend Saturday afternoons drinking beer and watching football. In my adult years, the visits to Windsor stopped as the family road trips were no more and I had turned 21.

One beautiful Sunday afternoon in the fall of 2009, my wife and I were trying to decide how to spend the day and settled on a day trip to Windsor. I had not visited in over 10 years, so I was not sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised to find a very clean and family friendly community. After having a wonderful meal at one of the city’s many unique restaurants we walked along the boardwalk watching the sun set over Detroit. I was amazed at how beautiful the city appeared from across the river and I wanted to capture that moment to offset all the negative articles I read about Detroit with the collapse of GM three months earlier.

Looking at Detroit from the Civic Terrace, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. AS

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