neither fire, nor wind, birth, nor death

My computer – an expensive piece of equipment, and one I rely on utterly – seems to have died. I try a cold boot, I try a PRAM boot. Nothing. My husband comes home in the evening and although the computer is important I have enough discipline not to worry; I set the problem aside. We also have dinner to make, and a kitchen to clean, a garment to finish sewing, a dog to bathe, teenagers to wrangle, and company this evening.

So at 10:30 Ralph tells me after taking a look at the Mac: “I don’t think your computer has a discrete hard drive I can remove.” I ask him, “Can you boot it as a slave?”

“I might be able to do that,” he says; then, “And I am impressed you’d suggest such a smart idea.”

“I tell you, when it comes to computers I’m like my dad. A savvy caveman.” My father was like that. He’d have a problem and he was calm about it. And when I was available to take a look he’d tell me, “I notice it only ___ when this is blinking,” and he’d point to something onscreen and it was always a relevant clue. And he’d nod like, this thing works on moonspells and snakeblood and I don’t quite understand it but I give it some respect.

Today it would have been my father’s 75th birthday. I know we would have done something special for him. I would have made him a cake. He’s been gone ten years. I don’t believe his presence is here. But his presence isn’t entirely missing, either.

I meditated this morning after reading some of the Dhammapada. It calmed me a great deal. Returning to regular meditation is essential; and more importantly, I am ready to recommit. I am ready to be here again, and more often, and calmer while I am.


Last night I dreamed I walked through my father’s mother’s house with him. He was showing me the place. Strangely and sadly, it was empty but still had those good bones, that warmth. In the dream he mentions off-hand that it fell into hands after she died. I ask him questions about who will be living there but he can tell what I’m thinking and says,

“You don’t want to live here. You’d be a long phone call away. No one is out here.”

I remember my visit to my grandmother in college, as a sophomore. I took trains most the way and then she’d picked me up in a big car. We had Chinese food that night near the station. I remember the smell of her house which is a memory going back to me at months old and if I visited this house again today I’d be overcome.

She had magnets on the fridge in a pristine kitchen. She had this lumpy sewn frog made of cheap dark velveteen. Who made it and why did she have it? She slept with a Smith & Wesson at the side of her bed. The gun was bigger than she was!

The last time I saw this grandmother I was twenty-five. She held my infant daughter in her lap and we sat in her boyfriend’s too-cramped and too-hot living room. Phoenix was the size and temperature of a bread loaf out the oven. We’d dressed our daughter in a special organic cotton dress with purple butterflies and poison-green binding. We’d dressed her up as special as we could for her to meet this great-grandmother. My grandmother was close to ninety and not well but she clutched that baby to her like she knew how to do it.

These memories, and the memories of my grandfather’s ashes and the desk my dad built in college – both of which lived in my grandmother’s house – they swim through my mind, and flutter in my chest while I dream.

But when I wake, I remember everything has been lost.


She is gone; Lucy is gone. Her husband, my grandfather Fish, he died when I was a baby. My father is gone. My grandmother’s gentleman friend who’s living room we visited, well he’s probably gone too. 

My grandmother’s house is probably no longer in the family, let alone not waiting, open and ready, for my own family to flee to the mountains and make our roots in the dirt. The house is grubby or updated. Who knows. Would it smell the same, would it really?

This morning, online, I find the little mountain town where my grandmother’s house lives. I clicked on “street view” and find the A&W, and the fish hatchery where we’d visit for walks. It’s as close as street view can get to her house, which I could find from memory.

She kept her house very neat. I guess that is one heritage I get from that side of the family – that, and my style of cooking. Not the Polish details as much but the simple and hearty ingredients.

I can make roots in the dirt though, still. Because they are all still here, with me.

“This is a brief life, but in its brevity it offers us some splendid moments, some meaningful adventures.”

My Father, Mother & I - c. 1978

I miss my father.

If you’ve mourned the loss of a beloved one, you know that the “missing” part never goes away. It changes. You are changed, from having loved and lost. The pain resurfaces in pangs now and then. It is like this sweet ache. It almost feels good because it is a reminder how very alive I am. If that makes sense.

I grieved for my father in a healthy way. I am not angry he is gone. I am not one of those “fuck cancer” people. This has never resonated with me. For one thing, cancer gave me the opportunity to practice mindfulness, and to be glad for what I had while I had it, and to appreciate someone with my very soul. I had eight wonderful years to know my dad was dying. We are all dying; but rarely do we truly appreciate the implications of this fact.

I used to visit him during his chemo. I would bring him a milkshake, because he had trouble keeping weight on, and one thing he’d always consume was a chocolate shake. One time I went out of my way to find some protein powder to mix in. I somehow screwed it up and it wouldn’t dissolve. My dad took a sip out the straw and it was powder. He was so pissy. It gives me joy to think about it (although I felt bad for making a mistake). Just how pissy he was.

My father’s cancer was a very long journey with many rough spots. Kind of like life. I’ve this friend – she also died within the last year – very dear, a wonderful friend. She was hardcore and awesome and had survived SO MANY things. She used to say, “At its best, life’s a bitch.”

I would have liked more time with my father. He occupied an incredibly important place in my life. He’s one of the few people whose respect I wanted to have. Even so, I learned a healthy bit of detachment before he left. He was just a human being. He could be a real turd at times. He made me laugh. He gave me a great deal of comfort.

My father gave me many gifts. He was an agnostic, but he told Buddhist tales and koans and it is thanks to his influence I am a Buddhist today, which gives me so much joy.

My dad was more beloved to me, is more beloved, than I can express. I am not only grateful he raised me along with my mother, I am grateful that I liked him so much and that he was so gentle. My life was not to be a gentle one, but I always knew something better was possible. He was like a beacon in the night as he was very kind – at least he had become kind by the time he had children. Sometimes I think the compassion I have, whatever there is of it, has a lot of its root in my father.

Rest in peace, Dad. I miss you so!

My Father

dancing / kneeling

Today would have been my father’s 71st birthday. I miss him terribly. He taught me so much.


After he died I wrote his obituary – I believe I began it with his body still in the room. Re-reading it now it fucking kills me he never knew my daughter’s real name. He never knew how homeschooling would go for us. He didn’t know Ralph and I would get through some hard years and build a strong marriage.

He never saw me get sober. I don’t think my dad thought of me as an alcoholic but I know he knew I was troubled. It is only through some ministration of divinity I am not in personal agonies that he died before I could make direct amends to him.

I don’t believe he “knows” somehow, anything, now. Or that he is “with” me in some way, watching over me like those maudlin Family Circus comic strips. I believe we have been separated in some profound way and his form will never be reassembled again. “Everything dies”, and from that stark sentence springs a beauty so fierce I want to cry. From that stark sentence springs a faith that is simple and indefensible.

Sometimes I think it was my father’s gentleness, and his witness to my life that enabled me to survive so many trials. My father didn’t rescue me from so many perilous situations, but he seemed to know a lot more about me than anyone else did. I didn’t think anything I did could separate me from his love.

As he sickened and died it was my mother and I alone who stayed witness. Sometimes I think that is a bond she and I share that could also never be broken. I remember watching him in his deathbed and watching him waste away and feeling a profound, keening helplessness that was beautiful in its simplicity. I could cook or clean but nothing would change a thing. I could wait on him but he needed me less and less until he left.

I can remember the panic in my mother’s voice as my father fell into the suffocating last moments of his life, not enough oxygen. She cried out for me while holding his head to her breast. It was a horrible way to die maybe, but we do not know how exactly the body suffers, and our own time will come soon enough. There is no part of me that regrets being there. I only hope I offered him some sort of comfort, some sort of Presence, just like he’d given me.

My heart breaks to think about it. Today would have been a wonderful day to remember him in some way, besides the small slice of lemon meringue pie (his favorite) that my mother procured me. I would have liked to do more – but I was tired, preoccupied, I had a hard day of my own. I know that sometimes these milestones pass and there is only this scuffling sound and an inert sadness.

But even so: one never knows. Tonight in searching his obituary I find his Guest Book hosted by the mortuary; I had never seen these notes before. There is a glimmer of something; someone out there cares. Whatever struggles I go through, mediocre or keenly-felt, there are those who care and who are there to keep pace.

Gibraltar, an illustration

My Father’s Death Journal; Entry 01

My father passed away on August 22, 2008. In honor of Veteran’s Day (he served as an Electronics Technician on the USS Reclaimer) I thought I’d start posting the journal he kept shortly before he died. I’ll keep posting them as time permits. A few photos are included.


July 16, 2008

OK here’s the deal –

After discharge from the service in Feb ’69, my buddy Tom* and I flew to Europe and began hitchhiking around. Bottom line – we end up in Algeceras, Spain which was on the Mediterranean coast. It was the only way to get to the Rock of Gibraltar. The Rock was occupied by the British as it has been for hundreds of years. The Spaniards were trying to squeeze them out, so they closed off the land route to Gibraltar and you could only get there by boat. So we stayed in Spain (’cause it was cheap) and rode the ferry to the Rock, to snoop around the stores and, of course, climb the Rock itself.

So, one day, while on Gibraltar, we decide to walk out to othe airport on the peninsula @ La Linea. It was a small airfield, perpendicular to the Peninsula and right up against the Spanish border.

Gibraltar, an illustration

There was a small terminal building containing: the tower, a couple duty-free shops, a money exchange (more on this later), and an upstairs duty-free bar. The money exchange place was necessary because the terminal was British-run. Only English money could be used in the various shops in the building and, indeed, anywhere on Gibraltar.

So Tom and I got some English money and went upstairs to the bar for a drink. We sat overlooking the lower terminal floor, watching people come and go. We noticed this tourish come through the door, past the sign explaining only English money was used, and up the stairs to the bar. He nodded to us as he headed to the bar. He was a big man, a little overweight, about 50 years old, dressed in khaki shorts, a Hawaiian type short sleeve shirt, and flip flops. He had a 35 mm camera around his neck.

Stepping up to the bar he ordered a drink and a bottle of Scotch to go (being duty-free, it was a good price).

The bartender was a tall, quiet Englishman about 50. Handing the Scotch and the drink to the tourist, he said, “That’ll be 2 pounds 6 sir.” 

The tourist handed the bartender a $50 US bill. The bartender said, “We only take English money here, sir. You need to exchange this downstairs.”

The tourist smiled and said, “Would you do it for me?”

Now the bartender gave this man a long careful look. It was a look that spoke volumes about his feelings about this situation. With a sidelong glance at us, he muttered, “Certainly, sir,” took the money and went down the stairs, leaving us and the tourist alone in the bar.

The man turned to us and smiled. “Yeah,” he said, “Just flew in from Marseilles. Going to Madrid for 2 days, then Lisbon. Then back to the US. Spent 2 days in Paris. 2 in Copenhagen. 2 in London.”

My friend, Tom, studied the man through half-closed eyelids, then he spoke – “Why’d you bother?”

The man was taken aback – “What do you mean?”

Tom said, “Why come here if you are going to skip around so much. You won’t get a feel for Europe.”

The man turned sullen. “It was a cruise deal.”

Tom said nothing. There was an awkward silence, broken by the return of the bartender with the proper coinage. He counted out the American’s change and handed it to him. Said, “Thank you, sir,” and returned to tending his bar. The tourist finished his drink and left. Tom and I rose to leave and, in doing so, exchanged more glances with the bartender. He knew that man was an American and he also knew we were. I felt bad being associated with that insensitive type the but the bartender remained non-committal. He bid us “Good day” in an honest and forthright manner.

*not his real name. His real name was R___ T___ N___ but everyone called him Tom.

Happy Veterans Day

By the way, I called Tom this afternoon – thanks to Google, I was able to find him. I miss my father very much.

My Father's Obituary