Their pain. Someone else’s gain.

Death is part of life. But it’s tougher to wrap your head around it when it comes “too soon.” Carl Reiner was 98, and had dinner with Mel Brooks every day for a decade… I think most of us would slot that into the “he had a great run” category. On the other hand, there are those who pass in their prime. We all know them (Hi Mom!).

I admire my friends who have lost a loved one “too soon” yet have managed to look beyond their own pain and anguish and create something that will benefit others.

My old radio friend Steve and his family – their 17-year-old son Patrick took his own life this year after battling depression for years. They’ve started a nonprofit in the Chicago area:

The wife and daughter of a local musician and videographer, who have started a fund in his honor to aid organizations that treat mental illness:

The family of a Xavier grad who recently died of Legionnaires’ Disease at age 55:

The family of another Xavier grad, Kim, who died of a heart attack two summers ago at 52. Her siblings (two of whom also went to Xavier, and the third sibling married an XU grad) have started the Kimberly Ann Collins Memorial Scholarship fund to aid students in need of financial assistance at Villa Madonna Academy, the Northern Kentucky school that Kim attended from K-12. They held a fundraiser this past weekend, despite the fact that their dad passed away from COVID a month ago.

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Marc Antony said “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Kudos to the folks who are proving ol’ Billy Shakes wrong on that, and making sure that the good lives on, even after their loved ones are gone.

Life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. 

From a prayer written by William Penn, later included in a poem by Rossiter W. Raymond

Coloring outside the lines

Hugh MacLeod gets it. He (and others like him – Austin Kleon, Seth Godin, et al.) do their best to bring out the best in us. Hugh’s 2009 book Ignore Everybody (And 39 Other Keys to Creativity) is quite inspiring. His blog, which features a sketch of his and some musings on life, is highly recommended. Sign up and each post will go directly to your email inbox.

This Monday’s post was an excerpt from Ignore Everybody. It’s about how each of us is born creative, but our creativity can be stifled over time.

Hugh’s artwork can be purchased here.

Reconnecting with that “wee voice” as Hugh calls it, can add color (colors, actually) to your life. It’s not a “nice-to-have” — it’s a “need-to-have” for your soul.

The wee voice didn’t show up because it decided you need more money or you need to hang out with movie stars. Your wee voice came back because your soul somehow depends on it. There’s something you haven’t said, something you haven’t done, some light that needs to be switched on, and it needs to be taken care of. Now.

Hugh MacLeod, in Ignore Everybody

“Don’t let them take away your crayons” is a message we need to hear over and over. Because so many of our societal “norms” (including our education system) are designed to steal them away from us, and because our “adult” brain is very good at trying to overrule our inner creative child.

They’re only crayons. You didn’t fear them in kindergarten, why fear them now?

A Ray of light

This past Saturday evening, my friend Phil passed along a 2012 New Yorker essay by Ray Bradbury. Phil knows that Ray‘s my favorite author. But he probably didn’t realize that Saturday was also Ray’s birth date (a cause for celebration at my house).

Phil texted the article to a group of friends, because it’s about “fire balloons” – also known as sky lanterns, Kongming lanterns or Chinese lanterns. They’re small hot air balloons made of paper and fueled by a small fire source at the bottom.

I can neither confirm nor deny that Phil and his “biker gang” (a bunch of middle-aged folks who go on a late night bicycle ride on the night of the full moon) have launched a few fire balloons during their evening excursions on the bike trail.

Ray Bradbury’s essay about fire balloons is really a lovely tribute to his grandfather, and his childhood memories of Fourth of July and family:

I’d helped my grandpa carry the box in which lay, like a gossamer spirit, the paper-tissue ghost of a fire balloon waiting to be breathed into, filled, and set adrift toward the midnight sky. My grandfather was the high priest and I his altar boy. I helped take the red-white-and-blue tissue out of the box and watched as Grandpa lit a little cup of dry straw that hung beneath it. Once the fire got going, the balloon whispered itself fat with the hot air rising inside.

“The balloon whispered itself fat…” — most of us who fancy ourselves writers would give our right hand and our Smith-Corona for the ability to craft such gorgeous imagery.

But I could not let it go. It was so beautiful, with the light and shadows dancing inside. Only when Grandpa gave me a look, and a gentle nod of his head, did I at last let the balloon drift free, up past the porch, illuminating the faces of my family. It floated up above the apple trees, over the beginning-to-sleep town, and across the night among the stars.

Ray Bradbury’s writing was magical, but the process wasn’t. The dude got up every morning, sat down at his typewriter, and cranked out “content.”

Ray wrote brilliant short stories, novels, essays, TV and movie screenplays, poems… In interviews, he often recounted a story from his childhood, when he went to a traveling carnival and saw a performance from a magician named “Mr. Electrico”:

Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly. I went back and saw him that night. He sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, “Live forever.” And I decided to.

From this article

Ray does live forever, though the magic of his words.

We can’t all be like him. But we can certainly try.

(Don’t) put on a happy face

Wednesday’s Washington Post had an interesting article about “toxic positivity”… that term was new to me, but the article made a lot of sense. A positive mental attitude is a good thing, but not if you’re using it to gloss over, ignore or deny underlying issues.

“It’s a problem when people are forced to seem or be positive in situations where it’s not natural or when there’s a problem that legitimately needs to be addressed that can’t be addressed if you don’t deal with the fact that there is distress or need.”

Stephanie Preston, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

“’Looking on the bright side’ in the face of tragedy of dire situations like illness, homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment or racial injustice is a privilege that not all of us have. So promulgating messages of positivity denies a very real sense of despair and hopelessness, and they only serve to alienate and isolate those who are already struggling… “We judge ourselves for feeling pain, sadness, fear, which then produces feelings of things like shame and guilt. We end up just feeling bad about feeling bad.”

Natalie Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston

For the first (and we pray last) time in our lives, we’re dealing with a very trying trifecta:

  1. Coronavirus pandemic
  2. Collapsing economy
  3. Racial inequalities fomenting civil unrest

It’s weighty stuff. And it’s perfectly normal if it weighs you down.

“Recognize that how you feel is valid, no matter what… It’s okay not to be okay.”

Natalie Dattilo

It’s also perfectly fine to spend our pandemic times “one day at a time” instead of some sort of “everything is fine” charade.

“Making the best of it is accepting the situation as it is and doing the best you can with it, whereas toxic positivity is avoidance of the fact that we’re in a really bad situation.”

Jaime Zuckerman, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Philadelphia

So don’t “put on a happy face” if you’re using it to mask some underlying distress that you need to address.

Standing idly by.

In my Catholic grade school, this was a popular saying for the nuns who were my teachers:

But I prefer this take on idleness:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Tim Kreider in his New York Times essay “The Busy Trap” from 2012

If you need me this weekend, I’ll be kayaking. Or biking. Or walking. Or just standing (or sitting) idly by.

Wunderkinds

Your thought for the day… nay, thought for a lifetime for any parent, comes from cellist, composer, and conductor, Pablo Casals:

“Each second we live in a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all of the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed there has never been another child like you… You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is like you, a marvel? You must cherish one another. You must work—we must all work—to make this world worthy of its children.”

Source: Joys and Sorrows: Reflections by Pablo Casals, page 295

It may be the weekend, but let’s get to work!

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