Here goes nothin’.
Life is complicated, frequently frustrating, clearly meaningful albeit only in fleeting glimpses — a beautiful mess. Looking in the mirror, I am a 45 year-old “grown up” in a 22-year relationship with a very understanding woman, raising two appropriately frustrating and fascinating boys and now a loyal black dog, and navigating an atypical career that has run from a reasonably stable law practice to a decidedly unstable series of entrepreneurial ventures. I feel like I have learned some things along the way. I don’t claim to have all the answers, or even any of the answers. Except that I think there are two exceptionally important truths: First, every day you wake up is a good day. There are ancient cultures, the elders of which would purposefully envision awful deaths for themselves as they drifted off to sleep each night. That way, when they woke up the next morning (much to their surprise), they would experience true joy simply to be alive for another day. Hard to achieve, but definitely something I suspect is worth shooting for.
The second “truth” relates to the end: death. I think the best end game, at least for me, would be lying on my death bed with both of my boys (hopefully grown men by then) grasping my hands and genuinely feeling that I had taught them how to be good men. (I would write “good people,” but I think men and women are different, and without being chauvinistic or sexist, I sincerely hope I am teaching my boys how to be “good men.”) I experienced this second “truth” very recently by having the good fortune to be with my 90 year-old grandmother on her last day on Earth, at her bedside keeping vigil with just about her entire family. That day inspired me at my most basic human level, grabbed me by the heart and head, re-focused my attention on examining the big questions in life. I think I have a handle on the everyday goal when I wake up each morning, and I feel confident about the finish line at my last breath. The in-between, navigating the day-to-day, the hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute? Therein lies the mystery. I think we all have only the slightest grasp on how best to parent, be a husband or wife, be a supportive son or daughter or brother or sister, cultivate deep friendships, build a meaningful career, keep our minds trained on what is important rather than suffer the constant distraction of things that are probably not all that important. My grasp on these things is as weak as anyone’s, but I have resolved to take a good hard look at this stuff.
And that’s why I’m writing. Every day. I’m committed to writing with as much authenticity and transparency as I can muster, by the way. This will not be easy, but I think this is the only way to go. That does mean, however, that I will undoubtedly (and unintentionally) hurt feelings along the way, for which I apologize in advance. And it also means that I will be embarrassing myself at every opportunity, most likely. I have no idea where this will lead, but I think it will be an interesting ride. My gut tells me that memorializing the daily ups and downs in an honest way will be therapeutic, perhaps helping me to see beyond the throw of my own headlights, or at least to be more comfortable with what those headlights illuminate. Maybe reading this blog will also somehow help others, if only a little bit, by restoring some big-picture perspective, allowing for a deep breath (breathing is good) or a knowing snicker (laughing is good). Nothing about this first blog entry is laugh-out-loud funny, I suppose. But stay with me, because I don’t think life is manageable without a hefty dose of humor, nor do I think there is such a thing as too much laughter. (I aim to test that latter theory.)
Interestingly enough, on this “laughing is good” point, when my grandmother drew her final breath, the last sound she heard was a cacophony of peeling laughter from 15 or so of her family, crammed into the confines of her modest hospital room, giggling uncontrollably as we tried to sort out the sleeping arrangements for the evening — no small task in our haze of tapped-out-emotions and sleep deprivation. One uncle who shall remain nameless would very likely have woken up the next morning in the middle of the freezing hospital parking lot, wheeled outside under cover of darkness, the victim of a poorly-conceived practical joke. (Seemed like a good idea at the time.) While we were all doubled over with hysterical laughter envisioning this ridiculous scenario, Grandma exhaled and quietly left us. We think she chose that moment on purpose, taking comfort in our laughter as an indication that we would all be OK without her. And perhaps nudging us to recognize that same simple comfort. Smart lady. Smart lady whose life-lessons will help me (and this blog) stay on track, I think. And that is why I’ve decided to start this new writing foray with the eulogy I wrote a few days ago for my grandmother (and which my mother courageously managed to read aloud at the funeral). I’m going to be writing about the mundane, for sure, but hopefully with an eye on sharing Grandma’s Lemonade, too. And this is how The Lemonade Chronicles begin….
There are two things that come to mind when I think about Grandma and what was so special about her. The first, everyone here today could probably say this aloud before I do: Her unwavering optimism and absolute refusal to look on the dark side. Nothing but bright side for her. Find the good in people, keep plugging away, be good, stay positive. That’s an amazing gift.
As a child and even as a young man, I misinterpreted that gift as her being naive or even as showing weakness in the face of serious, real-life issues. As I built my own life, grew older, brought my own children into this big world, coached a few hundred kids on Little League baseball teams and YMCA basketball teams, and taught some kids in college classes, I’ve always stressed that life is about never giving up, never quitting, and always being positive. Life is too damn short to take the opposite approach. Anyone can seize on disappointment and bitterness. It’s much harder, much more courageous, to make lemonade from lemons.
Something suddenly dawned on me while spending that final day with Grandma, seeing many of you holding her hand, whispering in her ears, stroking her forehead, your bodies sometimes draped across hers. I suddenly realized that, all along, Grandma made the best “lemonade”. I suddenly realized that she taught my mom the recipe, and my mom taught me the recipe. I thought I made up the recipe myself, that I had somehow done this on my own. But I was wrong. That’s Grandma’s Lemonade. So first, Grandma, thank you for the lemonade. I’m going to pass that recipe around until I can pass no longer. I hope my kids will do the same. And I hope all of you will do the same. It’s the most delicious lemonade imaginable.
The second special thing to me about Grandma was how much unbridled joy she experienced in the lives of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on. She was “my grandma” as if I was her only grandchild. I bet my sister and brother and all of my cousins feel the exact same way. I bet Grandma’s children — my aunts and uncle — are nodding their heads right now, because they feel the exact same way. What a gift to be able to make someone feel as if they are special in a singular way, that they are her “favorite,” that they are the only one. I suspect we have a whole room full of favorites right here. And you know what, you were her favorite. We were all her favorite.
We feel this way because she knew how to connect with each of us and stay connected with us in such a genuine, authentic way. Without any bullshit. (Turns out bullshit isn’t part of Grandma’s Lemonade recipe, by the way.) When I was a child, Grandma was always…just…there. Connected with me at such a basic, root level that is hard to describe, but we’ve all felt it as a child in her arms. I grew older, into a young man, with grand aspirations, big plans, and the laughable idea that I was making my way alone, on my own. Law school, practicing law in big cities, trying cases with juries and all that stuff. Around that time of my life, although we saw each other infrequently, she once so gracefully re-connected with me, even though what I was doing probably seemed so distant to her from her simple and humble beginnings. (Turns out, by the way, that humble beginnings are part of the recipe for Grandma’s Lemonade.) Immediately but almost imperceptibly sizing me up now that I was no longer a child she could cradle in her arms, she said to me, “Do you ever say to the people you’re examining on the witness stand, ‘Did there ever come a time…?’” Big smile on her face, but genuinely interested. Through both of us laughing, she explained that in all the lawyer shows she’d seen on TV, the lawyers always began their questioning with, “Did there ever come a time?” followed by some sort of question.
I can picture her now giving me this explanation, head cocked to the side, face perpetually tanned, skin wrinkled the way it’s supposed to be if you live life the way it is supposed to be lived, that twangy, country delivery that was hers alone. With that simple question, she expressed her very real, steadfast, not-going-to-go-away-ever-I-mean-ever, interest in my life. Absolute joy in my life and what I was doing. Over the years, whenever we would see each other, she or I would begin our salutations with, “Grandma, did there ever come a time…” or “Keir, did there ever come a time…” Big smiles, immediate re-connection, a virtual touching together of foreheads, grandmother-to-grandson, regardless of how much time and distance had separated us. I would be willing to bet that Grandma had some sort of inside joke or special password like that with everyone in this room.
The last time I saw her she was just a few hours from breathing her last breath. There was no final opportunity for us to do our touching-foreheads together moment of saying “Did there ever come a time?” to each other. Ironically enough, that little inside joke of ours that seemed so trivial and light, that giggly little question posed dozens of times over the course of 20 years or so, that common thread of ours, it does have an answer. Indeed there does come a time. It turns out that there does come a time, for all of us. So while we’re here, before our time has come and gone, please pass that impossibly delicious Grandma’s Lemonade. She made enough for all of us.