Shambolic indeed, but things are starting to settle down

Ella up in the mountains with her prominent tongue

shambolic: Word of the Day from Dictionary.com https://www.dictionary.com/e/word-of-the-day/shambolic-2020-06-05/

I’ve been meaning to get back to the blog, and now’s as good a time as any.

Miriam’s mom passed last summer right after we had a scare and thought our 14-year-old Ella would die while we were in Italy.

The old girl couldn’t make it up the stairs and out of our little flat where Miriam had lived when we met. It’s actually a curious place that you enter by way of really steep steps, so we’ve gone back and forth on perhaps finding something more suitable for a small child.

Although we’d planned to be down there for the month of August last year, the turmoil of losing Oma Margarete and helping Opa Günter get settled into his new life meant we had to decide where we needed to be.

Alas, it wasn’t in Liguria as we’d hoped. We stayed home in Bavaria and went back and forth to Franconia as often as we could manage. Timing our trips to avoid the Stau (traffic jams) on the Autobahn towards Nuremberg, we were there for Miriam’s papa and it gave the baby lots of time to be surrounded by her remaining maternal grandparent and assorted extended family up there.

Then in October, we ultimately lost the dog. She’d been by my side pretty much constantly, aside from travel where I couldn’t take her, along with her brother, and if you know anything about me, those dogs had been a central part of my life for many seasons.

I’ve had dogs my whole life, and I’m thrilled Ella could be the progeny’s first dog. She was just the right amount of tolerant with a small child. When she’d had enough, she’d simply move away and wait for the next baby intrusion, which was bound to happen.

So there we were without Miriam’s mom and that dog I’d loved so madly. It was a rough 2019, but we were happy to have gotten through it with as much dignity as we could muster.

Back to the word shambolic. The change of year didn’t stop the life altering events, because in February we lost my mom. It certainly wasn’t unexpected, but even when you know its coming?

You never know how something’s going to affect you, and this was no different. The shambolic nature of our life just seemed to shift into a higher gear. It was almost surreal.

Now with a bit of distance from those shocking events, we’re starting to settle down again. We talk about Oma Martha all the time, and how she and the progeny’s other grandmother would love to see how this child is growing and learning.

The deeper grief starts to work its way through our systems, though. Miriam going through her mother’s winter coats a few days ago. Me packing up as much of my mom’s stuff as I could manage. It’s all just too much crap, which makes me now want to accumulate fewer things.

We grabbed what we could back in Texas, crammed it in our overweight bags and got on the plane grateful that we were allowed to go back home to Germany.

What next? Hopefully this year gets less shambolic, but the world outside and the drama surrounding how people deal with this Covid19 virus seems to have other plans.

Perhaps because I’m my mother’s son, I’m always looking for the best in difficult situations. It has been nice to stay home, work online and reassess the things that matter.

Shambolic or not, I’m hoping we keep finding the silver lining in the dark clouds swirling round us and everybody.

Here’s a photo of the progeny and one of my mom’s best friends Kaye’s cat Fred:

Hope you’re all making the best of these weird times. I’ll certainly keep writing about our adventures here. Hope to see some of you along the way. Virtually or face-to-face, whichever the case may be.

Don’t look at the photo of his lifeless body on the beach unless you’re prepared to do something about it 

 

Münchners getting in the spirit of welcoming refugees
 
There’s a photo from Reuters that’s all over the web today. Has been for a few days already, and it’s disturbing. It’s not at all nice. It’s the opposite of nice, even. It’s a shot of a little boy who’s drowned & washed up on the beach. I’m not putting it here, but I am linking to an editorial on Deutsche Welle in which they discuss their editorial decision to publish the photo. This photo isn’t for the faint of heart, though. You’ve hopefully been adequately warned. 

Opinion: an image that touches us all

If you’ve already seen this photo & many others of children washed up on beaches, maybe you didn’t bother going there. 

I’ve included the joyful photo above of the locals bringing donations for the recent arrivals as a counterbalance to the abject sadness that the other image brings. When I know people are visiting Munich and they express interest in Dachau, I often recommend that they schedule something/anything joyful afterwards. Not to pretend that the concentration camp didn’t exist, but because it’s so thoroughly depressing to go there and see the documentation of what occurred, it’s important to be reminded of hope and resilience and that there’s even still goodness. 

Yet we’re not quite there yet when it comes to the immigration situation in Europe right now. The Hungarians are furious that Germany has opened itself up so overtly as a safe haven for refugees, and the situation is still so fluid that anything I might write here will quickly become old news. 

Nevertheless, I hear plenty of reasonable people questioning the practicality of Europe in general and Germany in particular taking in so many refugees. This is purportedly the biggest migration of people in Europe since the Second World War, and the ramifications of this mass migration are far from predictable. I’ve even heard that these newcomers could make up as much as 1% of the population of contemporary Germany. 

Quite a number of the residents of Munich have been unquestionably generous by taking donations of food and clothing and toys (and I heard even portable wifi, so the refugees could communicate with their far flung family members) to the main train station. Football fans in many stadiums last weekend held up signs that said, ‘Refugees Welcome.’ 

What happens when the novelty of taking in all these people wears off? There’ll unquestionably be a new disaster or outlandish political reaction that’ll distract us from the outrageous news we’re reading on a daily basis. 

Here’s the thing, though: this immigration crisis isn’t new. It’s been a long time building. The Syrian refugees might be overwhelming the system at the moment, but any reasonable observation over the last decade or more has made it clear that Europe’s lack of unity on this issue was a disaster in the making. 

That’s where the photo of the child on the beach comes in. You can be as cynical as you like about this topic – I’ve certainly pontificated on both sides of the argument that we as a society are responsible for those fleeing war torn countries. I welcome the argument, even. 
But look at that photo tell me that we shouldn’t finally be able to come up with something better than what we’ve been doing. For years, some European politicians have pretended that it wasn’t their problem. That little boy’s lifeless body makes it harder to stomach such a position. 

enough abandonment

20120909-211613.jpg

One of the first people I met when I moved to Germany was Dermot. Fantastic person and even better artist. He’s Irish of course. Have you ever met a Dermot who wasn’t?

He is also a woodworker who specialises in lamps. The one above is rather beautiful, isn’t it?

After the last few serious blogposts, I wanted to share a bit of beauty. Life is fleeting. There’s no reason to ignore the preciousness of the littlest things.

If you love someone, don’t hesitate to say it. If you feel alone, reach out. Someone is there for you.

The story of my Dad and me has gotten me thinking about the fragility of our bonds and how essential it is to appreciate what one has while it’s still around.

See, he wasn’t my natural father. Although he was my Dad, I didn’t call him that until I went off to college. Until then he was my mom’s boyfriend and then later her third husband.

The first husband was Ken, Sr, who was my natural father. He died in an auto accident when she was pregnant with me, and unfortunately she remarried quickly thereafter. She was lonely. Husband number two took advantage of her vulnerability, and then when the responsibility of raising me and the son of his who’d arrived in the meantime got to be too much, he Made a New Plan, Stan and Dropped off the Key, Lee.

It’s ok. He was a schmuck. Good riddance and all that.

Then, it was the three of us for a number of years. At some point, my Mom had one of her infamous annual Christmas parties and one of her guests, the son of one of her older friends, fell asleep with her under the Yuletide tree.

Not a bad love story, is it? He never left. Felt so at home, the man moved in almost immediately.

There was only one little problem, and his name was Ken. I wasn’t the most receptive to a new dude in the house. My track record with men was that they stuck around for a bit and then fucked off when the going got rough. It was obvious to me that this was going to happen again. It was only a matter of time.

Well, I might be a decent judge of character in other circumstances, but about this guy I was wrong. He not only stuck around, but he socked away enough Sweet Moolah from Uncle Rico that my Mom really needn’t worry about money from here on out. Not too shabby, eh? I think so.

Bill Auvenshine died six years ago, but sometimes it feels like it was yesterday. He was the gentlest, sweetest man I’ve ever had the honour of having known. When I went to Ohio for school, I saw some of the father figures my college friends had endured, and I realised how lucky I’d had it.

At that point, I stopped the charade that I’d been carrying out all those years. Until then, I’d refer to my parents as ‘My Mom and her husband Bill‘. However, from then on I easily switched over to ‘My Mom and Dad‘.

He told me something when I turned eighteen that I’ll never forget. It showed two undeniable things: he had a dark sense of humour and was a ponderer.

A thinker, if you will.

Ken,’ he said, ‘You should enjoy being eighteen, because this is the smartest you’ll ever be. For the rest of your life, you’ll slowly realise how little you really know.

I know you can’t force someone to do something they really don’t want to do. You can plead and beg, but if they’re dead set on not doing what they don’t want to do, you’re generally out of luck.

My Mom wanted me to have a father. It was important to her, and she thought this guy would make a good one. As a child, I thought she forced the issue. I felt like accepting the new guy would be some sort of disloyalty to Ken, Sr.

And most importantly, I was sure this new character was there for a while but would eventually tire of us and be on his way.

Once when we were in the car and talking about something unrelated, I made a little snide comment that he’d only stuck around for my Mom’s love but that we (her two sons) were clearly a hassle and a burden, even.

He turned to me with a very serious look on his face, and said, ‘No, Ken. I loved your Mom very much, but I stuck around for you. There had been enough abandonment in your young lives. You needed a Dad and I wanted to be it.

Remember what I said at the beginning of all this? About the fragility of bonds between us humans? Well, in that moment he won me over. Not once after that did I ever question his motives. He was my Dad, and that was that.

Five things to harass the Dying

thoughts of mortality are understandable especially when one’s on a Greek island like Astypalea (photo from 2010)

Recently, I was handed a German article about five things one should or could say to the dying to help them in their journey to the afterlife.
Never to pass up an opportunity to take the piss, I’ve decided to write my own list. Here are Five things to harass the dying:
  • Remind them what they’ve done or what they did
  • Point out to them that this (their life, their family, everything good and bad that they’ve done) will eventually be forgotten
  • Whatever palliative medicine they’re receiving, take it away and no matter how they beg for it, don’t give it back
  • Invite each of their enemies over (unexpectedly) for one last little chat
  • Make as many references to your plans once the dying person is finally gone

Now, I realise this isn’t the nicest of lists, but I have one very pointed question for those of you who may or may not be offended.

Why are we trying so hard to make things easier for the dying?

Certainly, if they’ve had a good life and made some sort of peace with everyone in it, then the above list will be useless. It won’t touch them. They’re immune from my machinations.

Lucky them.

Please don’t think I’ve done any of these things on my list. I’m actually quite pleasant and caring to the people in my life who’re at death’s door. I learned quite a lot while watching my father slowly die of complications related to his diabetes.

He died six years ago last week, and lately my thoughts’ve been swirling around topics of mortality. It’s actually quite understandable.

So, what’d possess me to make such a heartless list of cruelty like the one above? What’s wrong with me?

Well, I’ve got a simple answer for you in the form of a few questions.

Why? Why should I forgive what’s been done to me? What benefit does it serve?

I know a bit about Buddhism, and I know the tenet that carrying around such bitterness is akin to taking poison. Not only am I aware of this, but I even try to practice forgiveness. And most of the time I’m pretty good at it. Most of the time.

But like an irregular French verb, there are always exceptions. And what to do with those? Aren’t there some things that’re unforgivable? I believe that the jury’s still out on that one.