“Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement.”
-A Short Guide To A Happy Life, by Anna Quindlen.
First the bad news from 2016. Out of approximately 90 posts from this blog, I’ve lost 30. My fault. I never backed them up with a flash drive since it was on Google, and I thought that if I ran into a problem, I could rely on Google support. Little did I know there is no Google support to speak of. Out of the 30 or so posts, I would like to recoup one, the“30 Years and a Wake Up” - about my alcoholism. If by some remote chance you have it, please let me know.
Now the good news from 2016. Everything else.
Throughout the year two ideas attached themselves willy-nilly to my thinking like Post-it notes. One involved a renewed appreciation of family and friends; another the value of time. As I age, I seem to favor the familiar. I think of my wife Donna and how much happiness she has brought into my life. I am so, so grateful she has opened up her life and allowed me to enter. I don’t deserve her and don’t tell her often enough how much she means to me.
I’m grateful to my life-long friend, Jack, and the hours we’ve spent on the phone discussing Boston sports and growing up in a south shore suburb. Our memories will die a hard death as long as we have cell phones.
I’m grateful to my friend Larry. He doesn’t live life; he ignites it. He presents enthusiasm and good cheer to everyone he meets – every day. He’s fun to be around, and I have fond memories of our biking, kayaking, and working on the disassembly of my clothes dryer - on our knees - on my garage floor. What will 2017 bring?
I’m grateful for my sister, the original energizer bunny, who will not only survive the encroaching dystopian zombie apocalypse; she will thrive. Her time will be spent transporting the neighborhood zombie children to elementary school and then arranging quality childcare. She’ll do medical runs from New Hampshire to Mass General Hospital in Boston when the zombie parents’ limbs start falling off. As long as she doesn’t breech the entrance to any remaining retail space (Can’t you just see the New Hampshire store signs just over the border? “No Massachusetts sales tax – Zombies 10% off on Tuesdays.”), she’ll be just fine. The zombies and I will be grateful for her efforts in the coming years.
I’m grateful to live in a tree with so many strong branches.
During these yearly summary type of things, I dislike folks who recommend the best movies/books of the year. I, of course, would never do that. You’re an adult, you can figure it out yourself.
Best movie you’ve never heard of in 2016: I’ll See You In My Dreams – teaches baby boomers that life still has some atrial fibrillation to it, and besides you get to hear Blythe Danner sing. On a trip to Northern Ireland, Donna and I saw flags designating protestant or catholic neighborhoods. The movie 71 (Netflix) explains the context – but very violent and exhausting to watch. Don't worry about acquiring a comfortable seat - you'll be on the edge of whatever seat you choose. Also liked Me Before You and Before You Go (also Netflix). I liked Before You Go a lot. I don’t know why.
Books: I told myself in my late 20s I’d found the great American novel – The Great Gatsby- and that I would read it every year. I read it last year for probably the 4h time. The characters aren’t as engrossing this time out, but they still live inside F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wonderful words. Also re-read The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V Higgins. The best crime novel ever written according to Elmore Leonard. It’s filled with gratuitous sexual references and plenty of misogyny so be warned, but I named a restaurant in my Boston Harbors Murder novel, “Dave Foley’s Steakhouse,” in honor of a character in the book. The 1973 movie is just as good.
So one book about broken dreams, another about broken bones. The characters in those books should have listened to their mothers.
I have noticed that as I age, somebody moves the chains when I’m not looking. I was filled with disgust during the 2016 Presidential race – with both party candidates. In retirement, my morning routine involved strong coffee and cable news, but the election coverage became so depressing, I turned to YouTube videos on our new smart TV. I bounced from auto detailing in a snowstorm (I’m not kidding), to Duke Ellington At Newport, to a Maserati Ghibli road test, to the best technique for wall painting with a roller, to the proper way to tie a bowtie. One after the other. Talk about your cognitive dissonance? No wait, cognitive dissonance was a Youtube 20 minute TED lecture.
The bottom of my TV screen was filled with a string of past videos that resembled a group portrait of a dysfunctional family…but it was still better than watching the election coverage…and then a good thing happened. A really good thing.
During my YouTube search, I came across video posts of a Catholic priest, Father Ian Vanheusen. He does 1-2 minute videos that can carry you through the day – “Our Mission”, “A Generation of Saints” and, “Desolations” are a good place to start. I watched one every morning, and many of them multiple times. His heart is full of God and wants us to realize that we all live in a community of saints – everyone of us. Check him out on YouTube or his website, ianvanheusen.com. You don’t have to be Catholic, you don’t have to be perfect, you can even be unsure of God.
So not a bad deal. I lost Trump and Clinton, but gained God. And that leads me to another thought from 2016 and Father Ian’s videos. Sometimes I wonder if we’re more ocean than land. God finds us formless with only rudimentary self-knowledge as we’re drifting through the troughs of the white caps. We slowly get filled with God’s gifts as He pushes us from deep ocean to shoreline. He is our following sea that propels us through the wave break toward land to use (or not-our choice) those gifts for others in need. He waits, and if necessary pushes us back out to sea for more nourishment, for more quiet, always wanting the best for us, always wanting us to realize what’s important in this life, always hoping we come to know what matters, always hoping we come to know Him.
I’ll leave with more Anna Quindlen,
“Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and stand of pines... Keep still. Be present.”