Just Picking Up the Pieces

June 12th, 2021

“If you have been brutally broken, but still have the courage to be gentle to other living beings, then you’re a badass with the heart of an angel.”
― Keanu Reeves

I was outside of the house a few minutes ago, cleaning up tiny shards of glass from the ground in the space just below the window sill of a rear bedroom. The slivers of glass have been lying there since the end of January. They were pieces from a storm window that somebody smashed in order to get away from the police. The story behind the breaking of the window is rather long and ugly, and it will not be told here.

It’s June now, and it seems like I took a long time to clean up the broken glass. There are some things that I tend to avoid. Anything that brings back bad memories is radioactive to me. It takes a while for me to revisit places that freak me out, even if they are on my own property.

It feels like I spend a great deal of time picking up pieces, some of them physical and some of them emotional. Most of the pieces are from broken relationships. The pandemic shattered many of my connections with other people, a few of them permanently. Being the full time caregiver for little Asher has also made it difficult to maintain links with friends and family. The baby boy keeps Karin and myself rather busy.

Over the last fifteen months or so, my life has changed radically. So has Karin’s. Actually, everybody’s lives have changed radically. Nobody has been exempt. I somehow had hoped that, once the COVID coma ended, I would be able to start my life again where I had left off. That turns out to be a fantasy. There is no going back. There is no way to un-ring that bell.

The Buddhists have a good handle on this kind of situation. They put a huge emphasis on the transient nature of all things. They say that nothing is permanent. Everything comes and goes. Their advice is not to attach to anything at all; enjoy the experience and then let it go.

This is easier said than done. Friends have died during the last year, and I never got to say goodbye to them. Jim was in hospice for COPD. The best I could do was to write him snail mail letters. Cancer killed Andrea. Over the last year all we were able to do was exchange emails. It’s hard to let go when there is no closure.

I don’t want to sound too negative. Many things have changed, but not necessarily in a bad way. Having a six month old boy in our lives has been a blessing. It’s true that I can’t travel now, and that I can’t meet people like I used to do. However, it’s a joy and a wonder to watch Asher learn something new every single day. To hold him in my arms while he sleeps is a gift beyond compare. Life isn’t better or worse, just different.

My life before COVID/Asher is gone. That is just a fact. I may be able to reconnect with some people some of the time. Some of them will have changed in unexpected ways. Some of them I will only remember.

I’ll try to pick up the pieces.

Joachim

June 8th, 2021

“My lover’s got humor
She’s the giggle at a funeral”

from the song “Take Me to Church” by Hozier

I did not know Joachim very well. However, I know his widow, Freya. I actually only met “Joe” one time. He and Freya came to our house years ago for a small party. I talked to him for a bit about the city of Berlin. Joe grew up in Berlin during the war years. I went there one time with a friend. It was back in 1982, when the wall still divided the city.

I know Freya from my time volunteering at Voces de la Frontera in Milwaukee. Freya ran the citizenship course, and I was one of her teachers. Freya is originally from Mexico, and she is an expert with the rules for becoming a U.S. citizen. Freya was constantly busy with new students, but she usually found a few minutes to talk with me. Over the years we got to be close friends, and there was nothing that I couldn’t tell her. There are very few people in this world that I trust more than Freya.

Karin and I had initially planned to go together to Joe’s funeral on Sunday afternoon. However, it was hot and humid, and the service was being held at the South Shore Pavilion near the lakefront. The pavilion lacks air conditioning. It would have necessary for Karin and I to take little Asher along with us to the visitation, and that didn’t seem like a good idea. Sitting through a vigil in a stuffy room with a hot and sweaty six month old boy just sounded like a recipe for disaster. So, I went to the service alone.

The vigil was to start at 1:30 PM. I got there a few minutes early and schmoozed for a while. I saw Freya sitting in the front row of seats, so I went up to talk to her.

Freya is a tiny woman. She was sitting in her chair next to her daughter, Christine. Freya was bent over. I knelt down in order to speak with her. She immediately placed her right hand on my shoulder and cried out,

“Frank! It is too much! I can’t do this!”

Her grief went right through my body. It cut like a dagger. I mumbled something back to her. I think I said that we love her. I tried not to say, “It’s okay”, because it wasn’t okay. Not at all.

Freya looked at me, and without any pause, asked me,

“How is you family?”

That was classic Freya. No matter how much pain she was experiencing, she wanted to know how I was doing.

I told her,

“Karin is home with Asher. The girl is doing well in rehab. We are caring for our grandson.”

Freya gave me a thumbs up.

I left Freya and sat down. The service started at 1:30, or thereabouts. A pastor who I don’t know gave the opening prayer. He was a young man with a hip and trendy look. The minister resembled Jesus, except for the fact he wore eyeglasses.

I was surprised that this minister was there at all. From what Freya had told me, Joe was an atheist. That fact was obliquely referred to later on during the service when a friend of the family said that Joe trusted science instead of superstition. Oh well, one man’s superstition is another man’s faith. A funeral is primarily for the living, not for the dead. In any case, pastor was there and Joe didn’t complain.

Joe’s granddaughter, Livia, read a statement on behalf of the family. Livia consistently referred to Joe as “Opa”, the German word for “Grandpa”. As Livia spoke, Joe’s German heritage came through quite clearly. It was a major part of who he was. It’s the same way with my wife, Karin. Karin insists on being “Oma” with our grandkids. Her mom in Germany were always “Oma”, so Karin is too. I don’t go by “Opa” with little Asher. I am “Grumpa”. A “grumpa” is like a “grampa”, just grumpier.

There was a mariachi band that played during the service. They did a nice job. Laurie sang “Amazing Grace”, and later Shana sang “If I Had a Hammer” and “Un rayo de sol”. Shana had the crowd singing along with her. She’s really good at that sort of thing.

At one point, the pastor had an open mike for reflections by members of the public. That’s always a risky move. There’s no way of telling what a person might say once they are standing at the microphone.

As expected, everyone who spoke about Joe said good things. He was loved and respected. He was a kind and honorable man.

I learned a lot about Joe as I listened to people reminisce about him. I had never known that he was a professor at UWM (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee). I was impressed that he taught thermodynamics. I had to take that course when I was a student at West Point. Thermodynamics is a bitch. It’s pretty much black magic as far as I am concerned. The fact that Joe could actually teach it amazes me.

Livia mentioned that Joe seldom talked about growing up in Berlin. That makes total sense to me. Joe was fourteen years old when WWII ended. He spent his childhood in a city that had been reduced to a pile of smoldering rubble by Allied bombers during the war. People usually don’t speak about traumatic events unless it is necessary. My father-in-law, Max, didn’t talk much about serving with the Wehrmacht on the Russian front either.

The pastor kept asking people to come up to the mike. Most were hesitant to do so. As I was sitting in my chair, I remembered an incident with Freya that concerned Joe. So, I walked up to the microphone.

I told those assembled,

“I only met Joe once, when he and Freya came to our house back in 2017. Joe and my wife hit it off well. They are both from Germany.

I know Freya much better. I worked with her for a long time at Voces with the citizenship class. She and I would always find time to talk about our families.

One time, as we were talking, I complained about some trouble that I was having with my wife, Karin. Freya just looked at me and said,

‘It’s your own fault. You married a German.'”

Truer words were never spoken.

God bless you, Joe. He believes in you even if you didn’t believe in Him.

Dreams Deferred

June 3rd, 2021

I hate Zoom meetings. Actually, I hate most meetings, but I find Zoom sessions particularly frustrating. There is something about Zoom that makes problem resolution more difficult. That’s how it feels to me.

Karin and I attended a “team meeting” yesterday. The “team” consisted of the people who are going to collectively decide a young woman’s fate. The young woman is currently participating in a drug treatment program, and doing quite well in it. She only has three weeks left before she graduates. The question is what happens to her after that.

Somehow, the young woman got the idea from somebody that she would be able to return to our home to be with her son. She seemed absolutely convinced of this. When the woman called on the phone, she would tell her baby boy,

“Pretty soon Mama will be home with you, and we’ll be together all the time.”

Apparently, “pretty soon” is not quite as soon as she expected it to be.

As the meeting unfolded, it became obvious that there is no plan for the woman’s immediate future. I would like to say that surprised me, but it doesn’t. There are still too many variables involved, and too many players. The team includes people from the rehab facility (therapists, counselors, etc.), the case manager from Child Protective Service (CPS), and the young woman’s probation officer, who was unable to attend the meeting. All these folks have work together to find housing for the woman, provide continuing treatment, organize visits with her son, and God only knows what else. To a certain extent, each participant is waiting for the others to make the first move. Each person’s action is somehow based on the action of somebody else.

One person who is deeply involved in this process, but who is not part of the team, is the judge from Children’s Court. The judge will decide if and when the young woman lives with her little boy again. Everything that the team members do has to eventually convince the judge that she should reunite the mother with her son. The young woman’s completion of the rehab program is necessary for the reunification, but it is apparently not sufficient for it to occur.

What role do Karin and I play? Well, first and foremost, we care for the six month old boy in our home. Second, we provide logistical and emotional support for the mom. Whenever the team comes up with a plan for the young woman, we will help to put that plan into effect. That’s what we said to the other people at the Zoom meeting: “Just tell us what to do, and we’ll do it.”

There are many possibilities for the young woman’s future. The only option that is not on the table is for her to be immediately reunited with her son in our house. That was only scenario that she wanted.

In the meantime, Karin and I are providing more visits with the mom and her little guy. We will be going to the rehab facility three times a week from now on. In a sense, nothing much changes for Karin and me. We keep caring for the baby, and we keep helping his mom. Our lives revolve around a rather chubby little man.

Asher is lying in his swing near me. He’s smiling in his sleep. Sweet dreams.

He is loved.

Departures and Arrivals

May 31st, 2021

“Jesus said unto him, ‘Let the dead bury their dead.’ ” – Luke 9:60

The email said, “We missed you last night at the funeral…”

I wasn’t sure how to take that. Our friend could have meant to say,

“We had really hoped to see you there”,

or it could have meant,

“Where the fuck were you?”

That’s the problem with emails: you don’t have any of the usual verbal and visual clues.

I feel a bit bad about not being at the church for the service. Andrea was our friend for over twenty years. She had a difficult life in many ways. She struggled with cancer during the past few years. The disease took her away several days ago. The death was sudden, but not entirely unexpected.

Andrea spent her last years caring for her grandson. She did that fulltime. Our current family situation is very similar to Andrea’s. Karin and I know how hard she worked to raise a small child, and we understand how much she loved the boy.

Timing is everything. Andrea’s death came at a moment when our lives were in turmoil. Andrea passed away on May 20th, and her funeral was on the evening of the 27th. Karin had just received her second COVID shot on the 25th. She was sick and exhausted on the day of the funeral. We still needed to take Asher to see his mother that day, and we had a mandatory Zoom appearance with Children’s Court immediately following the visit to Asher’s mom. I took Asher to the treatment center by myself that day. Karin wasn’t up for it.

We both chose to stay home after the Zoom court hearing. I couldn’t go and leave Karin with Asher, as tired and feverish as she was. The six month old baby was our priority.

I believe that we have a duty to honor those who have gone before us. People are not trash that we can simply throw away. There needs to be some sort of ritual or ceremony to remember the lives of those who have left this world. There has to be some kind of send off, some way of saying farewell to the departed. Perhaps funerals do no good for the dead, but they can help the living to heal.

Having said that, a funeral does not take priority over the everything else. Asher only arrived in this world six months ago. He’s a healthy and generally happy boy, but he needs our constant help and attention. Andrea is now part of our past. Asher our present, and our future. He has to be our focus.

Sometimes the dead have to bury their dead.

How Do You Sleep?

May 24th, 2021

“The one mistake you made was in your head
How do you sleep?
Ah how do you sleep at night?” – from How Do You Sleep? by John Lennon

My sister-in-law, Shawn, texted me last night from College Station, Texas. She seldom calls, but she often texts. Some of her messages are are about the book she’s writing. Sometimes she writes to me about the latest adventures of her young biracial granddaughter. Most of her texts are about things that are rather mundane.

Last night was different.

It went like this…

Shawn: “A young Black man was shot in the chest several times in front of my apartment.”

Me: “By the cops? Were you at home?”

Shawn: “Yes, and I saw the whole thing. I called to him to comply.”

Shawn: “When he was on the ground, I said, ‘Do what they say. Show your hands. I am praying for you’.”

Shawn: “I held his girlfriend in my arms.”

Note: the woman was actually the young Black man’s wife.

Me: “How are you now?”

No reply to my question.

Shawn: “He was conscious for a while but I don’t know if he made it.”

Later during the night…

Shawn: “He died.”

I didn’t sleep well. I’m sure that Shawn didn’t. I’m sure the man’s widow didn’t.

I wonder how the cop slept?

Hatred

May 20th, 2021

“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel 

My dad was an anti-Semite. He wasn’t goose-stepping, Kristallnacht kind of guy, but he definitely had some animus toward the Jews. He had no problem referring to them as “Kikes”. His attitude was passive. I’m not sure that it was hatred as much as it was a kind of desultory antagonism toward the Jewish people. He could some up his feelings with a wave of his hand and the sentence,

“You know what those people are like.”

In his old age, he would explain his views with a story from his childhood. He would wind himself up and say,

“Yeah, Ma had a cousin who married a Jew. They came over to the house one time when I was a kid. The guy’s name was Silverman. He was a talker. Typical Jew. He promised to bring me a football the next time they came to visit. Hell, I’m still waiting for that football.”

Make sense? No? It doesn’t make sense to me either.

How did my dad get to that point? Why did he use a minor event from his youth to justify hostility toward an entire group of people? Why would he even remember that incident after seventy years? Did he learn to hate Jews from his parents? Was bigotry something he drank along with his mother’s milk?

I will never know what happened because all the witnesses are dead.

My father knew that I went to a synagogue on a regular basis. He never said anything about it. It wasn’t worth arguing about. It was easier just to ignore the fact. Just talk about something else.

Once again, I don’t think my father actually hated the Jews. That would have required passion. Hatred is an inversion of love. We often hate most those whom we loved the most. Ask anybody who has been through a divorce. In order love or to hate I have to care about the person. The person I hate has to mean something to me. I can only really hate someone who is important to me in a twisted way.

My dad had a sort of casual indifference. He had that attitude that Elie Wiesel warned against. Dante wrote that the innermost circle of hell is a very cold place. I think that is accurate.

I’m often like my dad. I don’t hate the Jews, but I have found other people to despise. Heredity is a terrible thing sometimes. It is a constant struggle for me to look beyond my prejudices and see people for who they really are. It’s so much easier just to dismiss them and pretend they don’t even exist.

When I am at my worst, I can look into another person’s eyes and feel nothing.

That scares me.

Long Memories

May 17th, 2021

“The only truly dead are those who have been forgotten.” – Jewish proverb

“Today you own the pieces of land but tomorrow a land will own you.” – Muslim saying

My father was an expert at holding grudges. He could hang on to them for decades. When asked to justify being this way, he would say,

“I can forgive, but I can’t forget.”

That statement was utter nonsense. In reality he could do neither. His idea of forgiving was to nurture resentments in some dark, dank corner of his soul until they were ready to bear bitter fruit. As I watch the the violence and chaos erupting in the Middle East, I think of my dad. He would have fit right in.

I went to Israel and Palestine once. It was back in December of 1983. I was only there for a few days, and it is hard to remember the details of that visit after all these years. The trip made a deep impression on me. Now I can only recall general feelings from the experience.

The place gave me an overpowering sense of the past. It is literally impossible to go anywhere in Israel/Palestine without tripping over some reminder of the land’s long history. It seems like everything is an artifact. Some towns there have existed for centuries. Jericho, for instance, has been continually inhabited for millennia. The Holy Land encourages, almost demands, remembrance.

As an American, that feeling of antiquity was alien to me. I live in a the United States of Amnesia. We can barely remember what we had for breakfast, much less what happened generations ago. We struggle to know what life was like before COVID. The Palestinians remember the Crusaders invading their country. We can barely recall Barack Obama, and the Israelis remember defending Masada from the Roman legions. Americans live in the moment, and we react to each new event without pausing to reflect on it. Israelis and Palestinians take the long view, for better or worse.

The flames currently burning in that tiny country were not kindled during the last two weeks. They have been smoldering for a long, long time. Some would say that the problem goes back to the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the West Bank of the Jordan. Some would say it goes back to the founding of Israel, and the displacement of Palestinians in 1948. Maybe it goes back to the arrival of the Zionist settlers in Palestine during the British mandate. Maybe the issue goes all the way back to the time of Moses and Joshua.

Americans sometimes wonder why the Israelis and the Palestinians can’t work out a compromise about Jerusalem. They can’t because the issue is not about the here and now. It’s about their respective histories. For both the Israelis and the Palestinians, the city of Jerusalem is an integral part of their identities. The last words spoken at Passover are, “Next year in Jerusalem!” The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque are in Jerusalem. For both parties the city is essential.

It’s this way with most of the struggles between the Israelis and the Palestinians. What happened before dictates what is happening now.

They can’t go forward because they can’t let go of the past.

They can’t forgive and they can’t forget.

Kim

May 9th, 2021

“I thought you said that people had offered to come here and help. Who do we call?”

Karin asked that with intense anxiety in her voice. She was sick, very sick. Karin had received her first COVID shot that day before, and it was kicking her ass. She feverish, sweaty, and exhausted. Karin was holding Asher in her arms, trying to get him to sleep, so she could sleep. Asher was being fussy and uncooperative.

I was tired and my back hurt. I had been up with Asher since 5:00 AM, and I had tried everything I knew to get Asher to relax. He was having none of it. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. He was just having a rough morning. We were all having a rough morning.

I had in fact told Karin that a few people had offered to come over to help us. Four of our friends had said to us, “Call me if want me to come and watch the baby for a while.” Each of them had made this offer sincerely. However, each of them had the unspoken disclaimer: “I will come when I can”. Nobody had told us, “I’ll be glad to come any time, day or night.” None of them wanted to be on the receiving end of a 9-1-1 call. I understand that. People have busy lives, and they usually need some forewarning.

However, we needed somebody to come right away. We couldn’t wait.

I made some calls. I knew that two of the folks who had volunteered to babysit were currently at work, so I didn’t bother them. I left a message on voicemail for another person. I finally got hold of Joanna. She was far away from home, waiting to catch a plane back to Milwaukee. She said that she would contact her mom to see if she could visit us.

Joanna got back to me and said that her mother, Kim, would come to our house after she had her hair cut. I was good with that. I told Karin that Kim was coming here. Karin was too tired to react. I took Asher for a while.

Kim called me shortly after that. She said that she had our address, and that she would be driving to our house soon. She told me,

“I will be wearing a mask for your protection. I have had both shots, but I will still wear a mask.”

I did not know Kim. Neither did Karin. A total stranger was coming to our home, and that seemed to be a good idea at the time. It turned out to be a great idea.

Kim took a really long time to get here. I grew anxious. Asher grew restless. Karin slept.

A car pulled into our driveway. A tiny old woman climbed out of the car, and walked to our door. She was wearing her mask. I opened the door for her while holding Asher in my arms. Kim pulled off her shoes and put on slippers as she entered the house.

We sat at the dining room table. Kim cradled in her arms. He gazed at her with curiosity.

Kim apologized for taking so long,

“I don’t like driving on the highway. The cars go so fast. I worry about missing the exit. I took the back roads. I had the GPS on my phone, but somehow I had the sound off, and I had to keep stopping to look at what the directions were.”

Kim asked me, “How is your wife?”

“She’s asleep.”

Kim smiled. I couldn’t see her mouth, but her eyes were smiling at me. My brain filled in the blanks.

She said, “You should go and check on her.”

I did. Karin was dead to the world.

I came back to Kim and Asher. Asher was getting hungry. I made him a bottle, and Kim fed him. She held Asher easily, even though holding him is like cradling a twenty pound bag of cement in your arms. She asked me,

“Do you want to lie down?”

“No, I would rather sit and talk with you.”

That’s what we did. For hours.

Kim told me about herself. She had been born in Singapore in 1938. That means that she spent her earliest years under the Japanese occupation in World War II. I told her that Karin was from Germany, and that I had married her when I was in the Army.

We talked about Catholicism. Kim’s faith is what drives her. It struck me that her faith is real. She’s not a talker. She’s a doer. As it says in the Letter of James,

“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

Kim talked about the years of caring for her handicapped son, and how the time and energy and money she spent on him was worth it. She never thought of him as a burden. She kept saying what a blessing he was in her life.

She said, “It taught me about what is important in life, and about the many things that are not important.”

I told Kim that Asher was a blessing in our lives.

Kim bounced Asher gently in her knee. She smiled with her eyes again and said,

“Of course he is.”

Kim told me about being attracted to Catholicism at a very young age. She went to daily Mass on her own, simply because she wanted to do so. Somehow that reminded of the book “Life of Pi”. The main character in the novel goes to a Catholic school in India as a child. Pi remarks in the story that Christianity is a religion “with few gods, but much violence”. I decided not to mention that to Kim.

As our conversation continued, I told Kim that I participate in Zen practice. I mentioned to her my friend, Ken, from the synagogue.

Kim told me, “When we had our business, we had people working with us who were Buddhist or Muslim. when there was a crisis, as often there was, we would ask them to pray for us. We are all praying to the same God, just in different ways.”

Amen.

I checked on Karin again. She was half asleep. I told her that Kim was here. She nodded.

“Do you want to bedroom door shut?”

“It doesn’t matter”, and she rolled over and clutched her pillow.

We took Asher to Karin’s craft studio, so he could play on a blanket on the floor. I laid down next to him. He kicked his legs and waved his arms. I rolled him over, so that he could do some “tummy time”.

Kim watched. She said,

“My knees are bad. I can’t be down there with you too much.”

After three hours, I told Kim,

“We’re okay now. You can go if you like.”

She gave me a concerned look and asked,

“Are you sure?”

I nodded, “Yeah. We’re good.”

Hours after Kim left our home, she contacted me. I think she left a voicemail. In any case, she told me that she wakes up quite early. Kim said that if Karin was still sick in the morning, that I should call her and she would come over to us again.

Karin was better the next day. She wasn’t completely healthy again, but we could manage on our own. I did not call Kim. It’s a long drive for her.

Karin never saw Kim or spoke with her.

They should get together.

A Prospective Iron Worker

May 2nd, 2021

“Asher’s mom wants to know when you are going to put the baby seat on your motorcycle.”

Stefan replied, “Never.”

I told him, “Good answer.”


Stefan held little Asher in his arms, cradling him gently. Asher looked up at his uncle. Stefan smiled at the boy and asked,

“So, are you going to be a fucking Iron Worker like me when you grow up, you little fucker?”

Karin shot him a glance that said, “Hey, watch it!” She didn’t think that was the proper way to talk to a five month old.

Stefan noticed the evil eye and said to Karin,

“Hey, don’t worry about my language. These words got me to where I am now.”

There is a grain of truth in that statement. Allow me to give a bit of background.

Stefan has always been outspoken and a forthright. He wears his heart on his sleeve. There is never any doubt as to where you stand with him.

Back when Stefan was in the fourth grade, he took violin lessons. At the Waldorf school all fourth graders took violin. It was non-negotiable. A married couple from Russia taught violin to the youngsters. Their pedagogical style was a bit harsh. The two Russians had no qualms about yelling at a child or calling them stupid. Maybe that’s how they used to teach violin to the prisoners at the gulag back in the bad old days of the Soviet Union. I don’t know. All I know is that these were hardcore music instructors.

One day the Russians gave all the children a homework assignment. Each of them was required to transpose the notes from a page of sheet music on to a blank sheet. Stefan balked at this. When he got home he attempted to schmooze me.

“Dad, can you help me with this? It’s really hard.”

I explained to Stefan that he was a bright young man, and that he could easily complete the homework assignment on his own.

Stefan sat at the kitchen table and stewed. He stared at the music. He stared at it some more. He kept staring at it as his anger and frustration continued to build. Finally, he could stand it no longer. He cried out in a voice filled with sorrow and bitterness,

“I bust my ass all day! I don’t even get a recess! And now I’ve got to do THIS BULLSHIT!”

That’s my boy.

A couple years later, Karin and I had a parent-teacher conference with Stefan’s teacher, Miss Burfeind. After the initial pleasantries, Miss Burfeind got down to business:

“We should talk about Stefan’s language.”

Uh oh.

She went on, “I have admit that I am impressed with the mature manner in which he uses those words. You can tell that they come from the heart.”

It was hard to respond to that.

The years went by. Stefan realized early that he was good with his hands, and that he liked that kind of work. He took every shop class that the high school had to offer. After he graduated, he worked as an auto mechanic, then in the pressroom of a newspaper, then as an employee of a body shop. and then as a furniture restorer. In a short period of time he greatly expanded his skill set. Finally, he decided to go back to school to get trained and certified as a welder.

Stefan initially got a welding job in a factory. He hated it. The work was repetitive and boring. Then he got an apprenticeship with the Iron Workers Union.

He was home.

The Iron Workers are a strange breed. They work hard and play hard. On the testosterone scale they probably lie somewhere between Army Rangers and the Pirates of the Caribbean. The union attracts a rough and tumble crowd. Stefan’s inventive and passionate use of a vulgar vocabulary served him well as he tried to fit in with his new coworkers.

The Iron Workers’ macho schtick is not all bluff and bravado. They do in fact work in difficult outdoor conditions, performing tasks that would daunt anybody with a functioning survival instinct. Stefan often goes up in a lift to weld beams at a height of 100 feet or more. Stefan does things that he refers to as “sketchy” (translation: “dangerous”). He revels in that sort of thing. He loves the adrenalin rush.

I have only met one of Stefan’s coworkers. A woman. I was unaware that the Iron Workers even had any women in the union, but Stefan brought her over to the house one day. The girl was sturdily built. She was wearing denim overalls, a sweatshirt, and work boots. She gave little Asher a toothy grin when she first saw him. The young woman seemed very nice, and I am sure that she could easily hold her own in a bar fight.

Stefan likes people who break barriers and defy established social norms. I can see why he became friends with the female Iron Worker. He likes her attitude.

I talked with Stefan about his relationship with Asher. I told him that he would make a good mentor for the boy as he grows up. I was dead serious. Stefan is brave, hardworking, honest, smart, and exceedingly generous. He would be great for Asher.

The fact is that Asher is unlikely to have a father to raise him. I told Stefan that Asher will need a strong uncle in his life.

Stefan replied, “That he will have.”

So, How Did We Get Here?

May 1st, 2021

“You are the destination and you are the path,
You are the wish of every birth.”
― Surya Raj

Karin is a playing with Asher. Asher lies on a blanket on the floor. Karin shakes a rattle in front of his face. Maybe he smiles at it. He doesn’t reach for it, but he grasps it in his tiny hand if Karin places it between his thumb and forefinger. He pumps his chubby legs furiously and waves his arms. Then he becomes still again, gazing at the world from his unique perspective.

How did we ever become the fulltime caregivers for a five month old boy?

How did we get here?

Honestly, I don’t know. A year ago, a young woman announced to us that she was both engaged and pregnant. Now, this same woman is in rehab and unmarried, and Karin and I are spending almost all of our waking hours feeding, cleaning, and cuddling a little guy. Our present situation would have been unthinkable a year ago, yet here we are.

Asher demands my attention, and there is nobody on earth who can be more insistent. I need to pause for a bit.

It is now 6:00 on the morning of the 2nd of May. Asher awoke at 5:00 AM, as did Karin and I. At this point, Asher has a full belly and an empty diaper, and life is good. He lies next to me full of life and vigor. He stares at me with his slate grey eyes, and I always wonder what thoughts lie behind them.

I try to predict Asher’s future and I give up in despair. It is not just that I think that Asher’s coming years will be difficult (they will be). It is more that I simply cannot imagine what is in store for him. I only expect that his life will be interesting. That seems to be a family tradition. He’s on a roller coaster now, and there is no getting off of it until the ride comes to a complete stop.

Why would God put a little boy into the care of a couple elderly people?

God granted two sons to Abraham in his old age. Considering how he treated Ishmael and Isaac, I am sure that Child Protective Service would have gotten involved with that family. The Book of Genesis is not necessarily a good guide to child rearing.

They say that God never gives a person more than they can handle. That is a fucking lie. God is constantly pushing his sons and daughters to the edge.

People sometimes say that God is testing us. Why? Doesn’t He already know if his creation is good? Read the Book of Job. An old rabbi once made the argument to me that Satan is God’s quality control guy. (The rabbi noted that Satan performs this task reluctantly, but all creatures serve God, whether they like it or not). It sounds very unorthodox, but it makes a bit of sense. Satan is often referred to as “The Tester” in Scripture. Does the Devil push us to the limit?

“Let’s see how fast this thing can go…” – by the Dresden Dolls in the song Delilah

The sun is rising over the trees. The apple and the maples are getting their first leaves. The locust not so much. Spring comes grudgingly to the north country. Light fills the room and illuminates Asher’s round face.

Asher and I are together. He is here to teach me something. He doesn’t know what that something is. Neither do I. It is better that way.

We have teachers in our lives. Some have official titles: priest, rabbi, imam, guru, Zen master.

My best teachers have been homeless people and patients in the psych ward.

And babies.

Definitely babies.

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come” – William Wordsworth