I've tried to keep my nose to the grindstone this weekend, but I have not been very successful. Today, my plan was to finish reading the diagnostic writings of my composition students and then do some lesson planning. Instead, I went back-to-school shopping with my wife and kids. That's okay, though. I still have time to do some class prep this evening.
I am trying to be more aware of my obligations this school year. Last year, I was sort of all over the place because of my sister's death. Wasn't very focused. Had a hard time completing tasks. Simply did what I had to do to get by. I'm not sure if I can attribute all of that to grief. Whatever the cause, I will not let it happen again.
I spent some time with my friend, Brian, from California again this evening. He's leaving for home in a day. He has to resume teaching in a couple weeks. I asked him if he was coming back for Christmas this year. He doesn't know. Some of his friends invited him to spend the holidays in Honduras. He said he's on the fence about where he will be come December 25. I, however, am sure that he will be celebrating Christmas closer to the equator than me.
Brian has always been very successful in his field. He just has a hard time staying in one place very long. Since he graduated from high school, he was in New Zealand the longest. Close to ten years, by my calculations. He has a PhD in oceanography, and he was offered a tenure-track position in California, where he currently resides and teaches. He turned it down. I don't know of anybody working in higher education who would turn down the possibility of tenure. Brian did. It's not important to him.
What is important to Brian is friendship and intellectual stimulation. Given the choice between a stable, secure job and a one-year trip to the Arctic Circle to study the mating habits of the Emperor penguin, he'd be packing his parka. He pursues his bliss all the time.
My bliss is around me right now. I'm at home. My kids have gone swimming with my wife. When they come home, they will probably be arguing. My son will refuse to take his bath. My daughter will flop on the couch, take out her phone, and disappear into the ether. And my wife will be exhausted and a little cranky.
My house isn't much to look at. I work long days and long nights, but sometimes I still can't pay my bills on time. However, I am surrounded by people I love, even if those people want to smother each other with pillows sometimes.
Tonight's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired about a year ago.
August 30, 2015: Sister's Funeral, Eulogy, New Poem, "Strawberry Picking"
My sister's funeral was this afternoon. It was not without its share
of family drama. In the end, no blood was shed, and everybody was
well-fed and happy at the end. You will forgive me if I am not witty or
profound this afternoon. I was up until about 2 a.m. finishing my
eulogy and poem. It is now after 7 p.m., and I am practically
comatose. The only blessing is that I don't have to work tomorrow. Or
the next day. Or the next. For the next five days, all I have to do is
create lesson plans and teach. Basically, I'll be living the life of a
tenured full-timer. No jumping jobs in the middle of the day. No late
nights at the medical office. Basically, I will have a normal
existence for the next week.
The funeral was
beautiful. My sister's best friend, Lydia, gave a moving eulogy with a
Nightingale tribute. My sister was a nurse for 32 years. And then I
gave my eulogy and recited my poem. My friends sang the "Pie Jesu" by
Andrew Lloyd Webber and "I Have a Dream" by ABBA. At the end of the
Mass, I turned to Lydia and said, "I think Sal would have been happy."
Lydia hugged me and said, "Sal is happy."
So, I am
exhausted. When I got to the church, I cried. When Lydia showed up, I
cried. When I gave my eulogy, I cried. When my friends sang, I cried.
When I ate my stuffed shells, I cried (they were really hot). When I
got home and saw the rum my wife's cousin dropped off for me, I cried.
Saint Marty misses his sister a lot. Or he's pregnant.
You took me strawberry picking
once, drove out to a farm
where we paid to squat in green
beds laced with tongues of red.
I could feel my ears and neck
tighten under the punishing
sun as we filled Morning Glory
ice cream buckets with our
harvest, each berry looking to me
like some vital body part,
an organ or muscle necessary
for life. You sat on your haunches,
fingers staining red, as if you
were some battlefield surgeon
patching up the fallen with only
your hands. Every now and then,
you would lift a berry to your lips,
eat it in a hummingbird moment,
smiling the smile of the freshly
healed at Lourdes, where miracles
are common as empty wheelchairs
or dandelions in a July field.
The days since you've been gone,
I see strawberries everywhere,
in a welt of blood on my lip
after shaving, a stop sign,
a friend's dyed hair,
my son's sunburned shoulders,
oxygen in the gills of a perch.
Last night, I stood outside, under
ribbons of borealis, watched
them glide between the stars
like garter snakes in a midnight
Eden. The Bible says that, in the cool
of the day, Adam and Eve heard
God taking a stroll through
the garden. There were probably
peacocks nesting in the pines,
a stream talking with moss and stone,
the scurry of mole and spider
in the ferns.
That's what I believe you heard
in your last moments of breath.
You heard peafowl screams,
brook trout leaps. Grasshopper wing
and corn silk. And you heard
His divine toes in the grass, walking
along. When He came to you,
He couldn't resist. He reached down,
plucked you from the stem. You were
ripe. Sweet. Ready. He put you
in His Morning Glory bucket, continued
on into the dew and sunlight.