Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Dark Tower (or, do people still blog?)

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
Stephen King, The Gunslinger

My blogging hiatus has been over a year. There are several reasons for that, but I won't get into it here. Mostly it has to do with dissertation recovery--2014 was so fraught with anxiety-ridden writing, that crafting anything other than an email was just plain ol' scary. I still get the chills when I think about all that writing, but it feels like a fallen world ago, so I bounce back pretty quickly.

During the dissertation writing I escaped by doing something completely abnormal (for me)--I read science-fiction; Stephen King to be specific. The Dark Tower series was complete and absurd escapism, and it was just what I needed. Cowboys. Aliens. Gangsters. The past. The future. Multiple dimensions. Fiction. Biography. All melting together to form the craziest piece of literature I've ever read. I realize there's crazier stuff out there, that's just not my cup of tea, so for me it was super crazy.

*Spoiler Alert*

The epic journey of the gunslinger and his band of lost world misfits comes to a conclusion at the Dark Tower. That was the prize, the explicitly stated, single-minded goal. The Tower. Everything was the Tower. During the read it's tough to figure out what the Tower is, and what the gunslinger's relationship to it is. Is it god? Is it heaven? Is it gravity? I was annoyed by its presence at times, completely obsessed with it at other points during the read. And then, purposefully probably, I fell into the trap that was surely intended (on some level) by the author. I didn't care about the Tower. I only cared about the journey and the people who were on it. The Tower pulled them along the way, but it was merely an object; the meaning was created during the journey. The Tower could have been a rock. It could have been a statue. It didn't matter. What mattered was the assignment of meaning and the pull towards the Tower which simultaneously sent the characters crashing into one another.

Then the gunslinger got to the Tower. He climbed to the top, the pinnacle of this completely focused objective, and without warning, he was thrust back to where he started. Back to the beginning of his journey. All the pain, all the joy that propelled him towards the Tower were not merely means to end, but the end unto themselves. And after grasping this most glorious of achievements, he was on to the next journey. The book ended there with questions about where the gunslinger would head off to next;  perhaps towards another Tower, chasing another cast of characters, building and maintaining relationships, hurting and getting hurt.

The end was so dissatisfying in a way, even though I had come to the conclusion on my own. But then, as I reflected, as I reached into that top room of that darkest of Towers at the end of my own dissertation journey, it made sense. This parable is one of life's richest. It is a constant journey, a constant pull towards some Tower, either constructed for us or by us, but always defined through our own experiences and perspective. Its pull is irrational, and yet is it perfectly beautiful. It sends us crashing into one another as vanity and charity hash it out, hopefully becoming a better version of ourselves as we inch our way towards that final (?) angle of repose*.

I'm now in the desert. The man in black is not yet in my sights, but I'm enjoying the respite. I am not chasing for the time being. I am building. I am repaying. The Dark Tower is somewhere in the distance, no doubt, but for now it doesn't haunt me. I am happily content several mirage pools away, enjoying some time in the sun.

* Angle of Repose is the book I'm currently reading, which is much different than Stephen King's style, but which has a similar message and has me absolutely transfixed. Thanks to William for the recommendation.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

mary jennings franz 1921-2014

For more pictures of this wonderful woman, check out this (courtesy of my sister Maggie)

Grandma’s birthday cards were exceptional. Her consistency was awe-inspiring. Every year, without fail. Always on time, never late. They always included a balloon. Sometimes it said, “Happy Birthday,” other times “Save Big Money at Menards” and at least once I received a balloon with a big rubberband on the end. The sturdy kind that you beat against your fist in rapid succession, trying to hold the rhythm. And the $5 bill. Folded inside a tiny Ziploc bag. It was folded so precisely I swear she’d actually ironed it. Sometimes I felt bad spending the $5. Like I ought to frame it. Or store it in a safe with other well-folded items.

The envelopes that housed the cards always had my name written in all caps, with each letter getting its own color, just for an extra splash of class. Red G. Blue E. Green N. Black T. Red Z. Blue Y. I could hear her say, “Hey kid, you’re worth so much to me that I’m going to use 5 pens and spend 6 minutes just writing your name.” Sometimes my name would be followed with an exclamation point. For emphasis. Or maybe to tell me that even if I somehow forgot who I was, she never would.

As much as I looked forward to the relics inside the envelope, it was her words that I most anticipated. Her words always made me proud. As a kid I remember reading them in the Jacksonville Journal Courier’s Letters to the Editor. I loved seeing the name “Mary Franz” in print. Like my Grandma was Jacksonville’s very own Dear Abbey. The only thing I really picked up from her words back then was “blah blah blah society, blah blah blah fornication, blah blah democrats.” But then I got older and began to recognize her cunning confidence with the written word. She did not care who agreed or disagreed with her, she was going to make a strong and compelling case with her written words. And agree or disagree, it was impossible not to respect her skill.

But in her birthday cards politics and personal conviction were set aside and her words’ primary purpose was simply to express genuine adoration. It wouldn’t have mattered if she penned the same thing to all of my cousins that year, what she wrote felt tailor-made for me. She called me by name, Gentzy. She called me kid. She’d make statements about exactly what was happening in my life at that time. Just enough alliteration to catch my attention and engender my respect, but never overly indulgent. I should back up just a minute. The cards weren’t always devoid of her personal convictions. Sometimes she’d sneak in thinly veiled advocacy, like separating birthday into two words and underlining the word birth. So ornery. So clever. So Grandma.

I will cherish the last cards I—and our kids—received from Grandma. She called Zoe, Zoe and Brennan, Brennan, but Ava…Ava was always Ava Jennings. The letters, while still exact and strung together magically to create perfect phrases, were now slightly shaky. And yet never a grammatical error. Never a misplaced apostrophe. Never an ill-advised comma. Like her hair and her scarf and her purple shirt and purple shoes, the words flowed together seamlessly, matching up perfectly, as if to say, “the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts…but only if we’re careful.”   

The last birthday card I’ll ever receive from Grandma arrived this past October, for my 34th birthday. No balloon or crisply folded $5 bill. Understandable. The card appeared to be made from recycled paper, with a ribbon and several separate, though matching, pieces of cardstock creatively glued to the outside. Maybe it was made by one of Eclectic’s artists. On the inside of the card, the artist included the following aphorism: “Life is not a matter of counting years, it’s a matter of making years count.” These are nice words. I take comfort in them. They remind me of grandma. And the counting reminds me of Grandpa. How true it was of their well lived lives. They count so much to me. They were so easy to count on in life, because I always felt like I mattered. Like I counted.

As nice as those words are though, they weren’t Grandma’s. Grandma’s shakily etched though steadily crafted words wrapped around the artists', encompassing them. Overshadowing them. Some words in all caps. At least two different pens. Several, though not too many, exclamation points. Carefully customized and considerate. Just for me. And at the end, the last written words she would share with me were these: “And your electric essence lingers on, though your body strays to other realms from time to time.” So mystical. So clever. So Grandma. I imagine that whatever realm Grandma has strayed to, they have pens there. Lots of different colored pens. And I am sure that when she finds the pens, she’ll sit down, thoughtfully compose her words, and then find a way to send them to us, from time to time. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

the end (or, looking at my crotch)

I have a hole in the crotch of my favorite jeans. I'm wearing them right now. But I'm at the public library, so it's cool.  We're all a bit tattered here.

These jeans fit me very well. They are torn in all the right places. They are just the right color. They hang on my waist just the way I like. Sure there's the crotch issue, but I don't really care. It's a discrete transgression.

These jeans weren't always this way. When I bought them they were too blue, too stiff, too tight. Inspired by this video, I decided to try to make a pair of jeans my own with time as opposed to spending the time buying the perfect pair of jeans from the get go. I saved a lot of money and got to test a psychological/economic theory. That's my kind of thing. I'm almost 5 years into the experiment and I can safely say it's been a success.

These jeans have been through countless washes. Fell down a hill sledding. Yard work. Crawling after babies.  Wrestling with kids.  Sitting at the bottom of a hamper. They (it's awkward to refer to jeans in the plural, isn't it?) have been dressed up with a nice blazer. They've been puked on by babies and children. I remember when I first got them. I took them into the seamstress and she rolled her eyes when I asked to keep the original hem and add red thread. Looking at them now, they may look like another old worn pair of jeans. But they're so much more.

So is the tattered guy at the table in front of me here at the public library. His hair's probably unkempt for a reason. It's a statement. I can relate. The necklace he is wearing is not by mistake. He did not get it at a pawn shop. He's wearing it too comfortably. It means something to him. Maybe given to him by a daughter, or granddaughter. His watch is old and plastic. Maybe he can't afford a new one. Or maybe he doesn't like change. He's wearing expensive New Balance tennis shoes. He cares about his feet. Why? Gout? A runner (or former runner)? Or maybe his feet just hurt. His glasses are nice too. He is writing incessantly. He's using a cheap plastic Bic mechanical pencil. Blue. The eraser is worn. He makes lots of mistakes when he writes. I can relate. I want to go closer and peek, but that would be rude. I mean, ruder than sitting here staring at him and recording my observations. I have standards. Nondescript green sweatshirt. His life has been rich and hard and beautiful. Maybe he's a psychopath. Maybe he's a nobel laureate.

When I was younger people got a label. I still do this, but not as much. We all do this to simplify and categorize people. It's convenient and helps us make sense of the world. Taken to an extreme it becomes racism, bigotry, hatred. But checked, it's actually helpful. It helps us make snap decisions when necessary. (And we exist as a species as a result: "That thing is big and hairy and fast. It's a bear! Get the hell out of here!!").  **My guy is leaving. Did he see a bear? Oh man, he just put on the most amazing furry winter hat.  He's a connoisseur (label). I want to follow him out of the library (Prius or windowless white van!?), but again, standards.**  Ok, back to the labels. The label meant something. Not necessarily negative, just a descriptor that gave me some context. Single mom. Married. Old. Gay. Grouchy. Warm. Dying. Depressed. Fat. Divorced. While some of the labels were indeed negative, that's really not the worst part. The worst part is that I focused merely on the end, and derived all meaning from the person's current state. No history. No story. No evolution. Now that I've watched people become depressed, go through divorce, die, fail, succeed, overcome, I know that we are so much more than the current end. We go through stuff. And our current end is not (for most of us) the final end. We will continue to transcend and trade in labels.

I'm a big believer in suspending judgement. Probably because I'm inclined to pass it so quickly. It's an impulse that I work hard to suppress. These jeans. These people. They have a history. There's a reason for the holes, the wear and tear, the perfection and the destruction. The jeans I'm wearing now are a product of time and experience.

And so is the guy in the green sweatshirt.

Monday, November 4, 2013

34 for 34

Though the flesh be bugged, the circumstances of existence are still pretty glorious.

Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

I turned 34 on October 9th.  Lately, my birthday's only significance is that it is day 2 of Ava's celebration (she was born on October 8th). I'm fine with that.  Or at least I was until this year.  We've had a lot going on; Lori and I are basically doing what we can to stay afloat, which means that self-indulgence is pretty much non-existent.  This is not a pity party, it's just the reality of life with 3 kids and a baby.  We accept it, but we do so begrudgingly at times.  So, this year I decided to own my birthday.  To indulge.  I should've just had a lot of cake or spent 8 hours with a novel.  Instead I decided to run my new age in miles. 

The first 10 miles were solid.  Then I met up with a good friend who carried me through the next 9.   My legs were feeling it during mile 19.  As we approached a creek I foolishly thought I could leap across without a worry.  I made it across, but the landing was ugly and I could tell something wasn't right with my foot.  We stopped at 20 and I went home to rehydrate and recuperate before chasing the next 14. 

My first step after the rest felt like I had been stabbed in the sole of my foot.  I chalked it up to a sore tendon that I could push through.  I pushed through 3 miles.  The pain was terrible.  I stopped to stretch my foot, then resumed.  When the pain was too unbearable I took off my shoes and kept running, channeling my inner Tarahumara, and praying to their gods.  I got in three more miles then reached the point where I had to decide if I was going to: a) achieve my goal, or b) stop and not do serious(er) damage. I chose b.  I hated myself for it.  But I chose b.  I chalked it up to old age and softening ambition.  

And I had my reasons, which made the choice all the more poignant. 

34 is not just another number.  I mean, it is, but not for me.  34 is the age my brother-in-law never got to see because cancer snuck up on him shortly after his 33rd birthday and won the battle 4 months later.  In April, cancer took the life of my friend and gifted scientist, Clay Davis.  His oldest child, his only boy, is Brennan's age.  His youngest child, the fourth girl, is 1.  Her name is Hazel. Clay should be hanging out with those kids and his wonderful wife Hayley tonight, celebrating his 34th birthday (November 4th).  But he's not.  And that's not fair.

Given my reasons, I probably should have been running to raise awareness or in support of some charity.  But the only awareness I was concerned with was my own. I needed to do something to celebrate this flawed mortality.  I needed to challenge it.  I needed to scream, "I'm alive and others aren't!  And I don't understand that at all! So here I am! Break me!" Yeah, eating cake would have been way lighter. But I needed a good heavy cleansing, and this fit the bill. 

I've talked a lot on this forum about dealing with life's paradoxes as a parent.  Recognizing the inevitable pain of our existence, but instilling a sense of hope and wonder in our kids, teaching them that amidst the chaos they can create meaning and find perspective.  Solace even.  We are incredibly resilient, a hardy species, and I believe this is by design.  We can bounce back.  Easier said than done at times, and perhaps not to full restoration, but we can.  I have to believe this.

This morning I went for my first run since I broke* my foot on October 9th. My 34 year old foot is on the road to recovery.  Susceptible yes, but getting stronger. 

And my 34 year old susceptible soul follows suit...

* a stress fracture to be technically accurate.  But the line "So here I am!  Fracture me!" would have been a little too melodramatic, even for this post.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

fathers be good to your daughters

Mom, you might not want to read this.  I say 'shit' three times including that one. And 'penis' once, twice, dammit!  Sorry.

A lot of attention was given last month to Elizabeth Smart's speech at Johns Hopkins in which she (courageously/remarkably) discussed her horrific kidnapping ordeal. It was poignant for a variety of reasons, but for many Mormons (like me) it was poignant because we understand a bit about the lessons that Elizabeth internalized as a girl, and that in part held her psychologically captive while she was being held physically captive. The whole thing really hit home because as the father of three little Mormon girls I obsess with how Lori and I will effectively teach our girls to appreciate and cherish their sexuality without letting them become affected by the Christian purity culture that exists among some well-intentioned, though completely ill-advised, people within our particular religious group. Lori and I will not utilize lessons that are meant to be encouraging to all, but are actually only encouraging to virgins. Because for those who aren't virgins, it just sends a message of impurity and hopelessness.  And they feel guilty. And usually it's the girl non-virgins who feel more shame than the boy non-virgins (because the double standard that exists in many Churches when it comes to teaching 'virtue' and purity to our boys and girls).  And those sweet girls leave that lesson, and that building in which the lesson was heard, and they swear never to return.  And I can't blame them.  "Who wants a chewed up piece of gum or the doughnut everyone's touched?"  Bullshit. 

I know I'm a few weeks late to the conversation, but I've been collecting my thoughts** and trying to figure out how to articulate them.  I have no idea if this represents a failed or successful attempt. 

I want to begin by saying that this is not a matter of Mormon doctrine or Christian principles that is to blame, but rather institutional inertia perpetuated by individuals (a point articulated quite well in this Salon article) who lazily rely on fear and concepts of convenience.  The issue deserves and requires so much more. It requires conversations and openness...and potentially some awkwardness.  I am willing to be awkward if it means I might increase the likelihood that my daughters make responsible, informed, thoughtfully empowered sexual decisions.  

Looking back on my life as a hormone-driven teenager, some of the reasoning behind my own decision-making might be valuable to my efforts as a father. Now, this is not to say that my decisions were the best, and my reasoning might be problematic on some levels, but I do feel that my decisions were based on factors that affect girls and boys in similar ways. And while I want to be sensitive to the fact that men telling women/girls how to feel/behave sexually has been problematic historically, I also think that finding the commonalities between the genders (despite obvious differences) might provide something of value.  

I didn't have sex until I got married.  Lori and I got married when we were 21.  Good thing.  I was about to die.  As I taught Brennan a couple of years ago, we're supposed to be horny (I was more fatherly and diplomatic.  Or not.).  It's key to our survival as a species (and I believe central to more eternal plans, but let's keep it practical for a second).  And while I probably bought into some of the sex scare tactics I heard in Church (my parents didn't use this tactic explicitly, to their credit) I've always been a little suspicious of things that people teach me; one lesson that made sense to me as a kid however, was that sex was powerful.  It was powerful because it is the means by which another human being is created (holy shit!); it is powerful because it can form a powerful emotional bond (call me old-fashioned, but I believe this is the case and see plenty of evidence for it); but perhaps most importantly, while it is indeed powerful, I can have power over the power.  Ok, now we're talking.  Instead of letting it consume me, I could embrace and respect the power.  Having the power over the power was way better (in my mind) than satisfying the urge to express the power—at least for a finite period of time. Ever up for a good competition, I basically pitted myself against my penis, recognizing that at some point I would be able to willfully and safely submit.  In the meantime I would learn a little self-discipline.  Couldn't hurt.    

That said, my friends growing up sure did seem to be having a good time with the 'power.'  A REALLY good time.  And they were good people.  I never thought of them as bad or impure and really the only time it bothered me was when they razzed me for my very open decision to not have sex.  But honestly, it only bothered me for a few seconds.  I never resented my guy friends or gal friends nor did I think they were 'whores' for having sex.  And while there was a part of me (a growing, salient, AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! part of me) that wanted to join in the good time, it just wasn't for me. Not yet.  And I had my reason.

I want our beautiful daughters to be powerful, not powerless.  To act, not to be acted upon.  And when they make the decision to have sex, it will be with knowledge of what they are signing up for.  The good, the bad, and the ugly. I want our girls to recognize that just as it was for Lori and I when we made the decision to only exercise that power within the bond of marriage, it is a power in them and they can have power over that power. That it can be harnessed and channeled into a deeply meaningful and beautiful thing. I also want them to recognize that if the power gets the best of them (whatever that means), it's ok. They are of infinite worth and will never be devalued by us, or by a God who understands perfectly that this whole sexuality thing is a bit precarious. God doesn't care about gum or doughnuts. Neither do I.  That's kind of a lie.  I'm actually thrilled that doughnuts are the new cupcake and I can now unabashedly post pictures of myself eating a doughnut on Instagram.  Thank you trendsetters.

All of this said, if this message is shared ineffectively with a 12-13 year old who is later sexually victimized, she may feel that she has been stripped of her power, and is therefore powerless.  Which illustrates the delicateness of the topic and its presentation. It also further emphasizes the need for communicating that a victim is just that—a victim.  And victims are not responsible for the atrocity they must so unjustly live with.  But whether we are talking about sexual victims or active participants, the message must be that their value has not been compromised and that they do not have to be defined going forward by what has happened in the past. 

We well-intentioned people get a lot of things wrong.  But we have to try to get this right. We have to be willing to teach this stuff, talk about this stuff, and deal with this stuff in a healthy way that is free of harmful rhetoric and unproductive guilt.  Zoe, Ava, Hayzel and a lot of other beautiful little women-to-be are depending on us.

** I received help from some of my favorite women as I thought through this. My favorite woman, Lori, was of little help. She was mostly just horrified that I was speaking publicly (albeit implicitly) about our amazing (i.e., failed) wedding night.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


So apparently gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces that govern all interactions of matter on earth.  Blah, blah, blah, electromagnetism, blah, blah, unifying string theory, blah, blah, blah.  But everyone loves Newton and his falling apple, so gravity remains the most popular of the forces (social scientists love to relegate hard science to a popularity contest). Gravity is also great because it's key to one of the best television shows ever: Wipeout.  Without gravity, nobody is wiping out.  Those two guys and the cute girl have no one to poke fun at or laugh about.  They owe their careers to gravity.  Although, with or without gravity John Anderson is a great sportscaster.  John Henson on Talk Soup, however, would have gone nowhere without gravity.

Ava is not the weakest of the four fundamental forces that govern all interactions of people in our home.  And after her feat last week, if she was a fundamental force, gravity would slip to fifth place.  After 18 months riding this around, I thought it was time to test her skills on a real bike.  Ava never had training wheels (or as our British friends like to say, 'stabilisers') and I was curious to see what would happen when her feet hit pedals.  I was Don King.  In the blue corner was Ava.  In the red corner, gravity. I put her on a little bike, held the seat, and told her to start pedaling.  I let go.  She began pedaling.  Gravity didn't stand a chance.  5 seconds into the first round, KO.  She arrived at the end of the driveway and while I was screaming at her to apply the brakes (I forgot to teach her that minor detail) she simply whipped the bike a full 180 and came back at me.  She smiled.  I smiled.  Gravity slumped into the corner.  Like Rocky, without Mickey Goldmill to cut him.

If only as parents we could outwit all forces our children will face.  Ava learned how to beat gravity without knowingly dealing with it.  Stabilisers would have clued her into the danger of hurling herself along on a pile of metal held up by two cheap plastic wheels.  She would have learned to ride on two wheels eventually, but it would have required falling; and me running along with her; and, if she was like Zoe, running into a pole...twice (she had a wide open field, and yet was drawn to the pole like a moth to the flame).  Instead, she learned that once she got going fast enough on the Strider, she could pick her feet up off the ground, and she would continue along on a steady line.  It was natural.  And when we raised the stakes, when she actually had to keep her feet off the ground at all times, she killed it.  "Hey, this feels different, but I know how to do it.  It's somehow familiar. No sweat."

The lesson may be that stabilizing is not the answer; each force or pressure children will inevitably face can be trained for upon an equivalent 'Strider.'  While not all forces are as constant or predictable as gravity, some are close.  And whether they take the form of mean 'friends,' bad boys, or life in general, what a victory if the child can say, when the time comes, "Hey, this feels different, but I know how to do it.  It's somehow familiar. No sweat." It requires an understanding of principles that underlie unpleasant behaviors and events, but surely it's possible to get there.  And even if they fall*, they'll know that they can get back up, and ride on.

* two days after Ava started riding a real bike, I was at the park telling some friends about her new skill while Ava whizzed around on the tennis court (all of which was probably just thinly-veiled self-congratulations.  "Our 4 year old can ride a real bike!  Do you know what that says about us as parents!?").  Within 5 seconds of extolling the virtues of the Strider (aka, our parenting ability), Ava flew off the bike and landed like a helpless Dolphin in the tennis net. The bleeding was minimal, but was enough to elicit some hysterics.  I walked the bike home that night, my self-satisfaction out-smugged by that smarmy yet resilient bastard in the red corner.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Lori called him dad.  I called him Mr. Hayes...and later, Tom.  The kids called him Papa.  All of his close friends called him Tommy.  This is the eulogy I delivered during his funeral mass at the Church of Our Savior in Jacksonville, IL last Tuesday, the 29th of January.  We'll miss him.

Tommy Hayes: July 26, 1948-January 24, 2013

A few years ago Tom had recently returned from his Canada trip, and had some fish to fry.  I remember watching him as he sat on his concrete patio in front of that fryer, cautiously covering each fillet in just the right amount of cornmeal and then dropping it ever-so-carefully in the oil.  After a certain amount of time Tom would remove each fillet and place it on a plate covered in paper towel.  Each piece would then sit on that plate until it reached the perfectly safe temperature when it could be eaten.  Not too hot, never too cold.  As I watched Tom fry that fish, I imagined him up in Canada on his beloved fishing trip, surrounded by his closest friends.  I knew very little about the trip, only that he loved it.  So I imagined what it was like.  Him in a boat, patiently casting and floating, reeling, removing fish from the hook. Laughing, smiling.  Not wasting any words.  And cherishing every second.  I stopped my imagining and went out to get my first bit of fish.  It was, of course, perfect.  I began to tell him how good it was.  How tender, just the right amount of cornmeal and seasoning.  He gave me a look that said, “Just eat the fish kid, you know I don’t like a big fuss.”  And so I stopped talking and just ate the fish.  I told him how much I liked the fish by eating over 2 pounds of it that day.  I think he was pleased.

I won’t make a big fuss about Tom today.  I think this too will please him.  But I will tell you a little about him, because like you, I too love him.  And his good life deserves at least a bit of fuss.

One of Tommy’s closest friends, Dick Anthony, “Coach,” shared this story with us.  “Tom, Danny Arthalony, Jim Phalen, and I went to Canada fishing for several years.  I believe this was the first year that I went with these fellows.  We flew into a place on the Ogoki River.  As we landed on the water, we noticed that the plane was pulling up to a dock anchored a long way from shore.  At this point we were told that we had to transfer the humongous amount of equipment from the plane onto the dock and then move it by boat to a cabin on the shore.  None of us were real happy about this, but what are you going to do?  We loaded the boats with as much as we could and headed to shore.  Tom was running the boat and I was visually checking things out.  At about 100 yards from shore, Wham!  We hit the bottom of the lake.  The boat went sideways but did not turn over.  Now what do we do?  Well, we strip down and pull the blankety blank boat to shore.  The whole time we were verbally thanking the people back in base camp for not telling us about all the problems we were facing when we got to the lake and I’m wondering what I had gotten myself into.  What I had gotten was years of wonderful friendships.  At least once a year Tom and I would be sitting at the KCs, and the strip down story would get a little more embellished.  I still can’t believe we didn’t get a picture of 4 guys pulling those boats in their undies.

Over the past few days we have heard stories like this and learned things about Tom that were previously unknown to us.  Tom wasn’t one to toot his own horn or tell a story as evidence of his kindness, or strength, or thoughtfulness.  But those stories exist, in the words of others.  Multiple people have said, “you know, I didn’t know Tom all that well, or talk to him that much, but he always said hi and smiled when he saw me.”  Tom’s simple gestures spoke the words he so often left unspoken.

Lori’s first college roommate didn’t have much money.  Tom picked up on this while he was moving Lori into the dorm her freshman year.  The extent of his interactions with this roommate was a simple, “nice to meet you,” and yet every time he talked with Lori during that year he would ask, “does your roommate need any money.”  He wasn’t being nosy, he was asking because if she was in need, he was ready to give.

Like his thoughtfulness, Tommy’s strength was also often silent.  In this way, his silence became even more pronounced after his diagnosis.  We know that many of you missed seeing him at the KCs, or at the bowling alley, or on the golf course.  While we don’t know all of Tommy’s reasons for this, one reason for this absence was his daily determination to perform a set of exercises that often took him all day to complete.  During the disease, he retained what strength he could through his daily routine of green tea, pomegranate juice, exercise, and of course walking Irish.  It was rigorous and often difficult.  But this is how he brought some control and comfort to a situation that was so uncomfortable and out of his control.  He didn’t forget us.  He loved us.  He was just living, and staying strong, in his own way.

The day before Tommy passed away, during one of his final exchanges with his devoted mother, Eleanor, he said to her through his tears, “I guess this is to see just how tough I am.”  Her emotional response was, “Tommy, you’re plenty tough.  And you just gotta keep being tough.”  I’m sure similar conversations occurred when Tommy was a kid with a scraped knee.  “Tommy, you’re plenty tough.  And you just gotta keep being tough.”  Eleanor, through genetics and deliberate lessons, made Tommy strong.  Strong enough to be a soldier.  Strong enough to be a father.  Strong enough to be a fighter.

Beyond his strength, his compassion, and his thoughtfulness, there was also a side to Tom that many surely remember—his ability to have fun.  In his younger years this included roller skating—not just rolling around the rink, but as I found out yesterday, gracefully dancing on wheels, skating backwards, and going in circles.  It was during these younger years that he caught the attention of a young nurse-in-training, named Maryann Watts.  They got married, raised two great kids, and established a relationship built upon dependability, loyalty, and commitment.  Maryann knew she could count on Tommy, and that without judgment, he would provide what she needed.  And Tommy knew that Maryann would always be by his side, loyally committed, no matter the circumstances.  I won’t give you details about the circumstances of Tommy’s last 5 weeks on earth spent in the hospital in St. Louis.  But I will tell you this: the loyalty and commitment between these two was never stronger.  For 5 grueling weeks, as Tommy fought, Maryann remained vigilant and hopeful, literally never leaving his side.  In moments of despair, Tommy’s consolation was Maryann.  He knew she would do everything she could to keep him alive, keep him hopeful, and keep him comfortable.  And she did do everything, and more.  Every minute of every day.

We’ll all remember Tommy in different ways, and recall the way he enriched our lives.  Coach put this nicely, “Tom Hayes is probably the only person I have known that I could sit in a boat with for hours with very few words exchanged and feel perfectly comfortable with the silence.” I count myself lucky, because I live with five people whom he loved deeply, who carry his good blood and a portion of his good spirit with them.  Each day, they remind me of him.  In my wife, his daughter Lori, I see all that is good in him.  Strength, kindness, a quiet dignity that like Tommy, speaks measures without saying a word.  Lori knows how to throw a baseball correctly, because of Tommy.  Lori is loyal and dependable, just like Tommy.  In Brennan, the grandson he loved, I see his thoughtfulness.  His desire to be inclusive of all people in all situations.  In Zoe, his first granddaughter, I see his kindness.  His willingness to help others even when it might not be convenient.  In Ava, I see his determination.  Setting his mind to something, and focusing with intensity and strength.  And in Hayzel, Tommy’s smile.  Mouth open wide, tilting the head back a bit, enjoying the moment and the people in that moment.

* Each of us makes sense of death in different ways.  Religion, art, and our own consciousness inform our ideas and beliefs about what happens to those who pass on. We are left behind, but where do they go?  What is it like?  Today more specifically, we ask, “Where is Tom Hayes?  Where is he?  What is it like?”  I can offer nothing more definitive than what has already been presented by Father Tom, Father Nelson, and the readings, but I can tell you what I choose to believe, and paint a picture of what I hope is happening.  I believe in a place where we reunite with those who passed before us.  I believe that these reunions are real and defined by relief.  Relief that what is ‘real’ is not confined to life on earth, but that ‘real life’ continues, in some incredible way, after this one.  And so, just as I could imagine Tom up in Canada, I can imagine him up in Heaven.  Today, I imagine the grandfather of my children, this great man, Tom Hayes, patiently floating along crystal clear water in a glass bottom boat. He is free of pain and full of joy.  He wears a hat on his head and a smile on his face.  In front of him in the boat sits his father Virgil.  Behind him, JT.  Between the three of them, they’ll polish off plenty of Natural Light by the end of the day, and have a few perfectly fried pieces of fish to eat for dinner.  They don’t say much, but they look down upon us, and see us looking up at them.  They know that one day, we too will be ready to join them.  But they are in no hurry.   They row themselves slowly through eternity, and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes. 

* some of the imagery of Tommy up in Heaven was inspired by the beautiful Billy Collins poem, "The Dead."