Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Making Choices, Seeing New Paths, and Philosophy of Thomas Magnum, P.I.


            The Big Guy and rarely agreed on television viewing preferences but due to the unofficial Richardson Family Hierarchy, my voice normally didn’t matter. One show we did agree on was Magnum P.I. Looking back; I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the Big Guy set his work schedule around 8pm on Thursday nights on CBS. I couldn’t blame him. The show sucked me right in too. Private investigator solving crimes in Hawaii with shirts that obviously influence my wardrobe choices? I’m in.  
  Toward the end of the series, the writers came up with this cliffhanger where Magnum had been shot and spent the whole episode in a limbo style paradise with his old, long dead side-kick, Mack. As Magnum tries to figure out the limbo process, Mack plays the guide role. At one point Mack eats a jelly doughnut, seemingly out of nowhere. When Magnum asks about where the doughnut came from, Mack replies, “Time has little to do with infinity and Jelly doughnuts.” Shortly after, we watch Thomas Magnum stroll without a care in the world, through some bad 80s blue-screen as he walks off to heaven. Season cliffhanger! Will he return?
            Being a TV and movie junkie, there are many lines that take up room in my head that probably should have gone to something useful like algebra. I didn’t write much in those days but I guess my subconscious could recognize something good and store it away for later.  That line has resonated with me for some reason since I first heard it in the bottom of Sharp Hall in 1987.
            Other than it was just a clever line to move along a script, it never held any meaning until the other night. It was Tuesday morning around 3 am after I had pulled my needles from my nightly treatments. Usually I roll over to sleep like a baby but not that night. It was my first night back from my unexpected hospital trip. I was home next to Kim in our bed in our room. It smelled the same and felt the same. Kim had straightened up our room a bit but everything was safe and familiar.
            That was when I started crying. I have never broken down like that before. I was crying because I was happy to be here next to my wife who I love more than anything. Yet, a few minutes later I‘d start crying again because I was scared. I had just come the closest I ever have to dying and never get to be around my wife and children. I kept remembering what the doctor said right before he said they had to restart my heart with the paddles.
            He tried to smile to reassure me, “It’s going to hurt like hell but you have to have this if you want to see your family again.”
            I just nodded because I had already decided in the ambulance, no matter what, I was staying with Kim and the kids. The jolt felt like I was kicked by a few mules but it worked and my heart slowed down from the 278 beats per minute to a normal rhythm.
            For the next few hours that Tuesday morning, I would cry for a bit and then just sit there and think about everything that had just happened to me. No disrespect to the ladies but I honestly felt like I had the male version of a period for a short bit, I ran all the major emotions. I’d be thankful then get angry because I wish I’d gone to the doctor. I’d turn sad because I knew I scared Kim badly. The worst was remembering how scared I had been after the doctor shocked me and then I remembered.
            I was lying on the stretcher and I could finally breathe. Everything was settling down and I had been just starting to feel like I was in the clear. Everyone was back in the room including Kim. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her and she kept smiling at me.
            Around that time, I began to feel something but I couldn’t see it. I can’t explain why I know this but I just knew that if I looked at the door to my room where there was a large window to look in, I’d see my Dad.
I knew he’d be there in his blue short sleeve shirt with all the pens in the pocket, Mary and I saw him wear to work a zillion times. I knew I’d see his red hair which was getting peppered with gray. I knew Dad was there on the other side of that door and if I looked at him, he’d tell me it was time to go.
I wanted to see him so bad. I miss Dad so damn much it hurts. Over the past few years, I often wish I had just one more chance to talk to him and ask him questions about being a father and a good husband. I wanted to bury my face in his gigantic chest one last time and fell that bear hug no one can replicate and hear him tell me that it’s all ok. But I also knew that if I acknowledged him that was it. I talk fast but I could never talk my Dad out of something when he was on a mission.
So I didn’t look at the door and I just looked at Kim and focused on her.
And he left.
Fortunately, I had a therapy appointment yesterday and we talked at great lengths about this. My therapist, Kim (wild coincidence, huh?) said sometimes when we are that close, people tend to visualize the next step as a place or in my case as a person. I visualized heaven as my Dad. I have no idea how true this is but it makes sense to me and I feel satisfied with leaving it that way. I do want to see the Big Guy again badly and when we do, it’s going to be a lot of laughing and hugging. Just not anytime soon.
With the exception of my immediate family, I have three individuals that I value more dearly than myself. I plan on being around for a long, long time. There are too many stories left to write and to tell. There are too many hugs and kisses to be shared and too much laughter for me to miss out on with Kim, Roni, and Jude.
Season 8 was the final season on Magnum P.I. and it picked right up where the finale ended. Magnum was headed off to heaven when he realized he had unfinished business and came back. For the first half of the episode Thomas was a bit comatose and refused to acknowledge Rick, TC, or Higgins. At the 27 minute mark, , Magnum broke his silence and just said,” Time has little to do with infinity and jelly doughnuts.”  Cue car chase….
The past couple of weeks have gotten under my skin both personally and professionally. That’s on me for letting the idiots get under my skin. The past few weeks, my emotions have controlled me rather than the other way around. I think that jolt did more than restart my ticker; it shocked a little sense back into me. I am going to spend a little more time focusing on those around me and being the best Dad and husband I can be and a little less on letting those whose opinions don’t matter affect my family.
 I don’t think I want to leave teaching as planned but rather work towards being a better teacher and maybe even trying to find a way to become an advocate. The past few weeks have got me excited about my profession and the realization that maybe I can do something about the rut GA seems to be stuck in.
I didn’t find Jesus or Allah or give the Richardson Family Mint fortune to that tele-evangelist in Texas but I feel like I have figured out myself enough to know what I want to accomplish for the next few years. For the first time a very long time, my path feels very concrete and in front of me rather than the muddled mess I often find myself in. I am very excited about the future and what it will bring as I get to be around a bit longer to watch my kids grow up and my wife just keep getting more beautiful.
This is where I am going to be for a very long time....
As far as much how time I left before the Big Guy comes back for me, I have no idea nor am I going to dwell on this anymore. There’s a lot of living left to do and I plan to be around for a very long time for Roni and Jude, and Kim. Besides, if I’ve learned anything from Magnum, P.I.,  “Time has little to do with infinity and jelly doughnuts.”

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Firewood, the Big Guy, and a Poem

            The Big Guy has been heavy in my head of late. Over the past decade, I’ve gotten very comfortable with hearing his words bellow out of my mouth. The wincing has stopped and most of the time I am either chuckling or actually agreeing whole heartedly with whatever wisdom I have shared on the behalf of the Big Guy.
            Every now and then though, an instance or a moment passes where I swear somehow he’s pulling the strings to remind me of his lumberjack presence. It happened today during my 2nd block Brit Lit class with Elizabeth Henderson.
            I’ll come back to that but first let me backtrack to the beginning.
            Last Tues as the snows came to settle on GA, I had raced home to purchase a trunkful of wood from Mr. Ricky. My only concern about all the potential weather would be bad icing and power outages. The infamous Xmas Ice Storm of ’81 holds special reckoning in the Richardson Histories due to the 3 days without heat or power. So long as we had some wood, I knew Kim and the kids would be fine.
            As I pull into the driveway, I can tell the temp has dropped about 5-10 degrees and the wind has picked up. It’s not nice outside but the wood has to go from the trunk to the front porch. Suddenly, I am reminded inside is another set of small hands that need to be helping. Jude was not amused.
            The next twenty minutes is a series of hemming and hawing back and forth. Jude is throwing every excuse at me to be excused. He has sniffles, there are bugs in the wood, and it’s too cold. My replies grow curt and angrier at each comment. Finally I snap and then the Big Guy comes out.
            “Son, we have to get this unloaded. We need this wood. Your mother and sister need this wood so they don’t freeze if we lose power. I am just as cold and tired as you but we don’t go in until this chore is done.”
            Jude and I worked mostly in silence but it we got the job done. He did a good job with stacking the wood once I showed him how and was helpful running out to bring in more as the next few days passed.
            It’s a week later and I am still fixated on that whole interchange. My We-Need-Wood Speech actually cracks me up at this point. It hit me a few hours later during my defrost mode why all those words came so easily to me.
I had heard them before.
            This whole interchange between Jude and myself had happened numerous times before up in Young Harris during the early 80s only it was a six foot seven inch librarian/wood cutter having it out with his thirteen year old artistic son/free labor. History is all a circle.
            Bear with me while I explain how Ms. Henderson ties into my Brit Lit class. As much as I love teaching Literature, I hate, hate, and hate poetry. It just doesn’t make connections in my brain.  
            Fortunately, I am co-teaching with Elizabeth Henderson. This lady is the real deal when it comes to understanding Lit and I have learned so much working with her. She is also great for suggesting new bands and authors so I am digging my 2nd block with her. I just wish our students would appreciate it. Lol
            We are working our way through the Romantic Poets which is such a snooze fest for me. Ms. Henderson shared a poem out the Brit Lit book about chimney sweeps which led me to share about the most dreaded day of the year at my house where the Big Guy and I had to sweep out the chimney. I am not even sure if my students believed me but I had fun going over a forgotten memory.
            Afterwards, Henderson and I started talking more about the joys of wood heat and laughing. Always the Lit Teacher, she recommended a poem by Robert Hayden. I politely listened out of respect to Henderson but its poetry so, you know. She was kind enough to print me a copy and I am very thankful she did. This may be the first time I have actually connected to a piece of poetry. Here it is

Those Winter Sundays
  by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

            Change out Sunday to Saturday and you have how the wood gathering, splitting and hauling process went at 5 Old Bald Mountain Road, Young Harris GA 301582.
As I folded up the poem to put in my pocket, it hit me what day it is.
I have been so absorbed in dealing with all the stupidity from my wife’s crazy ex, trying to keep one of my students from dropping out with four months left, and all the other noise in my life, I forgot about today.   It snuck right up on me.
I miss you, Old Man. Doesn’t feel like 15 years and it’s still not fair. It may not hurt as much but your absence is still noted. I tell your grandkids about you daily and they love to giggle at how you kept Mary and me on the run.
Thanks for making me get up all those mornings to learn my lesson of how to keep my family warm even at my own discomfort. Thanks for not letting me get away with any the strange maladies I seemed to come down with right before going out to cut a load of wood. But I think the biggest thanks goes to using (of all the ways to reach out to me today) a goddamned poem to remind me that you are gone but you are always looking over my shoulder.
15 years and you are still teaching me. The poem is awesome