Sunday, April 22, 2012

Life, death, greatness and cutting the grass

In the morning, I'm reading about Branch Rickey. Jimmy Breslin's book about a man who changed the world by calling up the first black baseball professional baseball player in the all white league. Breslin can write, he's someone to emulate, and reading him makes me want to change the world like Rickey and Jackie Robinson.

But I cut the grass instead. Our Founding Fathers and the other world changers must not have cut grass or had chores. How the hell can you change the world when you are doing yard work? They went out and did big, great things, unbothered by filling up the gas can or emptying the dishwasher. Everyone has those motivations toward greatness from time to time, but details get in the way.

Taylor Spies is someone that seemed destined to be a great man. You got that sense meeting him when he was 14. Then he died in his sleep Thursday night/Friday morning. He was 37 years old, married, with two sons three years old and younger.

I met Taylor at Easton High School in the Youth and Government program. He might have been five feet tall standing on a phone book at the time. We thought of him as a sort of younger brother and gave him a wedgie for the ages at an Annapolis hotel. He would still laugh about it when we talked. None of our friends escaped wedgies in those days.

The next time Taylor and I connected, we were both working around Easton and would see each other daily at Coffee East. I left smiling and inspired after every conversation. Every time.

I'm cutting the grass and listening to Nas, his album "Illmatic." Nas says, "I never sleep cause sleep is the cousin to death." I've often felt that way, not wanting to sleep for fear of missing something big. Taylor's death resurfaces that thinking. Wednesday he is posting pictures of his boys, Friday dead.

Nas is on shuffle on my ipod and next he says, "Life's a bi*** and then you die, that's why we get high... cause you never know when you're gonna go." Nas is wise beyond years and words but I don't want to believe him.

I don't know what I think about God, but I don't want to see life that way. I think about going on Anna's field trip this week and being there to see her get her school award for her straight-A report card. I think about taking Ava to her first Major League Baseball game and the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman hitting a home run. When you add up all the little moments, all the things that happen only once ever, that we get to experience, to be a part of, and it has to add up to something more than "Life's a bi*** and then you die."

Then there are Taylor's boys, who will have a hard time remembering their dad as they grow up. They'll see pictures of him, maybe at the ages we knew him, and wonder what he was like, what he was thinking. They are lucky to be Spies's because their uncles, grandparents, cousins and great family will make sure they remember Taylor.

It's later in the day and I have not become great like Branch Rickey. I haven't figured out a way to capture Taylor's great light and put it in a lantern to carry with me.

I cut the grass. I ran out front with our seven-year-old to catch the Good Humor truck and get the girls Fat Frog pops. I watched the Nationals win in extra innings. It's later and I'm sitting in the back listening to the wind with a Dale's Pale Ale.

Melancholy blows in like the clouds that are beginning to cover the sky. I think about Taylor and about Alvin Sanger, another great soul that left us this week. I can picture both of their smiles and how excited each of them got when they saw you--like you were the one person in the world they were hoping to run into.

Maybe being able to picture that so vividly--me, who wasn't one of their closest friends or family--the fact that they can have so strong an impact, maybe that's how we get beyond Nas. Each of their personalities, their accomplishments, their families, their friends, their lives as examples, they certainly live on. They are still with us.

In an interview, Nas talking about how he came through the death of his mother, said, "This is what happens. This is life. You've got to keep living on."

I did not become great today. But maybe, having known Taylor and Alvin, remembering them today, thinking about the ways they are still part of the people they touched; maybe it's through knowing great people like them, that we touch greatness.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Just another day unlike any other

When I sit out back on the plot of land my Dad grew up on and his dad grew up on, in Oxford, Md., everything is right with the Universe.

Our girls are running barefoot in the grass, playing with their cousins--my sister's boys--the same way we did when we were little. I'm drinking a Shiner Spring Ale because it's spring. It's also Easter. And my 40th birthday.

Though spring is a time for flowers, and we transformed a cross with fresh-cut flowers this morning at church, right now for me it's a time for roots.

I've been thinking about family a lot this week, in part because my mom's father, when my mom was in the hospital getting ready to have me, sat in the waiting room and figured out all the times my birthday would fall on Easter. This is one of those times--a day Pop held in his mind 40 years ago.

As I'm watching the kids play, my Dad comes out back. We talk about growing up there and how they used to raise chuckers and chickens, how there were ponies and pheasant and we laugh thinking how the town of Oxford would receive that now. We talk about the Orioles and Nationals, who are both off to a good start.

When I was born, it was during an April ice storm. Today is green and 60 degrees. I don't mind global warming so much if it lets me sit outside with family on an Easter birthday.

There is another significance to April 8. Robin and I have been together for 17 years. She is the kind of person you change your life for and never wonder what life had been like if you'd never met.

Birthday, Easter, soul mate day. That's a trinity you can't claim on just any day. Just another day, unlike any other.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The death of mud puddles

"Filled with kids in rainboots / who know the pleasure of mud and kings." The universe is like that when you have early eyes. Matthew Dickman knows it. He remembers. But he also knows it becomes more than that. It's not that the mud disappears, it's that we look past it and the rainboots don't fit anymore and we don't buy new ones.

And we learn too much. Biology is the death of carefree mud puddles. Brackish water isn't meant to be seen through. But that doesn't stop us.

Mortgage payments are the death of mud puddles. Who has the time? And how does rainboot stomping help us move on up like George Jefferson? There is no utility in even the perfect puddle stomp.

Gangsta rap is the death of mud puddles. Once you've come "Straight Outta Compton," once you're packing a 9mm in your sweatpants at a nightclub, you can't be seen stomping in a puddle, just stomping on some chump mother fucker.

Business suits and fancy shoes are the death of mud puddles. Who could afford the dry cleaning bill? Who could show up to work covered in mud?

We can't unsee what we've seen. We drive through mud puddles on our way to somewhere else. Somewhere consequential. Somewhere important, etched into our schedule.

Maybe rainboots are unforgetting like elephants or Shel Silverstein's Giving Tree. Maybe they are biding their time, amassing an army. Waiting to take back the world, give us back our mud puddles. Maybe the next time you see a wall of rainboots, you'll remember.