Chapter 4 – An Untimely Death

Shippan Duck Pin Bowling Center

Shippan Duck Pin Bowling Center – Lane 18

Thursday Night League

Duck pins fly and crash loudly into one another as Dad bowls a strike.

He smiles at his teammates as he walks back to the bench behind the scorekeeper. It’s been a really good day: his first full day back at work since his heart attack six months earlier. He came home from work, had dinner with the family, and now was rolling some high scores. After lots of hard work, he was finally healthy again. All was back to normal. He’d sleep well tonight. He deserved it.

As he’s about to sit, a stranger behind the bench catches his eye.

GR: Hey man! Nice strike! Wow! Look at you! You look a whole lot better than I expected.

Dad: Do I know you?

GR: Awww, really? You don’t recognize me?

Dad: Afraid not.

GR:  Think hard. Who do you know that wears a hooded black robe and carries garden tool?

Dad: Look, I’m kinda busy here. Is there something I can do for you?

GR: Yeah. Sure. Tell me what time it is.

Dad: Looks at his watch and then looks up at GR quizzically.

My time?… My time?… What’s that supposed to mean?

GR: Whadda-ya think it means, man? Your time in this world is done. I’m here to take you away.

A bony hand grasps Dad’s shoulder as Dad takes out his little bottle of nitro pills and puts a couple under his tongue.

 Never mind those things. They can’t help you now man. Nothing can. It’s justyourtime.

C’mon with me.

8:28 pm, January 14, 1965.

The Living Room

56 Palmer Street

Springdale

The telephone rings. My mother, who’s been watching television in the living room with my sister and me, gets up and steps into our small dining room to answer the phone. My sister, Marge, 17 years old and a senior in high school, and I, 13 and in 8th grade, continue to watch the show.

As our mother picks up the telephone receiver, none of us has the slightest inkling how drastically our lives are about to change.

A Member of the Greatest Generation

Consistent with my good fortune in childhood, I was extremely and lucky and still am proud to be the son of James Fredrick Ash.  A veteran of World War II, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in the 11th Armored “Thunderbolt” Division in Patton’s 3rd Army in Belgium.

Dad almost never talked about his experiences during the war. I know he saw combat and assume there must have been some difficult memories carried home when the war ended. Part of the “greatest generation” and co-contributor of two entries in the Baby Boom, he was reticent about his Army days but was proud that the Army had “made him a man.” So much so that he’d told my mother he wanted the Army to make me a man when I came of age too.

Dad suffered his first heart attack in June 1964, before medical science understood the connection between cholesterol and heart disease. He spent several weeks in the hospital under an oxygen tent. Absent any effective treatments for heart disease at the time, the standard protocol was painkillers, lots of bed rest, avoidance of physical or emotional stress, the blandest of diets, moderate exercise, and gradual recuperation. Only about 20% of heart attack victims in the 1960s survived the ambulance ride to the Emergency Room. Thankfully, Dad had been among the 20% – the first time.

After a slow but steady recovery lasting several weeks, he was released from the hospital. A couple of weeks later, Dad’s niece and goddaughter, was married in the church we attended. Though no longer hospitalized, Dad was still confined to his bed at home so he missed the event. Between the ceremony and the reception, my cousin and her new husband were driven in their wedding limousine to our house to surprise my Dad. Too young to have been invited to the reception, I was home and as surprised to see them as he was. I remember how touched he was to have been brought into the wedding day. He was a happy, humorous, intelligent, thankful, loving and well-loved man.

My Dad took his doctor’s orders seriously and followed them to the letter. He walked a couple of miles a day, every day, along the sidewalk separating the beach from the parking lot at one of the municipal parks in our city. He wore a pedometer to be sure he fulfilled his obligation to his recovery. He changed his diet and lost weight. He took his medicines (such as they were at the time) strictly as prescribed.  When cleared by his doctor, he returned to work for half-days at first and gradually lengthened his working hours as his strength returned. In short, he did everything in his power to recover and prevent another heart attack.

After six months of recovery, my father’s doctor finally cleared him to return to full workdays starting Thursday, January 14, 1965 – the day after Dad’s 44th birthday. This marked the culmination of his recovery and with it, our whole family’s return to life as it had been before his heart attack.

All was very well.

Building a Career

Immediately upon graduation from high school in 1939, Dad went to work on the loading dock of Pitney-Bowes, the maker of postage meters and related equipment for sorting mail and expediting the deliveries of the US Post Office.  Two years later he was promoted to the Tool Room where the machinery was assembled.

Times and priorities were different back then.

PB management respected the contributions of their employees, paid them well, promoted from within, and recognized and upheld workers’ rights in their shops. The company made safety a priority, was generous with vacation and sick time, and annually hosted an all day summer picnic for all employees and their families at an amusement park. When my Dad was drafted into WWII he, and every other PB employee who joined the military in wartime, was guaranteed that his job would be waiting for him when he returned to civilian life.

And it was.

PB’s health insurance paid the medical bills from Dad’s heart attack and the company kept him on the books at full pay while he was away. And, like it was when he returned from war, his job was waiting for him when he was able to go back to work after his heart attack.

Because PB valued the loyalty of its workers, every employee who reached 25 years of service earned a paid three-month vacation. My Dad surpassed that criterion while on his coronary sick leave, so he and my mother were planning a cross-country trip for us in the upcoming summer months. 

Dad was well again and I was finally going to Disneyland!

Dad had a great sense of humor and was devoted to my mother, my sister, and me. Like others of his generation, my father wanted his children to have a life better than he had. He had no notions of going to college after high school; the idea wasn’t even considered, as he and his family and friends, like so many others, couldn’t afford tuition.  He went to work and he went to war instead.

He and my mother married shortly after he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army and, like so many other returning veterans and their wives, they wanted to start of family.

It might not have been audible, but the Baby Boom was powerful.

Though he never went to college, my father was an intelligent man. He was very mechanically inclined and had both a talent for model making and a natural deductive problem-solving logic that saw him quickly emerge from the loading dock to the tool & die machine shop at PB. Intent on promoting from within, a few years thereafter PB sent him to night courses at Cooper Union in New York City.

Not long thereafter he was promoted from The Tool & Die Manufacturing Group to The Tool & Die Design Group, working side by side with engineers from colleges like Rensselaer, Brooklyn Polytechnic and the Pratt Institute. Ten or so years older than his colleagues, my father was determined to save the tuition money needed for my sister and me to go to college so we might have the head start he’d not had.

Of course, I was to go to college only after the Army had made me a man.

After more than 20 years at PB, my father became Deputy Manager of the Tool & Die Design Group. With years of experience at PB from the ground up, he was in the managing ranks of the company. The Chairman of the Board of Pitney Bowes, Walter Wheeler, knew, liked and respected my father.

Like so many of his peers, Dad was a good, hard working, fun loving, church going, patriotic and responsible man. To me he was just great.

Rituals

I really suffered death for the first time when my father died. 

I was 13 years old.  Dad’s wake and his funeral were the first I ever attended. Both were terrible experiences. Laid out for all to see in an open casket, though his face looked like wax and his lips were unnaturally red, he was there. He wasn’t really gone yet; I could see him big as life, but dead. His was the very first dead body I ever saw. I wanted it to be anybody else. 

Knowing that when the lid on that casket closed I’d never see him again, I tried with all my not-too-formidable might to will him back to life before it was too late. I prayed as never before that his eyes would open, the mourners would cheer, and he’d sit up in the coffin, smile his great smile and be as good as new. He simply could not really be gone, could he?

When I finally accepted that he was, I was trapped in a nightmare.

Dad was among the first of his friends, co-veterans and peers to die, so flowers and visitors to his casket were plentiful. The jungle of floral aromas and the riot of colors failed to matter to me.  My eyes and full attention were sharply focused on the most important man in my life. I knew full well that after his funeral the coffin would be opened again for a final private viewing when I would see him for the very last time. I brought the keychain attached to a 1964 silver Kennedy half-dollar I’d given Dad for his birthday the day before he died.  During the wake I asked the mortician to put it in Dad’s suit pocket before he closed the coffin. He promised he would.  I hope he did.

As they arrived from the cold January night for his wake, people greeted one another with nods, polite smiles, and whispered conversation in the foyer of the funeral home. I was aimlessly walking nearby when some muted casual laughter came from their conversations.

The laughs struck me hard. How could anything be laughable here while my father lay dead in the next room?  I was insulted by what I considered as disrespect for my great and wonderful father.

I wanted to stand up for my father by calling these people out but, ultimately, I was afraid to confront them. They were of my father’s generation. So I fabricated a noble excuse that I should protect the solemnity of my father’s last days on the surface of the earth. I rationalized that it would be unseemly to make a confrontational spectacle of myself. But if any of the revelers were to look me in the eyes, my indignation would be unmistakable.

None of them did.

In the back of my mind I knew I was jealous of these folks. They could still laugh and I could not. I knew when they left the building they would all go home to resume their lives as usual. At that moment I had no idea of what my life was to become. The only thing I knew was that nothing could ever be as it was.

A jigger of grief and a dash of fear made a potent cocktail for that 13-year old boy. Simply put, I was as incoherent as a drunken man.

Looking back, I wish I hadn’t gone to the open-casket wake. For many years thereafter when I’d call my father to mind, the involuntary first memory I’d have was the image of him in the casket. I had to pass through that sad gateway before I could visit all the good memories of his playing catch with me, fixing my bike, bowling, or driving me to a nearby de-commissioned railroad station to watch for long freight trains, count the cars, and wave to the caboose guys as they sped by.  It was just him and me, spending time together, and it was grand.

Over the years, the casket image thankfully faded in my mind, but I think I would have been better off if the casket had been closed or I skipped the wake.

Sobering Realizations

My father’s premature death changed me fundamentally. Up to then, I was secure in my world, had a strong middle class support system that kept me fed, warm and sheltered. I was growing like a well watered plant, protected from and untouched by the darker side of the larger world.

In a blink of an eye, Dad’s death obliterated my tidy existence and left me really stunned and vulnerable for the first time. When I re-surfaced from the rituals of departure, it was to an uncomfortably unfamiliar world. We were in the same house, on the same street, with the same neighbors and friends and relatives. We ate the same food cooked on the same stove, served on the same dishes that were washed in the same sink in the same kitchen. But now we were just three. The “head of our household” was gone and we were tearful, downtrodden and scared. I’d never before experienced such panic and confused pain.

What happened to us simply wasn’t fair.  Little did I know that, while I was correct in the observation, I never really had any inherent right to fairness.  The universe was not in the least concerned about me. And I heard just the faintest of whispers in my mind, ‘neither was God.’

Disturbingly, I awoke to the knowledge that any future fairness or happiness I may have would always be vulnerable to tragedy from out of the blue. I’d learned the hard way that no matter how well things may be going, days of happiness could spin 180° into grief in an instant.  No one is safe and no time or circumstance is off limits. I was wary.

I couldn’t trust my world any more, so I feared it.

At thirteen years old, I had no doubt that more people I loved would die in my lifetime. Anticipated or not, the ache of loss would revisit me a few or many times. This shadowy foreknowledge has been affirmed, and it will remain with me until I die. 

If only…

The circumstances of sudden death (from an accident, random violence, wartime, stroke, heart attack etc.,) often inspire useless, after the fact “if onlys”:

If only Beth had left for work just five minutes earlier or later…

If only the peace talks had ended the war sooner…

If only that fool hadn’t run the red light….

If only I could have convinced him to ride with a helmet…

If only Mary had taken the doctor’s advice seriously…

If only my father’s nitro pills had worked…

These “if onlys” expose wrinkles in our lives that come from our random and disinterested environment. It naturally neither favors nor disfavors anyone. Good folks and evil do not necessarily get what they deserve. Not in this life.

As time progresses it is increasingly clear to me that life and death are not designed to be fair.  Justice is a human concept that is not elsewhere present in nature. It is an ideal we seek and treasure, but is not an automatic force of nature. When one busts that bubble, a lot of what didn’t make sense comes into sharper focus

Face it. Luck, good or bad, can visit anyone, good or bad, at any time, good or bad.

I am writing this on Friday, February 5, 2016. During a severe snowstorm early this morning, a huge construction crane in the Tribecca section of Lower Manhattan was being moved to protect it and the area nearby. Unfortunately, before making it to safety the crane was blown over by the high winds. The massive tower came crashing to the ground.

Two people were seriously injured and one man was killed.

The dead man never knew what hit him.

God didn’t do it, nor did God stop it.

It was in no way this man’s “time.” A random, improbable, series of events coincided to topple the crane onto the unfortunate victim who, through no fault of his own, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Likewise, the injured were innocent victims of misfortune/bad luck.  It could as well have been me…or you. No one is immune from the outcomes of random occurrences.

Due to things unfortunate, we can’t always rely on having more time.

Chapter 5 – Dealing with Death & Time

The certainty of Death is hugely upsetting. It typically combines fear and sadness as it challenges our understanding of the purposes of life. Living gives us access to hope for the future, but Death makes that future finite. When a life ends we grieve the void that remains, and it reminds us that an unknown time will come when the void will overtake us.

It appears to me we share the burden of the knowledge of death with some other animals.  Survival of the fittest establishes a food chain that requires premature deaths in other species.  If an antelope isn’t somehow aware of death, why does it run for its life in abject terror from the lioness in pursuit? 

I don’t know where the certainty of my mortality resides among the synapses in my brain, but I try my best to isolate it as far as I can from the rest of my knowledge. I work hard to limit my awareness of my mortality. Were it to become an obsession it would darken all my days.

But at times I can’t escape battling the will of the specter.

Each of my adult encounters with the Grim Reaper was followed by involuntary soul-searching. I examined my mortality to try to better understand why I am here and what, if anything, may happen to “me” when I am gone. 

It was not until late in my trauma management therapy after 9/11 that I began to more clearly define what matters to me and how I want to navigate the rest of my days. During take stock of life exercises, I realized I needed to be more confident and let that confidence inform how I should manage the rest of my life. I broadened the scope of my concern for other people and raised the respect I automatically give to anyone until and unless he or she proves unworthy of it.  My self-serving goals made room for more random acts of caring, and my wife continued to teach me about unexpected generosity.  And I realized I needed to forgive my self too.

While I’m not a fan of the “life taken for granted” phrase, I don’t deny that a refreshed perspective on life can be among the takeaways of “survivors.”  Certainly one does not need to face death to realize the value of eating dessert first, but few bona-fide survivors fail to get the message.

What surprises me about my death-proximity experiences is they’ve made me appreciably less discomforted by the certainty of dying.  Perhaps, after pondering so much about it, I’m getting fatalistically calmer about the certainty that I will die one day. Like anybody, I cannot know for sure what will become of me when I die.  My concern now is to avoid the deep hole that I might dig while obsessing over the inevitable. 

I fear death because it is beyond my knowing. All that I really know comes from life. Ultimately I ask myself, what’s the worst that can happen at death? If every last vestige of me simply evaporates at death, what is there to fear? My absence here won’t matter to me when I’m gone.  I will either be in another place or simply cease to exist in any place or manner.

My world, the only place and time I know at the moment, could vanish with me.

This brings me to ask, “Am “I” my life? Is my life the sum total of all that I am and have been, or am I something more?”  Do I have a future, or will death be my total apocalyptic end?  If I am more than my life only, I am more than what I now know I am.  In this context the only purpose of life is to grow into something better than I am, so as to be more valuable in my potential future.

I don’t know what to expect when the Grim Reaper grabs me on the shoulder but until then I have a life to complete.  I don’t want to stop growing in preparation that “I” may be more than I know.  If whatever this life is has no purpose-filled future: so what.  I can’t change that. I might as well play the hand I’ve been dealt. If “I” will continue to exist in some fashion, I may as well prepare myself to “keep on keeping on” in a meaningful way.

Suffering Death

Most people first encounter death in the third-person long before worrying about it in the first-person.

What does it mean to mourn the death of someone you loved or liked? For whom do we grieve?  Do we feel sorry for the dead person’s loss because he or she liked being alive?  Or do we feel sorry for ourselves because we feel the absence of someone we loved? 

Answers to these last two questions are not mutually exclusive.  Both can be true.

At times obituaries use trot out the phrase: “the departed suffered death on…” Perhaps the obit writers are drawing on a phrase in Christianity’s Nicene Creed that says that Jesus “suffered death and was buried.”  Certainly crucifixion was a suffering, but is the transition from life to death necessarily a suffering?  While a painfully slow death surely must be, suffering might not be present when someone dies while sleeping.  Hopefully, a sudden death, as in an accident, might involve at most only a brief moment of awareness fear, if any. 

How can we know whether or how someone suffers death pain?  I’ve not heard of anyone revived from death who reported a painful transition into the beyond or back.

Certainly the loving survivors of a dear departed soul suffer the death. The living grieve; the dead  – silently ambivalent.

Destiny?

Although I’m not anxious to meet Him or Her face to face yet, I do believe God is.  A universe and its souls don’t just spontaneously occur. Beyond that prime mover premise, however, the nature of my belief was sorely challenged during my efforts to piece together some kind of understanding of 9/11.

That complex and costly day produced thousands of contrasting stories of the lost and the lucky. There was no earthly calculus of any kind that differentiated those who survived from those who didn’t.  Accepting this realization became a large part of my recovery from the spiritual, emotional, and physical wounds I suffered from that day.  It took a long time and skilled help before I assembled a credible idea of how God may operate in our lives or leaves us to our own designs.

I never lost my faith in a loving and beneficent God, but my beliefs about the degree to which He/She operates in our lives were challenged.

One’s “Time to Die”

God may have created and set the universe in motion, but I do not believe that any death, whether by accident, disease, old age, or human mayhem, happens because God makes a conscious decision to “take” someone at a specified time, in a specified way, at a specified place. God has no destiny strategy for each of us to fulfill. The time and manner of one’s death can only be labeled as his/her “destiny” in the past tense.

I think God made all life on our planet subject to death for several good reasons. But it need not follow that God, having made us mortal, has or wants a plan for when, where and how any one of us will live or die.

God created our chaotic and random environment. With the gift of free will, how we conduct our selves (our souls) with others and our surroundings is certainly among God’s concerns, but God is not responsible for anything we do with our Free Will. 

The date, place, or time of a death is no indication of God’s Will.  God feels the pain of loss suffered by those left behind, but God is not a puppeteer or a pied piper leading us to the pre-scheduled moment and manner of our deaths.

The idea that Saint Peter has an ironclad arrival date for each soul as part of a universal forever game plan drawn up and administered by God is ludicrous.

I’m sorry sir, I know you came a long way here,

but I see no reservation in the Book under your name.

We were aware that you might come here today,

 but we have a full house now and no space for walk-ins.

Perhaps you might join the crowd at the bar downstairs.

The bartender is famous you know.

Most of us know The Holy Platitudes:

  • He’s in a better place,” is said to comfort us as much as the griever.  
  • It simply wasn’t his time,” means it’s a miracle the guy’s still alive. 
  • It was just his time,” means face it, he was supposed to die when he did. 

Believing that everybody has an already booked but unknown “time” puts all the blame for every death squarely on God. It’s simply not fair.  Equally unfair is the notion that God has the macabre sense of humor necessary to coordinate all the conditions needed to lead Homer to the exact spot when and where the next lightning bolt will obliterate the poor sod.

Our souls grow or diminish according to how we deal with our environment, including our fellow human and other living beings.  I believe that in life we have an opportunity to grow or damage the only vestige of our selves – our souls – that remains eternal.

No, the “it was just her time” and the “it just wasn’t his time” rationales simply do not hold water in our chaotic environment.  There is no other way I can reconcile surviving 9/11 while too many good people I knew and respected did not.

Either their deaths were random, or God has some serious explaining to do. 

I know in my bones that God did not send the hijackers of the planes on a Holy Mission.  God did not plan anyone’s death on 9/11.

Free will and God’s will are not necessarily the same. 

Six Times a Survivor – A Memoir Chapters 2 & 3

Chapter 2 – A Mother’s Worst Nightmare

Birth and Death are bookends. Our lives are the volumes contained between them. My bookends had only a few coloring books between them before I was almost killed.

My first encounter with death is one of my earliest childhood memories.  As I look back on it, which is seldom now, I realize how truly lucky I was.

My home for the first 18 years of my life was in a great neighborhood.  The houses were modest, middle-class places with nothing more than the width of a driveway separating them on either side.  By the time I was seven I knew everyone who lived in each of the homes on Palmer Street – kids and grown ups – and they knew me.   Ours was not a busy street, but neither was it a dead end.  It was one of a warren of residential roads that terraced a broad hill. Our little 1/8th mile road was one of the terraces and was bracketed by road-hills at each end. 

Palmer Street was never heavily trafficked.  Our neighbors and their visitors accounted for nearly all of the sparse traffic on our small piece of road. Most cars in the vicinity passed up or down one of the hills. The center of our village, Springdale, was at the bottom of the hill.

Kids of all ages lived on the terraced roads and hills. Our playgrounds were our back yards and the street. When we played on the street, when a kid saw a car coming he or she would cleverly yell, “Car!” We’d politely step off the road and wait for the car to pass before resuming our play.

It happened in the summer of 1956.  A bunch of us were playing “war” (when “shot” you had to “die” dramatically and count to 10 before you could rejoin the battle).  Not yet six years old, I was excited because the “big kids” were letting we little ones play with them. 

The battle lines were on either side of the road right in front of my house. The combatants yelled “bam-bam-bam” as they pulled the triggers on their toy guns from the cover provided by the cars parked on both curbsides. 

The leader of our pint-sized army called us together to describe his intricate attack strategy: basically, run at them. We all were going make a daring do-or-die heroic charge across no-man’s-land, e.g., the street, to engage the enemy on their side of the road.

I gritted what teeth I had and squeezed my plastic toy pistol. A plan! A coordinated attack with and against big kids! I couldn’t wait!  On the count of three we fearless little soldiers charged as one across the street, guns blazing bam-bam-bam, to meet our foes.

I arrived at the other curb and realized I had no idea what I was supposed to do next. So, what now?  

My quandary was quickly solved when the biggest and loudest enemy big kid stood right in front of me and bellowed at all of us to get back to our own side of the street before he started knocking heads together.  Genuinely panicked, I turned and made a fear-fueled, though short-legged, dash towards the safety of our side of the road.

I was completely oblivious of the car driving by until it offered its greetings when I darted in front of it from between two parked cars.

I remember my head colliding with steel as I bounced off the front of the car.  The next thing I knew I was lying by the curb and my mother was next to me on her knees, pale-faced and afraid. I don’t know if I was knocked unconscious by the car or by my landing, but I was out for a while during which my mother came to my side and a neighbor called for an ambulance. I opened my eyes briefly in shock. When I became conscious of my fear, confusion and pain I started to wail – a good sign.

Years later, when my mother recounted the scene, she said she was looking through our dining room windows and saw the accident about to happen. She saw the car and saw me running toward it between the parked cars moments before we collided.  She shrieked “No,” as she bolted for the front door.  When she opened it she saw me fall on my back near the curb.

In mere seconds she went from clearing the breakfast dishes to living in her worst nightmare, powerless to control whatever was next.  I can’t imagine what she went through.  When we spoke about it years later told me she “thanked God that it wasn’t my time to die.”

Luckily the lady driving the car slowed as she saw the playing children make way for her.  When I darted in front of her car she had no time to avoid impact. Her precautionary speed minimized the damage to me though. Her car struck me down but I’d not been run over.

Ultimately, I learned to cross streets safely but had no comprehension of the real danger I’d been in. I realized the extent of my good fortune only years later. 

To me the net result of my headlong charge in front of a moving car included an ambulance ride – sirens and all, an egg-shaped lump on my forehead, a concussion, an over night stay in the hospital, some new toys, and a vulnerability to headaches that didn’t go away for the next 20 years.

The accident was minor.

It could have been far worse.  

Lucky me.

Chapter 3 – Death in Childhood Eyes Eyes

As a child I was lucky always to feel safe and valued. Growing up I doubt I ever realized the importance of my support systems, protection, advocates, belonging, security, sustenance, privilege, personal values, modeled behavior, and all the other benefits lovingly provided by my family. It was all just there for the taking. Consequently, I was a happy, well-adjusted, upbeat kid in my early years, and I genuinely knew I had it good. I was woefully unaware, however, that lots of kids and others didn’t (still don’t) have it so good.

 I had a faint awareness of death but was naturally unconcerned about my own demise as a child; after all, I’d just emerged from the starting gate in life.

Meet the Reaper

As is common, my grandparents were the first of my close relatives to die during my childhood. My paternal grandmother, Myrtle Krum Ash ( that’s right, she went from a Krum to an Ash when she married) passed nine months after my birth. She’d known and loved me, held me and cared for me, but I have absolutely no recollection of her. Family photographs confirm she was a nice part of my life, but she was gone before my lasting memory was enabled. Thank goodness for photos. The love in her eyes, her smile, and her kind disposition are easy to see, even in black & white. By all accounts, she was a gem. But her death didn’t faze me in the least. My goals were focused on needing a diaper change, being fed and sleeping.

Myrtle’s husband, my paternal grandfather, Samuel Bailey Ash, survived her by five years, so I actually knew and still remember “Pop” Sam. He let my sister and me stay up late when he babysat us. He smoked his pipe or a cigar, read the newspaper and talked with us while we played with our toys on the floor. He always got us to bed and asleep before my parents returned home, so we kept our little stay-up secret with him always. Born in Brooklyn, he had been a milkman and later worked in the train yard of the New York and New Haven Railroad before he retired. After Myrtle died he moved in with my dad’s sister, Aunt Evelyn, her husband Uncle Charley and their four girls. Theirs was a small home of big hearts. Pop volunteered as a school crossing guard; he smiled a lot and was great with kids.

When we visited the small house of big hearts, I’d run upstairs to visit Pop’s room to smell his pipe tobacco. Next to his easy chair stood a side table/floor lamp that illuminated his newspapers and held what I considered his best possessions – an ashtray, his rack of briar pipes, a pipe tool, and his leather tobacco pouch. I’d climb on his lap and he’d reach for the tobacco pouch, open it, and give it to me. I’d bend my head down to stick my nose into that pouch to breathe in the aroma of pipe tobacco and leather. I loved it and he always got a kick out of that.

I was six years old when Pop Sam died. He had a heart attack while coming home from someplace in town, and drove his old Plymouth into a telephone pole. He was dead before they got him into the ambulance.

When my sister and I came home from school that day (most kids all walked to and from school in those days), I was surprised to see my father home early from work.  He lifted me, looked me in the eyes, and gently told me that Pop was dead. I wasn’t really sure what that meant, but I knew that because he died, I would never see him again. That was enough to make me bury my face into my dad’s shoulder and cry.

My most vivid memory of that afternoon is when Dad put me down I ran to one of the upholstered chairs in our living room, knelt before it and wept into the seat cushion. To this day, when I see photos taken in that living room and I see that chair, I remember it as the altar I cried on for Pop.

Life Marches On

Youth is resilient and the death of someone in a family’s elder generation, while painful and sorrowful, is not an unexpected tragedy. In the 1950s the male life expectancy in the United States was 67.6 years. Today it is 76.3. When my grandfather Sam had his fatal heart attack, he was beyond his average life expectancy.  When he died, Pop’s four offspring were all adults, all married, and all with families of their own. He even had a great-grandchild.  His work was done. 

Pop was a widower and was at the end of his days. I was too young to go to the wakes or the funeral; my introduction to the rituals of death in my land was postponed to a later date. Early in the following week, my Dad left for work as usual and my mother prepared my sister and me for school. The return to normalcy was comforting; our lives resumed essentially unchanged.

I occasionally felt Pop’s absence and would sometimes think about the implications of this death thing while trying to fall asleep at night. I’d never really wrestled with anything like this before. When I tried to imagine I would also someday die, it was beyond my comprehension. I would end up thanking God that I wasn’t an old man and took great comfort that I would not be one for a long time yet. The only way I could deal with the concept was to tell myself that I would “cross that bridge when I got to it.” My immediate future was my outermost reach; considerations of old age and death would wait.

I worried about when my parents and sister would die. I needed them, but they were older so logically they would die before me.  I figured I was going to end up alone. That idea in a six-year-old mind was uncomfortable to say the least, so I made my mother, father and sister promise that after we all died we’d find one another in heaven so we could be together forever. 

I guess that meant I loved them.

Even at the age of six, I somehow understood that the suffering of death was left to the living. I feared suffering more than dying. I knew what pain was but not death. Eventually, despite the promise I forced on them, I ardently prayed that I would die before my parents did.  Not right away or soon, but first. I’d be the trailblazer and would choose the place in heaven where we would all be rejoined after we died. I’d know they were coming so I wouldn’t miss them too much while waiting for them. If they died first, I’d be very sad and would suffer missing them every day.  Truth be told, I feared if they got there first there was a chance they’d forget our deal and leave me behind. 

I prayed to be first.

It didn’t work.

Six Times a Survivor – A Memoir

By James C. Ash

 Memoir (noun):

 1. A narcissist’s manuscript written to inflate his/her ego at the expense of his/her unwitting readers.

2.  An insufferable imposition on an author’s captive family and former friends .                                                                                     

Introduction 

The world’s population is largely comprised of inconspicuous people who haven’t the circumstance, opportunity or desire to attract wide attention.  Few are famous or infamous. Sometimes though, extraordinary things happen to ordinary people.

I never expected to find myself at death’s door six different times in my life…so far. I had no warnings, no plans and certainly no desire to be near that mysterious portal. I had no choice.  Like it or not, I experienced six such events, five of which broadened the scope of what I believed life is about.

This memoir is about coincidences and destinies.  It’s about astounding dumb luck and/or divine intervention. It’s about odds and aging. It’s about pain and gratitude and rituals and grief. It’s about fear and love and lessons I took to heart and those I ignored.

This is an ordinary man’s remarkable unfinished story.

Note: the subsequent blog entries of Six Times a Survivor are sorted more or less chapter by chapter and will be posted sequentially, but not regularly, beginning with Chapter 1 below.

Chapter 1 – Truly Extraordinary Luck

Huge helpings of luck have played a prominent role several times in my life, including my birth.  In fact, by virtue of birth everyone has been the beneficiary of monumentally astounding luck. That’s how everyone’s start on life on earth begins.

From a cosmic perspective: We are all lucky to have been born on a planet that is simultaneously far enough away from its sun, and close enough to its sun, to sustain life as we know it. We are riding the rotating Earth in an orbit through a narrow sweet spot between temperature extremes in space.  Life as we know it would be impossible without these circumstances. We have yet to find any other planet that sustains life, but we’re still trying.  In an infinite universe, chances are other planets can support life, but not many. 

From an earthly perspective: There had to be a time when water, carbon, heat, chemicals, gasses, lightning, and other elements and conditions necessary to create life all existed in sufficient supply at the same place and time on Earth.   Divine providence or scientific fantastic phenomenon, the initial creation of life on Earth was an astronomical miracle.  The recipe for combining non-living matter and energy to make living beings has never been published, but it had to be cooked up either by God or insanely ridiculous chance. 

From the human perspective:  It took several doses of the “luck of the draw” in the saga of everyone’s journeys of conception. The human birth process involves a huge and complex chain of potential circumstances and outcomes.   It takes a unique pairing of a man’s sperm cell and a woman’s egg to create a human being. Presuming that the selection of the lucky cell and its hostess is random, the odds are ludicrously slim that a specific, ready egg will meet a specific sperm cell to fertilize and produce a unique human embryo.

Assuming a healthy woman gives birth to four children in her life and produces one egg per month for 35 years (420 eggs), each egg has a less than 1% (0.95%) chance of being fertilized into a human embryo.

The single sperm cell that partners with the egg requires huge multiples more luck than the egg.  According to “Mechanisms of Sperm Motility” by Dr. Charles Lindemann of Oakland University, a healthy man releases an average of 280 million sperm cells each time he ejaculates. https://files.oakland.edu/users/lindeman/web/index.htmlhttps://files.oakland.edu/users/lindeman/web/index.html

Consequently, any pairing of a particular one-in-a hundred egg with a one-among-trillions particular sperm cell is a certifiable miracle. Every one on this planet, alive or dead, beat those nearly impossible odds against being born. Any different egg or any other sperm cell would have created an entirely different person than you. 

In this, everyone is a miracle.

An Extra Helping of Luck

In the high stakes, minuscule chance, Become-a-Baby Mega Trillions Lottery, I needed and got an extra helping of luck.

My parents wanted two children and ultimately that’s what they had (my sister is four years my senior).  So why did I need an extra portion of super miraculous luck?

I was a young man before I learned that my mother had a miscarriage two years after my sister was born.  It was a sad and unfortunate event for my parents, but what an incredibly lucky break for me!

How insane is this? Years before I was conceived, when I was nothing more than the slightest inkling of a minute possibility that didn’t yet exist, I got lucky. Had my parents’ second pregnancy produced a healthy child, it is very unlikely the sperm cell and the egg that both carried my name would ever have met.

A Trojan warrior would have seen to that.

Okay, Now What?

I hope you’re pleased to know how impressively you won the person-to-be competition.  In the realms of possibility and value you are a true champion.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

In the immense realm of non-events, “Every life is precious” is not a platitude.

Without Exception: All Lives Matter, A Lot.

Fighting the Flames

Photo by Ozzie Stern on Unsplash

February 2021

I have heard from various sources, including the talking heads in the media and people I know and highly respect, that we all need to understand that the national debt needs attention. Interestingly, these last four years the Senators of what is now the new minority Republican party inflated the national debt far beyond all previous measure. Now it seems they have have found religion and want new majority Democratic party take steps to curtail spending.

Democrats who now control both houses of the Congress intend to legislate a follow up stimulus package to help the economic victims of Covid19.  Republicans are opposing this action on the grounds that it would be harmful to the national debt that they over inflated during the four-year Trump debacle.

Among their stable of talking points is that ‘when the country gives its citizens a financial stimulus, all it accomplishes is the government loaning the taxpayers’ money back to them.  Eventually, those same taxpayers will need to pay it back with interest.

I look at this issue as water and fire. Right now the Covid19 killing fire is raging and people the world over need water to fight the flames. Millions of our citizens who lost their livelihoods or their insurance or health have become financially insecure and in desperate need of help because of Covid19. None of us needs to have caught the disease to become a victim of it. Our entire nation is under siege. Sure the water will need to be replenished by our nation of citizens over time. The distribution of the ‘water’ and its replenishment will test the notion of America as a nation.

But those of us who by luck, or the Grace of God, or wise investment, have dependable reservoirs, need to share that wealth now. The debt that we all share is huge. While the stimulus will give many of our citizens desperately needed funds to survive, it will, at the same time, enrich others like my wife and me, who are fortunately not now in immediate financial danger.

While we are always grateful for more income, we feel uncomfortable taking what is for us “disposable” income from funds primarily intended to help people in need.  Accordingly, we have decided to donate our stimulus windfall where it will do more good: to not-for-profit organizations we support.

This is our choice, but one does not have to emulate that to make the stimulus work.

By simply spending the stimulus to purchase goods or services, we will put the stimulus funds into circulation as intended. Those who spend their shares of the stimulus will fuel our economy to help create jobs and spread the wealth. It will shower much needed water onto our nation’s economic intense flames.  

It may not put out the fire by itself, but it will buy our economy and our country much needed time to recover from the aftermath of the past four years and its outlandish QuackAnon /Twilight Zone conspiracy theories.

There is a time and place for everything. These are deeply troubled times.

If we don’t care for those in need, what is America all about? 

When All is Said and Done, History Will Tell the Tale.

When All is Said and Done,                History Will Tell the Tale.

April 17, 2020

Today the planet is in the midst of a deadly pandemic, an event that will have a prominent position in World History. It will chronicle the origin of the disease, its spread, and how we deal with a long period of mortal jeopardy amongst the world’s population.

As nations integrated into the global economy, international travel barriers fell giving rise to other global modes of agriculture, artistic expression, politics, sports, finance, communication, recreation, and other activities.  The resulting commerce put many people on “the go.” Hitchhiking on unknowingly infected travelers, COVID-19 spores rapidly scattered far and wide from the virus’s origin. Once ensconced on a continent the sickness spread with no regard for political power or borders. 

Clearly the nations of the world were poorly prepared to combat, control, and defeat this plague in its early stages.  This was despite years of warnings from medical professionals and research scientists that a global pandemic was on the horizon and it wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when” this potential tragedy would materialize.

Now that the pandemic is here, medical experts and politicians advise the best way to be safe and help others be safe, is to stay the hell away from one another for an as yet unspecified period. 

This modern-day plague has already taken a horrendous toll in lives, grief, and psyches around the world. Death statistics are expected to worsen before they peak in several population-dense areas across America. Other regions and nations of the world are wrestling against differing stages of the virus, depending both on when the disease arrived and the local wherewithal to combat it. Timing – as to when leaders grasped the urgency to take steps to control disease’s spread – is another differentiator. 

Shamefully few COVID-19 testing kits are available and breathing ventilators urgently needed by the most seriously inflicted are in short supply. While the virus has been free to blossom everywhere on the planet, its greatest hot spots have been the land of the free and the home of the brave – the single most advanced country in the world.

In hindsight it is beyond any doubt that America’s initial response to the pandemic was woefully political rather than scientific. Having shut down the country’s Office of Pandemic Planning years before, POTUS had no government experts to call on in this time of need. So, based solely on the wishful thinking that fuels his infamous ”gut instinct,” POTUS assured America in no uncertain words that the pandemic simply would never reach our shores.  When his fingers-crossed hope fell apart, he doubled-down on the fantasy with his equally-unfounded assurance that the situation was under control and that the disease would be isolated and defeated completely in a week or two.

Stumbling blindfolded with his pants around his knees he nonetheless proclaimed that his perfect response to the pandemic would be hailed as heroism in history.  

Pure Delusion

Meanwhile, despite the president’s premature proclamation that test kits were available to anyone who wants one, the kits were and are still in short supply. The truth is, he made up this “fact” on the fly; one of many that existed nowhere except in his personal arsenal of FAKE NEWS.  This lie was particularly pernicious because test kits are pivotal to knowing when it is safe to lift a quaranteen in a given area. Rather than taking steps to expedite test kit production it was easier and far less expensive to give short term false hope to Americans.  

His empathy is underwhelming.

Researchers are rushing to invent a safe and effective vaccine against this microscopic killer, but the most optimistic estimates anticipate one will not be available for at least six to twelve months.  In the meantime POTUS continues to stumble around.  One day he proclaims to be Constitutionally all powerful – the King and sole decision maker in the land.  The next day someone apparently pointed out to him that as King he would be primarily responsible for any and all failures in the long road back to normal. Accordingly, he spun 180 degrees and off-loaded the responsibility-laden authority to decide when and how to open the states to their respective governors. 

Now both POTUS and Sargent Schultz can safely say, “I know nothing” when accountability time rolls around.

Not to be left out, long after the fact we learn that the Multi Trillion Dollar Stimulus Package supposedly passed by Congress to help Americans pay for the necessities of life during this crisis, had a hidden trap door built in. Senate leader Mitch McConnell & Co added a provision that showers nearly $200,000,000,000  onto his wealthy but in some way impoverished corporate and personal supporters.  

Americans in mortal crises deserve the truth now more than ever.  How can anyone trust a president who has proven almost daily that he has no qualms about broadcasting convenient, self-serving lies? Likewise, how can anyone stomach a cynical, long time power broker who diverts funds intended for people in need to the contributors who own him?

But Still There Is Hope

At Long Last It’s 2020.

In November Let’s Make Truth & Justice the American Way Again.

 

 

In Deep Jeopardy

In Deep Jeopardy

Trump is acquitted, but he will forever be known as one of only three Presidents ever to have been impeached. He was by no means exonerated, though he was not removed from the White House either.

When his impeachment trial was over, some Republican Senators/Jurors openly admitted that Trump was certainly guilty of the charges brought before them, but his misdemeanors were not severe enough to be a cause for concern. 

Extortion must be a petty crime these days.

Everybody not hypnotized by FOX News has seen a great deal of evidence that confirms Trump has broken the law. He’s a bonafide criminal – but he was acquitted. He and his minions, especially a deranged Dershowitz, completely scammed the Senate and created a potential major imbalance of power among the branches of the Federal Government in the process.

Well, that’s not entirely true. In fact it was a foregone conclusion requiring no further scams that Trump would be acquitted. By a margin of just a few votes, he owns the Senate because he owns Mitch O’Connell, a man of lofty convictions and principles who, in 2015, emphatically proclaimed Trump as totally unfit to be POTUS. 

The champaign and beer are free flowing at Mara Logo again.  Who knows? Perhaps now the G-20 will convene there and line Trump’s pockets after all. The presidential extortionist immobilized the Congress – not with his bang, but with their whimpers. 

Are we on the brink of the failure of the Democratic Republic of America?  Has the experiment, crafted so insightfully, presciently and elegantly by the founding fathers, finally been perverted sufficiently to have run its course? Is a cabal of self-serving legislators and executive heads of state shredding the Constitution, the document that defines an American’s rights and the responsibilities to protect them? 

Do we simply not care that :

  • we have a President who can never be trusted to tell any part of the Truth (a pivotal Constitutional responsibility for all)?
  • we have a President who’s had enough reasons to lie more than a thousand times to maintain his own alternate world of “alternate” truths?
  • we have a President who tramples the Constitutionally defined separation of powers among the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of our democracy.
  • we have a President  who will stop at nothing to consolidate his power by preying on law makers’ and administrators’ fear of him and their penchant to protect their lucrative positions of public trust at any cost?
  • we have a President who has alienated America from some of its staunchest allies and embraced and idolizes some of the world’s most autocratic tyrants?
  • we have a President who has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to have extorted the newly elected president of an allied nation (under siege by Russia) to actively help his own re-election efforts?
  • we have a President who openly invited America’s two most formidable adversaries, China and Russia, to meddle in US Presidential elections on his behalf – begging them on national TV to be complicit with his campaigns. That is treasonous, plain & simple.
  • we have a President who has cheapened the Presidential Office into a comedy show of infantile insults, blatant lies, and pejorative nicknames of political adversaries.
  • we have a President who speaks in wildly self-centered superlatives lauding every thing he does as perfection unprecedented in history: “the best ever” “there’s never been anything like it” “nothing comes close” etc.
  • we have a President who relies on his regal minions to thwart the release of anything that might expose his illegal actions, lies, or other wrongdoings.

This is not a resume that should be attributable to a President of the United States.

Those who like him because he’s brash, or “he tells it like it is” are swallowing our adversaries’ bait. If telling it like it is includes extortion, undermining our allies, and blind trust in the leaders of China, Russia, and North Korea, we need to fix the world “like it is.”

An unforgiving History will track the series of events and capitulations that have created this ignoble scenario. That’s the perpetrators’ inescapable problem now.

It is what it is, but it should not be.

We need to choose how it will be with the votes that are counted after November’s election. If we look ahead we might realize that Donald J. Trump is assembling the puzzle pieces he needs to become a despot, be it as a dictator, or a King.  Whether he chooses to rule a dynasty or as royalty will be defined by how he bequeaths his position to his family.

I hate that America has been dragged to this brink. I have never before been so distraught over the sickness of our American Democracy.  There are too many greedy capitulators and no obvious brave heroes left in the Republican Party. Apparently, John McCain was the last of a dying breed.

We, the American voters, have to either set things right or prepare to scatter the ashes of our Democracy.

A Feeling I’d Never Experienced

A Feeling I’d Never Experienced

Despite never having a dog of my own until manhood, I’m a lifelong dog lover.  Doris and I adopted my first dog, Brandy, three years after we wed. Brandy was a mixed breed one-year-old that we rescued from the local Humane Society.  She was a sweet dog, gentle with our babies and a spectacular Frisbee catcher who loved going airborne to pluck a disk out of the sky.

We loved Brandy for eight years before she passed away from a sudden debilitating disease.  It was a sad time for all of us.  I felt especially guilty that the poor dog spent so much of her days alone, waiting for one of us to come home from work or school.  It wasn’t fair to her. Like most dogs, she just craved attention but got too little from our family on-the-go.  I vowed not to get another dog until I could give it the time and attention it deserved.

As many who know me are aware, when Doris and I moved to Maine to start our early retirement, we got a miniature Australian Shepherd (a.k.a. American Shepherd) we named Charley.  He joined our lives at eight weeks old, nearly nine years ago. I craved to be a dog owner again and vowed this time I would do it right.  Charley has long been a full-fledged, card-carrying member of our family with almost all rights and privileges attendant thereto (except relieving himself indoors), and is similarly acknowledged by our daughter’s and son’s families.

Charley is my shadow and I’m his. Whenever possible, he goes where I go.  He has a disposition that, if emulated by most people, would make nuclear weapons and the United Nations obsolete.  He is bright, smiley, affectionate, playful, popular, obedient, patient and eager to like anyone he meets. He plays well with other dogs (he has a fascination with licking their ears for some reason) right up until they show an interest in his food bowl or try to be too friendly with me.

Charley is not just smart, he’s really smart. We were living on Orr’s Island in Harpswell, Maine when we brought Charley home from an upstate breeder in Litchfield.  Within less than a week, Charley (an eight week old ball of fur) knew to go to the front door to be let outside when he had to “go.” Our 400-foot driveway was a long and somewhat serpentine hill that ended in front of our house on Long Cove. For exercise (Charley’s, not mine) I would put a tennis ball into the socket of a “chucker” and throw the ball far up the driveway.  Charley would run up the hill, retrieve it, and bring it back to me so I could throw it for him again.  This lasted a few months before Charley changed the game.  One day, after running up the hill to retrieve the ball as usual, he started down the driveway but then stopped.  He looked down at me, tilted his head to one side, laid down on his stomach on the macadam, and rolled the ball down the hill to me. That was the way we played from then on. He figured it out all on his own and after a while had learned where to release the ball so that it didn’t fall off either side of the curves in the driveway.

When we moved from Maine to our present home, a condominium, we made sure we found one with a hill.

We never “crated” him – he’s always been welcome in our room on our bed any time.  Dog trainers (actually dog-owner trainers) ) were surprised at how quickly he learned and responded to commands. I easily trained him to come to me when I called him or whistled two specific notes.  Many folks in our neighborhood of more than 60 condominiums know and like Charley.

In early September 2019 we made our familiar hour-and-forty-five-minute trek to our daughter and son-in-law’s home to help care for three of our grandchildren (our son and daughter-in-law have #4) while ‘mom’ was away for three days.  Of course, Charley was with us.  Our eldest grandchild, four-year-old Maddy, had earlier explained to Hunni (Doris) and Pop (me) that while Charley lived with us, he was our dog, but when he was at their house Charley was their dog.

All went well.  I drove my daughter to the airport on Thursday evening and she returned safely late the following Sunday.  The kids were good all weekend and  Hunni and Pop were prepared to return home after breakfast on Monday. At 3:30 Monday morning, Charley woke Doris with the whimper he uses to let us know he’s got to “go.”  She forced her way from under the covers, turned on the light on Charley’s collar, flipped on the back yard light and opened the door for Charley to go relieve himself.

Our daughter’s back yard is fully fenced in and has three gates. I’d checked to make sure all three were closed when we arrived on Thursday, and found that one was ajar.  The fence is old and the latch on that particular gate doesn’t align well with the fence.  I force-straightened the gate so that the latch could close, gave it a shake to see if it held, and moved on when it did.

After five minutes Doris called for Charley to return, but he didn’t.  She asked me to try so I pulled on some warmer clothes and my sneakers, grabbed a flashlight and went outside to see why he didn’t answer Doris’s call.

He didn’t answer because he wasn’t there.

When I went to each of the gates to check the locks I found that the one I’d forced together had come apart, leaving just enough space for Charley to fit through.  I called for Charley and whistled the two tones from there, confident that he would come running back from wherever he was, as had happened almost always over the years.

This time, he didn’t come.

I felt panic rising from my heart when he didn’t answer my call.  I called louder as I walked beyond the fence and I started what turned out to be a two-day repetitive monologue asking God to help me find him. Aware that it was nearly 4:00 a.m. I tried to temper my calls of “Charley – Come” and started what must ultimately been hundreds of two-note whistles.

This wasn’t the first time Charley had disappeared, but it was the first time he had done it south of Maine.  When we lived in Maine we had three acres of woods of our own and access to trails along the shore that began about a hundred yards from the end of our driveway.  Charley and I used to walk those trails at least once a week.  He never strayed from me there, but on occasion he chased a deer or just followed a scent around into the woods.  Most times, when I bellowed “Charley, Come!” within a minute or two he’d come running to me full blast, with a big smile on his face and ears pinned back.

The few times he failed to come, I’d drive my pick-up within a radius of half mile of home calling for him.  In less than an hour I’d either find him or Doris would call me to say he’d come home.  Each time, though, I had to fight down the fear that I might never see him again.

And now, I was prowling the suburban streets near my daughter’s house in Warren, New Jersey, calling and whistling for Charley in the early morning dark, silently asking God to let me have him back.

I learned a fair amount about Social Media shortly after sunrise that Monday.  While I was illuminating front yards on both sides of the adjacent roads with my flashlight, Lauren had sent an all points bulletin about Charley on her neighborhood’s Facebook page. Later, cruising the roads in the early daylight, I saw a gathering of mothers and children waiting on a street corner for the school bus. As I slowed towards the intersection one of the mothers flagged me down to tell me that she saw the Facebook posting and that she had heard her neighbor’s dog barking early that morning.  She said this was a dog that normally didn’t bark.  I was impressed that this good lady knew about my lost dog and was deeply concerned about Charley.  I thanked her sincerely for the only tip I had so far.

Lauren also Messaged her cross street neighbors, including my tipster, to ask if I might  look in their back yards for Charley.  With 10 minutes all of them had responded ‘yes’ and wished us luck.  I spent an hour or so in those back yards but heard only the high pitched barking of the nice lady’s backyard neighbor’s little dog.

Meanwhile, Doris took up the vigil of waiting outside at Lauren’s to be there if and when Charley returned on his own.  After seeing our two granddaughters off to school, Lauren drove around the vicinity and suggested that I might want to go to the top of the steep mountainside that ended the backyards of the homes directly across the street.  She gave me the driving directions to the backside of the mountain (nothing like the Rockies, but steep nonetheless) to a forested area at its top.  When I zeroed out my car’s trip odometer I measured that the road into the woods was .8 of a mile.  I parked my car and walked about 2.5 miles traversing those woods.  By the time I returned to Lauren’s home I was worn out physically and emotionally. The day was approaching evening and the daylight that I’d hoped would reveal Charley was fading away.

Doris asked me to change places and let her drive around looking for him for a while.  I agreed, so she took the wheel and I took the vigil chair.  There I sat with a blanket wrapped around me like a cape, my arms crossed, head down, and eyes closed.  It was then, because I was alone, that I allowed myself to cry – deeper and painfully. There and then I resumed my monologue to God.  I pleaded through the tears with Him/Her to let me find Charley.

I’d long ago realized my vulnerability to the significant price of grief/pain I will pay if I survive Doris or, God forbid, any of my kids or grandkids.  It is the ultimately high cost of love.  After nearly nine years, I was beginning to feel the leading edge of pain from the present possibility of Charley’s loss – a loss compounded by the likelihood that we might never know how or why we lost him.

One might observe that I’d obviously lost my sensibilities and my priorities in caring for a dog this much. Those who ever had a dog are more likely to cut me some slack on that observation. If they knew Charley they’d probably understand even better. When my neighbors back home heard that we couldn’t find Charley, more than a few of them were moved to tears.  Our closest neighbor told me that her reaction was that it felt like she’d lost her brother.

I am one who believes we have/are immortal souls and love is a product of the mind, body, and soul.  I am convinced that the purpose of life is to carry and reinforce our souls.  The size and capabilities of souls many differ, but they are all immortal.  No one dies completely, not my parents, not my teachers or friends, not even the souls of my worst tormentors totally expire. I am convinced that Charley is also a soul because he is obviously capable of love.

It was in moments of dwindling hope that I might ever see Charley again that I was compelled to find the real reason he was gone.  What had I done to deserve this?  Somehow, I felt totally responsible for his disappearance. I ended that Monday trying to understand what I had to atone for.  I thought of one possible reason for God’s anger.  Despite knowing that God does not negotiate, I tried to strike up a deal with Him/Her over it.  Whether or not I could have Charley back, I vowed to banish that reason forever. I promised.  It was all I could think of to do beyond looking everywhere for him.

By nightfall I was drained, so I slept.

When I awoke on Tuesday I immediately checked the open garage and the back yard. My hope that he might have returned during the night was erased.

I knew that time was my enemy.  The longer Charley remained lost the less likely it became that we would find him.  Since failing to come home was against all of his characterized behavior, I could only think Charley was unable to come to us for some reason.  Had he been stolen?  Possibly, but who could have tried to take him at 3:30 in the morning? Had he been run over by a car or truck? Had he run down a deer and been kicked when it tried to defend itself?  This was a more plausible reason, but still not likely. Earlier in the year a bear was seen loping around my daughter’s neighborhood. The sightings were confirmed when the animal’s visits were caught on several home security cameras.  Had Charley fallen prey to some other animal in the woods?

With each click of the clock the situation became bleaker. My hope of finding him was dwindling as my despair was ramping up.  After another morning in the woods, this time armed with his squeaky toy, I returned to Lauren’s house having had no luck. In the privacy of the basement bedroom Doris and I used, I lied down and prayed to God to keep Charley safe.  Then I berated myself for wasting what time I had left to find him before returning home to Connecticut.  The idea of leaving without Charley was horrible, so I got out of bed and grabbed by car keys and the squeaky toy to continue my search.

Tim and Lauren’s home is on a dead end road. A 20-foot wide deer run separates the end of the street from the back yards of new houses under construction on another street. The deer run is perpendicular to the dead end of the street. I hadn’t yet ventured up that steep slope so I climbed half way up the hill and called for Charley while squeezing the toy for a half-hour, all to no avail.  By this time my mind and soul were just numb.  I had spent two days with the ugly notion that I might never see Charley again. Doris, Lauren and I had covered almost all of the territory where he might have been if he was not dead or dognapped.

As I drove my car back to the house, I noticed the neighbors’ houses and back yards where I had begun my search. At that moment a small hopeful feeling broke through the numbness and whispered that I should look there again.  This was the area described by the young woman who said her back yard neighbor’s dog had been barking in the early morning hours of Monday.  Her’s was the only lead I had, so I parked the car, picked up the squeaky toy and walked to the area I had traversed on Monday morning.

The back yards of the home of the barking dog and of my tipster faced one another, because the front of each house faced one of two parallel streets.  The yards were separated by a swathe of unattended foliage covering about 50 feet between the back yards of both houses. That area was a jumble of thick, waist-high vegetation.   When I waded into it I literally could not see my feet as they plodded through the territory.  All the while I continued calling for Charley and squeezing his toy after each call.

And then I heard his bark.

I squeezed the toy rapidly and told Charley to keep barking, which he did.  My adrenaline pumped the squeeze toy as I slogged in the direction of his wonderful barks. Soon I came upon a structure hiding in the sea of foliage.  It was an old, eight-feet square, seven-foot deep dry well, constructed of cement blocks.

I looked over the rim and saw Charley on its dirt floor, running in circles, yelping for all he was worth, and reaching up with his front paws as high as they could go to try to reach me!

Never before in my life had I encountered a moment when my psyche immediately sling-shot from deep despair to magnificent elation in the blink of an eye.  I cried tears of joy while laughing hysterically at the same time.  I shouted to the world and skies,“I found him! Dear God, I found him. I can’t believe it, I found Charley” It felt almost as though Charley had returned from the dead.

All this time he had been less than 300 yards from Lauren’s house.  I sat on the edge of the well and called her on my cell phone. “I found him!”

I told her exactly where we were and asked her to tell Doris and to bring a small ladder so we could get Charley out of that hole in the ground.  When I ended the call, I jumped into the well to pet him and hold him and share in our excitement of his having been found.  Charley was thirsty and hungry (in that order) but otherwise unscathed from his ordeal.  When I scaled the step-stool ladder and lifted him to Lauren, Charley was yelping and licking her face.  When he saw Doris coming across the yard he sprinted to her with a similar greeting.

Doris had brought one of our three grandkids with her. When two-year-old Goldy saw Charley running at top speed to get to them, she said, “Hunni (Doris) look! Charley loves me!”

She was right.

Epilogue

Since then:

I have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that I found my shadow again.  My gratitude is not limited only to the Heavens; it involves much more somehow. That moment of going from despair to joy was a gift that nudged my cynicism further away from my core, my soul.  Being so near to hopelessness and then having my most urgent supplication granted is an event beyond description.  The townspeople who were so wonderfully aware that Charley was missing and actively looked for him as they went for a run, or to the store and the like, gave me comfort and hope and reminded me what a real community can do.  Charley and our family are fully recovered from our ordeal.

And I do thank God everyday for life, love, family, friends, and Charley.

 

[How long] Can the world afford a Malignant Narcissist as President of the United States?

[How long] Can the world afford a Malignant Narcissist as President of the United States?

Roughly a month before Donald J. Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States I published a blog that described my belief that he is and always has been a malignant narcissist. Accordingly I wrote that he would be not only unfit to be POTUS, but also a single-handed major threat on a global scale.  Sadly, my concerns were acutely warranted.

I am here reprising my blog of October 11, 2016, not as an ‘I tool you so,’ but to underscore the grave danger inherent in Trump’s continued occupation of the White House.

Can we survive another two years of a President who weighs every decision and/or action by how well it serves his personal agenda?  Can it be that he has taken steps to subvert and destroy NATO and lauded Putin as a role model because he wants to build a Trump hotel in Moscow?  Is the price of our national security that small?

With the Muller investigation’s report likely to be wrapped up in very soon, it is absolutely imperative that its findings are made public.  If Attorney General Barr fails to do so, it will be an indelible stain on his legacy.  He will join the long line of spineless Republican Trump enablers whom history will hold accountable for the aftermath of his presidency.

Below is my 10/11/16 blog..

 

Q: Can the world afford a Malignant Narcissist as President of the United States?

 A: Probably not, but let us not test the idea.

What is Malignant Narcissism?  Below is a bullet point rendition of Wikipedia’s definition.

As you read it, ask yourself, is this not Donald Trump?

 

“Malignant Narcissism is a psychological syndrome comprising an extreme mix of:

  • narcissism,  […no one loves Donald as much as the Donald does, and nothing that Donald does is intended to benefit anyone but Donald. His proposed tax break for the middle class is part of an overall tax strategy that would hand the wealthy top 10%  – including himself – a much bigger tax break.  Trump thrives on being in the limelight, disregards any inconvenient truth, and cannot acknowledge his mistakes to the point that, obviously contrary to his own best interests, he doubles-down on his numerous blatant blunders.]
  • antisocial personality disorder, […does bragging about being able to grab any woman’s crotch simply because he is The Donald qualify?  He has absolutely no respect nor an ounce of empathy for anyone but himself.]
  • aggression[…he sues everyone who dares to cross his path, is a misogynist, a bigot, and indiscriminatly intimidates any who might be in his way] and
  • sadism […refusing to pay workers who live paycheck-to-paycheck, and the act of firing someone are among many harmful situations that seem to give Donald great pleasure].
  • Often grandiose, […he genuinely thinks his five-letter name should be valued at more than a billion dollars per letter, nuff said?] and
  • always ready to raise hostility levels […like the schoolyard bully, he will pick on anyone he thinks is weaker than himself.],
  • the malignant narcissist undermines organizations in which they are involved […can America afford this?] , and
  • dehumanizes the people with whom they associate” [Women, Mexicans and Other Hispanics, Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Political and Business Opponents,  etc., etc.].

Power in the hands of a malignant narcissist is extraordinarily dangerous. The malignant narcissist does not want to lead, but to rule. Most of those who fought to depose the last major malignant narcissist ruler over 50 years ago are no longer with us.  Few are left who saw first-hand how dangerously evil a popular conniving malignant narcissist can be.

Donald Trump’s candidacy presents danger to the world, and many world leaders know it.  His bluster, reversals of expressed opinions, personal slanders, and complete disregard of truths that are in conflict with his desires, make him unreliable, untrustworthy, and insanely volatile.  These attributes might be useful in gaining the upper hand in business negotiations, but it is a terrible mix when dealing with leaders of other sovereign nations that have national pride and military options.  Putin would love to play with someone who thinks Twitter is a great political forum.  Trump’s buttons are easy to see and easy to push.  All it takes to make him totally irrational is to insult him personally. (Have you noticed that he never says he was “attacked.”  Any assault on his character or comments is a “vicious attack.”  Apparently in his self-absorbed mind having the temerity to attack Donald Trump must be vicious.) 

Do you really want Donald Trump in charge of our nuclear arsenal?

Beyond Frightening – Simply Unacceptable.

We are in these seriously dangerous waters largely because for the last six years the Republican-controlled Congress chose to abdicate it’s responsibilities and freeze the government to undermine the remainder of Obama’s two-term presidency. Trump’s popularity is the genuinely frustrated but reckless grass roots response to the uncompromising leadership of Congress.  Perhaps Republican incumbents in both houses who are running for re-election as “down-ticket” candidates under Trump’s name this year will suffer for their intentional and petty gridlock.*

The last political malignant narcissist who rose to power on a wave of an indignant grass roots backlash nearly destroyed their world and ours.  Luckily, he didn’t quite have access to atomic weaponry.

The next one will.

Ah, America. We Have A Problem…

Ah, America. We Have A Problem…

Okay. It’s Official. Donald Trump and his Banana Republicans have rhetorically incited their base to outright hate their Democratic opponents. Whether he acknowledges it or not, his preposterous radical lies are strategically intended to demonize his political rivals and to “stir up his base.” Now some of them are a serious threat to the heart of Democracy in America.

Trump may or may not have specifically intended to prod one or more of his “base” to terrorize the nation via package bombs addressed to his detractors, but in reality that is exactly what he did.  Like the leaders of Russia, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, etc., he refuses to accept that he has any responsiblity for his actions, in this case his irresponsible acid rhetoric.   It is very important to point out that well into the second day of this continuing saga, his condemnation of these heinous acts has been perfunctory at best.  His immediate instincts are not to bring folks together under the banner of Democracy, but to find a way to be able to blame someone else.  Not at all surprisingly, if it’s not his fault (it never is), the “media” must be to blame.

His strategy is reprehensible, but not new. History tends to repeat itself.

“Baby Boomers” like me, were fathered by American soldiers after they returned from their triumphs over Germany, Italy and Japan in World War II.  Those with first-hand memories of that war and what America and our Allies fought for, are mostly gone by now.  Those who remain are few in number, long in years, and honored, but have little voice left.

We Baby Boomers by default have become the most heavily invested keepers of the lessons taught by those who survived the effort to put down the aggression of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany and Italy. It’s up to us to remember what was learned in the single largest global event in the lives of our parents.  Their generation paid a heavy price to defeat narcissistic, autocratic bullies, drunk with power and ideas that their supposed superiority gave them a mandate, not to govern, but to rule.  (Sound familiar?) It now falls to us and our progeny to preserve American Democracy’s dedication to the ideals of truth, mutual respect, civil discourse, and to the notion that we are a nation of diverse people who share in equal rights to life, freedom and opportunities for happiness and prosperity.

Unfortunately, that is a very tall order in the context of the polarized politics in America today. The middle ground between the two major parties is now a wide no-man’s land in the middle of an intensely hateful battleground.  Personalities and personal agendas now “trump” fundamental Democratic Ideals of respect for contrary opinions, empathy, and (God forbid) compromise.

In less than two years since taking office, a blustering, malignantly egomaniacal, pathological liar of the highest order has driven a stake into nearly all that Democracy stands for, and opened a huge chasm in American politics.  He clearly incites “his base” to deeply hate Americans who oppose him.  He lies prolifically all the while charging professional journalists, who take great pains to verify all that they report, with creating fake news.  He occasionally admits his lies (Surprise, he finally fessed-up that Middle Eastern terrorists are NOT among the Hondurans’ caravan of would-be immigrants in Mexico. April fools.  Note, however, he has not yet conceded that his ridiculous claim that the caravan was funded by a wealthy Democratic fundraiser was another lie, just a part his harmless little “game.” No harm, no foul. So what.. the fundraiser was sent a pipe bomb.. big deal.

And can you believe it, two weeks before the mid-term election he announces he’s about to roll out an additional 10% tax break for middle class Americans.  Seriously now, can you believe it?   

Yeah.. yeah.. a middle class tax break.. that’s the ticket!

Evidently, no one in Congress or any other corner of the government is aware of this beneficent plan.  His own party, (having further bloated the national debt by enriching corporations and the financial elite with this year’s tax reform) is in the midst of fleecing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to pay for the emoluments they made to their masters.  And now Trump is dangling another tax break instead.

But they’re not really worried.  We and they know the whole middle class tax cut idea will whither away after the Mid-Term elections are done.  Bring on the April fools again.

Trump figuratively slaps the nation across the face when he boldly justifies his lies by saying, “hey, they worked” (e.g., fooled you suckers again). When anything goes seriously wrong in his administration, which is most of the time, he always, without fail, finds someone else, preferably an enemy, to blame.  He calls this “counter-punching.”  I call it the automatic reaction of a bully when he’s caught out.

The “unbelievable,” has become the norm.  Even when he admits his lies to his base, they love him for it and ask for more.

The snake is selling snake oil and the swamp has fast become a cesspool.

Mockery, mimicry and parody, being the most offensive types of personal bully humor, are top among Trump’s favorite tools in the stand up comedy shows he calls “political rallies.” Trump rallies are where his base comes to re-confirm their baseness.  Members of his own party who he demeaned with derogatory nicknames and relentless ridicule have figuratively crawled on their knees to surrender all semblances of their pride, honor and patriotism before Trump’s Throne.  This is what he thrives on. He wants blind loyalty far more than real integrity from his sycophants.

Wow, what a leader: heartless, cruel, arrogant, degrading, disgraceful, lecherous, amoral and uncivilized.  Is this what defines American Democracy at its best?  Or is this what my father’s generation went to war to defeat?

This last full week of October 2018, in an ugly turn of events, America heard the news that a terrorist or terrorists sent bombs to prominent leaders of the Democratic Party. Coincidentally, all of the bombs’ targets had been specifically named by Trump as his enemies at his hate rallies.  In that event at least one sicko crossed a line that may shift our president from despicable to fatally dangerous.  The escalation of the animosity encouraged by Trump was only a matter of time.  A bunch of lies, innuendo, and grade-school comedy was bound to light a fuse like this.

The survival of our Democracy from enemies from within has been laid on the table.

A certifiably deranged egotist is in the White House.  Now that John McCain is no longer with us, who among Mitch McConnell’s merry band of spineless racists in the Banana Republican Party will step up for Democracy, real Democracy?  Don’t count on many Repugnican legislators, administrators, or judicial officials to step out of line and fight for the rights of all.

Apparently, true Democracy is just not in their DNA.

 

James C, Ash – October 26, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Need a Citizen Army

Why We Need a Citizen Army

Note:  

This is a reprint of an article written by a colleague and friend, John Delach, for his blog On the Outside Looking In.  He has graciously given me permission to reprint Why We Need a Citizen Army here.  John’s blogs reflect his no nonsense/great-common-sense nature and his unbiased wisdom.  I sincerely thank him for his strong insights, good humor, friendship and for his permission to present this piece here.  

Jim Ash

Why We Need a Citizen Army

by John Delach

Not too long ago, my grandson, Matthew asked my assistance with a report he had to submit for a high school class. The subject was should we have a military draft? “What do you think, Grandpa?”

Matt knows I’m an old Goldwater conservative, so he did not expect my response: “Absolutely! Citizen-soldiers protect the armed forces from being over used.”

Today we have professional, all-volunteer armed forces including the reserves. The patriotic men and women who choose to join the service want to be there and they bring a degree of commitment and professionalism to all the branches that would be watered down by draftees.

Draftees just want to do their time and get out. Army Reserve and National Guard units would revert to the days when individuals opted for six months of active duty and a six-year reserve commitment to fulfill their required service.

I accept that the commitment and dedication of our professional armed service would surely suffer, especially the Army, but I believe that such a downgrading is a price worth paying to offset the downside of an all-volunteer Army.

Our all-volunteer service has created a new form of separation, not by race, religion, background, education or nationality, but one that basically divides America. We have the few who serve while the rest of us go on with our lives completely removed from their sacrifices as if our endless wars don’t even exist.

Of course, there is public recognition of those who serve. Cosmetic recognition in the form of staged events such as honoring service members at sports events, football and baseball games, the Super Bowl and the World Series. We honor them during Fourth of July patriotic concerts and with pre-planned scripted TV moments showing returning troops surprising spouses and kids (usually at school.) We are conditioned to thank troops for their service and object to any behavior that could disrespect these men and women. They fight while we sprout feel good platitudes.

Meanwhile, we live our lives, attend births, holidays, graduations, marriages and funerals. Life goes on while far in the background, mostly soldiers and Marines suffer and die in lonely places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and hot spots in other Middle Eastern and African locations. We have been engaged in “War Without End” since the attacks of September 11, 2001 and nobody screams, “Isn’t enough, enough?”

We protest if someone slights the flag or football players kneel at the playing of our National Anthem, but our leaders don’t seem too give a damn that we are engaged in two wars, both longer than the sum of all the wars we fought in our nation’s history.

The clock on the Afghan War will tick over to 17 years this October. Iraq, in all its gestations, is right behind it. To date: “More than three million Americans have served in uniform in these wars. Nearly, 7,000 of them have died. Tens of thousands more have been wounded.”

Where is the outrage? Where are the protesters? I find it strangely sad that the old Viet Nam War protesters who I watched fill the green at the top of Main Street in Keene NH, to protest W’s war against Saddam don’t bother to picket any longer. They gave up during Obama’s reign or just became too old.

Instead of outrage over the death and maiming of our greatest national treasure, our young patriots, the protesters march against ICE, the World Trade Organization, Civil War Statues and other causes too stupid to mention.

Meanwhile, soldiers and Marines continue to give their lives for real estate that their bosses abandon in six months. Sadly, they are called on to do this repeatedly. Six month or one-year tours in “the sand box” until they get out, break down, or return maimed or in flag draped coffins.

How many times can the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe they can send these brave men and women into harm’s way repeatedly before they break down? Enough is enough! Stop the madness!

The draft would re-establish a basic tenet of our Republic. Historically, a citizen army fights our wars and we need a citizen army to end this abuse of power.

No president since FDR has asked Congress for a Declaration of War. Our Constitution mandates that only Congress can declare that we are at war. Congress, long ago abdicated their authority and signed off on various Executive Orders taking us to war. Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and whatever heroic name we use for that Afghan mess were all mandated using smoke and mirrors.

Presidents and the Congress realize that we, the American public, are content with our all-volunteer armed forces as we abhor the thought of little Johnny or Suzie being drafted and being killed in a war. Those we can’t trust exploit the volunteer army. So long as patriotic men and women volunteer to serve, the beat goes on

During the eight years when Dwight David Eisenhower was president, we had the draft and we didn’t lose one service man in combat. Ike detested putting his soldiers in harm’s way.

Today, we allow our leaders to thoughtlessly discard our sons and daughters, our greatest generation, because we don’t hold these leaders accountable. Shame on us! A draft would re-establish an army of citizen soldiers like our Republic meant it to be.

With a draft, if a future president attempted to dispatch Johnny or Suzie to China or Lower Nowhere without cause, we’d take to the streets for the real deal: “Hell no, we won’t go!.”