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December winds down, and in January my brother moves to California. That will put the expanse of a continent between us. I am a big boy now, so it isn’t a big deal. At least, that is what I tell myself. It’s true–in the grand scheme of things this isn’t important. Still, it is a reminder to me how parting is the space between every note in the song of life, and finishes every end.

Parting comes more naturally to some people, but it never is entirely natural. People were meant to live together in community, and when the circle is broken we feel it. But ours is a transient culture so for many the sting of lost communion is dulled by the constant repetition of that rupture.

If that is modern life, mine was not a modern childhood. My family did not move often (I have clear memories of only two moves, and by the time I was eight we had settled into the house where I would spend the rest of my youth). As children my siblings and I stuck together. So when my brother left home for college when I was nineteen I felt my first parting with particular vividness.

Even then I sensed how the partings of life echo death. In the early days when my brother was gone at college I would find myself thinking of things and the impulse would come, “Oh, I’ll share that with Arlan–” and in the next instant I caught myself and remembered he wasn’t around. The thought couldn’t be shared.

Arlan wasn’t permanently gone at college, he would be home to visit. But those momentary catches when absence was felt so plainly are the very things we feel with such cutting finality in death. A person is gone and there will be no more sharing. The unease felt in all the partings of life is our hearts knowing what each small parting foretells.

From an early age I grasped the idea of parting and instinctively knew I didn’t want that in my life. My family and I–we would always stick together. Then life happened and I discovered that assumption was the dream of childhood. In this world we all walk our own paths, and often we walk alone. There are many partings in life, and with the years final partings begin to collect. With each we learn that life is hard, and not what we dreamed as children.

This distance between the East and West coast is not the distance between heaven and earth. A resurrection isn’t needed to cross, and in the normal course of life I can expect to see my brother again. And yet, with every parting I am reminded of the losses in this life and how nobody is around forever. As parting adds to parting in my life I have noticed I share less. It feels inevitable, the response to no surety of the enduring presence of others. And yet I don’t like it. A part of me longs to live like I did as a child when partings were un-imagined and sharing was free. Here in this place, I’m not sure how to live.

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Front Cover-600I’m baaaack! Had a crazy, exciting, summer and fall with all of my traveling. Hope to write a long post about that in the relatively near future. As an appeasement until then, how about a book sale?

The holiday season is upon us, and I am trying something new. I am doing a book sale–of author signed paperback copies! The books are at a discount price, and the more copies you buy the better your discount.

Would you like to get The Sea is Wide: A Memoir of Caregiving at 10%, 20%, 30% or even 40% off? Head on over to the sale page and take a look and what deal will best suit you: http://caregivingreality.com/december-2015-sale/

If you know anyone else who might be interested, pass this along. Thanks!


I currently have a Goodreads give away going on. You need to be a Goodreads member to participate. If you are and would like a free copy of The Sea is Wide to read and review, head on over here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/156257-the-sea-is-wide-a-memoir-of-caregiving

Giveaway ends on the 14th.

Good luck!

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

–John Donne

That poem came back to my mind this morning, caught up in the trail of my thoughts and dredged to the surface. Perhaps it wouldn’t have stuck again so forcefully if my afternoon hadn’t taken the course that it did. But in the afternoon I came upon a link to this article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2015/10/05/four-stories-of-the-heart/ For me it was an emotionally moving, wrenching, picture into profound loss–both literally in the pictures, and metaphorically in the writing. The sparse line drawing of the mother curled up on the hospital bed with her sick baby really gets to me. It is a picture which says a thousand things, a million things, a grief deep beyond words. The essay is sparse and matter-of-fact in words which makes it all the more powerful in outlining in unstated terms what Donne addressed more directly in his poem.

The only hope we can have in the face of such profound loss is the hope, the answer, Donne gives. “Death, thou shalt die.” That can be the only fulfilling and satisfying answer to the hurt of this life.


If I were more the engineering type, I would create a spreadsheet of my allergy symptoms, and when they are the worst, and then attempt to correlate the data when particular plants are producing pollen. Then I would know exactly what I am seasonally allergic to. (I am always allergic to fine dust. Blow off an old dusty book and I will start sneezing convulsively). Since I am not an engineer I mostly wonder about it, and notice certain changes in the ebb and flow of my allergies.

There is an ebb and flow to my allergies, with one bad period probably aligned with when ragweed is in bloom. The other severe periods I am not sure what to blame. Mid-late summer was bad with the itchy nose and snot. Earlier there was a period with itchy eyes. Sometimes my ears will itch as well. But the base line of having allergies for me is if I wake up in the middle of the night and my nose starts pouring snot. I’m not sure of pollen issues are worse then, or I just haven’t blown my nose for hours so it all builds up.

The last bout of allergies had pretty well fizzled out as the summer waned, then it rained this weekend and they were back. I woke up to the sound of rain, and my nose running. And so it has been every morning since. 5AM I had a heap of tissues from all the snot. It was like a faucet. This wouldn’t be such an issue in the middle of the day, but it is very hard to get the last hour or so of sleep when I must keep turning over and blowing my nose.


I can feel the touch of autumn. The herald comes in the breeze, and proclaims itself in the weakening, slanting sunlight. I like the vigor of autumn, and the particular blue of the sky that comes with the sun angle. I like the color that comes in the trees. It is a comfortable time to work outside.

The bitter edge is the slipping daylight. If only I was unmoved by the darkness of winter then autumn wouldn’t have the weight of being a harbinger of dread.

When I stepped out on the porch late this afternoon and felt the wind and the sunshine I decided I had better take advantage of the weather while I could. One can’t sit on the porch writing in the middle of winter. So here I sit.


There is a cliche that women have more emotions than men. People like the narrative, but I’m not sure it is true in the expansive way it is said. If we are going to make sweeping statements perhaps it is better to say that most men have feelings, but ignore their feelings.

For myself, I am often surprised (after the fact) but how much I see feelings influencing certain times and events which I did not acknowledge at the time, but can see clearly in retrospect. Often the observations can be mundane, but I think shed light on more meaningful events if I were to tease such out.

To illustrate the mundane: I was feeling a stewing mixture of grumpy, apprehensive, discouraged–and a whole bunch more things I am sure. I wasn’t sorting it all out today–I just dimly realized I was emotionally clenching my teeth (metaphorically speaking). And I only really became aware of this when something mildly nice, mildly encouraging, happened and all of those bad feelings became markedly better. But I didn’t even realize how much emotional weight I was carrying around until that load became lighter.

You see, I have three speaking events this week, and they are weighing on me. They always do. There are the questions about whether they will be a failure. But I know I can’t change what is going to happen so those feelings don’t help anything–what will happen will happen. So subconsciously I tell all those feelings to shut up because they aren’t helping anything.

If we want to say something sweeping maybe we can say that women are more verbal about their emotions. Such a woman might feel the emotional struggle with upcoming events, and share them with everyone. The average man may feel the very same, but has locked his emotions into his inner closet. To the outsider the woman is more “emotional” but what is being observed there is actually the woman’s verbal sharing, not necessarily a different in emotional inner content.

Feeling things strongly is one of my writing strengths. But when I realize how much my mood swings on the small eddies and currents of daily life I sometimes I wish I were as stoic as the proverbial man. It would make life easier. But, I suppose, not as rich.


P.S. Fun as it is to write in the sun, the contrast on this laptop screen is abysmal under such glare. I couldn’t do this for long term productive writing.


As a child I imagined growing up occurred when I could look back and admire how awesome I had become. When I could look back and be impressed by how strong, brave, intelligent, and capable I had become—then I was grown up. To this I aspired.

Then I discovered that growing wise manifested when I perceived the true unravelling of myself. When I became undone so that every strength I imagined turned to dust in my hands—that is where wisdom grew. So it was in eight hard years that I grew more in wisdom than in all the years I aspired to grow up. In eight years I lost so much of what I wanted to think about myself, but it is in growing down (in humility) that I learned what is the truly important kind of growth.

That is a good thing. And yet, I find the cost in ways I didn’t expect, and harder than I anticipated. That is life.

The journey isn’t over.

Here I am, now. At this place time frightens me, in many ways. One way time unsettles me is how it and forgetfulness walk hand in hand.

One day passes, then another. Soon it seems like only yesterday, but a is year gone. What of true import has been forgotten, swept from memory’s storehouse?

Today it is a year and months since Grandma died last June. I moved quickly from that end, an end which drew stage curtains on eight years with the finality of a last breath.

I prefer life sorted, but those eight years defy all attempts to quantify the stretch and the strain. When I try to sum the journey my words sound like paradox. Hard times, the hardest of times, the worst thing for me. A time of learning and growing, the best thing for me. I walked out of that journey feeling weaker than I had ever felt before, more battered, more broken—and it was the very thing I had needed to pass through. It felt like the worst thing, but it was the best. The old truth shows up again: what we need is so often not what we want, or like.

I marvel at the many ways I broke—or, better put, my existing brokenness was revealed. In every journey the school of life teaches.

Then after Grandma’s show was over I walked away from that trial, and I was afraid I would forget. No, I am afraid. When I feel like I have seen great things, feel the weight of meaning, and learning—I become afraid that I have not learned all I should, and will quickly forget what I did grasp. All lost in time’s passing until I am as impoverished in spirit as before (if not more so).

Like a digging goad, hard times force me to consider difficult thoughts. In the crucible of trial I thought more, felt more, learned more, than in the years prior. That is struggle. In the span of eight hard years I apprehended important things about myself and life; humbling, hard, and sublime truths—some which I hope to share, some for which I may never find words. But when the curtain closed on those eight years of labor how thrilling the sensation I felt: Free now.

Then I thought, Free to live in apathy?

When there is no prickling pain from the rasp of life’s rough grain thoughts can quickly turn idle. What a tragic waste if all the things I had seen and learned from eight hard years quickly dulled and disappeared in comfortable days. In some almost perverse way I felt as if it were better if I didn’t come out of those hard times. Better to stay there and know the truth of myself clearly. Strike me again, I’ll know truth in the sting.

How easy to recommend myself while in comfort—I see that when comfort and confidence desserts me–and there is a repulsion when I feel the falsity of that old thought. I’ve seen a truer through the prism of difficulty. If the lash of life’s hard times makes me wiser, more humble, more mature, then isn’t it better to always walk such a road?

Like a starving man come back to food, days of comfort felt like gluttony—a thing uncomfortably held, intoxicating and slightly obscene in its pleasantness. Why should I have this? Are good times just a trick to make us forget how difficult hard times are, to make us fat and lazy in false comfort so that the battle of life is much more difficult? After eight years certain habits of thought are hard to shake. Why should I have a pleasant time when others in the world are suffering? It felt wrong to not have a burden to carry, as if I needed to find something for which I could suffer.

Struggling felt like remembering truth, being battered became tied with understanding the mortal lot. Standing in that muddled place, I was afraid that I would forget what carrying a burden had taught me. I never remember the truths that suffering brings to light so well as when I am living it. Time quickly dulls the edge, and I can say with certainty that those eight years are dimmer than before, and will be dimmer still. The true loss from those eight years would not be the time spent in service but rather to not learn, or not retain, the truth of what such suffering time taught.

I fear that dullness and forgetting will render all that I once saw, felt, and knew, null and void. Mental disease offers the excuse of human frailty—what I dread is the moral failure that doesn’t truly care to reflect and recall the uncomfortable things once learned. There I find myself balanced, grateful for what I have learned even at cost, and fearful I may forget. I look for an answer, an assurance.

I can’t promise myself that I won’t forget. Neither can I figure out what is the right proportion for trouble and ease in my schooling of learning wisdom’s ways. Some days it feels like I’ve had too much hardship and failure already, other days not enough. But when I feel the fear that I will walk through life with a numb soul, and that all I have seen and learned will fall away in the futility of forgetfulness, the only comfort I can find is the truth that the God who apportions to each their measure of trial and comfort knows the nature of what discipline I need. As he taught me through all the hard times, so it is only he who will keep me from forgetting every truth learned. That is the only hope which keeps me from the terrifying sentence of repeating history.


Back on the 19th of August I participated in my first live interview on The Morning Drill show out of Titusville PA. As a first it went pretty well, I think. Even better, the station put the video clips for the interview up on Youtube so that I can share it with you!

I’ve gathered both parts of the interview together over on my other website: http://caregivingreality.com/2015/08/25/interview-on-the-morning-drill/


Last week I removed the tub in Grandma’s bathroom and replaced it with a full walk-in shower. This setup will accommodate her better in her declining years. It wasn’t a big project. My work required four days to complete, and I needed extra help only when removing the old tub. The entire remodel went about as I expected. I told Grandma that in the best circumstances I would finish in three days, so four days means it went about average. A remodelling project in an old house always has issues that new construction does not.

I am experienced at dealing with the vagaries of old construction so I adapted to deal with the problems that cropped up–and those weren’t as bad as they could have been. In the end most of the remaining issues were neatly covered up with trim and caulk. The only points that remain to irk me are, firstly, that I would have bought a new faucet fixture because the old one was showing its age but Grandma wanted to save money with the reuse. Second, there is a minor trim issue but if I didn’t mention it perhaps your less critical eye wouldn’t even notice, so I’m not going to point it out. When that is the sum of what stands out in a really negative way to me I consider that pretty good.

I found the project a nice change of pace. I had the feeling while I did this bathroom project that there were a lot of other things not getting done that I ought, and needed, to do–but if I just ignored that sensation then I enjoyed the work. For many people that would be a very odd statement indeed (bathroom renovations can be a deep mine of horror stories), but I enjoy working with my hands. That reality is one of the difficult truths for me as I follow a writing career.

Creative work is nebulous and my conscience struggles with that vagueness. I like concrete, countable, results from my daily work. With a ledger to tally up I can quantify what I’ve done and give myself a congratulatory pat on the back. I can feel good about myself. I’m not proud of that craving for self-congratulations, but it is true.

Hard labor feels more morally simple. Every day I see what I have done, and I know I have worked. But with creative work often much of the creation is done within my mind with nothing visible to the world. A lot of that secret work–uncountable, without any quantification, can feel like wasted time. How can I prove it was anything but selfish daydreaming? even when I move on to writing in its concrete form it is a long time before those words reach an audience–months if not years before my words touch and perhaps change someone. Even good hours of writing can feel like wasted hours because it seems to have accomplished nothing. When those words finally reach someone I’ve forgotten about the labor of the writing.

In writing there can be a huge disjunction between labor and reward. They don’t exist in the same space and this leaves me constantly struggling with the thought that I am just a lazy person lacking in diligence who is pretending that his delusions have meaning. It is a constant struggle in my mind. It is there, somewhere, every day. I can never get away from it. But when I replace a tub with a shower stall–for just that brief time–I don’t feel delusional, I don’t doubt that I have accomplished something. My labor doesn’t feel vaporous and nebulous. I can look at what my hands have done, and I can see that I have changed the world. I have done something tangible.

I often think to myself how in a different life I could have been happy as a laborer. Wealth has never held an appeal to me, and I make a good ditch digger. I am an adequate carpenter and roofer. Unlike many people, I can enjoy those labors. Life could have been so much simpler if I had taken the route of working hard, and thinking less. I wouldn’t have all these doubts that gnaw at me when the day closes and I wonder how much I am living the delusions of someone who imagines his words have impact and meaning.

But that shower stall, that house, does not live and breathe and feel. The deepest impacts are often the most unseen–and that is the truth that draws me on, a reality that has helped shape my life. If, at times, for a moment I think about the different lives I could have lived as a tradesman–well, the thought doesn’t linger long. I deliberately turned away from that life path years ago, and I know why. Words breed in me, and stories are like a fire in my bones. I can’t escape writing, even when I can’t defend it, or make logic of it. Perhaps I am delusional, but I hold that the best things, the most meaningful works, are often not seen for a long time. The intangible can be the most meaningful, often seen only by what is left in their wake and felt the unseen wind. Perseverance is like that. It is one of the hardest lessons of life, and I know I still need to learn that secret, for it is the secret for both writing and knowing its worth. Ultimately that finds root not in the work of hands, but in the work of the heart.


Sometimes, the odd intersections catch me. The moments flash, like glimpses into some mysterious and profound story, something I fail to grasp. Today I drove to the dump and as is my habit I watched the country houses, fields, and farms as they slid past. I drive the same route often–it was the same houses, the same farms, another day. Then I saw the man in camo military fatigues standing in the driveway, shutting the car door. He had the look of a soldier fleshly home.

Yesterday evening I had spent too much time watching video clips of soldiers returning home to their families. I don’t normally watch that kind of video, and equally it is not common to glance out your truck window on a country road and see in that fleeting moment a lone soldier returning home. The oddness of the intersecting events caught me, as if the strange confluence couldn’t have come together without meaning.

Homecoming stories, videos, are viscerally compelling. They are the tales told from antiquity, and remain as gripping today. But the modern age has made the capture of such moments easy, the sharing so simple that there overflows a glut of naked emotional manipulation. I don’t know how a warm blooded man can not be moved by the sight of a young daughter running to greet her father, in tears of joy at the meeting. So what then of this great digital sea called the modern world where people trawl the electronic tide and string together long clips of such love-meeting. One moved you? How about twenty in a row. And we have more. You can watch them until your eyes cross.

Then comes the loss of orientation, the dizzying internal feeling when the emotional compass has lost all bearing and the inner self staggers. What started as a heart’s recognition of the raw emotional honesty and vulnerability in homecoming and joy becomes a cynical recognition of manipulation and being manipulated. There is a reason the videos are collected into montages. We know what the moment does, and so in blatant moves we gather and replay. Let us feel it again. And again. What was first a unique meeting, a special moment, is gathered in the dozens and one marvels at the creeping feeling of numbness. What is has been before, and yet again. In its surfeit does it have meaning? What before seemed so special begins to almost feel alienating. Is it not, in the end, a sea of people?

Have we found yet another way to spoil what was special, to render to our hearts utterly mundane what was meaningful. We have those brief moments of tears, screams, smiles, laughs, and long hugs of what it means to be loved, to be longed for, and to bring joy and meaning into the life of another. We take that and do what–make it mawkish?

It meant something, everything, and now nothing. Wine first tasted is fine, then dulled in consumption, and finished in drunkenness. There is no greater thing to witness than the reunion of love. Surely, it is what all creation longs for. But do we unintentionally mock and trifle the longing of hearts with the powers we have today? Is the society of our time wallowing in emotional drunkenness, filling ourselves with the dregs of over potent emotional cocktails? Watch enough homecomings in fifteen minutes, feel yourself undergo a strange inside-out where the special becomes crass. There the thoughts circle.

If we are emotional sots, what does that mean and what is the consequence? Surely the right path is not coldness, but what is feeling truly and honestly? How do we not make a profane show of the deepest things in a human heart?

I can say with fair certainty there wasn’t a camera waiting for the soldier I saw today. I caught him in a glimpse, not even a full moment. He was alone, a young man in sunglasses and boots, with a sure stride. Then I was gone, the road a ribbon running out, and he won’t be a social media video sensation. Maybe today he didn’t have someone run screaming into his arms, and maybe he never will (but I hope he does). Yet, for all that the homecoming today he lived as himself, and was his in truth.

Maybe there is a lesson in that.


The day had lengthened to that time when evening begins its fade into night. The dusky light reminded me of the walk I had intended to take, and I finally pried myself away from the computer. My usual short route took me up to the farm on the hilltop, the road there winding through the trees. The sun had already slipped behind the distant hill as I began my ascent.

Evening birds gave occasional calls from the deeper shadows of the trees, but otherwise the journey was quiet. As I approached the hill crest everything opened up, the trees giving way to fields and distant hills. There I saw the storm.

The clouds hung in the distance, directly above the advancing road but far beyond my path. The last rays of the sun struck the outer edges of the mass so that it appeared as undisturbed evening clouds. Then I saw the flashes of a brighter light.

In the first moments I was sorry I hadn’t brought a camera. But a camera relieves us from seeing, from pondering the moment around us, and in us. Instead; Click. Picture. I’ll look at it later. And we move on without thought. But now, if I wanted to remember this, I had to stop and see. Really see. So I did, and I was glad I did.

The late July corn field on my left–not yet fully grown, but getting there–stood witness to the night like a regiment on parade formation. In the sky on my right reached the last shreds of pink dusk. and below that lay the cow pasture. A few distant bovine settled for the night, the silo towers in sentinel watch, the farm at rest. Ahead, the crest of the hill, the far distant horizon, the sky. Faint peach reflection in its highlights, the cloud bank faded to grey. Then it changed, flashing bright with lightning. Above all this hung the moon, high enough I had to tilt the head to encompass it in the picture. There it floated, suspended over the scene, serene–as if to say, “The world–that storm–rages, but it can’t touch me.”

The moon observed, and how safe, comforting, and sure it seemed. But the storm–oh, the storm!–how it raged. Lightning flickered in the clouds, erupting deep within. The storm was so distant I couldn’t hear the thunder, but I could see. Sheets of lighting would strobe, like some glorious beast stirring in the depths, like God was there. Then a striking bolt etched line from cloud to earth, dancing.

Perhaps most marvellous was how it all played out so silently. I saw the distant world pummelled, and not a breath of wind where I stood on the brow of the hill. Perhaps there is a picture here for how heaven’s host watches the show on earth. I wanted a chair and a porch on which to sit and watch.

I walked slowly, and stopped a bit to watch. From dawn to dusk, how much we miss between the span of  our horizons. We’re down here with our faces pressed against our screens, caught up in our own glowing visions, and He is up there putting on a show that we’re all ignoring. Our eyes strain from the looking and still we haven’t seen.

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