Unconditional

Rafaster

Look, when you have a hole in your soul the size of Texas it needs to be filled.   When you lose a child, a spouse, a parent, it crushes you.   It takes time to recover.  It takes love to recover.   When I lost my child, I knew instantly what it would take to make things better, I had to get a dog.  Now, some people are pig people, some are cat people.  Me……well give me a slobbery, always happy to see me, dead squirrel breath smelling dog, and I smile.   ( Well we can do without the bad breath!).

Let me introduce you to Rafael de Paula.  A big name for a medium sized dog.  His namesake is a famous Spanish Bullfighter.  They both hail from Cádiz, the south of Spain.  They both speak Spanish.

This dog has not saved my life, but he has saved my soul.  He makes my life brighter.  He gives me purpose and makes me laugh.  When I’m down, he licks my face.  When we walk together he looks up at me as if to say, “now this is fun!”  He is the definition of joy to me.   Does he fill the void of the son I lost? ……….no.  Does he come damn close? …………..yes.

It’s love, pure, unconditional love.  Whether you find it in nature, or in a person, or in a pet, it’s what you need to make the pain drift away.    Before you know it, you’ve forgotten what you were so sad about.  Worked for me.

rafajackson-e1498518361293.jpg

Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby 1971)

Screen shot 2017-06-24 at 4.20.19 PM

Maude: [gesturing to a sick tree growing through a sidewalk] Harold, we have *got* to do something about this life.
Harold: What?
Maude: We’ll transplant it. To the forest.
Harold: You can’t do that.
Maude: Why not?
Harold: This is public property.
Maude: Well, *exactly*.

Car thieving old lady,  hearse driving young socialite,  immolation,  bullet to the head, Hara-kiri, and all on a first date.  This is a special film.

How can you avoid chuckling when the film’s opening scene depicts a son swinging from a rope, eyes bulging while his mother makes plans on the phone in the background, aware and unamused at this display.   Harold (Bud Cort) is attempting, yet again, to illicit any response possible from his disconnected, self absorbed, high society mother.  Feigning suicide seems like a viable option.

I love this film because it gives a knock to expectations.  For me, expectations tend to stifle life.  It’s only when we surprise others and ourselves that we feel alive.  In this black comedy, the police officer expects that Maude will behave like a typical octogenarian, but she speeds off, giving him a shock and the audience a howl.  Harold’s mother, uncle, priest, and dates, expect Harold to behave like a suitor and choose a possible companion to begin a normal, respectable, life.  He responds  by cleverly committing suicide – 15 times.  These attempts do not injure Harold, but instead, cause the others great distress.  These people fail to convince young Harold that their way of living is suitable.  He instead, finds comfort attending funerals and eventually in the arms of a 79 year old Holocaust survivor named Maude (Ruth Gordon).  Maude is in her twilight years, has learned the secret to life, and begins to impart her wisdom to young Harold.  A romance blossoms.  The finest lesson in the film; life is not found by accumulating things, but in loving people, laughing, and giving back.

As an editor, I’m thrilled to know that Ashby was an editor before becoming a director.   His strong visual style was clearly developed in the edit suite, where all editors know the real creativity takes place!   Each frame of the film visually describes how individuals occupy space in life.

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In this cemetery scene,  Harold and Maude seem to be outnumbered by the dead.   Ashby uses the space to box the characters in by filling the negative space, in this case with graves.   however, soon enough he sets them free with wide open space filling the frame, like the open sky in the shot at the top of this blog.

Pauline Kale, Roger Ebert, the New York Times, everyone panned this film back in 1971.  Today, nearly 50 years since its release, this film is embraced by young and old.   If you crave more of the same after viewing, also check out “Being There” by Ashby and just about any work by Wes Anderson.  The list of directors who admired Ashby continues with Crowe, Apatow, Braff, and Russel, but certainly doesn’t stop there.

And now, for a life affirming moment click below:

http://j.mp/1J8YHo5

 

Coffee, Tea, the Reaper, and Me

Screen shot 2017-06-19 at 11.03.29 PM.pnghttp://deathcafe.com/

For a physical manifestation of this blog find the nearest death cafe to your home.  Join strangers for tea, cake and the discussion of death and dying.  This social group was first formed in the UK in 2010.  It is not a support group but a place for people to discuss death without an agenda.  Since the first meeting, there have been numerous gatherings all over the globe.  Go to the website, enter your zipcode, and voila!  Fund your nearest DC.   Want to host your own? Then check out the helpful, “How to Guide.”  http://deathcafe.com/site_media/files/guide.pdf

To speak or not to speak

This week I had three people close to me suffer a loss.  A cat, a dog, a parent.  Not necessarily in that order.    After listening to each person speak about how they were processing the life event, a themed suddenly emerged.  Please, when a person loses someone close, please, just SHUT UP.    Don’t say you understand.   Don’t say you can’t begin to understand.   Look, nothing you can say, even if you are the Poet Laureate, is going to make anything better and it can actually make it even worse.   Non-verbal is the way to go.  A smile, a touch of the hand, a look (that says I’m sorry).  This is the best form of comfort.  Words can inflict injury in ways you can’t even imagine.  As human beings,  we need to feel connected so we are always trying to relate an experience back to ourselves.  Death is not a time to practice this typical human trait!  Every death is unique to the person who is grieving.  Don’t worry, you’ll have your turn.  That’s the funny part, we all will!    For some reason, when I show up at a wake, the crazy comes out.  I’ve been known to laugh aloud.  I’ve gone up to a grieving person I never met and stated with bravado, “Hi, I’ve heard so much about you!”   Awkward.  Look, don’t go to the wake if you can’t behave.  Don’t check in constantly,   Don’t say tomorrow’s another day.  Be there when the loved one needs you and remember, SHUT UP!!

Shut Up

Ikiru (To Live)

 

Akira Kurosawa is my favorite filmmaker.  He has the ability to make us feel life in his movies.  When I am walking in the woods and really take the time to look and listen to nature,  I feel a part of one of his films.  When the sunlight beams around a cluster of leaves and changes their coloring, if only for a brief moment, this is what it feels like to watch a Kurosawa film.   Ikiru, the 1952 film, permits Kurosawa to nudge us all to create meaning in life.  The main character Watanabe, played by Takashi Shimura, is diagnosed with cancer at the onset of the film.  He immediately realizes that he cannot die because he has not yet lived.   In a scenario which could be most American workers plight, he spends his days working hard at a job that provides no meaning.   We journey with Watanabe through his thought process and glide through the scenes so typical and unfulfilling in a life, drinking, partying, looking for happiness outside of ourselves.   It is only when he creates a children’s park on a wasteland that he finds peace and his reason to be.   Ikiru, loosely translates in English into “to live”.  It is a great place for us all to begin.

All the sea in the fish

10 years ago today.   Time passes so quickly.  10 years ago today,  I was laying on a dark green couch, the Spanish sun beating in through the balcony window.   The street below was teaming with life, school children heading home for comida and siesta,  glasses clinking in the bar downstairs.  I was oblivious to it all.  The life inside of me was going to die.  It had to happen.  It was………inevitable, so they said.  We had been to visit so many specialists and it was always the same reply,  the most important thing is the safety of the mother.  There is no amniotic fluid and there is the risk of infection.   My son was 24 weeks old and the decision had been made.  The pregnancy would have to end.

Well, anyone who has ever met me knows, I don’t go down without a fight.   I was certain if I drank enough water, I, single handed, could fill up that amniotic sac with enough fluid to last a lifetime.   I drank, and I drank, and I drank.   I really believed it could happen.  With every glass of water, I willed the outcome we wanted.  Oh, yes, that is the worst part, there is of course, a “we”.   While I was busy willing the water, my husband had to watch.  I didn’t think he was paying any attention to my consumption, but alas, he was, and being a man grounded in both math and manhood, he just couldn’t understand.   It tore him apart – though he would never show it until much, much later.

So, 10 years ago today,  I lay on a green couch and drank a tub full of water in an attempt to save my baby’s life.

Film, Food, Finis

Death comes to us all, so they say.

Five years ago I found myself living in the US after living abroad.  I had lost a child.  I was 39,  broken, and trying to find balance, perspective, the ability to breathe.   Without knowing how it happened,  I reconnected with my cousin 34, who had lost her father to suicide at age 8 and her mother to cancer at age 18.  She was floating through life on a bed of sorrow.  So was I.    We began a Thursday night ritual.    We cooked a meal, watched a movie, and eventually talked about death.    Our Thursday nights were special.  Our Thursday nights were necessary.  Our Thursday nights were therapy.   Recently, someone close to me lost a parent.  Seeing that pain all over again, the fresh wound,  I realized there is a way to help.    Out of this sorrow and onto this white screen, I hope to create a space for learning, laughing, and leaning on someone.    Until death do us part.