May 18th, 2013
It's five o'clock on a Saturday. That's five in the morning, not nine in the evening, for any of you Billy Joel fans. I've stumbled out of bed to have my oatmeal and see what's going on online, before I hit the road on another busy day. Life has been throwing me curves and it has been hard to find time to write.
I glance at the Google News page. There is news about a commuter train collision not far from where I live, a train I sometimes take. Elsewhere, there are tornados, wild fires, and political scandals. Where is the good news? Where is the hope?
Perhaps it is this question that is driving the top headline of the day, $600 million Powerball jackpot attacks a crowd. For two dollars, you can buy a brief dream of what you'd do if you won, before taxes, 2% of the net worth of one of the Koch brothers, and people are lining up everywhere. Perhaps this reflects how badly our country is broken that people are living on $2 dreams of climbing out of the wealth imbalance in our country.
People talk about what they would do if they won the jackpot. They dream, for a day or two. Hold fast your dreams, the poet says. Yet what good are these dreams that have virtually no chance of coming true? What good are these dreams that too easily turn to a nightmare?
My mind wanders to those junior high school reading assignments, The Pearl, Old Man and the Sea, and The Lottery. Perhaps winning a lottery isn't all that it is cracked up to be.
Perhaps a good starting point is to think of those two dollars as a co-pay on a self-analysis session. What would you do if you won half a billion dollars? What would you save, what would you spend, what would you give away? What this tell you about what your values are?
Yet dreams should not be idle idylls. They should motivate us and change us. What are you going to do on Monday morning when the numbers don't match yours? Will the dream have fled, leaving no impact? Or, will you have learned something from the dream and find ways to help those you would have helped with your winnings? Will you find ways to help those you would have helped with the activities of your daily life?
The big white dog wanders contentedly outside in the early morning rain falling gently on the trees. It seems like overnight, the trees have come into full foliage. Perhaps it is because the past few nights have blended together into one giant blur. There is so much to be done.
Yesterday at work, we said good bye to a work study student heading off on his next great adventure. A week before, we said good bye to another co-worker who had also left in search of her path. Inevitably stories of my trips hitchhiking around the States and Europe and living on a sailboat afterwards came up.
On Thursday evening, I drove up to hear one of my daughters present her Masters Thesis, Don't Make Art, Just Make Something.
It provides an interesting contrast to all those commencement speeches so many of us will be hearing over the coming month; "but then the next day comes". There have been over twelve thousand next days since I left college, and what have I made?
After work, I went to a baby naming ceremony followed by a gathering of friends. I've made friends, I've helped make a family. I've made my careers. I've made many blog posts. But is it enough? Perhaps its not art, but it's something.
As a proud father, I thought Miranda's thesis presentation was the best, but there were many great presentations. They all focused on various aspects of creativity and education. What role does, or should art play in the schools? How do the arts relate to leadership? Where does creativity fit into daily life.
I've been thinking about various aspects of this for the Connecticut Health Foundations, Health Leaders Fellowship. Next month there will be a discussion at the foundation about leadership and social media. What is your digital footprint? Leaders need to think about how they are publicly visible around the issues they lead on.
I remember reading one paper about the difficulties that teens face today. The teenage years are about creating an identity, and now, teenagers now need to create not only the identity as seen in school and at parties, but also a digital identity. It isn't just teenagers that need to create this. We are all, either consciously, or unconsciously, creating digital identities. What's yours?
Writers and actors may have some experience in creating characters, but what about everyone else? And how does the fact that we are creating ourselves, and not something fictitious complicate the process?
Later today, I will head up to Middletown to participate in the Middletown Remix project.
It encourages people to 'hear more, see more'. How much do we really see or hear? How much passes unnoticed in the blur of daily life, like the sudden appearance of a full canopy of leaves? How does this relate to the creative process, to our creative process, as we create our lives?
Keep making something, every day. It is the start to making art, the art of our lives.
It is a beautiful spring evening. The dog lies contentedly on the front lawn, underneath an American flag hanging limply in the still air. I glance briefly at the pictures hanging on the wall of last summer's vacation to Cape Cod. Beneath the picture of Fiona on the bow of a whale watching ship is one of her school projects. On a shelf nearby are stones from the trip together with seashore themed knick knacks my mother had collected.
On a table next to me are call sheets from yesterday's election and at the end of the driveway, the sign urging voters to support Ellen Scalettar for First Selectman remains, having completed its mission.
Fiona is at her grandparents house this evening and Kim is on her way down to a memorial service for Bob Edgar, the head of Common Cause, where she works, who passed away unexpectedly, the same evening that our late First Selectman died.
It has been a busy, chaotic couple of weeks. There hasn't been time to think or struggle with difficult feelings around death.
Last night, some people rejoiced, while others were disappointed about the election results. Yes, I got elected as alternate to the Zoning Board of Appeals. It wasn't an office I had particularly sought, but one that sought me. I was asked to run to fill a slot on the ticket and I believe it is important to have full slates of candidates and competitive races. Zoning is an important part of the social contract, so it is another responsibility to have taken on.
I did learn something interesting, however. My wife's grandfather held the same position years ago. I hope that I'll live up to his standards on the ZBA.
So now, I sit quietly in an empty house taking it all in. I imagine others may be sitting in empty homes as well as their feelings get a chance to catch up. My thoughts go out to everyone for whom these past couple weeks have been so challenging.
Finally, I have a chance to write, and then to rest, before the next task comes along.
The sky was not as grey on Wednesday as it was on Tuesday. There were patches of blue overhead, but still the horizon was layers of grey, like a Rothko painting of a gray British flannel suit. I don't remember much more of that day, I was still in shock.
Thursday, I got up and made my oatmeal and raisins. I put the water on to boil for coffee and sat down to check my email and social media. There are rituals in our lives that carry meaning. The orange in the stocking at Christmas, the five kernels of corn at Thanksgiving. They remind us of past hardships and present pleasant times. There are other rituals that may have started just as habit, or as conscious choices to improve our health, but become part of what sustains us through trying times. My morning oatmeal is like that. I got up and went about my life in a normal way, even though the normal has been rent in two.
In the evening, I rushed to the Democratic Town Committee headquarters. There were two important tasks to be tackled. The first was to come together and share our grief about the death of our First Selectman, Ed Sheehy. There were many red eyes and warm hugs. The second task was to nominate a candidate to fill Ed's place on the ballot.
People spoke in shaking voices lauding Ed and seeking to find ways to honor him and do what he would want us to do. Ellen Scalettar was nominated to be our new candidate, a long time friend of Woodbridge, and a long time friend of Ed.
Ed was a brilliant man, a great leader, the sort of First Selectman few municipalities are fortunate enough to have. Yet Ellen is cut of a similar cloth and is also great candidate. The fact that she was our State Representative for many years, and ran for statewide office also helps, with just over a week until the election.
The next stop was Town Hall, where there was a special meeting of the Board of Selectmen. The chair in the middle, normally occupied by Ed, was empty. There was a moment of silence. The selectman appointed current Selectman Beth Heller, to be finish out the rest of Ed's term.
There was a chance for people to speak about their memories of Ed. As I listened, I thought of the final episode of MASH. Something great was coming to an end, and we were all gathered to be part of it. Yet if there was a television show to capture Woodbridge during the Sheehy years, perhaps Mayberry RFD would be better.
These days fewer people remember Mayberry RFD. It went off the air the year that my family got its first television, but I remember watching old episodes. Probably even less remember the days of Rural Free Delivery. The show was a video portrayal of an idyllic small town, previously captured by Norman Rockwell, and later tapped into with Ronald Reagan's Morning in America advertisement.
Norman Rockwell, Andy Griffith, and Ronald Reagan captured the sort of town that we moved into about the same time that Ed became our First Selectman. Yes, there were the odd experiences and mad cap adventures of a small closely knit town that made both Mayberry and Woodbridge endearing; the drama over where to put a new ball field, the efforts to save a country club, the conflict around the BBQ pit at the firehouse, the issues around animal control, and there was the wise old Ed Sheehy, like Andy Griffith, calmly working us towards fair solutions.
Friday, there was the wake. Many of us stood for an hour or more to honor Ed and comfort his family and one another. From the wake, I rushed off to the pot luck dinner at the local school. Fiona was in the Multi Age Group program, which some say boasts the best pot luck dinners in town.
Saturday was the funeral; the local Catholic church packed to the gills, the antique firetruck, carrying the coffin, only to break down, perhaps providing one last twist on a very special show.
Now, it is Sunday morning. I return to family issues which I seek to balance with my work commitments and with the final week of the municipal campaign.
To all my friends: stay involved. Let's make Woodbridge RFD, the sequel to The Ed Sheehy show, just as special.
"O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,"
It's times like these that I reach for my trusty old beloved collections of poetry. I started the month with T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
I celebrated my mother's birthday, the first since her death, quietly while I attended a conference. The following Monday, I texted my middle daughter, who works about a mile from the finish line of the Boston Marathon, to see if she was okay.
I've kept myself busy, perhaps too busy. I haven't had as much time to write as I would like, but there is so much that needs to get done. Yesterday, I went to an Institute of Medicine Roundtable, then rushed off to hear Ken Lenz declare his candidacy for First Selectman in Orange and up to Woodbridge for the Preliminary Town Budget meeting.
And they tell him, "Take your time. It won't be long now.
'Til your drag your feet to slow the circles down"
During my years in Woodbridge, Ed Sheehy has always been our First Selectman, tall of stature and as steady as any Nutmegger from the land of steady habits. Ed was at the meeting last night as a well crafted budget was presented to the town. There was little discussion, for the budgets under Ed's watch have been the most sensible I've seen of any municipality.
This morning, as I drove to work, I received a phone call. It was the sort of phone call that you know is bad news before you answer it. Not because of who was calling or the time. Yes, it was a little early in the day for that friend to be calling, but not that out of the normal. It was just the sort of feeling you get. I was about to get on the Parkway to work. I had my headset on so I could answer the call without pulling over, but I wondered, should I change course, not get on the Parkway to take the call?
After the Preliminary Town Budget meeting, First Selectman Ed Sheehy went home and later in the evening suffered an aneurysm and passed away in the middle of the night. At least that is what I think the call said. I'm still in shock. The unflappable Ed Sheehy, steering the steady course, never doing anything unexpected did something total unexpected and now, I'm trying to make sense of it all.
The drive to work was quiet. There was a cold grey mist, not quite rain, not quite tears, hanging over the road. I passed a pond where the mist, over the rippled water added to the sense of the storm and the droplets that gathered on the car windows did role down the glass like tears.
I return to my book of Walt Whitman
When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.