Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘family’

Oh, What a Week That Was

In family, fatherhood, high school on June 11, 2016 at 10:43 am

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Our dog Jolie woke me up about 35 minutes ago, asking in a noisy and impolite way for a walk. I threw on the nearest clothes at hand and we set out. It was not even 5:30 in the morning.

Since I was wearing yesterday’s work clothes, I felt like I was on a dogwalk of shame, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t really have to be ashamed of much. I had made it through the week that I had been contemplating for months.

Our younger son Chris was promoted from middle school to high school this week. Our older son Jimmy graduated from high school two days later.

Oh, what a week it was. And, now that it’s over, I feel like I am a just-slightly-different person from when it began.

I began this week overwhelmed with emotion, and with a very practical list of things that simply had to be done before the first notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” played. I began this week thinking about how I’d handle the tangle of widely-varied emotions I’ve been feeling for months about all of this.

In short, I began this week thinking about myself. A big mistake, since this week clearly wasn’t about me, and it’s that realization that is making me that just-slightly-different person.

As the week progressed, things fell into place as best they could. Certain tasks were completed, others weren’t. But the ceremonies — Chris’ promotion, Jimmy’s baccalaureate, followed by his graduation the next night — all proceeded beautifully. The post-event celebrations each night — dinner at Hibachi on Wednesday, a visit to Dunkin’ Donuts on Thursday and cake and ice cream at home last night — all turned out just about right. Donna’s mom has been with us all week and my mom and sister drove up three nights in a row to be with us. I thought about my dad a bit, and how much I wish he could have been here, but his spirit was here each time someone remarked how much Jimmy resembles Dad now (right down to his stoic photo op smiles). Plus, I wore one of Dad’s ties to graduation.

It wasn’t a perfect week. But it was a really, really good week. And it was all about Jimmy and Chris. And when Jimmy’s graduation ceremony finally arrived, I wasn’t bogged down with all of the emotional baggage that’s been weighing me down for months. I simply felt happy for Jim and not particularly sentimental about the fact that his life — and mine — will be changing as a result of this particular ceremony. Best to embrace the change, enjoy the moment and move forward.

But it was also a week about family. During last night’s cake and ice cream party, the power briefly went out in our house, which sent Chris (and, I’ll admit it, me) into momentary emotional tailspins. At one point in this [non] crisis, Chris wailed that it could be the “worst night ever.”

This led to a long and funny conversation about some of the previously “worst nights ever” our family has experienced, going all the way back to 1975. We laughed long and hard as each of the stories unfolded. Laughing at the long ago worst nights ever, while reveling in the current imperfect but nonetheless beautiful moment? That sounds like family to me.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Moments

In Cliff Hillis, fatherhood, Laurel Hill Cemetery, marriage, Uncategorized on May 30, 2016 at 9:45 am

My younger son Chris and I were cruising down the Schuylkill Expressway early on a recent Saturday morning, one of the only times you can legitimately use the word “cruise” when describing a trip down that legendarily congested road. As we headed east, our friend Cliff Hillis was advising us to hang on to the moment, once it begins. Not to get stuck in the moment, but to catch a glimpse of the ephemeral nature of life and to realize when you are in the process of having a moment that you’re never going to forget.

Cliff wasn’t physically with us in the car, but his Song Machine CD was. Chris is slowly embracing pop music, one song at a time, so it took some repetitions of the first few tunes on the CD before we got to “Hang On To The Moment.” Once we did though, I realized that hanging on to the moment is one of the primary items on my agenda right now.

Chris and I were headed to Laurel Hill Cemetery, making “Hang On To The Moment,” a appropriate soundtrack. Imagine the infinite amount of life moments represented in a cemetery holding more than 80,000 permanent residents!

We were on the way to witness the removal of the General Meade tree, a Norway Maple more than 160 years old. This tree had shaded the grave site of General George Gordon Meade ever since his funeral in 1872. The tree was beautiful but had reached the end of its natural life.

Think about the moments that tree silently witnessed. Of course, the Meade funeral was the most famous. Meade’s body was brought to the cemetery via the Schuylkill River and President Ulysses S. Grant delivered a eulogy. But the tree was witness to hundreds of other, smaller, funerals over the course of its lifetime as well.

Once we arrived at Laurel Hill, Chris and I observed the early stages of the tree removal and then took a walk deep into the south section of the cemetery. At one point, we were as almost as far away from Laurel Hill’s gatehouse as you can get, while still being in the cemetery.

We visited the small mausoleum of William C. Dulles, a 39-year-old lawyer who had the misfortune of boarding the Titanic in 1912. Here was a man who was forced to become suddenly and grimly aware of the limited amount of moments in one’s life. How did he react? Very little is known about Dulles, so we don’t know what those last moments of his were like. We only know what is noted, somewhat oddly, on his tomb: “Died from Titanic, April 15, 1912.”

Not far from Dulles lies Charles Vansant, the first victim of the infamous Jersey shore shark attacks of 1916. He was just 25 years old when he waded into the surf with a dog 100 years ago this July 1. Again, not much is known about Vansant these days, only that his quarter century of life moments ebbed that summer day, as he was surrounded by shocked family members and onlookers.

While in the south section, we also visited the stump of another recently removed tree. It was under this one that fictional character Rocky visited the grave site of his also-fictional wife, Adrian, and contemplated the moments they shared.

So, yes, a walk through Laurel Hill can be a reminder to hang on to the moment. But of course, you shouldn’t need a  graveyard stroll to get what Cliff is saying in his song. Each time our life changes in some way, we’re invited to hang on to the moment.

The day I met Donna.

The day Donna and I got married.

The days that our sons Jimmy and Chris were born.

The day my dad died.

These, and some more private to mention here, are the days when I was being gently told to hang on to the moment. I’ve tried to listen and do just that, but the moments get so slippery after awhile, it can be hard to hang on, especially as the mundane details of everyday life threaten to swallow up every waking moment, including those when one ought to be sleeping.

During the next two weeks, we will celebrate the end of Chris’ middle school career and Jimmy’s high school graduation. Moving on to high school and college will surely bring changes for our boys–changes that we can tell have already begun–and life will never be the same for any of us.

It is an exciting time. A sad time. A scary time. A time of change and growth and opportunity. A time during which I want to wrap my wife and our sons up in a huge hug that lasts a long time, even as Donna and I wave the boys in the direction of their futures and just tell them, “Go for it, whatever it is.”

And it’s a time to hang on to the moment.

The Somewhat Better

In journal, journal keeping, not quite Walden, Philosophy/Creativity on February 21, 2016 at 12:38 pm

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For the third Sunday morning in a row, my dog Jolie has assured that I am wide awake far ahead of the rest of my family, giving me some time to sit down and type a few words. If Jolie is any indication, I should have this early Sunday morning time slot available for months to follow.

When I started this new set of entries/essays/whatever, the idea was to distill some of the wisdom that I’d woven oh-so-poetically into the prior week’s worth of daily journal entries. The conundrum is when the daily entries become every-couple-day’s entries, largely devoid of anything approaching coherence, let alone wisdom. This problem is amplified when one of the few daily entries has the word COMPLACENCY splattered across it:

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Now, granted, I stuck the Star Wars guy–though I’m thinking he’s a bad guy–there to slay my complacency with his light saber, but still…complacency. I also wrote the word INERTIA in large letters on the same page.

The fact is, complacency and inertia have played huge roles in my life recently. But I’m working on it. I am working on the Somewhat Better version of myself.

Some of you might think that going for Somewhat Better isn’t very ambitious. That maybe I should go for Very Best, like the owners of the restaurant my son Chris and I visited in Pottstown, Pennsylvania yesterday morning. The Very Best restaurant recently closed its doors but it existed for nearly 100 years in Pottstown. It seems safe to say that the Very Best would not have lasted that long if it had been called the Somewhat Better.

People, though, are not restaurants.

Don’t get me wrong: striving for personal excellence is a wonderful thing. This kind of striving has inspired all manner of astounding human accomplishment in the arts, sciences, sports and elsewhere. Unfortunately, it has also inspired every inane striving-for-my-Very-Best coronation song that American Idol winners have sung, as well as other entities and events even more heinous than those songs but that does not dilute my point: striving for Very Best can be a good thing.

Me though? I am sticking with Somewhat Better. At least for now. The reason for this is simple: Somewhat Better gives me goals I can see, not too far ahead of me. Destinations I can reach, and then perhaps move beyond.

I will be honest here, without getting bogged down in detail: I do not feel that I have been Very Best–in any particular area of my life–for years. In short, I have fallen short.

Lately though, I’ve realized that falling short hasn’t necessarily been the problem. The problem is the effect that falling short has had on my confidence and on my ability to fight back against a nagging complacency that has settled in around me. Sadly, I’ve often directed the frustration that this has caused me in the wrong directions. In a sense, I’ve often used a passive-aggressive version of the Dark Side of the Force to combat this dilemma and therein lies my problem. It’s all been in my approach.

Now, though, I feel like I’ve turned a corner. I’ve been attempting to confront the demons, such as they are, with a lighter touch. Instead of letting the anger and frustration calcify into rage and despair, I’ve tried to tap into the happier undercurrent of my life, which has been there all along. Maybe replacing a Star Wars bad guy with a Star Wars good guy to tackle the complacency and inertia.

I am talking about the time I spend, individually and collectively, with my wife and two sons, as well as other family members and friends. The strolls through Laurel Hill Cemetery and, occasionally, other places that inspire me. The time spent sipping coffee, listening to Trini Lopez Live at PJs and Three Dog Night–Their Greatest Hits, and tapping out these thoughts in this messy room on this late February morning.

So many great little moments happen in our lives and it is up to us to appreciate them. Cherish these moments, both monumental and tiny, for their very existence. At the same time, realize that it is the positive, life-affirming moments that give us the strength to tackle, in a positive way, the central challenge of life: not necessarily to be Very Best, but to gradually be Somewhat Better.

That’s about all the wisdom I’ve got for today. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it is early yet and I have a bit of Somewhat Bettering to do before the day is done.

 

 

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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