Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

So Bang and Burn Away

"Oh my dear Heaven is a big band now
Gotta get to sleep somehow
Bangin' on the ceiling
Bangin' on the ceiling
Keep it down..."

-Foo Fighters, The Sky Is A Neighborhood

The sky caught fire. 

"Beatrice, look," said the Mama, what I lovingly call my wife.


"Look at the sunset."


"I want to see!" shouted Bryce.

"Look, girls. Daddy, come look."

We all crowded in front of our living room window. Deep blue bled lavender and charcoal gray. A layer of rippled clouds fanned out above us from the northwest and burned softly like the embers of a dying fire. The orange and red flared and grew brighter as if stoked from above.

"If we go out on the porch we can see it better," said the Mama.

The view was better, but still somewhat obstructed by trees and buildings in front of us. 

"Oooooo," said the girls. 

"Gorgeous," I said.

"Let's go down to the water and see it," said the Mama. "There's time."

Bryce flailed on the couch. "No! I don't want to go anywhere!"

"Yes, let's go now before it's gone," I said. "Get your shoes on girls."

"Alexa, what time is the Santa Cruz sunset," the Mama asked our new Amazon gadget.

"The sunset in Santa Cruz today is 5:11 pm," Alexa replied. I looked at my watch -- it was 5:21 pm.

"C'mon, let's go," I said. "We have to do it know or we'll miss it."

We all had our sweatshirts and shoes on, and were ready by the front door, except Bryce.

"I don't want to go!"

"Fine, you can stay home by yourself," the Mama said, not serious of course. "We're going now."

"Whaaaaa!" Bryce fake whined and thrashed on the couch.

"Bryce, get your frickin' shoes on and let's go!" I insisted.

"Okay, okay! I'm coming!"

A few minutes later we were down by the ocean looking for a place to park. As was nearly most of Santa Cruz it seemed. Cars and people were everywhere. Street parking was full. The Natural Bridges State Beach 20-minute parking was full. I parked along the side of the road that led in and out of the state beach main parking, facing the exit. That way we could leave after watching the sunset for a few minutes. There wasn't time to drive all the way down to the main lot and park and walk onto the beach, the same one I workout on every week. We got out to watch the burning sky.

The time is always now again -- the now of every beat and breath and being completely in on each one, without distraction, no matter how unruly the universe gets. The next day there would be the kisses goodbye with my lovely wife and the hugs from my girls before I headed out to see my best friend for his birthday, each kiss and hug a time capsule to be repeatedly unearthed during my time away. 

Then there would be the time spent with my best friend of 40 years. Two men in their 50's, one able-bodied and one paralyzed since our senior year in high school, looking backward and projecting forward, never afraid to be emotionally accessible to one another, or take each other out with relentless one-liners.

But that was yet to come; the sky caught fire again. It glowed white-hot where the sun had set into the sea beyond, it's periphery pink and red, scorched black underneath. I took picture after picture, and in between, let the now embrace me again, and again. Muted oh's and ah's filled the spaces between all of us watching this glorious sunset. 

Now this is heaven, I thought. So bang and burn away.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Lightness of Us All

"Memory strumming at the heart of a moving picture..."

-Rush, Workin' Them Angels

The very weight of her unsettled me. She was small and light in life, with creamy brown fur and a streak of white between her eyes and down her nose.

But death brings on a heavier mass. Once the final breath and heartbeat flees the body, what's left increases in gravity dramatically, affecting everyone around it. I tried to wrap her in a cloth towel, and although I thought I could do it quickly, I struggled with it for over five minutes.

"I need help," I told the Mama, what I affectionately call my wife.

"What can I do?" she asked.

"I got her," I said, finally wrapping up one of our two pet guinea pigs that had died earlier that morning.

The guinea pig that died was three years old and it had been her birthday. She didn't know that, but our girls did. Our youngest Bryce cried and our oldest Beatrice kept it together, telling her sister it would be okay. We knew that Dandelion Clover, the full name of the guinea pig that died, was very sick and it escalated quickly over a period of 24 hours. On average guinea pigs have a lifespan of four to eight years, but poor little Dande as we called her wouldn't make it that far.

Earlier that morning we sat with Bea and Bryce and explained to them that Dande was very ill and would probably not make it through the day. Bryce cried and Bea eyes and mouth twitched a little. We continued that we could either bury Dande in the backyard, or that I would take her away to be "taken care of."

"I don't want to bury her," Bryce said in between tears.

"Do you want Daddy to take care of her then when it happens?" the Mama asked.

The girls both nodded. Bryce kept crying. Bryce and I are the criers of the family, that' for sure. I didn't cry then, but got choked up watching her.

The Mama ran some errands and I worked on my laptop while the girls played. What I didn't know was that sometime during the next hour, Dande had taken her last steps in the cage, fallen over and died. What I also didn't know was that Beatrice saw it happen, but didn't say a word to me or her sister, not until the Mama got back home and we announced that it happened.

I put Dandelion's wrapped, lifeless little body into a ziplock and carried her out into the garage. Her weight seemed to increase with every step I took. "Taken care of" can mean many things to many people, and for us it literally meant disposing of the dead pet without burying her in the backyard, and without sharing the details with your kids. They thought I would take Dande to the vet to be taken care of, and that's one of those parental lies we were fine to live with.

The girls loved the guinea pigs (and still love the other one we have that is still alive and squeaking). They don't fetch things, or chase balls of string, or laser pen lights for that matter (and trust me, our girls have tried), but they are cuddly, squeaky eating machines. And they're fun to dress up, especially when the girls dressed them up as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader right before Christmas.

Prior to the getting the guinea pigs last March, we had had two pet fish in two years. The first real pet the girls ever had, named Jumpy Tree Summer, was a handsome Betta that lived for over a year and half before he passed. We'd been at my sisters for Thanksgiving, and prior to leaving Jumpy hadn't been looking so good. Lethargic and listing, all his usual deep burgundy flowing fins were fraying and he looked more and more sickly. Then he'd stopped eating. We were only going to be gone for a few days, but just weren't sure he'd make it.

Which he didn't. The Mama saw him floating as soon checked out the tank, and while I continued to unload the car from our trip and the girls were playing in the living room, she took care of him.

And before we had Beatrice and Bryce, we had three pets between the Mama and me -- I had an adopted black and white Shih Tzu named Joshua, and the Mama had two cats from the same litter, a black and white boy named Charlie and a Calico girl named Chelsea. All three lived pretty long lives, with Chelsea living to be 22 years old. She was still living after Bryce was born and Beatrice was constantly pulling Chelsea's tail, something no cat ever likes. But in the end we had to put all three to sleep, an emotionally draining experience for anyone who's ever had to say goodbye to a beloved pet. Each time it was me taking them to the vet's office, holding them in the cold, white vet examining room, holding them in their final moments, balling my eyes out.

The gravity of it all crushes me every single time. Because they are like family, and no one likes to lose a member of the family. Our other guinea pig, Sweetheart Watermelon, the mother of Dande, is much bigger and so far seems to be healthier than her daughter was. The girls held her fast in their laps after I took Dande away.

In the garage the weight of Dande increased exponentially. I remembered when I had to carry my father to the bathroom the week before he died, his frail body still buoyed by a little lightness he had left. I remembered the weight of my mother's arm as I held it the moment the machines keeping her alive were turned off. And then I remembered another heaviness, that of holding my own children the night I had to go to the hospital, not sure what would happen next.

But I didn't cry then. No, I didn't cry until my next weekly beach workout at Natural Bridges State Beach. As soon as I saw one of the last of the natural bridges, formed millions of years ago, the local iconic image I get to see each and every week; my spiritual anchor and gateway to God; that's when I cried. I was full of intention and gratitude, thankful to be alive, thankful to make a difference, thankful for my family, and even thankful for a fat squeaky guinea pig called Sweetheart Watermelon, one that may get another new friend at some point.

God bless the lightness of us all.