Archive for September, 2011



The autumnal equinox happened this morning at 4:05 a.m. central time, but I was not awake to observe it. I guess you might say I was distracted by other priorities.

The same is true today with writing a post. Please don’t think I’m neglecting you. I’m taking on a new kid, and spent the whole afternoon answering a letter from him. I’ll tell you more about him—a whole lot more—later, but not now. I’ll be back on the keyboard for you tomorrow.

The best I can do for you is share a really terrific song. I love this girl’s voice and I hope you’ll enjoy it.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Regina Spektor performing “Fidelity”


day of shame

Denied a last-minute stay of execution, Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia last night for the murder of an off-duty police officer. There is a great likelihood he was innocent, but no court or political leader would put a stop to the execution. He was pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m. eastern time.

We have not come so very far in eighty years. Our methods have only become more abstract and antiseptic. 


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Billie Holiday performing “Strange Fruit”


a good day

This is going to be a nothing post. The day has been so full of e-mails, phone calls, people, and errands that I simply have had no time to write.

A few high points: The girl I took to my high school senior prom contacted me for the first time in 43 years; I learned why the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections never answered a letter I’d sent him (he quit almost a month ago, after just six months on the job, over a disagreement with Governor Rick Scott about the privatization of at least 29 state prison facilities); Several people sent contributions for James Prindle’s legal expenses; I discovered my personal checking account had $200 more in it than I’d thought; I was offered a free Great Pyrenees puppy; We got a little rain.

I even received a 1902 Indian head penny in my change at the general store. 


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Perry Como performing “It’s a Good Day”


supreme irony

I love this country, but I hate what it is becoming.

A couple days ago, Jerry and Eva sent me an e-mail asking me to wear blue this coming Friday for “Blue Friday,” an expression of support for American troops overseas. The idea is to wear blue every Friday until all our troops come home. We need our young men here at home. The futile, senseless killing has got to stop. I support this gesture and will be wearing blue this Friday.

Too many family tragedies like this one have been playing out for too long.

This is the arrival home of the body of 2nd Lt. James Cathey, as photographed by Todd Heisler of The Rocky Mountain News. (Heisler won a 2006 Pulitzer Prize for these photos.) Passengers are seen here watching Cathey’s family gathering on the tarmac at the Reno airport as a Marine honor guard climbs into the cargo hold and drapes a flag over his casket.

Here Lt. Cathey’s widow Katherine is seen in the arms of a Marine major who was detailed to oversee funeral arrangements and provide grief counseling for the family.

Cathey died on August 21, 2005. He and a corporal had gone ahead of a platoon to scout near Al Karmah, Iraq and a roadside bomb exploded. “He always told me, ‘Don’t worry,'” Cathey’s mother Caroline said. Her son had told her, “If we don’t fight it over there, we’ll be fighting it over here.”

As I recall, Cheney and Bush originated that line. By now we know how truthful their justifications have been all along for everything from the Iraq invasion, to the efficacy of torture, to tax cuts for the rich. In Afghanistan they oversaw the production of more opium in each growing season than in any one year of rule by the Taliban, who had pretty much eradicated opium poppy cultivation. Cheney/Bush (and now Obama) policies are responsible for the deaths of more than 4,683 American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Katherine learned she was pregnant with a son while Cathey was in Iraq. The night before his burial, Katherine refused to leave his casket, asking to sleep next to his body one last time. A few months later, just days before Christmas, their son Jimmy was born. He will be six this December. The Marines have been doing an admirable job of supporting Katherine and Jimmy, but nothing they do can ever restore the lost husband and father to life.

How many other American kids are growing up without fathers?

And how many more kids are living with the awful consequences resulting from the 32,800 troops who have been injured, half of them with serious mental health disorders and brain and spinal cord injuries?

For the last decade we have been recklessly meddling in the lives and affairs of other nations, arrogantly presenting our system of governance as superior to all others.

At the same time, our own house has not only been in fiscal disorder, but its foundations have been deteriorating from rot and moral corruption as our freedoms have been bargained and frittered away.

This was reinforced last night when Stephen called to tell me that James Prindle’s prosecutor has upped the ante in trying to get James to admit to a crime he did not commit. James rejected an earlier plea that included an admission to the crime and lifelong labeling as a sex offender. Now the prosecutor has changed the offer to all-of-the-above plus forty years in prison—in reality, a death sentence. The prosecutor has no evidence connecting James to the crime. He doesn’t have anything going for him but a judge who is himself a former prosecutor inclined to give the prosecution the benefit of the doubt.

If James were to go to prison as a sex offender, he would be targeted for murder within a general population that takes a dim view of inmates who are said to have sexually victimized children. The State of Tennessee has absolutely no interest in truth or justice, only winning, and James’ court-appointed public defender has been ineffectual. Upon hearing this news, James spiraled into a suicidal panic and we had to ask the Memphis jail to put him on a special watch.

“The practice of blackmailing accused people with the threat of extremely high sentences to force them to admit never-committed crimes to get lower sentences is…everyday life,” wrote Martin Killias, a professor of law and criminology at the University of Lausanne, in a Swiss newspaper. “Madness has become normal in the US,” he said.

Why do so many Americans not see this and demand real justice, especially for our own children? Is it for this shoddy standard of justice that so many American soldiers have died or been maimed? Is it for this that so many children of military families suffer?

In an eleventh-hour move, we have finally identified a private criminal defense attorney in Memphis who is experienced defending sex crimes. Stephen talked to him last night and called me to discuss the particulars. It will be expensive: $15,000.

Stephen asked me if we can raise that much. “What is the life of a child worth?” I countered. I told him we have no choice but to raise the money. “Call that lawyer and tell him we’ll do it,” I said with as much confidence I could muster.

Yet to tell you the truth, I went to bed deeply troubled that it has come to this. I awakened early this morning no less troubled.

And then, when I fired up my computer, an e-mail was waiting for me from £ance Nickson, the organizer of the “Aussie Gang” in Melbourne, Australia. He was writing to tell me that he’d recruited new members into the Gang. He said they were sending more money in a few days for James, Blade, and the other kids. He said he’s organized a Christmas benefit concert at an Anglican church for our kids. (£ance is not only an accountant—hence his use of a pound symbol instead of an L—but a liturgical organist.)

The uncanny timing and content of his message truly was a godsend. It was the perfect antidote to the doubts that had troubled my sleep and even raised fears of official interference. It reminded me that even if many Americans are asleep to the perils to our freedoms, there are lots of people like £ance… people who, despite all our nation’s failings of the last decade, still believe in the American ideal of “Liberty and Justice for All.”

It just seems like such a supreme irony that while our soldiers are fighting and dying overseas for reasons based on deception and greed, people like £ance who live overseas are looking out for America’s children here at home. In a curious way, it makes me believe in the idea of America all the more.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Robert Morse and the cast of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” performing “I Believe In You”


memento mori 2

Admittedly, the death of a dog is not equivalent to the loss of a child or other family member. Yet it does present a similar challenge to integrate the reality of death into a life that, in its totality, is hopefully creative and life-affirming. Somehow we must all live on after loss and eventually deal with our own mortality in positive ways.  

Memento mori is a Latin phrase which translates as “Remember your mortality”, “Remember you must die” or “Remember you will die.” The phrase has a tradition in art, dating back to antiquity, identifying a genre of artistic work which reminds people of our inevitable earthly fates.

In the relatively modern art form of photography, memento mori often refers to a peculiar Victorian practice, originated in the earliest years of photography, of postmortem portraiture. The invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 made portraiture—once only available to those rich enough to commission a painted portrait—available to people of middle class means. Moreover, with the extremely high childhood mortality rates of the age, a postmortem photograph might be the only image a family could ever have as a keepsake of a lost infant or child.

This practice impresses contemporary sensibilities as macabre. It eventually peaked in popularity around the end of the 19th century and waned as “snapshot” photography became more commonplace with the introduction of the Kodak camera. Yet response to my July 30th post about mummies, “I See… Dead People,” has been so unexpectedly strong, I cannot resist the impulse to once again pander to people’s morbid curiosities.

However, I do think viewing these images can serve a higher purpose than merely satisfying our gratuitous and arguably voyeuristic urges. They remind us of the pervasive fact of life that without dark and loss, we cannot fully appreciate and optimize the light and love that life has to offer.












Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Cure performing “Pictures of You”


memento mori

After I’d gone to bed last night, I heard Otto go outside through the dog door at the back of the house. Earlier in the day his efforts to use the door were frustrated by his extreme weakness, and he crumpled on the spot. I didn’t want anything similar to happen while he was outdoors in the dark, so I arose to be with him. It’s now five in the morning and I have been up all night, watching and keeping a vigil for him.

I have done this so many times before, for people mostly, that I feel like an old hand at it. I don’t really do anything for the beneficiaries of such vigils; I mainly just watch them sleep.

Sometimes I have doubts and feel my presence is useless and superfluous; yet at such times, all I have to do to center on the worth of my being there is to remember a time when I entered the hospital room of a friend and mentor who was dying of cancer, suffering dementia, and was highly disturbed. His family was not there. His attendant, an ignorant woman who was assigned to sit with him for no particular reason except that she was a minimum-wage employee, was unable to calm him. I touched my friend’s forehead, said his name, and he resumed momentary consciousness. “Oh, Dan,” he said, breathed a sigh, and instantly became calm.

I told his attendant she could leave us, and I held his hand for a couple hours while he slept comfortably. It was the last time I saw him. He died in the middle of that night. Yet I clearly heard his voice answer a question the next day.

Through that experience I learned the importance of not letting people die alone, even if there is nothing you can do. Your presence is enough. It will never be forgotten.

It is now eight in the morning and I have just awakened from a three hour nap in the chair. Otto has been sleeping peacefully. When I open the door to a beautiful sunny day, he follows me outside and assumes a new sleeping position in the sun. The air is clear and fresh and laden with moist desert aromas. I leave him in this peaceful state, reheat the night’s coffee, and type a few paragraphs into this post.

It is now nine in the morning and I stand in the doorway watching Otto sleep. He raises his head, looks at me, and struggles to his feet. He stands there as if unsure of what he wants to do. I walk over to him and brush off the tiny pebbles that have adhered to his chest and stomach. All he wants to know is that he is not alone. That he is still cared for.

He moves to a new outdoor sleeping spot in the shade.

It will likely continue like this through the whole day. Maybe I will feel comfortable enough to go to bed for a good sleep. I don’t know. We will have to see.

Now Otto has come indoors and is sleeping next to my desk chair.

There is nothing for me to do but to just be here for him. It’s probably enough. He won’t forget.

Maybe his spirit will rejoin me when my time comes.


Otto slipped away quietly in his sleep this afternoon at 4:35 pm central time. He was still sleeping next to my desk chair.


(four days later)

A ghostly outline of his body still  marks the spot where he died.

I believe his spirit is still here, too.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Lenny Kravitz performing “Believe”


sacred time

For the last couple days I have been noticing from his vomit and stools that Otto is bleeding internally. His footing and balance are increasingly unsteady. He is very weak. There is an uncertain look in his eyes. I think it is just a matter of time, but I do not know how much.

We have spent all day just being together. I rub his ears, massage his back and spindly bare legs, just as I have since he was a puppy. When he goes outside, I go with him and offer encouragement as he needs it. I do not want him to get the idea of going off someplace alone to die.

I wonder if some mysterious, sympathetic thing is happening between us. My own health has been uncharacteristically fragile, too. At the slightest exertion, the pain I experienced several days ago returns. It is almost as if Otto and I have entered the same time-space domain together. We are moving in tandem, in parallel. Otto will not come through this passage alive in a physical sense, but I must and I will.

Yet experiencing and sharing what Otto is experiencing—at an intense, profound, and challenging level—is mine to do right now. I owe this expression of fealty not only to him, but to me. We will meet again. In this passage will be imbedded some of the tenderest moments in our relationship—it is always that way at the end.

In my June 29, 2010 post, “Talks With Animals,” I wrote about an encounter with Cindy Wenger, an animal communication interpreter. At that time she told me that Otto and I—or, more precisely, our souls—have been fellow travelers through many lifetimes. I am inclined to believe it. It provides a logic for why we seem to be connected in ways more significant than mere habit or mutual comfort. It explains why we so often seem to know one another’s thoughts and moods. It helps explain why Otto didn’t pass on long ago like all of his litter mates (he is its last survivor). This may explain why we are both hanging onto one another so tenaciously in these last days, this sacred time.

Yet the bone drummer is drumming his beat, and we have no choice but accept his timing and dance.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Leon Redbone performing “If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven”