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So, had a family member at the house this past weekend, a person nearing the end of his rope, it seems. My older, alcoholic brother, cannot quit the habit. He's been to rehab four times, pretty long ago now, and it never took. He came to our house because he is homeless and the weather's been cold. He's been diagnosed with congestive heart failure but will never get all the care he needs because he has no money and no insurance.

He looks terrible, moves slowly, and can't sleep. Who knows where he slept this past night. It went down to 7 degrees this morning. He only gets to sleep inside if someone lets him sleep on their floor.

We gave him a warm shelter for a couple days, showers, clean laundry, some non-crack addicted companionship and some good meals. It felt like we should be able to give more, something that would keep him from having to live the way he does. We dropped him off at the temp agency in Allentown at 6:00 a.m. yesterday.

I didn't bother to try to give advice, or criticize his way of life. He knows. He knows. He knows. He's heard all that a thousand times. He could freeze to death or die of a heart attack tomorrow. I wanted to grant him some dignity while he was in my house.

In what kind of a world do these things happen? We ran into a guy we know the other day. He was walking with crutches. I thought I'd heard he had cancer, but it's amyloids of some kind, he said. These people were kind to us when we were new in Nazareth, when others didn't talk with us much. He was funny, a wise guy, and often made us laugh.

Well, now he's dying. It's terminal, he said. I won't survive it. His teenage son stood by expressionless. He can't go anywhere, or even stay home by himself. The son has to stay home every evening to watch him. He joked a little, but his spirit was diminished. He's losing his mind, and he admits he's scared. He said it with a slightly husky voice that made it hard to hear.

How do you make sense of these things? One of my cousins was shot one sunny afternoon in the parking lot of my uncle's garden center. Eleven shots, and then the shooter, a jealous ex-husband, swallowed a bullet as my uncle ran to stop him. The blood sparkled as it flowed across the macadam in the sun. My uncle came down with Parkinson's and has never been the same.

A woman we know and her two kids were bludgeoned to death in their house by the husband and father. We had babysat the older child, a girl named Alison. The father drove to Colorado or somewhere, then blew his own brains out. Half a year later there was an article in the paper about the local coroner, and when he was talking about methods of dating murders, he spoke matter of factly about the development of the maggots in this woman's body when they found her. I got up from the breakfast table, thinking I was going to be sick.

Another uncle died of cancer that gradually ate his face away. Another man, a friend, died of melanoma that grew through his brain. He began to say one word for another. His distress increased. And the woman he'd taken up with, unprepared for his deterioration, became abusive and hateful, until the hospice people were the only kind presence in his last days. He was a photographer and great lover of nature.

One cousin died of AIDS, my mom, we now know, was taking Vioxx when she died of a heart attack. Otherwise, she seemed in good health.

What are we to make of these things, besides how lucky we seem to be so far, poor as we are? What ever happened to the happy ending I used to believe in? People die crushed.

I have questions.

When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men will at length establish their lives on that basis. ---H. D. Thoreau

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The following comments are for "I have questions"
by Icarus

Icarus' questions
Icarus- I read here at lit daily, but rarely post or comment these days- mostly due to time constraints and writer's block. Your rant brings me out of the wood-work.
Questions. Yes. I have a few myself. I have more than once thought how easy a bullet would be- for me- Fortunately, I also know how horrible that would be for those who love me- not an option.
There is pain and misery every where.
There is also beauty. Triumph of spirit isn't dead.
Many times we make poor choices, or worse, choices are made for us.
There are no answers to your questions- least not on this limited level of consciousness-
We have two selections- wring hands and say "all's for naught" or believe that eventually it becomes clear, and with clarity comes our awareness of perfection.
I opt for the latter. My proof lies in the workings of the natural world around me, and knowledge that somehow I, and miseries both experienced and observed, are all part of this natural world.
Chin up, baby. It's gotta get better when it can't get worse.
I'll keep my rose-colored glasses right where they are, thank you.
Thanks for a thoughtful and well executed write-

( Posted by: emaks [Member] On: February 2, 2005 )

A struggle with rage
Thanks, emaks, for taking the time and for sharing.
I know you're right, and most of the time I offer all this stuff up, but seeing my brother the way he is and being unable to do anything about it brought out some kind of rage in me. It's hard to accept that this is one of the things I can't change. Hard, but necessary, I know.
I guess we wouldn't be human if we weren't moved by suffering, especially that of the people we love.

( Posted by: icarus [Member] On: February 2, 2005 )

Icarus: I have only lame answers
I sincerely wish I had more tangible suggestions to offer for helping your brother, but my old man's been out of the drug/alcohol rehab biz so long - and nowhere near your neck of the woods - that I wouldn't know where to point you. Have you gone the Al-Anon route for yourself? If anyone could identify any available resources for his circumstances, I'd think they could. At the very least, they might help you deal with your own anguish.

My pat answer to the old "Why do bad things happen to good people?" question is simply, "Because things happen to people." All kinds of things happen to all kinds of people. We silly humans just never question it when bad happens to "bad" or good happens to "good," only when it's the other way around. We naively believe in some kind of cosmic cause and effect thing that we think will operate with some kind of consistency. Sometimes it works that way, but you can't count on it.

I think most of us - especially those of us who have spent way too much of our lives reading stories - have a tendency to think life will imitate art. It causes us to look for the "happy" at the wrong point in the story. In real life, few endings are happy. Beginnings vary and are no guarantee of future results. I tend to think that all we can do is search high and low, and fight tooth and nail, to find as many happy in-betweens as we can wrestle out of life.

My mother's ending wasn't happy - Alzheimer's ate her ability to communicate and to function, then pneumonia sucked the air out of her blood. Many parts of her life had not been happy either, but when my sisters and I were kids, she found as much happiness as she could to give to us, to help us prepare ourselves for whatever happened.

I'm sorry I can't make any better sense of it than that. How about this? If you don't already have one, why don't you go up to that factory in town and get yourself a guitar? It'll play both happy songs and sad songs if you let it! (Who was it who said every child should be issued a banjo when they're born?? Great idea!) Please take care!

( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: February 3, 2005 )

P.S. re: Icarus' questions
Have you considered going to Radio Shack? "You've got questions. We've got geek losers."

You're right. Bad idea. Sorry!

( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: February 3, 2005 )

Thanks, LinnieRed. Yes to Alanon, a tremendous help over the years. Lots of musical instruments in the house, including guitars and banjos (and drums), plus paints, colored pancils, pastels and paper and pens. This rant was a captured moment, not a constant state for me.
And my questions were really aimed at Someone Else altogether, the One you might call the Guilty Party. The Divine is used to this stuff from me and has a great Sense of Humor about it.

( Posted by: Icarus [Member] On: February 3, 2005 )

without answers. Thanks for sharing this.

( Posted by: drsoos [Member] On: February 6, 2005 )

No answers here. Only my thing
2004 was, for all intents and purposes, the crappiest year on record for my family. You don't need the details, but plenty of just plain old bad times, bad luck, bad bad.

What do I do? I go to God. I pray. That's me. And as the year went on, and has moved into 2005, have things gotten much better? Not particularly. But I have. The more I pray and the more I let go of trying to be in control, the more help I get. The more I feel at peace. And that peace seems to help me help the other people in my life.

That's no cure for what's got your brother by the throat. Nobody can heal somebody else's illness or troubled soul. I'm as cynical a bastard as the next man. But I believe in God. And I believe that no matter what I've got going on in my life, good or bad, I'm going to be better able to deal with it when I get help from the Big Man (No, not Clarence Clemmens).

Don't know if that helps. It's not an answer. More of a direction.

Good luck. Be well.

( Posted by: andyhavens [Member] On: February 7, 2005 )

icarus -- too close to the sun
You're rant saddened me greatly. Often enough I'm able to ignore the plight of others in my own daily quest for something near being ok. But on occasion, it all hits at once and I feel just so sad for the pain of others (and selfishly for my own potential pain). I've been very lucky, and unfortunely that's all I believe in right now -- luck. Though I'm trying to incorporate some faith into it.
I don't think this helps -- but how do you do it? I'm not going to say you should feel ok because I don't think you should. You should be able to feel sad, really, really sad. But maybe know that there are always breaks -- and the greatest joy can sometimes be the abscense of pain.
Thanks for sharing this with me/us. I mean that. Its important.
I do have to wonder though -- do we write because we're miserable-ish, or are we miserable because we write? Seriously best of luck, Brad

( Posted by: brad [Member] On: February 7, 2005 )

Having fun yet?
Icarus, as andyhavens pointed out, even though it was a frozen moment, it's all too common among us. And a little touch o' redemption, a taste of salvation, getting received in Graceland, however you want to put it, goes a long way.

I was once your brother, and it took nothing short of a near-miraculous series of events to save my sorry keester. As for the other things, well, sometimes I think that in the Big Plan, the Great Architect just threw in a chaos algorithm to keep the herd thinned. Right now, Linniered and I are watching the slow death of a very dear friend and musical inspiration (way before his time), and the temptation to ask "why him?" is very strong. The answer? "Because", I guess.

Me, when it all piles up on me and I no longer have the luxury of some sort of chemical solace, I just kinda look at the sky, put on my best disgruntled voice and ask: "Are you having fun yet". Don't know why, but it helps.

Meanwhile, pick up a guitar, even if you're totally uniinspired. It'll come to you in a bit.

( Posted by: TomTerrific [Member] On: February 14, 2005 )

Shaggy dog story
"Are you having fun yet?"
Sometimes I think that Certain People enjoy exploiting their ineffability just a tad too much. But I understand that in the end, it all turns out to be something different from what it looked like, and the punch line is worth the whole shaggy dog story.
Sobriety--good going!

( Posted by: Icarus [Member] On: February 15, 2005 )

I have questions
What are we to make of these things? That depends upon where you are in your journey.

Life happens no matter what we do. But success in anything usually requires some actual planning, and faithful execution. Not that we can plan for disasters, accidents, etc.

What we can do is leave the past behind us, and move ever-forward into the best possible future we can imagine. With honor, with beauty, and with love and compassion.

We cannot always choose what happens in our lives, but we can always choose how we will react to it.

Be well, Icarus... and may you always choose wisely.

( Posted by: PAIxMEI [Member] On: March 8, 2005 )

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