Was She My Sunshine?

Sometimes it’s more important to receive a message than worry about its source.

If my mother were still alive, tomorrow would be her 96th birthday. Sadly, she didn’t make it past the age of 64. Cancer sucks.

It’s rather unsettling to think that if I make it another 6 years (and I’d like to believe that the odds of that are good), I’ll have lived longer than she did. I have already lived longer than my oldest sister did. Mortality is such a strange and arbitrary creature.

My mother would have loved the modern era, with its easy access to information. She adored learning new things. She also loved to talk to other people, and would have thrived on social media. But I’m thinking of my 64-year-old mother, not my 96-year-old mother. It’s hard to say if she would have the mental or visual sharpness to do a Google search at that age. I’ll never know.

I can’t really imagine what it would be like to have a geriatric parent. I was never given that gift. Or maybe that was a blessing. There are too many unknowns to be able to speculate which end of the spectrum would be more accurate to our circumstances.

I do wish that she were still around to answer about a million questions for me. Now that I’ve been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I’m looking at the way my mother raised me through a whole new lens. I’m less confused about a lot of things that occurred during my childhood now, and I’m much more grateful/chagrined for all that my mother went through for me. I wish I could tell her that. I could be a lot, and still can be.

But, again, who knows if she would be capable of answering my questions at age 96. She might not even know who I am at this point, and that would be gut-wrenching. And having her still right here and yet unable to shed light on certain things would be even more frustrating than my current reality.

In many ways, she is still with me even though she left 32 years ago. She doesn’t feel far away at all. I have just as many answers that I could provide her as I have questions for her. I wish I could give her that. I now understand how hard it must have been to not have those answers, especially when she had to parent me all alone through some very foreign territory.

I’m sure the word autism was never even on her radar, but the more I think about my past, the more I realize that she knew something was very… I hate to say “wrong”. But something was very abnormal about me. Abnormal, stripped of all the ominous, negative connotations, and yet coated with a hardened candy-like shell of motherly concern.

With her birthday on the horizon, I am reminded of a blog post I wrote back in 2014. She had been gone for 23 years by then, but even more significant is the fact that less than 6 weeks later, my boyfriend died so abruptly that it turned my entire world completely upside down. The blog post is entitled Love Never Dies, a title which was devoid of irony at that moment in time. Reading it with hindsight gives me the chills.

In that post, I described the many ways my mother seemed to have been reaching out to me from the other side. At the time, I couldn’t decide if I was making it all up as a way to soothe my mourning, or if these were signals from… wherever. I actually “asked” her if 2014 would be better than 2013 had been, because to say I was going through a rough patch is putting it mildly.

If you read that post, you’ll see that her response, if it was indeed her response, was rather adamant. At the time, I interpreted it as evidence of another crappy year ahead. But now, I see it as an attention-grabbing, “Heck yeah, 2014 is going to be phenomenal.”

I didn’t realize at the time, though, that the first half of 2014 was about to get a whole heck of a lot worse. But I now know that those dark times had to happen in order for me to be where I am now, which is in a better place than I’ve ever been.

2014 was pivotal and phenomenal and painful and exciting and it was the year my life took a sharp turn. I didn’t know it at the time, because I was barely keeping it together as I was wading through all the upheaval, but that year definitely turned out to be a turn for the better.

2014 led me to the Seattle area, and a job that has my financial head above water for the first time ever. It also led me to Dear Husband, and it led me to the many answers that autism is bringing me.

If you had asked me back then, I’d have said I was suffering through the worst of times. But it turns out I was just on the steep, rocky, uneven pathway that led to the best of times. If we can get messages from beyond, it’s safe to assume that the messenger has broader insights than we mere mortals will ever have.

This is why it is so important to never give up. Because none of us really know where we are in the overall scheme of things. Not really. Bottom line: message received.

Happy birthday, Ma. Thank you for all that you did for me. It helped me get where I am. I hope you’re proud of me. That’s yet another unanswered question that I’ll just have to learn how to live with. But it’s worth it, every mysterious bit of it, if it means I get to have the life I now live.

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Mahsa Amini: Say Her Name

She must never be forgotten.

As I write this tonight, women in 12 cities in Iran are protesting their utter lack of human rights. They are burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in a public outcry like no other. No doubt many of them will be tortured and/or killed for their efforts. Because, you know, we women need to be kept under control. You can’t have us running around, all willy-nilly, deciding that every single part of our bodies belongs to us, now, can you?

Why is this happening at this particular moment in time? Because of a beautiful, 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini. She was visiting Tehran, not causing any trouble, when she was stopped by the Morality Police. Every woman in Iran has been stopped by these sick people, or knows someone else who has been, and women therefore live in fear of them.

The Morality Police decided that Mahsa was not wearing her hijab properly, and must therefore attend a class at one of their detention centers. It was only supposed to take an hour. But other women in the van say that she was beaten and humiliated during the ride, and when she got to the center, she collapsed, lapsed into a coma, and then died in the hospital.

The authorities would have you believe that a healthy young woman with no pre-existing conditions had a heart attack. What a convenient coincidence. But images from the hospital show her bleeding out of both of her ears. That’s no heart attack. That’s head trauma. Her future was cut short because she let a few strands of hair show, intentionally or unintentionally. And does her intention in this instance truly matter? People have no right to kill someone simply because they don’t like their morals.

Before we Americans get all high and mighty about our vastly superior society, please remember that as you read this, American women are dying, too, based purely on legislated morals. They aren’t getting the healthcare that every person has a right to have, and therefore infant mortality rates are higher here than in any other developed nation. It has been legally proclaimed that we don’t have the right to personally decide whether it is safe for us to carry a pregnancy to term, and even the medical professionals we choose to consult can’t make that decision with us, and therefore women are dying from complications. More and more women will be forced to seek illegal and dangerous abortions, because, as is shown in Iran, you can legislate all the morals and values you want, but you can’t make anyone agree with that legislation. Abortions aren’t going to go away simply because you say so.

Please understand that I have nothing against the hijab if it is worn voluntarily. We should all be allowed to dress as we please and demonstrate our faith, or lack thereof as we please. But no one, NO ONE should be allowed to dictate what any woman does if she is not harming others in the process. And no one is harmed by a hijab or lack thereof. What they are harmed by is religious dictatorship.


So take your morality police, Iran, the US Supreme Court, and fundamentalists everywhere, and shove them up your a$$. Sideways. We’re done being obedient.

The death of Mahsa Amini seems to have been the final straw for women in Iran and the men who support them. They have seen decades of governmentally sanctioned violence against women, and they are no longer willing to take it. Mahsa is now every woman. She must never be forgotten.

But the saddest, most telling part of this unfolding story is that I have yet to see any reportage on who Mahsa Amini was when she was alive. All we know is where she was from, and the names of 3 family members. That’s it. That’s all.

What were her interests, her accomplishments, her dreams for the future? Did she go to university? Did she want to? What stories could her friends tell us about her? At the time of this writing, it has been 5 days since her death, and we don’t know any of these things, and we will probably never know.

In a religious dictatorship, women not only don’t matter, but they are so closely controlled that they are rendered all but anonymous. Mahsa was a living, breathing human being. But now she has been turned into a symbol for a long-overdue protest that, I fear, won’t change a thing when all is said and done.

What a shameful, despicable waste.

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Piercing the Veil

Our automated world will mean we’ll have a short life after death.

If I’m still a blogger when I die, I’ll have kept about a week’s worth of posts in queue to be posted in the near future. So for a week after I’m gone, it will look like I’ve continued to blog. Some people will know and will probably find these posts to be poignant.

Others won’t have a clue. If those others care enough to think about it, they’ll see the blog abruptly cease in its efforts to provide content. How long will it take for them to realize I’m not coming back?

I hope that whatever I post toward the end isn’t highly controversial or too upsetting, because I won’t have the opportunity to respond to comments. I can hardly be expected to clarify from beyond the veil. And bloggers tend to only be as good as their last post, so I hope it’s a doozy.

The fragility of life is never very far from my thoughts. Someone I loved very much died unexpectedly, leaving a lot of loose ends. For example, he had dropped off a small travel trailer for repair, and nobody knew where it was. I’m not sure it was ever found.

From that experience, I learned that life is like a soap bubble. One minute you’re here, and the next you are not. Even if it’s expected, it still feels abrupt.

Now that we live in such an automated world, though, we will all, for a time, still be making moves in the living world after we’re gone. Our alarm clocks will go off. Our calendars will still send reminders. Our phones will ring with notices about medical appointments. Our coffee machines may still make coffee. Perhaps our cars will warm themselves up if it’s a cold day. Our motion detector lights will still get triggered. Our Amazon packages will continue to arrive. Netflix will still recommend movies we may be interested in. The spam will keep on coming.

There’s even a service called Death Switch that you can enroll in so that certain e-mails will automatically be sent to people after your death. Mixed emotions about that. The last thing anyone needs is a hostile posthumous message from a black sheep relative. On the other hand, it would be good to be able to tell a spouse where the password information is kept.

Many of us long to communicate with those who have gone before us. I’d love to know if my mother knows how my life is going, and if she is proud of me. I have no idea.

But I highly recommend that you avoid getting psychics to commune with the loved ones you have lost. Charlatans can prey upon your vulnerability and desperation to make contact. For a small fee. But here’s something I’ve always wondered: If psychics are strong enough to pierce the veil and talk to the dead, how come they can’t get the dead to specify their exact names, other than “It starts with an N…”, and they can’t get the dead to say how they died other than, “They’re indicating something in the chest area…”

If there really is an afterlife, and these souls have the presence of “mind” to reach out to you, it would be a cruel joke if you were both forced into a game of charades. I find it hard to believe that these people, after having made so much effort, couldn’t articulate details. Plus, it’s a lot easier to say “My name is Nancy” rather than pantomime an N. And of course they’d know how they died. It was a rather transitional moment. But they have lost the vocabulary to describe it? They can’t even write it out in the ectoplasm? Becoming more stupid after death would be my definition of hell.

Longing for comfort is not an unusual thing, though. Personally, I’ll take a sign wherever I can find one, even if it’s a long stretch. I of course have dreams where I talk to loved ones. And when I see a dragonfly, I believe it’s my abruptly departed loved one saying hello, even if my logical, more scientific side might whisper, “Sometimes a dragonfly is just a dragonfly.”

Every once in a while, I’ll be alone in a closed room and will suddenly be overwhelmed with the smell of cigarette smoke. I have decided that this is my father checking in. But that is really a stretch, because he never did that in real life. Not once. No child support. No birthday cards. Nothing. It amuses me, though, to imagine that the best he can do is pelt me with a foul odor.

A few times when I was young, I visited Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp in Florida for one of their message services. And a few times I was stunned at how apropos these messages seemed. But I bet they would have seemed apropos to anyone in the audience. We humans all have a desire for connection, and are quite capable of finding one where none exists.

Before my mother died, we were joking about Cassadaga. She asked me not to visit the place after she was gone. Why? Because she “won’t want to be bothered.”

That, in a nutshell, is everything you need to know about my mother and her humor. But a big part of me still hopes that she sees what’s going on in my life, and that she’s able to feel proud.

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How Bridgetending Turns into Manslaughter

This whole situation sickens me.

This post is one of the hardest ones I have ever written. I keep getting up to pace back and forth. I keep going from shock to anger to fury to sadness. I have been operating drawbridges for 21 years. I worked on three Jacksonville, Florida drawbridges from 2001 to 2014, with a brief intermission to work on a drawbridge in the Charleston, South Carolina area. From 2014 to present, I’ve worked on 5 different drawbridges here in Seattle, Washington. I take this job extremely seriously.

So imagine what it felt like for me to hear that, once again, someone has died while crossing a drawbridge in South Florida. It has happened more than once. Google “Death and Drawbridges” and see what pops up. I’ve heard of several drawbridge deaths in that area, and there was also one in the Boston area many years back. In most cases, the tragedy was preventable.

Let’s start by dealing with the tragedy in question. Here are the undisputed facts: On February 6th of this year, Artissua Lafay Paulk was operating the Royal Park Bridge in Palm Beach, Florida. During her last opening, a 79-year-old woman named Carol Wright was still walking her bicycle on the sidewalk of the movable span. She tried desperately to cling to the bridge as it rose up. It continued to open even though a bystander was honking his horn, and another was trying to rescue the woman and at least one person was shouting and pounding on the bridge operator’s door. She must have been so frightened. This is what causes me to pace. Ultimately, though, the bridgetender continued the opening, and Ms. Wright fell 40-60 feet to her death, slamming into the concrete pit below.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have never been on the Royal Park Bridge, let alone in its operating tower. I don’t know, nor have I spoken to, any of the people who played a part in this death. I have never worked for Florida Drawbridges, Incorporated.

All I have to go on are the multiple articles that have been written about this incident, and the many news clips I’ve watched on Youtube. My sources are listed below. For all I know, some of this information might be completely inaccurate. But based on everything I’ve read or seen, in my personal opinion, in this case it was the bridgetender who was directly at fault.

It kills me to say that. Most of the time, when problems occur on a drawbridge, it’s the bridgetender who is automatically blamed. Sometimes that’s true, but sometimes it’s not. You’d be surprised how often pedestrians crawl under gates, or attempt to climb rising drawbridges for fun. You’d also be stunned by how often drivers crash through closed gates and continue driving up a partially opened bridge. Sometimes these are daredevils who have seen that little caper in a movie and want to replicate it. (And FYI, it’s not possible.) Sometimes it’s an elderly or intoxicated person who gets rattled and hits the gas instead of the brake. I highly doubt that any of these things were the case with this 79 year old woman.

So, when I hear of an incident such as this, I usually withhold judgment, because I know how reckless the traveling public can be. But in this case, Ms. Paulk has been caught in way too many lies. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re innocent, you usually have no reason to lie.

First of all, she told the police that she had operated the bridge step by step as per procedure, which on this bridge apparently includes walking out on the balcony and looking around on three separate occasions during the opening. Unfortunately for her, camera footage of the tower during that day shows that she did not do so for any of her openings. Not one. And during their investigation, the police found deleted texts on her phone that were from her supervisor/mother-in-law which said something along the lines of, “Tell them you went out on the balcony three times during your opening. Now delete this text.”

And the most heinous part of this is that the victim of this negligent act was on the same side of the bridge as the tower is. That, and based on the drone footage I’ve seen of this bridge, there aren’t exactly a ton of blind spots for the operator to contend with. The bridge is straight as an arrow, with no girders above sidewalk level to obstruct one’s view. This should never have happened.

As the bridge rose up, Ms. Wright was probably 20 feet from the operator. The bridgetender didn’t hear her screaming for help. The bridgetender didn’t hear the man honking his horn. The bridgetender didn’t hear the other man pounding on her door and shouting. I’m guessing she must have been listening to music or something. And I’m here to tell you that when you are doing a bridge opening, you are not supposed to be doing anything else. You shouldn’t even be picking your nose, let alone doing something that prevents you from hearing what is going on.

Fortunately, the operator tested negative for drugs. That’s about the only thing in her favor. But the tragic result remains the same.

All this, to me, indicates a deadly level of complacency. This is not a job where you can be complacent. You can’t ever cut corners or skip steps. You have to be on point. You have to be on constant watch. We’re talking about a million pounds of concrete and steel on the move. A good operator realizes this, and the potential for danger is never far from her or his mind.

But there’s even more to this. The bridgetender is at fault, in my opinion, but she’s definitely not the only one to blame. There is a very negligent drawbridge culture in the state of Florida. Florida Department of Transportation contracts out all its bridges to the lowest bidder, and you definitely get what you pay for. I’ve seen it many times with my own eyes.

I worked for a different subcontractor, but that one used to do everything they could to cut corners so that the bulk of their contract money would be a profit for them. They would water down cleaning supplies. We used to have to beg for toilet paper. They would give us substandard equipment, such as old, used marine radios.

The turnover of employees with these subcontractors was horrific, because they pay about 1/3 of what I’m earning here in Seattle, and raises only come at the time of contract renewal, and these are often 6 year contracts. It’s not a living wage. Not even close. Raises could be written into the contract, but no one ever does that.

Toward the end of my tenure, my subcontractor only hired people part time so that they wouldn’t have to pay employees for sick leave. I worked for 10 years without health insurance. (Well, in truth, the contract required that they provide “adequate” health insurance, and since no one specifies what “adequate” means, they provided us with insurance that had a $20,000 deductible, something I could never afford to pay on their salary.)

Often people would be called in at the last minute to work a shift on little or no sleep. When they needed employees, they’d often hire relatives or friends with no real qualifications, or people with such serious problems that they were unemployable everywhere else. It was my contractor’s shocking habit to offer jobs to whatever drunks they found at the VFW bar.

And training was a joke in Florida. Here in Seattle, you are trained and evaluated for three days by multiple people, and have to perform at least 30 openings under supervision. In Florida, you trained for one shift with one person and had to do five openings. The next day, you were on your own.

So these subcontractors cut costs in training, in equipment and supplies, and hired a lot of really inadequate people who were so desperate they’d tolerate exploitation. But the reason Florida DOT subcontracts in the first place is that they wanted to save money, too. They didn’t want to have to give people the full benefits package required for a state employee. So, ultimately, it’s the traveling public who pays for it, sometimes with their lives. I’m so glad none of these things happen here in Seattle.

The prevailing culture in FDOT is that a trained monkey could do the job. They think it’s just pushing a button. Not so. This job requires a lot of independent judgment, vigilance, and professionalism. It’s not for everyone, and it shouldn’t be.

I’m proud to say that no one has ever been hurt by my actions, or the lack thereof, in the 21 years I’ve been on the job. I don’t think I could ever forgive myself if someone were injured or died.

So here’s my tip to avoid manslaughter. First of all, no subcontractors. Pay a living wage so you get responsible, mature, drug free, intelligent people applying for the job.

If you get hired to work on a drawbridge, spend your entire career avoiding complacency. You are being paid to keep people safe. In exchange for that pay, do your damned job. Policies are in place for a reason.

For those who only took the job because they thought it would be easy, please leave. Don’t give bridgetenders, the majority of whom are extremely conscientious, a bad name because you were hoping for a free ride. Lives are at stake. This is no joke. There should be a special circle in hell for those who treat other people’s lives as if they are a mere inconvenience.

This whole situation sickens me. It disgusts me to think that anyone might assume that most bridgetenders are like Ms. Paulk or her supervisor. They are a blight on this profession.

I don’t think they’re monsters, however. Ms. Paulk has definitely shed many tears in the aftermath of this incident. I’m sure she has regrets, and I expect she would do things differently if given the chance. And the supervisor was trying to stick up for her bridgetender, albeit in an extremely misguided way. Speaking from hard won experience, a supervisor that has your back is a rare quality in a supervisor, indeed. She just crossed way, way over the line. But in real time, neither one of them took the job seriously enough, and now someone is dead. That, to me, is unacceptable.

I would like to extend my sincere condolences to the family of Carol Wright. I’m sure bridgetenders around the world are keeping her in their hearts and minds, and having her there will encourage us to continue doing our very best to safely operate these bridges.

When all is said and done, if justice is truly served, the bridge should be named after Carol Wright. This contractor should be put out of business, Florida should have to completely reconfigure the way it deals with it’s drawbridges (and the City of Seattle would be the perfect model for that), and the settlement that the family receives should be so large that they could purchase the entire state if they wished.

None of this will bring Ms. Wright back, though. All she wanted to do was go to the bookstore, and instead her life was cut short due to someone’s pure laziness and indifference. That’s the worst crime of all.


Artissua Lafay Paulk: Florida bridge tender charged with MANSLAUGHTER after woman’s deadly fall

‘I killed a lady on the bridge’: Details emerge about woman’s fatal plunge on Florida drawbridge

Bridge tender, supervisor involved in West Palm Beach deadly bridge fall fired, company says

Legal Liability after Woman Falls to Death When Drawbridge Opens

Miami Herald: Tender, supervisor fired following death of woman on rising West Palm Beach drawbridge

Video: Woman Plunges to Her Death From Rising Drawbridge

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Feeling Relief Instead of Grief?

You are not alone in this.

I was talking to a friend about her mixed emotions after the death of one of her relatives. This guy had made her life a living hell when he was alive. He was an abusive alcoholic who created nothing but drama in the family. He left financial devastation in his wake, and he was quite adept at dishing out emotional abuse. The man was toxic. I found him to be a horrible human being.

Since his passing, my friend’s life has improved substantially. Her stress levels have decreased and her health has increased. She gets more sleep. Her self-confidence is much more evident now. I’m really happy for her.

Sadly, she feels a little guilty for being relieved that the guy is finally gone. He was, after all, a relative, and she did love him to a certain extent. But she doesn’t miss him at all.

I can totally relate to this. When my stepfather died, I wanted to throw a party. But of course I didn’t. People would have been horrified. They would have thought I was callous. They have no idea what the man had put me through. The world is a much better place without him in it.

Relationships are complicated, and therefore the subsequent grief is bound to be complicated. There are many scenarios in which it would be quite understandable to feel relief and/or a complex mix of emotions at someone’s passing. You would definitely not be alone in this.

For example, if your loved one had been suffering for years, it’s natural to be relieved that that suffering is over. And if you were the primary caregiver for that person for what feels like an eternity, and that care has left you exhausted and depleted and stressed out, it’s okay to be relieved to have your life back again. If you have lost someone due to an easily preventable death, or due to suicide, you may have a lot of anger and/or guilt to process.

I’ve had several people broach this subject with me over the years. They tend to speak in hushed tones and look over their shoulders to make sure no one is listening. It’s as if they’ve committed a crime. I seem to be one of those people who silently signal that if you feel the need to confess this particular offense, then guuuurl… come sit by me.

Our culture causes us to have really strange ideas about what grief is supposed to look like and feel like. It’s supposed to be pure, sincere, and it should last for a year. (Longer than that, and people lose patience. Shorter than that, and something is wrong with you.) And if other family members are experiencing what looks like a more wholesome form of grief for the person you are thrilled to be rid of, then you are expected to suppress your feelings so as not to ruffle feathers. But make no mistake: you are grieving, too, in your own way.

Grief can’t be pigeonholed. Each person’s experience is different. In fact, your grief experience will most likely change over time, and it will be different for each person you grieve. Grief can manifest as depression or sadness or anger or numbness or an inability to concentrate, and yes, it can also include relief and even joy and a sense of freedom and release.

It’s not uncommon to encounter insensitive people as you work to process and adapt to this monumental change in your life. They often don’t realize they’re passing judgment by showing their confusion, impatience, or shock at the way you are feeling or behaving. Please remember that they don’t get to decide if you’re getting it right. There is no “right” way to grieve.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that not passing judgment should be a two way street. It does you no good at all to try to force your brand of grief down the throats of those around you, who may, in fact, not be feeling grief at all, or may be so devastated that they struggle to function. You can erect a shrine, but you shouldn’t expect others to worship at it. You can throw your own party, but no one should be forced to attend. You can wear all black for the rest of your life, or cover yourself in bright, shiny colors, but please don’t dictate anyone else’s physical or emotional wardrobe.

Another thing to consider is that you’re not only grieving a person. You are also grieving change. You may be grieving the life you never had because of the life you were forced to live while you were in a toxic person’s orbit. You may be grieving the fact that you were unable to improve your relationship with that person while he or she was still alive. You may be experiencing confusion and/or resentment and/or excitement because now you have to figure out what your life will look like moving forward.

A good rule of thumb is this: you do you. Feel what you feel and allow others to feel what they feel. Give yourself and others that gift.

And if you wish to support someone who is grieving, ask that person what they want or need. Don’t assume you know. Some people, like my friend, want nothing more than someone to listen to them express their relief without criticism. I’m glad she came and sat by me.


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Stupid Deaths

There are many options to choose from, but don’t.

A friend of mine just posted footage of some people on a beach in Lake Tahoe. Bucolic enough, until I add that there was a mama bear and her three cubs walking straight toward them. And they see that, and don’t seem to care at all. They’re too busy sunbathing to worry about minor details like their imminent demise. When in doubt, save the freakin’ beer.


I was just telling dear husband the other day that when I die, I hope it’s not because I’m being stupid about something. There are so many stupid death options out there to choose from. Most intelligent people value their lives too much to “take advantage” of those options.

For example, you won’t see me driving while intoxicated. I’m also not going to cross train tracks when the traffic gates are down. Nor would I ever jump an opening drawbridge. But you’d be amazed how often these things happen.

I’m also not going to eat something that can kill me if it’s not prepared just right. Fugu can’t taste good enough for me to risk my life or it. Nothing can. I’m also never going to ingest something without knowing what it is, even if everyone says the high is awesome.

I also have zero desire to play with explosives or fire or deadly weapons. I think a lot of stupid deaths are caused by youth and arrogance. That whole, “It can’t happen to me” thing is ridiculous. If it has happened to someone, then, by definition, it can happen to you.

I’m not saying that people should be so cautious that they don’t live their lives. If that were the case, no one would ever walk across a street, even if the traffic lights are red. We’d all be paralyzed with inactivity.

It’s a statistics thing, really. If I want to enjoy the redwoods, I’m not going to cancel my trip to see them because one person was crushed by a falling redwood. I just won’t wander amongst those trees during heavy winds or rains, and will heed all warning signs that I come across. Calculated risks. That’s the ticket.

Currently, 95 percent of the COVID-19 deaths are by people who refuse to get vaccinated. The fact that this whole issue was ever politicized is a travesty. Going without a mask while unvaccinated is not living free, it’s living stupid, and potentially dying stupid. It’s entirely preventable at this point. There’s absolutely no valid excuse.

So if you’re thinking of juggling chainsaws while walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon, I’d urge you to think of the consequences and consider how much you value your life. Because there’s nothing quite so pathetic as having someone stand over your grave, shaking his or her head, saying, “what a stupid, unnecessary waste.”

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I Love Cemeteries

Many people find cemeteries to be creepy places, full of death and sadness. I, on the other hand, have spent many a pleasant afternoon in a cemetery. I think they’re fascinating. But I come by it honestly.

I was raised by a single mother, and we were quite poor. To keep us entertained, she had to get creative. One of the things we would do is pack a picnic lunch and go to a cemetery. Cemeteries are free. And sometimes they’re the only green spaces nearby when you live in the shabbier part of town.

Cemeteries are full of history. You can learn about various eras in which many people died young, and get an appreciation of vaccines. You can learn about local disasters. You can ask yourself why so many cemeteries are segregated. You can learn about local people of note. You have visible proof that war takes its toll.

Tombstones often have amazing artwork on them as well. And many have very thoughtful quotes. Others, like one of the ones below, take an opportunity to inject some humor into their eternal rest. You can often learn quite a bit about families and how they are connected when you see family plots. You can see what was most important to an individual. You can also make up stories about people just for fun.

For me, cemeteries are a place of respect and a place for those who are grieving, yes, but they also are opportunities for learning about your community and local and sometimes world history. They are places of beauty and peace and nature.

Here are some pictures I took on a recent visit to a cemetery.

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Taking Stock

“You’re alive! Don’t you get it?”

I just read an interesting article entitled, “How the World’s Most Venomous Fish Convinced Me to Stop Working Myself to Death.

The details were fascinating, but I knew what the conclusion was going to be before I even started reading. Speaking from experience, there’s nothing like a brush with mortality, or the actual mortality of someone you love, to make you reassess your priorities.

For example, when the police called me to say that they had found my boyfriend’s body in his truck, still clutching his asthma inhaler, in the pharmacy parking lot just a few blocks from our apartment, I swear I could see my whole entire life crumbling around me as I sank to the floor. I instantly came down with the flu, and couldn’t hear a sound for three days. Go figure.

You’d think the quiet would have given me plenty of time to think, but shock isn’t like that, really. I felt more like the blue screen of death you see on your computer right before it completely and utterly crashes. There was very little brain function going on. And in the months and years that followed, I emerged as an entirely different person.

Most people, whether they know it or not, take life for granted. It’s only when you look the grim reaper dead in the eye that you suddenly realize that everything is temporary. Everything.

Once you know the temporal nature of life, a lot of things cease to matter. The only real important thing is that you’re alive, and that’s a gift. You look round and you see people getting all worked up about the silliest things, and you want to shake them.

“You’re alive! Don’t you get it?”

That feeling makes you unwilling to work at a job that you hate or stay in a toxic relationship. It makes you focus on quality of life, which you have a bit of control over, rather than quantity of life, which you clearly can’t control at all. It makes you truly figure out what matters to you.

But most of all, it makes you appreciate, for the first time, absolutely everything. It’s all a gift. It all goes by so fast. It’s all so special.

I knew that by experiencing the worst thing in life, I had been given something really precious. My eyes were truly open. I wanted to always live in that state of awareness.

But I knew that over time, I’d fall back into my life routines, and the feeling would fade, or at least be smothered by the minutiae of the day to day. Mortality awareness takes a lot of work, and I can understand why most people kind of put that off until the last possible moment. It can be an extremely unsettling feeling that is very hard to sustain.

I wish there was a way to explain this to you so that it would sink in deep without you needing to experience tragedy on your own. Having your eyes opened is priceless. And sure, I’m not nearly as “woke” as I was during that first year, but I do make a conscious effort to remember what it felt like. Because meeting death causes you to truly fall in love with life. And I want to love life with every fiber of my being. I want that for you, too, dear reader.

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Wheel Well Stowaways

What a way to go.

There are many reasons not to live beneath the flight path of an international airport. The noise, of course, is the first thing that springs to mind. And then there’s the pollution. But there’s also the possibility that something unexpected may fall from the sky. Blue water from airline toilets have been known to kill people, as have airplane parts. But there’s something even worse that has been known to happen.

Imagine this. You’re sitting in your home, maybe in front of your television, and unbeknownst to you, someone is rushing your way at 200 miles per hour. From the sky. The next thing you know, your back deck is thoroughly demolished and there’s a frozen corpse, or what’s left of it, staring back at you from amongst the rubble. This has happened. What a nightmare.

It never occurred to me before reading this article, entitled, “Out of thin air: the mystery of the man who fell from the sky” that there are a lot more people stowing away in the wheel well of airliners than one might imagine. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, as of February 2020, there have been 128 such stowaways, that they know of.

Before you start thinking this is a great way to get cheap transport, think again. More than 75 percent of all these stowaways are dead before they reach their destination. The rest are almost always detected, and many of them have permanent and severe health issues for the rest of their lives.

There is a wide variety of ways you can die while trying to pull this little caper. First, you have to pass airport security and figure out a way to approach the plane from the outside. You would most likely be viewed as a terrorist, and airports really want to keep their security ratings so they can continue having international flights. This means you represent billions of dollars of risk to them, and airports don’t take kindly to that. You could very well be shot before you even get to the plane.

But let’s suppose you make it that far, and you climb up into the wheel well. The wheels are still down, and you begin to taxi toward the runway. Hold on tight, because there will be a lot of vibration, and the noise is beyond all imagining. Expect to have permanent hearing loss at the very least. And if you get disoriented and fall while the plane is taking off, you’ll very likely get killed falling on the tarmac.

But let’s say you manage to survive this bit, and the airplane is taking off. Next, the landing gear is going to retract into the very wheel well that you currently occupy. A lot of people are crushed to death at that point. Not a pleasant way to go.

If you survive that, though, you may very well wish you hadn’t. At first, the tires keep you warm. But they cool off quickly, because you’re going up to about 35,000 feet, and the temperature will be 65 degrees below zero. The good news is the hydraulic lines will heat up your compartment a bit. The bad news is it will only heat it up to about 3 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the hypothermia doesn’t kill you, the lack of air pressure just might. It’ll be 4 times lower than sea level, and therefore you won’t be getting enough oxygen, and will die of hypoxia. Due to the rapid decrease in pressure, you’ll also experience what most divers refer to as the bends, which are painful and often deadly gas bubbles in the body.

If by some miracle you’re still alive at that point, you’ll most assuredly be unconscious, and then, when the landing gear drops down again, about 5 miles from the airport, you at least may not be aware of the unpleasant experience of falling thousands of feet and ruining someone’s back deck as well as their whole day.

Most of us would say it’s not worth the risk. It breaks my heart that so many people are desperate enough to want to take it, in order to have a chance to get out of their miserable circumstances. Still others are ignorant of the ordeal they are about to put their bodies through and think it will be a grand adventure. Either way, the results are often the same.

The sad thing is that sometimes these bodies are not identified. One stowaway from Kenya, the one whose body took out the guy’s back deck, has never been claimed by anyone, and it’s been over two years. He was about 30 years old. If you’ve made it to 30 and have not managed to form the type of bonds to where someone will miss you when you’re gone, I can imagine that your desperation for a do-over is even more magnified.  

After having read this article and written this post, I doubt I’ll ever hear retracting landing gear in the same way again. Was that a thud or a crunch? It’s all very sad.

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A Thought Experiment, Courtesy of My Subconscious

There’s a lot to be considered.

I woke up on the morning I wrote this with a sentence from my dream still echoing through my head. To wit: At the end of the world, will the last human left to die feel bitterness or relief?

Wow. My subconscious is profound. I’m impressed. My first instinct was to write that down so I could blog about it.

My second, of course, was to ponder the question. And it’s quite the can of worms once you pop it open. There’s a lot to be considered.

First of all, without knowing what caused the end of the world, it’s hard to gauge whether you’d be able to make a go of it, all alone, until a ripe old age. I’ve often said that I’d prefer to have a nuclear bomb land right on the crown of my head rather than trying to survive a nuclear winter. It’s a quality of life thing. Why prolong the inevitable?

Was the end quick in coming, or did humans have time to destroy everything on the way out? That would make a huge difference, too. If change is to come, let it be swift.

But what if the end of the human world were brought on by a pandemic and you found yourself to be immune? It would be lonely, but I think I’d like to stick around and enjoy the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees for as long as I could. I wouldn’t want to be in a large city, though. The smell alone would be horrific, at least for the first many years.

I would grieve for people, and for my past, no doubt about it. But I think the sheer size of that grief, and the finality of it all, might make the feeling implode under its own weight. There’d be nothing for it but to get on with things.

If I were absolutely certain that I was the last human on earth, I would have considerably less to be afraid of. Most of my fear springs from the actions of other humans. Nature can be harsh, and it would be a struggle to survive, but human violence would be a thing of the past. That might be nice, all things considered.

I hope I’d have a dog for a companion.

There’d be no more need for money. I’d become a scavenger, no doubt, and would have to move to a mild climate. Or maybe I’d migrate like the other animals, and have a summer home and a winter home. I’m sure I’d garden. I’d probably forget how to talk, but there’d be no shortage of books. And as an occasional treat, I’d break into a museum. Just to look around. I’d become adept at breaking and entering. First stop: The nearest Amazon warehouse. I’d raid it not for frivolous stuff, but for shoes and winter coats and the like.

I think it would be a bittersweet existence, punctuated by the constant need for warmth and food and drinkable water. But when the time came for me to shuffle off this abandoned mortal coil, I don’t think I’d be bitter, because there would be no one to blame. I might have a regret or two, but I think I would be relieved that I made it as far as I did, and that this particular journey was finally over.

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