and you can never quarantine the past.

"He was the owner of valuable land and exercised no small influence among the people of his neighborhood. In 1771 he was elected county commissioner, and served as such until 1774. By his will on file in the Register's office, after providing for his wife, and the slave to whom he had given freedom, he devises to his only son his large plantation of 500 acres."

Lily, half listening, realizes that I've stopped reading from the archived historical records of one of our ancestors.  She looks up from her phone, mulls over the last few sentences, and says "It's cool that he freed the slave, right?" but before I can respond, her face and body language reveal that the full impact has settled in and she is feeling the same awful disappointment I am.


Back in March while noticing the numerous small farm burial plots along the rural roads that took the place of the trails that had become inaccessible during the COVID-19 quarantine, an intense curiosity to explore the genealogy of my own family emerged. 

Armed with exceptional amounts of spare time and access to the endless corridors of the internet, I soon discovered numerous names and dates that began to give shape to a previously unexplored family tree.

One clue led to another and another, the branches of the tree expanded exponentially, and a picture began to form of those who came before me.  Nearly all of my ascendants left Germany and Switzerland beginning around 1710 and continuing for the better part of the 18th century.  Sailing across the Atlantic, these non-seafarers (at least those who survived the journey) staggered off of vessels that docked in New York City and Philadelphia, some settling first in New York state, but most all of them ultimately finding their way to the southeastern part of Pennsylvania.  Other than procreating and fanning out within the region, they've pretty remained here ever since.

First setting eyes on Germany just a few years ago, I was stunned by how much of the countryside resembled the part of the United States that has always been my home. I imagined my fore bearers having the very same reaction upon arrival in Pennsylvania.

These were people of faith and while land disputes, wars, and the famine and hardship that stemmed from them were major factors in the decision to leave the only world they'd ever known, so too was the promise of a place where they could practice their religion without persecution.  One of my great grandfathers was the first Amish bishop in America and a member of the initial Amish settlement in the country.  Others helped to found congregations of their own and at least one of my grandparents donated land so a church could be constructed. 

A few hundred years later, that narrative suggests a certain virtuousness, but those humans were just as flawed and fallible as those of us carrying on the family lines today.

I didn't want or need grand or virtuous stories, I just wanted to fill in the blanks in my understanding of the history of my predecessors and I was as open to the mundane as the exceptional.

As the strictest of quarantine measures began to loosen slightly, I started venturing out, visiting various cemeteries, whispering my thanks, telling each deceased grandparent about me, my wife, and my children, and recounting the names of the individuals between us on the branch of our shared tree. Silly perhaps, but each experience was rewarding and connective. 

The data on the internet initially spoiled me, leading me directly to grave site after grave site with little issue.  My luck ran out, however, when a small family burial plot that I'd much looked forward to seeing proved elusive.  GPS coordinates guided me to the backyard of a new home with a deep wide-open backyard that clearly did not contain a cemetery. The homeowner was away but a friendly next-door neighbor escorted me to the yard to confirm that the graves weren't there. Portions of an adjoining farm had been subdivided a few years prior and in place of the graveyard now stood the sand mound of a septic field.

Making notations a few days later that the cemetery was no more, I decided to revisit the dated photos first unearthed online.  A thin line of trees in the background and the slope of the foreground convinced me to go back and check the line of trees that backed up against one side of the developed property.  A thorough scouring of the woods and the fields along the trees offered no further signs of what I sought.

It seemed that the last physical landmarks of my ancestors had been lost to history. The disappointing experience really drove home how temporal is our existence.

Two days later that nagging feeling reemerged and encouraged one final tact.  A return to the internet produced an e-mail address for an individual who had compiled some of the reference information and I sent a message asking when he'd last been to the graveyard or if he had any knowledge of what might have been done with the graves and the headstones. To my very pleasant surprise, he e-mailed back that same day and while he confessed that he hadn't personally ever been to the site, he shared the detailed directions that were provided to him by resources he'd used when compiling the memorial records.  Sitting over the directions and Google maps, it became apparent that the stated GPS coordinates didn't match up with the directions.

Third times a charm, right?  Or perhaps just a sign of extreme stubbornness.

On Memorial Day weekend, I gave it another go, ignoring the coordinates and following the directions as best I could. When I failed to pinpoint the location, a rung doorbell started a strained conversation with a man who reluctantly confirmed that there was a small burial plot on the far side of the trees that ran alongside his property line.  It was clear that other than receiving that information, I wasn't being given permission to access it from his residence.  After a couple seconds of looking at each other silently, he said that the farm behind him was actually on a completely different road and, with that, the conversation was over.

Having come that far and gotten that close, quitting wasn't a consideration. I clambered into the car, pulled up Google maps, and plotted a course.  The final resting place of my 7th great grandparents was probably 100 yards from where I sat but a 6 mile drive and reorientation would be necessary to stand over their graves.

When I reached the other side, there was no farm, at least not that I could see.  I drove far enough to be certain that I'd somehow missed it and turned around.  Coming the other direction,  the lane I'd missed the first time became visible.  A low-key single bar gate was open and just beyond it were several posted No Trespassing signs.  It didn't appear that the lane saw much travel and it seemed unlikely that it led to an active farm.  A mental playback of the earlier conversation brought mention of a farm but not a farmer. Perhaps no one even lived there.

Deciding to give it a try, I slowly inched the car down the lane.  After a couple of turns, the trees and brush that had lined the lane gave way to open space, revealing a beautiful old stone farmhouse with a picturesque little pond and a neatly paved driveway and parking lot.  I realized with some regret that the landowners likely had zero interest in visitors, but, at that point, turning around seemed not an option.

There were a couple of figures visible inside a screened-in addition to one side of the farmhouse, so I pulled the car to a stop and exited the vehicle mixing apologies for intrusion with a quick explanation of why I'd trespassed.  A father and his adult son acknowledged they were familiar with the graveyard and, after I agreed to affix the face mask loosely hanging around my neck, they even offered to walk back to it with me as it was a bit of a hike from where we stood talking.

Our initial discussion about the cemetery gave way to conversations about the state of the world, our families, how we intended to spend the rest of the Memorial Day weekend, and how we'd all ended up living where we live.  The father spoke excellent English but had a strong accent and though he had moved from New Jersey where his son who was visiting for the weekend still resided, it was obvious that he had at some point emigrated to the United States.  I thought about the quiet, unassuming entryway to the property, the seemingly unused lane, and some of the rhetoric being used in relation to COVID-19 and remembered a recent social media post by my friend Wayne.  An orthopedic surgeon now based in Worcester, Massachusetts, he had shared a photograph of he and his family hiking. In the caption,  he thanked his mother for the handmade mask he was wearing in the photo that read "I am from Taiwan not China".  It was all at once both comical and disheartening.  I didn't press my hosts for any more details.

Up until then, no one had accompanied me to any of the grave sites, but I was quite glad to have my gracious hosts there with me.  On the walk back we exchanged contact information as they said they had some other historical information on my family that they'd happily share with me at some later date when social distancing wasn't required.  The home they lived in had been the home of the grandparents I'd just visited and they'd been interested enough in the history of the property and the people who had lived there to know more than I did. The property had slipped out of our family line but had been inherited by a much deserving family whose members were preserving its story while adding narrative of their very own.


And then last night, as the nation mourned yet another senseless racially-charged murder and demanded justice, I learned that it was the very grandfather who built and lived in that stone home who had "given freedom" to the slave that had served him there.

Never had it crossed my mind that slavery had been a part of my family's history and I was appalled.

But it also never crossed my mind that driving onto a property with clear warnings not to trespass might result in getting me shot or arrested.  Being asked to vacate the premises seemed the worst possible consequence and there were no corresponding concerns for my safety. Not for one second did my mind consider any greater repercussion than not being allowed to stay.

I've never felt the need make a public distinction about my nationality out of genuine concern for the assumptions made by my fellow citizens.

I go out and run pretty much wherever I want and pretty much whenever I want with literally zero concern about anything other than not getting hit by a car operated by someone texting.

In no situation do I fear a police officer.  I may possess a general anxiety when pulled over for a traffic violation but that is a rare occurrence and, except within that specific scenario, it never even crosses my mind to be asked by a police officer to prove who I am, account for what I'm doing, or explain why I am where I am.

Because privilege is why.  The very same privilege that in another era, but in this very same country, allowed whites to bind others in servitude.  The very same privilege that in another era, but in this very same country, allowed whites to refuse entry or service to others because of the color of their skin.  The very same privilege that today still allows for profiling, mistreatment, and sometimes murder.

And whether I look backwards, forwards, or straight into the present, there is no denying that I am privileged.  Any silver spoons my family may have possessed were long ago sold off and I am firmly and eternally rooted in the lower end of the middle class, but that is still an incredibly privileged position in this country as a white male.

I know this and have known this, but I don't know that I've truly and fully understood the broad implications of where that leaves others.  And maybe I'll never be able to, but I am going to try.  I don't want to be guilty of ever playing the "hey, nobody ever gave me any breaks" card or claiming that "I've had to work for everything I've got" and be blind to the relative stacked deck I've been able to draw from in a flawed system.  Equal rights on paper aren't the same as equal rights in practice and it's become abundantly clear, even to the situational blind like me, that there are far too many segments of our population that have found their rights equal only on paper if at all.

A few weeks ago, after a discussion about how and why some people are discriminated against because of their sexual identity, Lily said "Dad, thank you and Mom for teaching us to love everybody."  I adore my daughter, but she can be slow with a compliment, especially now in her earliest teen years, which made that statement both unexpected and stunning.  The fact is that while her parents are mostly well-intentioned, they are also quite capable and guilty of not succeeding in loving everybody. Still, it made me abundantly happy to know that this is the message that my girls are hearing and it's a start.

Unfortunately, it's only a start and perhaps not even that if that love is known to exist within our own four walls but not overtly felt by everyone that we encounter on a daily basis.  It's only a start and perhaps not even that if we don't manifest that love into actions that support the fair and equal treatment of all.

As an adult, I have strived to treat people with respect and fairness.  It's long been my approach to be positive and open-minded and take each person met at face value (or try to), while, frankly, sticking to my own lane.  A partially sub-conscious "no harm, no foul" policy perhaps, but, all too slowly, I've realized that approach falls far short of what could be contributed and is in itself both harm and foul.

I am going to go on trying to love everybody.  It's quite likely that I will fail repeatedly and it's hard to even find a proper starting point. 

Listening, really listening, seems like an appropriate place for someone as ignorant as I am to begin.  Listening with a heart and mind open to criticism and an acceptance of blame.  Learning the many ways in which oppression exists and impacts my fellow woman and man.  Learning what I am doing and saying that feeds into that bias and ceasing to do it.  Learning what I'm not doing or not saying that could help foster change and then actually doing and saying those things. Finding ways within the life I'm already leading to promote respect, fairness, and tolerance. Being more respectful, fair, and tolerant within the life I'm already leading.

I remain proud of my heritage and eager to further climb the branches of my family tree.  There is humanity and goodness there. There are worthwhile themes of faith, love, hard work, earnestness, devotion, endurance, and survival. I stand in awe of the storms they weathered and a celebration of the journeys of others that brought me into existence and onto my current path is merited. I'm uncertain how to reconcile personal failings in my own past, and there are many, much less those that occurred during the lifetimes of my ancestors, but that doesn't mean those failings can't be examined and acknowledged and it doesn't excuse my conduct and responsibility in the present or diminish what lessons I impart to my children in the years ahead.

Let us, all of us, hope that we can be better people and that we can together carve out a better society and existence for everyone.  Let us hope that few generations will pass before someone looking back at the systemic issues of today will be as unable to fathom the inequality of our time as Lily and I were upon finding the word "slave" hiding in plain sight within our family record.


all i know is that i don't know nothing.

A slight, nearly imperceptible knock at the door of my home office precedes my wife shuffling into the room doubled over with pain apparently caused by complications from the "fix" she received at the hospital just last week for an intestinal blockage.

She doesn't want to go back.  Not now.  A dedicated nurse, she genuinely does want to be at the hospital; wants very much to be in scrubs, in fact, gowned up if need be, in order to help others.  To provide care not to be cared for.  

Not now.

An inopportune time to be returning to a health care facility in a sudden age of inopportune times.

I have no answers, only recognition of my own stubborn chronic want to offer care not accept its offer.  We are impatient patients, she and I.

But the pain is unrelenting, logic wins out, and we part ways with our beloved wife and mother for the second time in the last 10 days.

Hours later, I'm running because...because...because what else is a runner without answers supposed to do?

Even roadways are free of traffic and offer abundant space for distancing in a sudden age of distancing.

My ears report that the outdoors have become the realm of birds, the airwaves uncluttered except for their singing along this road not traveled.  Not today.  Even the well-worn overhead flight paths are devoid of travelers.  Not a single plane in the sky, a phenomenon that recalls those bizarre days early in the century, that other time we staggered about wondering what we were to do, not to do, and when.

Farms and houses approach and vanish bereft of human sounds or appearances.  I see just one person; a man in his yard on a dog walking exercise.  He looks expectantly at me and I at him, but neither of us musters more fanfare than a meek wave and a somber nod.  It seems somehow fitting but disappointing too.

The miles pass quietly and the presence of the single car that passes, normally a common occurrence, is jarring in its peculiarity on an otherwise vacant thoroughfare.

Up ahead on a long slow curve, an older couple, headed the same direction I am, is out for an afternoon walk.  The casual, comfortable carriage lightens my mood and while I cannot hear what the two say to one another, their relaxed manner and obvious familiarity make the world seem less out of sorts for a moment.

Until they sense my presence.

Shoulders stiffen, conversation pauses abruptly, and the man and woman seem uncertain of whether to halt, continue walking, or step off into the field that they've been skirting on their amble.  Raising my hands in front of me to indicate no intention of invading their space, I push as far off to the other side of the road as possible to make my way past them.

"Didn't want to sneak up on you," I offer, lamely, wishing for words of wisdom in a sudden age without any words of wisdom.

Everyone is now a stranger and stranger than ever.

More physical and invisible distance until, at last, home.  All there really is right now is home, but, today and again, ours is incomplete.

I know nothing.  All I know is that I don't know nothing.


let's go.

I was a sports crazed kid.

Even without the Internet, SportsCenter, or cable TV, the last 4-5 minutes of local news broadcasts, weekend telecasts, and magazines kept 1970's/early 80's-me up-to-date (ish) on my heroes and their athletic feats in the NFL (my first love), college and professional basketball (my second and truest sport love), and major league baseball.  ABC's Wide World of Sports clued me in on some of the "lesser" sports and every other year one of the seasonal Olympics would bring a parade of competition that seemed to go otherwise unmentioned during the off years and in-betweens.

You'd have been hard pressed, perhaps incapable, of convincing me that these exploits weren't of life and death importance or that the outcome of any given contest simply didn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.  My not-the-least-bit-interested in sports parents didn't bother trying.  I would figure it out on my own in time and, for the most part, I've done just that.

Much of the pomp and fanfare of professional sports has diminished my enthusiasm over the years. That and just getting older, I'd guess. As much as I continue to enjoy watching people strive and compete and am enthused by any game played at a high level between people or teams of similar ability and degrees of competitiveness, the peripherals often keep me from tuning in or contribute to me soon tuning out.

Still, I do find myself fascinated by compelling tales of athletes, teams, and obstacles overcome. It's the humanity beneath the surface, the not-so-glossy below the gloss that pulls me in, and that I find to be the most beautiful and worthy of celebrating.

Ultimately, I love a good story and, having grown up on sports, a good athletic story remains as likely as any to grab and hold my attention.

Not surprisingly, ESPN's award-winning 30 for 30 series of sports documentaries were made to my order.  Originally launched as an anniversary celebration of films by 30 different directors profiling some of the top moments or stories in sports history that occurred during the television network's first 30 years, the series was eventually expanded after audiences responded enthusiastically and several episodes garnered commercial and artistic praise.

I watched enthralled as the series ran a wide gamut from explorations of the rise and eventual demise of the USFL, a much-larger-than-life profile of Bo Jackson, a behind-the-scenes look at the 2004 Red Sox and their improbable rally against the Yankees in that year's American League Championship Series on their way to a world championship the franchise seemed doomed to never claim, and an innovative recreation of the drowning out of the full slate of sports that occurred on the day that the pursuit of OJ Simpson and AC Cowlings on the LA freeway took over television sets everywhere.

There were other stories of events and athletes I hadn't known and sports that rarely or barely hit my radar. The 16th Man broached the social and political implications of Nelson Mandela supporting the national rugby team in post-apartheid South Africa and Into the Wind chronicled Terry Fox's attempt in 1980 to run the entire length of Canada to raise awareness and money for cancer research after having had one of his leg's amputated above the knee because of osteogenic sarcoma.

Watching Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau, I learned of the humble native surfer who served as the first lifeguard in the famed Waimea Bay, was responsible for saving literally hundreds of lives on his watch, and sacrificed his own life trying to paddle back on his surfboard some 12 miles to the closest island of Lanai for help after the Hōkūleʻa, a traditional boat on which he was a crew member and that was attempting to retrace the ancient route believed to have first brought Tahitians to Hawaii, capsized in a storm and was drifting farther and farther off of its course and growing less likely to be rescued.

Eddie Aikau's body was never recovered.

Photo courtesy of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs
But perhaps I too am getting way off course.

The point I intended to get to is that real life matters a whole lot more than the current collegiate sports rankings, which athlete hoisted what trophy, and the batting average of the latest baseball wunderkind.

Another part of the point I also mean to make is that within organized sports and certainly from individuals engaged in athletic endeavors do dwell valid moments of inspiration and, ultimately, drawing strength and motivation wherever you find it shouldn't be dismissed as being banal or cliche.  Hype aside, applicable metaphor does exist.

Sometimes sports really can inform real life and real life most certainly informs sports or at least the persons engaged in them can offer glimpses into how determination and persistence pay off.

When the humanity of sport and life collide or overlap, I'm again the same wide-eyed fan I was at 6 years old.

Midway through the Bear 100 a few weeks ago, after a long night of cold and wet and lightning and hail, after falling repeatedly in the beyond slippery clay-on-a-potters-wheel terrain, the protective cover of a canvas tent, the relative comfort of a folding chair, and the warmth of a campfire made me question getting back on my feet for hours and hours and miles and miles of more punishment.

Pondering that question whisked me away to a more tropical locale.

In April of 2017, Piper, Lily, Lindsay, and I found ourselves boarding a plane for a week of vacation gifted to us by the amazing people at Make-a-Wish.  Lily had undergone brain surgery to combat a cancerous tumor the November prior and the trip had been something she and her family could focus on and look forward to instead of just worrying over how surgery would go and what recovery might entail.  When Lily had been asked to name her wish, she unhesitatingly said she wanted to swim with dolphins and Make-a-Wish set everything in motion.

We were informed that there were two potential places in the US where the wish could come true. We'd already been to Florida, so we chose location number two.

In addition to swimming with dolphins, in Hawaii we'd have the chance to visit Pearl Harbor, snorkel in Hanauma Bay, and take part in several other special activities.  On our first full day on the island, we were able to attend a luau.  It was only upon arrival that we were informed that there were a number of other children there because of Make-a-Wish and at a certain point in the evening all of the kids would be brought on stage and honored.

My Lily is very much a creature of habit and so long as she's given fair warning and has time to process, even if what she's up against is daunting, she's quite adept at steeling her will and seeing things through.  Blindside her or catch her unawares, she struggles. Like many of us.

She'd just turned 10 at the time and was still finding her way in terms of "owning" her cancer and accepting having attention thrust upon her for that reason.  She'd get there in time and has become an active ambassador for childhood cancer awareness, but she was very much in the infancy of that journey then.

Frankly, she didn't want to stand in front of the "room" and be recognized as a sick kid. Had we forewarned her, she would likely have been fine, but the news being broken to her just minutes beforehand and without an opportunity to refuse or consider had her on her heels.

We did what we could to calm her nerves and did our best to enjoy the festivities together as a family. The food was exotic and delicious and the dancing and storytelling were mesmerizing.  Still, I squirmed throughout the meal and performances knowing what was coming and realizing that I didn't even have an idea how the logistics were supposed to work.

Before I understood what was even happening, a large man in a mix of modern and traditional garb appeared at our table and gestured at Lily to come with him to the stage.  She looked uncertain and nervously glanced first her mother's direction and then mine.  As I began to get to my feet to intercede, Lily motioned at the man to lean down and as he did he turned his ear toward her.  She said something to him that caused him to pull back with a surprised but bemused look on his face.  As Lil rose to her feet, the man extended his arm and took her hand.  Together, they made their way toward the stage. Lily didn't even look back our way.

Though her nervousness was quite obvious to her parents, Lily stood bravely alongside the other children, smiled, and politely accepted the kind gifts extended to her by the chief who led the ceremony and bestowed health and safekeeping to all the children on stage.  Minutes later, Lil returned to our table with a shrug of shy relief but without a word.

Soon after, I was approached by the man who'd escorted Lily to the stage. He gave me the shaka sign, grinned broadly, and then shared with me what my daughter had said to him.

"Eddie would go", she'd told him.

You see, after Eddie Aikau made that legendary attempt to swim back to Hawaii for help, his astounding courage wove its way into popular culture on the islands. When the waves and conditions at a surf contest named in his honor were dangerous enough to make organizers question whether or not to hold the event, legendary-in-his-own-right surfer Mark Foo simply stated "Eddie would go" and the phrase became synonymous with mustering courage and doing what needed to be done.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Weeks or perhaps even months before, I'd told Eddie's story to Lily and Piper without ever expecting it to stick.

It stuck.

And the legacy of that waterman's selfless effort in the face of adversity and truly against all realistic odds inspired strength in a little girl more than 40 years later.

"Eddie would go."

Lily went.

And, buttressed with the perspective that in relative terms that dark and stormy night in the Bear River Range of Utah wasn't really all that dark and stormy, her father did too.


lost or found.

Hi, Jim:

It's been too long and now is a shameful time to realize that; now that you've up and vanished, without a word as to where you've gone or whether you intend to return.  Sounds like you've had your legs kicked out from under you as of late and your spirits and resolve have fallen down too.

I feel you there.

You don't need me to tell you that life is hard.  You don't need me to tell you that sometimes it's too much.  Or seems so.

Man, do I ever feel you there.

I remember you joking on a run that "the struggle is real" and is....it...ever.  I am not immune to the darkness.  It's crept in, terrifyingly so, on two separate occasions in the last 9 months alone, and, as you and I both know, that despair is all too real.

So, it sounds like you and I both "get it" in terms of being out on that ledge and having to come to some conclusion as to what to do about it.  To stare into that darkness and wallow in it or take some action, some step back towards the light.  And it seems to me that this is something we probably would have benefited from commiserating over.  You know, like together, not separately and alone.  That's how commiseration works.

Because now I'm floundering blindly in the woods, day after day, calling out your name, calling out my own name so you know who is calling yours, and listening to both names dissolve into the canopy without a reply.

Which really, really, really sucks.

I don't mean to judge you, but I'm worried you made the wrong call on this one.  We all crave, no, we all need some time away.  Some solitude.  Some just-please-no-more-noise-just-this-one-time time to ourselves.  We deserve it.  We're entitled to it.  But the people we love, the people who love us, the people we've committed to and who have committed to us, they also deserve to be told, in some fashion, that we're taking some of that time away even if we can't say how much time that's going to be.

My heart breaks that your heart may have broken, that it may have been breaking or broken for quite some time. My heart breaks to think of how many other hearts are now breaking even as those...hearts...don't...know...exactly why they're breaking or if and how to move on.

You are loved, Jim.  By people that I know you love.  By people you might not even know love you.  And where there is love there is forgiveness even if it's a forgiveness hard won.

But not knowing is intolerable and unacceptable.

Which is why I'm pretty pissed at you.  And pissed at myself too.

In being stubbornly determined to be so damned strong, we men are preposterously weak.  Sorry, Jim, but you are weak.  Weak like me and weak like every other "him" out there trying to go it alone, muscle through, man up, only to crumble beneath the unrealistic weight.  Alone, only because we choose to go it that way or because we've bought into the myth that we need to be able to handle it without any cracks in the exterior, help from anyone else, or any show of vulnerability.

And that bullshit myth is all too often bolstered and braced by an utter lack of vulnerable hands or reassuring words being extended our way until it's too late and we've already cracked, already crumbled.  Sure, we're first in line for rescues and search parties, but there'll be no crying on these broad shoulders until then.

You've been radio silent on social media for weeks.  Truant from the trail.  I didn't call or text.  Honestly and embarrassingly, I didn't even notice.  But how could I, being so busy manning up myself?  Going it alone.  And failing.  Not calling, not texting, not picking up on a friend's cracking and crumbling.

Not calling until now.


In the middle of a seemingly endless sea of ferns, blowdowns, sunstreams, and birdsong.  And an absence of you.

I hope with every fiber of my being that you're ok, Jim.

I hope with every fiber of my being that if you're not ok, and you're out there, and you're needing to be found, that we find you.

I hope with every fiber of my being that if you've fallen and perished, that we find your body, and bring it and closure home to your distraught family.  I do.

And I also hope with every fiber of my being that if you are out there NOT wanting to be found and NOT needing to be found, that you formulate some way to convey that to the people who love you who can then help convey that to the multitude of acquaintances and well-wishers that want you found even if they barely know you or don't know you at all.

So we can all stop crying out in vain, stop leaning plaintively into the hollow sound of our own grieving voices, and can begin broken hearts healing and start learning from this day forward to be more open, vulnerable, perceptive, and proactive in reaching out to offer help and to ask for help when we need it.

I love you, Jimmy.



thanksliving, part ii.

"I am thankful, immensely, for my wife and hopeful that she and I will both still be drawing breath together decades from now and hopeful too that every now and again her hand will reach out to me or squeeze back when I reach out to take her hand in mine.

I am thankful, boundlessly, for my daughters and hopeful that they will never let what they know (or think they know) or all that they've experienced get in the way of striving for what they don't know and have yet to experience.  I am hopeful that they are never unaware of the love and faith in their abilities that their parents have for them.

I am thankful for my immediate, extended, and adopted families for shaping me, accepting me, and reshaping me anew when necessary (often) into a “me” that I too am able to accept.  I am hopeful that together we grow, flourish and continue to celebrate the myriad of ways in which we are different and the same.

I am joyfully thankful for this planet for both possessing natural, untrammeled wonders and for hosting the triumphs of civilization.  I remain cautiously hopeful that distinction and balance can be made between the two and that the failures of civilization aren't mistaken for triumphs and allowed to render nature extinct, not in my lifetime nor the lifetime of any creature that comes after.

I am thankful for hope.  Real hope.  Not sloganeering, not wouldn't-that-be-nice daydreaming, not wishful thinking without effort made toward realization.  Real hope with real effort.

I am thankful for dreams and hopeful for dreams, realized or simply sought after.

Dream on."


Apparently, I wrote those words three years ago (thanksliving.), so this is more a recitation than a creative post.

They've never wrung truer than now.

We received confirmation today that Lily's surgery will take place on November 28, so you'd better believe that hope and gratitude are very much on my mind.

The anticipation of that procedure is going to put a whole new spin on Thanksgiving this year.  All of the nearly unthinkable unknowns drive home the need to be grateful for time shared with the people we care for most deeply.  The potential to drive out the demon that is cancer and free Lil from its possession is wonderful basis for hope.

It's all almost too much.


It's a lot, but it's not too much.

Hope sustains and we thank you for the hope you have for Lily.


Pull your loved ones close and make sure they know they're loved.

No assumptions.

Assumptions of that sort are recipe for regret should time slip away.

Don't wait on Hallmark for your cues.  Hallmark doesn't care if you miss any given occasion because they've got a "so sorry" card at the ready for that situation too.

Don't wait.

Give thanks today.  Give thanks every single day. 





love thy neighbor.

"As the years go by and I watch my children already being better versions of me, as I continue to add names to the list of people I wish lived closer, led lives that managed to overlap now and again with my own or, worse yet, were simply still living, I get better and better at being mindful of all there is to appreciate. Focus drifts for periods of time, moods darken and the weight of day-to-day existence shrouds the holding up of all the good things now and again, but few days pass without my remembering my blessings."

I wrote those words more than five years ago, as Lil and then Pipe emerged from infancy and began to show the innate kindness and sensitivity inherited from their mother as well as unveiling their own unique traits. Each new day I see more to celebrate in their emotional and intellectual growth.

I wrote those words in reflection of lost loved ones and dispersed friends. Migration from this world and across the planet has continued.

Blessings still abound and my appreciation of them has only deepened.

I cannot effectively express, at least not fully, how loved and worried-over we've felt the last few days and how much it has meant. If circumstance is equitable enough to find us in the same place again, I hope to have the chance to pull many of you close in shared embrace, look you in the eye, and tell you directly of what your gestures have meant. Depth of emotion even then will probably make me bumble and fall short on the words, but I'll get the hug right.

Thank you.

Know that your kindness is noticed and cherished. Know that we anxiously await the opportunity to pay it back and pay it forward.

Know that the love we feel is love we hope that each of you feel from us in return and from others around you.

The news in all its forms points to our differences of politics, of religion, of heritage, of social or economic status, of interests, of lifestyle, of opinion and would have us "know" that all is lost. I look to my broad circle of friends, diverse in politics, religion, heritage, social and economic status, interests, lifestyle, and opinion and choose to see not "sides" but individuals trying their best to make sense of their short existence. I KNOW all is not lost.

Doubt, anger, and frustration are human inevitabilities but they need not steer entirely our perspectives.

"Love thy neighbor as thyself." It is a biblical imperative, but, you need not espouse Christianity or any other religion to understand that in the broadest sense, this is basically a natural inclination.

A child is faced with a life-altering (at least) medical diagnosis, a family sags beneath the burden, and instinctually you want to know how you can help. You don't run through some checklist to make certain that the girl and her family are on your side. You act. In those moments, we know there are no sides. Too often we feel otherwise.

From one neighbor to another, thank you. I love you and I thank you for loving me, loving Lily, loving all of us.

We've received an abundance of support of every kind, but, if we can, we ask one more favor. We ask that you remember the rest of your literal and figurative neighbors over the likely contentious weeks ahead.



But please don't let differences of opinion stand in the way of the need to care for one another. Don't let fictitious divisions become absolutes.

It's hard, but it's not as hard as we make it if we put love and human decency first.

Do glad.


let it be true.

(Note: If you’ve come here looking for my usual reflection on running, you need not read past the end of the next two sentences. So long as running brings you joy, I urge you to keep at it. Life being precious and short, if running is a chore or little more than a way to measure yourself against others, I plead with you to seek out new avenues for spending the days you’re given.)


Eight years ago, my firstborn daughter, Lily, slipped from my grasp and fell flat on her back in the grass at my feet. Instinct kicked in the moment she hit the ground and I swooped her up, rushed her inside, and then shuttled her off to the hospital before whatever emotions I might have felt had time to record as memory.

I cannot recall now how I felt then though the memories of the fear and trepidation of the hours and days that followed are vivid.

I cannot recall now how I felt then, but I will never forget how I felt last evening, eight years after, when Lily, having listened to a retelling of that story at her bedtime, assured me that I hadn’t dropped her, but had “saved her life.”


Preliminary results of a CT Scan at the time of Lil’s fall suggested a brain bleed, but careful scrutiny in the days immediately after and follow-up testing weeks later confirmed that the smudge in the films wasn’t bruising, but my initial relief at not being to blame quickly gave way to the understanding that the abnormality was far more disconcerting than a temporary wound.

That abnormality, situated in Lil’s left temporal lobe, an area of the brain employed in the comprehension of language and vision, has been the subject of monitoring ever since.

That abnormality has never stopped being disconcerting.

Mostly, though, it just was. It didn’t grow. It didn’t diminish. It didn’t cause any ill effects. It just was and its menace consisted solely of being there.

In time, twice annual scans were relaxed to annual scans and, as the results of those sessions remained consistently unchanged, time between scans was eventually stretched to two years.  And, with assurance from the surgeons that more time could pass between scans, that abnormality quietly, almost imperceptibly relinquished its menace. We never fully forgot it was there, but it ceased to be the sole cloud carrying potential for rain in an otherwise blue sky.

Those sunny skies encouraged us to close our eyes and bask in the warmth and we did, but when we opened our eyes the forecast had changed.

This past winter, in the midst of her 3rd grade school year, Lily began to complain about her eyesight and, just like that, we had a symptom for which we’d been cautioned to remain vigilant. Lindsay and I immediately realized that another two years had passed and Lil was again due for an MRI.

Lily had been seen at Johns Hopkins since she was two, but circumstance merited a move to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and she immediately felt more comfortable in this youth-centric facility.

By the time we visited for Lil’s initial MRI, she had already seen an optometrist and had been prescribed corrective lenses.  Her need for glasses wasn’t proof alone that there was great reason for concern, but we looked forward to verification that the old familiar abnormality still simply was.

It wasn’t.

There were signs indicating both structural changes and growth. A visit with an ophthalmologist corroborated the likelihood that the tumor was cause of the rapid deterioration of Lil's vision. Allowing for the fact that orientation from machine to machine can differ and it had been some time since the last scan, a follow-up MRI was slated for 30 days later. If it showed additional growth, we would need to consider what immediate action could and should be taken.  If it showed additional growth.

It didn’t.

We returned to watch-and-wait mode, heartened for the moment, but the wake-up call of that first sign of growth coupled with additional input from Lily suggesting that she was also having some cognitive issues, failing from time to time to be able to formulate the words that she had at the ready in her mind, kept us on edge. She told us she knew that it was growing, knew that something needed to be done. She asked, earnestly, if she would die. As parents, we’d been asked that question before and it’s a painful question to answer even when it’s brought on by the death of a pet, the passing of an elderly relative, or simply the developing youthful mind. It’s exponentially more difficult a question to answer when it stems from your child facing that very real possibility.

Lindsay and I were forced to discuss surgery and its implications, something we really hadn’t had to do since the first discovery of the tumor all those years prior.

This time there was a third voice in that discussion and, as it belonged to the person carrying the reason for the conversation, the voice was the most important of the three. Lily didn’t want to wait, she wanted to take action. She wanted to take IT out. She desperately wanted the surgery and didn’t understand why we didn’t just do it.

The surgeon we had first seen all the way back in 2008 recommended at that time that we move forward with surgery, remove as much of the tumor as possible, and biopsy it. Second and third opinions advised caution and ultimately convinced us to wait, primarily because of a lack of symptoms on Lily’s part and the imminent threat, based on the location and structure of the tumor, that healthy brain tissue could be compromised and survival was not guaranteed.

That threat remained imminent and was the very reason why we didn’t just schedule surgery.

September arrived and with it yet another appointment with CHOP’s Radiology department.

This time the results were unambiguous, the need to take action inarguable, and, in a cruel twist, at least for her parents, Lily would have her wish.


Our oncologist and surgeon have made it clear that while we should take steps to address the situation with surgery, the immediate risk is not so great that we can’t schedule the procedure at a time over the next 6-9 months that would be least disruptive for Lily and for our family, including her doting, adoring little sister, Piper Bea.

My daughter loves to dance. She loves to swim. Both of these activities are her most direct connection to life as it is and how she wants it to continue to be.  She does not want this…this thing in her body or its ominous shadow hanging over her any longer than it must. She wants it out and the sooner the better. The sooner it is out, the sooner she can dance, the sooner she can swim.

Yes, there are risks and, yes, there is potential that the procedure will not be effective, will not fully alleviate the issue, or could even cause other issues.  There is that potential.  That potential is not nearly so great as the absolute guarantee that doing nothing will ensure issues that neither Lily or her parents care to sit idly by and watch manifest.

Better to think of dancing, to dream of swimming. Best to dance and swim now, in the meantime, and as soon as possible after.

Endless have been the conversations that Lindsay and I have had over the years about that foreign castaway inside of our daughter. We’ve cursed its constant, silent presence and the way in which it so often made us second guess every odd gesture or peculiar mannerism that Lily had at any given moment, little happenings that other parents would have paid little mind, likely no mind whatsoever. Knowing that it was there was a strange chronic punishment but for what we weren’t sure.

It was a constant guilt I was resigned to shouldering for the remainder of my lifetime.

A nine year old knew better.

Without knowledge of its being there, that foreign body would have grown unwatched and by the time it made its presence fully known, we would likely be looking not at a tricky surgical procedure but faced with an inoperable tumor with a grip on Lily’s central nervous system that could not be loosened, a grip that would have put her very existence in jeopardy.

Eight years ago, I dropped my daughter and couldn’t possibly have imagined that, in doing so, I might have saved her life.

Please, please let it be true.


If everything falls into place, Lily will undergo laser interstitial thermal therapy in mid-to-late November. This neurosurgical technique will create a dime-sized hole in the top of her skull and allow a laser probe, steered by real-time computer guidance and informed by MRI-monitoring, to reach the tumor and then destroy the foreign cells by super-heating them. By employing this technique, we hope to minimize the damage to healthy tissue and lessen the potential for infection that comes with a traditional and more invasive craniotomy. It will not immediately remove the tumor or what portions of it would have been possible to cut away without too great a risk to healthy portions of the brain, but it is expected that the destroyed tissue will diminish with time and perhaps be eliminated entirely, something that subsequent MRI scans will need to confirm.

The greatest risks are the likelihood of visual deficits (think blindspots, not blindness) and potential for language deficits.  The fact that the tumor is surrounded by healthy tissue and in relatively close proximity to the brain stem brings graver concerns, but we have every confidence in CHOP and the precision of our surgical team.


We know our friends and family will have numerous questions and, as much as we’d love to answer all of them, Lindsay and I ask for your patience and understanding as we need to focus our energies on supporting Lily, reassuring Piper, leaning on each other, and attending to all of the logistics necessary to balance life alongside the preparations ahead of surgery and whatever our situation proves to be afterwards.

You can help us best by simply loving Lily as we know many of you do and sending her positivity by whatever means you believe most effective. The means of transmission isn’t important. She’s a sensitive child, always has been, and she’ll feel it, I can assure you.

If you feel compelled to pass word directly to Lily or should happen to run into her in the days ahead, all I ask is that you respect the gravity of what she’s facing and the immensity of processing that at any age much less at nine. She has been privy to every conversation with the oncologist and the surgeon and has been given the opportunity to raise concerns directly. No punches have been pulled by anyone in speaking to those concerns. Tears and heartfelt apologies, genuine as they surely would be, are not helpful and Lily will not respond well to them.

Trust me.

My daughter does not aspire to be extraordinary, even if her mother and father already believe her to be. Lily loves being "just a regular kid" and cherishes the moments that make her feel like she is just that. In that, she mirrors her father. She is sufficiently frightened about what lies ahead, healthily so, and doesn’t need the well-wishing but too-evident worries of others to make her that much more scared. She remains just a kid and when this is in the rearview, she still will be. Treat her that way and I promise that you’ll have helped. Remember that our Piper Bea could use a little love and attention too and I promise that you'll have helped.

Thanks, in advance, to all of you from all of us. Thank you for caring about us and for sending us positive energy.

It means much to us, as do all of you.