Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghosts a Little Too Close to Home

Arayo visits family graves looking for ghosts

The conversation was genial, as discussions are when people are going about their early morning rituals.  Not an early riser, I fought through cobwebs which had crept in during the night, surrounding my brain, and blanketing my eyes and ears.  I slowly noted that it was morning, and listened to my parents quietly visiting in the hall as they began their day.

Then I realized………  My parents haven't begun a day together in nearly 10 years!  They are both dead!  

I remained calm and somehow realized I still had options, as we always do in life.  I could throw off my covers and chase the voices from the house, or I could lay still, allowing myself to drift back to a more innocent time, when my only concerns were getting to class (a block away) by the 8:30 bell, and dreading that my mom might serve peas again for lunch.

"Just relax and enjoy this," I thought, as the voices continued their low exchange.

Emotionally I laid back into the moment, when suddenly, the second big observation reached my awareness.  My dead parents are visiting today - and it is Halloween!   

And with that, they ceased to exist.

It is Halloween - the first one since both my parents have been gone.  Dad believed in an afterlife.  After all - the Bible promises you heaven and all that implies.  For Dad, that would be a blissful eternity of amazingly dull ham radio conversations, probably logging hours talking with the big guy himself…….   "GOD1 this is W0NLQ.   The skies are nice and bright today over here - - again.  How's it looking, from where you are? W0NLQ over….."

Mom, on the other hand, figured you're dead, you're dead.  "Besides," she would say, "Bob and I had an agreement.  If he died first he was going to report back if there is an afterlife, and he hasn't told me a thing!"  

Bob & Janet Carpenter markers
"Mom, you know Dad didn't talk to anyone except on his radio - and you removed the antennas and sold the radio before he was buried.  He's probably been reporting back, but talking to some guy named Gus in Toledo!""

Afterlife, ghosts, things that go bump in the night.  I want to believe in them.  Well, frankly, I do believe, but some people you EXPECT to stick around a while and resort to some playful - or mean spirited hauntings.  I would hope that I should do a bit of that when my days on earth or over…….  (I've got a few politicians I'd like to visit for a while…….)  But, Bob and Janet Carpenter?  Naw - they aren't really the type……

But after this morning, I'm beginning to wonder.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

R.I.P. Steve Jobs

Apple Computer's Home Page, October 5 & 6, 2011

I'm not a hero worshiper.  I was disgusted with all the crying when Elvis died.  ("Oh, get over it….." I'd think when women walked around work in tears.) I grew up on the Beatles, but John Lennon's death was just a blip on my radar.  I felt sad with the loss of Mother Teresa, but at 87, she'd led a good life and was probably ready for a rest.
Though prepared for it, I was hit pretty hard to open my e-mail yesterday to the subject "Steve Jobs Dead!"
Of course, I didn't know the man, but he profoundly impacted my life with his inventions, with his company and through who he was.  He chose the path less taken, yet based his actions on a deep belief system.  
Had I had the opportunity to work with this man, I would have lasted about a week.  I don't do well with people who tromp on the feelings of others - no matter how basically right their convictions may be.  Steve was known as a tyrant to work for, someone you probably didn't want to get caught in an elevator with at the office.  But, for those stronger than I, they loved working for this man with such foresight and sense of purpose.
Jobs followed his own vision - not those of someone else.  In his simple Levi Jeans, tennis shoes and black turtleneck he introduced product after product to the world that has profoundly changed our lives.  Not one to have all the techie gadgets (though I am seriously married to my Mac Computers), I watched as he introduced the iPad and my head started spinning!  "This is REALLY going to change things in the world," I thought, as I picked up the phone to buy more stock.  Yes, Steve, I do believe!
Steve Jobs was our generation's icon for successful nonconformism.  As blogger Om Malik wrote, "Today, we are living in a world that’s about taking short-term decisions: CEOs who pray at the altar of the devil called quarterly earnings, companies that react to rivals, politicians who are only worried about the coming election cycle and leaders who are in for the near-term gain.
“And then there are Steve and Apple: a leader and a company not afraid to take the long view, patiently building the way to the future envisioned for the company. Not afraid to invent the future and to be wrong."
While he revolutionized our world, the soul of the man was what really drew me to him. A Buddhist, a vegetarian, a man of principle, he yanked Apple's membership in the National Chamber of Commerce over their opposition of regulating greenhouse gas emissions.  Bully, Steve!

In a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, Steve talked about his life, his dance with cancer and encouraged students to keep their deaths clearly in focus.  "No one wants to die," he said.  "Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there."  But he talks about facing the mirror every day and asking himself if this was his last day on earth, if what he was doing was making him happy.  If the answer was "No" too many days in a row, he changed things.
"Your time is limited," he told the Standford audience, "so don't waste it living someone else's life.  Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking.  Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice."
I'm glad I grew up in Steve Jobs' time and I morn his loss.  I encourage people to take a few minutes to watch his Stanford address at  and I add my thoughts to those of so many others.  Godspeed, Steve.  Thank you.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Aunt Marian: A Well Lived Life

Marian Hughes Shuff, PhD, Educator, Artist, beloved Aunt

The world lost another of its most priceless souls yesterday.  My aunt Marian passed away peacefully, ending an amazing 93 year life.

In a time when small town Kansan women didn't divorce, Marian did, and she did it with style  - or at least that was how it appeared in the eyes of a very naive niece.  With two young children to think of, she had the strength to pull them from a less than positive relationship and raise them in a supportive, loving environment.  Already armed with a degree in education, Marian earned her masters, then her PhD, and split her time between nurturing her children, and training and encouraging college students in how to be the best teachers they could possibly be.  I always thought those students were some of the luckiest on earth to have had her influence to take into the classroom.

Upon retiring, she and her new husband, Bob, moved to Arkansas where she began her second career as an artist - taking classes in various art technics for the next 18 years and specializing in etchings, screen prints and wood and lino cuts.  While our homes filled with the work she shared, it wasn't until her daughter published a one-of-a-kind book of her work that the depth of her talent really struck home.  She was amazing, and she was doing art shows even at 90 years of age!

As another cousin noted, we always felt loved by our parents, but we looked on in awe as Marian seemed to absolutely adore her children.  She nurtured all of us, though, as she was genuinely interested in our lives, our dreams.  All my life I've heard the call of a different drummer - never quite fitting in - and Marian, who I adored, let me know in glorious terms that it was not only okay, but a very good thing.  "We're just alike!"  she'd assure me, and it was always the greatest of compliments to me.

A stanch Democrat, Marian would tell of walking down the street with a friend and, in as loud a voice as possible state - "…..and the reason I'm voting for Bill Clinton (or Barack Obama, or...)  is…….."  She has been claiming for years that she couldn't die until "after the next election!"

One of my fondest memories of Marian was when my father was dying.  She'd driven the 6 hour trip from Arkansas to Kansas to support her little sister, my Mom.  The day my Father passed away, I'd gone into the Intensive Care Unit to tell him we were leaving for the night.  He shook his head "no".  To be clear, I asked if he was saying he wanted us to stay, and got a nod.  I went back to the ICU waiting room to tell Mom and Marian that Dad wanted us to stay.  At 84, Marian didn't bat an eye.  She pulled three of the most horrid uncomfortable chairs together, formed a recliner out of them and said "then, we're spending the night right here!"

With a slowly failing heart, Marian slowed down a bit the past couple years, but that didn't stop her involvement in life.  She kept up with friends and family, and started a blog, "Life In Our Nineties!"  Now, how cool is that?

Art by Marian Shuff, Port au Gard, 1987, intaglio
Knowing the end was near, her two children, her only grandchild and I descended on the small apartment she shared with her husband in Hot Springs, Arkansas two weeks ago.  We spent long hours laying on or sitting beside her bed, holding hands, and sharing stories.  "What are we going to talk about now?" she's ask. Or "what would you want to do more than anything else if money was not an option?"   We had a wonderful week, centered on what she loved best - good conversation with people she loved.  We all felt lucky to have had the time - time to cherish, to remember, to say goodbye.

It would easy to say her loss is great - but her loss reminds me that life really is eternal.  Whether you believe in an afterlife or not - the world is touched by people like my aunt, Marian.  She lives on in her friends, in her art, in her family, in the students she encouraged and those encouraged by them.  She lives on in my heart - as I was one of the really lucky ones to have known and loved her.

It is a shame to waste a life.  At 93 years of age, Marian didn't waste a day of hers.

Please visit Marian's art website. You can link to her blog, "Life In Our Nineties" from "the Artist" page.