The day after watching a rerun of Jim Carey going nuts in the Grinch’s big screen debut, we are standing amidst a rare November snowstorm. I remind the kids that the Grinch and all the Who’s in Whoville live inside a single snowflake. Stephanie, watching the flakes melt on the ground says, “and then they all die a horrible death.”
Move over Spielberg.
Sometime later Stephanie asks, “Why do we cry when we are sad?”
Powering up the ol’ Internet, we quickly plow through mountains of irrelevant data in search of this most tearful of all grails. Apparently there are several types of tears: Continuous tears which flow to keep our eyes from crusting over, reflex tears in response to some external stimuli like sand storms, and emotional tears which are tied in some way to strong feelings. The causes of emotional tears remain a mystery, and only a handful of researchers are studying this area. One study described a lady in Australia who cried from her right eye when she thought of her mother and left eye when she thought of her father. Stephanie has once again taken us into uncharted territory.
Another day, I notice Stephanie staring at me.
“Why?” I ask.
“I’m trying to rearrange your face”, she says, embarking on what I know to be a futile exercise.
Later she asks, “Do you know every single thing about me?”
Not in this lifetime, I think.
Our search for a house came to a screeching halt once we discovered the place on 100 Buck Jones Trail. Don’t laugh; I find that rustic, Danielboonesqe name far preferable to the R-rated and poorly acted Melrose Place. I’m not saying that we have become cave dwellers, but a roaming pack of possibly mutant deer has reduced our shrubbery to grotesque stick figures. We have a bird nest on our porch.
Our 4-year-old traditional house sits petulantly amidst a sea of grass, each grinning stalk practically begging for the great whirling blades of Death to bring order to chaos. No wonder they call themselves blades. I imagine myself astride a Sears Lawn Ripper, gouging huge swaths in the weed wasteland in a vain search for machine perfection. The Joneses on either side will nod in synchronized approval at our having kept up. The bastions of suburban America will remain thick with righteous ivy.
You need me on that wall.
I was hired into the position of Deputy Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the State of North Carolina. Within 2 weeks I found myself named as Acting CTO, temporarily shoring up the cavernous hole left by the departure of the previous CTO. In this acting position I was watched carefully for signs of impending mental breakdown, hives, or unrepentant leering. I’m proud to say I experienced no hives. After 3 weeks in the acting role I was permitted to apply for the actual CTO job where, like Melrose Place, acting is simply not permitted. In keeping with the lofty image of this position I was required to pass through the gauntlet of the dreaded executive interview, consisting of questions heavy on medieval philosophy and existentialism, but light on actual technical knowledge. Gazing into my twisted visage I believe they wisely skipped the question on leering.
During such interviews I am prone to burst into spontaneous giggles, which almost never lands me the job unless I am interested in the position of executive clown. See previous job for details.
But life, trickster that she is, spins me another curveball. One interviewer asks, “Of all the people you have known, either personally or through reading, who do you admire most and why?”
Sometimes when we think of living life to its fullest we describe a life lived “on the edge”. But my grandfather, Horace Jewel Fenton (“Granper”) lived a life full of grace and dignity in the heart of experience. When I think of him I imagine a steadying hand; a calm in stormy waters; a rock upon which to fix the untethered cord. In his mid-nineties he could still be seen riding his bicycle every morning, off to see the world before the Florida sun burned away the mist.
Born late in the 19th century, he lived to see most of the 20th until passing away in his sleep at the age of 94. A graduate of Yale, he taught Constitutional Law at the Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland. Both his sons would later attend the Academy and serve with distinction in WWII. When he found himself unemployed in 1920 (through a change in policy on civilian teachers), he began to write for Natural History magazine, describing life on his farm in Connecticut. He later wrote books on the history of the small towns he lived in, like Avon Park, Florida. I once read his handwritten account of a trip to Hawaii in the 1920′s, with meticulous descriptions of the costs (“…Dinner on promenade deck: $0.92…”), exposing his Yankee frugality.
One bright morning in my early teens I remember my father answering the phone, listening with full attention until every word was spoken; then placing the phone on the counter to cry — with both his eyes.
We all need guides in life to steer us around the hidden dangers lying just below the surface. If we’re lucky the lessons learned are so strong that they persist in word and deed, spanning the generations. These leaders become living connections; to the world, to the past and to each other; made manifest.
Through the distance of time I can see Granper turn and beckon, riding his bike through the morning mist, still showing the way.