Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My Sins

This post refers heavily to two others- the post on Stoic Emotion and the one on Beliefs, Values, Morals, Ethics.

After the entry about Stoic Emotion, Kevin commented, in part: "However, there is also higher emotion, and it's much harder to define. Actually, I think you gave a very good example: our inner sense of right and wrong.We feel that something is "just plain wrong". Why is it wrong? We don't know. There is no concrete, logical, factual reason why it should be."

Gently, I disagree. This is the moral level, the general feeling of right and wrong. But it is based on deeper levels that are concrete and factual and (internally) logical. If you understand your beliefs- (the things you hold to be true) and your values (comparison of importantance between beliefs) each thing that you feel is "just plain wrong" makes perfect sense.

It doesn't always make _good_ sense. Most of our beliefs and values are forged in early childhood and never really questioned. Sometimes if you look at them closely enough you will find an ugly nugget of belief (racism, for instance) or value that you deny at higher levels of thought.

In the sense of "just plain wrong" there are two things that I identify as sins- offenses against god and nature. They are my absolute deepest values and color everything that I do and am and every judgment that I make.

My two sins are WASTE and DECEIT.

I don't intrinsically value life. Everybody dies. The sin is to have a life and not live it. A murderer may take twenty or thirty years from your life- a catastrophic waste. A job you hate may take as much. Suicide and doing nothing are both just plain wrong... because in both cases you are wasting your own life. Not because of the death, but because of the not living.

To destroy something for the sake of destruction is a waste. To injure the psyche of a child is a waste. Almost everything that I think of as wrong involves either actively or passively not bringing something to potential... and I draw little difference between the active and the passive. Honestly, I feel more sympathy for honest suicides who seized their last moments and made a statement than I do for people who never did anything out of fear of failure or fear of success or fear of change. Because I have another belief: Everything you do and everything you choose not to do are equally your responsibility.

Note: You don't have infinite time or resources or talent. I don't expect you to have trained your voice for opera and your brain for seven languages plus physics and medicine and your body for the decathlon while keeping a perfect home and a wide circle of friends... but if you have time and/or talent and/or resources and desire you should be doing something, even if only to glory in doing nothing on a windy afternoon.

Deceit is the second sin. Maybe the first. My father used to say that "Lying is the small evil that makes all other evil possible." Another wise person said that "Lying is always an act of fear. You never lie except to someone you are afraid to tell the truth to." Every lie is an act of cowardice. My father also defined a lie as "any attempt to deceive".

The worst, of course, is lying to yourself. Integrity is having mind, heart and body together; words and actions in accord. Any deception or inconsistancy between heart and mind dissolves integrity and dilutes you as a human being.

But deceiving others is a core evil. Humans are barely fit to survive in the wilds. Without a tribe or specialists in an extensive alliance, we would mostly starve. That alliance can only be maintained if our agreements hold. If our words presage our actions. If money is what we decide it represents. Without these...waste. Children dying of starvation. No medicines delivered or developed.

Deceit doesn't need dire consequences to be wrong. Theft, pretending that the people who worked for something have no more right to it than the thief, doesn't always result in catastrophe, but it is part of the friction, part of the general inefficiency that contribute to waste, loss and pain.

Writing this I realize why, in my mind, Waste is worse than Deceit: Because I am willing to use deceit to prevent waste. I will tell a lie to save a life or prevent harm.

Thanks, Kevin, for the opening. And for the thoughts on Andy. Never worry about speaking your mind.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


He was a brat as a kid- willful, tough, a little mean and he would bully his older brother. He was blessed, more than anything, with perfect parents. His parents were always there for him and they were always on his case: expecting better grades, better behavior, harder work. And they gave him all the love and attention he could handle.

With any other parents he would have gone very bad. He was stubborn enough to get his way with anyone else and had to be taught over and over again to think of others. But with perfect parents, he learned.

He grew into a young man- handsome, polite, athletic. He was a good kid. His senior year at highschool he was an all-state running back. I took the family to watch one of his games here in Portland.

When we'd get together, I'd tease him- try to talk him into college or the military or anything. Once he decided what he wanted to do, he'd be amazing. But Andy was in no hurry to decide. He enjoyed his friends and fishing and hunting and his family and barbecues and beer and his motorcycle. He liked his life just as it was.

Andy Michaelis died yesterday. He was my nephew.

I called his mother as soon as I heard. She asked the ancient question: "How do we go on?"

"You love the ones you have left."

Love the ones you have left.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Whistling in the Dark

Just read a long article justifying why group A's system of training is superior to group B's. It's a very long article for the web, very detailed, and in it's own way very logical. But it's not right. Not just the flaws in the arguments but the blind spots and the hidden assumptions and.... yet it is great for affirming things that the believers have already chosen to believe.

Do you ever wonder why we have religion and superstition? It's because the world is a big and scary place. Because without modern technology a quirk of weather could starve your entire village in a year or a bolt of lightning could ignite a fire that would leave you and your tribe dead or homeless. Because it is very cool and macho when you are the hunter and very scary and hopeless when you are the hunted.

Humans can't stand to feel out of control. The feeling of helplessness is one of the most unpleasant imaginable, and one of the key criteria to developing PTSD. So in order to feel some control (it doesn't have to be REAL control, imaginary is better than nothing) we've collected rituals and superstitions that might bring rain or ward off plague and we've invented gods that we can placate or buy off or suck up to.

This is more hidden in our temperature-controlled, waste-removed well supplied modern world. But it still comes up. It comes up especially in the question of violence. Violence is a primal fear and we instinctively know that if we are faced with a certain level of violence, we have no more chance than a coastal tribe hit by a tsunami or a bug hit by a windshield.

There are other levels of violence that can be dealt with, of course... the point is that knowing that there is a level out there beyond that leaves people feeling small and helpless.

So people seek answers. And when they find a person who can convincingly sell them one, they buy it. They invest money and time and effort in this answer to an unanswerable problem.

It becomes a religion. Very few people have faced a hurricane at sea, seen lots of violence up close, or beheld the face of God. Religions are written for the people who haven't seen the thing itself. The people who have seen it consistantly say, "It's not like that." Not like what? What they expected, what they were told, what they believed.

So the people who haven't seen it defend their beliefs. They tell stories about successes and quibble about the logic holes in other people's training. They damn the unbeliever and mock the heretic and heathen... and they poke fingers in their ears when one person, covered with scars, quietly says: "It's not like that."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Stoic Emotion and Righteous Indignation

Reading further into the book about Stoic philosophy and its bearing on the modern military. This stuff is new to me and, since I've read so little of the source material and none of it in the context of Philosophy with a capital P, it's very likely that my insights (based on an interpretation of other interpretations of translations) may be a wee bit suspect.

Emotions are not something I worry about a lot. I mainly subscribe to the James-Lange theory of emotion: stimulus happens, chemicals get shot into your blood stream, and then you decide what the chemicals meant. For example, if your palms are sweaty, your mouth is dry, your knees are shaking, your stomach is trembling and your breath is fast and shallow that's a hormonal reaction. If it was triggered by a bear, you decide it was fear. If it was triggered by the most beautiful woman (adapt gender as necessary) you've ever seen, you'll call it love or infatuation. The hormone cascade is real. The emotion, in my opinion, is a story that we tell ourselves.

The author quotes passages and then explains them. Sometimes I get a completely different read than the author does. For good reason. By profession, I walk into situations with a huge potential for the chemical reaction described above and I am expected and required to be calm, lucid and reasonable. Reasonable is the wrong word, since sometimes I have to act crazy or angry or apply violence... but even on that edge I have to exemplify control. Because I do this all the time, I know it's possible. Someone who has never or rarely been exposed and has been swept up in their own emotion can reasonably be expected to believe that emotional expression is uncontrollable (but that statement, "I just loss control" is always self-serving. Ever hear of anyone saying, "I just lost control so I did a noble thing?")

The Stoics she quoted said that emotions are illusory and unreal. She took this as an ideal of the philosophy, but not a fact. Yet for the situations they were describing, the Stoics were dead-on: emotions are not data. Your emotion is your reaction to the situation. This is tricky for me to put into words. Here's a wildly mixed metaphor for you: A bear jumps out at you. This is the event. You get an adrenaline dump. That's the news. You call the adrenaline dump 'fear'... that's the editorial.

Calling it 'fear' doesn't change the fact, or even influence the fact, that you freeze or run. However, if you think about the word fear enough, you can convince yourself that the editorial is part of the news, or even part of the event. It can build. It can spread to other people who haven't even seen the bear. The Stoics, in my opinion, were warning of the dangers of treating an attribution as a fact- the attachments of Buddhism.

Side note: sometimes you don't consciously see the bear. The hair stands up on the back of your neck or you get an uneasy feeling. That's news, and if you respond to the news you have a good chance of surviving. If you say, "Oh that's silly, there's nothing wrong with this nice gentleman," that's the editorial, ignoring the news and possibly handing you over to a predator.

The author missed this (or maybe it is a creative misunderstanding on my part) .

So, by her definitions and how she understands it, the author believes that the Stoics strove for a life without emotion and such a thing is impossible. By my definitions, of course, the Stoics strove for a response free from attribution which is possible (probably).

That's only the start. The author agrees that excessive negative emotion is bad- that terror and rage and obsession are all horrible things, but she states that certain kinds of emotions are necessary to the maintenance of civilization. That without righteous indignation no one would be driven to do anything about genocide. That without compassion, no one would do anything about poverty.

This is where I disagree. Emotion in my earlier metaphor is the editorial. Genocide is wrong. I don't need to be angry or indignant or apply any other label- it's wrongness is independant of my feelings. And I can explain, clearly and logically why it is wrong and why something should be done.

Emotions in this situation do two things. First it acts as a self-referential data point so that we are feeding the children not because (fact) they are hungry and (fact) they each hold great potential for the future but to merely assuage our own un-earned guilt (an attribution). Second, relying on emotion to motivate devalues will. If you need to be angry or scared or inspired to do the right thing it is explicitly stating that you don't have the will to do the right thing because it is the right thing. The ability to reason the right thing and the will to act make us human.

This second point is used against people all the time. Listen, if I have to scare you to get you to act in a certain way it either means that I think you are too stupid to reason into acting for your own good or I know that my reasons aren't sufficient. This is the tool of demagogues (and much of the press) to trigger emotion specifically to prevent the people from thinking critically.

The book is "Stoic Warriors" by Nancy Sherman. At only halfway through, it's worth a look.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Martial Moments

Training: He swung the shinai and I entered, getting inside the blade... my opponent's momentum perfectly meshed with my short left to the corner of his jaw hinge.

Jail: The kid lunged- maybe he was going for a wrestler's shoot, maybe trying to slam his head into my groin. I was completely flat-footed, stance square to him, with a clipboard in one hand and keys in the other. My mind went completely blank and the kid sailed through the air, landing on his back wedged in a corner. The clipboard somehow had dropped under his chin and made a small circle- his own momentum spun him through the air. A technique I'd never trained arising from a perfectly blank mind.

Training: At the old Community Center my sensei threw me hard. Stupidly, I twisted out of a good breakfall to deny him the point. My shoulder popped out of it's socket, loud, a full posterior dislocation with the ball of the humerus behind me under the skin. I grabbed the trampoline at the edge of the mat and pulled, feeling and hearing it slip back into the socket and turned and attacked, back in the fight in maybe a second.

The Street- It started with a classic interview and I saw it coming maybe a minute in advance. Two threats, both bigger than I was. Just before it went physical a little voice in my head said that if I injured anybody, I would lose my job and the new baby needed insurance. In a two-on-one attack on a dark street, I made the decision not to fight to injure. Nearly fifteen minutes later it was over. My face was a mess, but I was uninjured. I'd fought my plan and fought well- both were arrested, my damage was cosmetic. At different times I'd had them both down, had opportunities to end it, but it wasn't the plan. It was a stupid plan.

Training- Bull in the Ring: a test of heart more than skill and endurance. Four fighters on the edge of a small ring with kicking shields, one in the middle, everyone in armor. The four are allowed to strike with the shield, the one in the middle is allowed to strike into the shields. At this session nine of twenty-seven who played were hospitalized. It was my first time fighting since knee surgery and I was scared. Being in the middle is a pounding chaos. One of the four went to raise his shield for a strike just as I threw a perfect right hook. I hit armor instead of the shield and he went down with two broken ribs.

Bouncing- We were escorting the individual out of the casino when he spun and swung. I ducked and he clocked my partner. We wound up rolling with him under the gaming tables, two hot young martial artists trying to figure out how to get a street fighter to give up his hands.

Training- sparring and just for a second it's right there and I snatch the fingers out of the air and sweep and my training partner hits hard and it felt so effortless.

Jail- the big criminal is choking the other criminal out and the first deputies on the scene are yelling and fumbling for OC. I pull him off with a philtrum peel and spin him to the ground with an effortless spine twist. Afterwards, the reports look weird because none of the witnesses can figure out how I put a 220 pound guy down that fast without hurting him.

Tournament- The first Sports Jujutsu tournament in the NorthWest and I entered on a whim. After the semi-final round as I was walking off the mat, someone ran up to shake my hand and congratulate me on the "great kicks". WTF? When I watched the tape later, on slow motion, I had ducked a punch almost putting my head on my knee and hook kicked with the other foot to the back of the kid's head. I'm a jujutsu guy. WTF? Where did that come from?

Booking- I was patting the arrestee down and felt a cylindrical object in his belt right at his spine, "What's that?" I asked. "Let me show you," and he spun, going for the draw. His head bounced off three hard surfaces in less than a second.

Training- "I'm a ninpo blackbelt," Blue said, "what civilians call ninjutsu. I hear you jujutsu guys think you're pretty good on the ground." "I can always use the practice," I said. Roughly a half hour later, Blue had tapped out roughly forty times. As he was leaving, he told me I was almost good enough to be a ninja. God I hope not.

Jail- During dress-in, the arrestees take off their street clothes and put on jail uniforms. One started complaining. He didn't get his ass kicked, so he started bitching. He didn't get his ass kicked so he started screaming... then he took a swing. I caught the fist in the air and and twisted it into a san-kaju wrist lock and marched him naked and screaming out of the dress-in room, past the holding tanks and into a separation cell. Never put down my coffee cup.

Training- The new kid had trained in something else. He was fast and flexible. Sensei had specified kumite style sparring- only hand blows and kicks and the kid was doing well against me. Too well and I let my ego get involved. I asked the kid if I could 'use jujutsu'. He was confused. Since he was in a jujutsu school, he assumed I was doing jujutsu. The next engagement I passed him and put him in a spine immobilization/strangle. Sensei chewed me out- rightly.

There are decades of memories- rooms soaked in blood and pepperspray; suicidal inmates who wanted to kill and die all at once. Shanks and bangers and crazy little guys with homemade maces. Barracks brawls and attempted domestic stabbing... and even more memories from training: good friends and terrible injuries; hitting the zone with Simunitions and doing moving headshots at ten yards, front sight on target like a laser; staff fighting balanced on railroad tracks; and stance work waist deep in the cold surf...

I thought it would be fun to write down a few, but there are far too many and most are much longer stories than I could write here and now.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Principle Personae of Cicero

Models are models. They are ways of looking at the world, but they are not the world. So: many are useful, but none are true.

A book I am reading references Cicero's De Officiis and his theory of four personae. It's intriguing enough that I'll have to spend some time over the next couple of years with the Stoic philosophers... not just for this theory. I enjoyed Marcus Aurelius before I knew what a Stoic was.

This model is interesting, and only having a one-paragraph description gives me great freedom to misunderstand it in creative and useful ways. Some of my best insights have come from misunderstanding a teacher and playing with it until it worked.

The theory (as I understand it) is that who we are is a combination and interaction of four personae (in ancient Greek theater, literally masks the actors would wear):

1) Who we are by virtue of our shared natures. People are people, and this is why we can communicate and trade across gender and geography and language barriers. No other human is so different from us that he doesn't need to eat. Within parameters, similar things interest or excite us, cause fear or pleasure. Given similar problems, tools and parameters people come up with remarkably similar solutions. This can go beyond humans to animals- even a flatworm will seek food and avoid pain and so will a human- but only so far. Flatworms don't hit their enemies with sticks.

2)Who we are by virtue of chance. What color and gender and religion and wealth and caste you were born was just pure dumb luck. Whether your parents died early or your great grandparents hung around was luck. There were many, many things , from genetics to accidents of birth to coincidence that severely affected who and what you have become. This interacts powerfully with the "shared nature" above. You can create a child who seeks abuse and thinks it is love and will go on to choose mates who are cruel. It is against "shared nature" and in one sense unnatural (even a flatworm avoids pain) but by accident of birth that a child can never control, they can get pain and love mixed up.

3) Who we are by our individual spirit. Cicero points out that there are greater differences in temperament than in physical bodies. We all have a shared nature just as our bodies are designed on a similar bi-laterally symmetrical, bipedal, binocular plan; but our individual natures are even more disparate than all the variations you can find in the human body. Different children, even as babies, have different attitudes. More interaction- do fighters and rebels recover better from bad chance or push away the boundaries of shared humanity? Do the thoughtful and incisive see consequences and defeat the negative works of chance? Does a passive attitude condemn your personality to be forged mostly by luck and shared humanity?

4) Who we choose to be. This is the most powerful, to me (but perhaps only certain "individual spirits" can truly use will). It allows a conscious integration of the other three. It allows the individual to choose whether to look at chance as a misfortune or a challenge.

It's all in the interaction.

I'll have to play with it some more. It looks good for analysis: What's wrong in my life? Is that a product of the human condition, luck, my personality or my choices? Are there choices I can make to change that?

There's also power in recognizing luck as luck. If you were born poor it can be a problem, a challenge or simply a fact. It is not a message. It is a factor in everything else, but NOTHING in this complex interaction has the power to determine the end. A friend writes that in every person's life, there are plenty of things that they could decide are reasons for failure- if they choose to. Everybody has enough excuses already. But if you can point to even one person who started with less and did more than you have, you are deluding yourself.

I'm not sure the model can be used to drive, however. I'm not seeing how I could use it as a tool to plan a future.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Getting Tricked

Mac played a sneaky trick.

Weeks ago, he e-mailed to make sure that I had today free for "a weapon thing at Scotty's." He said Kevin would be there. So, let's see...hmmmm... Mac, who is as much a father to me as an instructor at this point; Scotty, who I admire as much as any martial artist I've ever met; and Kevin, who is the person I try to send other people to to learn weapons are all going to be in one place for a "weapon thing". What kind of idiot would miss that?

The sneaky trick was that it was going to include a weapons tournaments.

I hate tournaments. I've competed and done very well but even in my first judo tournaments 25+ years ago, my stomach would knot up at the thought. I don't like tournaments: I hate the idea of an audience and being judged by someone who wasn't sweating and bleeding. I despised the idea of the gladiator, someone who would trade in death an injury for an effete Roman or, in modern times, for a fat couch potato thrilling to the vicarious danger and domination. A gladiator is someone who will fight for the entertainment of someone he despises, and that leaves me cold. BECAUSE I hated tournaments, I'd always forced myself to compete in the old days and I've racked up wins in SCA grand melees, judo tournaments, jujutsu, karate, fencing, Norse wrestling...

Does that not make sense? If you hate tournaments, I can guarantee that you will hate being ambushed on the way to your car; if you have trouble facing another human being, I can guarantee that you will have problems grabbing at the knife hand of a real assailant and driving his head into the wall, the table and the floor. Fighting for your life is brutal and nasty... and unpleasant. One of the best minor trainings is to do things you find unpleasant quickly, decisively without hesitation or whining. Whether it is taking out the trash, diving into cold water or competing in tournaments.

I'm older now, more "mature" and very interested in integrating all the things trained over the years into one simple and decisive action. Competition, now, offends me at a deeper, higher and more strategic level: if I've got to fight this sucker, why not do it in the locker room when he's tying his shoes?

Still it was a blast, as always. We rolled and brawled and bled a little. Learned from everybody. Talked with Kevin for at least an hour afterwards, watched Mac like a hawk for any tidbit of knowledge he let slip. Saw Shawn for the first time in a year and met his student/son (who came very close to beating his old man, baton against staff).

I got a little competitive. It's that old warhorse thing. It is fun.

So now a nice gin and tonic, some ibuprofen and a backrub. Life is good.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Things are real. Things are pretty much what they are. The ability to deal with the world on that level is enlightenment. But it seems that people just can't.

Seeing happens in the mind, not in the eye. The world happens in reality, our perceptions are the illusions... but the human animal perceives the world with nearly perfect accuracy, truth and clarity. Then they try to figure it out and mess it up.

Touch your key board, the very edge of it. Feel it. What is getting to your nerves and to your brain is the feel of the keyboard, but very likely what is getting to your mind is something like, "It feels like skin. No, kind of like a cold denim made out of vinyl, but maybe smoother..." none of which is right. It's a particular keyboard and it feels exactly like that keyboard and nothing else. We do this all the time with touch and sight and smell. To some extent we are programmed to, because our most powerful survival advantage is to be able to manipulate symbols (such as words) and communicate with each other.

On the survival/defense/martial level people show the need to have IT, the ANSWER and an equally pressing need to point out other people's flawed beliefs:

"The UFC isn't real..." But it is real. It is the real UFC and it is exactly what it is. It's not flying a fighter jet. It's not arresting drunks. It's not being in a soccer riot... all of which are real and exactly what they are and nothing else.

We can use our special human power to take lessons from one arena to the other, but we are very proud of this ability and tend to take too much and try to force it too hard into meaning and then ignore it when it starts to go bad.

Things are what they are, including our ability to extrapolate. What it is and no more.

It happens in every area of life. It happens especially and with some of the most (in my eyes) tragic consequences with people attempting to discard illusion. There are people who want to fix their broken spirits (who decided that they were broken) People who want to see a deeper reality (and can't see the reality of a stone) people who meditate to deal with the sludge of their lives (and the second they call it sludge they have made it so, turning years of hard lessons and slain dragons into something it never was) people who hammer at imperfections that are only imperfections because they decided so.

Frenchy died Monday. He was the closest thing my children had ever had to a grandfather. I told my daughter first. I watched her struggle because she was so sure from watching people and TV that she was supposed to suffer from some great emotinal upheaval. I told her it was okay to just feel what she felt. If she missed him, miss him. If she didn't think about him, she shouldn't try to make herself. It was okay to be sad and okay not to be.

Even as a (mildly autistic) child, she'd already been trained to attribute, to add emotions and meaning to a new experience. I hope, in advising her to feel what she felt, that she will be freer in the future.

To love without needing to posess or fearing for ego hurt; to honestly acknowledge anger and fear when she felt it without needing to wallow or "process" something simple and natural into something dark and complex. To let herself be just what she is.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Insufficient Tactical Girth

I have three belts. Not in my closet. I have three duty belts for work. One is for inside the jail. One is for outside the jail, which we call "Uncontrolled Environments- UNET" and one is for tactical operations.

The jail belt is no problem: Cuffs, radio, pager, Cell, gloves, hobble, CPR mask, flashlight, OC.

The UNET belt is the problem. I'm qualified with and either should or am required to carry: Sidearm, two extra magazines, taser, asp, radio, pager, cell, handcuffs, hobble, seat-belt knife, gloves, CPR mask, flashlight (I have one on my ASP, but should carry a tactical light in another pouch that attaches to my sidearm) and OC.

I don't like putting hard things over my kidneys or spine. In addition, with a level III holster, nothing can be positioned directly behind the handgun or you won't be able to draw it. There is not enough room on my belt to carry all the stuff I am required to carry. I suffer from Insufficient Tactical Girth.

The Tactical Belt is another thing- all the above plus another handgun mag, a rifle mag pouch, a protective mask and a number of assorted toys... but it's attached to a vest and the handgun sits in a drop holster with the tac-light attached so it's really less of a problem.

But sadly, I'm not fat enough to be a well-equipped officer. ITG.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


It's something when the body turns on itself, when rogue cells decide to multiply without restraint, endangering or killing the host... the person. Cancer has touched many lives- mine only in small ways (or large). My grandfather died of bone cancer. Extremely painful, but I didn't really watch or understand. Grampa Pat had been a cool old guy that I saw once a year or so. He taught me to bowl. He'd killed a cougar with a knife (his story, of course, the truth according to local papers was that he'd killed a very large, dangerous, marauding cougar... but with a rifle). He'd taught me to hate the British with a naive Irish nationalism from the cradle and he'd actually run log drives down rivers of the Northwest...but in his stories it was as part of Paul Bunyan's camp.

My mother is a cancer survivor. Lymph cancer that through an insane fluke closed off the duct before it could spread. Other than some very scary talks , it didn't affect my life much. Mom was sick and she got better. Had it gone the other way, it would have been devastating.

Want to hear a secret thought? When I learned that my brother had died crashing his Air Force trainer, I was elated... because I knew from my sister's face that something terrrible had happened and I knew that mom was driving over the mountains that night and I was sure that she had died in a wreck.... when Kristi told me that Rick was dead my very, very, first reaction was a rush of joy and relief that it wasn't Mom. Losing Mom would have crushed me- not because of some deep mother-son bond but because in a crazy and in some ways very ugly time, she was the one friend I trusted, the one I could talk to.

Frenchy is dying. There's no good word in English for "Mom's boyfriend", especially when mom is in her 70's. Frenchy is the closest thing my children have ever had to a grandfather. He is/was a tough, strong, smart, hard-working, opinionated, foul-mouthed cajun. His own personal life and family were disasters (how horrible would it be to be in your eighties and distrust and despise your own children? How much responsibility would you have in creating that situation?) But he and mom got along well- dancing or bickering.

I like him. Brutal. in-your-face honesty and a heart. I'll miss him.

About a month ago, some tests showed some spots on his liver. Possibly cancerous. They did the biopsy... This man is a mass of old injuries and surgeries. I can't keep track of the number of bypasses that he's had or the number of times that the doctors gravely said, "It's not likely he'll pull through." Within a few weeks I'd be at his place or my mom's topping trees or digging rock, and he'd be working right along side.

I saw him about two weeks ago and he was in a lot of pain, he looked shriveled and shrunken.

I saw him this morning and he looked like a mummy: shrunken yellow skin with sores stretched tight over a framework of tiny bones. I talked to him, to tell him that he meant a lot to me, that the family and I love him and will miss him terribly. That he was a good man and I was proud to know him... His eyes were open, but not a flicker.

Until... I was a 91B combat medic and worked for a time as a CNA. My mom knows this and she asked for help with changing him. The only flicker in his eyes the entire visit was shame- that we would see him so weak; that he couldn't attend to his own functions himself. I'm so sorry for that... In the very extreme, at the edge of death, Frenchy was surrounded by people who loved him enough to wipe his ass. He saw the shame that he couldn't do it and not the love.