On Wanting to Be a Hero

Just back from a beautiful seven-mile run recovering from two shit fits I had this morning. It worked, and now I have to work to remember what I thought about on the road because it’s all really relevant to this article.

The first tantrum I had was because I had spent a long time transcribing some morning notes into what I thought would be the substance of this article, and it was good earthy shit, and all of a sudden out of nowhere, as if mugged from behind on a dark night in an alley, the phone went dark. I lost everything into the gaping hungry maw of The Ether. You know how the Eskimos supposedly have multiple names for snow? I have several for my mobile. Sometimes it is “This amazing genie that is a testimony to human ingenuity.” Today it was “This miserable fucking piece of shit.” Man, was I pissed.


Karen says I have a particular way of saying “fuck” when I’ve spilled something. I have a particular intonation that she knows means I spilled wine or coffee or something in the microwave. She heard me saying fuck quite a few times today, and I knew that she knew I hadn’t spilled anything because usually she’s laughing when she hears me do that. So I was pissing and moaning about the wasted time.

Then I just stopped short and sucked it up, and we went for a walk in the park by the river with the two dogs we’re taking care of for my sister-in-law while she’s in Arizona with her husband helping their daughter (our niece), who’s a newly-minted PhD, move into her apartment where she’s going to be a professor at the University of Arizona. Each of these dogs doesn’t weigh much more than a loaf of bread. The walk seemed to help dispel some of my dark mood over losing everything I wrote.

Then we went back to the park by the river, the beautiful Merrimack River, as we often do, supplied with tools for picking up trash and recycling, of which there’s a great deal because it serves a lot of people. Today over there I had my second shit fit crying out “cocksuckers” and “son of a bitch” and “fucking assholes” about the people who would leave their shit just lying around, like nips of whiskey and empty bottles of Heineken (other days different beers are in vogue) and dirty baby diapers and wrappers from McDonald’s and fishing line and empty nightcrawler containers despoiling the pristine background of this unbelievably beautiful river which is a treasure next door. Usually I am more tolerant, but I pissed and moaned about that for a while, then I let go of that too.

Then I went for my run and that shifted me quite a bit. It’s just the right temp for running, with what I take to be a breeze running out of the northwest that carries off the sweat nicely. It’s a little hard to tell the wind direction on land because the green leaves bounce forward and backwards and all around, and it’s hard to tell which is from the wind and which from the rebound. You can tell a lot easier with the sails out on the water, especially the ones at anchor, because you know they’re not tacking and the sails seem to be filling from the northwest.

I also noticed that little red rouge on a few of the trees and ground shrubs as I was running, indicating autumn in New England isn’t far away. I wondered if there is a kinder word to use than infection because that sure is what it seems like. Infection isn’t really what’s happening, but it begins like one. It starts with a little red splotch and then it spreads and spreads, and it is like an infection. That sounds so negative, but there it is, until I find a better word.

You know how Fall starts with a whisper, like Tracy Chapman says, “talking about a revolution, it sounds like a whisper.” It starts with one leaf, then two, then a few more. It’s kind of like when you’re with your woman in bed and you hear that first deep breath, that first whisper that tells you she’s not far away from coming and you’ve done your job. Glorious, glorious whisper, that deep breath. That’s what early autumn in New England is like – that moment right before she comes.

Anyway, in another part of my writing life I publish a blog twice a week called Notes from the GratiDude. It’s all about gratitude and the subtitle is, or should be, “An Inquiry Into a Gratitude-Inspired Life.” It’s an inquiry because I’m not sure if I have any answers, but I sure have a lot of questions, and I’m on a path and I like to imagine that readers are just looking over my shoulder as I reflect about being on that path. Sometimes, just like the Dude in The Big Lebowski, I lose my shit, whether I am the GratiDude or not. The cool thing about the Dude in The Big Lebowski is that he can lose his shit and he’s OK about it then and he’s OK about it the next day, too, when he’s got his shit back together, when “the Dude abides.” That’s why The Big Lebowski is often listed as one of the great Buddhist movies ever made.

So I lost my shit a couple times today and then I just let go of it, because what else could I do? I’m OK about it now, and I realized part of the reason it’s OK is because I think another article wanted to be written other than the one I was working on, as great as I thought it was. Maybe I’ll get to that one later.

But this one seems a little closer to the bone, a little more like working along a nerve, which is what it’s like to be a man, anyway. I think the writing I do for the Legacy Magazine might have the subtitle “An Inquiry Into the Soul of the American Man,” because, like with gratitude, I don’t have any real answers about this either. I know what it’s like to be me. I know that a lot of being me is a lot like being you. It’s that shock of being on a men’s team when you realize you’re not the only one who’s experienced whatever it is you think you’ve experienced all by yourself. As we say on our team, you’re not terminally unique. It’s a shock, a wonderful shock to know that, and one of the great gifts of being on a men’s team.

Anyway, anyone can look over my shoulder as I inquire into the soul of the American man and I welcome you to do so. The article that needed to be written today was more about my dad. I realized that when I was out on my run.

He died when I was five, dead of lung cancer, a non-smoker, and I don’t remember much about him. Most of what I know is what was told to me.

What came to mind today was that just before he died he said to my mom “I don’t know what to do to be a hero to you.” I suppose he was nervous and scared that he hadn’t provided well enough for her and the two boys, my younger brother and me, after his death. I can only imagine, being a man myself, how inadequate and feckless he might have felt at the young age of 29. At the utterance of it my mom was aghast. She often said so later, retelling the story. He was already a hero to her.

I feel the angst and the pain and the worry in my dad’s voice all these years later, almost 60 years later. My wife Karen treats me like a hero in every possible way. She even has a T-shirt that says “My husband is my hero,” that makes people stop and take notice, and not just because she’s got great boobs. It’s a kind of an out-there statement to have on your T-shirt and she really, really treats me like a hero. There are days when I can’t help being better than I am, rising to it like a trout to a fly.

There’s also a deep down sense in which I don’t feel like anybody’s hero and that’s what I connected with today. I’m having shoulder replacement surgery in December, which is just over just a 110 days away now, and I told my men’s team the other night that I’m kind of like walking on a knife edge (that’s also our team’s name – Knife Edge). I could fall off on either side just like off the Knife Edge up on Mount Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park.

It had been an emotional week. We had spent the weekend volunteering at the Pan-Mass Challenge before that, and on the way back from Cape Cod my first grandchild was born, a little girl named Alicia over in Stockholm, (we’re going to go visit her in mid-September), and that was deeply emotional. We were also still within the penumbra of the Pan-Mass Challenge and all the cancer survival stories and the fears and the triumphs of dealing with cancer.

I think this is why my dad’s story about being a hero came back to me today on my run. I’m crying out “I want to be a hero to you” and I’m not sure how to do that.

I also had submitted some work to my writer’s group, which was a first-time experience for me, and I was looking forward to it but nervous at the same time. I also had an upcoming doctor’s appointment to finally get a date for the surgery, and I was in a great deal of pain and really needed a cortisone shot.

Inside of all that what I told my team was that I have come face-to-face with how I started to tell a story about myself way back in my boyhood, claiming that my greatest passions and interests had no commercial value. I think this is why my dad’s story about being a hero came back to me today on my run. I’m crying out “I want to be a hero to you” and I’m not sure how to do that.

I’m actually kind of desperate to do it, to know myself a different way. I’ve been in these men’s circles for nearly 27 years now, and I feel like I should have more things figured out than I do. But that’s the state of it today. That’s what it’s like, looking over my shoulder as I peer into the soul of the American man and ask, “What’s next?”

What’s next for me is I’m going to go give blood at the Knights of Columbus in Methuen Massachusetts, and I’m going to be grateful that I can do it and that I’m doing it regularly because of being in MDI all these years.

I’m grateful that I could go on my seven-mile run just now and that my shoulder didn’t hurt beyond about a half mile. I’m going to be grateful that at 64 I can still run seven miles and feel really good afterwards. I’m going to be grateful that I have a river like this to run beside and that I have a wife who prepares tick spray that I can put on so when I happen to run through some long grass I don’t have to worry about getting Lyme disease.

I’m going to be grateful that, for whatever reason, I had a technology fuckup this morning, which made me write something different than I thought needed to be written about the soul of this American man.

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