These Were Supposed To Be Some Brief Thoughts On Socialism But I Clearly Need An Editor

First of all, I don’t want anybody to feel personally attacked over what I’m about to write about. This isn’t pointed towards any one person, nor even a couple or a few, but rather should serve as a blanket to all. These are just my thoughts on the discussion some people are trying to create on my social media, and rather respond to every one individually or call out their names for fear of either embarrassing them or myself, I’m just putting it all down here instead. Also, I felt that since this new meme seems to be so prevalent, it made more sense to put it all down at once rather than as a reply to so many people’s posts as there were quite a few and having a bunch of running debates on Facebook is not how I want to spend my time.

Over the last few days, I guess since the Conservatives started falling behind the NDP in the polls in the Ontario Provincial election, I’ve been seeing a lot of hyped up rhetoric espousing the evils of Socialism, some even going so far as to say that the ideals of Socialism threaten the very fabric of our civilization. These memes haven’t just been coming from one or two people or just the usual right-wing right-fighters who like to share some of the more inflammatory or trolling things, but they’re also coming from people who are either generally usually quiet on social media or at least don’t post things of a political nature on a regular basis, so it really got me thinking. I’ve been trying very hard over the last little while to stay out of political discussions and debates on social media because it really bothers me that people get so offended or hurt over conversations with otherwise good friends or loved ones to the point where they stop talking, but this anti-Socialism thing seems to be starting to take root, and I’m really trying to find a way to say this non-confrontationally, but those of you who are saying and sharing these things either really don’t mind being blatant hypocrites, or maybe you’re just not thinking about what you’re saying before you say it? I don’t know because I’m honestly puzzled and can’t figure it out. I mean, you do understand that without Socialism, we can’t have a functioning society, right? You have to know that, right?

For the sake of knowing that I said it at least once, Socialism in its simplest explanation, means that we pay taxes to the government, and the government provides us with the things we need to make sure we can live and thrive. Pretty much every government and political system works this way to one extent or another – liberal, conservative, capitalist democracy, communist, even some of the more benevolent dictatorships. That’s the framework of society and of the civilization that it’s apparently somehow threatening. Socialism. Society. Kind of go hand-in-hand when you say them out loud together, no? Just like ‘Michelle, my belle,’ these are words that go together well.

Now, just because I’m using this as a bit of a finger-stretching exercise, I’m just going to riff off and list some of the things we all get to enjoy because of socialism, like paved roads bordered by electric lights and traffic signs and signals to keep us from crashing, clean water in my tap and shower so I won’t smell as much as I constantly fear that I do, police and firefighters and emergency workers for those times when I hopefully never need them, postal delivery so that my lazy ass doesn’t have to go to some sort of far-away depot to pick up my packages while getting all sweaty and smelly again using those good old paved roads I mentioned a second ago, public parks so that I can go read a book beneath a tree in a bounteous and beautiful garden or go adventuring and camping up north if the urge ever comes upon me, and oh yeah, a nice healthy military to keep me safe from those bigger threats that give me nightmares and keep me from sleeping well. And, of course I can’t forget, here in Canada, fully funded healthcare for when I get a scratch or worse.  Not bad. Despite some of my personal qualms, I’ve got to say that when my wife got sick a few years ago and then suffered some pretty severe complications, I was sure pretty happy that her seven weeks full of surgeries and seemingly endless tests and procedures cost me a great big ball of nothing, y’know? We’d already paid for it. Thanks taxes!

But the part that really got me thinking about those anti-Socialism memes I was seeing, and I must stress that there were well over a dozen of them which is probably why I started noticing them, was that every single person who posted them have benefited from the social aspects of our society far more than I ever have or will, and that’s what really made me question if they actually considered what it was that they were saying. I don’t have kids. Every single one of the people who posted one of those memes that I saw has at least one child. All of them. That means benefits I’m paying into that they’re receiving include: the zero dollars it cost to give birth to their babies, those lovely baby-bonus government checks they all receive for each of their kids (unless, of course, you donate those to children’s charities because you don’t want the government’s assistance or you believe in giving back or something, in which case, good for you!), their child’s entire healthcare through to adulthood, and for some reason two different school boards so that their kids can get the best education public money can buy.

That’s right – For me, Socialism kind of sucks because I’m paying into so many of the more expensive services that I am never going to be using, and yet, for some ridiculous reason, here I am defending it. Crazy, right? Except for that it isn’t crazy. It’s part of living in a safe and healthy society, so I’m okay with that. I’d rather your kids be in school learning how to be productive people than on the streets all day doing whatever it is that a city full of uneducated children with too much time on their hands would do. Just the same way I’m okay with my tax dollars going to help feed and shelter the less fortunate because, to put it bluntly, if someone is put into the position where they have to steal or commit a criminal act to eat or feed their family, then they become an even bigger burden on society as we’ll need more police, a more robust court system (again, funded by public money), and of course the cost of keeping someone in prison where they’ll end up getting that proverbial loaf of bread anyhow, only now it has to go through many more hands and therefore costs a lot more public money to provide it.

The other thing I’ve been seeing on some of these shares is the fear that Socialism leads to government corruption. Well, I don’t really know how to respond to that except I guess to ask you to show me a political system that doesn’t come with that threat, because as I see it, as long as you have people in power there will always be the potential for them to take advantage of their positions. We just have to pick the candidate we like the best and speaks most to our values and hope that we get it right, and if not then we boot them to the curb and get the next best person into the chair and hope that they’re not as bad. We do have the power to do that, and that’s a good reminder to the corrupt that their power is only as fleeting as our collective electoral whims – Just look at the Ontario Liberal Party’s polling numbers for an example of that. Sorry to her supporters, but it doesn’t look like Kathleen’s winning anything.

Seriously though, I hope I didn’t offend anybody too much, but I just felt it needed to be clarified. Also, I’m not writing this to tell anybody where or how to vote. I’m just trying to say that when you make blanket statements like ‘Socialism Is Evil’, you’re kind of telling me that you either don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t care to know what you’re talking about, or don’t mind if you look kind of foolish in some sort of effort to take a stance against what you perceive to be your opposition, and I know each of you and you’re all better than that. I mean that wholeheartedly. If you’re against the NDP in this election then say you’re against the NDP, but don’t say you’re against Socialism because if you live and enjoy your life in this (or any) society, you’re clearly not. No matter who gets your vote, you are voting for a Socialist system. Understand that. Complain about specific aspects of that system if you want, but to call Socialism evil and to call for its abolishment is clearly against your best interests, so maybe hone your arguments a little better, I guess? I know we’re living in a time of misinformation, fake news, and ‘alternate facts’ or whatever, but come on.

Unless you’re one of those crazy left-wing Antifa Anarchists who want no form of government at all, of course. Those guys and the Fascist Dictators at the other end of the spectrum are really the only ones who are against Socialism.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Peace and love. And in this case, Socialism.


Amend

AMEND (verb) –

  1. To make minor changes to (a text, a piece of legislation, etc.) in order to make it fairer or more accurate, or to reflect changing circumstances.
  2. Put right.

Stop telling me that the Second Amendment is sacred, as though written in stone like words on high given with divine providence.  Saying that – believing that! – shows that you either don’t care, don’t want to care, have no ability to critically think, or have just simply given up in defeat.  It can be changed and it must be changed, and that very needed change is implicit in the word itself.  Amend – To change; to put right.  I mean, come on!  Do I really have to spell it out here?  The Second Amendment itself is a change from the original, apparently not so Almighty Constitution, so if you can’t recognize that it’s time to amend again and pass laws that will stop this insanity from recurring, then shame on you and the world is worse from your willful blindness to see what’s right in front of your eyes.  With the current laws, it was illegal for this kid to buy a handgun, but a high-powered assault rifle is no problem?  Are you fucking kidding me?  It’s time to amend the amendment.  It’s well beyond time to make things right.

This is not directed at any one person in particular, but rather in response to far too many comments I’m seeing all over the internet today. I know I have gun enthusiasts and responsible owners amongst my friends, and I’m sorry, but your hobby kills and needs to be taken more seriously by many of your peers.  I have friends and loved ones whose kids go to that school.  I was as terrified yesterday watching the news as I was seeing the plane smash into the second tower on 9/11.  Maybe more, actually, because I had real faces and names of people I know and love to add palpably to my fear.  I still can’t come anywhere near imagining the horror my friends were going through yesterday waiting to hear if their children – THEIR CHILDREN – were going to come home from school alive.  My anxiety was as high as it has ever been, so to even try to imagine theirs?  Impossible.  None of my friends lost their children yesterday.  Some of their friends were not so lucky, and that spilled blood is on many hands.

And please don’t anyone come back at me with the bullshit about the need for an armed militia in case the government goes off the rails. Your government has weaponized drones, heavily armoured tanks, a goddamned air-force, chemical weapons out the wazoo, and the ever-loving atom bomb. Your assault rifle is a stick and a stone in comparison and you know it. And if your argument to that is that you need to be prepared to stand against your government and therefore the laws should be even looser, to put it bluntly, you’re an idiot. A dangerous idiot.  To be on even-ground with the government you’d basically need to allow anyone to own a nuclear bomb.  Anyone.  The dumbest and craziest kid you knew in school.  Your argument is foolish and moot and you know it, and the current gun laws in the United States as they stand today are flat-out insane, and you know that too.

I end this as I often do with the urging to call your representatives, local, state, and federal, and make some noise.  And if turning a whisper into a shout doesn’t work then buy a bloody megaphone.  They can’t ignore you if you don’t let them – it’s their job.  The gun lobby may have more money, but the people have more votes and the smart politicians know which one is really worth more.  Your voices will be heard if enough of us are all wailing the same thing.  Push them to make the change.

Amend.  Put it right.


Remember to Love

There seems to be so much anger in the world right now. So much frustration. So many feeling the need to lash out because so many of the things we believe to be righteous and just are being threatened and pissed upon by so many others. We’re all afraid. The very cornerstones of our society, of how we function as civilized human beings, seem to be under a relentless assault and it feels like the other-side has us all held in the ever-tightening grip of a vise, crushing, smothering, choking, until there’s nothing left to do but try to yell loud enough to be heard over the pain.
And, why? Why are we all always fighting? What do we want?

We want to make the world a better place. We want to make sure our loved ones can walk the streets safely. We want our families to grow and thrive in a world without fear, and we want the children of tomorrow to inherit a planet where they can raise children of their own to hold and endeavour toward the same or hopefully even higher ideals. We want our governments to protect our rights and allow us a chance to achieve our dreams and pursue our picture of happiness. Most simply put, we all want to live as good and nice a life as possible.

I think all of that is fair to say for around 99% of us, no matter which side of any spectrum you may adhere to. We all want a better world, and we’re all fighting for a better world. The only problem is that we don’t all agree on what that better world should look like.

Gun control, religious persecution, gender inequality, racism, global climate change, political ideology, Betty or Veronica. These are all arguments I’ve either participated in or at least kept a keen eye on over the last few days (weeks, months), and over every one of those topics, things quickly devolved away from respectable debate to personal attacks and name-calling. It’s sickening. I guess we’re at a point in our culture where we’d rather insult and attack rather than give credence to the idea that there might actually be a point to what the other person is saying, even when we disagree. Alternative facts and fake news aside, The “Us vs. Them” dichotomy has become so incessant in Western Society that I think we’re all forgetting that before there was ever a “You Against Me”, there was an “Us”.

Community. Human Kindness. Respect. Brotherly and Sisterly Love. We’re all fighting for the same things, remember? We all have the same goal. We may have different opinions on what the perfect world looks like, but how will we ever learn to work together to get there if we neglect to remember the fact that we all have similar visions of the results? We need to keep in mind that there are many more strong and fundamental things that hold us together than there are those attempting to drive us apart, it’s just that those negatives always seem to have a louder voice as we tend to take the good that comes easily for granted.

I’m not saying anybody should stop arguing, and I’m not saying debate should be quelled, and I’m not saying that people shouldn’t stand up for what they believe, nor should they stop speaking out whenever they perceive injustice. I would never say any of those things. I am saying that while we’re doing all of these very important things, we need to remember to love. We need to remember to respect. We need to remember that we’re all a lot more the same than we are different.

I’ve had a few pretty heated conversations over the last few weeks. Specifically a few that really stick out with a couple of my cousins on both sides of my family, and while we disagreed, at rather high volumes at some points, we always ended with a hug and saying “I love you”, because at the end of circular arguing we knew that out of all of the facts we had been spitting at each other, that was the only one that really mattered. Even on Facebook and over social media, the few times I allowed myself to take the bait and sink my teeth into one of these frustratingly endless exchanges of bickering right-fighting, I made sure to conclude each of the conversations with a note of respect and friendship because I recognized that feelings were starting to get hurt (mine included), and the last thing I ever want to do is to purposefully hurt someone I love, no matter how upset or angry I get. Love is supposed to be bigger than a difference of philosophies. I think we all need to keep that in mind.

Defend yourself, defend your opinions, defend your beliefs, but most importantly, defend your love. We all only need to agree on one thing in order to be able to start moving forward together towards learning how to agree about others. So please, as I try and fail not to be all maudlin and sentimental, please remember to love.


#letsrise – Quick Thoughts on the Toronto Blue Jays and The Hashtag From Hell

I didn’t want to say anything when I first thought this because, like most irrational sports fans and armchair athletes, I am incredibly superstitious and didn’t want to do anything that might jinx my team.  Now that the Jays are solidly in the basement with our Disabled List bearing almost as many impressive names as the current active roster, however, I think it’s safe to assume that we’re well past the jinxing stage and rapidly approaching panic mode. We sit with four wins to thirteen losses for this utterly dismal start to the season. Without Googling, I’m pretty sure it’s not the worst start to a season in the entirety of baseball history, but to steal a sentiment from Pete Campbell on Mad Men when considering how the team I love is doing, I have to think, “Not good, Bob!”

There are a lot of factors at play to blame here, I’m sure. Donaldson started the season at less than 100% and because of that his injury exacerbated itself and now he’s forced to watch from the bench, joined by Tulo, Happ, Sanchez, and I don’t want to take the time to list Pompey and the rest sitting there with them because it’s getting depressing. The team itself is actually playing pretty well for the most part, if not with a little less bluster than expected, and Pillar is a freakin’ superstar so far, but things just aren’t coming together. For me, as what I would consider to be something more than a casual fan but not a statistic spouting fanatic by any means, I don’t see this as a problem with the management or the coaching, and I don’t even blame Jose’s silent bat because I know it’s just a matter of time before that switches back on again (we’ve seen him slump before and everything has turned out fine, so have a little faith, people!).

No, for me, being the kind of fan who runs more on unbridled unreasoned passion and the previously mentioned superstition, I blame that stupid awful and insipid hashtag Jays marketing came up with to represent our season this year:

#letsrise

I had a problem with it from the first second I saw it, for so many reasons that, as I said, I was afraid to talk about for fear of the jinx, but at this point as we’re sweeping the cellar with seemingly few prospects of dropping our brooms and climbing out for at least the next few weeks, so… Yeah.

First of all, the English nerd in me is offended by the lack of an apostrophe. Not to mention that self-same lack of proper punctuation also changes the meaning of the word. They’re trying to say ‘Let us rise’, as in ‘let us rise to the occasion and vanquish our foes’, but instead what they’re saying is ‘lets rise’ as in ‘rent is going up’, so I guess they were really referring to the cost of seats this year?

Second of all, assuming we’re all going to agree to let the grammatical error slip by us and act like it actually does mean ‘let us rise’. It’s still a horribly negative sentiment to start a season with. ‘Let us rise’ presumes we need to lift ourselves up from something. The statement itself, ‘let us rise’, assumes that the top is not where we are or belong. How the hell is that supposed to be inspirational? It’s pretty much saying, “We’re not the best, but hopefully, maybe one day we can be?” I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make me want to jump up and scream GO JAYS GO at the top of my lungs. It instead leaves me asking, “Go Jays Go?” I mean, if they can’t make it sound like they believe in themselves, how the hell am I supposed to? I’m superstitious, remember?

So yeah, the experts and people who actually know what they’re talking about can blame injuries, slow bats, Gibby, the back-office, or whatever. And they’re probably, like, a million times more right than I am about what’s going on that has led to this painfully slow start.  But, me?  I blame the marketing team and the person who approved #letsrise in the first place.  That hashtag is a curse, and regardless of balls, strikes, swings, hits, homers, injuries or errors, it all comes down to surrounding ourselves with a negative sentiment. Words have meaning, and words have power. That’s why we use them. Words convey what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling, and hashtags are meant to turn that feeling viral, which I guess worked because look where we are.

The bottom.

With no choice left but to rise.


Some Quick Thoughts on International Women’s Day, The Big Bang Theory (the show, not the concept), & Pay Equity

As a man who has lived his entire life surrounded by strong and independent women who own who they are and have often shown their superiority, much less their equality, I love the fact that the world celebrates International Women’s Day every year, and I hate the fact that we have to.  I mean, the Equal Rights Amendment has been around since we were kids, right?  Almost all of my best teachers from nursery through university were women.  Most of the best bosses and managers I’ve ever had ever since I started working at age 14 have been women.  A great deal of my favourite characters and role-models from television, movies, and books, have been women.  Authors and actors, directors and doctors, I have never once thought that their work could possibly be less good just because they don’t have a penis because a penis has nothing to do with doing good work.  Women in the workplace and women in business leadership roles have been normal to me for the entirety of my existence, and I have never once in my personal career met with the occasion that I was forced to question someone’s capabilities based on their gender – Stupid decisions are gender neutral.

Yet, here we are, in 2017, still in the position where females are not paid in parity with their male counter-parts, and are for some reason still considered as ‘less than’ in the workplace and society – “Of course they’re capable of taking on executive roles in our organizations, but compensate them similarly?  Surely, you jest!”  Because why would providing equal pay for equal work be a thing?  It seriously drives me a little bonkers because there is so little sense in the way that it works right now, and there is absolutely no justification for that mentality.

Which brings me to a news story from last week that at first I celebrated, but then found myself really bothered by as the day progressed.  I don’t know if you watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS, but surely you’ve heard about it at this point as it has been on for about a decade and is one of the most successful shows in the history of television, and despite what you or the critics may think about it, it is consistently one of the most viewed shows on the small screen and therefore brings in bucket-loads of advertising dollars for the network and the producers.  Last week, there was a feel-good news story about how the four male leads of the show took pay-cuts so that their lead female co-stars could get raises up to an equal salary, which makes perfect sense since the girls on that show are just as funny (or not, depending on your taste) and important to the story as any of the guys, and definitely more-so in the case of Mayim Bialik’s “Amy” who at this point is the main driving force for pretty much all of Jim Parson’s “Sheldon’s” character development.

Nice story, right?  Co-workers looking out for each other, sticking it to The Man so that everybody can be treated equally?  But then I thought about it.  Not to take anything away from what the guys of The Big Bang Theory did because it was a marvelous gesture to give up some of their admittedly ridiculous salaries so that their female friends could have equal pay, but you know what?  No.  The fact that they felt like they had to is a real and serious problem, and instead of celebrating the kind gesture those men made, we should be raging about the fact that they were put into a position where they felt like they had to make it.  I mean, seriously – Watch the show and tell me that there’s any reason why the seven lead characters should have been making different salaries in the first place, regardless of their genders?  They’re all lead characters – it’s an ensemble show – so should they all be paid as leads?  It’s 2017 – Why the hell is this still a thing?

For the people who know me or have read my blog before, you were probably expecting a couple of bad and/or inappropriate jokes to be thrown in here, but you know what?  I don’t find this funny at all and this isn’t a laughing matter to me.  The struggle for equal rights for women has been around since before I was born, so seriously, what the fuck, society?  I love International Women’s Day and everything it stands for, but I really hope that by the time my days on this planet are over that it is no longer something we need to note or celebrate because we’ll be too equal to care.  That’s my wish, and if there is one thing I know, wishes can come true.  Let’s all work a little harder for this one, though, because the reality of the situation as it stands just doesn’t make any sense and is frankly unacceptable.  We all do the same work in the same ways and with the same outcomes, so why the hell aren’t we paid that way?


How I Think Donald Trump is Going to Make America Great Again (not a satire)

For those who know me, that’s probably a pretty shocking title to see coming out of my pen (or, keyboard, as the case may be). For those who don’t know me and may have found this blog by accident, first let me say hello!  Hi!  My name is Jamie and I am not a fan of Donald Trump.  Like, at all.  I believe that he is a bombastic, bigoted, billionaire boy’s club blowhard and a bully who is only interested in his own self-edification and aggrandizement.  If you’re wondering why I believe these things, it’s because I have eyes.  And ears.  If you’re a supporter of his, that’s fine, and I hope and pray that your man proves me wrong, but in the twenty-five or so years that I’ve been aware of his existence, dating back to when he was nothing more than tabloid fodder set up by his PR team to try to make a celebrity name for himself around his highly publicized divorce from Ivana, he has done nothing to dispel me of the notion that he will.  If anything the last few years have only made him worse, turning himself from a B-rated circus sideshow freak into an A-rated circus sideshow freak in the Oval Office.  If you’re okay with celebrating someone who brags about grabbing your wives or daughters by the genitals, or stereotyping Mexicans as criminals and rapists, or any of the other asinine and insane things he’s said over the last few years that I don’t have time to get into because I’m just quickly spitting this out on a short break from work, but if you’re okay with those things, I suppose that’s between you and whatever compass of morality and common decency you adhere to, but I know that it’s not the same as mine.  Doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends, but we should probably avoid discussing politics, and you’ll understand if I keep my mother, sister, wife, and nieces away from you.  And don’t give me that line about locker-room talk.  I’ve been in plenty of locker-rooms, and while some crude things were thrown around, I never witnessed anything on that level of pure creepiness and narcissistic self-assurance.

So, if I am so diametrically opposed to Donald Trump and just about every single thing he stands for, why the hell am I writing a blog about how I think he’s going to make America great again? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?  Except for that it does.  You see, I’ve spent the last couple of months since the election experiencing a myriad of emotions.  First, just feeling defeated that the election went in the opposite direction of my personal values – I believe in openness and inclusion, I believe in freedom from persecution, and I believe that all are equal before the law, but instead the election, and the reaction to Trump’s ascension, went a little backwards from those values.  It was a sad time, and then it was an angry time, and there may have even been some feelings of metaphysical malaise mixed in there as well.  And neither the news reports about his cabinet picks, nor his reactions to celebrities and comedians making commentary on his actions and opinions only made those feelings worse.  I don’t have kids so I may be off the mark, but he comes across as a petulant toddler throwing a tantrum because he was told that he had to wait until after dinner to have his dessert, but dammit, Donnie wants his ice cream now!  Waa!  Donald Trump is reactionary and dangerous, and as of tomorrow he will be one of the most powerful people on the planet.  Terrifying.

Okay, yeah, I think I’ve established that I really don’t like the guy, so why on Earth am I sitting here on the day before his inauguration finding myself filled with a great amount of optimism? Seems kind of counter to everything I just wrote down, doesn’t it?  But it isn’t.  Because, you see, I have not been alone in these feelings, not by a long-shot!  People are angry, they are scared, they are fed up, or to put it in acceptably geeky pop-culture terms, they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.  In the last two months I have seen people organize, I have seen people get engaged and involved, I have seen people from opposing walks of life come together in protest and I have seen that with my own eyes.  Today on the news, I see people in countries all over the world gathering together in solidarity for women’s rights, getting ready to march against this crude excuse for a man, this snake-oil salesman who somehow scammed his way into the highest office in America.  I see anger and despair being transformed into a fighting spirit, I see apathy melting away and being reborn as passion, and I am filled with the joyful light of hope.

Do I think the next four years are going to be easy? Nope.  Not even a little.  And I expect to be angry a lot, I expect that I’ll be screaming at my television on a fairly regular basis during the six o’clock news, and I expect that things are going to get worse before they get better.  But, my American friends, you’ve got this.  Stay involved, express your outrage when appropriate, engage your local and state representatives and don’t stop engaging with them, stay in communication with each other, and continue to stand up every time they try to shove you back down.  They may be the Right Wing, but that has never meant that they’re right, and you’ve shown me over the last few months that you’re going to do whatever you can in your power to prove them wrong, and that’s amazing!  I honestly never would have expected it after surviving through the Bush II years.  But this guy, your new President, and let’s get this straight, whether you think he’s legitimate or not, he IS going to be sitting in the chair of the President of the United States as of tomorrow, is so divisive that people have just had enough and are finally making their voices heard in tones both loud and proud, and that is how Donald Trump is going to make America great again.  Good job, Donnie!  Go get ‘im, America!


Wisenheimers – A Short Story

I decided I wanted to try to write a sad story. This is what came out.

WISENHEIMERS

The forlorn looking little boy stood near the edge of the crowded room with tears in his eyes and the old man couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen another soul who seemed so alone.

The little boy stood straight with his arms held tightly to his sides, his small hands clenched into fists, his tousled hair tossed and askew, and his wide eyes set in a thousand-yard stare, clearly taking no notice or care of the teeming masses of moving bodies thronging through the fog around him.  He was wearing his favourite pajamas, the soft fluffy blue ones patterned with a thousand tiny dancing snowmen and that had the snuggly feet for extra winter warmth, but he appeared to be feeling no comfort at all.

The old man recognized the boy, and he knew that lost look ever more well than he wished to.  A meek but cordial smile appeared on his face as he approached the little boy.

“Oh, dear me, hello little one,” the old man said in a kind voice that gave off the sense not of your wise old grandfather, but rather your grandfather’s cooler brother who is willing to share the tricks and family secrets  that your grandfather would never reveal. “I know and remember you well, kiddo, and I recollect you as being much happier than this, so tell me, what’s the matter? Why are you crying?”

The little boy sniffled deeply, his tears spilling over and down his cheeks as he came back to himself from wherever his wandering thoughts had stranded him. “I lost my friend,” he said softly, and dissolved into sobs as he ran to the old man and embraced him around the hips, the little boy’s pudgy face pushing warmly into his soft belly, causing the old man to absently wonder if he’d ever been that short, that small, that young, and concluded that even though it seemed impossible, he somehow must have been.  It may be impossible to remember it, but we all were babies once upon a time.

After a moment or so of comforting the child through his tears, the old man put his hands gently around the boy’s arms and moved him back so that there was enough space between them within which to make eye contact as they spoke. There were three roundish stains on the old man’s white shirt, one for each eye and one for the nose, where the boy’s tears had soaked through to his skin, and the old man couldn’t help but feel his heart break for the pain he knew the boy was suffering through.

“What do you mean, you lost your friend?  Do you need help finding her?” The old man asked, hopefully.

The tears sprung up again in the little boy’s eyes. “No. We can’t find her no matter where we look.  Daddy said she’s gone and that I can’t see her anymore, but I really, really want to!” He finished this by thrusting himself deeply into the old man’s arms and falling once again into a fit of uncontrollable weeping.  The old man gave the boy a few soft pats on the back in a vain attempt to give comfort, but he knew he wasn’t helping. This was fresh grief, and as any old man could tell you, the only thing to settle fresh grief is time.

“Do you mean you’re not allowed to see her anymore?” the old man asked, “Or, do you mean…” His voice trailed off as though he knew all the right words to say, but he’d forgotten how to say them.

The blankness came back into the little boy’s gaze. “I don’t know. They don’t tell me. And when they do tell me, they don’t tell me the truth. And when they do tell me the truth, they don’t tell me all of the truth.”

The old man’s heart wept and all of his sympathies went out to the small, lost, and confused child before him. He knew what this was now. He knew where this was going. He looked tenderly at the boy and waited for him to continue, knowing that the first step to excising an internal hurt is to bring as much of it to the surface as possible, and the only way to do that is to talk.

“You’re talking about Patricia.” The words tumbled out of the old man’s mouth bluntly with numb emotion, but the little boy’s eyes looked up at him with a fresh clarity of understanding all the same, like a dog in a desert who realizes that drinking dirty water is better than drinking no water at all.

“They took her to the Big H building, the hospital,” the little boy replied, pronouncing the last word slowly and carefully, recognizing that he had the penchant to pronounce it ‘hopsital’ when he got too excited or spoke too quickly, the word being so new to his vocabulary and his young tongue still unpracticed in shaping its sounds. “Daddy said that she would only be there for a few days before we could play again, then he said that Patricia’s daddy said it would be a week, and then today he told me that she’s not going to come home at all and I don’t know what to do!”

The old man’s heart melted like a candle whose wick was a neutron bomb and this time it was he who pulled the boy in for an embrace, a vain attempt to give succor to a confused child who couldn’t even begin to comprehend the misery he was currently drowning in.

“I’m not going to tell you that I know how you feel because I know that won’t help, but know that I do know, and that what I’m about to tell you comes from a place beyond grief, from the experience of surviving the worst of the worst and learning how to smile again,” the old man spoke the words gently and quietly into the little boy’s ear and felt the trembling in the child’s shoulders and chest subside enough to let him know that the boy was listening.

“This is the worst you’re ever going to feel, and this is not the only time you’re going to feel it. I wish I could say that it was, but it’s not even close.  And it’s just as horrible each and every time. Sometimes it’s more devastating than others, sometimes it takes longer than others, sometimes it will strike you numb, and sometimes it will drive you insane, but the one true dependable constant in life is that you will lose people, not even always to death, and it will hurt every single time.”

The boy drew back and gave the old man a look that said that the old man was clearly a crazy person if he thought his words were coming anywhere close to doing anything to help make him feel better.

“I know, I know,” the old man said tut-tuttingly with a gentle smile, “and you’ll think I’m even crazier when I tell you that the hurt you’re feeling is a good thing because it shows that person left an impression in your heart, and that’s vitally important and imperative to what you’re going to need.”

“What I’m going to need?” the little boy asked in a tone loaded to the brim with curious trepidation.

“Yes,” the old man said warmly, then leaned in conspiratorially and quietly added, “what you’re going to need, because, I’m going to tell you a very big secret.”

The boy moved in closer again and gave a small smile for the first time, saying, “I like secrets.”

“Of course you do,” the old man chuckled. “Everybody likes secrets. Until they don’t. Not all secrets are good to know, but this one is. This is a secret you’re going to like.”

The little boy looked up at him expectantly.

“You may have lost your friend Patricia,” the old man said, “but what if I told you that not all of her is truly gone?”

The little boy’s face gave a quick indication that he was puzzling this over, and just as quickly revealed that the results were not good. “But she is gone. Daddy said she’s never coming back. That she can’t come back! Believe me! I tried to convince him otherwise, to let her come over and play, but he said that he couldn’t, and he explained it to me, that gone is gone and dea…,” his small voice cut off, unable to finish that ever so short but ultimately ever so ugly final word of his sentence.

“Yes, that’s all true, but just because her body’s gone doesn’t mean that she’s all gone.”

The little boy looked first confused, then frightened. He whispered, “Do – do you mean she’s a ghost?”

The old man’s cheeks reddened with amusement as he tried to stifle his laugh; he should have expected that question, but he hadn’t. “No! No, not at all. I don’t believe in ghosts. Not that sort of ghost, anyhow. Do you?”

“Sometimes,” the little boy admitted, “but Mommy said that’s okay because I’m just a kid and I’ve got lots of imagination.”

“Well, your mother’s right, and you know what else?  It’s good that you’ve got a big imagination because that just so happens to be the other thing you’re going to need.”

The boy looked up into the old man’s eyes with great expectation for the secret that was about to be revealed.

“You see,” the old man continued, “That hurt you feel in your chest when you think about Patricia, even though it doesn’t feel good, in its own very particular way, it is good. Because that pain is a spark, a tiny little light going off in your heart, and that twinge is not only the love you feel for Patricia, but also all the love you’ll miss from her now that she’s gone. Which sounds not so great when I say it out loud, I’ll admit, but there’s more!”

Thinking of the Patricia again caused the little boy’s eyes to threaten water again, but his curiosity remained. “More?” he asked.

“Why, yes! Of course there’s more. There’s always more. Which is a secret in itself, but not the one I’m going to tell you about now,” the old man said with amusement and almost lost his train of thought, but quickly managed to find the track again. “Now, that bad pain that I said was actually sort of good, that spark, it actually has a job. It does something. That spark belongs specifically to Patricia, and every time it flares it sends a message to your imagination, and from there they get together with the most important thing you’re going to need out of them all.”

“The most important thing of all,” The little boy said with a sense of awe and a hint of wonder. It could have been a question, but it wasn’t.

“Memory,” the old man said, giving the word all of the reverence and importance it deserved. “You see, as long as you keep that spark in your heart and allow it to drive your imagination, then you can use it to see and spend time with all the people you know, all the people you’ve ever known, and all of the people who will ever touch your heart. It’s really quite an amazing gift, when you think about it.”

The little boy had heard what the old man had said, and more, even thought that he understood it, and although his tears seemed to have gone back to wherever unspilled tears go when they’re no longer needed, the consternation in the little boy’s eyes still betrayed a longing that showed he hadn’t quite grabbed onto the concept as much as the old man had hoped.

“I know it’s hard to believe, especially coming from as young a perspective as you are,” the old man said, trying to reassure the sad child, “but, it’s true. You see, I know that this is strange, but right now we’re dreaming, and do you see all of these people around us? These are all of those people. Everyone we’ve ever met, from the pediatrician who delivered you into this world, to the new doctor I met just the other day.”  To which he then added in a slightly more sardonic tone than he intended, “Old men meet a lot of doctors.”

The little boy looked out into the crowd, noticing them for the first time as something more than a muddled mass of moving grown-ups all hurrying about their ways like grown-ups always do, and thought he might have recognized his grandfather among them.  He said, “So, if I can feel that spark in my heart to…”

“Ignite your imagination,” the old man helped.

“Ignite my imagination, then I can use my memory to see Patricia? Like, not actually see her, but sort of see her all the same, only just inside my imagination? Just inside my head?”

The old man smiled warmly at this success. “Precisely!” he said with a nod and a smile. “And what’s more, you can even talk to them if you want to, and sometimes, and this is the really great part, with the right mix of imagination and memory, in some ways, they can even talk back to you!”

The little boy backed away at this, frightened by the concept. “I don’t want my dead friends to talk to me!”

The old man recovered quickly. “I don’t mean that they actually speak to you, but sometimes, in certain situations, you kind of know what they would say, or how they’d react, and that can be both a sad and beautiful thing.”

The little boy pondered this for a moment, then said, “Sort of like if I was building a sand castle fortress for my army guys, Patricia would tell me that was stupid and that I should build a palace for her Barbie?”

The old man laughed with delight. “Sure, that’s one way. Or sometimes, for me, if I’m about to do something stupid, I can still hear Mama’s voice giving me a stern warning, but it’s more than that. Sometimes, often times, late at night, I’ll talk to my wife. I mean, I’ll have full conversations with her. I knew her so well that I know what she’d say to everything, like she was such an important person in my life, and we’d spent so much time together that she became an actual part of me. I don’t hear her voice out loud, but she speaks to me all the time. Just like sometimes you’re going to hear Patricia speak to you, and tell you that your sandcastles are stupid. Which they’re not, by the way. You can always buy a house for Barbie, but toy soldiers need a fortress to either defend or attack or else they simply have no reason to exist.”

“That’s exactly what I told Patricia!” the little boy agreed excitedly, to which the old man replied, “I know.”

They shared a companionable silence for either a moment or a month (it was hard to tell as dream-time has the propensity to behave oddly), and then the little boy once again spoke a sentence that should have come out as a question. “You really miss your wife, don’t you.”

“More than any other single thing in this world,” the old man agreed, but then looked into the crowd and pointed into the mist around them, and a beautiful lady with the loveliest smile in the universe became solid and clear despite the fog. “And look at that,” the old man said with a flourish and a grin, “there she is, just as gorgeous as she was on the day we met. That’s another great thing about the gift. When you remember someone you loved, you can remember them at their best. Like that woman there. She has all the love and experience of a lifetime together, but she looks like whatever way I remember or imagine her.” As he said that, the svelte young woman suddenly shifted into a handsome elderly lady, still wearing the loveliest smile in the universe. She blew them a tender kiss and receded back into the concealing smoke of lost memory.

The little boy reached out to hold the old man’s hand.  The old man, of course, grasped the boy’s small hand right back as they watched the faces from their life weave in and out of the moving tapestry before them.  Sensing that this dream would soon be ending, the old man began to speak, calling out the names and memories that passed before them.

“Look,” he said, “there’s brother Joe and sister Anne, oh, how we miss them so. And there’s Mrs. Wright from the Third Grade! And over there, do you see? There are Mama and Daddy!”

“I see them!” The little boy agreed excitedly, but his voice sounded faded, as though it was spoken from a great distance.

The old man persisted, desperate not to lose this moment. “And there’s Rufus, our German shepherd, and there’s Gina Marchese, the first girl I ever kissed, boy, is she ever a heart-spark!”

The old man could no longer feel the boy’s hand.  He was slipping away.

Still, the old man went on. “There’s Auntie Anna, she was always so tall, and you know how much we hate when she comes over because she always pinches our cheeks, and, hey! Look! There’s Patricia herself!”

“Patricia herself,” the old boy repeated in the same voice.

The old man was stunned.  Frightened.  He continued to look straight ahead, directly into the shrouded crowd. “And there’s cousin Albert Wise. Remember cousin Al Wise? He was always such a cut-up! Funniest guy we ever knew, right?”

Silence.

“Yeah,” the old man continued, his voice taking on a wispy quality to its cadence. “Cousin Al. He was hilarious. And he had those cousins from the other side of his family, remember? And they had an act. A real comedy act. Played the summer circuit. They were big in the Catskills, weren’t they? Remember?”

There was no boy next to the old man to respond. He was gone.

“Who was I talking to?” The old man asked himself. “What was I talking about?”

The dream was ending.

What dream?

“Cousin Al, wasn’t it? And his act with his other cousins. The twin kids from the other side of his family,” the old man tried to remind himself, but there weren’t too many straws around for him to grasp. “What did they call themselves again? Al and the Wise Guys? No.”

The wandering souls of his memory had now all receded back into the ether of his mind.

The little old man started to quietly panic. “No, that wasn’t it. Not Al and the Wise Guys. It was Al and the Wisenheimers, wasn’t it? Yes, I think so. That was it, wasn’t it? Al and the Wisenheimers? Or was it Al’s Wisenheimers? Was that it?”

His confusion was mounting. “Wisenheimers? Is that a thing? That doesn’t sound like a thing. Wisenheimers? Alz…”

The little man was tired, lost, scared, and confused. He was awake. He knew that. And he was in a room, but it wasn’t a room that he recognized.  He felt like he should know where he was, but he didn’t.  He did know that this feeling wasn’t new.

He looked to his left and noticed that there were bars on the side of his bed, presumably to keep him from falling out. On the night-table was a picture of three smiling teen-aged kids, two boys and one girl, all with curly tousled hair, and beaming behind them were whom he could only assume was their parents. The father was a sturdy enough looking fellow, but the wife was a real knock-out, with possibly the most beautiful smile in the universe. He felt like he should recognize the people in the picture, but as far as he could tell they were just pleasant looking strangers.  Probably one of those pictures that came with the frame.

But the wife’s smile nagged at him. He thought that he really ought to know who she is.  He tried to puzzle it over and figure it out.  He concentrated, but for the life of him, he just couldn’t quite connect who she was.

A forlorn look settled upon the diminished man’s face.  He wasn’t sure that he’d ever before felt so alone.  He was sure he must have.

But he couldn’t remember.