Monday, August 31, 2009
Tall, powerful, seemingly athletic and "indestructible," Leif looked like a formidably fit young man, but sadly his body seemed destined to betray him and ruin his sports and career choices.
It began with his eyes, and finding out that he was nearsighted and could not pass a flight physical so that he could aim for a career as a military pilot. I've posted the essay he wrote about that when he was fourteen.
Next he had to quit playing soccer, a game he had loved for ten years, when he couldn't immediately deal with the heat and humidity in Puerto Rico and then sprained his ankle.
I think those were big disappointments for him, but he recovered and pressed on. The next disappointment was when he gave up his dream of becoming an Air Force officer when he pulled a muscle in his groin and couldn't do the situps to pass the physical fitness test at ROTC summer camp.
Again he switched gears and tried something else. He enlisted in the infantry and had to complete basic training with a broken foot after another cadet fell on it during first aid training.
He might have made it, though, had not something he was exposed to caused him to develop asthma, which made it very hard for him to run with his huge and heavy pack and weapon. Ultimately, he was medically retired from the army at the age of 25. That diagnosis also meant he had to give up his other chosen careers that required him to have a fitness level and ability to run . . . law enforcement careers. I think he also lost something important to him, the ability to serve his country.
I think he had resigned himself to the loss of those options, but he never really found a substitute, nothing he felt committed to and willing to really sink himself into. He wanted to be a hero, but his body failed him.
I still have his army boots in my closet. He walked and ran a long way in those boots, even with his asthma, trying desperately to do it. After he got out of the army and came back to Kansas, I remember one day when he wore those boots to walk all the way out to Tuttle Creek Lake, a distance of over five miles each way. He left the army in May 2001 and many of the clothes and shoes he'd had were long gone, discarded, but his combat boots were still there when he died seven years later, and so were his uniforms. Despite the misery of his last year in the army, they must have held a sentimental attachment for him. Leif wasn't one to keep things unless he wanted them around.
I look at this photo of him in December 1992, when he was halfway through his senior year of high school, and see a very slender and rather brooding young man, though that wasn't his usual aspect at that time. What was he thinking?
In one of his online dating profiles, he was asked what he thought his best feature was. He answered, his lips, and I think you can see why in this photo, although since he isn't smiling, you can't see the cute dimples that charmed everyone. He's wearing two earrings in this photo. In those days, he enjoyed wearing earrings and necklaces.
There was still so much hope in 1992, for him, for all of us. He turned 18 a month later.
The photo was taken in our old stone house.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
So many places we go are associated with memories of Leif. Sometimes it just feels good to remember them. Other times, the sense of loss is painful.
Today we went to Siesta Key Beach just before sunset and stayed until the sun was down and it was dark. It's a lovely time to be there and we were remembering the last time Leif joined us there. We were at the beach with Peter A. and his family, and Leif road his motorcycle down to join us. He gave Darlene a ride on the cycle and they told me that when I wasn't there to see, he did wheelies in the parking lot. He was enjoying riding so much then.
It was good to remember him having a good time, being with all of us.
How I wish he could have ridden his cycle down again today.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Leif started taking classes at Kansas State University when he was in the spring semester of his senior year at Manhattan High School and continued at KSU after graduating from MHS in May 1993. This is an essay he wrote for his Human Development class in the spring semester of 1994 when he was 19 years old. I think it is revealing of some of his feelings about a couple of the moves he made as a military "brat" and how he molded his personality to fit the environment in which he found himself. It would be interesting to see what he would think today, or at the end of his life. He always remained vitally interested in psychology and personality theory, and he might have majored in psychology instead of general social sciences if he hadn't had to take math, which he hated, like statistics.
For this assignment I would like to discuss the various aspects of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical/psychosocial theories of development. I find that Freud had a unique and brilliant, but simultaneously narrow and simplistic, insight. His description of the human psyche in terms of the id, ego, and superego, rings true and explains a large percentage of one's personality.
However, Freud's intense concentration on the libido as the sole motivator is unrealistically unilateral. According to Berk (1994) Freud states that the ego develops as a mechanism for satisfying the demands of the id within the confines of reality. Later the superego develops as the conscience that further inhibits the desires of the id. I agree with Freud about the structure of the psyche, however, I do not believe that the child's personality has completely formed by age five.
I have had opportunities to change my personality dramatically much later in life. This, I believe, is due to the fact that growing up as an army "brat" I had my environment changed dramatically every few years. In my opinion, the most profound of these changes occurred immediately following my freshman year of high school, at approximately age fifteen. I had been living in an upper-middle class suburb of Chicago, known as Highland Park. Highland Park was a predominantly Jewish city with a very exclusive social structure. The people that had grown up there and already had long-standing relationships formed their own groups that were virtually impenetrable. I found that an outsider like myself could not break into one of these cliques and became as inconspicuous and introverted as possible.
In contrast, after moving to Puerto Rico I found that I could leave my old self behind and become whoever I wanted to be. I responded much differently. In Puerto Rico I was regarded as something exotic and changed my entire behavior dramatically. I began to wear nicer, less ordinary clothes; I became much more confident and assertive. I began to make lasting friendships that I had not made in the past. I began to do all the things that I never would have dared in Highland Park, including developing a "rep" for being a flirt. The person that I became in Puerto Rico, and for the most part remain today, is the antithesis of the invisible army "brat" that I was prior to the move.
In my opinion the Freudian theory of development can be very helpful as a model for therapeutic reference and is a good base for psychoanalysis. However, it gives explanations for only a few aspects of human development. It suffers from an extreme overemphasis on sexual impulses. Freud seeks to explain all of human behavior through sexual impulse, an approach that is inadequate and rather narrow-minded.
The psychosexual stages are an excellent map through the human psyche which tells us how the mind itself learns to deal with the world. They give a working explanation for certain adult behaviors and are extremely useful for psychotherapy. On the other hand, they are ineffective for defining all but a small number of personality traits. The concept that a person's personality is established by the age of five is absurd (Berk, 1994).
Freud's work was and is essential to the development of both the disciplines of psychology and human development. "His psychsexual theory was the first approach to stress the importance of early experience for later development." (Berk, 1994). His theories are important and must be understood to grasp a large potion of developmental thought. However, they should not be taken as the "Gospel."
[Berk, Laura E. (1994) Child Development, (pp. 14-15) Boston: Allyn and Bacon]
At the time he wrote this, he probably still had his long hair, but he was required to cut it to keep his job. He was working at Aladdin's Castle in the Manhattan Town Center Mall. When he got the job, he had long hair and the management had no problem with that, but then it was purchased by a new owner (Japanese I think) that required employees to have short haircuts and he cut his, I don't know just when that change occurred but this picture was taken on the day of his marriage to Nikko, October 20, 1995.
Although Leif loved cars in general, sports cars in particular, and certain ones above the others, I don't think there was ever any car that could quite make it onto the pedestal he had for the Lamborghini Countach or Diablo. He fell in love with the Lamborghinis when he was quite young, before junior high, I think, but by that time he was really enamored and could tell you everything about them. He had a large poster of a black Lamborghini on his bedroom wall when we lived at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, the years from 1986 when he was 11 years old until 1990 when he was 15.
One of the highlights of our time in Chicago (of which there were many) was going to the huge car show where he photographed a lot of fantastic cars. Those that particularly caught his fancy were the concept cars and the Lamborghinis. He would have been in seventh heaven if he could ever have even sat in one. I never knew that he did, but Peter tells me that he got to sit in one at a car show in Hawaii when I wasn't with them, the same show where he met David Hasselhof and saw the "Knight Rider" car, but the surely there would have been a photo.
He took the photo of the white Coutach above at that car show in February 1987 when he had just turned twelve.
At some point (I don't remember when), I gave him a toy black Lamborghini. This wasn't a matchbox car. This one was a about six inches long, a "collector's model," made of metal. He treasured that car, the only Lamborghini he would ever get to own or spend any time with, and I found it among this things after he died and took these photos of it.
His love for the black Lamborghini also inspired me to make that a characteristic of the main character in my middle grade novel, "Imagicat," and Jeff also had the same collector's model. There were other things about Leif that went into the character of Jeff, though Jeff wasn't completely modeled on Leif but rather a fictional composite of several boys.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
There are nights when I don't know what to write, when my mind seems to go off in too many different directions, or when I can't find the right photo to go with what I want to say. I started out looking at more of the things Leif wrote in high school and college, and wishing I had more of them, but realized that wasn't really what was on my mind.
I thought this evening about how many years of my life were influenced by Leif; eighteen years raising him to adulthood, and another two while he was still living at home and going to college before he moved out to live with Nikko and eventually get married in October 1995 at the age of twenty. I thought about all the experiences we had together, how I taught him, and eventually, how he taught me. I thought about the things he loved, and the things he hated. I thought about all the times we took him on trips, both as a child and as an adult, and what good company he could be, and usually was . . . unless he was in one of his uncommunicative moods, but luckily those were not frequent.
I thought about all the talents he had that he never had the desire to pursue and all the ideas he had and loved to talk about. I thought about how he would spend hours trying to make a report or paper as short and concise as possible so that it would only barely fulfill the length requirements set by the professor or teacher, not because he lacked the information or knowledge to make it longer but because he didn't want to be verbose. He could have been done with them far quicker if he hadn't continued to condense and condense.
I thought about tutoring him in algebra, Spanish and German, the first two in both high school and college, because he was used to things coming easily to him that he hated to study and didn't really know how.
I thought about listening to him play his electric guitars, trying to emulate the sounds of his favorite guitarists.
I thought about him singing the part of Kenicke in "Grease" with all the girls going wild.
I remember the day he brought me my Nokia cell phone in a cute little bag and proceeded to set it up for me. And the time he got my mother her first cell phone (with my financial help) and surprised her with it for Christmas,
There are so many memories, thirty-three years of them, mostly good, some frustrating, some dismaying, but all-in-all, how much he enriched our lives (not financially, but emotionally and intellectually), and even with much humor and fun. I look around this room alone and see the office furniture that he and Peter W. put together for me, the computer he left behind, the monitor he set up for me, his photo albums, the flag case from Melissa with his casket flag and military awards, the book he posed for the cover for, and so much more.
Our lives were intertwined, as all close families are, and even now that he is gone, there is no day, no part of a day, that we don't think of him.
I wonder if he had any idea how important he was to us, how deep an impact he had on our lives, what a tremendous hole his death has left, how much we will always love him. Surely he could not have known that and left us like that . . . or was his life just too miserable to endure despite it? I cry for him, that it was so.
This photo of Leif was taken at a lake in Japan in 1980 when he was five years old.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I no longer remember which of our sons first came up with the idea that birds that flew too close to a moving car, or landed on the roadway in front of one, were actually playing some kind of daring game for which they could score points. It could have been either of them, but it was Leif who wrote it down.
This is a piece he wrote at the beginning of his senior year in high school for a creative writing class he was taking. He had just moved from Puerto Rico to Kansas a month earlier. At that time, he was going by the nickname "Alex."
August 30 1990
Have you ever noticed how birds seem to fly aimlessly in circles, then land right in front in front of your car, waiting till the last minute before flying desperately to safety at the side of the road? Well, what we humans had previously mistaken for stupidity on the part of the birds is actually a daring form of entertainment and competition, a sport if you will. Those members of the avian society that are able and willing to put their life on the line for the sake of competition and the will to be the best, and get good at it, can acquire an elite status that is unparalleled by any other member of their society.
Upon further examination, professional surfer and part time zoologist, Prof. John "Rip Curl" Farnsworth made some very interesting observations. After Winning the "Off-Shore Pipeline Masters" competition in Waimea on the north shore of Oahu, he came to Puerto Rico to relax and check out the local surf scene. He quickly discovered this unusual behavior exhibited by the birds. He initiated a study, conducted by himself in conjunction with the university, and came up with some fascinating results.
His thesis states that the sport originated among a group of beach-dwelling pigeons that admired the grace and daring that was evident in the local surfer. Realizing that it would be rather difficult for a pigeon to surf, they created "car dodging," making it as similar to surfing as possible using wings instead of boards.
The technique is similar to surfing in some respects and different in others. When surfing you would paddle out into the surf and wait for a wave, as when dodging cars you would fly out into traffic and wait for the right car. They would stand still trying to look as if they are totally oblivious to the fact that a stream of huge metal Behemoths is approaching. At the last possible second they would fly to safety and receive their scores.
As surfers are grateful that nature has provided them with these beautiful crests to ride, so are the birds grateful to us for providing them with cars to dodge. However, not every wave or car is perfect, so the first criteria for judgement of a competition is wave selection or car selection. Naturally a surfer can't pull a great ride if he's not riding a great wave, and likewise a bird cannot attempt a death-defying dodge if there is no death to defy.
Scoring ranges from the minimum standard being an 80 year-old grandmother driving a Yugo, to an irresponsible teenager in his father's Corvette, to a crazed, psychotic, homocidal maniac that has recently escaped from an asylum for the criminally insane speeding down a narrow road at 135 mph in a stolen 18 wheel semi truck.
The second criteria is the length of a ride, or how long you wait before dodging. Third is style. This is a very important aspect that requires some acting ability, but not much. You must either look petrified with fear or cool and reserved depending on the rules of that particular compo.
Fourth and most important is the difficulty of the tricks, such as going over the top, around, or for the truly daring/insane, going under and hoping that the air turbulence doesn't force you under the wheels.
The reason for all of this puzzled Prof. "Rip Curl" for some time but he then realized that the motivation was the same as any other sport, to get a thrill. Some may say that this is a stupid way to get thrill but you must take into account that the average brain volume of a bird is approximately 1/30 of ours. Besides the pure thrill there is the prestige and the status of being one of the "dodgers". The "dodgers" are the elite in the avian community unlike the surfers who are generally stereotyped and dismissed as "brainless morons" by the older generations.
Another dominant motivation is to gain the admiration of the opposite sex, or as a surfer might say, "to land some boku babes" (the terminology and expressions used by the birds in completely unintelligible).
Prof. Farnsworth's research hopes to shed new light on the misconception that plagues not only Puerto Rico but the whole world. He has shown us not only that this behavior has a purpose but that if we see a bird on the road they want us to try to hit them, and also that while surfing is open to anybody with access to a beach, car dodging is strictly for the birds.
The photo of Leif with all these fairly tame pigeons was taken in Kamakura, Japan in May 1981 when he was six years old.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Leif had dreamed of being a fighter pilot for years and I think he fashioned a good part of his personality around that dream and what he thought a fighter pilot would be like, but when he was fourteen, that dream was shattered when he found out his eyes weren't good enough to pass a flight physical. It wasn't only the end of a dream to fly, but also the end of something I don't even know if he was fully aware he was pursuing . . . following in the footsteps of his father and older brother as a pilot.
I found this short essay that he wrote for a school assignment that year, when he was a freshman in high school, about how he learned of the end of this dream. While what he says is true about it opening other avenues he hadn't considered, his way of brushing aside his disappointment is quintessentially Leif. He would always present things to others as though he could take it nonchalantly, whether this was true inside or not. This was a major disappointment for him. I think if it had been the only one, it would have passed and he would have excelled at something else. Unfortunately, his life seemed to be a series of such disappointments when it came to both love and career.
He went into Air Force ROTC in college, and was a top notch cadet, but when he went to summer camp, he pulled a muscle in his groin and wasn't able to do the sit-ups, and ended up failing the physical fitness test because of that. Then he was out of sequence for graduation and would have been a year behind. In typical Leif fashion he decided that wasn't for him. He didn't want to have to go back and do it over, and he didn't want to be around college an extra year, so he dropped out of ROTC. This was a big shame because he would have been an excellent officer.
Then when he enlisted in the infantry and tried to excel there, and did, as the best machine gunner, he was once again, for the third time, betrayed by his body, which looked so incredibly big, strong and tall. This time it was his lungs when he got asthma and couldn't keep up on the runs.
But here is Leif in his own fourteen-year-old words;
End of the Illusion
After they finally called us in from the waiting room I was led into one of those typical optometrist's offices with one of those chairs with one of those odd-looking gadgets that resemble a pair of goggles attached to it.
After waiting around examining the equipment I was greeted by by the most attractive brunette I have seen in some time who
introduced herself as "Dr. Danny" (short for Danielle).
We fumbled around for a while trying to make sure that my eyes weren't going to explode from glaucoma and then she planted me in the chair and began to flip switches, turn dials, and make me dizzy with all the different lenses that blurred everything totally out of focus, and this discomfort was compounded despite her charming company by the itchy sensation produced by the aggravating dye that she had dropped in my eye for the glaucoma test.
She constanly asked me which was clearer and to read the smallest line on the chart. After about an our of this she pulled
the metallic monster away from my face and said in a rather sympathetic voice, "How do you feel about wearing glasses."
It was that moment that began my realization that I had been deluding myself for several years as to what I wanted to do for a career. Ever since I had been a little kid I had dreamed of being a fighter pilot and had gotten myself so locked into this ambition that I had completely ignored my other interests, and as I know now, I have many. Flying has always been a passion in my life and still is, but other things, not the least of which is music (this is evident to anyone who enters my room, which is cluttered with dozens of tapes, CDs, and records, guitars, music books, and last but definitely not least, is the giant centerpiece, my Kenwood "Spectrum 875 music system and entertainment center," with a matching set of speakers boasting a combined output of over 620 WATTs, which I was willing to part with $1,199.00 to aquire).
Although it came as a bit of a shock to discover that the ideal of being flight eligible that I had been dreaming of for so long was no longer a possibility by the normal means, it was also a blessing in disguise because I had locked myself into an occupation that I really wasn't sure that I wanted to do for the rest of my career, and music, photography, and snowboarding, all have become an integral part of my life.
Today as I was thinking about this, we were in a store in Sarasota where they have many of these placards with witty, interesting and poignant sayings, and I realized when I was reading them, for many of them were about believing in dreams, having hope, believing that something wonderful will happen, that I have lost that belief, that my illusions were shattered when Leif died.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Leif was committed to the idea of a military career for many years before he entered the infantry as an enlistee. In high school, he applied for ROTC scholarships, and this is an essay he wrote for one of those applications. it was written when he was a senior in high school at Manhattan High School in Manhattan, Kansas, in early 1993, less than a year after his father retired from the U.S. Army.
Having lived my entire life as an Army "brat" and spent so much time in the presence of officers of the US Army I am very well acquainted with military lifestyle. My family and I have been stationed in Kansas, Virginia, Germany, Japan, Hawaii, Chicago, and Puerto Rico. These tours have allowed me to experience several of the diverse cultures of the world first hand. This experience has simultaneously helped me see merits of other nations and strengthened my appreciation of the freedoms of the United States.
I have lived alongside officers and soldiers during the difficult mobilization and demobilization of Reserve Forces for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Having a recently retired lieutenant colonel for a father and an Academy graduate and lieutenant in the Air Force as my only brother has made the concept of civilian life seem almost alien to me. I find it hard to imagine not being affiliated with government service, if not in the Armed Forces then perhaps for the Department of Justice.
As an officer I could pursue careers in Infantry, Armor, Special Operations, or perhaps aviation. Should I at some later date decide not to continue my military career until retirement I would like to put my training to use in the FBI, DEA, or other such federal agency while remaining a member of the Army Reserve. I feel that a commission in the United States Armed Forces is a position to be respected and I would be honored to serve my country as an officer of the United States Army.
The photo of Leif probably taken sometime in the first half of 1999 in his apartment in Watertown, New York, when he was stationed at Fort Drum, New York.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
I think these were taken when Leif was in either Azerbaijan or Uzbekistan with UN exercises in September 1998. You can see that he still has that jaunty pride about him, that confidence, and that he was still enjoying life and even the army. How I wish he had been able to continue that way. I will always wonder what happened to trigger the asthma that ruined his life in the army and that as a possible career. He said that when they were in Uzbekistan they were down in the sand breathing dust and sand for two weeks and i've always wondered if that was what started it. We will never know.
I still have his boots, a pair of his BDUs (known as fatigues in "my day") and his dress greens (Class A uniform) in my closet and his dog tags hanging in my bedroom. If he had a child, I would pass them on, but for now, they are just another memory for me, evidence of a period of his life along with so many other things of his I don't know what to do with. You can sell a car, but what do you with personal items like that? I gave away his clothes and shoes to a church thrift shop that helps migrant workers though Peter W. saved some of Leif's shirts, but the uniform seemed somehow significant, far more significant than a regular civilian shirt or pants. The uniform signifies his service to our country and something he identified with more deeply that most people could ever understand.
Friday, August 21, 2009
I don't know for sure where these photos of Leif in DCUs (desert camouflage uniform were taken. They are the only ones in the pile of photos I found scattered loose in a box of his things. In the others, he is wearing the usual green BDUs (battle dress uniform). To my knowledge, the only time he was in a desert was when they went for the UN exercises in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, but this could have been part of a training mission before going overseas. The third photo of him standing with his machine gun and ammo belts over his shoulders, was taken in what appears to be a staging area for moving out, either to the field or to transportation elsewhere. His huge and heavy pack was on the floor near him, but there was a large floor fan in that part of the photo and I cropped it out.
Leif, as an infantry soldier, had to carry an extremely heavy load. I can't remember the exact amount but I think Leif told me that with his pack and his machine gun he was carrying his own weight and he had to be able to march for miles and even to run with that amount of weight on him. The machine gun was considerably heavier than the normal M-16 rifle.
These are also the only photos that show Leif with his face camouflaged. The reason the top of his forehead is isn't made up is because it would have been covered by his helmet or cap.
I can place the photos are pre-2000 because by that time he was shaving his head. He still had hair in 1999.
LIke many of the other army photos of Leif, these originally showed other men in his unit but I don't know who they are and don't have their permission to post their photos.
Posting Leif's photos showing only him makes it possible to focus on him, but in another way it gives a false picture, as though he was always alone. Instead he was often with others and interacting with them.
Leif was a proud soldier and deeply identified himself as a soldier. It wasn't until the last year he was in the army, suffering from asthma and treated as though he were a malingerer and denied the promotion he was due and medals he earned that he became discouraged, depressed and demoralized.
He was the best gunner in the battalion. It should have been his place to shine. He should have been promoted and been able to use his fine leadership abilities. So many times, his hopes and dreams were dashed.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I keep discovering new things about Leif. I'm sure that for everyone we think we know, there are many things that we don't know and probably never will. Many families seem destined to learn new things about their deceased loved ones, sometimes secrets they wanted to hide, sometimes just interesting tidbits that round out our image of the person we have lost, and sometimes, intimate details of their lives that would have remained private but for death.
I knew Leif played the electric guitar, and that he had four of them. We gave three of them to him, and he made the fourth. I posted photos of them on this blog long ago, as well as photos of him playing in a band at Antilles HIgh School. However, as far as I know, he never had an acoustic guitar or any interest in playing one. Therefore, I was quite surprised to find these two photos of him clearly playing someone's acoustic guitar.
The photos were of several guys, dressed informally, sitting on folding chairs in what appears to be a basement or garage or some such, with a concrete floor. They have beers. I don't know any of them. The photos were mixed in with photos from the time he was in the Army, so I'm guessing they are Army buddies, but whether this was taken at Fort Drum or while he was in Bosnia I don't know. The only clue about the time frame is his hair. It's a military haircut and he hadn't yet started shaving his head, so I'm guessing it was taken either in late 1998 or in 1999.
I find myself wondering whether he was also singing or what they were all doing. Leif had a great singing voice, but the only time I ever heard him sing was when he was playing the part of Kenicke in the Antilles High School production of "Grease."
Leif has considerable musical talent, a characteristic he shared with both me and my father, his grandfather, but like me, he didn't keep up with his instrumental music as he got into adulthood, unlike my father, who continued to play piano all of his life.
I've been thinking for sixteen months about why the loss of a child is so devastating. When my father died I was twelve, a death I witnessed; it was traumatic and terribly sad. I missed him. I questioned why. It was as though the foundation of my life had been destroyed, washed right out from under me.
I was afraid to believe, to trust, to love, for fear whatever I believed in or trusted or loved would be taken away from me. It took me years to get beyond that and give myself fully to relationships. And yet, that loss was nowhere near as hard for me as Leif's death has been. I have questioned why many times.
There are many reasons I could cite. I only knew my father for twelve years. I knew Leif for thirty-three. I was closer to Leif than I was to my father. We have the expectation (though not the certainty) of our children outliving us and not having to deal with their deaths. We have such hopes for their future. We miss the relationship and seeing the unfolding of their lives. Their death changes our identity, changes our lives, changes the future.
And yet, there was always something more that I couldn't quite grasp, couldn't figure out a way to explain. Now I think I can try.
For someone like me, whose deepest and most important emphasis as an adult has been my family, my children are my life's work. They are, more than anything else, what my life is all about. There is nothing I have done or will ever do that is as important as raising my children. They are the legacy I will leave behind.
There is no analogy that is adequate, but it is rather as though a sculptor has spent years creating a beautiful and meaningful sculpture, and that sculpture represents her life's work, the sum of who she is and her creations, but this sculpture goes beyond the inanimate smoothness of stone . . . it is alive, has volition, intellect, talents, consciousness. It is a child who talks, lives, breathes. It is the ultimate creation for someone like me. It creates itself as well.
It is a delight, a privilege, an honor, and yes, it is frustrating, sometimes infuriating; it is expensive and sometimes contrary. It is not easy to spend eighteen years molding this sculpture, assisting in its creation. It isn't easy to help continue to mold it after it has grown and left one's home and arms, but that process never ends.
So much of who I am is wrapped up in my sons and who they are, who I helped them to become. Nothing else I have done or will ever do will matter as much, be as rewarding, or as heartbreaking.
And that is why, one of the deepest reasons why, Leif's death is so hard. He was a beautiful sculpture, one of only two I created and helped to learn and grow, and now that part of my life's work is destroyed and gone forever. As though someone took a wrecking ball to a beautiful marble statue and crushed it to dust. Half of my legacy to the future is gone. Half of my life's work is destroyed.
And there is the added sadness that somehow I wasn't able to form and create his life so that he could either make better choices or continue to withstand the consequences of the choices he made, that I was unable to give him better luck in life or help him to find a purpose worth living for.
There is both the sadness of losing my beautiful son, my life's work, and the sadness of knowing that I somehow did not give him the tools to continue to create his own life, one in which he could prosper and be happy.
It is a terrible loss and a profound failure.
I know that there may have been no way I could help him achieve that sense of purpose and meaning in life; there may have been no way I could have influenced his misfortunes for the better, though I tried, but it will still feel like a failure. What can be more tragic than to throw away the gift of life? What can be sadder than to have decided to die at 33?
I brought him into this world with love and hopes and tried my best to give him all the tools he needed for a good life. He blew that life away with a 45. All my life I will remember not only all the good times, all the photos, all the conversations, the love, the embraces, but also that horrifying picture in my mind of him lying there in a pool of blood, dead and still, the gun on the kitchen counter.
How thankful I am that Leif was not my only child. How thankful I am that I have Peter Anthony, my first-born son.
And it will always be true that nothing I will ever do will be as important or as all-absorbing as raising my sons.
The photo of Leif was taken in Kamakura, Japan in May 1981. He was six years old.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
There are days now when I only get tears in my eyes once and don't really cry, days when for hours at a time life seems normal and even happy. And then there are days when something unexpected sends me into real tears, sobbing, and repeating what I remember saying when I found Leif's body, "No, no, no, Leif, no!" over and over, and "I want you back."
Tonight was one of those times when I cried my heart out. I don't even really know what caused it. Maybe the dam was just ready to burst. Maybe it was precipitated by taking my mother swimming and shopping tonight, and thinking that if I get old and need help, Leif will not be there. Maybe it was just seeing a bright star in the sky and saying, as I always do, my "star light, star bright" wish for him to be alive and well, knowing that it can never be.
I have read about the stages of grief, but some don't seem to apply to me. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross lists five stages; someone else lists seven, but I don't feel the first ones and I haven't reached the later ones. It's not a matter of the order of the stages, or the length of them, or anything else. They just don't seem to apply.
Where is "denial," unless my keeping this blog to keep Leif's memory alive could be defined as denial of his death. That doesn't ring true to me. Some lists call it "shock and denial." The shock part certainly happened when I found his body but it has long since gone.
Where is "anger?" With whom am I going to be angry? With Leif? How could I be angry with him? I am so sad for the misery of his life. With those who disappointed him in love? They are just people who didn't intend to hurt him. With those who cut off his GI Bill funding? When Leif didn't do his part either to insure that he was taking the right classes or pursue an exception? With the army? Perhaps, but what good would it do to be angry with something I can do nothing about? Some list this stage as "anger and bargaining." With what and with whom could I bargain? There is nothing to bargain for. I cannot bring him back though I tell him every day, "I want you back." I offer no bargains, just a wish I know will never come true.
The stage I do identify with is "pain and guilt." There has been plenty of pain, and there will be plenty more. Guilt is another matter. I do not blame myself for Leif's death or for the problems he had. I tried my best to help him throughout his life. I do question whether I did the right things. I did the best I could, but how can I know whether what I did was right for him. I don't fault myself, because I could only do the best I knew how. So guilt isn't the right word. Perhaps it is more like regret that I couldn't help him in the way he needed help, that perhaps I said things that hurt him without meaning to.
For instance, perhaps a month before he died I was on the phone with him and telling him, among other things, that I had found out there is an organization in our community that volunteers to help older people who aren't able to pay their bills and keep their finances in order to do those things. Leif said, "You mean you wouldn't let me do that for you?" I laughed and said, "Are you kidding, with your financial history?" I meant it, but jokingly, yet for him, a man looking for a purpose in life, perhaps having his mother say that would have felt hurtful, that I didn't trust him to do that for me. Yet it was true. I didn't.
Or maybe when I sent him email trying to encourage him to budget and save he felt demeaned that his mother was telling him that yet again. Perhaps I shouldn't have said it. But I don't think that would push him to suicide. It might have just hurt his feelings.
Guilt, perhaps, that I didn't realize how miserable he really was, even though I could tell he wasn't happy. But I still don't think guilt is the right work. Regret, sadness, yes. So much regret and sadness that I wasn't able to help him find a purpose to live, to help him find happiness.
Next, though the stages do not have to come in order, is "depression, reflection and loneliness." Peter and I have dealt with the depression. I don't think we are completely past it, but I do think the worst of it has subsided, and for that I am thankful. Depression and sadness are not the same, though sadness certainly can go with depression. I don't feel the same lack of interest in things I used to enjoy now, and that's a good sign, but reflection is definitely still upon us. We talk about Leif an why it happened, about his life, about our loss, every day. I think about him and his life and reflect upon it in this blog nearly every day. We will never have the answers we seek, but even if we did, I believe they would bring more questions. Why him? Why was his life so unfair?
Loneliness is a part of grief. We try to hide it. People expect you to "get over it," but from everything I've read, that is a very long process. People think it's been a long time . . . but how is sixteen months a long time to get over the loss of a life lived for 33 years? I've read what's been written by others who have lost a loved one, a child, and from other suicide survivors and they all say it takes far, far longer, many years, and that others want them to be "over it" long before that is possible.
So, because grief makes others uncomfortable and embarrasses us, we hide it, and that makes us lonely. I don't talk about it with anyone, except Peter, but even with him I try to put on a good face most of the time. I don't want to drag him down and depress him. And, I am not unhappy all the time. Many hours of the day, even most of them, are good now. But the times of tears are lonely times and I try to turn a good face to the world.
Somewhere there is supposed to be an "upward turn" where we start functioning again and I think that's been a part of us all along, and I think it's getting stronger, but it's a simultaneous thing, not a separate stage. We just keep living life and doing what we need to do each day, and it gets a little easier.
"Reconstruction and working through" must be ahead of us, although if what it means is to learn to live without Leif, we have done that already. If it means working through what happened to him, I fear that is a circular path with no end, no solution.
And finally, "acceptance and hope." I think we have accepted Leif's death, though I have not been ready to let him go or let his memory fade. They say no one who goes through this ever goes back to being the person they were before. I believe that completely. How can you? Life has been changed forever. You cannot experience that without changing yourself.
It's not that I am weak or in some way pathological. This is normal, this grieving process, but it is not easy.
I cried for him tonight. Sometimes when I cry, it's a few tears in my eyes. Sometimes, like tonight, it's a flood of sobs and bitter tears.
I miss him so!
The photo was taken November 27, 2003 at my mother's house in Manhattan, Kansas, where we were all gathered for Thanksgiving Dinner. He was so happy then, with J. and her daughter there with him.
Monday, August 17, 2009
All of Leif's adult life he was in financial difficulty, sometimes due to circumstances beyond his control, but often due to his spending on many things he couldn't really afford, from fancy cell phones to computers, from motorcycles to guns, or even a car that got poor mileage resulting in high gas bills. When he got money, such as a tax refund, he either had to pay bills he was behind on, or he would spend it on new gadgets. He seemed incapable of saving money.
The summer of 2007 when he broke up with Donna, he was in worse difficulty because he no longer had her contributing to the household income and he wanted a way to supplement his Humana salary. He decided that the best way to do that was to go back to school and use his remaining GI Bill benefits. I thought this a constructive and creative way to do it, but I was also concerned that he would spend the money, not save any, and get used to the extra income and have even greater difficulties when it ran out. My fears proved to be true.
Leif got admitted to USF for the fall 2007 semester, which started while he was still healing from his motorcycle accident on July 12th and his operation on July 27th. He determined to major in philosophy, a subject he had very much enjoyed as a student at KSU, and enrolled in two courses. He had to enroll in classes that met in the morning, because at the time he was working the afternoon-evening shift at Humana until 11:00 p.m. He felt he would be able to study some during the evening because while they were mandated to be open for calls, few came in during the later hours. He found this to be generally true.
He seemed to be enjoying being on campus and in his classes, and would send me text messages about them during the evening sometimes. One of the classes apparently had a profound impact on him, or at least his thinking about the subject matter did, as he sent his final paper to me and some others and it was the thing he left on his computer the night he died.
Leif was always a procrastinator and enrolling in school was no exception. I well remember that I was chatting (through Yahoo Instant Messenger) with him late one evening in January and asked him what classes he was taking second semester. He said he hadn't enrolled yet. I told him that he'd better get it done or he wouldn't even find any open classes during the hours he could attend. So, he got online right then and found out the deadline was midnight that night . . . about 15 minutes away. He chose two classes he thought would be interesting and that seemed to him to fulfill degree requirements. One feature of the GI Bill is that students must be enrolled in classes that lead to a degree.
He hadn't had an advising appointment and thought he knew what classes would be acceptable. He hadn't had one the fall semester, either, after convincing his adviser in email that after being a student at KSU he knew what to do.
He paid his tuition and got his books, and took classes for a month and then was shocked to get a notice that the classes he was taking were NOT approved for his degree program. He didn't tell us about this until after it occurred or we might have been able to help him fight the decision, since Peter W. had had a similar experience when he was taking classes at KSU and using his GI BIll benefits and had appealed the decision and won. However, Leif didn't get anywhere with the officials at USF and got mad and discouraged and withdrew from school, losing his tuition. His last GI Bill benefit was paid, I believe, on March 1st, although it's possible it was on February 1st.
If this wasn't the last straw for Leif, it was certainly close to it. He had been managing with the extra money during the fall semester, but also spending whatever he didn't need. Again, no savings. So, when they pulled the rug out from under him and he lost the monthly stipend, he had no savings to see him through and pay his bills. By that time, he had run up large credit card debts, too, which we didn't know about. He had paid his previous ones off and had no outstanding credit card debt when he moved out of our house in February 2006. In just two years he had amassed $12,000 of credit card debt, added to his car loan, and his longstanding previous debts to us for bailing him out twice before and buying the car he wrecked. He tried applying for personal loans but he didn't get them because of his terrible credit to debt ratio. He received the loan rejection letters just days before he killed himself, as they were dated March 23. He could have come to us, but that would have been a bitter pill to swallow, both because of his pride and because he knew we would be very dismayed at what he had done. He had not admitted to us that he had run up such debts, even when we had asked him how he was doing financially and whether he needed help.
I often wonder if just one thing had gone right for Leif if he would still be here; if he had continued to get the GI Bill; if he had gotten one of the promotions he was interviewed for; if he had found the right woman; if he had been able to control his spending; if he had seen an advisor about what classes to take.
We will never know, but we do know that the sudden withdrawal of the GI Bill stipend probably had a big impact on his decision to end his life. It may not have been the precipitating factor in the wee hours of April 9, 2008, but it was one of the factors that set it in motion. How sad that his quest for money and intellectual stimulation ended that way.
The photo is of Leif's USF ID card, fall 2007.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Science and Society paper #2
When considering the scientific validity of a hypothesis we must examine it for a few key characteristics. These characteristics are things which are either empirical in nature and which can be definitely demonstrated to be true or false, or they are constantly changing to accommodate new data. This difference or criterion was best summarized by Karl Popper when he said, “ One can sum up all of this by saying that the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability. In the simplest of terms this means that if the theory cannot be definitively proven to be either true or untrue its is not scientifically valid.
Popper came to this conclusion after analyzing the theories of his contemporaries such as Einstein and Adler. In the case of Adler the conclusions he drew could not be clearly proven to be correct or false. His theories of human motivations could be so flexible as to be congruous with any human behavior. No matter what he witnessed it always made sense within the tenants of his theory and there was no conceivable human behavior, actual or hypothetical, which could conclusively demonstrate him to be wrong. No matter what happened Adler could explain it within the framework of his model. Popper would claim that this is not true science but pseudo-science as it cannot be falsified by any event.
By contrast truly scientific theories could be proven false if certain events were to take place. For example, we take for granted that gravity exists and will act on all bodies, pulling them towards the earth unless some other force acts to prevent this. However, if hypothetically we were to witness an object levitating in mid air without the assistance of some other force, we might be forced to reconsider the validity of the theory of gravity. Regarding gravity, Popper gives great credit to Einstein and his predictions about gravity and light as they were bold, risky and could have clearly been proven to be false if he was wrong.
In Einstein’s case, he claimed that strong gravity wells such as our sun could actually bend light by changing the path of incoming photons. When he made this claim there was no easy way to demonstrate this but later a scientist named Eddington discovered that if you photographed constellations around a solar eclipse and then compared those photographs to those of the same constellations at night without the sun's gravitational field in the way you could measure the distances and prove or disprove Einstein’s theory. In this case Einstein was correct but had Eddington’s work not demonstrated this phenomenon Einstein’s theory would have been falsified. The fact that this possibility of falsification exists for Einstein’s Theory but does not for Adler is the criterion which, at least to Karl Popper, separates science from pseudo-science.
Popper describes such pseudo-scientific theories as being derived from ad-hoc hypotheses. Ad-hoc is defined as, “Formed, arranged, or done for one particular purpose only.” Such hypotheses are so malleable as to be beyond reproach and thus are impossible to truly prove or disprove. Pseudo-scientists with Ad-hoc hypotheses can always amend the hypothesis to account for any data which seems incongruous with the original model. One such example is Ptolemy and his geocentric model of the solar system. His hypothesis was sound until it was falsified by the existence of retrograde motion. However, instead of abandoning the theory he added the rather ad-hoc hypothetical model of epicenters to explain the unexplainable. The truth about these epicenters could not be clearly proven or falsified for hundreds of years.
This brings us to the topic of James McConnell and his theory of the chemical transference of memory. McConnell conducted experiments on Planarian worms involving training them to respond to bursts of light by first using Pavlovian conditioning involving a corresponding electric shock. He first trained worms to scrunch up when stimulated with a burst of light they had come to associate with being shocked. This, in and of itself, is unremarkable, but when things got interesting is when he began cutting the worms in half. Because Planarian worms regenerate you can cut one in half and get two [living] worms. One half retains the brain and one does not.
One would assume that if memory is stored in the brain that only the half with the brain would remain trained to respond to the bursts of light and the other half would not respond. This, however, was not the case and warranted further study. He followed this experiment by feeding the untrained cannibalistic worms the flesh of trained worms. He then reported that worms that ingested the meat of trained worms were 50% more likely to respond to the bursts of light.
Critics and contemporaries of McConnell were unable to replicate his results. This is often a red flag for any theory as it’s repeatability is of key importance to its credibility. McConnell would claim that it is a case of "golden hands" as he simply has more experience in training worms than anyone else. This is further challenged by the fact that other possible explanations are offered, such as the presence of slime trails from previously conditioned worms passing information on rather than chemical memory.
Here it is difficult to say if his further experiments are merely ad-hoc or are legitimate examinations of potential alternatives. Initially scrubbing the troughs and removing the slime produces no results. He concludes that the worms don’t like the scrubbed troughs, which seems very ad-hoc. Popper would surely liken this to Adler’s explaining away of anything that did not seem to be immediately in sync with the base model. McConnell attempts to eliminate this variable by using naive or untrained worms to pre-slime the troughs so that he can test cannibal worms for chemical transference of memory without them being affected by either the slime trail of the trained nor a hostile environment.
Still, all of this remains rather inconclusive. McConnell’s experiments are never successfully repeated by others, nor can they be conclusively demonstrated to be false. This very fact would, according to Popper, make this pseudo-science.
Again, the criterion of scientific status is whether it is falsifiable? In this case it is at least conclusively not. Is it refutable? It also cannot be conclusively refuted. And lastly, is it testable? While McConnell himself claims to have successfully tested the theory, the fact that it has not been repeatable by any others greatly strains its validity as a truly scientific hypothesis, as opposed to a mere guess with ad-hoc explanations to account for anything inconsistent between the predictions and the data.
Leif liked the intellectual exercise of philosophy and the challenge of argument, but he didn't really like to write his analyses. He would much rather have passed an oral exam through a spirited discourse. Our academic system isn't set up for much of that, and when he got it, it loved it.
He didn't send either of these papers from his Science and Society class to me and I didn't see them until recently among this computer files. He didn't find them as significant personally as the final exam in his other class, the one he sent to me and eventually left on the "desktop" of his laptop computer the night he died.
Leif claimed many times to be ruled by reason, but I think he failed to allow himself to see how often reason is colored by, even directed by, emotion.
The photo was taken in the living room of our old stone house, probably sometime around December 2003. He is wearing his leather motorcycle cap and jacket.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Leif was trying hard to find a way to have more income and enrolled in USF (University of South Florida), which was not far from where he lived in Tampa, for the fall semester 2007. He took two philosophy courses. One was "Science and Society," for which he wrote two papers. This is the first one:
Science and Society paper #1
Do facts and reason settle scientific controversies or are they determined by popular convention and the ability of the scientist to persuade the scientific community and/or the public at large? That is the underlying question we must examine when considering the interplay of science and society. Many scientists would argue that the nature of the universe is absolute, filled with facts and truths which cannot be disputed and the purpose of science is to discover those truths. Such scientists, Giere for example, claim that it is facts and reason which will decide the result of a scientific controversy and that such a pursuit is objective rather than subjective. By contrast others, such as Collins and Pinch, argue that facts and reason have little to do with the way that controversies are decided and that in almost all cases it is popular opinion and convention which determines what view or result is accepted as the truth.
To examine this let us review the competing experiments of Louis Pasteur and Felix Archimede Pouchet regarding the issue of spontaneous generation. Throughout the study of biology and theology there has been a question of life’s origins and whether life will spontaneously generate if the conditions are right. Before we can explore the societal influences and implications of these experiments let us first examine the experiments themselves.
We begin with a real world observation that there are living things and these living things' origins cannot always be readily apparent. The basic question is, does life only come from other life, or is it possible that, given the right conditions and requisite materials, life could spontaneously appear without an external source? Herein lies the model they are proposing: that if organic, but inert matter is left alone in the presence of air that life will spontaneously generate.
Now we come to the Data. In Pouchet’s experiments 8/8 samples became prurient certainly suggesting the model is correct. However, in Pasteur’s study only a small percentage of them cease to remain inert suggesting that the model is incorrect. Respectively, each one has made a prediction of the outcome but those predictions are opposite each other with Pasteur predicting no spontaneous generation and Pouchet predicting there will be spontaneous generation. Now this case is interesting as both scientists got opposite results but when they compare the model with their respective data, each data set supported the predictions they had made. When comparing their work it became obvious that both could not be right so what made the difference?
When examining the experiments we must ask are their any other plausible explanations for the data? Particularly when the data is contradictory we must theorize another possible model to explain the disparity. In Pasteur’s case he examines the two methods and focuses on the fact that when obtaining their “sterile air” at high altitude his method was to snap off the end of the bottle with pincers and heat as to keep a sterile sample. Pouchet used a file on the necks of the sealed containers and Pasteur claims this is the critical error. According to Pasteur it is possible that the file could have allowed small pieces of glass to fall into the sample and those pieces of glass which had been exposed to an open and contaminated environment, might have and must have, carried some microbes into the sample contaminating it and ruining the experiment. According to Pasteur had this mistake not been made Pouchet’s results would have mirrored his.
Looking at merely the results there are compelling reasons to agree with Pasteur’s assessment but even his views were flawed as his initial experiments also became contaminated. It is clear that both scientists had their own biases. If Pasteur saw a result that supported spontaneous generation he believed he must have made a mistake in maintaining a sterile sample. If not he assumed he had proved himself right. In Pouchet’s case it’s the opposite. If he saw an inert sample he assumed he had somehow destroyed and essential property of the air which prevented the spontaneous generation. When Pouchet saw prurient samples he did not consider accidental contamination but assumed he had proved spontaneous generation was a fact.
Beyond the inherent flaws of the two scientists and their personal biases there is also the awarding commission which essentially decides what is scientific cannon to be held up as truth. While Pouchet would likely argue that they had a personal bias to support the more popular and connected Pasteur, there are larger more significant underlying factors in their decision to support Pasteur and his findings. To understand this we must ask the question: Were there any compelling reasons, in the 1860s, for preferring one model over the other? One cannot look at these events without considering the context. In 19th century France, which is a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, the significance of these experiments was profound. This period saw the beginning of the unending battle between Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and the traditionally accepted Christian story of creation. Scientist or not, devotee or not, a Catholic was compelled by faith or convention to accept the idea that mankind and life on Earth exists as the result of the direct action of God and not random chance. The Theory of Evolution is still widely challenged and certainly not universally accepted or popular as it contradicts the literal story of creation.
What this means is that were Pouchet’s model to be proven correct it would strike a blow in favor of Evolution, further suggesting that Mankind may have simply evolved from microbes and maggots which spontaneously generated themselves out of a pile of organic matter. This contention, by extension, would suggest that the story of creation was false, or at least potentially false, and furthermore could be used to argue that God himself might not exist as life could have created itself. By contrast Pasteur’s experiments which seemed to disprove spontaneous generation are in line with current thinking and support the far more popular and accepted world view that mankind and all life was created by God and could not simply happen at random.
So while we can now look back on this and say that Pasteur was right and that Pouchet‘s experiments obviously had flaws in them, was that really what decided this controversy? The answer, at least in the short term, is no. Popular opinion and popular support for Pasteur himself undoubtedly contributed to the acceptance of his conclusions. Collins and Pinch would have us believe that this is always the case and that facts and reason are irrelevant. Giere on the other hand would certainly argue that what matters is that Pasteur was right, as were his methods, and the fact that it coincided with popular opinion was coincidental. Giere would argue that in the end the truth wins out and had Pasteur’s conclusions later proved to be false upon further study, the truth would prevail in the end.
An excellent example of this can be observed in the comparisons of the Geocentric and Heliocentric models of our solar system. For more than a millennia Ptolemy’s Geocentric Model of the universe was accepted as fact. It was in line with popular opinion and there was not a better model to explain what had been observed. It was not until Copernicus and Galileo came along with the heliocentric model that this opinion changed. Now in support of Collins and Pinch, even when this superior model was suggested Galileo was persecuted for his assertions at first. However in support of Giere, Galileo was later proven correct and his conclusions won out in the end as popular opinion shifted.
So in conclusion, are Collins and Pinch justified in their claim that facts and reason do not settle most scientific controversies? Or, in other words, who is right? Giere or Collins and Pinch? The answer lies in how you define the word “settle.” Collins and Pinch are correct in all of their assertions that persuasion and popular opinion are more important in determining what theory or conclusions are accepted, at least in the short term. But does that mean the controversy is settled, or merely that one side is winning the battle? At any given time or place whether a thing is believed to be true is just that, a measure of how successful you are at getting people to believe you are correct. What people believe is what defines their reality and if an idea conflicts with their perception of reality they can readily ignore or reinterpret data which does not conform to their world view.
Thus while Collins and Pinch are correct, they are short-sighted in their conclusions. I would argue, as would Giere, that any conclusions, models, theories, or assertions which by chance or coincidence are not actually true from an objective view will not stand the test of time, e.g. they are not settled. Therefore what Collins and Pinch claim is relevant in the short term and important to note when separating good science from bad; societal acceptance of bad science does not negate the existence of good science. Scientists often face the challenge of changing public opinions and beliefs. History is full of flawed theories either from bad science, or good science which simply had incomplete information from which to form their models and hypotheses. These are followed by other examples of better science succeeding and superseding them. In any case few things can ever be absolutely proven and while popular belief both in the 1860s and today says that spontaneous generation does not happen, it is plausible that such a phenomenon could exist and we simply do not yet understand the exact conditions which are requisite for such genesis. Collins and Pinch may be right that persuasion and popularity may determine what is accepted as truth, but in the end, when the distortions of contemporary thinking are swept away and only the facts remain, it will be the facts themselves which reveal the absolute truth.
The photo of Leif was taken December 20, 2004 in Manhattan, Kansas.
Friday, August 14, 2009
We've had a lot of thunderstorms this summer and some spectacular lightning. Yesterday in the wee hours of the morning, about 1:00 a.m. the thunder rolled so long and so hard it was literally shaking things in our house, which is of a sturdy concrete block construction. By 1:30 a.m. it was raining so hard I had never heard any rain that hard. Today, we had more thunderstorms, and it made me think of how much Leif loved thunderstorms. He delighted in the electric displays. Once, when we were living in the old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas, he put a hammock out on the small front porch, strung between two pillars, so that he could lie in it and watch the storm. This probably wasn't the safest thing to do, but Leif wasn't known for seeking the safe route.
One time, he rode his motorcycle up to Aggieville (in Manhattan, Kansas) which was about 3-5 blocks from our house, depending upon which part of Aggieville you were in, and while he was gone, a thunderstorm blew in. Our daughter-in-law, Darlene, wanted me to call Leif and tell him to come home. She found the storm frightening, as I guess many people who don't live in areas of the country where they have thunderstorms often do. I laughed and told her that Leif would think I was crazy if I called him and told him to come home in a thunderstorm and that he knew enough about them to get inside. She was still concerned, so I told her she could call him, and she did. He was both touched and amused, but he didn't come home in the storm, which was for the best. He shouldn't have been out in it, so he stayed put with some friends in Aggieville and came home hours later after the storm was long past.
He would have enjoyed the opportunity to do some time-lapse photography of lightning, but he didn't have either the equipment or a safe place to do it.
This photo is from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory image collection: NOAA Photo Library
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Peter W. and I had a relaxing swim at Turtle Beach on Siesta Key today. On the way home, Peter was saying he was feeling really happy, and how much he enjoyed being with me. I was relaxed and happy, too. However, inevitably in the car on the way home, our conversation turned to Leif, how we were feeling, how much we had wished for him in life. It's the recurrent theme of our lives now. We are rounding some kind of corner, where we are able to enjoy things, enjoy being together, but the undercurrent comes back, the loss that stands in the background.
Peter asked me if I still cry every day. I told him I do. Not always a lot, though sometimes more than others. He said he wished he could take that sadness away. I said, the sadness isn't mine alone, and he acknowledged that was true. He asked if I talk about it with anyone, and I said no. He said, you just keep it private? Yes, pretty much so, except for some times on this blog. Although anyone can read it, it seems impersonal when writing it, like a diary, and so it's easier than to actually talk to someone, when I might break down in tears and embarrass myself. Here, no one sees.
We talked about how we wished we could have taken him to dinner with us, remembered the beach vacations we had with our boys, talked about how we wanted to take Leif on another cruise with us and now will never have that chance.
We had such good years, such a good life, Peter W. and I with our boys. How fortunate we were. Even now, with Leif's death a shadow over us, we are so fortunate to have each other, to have Peter Anthony and his family, to have had those wonderful 33 years with Leif. No, they weren't all wonderful. They weren't without problems, but they are the problems of normal, everyday living, which, in the end, is all we have and what we must treasure.
The photo was taken of Leif at the swimming pool near our townhouse in Charlottesville, Virginia in June 1977. He was not quite two and a half years old.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I don't know for which online dating service Leif wrote this, but I think he wrote may have written it in late 2007 or early 2008. Appended to the end of it was a "treatise" on dating that I found in a more complete and separate from saved as his "old" Match.com profile from 2004. Since I already posted that (look for "dating" in the keywords and you will find it), I am not adding that part here.
Leif was very impressed with the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. One time he sent me email saying he "just about lost it" when he found a Myers-Briggs website that described him to a "T." He was really thrilled that somewhere, someone understood what he was all about.
Leif was fond of saying that he was unemotional, and on the surface, that was usually true, at least once he got control of his emotions as a child, but still waters run deep and he was a very emotional man under that calm and cool exterior.
Leif was so smart that it was hard for him to find either men or women who could keep up with what he considered a "real" conversation, not small talk, but substance, repartee, information. He placed a very high value on people who could provide the kind of intellectual companionship and stimulation he wanted and needed, but they were not easy to find. Many people were intimidated by his breadth of knowledge and his ability to argue a point.
It seems like an odd coincidence to me that today I was seeing several of my Facebook friends taking a Facebook app version of the Myers Briggs test, and then finding this profile of himself that Leif wrote. So here he is in his own words. The photo was taken September 10, 2004.
INTJ Personality Profile
So Who am I? Well, first I am an INTJ. For those that have never taken the Myers Briggs personality test I highly recommend it. It will tell you a lot about yourself you likely did not consciously know. Just google "MBTI" to take the test and "INTJ" to find out what makes me tick.
I am an odd one. We only make up about 1% of the population. The short version is that I am an extremely analytical, but practical perfectionist that tends to look at life and everything as a problem to be solved and/or improved. Life fascinates me and ever since I was a kid I was always asking, "Why?" about just about everything. Failing to find answers to many questions I began to do what I do best and analyze the world myself.
I have come to realize many things via intuition and deduction that were never taught to me but just made sense. Often I would try to confirm such things with experts who would ask me where I learned them and they never believe me when I say I just figured them out myself. I tend to live most of my life inside my own head and at times people think I am anti-social or unfriendly. Neither are true; it's just that I am an introvert, so not very outgoing, and most often my mind is busy contemplating something like evolutionary biology and how it related to gender roles or some such thing that most people don't really want to talk about.
I have a hard time staying involved in small talk or discussions of who is winning the game on TV. What I am looking for in general is a mind that is as hungry for epiphany as mine, that is open enough to have their ideas challenged and to learn from those challenges and become wiser and more enlightened. Such souls are rare.
When it comes to a perfect relationship I think its about balance, finding a mate with complimentary characteristics so they are strong where you are weak to compensate for your shortcomings and weak where you are strong so you may feel needed and vital. Opposites attract but there must be commonality. I think the Yin Yang symbol illustrates this best; two halves, each containing a piece of the other, which allows for understanding but still complete opposites which balance each other and together form a complete circle.
For the common ground, to quote "High Fidelity", "It's not what YOU are like, its WHAT you like," meaning common interests. As to balance, what is my half? I am strong, masculine, intellectual, and analytical. I am rational, not emotional. I don't get stressed and am cool under fire. I am solid, stable, extremely honest ,and loyal. I am polite, courteous, and a gentleman. I am dominant in personality, but not domineering or controlling. I am protective, and passionate.
What am I missing and seek in my better half is feminine compassion, a woman that is perhaps a bit more giving, empathetic and accommodating than I tend to be in my relatively detached rational logic. Someone that is sweet and silly and unafraid to be herself the way that little kids are before they learn that they are supposed to be cool. I have found that cute silly misfits and lovable dorks are much more magnetic and attractive than any of the "cool" people.
I want a woman who knows what she wants and what she doesn't want and can recognize the deeper more valuable traits in a person beyond what is superficial, ephemeral, or fiscal. I would love a woman that knows what the word ephemeral means, or at least is curious enough to look it up. (Admittedly I only learned it from someone I dated a couple years ago).
I want a woman that I can sit down with at a Starbucks or a pub and discuss any range of advanced subjects from political philosophy, to sexual psychology, to quantum physics. A woman that can teach me something and is curious enough to be interested when I expound on the physics of traction and why front wheel drive cars suck.
I don't mind a woman being spiritual as long as she thinks for herself and doesn't let a church or an ancient book dictate her thoughts or morals without confirming t hem from her own analysis. If you are a believer, that does not mean we are inherently incompatible, just know that I am a scientist and a philosopher and I will never blindly accept religious doctrine. Anyway, if you have read all of this and are still interested I would love to hear from you.
Monday, August 10, 2009
It's so hard to believe it has been sixteen months today since we found our son's lifeless body. It still doesn't seem possible he is gone forever. We talk about him every day. We notice things he would enjoy, like a motorcycle race on tv, on the Isle of Man. We wish he was here to give us advice about buying a car. I talk to him every day. Tears still come. We still ask, over and over, why?
Leif loved animals. His pets were dear to him, but his protectiveness of animals extended far beyond that. In September 2007, seven months before he died, while he was recovering from his collarbone surgery after his motorcycle accident, he sent out an email strongly condemning the cruel treatment of animals. That resulted in some email exchanges with members of the family. I am posting some excerpts of what he wrote below. They are very revealing of his feelings about causing harm, pain and death of innocent creatures.
"Any of you that know me know that I am not much of an activist or a humanitarian but on occasion I come across something that I just can't ignore. Sending an email out to those I know is a very small effort and if it makes a difference for even one fuzzy creature then it was certainly worth my time. I stumbled upon this as a sidebar ad on Yahoo Mail because I recognized the name Trent Reznor as musician I respect and admire from the Group "Nine Inch Nails" or NIN. I was suprised and impressed that he was involved in this. Watch the video and share it. It is short but shocking. Ironically, for myself I have little sympathy for the suffering and death of most humans, whom I generally see as corrupt and self serving, yet I could not kill an animal unless it was a threat or I needed it for food, and after doing so I would feel regret at even the necesity. Anyway, here it is:"
Trent Rezor's Shocking New Fur Video
He got some responses from those to whom he sent the email, including from me, and he answered:
"Yeah, I don't condone hunting or any sort of unecessary killing or hurting of animals. Animals of course hunt and kill, but they do so out of necessity. Never hear of a lion keeping a collection of anelope heads to show other lions how cool he is. You know my attitudes about gun ownership and right so I won't repeat them save for how they relate to this issue. I have been asked either directly or via the basic and often repeated media question of why do I need/own an assault rifle? What sporting purpose does it have, or, most bluntly, what are you going to hunt with that thing? To which I would reply, "whatever gives me a reason to shoot it. Innocent fuzzy animals rarely do." I mean, if I found an alligator in my back yard and it was not safe to wait for Florida Fish and Game to remove it I might shoot it, but otherwise not. I honestly hope that I will never have cause to shoot my weapons at anything but some paper targets or maybe a clay pigeon, but then one never knows. Being a cynic and a beliver in the Boy Scout idea that it is better to have it and not need it than need in and not have it should home ever become like Iraq or Darfur, I choose to arm myself.
"I would not shoot an animal unless it threatened me or I needed to eat it and had no alternative, and killing animals for their hides is just wrong. Leather is one thing; it's a byproduct of a necessary meat industry. We don't murder cows for leather. We do kill them for food, but that is necessary. Leather is just a bonus.
"One little success of mine was managing to get some video taken off of MySpace and YouTube and hopefully getting some US marines in hot water with PETA. A friend came across a video of some marines shooting dogs for fun in Iraq. Some yellow Lab-looking mutt was just sitting there panting, trying to stay cool and this marine just goes up and pops a round in it with his rifle. The poor dog yelps in pain as it hit it in the flank and it tried feebly to move or get away, but my guess would be that it was hit in the lower spine as its mangled hindquarters did not respond at all. The marine shoots it twice more and it yelps in pain again but is still twiching. The marine walks away from it, off camera, making a callous remark about his surprise that it is not dead yet. This is followed by another marine carryng a SAW [squad automatic weapon] who stands over the poor dying dog and puts it out of its misery with a short burst of full auto fire.
"We were actually in contact with these assholes via email for a while and I tried to impress upon them how wrong it was. They replied saying that I had no idea what it's like over there and that made it ok, and that they knew other special forces guys, even, that shot dogs, and that made it ok. And, that since I was a mere infantryman from the lowly army that I knew nothing compared to the higher morality of marine force recon - and that made it ok. And that the heroic deed of these fighting men, which were undoubtedly virtuous, made it ok for them to viciously murder an innocent dog for their sadistic amusement. It wasn't just one dog. Actually there were clips of them shooting others from afar for target practice. They eventually toook the video down and closed their MySpace profiles, hopefully not before PETA got ahold of their info, as we send the links to them.
"What amazed me was that all these other marines came to defend this guy and to attack me for not blindly supporting and worshiping him as a member of marine force recon. What I found surprising was not that they defended their buddy, or even his character, but they actually defended his actions. Were I to witness a buddy do that I might defend him as a man, considering his other deeds, but I would still tell him he was an asshole and admit that what he had done was wrong.
"Ironically, I am really not even a dog lover, but then what animal besides man causes pain or death for purposes of amusement?"
I don't know whether Leif's assertion that animals are not killed for their hides for leather is completely true, but he believed it. We also pointed out to him that killing animals for their meat is not completely necessary, as people do live as vegetarians. However, he felt that food needs are legitimate throughout the animal kingdom, and that while regrettable, were understandable. He was an avid meat eater. I do wonder how difficult it would have been for him had he lived in another time in history and been forced to hunt for his meat.
The first photo above is Leif with our kitten, Scamp, circa fall 1987, in his favorite black leather Members Only jacket. The second one is Leif feeding pigeons in Kamakura, Japan, in May 1981.