A Rough Patch

In mid December, which seems like a lifetime ago, we had to say goodbye to our dog Jojo. He was a good boy for over 16 years. Initially I was not what you’d call a “dog person” but that changed over the years. While he was much closer to my wife than me, following her around the house wherever she went, he was a part of the whole family. It was especially hard on my youngest who hasn’t known a time without Jojo around. We’d known for some time that it was time. For the last few months he couldn’t walk very well. He’d fall down and couldn’t get back up especially on non-carpeted floors. He couldn’t see very well. He had a lot of accidents and you could tell he was ashamed. We knew it was time but it took us longer than it probably should have to let him go.

Though we agreed as a family that we’d make the right decision it was still hard during the first holiday season without him. We’d scheduled two weeks during the holidays to get away from everything and try to just be. It started well enough. We went to visit my mom and stepdad (Johnny) in Chattanooga that Sunday before Christmas. My mom is in poor health and he had been working hard at his job and taking care of her, but he still made sure to make us his famous “green chili” for our visit. Our visit lasted a few hours as we gobbled down that chili and watched them open our Christmas presents then he packed me up some leftover chili and we headed home.

Christmas was a low key affair. Just me, Susie, and the kids with the oldest coming in from Knoxville the evening before. It was a peaceful day spend opening presents and watching A Christmas Story on repeat all day long. The oldest returned to Knoxville that evening a we settled in to enjoy the remaining week and a half reprieve before returning to the daily grind.

On Friday, the 27th we got the news that Johnny had been admitted to the hospital after having suffered a cardiac arrest. The news hit us like a thunderbolt. My stepdad has been part of my life for nearly 40 years and though I’ve always called him “stepdad” he was very much like a second father to me. The details of what exactly happened were unclear except we knew that his heart had stopped for a period of time and he would likely have some sort of brain damage. They were unable to determine the extent since he had a pacemaker and they were unable to determine if it was safe to perform an MRI. Initially it seemed like perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad. On Saturday I talked to my brother, who lives with my mom and stepdad, and the diagnosis was still unclear. We decided to wait until Sunday to visit in hopes that we would have a better understanding of expectations. Late that evening we found out that the outlook was grim and we needed to meet as a family the following day to determine whether or not to keep him on a respirator. We were told that if he survived the removal of the respirator he would likely be in a vegetative state indefinitely.

On Sunday, the 29th, we went and got mom and took her to the hospital. It was so hard to see Johnny in the state he was in. Later than afternoon, after consultation with the physician, we all agreed that it would be best to remove the respirator. I guess at this point I should mention that my mom has a form of Parkinson’s which makes it difficult for her to communicate more than a few words. She’s also wheelchair bound and needs help with all but the most basic tasks. She did give her consent by nodding. After the respirator was removed, we took her home that evening and left her in the care of my brother and his fiancé though we had started to wonder what would be best in the long term at this point. My brother has a good heart and he and his fiancé and her kids have helped take care of mom over the years but you could say he has also relied on their help almost as much as they have relied on him.

The next day I talked to my sister and she thought it might be good for us to take mom home with us that evening and Susie and I agreed. We met my mom and sister at the hospital that afternoon and were there as they moved Johnny from the ICU to a regular room to be made comfortable. Afterwards we returned to Smithville with mom. Susie made dinner and just after we started to eat we got the word that my stepdad had passed. It was Monday, December 30th.

That evening my mom determined that it would okay for Johnny to be an organ donor so we would unable to make arrangements for the funeral until New Year’s Day. Mom continued to stay with us and I knocked together an iPad app which would help her communicate with us. On the first day of 2020 arrangements were made for visitation Sunday with the funeral on Monday the 6th…

I’m probably going into more detail than I should, and there is much more to the situation than I’m willing to put down here. Not to mention that this post would end up being the length of a small novel if I went into detail about all that has happened over the last couple weeks. But the big thing is that it was eventually agreed upon by all the siblings that it would be best for mom to live with Susie and I indefinitely. Somewhere during all of this we came to realize that Johnny had recently arranged hospice care for mom and we had to get all of that transferred over. The people there have been so helpful for her and us in getting her comfortable in her new home.

In the meantime Susie and I are trying to get a handle on what our lives will look like going forward. We’ve both taken a leave of absence from work and our employers have also been so understanding of our situation and helping us work through it. Fortunately we have the resources to allow us to not have to worry about finances right away. But it’s difficult to say how long that will last. There are so many question marks at this point. It’s hard to know what the next week will bring much less what things will look like months down the road.

It’s a rainy morning as I sit here and type this and reflect on everything that’s happened and everything we need to take care of going forward. It’s hard to stay positive sometimes. But right now mom laying in her bed watching the Game Show network, enjoying a nutritious chocolate donut breakfast while waiting for a visit from her nurse. Right this minute everything is basically okay, so that’s good.

The Experiment

Sometime, I think maybe last year, I decided to take a break from social media. Well, not a complete break but a radical reduction in my usage. Facebook in particular. What once upon a time had been a bit of a mindless diversion that would end in a smile slowly morphed into something that had the opposite effect as the platforms begin to feel more like outrage machines. I think I’ve scribbled my thoughts down on this before. Or maybe not. Pretend I have.

Fast forward to the summer of this year. It’s no secret that I’m troubled with the current leadership of the country. I don’t like who we’ve become and decided part of that was on those, like me, who were fairly apathetic when it comes those we chose to represent us. I came to believe that the best way to change things would be from the ground up and so I paid much closer attention to down ballot races than I ever had before and voted for the first time in the primaries. At the time I didn’t even know who my state representatives were.

Anyway the point of all that is, in order to follow the campaigns, I had to be on social media. Initially I tried to limit that as much as possible to Twitter but most of the local candidates had a more active presence on Facebook than Twitter. I did post about that here in a sort of open letter to the candidates. Still there was no avoiding Facebook if I wanted to stay connected.

I had wrestled in the past how to react to posts that I disagreed with and especially those that were outright fabrications. I had tried for a long time, with varying degrees of success, to follow a personal rule to avoid political or religious talk. As time wore on and the polarization continued to grow that became harder to do and I struggled for a solution. I saw plenty of posts turn into arguments. And some people that would simply block those they didn’t agree with. But mostly I noticed that day by day people started to drift away. Eventually I decided that would be best for me as well.

While I was away I’d often wonder what could be done to help open people’s eyes to the tribalism that I feel is consuming us. How we could avoid the echo chambers that drive us further apart. If there was any way way to establish an organization that all people could turn to as an arbiter of truth. Things of this nature. I was flailing about for any straw to grasp. As I considered a return to Facebook I decided there was no magic bullet. But I also decided that I couldn’t just turn my back on people hope that things magically got better. I began to liken it to this: if I have a friend or family member talking up this amazing opportunity to get in on a deal which is clearly a Ponzi scheme do I smile and nod politely for fear of offending them? Do I pretend I didn’t hear and walk away? Or do I explain why this is a bad idea?

I decided to return with a new set of rules. I’d continue trying to avoid overt political or religious posts but whenever I happened upon posts that were clearly mischaracterizations or outright lies I’d try and provide accurate information and sources to back that up. And maybe, just maybe little by little people might become a bit more skeptical of their own sources.

Well of course that didn’t happen.

What’s worse, I think the FB algorithms took notice of the sort of posts I was commenting on and assumed I wanted to see lots more of them. So each day I was the one that was worn down little by little. I guess since a lot of the posts I saw were mostly about tearing people down it was hard to resist the urge to fight fire with fire and go on offense. Yesterday I allowed that to happen a little bit. Today I decided I don’t like where this is heading so it’s time for another break.

The hardest part of all this is that many of these people are family. We were all raised with similar values and somehow my interpretation of them is so different it makes me feel like a stranger among folks I’ve known my whole life. It’s a very lonely feeling. I’ve tried to understand and make myself understood but I’m just not able.

I should say before I wrap up that there are some that are sympathetic to my cause. If you happen to one of those I apologize. Hopefully I’ll return ready to fight the good fight again soon.

The Fall

I do like the fall. The season that is. Not so much the Life Alert variety.

Saturday I was in the woods in Smithville playing (cleaning up the trail) and when I reached the bottom I decided to make my way to the creek to just see what I could see. No particular reason just wondering if I could gauge the erosion problem and if there was anything to be done about it. I cleared out a bit of debris from the creek bed and as I turned to make my way back I had to navigate down a large piece of shale at a 30° angle or so. There was no moss on it so I figured my boots would maintain traction. I was wrong. Very wrong. It happened so fast it’s hard to know exactly how it happened but I think my right foot slid down the rock and when it reached the bottom it grabbed and twisted it to the left. The whole bottom portion of my leg twisted in fact. But the upper portion did not. There was a horrifying sound that reminded me of a turkey leg being twisted off. As I lay on the ground writhing in pain I honestly didn’t know if the bottom of my leg was still attached. I expected it to flop around if I tried to stand. Somehow everything seemed to be connected. I tried to call and then text Sue but got no response. I had no idea how I was going to get out so I tried to test it. On the second step my knee gave out again and I was once again laying on the ground. Nearly in tears. I decided I was going to have to scoot on my butt back up to the trail. The slope of the creek bank is insane. It was going to be hard to get back up even with full use of my limbs. By that time, Susie had answered my text and was making her way down to me. I had made it maybe 10 – 20 feet up the bank by the time she arrived. She was able to help me out of a few tricky spots but I was reluctant to rely on her too much lest we both fall back down into the creek bed. At the point where the trail ends it’s perhaps a 20 or 30 foot drop to the creek bed.

Once we made it to the trail I tried testing my leg again on somewhat level ground and my knee gave out again. But I did have a rake with me which I used as a crutch and eventually figured out that if I kept my knee locked I could side step without it buckling. The trail is a quarter mile with a 200’ change in elevation. I reckon from the time of my fall until we actually got back to the house was maybe an hour.

In general I avoid going to the doctor until I’ve had a problem for more than a week or two but Susie really wanted me to go to the ER. In this case I was inclined to agree with her. Although I did talk her into allowing me a shower before we went. I was pretty much a mess after all of that. They got me back pretty quickly but the diagnosis, such as it was took a couple of hours. They asked about pain levels and tried to move my leg in various ways. Then they ordered an X-Ray. And eventually I learned that there was no fracture although there was fluid building up. Up to the point we went to the ER I’d kept that leg fairly active and was able to make it back to the examination room on my own (slowly) but in the hours laying there as the swelling increased the pain increased right along with it. They put me in a knee immobilizer and were prepared to send me on my way but I could no longer put weight on that leg without significant pain so I was given some crutches as well.

As I left my understanding of the diagnosis was this: it was either a torn meniscus or a sprain but it more specific diagnosis would have to wait until the swelling went down at which point I should see an orthopedist. I floated the idea of waiting a week and if it seemed better maybe I could skip that and the doctor seemed to indicate that was reasonable. A sprain didn’t seem so bad but since then I’ve learned that there are 3 classes of sprains: stretched tendon, partial tear, complete tear. Further if it’s a partial tear I may end up completely tearing it. On the other hand leaving my knee in this immobilizer may also not be good for it. So I’m totally confused about what I should be doing and have decided I need to see an orthopedist for a clear diagnosis and recovery plan.

I’m four days into this and there is still swelling. I can walk with the immobilizer without crutches though sometimes it sends a jolt of pain through my knee. I am able to sleep through the night now though. The first night I was unable to sleep at all since, for some reason, it’s more painful with my knee elevated than it is when I’m standing. Anyway, I’m hopeful that it’s not too bad and that I can get back on my feet again soon.


On February 12, 1884, Teddy Roosevelt wrote a large ‘X’ in his diary followed by the words “The light has gone out of my life”. His wife died that day after giving birth a few days earlier. His mother had died a few hours before.

I spent yesterday marinating in what passes for political discourse these days and the abject hopelessness I have for any sort of change for the better. In fact I’m convinced that things will continue to get worse before they get better. I felt what remaining faith I had in this country’s institutions continue to vanish yesterday. The whole truth, justice and the American way thing that I grew up naively believing in. That evening Teddy’s diary entry popped into my head. And though perhaps a bit melodramatic, I signed out of Twitter for the evening with an X.

For what it’s worth, I’m a pretty strong believer in Occam’s razor. That is that the simplest solution tends to be the right one. In the case of Christine Blassey Ford’s accusation and Brett Kavanaugh’s denials it seems they both give every indication what they are saying is true. I’ve been through a few traumatic experiences and the details that she recollects as well as those she doesn’t are consistent with my own experiences. I can make you a sketch but I can’t draw a perfect picture. As for Kavanaugh, there’s not only a memory dimmed by alcohol and the passage of time, but if we assume that his teenage mind really didn’t think too much of it, then I can see where it wouldn’t have left an impression that was, to use Blassey Ford’s phrase, “indelible in the hippocampus”.

At least midway through Kavanaugh’s opening remarks this is where I stood. And then it all went off the rails when he attributed the whole mess as a political hit job as revenge on behalf of the Clintons. After going off the rails it continued on a bit before going over a cliff, crashing into a ravine, and bursting into flames after Lindsey Graham’s explosive accusations against the Democrats. As if there was only one party playing politics here. The hypocrisy was breathtaking and I couldn’t help but recall Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying in 2016: “One of my proudest moments was when I looked at Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.’” A proud moment when you’re doing it to the other side and a sham when you believe it’s being done to you. Lindsey Graham said he hoped that the American people see through this charade and a good many of us do. So please Senator Graham, spare us your righteous indignation.

After the hearing I popped onto Facebook where most of the people I follow have a decided tilt to the right and I suppose I shouldn’t have been terribly surprised at the way it was playing there. I repeatedly saw comments to the effect that the left had already made up their minds before the hearings got started. As if those on the other side had not. All throughout Dr. Blassey Ford’s testimony the @GOP Twitter feed was posting a continuous stream of tweets with the hashtag #IStandWithBrett. The GOP didn’t even bother with the appearance of considering anything she had to say.

While I concede the manner in which Dr. Blassey Ford’s accusation came to light contains some curiosities, it doesn’t diminish its importance. This is not someone steeped in the daily political intrigues of those that made a career of it in Washington, DC. She strikes me as sincere and I believe her when she says her motivations were out of a sense of civic obligation despite concerns that she “would just be jumping in front of a train that was just headed to where it was headed anyway”.

I believe she was silenced 36 years ago by Mr. Kavanaugh while looking for rescue from an onlooker. This time around it’s the Senate and the nation looking on but I don’t hold out much hope that the results will be any different…

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get into this specifics of yesterday’s hearing. This was supposed to be a post about factions and parties. I meant to mention things like Washington’s warning about the harmful effects of parties during his farewell address. And how it’s always been this way but today it’s turned up to eleven. How so many are less concerned with the truth and more concerned about which side is winning and which side is losing. I can tell you, we’re all losing.

Abraham Lincoln had this to say in his first inaugural address:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Now Lincoln is my favorite President. I used to treasure that statement. I believed it. Wholeheartedly. Despite the fact that he said this on the eve of a war that would go on to kill nearly 700,000 Americans and ended up with a hole in his head. Confronted as I am with the events of yesterday and all that’s gone on before, I have to confess I have my doubts in these better angels.

Thoughts on the Debate

Last night the Tennessee candidates for the US Senate, Phil Bredesen and Marsha Blackburn, held their first debate in Lebanon, TN. And from the beginning it was a marked contrast in styles. Bredesen arrived early and spoke to supporters gathered outside on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Blackburn arrived 45 minutes later and headed directly into the building offering only a wave to the supporters that had gathered for her.

I have to be honest though, once the debate started I felt that Blackburn’s presentation was a bit more polished than Bredesen’s. That is to say her mannerisms, body language, what have you. Blackburn’s style may have been more polished, but the substance of Bredesen’s message was much more appealing to me.

If you had to boil this debate down to its essence, Blackburn’s message was less about solutions and more about trying to associate Bredesen with others in the Democratic party. Apart from a pledge by Bredesen at the beginning of the debate that he would not support Chuck Schumer as senate leader he mostly ignored these jabs. You see this tactic all the time. Perhaps because the typical politician today is expected to put party over country and do as they’re told. But Bredesen repeatedly demonstrated a history and willingness to work across the aisle to solve problems and not get bogged down in the mud slinging that’s come to dominate the political landscape of today. It was downright refreshing.

Blackburn may have actually made the best argument in favor of Bredesen last night when she said “he could have run as a Republican or independent.” To me this perfectly illustrates that he’s an independent thinker not beholden to any particular party line. A welcome change.

And looking back I couldn’t help but draw parallels between their messages and the way that they arrived at the debate. Bredesen arrived early and spoke to the people he hopes to represent while Blackburn showed up later and mostly ignored them.