Another Day, One Year Removed

According to this website, Martin Luther King Day is a federal holiday held on the third Monday of January. It celebrates the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr., an influential American civil rights leader. He is most well-known for his campaigns to end racial segregation on public transport and for racial equality in the United States.

On MLK Day a year ago, Mark was watching a parade in Chipley, Florida. He had six more days of walking ahead of him before he’d be hit and killed walking westward, along U.S. 90.

I started watching Mark’s videos back in October. This was just prior the beautiful event that Brown (Mark’s library co-workers and members of the school’s literary arts department) held on a perfect fall day that also happened to be Josiah Carberry Day.

Each day I watched and wrote through the fall, as I was navigating Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period as an insurance rep, trying to supplement my income, selling Medicare Advantage insurance. I made several trips down the coast and back, working on a story about Bucksport and the closing of its mill. I began tutoring in September at Hyde School, a private boarding school nearby where Cher’s son attended, as well as Michael McDonald’s (of The Doobie Brothers) son.

We passed from one season into the next. Winter brought snow and bitter cold. Mark’s parents experienced their first Thanksgiving without him, his birthday, then Christmas, New Years. Interspersed with this, we made an important and meaningful trip to California, and we buried the remains of our son on Memorial Day weekend. This Saturday, we’ll experience the first anniversary of his death. I note all of this to say that life goes on after a loved one dies, but the emotional pain and hurt never leaves. You find a way to carry on, but your heart aches each and every day.

Time doesn’t bring healing, or a lessening of the pain. Actually, I think the passing of time simply drives home the reality that your loved one is never coming back.

I just finished reading a book about a family that lost their 18-year-old son. The loss devastated the parents and their daughter, who was very close to her brother, three years older than she was. Rather than face the death of their son directly, the parents retreated into a cocoon of religious extremism, and neglected their daughter, who was entering high school and womanhood. Her weight dropped down to 85 pounds because she wasn’t eating.

Name All the Animals: A Memoir, by Alison Smith, was a book that I found somewhat enjoyable, for reading’s sake, but it also made me consider the approach that Mary and I have taken following Mark’s death. We didn’t retreat into despair, couched in religious veneer like Smith’s parents did. We haven’t tried to drown our sorrows, or medicate them away. If there were ever two people who had an excuse to quit and crawl under a rock, it would be us. But we haven’t. Why have we continued to face this thing head on and not give up?

Other people have talked about us being “heroic.” Why is it considered extraordinary to keep on keeping on?

All last week, I couldn’t help but notice the hand-wringing on social media. Yes, we have an awful human being as president. So what? Life sucks—move on! For some reason, I kept hearing the old Wobbly refrain, “Don’t Mourn, Organize” in my head. For Mary and me, maybe we can alter it to, “Mourn (for Mark), but Organize.” That seems to work (for us).

Come on people—suck it up! We’ve got work to do and our team is down a key member, and he’s not coming back. How about redoubling our efforts in Mark’s honor and memory?

Mark certainly modeled pushing through adversity each and every day on his final walk. In re-watching these videos, that’s been apparent to me. He just didn’t have any quit in him.

On Saturday, we hope to be with FANG and some of Mark’s fellow activists in Providence. They’ll be remembering Mark, and taking part in a march for a better world. Mark would have been there if he’d made it back home from his walk.

This is a tough week. Just like the other 51 weeks have been, since Mark’s death.

Mark with a fellow Earth-lover, in Chipley, FL on MLK Day, 2017.