Cost of Corporations

Corporations are like vultures (and I apologize to the vultures of the world, as in the natural world; they perform a service, unlike corporations). They figuratively pick over the remains of the deceased, and they do it systematically and with precision. All with the wink and nod approval of our government overseers.

At least vultures in the natural world provide a service.

Bureaucratic structures seem designed to wear you down and extract what little resistance a grieving person might be able to muster. Life insurance is just one of the structures that comes to mind. Kafka wrote about this.

Then, there are states like Florida, where the dregs of society go to skirt personal responsibility, especially when it comes to killing pedestrians. No requirements at all for an errant driver owning anything substantive in terms of liability. Not sure how the laws developed there in terms of their homestead exemption and bankruptcy. Again, I’m sure the powers that be were tacit in the process. Oh, and Progressive Insurance, you suck!

It’s never been lost on me that Mark identified many of these things during his 101 days of walking and sharing. He recognized that lie that all of us have been sold and continue buying. He told the truth in a non-judgmental  manner. And now he’s gone.

There’s plenty more to say and write, but the past two weeks haven’t been conducive to writing. Not that the previous weeks back to January 21 were, either.

A friend and former colleague told me that there would be a time when the world would return to their distractions. She cautioned us to prepare for being alone with our grief, not to mention the myriad other tasks of trying to locate some meaning in Mark’s death.

Come on, be a friend

I’ve mentioned numerous times in my recent posts that grief isn’t linear. Loss means you jump back and forth across the continuum and experience a full palette of emotions; that’s at least how I’ve been processing the death of Mark.

Two weeks ago, I felt a bit of creative intensity returning. I’ve been able to blog, mainly personal reflections about losing a son. However, I’ve been short on new ideas. Grief affects our cognitive abilities, just one of the “gifts” that grief delivers.

I remembered a friend of Mark’s that I met at his celebration of life. He had offered his eye as an editor for anything—taking a look at Mark’s work, or even ideas I might have.

Hesitant about sending something I’d put together—an idea for an essay related to Mark and my experience as his father processing death, grief, and some of the bitter/hateful reactions from some corners of the internet. I used an essay written by David Foster Wallace as my jumping off point, and the reaction that his subject had when Wallace later committed suicide.

At the very least, his reaction was disappointing. I’m fine with being offered a critique, and even some suggestions about how best to pitch something like this. Instead, he chose to be dismissive at best, offering little in the way of encouragement.

My mood over the past few weeks has been alternating between deep sadness and red-hot anger, with several outbursts of frustration. As disorienting as this up-and-down yo-yoing looks and feels, the counselor we’ve been visiting for two months assures me (and Mary) that all this is quite normal.

Someone I’ve never met, but who had been following Mark’s journey, initiated an online conversation shortly after he was killed. It’s obvious from his public profile and body of work that this person is immensely talented. He also knows compassion and how to extend it to those suffering loss. He recommended Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking as a place to find some solace and a book on mourning that was worthy of my time and effort. I’m grateful he did. Continue reading

A Machine Called Love

My body is a machine/
Built to force so much compassion and love and kindness into the world/that human life has no choice but to thrive and flourish.
[Poem by Mark Baumer-Day 28/Second Crossing of America]

Mark wrote this and recited it on his video from Day 28, the day following the Trump victory. He was in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania. On both sides of the road were farms and fields where peas had been harvested earlier in the fall. Mark is shrouded in his green rain poncho, as the day was rainy and probably cold.

On a rainy day in November, 63 days before he was to be killed, Mark speaks about human-induced climate change, how it’s causing typhoons and droughts. He indicts the American way of life, talks about ways that we can mitigate our personal contribution to global warming and climate change. He mentions that “one of the easiest things you can do to help the environment is stop eating animal products…you can do that today…you could have a huge impact if you just stopped eating meat.” Continue reading

Distancing from Darkness

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received several hand-written notes. These were all personalized acknowledgements of what Mary and I have been going through since Mark was killed on January 21. Often, they touched on the difficult time that this person had in reaching out and the struggle for words that adequately addressed what they thought we are going through.

When people that know you don’t respond, it only compounds the grief and loss that you are feeling. That’s been my experience anyways in not hearing from people that I assume know that we lost our only son—and that we are walking through a valley and have been for more than two months.

As Linda Andrews writes in her lovely and pertinent book about grief and loss, Please Bring Soup To Comfort Me While I Grieve,

When it comes to the topic of grief, many people are uncomfortable and unprepared to know what to say or do. Some people try to say the right thing and others just avoid the whole situation. The effect on the person who is grieving is devastating; feelings of pain, hurt, anger and disappointment prevail. People who are grieving are not in a position to understand this flaw in the human spirit. Continue reading

Pedestrians and Cars

The end-of-week news cycle is focused on the attack in London that occurred on Wednesday. A lone driver plowed his car into pedestrians on the city’s historic Westminster Bridge. The latest reports are that four people are known dead, with another 50 people receiving injuries ranging from minor to very serious.

While the media unravels details, seeking to supply motive and all the other things that have become the norm in reporting news events, real humans have been forever impacted by one man’s act. Mary and I know all-too-well how the actions of a solitary figure have the power to permanently alter one’s personal journey.

How our news is received is now ideological. No longer are most people able to simply process information and come to a conclusion. We have grown accustomed to having others tell us what events and actions mean. It’s important to frame everything in some larger narrative—terms like “terror,” “lone wolf,” and of course, the need to link it to “Islamism.”

Personally—especially since Mark was killed January 21—I no longer care to consume news that plays to the same old binary ways of framing the world and my life.  Actually, my aversion to black and white explanations dates much further back than that.

Historic Westminster Bridge, London

Continue reading

Losing Love

When a loved one is stolen from you by death, you immediately get clear about priorities and what’s important. Think of it as a refinement process unlike anything else most people will ever experience.

I haven’t been consuming news of late, no longer obsessing over the minutia of the daily cycle of events like I once did. When your son has been ripped from you by a senseless and careless act, the buffoon in the White House and his boorish antics seem trivial. Of course that also doesn’t mean that what’s taking place doesn’t have consequences.

During Mark’s final video, the day prior to being killed by a woman who happened to be a supporter of the man seeking to dismantle the country that I’ve known for 50+ years, he ticked off a litany of things that concerned him about the man who had just been sworn into office as our 45th president.

“We now officially have a president,” said Mark, “that does not believe in climate change. He wants the world to burn so he can profit. We have a president who hates women, who discriminates against women, who physically abuses women. We have a president who hates minorities, who wants to make minorities suffer. we have a president who hates disabled people, who doesn’t want to help people when they are in need. All he wants to do is profit. If you support this man, you do not support human life on this planet, plain and simple. You do not support the future of earth as a planet…”

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Head On

I’m pleased that copies of I am a Road are being snatched up. I want people to read Mark’s writing because it’s worthy of a wider audience. I haven’t been this busy shipping books since my own collection of essays came out in the summer of 2014. Of course, that may as well have been 100 years ago, given the events of the last eight weeks.

Our son, Mark, was a poet. I should add, an “award-winning poet,” as his walk was being partially funded by a poetry fellowship from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. The award likely became a factor, helping him again heed the road’s beck and call.

In 2015, Mark also won the Quarterly West Novella Contest, for Holiday Meat. I enjoyed finding this review by Mary-Kim Arnold, from last summer, and reading her obvious appreciation for the work and Mark’s writing.

Mark was just hitting his stride as a writer and poet. I can’t imagine where his commitment to craft might have taken him if he wasn’t tragically killed January 21, walking along a highway in Florida.

This thought is merely one of many that arrive daily, if not more often. Grief is packed full of questions relative to loved ones lost.

Packing books means that at some point, I need to bring them somewhere and ship them. Since we’re now in Brunswick, I’ve been a frequent visitor to the post office on Pleasant Street.

On Monday morning, I ran across the street after doing my book drop, and grabbed a stack of books about grief at Curtis Memorial Library. Out of six books randomly chosen, two might be rated as moderately helpful. I’m finding that most of the books occupying library self-help sections on the subject don’t offer much in terms of assuaging the pain associated with losing someone, especially a son that Mary and I loved more than life itself.

One book that I grabbed was pretty good, though. It was an older book, published by a small press in New York. It’s title, The Death of an Adult Child: A Book For and About Bereaved Parents. Definitely one that will never be considered an entry for “sexiest book title.” The book, published in 1998, isn’t one of the newer books on the topic, either.

The writer, Jeanne Webster Blank, lost a 39-year-old daughter to breast cancer three weeks after being diagnosed. Naturally, Blank and her husband were devastated.

Books about grief.

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Absurdity Illustrated

Wheaton College holds a special place in our hearts. It’s where Mark spent four formative years between August, 2002, and May, 2006. We made the 180-mile trek (from Durham, at the time) probably close to 100 times to visit him on-campus.

I’ve been reminded often of late that there are many people who don’t know of Mark’s baseball exploits at Wheaton and before that, at Greely High School, in Cumberland, Maine. In high school, Mark was also a defenseman in hockey, and one of the captains of the team as a junior and a senior. The barefoot-walking, vegan superhero, who didn’t seem enamored of “doing sports” while making videos and blogging his way across the country, was once quite an athlete.

Back when I was driving up-and-down (and sideways across) Maine, retraining the state’s workforce in my nonprofit role, I regularly touched on “transferable skills.” Mark’s death and the subsequent focus on his life and our memories of him reminded me on Wednesday that his laser-like focus and discipline he drew upon “doing sports” transferred readily to that next creative chapter in his life, when he walked away from the diamond.

Professor Charlotte Meehan played an integral role in Mark’s literary and creative development when he showed up at Wheaton. She organized a wonderful reading in his honor on Wednesday at the college. More than 50 people filled the May Room in the Mary Lyon building to hear selections chosen by Meehan of Mark’s work. These were read skillfully by former professors, his college baseball coach, the sports information director, friends and classmates, and other faculty. I closed the reading with a selection from my 2014 book of essays, specifically, “A Northerner’s Journey Crossing the South.” Continue reading

Marching forth for Mark

Grief does funny things to you. It’s not linear, and no, there aren’t five stages. Perhaps if you need to stage grief, know that passage doesn’t proceed neatly.

Mark was killed on January 21. We weren’t the first people who found out. Word passed slowly from where Mark was mangled by the side of the road by a woman, who at the very least couldn’t maintain her lane and left it—hitting Mark walking legally, in the ribbon of pavement reserved for pedestrians (he was walking against traffic, in the middle of the day, while wearing his fluorescent vest)—to possibly being distracted by something other than simply maintaining control of her 5,000-pound lethal weapon.

It was nearly 10:30 on Saturday night when the Maine State Trooper knocked on our front door. That was more than eight hours after Mark was pronounced dead.

I now know more about the timeline and who found out before we did. Some of those people botched the handling of that information. I’m not surprised, really. It’s pretty obvious to see from their actions since Mark was killed that they don’t care at all about how Mary and I feel about losing our only son. Obviously, they know little or nothing about grief and at the very least, they come up woefully short in the empathy department. Lacking basic humanness, could they not at the very least, send a corporate-produced card with a perfunctory message that says, “we’re sorry for your loss”? I know Hallmark carries some decent ones. Apparently not. But, it’s also not my fucking job to help you improve your skills in the area of compassion and grief. Continue reading

We Showed Up

There’s a huge advantage to living nearly halfway across the country from the rest of your clan when you are 21 and you are a brand new dad. This formative experience fosters deep bonds between you and the other two members of your unit.

Being so young and suddenly thrust into the role of parents forced the two of us to become really clear about our lives and our love for one another. Yes, I suppose we could have gone in the opposite direction, but what we lacked in money and resourceswe more than made up for in devotion to one another and our newborn baby boy, Mark.

When I look at photos of the two of us from the early 1980s, I’m struck by a couple of things. First, I’m amazed at how young we both looked. This was the stage in life when many people our age were getting started on a career, and contemplating what grad school to apply at. For the two of us, it was cobbling together enough cash to pay our rent, keep one of our two clunkers running and on the road, and later, how best to sync our dual work schedules so that Mark could have a parent home, spending time with him and nurturing his spirit.

On the steps of our duplex in Chesterton, IN (circa 1986)

After I fell out with the God people in Hammond and Crown Point, Indiana, I landed a job working in a prison. While Westville Correctional Center sure as hell wasn’t glamorous, it offered decent wages and even more important for our young family at the time—access to health insurance and our first HMO. Continue reading