My favorite book is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. There’s beautiful language, it’s concise and moving and it’s important from a literary standpoint, but that’s not why I love it.
In the book, the fictional character Jake Barnes, because of injuries sustained in war, cannot be in a physical relationship with a woman, despite being in love with one.
When I first read the book, in my freshman year of undergraduate school at Syracuse University, I was immediately taken aback by what type of modesty and openness would propel a man to write something that many men would spend a lifetime trying to avoid the mere suggestion of. There are many causes for insecurity among men, and we all deal with them in different ways, but few seem as harsh as the one described by Barnes. What I loved most about the book was the honesty, even if it were fiction. It seems that some of the most honest writing is.
I think that to admire a quality without trying to emulate it constitutes some type of cowardice or hypocricy, so here goes.
I was on the train into Boston yesterday, working toward a Directed Study that would function in the capacity of a repeated Catch a Cure project, in Texas this time, and I was trying to post something on Facebook in commemoration of my father’s passing on that day, two years prior.
I just started crying. There have been plenty of times, his birthday, Father’s Day, talking to my mother, when I’ve swallowed those tears but the well where I put them must be full. I just miss him, I guess. Emotion isn’t typically terribly complicated.
When I was 24-years old I slept in the back of my Jeep Wrangler at the time for 200 nights, to fish my way across the country. I lost 42 pounds. Some nights, toward the end of that trip, were brutally cold, and I mean like 20-below, Ketchum-Idaho cold. I’d shiver myself awake in the night to blast the heat and fall back asleep. Since I was about 18 I’ve been covering myself in tattoos that I hope act as some means of telling my story even if I’m too quiet to. Some were smaller and took less than an hour, but others took three-plus hours and the needle lingered on the skin that barely covers the bone. When my father passed, I flew home from Boston, stood in front of a crowded church, and did my best to eulogize the man I loved. I say all of this to suggest that tears aren’t an easy thing to extract from me, by any means. I could count the times I’ve cried in the past decade on one hand, with fingers to spare.
And I was very hesitant to write this, but two notions gave me some solace. First, I am fairly certain that only a few human beings actually lay eyes on these words, and most of them know me well enough to know these things about me anyway. Secondly, I thought: perhaps, and more than likely, there are others out there feeling this too, going through what I’m going through, and what purpose does it serve for us all to smile and hide our pain so that we might, on the face of the matter, all seem to be utterly alone in how we feel?
Two years ago yesterday I was on a plane back to Boston, having visited my father for the last time, when my mother called to tell me he’d passed, and yesterday at that same time I was on a train into the city.
It’s pure coincidence that I was aboard public transport both days, but I find the circumstance strangely fitting.
On a train, or a plane for that matter, you both are, and are not, moving. You might be said to be sitting still while speeding over land at dozens, or hundreds of miles per hour.
And losing a parent, as many of you might know, feels oddly similar. I know it has been two years since I’ve held my father’s hand, heard him speak or tried to make him laugh. I know that time has moved, and me with it. But, like on a train, it does not feel as though I’ve moved away from the son who would call every night to exchange casual pleasantries and assurances that I am okay, along with questions about his well-being.
I remember the first thing I did when I’d heard that he’d passed: I tried to call his cell phone. He was a nervous guy, and because he was constantly afraid of losing potential business as a criminal defense attorney, he’d answer his phone no matter the time of day or night, without fail. It just rang. And rang. I was 27.
I’ve undertaken a battle against melanoma, the cancer that took his life, and absolutely everyone who has shared my content, purchased a T-shirt, donated a product or given a dollar has meant more to me than I can express. It feels like I am fighting back against the evil that did so much harm to my family’s life. It is not happiness, but it is some solace.
So when I thought about sharing this, I heard the voices of those who might potentially respond, and I’ve heard them aloud. “Nobody wants to read about cancer.” “Death is depressing, move forward, find happiness…” And I’m trying. Friends here at Emerson in Boston, friends from back home in New York, and so many anglers in Florida have made that so much easier for me than it might have been otherwise.
But I thought that perhaps out there there might be one other person, going through something similar, something equally painful, if not more so.
And I’ve read and debated and listened a great deal about the purpose of writing, or any art, but only one thing has ever made sense to me in a way I can’t shake. I believe that whatever we are saying, in words, images or with paint or drawings or photographs… should be some variation of one simple idea:
“You’re not alone.”