One of the hard parts of going through a difficult part of life is the feeling, especially in today’s social-media driven culture, that we always have to present a positive face to the world. Whenever I see someone on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram mourning the loss of a loved one, or being honest about a difficult time, I’m always amazed by that courage. My tendency, and I’m sure many of ours, is to “grin and bear it,” and keep that smiling face regardless.
One of my favorite movies of all time is Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe playing Irish Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock. In one scene, Braddock’s wife, played by Renee Zellweger, goes to visit Crowe’s (Braddock’s) manager, played by Paul Giamatti. Giamatti opens the door to their apartment to reveal that they’ve sold everything that wasn’t nailed down (the movie takes place during the Great Depression). Sometimes glancing past a Facebook feed I wonder how many of us are, like Giamatti’s character was, “keeping up appearances.”
I read an article this morning by one of my favorite outdoor writers, Bill Heavey. Heavey is an absolute master with words, and this piece will break your heart.
It reminded me that we have one true obligation as writers, and that’s honesty, even when it’s not easy.
I was outside of a Boston classroom when I got a phone call from my mother in 2013, saying “You’d better come now.” That was November 18th. I booked a flight out of Logan, caught a cab to the airport the next morning, flew to Syracuse, got a ride from a relative home, and held my father’s hand. Whether it was the drugs to keep him comfortable, or the disease, he could no longer speak. He squeezed my hand, though… that I do know. I knew he’d want me to be back for class the next night, so I made arrangements to return on a morning train. On the train between Utica and Boston I got the call that he was gone. I don’t remember much about that class, just sitting through it, kind of numb, ordering train tickets back during break on my phone, and because I love words… starting to think about a eulogy.
I’ll never forget the friends, Anthony Malta, Curt Dircks and Andrew Fillipponi, who stopped everything and traveled great distances to be at the funeral. I’ll never forget how full the church was. Standing room, only.
A few years prior I’d asked my grandmother a simple question: “How did you survive the times you must have gone through?” Marilyn Jones was a mother to eight children, before losing a daughter to leukemia before she was even a teenager. She scraped for enough to support her family by running a yarn shop and then a daycare where I’d meet some people who’d turn out to be lifelong friends. She’d later lose her husband, a grandfather that I never knew.
“How did you get through it?” That’s what I asked. “I had no choice,” she said. I’ll remember that forever. Of course she had a choice. We all have a choice, every day. I don’t think I that could even remotely understand what she was talking about until 2013. I don’t know how I bought those train tickets, plane tickets, or made it to that class. I suppose I didn’t give myself a choice.
When I thought about a project to raise money for melanoma research through fishing, by soliciting sponsors, and when I think about getting your input to help me start a beautiful magazine that I hope you’ll read and love, many times the question has and does pop into my head: “But how will you do it?”
And then her answer, always her answer…
“Don’t give yourself a choice.”