“I’ll find a place to rest my Spirit if I can.
Perhaps I may become a Highwayman again.
Or I may simply be
a single drop of rain.
But I will remain…” ~ Jimmy Webb
19 June 2017
Greetings on this post-Father’s Day. I’ll never know why it seems to be my function to be the buzz kill. Don’t get me wrong, I dig a good buzz as much as anyone. But there are times when my mouth opens and these things just come out.
For example, one glance yesterday at the multi-headed beast of social media was all it took to put a fresh crack in my admittedly hitherto broken heart.
Yet, have no fear over this fractured heart, Dear Reader, for I have been well assured that these cracks are how the Light gets in…
Yesterday I was wished a Happy Father’s Day. And that’s complicated for me—hell, it’s complicated for a lot of people. In truth, there’s endless pain, regret, and suffering skulking about on such days. From dysfunction to grief, in every holiday survivors are camouflaged.
We smile, we say thank you, and wish you a happy day as well.
While inside us a tiny piece of breaks off and dissolves.
I was adopted, but that’s not the complication—it’s a long story best left for another time. Let’s just say that I am grateful to have been twice-blessed. First by being chosen for adoption by a family who made me their own. And later reunited with my birth family, whom I have come to love unconditionally.
Adoption is a rare gift, too often overlooked in our society. For those who make the most heartbreaking decisions, and those willing to accept a child as family, are humans of empathy; they are humans of immense empathy and courage, regardless of what tragedies that may force such choices.
No, the difficultly in this day is that I lost my father when I was only 28. Please understand that I realize countless people are not so fortunate as I, to even have had the years we did—to have even had a loving father.
But nothing can stop grief. It is a tsunami, we can only be inundated and Survive.
I could write pages about my dad, Red McKenzie. But I’ll share a memory my mom is especially fond of. I was nearly two years old…
1969, Christmas, San Angelo, TX
Dad, known to his older relatives as Billy Chris, was sitting out on the stoop playing with my brother and I. An old friend, one who’d lived in Mother McKenzie’s building since dad was a kid, stopped and admired the two darlings he was bobbing up & down—one on each leg.
“Why, Billy Chris, what beautiful babies!” she gushed at him. “So, which one is yours?” She asked, knowing of the adoption—as doubtless the whole building did. According to my mom, he simply looked at her and answered mildly, without rancor,
That was just how he was. A man of few words, but you listened when he chose to speak. I learned from him that our actions often matter most—that coming from a poet is something of an irony, I freely admit. So many lessons I learned from my father only really sank in after he died.
I never had a chance to thank him for giving so much; even through the worst times, when I was a delinquent thug bent on leaving a wake of destruction in my path. Using Tough Love, my parents pushed and pushed to save me, rather than let me rot in McLaughlin juvenile jail when I was sixteen.
They never gave up on me, even when I had.
They allowed me to earn back their respect, and helped me find some for myself.
For those adopted: never forget that we were chosen…no one gave us away.
Forgive the rough edges of this poem, Dear Reader, for I wrote it 21 years ago, and in mourning. I have only edited it here for clarity.
In the box with my memories
I have a short deck of playing cards.
Only forty-seven are left.
The rest I buried with my father:
a straight flush in his breast pocket
to best St. Peter at the Gates.
Born and died a cowboy in the end
his last word went unheard.
We have put his pistols in the ground;
fought with the wrecking company
to remove his saddlebags from
the maroon Taurus in which he died.
I have stood beside
my mother, my brother—
as if exiled by thick, awkward pain
we faced the line of grieving friends
and bore their condolences with grace.
I smiled when I had to:
at heartfelt tales of yesterdays,
of shared sorrow, and keen-edged kindness,
for elegies both solemn and bittersweet.
Shed no funeral tears, he’d have said.
For an honest gambler he remained.
He always taught—
We have to play the hand
we are dealt in life.
That the turn of a friendly card
is the best we can hope to gain.
I drank with his partners.
Howled on asphalt dusty
until my throat cracked
until bore-tide tears ran
clean tributaries down my face.
These things I have done
will honor him as best I can.
Yet they all pale
when set beside
the East Texas man
who claimed me
from the cradle
and made me his son
not through blood
but through love.
26 September 2k10
~In Memorial Gayle Janecek~
These songs are dedicated to you Gayle. And for our reunion on Saturday, 5 April 1986.
24 years, 5 months, 21 days have gone by…and though you have crossed the veil of this life,
I still count the days until we are reunited once more.
“Twilight at Rainbow Lake”
On that Saturday of our reunion, Gayle and I drove from Anchorage out to my Birth family’s home at Rainbow Lake. Needless to say, it was an emotional day. Even my Mom, who lovingly supported my quest to find my Birth-Family, and to learn my history, shed a few happy tears at seeing my long dream of meeting my Birth Mother fulfilled.
During the drive we talked, haltingly at first, but soon enough the dam burst, and we made peace with the long years of separation. And we have Paul Simon to thank for releasing the deluge of emotional turmoil. For during the drive this song came on the radio, and within a minute Gayle and I were pulled over on the roadside, hugging, crying, and laughing. As we shared a moment of beautiful synchronicity.
For that, and all that came after, I will always be grateful.
So began a lifetime of friendship and love.
3 September 2k10
~In Memorial, Gayle Janecek~
On 10 February 1968, two young people, deeply in love, made what is among the most painful decisions a parent can make. They gave their firstborn child up for adoption. I was that child, and decades later Gayle would confide in me that over the long years she never gave up hope that one day we might be reunited.
My adoption was not an act of running away, despite their youth. No, it was a sacrifice they made out of love, and the needs of their child. Because it really was the best for all involved. Neither did they give me up to the first couple they encountered. Far from it, Gayle interviewed many until she found what she was seeking. Not without Michael’s help, you should understand; but I’ve been told that Gayle was a Mama Grizzly Bear in her drive to find what she considered the right family. Through a collusion of Providence itself and my truly formidable Birth Grandmother, Jean Paal, they found a couple who would love me unconditionally. And she chose well, for those I call Mother and Father raised me as their own. Though my Dad has passed, today I am as close to my Mom as any friend, and love her as she loves me, unconditionally.
So it is with my Birth Family, whom I was joyfully reunited with on my 18th. year. So much more than my birth mother, Gayle was among my closest friends, my ally and confidant, my cohort in a chaotic life. Her wisdom, and the loving fierceness with which she lived her life inspires me every day. So too, I am blessed to know and deeply love my birth father, Michael.
Although I miss her profoundly I know in my heart that she has found Peace.
Her bright Spirit walks a new path beyond this life.
Yet the loving memory of Gayle Janecek will remain with us always.
“Farewell Gayle” photo by Joan Paal-Fridley
Free Rabbit Living
~poem for Gayle
Repeat after me: I am free
It was in the season of twilight
when you broke-trail ahead of us
and died after living joyously.
To live, we must do the same.
Autumn is a season of paradox.
Precarious, yet resplendent
as the circular relationship
between Water and Stone
between Rabbit and Fox.
In every day moments unfold
both of rapture and sorrow;
living to live teaches us
the truth of the ineffable Now
without seeking an unreachable tomorrow.
Free Rabbit Living teaches us
that every day is a good day to die.
As you have left us,
so too the Moon is leaving Earth.
Naught but a fraction in each season
’tis true, but ultimately vast
set against the dominion of space and time.
In a Danse Majesté, with Her
we are but crossing paths.
We waltz, with lonely Sol calling the rhyme
—in the silence we shall part,
to the inevitable we must relent.
While of the grief
we can only endure
until its razor edge
is ground dull by love.
Let us raise a glass then:
to lavish time
that sliver so thin
which is granted to us.
Repeat after me: I am free
3 September 2k9
~In Memorial, Gayle Janecek~
more words on ashes and loss
Grief is the circling of our hearts against the unknown.
Devoid of boundaries, or limits of space and time,
grief cannot be “gone through”, cannot be fled from;
it must be allowed to permeate, then endured—no more.
Grief the Bogeyman waits around every corner
to remind us of the fear rooted in our chests.
Hidden within our lullabies, woven into our faery tales,
grief is the pitiless Taskmaster
teaching us to treat each day
as if it were our last chance to make things right.
We must make our peace with grief at every chance.
Because every day, often in each moment,
grief confronts us, assails us
with the terrible finality of its truth.
For grief is the acknowledgment that, at the last,
we face death alone, taking with us only memories
of those we love beyond the bright gates.
We who remain must learn to dance on the ashes of our loss.