A Flash of Lightning in a Summer Cloud

2012 Eclipse as Seen from Cloudy Portland

The news came via Facebook, of course.

One of my college advisors (the one for my major), Archaeologist Dr. Daniel Edward Shea collapsed while on a summer research trip in Chile, never regained consciousness, and died.

I can’t even begin to imagine the pain his students and staff there with him are experiencing, or the terrible loss to his family back home, his students, his colleagues. I do know some of the grief felt by students who left Beloit and moved on into our lives. It is of course a tremendous, tragic loss.

We all called him Dan. In his upper division classes coffee duty rotated and when it was your turn you made coffee & got up and brought the pot in for everyone. He’d wake me up for my classes when I’d fall asleep in the department lounge. I used to babysit his kids.

Dan let me down a few times and in some big, important ways. Seeing old friends at Jen’s memorial really brought this home to me.

Beloit let me down. I’m still working through the shame, the mantra that repeats in my head, endlessly:

You didn’t finish what you started.

Jen’s memorial made me realize I’m also still working through the anger at knowing that when I really, desperately needed them, my advisors didn’t advise.

All that aside, reflecting on Dan’s influence in my life, I want to acknowledge something very important. When I would get my courage up to sit down in his office and tell him my ideas and theories about Peruvian archaeology, I left those discussions feeling like he listened to me and respected me. Even when he occasionally, and rightly, shot those theories full of holes.

As a woman who’s been working in tech for well over a dozen years, and has gone through phone calls where a man asked me to put another man on the phone, doubting my skills and knowledge merely because I’m a woman, the experience of having my academic opinion respected was hugely beneficial. Hell, college was really my first experience at having my opinion respected or really heard much at all.

Having my advisor really listen to me, well it meant a lot and it still does. It also helps offset some of the anger I’m working through at beingĀ  let down when I needed help.

Clearly ceremonies and observances are called for:

Incense lit and offered to Dan and the Kwan Yin statue in the herb garden.
To the lingering solstice twilight in the west, three bows for Dan.

Metta to those students and faculty with Dan, may you know ease.
Metta to Dan’s family, may you be at peace.
Metta to Dan’s colleagues and students at Beloit, may you be peaceful.
Metta for all Dan’s students who’ve moved on from Beloit, may we all be at ease.

Move on Dan. May your next life also be filled with adventure, learning, and joy. Thank you for the lessons you taught me and for listening.

Father’s Day 2012

I don’t talk about my Dad much here, or my biological father. In 11 months, from December 2000 to November 2001, I’d lost them both.

My Mom was married to my step-father for nearly 25 years, so he’s really the person I think of when I say “Dad”. He died in December 2000. I was outside, fixing his reindeer lawn ornament, when he actually died. I held his hand for several minutes when I came in before taking off his wedding ring and putting it on my own hand.

I wore it for a few years until I’d lost so much weight I was afraid I’d lose it. I still have it and a small handful of his other things. I continue to miss him, including his inability to express his emotions well.

When I was 24 my biological father got back in touch with me and we had a strained, uneasy relationship for about 6 years before he died in November 2001. I have his discharge papers, some slides and a handful of photographs. Mostly all from before I was even born.

Both of them died because they wouldn’t give up the things that were killing them. Both of them were alcoholic smokers. Dad was a Seagram’s drinker and he went from unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes to filtered Camels. My biological father was a vodka man and I can’t recall what brand he smoked, but a cigarette was never far. I’m sure also had an addiction to the array of prescription pain medications he took.

My Dad felt a real sense of entitlement about his addiction, particularly to alcohol. He felt like he worked hard and he paid the majority of all the household bills, so he deserved that bedtime drink. As the size of that drink grew, the Seagram’s nearly filling the glass and the 7-Up just floating over the top, he told us he just needed it to relax so he could get a good night’s sleep before working hard the following day. He never tried to excuse the cigarettes this way, but in the end he was hiding them and sneaking around for a smoke as CPOD raced with cirrhosis to kill him. The coroner’s statement said his liver “won” the race to the end.

My biological father had similar ways of excusing his drinking. His drinking was actually far worse than my Dad’s, who was a bedtime and weekend drunk. My Father often nursed a vodka all day long, took his Oxycotin with it. Once I realized this, I stopped riding in a vehicle with him. He would wax poetic on being a vet. Vietnam was his entitlement to his addiction. A massive coronary in his sleep would take him out.

These men play into my life tremendously. If you ask me about becoming a vegan and choosing health for myself, my Dad and my Father are certainly behind it. They left me in this world feeling like I wasn’t important enough.

Yeah, they loved me in their own flawed, dysfunctional ways. I know that. I also know that when it came down to choosing health and being a part of my life, they turned again and again to the things that were clearly killing them. Sure, quitting is hard, I get that, but if you don’t even try what kind of message do you send to the people who love you, particularly your kid?

The lesson they taught me is that the best thing you give to your family is your life. You do the hard work to make sure you’re here for them. Sure, sometimes we get caught unawares and no healthy choice we make can fix it. That said, if you’re out there choosing something that’s killing you and not even trying, well there’s a good chance that when you’re gone there will be someone feeling like they weren’t worth the effort.

I never want to leave my wife, my kid, my friends, my mother, or anyone who loves me feeling like I didn’t care enough to do the hard work for them. It is what we should do. We show up, we do the hard work so those people know that they’re worth the effort of living for them.