October 4th, 2017
Today is your 95th birthday. I know you wanted to see it, and more after it. I can’t say that I wish you had seen it, not in the state you were in those last few months. But I wish you have lived as long as you wanted to, and that you could have enjoyed living. I guess that was the problem with those months—you weren’t enjoying them. I don’t think you were enjoying anything.
I took you to the doctor in January, after you’d spent three or four days of Christmas week in the hospital. We knew you had a failing aortal valve in your heart, a condition called aortal stenosis, where the valve becomes to stiff to open and close the way it needs to. We knew you were not a candidate for surgery. We did not know, until that day in the doctor’s office, that you had so little time left.
When your new doctor explained to us that your life expectancy was six to twelve months, I wasn’t sure what I felt. I looked at you. So often in the past I looked at you to give me the answer, to tell me how I should feel, to tell me how we were going to get through this. I knew that, this time, when I looked in your eyes, I wasn’t looking for those answers. I was only looking to see how you felt about being told you were about to die.
And when I saw you, I knew how I felt. I knew my heart was breaking. I had picked you up and driven you here. I had put on your flannel shirt, buttoning the cuffs exactly the way you liked them, tied your shoes, zipped up your coat and placed a step so you could get into the car. It was like getting a toddler ready to go somewhere. It was like bringing an innocent, frightened child to the doctor, to be told he was going to die.
Two months ago, in honor of July 4th, Peter J. Tomasi, one of my favorite comics writers, together with Patrick Gleason, offered up a two-part Superman story called “Declaration.” Lois, Clark and their son, Jon, take a tour of the United States to visit historic sites. On this trip, they meet the Dowd family, who, for 154 years, have celebrated the birthday of Thomas Dowd, their ancestor, at Gettysburg. Thomas died in a military hospital and his body was never recovered. The story brought tears to my eyes, and not only because Tomasi and Gleason told it so well.
You see, I have a Thomas who fought in the Civil War. His name was Thomas Rathbone, and he too died in a military hospital. He was my great, great grandfather. His body, too, was never returned home. Over a century later, some of his descendants journeyed to Ashland, VA, to place a marker on a mass grave where we think he was buried.
The fictional Thomas Dowd fought for the Union army. The very real Thomas Rathbone fought for the Confederacy.
The boys are in my corner, at any rate.
Really. I’ve been hiding in a corner for all of 2017. You’ve barely heard from me at all, unless we had specific business to transact, or a family event to attend together.
Well, I’m coming out of my corner. Some. A little ways, maybe.
I want to tell you why I’ve been in hiding, but I don’t want to say too much.
I don’t really consider this vague-booking. Vague-booking is making a statement on Facebook (or, I guess, other social media) that grabs people’s attention, but doesn’t tell them what the hell you’re actually talking about. “I’m really upset with you. You know who you are. I think you suck.” That’s vague-booking.
Well, first, this is my blog, so I think that disqualifies my somewhat cryptic content. Second, I’m not hiding information from anyone because I want to taunt them, or because I’m trying to be mysterious. It’s just that I’ve gone through a hell of a lot in the past few months. A lot of it was painful. I’m not ready to talk about it in public. I may never be ready to talk about it in public.
My Dad isn’t here to spend Father’s Day with me. He died on May 6th, at the age of 94. This past Tuesday, we buried him in his native North Carolina mountains, after a funeral at which I delivered the eulogy. So, in honor of Father’s Day, here’s what I decided to tell people about my Dad:
That’s me on the blanket. My father is the one who’s obviously old enough to be my father.
The topic of today’s lecture is Snell’s Law. Snell’s Law describes the relationship between the angle of incidence of a light wave as it passes through a transparent medium, and the resulting refraction of that light. Which is a fancy way of telling you why sunlight looks different when you see it from the bottom of a swimming pool–because the light comes through water and twists and bends before you see it. Which is another way of saying that the way things look depends an awful lot on what you’ve come through before you see them.
Col. Charles Edwin Wilson Sr., US Air Force Retired, Physicist, Engineer, Teacher and researcher… my Daddy… came through a lot. And it definitely shaped how things looked to him.
The Yancey County Public Library, formerly the Yancey Collegiate Institute.
Writing… or any kind of work that requires planning and forethought… is not coming easily to me lately. I started out 2013 very hopeful, ready to take on the challenges the year was going to throw at me, determined that I would maintain the sense of calm and control which I’d attained while spending Christmas with my family and away from the concerns of work. For the most part, I succeeded. From the perspective of my ability to manage the chaos around me, it’s been a pretty good year.