… on quietly ponderin’ an old man’s shovel


This is not that old man’s shovel.

That shovel above did not belong to the Old Yankee Man, no way… because plastic. But seeing it there, outside the back door this morning, reminded me of him.

The Old Yankee Man had an old, rusted, steel shovel… the kind I told him he could not use on the new bluestone paths and patios… which was why we bought the plastic ones.

Didn’t matter.

He used his old shovel on the new bluestone paths and patios all the time, when he thought I wasn’t looking.

Every. Single. Dang. Time.

The marks on the bluestone, and we have a lot of bluestone, are totally noticeable. And totally permanent.

And, actually, I don’t mind at all.

Gives a nod up, and then down, to the Old Yankee Man.*

Right now it’s quiet.

Outside my window is a sepia filtered world that smells of coming snow (and, yes, I really can smell it coming).

JoHn says that it was Gabe who cracked our old shovel, trying to break up the ice on the porch when he was home over the holidays (bad boy, Gabe!). So JoHn is heading out to Home Depot to get another one.

And I’m thinking about what a contrarian the Old Yankee Man was. I should have known asking him not to use his old iron shovel on the bluestone would have sealed the deal on his using it.

Kind of like the creosote.

He peeled off all the labels in his stash, and insisted he was using a concoction of tap water, vinegar, and salt to spray on the gypsy moth caterpillar nests that year. Because, sure, everyone knows that some wHeird chemical reaction happens when you combine salt, white vinegar, and tap water. It becomes thick brown oil that smells suspiciously like… creosote.


I miss him.

I remember, a couple of years ago, when a friend’s mother was in the midst of dying. Beautiful women, both… and such a hard time. A time of goodbyes and letting go… and so much love.

I was talking to someone else about it, about how hard it was on my friend, when the other person said that it makes no sense that we are surprised when someone in their eighties or nineties dies. That it’s sad, sure, but does not warrant shock, or deep or extended grieving. This happens to all of us, this person’s opinion went, we all lose people. Death is inevitable.



But… so is birth.

And with 4.3 humans being born every second (only 1.78 people are leaving every second). That’s 322,000 births each day!

So, it seems, birth is even more inevitable than death.

And I can tell you from personal experience, we are often surprised at what it feels like to welcome  a child into the world – like, what it really feels like. No matter how much hoo-hoo-hoo hah-hah-hah breathing classes, or how many people around us have kids (or tell us all about how we will feel), we are rarely – rarely – ready.

I’m just sayin.

It is an experience at once fundamentally personal, and fantastically universal.

You can say that stuff like death and birth, and love for that matter, are things that happen to everyone, every single day so no one ought to be surprised, or behave as if they are special, or different… but to what end?

Also, by the way, you can say that… but I think you’d be wrong.

These are exceptional happenings. Profound, gut wrenching, heart-twisting and growing and kapow-ing moments.

The magic in living through these experiences is that we each engage with them as singular beings, but we do so in a space that so many others inhabit, have inhabited, and will stumble into as time ambles on.

The complexities of each and every relationship we have is mind-boggling. But just having these relationships – forming and nurturing and even losing them – is something we share with massive numbers of our fellow humans. This fact takes away nothing from our own unique experiences. It offers a wonderful way to share and acknowledge joy… just as it provides a strange and palpable safety net in grief.

It’s all there for each of us, whether we need it or not… whether we use it or not.

So I continue to ponder along on a day of softly falling snow, looking out on a world awash in cinnamons and greys, regarding this new wrinkle on my heart. This one created by a wonderfully contrarian and cranky Old Yankee Man.

Surviving a loved one’s death is a nearly universal human adventure, a journey each of us will almost certainly embark upon – no choice offered, no extra superpower bestowed. It is just about as personal as ‘personal’ gets.

And yet, there are folks all around me – some I know and so many I don’t – who will understand that, even as I pass a year and a half since he left this spinning orb, something – the smell of baked beans, a date scrawled in sharpie, a broken plastic shovel –  finds me running a finger along my new heart wrinkle, and taking comfort in the knowing that someone else out there is doing the same thing.

And gets it.

Thanks for readin’.


*One time, during a particularly exasperating moment in our oft-had debates, the Old Yankee Man said – as he often did, “You’ll miss me when I’m gone!”. I laughed. Said I’d be yelling at him even then, and pretended to do so by looking up and expressing something or other. His response was to chuckle and ask, “What makes you think I’ll be up there?” So whenever I’m laughing and chastising him (because why stop now?) I make sure I first look up, and then down (just to make sure he hears me, wherever he is).

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