Life Updates

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
― J.K. Rowling

You might have noticed that my posts lately have been few and far between and that I mentioned in my most recent post that we have been busy with summer ending and school beginning. That is definitely a true statement. Back to school is an extremely busy time for us, especially added to the chaos of normal life, full time jobs and the fact that I am also in college full time.

This is not going to be my typical “grand life adventure” post but rather a small update on our family. Warning….this is a very long post.

Honestly, I have been struggling to write lately because I am overwhelmed and sad and having a hard time putting that feeling into words I am able to share.

You may remember from a previous post (or not if you are a new reader) that my Dad has advanced stage 4 cancer. It’s tough. Cancer sucks pretty bad in general but I am very close with my Dad and watching him go through it is terrifying to me. He is not undergoing treatment at this time and has been on Hospice care for a couple of months now. He is also REALLY far away in Maine (living with my sister and near our extended family) so it is hard to maintain the connection I desperately want with him. It is not a feasible option to go there and we try and video chat a few times a week. He is not up to talking on the phone at this point and I spend a lot of time babbling about nothing. Before he got sick he spent the better part of the year here in North Carolina with us. The kids miss him and my youngest asks constantly why he is not here. We have tried to be as honest as possible with them and it has been hard to be both honest and not scare them…..and not lose it myself.

My Mom passed away in 2010 from Breast Cancer so there is that. I spend a lot of time wallowing and contemplating the unfairness of it all.

Sometimes life just sucks. I try to spend a few moments everyday reminding myself of all the wonderful things I have so that I am not dwelling on what I have lost and am losing before my eyes.

Two weeks ago I received a phone call from my sister in the evening which was unusual because she goes to bed really early. The first words I heard were “Dad is ok. Its something else…….” – she knows that my stomach immediately dropped at seeing her number so late.

The something else was my Grandfathers unexpected passing. Heart attack.

We were close and it was hard to understand and swallow. His wife (my Grandmother) is in a nursing home with dementia and my Grandfather was not only my connection with her but one of my “people”. Two weeks later and I still pick up the phone to call him on my way home from work only to realize that he is not there.

Gosh I miss him and the hurt is compounded by the fact that I didn’t get to say goodbye and he didn’t want a service so I feel like I have no closure other than my Facebook post above (silly maybe but it was something).

His friends in New Mexico had a small memorial and sent us the speech given by his best friend and lawyer. I would like to share it here since it perfectly sums up my Grandfather and I could not say it better:

My name is Shawn. I am here before you, today, to memorialize my best friend, Al. It is an honor to commemorate this great man. However, this is also an impossible task—I must, in about 10 minutes time, sum up almost 84 years of a life very well-lived. And, I have the extra challenge of not breaking down in tears while I do it. Al had three children, Dave, Lisa, and Mark. Al is survived by wife, Betty, and his two sons. The family thanks you all for being here.

I’ve labored over what to say to you. My sincere hope is that when you leave here today, you take a little bit of Al Lugar into your heart and carry him with you every day. There are four things you need to know about Al—Be Ready for Anything, Be Brave, and Be Adventurous!

Al had a personal philosophy—be ready for anything. Some describe this as being the grey man. A grey man exists in a constant state of preparedness, unbeknownst the people around him.

And, this readiness manifests in mind, body, and spirit. Al Lugar was a farm-boy. He learned outdoorsman skills at an early age from his family, especially, and his friends and neighbors, additionally. Life on the farm was as you would imagine—it provided Al a certain measure of grit that permeated every aspect of his life.

You know how people tell fantastical stories, embellishing or self-aggrandizing? I always got the sense that Al’s stories we true and unvarnished. One of Al’s early jobs was working for a local moonshiner. The moonshiner would place jugs of booze on stumps in a field. If the wrong person came to the field, or if the correct person took too many jugs, Al’s job was to shoot all of the jugs of booze—from a near-bye hill, at a considerable distance. It took nerve, skill, and patience to do that job. It took a state of readiness…

Moreover, it took a commitment to mind, body, and spirit…

Al valued intelligence. And, while educated in a classic sense, Al appreciated that there are many paths to knowledge. He respected a commitment to continually learning over resting on dusty degrees earned years ago. And, he lived that philosophy. Al, amongst many careers, was an engineer. He just understood how things are supposed to work. You know how Beethoven could look at a piano and he could just play? Al could look at mechanical things and just play. He never fully divulged all the things he did professionally; however, he was particularly proud of a phosphorous arrow he designed. And, then there was something about ordering a Russian tank from the US government and blowing it up. Whatever he was doing, suffice it say, it required a fair amount of brain power. And, yet, to his last days he was learning. He taught himself a great many skills, including metallurgy, guitar, dobro, and computers…and, his last days he was learning about electronic music. He continuously strove to improve his mind and discipline his body.

Body…Al was an athlete from an early age. Again, his farm-life upbringing conditioned him to being physical. Al once caught a ride up a mountain and skied 80 miles, cross-country, home. He also learned martial arts in his 20’s. He was the only student to complete the final test—run at a four-foot high wall; jump over it in a straight leg kick; and, hit a target on the other side. He almost hit the wall and would have surely broken his back had he faltered.

Spirit…Al was spiritual without being particularly religious. He believed it important to have a connection, at all times, to the natural world around him. And, as a grey man, if connected to the world around him, he would be attuned to any danger. Al occasionally, through the many decades of this life, would test his connection to that world around him, and his state of preparedness, by marching into the wilderness for a few days—taking with him only a knife and some rope. He would sleep tied in a tree. I asked him what would happen if he fell out of the tree. He didn’t miss a beat… “I would learn a valuable lesson,” he said. This was not an act of man versus nature; This was man one with nature.

Be ready, at all times. Strengthen your mind, your body, and your spirit. And, be brave.

Al once told me about the first meeting he attended at the SKP Co-Op, The Ranch, where he and Betty lived for many years. He stood up; introduced himself; and, he said the following (and, I quote):

There are two things that you need to know about me. I speak my mind. And, I’m not politically correct.

The essence of this is that you must have the strength of conviction to stand-up for your beliefs regardless of the consequences. You must have a good moral compass, virtues, and above all else integrity…which is to say, resolve…or, otherwise stated, grit.

Did you know that Al was shot at on three separate occasions? Three! And, in all instances he was trying to do some measure of good. And, you better believe, on all three occasions he most certainly shot back.

One time, two hunters came on the family land. They were drunk and refused Al’s request to leave the property. Outnumbering, and seemingly, out-matching Al, they decided to press their advantage. They had minds set to hunting, regardless of their rights or where they were. So, one of them leveled a shotgun and pulled the trigger. It was winter. Al was wearing a thick lamb shearling coat, and was at a distance . As such, the coat deflected the shot. Al ran for the house. Alone in the home, Al went for a rifle he knew the family had and climbed to the highest point he could reach. He returned fire, not hitting any of the hunters, but causing them to flee. He was 13 years old.

While working for the phone company, securing easements, Al got to travel a good portion of New England. Over time, he got to know the area and its people well. At some point, the DEA solicited him for help to quell drug trafficking. Because of his intimate knowledge of the area, he was able to identify dens of illegal activity. Well, suffice it say, that did not thrill the mob who on two separate occasions try to kill him. On one of those occasions, he was hit. On both those occasions, however, he repelled his attackers. Al’s work led to the seizure of $1.6 million worth of illegal drugs.

Be brave. Stand-up for your beliefs. Fight for them, if you have to…to whatever level you are capable of doing.

And, be adventurous…

Al lived each and every day. He was a pool shark. He fought in bars. He drove fast cars, and sometimes crashed them. He drank. He smoked. He had a rapier wit that could slay a dragon. But, he also created beautiful things. He was an inventor, an artisan, and a musician. He was an explorer. And, Al loved a good joke.

Of all the things Al was most proud of in his life, marrying Betty was the top of his list. Their love was his grandest adventure. They were high school sweethearts turned life-long loves. They travelled together. Raised a family together—he was, and most certainly is, very proud of his boys. And, they experienced all of life…together.

I had the honor of spending Al’s last day on earth with him. It was a Sunday. We never met on Sundays. We went to a restaurant we had unsuccessfully tried to go to for months. We talked about resistors and capacitors—Al was teaching me about electricity. And, yes. It’s still a mystery to me. Most importantly we talked about the RVing adventure we were going to take together.

And, in that innocuous moment of dreaming we can find a summation of the entire point of this memorial. Never stop dreaming. Never stop striving. No matter your age or circumstances. Be prepared. Be Brave. Be Adventurous. Simply put…live. With whatever time you have left…live!

I have one more story to tell you. The last thing I said to Al was this. I said, “Al, you and I should never have been friends. You grew up county; I grew up city. We don’t agree on most things political. We don’t share a common culture. Hell, Al, you are almost exactly twice my age. And, somehow we this just seems to work.” He smiled at me. It was a peaceful moment. And, he said, “Yeah. It just seems to work. I’ll see you later, babe.”

Al and I would share the stories of our adventures, typically over drinks. So, it seems fitting that we toast Al goodbye. I’m going to play one of Al’s favorite songs, Ashoken Farewell as we serve a small amount of beer or sparkling cider. Your choice.

To Al, and to his very well-lived life we say, “we’ll see you later, babe.”

Ashoken Farewell

Until the next adventure Grandpa……..

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