Welcome to The Epic! I am launching this blog as a manifesto for and a guide to living well. The title and motto of the blog are taken from the Epicureans, at least some of whom believed in the notion that not one minute of the future was guaranteed to them and that as a result they had the duty to live life to its fullest every moment.
I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.
As returning Epics know, I have always loved Hartsfield airport in Atlanta. One of my favorite restaurants is there. I have met many new friends there. They have a tremendous sculpture exhibit from Africa there in the tunnel between the A and T concourses. Returning Epics also know what a year this has been for me thus far.
But even in a maelstrom the wind eventually calms and the clouds eventually begin to part, if only intermittently. Sun peeks through. In the last sixteen weeks I have not only been through the worst emotional battering of my life but I have met a couple of superb new friends, had a few priceless trips, and I have even had some memorable social events.
I sat up in bed a couple of days ago during a tremendous trip to New York and realized that I felt better. Just a little. As if my internal compass had re-calibrated. That made me smile. But the next day I had to return to reality. I was concerned that my re-calibration might not survive the trip.
Then I happened through the Hartsfield tunnel between the B and A concourses. Where I ran upon the most amazing sculpture that lines the entire ceiling. It simulates tropical tree cover as you stroll along beneath it. Full of lush colors and light. With little spots where video panels show sky and birds flying about. With audio of bird calls. I really cannot adequately describe this marvelous work of art. Or its effect on people of all ages. Both children and adults were just standing looking up at different points. Taking photos or video. Or just staring with big grins on their faces. Including me. My fears of losing my New York smile vanished when I saw this sculpture. In an airport tunnel. A true Epic experience which carried the lovely memories of my trip forward. Undimmed. Smiling still.
They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.
Death cannot kill what never dies.
Nor can Spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle; the root and record of their Friendship.
If Absence be not Death, neither is theirs.
Death is but Crossing the World, as Friends do the Seas; They live in one another still.
For they must needs be present that love and live in that which is Omnipresent.
In this Divine Glass, they see Face to Face and their Converse is Free, as well as Pure.
This is the Comfort of Friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are in the best sense, ever present, because Immortal.
According to Bloomberg and many other news outlets, my favorite New York hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, is closing for "refurbishing" and when it reopens it will be "primarily" condominiums. That is what happens when an insurance company land trust buys the place.
In other words, they are going to "Plaza-ize" this grand old hotel and we can pretty much count on it being no more. I hope I'm wrong. When Conrad Hilton was a young man with one hotel in Texas he cut out a newspaper photo of the Waldorf Astoria and pinned it up by his desk. He swore he would own the magnificent hotel one day. One day he did.
Today, I am just glad he can't see what is happening to the apple of his entrepreneurial eye. If you can get by the Bull & Bear or Sir Harry's Bar and have one last toast, please think of me.
...I just wanted to say that I'll look after you, Tracy. Will you mind being looked after?
She held him away from her and looked at him. She smiled. Her eyes were introspective. "That's what it means being Mr and Mrs doesn't it? They don't say Mrs and Mr. But you need looking after too. Let's just look after each other."
"All right. But I'd rather have my job than yours."
--From On Her Majesty's Secret Service by Ian Fleming.
I buried my Irish Redhead last week. This is a weak attempt to talk about it.
The second year we were married she got sick. Really sick. They all agreed she wouldn't last a month. She managed to overcome the onset and through grit, love, faith and sheer will she made it through that month. And another three hundred thirty six months as well. Enduring annual hospitalizations. Surgeries. Infusions of iron. An implanted feeding line. And all the rest. Hospitals in New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta and Miami as well as at home. Then eventually kidney failure and more surgery and dialysis.
She met many angels along the path and she was an angel to many as well. And to me and her son, the Future Rock Star. Every day.
But there comes a time when the line assigned to each of us just comes to an end. After three decades of victory after victory an infection came along and she had nothing left to give. She didn't last twenty hours. Her lifetime record against disease was about 958-1.
I guess it is no surprise that I wrote her eulogy. I would like to share it, and a little bit of her, with you...
My Wife, Debbie. The first time I met her I felt like I had known her all my life. I bought an engagement ring three months later. A fascinating, loving and faith-filled thirty years passed in the blink of an eye. Leading us all to this room today. Debbie had world class skill at catching a runaway chicken in her parents' back yard. If you have ever tried to catch a runaway chicken you will know how athletic she was. She was the most intelligent person I ever knew. We always used to say that at least we would never be a couple with nothing to talk about and that was true. From international politics to reality television, Debbie was up to speed on it all despite the demands of running a successful court reporting business in the early years and despite the demands of motherhood later on. She had the ability to train her mind like a laser on any issue or new intellectual challenge and then to apply her tremendous work ethic to master any situation I saw her come across. She understood her medical conditions and dozens of daily medications so well more than one doctor asked her if she had been to medical school. She was the finest natural cross-examiner of a person I have ever seen and this occasionally made it rather uncomfortable for me, for our son or for her father Bill. Debbie had wide ranging interests running from ancient and modern history, antiques, fashion, design, politics, automobiles and travel. She could engage in a conversation with anyone about any topic. She had an amazing eye for fashion and for interior design. She was fiercely passionate about her faith, her family, her friends, her pets, her medical conditions and the people she didn't care for. She loved her son with the same intensity and he is the Glory of her life. This passion and intensity and strength came from her soul. Debbie's soul did not just shine out of her, it blazed out or her with a radiance I have never seen in any other person. In our second year of marriage Debbie became very ill from a rare congenital blood disorder. She was very ill that year but survived. For the following twenty eight years she was hospitalized at least once or twice annually, walking a medical high wire and fending off one life threatening condition after another all related to consequences of her condition. I often told people that she was like Harry Potter. She was "the girl that lived". Through all of this she never once complained, blamed God, or lost even a portion of her faith which was stronger than I have ever found in any person. If anyone ever needed proof that God exists, that God loves us, and that God blesses us with miracles, Debbie was absolute proof of all those things. From the time she survived the onset of her illness by her body "re-plumbing" itself by creation of new blood vessels, some of which ran the opposite direction of the originals which had been destroyed, through all the years up to last week, I saw Debbie receive one miraculous good turn after another. No one could have survived everything I saw her survive over three decades of life by merely being lucky. God reached down his hand and made her great. He kept her feet solidly on that high wire she was destined to walk. Her experiences and her steadfast belief were a crucible that tempered my own faith and made it stronger than I could have ever imagined. I would often tell people that if an atheist had started following along Debbie's path with her twenty eight years ago they would have been a true believer by January 25, 2017. I have used the words "unlike anyone I have ever seen" many times in this note because Debbie was a truly unique woman. It was my honor and privilege to spend more of my life with her than I have lived without her. I cannot wait for the day when I see her again. Her headstone epitaph only requires two words: "Indomitable Spirit". Our son, her father Bill and I would like to thank everyone for coming today and in sharing our celebration of this truly extraordinary life. God's blessings to each of you.
People have been wonderful. They ask how we are doing. We are OK, thanks to her example and what she taught us over the years. My biggest problem is not knowing what to do with myself. And seeing little things around the house that unexpectedly make me feel like I am being stabbed with a dull blade. Things like that. It is fair to say that Valentine's Day will be pretty substandard.
Billy Strayhorn said in Lush Life that "a week in Paris would ease the bite of it". This time, I don't think it would. At this point my hope is just that life's kaleidoscope will somehow eventually make a turn that jostles the shards of my broken heart into a pretty picture again.
Thanks for coming along for the ride, wherever it takes us from here.
One of my heroes said long ago that anyone can ski fast on a fast course but it takes a champion to ski fast on a slow course. In many ways the year 2016 was a very slow course for your Epic. A veritable storm of family crises, illnesses and business problems rocked Chez Epic for twelve months without stopping.
Life contains such times. The question up for discussion is how does the dedicated Epic ward off the incoming slings and arrows or at least deflect as many of them as possible while at the same time not allowing the direct hits to permanently damage the Epic view and manner of life? This was my singular challenge for the year just past. For as horrifying as it may seem, I felt at more than one juncture this year that my naturally Epic philosophy was in mortal danger.
Looking back from the comforting arms of a New Year, and having survived the aforementioned danger, I can only recommend to the reader a return to basic principles. The core principle of the Epic Life is to "mine the moment". Every moment of life contains gems of joy. The nature of the gems varies of course upon the individual Epic doing the mining. The key is to not allow the press of undesirable events to obscure your ability to see and appreciate what has always been in those moments. No matter how seemingly dire they may be. With this in mind, I offer my list of tips about how to bring Epic thinking to bear on a year like the one I just escaped...
Remember your faith. If you are a person of faith you can find yourself thinking of faithful things last when you are in crisis. Push your faith up the ladder of your thinking to the top rung where it belongs. You don't have to make a big production number out of it. You merely have to take a single moment to offer up a little prayer for help, calm, healing, or all of the above. For the faithful, use of one or two minutes in this fashion acts to immediately correct your course like a small turn of a ship's rudder while sailing during a moonless night.
See the angels in your midst. If you have read The Epic for long, you know that I absolutely believe in this concept. Even in the hardest time there are people on your path who can and will give you a gem of comfort through an act or just a smile. Like all other Epic gifts, they are there for you if you look. Find them. Accept their help whether it be in the form of a kind word or a cup of coffee in the middle of an Emergency Room in the wee small hours of the morning.
Give to get. Don't forget that you may well be an angel in someone else's path. Your kindness, your smile, your expression of gratitude, given when you are the farthest from feeling angelic can be just what someone else desperately needs. I find that when I am highly stressed an abundance of kind words for or appreciation of others inevitably leads to a reflection of kindness back towards me. Don't be shy. It works that way.
Don't fantasize. For goodness sake, do not begin fantasizing about how some person you know has a life that does not contain difficulties. About how they never stumble or have a bump in the road. There is no such person. All roads share the same features at some point or another. Imagining how smooth someone else's path is just concocts stress and despair out of whole emotional cloth.
Forget the past. Fight the desire to think of bad times in the past which should be jettisoned as soon as possible after their occurrence in any event. That doesn't mean we don't all have our share of emotional scar tissue but re-living undesirable moments from the dead past sure won't take it away. To the contrary, focusing on negative past events just allows the events to scar anew.
Remember the past. The Epic gems you have picked up along the way are always with you and always act to bring you pleasure through the recollection of them. They act as powerful pleasure tonics in lesser times.
Read and listen. A good book or music album works wonders in the midst of crisis. The past year's maelstrom was broken at times by reading some outstanding books such as "A Gentleman of Moscow" by Amor Towles, "Last Days of Night" by Graham Moore, "A Hero of France" by Alan Furst, anything by Mark Pryor, anything by Robert Nathan. Musically, I listened to a lot of Paul Weston & His Orchestra, Charles Trenet, Stacey Kent, Brian McKnight, Roberta Gambarini and Chantal Chamberland. And Frank. Always a lot of Frank.
Be a Child. When you walk out of the hospital at three in the morning look at the Christmas lights and just stare at them because they are pretty. Observe and experience little things merely because they are fun to observe or experience. There is always some kind of fun about, just for fun's sake. If you look through the child's eyes you had not that long ago.
With all these things in mind, when I looked back at 2016 it wasn't all a maelstrom. I had some wonderful trips, including a week driving around a ridiculously long route with my son and more than a few great meals and bottles of wine. I kept up with friends that mean the world to me. I enjoyed the best Chinese restaurant of my experience [pictured above with a very dry martini and shrimp toast]. And, my Irish Redhead is still right here with me after making her way through the darkest of times and weeks in hospital.
So, after all, the year was a total success. We took the blows. Loved strong. Laughed when we could. Mined the moment like crazy. Kept an Epic focus to the end. And I walk into 2017 with more gems than ever on hand. I wish each of you just the same things. For this year. And for every year.
In my mid 50s, husband, father and itinerant storyteller. I am a putative jazz singer, poet and novelist, dedicated to mining every minute of life for the veins of pleasure they contain. My motto is "Dum Vivimus, Vivamus"..."While we Live--LET US LIVE".