Thursday, December 29, 2011

Presence and Absence

My oh my, I am shocked how far away a loved one goes when they die.  I personally find it so hard to get used to the total and complete absence of their physical presence – there is just not a trace of them to be found. I keep expecting them to come thru a doorway, to call, to bump into them at a get together of the usual personalities, to see them at a table sitting. 

Yet, they keep showing up, unannounced, into my thoughts.  It is maddening how I cannot predict the next time a rumination will come into my head that is related to them. Places. Food. Stories. People. They hit me with the speed and sting of a jab by Mohammed Ali. Before I can see it, it has struck and I am lucky if it only stings; many times it feels like a freight train with 117 cars rumbling thru me.  Please Lord, just let me know it is coming, will you? I don’t like it when these remembrances come unannounced and uninvited in the middle of my drive home, a call, or a meeting at work.

Of some solace after a long search was the following prayer, which has helped me greatly:

Prayer for the Dead

God of life,
Those whom we love die,
but our relationship to them continues.
Lead me to be thankful for all that they have shown me
about loving deeply, living wisely, and knowing You.
 
Help me to notice those
moments of my life
when I act, think, or believe
because of something
that they have brought
to birth in me.
 
Remind me to pray for them
and to ask for their assistance
in my need.
 
Even though I miss them deeply,
allow me to understand we still belong together
and will one day embrace again in your kingdom. 
 
Amen

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays 2011 !

Another Christmas has blustered upon us, and Sidd, Paul, Molly and I send you a heartfelt Happy Holidays!

As said in past years, we pray this note finds you safe, sound, healthy and happy. We have been blessed many times over with treasures, time and talents and the year has seen us continue to grow and change. (Bored already? Well here’s the whimsical eCard from last year, updated with current photos - - it may take a moment to load.)

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The Best Fall Colors in Years, © 2011, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger images)

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Whimsical Troopers, © 2011, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger images)

  • Sidd and Paul are now 8 and 9 ½, respectively. I am shocked at just how much they have changed from even their toddler ways. Their questions continue to surprise us, like “why is Newt beating Mitt Romney?” One notable leap is that Paul has started learning to code a computer using Kodu – a brainchild of Microsoft Research. Xtranormal and Mindstorms are just around the corner. Their physiques only get leaner and more sinewy; they play soccer expecting a bruising. Even our bike rides are more “real,” stretching to 25 miles, with the feel and look of a 3 man peloton. Perhaps the only constant is Legos.
  • Molly’s foray into Toastmasters continues to expand. She has gone from orchestrating club speeches, to club president, to “Area Governor” meaning she guides a half a dozen clubs. Needless to say, the new role has been invigorating.
  • I continue as I did last year in the role at Microsoft leading US developer adoption of the Windows Azure cloud computing platform. This is balanced with the endeavors of our family, and a couple of interesting photography projects (shooting the TedX Seattle event, and a gallery show), but I did not spend nearly as much time writing posts for this blog as I had intended.
  • We had the good fortune of family visiting us and vice-versa. There is something precious about the feeling of a home away from home.

Here are 10 observations from 2011 – please let me know the insights you have gained!

  1. Creating a tradition is immensely enjoyable: Back in 2010, I started reading Harry Potter to the boys. Now it is a benign addiction: Sun – Thurs, I read while the boys drink their end-of-day milk, take an evening bath and before we say prayers. We are now on book 7; on deck are The Little Prince and Lord of the Rings. It has been an amazing journey into new words, more complex plotlines, and the allure of “chapter books” in general.
  2. Honeymoons can endure: August marked 50 years of marriage for my parents. It is the fruit 18,262 days (and counting) of active work, one day at a time. Whimsy and curiosity keep them invigorated, while their common values serve as a very powerful suspension system to traverse completely opposing ways of approaching things.
  3. Travel still is sublime: Our own family did a very traditional driving vacation – rocketing down I-5 from Seattle to San Francisco like a Shinkansen, then meandering up the Oregon coast. In between: chatty visits with extended family; immersion into SF’s museums; standing in awe of Mother Earth’s biggest kids, the Redwoods; and loitering in the dreamy coastline of Oregon. It was 20 pounds of memories, stuffed into an all too brief 5 pound bag.
  4. Time is precious but so slippery: This year I saw the passing of family. With it, I felt I still don’t fully embrace a lesson that’s been in front of me for a half century – spend more of our fleeting existence with those who make our souls smile, and be one of them for others too.
  5. The coming teen years concern me: The boys are now well beyond toddlers – that was more an issue of my own perceptions. But what’s over the horizon is concerning: the hurricane of pre-teen and teen years, including bullying, the status of trinkets, gadgets, & cars, and the sexualized energy of personalities like Justin Bieber. How to keep tethered to the remarkable visions and dreams that 6 year olds have, and how to help them “find these again” when they are back on track in college and beyond? How does one give the right context, anchor, map and suspension system to counterbalance the insane forces of middle school and high school?
  6. Express love through collaboration: Two years ago my mom and my sister Cindy raised the notion of a gallery show of paintings (mom’s), installation work (Cindy’s) and photos (mine). “The Brush, the Lens & the Light” came to life in March. I am sure I drove them more nutty than they did me, but we also laughed and learned. 60 photos out of around 60k that I have were shared and I felt sheepish that it has taken this long. You should and can do the same: get your friends and family to push the talents you now have sitting on the bench.
  7. Napoleon’s quote can come to life, just like that: “ ‘Tis but a moment from the sublime to the ridiculous” happened at least once in 2011. An idyllic 25 mile bike ride with the boys was cut short when I (blunderously) hit the front brake, and catapulted over the top of the bike. The landing bruised my TMJ and fractured both pinky fingers. All in the blink of an eye. But I am grateful to be Teflon-coated by Microsoft’s Cadillac health care plan (for instance, zero co-pay) – think of the millions who are uninsured, what a quandary this becomes, no?
  8. Rediscovering the tradition of making things: School and Scouts have been a catalyst for something fading in today’s world: creating objects from scratch! Two examples: Paul’s science fair project, “Infinity is the God of Numbers”; building winning cars for the Pinewood Derby
  9. Skype is like no other: It’s easy, it harnesses your visual cortex so phone calls are replaced with show and tell, it lets family join a wedding or other gathering even if health or finances hold them back from traveling. What is not to love about it?
  10. Time to go for a walkabout? Molly and I loved the 6 months we spend in London back in 2000. Hence I continue to explore ways to land a Microsoft gig in Singapore or India. It will rewrite the boy’s view of the world; I will learn loads from a professional sense; and it will enable Molly and I to travel a bit.

With this, Molly, the "2 chuttumbees" and I wish you and your loved ones a 2012 that is simply breathtaking.  May you explore, discover, develop and appreciate the treasures, talents and time that is right under your nose, and find remarkable ways to bring them to life. Do visit us while we are here (one never knows what the future holds, right?) – the great Northwest has so much to see and do.

Take care and God Bless You! 

Sidd, Paul, Molly and Abe…

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Afternoon in Marin Headlands, © 2011, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger images)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Meeting Mother Teresa

My mom’s older sister, Monikochamma was in Bangalore several years ago and intent on visiting the Missionaries of Charity location in the city and making a donation.  The autoricksha driver was struggling to find the location and after getting lost a couple of times, finally relented, “It is somewhere close, madam, but you will need to walk now.”

Undaunted, she proceeded on foot, occasionally asking for directions from people in the neighborhood.  This can be exhausting as many will confidently provide directions even if wildly incorrect.  Finally a lady sweeping the front walk waved Monikochamma forward, “You’re close, you just need to go around this corner and in the gate.”

At last she had arrived.  She was greeted by a nun, who gave a tour of the facility and staff.  Monikochamma made a donation and then asked, “Does Mother Teresa ever come to Bangalore?  I know she may be in one of the locations but I would love to meet her if that was at possible.”

“She is not in the building just now as she is sweeping the front of the mission.” 

Monikochamma stood in awe.  Here was an example of the saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  The Nobel Laureate was simply deep in her day’s work at the mission.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta at a pro-life meeting on July 13, 1986 in Bonn, Germany

Mother Teresa, Wikimedia-Commons User Túrelio

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chuttumbee #2 Turns 8

Sidd has now completed the 8th year of the journey he is on and the year was certainly an illuminating one.  With each year, I can see clear lines emerging that crystalize his social, physical and intellectual persona.  The diamond is steadily emerging from the rough.  An observation by one human of another, which in and of itself, is a priceless part of life.

In a nutshell, he’s competitive, a numbers guy (particularly regarding money), selectively lazy, likes little kids, and gregarious, social spirit with a penchant for cracking jokes.

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Shaggy Headed Boy, © 2011, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger images)

Competition: He has discovered a fierce sense of competition and beating arbitrary goals he creates (including in soccer). I have noticed that he will observe the expected arrival time on our car’s GPS, and then quietly urge me on, “C’mon dad, just chip it down, chip it down. It says 2:34. Let’s get it down to 2:33.” He remembers that how well he did previously and wonders how the future will be, “I made 2 goals last week, I hope I can do that tomorrow.”

Be Smart With Numbers & Money: For Sidd, numbers is just another term for money, and he likes both, a lot. At his 7th birthday party, my parents gave him 50 one dollar bills and he counted them daily for a month. He and Paul decided to combine their allowances as it will be larger, (which is obviously better according to them) and opening a bank account was quite the excursion. If I had known of and given the marshmallow test back when he was three I think he would have passed. Cindy gave him a Super Lotto ticket for his 8th and the reaction was illuminating. BEFORE: he had myriad questions about success: “If you win the $3 million dollars can you play AGAIN? Really? Wow.” “If I win, I will put it all in the bank account and make more – maybe I will be the first boy to make a billion dollars.” AFTER: Upon finding out that he had not won, not had even one number match, his view of lotteries soured. “So they keep Cindy Auntie’s dollar? That does not sound like a very good idea.” Pondering more and hearing about how you can make more modest gains with stocks he came back to say, “I think I want to learn how to put money into Kinect, that is a pretty good thing and I think a lot of people should like it. Can you show my how to buy stock in that company?”

Lazy, at Times: When there is a task in the house to do, I find that Sidd will linger just long enough to see if Paul will up and do it. If asked, he sounds innocent. “I think Paul is taking care of it.” Bad habit to nip sooner rather than later.

Little Friends: The little man loves little babies and kids. When at a gathering, if will oscillate between rough housing with boys his age, and goofing around with a 2 year that is peering around from behind his or her mom’s dress.

Gregarious?  Yup: The social element comes out loud with each passing day. When asked who he played with at school, the response shows it is a numbers game. “I play with George and his friends during the morning recess, and with Tommy and his friends in the afternoon recess.” We were visiting family in San Francisco and the first night my cousin Rani had a wonderful soiree at her place: perhaps 15 people, all my cousins spouses, came over. Sidd had a ball with Rani’s children and all these people. The next day, the 1st question was, “which party are we going to tonight dad?” When the answer was none, he was undeterred, going to Regi Auntie and asking, “Regi Auntie can we have a party tonight?” He kept at this campaign and the next morning, she finally wrote down a set of phone numbers and handed him a phone.  He took his best shot at inviting folks over. “Hi Shanthi Auntie, this is Sidd. So we are having a party tonight and can you come at 7? It is okay if you have to come at 8:30 or 8 and I think it will be a lot of fun.” Regi Auntie graciously and patiently had him make panacotta with her and other items for the evening.  The  takeaway was triumphant, “I can’t believe this was my very first party. Regi Auntie made the party so good and I got to be host. It sure was fun.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

There Are No Illegitimate Children

My sister Cindy was chatting with my dad about the singer Nora Jones and explaining her lineage.  She mentioned that Nora is the illegitimate child of famed musician Ravi Shankar, and dad became very agitated. 

He clarified that in his view, this is in reality a misplaced term. 

“Cindy, there is no such thing as an illegitimate child.  There are only illegitimate parents.”  Touché.

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Unnerving Speed of Life

I am simply stupefied at the sheer velocity of our existence. Yesterday, I was 6. Today I am 46. Tomorrow I will be 73. Just like that.

I watch in awe as a freight train thunders by me, yet in reality I am on that train, looking out the window as the countryside of my life, experiences, and relationships zips by.

It’s akin to the whisper-quiet experience riding on the Shinkansen or TGV  – fast, noiseless, and less experiential than you want, unless you make an effort on your own part and “open the windows” in some manner.  Otherwise, I cannot hear the movement in my ears, nor feel its passage in my toes, the seat of my pants or in the small of my back. Months, literally years go by in mute. 

But I can “see” the changes if I make the effort to really look and increasingly be aware of the inexorable progress underway. Pudgy babies, turning to lanky youngsters, then questioning teenagers and finally delivered as pondering adults weighing the options in front of them and those left behind.

The 2009 trip to India made this painfully obvious, again.  Why?  Because it had been 5 years since the last visit and 13 since the first one with Molly. Cousins who were toddlers oblivious to the wealth of minutes around them were now in college pondering what lay beyond their graduation.

For some reason Stevie Nick’s song Landslide keeps looping between my ears, particularly where it goes…

I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
and I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
'Till the landslide brought me down
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love
Can the child within my heart rise above
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life~~~

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The Countryside Flies By
- - Abe Pachikara, © 2009, (Click for larger images)

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Chuttumbee #1 Turns 9

It is nearly a decade since the “project” we now call Paul was started. :) And now I am belatedly writing about how he has powered, even thundered, his way thru his 9th year in his own quiet way. (Unrelated is the fact that 9 years has passed – how fleeting time is ! )

Gone is the cute, rather round, pudgy-pie he was as a toddler, replaced by a completely new geometry: he’s now svelte, with muscles on muscles.

What remains the same is the exploratory, abstract approach that lets ideas steep for days and weeks, and comes back with comments like “I think Infinity is the God of numbers and zero is the devil.” Such inspection has come to manifest itself in new ways such as increasingly complex Lego creations, writing his own 30 page sequel to a Lego Bionicles book, a steady immersion into the land of writing software (via the utterly amazing Microsoft Research game development tool called Kodu,) and improvising how you move to music. (He discovered that the latter translates to dancing like a madman at wedding receptions which is, well, a whole lot of fun. )

Ostensibly what is completely new is how he has kept his introverted side (he has exactly 2 friends in school, Will and Hrik, who are similarly not huge socialites) yet become increasingly comfortable with the larger cohort of students. His 3rd Grade teacher, Mrs. Christensen, informed us before the last day of school that the class had voted him as their “notable citizen” based on such criteria as “Kind, caring and considerate toward others; strong work ethic; positive and enthusiastic about learning.” My hope is that he can continue to beef up this ability as he moves into the choppy social waters of middle and high school, where I think it will be vital.

So here’s two images – they may at 1st appear to err on more entertaining than representative – one could be misconstrued to be a private school student; the other a budding surfer dude (from Nov 2010). But I see the way he peers deeply into things rather than a boy in a tie, and the way he keeps a bit of a distance via the big shades. All in all, he is blessed with talents and verve, and we are blessed that he has the luxury of time and many treasures to help chart out path ahead.

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All Dressed Up, © 2011; Hitting the Surf, © 2010, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger images)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Amazing Journey: Please, Avoid the Kid’s Menu

I know folks who will take their children to a fine dining establishment and then turn to the page of pedestrian choices like Chicken Fingers when it comes to choosing what their kids eat.  Why?

How does one go about expanding the horizons of young beings when in action you undertake such confining behavior?

We have gone out of our way to establish a simple approach.  “Take one Tyrannosaurus-sized bite of the items we order.  Then really taste it, feel the texture, smell the aroma, look at the dish.  Feel the hard, soft, hot and cold parts with your fingers. Rip it to shreds in every way you want.  After that, if you still feel it is not something you like, bravo, let’s order something else.”

The result has been certainly encouraging.  Both the 7 and 8 year old have little hesitation trying things.  When the opening question is “What’s a Gyro?”  as opposed to “I don’t like Gyro’s” you know you have a fighting chance.

The world is such a big place.  Every facet has to be approached like it may be the last time you traverse it.  Injecting that mindset into the food we eat certainly seems like like a way to set the stage for larger explorations, no?

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Taiwanese Pork Burger, rather than chicken nuggets

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Earning Your Success Thru Smart Homework

Paul and Sidd had the good fortune of joining the venerable Scouting tradition known as the “Pinewood Derby” back in March:  transform a block of wood into a car body; decorate as you wish; nail on 4 wheels; race it down a glorified Hot Wheels track.

Before embarking with them on this little adventure, I came across “Physics and the Pinewood Derby” – a DVD of lessons by a physics professor who is a Souts dad.  It was a great $15 investment.  The boys walked away understanding some nuanced concepts in the context of speed such as: center of gravity, and design; rotational inertia, and using 3 vs. 4 wheels; how to check for good alignment and great tires.

This clearly narrowed our effort and over the course of a couple of weeks we created these svelte, 4.96 ounce (the limit is 5 oz) little dynamos.  Along with the build itself, the boys embraced the professor’s test mentality and made choices: notably Paul chose to have 1 front wheel slightly lifted off the track (lower rotational inertia), but Sidd felt this may make the car drift to one side and chose all 4 will be touching.

One small surprise was that neither cared to dress up the car with flames, numbers, etc.  “I just want a fast car, dad” is how Paul summed it up.  Sidd concurred.

The upshot:  out of about 40 cars, Paul’s racer, “Speedy Gonzales” came in 1st in all 8 heats, and 1st overall; Sidd’s “Typhoon” came in 1st in 5 heats, 2nd in 2 heats and 3rd in one very fast one, and 2nd overall.  A 1st and 3rd grader had beat out racers as old as the 6th grade.

When they announced the results, Paul was in particular surprised.  As the more introverted one, it was an unexpected feeling to be in the cheering and limelight among peers, and come to the front front to get his award.

I for one liked their observations and lessons: Both boys commented they were happy to see their brother win.  Both made predictions before the racing began about the various designs, looking thru the professor’s physics lens.  They also learned that how a heat “looks” matters less than the actual numbers in terms of race times.  And to a limited degree, they saw that when time permits it can be mighty useful to learn from the best before you start.

Turning up the heat at the district races… 

The boys went on to the district races in May and were very pumped up.  Now, throughout the build they had commented on winning and I shared that the the prep is what they control, but ultimately it does come down to luck, and the other cars. Most important is that walked away knowing they did as much as they could to make the fastest cars possible.  I also highlighted that the districts would see the best of the best compete and this would be far tougher.

Well, the district races were eye opening, and frankly, humbling.  Other cars won at the end of the day.  Sidd, who has a burning desire to “win”, was in particular was taken aback as he watched the race times and saw that Typhoon was not the top contender.  I wish I had photographed the shocked look on his face as Typhoon came in 2nd and 3rd in the heats.  Going to the districts was not as wildly fun as they had expected.  And being humbled is not the same as the candy of winning.  But I think they walked away understanding there are bigger arenas, and all the diligent prep is for contenders who may be elsewhere. 

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Speedy Gonzales in the Garage; Typhoon(#30), Copyright 2011, Abe Pachikara  (Click for larger images)

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Speedy Places 1st; Typhoon Places 1st, Copyright 2011, Abe Pachikara

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Speedy Stays Out in Front; Typhoon in Action, Copyright 2011, Abe Pachikara

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The Race Crew, Copyright 2011, Abe Pachikara

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The Pack at the End of a Big Night, Copyright 2011, Abe Pachikara

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Firing Things Up at the District, Copyright 2011, Abe Pachikara

Sunday, April 03, 2011

“Infinity is the God of Numbers”

So my 7 year old Sidd and 8 year old Paul have been in hot pursuit of superlatives for several months.  One that has left Paul particularly spellbound was my answer to “what’s the biggest number?” - - The notion of infinity has resulted in numerous follow-up questions.

Finally he came up to me and said, “you know dad, I‘ve been thinking and since God is everything, and infinity is the biggest number, infinity is the God of numbers and zero is the devil.”

When asked where zero fit in, he indicated, “see infinity is trying to make you the biggest number, and zero is trying to make you into nothing.  So zero is the opposite of infinity so it’s the devil of numbers.”

I then explained negative numbers and asked where they fit in.  He came back in an hour, “Okay so BOTH positive AND negative infinity are the Gods of numbers, and zero is still the devil.”

I do hope he keeps this abstract way of looking at things, and that I can help remove whatever may obstruct such thinking.

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Unwavering Focus

Some pursuits naturally draw us into focus, and are a natural source of exhiliration.  Consider Sidd and soccer.  It is a daily ritual at school during lunch, rain or shine.  And when he runs onto the field for a game, he literally prances around like a bucking bronco. 

Below is a shot sequence from the last game of his 2010 season.  The other team was an all-Latino set of 1st graders who were already well schooled on both the basics and more advanced nuances like double teaming and a liberal amount of pushing and shoving.  An early view into what is to come in later years.

The images show the way opportunity is identified, and in this case, relentlessly pursued in the face of opposition.  His eyes are locked on the goal even as the defense takes him down in the final frame.  The book "
Bringing up Geeks" calls out the importance of focusing kids on everything BUT winning and losing: all those other elements are what one truly will gain from playing sports (like the camaraderie, the collective encouragement, the need for a LOT of preparation, the luck that is sprinkled in all endeavors, and the discipline and tenacity one builds).

Fast Break… Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2010 (click for larger image)

The Defense Closes In… Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2010 (click for larger image)

Squeeze Play… Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2010 (click for larger image)

Keeping Focus… Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2010 (click for larger image)

Watching the Ball As You Go Dooowwwnnnn… Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2010 (click for larger image)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Unbounded World of George DeVoynes

My views of life were shattered in so many good ways in the summers of 1981 and 1983.  This image highlights just one – see the seated and smiling mug of the man standing next to camp counselors Sara Queener and Maria Baker.  George was the 1st of many campers to debunk many assumptions I discovered I had in life.

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George and his Wheels - - Abe Pachikara, Copyright 1981 (click for larger image)

As context, the photo is taken at Touch of Nature (TON), a summer camp for physically and mentally challenged near Carbondale, IL.  It was the 1st of the many 2-week sessions; these campers had cerebral palsy, and were 18 to perhaps 60 years old (the upper age was never clear to me).

Now George had some kind of up-front agreement that he never needed to participate in the evening activities like arts, beach, boating, etc.  Rather, after dinner he would wheel himself back to the cabin (a very slow action, to be clear, but George ONLY moved on his own, never wanting help if at all possible; it was a steady but glacial backwards motion, arm hooked over the back grip, looking over his right shoulder).  He would spastically slap cologne on himself, often erupting into a smile over how good he smelled; perhaps change his shirt with the help of his cabin’s counselors, and then wheel ALL the way back past the cafeteria to his Caddy.

Getting in his Cadillac was its own journey: opening the back door; rocking back and forth until he was precariously up on his stiff legs; opening the back door; shaking the wheelchair until it collapsed; somehow dragging it into the back seat; slowly moving across to open the front door; falling in, moving around, getting situated. 

Finally, with big, enticing grin on his face, he would muster the energy to say to anyone nearby, “I…… am…… going…… out.”  The Caddy would back out, and with a burst of energy from the hand controlled accelerator, slide into the evening.

I once asked Butch, “where the hell is he going?”  to which I got a trademark thundering laugh, “Ah where does George go?  It is one of those Touch mysteries, Abe!  Some seedy tavern, local strip clubs, wherever it is a single, virile man would go in the evening.  And George is a pretty determined guy.”

It was the same man, seen thru 2 lenses:  while I saw the cerebral palsy with its inhibiting packaging that surrounded George, what Butch (and other TON veterans) also “saw” was just another single, virile male.  Getting a beer, chasing some skirts sounded pretty pedestrian at that point.

In my incredibly finite brain, large chunks of the world were beyond the boundaries of people “like George” but that was not the case.  And it was a tremendously welcome correction, if you ask me.