Monday’s Meander: At the Park with Three Dads

Any day can be a day of gratitude for fathers but Sunday being Father’s Day, we spent time with my son, his wife and his son, as well as our daughter, our son-in-law and their two 14 month olds (plus one other daughter with partner). Gabriel Park has great groves of trees and broad grassy areas, woods and a community garden. Many people wore masks as did Marc and I though this was in open air with plenty of space –much safer. Son Josh (Falk), a pro skater, and Asher (14, long hair–our grandson), were mask-less due to much sweaty athletic activity. They had a great time out there sharing a mutual passion.

I can’t show much of the now-toddling granddaughters as it is preferred we do not. But I took action photos of the guys skateboarding. Josh has been skating since he was 12; he is 45, still sponsored with his skateboards and other items sold, and photographed for magazines (though he’s a contractor full-time). During most of my shots a man (in a black t-shirt) who was filming asked, without knowing who I was, if he was ruining my shots. I laughed, “Oh, I have hundreds of shots of my son, several of my grandson!” He asked who it was so I said, “The guy you’re filming mostly today!” He replied with surprise and appreciation that I was his Mom, out there a dazzlingly hot hour shooting away, in my sweaty mask. Hubby Marc relaxed on a bench.

Earlier in the day we met with another part of the family. Here is a far more protective picture with the toddlers and their parents–sorry to not share more. We brought fruit and animal crackers–those growing girls loved munching on a pear and a peach, and our short visit was good fun!

Alera, Alex, David, Morgan

On through the trees and into the community garden area to finish the beautiful day.

Marc, here on the pathway, helped me raise five kids! He is still standing, God bless him.

An altogether happy Father’s Day with loved ones. My own father passed away 30 years ago, but he is lovingly recalled. I hope you were able to appreciate your fathers and grandfathers, here or gone, as well.

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Young Strength to Greater Strengths

Photos copyright 2019 Cynthia Guenther Richardson

 

Way back then it began with

big energy of desire behind arcs

of movement through flowery air,

your flash of bravado like

(at 2 you jumped in the pool and swam),

some cellular lightning rising off head and feet,

arms outstretched for the world and beyond.

No one knew in ’86 what was coming,

that such play and work with those wheels and board

would crest and carry into mainstream places.

This was strange outlaw living then–

you weren’t trodding a middle way,

alive at deep edges, the high heat of competition

never greater than when against yourself.

 

Heart of warrior, alchemical dreamer,

adventurer’s sinew and bone,

mind swinging open sizzling with joy:

you were so young and wildly brave.

Slight and intense, admirer of sport, I followed your progress

(breath held, police watch), cheered

each feat–more so incandescence of hope

as your passion reshaped air, time, thought.

 

You are older, braver, stronger, wounds knit

together into tattooed tales of loss and discovery.

You’ve expanded with things endured,

a richer faith, and every time you test bonds of gravity

that essence shouts, flies as you rise, fall, rise.

A circuitry of life imbues you by sculpted

propulsion of fire’s calm– your daily devotionals.

Still out there, and I yet watch (going grey now)

you skate with zero regret and a fine crackling of

laughter and sweat, mastery of gratitude, sheen of wonder.

(And still I hold my breath then let it go with the winds.)

 

Many still do not understand the allure and respect for skateboarding but it is a demanding athletic endeavor (it became an official Olympic sport is 2016), beautiful and fascinating in motion. My son, Josh Falk, has been a pro skater for over 20 years and has been on several teams. I have never regretted encouraging him in his passion. You can find many photos, videos, film and magazine feature info as well as his Northwest Skate products online if interested.

   1986-Josh and me

Joshua’s Fourth of July

Fourth Of July Fireworks

For most Americans, the fourth of July is a beloved national holiday, a time to once more note pride in our “can-do” attitude as we kick back and bask in the pleasures of summer. Families and friends make merry and enjoy an age-old thrill in firework displays that remind us of our country’s hard-won independence. But for my family, this date holds other meanings.

In summer of 1997 my son, Joshua, and youngest daughter, Alexandra, had already arrived in suburban Detroit to visit family and friends. I flew from Oregon to join the clan. We gathered together my five biological and non-biological children plus three grandchildren. A photo shows five children (most in their twenties) who grew up together squashed on a couch, smiling, a motley beloved crew.

Joshua (23), Alexandra (17) and I then travelled to mid-Michigan to my mother’s. My father had passed and my mother, in her mid eighties, was considering selling my childhood home. We enjoyed one another and reminiscing. Joshua was going to visit his father farther north when Alexandra and I left. He would be water skiing, boating, doing all the things he loved outdoors and catching up with his father and paternal grandmother.

It was two days before the fourth of July. We had finished eating another good meal at the round, umbrella-topped table in mom’s pleasant back yard. I was sad to leave but my vacation days were few so I readied for the airport.

My son and I briefly embraced. He said good-bye, his engaging smile a flash in the sunshine. He was twenty-two, tan and toned like the natural athlete he was, at ease in his skin. Clear blue eyes glinted with liveliness and mischief as they had since he was born. He wished me a safe trip and I, the same for him. Then, deep within me I felt a deep quiver of fear, an alarm. I studied him, held his gaze, spoke again the words I often said to my children, a mantra, a prayer, a blessing: “Be wise, be smart, be safe.” I shook off the anxiety and left, wondering. Praying as I flew home.

Two days later in Portland, Oregon on the fourth of July, my home phone rang. It was Joshua’s paternal grandmother. There was an accident. A motorcycle accident. Joshua was riding, not even that fast –his father heard it happen from the house–but as he rounded an easy curve on the gravel road, the motorcycle had slid, hit an electrical post, then flew up so he was thrown from the bike.

In critical condition. Taken from the rural hospital by ambulance to a major city trauma center well over an hour away. He had many unknown internal injuries, had a crushed jaw, tongue bitten almost in half. But the helmet had protected him from more grievous ruin. She didn’t know more yet but it was so much it barely sunk in. I suppressed a scream.

I got on another plane, numb, trembling, then calmed as I prayed, my mind filled with images that I tried to banish. I knew he was hanging on at that time. I didn’t know how he would be if he survived.

And when I first saw him, he was my son and yet not exactly, his broken body not yet as familiar to me, while his inner spirit held on, even severely shaken. He lay in the intensive care room strapped to a bed that was in an elevated position, his lean length swollen and bruised, his jaw barely moveable. I understood specialists were waiting to see what would develop, that a clear prognosis was not offered. There were lost and broken teeth, chin and jaw; the rest of the damage was internal. His eyes were changed by pain and confusion that rolled out in waves to me. I touched his hand, shared all the love of my heart, carried in a message from my soul.

In the waiting room everyone was together again. My children but also two ex-husbands, Joshua’s oldest friends, my mother, other family members. We embraced. Wept. Mostly we were devoid of words, beyond expression of feeling. We were terribly still, then restless. Prayerful and stunned.

I thought over and over: I should have warned him. I knew something was not right as we parted ways. I thought: Joshua, you must bear this and you must recover. I thought: I will be here no matter what. The prayer was simple: Hold him close, save his body, salvage all who he is.

Anyone who has had to keep watch over a loved one in a hospital for a long period knows the contradictory features, how time vanishes yet feels like molasses. How misery takes turns with a stalwart calm. Fear runs high only to be overcome by love and hope. And when the days become weeks, it becomes a familiar routine, oddly adaptable, a pattern imprinted so all that exists is those rooms, that child, the patience you gain in order to endure and have faith can go forward. Beseeching God, accepting there are things you cannot comprehend. Each moment faced as it arrives. The soothing moments melt away in sorrow. Peace finally arrives when one more day passes without more bad news.

Joshua, the child who had boundless vigor and curiosity and high spirits, was altered partly by his own stillness. We talked a bit but often we all just sat, watching a little tv. Massaging his feet. Helping him drink water. I would read to him, hold his hand. Music sometimes played. My mother came every day she could manage to be there. Joshua’s father and ex-stepfather visited daily. No one left him alone any longer than could be avoided.

Over the next few weeks Joshua hung on, went through rounds of x-rays, MRIs, blood work, IVs, endured indignities and countless consultations. There had been damage to the spleen, a bruised pancreas, a kidney injured that was now dying. He had fractured and lost many teeth and his jaw required surgery and a metal band to hold all together. His tongue healed more quickly. But after three weeks he was wasting away, weakened, his blood sugar haywire due to pancreatic malfunctioning. He was unable to walk alone more than a few steps. If he didn’t have more sustenance, did not metabolize better, he would grow even weaker. His doctors and surgeon didn’t speak of the future, much less with optimism; they were surprised he had survived, at all.

I was not. I knew his fiery stubbornness and passion for life, how he felt God. And I knew God’s healing power never stopped working. Many prayed for his recovery, kept vigil. The presence of Christ was about us; I felt the warmth, that strength of love.

One day I came to visit and Joshua shared something that changed everything.

“I had a vision, mom.”

“You did? What sort of a vision? Or was it a dream?”

“A vision,” he said firmly. “I was in the desert. I met a shaman who offered me a peace pipe. We sat before a fire and he told me I needed to hunt for meat. I can’t just lie here. I have to change things. In order to heal I must eat meat and other good foods, not just what I am given. I have to tell the doctors I need meat and vegetables. I must gain strength to get up and walk or I won’t make it.”

His eyes were weary with chronic pain but luminous. He was adamant about the vision’s instructions. He had been fed via IVs, more recently had some soft food and more liquids–that was all he could manage, they said, due to damaged major organs, mouth and jaw. When his doctors came again, Joshua informed them he would now be eating what he knew he needed. Or he would leave. I didn’t say anything to discourage him. I knew all his life he seemed to display unusual capacity to heal himself and that he prayed for his own and others’  healing. He was so certain. I believed, mostly, and I definitely trusted in God’s wisdom.

He also refused surgery to repair injuries to pancreas and spleen and to remove what they insisted was a dying, shrivelled-up kidney.

He contradicted them. “My second kidney is hurt but alive. It’ll function fine again someday. No cutting. Let my body heal itself. Let me eat.”

The surgeons and internists listened. They debated and then they agreed. When do hospitals accept that a young man has a vision of healing? But they did not refuse to use regular menus. They pureed and blended ingredients and he fed himself. Each day he seemed more energized. The room lost its shroud of sadness.

Within less than a week he stood on his own, walking with difficulty but with determination, IV stand in hand. Slowly he made his way up and down the hall, longer and farther each time. I witnessed one moment as the full reality of his injuries hit him, tears coming, questions about his choices voiced. And I was overcome with my private grief about not insisting he not go up north that day. I knew I couldn’t have stoppped him but it haunted me. He was living in the present yet worried he might not manage all he wanted to do in the future. But it was clear he was on his way back.

I left when he was eating and walking more confidently. He told me he expected to be back in Oregon before the end of summer and his doctors began to see it his way. After five weeks in the hospital, he was released and after recovering a bit more at his father’s, he returned to Portland.

There were a few phone calls between us and his surgeon. She told me they had never witnessed such an event before, how Joshua simply stated his vision and what to do. The faith. His healing. She said they all admired his spirit and she expressed sincere caring and best wishes.

This is not quite the end of the story.

Before Joshua’s accident he had worked as a commercial painter at a big company. But he had also been pursuing his dream of becoming a well-known skateboarder for years. Constantly active since childhood, he was attracted to individual sports such as snow and water skiing, BMX biking and karate. He had practiced tricks on his skateboard when it was not yet a mainstream sport but considered an edgey rebel’s way of life. He had made great progress, his name ws circulated, but not as much as desired.

After he came home, he stated he was going to become an outstanding skateboarder. He planned on being sponsored by sports companies, competing all over the country and being in skate videos. It gave us pause. It seemed less than likely he could carry on with life without further health issues. He’d had a head injury. More surgery was due for jaw, teeth. He was still healing internally. (We wouldn’t know about the badly damaged kidney for years until he had a minor snowboarding injury that required an x-ray. They found both kidneys, though one was a little smaller, functioning well.) He had a great deal of strength, balance and flexibility to regain, in time.

But my son took charge of the dream and succeeded. He has competed many times, has sponsors including Nike, ACE Trucks, Roughneck Hardware, OJ Wheels, Diamond Clothing, 151 Skateboards. He has appeared in countless skateboarding videos. Photographs of him skateboarding have appeared in over forty national magazine issues. He has had nine skateboards emblazoned with his own name. He still skates today and is, yes, a residential and commercial painter. And a devoted father, a music and art maker, a nature lover. One who still prays for others’ healing, too.

So another Fourth of July is coming up, seventeen years later. We don’t much speak of it though I see him often, so I asked him if I could write about all this. He was fine with it. He has lived other interesting experiences. Life goes on. And whenever an alarm goes off within me, I pay attention. I speak of it. If I am wrong, it matters little. If I am, it might save someone regrets or worse.

My son, who goes by Josh Falk, is getting older but not slowing down much. When he teetered on that precipice above life and death he found a way back to solid ground. I know all prayers upheld him. His faith in Divine Love has deepened as it has informed his living day by day. And his heart? Strong as a warrior’s, tender when it matters most.

Joshua's smile

IMG_3284

 

The Best Defense

 

Raider watched me as he repeated a litany of complaints. His tall, lean body moved very little but his shadowy eyes were animated with anger and a profound desire to leave the building. He sat like this every other week and what he said didn’t change: he had bad luck, he was a victim of circumstances that seemed never-ending. He’d had a cruel father who died young, a mother who was sick and far away. His girlfriends left him before he could leave them. He felt justified in raising first a bottle to his lips and then raising his fists so he had landed in treatment. Raider lived on the periphery of what he felt was a controlling society and inhabited what he believed was an unfairly difficult life.  Unless he could get out of the system and get back on his own. And he had to deal with me in order to make that happen.

“You wouldn’t understand,” he said, chin thrust out. “You probably have a sweet house, a nice little family, and maybe a fluffy dog. You’ve never seen the sky through bars. And I’m a skateboarder. I need to roam. It’s nothing to you, but I hate every day I’m not free to go where I want to. The system determines my whole life! I have to get through it  somehow, though.”

His jaw tightened and his alert black eyes clouded over as though a mist had fallen. I told him the usual-that I could assist in helping him find housing, that he needed to stay sober more than anything else if he planned on getting off probation the next few months. I was  beginning to wonder if he needed detox. I added a new group to his schedule.

“What are you going to do about finding some hope?”  I asked him suddenly.

He shifted. “What?”

“You talk like you have very little hope.”

“Yeah, well, if you were in my shoes….” He tugged at a torn spot in his jeans leg. “What about it?”

I sat back and took a long drink of water. “People can do more than survive. Even people who have lost everything they think is important. One guy I’m thinking of just about lost his life. He was a skateboarder, too, one with great promise.”

Raider cocked his head at me and blinked.

“He borrowed a motorcycle for a spin in the country one summer evening. He wasn’t driving recklessly, but it was a gravel road and he took a curve a little too fast. He wiped out, hit a utility pole, flipped the bike. He wore a helmet or that might have been that. But he crushed his jaw and teeth. He was rushed to a trauma center miles away. He had serious internal injuries, damaged spleen and pancreas, a kidney that doctors said  would be lost.  Many people  prayed for him. For a month and a half he lay there, trying to keep up his spirits, hanging on to hope while he physically got weaker and thinner. He was not able to walk more than a few steps. The doctors believed he would never fully recover. He was in pain and didn’t know what each day would bring but he held on.  Deep down he was still a strong-minded person, full of fire and love of life. He wanted to skateboard, ski and snowboard, create things, travel,  enjoy people–to fully live his life again. Like you, he was a free spirit.”

Raider was sitting forward, his hands clasped. “So then what?”

“The guy had a vision one night. In the vision he sat with a medicine man who told him to hunt, eat and get strong and he would be healed. So the young man told the doctors they had to stop giving him jello, puddings, fruit juices and other liquids, and round-the-clock IVs with nutrients. They said he was foolish, that he  couldn’t handle foods like meat but the young man told them he had to have protein. He told them to puree the food so he could eat it; he told them what foods he knew he needed. This guy also said he had to get up and walk, if only a few steps a few times a day. He was so insistent that they agreed to start a new diet.”

“They did that?”

“He was so certain it would lead to healing. He had great faith in his vision and in his own instincts. In a few days, he got out of bed, walked a bit. In a week, he could walk down the hall; he walked back and forth and got stronger fast, using those muscles that had served him so well before. He left the hospital in another week. It would take time to fully recover but he wasn’t the sort of person who balked at hard work. And he had a strong belief that things happened in his life for a reason and he could learn from them. Really, he was a person who had a handle on hope.”

We were silent a moment. Raider shook his head.

“But he didn’t skate after that, I guess.”

“Oh, yes. He started to practice a few weeks after he got back home and became a more powerful athlete than ever before. He went on many tours, he’s had hundreds of photos in magazines, been in many films and videos, has his own line of  skateboards. He still skates fifteen years after that accident. And he celebrates life. He’s a man who counts endless blessings, not losses; he shares his love of life no matter what happens. And I’ll tell you,  tough things happened after that. He  just kept believing and going on with his life.”

“Well, who is this guy? I’ve probably seen him and never knew!”

I shook my head. “If I could tell you the whole truth about this story I would. But I just want you to think about it. Hope is so often the best defense in life, Raider. Terrible things happen to people all the time, as you know. So you can get through probation and treatment. You could also see and do things differently if you choose. Or you can take the same path–see more sunrises and sunsets through bars.” I checked my watch. “Time’s up. I hope you stay sober. I’d like to see you back here.”

“I’ll try–I did better this week. And I think I’ll ask around about that guy.”

Raider walked down the corridor but at the lobby door he turned and raised his hand.

“See you next week,” he called. There may have been a half-smile on his face. It was hard to tell–he was gone in a flash, skateboard in hand.

As I returned to my desk, I thought of all the young men who lose their lives to substance abuse, violence and despair, and also to the most random of events. To defeat. They cross paths with me, and then they often vanish. They give up just short of a miracle. But a little hope is a fearsome thing, persistent, potent, courage-building. It is what matters most to those I see day in and day out–and it’s available to all who seek it.

(Thanks to my son: vision seeker, loving husband and father, contractor/painter, music and art maker, pro skater and one of five of my heroes –my children. You all inspire me.)

  

The name and identifying features of “Raider” and all others in my blog posts have been changed to protect their privacy unless otherwise noted.