***I’ve been taking MasterClasses for the last few weeks. Often, there are assignments given out. This one was to write about the saddest moment in your life. One other note, I allowed ten minutes for writing, so the essay might seem short for such a heavy prompt. Here it is…

The Rental

Honesty in sadness is a tough one to write about. Trying to find the saddest moment of a life seems so disrespectful to all of the sad moments a person experiences. For me, the end of February 1998 had to be about the worst. There was a confluence of events that took me away from being happy and culminated in somber dash to get rid of a rental car.

My grandfather died that month in Texas. We were all together for his funeral. We learned things about him that are only things you learn when someone dies. That weekend was tough because of my grandfather’s passing, but it was not unexpected. He had been sick for a long time.

Two weeks later the shock hit. My brother was gone. We had just been together for my grandfather’s funeral and everything seemed fine with my brother. It wasn’t and I had missed whatever clues he was giving out.

Before I had gone to Texas, I was renting a car because mine had been smashed by a kid driving on ice. His car had gone full on bobsled and crashed into mine. The rental had some problems and when I returned from Texas, I made arrangements to exchange the car.

Then the phone call came that my brother had ended his life.

I felt a shock that I cannot explain. By nature, I am a problem solver. In stressful moments, I just get on with the business of moving through the situation. I rarely take time to grieve and if I do, I’d prefer to be alone. The morning after the phone call, I had to drive across our county, about an hour long drive, to change the car. While I was driving, I had to fight back the tears, but somewhere over on Route 100, I lost it at a stoplight. I cried about as hard as I could. When I looked to my left, there were kids in their car laughing at me as I wailed.

I felt nothing for them. My brother was gone.

Twenty or so minutes later, I had changed out the car. The new car smell of the next rental was more of a cherry bomb scent, cheap and hurried. The rest of the drive home was a blur.

Many years ago
I made a move to teach
At a high school.
After elementary school and middle school,
I figured I had seen just about everything.

I hadn’t.

Besides the normal school stuff,
I got to learn a whole new faculty.
One man was a longtime teacher
Who was nearing retirement.
I only knew him in passing, but he was always around.

He ran the hallways during his planning.
His choppy steps were quiet
And he always listened to something
Loud enough on his headphones
To bypass his downgraded hearing ability.

After he retired,
He stuck around.
Using his guile and experience
From teaching the hardest of students
To manage the toughest of all teaching jobs, the substitute.

And he ran.

After a quick Clark Kent change,
He was out of his bow tie
Making his way around the building
With a pace perfect
For memorizing his lines in the script he carried.

I never knew he was an actor,
But he was great,
Never letting on that he had cancer,
Never suggesting that he could not beat it.
His anger seemed manageable as he reasoned with his struggle.

Yet, he remained upbeat
Running as much as possible,
Reading during quiet moments between classes,
Standing through the rigors of standardized testing,
Acting as if he was on the mend.

We last spoke about two weeks ago.
He did some quiet judging of education,
How we are missing the importance of what we are
By focusing so much time on testing
For he had been a man of relationships, no matter how difficult the student.

Word came today that Kirk passed away.
Cancer took a good man away from us all too soon.
He lived with a dignity and honesty
Few will ever approach.
So long, Mr. Fetters…


Talking about the past can be a difficult thing.
Especially, when the present is filled with grief.

Back in high school, the Rams were a tight group.
Then, 14 got sick.

Physical problems brought pressure to his brain
That robbed him of life.

Always a cool cat, 14 carried his smile Magic-style,
Even on that day when we visited.

His body was weak and voice strained,
But he lit up when we entered the room.

“Yo, Sweet Cock, what are you doing, boy?”
He asked with the biggest grin.

I was crying inside
Because even at sixteen, you know.

The day 14 went to see the Lord
Was crazy cold with the brightest sun.

I cried on the church steps outside
Because at sixteen, you just don’t know what to do.

And like that
Life kept on going…


Today word got out about 42,
Who lost his struggle against cancer.

He was tall, skinny, and quiet
With a soft shot that was nothing but buckets.

He carried himself with class
Never getting caught in the drama of high school,

But he knew, knew he was a baller,
And let the nets do his talking.

We drifted apart after the season
Not to ever see each other again.

Yet, I’m bothered by this news
For the same reason.

42 was a good dude and those who know
Say the same about him today.

He leaves his family much too soon
And I hurt for them

But thinking of that gawky kid, all elbows and knees,
Makes me smile for getting to be his teammate.

And like that
Life will keep on going…

14 & 42

I hope Troy and Alan will cross paths,
Maybe even get in some pick-up games.

14 feeding 42…

The book, Levels of Life,
Was brought to me
On this tolerable summer day
By a wise fate or
A humble coincidence.

I suppose either way works.

My wife is at a funeral
Surrounded by mourners
And probably more than a few who
Have risen to the height of grief
As I am finishing
The last pages of Barnes’
Most honest writing.

Cosmos and coincidence intersecting.

I’m feeling sadness for her,
Dealing with the loss of a classmate
So closely after her father passed away.
I’m sure the feelings for her friend are true,
But I bet they got gobbled up
By the utter heartbreak of losing, Dad.

Such is grief over mourning.

Through this I felt compelled to call my friend
Whose wife died recently after a long illness.
He is eighty and I sense a difference in him,
The pain of her death attacking
The wherewithal of this battered man
To continue with the strength and stoisism
He displayed in the final years of her life.

Such is the relentlessness of grief.

My wife will come home.
I’ll take her lead.
Next week my friend and I will have lunch.
I’ll take his lead.
For these two know grief,
They know how they cope best.
My own bouts with surmounting grief’s force
Rarely jive with how others cope.

So we are.

Expert analysis
Of the rings on this wooden nickel
Have long since expired
Leaving emotional debt
To be paid in full
Without a complete
Understanding of the economics
Involved with grief, loss, or toil
Cashing in this worthless tender
Leaves nothing but the spoils of heartache
And the tumult of consternation
To further the decline of those mental assets

Time for a spending spree

Little quotes
Inspiration in lit
All driving a message
Of patience

The steadfast meandering
Of emotions ebbing and flowing
Cannot be dammed
Creating lakes full of grief

Finding inspiration
Whatever the source
Helps just a little
For time is the true constant

Be it wise then
To accept these times
Knowing each moment
Brings a challenge

The handling of which
Is not done alone
I am with you
Being whatever you need

The virtue of patience
Something he left to all
Will serve its purpose
As we move in these tough times

Before all was said
The thoughts returned
The anger and rage
About the infliction of pain
Suffering and loss
I’m trusting Your wisdom
In putting us through this
For You know of pain, suffering, and loss too
Now it’s time for Your guidance
Show us benevolence
By taking care of our family
And leaving us out of the pain game for awhile