Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dear Coach

At 3:00 am this morning I received the following email:

I've wanted to stop playing soccer. It's just not fun anymore. You even told me once that it is a game and we play it to have fun. I don't feel any motivation in myself to go and kick a ball by myself anymore, and I hate my training sessions. If I do stop then all my work i have put in would be a waste. Soccer is also the only I'm doing here aside from school. My parents don't know that I still feel this way because I want to get somebody else's opinion before I tell them exactly how I feel. The other reason I haven't said anything is because this has happened about a month ago too. 

 I need some advice on what to do.


Long in the Mouth, Short on the Cleats (My addition as editor)

I sent this former player the following response, and thought it worthy of sharing.  All specific references have been removed for privacy,

Dear Friend;

Thank you for honoring me with your request.  I could get into the strength of character required to ask another's advice, or that I too am facing decisions that will alter the course of my life; but that is not what you are seeking.

In your request I see personal growth and maturity, but I also see a telltale characteristic of a quality.  This character trait is deference to your elders, your parents, your past; and how you might choose your own path without dishonoring the efforts of those who brought you to where you are.  The fact that you are even hesitating to act is not a lack of confidence or indecision, it is a fear of not honoring others.  This is an amazing personal trait for anyone, let alone a young man in the middle of yet another life fluxing move to yet another new city.  So . . .

You are right, I did say, "If you aren't having fun, you should put down the cleats and find something that does make you happy."  And hating the training sessions can be motivation enough to walk away from the game.  Understand that any efforts you have put into becoming the player you are today will not be lost if you walk away, you have worked as an individual and as a member of a team, you have overcome obstacles individually and as a team.  You have had to work with new people on short notice and better still, you have had to work with people you don't even like to accomplish common goals.  Those skills will serve you well for the remainder of your life.

But let's look at what you are missing from your soccer life at this moment; friends, a coach who makes the work of the game fun, and the constant interaction with Dad (For good or ill)  You were always a team player, you never felt that you could lift the team on your shoulders and carry them through thick and thin, you reveled in doing the best you could with the roles you knew.  When I came along and challenged you to another role, you were scared and wary, but you threw yourself into the learning and the work, and it worked out well for both of us.  But you also had the constant ribbing and interaction with a group of players who you had played with for years, they both challenged you and encouraged you in the manner of peer pressures that only school aged boys can.  

There is nothing I can do for your coach/trainer, they will have developed their own style, mannerisms and favorites long before you arrived and so cracking inside that shell will be difficult.  But the constant interaction of parent to child is not to be underestimated, nor over-played;  your parents love you for who you are, not what you have done or will do, but just because you are who you are.  This is something you should never lose sight of; they are an invaluable resource of ideas, encouragement and support.  And so they will ultimately respect you and your decision.

Moving at your age is something I had to do, and it was awful, while the game of soccer was available, I never truly embraced it until after I was in college; the joys of childhood football in England were never equaled in the US until I was invited as a young man to ply my talents on the pitch by my peers who saw more in my than I did in myself at the time. But I digress.  

My suggestions: tell you parents (ask them to hear, not judge, and not to try and fix things today), consider sticking around the game by doing the refereeing clinics and earning a little pocket change, and seek out the activities that do make your heart jump for joy - music, academics, reading, writing, art, bowling, running, for all I know bird-watching.  And then seek out others with similar passions, then find those who are non-judgmental and open to sharing the same joys; these will be the friends of a lifetime

It won't be easy, in fact it will be one of the hardest things you have had to do in a hard life; but the rewards will be a life filled with joy and filled with the pursuit of your happiness.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Auld Lang Syne

“2012 was the hardest year of my life, and yet I am having a hard time saying good bye to it...but 2013 is here whether I like it or not. God give me strength.” – Lizy Coleman 1/1/13

Auld Lang Syne.  It is the song that greets the New Year, but what does it mean?  It is sung to such a baleful and woe filled tune. As the dirge wafts through the night, I can see myself trying to huddle around a miserable little excuse of a fire with my Highland friends (All apologies to the Richies, Allans, Wigneys, Rennies and any surrogate Scots), as we try to stave off the encroaching cold and damp from the ever present mist.  Where is the happiness of a New Year? Why the sad faces? Is this not the chance for a new beginning?

In 1788, Robert Burns, arguably the finest Poet Scotland has ever produced, penned the poem that became the song.  It is a drinking song that calls upon a person not to forget their friends even as they drink a ‘cup o’kindness’  And drink they would given the reference to a Scottish pint or 60 oz of refreshing ale.  And yet we sing it as a dismissory song to the year just passed, and in other parts of the world it is used at funerals and graduations.

Consider the words of the first stanza as it is the theme of the remainder:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And never brought to mind? 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And auld lang syne! 

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Shall we forget our friends, shall they forever be relegated to pits of relationships that will never be rekindled but sit frozen in the past? And then in exclamation the same is repeated but with the warning that all the time, learning and growth that came from those connections will be lost in the “auld lang syne” in the old long since. 

But the poet defiantly replies in chorus:
-For auld lang syne, my dear, 
For auld lang syne. 
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, 
For auld lang syne
For old long since, my dear; for all the bygone times my friend, for all the memories since we first met; We’ll drink a toast in a quiet nod of the head to you my friend and toast the times we have spent together since we first met.

And on it goes for four more verses detailing the times gone by, the memories of a long standing friendship interspersed with the chorus reminder that there will be no forgetting the strength and power in friendships won through time and struggle.

It is fitting for this moment.  There is but a different date on the calendar this morning, not only has the number in the month changed, but so has the month and the year.  Today the year is 2013, while yesterday it was 2012.  But nothing has really changed, has it?  You still probably ate too much over the past week, still have dreams and goals to be accomplished, just as you accomplished some of your dreams and goals over the past period of record.

For us, we entered 2012 with a family of 4, and we left being 2½, being that Morgan considers herself halfway out the door.  We will never forget Evan, and yet little details fade with time  The hole he left does not get any smaller but we are able to better define its edges and have better knowledge of the danger zones.  Every day we wake knowing that he is not asleep in his room, that he will not be playing on his computer or drawing or reading; and that hurts in a manner that hurts in such a special and intimate way that sometimes just taking the next breath seems impossible.

But today is special, as was last night.  These times are not so much for extra special remembrances of Evan, but they have definitely been times of remembering you.  We have made so many new friends, and renewed such amazing friendships from our past.  It is to you that we raise our glass this time of year.  Friends are hard to define especially in a fast moving world of telecommunications and social media.  I had some bizarre idea that I would list all the people who sought us out in our time of need, in the times of our ongoing crisis, to share with the world all the people who have shared time, talents, and/or gifts with us.  The signs of friendship, you know, the little notes, the facebook messages, and that was before all the known and unknown thought senders and prayer warriors.

It is an impossible task and one fraught with the danger of missing a name here or there in direct conflict with our opening song.  There has been an overwhelming sea of support that lifted us up and kept us afloat when all we wanted to do was drown.  Look at what you have accomplished for us: Financially – you retired Evan’s medical debt and gave us time to grieve; Physically – you built Evan’s garden and cleaned and prepared our house to receive mourners; Mentally – you challenged us to engage and remain in the ‘game’; and Spiritually – you gave us your spirit when ours alone would not hold us up, you pointed us to a future that moves towards us with each passing second, teaching us to keep our heads up and on the horizon so that we don’t walk off the cliffs around us.

Yes, you are co-authors of this blog, and are by all rights co-founders of the Evan Coleman Foundation, Inc. The Evan Coleman Foundation is being founded to build a living legacy.  The living legacy has two legs: First is the thrust to fund research into the cancer that took Evan’s life; The second is to ensure that the efforts of the summer  (the living legacy of life, gardens, peace and personal fulfillment) be replicated for others in a testimony for Evan and what he believed. 

It is not for the Foundation to push one ideology or religion upon others, Evan would regard that as the ultimate in Christian hubris and hypocrisy.  A person who is suffering or a family in need do not need doctrine or dogma they need friends, people to come along side long enough to see an area they can support, and then get it done without expectation. 

We hope to continue a living legacy of connections.  Our situation was unique, as is the situation affecting every other person we might help; but the broad swath of support that was used to envelope us with love and warmth and shelter was an amazing construct.  It is one of the goals of the Evan Coleman Foundation to seek out unique situations of need, shed light upon those situations and in some similar manner raise up that large broadcloth of comfort, support and love to envelope and protect people from the storms of life if just for a brief respite from the wind and waves.

Besides, as attractive as the 3 wheeled John Deere is in the back yard, or the 6 foot wide tractor tire planter in the front yard may be; we are looking to find a new locale for our landscaping projects.  Blessings to you all through the New Year, and may your year ahead not be as difficult as our past one was for us.  Thank you for your love and friendship through thick and thin.  For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Empty Nest

Morgan’s Monday Message

18 years ago today, at about noon, our beautiful daughter, Morgan Elizabeth Jenkins Coleman, was delivered by C-Section after 22 hours of labor.  Today she has become an adult as she takes her first steps as an 18 year old.  Today is like many of the other milestones in her life, they mark not only amazing growth for her, but also changes in the lives of her parents.

The last time Lizy and I had a vacation without minor children in tow was to a Bed and Breakfast in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  She was 6 months pregnant and I had not transitioned into life as a full time coach.  We were young at 26 and 28, although we felt old and wise for having waited 5 years since we had married to have children.  Little did we realize how the renewed youthful vigor a child could infuse every moment of our lives. 

And at her birth on Christmas Eve 1994, her arrival transitioned our lives to that of parents.  We were no longer a couple, we were a family, and the heavy mantles of Mom/Mother/Mommy and Dad/Father/Daddy settled firmly on our shoulders.  Well actually I must confess that It took me a little while to settle into my role, as I would drag Morgan in her car seat with me to practices and tournaments.  I saw this as baby-sitting and not fatherhood; and would pawn off this task to any and all who would sit around and coo at the adorable baby while I attended to the important business of teaching teenagers how to play a game.  And at the back of our minds was the thought that we will not have an empty nest until 2012-13. 

Not only am I a complete idiot, but I am also gullible to the wiles for my daughter, who in short order understood that to spend more time with me she would either have to become one of daddy’s ‘soccer girls’ or invite those same young ladies to become her babysitters.  So in short order we came to understand that Morgan’s talents lay in music and not athletics, and that her intuitive understanding of psychology still puts me to shame.

Over the next three years, Morgan went with us everywhere, crawling, cruising and walking her way deeper and deeper into our hearts.  Six months after she was born she was saying, ‘Mama, mama’ while we sat in a restaurant in Washington DC at a Physical Therapy conference; and as mommy broke down in tears because her first words were for her, daddy (always Morgan’s daddy) was slack jawed in amazement at her precocious nature (six months is early to talk and mama is often the fifth or sixth word a child learns, mama is more difficult).

14 years ago today, as a 3 year old, she stood in front of the congregation at our church of the moment and sang ‘Away in a Manger’.  Lizy was pregnant with Evan, I was about to go on shift as a Supervisor at an EMS company, Morgan was amazing and as a light snow fell outside, it marked our last Christmas as a threesome.  Boy, O boy, could she sing.

A year later Morgan was being the best big sister a baby could have as she showed Evan the ropes of present appreciation and package disassembly although not necessarily in that order.  And in the back of our minds, the empty nest deadline was moved back an additional 4 years, I at least would be 50; assuming the sticks we threw out at that time didn’t boomerang back.

Over the ensuing years, Morgan has grown into an amazing young woman, although the past five years have been a master level course in how to be the world’s best sister and daughter.  From early in Evan’s fight , Morgan grasped her critical role.  She had to treat Evan like nothing was going on, and yet be ready in an instant to defend him.  She must do well in school partly to keep Evan in his place and mostly so that she would not be an additional burden to us.

She set aside the normal activities of her childhood by not clamoring for attention and demands of time or resources so that we could focus on Evan’s health, treatment and welfare.  Two distinct thoughts on love coincide in the past five years.  First is that a child spells LOVE – T.   I.   M.   E. and second is that, “True love is shown by those that are willing to lay down their life for their brother.” 

Morgan sacrificed 5 years of her childhood that Evan might receive the best we could offer him, five years we can never give back nor can we fully show our appreciation.  And it was given freely and without fuss.  As she grew in maturity and became a new woman in our midst she did not rebel and demand freedoms or attention, instead she became both a glue and a buffer that held us all together and gave us space to vent as needed.

The time since August has been a big transition for all of us, not the least Morgan who is experiencing all the trials and tribulations of being a teenager in 4 months.  We’ve had more parent-teacher interaction/meetings/etc. in this last 120 days than the entirety of her education to date.  She has ‘discovered’ boys and there has been a distinct aroma of teenage hormone overload.  And it has been wonderful to reengage as her parent, and not as an equal part on a treatment team.  In that time, she has also done the college tours, identified her favorite, applied and been accepted to the University of North Carolina – Greensboro. 

And so we now realize that today Morgan not only reaches the age of majority, for her life has been filled with life experiences well beyond her years, but on some level this marks the beginning of our empty-nest.  On Christmas Eve, as I sang ,”Hark the Herald Angels Sing” while driving home as a new father, the concept of empty nest was the farthest thing from my mind.  And now as I prepare a four course French Cuisine Birthday Dinner for seven, it is the only thing on my mind.

It seems that only yesterday she fit in the palm of my hand and we worried about new-born breathing and pooping patterns, and too soon she will graduate from High School and continue to live a life she has been carving out for herself with all the tools she has acquired through our time together.  And there is a terrible underlying fear that she is leaving us behind as she spreads her wings and flies free from the chaos and mayhem of the nest we raised her in.

God speed our darling, God’s blessings our dearest child, and know in your heart that no matter where you are, no matter what is going on in your life, we will always have a place in our nest for you.  Happiest 18th Birthday, may there be many happy returns, and thank you for being the best daughter two parents could ever have.  We love you . . . now look out world . . . here comes an accomplished and talented young woman ready to give herself for your betterment.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Regular Yet?

Music, Madness, and Passion.

Two weeks ago I penned a post entitled “Are You Regular?” detailing the actions of some amazing men and women from around the Triangle Area of North Carolina (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill).  Today marks 3 months since they put on The Regulars play for Miracle 2012, and I wanted to pay tribute to +Brian Cornwell, +Tim Noonan, +Paul Baldasare, +Dino de Costa Pratt, +Ryan Harris, +Alfie Potter and Sue and Burgess, and . . .  and all the other amazing musicians who pooled their talents together.   Let me not forget the amazing hospitality of The Big Easy and Kevin the General Manager.

To say it was an emotional event would not do it justice.  It had barely been 30 days since Evan had lost his fight.  An amazing artist who we had never met had painted a water color of Evan in happier times; the tears started early and didn’t really stop till we got home.  So many friends showed up at from so many different areas of our lives; they came from soccer, church, work and school; they even came from Cary, Raleigh and Chapel Hill, but also from Alaska and Tennessee.  And if you had wanted to come, but couldn’t find a way to make it happen, I came across some footage.  You can link to it here

The footage is grainy and from a cell phone, the sound is mono and tinny, and yet it still speaks clearly.  In the clip, Paul Baldasare sings the lyrics taken from Evan’s poem “Life is Like a Road” while Tim Noonan carries the song on his guitar.  Tim and Paul pulled it together over the course of a week in Tim’s basement studio just for this event. It was a premiere where the drummer and bassist had never rehearsed, and yet they were amazing. This song will likely never be played again but it has a very special place in our hearts.

I suppose since it’s Saturday, I should stop here, but I have just begun to get my feet on the soapbox; let be segue from people helping specifically to people demanding action. In the past 10 days we have been subjected to the horrors of Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children between the ages of 6 and 10 were gunned down in their classrooms along with 6 faculty and staff.  The nation has picked up this shocking event and run with it: Ban assault weapons, put a policeman in every school, “IF a child throws a rock at another child, we do not hand rocks to every child”, 26 acts of kindness.  The outpouring of demand for action has been fever pitched.

Lost in the cacophony of hot air and political posturing on an issue that has no opposition (No one favors shooting kids in school) is the reality that the parents face: Nothing can bring back their child; nothing can take the edge off the anger, fear and bewilderment.  And now let me grab this debate by the throat and throttle it.  By all known means of data, more than 1600 children lost their battle with cancer last year.  That means that every week of last year 50% more children died each week from cancer than died in one horrific afternoon in Connecticut. 

That fact should not minimize the tragedy in Connecticut, but perhaps highlight a better target of our demands for action.  And just like the parents of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary, both of surviving children and those who perished, every parent of a child dead from cancer cannot understand why their child? why this way? what good can come from this?

At times like these we should take a page from the playbook of The Regulars, they may not be doctors, n’lawyers, n’such; but their God given talent with music can be a source of joy, a center point of conversation and a useful tool for good in the most challenging of situations.  One such group that has been around long before any of these discussions were begun is Nevus Outreach, Inc. ( )  3 families united by children in trouble connected via a new media, the internet, set about educating all who they met and raising awareness about a childhood affliction they were all just coming to terms with: Nevus.

Nevi (plural for nevus) are commonly referred to as birthmarks.  But in some rare instances, a birthmark doesn’t stay small, but grows during gestation to be quite large.  In Evan’s case, his covered over 1/3 of his body, with little birthmarks or satellites covering much of the remaining skin.  In other cases, the melanocytes which form the nevus cover the brain and central nervous system.  So little was known only 20 years ago about nevi that only wives-tales pervaded about diagnosis and prognosis existed in the medical community.

One of the founding familes +Mark Beckwith, +Kathy Stewart, & +Megan Stewart remain intimately involved in the organization they helped found some 17 years ago or so.  Mark continues as the organizations Executive Director and they can count among their accomplishments: raised awareness; a database of patient specific information, treatments and outcomes; sponsored research; and international collaboration of both patient groups and medical providers and investigators.

Nevi are essentially benign, but there are clearly some triggers that cause malignancies, however the incidence is remarkably low given the predisposition of the nevi to already be an existing over-proliferation of cells.  That said investigators such as +Heather Etchevers explore fetal development cell migration, and +Dr. James Barkovitch looks at MRI evaluations, and Dr. Ash Marghoob at Memorial Sloan Kettering trail blazed for data base creation; all because of initiations or pushes or cash support by or from Nevus Outreach.  That is before tissue banks and the Worldwide Registry.

They saw a problem.  Their child was at risk; their three children with a little known condition with horrific prognosis that seemed to come from the village witch doctor rather than any scientific method.  Three children became thirty, became 300, became a force to be reckoned with.  The scientific breakthroughs in diagnostics, prognostics, data gathering, psychology and treatments have been breathtaking to behold; and yet there is still so much to be done.

And it is with that point I come full circle on this chilly Saturday morning.  Right now as I write, Tim  and Brian from The Regulars are listening to Christmas Music of a rock n roll variety, while Kathy, Mark and Megan are likely taking in a more choral version of a similar theme.  Heather is playing a duet with her daughter while her son listens on giving the critiques only a French teenager can make; and somewhere in Connecticut, someone is taking in the he music of the season and finding in those harmonies a measure of hope and the stimulus to get something done.

For something must be done.  Children should not die; whether by guns, drugs, or cancer.  But the two constant themes of loving success are music and collaboration.  So I ask you, who will you sing with tonight? and who is willing to listen to the issues that truly matter to you?  When you find either of these people be joyed, when you find both in the same person love them as a lifelong friend.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Christmas Letter

Each year we send out a letter to update the near and far as to events in our household to those we know both in our past and present.  This year we once again shared our story, and to many it was a redundant tale of pain and woe, while to others who have not kept in touch, the news was a harsh slap in the face.

We suppose that there will be many notes and calls of regret about not keeping abreast of events in our lives, and that is unfortunate on many levels.  Some time we will share the number of friend requests we received on Facebook in the hours after Evan's death, but now is a time for peace and not anger.

Here then is our Seasonal Note/Christmas Missive/Annual Tidings for 2012.  This picture was watermarked behind the words of the letter and were taken at the Children's Inn at NIH in one of his poetic moments.

Never has a Christmas letter been so hard to write as this one.  The temptation to succumb to procrastination is immense.  And yet if this task is not completed it is possible that it would spell the end of all substantive writing from our family.

There is no easy way to say or write this line, and with it there are the memories of the first moments of a new reality and sharing it with those closest and farthest.  August 18, at 5:45 in the morning, Evan, our 13 year old gift from God, was given back to God as he lost his 5 year battle with cancer.  The details of circumstance of his death can be found within the blog that we kept as we travelled this tortuous road together with him. (

There is a giant hole in our hearts, we are told that it is a hole that only God can fill, but frankly we do not believe that; and are not sure we are interested in a divine intervention if the last one was to take our son/brother from us.  The question “Why?” is at the forefront of our minds but is not going to be answered this side of eternity.  And the most difficult aftermath of Evan’s death is not the crisis of faith, but the unanticipated overwhelming waves of sadness and sorrow that make breathing the next breath a near impossibility.

If we were able to look back on previous Christmas/New Year’s missives we suspect that we might find a litany of activities and accomplishments brimming with optimism and the light that only comes from the strength of love.  Everything has changed, and nothing has changed.  Evan and Paul got closer and closer as the year progressed and as their relationship developed under the adversity and pressures of patient and care-giver, so Evan sought out to build and strengthen the bridges in his life to others and healed damaged relationships with Morgan and Lizy in a manner of grace and wisdom well beyond his years. 

There were trips and travels throughout the year.  There were the usual trips to UNC for treatment and also for Paul’s interview at the School of Medicine; then there were the new trips to Bethesda, Maryland and the National Cancer Institute with side trips to Washington, DC.  As the year wore on and Evan’s ability to travel was diminished, Morgan felt led to represent the family at the Nevus Outreach Conference in Dallas.  She was of course a hit; and her strength, courage and poise were the source of great pride for mom and daddy.

Halfway through the year as the stress and tension of fighting a battle that Evan appeared to be losing ideas sprang forward to do something constructive as a way to inspire Evan, bring him hope and to give an avenue for creative and constructive energies to be expended: Miracle 2012. There was a two pronged approach: Construct a place of peace and reflection – Evan’s Garden; and music concert to celebrate Evan’s life and raise funds to retire the medical debt associated with 5 years of treatment.

Over 150 people(3 church groups, Hospice volunteers, a college football team and a soccer team plus all the friends from our own church, school and work) came and volunteered in the building of Evan’s Garden.  One of the iconic images of the year is Evan sitting on a gliding loveseat on the back porch as he helped direct construction while feeding off the hope and living prayers of all the people who gave of themselves digging, planting, mowing and sweating and sweating and sweating some more.

On July 28, Miracle 2012: The Concert saw hundreds of people gather at the Garner Civic Center Auditorium to participate in the concert, silent and live auctions.  It was a remarkable time of life, and while Evan stayed in the background, he thoroughly enjoyed the music and felt bathed in the love.  8 weeks later, The Regulars put on a live music event and played Evan’s favorite music to hundreds of people.  As a result of donations, auctions, and generosity; we were able to retire the full sum of over $28,000 in medical expenses.  And we were afforded the opportunity to approach our grief on our own time and terms. 

Three weeks later, Evan died.  It doesn’t get any easier to share this fact, it is not something that you can repeat a thousand times and the emotion is any less sharp.  It hurts in a way that words can never relate, and the resulting attempts by people to try and share began to feel like a bad sitcom.  It is with the best of intentions that people can say the stupidest most insensitive words; but while this may be the one time that society says it’s okay to be rude, it must be remembered that the intention was positive, even when the execution was poor.

To get away from as much of good intentions as possible we went to the Outer Banks to a Bed and Breakfast.  It was good to just be away from the hurting for a couple of days, clear our heads and cry in peace.

Since that time, Morgan has returned to school where she was the Assistant Director for the Fall play, while starting a new job at the State Farmer’s Market.  This is her senior year and her senior pictures brought both smiles and tears as Paul moved an upright piano into a field of tall grass well off the beaten track. The results are stunning. We have always know she is gorgeous, but the poses were Covergirl quality.

Paul got right back into the college soccer season and after a rocky start, the Mount Olive College team went on a 7 game unbeaten streak to finish the season.  They made it to the second round of the conference tournament, beat a team for the first time in 18 years tied to nationally ranked teams and set themselves up to be better next year.  And of course as soon as the college season ended, the club teams started up.

Lizy has been back to work since mid-October, and is glad that she works for such a compassionate organization that has supported her through this ordeal. In the time away from the workplace, she was able to finish her sewing/craft room (woman cave), and catch up on her own ‘to be done later’ list.

Rev. Pat continues to teach at church, while Snoopy  - the beagle,  gets older and slower, Shellie  - Morgan’s cat, gets meaner and meaner, and Pixel - Evan’s puppy, is rambunctious and playful all the time.

This time of joy and peace will have a little less joy in our home this year, but a greater sense of peace as we reflect on the gift that was given so precious and fragile, and now is gone until we meet again on the other side of eternity.  For us it is not so much Merry Christmas, but Christmas; just as we have dropped the greeting, “How are you?” in favor or “Hello!” Peace and Blessings to you all from the Coleman’s of Raleigh.

PS.  If you are one of the hundreds of volunteers who helped make Evan feel so special in his last few months, or contributed in any way to retiring the medical debt accrued during the past 5 years; we will never be able to show our full appreciation.  We always told Evan he was the greatest 'hugger' in the world because of the way he would embrace you with a totality that reflected his full commitment to you at that moment.  We would wish that you could have one of those hugs right now, and truly feel his love,  it is one of many little Evan-isms that we miss so much.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Blind Referees or How to Cook for a Change

Today (12-18) marks four months since Evan’s death, and if ever there was a day that reminded me that people forget so quickly, it was today.  I suppose my role as chauffer for a medical appointment was more in line with past times, but the overwhelming political bovine scatology that has been heaped on my plate these past two days has been a hard thing to swallow.

I have thrown under the bus in such a manner that after the bus hit me the first time, some smart alec rider encouraged the driver to back up over me again just to make sure I was just a bump in the road and not a real mechanical problem.  Then to top it off, a young friend did the dumbest thing he could possibly do, then act surprised when he was caught in his idiocy; and then realized his only way out of his self-created madness was to reach outside his pride filled box and not let go when his parents pulled him out of his own stink pile.

Oops, I almost forgot; some well-intentioned soul is going to try and teach a class on coping with grief and wanted to get my input and feedback on whether it should be done, whether it should be done by him, and if I thought he was on the right track.  This person also stated that they did not think the lessons would be well attended.  For pity’s sake! Really!

Oh yes, one other detail, my wife called yesterday at lunchtime as is our normal ritual; and almost asked, “How’s Evan doing?”  Unspoken answer – Probably a damn sight better than any of those of us left behind.  Every morning, I get up and know that he is not there.  Each time I walk past his bedroom, I know that he is not there.  I look at photographs and try to remember all the details associated with it, the colors, the smells, the temperature, the topics of conversation, the next things we did, the sound of his voice and his laughter.  Each time I pass the empty piano bench I see him there and remember his intensity.

By 12-19 all I could think was that no one wants to hear this pain all over again.  There will be moments when a reader might be entertained (perhaps a poor choice of word) by the writings of the miserable; especially when that misery is universal regardless of place or circumstance in the world.  If you have ever read Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities you would recognize the pain of Madame LaFarge.  Her pain is the very real and palpable, and her desire of revenge is her outlet for this feeling of hurt and anger in a battle of perceived class warfare via the French Revolution.  Dickens’ through his works lets us see that pain is pain, joy is held in all hearts and that one’s station does not change the intensity of the emotions.

In my parent’s end of the year letter to their family and friends begins with the opening line from a Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . .”  And as I marvel at the literary skills of those around me and take in the craft of weaving words from the likes of Irving, Dickens, Melville and Shakespeare; I find that my writing should not be a fool’s errand of repetition of the same message.  While I may have discovered the tone of my literary voice, it is currently tinny and hollow as if heard through a tin can telephone. But what to do?

Today, again (12-20)I cannot deny that with each passing reference to Evan, the condolences coupled with the discoveries of things forgotten there are searing pains.  Whether it is the note in a Christmas Card, an ornament purchased with the best of intentions or the items being discarded.  Those items had been hoarded and stashed away in the vain hope of divine miracles and/or medical breakthroughs; the items now to be thrown as rubbish while sifting through them for the real gems of anguish.  These gems are the clear insights into either memories of Evan or his character. 

There was the rough draft of the letter to the LEGO corporation to sponsor a Mega-build of Jabba the Hut to tour pediatric cancer hospitals around the country.  People would build the ugly 9’ tall monster over the course of a week, only to have the patients tear it down as physical representation of the monster inside their bodies.  I will share that letter on some later date as part of the roll out of the Evan Coleman Foundation

Or the video spoof of me as part of my Father’s Day gift for this year.  In this clip, Evan, clearly under-weight acts out a ‘typical’ family dinner scene.  Evan as me, is in a white tank top, a ‘wife beater’, trying to engage the children with some off the wall off color humor so as to get them to laugh.  You can watch it here at Look beyond the script and look at the glimmer in his eye, and the music of laughter in his tone and mannerisms.

Or the crèche scene he made out of modeling clay for me when he was 4 years old. It is pictured here sitting on the keyboard of his Alienware laptop.

This pain, these crippling strikes to leg, knee or groin are not dissimilar to playing in a soccer game where the referee is truly blind.  The opponent for this little game is the Devil. His minion demons have taken the field with nothing but total victory on their minds.  Some of them have skill, but most are thugs.  Their concept of victory is not just to win the trophy for the game, my faith; but to leave me clutching my wounds while trying to gain some comfort and solace as I roll on the ground in the fetal position.

As the game has gone on I have exerted more effort to regain my feet, and the attacks have been more penetrating and poignant.  But most importantly I have realized that I am not alone.  It does not mean I can pass my responsibilities onto someone else, and so there are things that I must do alone; but that does not mean that I am not supported or that I should approach the game as a lonely soul. 

When playing games, whatever the game, there will always be opponents who are faster, bigger and stronger than you, some might even be smarter.  But if you have the heart to stand up, the will to fight on and the desire to stay in the game then you must find a way to connect with those around you.  To draw on their strength when you are down, and to help them, your teammates, be better at what they are trying to do.  That is the essence of understanding from Psalm 23, you will walk the Valley by yourself but you are not alone, and recognize that those people you come to understand as your teammates were not placed randomly in your path.

And so the game goes on, I got kicked in the shin and then kneed in the groin, but I got back up and helped someone else as I helped myself.  All of this was done by and through grace and mercy for which I do not consider myself worthy which might border on humility unless you know me.  To wit, I made dinner for my wife who was under the weather, and decorated a Christmas Cake over a year in the making.  The dinner had its origins as a French peasant dish, which thanks to the likes of Julia Child became a 2 hour, 6 saucepan challenge.  Thankfully, the final dish, beef bourguignon, was a delicious surprise, although the cooking aromas had hinted that the finished product would be more than palatable.

I have a friend who is a chef.  Dino the Chef has been cooking his way around the globe for over 20 years.  His love of fusion foods is second to none, and the creativity he possesses in this arena are not easily surpassed.  Fusion cooking is the art of taking the classic flavors and creations of one gastronomic region and blending them with the classics of another so as to create a flavor synergy that causes eyes to roll back in your head upon first taste.  Aromas that start the salivation process needing a dam or at least a towel to stem the flow.

I mention Dino because he is one of my teammates; and because I do not want to hear his scoffing at my love for the classic traditional that bring me a comfort when cooking and dining.  He would of course never scoff, but my mind believes he should when I claim to be able to cook.  But cook I have claimed to do for the past several years as we approach Christmas Eve.  Christmas Eve is a very special time in our home as it marks Morgan’s birthday.  And so to set it apart from the events of the morrow, for the past several years, I have cooked a main course meal and Lizy has prepared a cheesecake of choice.  These are always happy and joyous events in the kitchen as mom and dad trip over each other in some vain effort to make the day more special for Morgan.  The goal is to make the day different, to have it stand out and demand recognition on its own merits.  December 24 is Morgan’s Day.

This year she has asked that the meal be French.  No more input, that is half the fun for her, to watch me scramble to make something worthy.  To demonstrate my love for her with some gastronomic delight and out of the ordinary way fete her day with the blood sweat and tears of working in a busy kitchen while trying to ensure that everyone gets to church for the Christmas Eve service.

Enter Dino.  Why not take a tour of the French countryside via the 5 master sauces from which all French flavor and cooking is developed, or better how about a Vietnamese-French fusion given the heavy interaction of the cultures through the 1950’s.  Did I mention that Dino has an acute sense of irony, history and political insight that can only have been created from tasting too many of his own creations.

But the tone was set:  French Countryside Flavors.  So as a lead up to next Monday night, yesterday I set about whipping up a little beef in wine sauce.  Let me say that whatever angst or whining that may arise from this narrative, no one enters the kitchen repeatedly who does not love the essence of preparation and teasing the palate of others.  Cooking should be the essence of joy.  And our kitchen is no different.

As the aromas arose, so did the heat in the kitchen.  There is the seasoning of floured beef in olive oil in one pan, while onions are bronzed in butter, new potatoes simmer on a back burner, while bacon is par boiled in vegetable broth.  The aroma of a coking roux is raised in separate pans of browning flour and caramelizing butter in another, then bacon being reduced to generate a flavor base for thick cut carrots.  Then the spices including fresh Thyme from Evan’s Garden are introduced with a glass of burgundy wine (One for my wife, and one for the sauce).

With the kitchen filled with the aromas of cooking, love and spices, the elements of the stew are placed in a cast iron, flaming orange Le Creuset covered saucepan and allowed to steep in the oven while the remainder of the meal was prepared.   Garlic infused baguette was toasted while noodles were brought to the condition of al dente.

It was all done too fast, over too soon.  It was delicious, missing ingredients, but lovingly prepared.  The aromas faded so fast, but the warmth lingered on.  And after a brief respite, there was acknowledgement that it was an introduction to a week of French tastes and experiences that will culminate in a precursor birthday.  It will be her 18th and will signal the beginning of our empty nest.  Our fledgling will begin to take more and more flights by herself. Literally in her trip to England and France in late March, and figuratively as she chooses work over family in the mid holiday trip to the mountains, and a new life as a college student in August of 2013. 

I will save the story of the Christmas Cake to another time as it is both humorous and poignant for now I have exceeded your reading time by at least 15 minutes. And 15 minutes too long in the kitchen usually is a recipe for a burnt offering not a pleasantly palatable dish.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Holes in Hulls, & Heeling to Heal

Gun control is the topic of everyone else’s day.  Let me point to the families of those who we all lost on Friday.   27 families woke up on Saturday morning with one less person in their homes.  20 children’s beds were found empty, still made up from Friday morning’s post breakfast cleanup by mom’s and dad’s trying to keep things neat and organized through the busy season.  7 other families woke up knowing that someone was not in bed either beside them or in their first true homes away from home.

There is no balm for this hurt.  There is no plug for the hole.  I know that feeling, I hold it every day.  The best description I can muster is to envision ourselves as ships going through the stormy seas of life.  We are like a convoy of ships trying to get ourselves across oceans for a little respite in ports of call before once again plying the waves on our never ending sea voyage.  And then one of our boats is sunk, whether by storm, or torpedo, or just unfortunate design, and we the remaining boats in the convoy are left damaged from the loss.  We now have holes below our water lines, and we are taking on water.

Sometimes the water flows in through those holes at rates so fast that we can envision going down like Titanic under the weight and tumult of the water and waves respectively.  But then we learn that if we turn away from the hole, and pick up speed, the hole lifts out of the water, and we get a moment or two in which to dry out below decks.  The bilge pumps are always churning in our lives because our boats are hand crafted and muddled together from all the bits and pieces of our lives, and so they leak.  The leak is sometimes slow, and sometimes like water through a sieve, but our pumps do not stop in a constant effort to keep us afloat.    

And as the pumps work, and we turn in ever faster circles to heel the hole out of the water we find that we go nowhere for a while.  Who knows how big the hole is? Who knows what patching materials are available? Who will lend us a carpenter to shore up the damage?  Whatever the delays to repair, eventually we will try again to continue our journey with a little less understanding of the proper shape for our new convoy, because we never travel alone.  And we will once again be hit by rogue waves or sudden squalls, and will once again find the leak unbearable, be unable to continue forward and only by running in circles will we gain the time for repair.

And repair we must.  The world must know about the sunken vessel we left behind, the world needs to incorporate the knowledge of our loss so that it does not happen again to some other ship in some other convoy.  But no matter the cause of the hole in our hull, whether a chronic problem of rust or running aground on a coral reef, we are still afloat.  The boat that represents our loved ones do not float anymore, they litter the seabed screaming for us to continue our journey to share the tale of their loss that others might take heed and do something beyond just talking about what might have been.

A Canadian friend of mine would tell me, “If ‘if’s’and ‘but’s’ were candy and nuts, we’d all be happy children” I cannot tell you why children die, I cannot tell you they have to die; but I can tell you that they do die.  And when they die, the devastation in the wake of their loss is mind numbing to its size and wicked nature of the barbs left behind that seem to just rip out flesh upon contact.  And yet the simple view on what could/should have been done is like looking into that bowl of Christmas treats.

If only no one had guns? If only there was less denial? ( If only we had better community mental health centers or standards?  If the sickest children were all treated as patients and not experiments? If only God had done something? But it wasn’t my responsibility. If not yours, then who’s?

I should be careful here, not more than an hour ago, I challenged a friend with a similar vein of thought, in that identifying the problem is only half the battle, defining and prioritizing a solution and then implementing in such a way as to cut through the waves of opposition is the tougher side of the argument.

First things first.  Life is not a spectator sport.  I thought that I had missed out on so much over the past five years of caring for Evan.  What I missed were the mind numbing pieces of a life driven by entertainment rather than those pieces that equated actually living.  I have a friend who at 20 years old is the antithesis of David Lanza, and yet he keeps to himself because he can barely tolerate the lack of substance in the goals and interests of his generation.  He doesn’t even have a cell phone.  His idea of a good time is to go hiking in the woods with his dad.  He works hard at his job, works harder at school (academics are not his strong suite), and lives life to the fullest in the moment.  Carpe Diem!

Secondly, life is not a journey we take alone.  While it is essential that we strengthen the family bond of instruction between parent and child, denial of freedom in pursuit of security and safety is a blind and fruitless quest.  Communication and the requisite skills associated with this term should be the forefront and backbone of all parent child relationships; because when we do get into real-world situations, being able to look someone else in the eye is not a matter of defiance or arrogance when trained correctly, but they are a sign of intrigue and respect.

I have read somewhere recently that there is a thought that altruism is an ancestral trait as determined by anthropologists.  BS flag on that one.  There is work within subsets of humanity to establish a greater hegemony over other groups.  The final step in a solution driven world is to seek to make the person next to you look better, to achieve more, to be happier or better off for having known you.  The person next to you should never be objectified in some manner to make them a stepping stool for your rise to the next rung on your ladder.  They are there to be given a boost by you, a leg up, and life ring receiver so that they might succeed more quickly for having known you than if they had not.  But for that to happen you must walk in the world with your eyes open not to the opportunities that are there just for you, but the opportunities for others that they might not see.

And so my three step approach to getting better, to fill the holes beneath the water line is three steps true:  1. Get in the game  2. Communicate with your teammates  3. Make the players around you better.