Thursday, 11 July 2013

Calista in the Sky with Diamonds.

Let It Be

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
I sit, and meanwhile back
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies...
Penny Lane.

                                                                                 The Beatles, "Penny Lane"

Memory is a funny thing; random events can set off a cascade of unexpected thoughts and emotions at the most inopportune times. The scent of a perfume barely caught as a woman walks past on a crowded city street can take me back to my first teen-aged romance while a tattered photograph from a dusty family album can set me to reminiscing about a long forgotten summer vacation. Just the other day, while Roni and I cruised down the Island Highway, headed for Victoria on Vancouver Island,  music blaring out of my car stereo (the ragtop was down on the Mustang, so the stereo was turned up full volume) I caught myself singing along and tearing-up a bit, as I remembered Calista singing in her off-key and usually flat voice as she played "Rock Star" in our living room. The song was The Beatles classic ode to their home town, "Penny Lane". The Beatles, for some unknown reason, was Calista's absolute favourite band and she knew the lyrics to the majority of their songs.  Say what you like, while the girl may not have been able to carry the simplest tune, she had great taste in classic rock music.       

I cannot remember exactly when Calista discovered The Beatles. I want to say around when she was 14 years old or so.  I cannot take credit for exposing her to the Fab Four even though they had been a favourite of mine when I was her age (and still are).  I had quite a few Beatles albums on vinyl, but since the days of LP turn-tables were pretty much gone with Carter or Reagan, the black platters had not been spun for decades by the time Calista dug them out of some boxes in the basement one summer.  I distinctly remember having to tell her what an LP was and how it worked and then explain why we were not going to just run out and find a turn-table so she could listen to the records.  I noticed my Willie Nelson collection was left in the box and has since disappeared with all the other junk we have left behind.  The prizes of my collection, a well worn "White Album", a nearly mint "Rarities" collection, the classic "Help", and my brother's "Sgt. Pepper's" album disappeared into her bed-room, secreted away by my little CIA agent in training.

Two weeks later the four albums re-appeared, framed, hung upon her wall between her "Green Day" poster and her "Abbey Road" poster, preserved in cheap black frames from Walmart.  The display was reminiscent of a rock-star's trophy wall, except the albums were obviously heavily used before framing.  Those albums became a permanent fixture on her walls and eventually survived the move to Powell River. They remain hanging in her bedroom to this day, still paired with the classic "Abbey Road" poster and a Beatles "Let It Be" poster, the "White Album" still looking worse for wear with decades of dirt and spilt coffee staining the original pristine white. My brother Ivor had a good laugh when he saw those albums hung there during a visit last spring. He laughed even harder when he realised they actually were relics from our child-hood and the vinyl records were still sitting inside the record jackets encased in those plastic frames.

Roni and I talked this over and neither of us has a clue where Calista's love of The Beatles came from. In fact, throughout her life, Calista's taste in music was so different from ours, that neither of us can take credit or blame for her selection.  Certainly neither of us want to own up for the two year period she loved big-band swing-dance music.  Personally I was a big Beatles fan, but by the time Calista came along my vinyl collection was relegated to boxes hidden in the basement and I still do not have any Beatles albums either on disc or in my iPod.  The CD I have loaded into the Mustang right now is Calista's, found in one of the many boxes filled as we cleaned out her apartment in Courtenay. I distinctly remember buying the "Best Of" collection for her as a Christmas present no so many years ago.

Please don't assume Calista was a rabid fan of any group. She actually had an amazingly eclectic collection of music on CD and stored on her iPod. The majority of the music was independent stuff from a raft of low profile performers, but there was some really awful (my opinion) pop stuff and some exotic Gaelic and Indian music that made me shake my head when I found the selections on her iPod. Traditional Gaelic music on the iPod of a typical western Canadian kid who had never shown any interest in her Welsh and Scottish heritage; wonders never cease. On the other hand, The Beatles were always there in the background, her yardstick against which everything else was measured.

It was not until we bought her the Wii game "Rock Star", Beatles edition for Christmas when she was seventeen that I realised just how much she liked the Beatles.  Roni and I would make fools of ourselves as we tried to play the drums or the guitars that come with the game while Calista would glide through the vocals from the start, scoring nearly 100% on each song. She knew the words to songs I had never heard despite being a die hard fan of the Fab Four throughout my teen-aged years.  I am not sure when or how she learnt all the lyrics to the Beatles music portfolio, but I was suitably impressed by her memory. Not so much her singing; in critical retrospect, Calista likely was a bit tone-deaf, especially when it came to her own voice.

It's telling that she named her beloved Smart Car "Jude", as in "Hey Jude".

Kareen, her good friend from North Island College, honoured both Calista and her love of the Beatles about a month after Calista died. Kareen must have a truly unique, creative mind, because she stumbled on something that I never imagined existed: a star registry (somewhere over in Britain). Calista now has a star named after her:"

Calista's star designation is STARAPP4KDLTNS-39982056, positioned at Right Ascension, 13h16m0.9s and Declination +7degrees8' 42.9". This star is now and forever more called "Calista in the Sky with Diamonds".  I have no idea what all that information means and I could not find that star if my life depended on it, but Kareen covered that problem with a very appropriate quote from the French author Antoine de St. Exupery.

"All men have stars, but they are not the same things for different people.  For some who are travellers, the stars are guides. For others, they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others who are scholars, they are problems....But all these stars are silent.

You, you alone will have stars as no one else has them. In one of those stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night.  You, only you, will have stars that can laugh. 

And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend."

Just the other night, after the sun had set and the village was dark as only Powell River can be, the stars shone bright in the sky. I called Roni out on the elevated cement patio that crosses in front of our house. The cement was still radiating heat absorbed from the day so despite the chill in the air we stood comfortably as we gazed at the twinkling black dome. I told Roni about the St. Exupery quote and pointed up at our laughing sky, claiming no single star as home for my Calista but all of them equally. I could not hear any laughter, but then Calista was so secretive and private, that I doubt she would have graced us with her loud, joyful laugh for fear of giving our mutual secret away.  That night, for me, Calista was in the stars, but she will return to the sea if I ever am lucky enough to see a whale out there.
Kareen: May your stars laugh too

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Resolution and Direction

If you are here to read some more sage advice from an ignorant man, then I am sorry to disappoint. I am here today to tell you the world is better and more wonderful than any of us can imagine. The human race indeed has some hope and we are truly good inside.

Here is an announcement, and then an explanation.

June 22nd, 2013, from 11 to 3 there is going to be a photography show held at GRINDER COFFEE, 126 Main Street, Toronto Ontario.  The show was organised by Trish Feistner, the owner of Grinder Coffee.

The show will be an East meets West collection of young aspiring photographers. Representing the West will be five of Calista's close friends, making a return engagement after their stunning show last year to mark Calista's memorial.  Representing the East will be three young graduates from the university fine-arts program assembled by Trish.   The pivot photographer will be Calista Fleming, participating in her second and last show ever. While it will be the end of her career, I hope that it will be just the beginning for the rest of the artists.

Here is the story.

In late March, my brother Ivor came to visit Roni and me. That is no small feat since Powell River is pretty much the end of all roads. It's hard to get here and there is nowhere left to go after Powell River.  He wanted to check up on us and make sure his little brother was more or less still running on four cylinders.  After four days of putting up with my peculiar schedule he left, satisfied Roni and me were healing slowly. As Ivor departed he mentioned this coffee house he frequented in Toronto that had a tradition of exhibiting artwork of local young artists. He told me the proprietor, Trish Feistner, was considering doing a photography show since one of her barristas was about to graduate from photography school. He thought I should approach her to exhibit some of Calista's photographs.

I thought about it and decided that his idea represented another opportunity to spread some seeds in the wind.  I want the world to meet my girl; I want her to live at least in spirit for as long as possible. Certainly time will pass and memories will fade, but as long as I am alive her name will pass at least my lips every day. I wrote Trish  a lengthy note outlining my idea for a reprise of Calista's memorial "Fallen Musketeer" show.  I really expected little more than a polite thanks but no thanks note back.

Trish called me personally about ten days later truly excited about the idea. She told me that she wanted to centre the annual Main Street Fair around my Calista, hopefully generating a public awareness of Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome (SADS), of which Long QT Syndrome (LQTS) is part of the package. I emphatically agreed and started contacting all of Calista's old friends while Trish started organising her street fair.

One evening, while I was on "Google Earth" I decided to have a street-view look at Grinder Coffee and the Main Street Neighbourhood in general.  Main Street, an old part of town that has been whittled down to just two or three blocks is a working-class neighbourhood of old painted brick store-fronts with Grinder Coffee pretty much central.  I cruised up the block and found, at the major intersection, the constituency office of the local Minister of Parliament, Matthew Kellway. Mr. Kellway is an NDP candidate, and this boded well since the NDP party prides itself on being the party of the people and getting involved in local humanitarian efforts. I e-mailed him immediately and made a personal note to myself that I should call his office if there had been no reply in ten days.

I also was reminded by my oldest friend George Slade that our mutual high school class-mate Tony Lee was a publicist working out of Toronto and that I should contact him to see if he would be interested in helping us.  I did so, but I only asked that Tony should contact Trish and offer advice on how to get some publicity for the street fair.

Meanwhile, back in Toronto, Trish was hitting some rough spots. Support for the street fair was not forthcoming from her neighbours; in previous years they had drummed up sponsorships for the street fair but this year there were no sponsors.  Trish was upset that she was going to have to scale back the entire affair.  Time for me to step up to the plate.

I called Mr. Kellway, the MP, the next day and while he was not in the office, when I explained what we were trying to do (and asked the helpful secretary to find my e-mail in his in-box) his secretary volunteered his help without further ado. She called Trish within the hour and with that small push, the train was back on the tracks.  Trish's confidence was further buoyed up when Tony Lee called that same day offering to help with publicity.

I made a few more contacts along the way. I contacted Pam Husband, the president of SADS-Canada and explained our public relations effort. She was very interested and has since offered her support for the photography show.  We plan on emphasising the tragedy of SADS, using Calista's story as an example.  If we can save just one child through this campaign, then all the work will have been worth it.

Trish has been a rock through all this. That young lady has an amazing spirit for public works; she is a treasure to her community. If we all took so much interest in the world around us, the world would be a better place indeed. I should correct that statement; it is a better place.

Consider the amazing gesture displayed by Trish. She has taken on the duty of publicising the tragedy of my daughter's death, a girl she has never met from the other side of our great country. Her efforts have been truly selfless and an example of how to truly live a worthwhile life for all of us.

Trish Feistner of Grinder Coffee, 126 Main Street, Toronto.  Remember that name.

Thursday, 28 March 2013


St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

With due consideration, I thought I should dedicate a short journal entry to the readers that have suffered through my last ten months of misery and leave you with some resolution, some of that "closure" society seems to believe we should have. In my opinion "closure" is over-rated; no person's story ever really ends, it's just their direct participation that stops. None of us really ever knows where it all will end, so closure never really can occur.  I have some anecdotes and some advice for everybody.
It will be a long and lonely path.

To the Bereaved:

Some of you share my road with me, hoping to find some help from a kindred spirit. I am not sure if I really can help anyone. Hell, I'm having trouble helping myself (hence the journal entry after I promised I was finished).  On the other hand, its true that I now understand more about surviving the death of Calista than I did ten months ago.

I know that it indeed does get better. That sharp, nauseating wave of grief rarely rears up it's ugly crest anymore and the constant undertow just barely pulls at my heart these days. When I do break down in tears, it is usually controlled, without the choking sobs and breathless mumbling that used to fill the silence in our house. Roni cries every day still, but often there is some trigger involved (or I have foolishly left her alone with free time on her hands).  I still shed a tear or two each day; but usually only during those quiet, solitary minutes it takes me to drive home after a long day at work. Both of us still can laugh, we still enjoy a good book or a good movie, and there are some vague plans for the future. Making definite plans for the future seems somehow disrespectful of Calista, like we have really moved on. 

Of course, both of us have changed and we will never be the same again.  There is a great, gaping hole in our life that we will never be able to fill. Both Roni and I have come to terms with that void; there is always going to be an underlying sadness to our lives, but that is just our new reality. I compare it to a person who has suffered an amputation of a limb: the amputee eventually learns to live with his prosthesis, but he unlikely to ever consider his life better because of his loss. As I stated last post, our lives are "fractionated" now; no matter how great things may be from now on, they will never compare favourably to what we believe could have been.

I no longer sweat the small stuff. This change has been both good and bad. My great loss has helped me get my priorities straight and I realize now that beyond family and friends, everything else is trivialities. Money is nothing more than a tool, possessions are just toys and if everything was taken from me tomorrow, I would survive. I have survived the worst thing I could ever imagine and I'm still here.  Certainly I appreciate everything I have now, but I know that no "thing" is truly important.

 I no longer fear death in the least; I only fear leaving Roni unprotected and unsupported if I die before her. On the other hand, I am terrified of ever becoming physically or financially dependent on anyone; it would be a drain on the Memorial Scholarship fund and this I cannot allow. I literally live to work now.

My altered value system has changed the way I look at my fellow man.  I want to help people now more than ever, especially young people near Calista's age.  I want to mentor youth and help them develop a passion for life rather than ambition for fame or fortune.

 I find I  need to reach out and touch other parents who have also lost their children suddenly; somehow contacting these lost souls makes me feel like I have honoured Calista in some small way.  On the other hand, I have lost much of my empathy for others when it comes to what I consider trivial problems. 

So many people are the victims of their own lack of priorities.  I have one distant relative who is allowing himself to fall into an overwhelming depression simply because his business is failing. He has a wonderful, supportive wife and beautiful children, and yet money and professional standing are all that he is concerned about.  His real treasure (his family) is standing at his side, ready to support him, but still he worries about nothing but filthy lucre.

 I have chastised clients who are constant victims. One young, healthy client was despondent because she could not afford to treat her sick pet. She was barely surviving on her monthly welfare cheque.  After one particularly long conversation I basically told her that if she did not like her life, she was certainly young enough to change it.  I realized at the time how out of line my condescending remark really was, but even now I agree with my assessment.  If your life is not turning out how you hoped it would, sit down, evaluate what you can change and start re-writing your life story today. Stop waiting for someone else to fix your world for you.  Personally, there is only one thing I really wish I could change in my life and all the wishing in the world will never bring Calista back.

My marriage has changed subtly. Roni and I were always close. We rarely fought and when we did argue, the spats were more about silence and isolation than shouting and confrontation. On the rare occasions we did fight, the scrap would be abbreviated and subdued followed by two to three days of silence. There was rarely ever any victor in our fights; just mutual compromise with no real settlement of the underlying issue.  Now we tend to have involved discussions about ongoing problems followed by plan formulation and implementation. We have become partners in business and in life; isolated by our tragedy. Unfortunately that very isolation has made both Roni and I co-dependant; we are "complete" only when we are together, bracing each other against the outside world. In our home there are secrets spoken in the quiet of the night that never can be shared and only we two will ever truly understand.

I guess my advice to the fellow bereaved is to stand firm and know that things will get better. On the other hand, you need to understand that your life is changed forever and you have to find a new reality you can endure for the rest of your living days.

It was a family picture.  She cropped us out.
We laughed about it, but found it mildly insulting.

To Present and Future Parents

Certainly I could have done without the pain of this last year, but then I would have had to miss the dance.  If someone could give me back this last 22 years, even knowing how it would all end, I would do it all over again without a thought. I would never pass up those years as a father; they were the absolute best years of my life.

I guess that is my message to everyone that is thinking about having children. Being a parent is the best part of life; it will pass far too quickly but it should never be passed up entirely. Don't ever believe that a career or a string of pets will ever replace children; these are just placebos for parenthood and are weak seconds.

I hope I have some worthwhile advice for current parents. My Calista was everything I ever wanted in a daughter and I like to believe Roni and I had a lot to do with how she turned out.  I know I was excited about her future; she was destined to be somebody unique and special and that is a great thing.

Parents should never try to force a child into any predetermined mold or planned future. Its our job to explore opportunities for our children, find what they most enjoy and then support them every way we can so they excel at what they love.  Certainly there are times we need to push our children; sometimes we need to convince them to try new things against their will and sometimes we need to persuade them to stick with old things despite flagging interest.  On the other hand, parents also need to recognize a failed effort or a lost cause when they see one. It makes no sense trying to fit a round peg in a square hole; trying to hammer that peg home will just frustrate you and damage the child.

A parent needs to accept their children for what they are, but also recognize that our children are not perfect. Its kind of like the old AA code: change what needs changing, accept what cannot be changed, and pray that you are able to tell the difference between the two.

 As much as I hoped that Calista would be an science and math wonder, I realized by grade 10 that in her heart she was an artist.  That was her basic essence, so I just accepted it and dedicated my efforts to helping her excel as an artist.  I approached Jack Cowin and got her the best tutoring anyone could imagine.

 In a million years my Calista was never going to become a "super-model"; while tall and certainly uniquely beautiful, she was not willowy, thin or angular like most models. Muscular, voluptuous and Amazonian were far better descriptors for my girl. Neither Roni nor I ever suggested she diet. Exercise yes, eat healthy foods certainly, but the word diet was never said to my girl.
Amazon, not Elf.

 So many parents seem so preoccupied with their child's sex life: chastity, sexual orientation and traditional marriage often seem more important to parents than true happiness. As parents I am not sure Roni and I ever really cared about any of that. To this day I don't know if my daughter died a virgin or not (to me it would be yet another tragedy if she had). I know marriage was not a priority to her, and as far as sexual orientation goes, the entire subject never even crossed my mind. It's not that I considered it impossible that Calista could have been "gay": its that I didn't care one way or the other. If  Calista had brought home a favoured "girlfriend" I would have victimized the poor soul with fatherly suspicions the same way I vicitimized many "boyfriends" before. I would have been an equal opportunity interrogator.

Accept your children for what they are, help them become all they can be and treasure every moment you have with them. There are FAR worse things than a child turning out differently than you always hoped. Believe me on that one.

To Other People's Children:

I loved being a parent and I am afraid I just cannot stop that urge to give fatherly advice. I am sure that many parents consider me more than a little cracked and would appreciate it if I just kept my mouth shut, but I see so many young people that need advice and support and so many parents abdicating that role that I feel obliged to step in.

Do everything in moderation except having passion for life.

 Remember that there is a difference between passion and ambition. If you profit because you love something, that is passion. If you love something because you profit from it, that is ambition. Also try to remember that profit is not always about money; some things profit the soul.

Be passionate about everything. Work hard, play well, love frequently, remember you can never have too many friends and finally, while you don't have to like your family, you do have to love your family. Even when doing those chores in life that you hate you should focus on doing them well once rather than repeatedly doing them poorly.

Relish your own individuality. Don't feel obliged to fit in to any clique. If your friends don't like you for who you are, they are not your friends. Never do anything just to fit in, especially if it involves the words "pissed", "stoned" or "jacked". As much as Hollywood portrays drunks and stoners as harmless and charming, sober bystanders just find them irritating and obnoxious.  Nobody is ever attractive hunched over a toilette bowl after too many drinks. And just skip the whole hard drugs scene; needle tracks and secondary diseases are just plain ugly (and pathetic).

On the other hand, don't work at being unique. You are who you are and everybody can spot a "poser". I see people, both young and old,  artificially being "conspicuously different". If you actually have to work at being unique, its time to find a new you. People will see through your false front and will be turned off. There is something to be said for some degree of conformity.  If nothing else, it helps keep you employed so you can afford to explore your unique self in your free time.

Travel and embrace other cultures. Educate yourself before you leave for that foreign destination (and know more than the one phrase "I don't speak Greek". Calista should have learnt at least "Where is the bathroom" in Greek before she went to Greece.).  Don't be an ugly tourist; don't spit on local customs and remember the ancient term "When in Rome....".  The world is so very large and full of wonderful things; one of my greatest regrets is that Calista saw so very little of it.

Always learn. Certainly a traditional education is all very nice, but the mistake people always seem to make is that they stop learning as soon as the ink is dry on their diploma. Don't limit yourself in either the scope or the depth of your personal education. Libraries are filled with valuable books that are rarely opened and, of course, the Internet just keeps on expanding (but at least books have editors, fact-finders and references; the Internet seems to be mostly rumours and lies). Remember that, contrary to popular opinion, stupidity and ignorance can be cured.

Enjoy your life or change it. Don't wait for someone to save you; you are responsible for your own life, nobody else. Dump the useless boyfriend, find a new career, start an exercise program, cut the junk food out of your diet and learn something new every day. Stop making excuses; just go get it done.


Now that feels finished.

Fall will come for all of us. Winter is never far behind. Relish your Summers.


Sunday, 3 March 2013

Nine Months, Two Weeks: All Things Must End

Forever Young

Then Judas, who had betrayed him, when he saw that Jesus was condemned
repented and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.
Saying, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood". And they said "What
is that to us? See you to that yourself"
And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.
And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury,
because it is the price of blood".

 King James Bible. Matthew 27:3 through 6
The people that know me and my family know that religion is not part of our lives. Certainly I was raised in a "lip service" Christian household, attending church weekly into my early teens, and Calista endured 13 years of Catholic school during which she actually once read scriptures from the pulpit at a school mass. Personally, prior to Calista's death, I probably could have been classified as a sceptical atheist: I was sceptical of everything, even atheism. Calista, on the other hand, was one of those quiet atheists who would loudly snicker at anything vaguely religious, but never bothered herself with any of the ongoing debates.  Calista was atheist enough to never feel obliged to defend her position; she had her beliefs and was happy to let others believe in whatever they wanted. On the other hand, both of us agreed that the Bible is and will always be one of the seminal works of literature ever written. In the Western world, if you don't have decent knowledge and understanding of the Bible, you have neglected a key part of your education. The Christian Bible and its Church is the basis for much of the beautiful, the good, the bad and the ugly found in Western culture.

Judas Iscariot is a pivotal character in at least two of the four commonly published gospels: he is the disciple who betrayed his master Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and has been subsequently damned as a traitor ever since. Judas' motives have been hotly debated since time immemorial: some say it was for the money, some claim it was a patriotic act done on the behest of the Judean occupational government (the Vichy government of the Roman era), while others suggest that Judas was merely carrying out God's plan in collusion with Jesus. Many religious scholars are actually at a loss to find any concrete proof of the existence of Judas Iscariot period.  Today I would like to suggest an alternative motive behind the Biblical tale of Judas Iscariot: it is a cautionary tale included in the bible to remind all of us to never completely trust the "authorities".

Thirty pieces of silver. Cali 2009.
In my Bible stories, the Romans were always painted as the villainous executioners who crucified Jesus because they considered him an upstart Messiah and possibly the leader of a Jewish uprising. If one objectively studies the history of the Roman empire, one would realize that the empire survived almost a thousand years by acting as a benevolent despot, allowing the local governments and cultures huge amounts of independence. As long as the taxes were paid and the Roman government appeased, the locals were left to carry on as they always had. It is highly doubtful that the Romans, specifically Pontius Pilate, cared one whit about Jesus and his twelve followers. The local bureaucrats of the occupational government were a whole other matter.

If you have not read the scriptures lately, I suggest you have another look: Jesus was basically a minor threat and irritant to the Judean theocracy and was condemned by the temple bureaucrats who feared anything that might disrupt the sweet deal they had under the Roman regime. The Romans themselves had no idea who Jesus was and when Pilate stood in judgement over Jesus he basically saw a "just man" and was prepared to pardon and release Jesus.  It was only when faced with opposition from the angry crowd, goaded through fear mongering by members of the occupational government that Pilate "washed his hands".  The symbolic washing of the hands is another typical bureaucratic policy repeated throughout the ages.

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but rather a tumult was made,
he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying
"I am innocent of the blood of this just person; do as you will"

King James Bible, Matthew 27:24 
To me, the message in this scripture is pretty darn clear: don't trust the bureaucracy. They will lie to you to get their way, it will usually be all about money, and when faced with a challenge, they will wash their hands of the entire issue.

The coroner's report on Calista's death has finally been completed and her case is closed.

She always returned to macro photography of flowers. Right to the end.

Bureaucracy has not really changed much since Pilate looked away 2000 years ago. If I ever trusted government before, my faith is permanently broken (Hey, church and state are finally least by my contempt).  Vote for anyone you want; its the bureaucrats that really run the show and they are not doing anything to rock that boat.

Several months ago, after reviewing the autopsy results and the toxicology screens, the local coroner called me with some news and a request. The news was that Calista's case was being bumped up to the head coroner's office (I guess I should have been wary, but I was optimistic); her mysterious death had exhausted the local resources and the regional coroner felt more experienced eyes should review the file.  The coroner then continued on to say that they would like to see Calista's medical records from Saskatchewan. Due to jurisdictional issues, the request for those records would have to be arranged through Roni and I rather than the BC Coroner's Office. I felt a bit energized by the request because it felt like the case might have some momentum and we might finally get some answers.  I made all the necessary calls, signed a flurry of requisition documents and anticipated a quick return on my efforts. I trusted a bureaucracy; how foolish.

That was the last I heard from anyone at the coroner's office since October, over four months ago.  Allowing for the expected bureaucratic red tape and paper shuffling, I thought one month or maybe two at the most would be appropriate to get a look at the records. By the time Christmas had come and gone, both Roni and I were starting to assume one of two things: the file had been lost on somebodies desk down in Victoria or something unexpected had come up and the investigation had taken a new turn. By the end of January both of us had developed a fair bit of cynicism about the entire issue. I kind of expected that nothing was ever going to come of the coroner's investigation and we would hang in limbo forever. Then I got an e-mail from the regional coroner last Wednesday morning.
Submitted for an early photo contest before high-school courses, Jack or Courtenay

The coroner seemed to have some news and asked that I contact her as soon as possible. I called with high expectations (what was I thinking?), hoping to hear that a conclusive decision had been made. I was surprised and a little depressed to hear that the coroner's office had not even received any of the old medical records yet. In fact, the office had not even sent in their requisition yet.  It seems that there was a small fee involved; $125 for the private medical records from Calista's G.P. and another $50 for some electrocardiogram records dating from 7 years ago.  The situation, in a nutshell, was that the case had sat in complete limbo for over four months while the BC Coroner's Office dithered over $175 in file transfer fees.  I dithered for about 5 seconds, three of which were taken up finding my wallet to retrieve my credit cards. It seems laughable that after nine months, during which tens of thousands of dollars were spent on police investigations, an autopsy, histopathology examinations and toxicology tests, the entire process was being held up by a paltry $175 dollar bill.  Only a government bureaucracy could be so anal.

Now I am at a complete loss as to why the head coroner took over four months to admit there was a snag on requesting the medical records, but I would bet that three of those months were occupied by the file gathering dust in some bureaucrat's "in-tray".  Between "earned days off", family sick days, group therapy sessions and team building exercises, I am sure the office flunkies down in Victoria have very full agendas, but I believe someone there could have called the regional coroner and told her to ask me to obtain the pertinent records myself.  The actual act of getting those incredibly expensive records (in the end,all we really needed was those $50 electrocardiogram traces) took me all of twenty minutes and a single fax to Regina General Hospital.  Four months of puddling around and it only took one ageing veterinarian twenty minutes to actually get the job done. Just goes to prove that you should never trust anyone to do something for you that you can do yourself. 

The final blow to my faith in the BC Coroner's Office came late Wednesday afternoon. The regional coroner called to tell me that her boss in Victoria had decided the case was closed and no further investigation was warranted. Without any look at the records that I had already requested and paid for, a nameless mandarin ensconced behind some desk in Victoria had decided they had wasted enough time and resources on Calista.  The final decision?  Wait for it.....  Calista died of "natural causes".

Natural causes. What in hell's half-acre is natural about a twenty year old healthy, athletic young woman dropping dead less than five minutes after waking up in the morning?   Only a completely insensitive ass could believe for a second that answer is sufficient for a parent who has lost their only child.  Of course, if you look up bureaucrat in the dictionary, the word is practically synonymous with insensitive. (They could just put a picture of a dead donkey frozen in ice...a truly "insensitive ass")

After nine months (and two weeks), the bureaucracy down at the BC Coroner's Office has saved their thirty pieces of silver, told their convenient version of the truth, and washed their hands of my Calista.   At least the temple priests who paid off Judas discarded the thirty silver pieces as "blood money", but I suspect the 175 dollars they saved by calling the case closed will support the office coffee fund for almost a month. I would hate the Coroner's Office to miss their Starbuck's (or Timmy's, since this is Canada, eh?).

I love the detail here. You have to love the incredible beauty of a flower. None of us look this
great with the macro treatment.

The regional coroner tried to soften the blow by telling me that Roni and I did not stand alone; during her term as regional coroner she had dealt with two other sudden, unexplained deaths in young adults. Both of those cases were closed without a specific cause of death attributed: "a Natural Death" was the final determination. There was an assumption that some form of acute cardiac arrhythmia such as Long QT Syndrome had been the true cause of death, but, of course, there was never any concrete proof. All three cases were similar in one very important way: the corpses were perfectly healthy but still dead. The basis for the diagnosis of "cardiac arrhythmia" was the very absence of disease. I know the regional coroner, who as always been very helpful and understanding, had only good intentions, but I am afraid she missed the point. The absence of disease can never be used as the basis for a diagnosis.; it is merely a sign that the doctor failed to find the truth. The fact that Roni and I were not unique in our curse was no help to us at all; it merely compounded our grief to know that there was two other families out there without answers.

There is a primary failing in the logic that attributes most sudden unexplained death in young people to cardiac arrhythmias. The diagnosis is one of "rule out": the pathologist does every appropriate test available and, when everything else is eliminated, whatever is left remains a possibility. The statistically most likely cause is then attached to the case. That little toe-tag is far from a confirmation; it is barely more than a best guess. 

Robert H Thouless wrote the seminal text on argument and debate, "Straight and Crooked Thinking". My father gave me a well used copy of the short book when I was just a young teen-aged blockhead. I believe he had visions of a future lawyer and hoped that by mastering rhetoric I would become a master of the courtroom (my entry into Veterinary College was a disappointment to him on so many levels). Between my many moves I lost that gift, to my great regret.  Years later, early in our Regina years, I managed to replace that old paperback through the magic of the Internet; the price was lofty due to it's rarity, especially in light of the fact the books had originally sold for less than dollar when they were first published. Mr. Thouless lists strategies of argument, both correct ("straight") and faulty ("crooked").

One of the most common faulty argument strategies can be grouped under the term "All and Some".
The basics of the tactic is to extend a "some" statistic to include "all". Thouless uses a political slogan of the twenties as his example.  "If Liberty is Lost, Slavery Reigns: Vote Repeal!". The first phrase is an argument that suggests that any loss of liberty allows slavery to become paramount. In this case, prohibition was the liberty lost. Obviously, equating prohibition with slavery is overstepping reality. The loss of some liberty does not equate the loss of all liberty. "Some" is not "All". The argument that, when faced with no other apparent cause of death in a young person we can just assume cardiac arrhythmia and wash our hands of the case is another example of "some" becoming "all".  In this case it is likely a matter of bureaucratic expediency.

Life will spring eternal. Even from stone.

In the practice of veterinary medicine we are faced with statistical diagnoses frequently. When I am faced with an elderly dog presented with acute weakness, pale gums and a swollen belly; my first thought is going to be internal bleeding due to a cancerous tumour of the spleen. Years of experience has taught me that, but that same experience also tells me that there are lots of other causes that I need to consider. Even if I confirm a splenic mass with my ultrasound machine, I need to keep in mind that if I just throw a blanket diagnosis of "cancer" on those I will be wrong some of the time. Some pathologists suggest "cancer" might be wrong as often as 40% of the time if I consider only my ultrasound examination. To safely diagnose cancer in these cases I need to look at more than just my ultrasound image.  No diagnosis should be based on one single parameter, especially when that parameter is as nebulous as "absence of overt disease". (Or, as so succinctly put by Calista's pathologist "The healthiest corpse he had ever worked on").

Don't misunderstand me: I am not suggesting that the coroner's office is incorrect, though I certainly have found at least one other plausible cause of death that would perfectly fit the circumstances. Calista probably did die of a sudden fatal cardiac arrhythmia. I just resent the appearance that the decision was made as a matter of financial expediency without considering all the available evidence. I am not sure if anyone really sat down and considered the evidence contrary to the Long QT scenario  before they decided they did not need to fully support their final ruling.

Long QT syndrome has many different variations. The vast majority of the incidents of acute collapse (and death) in young adults are associated with athletic endeavours.  Aquatic sports appear to really exacerbate the Long QT syndromes, probably because they involve strenuous activity combined with strictly controlled breathing. Certainly some of the variations of Long QT are associated with awaking from sleep, especially if it is a "rude" awakening by a loud alarm. The instigating factor there seems to be the act of being startled awake which causes a sudden increase in heart rate.  These "awakening" deaths are extremely rare (I am not a big believer in "rare" diseases; the doctors should conclusively rule out the most likely disease before you start looking for exotica).  All of these syndromes often have, hidden somewhere in the patients history, an incidence of sudden collapse or syncope.

So what did Calista give us?  She was an athlete; competing for years in swimming. She never once showed any sign of cardiac issues in all her years of training. She did faint once for unknown reasons back when she was 14. That incident was investigated and that cardiology work-up is the file that I am awaiting right now. The morning in question she was not "startled" out of sleep; she woke up to the relatively benign sound of her iPhone humming and jingling.  I know that sound well since her phone sits next to my bed and still goes off at the fateful hour of 6:10 am every morning.  (I guess my assessment of that alarm is a little unfounded since I hardly sleep much anymore, so it takes next to nothing to wake me.) There appears to be a balance here and the coroner's office, with very little effort and just a few dollars more could have tipped the scales and closed the door with authority. The coroner's office obviously did not care to do that; our peace of mind and the lifting of the cloud of mystery that hangs over Calista's death is not a priority compared to maintaining their budget and case closure rate.

I found this while surveying her multiple external hard drives. I have no idea when she took it.

Calista's cardiology study from almost a decade ago is on its way to my doorstep. When it arrives I will turn it over to the only two people I would trust with my future peace of mind: my brothers Dana and Ivor. With decades of experience in the operating room between the two of them, I know they will find the signs of Long QT Syndrome on those ECG tracings if it is there to be found. The coroner could have postponed the closure of her case for just a month more and included the ECG in their file. They could not be bothered.

 Long QT Syndrome has been associated with several well known DNA markers.  There are still a few bits of pieces of Calista stored in formalin floating around out there. The coroner could have ordered the DNA testing without much difficulty. The coroner could have arranged for both Roni and I to be tested for those markers. We have blood and we would have been willing to be tested if it would clear this case conclusively.  Hell, I would have paid for the testing myself if money was the issue; just send me a nurse to draw the blood and an address of the lab that does the testing. DNA testing needs not be considered now because some desk-jockey down at the BC Coroner's Office wanted the case closed before the end of the month.

Pilate washed his hands and looked away. 

Always trust a bureaucrat to take the easy way; especially if there are thirty pieces of silver involved.

So ends the sad case of Calista Jasmine Fleming. Not with a flourish and a bang, but with a government mandated ruling. There really is not much more to say about my Calista, my family and my life. I have covered everything I care to tell and everything else is either too private or too mundane to put to print. I always said I would finish this blog when the coroner completed her report. That time has come now. Some of it has been magic, but all of it has been tragic, to paraphrase Mr. Jimmy Buffet. There is only so much weeping in my cups I can do before it just becomes obsessively pathetic; life will go on for the rest of the world. As it should.

Thank you to everyone that took this journey with me. It was harrowing, I know, but hopefully there was enough humour and amusing stories about my girl that the reading was worth it. I will always miss Calista and I hope, by sharing her with everyone, some of you will miss her too. 

She turns to leave, her door has appeared.


She would laugh at the devil
"End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take.
The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it."
J.R.R. Tolkien

                Many novels end with an epilogue; a short chapter that gives us all final closure, some idea of what the final consequences of the story might have been.  That is all very fine for fiction because that is the nature of fiction; it provides us with an escape from the reality of life. In the real world there is no closure because there is no “beginning” or “end” to anyone’s story. All our lives are just a series of interlinked waves stretching infinitely back and forward in time.  Some of those waves created who we are and what we accomplished while some of those waves are the results of our having been here. 

                On the other hand, every telling of a story has to conclude eventually.  This is my conclusion.  I would like to have provided answers to everyone’s questions, some worldly advice to those who feel I might have something worthwhile to say or maybe something optimistic to lift our hearts and fill them with hope. I am not sure I can do that. There really is nothing good to say about the loss of Calista. She was twenty, she was full of energy and ambition and to know her was to love her.  How can anything good come of that kind of loss?  Roni and I and perhaps the rest of the world, can only consider the rest of our life a pale shadow of what it could have been had Calista been allowed a whole life.  Just as her life was cut short, our lives have been fractionated.

                There will come a time when I come to terms with her loss. It may be years in the future or it may be next week, I’m not sure.  I have an idea how my acceptance will come about though.

                The rain will be pelting down, the winds will be kicking up as they do when the weather is about to change, and it will be dark as only Powell River can be; so dark your hand at the end of your arm disappears a foot from your face. I will fall asleep full of doubts and remorse as I do every night these days, the scar of her loss just as raw as that very first day.  Ten days, ten months or ten years from now, it will all be the same.

                I will awake to a new day, the sky a clear blue dome overhead. The sun will just be cresting the eastern mountains and across the wide blue straights its golden rays will be kissing the Comox glacier that greeted my girl each clear morning.  The breeze will be freshening off the Straights, scenting the air with the mixture of creosote and salt that always means home to me. It will be cool but not cold; just  refreshing.  The rains from the night before will have scoured the air, leaving the view of Comox from Powell River so clear the distant shore seems just at arm’s length.  I will be waiting down by the ferry docks at the little kiosk beside the ramp into the ferry, watching as the foot traffic, the “walk-ons”, depart ahead of the motor vehicles.  My eyes will scan the marching passengers, watching for that one special person.  She will be there, hanging back just a bit, watching for me just as I look for her.

                Her long dark chestnut hair will glisten in the early morning light and her smile will shine radiant white as she walks slowly up the ramp and finally comes home. She will be dressed just like she is in her best portrait; her leather jacket half closed, her favourite woollen scarf tied at her neck and her prized jeans still torn in all the right places.  I will be young again, maybe 46 years old (that was a very good year) but she will always be 20 in my mind and I will still have to look up to her just a little bit. She will hug me, maybe crack a joke at my expense, but my only words to her will be “Welcome home, I love you”. It won’t be necessary, but I will say it nonetheless.   Roni might be waiting with me, she might be at home putting the last touches on Calista’s room and making sure everything was just as my girl had left it.  Or maybe Roni will have already gone on ahead and they will both just be waiting for my homecoming.  It does not matter really, as long as we are back together with her once again. Finally.

                We are masters of our own reality and this is the reality I will hope for when my end comes.  At this time I really don’t have any death wish. Nobody needs to wish for death because it will come for all of us regardless. On the other hand, when my time does come, I do have a single wish; more time with my girl. It just that simple.

The sun will rise, the breeze will freshen and the ferry will arrive. I will be waiting and she will walk into my arms, no
words needed. She will be home, where she belongs.


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Just Over Nine Months: Solitaire

The real Queen of Hearts: she never ran around crying "Off with their heads"
but she did have the same silly smirk throughout the years.

But he don't care what most people say
Through eighty-six years of perpetual motion
If he likes you he'll smile, and he'll say,
"Jimmy, some of it's magic, some of it's tragic
But I had a good life all of the way"
                                                                        Jimmy Buffet "He went to Paris" 1973

I am a "sometimes" fan of the singer Jimmy Buffet; I love his serious ballads like "A Pirate Looks at Forty" and I can take a pass on his more whimsical songs such as "Cheeseburger in Paradise". It also helps if it is a sunny, warm spring day and I am cruising in the rag top Mustang pretending I am still young enough to have most of my life in front of me.  Mr. Buffet's songs speak of a lifestyle I can only dream of: carefree, living on the beach, the warm sand between your toes, glowing tan on your face and the only choice you need to make is "shirt or skin". I could dream of such a life, but I could never actually do it; I would feel like I was wasting the only truly valuable commodity: time. Like it or not, I am not, nor will I ever be, a carefree type-B person.

The above quote is taken from one of Jimmy's early songs: it tells the tale of a man who travelled the world, married, had a son, lost all his family (and one eye) in the bombing of London in World War II, and ended up, at the end, alone, drinking his beer and fishing, in the Florida Keys. "Some of it's magic, some of it's tragic" is his take on his life at the end of the trail.

Rob Barton, my first university room-mate from way back during my years at Simon Fraser University, contacted me just the other day. We had not spoken in nearly thirty years and, through the magic of Face-book, Rob tracked me down just out of the blue. He had no idea what I was up to, he did not know that I had ever had children, much less the fact that I had lost Calista. Rob was distraught to say the least when I told him about my life. Rob has a fifteen year old daughter, his only child, and he actually felt my pain in the way many parents can; they step into my shoes for just a moment and let the terror wash over them. We had a long conversation about living, dying and life in general. It was Rob that got me thinking about that old Jimmy Buffet song. Rob's own version was "Some of it's good, some of it's bad, but in the end it's all life and you just have to take it as it comes."
Ok, it's a shameless plug for my old Alma Mater. Simon Fraser is
a great university and those years swimming with the Clan will be treasured.

Rob was always one of those guys who never seemed to sweat the small stuff; he just had an easy way of shambling through life and getting amazing things done without any apparent effort. It helps that Rob is a giant of a man; I barely come to his shoulders and when I knew him he was over two hundred pounds of imposing muscle. I'm not sure how he is now, but beach-boy good looks, a ready sense of humour and overwhelming congeniality made Rob a hard guy to share an apartment with; his presence pretty much created an instant cloak of invisibility for all other men in the room where women were concerned. I doubt things have changed much in the thirty years since he had to tolerate a young room-mate who managed to combine an intolerance for alcohol with an apparent inability to find the washroom on his first freshman night in the University residence.  I do thank him for not killing me right there on the spot. The friendly level headed approach he had three decades ago was still obvious in the long call we shared last week.  His advice was sound, but, again, it is advice that neither Roni nor I are quite ready to take. Life may indeed be wonderful, both the magic and the tragic, but all we see these days is the tragic.

I have developed a really deep spiritual streak since Calista died. Prior to her death, I was interested in spirituality only so far as it developed the story line in whatever book I was reading or movie I was watching. Life after death was something Hollywood fiction exploited and that was pretty much the entire depth of my belief system.  I still scoff at any concept of "heaven" or "hell", but I am more open to the general idea of the immortality of the spirit (soul?). I might even accept some limited form of reincarnation. I have an issue with the idea that good little souls get to be reincarnated as a "higher species".  I have yet to be convinced that there is any such thing as a "higher species". Certainly humans have learnt to make and use all sorts of  clever devices, but on the other hand, we still have problems not crapping in our own bed. I personally believe whales to be far more advanced than us: they don't make war, they all seem to know how to play, and they are smart enough not to swim into their own feces.

South of Quadra, East of Cortez and free to roam the high
seas. No fear and no worries, but you have to like sea-food.

Three surfacing and circling. Something was holding them
in the area. Was it a school of fish and were they schooling
their young in the skill of hunting?

I mentioned, some months back, that we used to read "Waiting for the Whales" to Calista many evenings when she was a wee child. While the author has stated clearly that the story is about the "circle of life", I have always preferred to interpret the story as being about an old man who gets to be reincarnated as an Orca whale.  When Calista died, for many weeks after I had this bizarre day-dream: I would be cruising the Straights in a boat and, out of the blue, a young Orca would breach to the port bow, eye me up, spit ice cold salt water in my face, and then playfully circle the boat just to thumb her nose at me. The idea that my girl would come back as a whale and tease me as she did her whole life pleased me very much. 

They don't make war and they know how to play. And they swim
away from there own feces rather than soil their own bed like us.

I bet their family, all teeth and fins, get along better than my
family. But they probably can't shop worth a bean.

There were two baby Orcas spotted in the local waters this summer, something that has not been seen here for many years. One of the whale calves was born in the "Resident" pod which patrols the local waters terrorising the salmon while the other calf was born to a "Transient" pod which passed through here hunting for seals and other marine mammals.  I half wondered which calf would be the best fit for my Calista but KAreen, her college friend, helped remind me that Calista had little use for sea-foods (and had a knack for hunting down curios and nice shoes).  The common sense vote had to be the Transient red-meat eater.  Now there is an oxymoron: common sense and reincarnation appearing in the same paragraph. (Now I need to find a boat, track down that migrant Transient pod and give that little fool a clean shot at teasing the old man just one more time)

No doubt, this guy was eyeing up
the photographer here. Hmmm.
wonder if we taste good? I doubt it:
too many trans-fats stored in our butts.

A virtual banquet for the Transients. Hundreds, maybe thousands
congregate each year along the stone break-water of the old plant.

Orca version of mooning us humans? I would bet Calista will
moon me every chance she can get when I find her.

There is a branch of mathematics called "game theory" where the corporate and personal interactions within society are broken down into mathematical equations which balance the probabilities of a predicted set of outcomes against the relative value of each outcome to the parties involved.  I actually surveyed an introductory course on "game theory" once; I understood less than half of the material and slept through much of the other half. I am not sure at all if life can be broken down into equations and numbers; all of us have so many emotional motivations behind our actions that often we act based completely on our momentary impulse without consideration for any outcomes. On the other hand, philosophically, there can be some analogies made between games and life.  For example, the classic card game "Klondike Solitaire" could be a model study for the goals and meaning of anybodies life. Crazy? Let me explain.

Klondike Solitaire is the classic game of cards most of us know. The game is played with one pack which is divided into two basic groups. The "tableau" is dealt onto the table in seven progressive piles of one to seven cards with the uppermost card face up while the rest of the cards remain hidden. The "talon" consists of the remainder of the deck which will be dealt out as the game progresses. I personally deal out the talon three cards at a time, all face up. The goal of the game, eventually, is to separate the deck sequentially into each of the four suits building from the aces in a third division called "the foundation". The flow of play is from the "tableau", where cards are grouped sequentially descending from the four kings alternating from red to black, up to the foundation where the stacks ascend in suit from the ace. I won't belabour this description since, unless you were raised in a bubble, you have played or at least seen Klondike Solitaire.

Cult classic, easy reading, new-age
religion simplified to foolish levels.

The very nature of any solitaire game is immediately comparable to any life. Despite all impressions, each of us are wholly responsible for our own happiness and satisfaction throughout our life.  Richard Bach, the author of the best-seller "Jonathan Livingstone Seagull", covered this ground in his follow up to the seventies cult-classic, the short novel "Illusions".  In his typical, new-age mystical way, Bach suggests that all the universe is just a big illusion and we all live the life we choose to live whether we know it or not. The corollary to that idea is that each individual is truly the agent of their own destiny. If we want to be happy, we merely must choose to be happy. I'm not so sure I agree with Mr. Bach; if wishing alone could bring my Calista back I would have had the original and ten clones living at my house by now (all happily teasing me and eating all my chocolate). I do agree that life is a solitary existence though; in the end I am the only one responsible for my personal happiness.
Live any way you want or
dream because it's all an illusion

Looking at "Klondike" specifically,  my mystical take on the game goes thus. Each card in the deck represents a life opportunity. Perhaps the 4 of diamonds represents a good education, while the Jack of Spades represents a good job. Within the deck, all the cards are of equal value; miss any one of them or expose them in the wrong order and the game cannot be completed. The same could be said of life: one can never say that one opportunity is of greater value than the next simply because not one of us knows where our final destination might be. Perhaps an excellent education is of great value if your true calling is brain surgery, but it is not of much worth if you were meant to be a world-famous surf-board shaper. It's not the education that makes the man, it's what the man does with that education that really counts. Furthermore, opportunities are much like playing cards; they need to appear in the right order to be capitalised on; it's hard to take a great job offer if you have yet to complete the required training (but that doesn't stop many people from doing so).
Some people are born with all the cards in their favour.
Some of those people still fail despite being born sucking a silver spoon.

Many of games offer us only one opening move.
Many people are born with nothing more than their health and
through determination, ability and luck, succeed regardless.

The first deal of each game of Klondike, the original tableau, represents birth. The exposed cards on the tableau are those natural attributes each one of us are born into. Good health, a supportive and loving family and financial stability might be some of the immediate benefits you may enjoy at birth. Such a tableau may have four aces that can be moved to the foundation immediately accompanied by matching duces to immediately expose 6 hidden cards in the stacks. Such a hand, while possible, is highly unlikely, but then very few of us are born into a wealthy, stable and loving family.  That original tableau is simply the creation of random shuffling and pure chance; we have no control over it; very much like where we are born.

From the "talon" we play, face-up, three cards at a time (some crazy people play one card at a time, but then are restricted to a single pass through the deck). They are a known commodity; we know where they are and that they might, along the way, come into play. All of us have exactly this in our life; we are faced with foreseeable opportunities throughout our lives, some of which might be immediately available, while others are just potential futures that we can anticipate. Sometimes, through strategic card playing, we can selectively access certain pivotal cards we need from the talon. Perhaps we need a red king to fill an empty row on the tableau, allowing us to shift a black queen from her stack and expose another unknown card. If that were so, we might ignore the black kings as we worked through the deck in anticipation of finding that key red king. That strategy may frequently work very well, but we need to remember that by following that path, we are foregoing other opportunities that might be revealed by the play of those black kings.  Such is true in life; often we pass over the immediate opportunities in life in hopes of something bigger coming down the pipes in time. Sometimes that pays off while other times it merely leads to disappointment.  Anybody that has ignored the lonely wall flower at the school dance while lusting after the perky cheer-leader understands this dilemma; often that wall flower is a rose just waiting to blossom.
I know it's late and you're already down
You ain't ready for people around
I'm gonna tell you something I found out
Whatever life may hold in store
Things will happen that you won't be ready for
"for a rocker" Jackson Brown 1983
written as a tribute to a friend who died of heart disease at 25.

On the tableau, the hidden cards are the great unknown. We have no idea what lies within those stacks or in what order they lie.  Sometimes, as each card is exposed the play just flows like a line of dominoes falling; red leads to black, king leads to queen.  Sometimes the exposed card is nothing but a dead-end; yet another red 5 when you really needed a black 7 to break an impasse and keep the flow going.  Those hidden cards are analogues to the unforeseen future; those things that happen in life you just can't be ready for: the lottery win, the sudden job offer from an new acquaintance, love at first sight, unplanned pregnancy or the sudden death of a loved one.  Each of us have those stacks of hidden cards in our future; some of them will open future doors while others will trap us in the past. I personally understand that last card; Calista's death, no matter how we play out the rest of our life, has trapped Roni and I in a game with no hope of pulling off a win.  Our red queen sits atop our hidden black king, trapping each and choking off any further play.

Choices of nearly equal value. Play the ten in the talon and it frees up the ace of hearts
and the 2 of diamonds. Seems like an obvious move.But remember that ten on the
third column may be hiding the real card that will win the game. Those unforeseen
mysteries in life: some of them are magic....and some are tragic. Tough choices.

Sometime, the tableau can force us to choose between two plays of equal value.  Perhaps we expose a red jack but we have both black tens available, one in the tableau and another in the talon. We can play the closest black ten and expose yet another hidden card. Or perhaps we play the black ten sitting atop the talon which will open up a red Ace below if we use it. We need to make choices: which do we play and will that play advance our game? Everyone of us has had to make choices in our life, recognising the truth that sometimes choosing one opportunity over the other could be the turning point in our entire life.  Sometime the choice is simply a matter of random selection and hoping for the best, while other times we can predict the outcome (ie: playing the black ten from the talon will expose the Ace of Diamonds and allow you to move a 2 of Diamonds up into the register).  Consider career opportunities; none of us can really predict how a job may turn out; some jobs lead to a glowing future, some to dead-end boring careers, while others are merely place holders until other, better jobs come along.  As much as I always loved Calista's photographs and art-work, I am not sure she  considered photography to be anything more than a stepping stone to other, more lucrative and challenging opportunities.

The goal of Klondike is to eventually move all the cards up onto the "foundation", sorted into four tidy little rows based sequentially from the aces. The game is considered "won" when the entire deck has been moved up onto the foundation. Having said that, we all know that there are all sorts of different ways to lose Klondike.  I have dealt games where I had perhaps only one viable move after the first array of the tableau, while I have dealt many other games where I came within three cards of winning, finally reaching a dead end when I could not move one more card out of the talon or expose one more hidden card on the tableau. Certainly the second example represents a more complete game than the first. Much the same could be said about our lives.  Some people fill their life with travel and adventure, experiencing everything this world chooses to throw at them. They fill their foundation, sometimes borrowing cards from a second deck. On the other hand, too many of us, either through life being cut short or simply being too fearful to live barely get a single ace onto their foundation. Many of us finish our "game of life" having barely shuffled the deck.
Sometimes we deal out a perfect tableau, we smile in anticipation,
and then a cat runs across our board and reshuffles the deck.  Of
course it was the red devil..Calista is laughing somewhere.

My solitaire analogy does not comment on the length of the game, nor does it discuss the wealth one might accumulate by end of the game. The goal of life should never be length or wealth; it should be all about living a full life. Go have exotic adventures in foreign lands, eat gourmet meals on all seven continents, never settle on "just a job" and find a carreer you live for and love.  No matter how long you live, your life will be too short;  just try to play all your cards. My daughter Calista barely got to shuffle her deck and yet she saw more of this world than I probably ever will. I have shuffled the deck several times and yet my foundation is barely more complete than Calista's end game.

Perhaps my analogy makes sense, and perhaps it's pure nonsense. Certainly there are many deeply held belief systems throughout this world based on far less sensible processes. Of course, it certainly is a sign that I have spent far too much time thinking about life lately, trying to find some meaning to life in a world turned treacherous.  If nothing else, Calista should have taught me to just put down the deck of cards, stop playing at life and start living.

Sorry honey, I just can't do that yet; I need to work hard and fill that scholarship fund.

I have no idea what she was contemplating, but it surely was not Solitaire.
Maybe she was considering the tastiest parts of the seal when eaten alfresco.