Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On Final Approach

An absolutely beatitful post by Lex's close friend, FbL, over at Argghhh! The Home of Two of Jonah's Military Guys.

I thought I was through the worst of it (and I was) until I read her account of the funeral and reception and then I was right back where I was a few weeks ago. We will miss you, my friend, but not only did you live your life large and with a certain je ne sais quoi (that's French), you said farewell in the same way.

Nope, no passing on while snoring in a comfy chair for you. You left us doing what you loved, living your passions right up to the end. One last lesson for us all.

And one final toast to you. For strength. And courage.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Three Weeks On

It was three weeks ago today that the unthinkable happened.

It was three weeks ago today that the blogging world lost, in my humble opinion, one of it's brightest lights.

It was three weeks ago today that many, many people who had never actually met the man first felt the stinging loss of a good friend.

It was three weeks ago today that the United States lost not only one of its finest sons, but also one of its finest ambassadors to the rest of the world.

It was three weeks ago today that a wife lost her husband.

It was three weeks ago today that two daughters and a son lost their father.

People die every day, don't they? And it's sad of course, if and when we stop to think about it. We know that everybody has a family, that everyone is somebody's child, parent, sibling, spouse or friend.

But we don't think much about it unless and until it happens to someone we know. Then the standard words are "He was too young" or "She lived a good, long life" or, the perennial favourite, "at least he's not suffering anymore".

Capt. Carroll (Lex) Lefon, USN (Ret) was laid to rest today in Sandy Eggo, California.

And yet, there seems to be so much wrong with that statement. First of all, it's hard enough to think of Lex as even being "retired", let alone laid to rest. No, me thinks the man is still soaring in the sky somewhere, doing loops, and twists and turns (perhaps even a split S here and there), rushing up to feel the heat of the sun only to swoop over and fall earthward. And then start all over again. For the sheer joy that is in it.

If Heaven is that reward at the end of one's life, if it involves anything like eternal happiness and bliss, then I am comforted to know that Lex will be repeatedly strapping on his aircraft until the end of time.

But for those of us left behind, gravity-bound to the earth, it's been a long three weeks. A time of great sadness and longing, a time of forcing ourselves to turn our minds to family and work obligations while our chests hurt and our hearts are heavy.

The company of friends (again, generally, most whom we've never "met" in the conventional sense of the word) helps to dull a bit of the sting. We share our favourite stories and memories, often with a chuckle here and a tear there. But we know what we must do, we know that life is a gift and must be treated like the precious thing it is. Our family members, too, are gifts, we know and must be treated with the same high regard.

None of us know for certain how long we will be here. Perhaps the best we can do is enjoy each moment while we constantly cultivate our relationships, remaining open to new ones and never forgetting the lives that have truly deeply touched ours. Perhaps, with some luck, we will even do the same for another some day.

But, for now, three weeks later, it hurts. And the "missing" (whether it be in the form of the hole in the missing man formation, the empty chair at the solitary table or the hole that we know must be in the hearts of Lex's wife and children) can seem so huge, so empty, so sad. So eternal.

To Mary, Christopher, Ashley and Kate - I know chances are slim to none that you will ever read these words yet I feel compelled to share them. Your husband, your Dad touched so many lives around the world. Touched lives that I'm sure even he wasn't aware of. You know better than anyone else what kind of man he was and we can only thank you for sharing him with us. May it help you some tiny amount to even have the smallest sense of how many prayers are lifted heavenwards on your behalf.

After my Mom died a few years ago, a friend (whom, ironically enough, I never would have met but for Lex) told me that you don't get "over" these types of loss; you get *through* them. I have found her words to ring true. I still miss my Mom, some days desperately. And I know I always will. But life goes on. And on. And on. With its highs and its lows, its joys and its sorrows.

And, in my heart, I know that  Lex wanted for his family what my mother wanted for hers, in her absence - in her words, not to be sad, but for us to live our lives and enjoy them.

Three weeks on ... and the world still weeps.

The Watch

For many years,
This sailor stood the watch
While some of us were in our bunks at night, ...
This sailor stood the watch

While some of us were in school learning our trade,
This shipmate stood the watch
Before some of us were born into this world,
This shipmate stood the watch

In those years when the storm clouds of war were seen
Brewing on the horizon of history,
This shipmate stood the watch

Many times he would cast an eye ashore and see his family standing there,
Needing his guidance and help,
Needing that hand to hold during those hard times,
But he still stood the watch

He stood the watch for many years,
He stood the watch so that we, our families,
And our fellow countrymen could sleep soundly in safety,
Each and every night,
Knowing that a sailor stood the watch

Today we are here to say: "Shipmate . . . the watch stands relieved.
Relieved by those YOU have trained, guided, and lead
Shipmate you stand relieved . . . we have the watch!"

"Bo’sun . . . Standby to pipe the side . . . Neptunus Lex is going ashore!"

--H/T to Andy Niemyer - adopted from a traditional poem read at retirement ceremonies

Monday, March 26, 2012

Purple Passages

Monday, March 26, 2012.

Here it is. Yet another Purple Day.

The thought of which, at the moment, leaves me feeling totally exhausted.

Please don't get me wrong - I love Purple Day. My family loves Purple Day. In fact, it is the only one of the few only things we all do together.

But it's been a hell of a ride the past few weeks - flat out with too many things to really mention here (suffice to say, I am working with an amazing business/public speaking coach who is really helping me rework my flagship presentation - but it's a lot of work I am trying to accomplish by the date of my next speaking engagement on March 31st. While, you know, working. And doing everything my often interesting life can entail).

And then, of course, there was is Lex. Which, although that pain will be felt for a good long while, at least I'm thinking (hoping) that the worst of it is over.

But back to Purple Day. For a moment, please.

There were purple things that simply had to be done.

Such as getting everything to our neighbourhood daycare who so graciously agreed to do a Purple Day Bunny Hop (fundraiser) on very short notice. Thanks to yours truly. The short notice part, that is.

And cupcakes. Let us never forget the cupcakes.

Five dozen for the Blue Jay's high school - where Purple Day (complete with the provision of purple cupcakes, for a donation, of course) has become an annual tradition.

Then another three dozen for Purple Day at the Mall. Which, unlike the ones for school (part of Purple Day at the high school involving the students in the Blue Jay's resource room decorating the cupcakes they sell), these particular ones required decorating. So decorate we did.

In between working in Halifax on Friday and returning to Halifax on Saturday for a Circles workshop and before Purple Day at the Mall. On Sunday. Which would usually be done on Saturday, but I am still working on that whole being in two places at one time thing. To date, results have been ... shall we say ... mixed.

And so we spent yesterday afternoon at out Purple Day table in the Mall. Sunday was of course a bit slower than a typical Saturday, but a good time was had by all.

But when the Blue Jay and Kit Kat headed off to the Blue Jay's school this morning with their 5 dozen cupcakes, to meet up with the teachers who had agreed to provide another four or five dozen, I breathed a sigh of relief, rolled over and went back to sleep. Feeling like I deserved it, after all.

So although I am all decked out in my purple finery today and did manage to get to the grocery store to transport the Purple Day Cake I had ordered, special-like, to the little ones at the Daycare to thank them (because, let's face it, all that hopping can take a lot out of a body and it requires a  high dose of sugar to replenish itself), that is about the extent of my energy for this particular Purple Day. And for anything else today, too, I'm sad to admit.

But life goes on.

Indeed it does ... I know that for a fact because Kit Kat turned 16 a couple of weeks ago and the Blue Jay will have lived on this earth a full 19 years, come Thursday at about 3:30 in the morning. Yes, I do believe I remember that.

But 19? Really?? You've gotta be kidding. And speaking of such things ... ummm, I guess that means I better get shopping soon, huh?

Alas, there's more to being a 19-year-old Blue Jay than cake, friends, bowling and gifts. Nope, that would be too easy. You see, it's also the time my darling daughter transitions from the child to the adult system. Meaning it's the time that she is "assessed" to see where she might be placed "fit" in that lovely "continuum of services" offered by the province's Services for Persons With Disabilities program.

So that was interesting, it was.

While I met with our caseworker's supervisor to discuss the issue of how guardianship might affect the Blue Jay's eventual eligibility for the Independent Living Support Program, the Blue Jay, herself, worked through the assessment tool with the worker. They had made it about three-quarters of the way through when I returned to join them. And I must say that I was very, very impressed with the Blue Jay - with her unexpected (at least to me) insight into what she could do on her own and where she needed help. I do believe she might just be growing up. With or without my permission, apparently.

That interview took a lot out of her, though.  After a full day at her one-day-a-week work placement through school and that rather lengthy appointment, she was pretty much (understandably) wiped out for the rest of the day.

And so it goes, I suppose. We move into the next phase of her life, ready or not.

And thus it was, that driving home from that appointment Thursday afternoon, I couldn't help but think ... It's been a wild ride, honey. Hang on for Part II.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"As If We Were Each His Closest Confidant, Friend, or Some Guy Sitting Beside Him at The Bar ..."

I've spent a good chunk of the past 11 days reading. Reading, commenting and reminiscing. Crying, toasting and hurting. And, yes, occasionally (but all too rarely), laughing.

And now, here I sit.

And although I think, like so many others, that Lex might well be wondering what the hell is wrong with all of us, I continue to struggle with the same question that so many others have attempted to answer over the past week and a half. So much ink spilled. So many pixels wasted. Because so many of us continue to ask ourselves the same question.

Why/how did this man effect me so?

I've read many a thought on that question and must confess to having gained some insight from them.

And although it would seem reasonable to speculate that the answer might well vary from person to person (as just a paltry few examples: he was such an excellent writer, always the consummate gentleman, a brother aviator or a brother in arms, a mentor, a warrior poet, a true patriot [Ed. - completely without the negative connotation that sometimes attaches to those words of late], he led by example, he was the type of Officer I would follow anywhere, he could have me repeatedly alternating between laughing and crying in the same post, his blog was a place where everyone [with the exception of trolls, of course] truly felt welcomed), I'm not sure that any or even all of those things truly encapsulate the man.

Yes, undoubtedly, he was all those things. And yet, he was so much more.

Strangely enough, the words that rang the truest for me, that came the closest to summing up why the man effected me on such a personal level, I found buried in AW1Tim's memorial:
In Lex’s blog, his stories, his observations, you got the feeling, reading them, that he wasn’t so much reporting but having a conversation with you.


Whether it was personal demons, family or job issues, the loss of a friend, or any of the myriad things that accost us all, he would write of them, openly and honestly, as if we were each his closest confidant, friend, or some guy sitting beside him at the bar. He was like that, and he was wonderful with what he did.
That, right there, comes the closest in anything I have read or yet considered to mirroring my own personal reality.

Yes, the man was an amazing writer - as I pointed out to him as soon as I finished reading Rhythms (on the first go-around), he had somehow managed to completely hook someone like me, someone with no military background or experience. Hooked me with Rhythms. Hooked me on the blog. And thinking about it sadly now, it would, of course, have been his writing that drew all so many of us in. And, yes, on some level, it was his writing that drew us back time and time again.

But that doesn't explain the effect, the reaction, the outpouring of grief that his death has caused. Sadness that a good man, a good writer is no longer with us? Sure. Regret that Neptunus Lex will no longer be part of the daily read? Absolutely.

But not this, not this “... [feeling] like something essential had been suddenly hollowed out of me, something I had always counted on for strength without even knowing it was there.” As Lex well knew, that's a feeling saved for the loss of a parent, a child, a sibling, a spouse or a best friend. Not a blogger the majority of us have never met.

I have finally concluded that it was because of the way that Lex wrote, the manner in which he shared his personal demons, family and job issues, his sea stories, his best job evah, the worst day of his life and the myriad other things he wrote about that we were allowed to get a look behind the blogger and come to know the man behind the words. That was how we each discovered for ourselves that he was the consummate gentleman and a true patriot, how we came to realize just how much he loved his family, his country and his Navy, how we learned that he led by example and was the type of Officer people would follow anywhere and why we came to admire, respect and rely on him the way we have.

I have many friends. I admire many people. But of all the people that have entered and left my life, there have only been two that I can say I totally, completely and utterly respect. Lex was one of them. And I have yet to meet any other person (either virtually or real life) who had has the ability to connect so intimately with another through the written word alone. Something tells me, I likely never will.

And yet, to paraphrase George Patton (and with thanks to one of Lex's many fellow milbloggers, without whom I never would have thought of this quote), it's also the reason that we should must struggle not to mourn the fact that he is gone but, rather, celebrate the fact that such a man has lived.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Live Your Life ...

I heard this quote while watching Criminal Minds, of all things, last night. Immediately thought of Lex. To the best of my knowledge, this is exactly how he lived his life.
Live your life so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you.
H.   Jackson Brown, Jr.
Carry on, sir.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Poet I'm Not

Many have referred to Lex as a warrior poet (yes, I'm still getting through all those comments although I'm pleased to say I only have about 5 pages to go ... let's just say that I'm taking a lot of detours along the way) and it's far from me to disagree.

The thing is, personally, I'm really not into poetry. There are very, very few pieces that speak to me. So I must admit that on those occasions when Lex would choose to quote passages from "the classics", well, barbarian that I am ... if the quote went on for too long, my eyes simply glazed over. And stayed that way until they could refocus on some real poetry, like Lex's writing.

So I find it passing strange that I've been posting poetry this past week - like I said, usually, very little of it speaks to me. But, if I post something on these pages (I recall a couple of pieces really resonating with me when my Mom passed away so maybe there's something to that), it's because it does.

I came across this tonight and knew I had to share:

"Going home, going home, I'm a going home
Quiet like, some still day, I'm just going home
It's not far, just close by, through an open door
Work all done, care laid by
Going to fear no more
Mother's there, expecting me
Father's waiting too
Lots of folks gathered there
All the friends I knew
Nothings lost alls gained
No more fear or pain
No more stubbling by the way
No more longing for the day
Going to roam no more

Morning star lights the way
Restless dream all done
Shadows gone, break of day
Real life just begun
There's no break, there's no end
Just a living on
Wide awake with a smile, going on and on
Going home, going home, I'm just going home
It's not far, just close by, I'm just going home

Nothing's lost, all is gain, no longing for the day
No more stumbling on the way
No more fret nor pain
Goin' home, goin' home, I'm a goin' home
Quiet like, still some day, I'm a goin' home

I'm just goin' home
I'm a goin' home
H/T to Skippy Maximus

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Naval Aviator’s Heaven

I'm finally trying to make it through the 1,300+ comments on Whisper's Open Thread at Lex's. Came across this on page 3.

A Naval Aviator’s Heaven (h/t to JAWA)

I hope there’s a place, way up in the sky,
Where Naval Aviators can go, when they have to die.
A place where a guy could buy a cold beer/vodka
For a friend and comrade whose memory is dear.

A place where no Blackshoe or Porkchop could tread,
Nor a Pentagon-type would e’re be caught dead!
Just a quaint little O’Club; kind of dark, full of smoke,
Where they like to sing loud, and love a good joke.

The kind of place, where a lady could go
And feel safe and protected by the men she would know.
There must be a place where old Navy pilots go
When their wings get too weary, and their airspeed gets low.

Where the whiskey is old and the women are young,
And songs about flying and dying are sung,
Where you’d see all the shipmates you’d served with before,
And they’d call out your name, as you came thru the door,

Who would buy you a drink, if your thirst should be bad
And relate to the others, “He was quite a good lad!”
And then thru the mist you’d spot an old guy
You had not seen in years, though he’d taught you to fly.

He’d nod his old head and grin ear to ear,
And say, “Welcome shipmate, I’m pleased that you’re here!
For this is the place where Naval Aviators come
When the battles are over, and the wars have been won.

They’ve come here at last to be safe and afar
From the government clerk and the management czar,
Politicians and lawyers, the Feds and the noise,
Where all hours are happy, and these good old boys
Can relax with a cool one, and a well-deserved rest!

This is Heaven, my son, you’ve passed your last test!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Still Reeling

I really shouldn't be here. The hour is late ... very late ... and I have to work tomorrow. But that is what happens when you spend a couple of hours floating around the internets, reading and responding to tributes to a man you've never even "met". But that you knew so well. Oh well, something tells me sleep will be a might bit difficult tonightt this morning anyway.

It's been over 7 years since I first discovered Lex's. 7 years of reading, laughing, crying and arguing. Of being entertained. Of being educated. Of being very, very educated. 7 years in which I became part of an international online family - a large majority from the US, it's true, but also from around the world.

Anyone who has read here any amount will have seen many items borrowed from Lex's  over the years (as was the previous post), usually marked with a tip of the hat and numerous posts interspersed here and there (more so in the past, I am sad to say) where I directed you back to his place. Had I thought of it, I could have, probably should have created a label that simply read "Lex".

Once, I even left him some advice. Here. He dropped by to thank me, which I thought was awful neighbourly of him.

I haven't been to his blog so much lately. I haven't been to any of my favourite blogs much lately, including my own. It's about all I can do to keep at least some content going on the special needs blawg. But I always managed to still drop by Lex's occasionally,

I no longer drop in numerous times a day, no longer read all the comments for each post and engaged in playful banner or thoughtful conversation with the others. But I did drop by occasionally, skimmed the posts, stopping to read with absorption those where he discussed my favourite topic - flying.

When I dropped by this morning, I saw this post from Whisper at the top of the page, with close to 200 comments noted on it. What? It couldn't mean ... I clicked on the comments to no avail, kicked off the page as sometimes happen when there is simply too much traffic. With a frown, I went on to other things, knowing I would return later and try again. Busy, busy day. Busy, busy week.

I did make it back a few hours later, clicked on the comments again, which were now up to about 350 (I see they are up to 686 now) ... I scrolled through them without reading ... what the hell? And then posted a quick comment, please tell me this isn't what I think it is, supplied my personal email address. Once again went on my way. But I really didn't feel so good. When I checked my email awhile later I had 5 different emails ... some from people I knew, some I didn't (or at least not by their real names). Yes, they said. Yes, it's true.  His plane crashed. Into the side of a building. A few links were left to news stories. I still haven't read them.

When I sat down, I intended to make this short, very short. I knew I couldn't go to bed without saying something but thought I could make a short comment and save more for another day. I think it's now time for that short comment ....

But what do you say about a man who was always the consummate gentlemen? Extremely intelligent, but never coming off as one of "those" people. Who had a gift for writing far beyond any I've seen. Don't believe me? Try Rhythms. [As an aside, I always suspected that young pilot who had such difficulty landing at night was Lex ... he pretty much confirmed that once upon a time.]

He was sweet. He was funny. He had his beliefs, as we all do. But he articulated his so well, that whether or not you shared them, you respected him. He had an amazing sense of honour and duty. He loved his country and served it well. Right to the end. But he loved his family even more. That fact always came shining through. He held himself to a very high standard. And yet always seemed willing to grant another some slack.

And he ran one of the few places in the blogsphere where there could be intelligent, insightful conversations (often among people who disagreed) that never denigrated into those swear-filled internet debacles we're all so familiar with. He simply would not have it at his house. And he garnered enough respect amongst his readers, that it rarely was an issue. Although on occasion, he did see the need to tell us to settle down. To attack the message, if we must, but not the messenger. Because we're all friends here. Funny how he only had to speak once and that was enough.

And yet, when trolls came by, it was a spectacle to watch - without ever attacking the messenger, they were very quickly put in their place. At which point, they generally decided to exit. Stage left. Which reminds me, he wrote a great post on trolls once upon a time...

He threatened to leave us once or twice, when life became too overwhelming (as it does for us all) but we would have none of it.

He gave us the Flight Deck ... where the longest running coversation on health care ever hosted by a naval aviator was held.

I did some searching through Neptunus Lex to find some of the links above. Came across posts that brought a smile to my face. Then a tear to my eye.

There's only one problem, you see. I don't really believe he's gone.

I actually think that might be an occupational hazard of having close internet friends, ones whom you rarely or never actually see in person. A close friend passed away last year. We met once for a wonderful weekend in Oxnard. But I knew her for ... I have no idea ... over 10 years online. We laughed and cried and supported one another through some of the most intimate, personal time in our lives, those involving the health issues of our children.

And yet, much as with Lex, I don't think it's ever actually sunk in for me. That she's. Really. Gone.

Fair winds and following seas, Captain. And thank you for all you've given us. Words are totally inadequate to express my sympathy to your family. I occasionally wondered over the years if his wife knew how lucky she was. But I know. She does.

I can see Lex's son carrying on in the Navy in his father's footsteps, throwing himself all the more into that life in the wake of this tragedy. But I can't see the future for his wife and two daughters. Daughters need a father and I will pray a wee extra bit for one of them. Wives need a husband. We often thanked her for sharing him, now all we can offer are our condolences. Just words but they're sincere.