adventures in time

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

A Second First Father’s Day

It’s been many months since I wrote my last entry here, but today seems like an appropriate day to pen something.

Father’s Day will always be a difficult and bittersweet day for me. This year marks my second Father’s Day as a father, but it some ways it is also my first. I celebrate (to the extent one does) for the second time without my son, and for the first time with my daughter, Laney. She is a beautiful little girl, changing and growing every day. She has a strong will and spirit, and I know that she will go on to do great things when she is older. Although any infant can try the patience of a new parent, any frustration I have melts away whenever I see her smile, or when I watch her eyes light up as she begins to discover the world around her.

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But, this day will always be incomplete for me without Matthew. Thoughts of him still fill my heart and head, usually in moments when I am alone, and those thoughts often bring me to tears. I am not ashamed to admit that I still mourn my lost son. If anything, it is proof that my heart has not entirely hardened in response to his loss. I will never understand why he was taken, and there is likely no explanation I will ever be willing or prepared to accept, at least not in this life. I only have the memory of those fleeting hours spent with him, and that is all I will ever have.

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The unfortunate fact is that many children have no father with which to celebrate this day, and more than a few fathers are without their children. For those of us who do have children in our lives, we should be the ones celebrating what we have, rather than being celebrated for who we are and what we do. To be given the awesome responsibility of being a father is a gift in itself.

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Starlight

On this day, 6 months ago, at 3:01pm EST, the first ever child born to my wife and I was delivered into our arms. The first time we met him, he had already left this world. By midnight that evening, he left our arms, and we never saw him again.

Many of my posts start with that same recitation of facts, although the amount of time that has elapsed since Matthew’s birth grows. It is a point in time, further and further in the past each day. Like a lone lamp post on a moonless night, the light of that moment grows more dim as we move away from it.

Someday in the future, his birth will seem more like the faint light of a star, shining down on us over immense time and distance. The star will appear to stay fixed in the sky, forever beyond our possible reach. The light of the star itself, when we see it,  may be only a memory of what was, for the star may no longer exist in space. Yet, we  continue to receive the faint light it casts from across the eons and the immense span of space, a reminder of its place in the universe.

Every day, I find myself doing something or going somewhere, and a thought enters my mind. “Would I be here, doing this, if Matthew had lived?” I usually assume that I would not, though I cannot know. I like to think there is an alternate existence where Matthew lived, and where my life is very different. Objectively, I cannot know if one is better than the other, but the idea gives me a small amount of solace.

This morning, I thought about how I have made it through these 6 months after my son died so suddenly. I know that some think I have done it because of my strength of character, my resolve, my willingness to press on in the face of adversity — and there have been days where maybe they were right. I think, though, that on most days I carry on because there really is no other choice but for me to do so. It’s not a march through life, so much as a drag. The world did not stop upon Matthew’s death. The world did not stop upon the deaths of the children at Newton, CT, or upon the deaths of the victims in the Boston Marathon Bombing, or upon the deaths of the persons working at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC, or the countless other deaths this year which have been as low profile as Matthew’s was. Death is mysterious, misunderstood, and unknowable, while it is also common, routine, and ordinary.

Regardless, the loss of a little one tears at our hearts more than the loss of others. The bargain for death is the promise of life, and we lament the loss of that promise, so much so that it can make our own lives seem less promising in context. Matthew is both strength and sadness in my life, and I am still learning how to use both in a meaningful way.

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In the face of loss, we are sometimes given a second chance: a chance to redeem, a chance to realize our dream, a chance to rectify a mistake, a chance to move forward. Erin and I have been given a second chance. We have learned that we are expecting another child next Spring, around the same time of Matthew’s birth. Coming so soon after Matthew’s loss, it is difficult to be overly excited, and we also struggle to not assume the worse will happen. It is a peculiar situation we are in; normally, two parents would be thrilled about their expected new arrival. Instead, we are guarded. Our joy is tempered by our still-fresh sorrow and fears. We will never be able to look further ahead than the next day. For us, the road seems longer than before.

A Tale of Two Courtrooms

What follows is a copy of a recent Letter to the Editor I submitted to the Stone County Leader (our local weekly here in Mountain View), which they were kind enough to publish in this week’s edition as a guest column. I did not go into all the details of the proposed project in my letter because the newspaper had already covered them, but the short version is that the county’s Quorum Court has recently unveiled a plan — one that has supposedly been in the works for months — to create a new court facility complex for our county. While the facility is badly needed, I remain skeptical as to whether it is the panacea the Quorum Court perhaps hopes it will be. ~ JTH

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To The Editor:

This week, the Stone County Quorum Court will vote on two important, badly needed projects for our county, one of which is a new county court facility.

I won’t bother to reiterate the details of the proposal, as they have been outlined elsewhere in the Leader. In short, the proposal broadly addresses several critical problems at our current historic courthouse: security, access for the disabled, scheduling problems for the courts, and the county’s need for office space. An additional, modern courtroom near our jail facilities would help address all of these issues. However, there are additional concerns that our Quorum Court must consider prior to making its decision.

As a local attorney, former assistant city planner, historic preservationist, and citizen concerned with local economic development, I look at the proposal through many different lenses. Our current historic courthouse has served us well for over ninety years. Stone County’s most famous court case, the Connie Franklin trial of 1929, was heard in its courtroom; the same courtroom that saw music sessions which contributed to the foundation of the Folk Festival. Today, the building and grounds are still the anchor of our vibrant downtown, and a source of pride for our community. It is the “front porch” we present to the world.

The historic courtroom hosts roughly 140 court days each year that — along with the daily activity at county offices — help keep our downtown as the center of our community. Businesses, restaurants and professionals desire to be near the courthouse because of the “halo effect” it provides. That is to say, the most high profile, visible location your business will find is still somewhere near the courthouse.

However, the proposal before the Quorum Court would make the new court facility the primary one. The activity created by the courthouse around our downtown would be mostly removed to near the jail. The historic courtroom would become an “overflow” facility, reduced to seeing approximately 16 days of court each year. The Quorum Court must address any negative impact that such a change would have on businesses near the courthouse. As tourism continues to ebb and flow with the greater economy, the important commerce created by local residents patronizing downtown businesses while using the courthouse would be disrupted under this new proposal.

Also, using the historic courtroom a mere 16 days per year, plus the occasionally scheduled public meeting there, could lead to placing less emphasis on its maintenance. Any possibility of a full restoration of the courthouse interior grows smaller when future Quorum Courts are faced with the prospect of spending a significant sum of money on a facility that receives little use. The present Quorum Court would do well to keep our historic courtroom as a more active participant in our justice system, one more befitting of its longstanding status as our county’s primary seat of justice.

As for municipal planning considerations, the new court facility proposal must address the impact that moving most of the traffic created by activity at the courthouse will have at the proposed site. Our court square has at least 6 points of entry and exit; the site of the proposed facility currently has one, which is poorly designed and shared with the county jail, the county health department, and the Excel Boats factory. The current intersection at the proposed site will need to be drastically improved, adding both additional cost to the project and the likely involvement of both the city and state.

Several Quorum Court committees met last week, with each giving its stamp of approval to the new court facility proposal. The plan appears to be on a fast track toward implementation, and while the underlying purposes of the proposal are good for the county, there remain many stakeholders the Quorum Court should consult, and impacts the Court should consider. The many positive aspects to the project must be judiciously weighed against the negatives.

Our courthouse is more than just a picturesque background for a postcard; it is the real cornerstone of our community, upon which much of our identity is built. Any plan that would change the building’s status, use or importance must be carefully and critically examined before moving forward. At this critical juncture, I hope your readers will make their opinions known, and I hope that our Quorum Court will listen intently.

A Death In The Universe

Today marks four months since Matthew simultaneously came into this world and left the arms of his parents. His death leaves a void in our hearts that  will never be filled; a scar on our souls that will never fully heal. Erin and I live through each day with the memory of his face, his smell, his weight in our arms, and a  guilt over what one small thing we could have done differently to change what happened. We recall the details of that day as if we were still there in the past, experiencing it for the first time — all while the present feels like a static, shallow version of reality.

I’ve given some thought to whether people who read these entries wonder if I will ever write about something besides my dead son. After all, reading the same sad story over and over can’t be much fun. But what else in my life is of greater importance? What has more impact on my state of mind, my emotions, or my very being? Everything pales in comparison. I sometimes wonder how others continue on living their lives normally all around us — until I remember that what happened, happened to us, not them. Human sympathy is a powerful thing, but it only goes so far. One cannot expect the entire world to shift off of its axis over a single tragedy, one so small in the grand scale of the universe.

Yet for Erin and I, our entire universe is wrapped up in that one perfect little boy, and that one single, small tragedy.

“If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.”

Survivor’s Guilt

They say coping with loss gets easier with time.

I think we just get better at hiding our feelings until most everyone else has forgotten what happened.

In the days and weeks after Matthew’s death, I was barreling through life like a man on a mission. There were things to do, arrangements to be made, matters to be settled, loose ends to tie up, mourners to comfort and… well, someone had to take charge of all of that. As I am peculiarly drawn to take charge of the uncomfortable things that others are reluctant to do, the situation was oddly comfortable to start. I set about accomplishing various tasks in a workmanlike manner, which afforded me the opportunity to separate (somewhat) my emotions from the larger situation. I wasn’t ignoring what had happened; I was just subconsciously distracting myself from the unpleasantness of it all.

In the last month or so, all that I had been distracted from has caught up with me, and not gradually. There are more mornings than not where I wake up with a desire to simply do nothing; to be ignored and left alone most of the day. I know myself well enough to know that feeling is not normal for me. Ok — it may be normal under the circumstances, but it’s not my usual posture toward the world.

Everything seems to be a trigger that reminds me what happened. At my age and station in life (and thanks in no small part to the magic of the Internet), it seems as if happy, healthy infant children — and their proud parents — are everywhere I turn. Even when I look for the words of others who have experienced a similar loss, it always seems as if they lost their second or third child, meaning they still at least have one or more living, breathing children. I get a bitter, resentful feeling when I read that bit of info. I am quietly outraged by the audacity of their greed, though I know greed has no part in their story or grief.

I have become well-acquainted with the knowledge that, less than 24 hours before he was declared dead, Matthew was alive and kicking inside his mother. He was nearly full-term and might have been safely delivered. If only I had known he was in distress; if only I had known the signs of distress — that decreased movement is in fact NOT normal late in the pregnancy term, something we were never told — I wonder if he might have been saved. Even if not, I wonder if I would have at least been able to see him move or take a breath. Just one movement that I could see with my own eyes.

Just one breath.

At some point during most days, I usually will ask myself “What’s the point of living?” Not because I have a desire to die, but because I am left to wonder what my purpose in continuing to exist is. Everything in the world seems to be in turmoil, and while much of it could be put right, it seems as if the majority of us lack the desire, will, understanding or empathy to do so.

Most days, I’m not really living anyway — I’m just surviving,

And I don’t understand why I’m doing even that.

Father’s Day

A short post on the day, made up of photos and a few reflections.

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My own dad and I, on my wedding day. Though we don’t exactly favor each other in looks, we share the same first name. If ever there was a man who let his actions speak for him, it’s this guy. Those who know him know that he doesn’t always have a lot to say, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another man who works harder than he does, while also being a master of his craft. If I ever come close to possessing the sort of skill as a lawyer that he has as a carpenter, I’d be one of the best trial attorneys in Arkansas. Moreover, I’ve learned a lot over the years about how to deal with other people, in business and elsewhere, by watching him. As I set out on my own in my career, he’s provided a good example for me.

I’m thankful to have been born to, and raised by, this man. Life is never perfect; sometimes he was away working when I had wished he was around. But, he always did what he had to do to take care of his family, to give us more than he had. He still does that today. I regret that he never was able to meet his grandson; a grandson who would have shared his name had he survived.

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I am, by the technical definition, a father. Yet I’m not one in the sense I know others to be; I have no child in the home to care and provide for; to raise; to set an example for; to love. A good many of my male friends have children now, and I’m sure that today they are (deservedly) enjoying the affection and adoration of their children. Many are also enjoying the appreciation of their significant other, or their own parents’ expressions of pride.

But Father’s Day really is for those dads. They’ve earned it. It’s not for dads like me; it’s just another day in a long line of days spent thinking about what might have been, and remembering the short time that was.

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This is Matthew’s urn. His remains inside, it sits on the shelf beside our bed. My daily ritual includes some time spent looking at it, even if just for a moment, thinking and reflecting. The metal box sits silently, giving no adoration or affection, just a cold reflection of the light shining on it.

But at least I know that he is with us in some sort of way, and that makes the days — especially today — bearable.

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