Monday, January 3, 2022

Remembering Chip


A year ago (12.09.20), I learned that a former classmate, Chip, had died. We had not been close, though we were both aspiring poets. At the time, Chip was a better poet than many of us. He wore the hat of an artist when many of us still dreamed that fantasy. He died of an apparent heart attack. Although not unusual at our current age, still uncommon, still too young for his life to end. A mutual friend, Cornel, a fine artist, posted an “RIP” on Instagram, and I inquired about the circumstances.

Chip had withdrawn into isolation for almost twenty years. Apparently, his family had disassociated itself from him. I do not know why, but I can sympathize. For the past decade, Chip had lived in a Motel 6 on the outskirts of Atlanta, most likely broke. But he was a poet, driven to compose his lyrics and, based on the many notebooks of poetry he left behind, he continued to write throughout his exile. That part of his life did not surprise me. I hope that he has found peace, and I hope that his family regrets failing to care for him, whatever they think were his weaknesses.

His death reminded me of others who died too early in their lives. One, the young son of neighborhood friends who had struggled for years with addiction and then found himself alone in a motel beside an interstate in the mountains where he ended his life. Locally here near the coast, smart and promising high school students from solid families, began using heroin with the common consequence of overdose (usually due to fentanyl). Immediately following the funeral of one young person who died of overdose, four of his friends wrecked a car while speeding to the pharmacy for Narcan to treat one of the group for overdose. Those four all survived.

Chip's death also reminded me of two past friends who suffered from bipolar conditions, manic depression, the periodic leap from ecstasy to hopelessness and a menage of emotions between. Neither of my friends have yet taken their lives, but that may be more luck than intent.

Family can be the cruelest critics. From birth, the expectations are compliance with family values and beliefs. Deviate and be denied, shunned, estranged. Few accept rational conversation or discussion, debate or evaluation. Those who claim to love us most often offer the least in variance from the core values of a family or clan. Clan cements what the members must project as the beliefs of the clan. Those who depart from those beliefs are doubted and can be cast to the sidelines of the family unit. Assuming the truth above, how can a family grow and evolve? Maybe it cannot. And where does life proceed from there?

Most people I have known bow to the altar of family values despite how their parents have demonstrated those values or only lived the hypocrisy of their lack of commitment to those values. Like religion, adherence and devotion are expected and presumed, even if not earned or deserved.

Based on my personal experience, families only deserve what they earn. Unconditional love is a mutual commitment. When withheld by family members, reciprocal affection, much less love, is neither earned nor deserved. It can be, should be, acceptable to say, in effect, “F*ck you” to those who manipulate the family relationship to shame those who do not comply with the family conceit.

Holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas and the oh-so-fragile resolve of the New Year, seem to provide the most recurrent opportunities for reflecting on what family and familial love mean. It can and should be a time of reconciliation and forgiveness. The tragic reality is that it may not be either. Accepting that is the hardest of all familial interactions. Your personal sanity may demand it, however.

Some families are supportive and enabling; some are purely destructive. I hope you do not have the latter.

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