as she wished

I settled on roses because peonies are out of season. (Mom’s mother, Rosaline, used to take peonies on family outings to her parents’ graves on Memorial Day.) The lavender was broken by the hot air balloon upon landing; the bit of sage was a gift from Ceremony. A male goldfinch had greeted me in Caroline’s yard upon return from Ceremony, and the necklace was a perfect find at Mama’s Minerals.

Rio Rancho
New Mexico
19-21 & 25-27 August

Tommy and me
On the morning of 27 August, mom’s surviving boyfriend and I released her ashes into the Rio Grande river from the Alameda Bridge north of Albuquerque.

I had a lot of help, every single step of the way, from the wonderful women of the New Mexico Women’s Chorus, through friends from Ceremony, to family members including especially my brother. Mom herself guided me through the places she wanted to visit one last time, and made sure I checked in on Tommy.


inflationMom wanted to be released from the air, but it is against FAA regulations to drop anything over the side of a hot air balloon.  So I just took her up in my backpack. We were framed by the rising sun to the east and the setting moon to the west. river and moon (turtle sighting!)Skimming down low over the Rio Grande, I saw a turtle swimming fast ahead of the current! balloon shadow under the three sistersMy co-riders were great. Vicki was taking care of ‘Mom’ before she knew what I was carrying in my backpack. Her sister Joann was having the time of her life. Roger and I had a nice conversation about doing the work of connecting (people to other people, within themselves, to larger contexts), Jean was being the adventurous one of her trio of friends/family, and Yong was enjoying tourism while her husband worked. Karen and I both managed to draw the hardest labor tasks involved with initial inflation and final packing. Joy might someday send me a photo of some of that!


ABQ yard artI drove mom along her favorite road, Rio Grande Boulevard through Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. She loved cruising leisurely along at the 25 mph speed limit, gazing at flowers and fields and landmarks near and far.  Welcome to Los Ranchos de ABQflowers along Rio Grande Blvdhorse along Rio Grande BlvdCorrales


Eventually we would turn along Alameda, cross the Rio Grande, and turn to wind up through Corrales. I found a spot that captured the view of the Sandias that she loved so much. There, I tended the objects I would use to send her finally on her way.9 roses, necklace, & goldfinch

I settled on roses because peonies are out of season.  (Mom’s mother, Rosaline, used to take peonies on family outings to her parents’ graves on Memorial Day.) The lavender was broken by the hot air balloon upon landing; the bit of sage was a gift from Ceremony. A male goldfinch had greeted me in Caroline’s yard upon return from Ceremony, and the necklace was a perfect find at Mama’s Minerals. About 9:30 the next morning, I warned Tommy that what we were doing wasn’t usual.  “Okay,” he said, and accompanied me onto the bridge.


Lavender first, followed by a scoop of ashes. Alternating between a rose and ashes, I spoke a few words about each person’s relationship with Mom – highlighting when it was at its best or what seems notable about it to me.  Rich’s rose first, then Dad’s. Next came John’s, then mom’s siblings, Jane and Ed.  I included a rose for Bob Cockrum, one of mom’s childhood friends who is still in touch, and also for “Uncle” Sam. I included the wee bit of his cremains that Lee had given me: if their two spirits ever mix, the results will be awesome! Tommy had opted to keep his rose when I presented it to him the day before. Mine was last. We watched it float away through the shadow of the new bridge and out of sight.

Rio Grande looking north from the Alameda Bridge in Rio Rancho

In Memory of Sam: An Endowment Fund

The following is the text of a letter (written March 10, 2007) from John Anderson and David Corey concerning the Sam Achziger Memorial Endowment Fund.
“It was a year ago last month that Sam Achziger passed away. We are pleased to share with you the good news that an anonymous donor has started the Sam Achziger Memorial Endowment Fund at World Learning with a commitment of $25,000. The fund will provide scholarship support to motivated and deserving Experimenters starting this summer.
Sam was both a friend and mentor to both of us, and he touched the lives of generations of Experimenters, EIL Group Leaders, host families, SIT students, colleagues, friends and neighbors. He personified the spirit of The Experiment in International Living. This endowment fund will serve as a permanent memorial to Sam’s commitment to building a better world one friendship at a time. Like Sam, this fund will touch and change the lives of Experimenters and hosts around the world.
Please join us in making a gift and/or pledge to The Sam Achziger Memorial Endowment Fund. Do not hesitate to contact either one of us at the email addresses below or Tony Allen, Director The Experiment in International Living (eiltony at – (973) 783-1965) with any questions. Thanks so much for your support.”
jhnandrsn at (John Anderson)
jkgall at (David Corey)

Sam’s Ganges

A year ago today we scattered Sam’s ashes in the Connecticut River. It was a Sunday that dawned grey and moist. Sure enough, as we waited for the captain to make the call, darker clouds rolled in, lightening flashed, thunder roared, and the rain came down. Twenty minutes later, it was over and the skies began to clear.
We embarked from The Marina, heading upriver, north toward Putney. Turning the corner where the West River meets the Connecticut, the vista of the valley opened wide before us and a heron glided to a gentle landing. Mist curled along the shoreline, the trees gleamed, the hills of Vermont and New Hampshire called us into the future. It might have been the beauty that pulled the first wave of grief out of us; how much Sam would have loved this day! Or it might have just been a sad song by Josh Groban. Whatever. 🙂 It was what it was: perfect.
Some of us chatted, pairs forming, breaking up, re-forming. Most of us took a turn at the front of the boat, almost leaning ahead to the site where we would pour Sam’s ashes into the river, giving him back to the earth.
Lou explained that the Connecticut River marks the juncture of two tectonic plates, one that used to be part of Africa, and the one that is still North America. Somehow that struck me as a perfect analogy for Sam: someone who always sought to bridge the continents, who found ways to position himself at the juncture of cultures, languages, religions . . . any kind of socially-constructed difference imaginable. The mood of the previous day’s hugely successful Celebration lingered, yet each of us was also swept in our own particular mourning.
I know I grieved for three that day, the sharpness of Sam’s loss edged up to others. The near-dozen of us found comfort together, talking quietly, teasing, reminiscing, and just being in each other’s presence. Those moments when it became too somber, someone would lighten us up. Jennifer, me, and Lee almost tipped overboard at one point, an occurrence we knew would have amused Sam immensely. What we all know is that Sam did not want to be remembered or memorialized on the basis of his death, but rather on the strength and legacy of his life. So we strove to live this particular voyage as we imagined he would have us do.
I do not know what kind of flowers we had with us – roses, probably. When we reached the point in the river more-or-less directly in line with Sam’s Putney house, and the time felt right, we took turns with the urn, first by the handful and then with an all out upending. Next, we scattered the flowers. Everyone but Sam’s sister Edith meditatively plucked the petals, tossing them into the stream of ashes, adding sparkle to the darkened current. Edith tossed hers whole – an act Sam would surely approve, and there was something about that intact rose which made the ritual perfect. I don’t recall who said the spreading, drifting blossoms looked like the Ganges.
The ride back was quieter yet also somewhat lighter. We had accomplished Sam’s wishes, carried out to the letter. Lee and Pat earn most of the credit for that, but everyone played the necessary parts. No one was in much of a rush to leave, and Lou and Tom did their best to keep us all as long as possible. The blessings of knowing all these people through Sam will stay with me forever.
Right before we headed up the river, while we were waiting for the storm to subside, Lee dug out a card that she had found among Sam’s things in his room. Perhaps this is a figment of my imagination, but the card is addressed to no one in particular. I believe Sam left it for us, for all of us, everyone who knew him, whether or not they made it to any of the events or had not been in touch with him for howsoever long.

graci from Sam.jpg

Thanks Sam. I still catch amazingly strong whiffs of you in the slow-shifting tides of presence and memory.

the best gift of all

There were five candles on my birthday cake. “What’s this?” I wondered, “One for each decade?” 🙂 I decided that the candles symbolized five days of celebration. Truly, this has been one of the sweetest birthdays I recall. (Which is to choose NOT to go into detail about the cows I kept seeing with their tails in the air and certain good luck well wishes if you step in poop.)
We started last Wednesday: dinner with “cricket-playing Indians” and “soccer-playing Romanians.” The dishes were palatable (no one got sick!) and the laughter delightful. The spirit of Sam in that salvaged margarita mix imbued us all with good cheer. (It probably didn’t hurt that it is also the end of the semester.)
Thursday I felt as if my students were giving me presents, although I doubt the conceived of their final papers as anything other than basic academic obligation. Some days I wonder if the amount of gratification I receive from watching my students grow is disproportionate in comparison with all the things that make life meaningful, but the simple truth is that I am deeply pleased when they do well.
Friday was a surprise. 🙂 A planned camping trip was cancelled because of inclement weather, leaving me available for a spontaneous evening with a very special person. And Saturday was amazing. Just-in-Time and Very-Private-Person treated me to three-meals-in-one at the Dhaba Cafe in Boston. Food and talk, talk and food. I received phone calls, texts, emails, and thoughts throughout the day. Geez. I could hardly contain my sheepish pleasure while celebrating the Australian legacy for hours and hours Saturday night.
Sunday was sweet and mellow: a day without pressure. I could probably use a few more days like these, but then again, the contrast with the more usual, daily busy-ness of all I am called to do is part of what endows the slow days with such satisfaction.
Five days of stellar human company; you see how it gets to me?! I become more mushily sentimental all the time. 🙂 The confluence of all these interactions and encounters is the best gift of all: many of you did not even know it was my birthday. Proof-positive I am blessed with friends. (That, or just a damn good moocher.)
Emily-the-Strange’s horrorscope changes daily, but note that the “Day of Dissonance” arrives soon!

Remembering Sam

It hit me like an electric shock that it has been nearly a year since Sam died. February 12, 2006. I sat up last night re-reading most of the entries about him here, beginning in August of 2003 and continuing even past his death, as I have been reminded of him or felt his presence strongly enough to record here.
How well did I capture Sam in these writings? I worry that my identity as author outweighs the unique and delightful character that Sam chose to be. I hope not, although probably this varies from entry to entry: some are more me and some are more Sam. I wanted them all to be Sam, but so goes the craft of writing (I’ve a ways to go, yet).
If nothing else, the power of his influence upon me as a role model and friend comes through. His life and friendships with so many people from so many places still inspire me. His willingness to forgive friends our quirks and tolerate our idiosyncracies – not to mention poke fun at them if an opportunity arose – endeared him to us all. His own quirks seemed so minor in comparison, how he would refuse conflict and avoid disagreement whenever possible, sometimes leading to various social awkwardnesses.
I miss him.

“Be hard by being tender!” [When Nietzsche Wept (part 2)]

So Dr. Breuer challenges Nietzsche. I wrote about the first six chapters a few days ago: my enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed. 🙂
“We are each composed of many parts, each clamoring for expression. We can be held responsible only for the final compromise, not for the wayward impulses of each of the parts” (300).
“’One must have chaos and frenzy within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.’” (179-180). [oft-quoted, even by the Deaf community!]

“The key to living well is
first to will that which is necessary
and then to love that which is willed” (282).

“A tree requires stormy weather if it is to attain a proud height…creativity and discovery are begotten in pain” (179).
The notion of eternal recurrence (249-251) deserves its own post in the phenomenology thread (good section in wikipedia on Nietzsche’s view, emphasizing the thought rather than the physical reality of an eternal return). There’s something of the dialectic/dialogic in there (see p. 84, too). It has convinced me that it is time to read the copy of Thus Spake Zarathurstra that I picked up in Berlin last summer.
More on interpretation (I extrapolate): “ a series of meanings folded into” [an object, fill in the blank] (247). “accommodating to [interlocturs’] rhythm[s]” (245), “a philosopher’s personal moral structure dictates the type of philosophy he creates…the counselor’s personality dictates his counseling approach…” (182),
On blogging (!): yearning for an audience, the loneliness of living an unobserved life.
On dreams: “’I wonder,’ Nietzsche mused, ‘whether our dreams are closer to who we are than either rationality or feelings’” (242).
On the unconscious: “Consciousness is only the translucent skin covering existence: the trained eye can see through it &emdash; to primitive forces, instincts, to the very engine of the will to power” (239).
On life: “Life is a spark between two identical voids, the darkness before birth and the one after death” (238). “Living means to be in danger” (199).
SAM: “Death loses its terror if one dies when one has consummated one’s life! If one does not live in the right time, then one can never die at the right time” (247).
“Live when you live!”

Did he ever! 🙂

On memory: “Could there be such a thing as an active forgetting &emdash; forgetting something not because it is unimportant but because it is too important?” (231).
On good questions: They help one think differently. (223)
Dionysion passion: No need to live without magic, but you might ”have to change your conditions for passion” (222).
“…where philosophy falls short. Teaching philosophy and using it in life are very different undertakings” (209).
On volume: “If no one will listen, it’s only natural to shout!” (195).
On time and will: “The fact that the will cannot will backward does not mean the will is impotent! Because, thank God, God is dead &emdash; that does not mean existence has no purpose! Because death comes &emdash; that does not mean that life has no value” (190).
Nietzsche’s mission: “to save humankind from both nihilism and illusion” (140). [soon followed by this next, which I frame slightly out-of-context but what the hell]: “We’ll have to invent our procedure along the way” (141). 🙂
“What matters
is what you will tell yourself

and what I will tell myself” (110).

Fal bakmak

I order Turkish coffee before heading to the Arab-Israeli symphony last night.
I’m back at the World Istanbul Hostel, where people know my name. 🙂 Gunseli says she’ll read my coffee grinds.
Of course I’m game! There are a few crucial steps, first, one must upend the cup into the saucer, and then wait. Eventually, the evidence is produced:


The sequence might matter. Gunseli read them before she showed them to me. (It felt so Harry Potter!) At any rate, she read me only positive signs:
– “there is a man with a beard…some thoughts” (am I in his? he in mine? unclear. I think first of Sam, then of The Man Who Would Be My Wife.)
– “there is a baby” which might indicate “something good . . . it’s happiness”
– “there is a fairy, like a butterfly, it means luckiness”
– “there are big fishes; fishes mean money” (so far so good!)
– “there is a tree, branches, like a family, strict relationships” (hmmm . . .)
At this point Gunseli shows me the cup. I had just read an English translation of a Turkish poem, “I Thought I Could Be More”, by Jennifer Highland:
The shallow bottoms are grainy
with slow, dark life

I thought we were done but there was another step. I was told to keep a wish in my head while Gunseli poured off the excess liquid from the saucer:

(If only the reading is as blurry as the picture!) My wish will come true, she says, “it will be a little slow, but it will happen.” One last examination and “a man with a mane like a lion,” who is the same man as before (oops, definitely not TMWWBMW) will give me “a very big present or happiness.”
I can’t complain overmuch about my fortune, it brims with optimistism! Then Gunseli dashes the whole thing: “Only for fun!” she laughes, grinning.

Ambassador to the World

Sam was also known as “Mr. Experiment” for his amazing career at The Experiment in International Living. You know you’ve accomplished something when more than 50 people come on a 4th of July weekend five and a half months after you died in order to celebrate your life.
I arrived at 1 pm sharp to the River Garden in downtown Brattleboro. There were already 20-30 people there and live music wafted through a slight breeze off the Connecticut River. Pat greeted me, “Did you bring the CDs?” Oops, left them in the car. Other greetings, nods of acknowledgment…I wanted to scoot out to get the music (to be played during the musician’s breaks) but conversations unfolded around me, drawing me in. Lee was explaining the choice of entertainment to someone: “It’s Sam’s Brazilian connection; he has a Brazilian family too.” I escaped but nature called, so I ducked into the toilet. As I sat there (!), the live Brazilian music permeated my awareness. I had a sudden flash of Sam as a young man, dancing in a fancy classical manner. I watched him linger through a few slow turns and the vision faded.
Mingling with the crowd after returning with Marvin Gaye and Josh Groban, the murmur of people talking, laughing, eating and drinking conveyed the pleasure people experienced. “Sam always brought people together, continually introducing us one to another.” People drifted from conversation to conversation…an easy flow of interaction. People were already telling stories, reminiscing, inquiring about when and how Sam had come into each other’s lives, as well as striking up new relationships and engaging anew on familiar themes. Lee called for everyone’s attention an hour or so into the event. “Sam planned this party, and provided for it. We’ve all heard of each other, so it feels like we’ve already met even if we haven’t.”
Tom immediately got in on the action: “Don’t believe everything you hear!”

Continue reading “Ambassador to the World”

remembering Sam

I saw a friend recently who asked about my relationship with Sam. She never met him, just read about him here: “He seems like a really neat guy. Reminds me of Tuesdays with Morrie.” Sam would be so pleased. 🙂 He read the book right after he moved into the nursing home (2001), and shared it with as many people as he could. Sam was my uncle: chosen family, not blood. We had a hell of a connection, he and I. He met my dad while the two were in college, was at my parent’s wedding, knew me as a child. When my parents moved us from the northeast to Colorado when I was 3 1/2, we would see Sam once or twice a year when he came to visit family (apparently sneaking in a visit with us in Denver before heading to their neck of the woods).

Continue reading “remembering Sam”