A Message … in the Walls

Our family recently had a great surprise. My mom was having a bathroom in her home refurbished. The workman pulled out the medicine cabinet and pointed out to my mom that there was something written, in pencil, on the wallboard behind the cabinet.

It said, in my dad’s distinctive handwriting:

To Maureen,

With Love

Tom

3/9/74

My sister was around and took a photo of it. She shared it with us and eventually Facebook. It brought up a lot of fond feelings for my dad, who passed away 12 years ago. And raised questions, like, how did this get there? My dad was not handy. I don’t think he put the cabinet in place.

So, why share this now? Well, much of the world takes a moment at the start of November to honor those who have died – call it Day of the Dead, call it All Souls Day, call it something else. It’s a time when we stop and acknowledge:

  • We carry those who have died, this year and every year before, with us long after they pass. One thing I’ve learned about grief, from experience, is it has a belly laugh at the notion of time.
  • The departed live in love and memory, and oftentimes in pain and unresolvedness. And, apparently, bathrooms.
  • They live in wonder and surprise, and in life itself.

Which brings me back to my mom and her decision to redecorate a bathroom. She doesn’t find this lovely message unless she goes about the annoying, everyday, creative maintenance work of our lives. The decision to remake a part of her home leads to the discovery that someone gone is not lost — that he’s right here, in the goddamn walls, that this message has been there, for nearly five decades, baked into the place, keeping watch in its own quiet, tender way. She was surrounded by care even when she couldn’t see it …

I’ve thought about that, and it has me thinking about how, contrary to the existential dread I experience watching TV ads in a battleground state, that I live in a cocoon of grace and attention, blissfully unaware, like those fish that David Foster Wallace spoke about so eloquently. That so much of it is stitched into the garment of my life. That I need occasionally to pull down the wall or tear at the seams — because what I am likely to find will not not scary or horrible. It will be beauty. It will be care. It will be attention. This is my water.

Other Thoughts

  • The Phillies lost the World Series to the Houston Astros, but their 30-day run was as exhilarating a sporting event as I can remember in Philadelphia, at least as fun as the Eagles’ run to the Super Bowl, but amplified by the everyday-ness of baseball. So many moments! The Harper homer, sure, but Rhys slamming down his bat after his big hit. Segura’s own hit and play in the field. Catellanos’ sliding catch(es). It was so much fun to watch the city remember what it’s like to fall in love with its baseball team. The team was surprised and pumped to be on the receiving end of all this attention, and I was reminded that baseball’s rhythms resonate so deeply. I read a lot of great stories in that time, but the one that moved me the most was this one, about a minor league prospect who never played for the Phillies, and never will, but whose family was made a part of the celebration. This post-mortem appreciation from Matt Gelb at The Athletic was right up there, too, and I don’t know how Ken Rosenthal can do TV work and then pull together something this great about Bryce Harper after the Phils clinched the NL pennant, but I appreciated it.
  • While we’re talking Phillies, the New York Times had a great article on the creator of the best mascot of our times, the Phillie Phanatic. I stand behind what I told the current best friend of the Phanatic, Tom Burgoyne, when we were on a panel together at a Philadelphia Business Journal “business of sports” conference in 2019: if there is a Mount Rushmore of mascots, the Phanatic deserves the George Washington spot. No worse than Jefferson.
  • I used a Twitter-owned platform called Revue to send out this email newsletter, but, you might have heard, Twitter has a new owner and he apparently plans to shut down Revue by end of the year. As someone who posts irregularly, I’m not sure where I should move to publish this modest newsletter. I might choose Substack, the hot, new face in the space, but articles like this give me second thoughts. I’d appreciate any recommendations. Mailchimp? Medium? Copy-paste my list of email addresses? Mimeograph and snail-mail it? And where can you go to escape social media owned by media behemoths? Maybe Mastodon (a primer)?
  • If you’re looking for a piece on why Elon Musk really messed up, you could do much worse than this from The Verge’s Nilay Patel. Among his great lines, he points out that Twitter’s secret sauce isn’t its technology: “The asset is the user base: hopelessly addicted politicians, reporters, celebrities, and other people who should know better but keep posting anyway. You! You, Elon Musk, are addicted to Twitter. You’re the asset. You just bought yourself for $44 billion dollars.”
  • She’s not for everyone, but I’ve really enjoyed S.G. Goodman’s album, especially its title song, Teeth Marks. (I also saw her as a solo opener for Jason Isbell in New Brunswick, N.J., in the spring.) If you want to know more about her, this is a great profile from Stephen Deusner, who also wrote the definitive (OK, only) history of a favorite band of mine, the Drive-By Truckers.
  • Speaking of music, Johnny Cash’s last album has hit its 20th anniversary. Is there a better cover in the history of covers than his version of Hurt? But I encourage you to listen to the whole thing, including a gorgeous, spare version of the Beatles’ In My Life.
  • Pew Research Center looked at religion in America, specifically at the rise of the “Nones” (agnostics, atheists or “nothing in particulars”) and you get why Christian Nationalists and their ilk are pushing so hard to grab the levers of power now. The demographics suggest they are going to be pushed further to the fringes by a plural, secular majority — if we can get to that future.
  • GQ, of all places, has an interesting article on the next generation of weight-loss drugs, which apparently are very effective — maybe too effective.

I turn 57 in a little over a week and I have a resolution to do this more often. We’ll see how I do. Let me know your thoughts. I love hearing back.

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