Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day – Honoring All Kinds of Work

First appeared on Blogcritics.

Labor Day always falls on the first Monday of September, and much to the dismay of school children everywhere, this traditional “end of summer” holiday also means that school is about to begin. Yes, in some places children are already back in school, but here in New York Labor Day means one final day off before getting back to those classrooms the kids gleefully fled back in June.

labor 4 wikipedia.orgBeside horrifying school kids everywhere, Labor Day cultivates different reactions from adults as well. While it may be one last day to sit back, throw some shrimp on the barbie, and enjoy a day of leisure, many people work on Labor Day. Roughly 45% of American workers are laboring on Labor Day. Having just come back from the small local coffee shop, I can attest to those people being up early to make sure I got a hot cup of joe.

In my family, we always have to laugh when remembering my paternal grandfather’s opinion of work – he hated it. Growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and sharing a small tenement apartment with eight brothers and sisters, Pop had to quit 3rd grade to start working after his longshoreman father died from a heart attack on the dock. He had to help his mother support his younger siblings, and he never stopped working after that, so it’s not surprising after working for many years of his life and finally retiring, Pop had enough of laboring.

Work is seen as a necessary evil for some and a necessity of life for others. There are many people like my grandfather, forced into labor by circumstances beyond their control, and they must work to live. For them work can involve pressure and stress that can be overwhelming. Still, that does not diminish the work they do and the services they provide. We never know the story of that person we see performing his or her job, but we should appreciate it nonetheless as a contribution to society

Then there are those fortunate individuals who live to work. They happily go to work each day, believe their work matters, and see their jobs as one of the best things in their lives. They are the lucky ones to be sure, but no matter how enjoyable their work is it is still also a contribution to the greater good.

So whatever you are doing this Labor Day – enjoying one last cookout, getting to the beach for a swim, hiking in the wilderness, taking advantage of big department store sales, or even getting on the bus to go to work – it is important to know why we have this holiday. Sadly, many people have no idea why we celebrate holidays on our calendar, and Labor Day is no exception.

According to the the United States Department of Labor, the day “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

labor 3 harvard.eduNow that we have that official explanation out of the way, it is necessary to honor all types of workers – union and non-union. Whether the person is handing you a cup of coffee, mopping the lobby of the hotel where you are staying, using a jackhammer in the street as you walk by, standing in front of a classroom teaching your children, or sweltering on the tarmac making sure that your plane takes off safely, all work has value and is important in and of itself.

It is too simplistic to categorize work as easy or difficult. A truck driver who has to unload hundred pound bags of flour all day may see the newspaper editor’s job as an easy one, and the guy washing windows on a skyscraper may look down and see all the people walking on the street below and relish his bird’s eye view. This is all about perspective, about the inherent worth of work in all its diverse possibilities and venues.

As I write this article indoors because of inclement weather (instead of taking my laptop down to the beach as planned), I am “working” on Labor Day. If you don’t think writing is work, think about this quotation from one of my favorite writers, the great Pete Hamill – "Writing is the hardest work in the world not involving heavy lifting." Whether you believe it or not, there is truth in his words that anyone who has had to write something and stared at the blinking cursor on a blank screen can identify with.

labor 1 norturk.no

I hope you can enjoy your Labor Day no matter how you are spending it, but at some point stop and watch someone who is working and be thankful for what they do, even if it is the person grilling your burgers at the family barbecue. Thank him or her for the effort, and make it a habit that your practice regularly. By thanking anyone performing a service for you (and giving a gratuity when appropriate), you will be honoring the work that they do and the spirit of Labor Day every day of the year.

  Photo credits: wikipedia.org, harvard.edu, norturk.no    

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Halloween in August Is More Annoying than Spooky

First appeared on Blogcritics.

early 1
A display at a Long Island Lowe's store
It’s beginning to look a lot like Halloween in August. Okay, there are enough things to worry or complain about in the world, but the pushing of the seasons into unseasonal territory continues to be bothersome, at least for me. Going into two different Long Island stores this weekend, I was confronted with Halloween displays. Even my kids said, “Halloween? But it’s August!” Yes, my children, and the retail haunting has already begun.

I started to get annoyed by this situation a few years ago when I first noticed Christmas decorations on the shelves right next to Halloween items in early October. Forget Thanksgiving, that inconsequential (from a retail perspective) celebration that just happens to fall rather inconveniently between Halloween and Christmas. I know people who work in retail, and they are eager to get the fastest selling items on display early despite the calendar; however, red and green decorations look out of place next to black and orange items. Who cares, right?

As I have said in the past, we are moving toward the notion of mega-holidays – one huge celebration encompassing major holidays. If you think the notion of a “Hallothanksmas” is out of the realm of possibility, think again. In the retail world (which starts to resemble a Twilight Zone of increasing marketing annoyance each year) it is already happening.

I used to hear my first Christmas song on the radio the day after Thanksgiving, but last year I walked into a big department store in New York City and heard old Bing singing “White Christmas” on Veteran’s Day (November 11th here in the U.S.). Even Der Bingle would note that tree tops weren’t glistening and kids weren’t listening for sleigh bells at that moment. Not to be outdone by one store starting Christmas music early, every store I went into after that had the carols blasting like it was Christmas Eve.

early 2
Halloween has come early to this Long Island CVS
Maybe I am acting like the Grinch who stole a pumpkin, but I don’t like that back to school signs and items appeared in stores around the 4th of July either. By pushing the seasons way ahead on the calendar, retailers are hoping to get an edge of some kind, but I believe they are alienating customers.

Now, when I took my kids to get the things on their back to school list, I had trouble locating them because pumpkins, witches, and ghosts ruled the shelves. It’s enough to drive a customer batty. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.


Will we ever get retailers to change the way they do business? It’s probably as likely as my beloved New York Mets getting to the World Series this year (or any year for that matter). I guess I’ll have to live with it, but I’ll never like it.

Anyway, we eventually did locate the things we needed (though the supply had been depleted), much to the chagrin of the kids. Those incessantly smiling faces of summer had decidedly turned to frowns as we carried pencils and books to the car in anticipation of teachers’ dirty looks. Back to school becomes a reality in two days. Now, for my kids, that’s something truly spooky!

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Readers - A Short Story by Victor Lana

First appeared on Blogcritics.

read - giesendesign,comFrom my bedroom window I could see the Fowler’s old Victorian house where my childhood friend Artie lived with his podiatrist father Frank, mother Wilma, and his little sister Veronica. They would sit outside during the summer months on their covered porch, each one of them reading a book for hours at a time.

Artie had some kind of affliction, but in those days the nuns didn’t care and expected him to function. In fourth grade he cracked open his cartridge pen and drank the ink; Sister Helen Richard walloped him with her thick ruler and told him to do his work. Things didn’t get any better for Artie over the years, especially in high school.

Many years ago when I came home from college after my freshman year, I knew something had happened. Ronnie, the beautiful redheaded girl with freckles with whom I fell in love when I was 15 was not sitting on the porch with her family.

“Hey, Mom, what happened to Ronnie?” I asked running downstairs and smelling the wonderful aroma in her kitchen.

Mom kept stirring her sacred sauce. “Ronnie ran away.”

Right before I left for college, Ronnie said, “I’m gonna run so far away from here, maybe to Texas or even Timbuktu.”

“Timbuktu? Really?” I asked, and she nodded her head.

I held her closely as we looked over the cemetery fence at rusting subway cars parked in the Brooklyn rail yard. The setting sun glistened in tears on her freckled cheeks as we kissed; I’d have liked to go away with her, but I’d made promises to myself I had to keep.

*

read - commons.wikimedia.orgAs I got out of the taxi when I came home after finishing medical school, Artie and his father were outside reading, and Artie waved to me. I put down my suitcase and jogged across the street. Artie’s teeth were worse than in his ink drinking days, and he looked medicated.

“Hi, Doctor Pete?” Artie said.

“Is it pediatric surgery, Peter?” Dr. Fowler asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Impressive!”

“Thank you, sir.”

“We recently had a heartbreak when my Wilma passed.”

“Please accept my condolences.”

Artie held A Wrinkle in Time against his chest. “She had the dementia real bad.”

“It’s a blessing, really,” Fowler said, looking down at my feet.

“Any reoccurrence of that plantars wart?”

I wriggled my toes in my Birkenstocks. “Not since you treated me when I was 15.”

“Remember, it’s better to wear closed shoes, Peter.”

“Yes, sir, I remember.”

When I went into my house Dad sat in his chair reading the newspaper. “I was just talking to the Fowlers.”

“What’s left of them,” he grunted.

“It’s sad about Mrs. Fowler.”

He looked up at me. “She died falling down the basement stairs. Your mother heard Artie pushed her when he went off his meds.”

"That's true," Mom said walking into the room drying her hands on her apron. I kissed her and she touched my cheek with her damp hand. “Oh, Peter, I’m so glad you’re home.”

“I’m here a few days before I go to London.”

“I wish you could stay longer,” Mom said.

“Sorry, my job starts next week.”

Dad lifted the newspaper and said, “Let the good doctor go save the world, Carol.”

*

Eight years later after Mom’s funeral, Dad sat in his chair with the newspaper folded on his lap. I peered out the window on a glorious spring day and saw Artie sitting alone on the porch. “No reason to go to any Mets games this year,” Dad said.

“What?” I asked, processing his words and watching Artie staring down at a book.

“We always went to games together,” Dad sniffled. “I can’t go alone now.”

“We could go before I have to leave,” I said.

“No offense, son. Your mother and I went to Brooklyn Dodgers games when we were courting, then Mets games, and fifteen years ago to the seventh game of the World Series against Boston. It’s not the same without her.”

“I understand, Dad.” I took off my dark suit, dressed in shorts, T-shirt, and sandals, and went across the street to see Artie.

He looked up from Mr. Popper’s Penguins and arched an eyebrow. “The prodigal son returns home, I see.” All his teeth were gone. “Ronnie’s not here now; she’s sweet on another boy.”

I walked up the creaking steps. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry about your Dad.”

“He was so old,” Artie said looking back at the book. “He died with a smile on his face. I never saw him smile before.”

“Are you okay here all alone, Artie?”

“Sure.” He didn’t look up at me. “You really should wear closed shoes, Peter.”

I looked down at my feet. “Yes, I know but…”

“My father always said that. He knew feet, you know.”

“Yes, Artie,” I said, “he really did.”

*

read - trinity.eduWhen my father passed away in 2014, I came home from London to attend the funeral and settle the estate. As I got out of the taxi, I noticed a For Sale sign on Artie’s lawn. The four reading chairs seemed ready to be crushed by the collapsing awning and the generally dilapidated house.

Our elderly neighbor Mrs. Flynn came outside saying, “Sorry for your loss, Peter.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Flynn. Do you know what happened to Artie Fowler?”
“Was hit by a truck a few months ago. His sister came to take care of things.”

“Ronnie?” I asked, wondering how that red-haired girl looked now in her fifties. I was tempted to call the real estate listed on the sign and inquire how to be in touch with her, but decided against it.

I went into my house and breathed deeply, hoping for one evanescent whiff of Mom’s sauce. I couldn’t imagine selling the place. An old medical school friend kept asking me to join his staff in New York. I’d bring Penny and the kids here. I thought, It’s time my boys went to a Mets game.  

Photo credits: giesendesign.com, commons.wikimedia.org, trinity.edu

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge Should Dry Up

First appeared on Blogcritics.

ice 2The Ice Bucket Challenge to raise funds to combat ALS (amytrophic lateral sclerosis) has gone more than viral – it is a worldwide phenomenon born out of good will. What is better than doing something to help others? Those who are allowing themselves to be doused with ice and water are generous and loving, and the notion of "calling out" (challenging friends, families, and colleagues) people to do the same thing is a clever idea.

Celebrities like Today's Matt Lauer, singers Shakira and Gwen Stefani, and even some members of the New York Mets  have become soaked in ice and water for this most worthy cause. Many other celebrities and people all over the world have joined in the chilly good fun. The ALS Association clearly adores this challenge idea because it is reaping bigger contributions than ever before, and there are those who believe this type of thing is here to stay and will change charitable giving forever.

ice 3While the idea appears to be fresh and seemingly new, think of how this all started – in sports. Golfer Chris Kennedy, from Sarasota, Florida, got the notion to use the idea to raise money for a relative who has ALS, and it all went viral from there. Truth is though sports fans have seen players dumping buckets of ice and water over their coaches’ and managers’ heads for many years. That tradition of celebrating a victory on the field has now morphed into one of the biggest fundraising ideas of all time.

But before we start calling for even more widespread Ice Bucket challenges, there is one salient thing everyone is overlooking – we are wasting a huge amount of water in the process. Water is the most crucial resource for people all over the world, and in these times of widespread drought and famine, wasting even a precious drop of water seems particularly absurd – especially as there are many people  dying of thirst.

ice 1So while the concept to do something unique and attention grabbing to raise awareness and money for good causes is an idea that I totally support, I think we need to do it without wasting a vital resource like water. Actor Charlie Sheen actually had a great idea for a challenge – he dumped a bucket of cash ($10,000) over his head, all of which he is donating to the charity. He also called out his old friends at Two and a Half Men to do the same. That Charlie really knows how to spread the love, doesn’t he?

So while the Ice Bucket Challenge is a great idea, we need more people doing what Charlie Sheen has done (that is without question one sentence I never thought I would ever write). We need to think of creative ways to do a challenge without wasting water – or any other precious resource for that matter. My thoughts range from recycling materials, household garbage, or those annoying Styrofoam packing peanuts; you take your pick.

The best things to come out of the Ice Bucket Challenge are charity and awareness. ALS (known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) is a worthy cause, but there are many other ones out there. Why not come up with your own environmentally friendly challenge for the charity of your choice? Whatever it is you will be making a difference while not depleting any resources necessary for human life, and that will indeed be something heroic you have done that is worthy of your selected cause.


  Photo credits: wisegeek.com, today.com, tmz.com      

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Remembering Robin Williams – One Film That Helped Change My Life

First appeared on Blogcritics.

rob 1There is no question that people are mourning Robin Williams for many reasons, among them his vast body of work that delighted, moved, and entertained millions of people. We remember the laughter he incited, as well as the tears, and we recall him in the movie Patch Adams wearing a clown’s nose as a reminder of the severe dichotomy of a comic’s life – he who makes us laugh the hardest is usually the saddest one of all.

 Robin Williams rose to fame based on his rapid fire delivery, quick mind, and physical elasticity. When he first appeared as alien Mork on the sitcom Happy Days, it was a revelation to watch someone work the scene so well, so fluidly, making all the other actors (even the juggernaut character of Fonzie as played by Henry Winkler) seem inconsequential. Mork would soon be seen in his own series, and that launched Williams  into the stratosphere as a star of films, stand-up, and TV specials.

In my life I recall the joy of seeing many of Williams’s performances, including his stand-up act, which to this day impresses as something so over the top that it would be mentally and physically impossible for any other human being to accomplish. But the most important performance of all in my life, is perhaps his most constrained, strongest role as teacher John Keating in the powerful film Dead Poet’s Society. Because of seeing this movie when I did, I stopped myself from making what would have been the biggest mistake of my life.

I was in my first year of my doctoral program in English, and besides taking a full load of courses I also had to teach two freshmen composition courses. Fellows also had to be prepared to substitute for sick professors as needed. Feeling inundated by too many obligations as my second semester was winding down in the spring of 1989, I had hit a wall. The students, while earnest for the most part, seemed overwhelmed and not the least bit interested in writing or literature. Professors who already had their doctorates for the most part appeared to be grumpy, going to and from class with clouds of steam coming out of their ears. I thought, “What am I doing here?”

I remember sitting on the grass at the university and watching everyone rushing along paths to and from classes. I saw one girl chasing after a professor to ask a question, and he picked up his pace and told her that she needed to come during office hours, and everyone seemed to want to be anyplace else but there. I thought, "If this is the way education is, I want out now!"

A week or so later I made a decision that I would not return in the fall to start my second year of courses. I would think about changing careers, maybe working in Manhattan for a publishing house as an assistant editor or even doing work in my father’s business. I knew I was done and believed my career in education was over.

Then that weekend in early June I went to see Dead Poet’s Society. Williams as Keating is a revelation; he is the teacher every student wishes that he or she had, and he is the wake-up call for every teacher to realize how important inspiration and exhilaration are in the classroom. Keating is not only a master teacher, but he empathizes with his students, who learn that he once had been a student at Welton and also belonged to the secret Dead Poet’s Society.
rob 3There are so many memorable scenes in the film, but the most haunting is when Keating reads Robert Herricks’ famous poem and tells them that “gather ye rosebuds” is really the same as the Latin “Carpe Diem” – seize the day. He shows them pictures of all graduates long gone and now dead, and reminds them that they too will one day be gone. It is not only a so-called teachable moment, but it is a fine example of a teacher caring for his students beyond the classroom in the interest of their well-being, so much so that he manages to infuse literature with a life lesson as well as accomplishing the difficult task of getting them to actually like poetry.

After seeing this film I recalled why I wanted to be a teacher – it was also films that inspired me. Sidney Poitier in To Sir, With Love and Peter O’Toole in Goodbye, Mr. Chips had stoked the fire of my passion for teaching, and now as it was waning to a flicker of a flame, Williams came along and doused it with enough lighter fluid to engulf a city block. I walked out of the theater knowing I not only still wanted to be a teacher, but one as good as Mr. John Keating.

Many people recall the scene when Keating stands on the desk as he teaches and later invites the students to do the same to see the world from a different perspective. We recall the best teachers we had were the ones who didn’t have us glued to our books but to their every word. Some of us went through all our school years never having a teacher like Keating, and hopefully some of us had that precious experience here and there that made us realize that there was more to life, as Hamlet says to Horatio, than we have ever dreamt of in our philosophy.

rob 2In the end of the film after iconoclast Keating is fired, and old stuffy headmaster Nolan is teaching the class by sitting at a desk (strongly suggesting to all teachers that is a very bad idea), the students rally in his support, calling him “My Captain” as many of them stand on their desks in protest of his dismissal despite Nolan’s screams to get down. As we see Keating from their perspective, looking down at him, we know in their elevation that he has been successful in passing the torch – these boys will do more than remember him, they will seize the day and change their lives.

After all these years I remain in education and I have Robin Williams to thank for it. I remember him for all his many wonderful roles, but the one as John Keating is my favorite because he so fully embraced that part that there is not one second in the film that I don’t believe Williams is the best teacher in the world. Over the years whenever I have any doubts, I recall Williams whispering “Carpe Diem” to his students, and then I get right back on track and seize my own day.

Thanks for passing the torch, Robin Williams. In pace requiescat !

Photo credits: ontohinbd.com, forthewords.blogspot.com, huffingtonpost.com.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Texting and Walking – Is It To Die For?

First appeared on Blogcritics.

walk - 3We have all seen it happening here in New York City, across the country, and around the world – people texting while walking and causing some kind of havoc. Since 91% of Americans now have a cell phone, there is obviously a great opportunity for these kinds of “distracted while walking” accidents. 127 New York City pedestrians were killed in 2012, but there is no concrete proof that they were all connected to distracted walking, still it seems likely many of them were.

From what I have witnessed texting and walking is reaching epidemic proportions in this city. You have much more chance of getting hurt by a distracted walker than you have of catching the Ebola virus. A recent article in the New York Daily News by Meredith Engel highlights the problem as becoming an unending story of falls off curbs, collisions with fellow pedestrians, tumbles down stairs, and encounters (sometimes fatal) with cars, buses, or subway trains. She notes that distracted walking – tweeting, texting, emailing, Facebooking, and Instagraming – accounts for 78% of pedestrian injuries across the country.

As a witness to some of these occurrences, I have seen people crashing into each other while both were texting, someone almost falling off a subway platform, and one guy tumbling over a park bench. Similar incidents have been captured on those same smartphones causing all this trouble and posted on the Internet. We have all seen the woman falling into the water fountain, the guy tumbling down an escalator, and the man being hit by a bicycle. Maybe we have laughed at these things too, but the truth is this kind of thing is far from funny.
studentaffairs@atonybrook.edu

What is the lure of the text message? Why do most of us find that little ping that tells us we have a new one irresistible? Engel asks this of psychologist Dr. Larry Rosen of California State University who specializes in technology. He says, “We’re obsessed with not missing out on something important.” He also tells her that we have a need to know things “immediately.” He calls it FOMO – the fear of missing out.

When I watch people on the streets, their cell phones seem to be appendages now. When they first became popular, people had them attached to their belts, in their pockets, or secure in purses. Now it is common to see them held right out in front of their faces as they walk, or securely ensconced against an ear for an obviously crucial conversation.

It is irrefutable that cell phones have changed our lives and, while many will say for the better, their convenience and technology have come at a staggering price. While some would argue that our phones have brought us together, from what I see all around me is that we are distancing ourselves from everyone else, all preoccupied with a little screen in our hands with blinders on to the world around us. We don’t see what’s happening across the street let alone right in front of our faces because we are so busy being connected that we are getting farther apart.

Once we were worried about cell phone use in cars, but then we discovered hands-free technology that helped cut down on that transgression; however, as I drive I am still seeing many people with the cell phones pressed up against their heads. Only the other day at a stoplight I saw a man with his phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. I thought, “Who’s driving? Siri?” Stopped at another light I saw a woman texting with one hand while looking in the rearview mirror and doing her makeup with the other. This takes multi-tasking to a whole new, dangerous level.

I never texted before last year, resisting it as something I didn’t need in my life; however, once I got a smartphone, everything changed. Within a month I eschewed phone conversations almost entirely, opting instead to text away. I have to admit I felt the urge to text while walking and then even while driving (but limited myself to doing it only at stoplights). I realized though that I had become hooked when I walked into a garbage can on the street and hurt my leg. This wake-up call changed my perspective. Another game changer came while driving when I saw a guy texting as he passed me at a high speed and then swerve off the highway a few miles down the road with his car ending up deep in the brush on the shoulder (hopefully his wake-up call).

walk 2 - gettyNow my cell phone is firmly in my pocket as I walk. If it buzzes with a text or I get a phone call, I move off to the side away from pedestrians and look at my phone. In the car I place it in a holder and can answer it hands-free if it rings, but I wait to check my texts when I get where I am going. It’s fairly easy for me now, but as Dr. Rosen suggests, you have to train your brain to be without your cell phone like a toddler going through potty training. You need to take increased increments of time (15, 20, 30 minutes and so on) without your cell phone. I know it sounds difficult but it can work, but only if you persist, just like that little tyke who wants to be diaper free.

Can you face life without constant texting? Maybe limiting it will save your life someday or someone else’s. Baby steps, dear readers, baby steps!

Photo credits: gadgmag.com, getty images, studentaffairs@stonybrook@edu

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Venus Goes to Mars: A Short Story by Victor Lana

First appeared on Blogcritics.

venus 3 Venus and Mars Are alright tonight. -Paul McCartney


As the ship moved into final approach to Mars, Captain Frank Marshall saw his first glimpse of the crimson world through the porthole, and a tear rolled down his cheek. Ted, the ship's computer system, calibrated the final settings to move into orbit.


 At 89 years old Frank had been a widow for nine years – most of them spent trying to get to this moment. He finally convinced billionaire Walter Robbins to finance the first “return mission” to Mars, with the hook being a reality show about a retired astronaut fulfilling a promise to his dead wife. The ratings increased daily as millions of viewers worldwide watched Frank’s every move, providing Robbins with more than a substantial return on his investment.

Many years before Frank and his wife had been chosen to be the first husband and wife astronauts sent on a “no return” mission to Mars, and the media called them the Martian Adam and Eve. Their assignment – to assemble modular dwellings before other settlers arrived; they could also be fruitful and multiply along the way. Despite taking precautions, she inexplicably became pregnant before their scheduled departure, thus nullifying their opportunity.

“Are you crying, Captain Marshall?” Ted spoke with an authoritative but trustworthy voice, programmed to sound like newsman Walter Cronkite, someone who became famous and died long before Frank was born. All Air & Space Force vessel computers were programmed to sound like him.

Cognizant of his audience, Frank looked up at the monitor. Ted appeared as a glowing blue light that pulsed on all the ship’s panels. “Yes, Ted, but it’s in happiness.”

“I do not comprehend that,” Ted said.

Frank stared down at the metallic urn held by arthritic fingers. “Well, it’s all about love.”

“I am programmed to understand love but admit it is a difficult concept.”

Frank thought about his overwhelming love for his wife and three grown children and seven grandchildren back on earth. “For humans it’s everything, or at least is should be.”

“Is this why you need to do this?”

“You mean deposit her ashes on Mars?”

“Yes. I must admit that it does not make much sense. You are interring them and returning to earth; you are even more separated?”

Frank chuckled. “These ashes are not my wife.”

“But are they not her cremains?”

“Yes, of course, but of her physical body. Her spirit is not within this urn; it’s in this cabin right now.”

“I cannot detect her presence.”

“Of course, not,” Frank spoke more wearily this time. “Sensors won’t show you anything tangible. Aphrodite Anastas, whom I always called Venus, is a spirit now. On the 510 days of our long journey I have seen her many times, looking just the way she did when I first met her, but you and our friends back home could not.”

“How can that be, sir?”

“I don’t know how, Ted. I just know that it is.”

“So please tell our audience what brought you to this moment.”

Frank knew that besides running the ship Ted functioned as host of the world’s most popular reality show. “It’s a long story, Ted.”

“Usually, we talk about human-machine matters and other humorous things, but in essence this is why we are here.”

“Well then, this is it – as my wife lay dying, her last wish was to be brought to Mars; I promised her I would do it, and here we are.”

“We are reaching launch window, sir.”



venus 2
Frank stood up with difficulty, bringing the urn over to the small capsule inside the acrylic launching chute. He placed it inside with a single rose on a satin blanket, shut the door, and slid the capsule into position. “It is done,” he said as he flipped the switch to engage.

A loud noise followed by a severe jolt rocked the ship, almost causing Frank to fall down. “Captain, please return to your seat.” 

Frank stared at the urn still locked in place. “What happened?”

“The launch unit ruptured,” Ted said.

“Repair it.”

“Unfortunately, sir, this malfunction can be only repaired externally.”

Frank leaned against the chute to keep his balance. “You’re talking about a spacewalk. I’ll suit up.”

“Sadly, sir, you are in no condition for such an endeavor; additionally, it would take too long and jeopardize our opportunity to jettison into course position for our return journey.”

Frank stared at the monitor. “Are you telling me that I came 36 million miles for nothing?”

“Well, sir, although you will be unable to inter your wife’s cremains on Mars, you have had the chance to see the planet in person as you always wished to do.”

venus 1
Ted stared out the porthole. “Look at that beautiful elusive war-god. I’ve always longed to get my feet on its surface, my hands in its red dust. This was a compromise, but worth it only because I could fulfill my promise to Venus. Now, now there is nothing.”

“I do apologize, sir.”

Frank opened the chute, popped out the capsule that would have exploded and sent Venus’s ashes showering over the surface, and removed the urn. He struggled to walk back to his seat, and fell down clutching the urn to his chest. He looked at the monitor and said, “Sometimes the captain has to make the hardest decisions.”

“I do thank you for your understanding, Captain.”

Frank leaned forward and engaged the override lever, rendering Ted, Space Control, and the worldwide audience merely spectators. “As I said before, I’m doing this for love.”

“Sir, my first directive is to protect and maintain human life at all costs.”

Frank locked in the coordinates and increased engine speed to full power. “I’ve purposely set course for an area with no settlements. Your directive is fulfilled.”

“But this is a return mission, sir.”

“My mission, and yours, is ended.” He glanced at the monitor. “And the show is over, folks.” As the ship raced rapidly toward the surface, Frank held the urn lovingly as he braced for impact.

 Photo credits: space.com, lovingmemorials.com, ntlworld.com