Why?

Why?

Why?

As the reality of the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, along with seven others, begins the arduous journey of sinking into my psyche and seeming even slightly real, I do not ask “why?” as in, “Why did this happen?” No, not asking that question at all.

Bad, terrible and horrible things happen all the time, every day, to many people. Accidents happen. People make mistakes.  I know why bad things happen. It is called the randomness of the universe. Wrong place, wrong time.

Everything does NOT happen for a reason. And even if it did, we could never know why, so what’s the point?

I get it.

Rather, the “why” I ask today is, “Why is this tragedy affecting me so deeply and profoundly?” I have every reason in the world NOT to be affected. Consider that I have never met Kobe Bryant, nor have ever even seen him play in person. I am not at all a “star-struck” kind of guy. As a basketball fan, I appreciated the grit and toughness Kobe brought to the court though I never believed him to be the best. I do not even believe Kobe was even the best Los Angeles Laker in history, as I reserve that title for a Mr. Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

Kobe never put a penny in my pocket. He never came up with a cure for some disease that kills children. He was a guy who threw a ball into a hole for god’s sake.  He just happened to be really, really good at it. In fact, Kobe could be the poster child of one who symbolizes everything wrong with our culture. Through no fault of his own, he epitomizes our collective cult of personality while we pay entertainers millions and millions of dollars and simultaneously pay public servants next to nothing in comparison.

I won’t even get into educators and health services.

I believe that many would rather be entertained than be cured of a disease or learn a new skill…if we judged at all by our pocketbooks.

He was, by all accounts, an entertainer.

So why am I so hurt and feel so profoundly sad? Why do I feel like I lost someone near and dear to me? It bothers me how bothered I am.

And why I am I not the only one? Many people are telling me the same thing- that they feel like they have lost a family member and have never felt this way before when someone died in whom they had never met, yet admired.

I don’t know why and it is driving me crazy. I have had celebrities I have really liked who passed at young ages, and never felt close to this type of loss. I loved comedian Sam Kinison for example…though never shed a tear when he died tragically in a car accident on his way to Laughlin, Nevada in 1992. Other comedians have passed, such as Phil Hartman, Chris Farley, John Belushi, Robin Williams and baseball players Thurman Munson, Roberto Clemente, the list goes on. I was very upset when these people passed, yet nothing even close to the loss I feel with Kobe Bean Bryant.

All I can do is theorize why I feel this way so I will attempt to give it a try. I write today as therapy, to figure out what is happening in this brain of mine. So, some theories:

  • I feel like I lost a family member because I have fallen into the cult of personality and have illusory relationships that could be identified as borderline schizophrenic.
  • Deep inside I have a profound respect for Kobe Bryant and truly believe, though many years younger than I, I lost a role model of hard work and dedication.
  • I have underestimated the role of professional sports plays in my life and am simply mourning someone who brought me years of great entertainment.
  • The tragedy included several children, including his own daughter. It is one thing for an adult to die, yet to have his 13 year-old daughter die tragically with him…that is just too much for words.
  • Perhaps there is an unparalleled respect for athletes who pass because they are successful in a pure meritocracy…meaning they are the best of the best with no questions asked. I can watch a great film performance and think in the back of my head that with a few classes and experience, I could MAYBE do that. I have never had this thought while watching LeBron James play basketball -I know with absolute certainty I could NEVER do what he does.

Some say he was a hero and the mascot for not just Los Angeles sports, rather for all of Los Angeles itself.

When I posed the question to my Mass Media class (after all, he was a Mass Media hero) as to my profound sadness, a student, Sean, suggested that perhaps I am misdirecting the grief I possess in my personal life, the passing of my mother a couple of years ago and my very ailing father who is currently in hospice care, and projecting this grief onto the Bryant tragedy. I must hold it together for the more personal stuff, yet I am free to fall apart for a person I have never met.

A good theory. Yet a correct theory? Who knows.

Recently my daughter pointed me in the direction of an article written by one of her college friends, Eric Stinton, who eloquently writes on the same issue. In this article, he states, “Feeling grief or loss over the death of an athlete is not endemic to any specific sport. Whether it’s basketball or MMA or cricket, fans dedicate so much of our diminishing time to the lives of these athletes—celebrating their triumphs, agonizing over their failures—that we feel like we know them, and we’re affected by things that happen to them. We may not actually know them the way we know people in our waking lives, but we still know them in personal ways. We see them at their most supernatural and their most vulnerable. We extract meaning from their existence and inject it into ours like a blood transfusion, absorbing it as our own. The same way songs which otherwise have nothing to do with us become the soundtracks of our memories, athletes’ careers enrich the context of our lives…”

So nicely put. I am so glad to know I am not at all alone in asking this question. Thank you Eric. But what, then, can we conclude?

He continues, “It would be disingenuous for me to arrive at a solid conclusion. I don’t know how to respond to the death of someone I never met, and I’m not sure if I ever will. It’s a process and a discursive, backtracking and contradictory one. The only thing I can say for sure is that there’s nothing wrong with being affected by these things. The beauty of fandom, as well as all its attendant pain, is in allowing ourselves to be affected.”

I also have no solid conclusions. And, unlike many blogs I write, the process of putting my unaccountable thoughts into comprehensible, digestible and accountable words, is not leading me to any satisfactory answers.

Why? I guess it just is. And everything is what it is.

RIP all.

 

 

 

Sisters

I was born and raised in a home at the address of 1014 N. Evergreen Street, Burbank, CA.

With my two sisters.

Today it went up for sale.

Of course any house can be sold to anyone with the necessary funds, though the memories will always be owned by those of us who resided within it.

There were many wonderful memories of 1014 to be sure, far too many to count, yet certainly many memories that were far from idyllic. In fact, I wish I could put some of those memories on the multiple listing service as well, as, one might say, I enjoyed the safe haven and reprieve of functional family enclaves…amidst a vast sea of dysfunction throughout my childhood.

Those memories would be nice to sell with no contingencies.

I never had any doubt for a second that both my mother and father loved me very deeply. Yet as every child eventually figures out, parents are just regular kids who had some fun and together created a younger kid. Not a lot of skill needed. They are not trained professionals, nor necessarily adequate at the job of parenting. Raising children is an occupation that all must learn on the fly- you learn the art of parenting as you go.

We all start as novices. You just go with the best you can with what you know. We may need an official license for constructing pools or building houses, yet nothing required for building human beings. And, I get it, that would be weird, not to mention highly impractical.

My dad was a good dad yet far from a perfect one, a novice to be sure. Though to understand any person one must understand the novices from which they came.

By all accounts, my father’s father (my grandfather) was an abusive, mean, angry, tyrannical bastard who did horrible things to his family, or so I have been told –I never met the man myself. How horrible was he? Legend has it that, so horrible, my grandmother and her family fled across the country, from Buffalo, New York to Southern California- as far as one could go in any one country- to escape the horrors of this supposed monster.

To illustrate, apparently he died in the mid-1960’s and his grown children literally threw a party to celebrate his passing. I would say that is fairly credible evidence of horrible. My entire life I have not heard one redeeming word about this man.

So, when I can recount a handful of my horrible childhood memories, and dozens of wonderful ones, I do so acknowledging the history my father endured from his childhood and the nightmare he had to live day in and day out. We all feel sorry for the man with no shoes until we meet the man with no feet…I may be shoeless though my father had no feet. I could only imagine the failing novice of my father’s grandfather. Oh shit, no legs?

I can recall on a couple of occasions when me and my two older sisters, Marybeth and Julie, only a few years apart, youngest to oldest, would watch as the only stability we had on a drunken Friday evening, my mother, would uncharacteristically imbibe and become part of the problem as she and my dad fought to the verge of physical aggression.

I distinctly recall me and my sisters huddling in a darkened corner of the room hugging each other and crying, having no idea what was going to happen next as we heard the screams and crashes in the other room. We were scared little children who only knew we had each other, all nearly preschoolers, to depend on and have any confidence in.

At these times, we had no one but each other, as our parents were busy bowing to the gods of alcohol and the immature outbursts of aggression.

Thankfully these episodes were very few and, somewhat, far between – and would be followed the next day with grand remorse by both parents.

Why do I write of such dysfunction? I do not write this to solicit pity or elicit sympathy. Hell no. I know many people who had it far worse than I as their childhood makes mine look like the Brady Bunch on steroidal whole milk and extra sweetened cookies. I’m now an old ass man who has done just fine with his life. I write this because this helpless and fearful feeling is now coming back to me…granted in a more stable and refined kind of way.

My rarely imbibed mom passed away October 18, 2017, and my dad is still hanging in there as he clings to life at a 24-hour healthcare hospice facility in Northridge, California.

Me and my sisters, Marybeth and Julie, are once again huddled in the corner as we, together, navigate the unfamiliar waters of caring for and losing parents.

We, fortunately, all have wonderful and loving support structures- solid partners, friends and children. We are not alone by any stretch. Yet there is something that all the support structures in the world cannot provide what we siblings can provide each other: the history we share of knowing what it feels like to be scared, terrified in fact, and without parental protection…and now never doubting we are there for each other.

We, through meetings, phone calls and text messages, are huddling and crying in the corner once again. Not as many tears this time around and not a literal huddle, though we can look into each other’s eyes and detect that all too familiar gleam of childhood vulnerability once again. Regardless of age, some vulnerabilities are just really hard to shake.

Sibling relationships can be very complicated. My sisters and I have had some very difficult and elongated rough patches over the years. Very rough in fact.

Though nothing as rough as knowing we children are closely becoming the only ones left of our nuclear family.

Eventually, it will be just each one of us alone. We all die alone. I’ve never heard of a casket built for two.

I was born and raised in a home at the address of 1014 N. Evergreen Street, Burbank, CA.

With my two sisters.

Today it went up for sale.

(images are of 1014)