Cookies for Gino
I have lived long enough that I have experienced the death of loved ones and strangers; some expected, almost welcomed, the end of a long painful journey.
Other times, tragically, unexpected. Their death felt like a blow to the side of my head with a sledgehammer.
I know that birth and death are part of the life cycle. What we do with the time we have between these two points is our story, our life song, the thread we add to the collective tapestry of life we share as a family, a community, a country.
I grieve today, inconsolable because I can’t figure out how to help those who lose their life and those who are left here to try and find peace and happiness and a reason to hold it together and live their lives, to finish adding their thread into the tapestry of life.
I had a neighbor; his name was Gino. You couldn’t find two people more different. We weren’t the same age; he had served his country. Sometimes he had long hair and sometimes he played loud music at what seemed like inappropriate times. I mowed my grass too often and edged it trying to bring order to my life.
It was one of those nights. Gino played loud music all night long; it blared from his small house, the bass shook my windows and pulsated in my head.
I got to hear the music of his generation, it was unfamiliar and unappreciated. Whenever this would occur, I would go over to Gino’s house the next morning with a plate of cookies, knock on his door, and give him a plate of cookies.
The first time I did this I wanted to wake him up, but with a gift so he couldn’t be mad at me. And never too early, my too-kind-and-loving wife had to bake the cookies which she willingly did every time and without questioning her husband’s deranged approach to making friends and influencing people: cookies. Who doesn’t like warm cookies?
I knock, and I can hear a crashing of furniture as Gino comes to the door, eyes bloodshot and tired. He looked weary, not just a sleepless night, but the cumulative fatigue of someone who is carrying a burden for too many and for too long.
“Good morning Mr. Torres.” He always called me Mr. Torres, I assume because I looked so much older and I mowed and edged my grass every week. He was always polite to me.
I hand him the plate of cookies and tell him the same thing I have every time. “I just want to tell you that I appreciate your service to our country.”
I am usually pretty good with words and long-winded to a fault. But with Gino I just gave him cookies. I didn’t know what to do, how to help, or what to say. I turn to go.
He says, “Thanks man! Tell Mrs. Torres her cookies are the best.”
I again start to leave and he says, “Mr. Torres, sorry about the loud music last night. I lost a friend…a fellow veteran. He committed suicide yesterday and I had to honor him. I needed to let him know that I won’t forget him. We were probably a little too loud. Sorry man!”
For the first time, we talked for a bit more and he told me things about his life, his friend’s life, things that explained the pain I could see in his eyes. It is the pain of too many experiences in life that can’t be explained or processed and stored neatly into a box. It can’t be fixed by cutting and edging your lawn.
Like rats in a box trying to claw their way out, some experiences and the resulting memories and pain can’t be soothed and calmed with time or pills or bottles of elixir – not even cookies.
As I said, I have lived long enough that there have been others I could not help, people I could not reach, words I could not say, people with a life story who reached out, and I am left frustrated and angry at myself and the world that we stigmatize mental health.
It makes no difference if it’s Simone Biles, who has an Olympics trip come apart, the lonely elderly locked away, the homeless, veterans suffering PTSD, or the depressed feeling alone with an ocean of people surrounding them.
We need to look around and offer a kindness, smile, say hello, bake some damn cookies and shove them in their face. I don’t know. I wish I knew what to say to those who are carrying a burden for too long.
And so today I am going to play loud music and honor a man, a veteran I could not help, and to honor those around me who suffer.
I remember words about “comfort those in need of comfort,” and I so wish I knew how to do that better.
But for now, if I show up at your house and shove cookies in your face, thank my too-kind-and-loving wife, and just know that it’s my way of telling you how much I appreciate you.
And if you come by my house and you can hear my music up way too loud, just know that I am trying to honor a veteran or a father who passed in an untimely manner, or a brother who left this world way too young.