What is the opposite of the Midas touch? Of course, I’m talking about King Midas, the man of folklore who turned everything he touched into gold. These days, I feel as if I have the opposite of that. I’ll call it the Anti-Midas touch. Everything that I touch turns to crap, to junk, to garbage— use your favorite word.
Everything seems to occur in groups. Good things seem to happen in groups of two, three or four. So too do bad things, tragic events, incidents, bad news, you name it. I have also found that every number of years, perhaps every few years, sometimes five to ten, there is a flashpoint, a turning point in my life that helps to define my life or career, and charts the course for everything that follows. In 1984 it was living with a Japanese family in Tokyo, and being accepted to college. In 1987 it was being verbally and physically harassed by an inebriated alumnus at the college football game. In 1989, it was my first job after college. In 1996, it was my first job with a nonprofit organization. In 1997, it was my guest appearance on MSNBC—for two hours. The next year, it was traveling to the UK and speaking at Oxford, Cambridge and a dozen other universities on behalf of Amnesty International. In 2000, it was starting law school and meeting Ezra’s Mommy.
Anyway, on a serious note, one day I was in the office when this woman came through the door in tears. She told me that she was picking up her daughter from school, and was sitting in her parked car, waiting for her daughter, when she was approached by some police officers. There was a verbal exchange, and suddenly she found herself handcuffed, called filthy names by the officers, physically accosted, and taken to the local police precinct. At the station house, she was forced to strip search down to her underwear in front of the cops (male and female), and was locked up behind bars. She was released after several humiliating hours. This was this woman’s defining moment. She did not fold or flounder, but rather was able to find her destiny and prevail.
Back to the Midas analogy. I can’t help but think that losing Ezra is one of those defining moments in my life that has made me, and will continue to make me, a fundamentally different person. It has been the single most traumatic experience in my life. It seems that since Ezra’s death, a number of bad things, and a full array of both major and minor annoyances, have happened to me, to us, in bunches. They seem to pile on each day. To be honest, some good things have happened, but it seems that far more bad has happened than good. And the bad things are that much harder to stand because Ezra is not here.
It is bad to have to be annoyed by trivialities when you have just buried your son. It is hard to grieve properly while going through a job search, and it is hard to be excited about career development while you are in mourning—and in a recession. It is tough to be told you’re overqualified—and feel as if you have to apologize for it— after you’ve been taught your whole life to do all that you can do— to go for everything, be the most that you can be, and the best at whatever you choose to do. It is frustrating to feel as if you are getting a lot done yet still spinning your wheels, and that everything you do at the moment in life appears to be for naught. It is rough to feel as though you are shouting in a room full of people and no one is listening, and everyone is ignoring you and whatever it is you have to say. It is that much harder when your boy is lost and you can’t find him, except for that picture on your desk, that pendant around your neck, that lump in your throat, and that feeling in your heart. And it is harder when you’re constantly told that the loss of a baby is especially hard for the mother.
This past weekend was the citywide Philly Spring Clean-up Day. Ezra’s Mommy and I were volunteering in our neighborhood, helping the local community development group with the work on a new garden. I was pounding away at old bricks with a hammer, breaking them down for use in the garden’s pathway. Ezra’s Mommy was helping to lay the bricks. As I was breaking the bricks with the brick breaking team and channeling my inner chain gang member (or stonemason, not sure which), Mayor Michael Nutter, the mayor of our fine city of Philadelphia, visited our group. He came there to plant a tree in the new community garden. He approached me as I was pounding away, shook my hand and asked me: ”What are you doing?” I thought to myself, “I haven’t the faintest idea!” After I explained, the Mayor planted the tree and posed for some photos with the group. As he was leaving with his entourage, I said good-bye to him, and we gave each other the Obama-style fist bump. It was a surreal experience, even more surreal because it was about the fourth time I’ve shaken hands with the Mayor, but the first time while breaking bricks.
The experience that day, helping with the community garden, reminded me that sometimes, everything I touch doesn’t necessarily turn to crap. For one day, at least, I was able to forget about all that was before me, all the pain, hardship, uncertainty, fear and sorrow, and just help out and have fun. Just like the old days. And as I look forward to the day when I get my mojo back, I know that Little Peanut Boy will help get me back to that place.