A Tragically Beautiful Week

Growing up, I hated those stupid paintings where you had to stare really hard into the painting to see the picture hidden deeper in the painting.  Sometimes I didn't see it, no matter how hard I stared...which was maddening!  Other times, the picture-within-the-painting jumped right out at me, and I thought it was super easy to see, only to hear other people say they didn't see it.  I don't understand the point of hiding the picture...what's with the exclusivity?  If the painter wants me to see what he/she is making, just show it to me already.

This week was one of those pictures-hidden-in-the-painting kind of weeks.  This week was about Jason and Jen, except that it really wasn't.  This week was about an old lad named Gord, except that it really wasn't.  This week was about Carson and his 9th birthday, except that it really wasn't.

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Friday, the I love the 90's tour came to the DTE Energy Music Theatre.  It seemed like the kind of show that would be prime for people in need of uber rides, after thoroughly enjoying themselves at the concert.  Frankly, I was a little bummed that I didn't think to get tickets myself, so I did the next best thing, which was to drive uber after the show and live vicariously through my passengers, whoever they might be.  I got a call for a ride from Jason as the show came to an end, and after walking out of the park, Jason, and his wife Jen, hopped into the car, and we headed to their hotel about 20 minutes away.

Jason and Jen were from the west side of the state.  "We don't get to many shows, but when we saw this one, we knew we had to make it happen."  Graduates of the class of '93 and '94, respectively, the music was right in the wheelhouse of Jason & Jen.  They had a great time at the show, enjoying plenty of adult beverages, and were much more open to talking because of said beverages.  We discussed music of the 90's, how the two of them met, and funny things Jason learned to say from Jen's dad.  The subject eventually got to their kids and parenthood.

"Our 10 year old is way more socially advanced than our 13 year old..." Jason mused, as Jen rested her head on his shoulder.  "The 13 year old is locked into the video game world, while our 10 year old is already cycling through girlfriends, mostly in texting relationships.  It's definitely a new experience as a dad."  Side commentary: this is one of a million examples of my there-is-no-parenting-handbook-but-i-wish-there-was theory.  Two kids, two of the same upbringings and environments, and yet they had totally different interests/patterns of behavior.  As Jason was musing, Jen mentioned they had a third child, a six year old.  I joked with them, "Oh, the 6 year old will be way ahead of both of them...you better watch out."  Both of their moods changed, and Jen replied, "...eh, I don't think so."

Jason and Jen have a six-year-old daughter.  When their daughter was two, she was diagnosed with leukemia.  After a year and a half of treatment, it was found that the treatment/illness had caused some brain damage.  And though she's been declared healthy after a few years, their daughter now is barely verbal.  She mostly uses a wheel chair. And Jason and Jen still have to feed her.  In describing his daughter, Jason reflected that, "Yeah, we still have to rock her to sleep every night." Then, in an effort to lighten the mood, he said, "I'll probably have to rock her to sleep in her teens, too.  I don't know how I'm gonna do that...I'm already getting a sore back, and she's only six."  He said it in an honest, lighthearted way, that led me to believe he wanted to rock her to sleep, no matter her age.  There was a beat of silence in the car after Jason and Jen described their youngest daughter's situation, and then, almost in unison, they spoke up, with Jen going first.  

"But, you know what?  She's always going to be our little girl," she said with the intense pride of a mother.  "Even if we have to rock her and feed her the rest of our lives, we'll always have our little girl."

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Saturday, I was finishing up a wedding in Orchard Lake.  After packing up all of my gear, I started scrolling Twitter to catch up on the Olympic results I'd missed during the wedding.  As I looked through posts, I kept seeing references to a band performing in Canada, and it peaked my attention.

Tragically Hip is an iconic band from Kingston, Ontario.  They have been "Canada's band" in the same way that Kid Rock has iconically become "Detroit's rockstar".  They have had nine number-one albums in Canada, and have won 14 Juno awards (Canada's honor for musical achievement).  I vaguely remember some of their music from radio station 89x.  

A few months ago, the Hip's lead singer, Gord Downie, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  It was then that the band decided that it would do one more tour, if they could, with the final stop of the tour playing at Downie's hometown of Kingston.  As the final stop of the tour neared, the Tragically Hip's rabid fan base clamored to be a part of this final experience with the band and their adored lead singer.  So the CBC, even in the midst of the Olympics, decided to stream the live show on their air, to the delight of the 11.7 MILLION Canadian viewers that tuned in to share the last live performance of the band.

Downie, noticably thinner than the tour before, came out and gave an inspired performance, as the band played for three hours, playing songs that spanned their 30 year catalog.  Even after the three hours, the Hip came back for three separate encores, with Downie finishing the night with a simple "Thank you for that." to the crowd.  

As I mentioned, twitter was abuzz the whole night, with all different hashtags paying tribute to the Tragically Hip, and more specifically, singer Gord Downie.  This was his life.  A relationship like this between a band, a singer, and their adoring fans is rare in it's longevity and affection.  And on a Saturday night in Kingston, there stood Downie, with everyone knowing that this was it.  I was with musicians that night, and asked them what they thought.  Most thought the scene was very sad.  But, in a way, Downie doing what he's best at for the people who adored him the most, and who he adored, was a beautiful picture.  Because what is life, but a collection of relationships, experiences, and art created, all bound together by unfiltered love.

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Sunday, I prepared to pull together a team of thirty or so volunteers, who are going to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to help in the flood relief efforts there.  In a city of under a quarter million people, more than 10% have been displaced from their homes.  Helping after a flood of this magnitude takes a massive undertaking, and efforts of any size and from any source are needed to help the residents take steps back toward normalcy.

As we prepared to go to Baton Rouge, I was reading up on the area, what has been done, and what is still needed.  It was then that I came across the story of Carson Boutte.

Carson lives in Youngsville, about 80 minutes from Baton Rouge.  When the flood was happening in real time, Carson's mom was Facetiming their family in Baton Rouge, and Carson could see the flooding happening at his family's home in the background of the Facetime.  According to his mom, Carson was deeply affected seeing the damage the water was doing.  Shortly after, Carson's Baton Rouge family came to stay with them, temporarily, while they could figure out what to do.

Shortly after the family came, Carson's 9th birthday was coming.  Carson's mom asked him what he wanted for his birthday, and what Carson wanted was to feed the flood victims in Baton Rouge.  Originally, the plan was to make 500 sandwiches for the people of Baton Rouge, but the logistics became unfeasible.  Carson's dad suggested that, instead of sandwiches, they buy pizza for the flood victims.  So Carson's mom, who had budgeted $100 for Carson's birthday gift, would take that money, and buy as much pizza as she could.  But she also put out on social media Carson's birthday wish, and, after just a day or two, dozens of people helped to chip in for pizza.

When it was all said and done, for Carson's birthday, with the help of people all around, Carson's family was able to buy 363 pizzas for displaced flood victims in Baton Rouge.  His birthday wish was able to feed over 1000 people.  Carson didn't have much, other than a burdened heart and a wish to make it better.  

Carson Boutte is now 9.  He is now one of my heroes, because heroes care about the right things, and do what they can to make them better.

Happy Birthday Carson.

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Our world can be filled with so much pain.   

Debilitating Illness.

Terminal Cancer.  

Natural Disasters.

That's the painting, the realistic painting, that a lot of us see every day.  There are days when it seems like there are unwinnable fights on every front.  Some of the fights belong to us, and some we fight as proxy to our friends, family, and allies.  

But what lifts me this week is the picture-within-the-painting.  In the painting of tragedy is the picture of a selfless birthday wish of a 9 year old.  In the painting of impending death is the picture of a man who stands in a moment and lives out what he was created to live out, in the midst of a community of love.  In the painting of debilitating illness is the picture of two parents that love and treasure their little girl above all else.  

Perhaps those paintings, the Tragically Beautiful Paintings, are really the most beautiful of all.