Thank you SCOTUS!

I am so happy that the Supreme Court has supported same sex marriage. I believe this is the absolute right thing to do, particularly since I am from a gay family with several gay siblings, and a mother who lived with her “best friend” for 29 years after my dad died. My brothers and sister who were gay wanted nothing more than to be allowed to have their committed relationships recognized as legitimate by the government; my mother, who was not officially “out” certainly wanted her beloved partner to be the person making her medical decisions, and must have dreamed of a time when their relationship could have been regarded as just one more love relationship rather than the subject of gossip and derision.

I am proud of our Supreme Court for honoring love between committed human beings.

I am thrilled the United States can stand strong as a representative for the world in reference to marriage equality.

Hooray.

I am only sorrow this day comes after those I love have died. Still, I am certain they are dancing in heaven with this news.

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Our Day in Photos

Today was spent with our Utah family. A hike followed by hang out time at my niece Kevin and her husband Scott’s house. I am dead tired but let it suffice to say that we had a wonderful time.  I feel fortunate to have such a wonderful family.

Here are a few photos:

Summit Park, Utah

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Kevin and Scott’s house

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Eulogy for my Brother-in-Law, Ray Agutter

My name is Len Leatherwood and I am Ray’s sister-in-law and Jim and Kevin’s aunt. Let me say on behalf of our entire family that we appreciate that you are here today to help commemorate the life of our beloved Ray. I am certain everyone in this church has been touched by his amazing spirit and we are grateful that we can come together to pay our collective respects to this wonderful man.

I met Ray when I was nine-years-old, right after he graduated from the University of Colorado as a young engineer and just before he was going to marry my sister, Leslie. I liked his quick smile and gentle manner right away, even though I found his language odd. Growing up in a small Texas town, I had little occasion to hear any accent besides a drawl and I found Ray’s pronunciation of Nevada (long a) versus Nevada (short a) or Colorado (long a) versus Colorado (short a) very strange. Plus, he referred to me as a gal and whenever he was excited he would shout out, “Gad!” or “Egads!” Yes, all of this made my soon-to-be brother-in-law slightly foreign and distinctly unique. Of course, little did I know then exactly how unique Ray would prove to be, or what a profound impact he would have on my life.

I was the flower girl when Leslie and Ray got married in an all-white wedding save for a single red rose in the middle of the maid-of-honor’s bouquet. Over the fifty-three years since that event, I have periodically thought of the symbolism of that color scheme. The white for me signifies the goodness of these two wonderful people as well as the kindness that characterized their interactions with others; the red rose seemed to portend the trials each would face in the years to come. And they both did face tribulations.

Leslie and Ray’s marriage lasted only twelve years; however, in that time, they produced and parented two of the loveliest people I will ever know, their daughter and son, Kevin and Jim. Over time, Kevin and Jim have created their own families. Kevin has Scott, her sweet husband and her step-children, Ellery and Derek; and Jim has Karri, his darling wife, and their children, Eli and Sophie, who are two of the brightest and nicest kids on God’s green earth. These people have been the foundation for Ray’s life and he was exceedingly proud of each and every one of them.

Ray’s story has many chapters and is one of transformation. He started out as that earnest young engineer who worked very hard at his job at Chicago Bridge and Iron. For the first ten years of his marriage to Leslie, they moved to a different city every two years for his job. Finally, they settled in Salt Lake City, which was Ray’s home, and he worked at Industrial Supply, the company where his father was president. About this time, his marriage to my sister failed and later he remarried another woman, Mary. He also formed Agutter Engineering, which he headed from 1979 – 1998, at which point he retired. About this same time, unfortunately, his second marriage failed. Also, he had been battling severe mood swings for quite some time and he knew he was in trouble.

Ray was a journal keeper and on these pages he poured out his worries, concerns, hopes and dreams. In one of his journals, he revealed that he felt lost and alone, not sure how to proceed with life. In another, he wrote out a list of what he wanted to change: 1) To travel more; 2) To gain more meaning from life; 3) To love himself more, 4) To be a better man. He knew he needed to change; he just wasn’t quite sure how to make that happen. Two things occurred about this time: the birth of his grandchildren, Eli and then Sophie, which helped refocus his life on family with constant visits and shared activities. Also, he found Burning Man.

I haven’t been to Burning Man personally, but through Ray’s photos and stories of the thirteen straight years he attended, I feel as if I have a fairly clear picture of how he saw this experience. Cooperative community, creativity, love, joy, peace, kindness. These were all words that peppered his accounts of his exploits there. Most importantly, friendship. Connection with amazing people from all over the world that was evidenced on a daily basis by innumerable texts, phone calls, emails and Facebook interactions. “This is an instrument of peace,” he would say holding up his I-phone. “This single device has the capacity to unite people to save our planet.” (I am sure I am not the only person who heard Ray’s awe over the unifying power of technology.) However, I watched Ray’s phone become a conduit of connection for him; a true instrument of change, not only for what concerned him about the planet, but also for himself. He was no longer lost and alone. He was on track and connected to a bigger purpose for his life. To spread love wherever he went. And he did just that.

Ray made it his goal to be emotionally available not only to his children and grandchildren, but also to his wide network of relatives and friends. He travelled all over the world and made friends wherever he went. He cultivated true love relationships with women in his life and is the only man I know who could have five girlfriends come together to celebrate his birthday just this past year. He also battled cancer with a grace that is hard to describe. He brought hope, joy, and peace to that process and touched the lives of countless people with his positive attitude and endless optimism. In short, he transformed himself from an ordinary man to an extraordinary human being and many of us in this room have witnessed this firsthand.

I believe that single red rose at Ray’s all-white wedding symbolized not only the trials he would face, but also the singular beauty that comes when living a life that is ablaze with color. And Ray’s life can only be described as one that was on fire with passion, love, and joy. We are all better off from having known this man; we would do well to emulate his example when facing our own trials. He would encourage each of us to always remember, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Ray loved Salt Lake City, the Utes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Episcopal church, and the oatmeal at McDonald’s. He also held in high esteem the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the doctors and staff there. In addition, he loved his Mind and Body support group at Huntsman, so much so that a group that should have ended in six weeks has continued on for the past 2 ½ years, with plans to continue on in the future. He referred to all these as “world class,” and, certainly, they all are.

Again, our family appreciates your presence. Even on this sad occasion Ray would remind us, “This is the best day of my life!”

My only response is to say, “Amen, brother. Amen.”

Thank you.

Ray Agutter

Off to SLC

Ray and I are at LAX waiting for our delayed flight to Salt Lake. I am sitting next to two IRS agents who are deeply engaged in a conversation about their work. One clearly has more experience than the other and is offering some advice.  One heartening line I just overheard is, “Always give the taxpayer the benefit of the doubt.”  That sounds good. 

The main impression I  am getting from these two fellows, who look like they’re in their mid-30’s, is how much they like their work. They are going over cases and discussing why a person was charged or not. Their enthusiasm has prompted Ray to lean over to me and whisper, “I may have to move.”  It is a little frightening they are quite so into their work. There is no doubt they take their jobs very seriously. 

On another note, I just saw a middle- aged woman walk by with a short haircut that showed all her gray hair on the sides and then emphasized her dyed dark brown hair on top. Definitely a statement. 

Lots of travelers today. America is on the move. 

I am looking forward to seeing my Utah family plus my brother Sam who is flying in tomorrow from Nashville. Of course, our immediate family is coming, too, over the next two days. 

I will keep you posted on our time in SLC. Hope you are all well today. 

Talk tomorrow. 

  

Reflection on “Be Here Now”

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” -Alan W. Watts

I believe this quote from Alan W. Watts is the absolute truth. The operative words are “engaged,” “here and now,” and “play.” I am well aware that I am the happiest when I am present in the moment and neutral with my thoughts, regardless of what I’m doing, whether it’s scrubbing the bathtub, writing a short story or listening to a friend’s thoughts and concerns. Present without preoccupation seems to me to be the key. This is not easy to achieve and I must admit I’ve spent many years letting my thoughts carry me to places while my body was somewhere else. Otherwise engaged, would be the description that comes to mind. Allowing negative thoughts to contaminate a perfectly innocent moment. That is the opposite of being present; it’s being mentally absent.

Now I often shift to a neutral place in my mind while I am engaged in my activities. I shoo away negative thoughts if I have them by reminding myself that at this very moment in this place all is well and I am fine. This helps me to get focused on my task at hand. Also, I remember that in Morita Therapy, the primary focus is to do what needs to be done. When I am feeling unhappy because of something that is not in the present time, then I remind myself that I need to get on with whatever needs to be done and I can think about my unhappiness later. Often, that later never comes since I have shifted my focus and I have moved beyond the problem. If the problem still looms, at least I’ve given myself a respite so that I can consider solutions with a clear mind.

When I am completely focused on a task, then often it is fun. Not the “Wow, this is hilarious” sort of fun, but rather a relaxed, “Who knew I could enjoy doing this so much?” sort of fun. When in doubt about this concept, just go hang out with a 2-year-old and watch them play. My grand-daughter Luna will start to play with her blocks, get totally focused and then burst out in spontaneous song. That is the very definition of fun.

Shifting from a mindset of work to play adds another dimension to the mix. Playing is simply more fun than work on any given day and by reframing one’s experience, it makes sense that happiness will come more easily when thinking fun and not work. I am aware that when Ray and I work on an estate for clients, I often find myself thinking, “I love doing this. It’s fun.” That also happens when I am writing or teaching writing. I may have to work up to thinking cleaning the toilet is fun, but I can at least be fully engaged in that activity and in the here and now. There is satisfaction that comes with a job well done (a clean toilet in this case) so I do recognize the benefit of keeping life simple and one’s mind clear.

“Be here now” as Ram Dass is famous for saying is the bottom line. Be here right now. Not off in your head to parts unknown. Keep mind and body in the same place at the same time and stay focused on the present. Of course there are exceptions to this. I immediately think, “Well, that wouldn’t work if you were being tortured,” but then again, most of us are not in that sort of situation. In that case, I believe it would be preferable to high-tail it out-of-town with present reality and head to somewhere more pleasant in one’s head. However, most of us are not in life and death situations. We are working hard to understand how to feel happy on a consistent basis. I believe Alan Watts’s words provide that guidance.

Sleep well, my friends. I hope you had a day filled with focus, here and now experience, and fun.

We’ll talk tomorrow.

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Moving Ahead

I have just arrived home (10:45 pm) after going with Rachael to meet a potential apartment-mate in Orange County. This would be a place where Rachael could settle in when she begins law school in August at Chapman University in Orange. The young woman was lovely. She and Rachael could be sisters they look so much alike with strong, toned bodies and open, trusting faces. Her name is Sarah and she has a sister, Rachel. Needless to say, it seems like just the right match.

I enjoyed my evening with my youngest daughter. She is eager to savor this summer, but is also anxious to get started with this new phase of her life. I am much more comfortable knowing that she is going to have a great place to live with a young woman who looks solid, stable and open.

At this point, I must say good night. I am one pooped puppy after a very full day.

Sleep well, my friends. We’ll be talking more tomorrow.

Luna, Rachael, Ray and Liz on Father’s Day

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A Kindness Extended to My SLC Family

I am so touched I just want to cry right now.

My relatives in Salt Lake City (who are not church goers) went at my urging to St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown SLC today to talk about a funeral for my brother-in-law, E. Ray. He was a former Mormon who converted to the Episcopal church after marrying my sister, Leslie, over fifty years ago. He and I have gone to St. Mark’s several times together to the 8 am Sunday service when I’ve visited Salt Lake and he introduced me to Dean Waldon there and also to a young woman priest. In fact, that same woman priest (forgive me that I can’t remember her name) came and gave Last Rites to my sister when she was dying – a very moving experience for all of our family who were gathered around her bed – and that same priest officiated at St. Mark’s for Leslie’s funeral.

E. Ray has not attended St. Mark’s regularly in a while since he’s been out and about proceeding with his mission of living life to the fullest. This was one of the many reasons my sweet niece, nephew and my nephew’s wife were a bit reticent to have the funeral at the church. They also weren’t certain that a high mass was what they wanted to commemorate their dad. Still, after considering that a funeral needed to take place somewhere for E. Ray, who was born in SLC and knows many, many people, they agreed to at least go talk to the people at St. Mark’s. Which brings me to my tears.

Unbeknownst to any of us (including me who should be aware of these things), the National Convention of the entire Episcopal church in the United States is taking place in Salt Lake City this upcoming week. As a result, St. Mark’s had made a decision not to have any funerals or weddings during this time since it’s the cathedral in downtown SLC and would be busy with convention events. However – because this is E. Ray – they are making an exception to this rule. They have said they can’t host anything inside the church because of all the activities, but that they would be happy for the service to take place on their grounds at the site of their labyrinth. As it turns out, this is the absolute perfect spot for E. Ray. He loved the outdoors and his children and their families feel as if this suits him/them better anyway.

My tears are for two reasons. Of course, I am delighted to know that my Salt Lake City family will have a spot for their dad’s funeral that suits them perfectly. That makes me exceedingly happy. However, what makes me even happier is what a warm and kind reception they received from Dean Waldon and the staff at St. Mark’s, who surely are very busy right now preparing for the national convention. My family said that the Dean could not have been kinder or more open to helping figure out how to make E. Ray’s memorial service happen on their grounds despite the “rule” they had in place for this upcoming week. This example of Christian love and charity makes me proud to be an Episcopalian. More importantly, it demonstrates for my family the very essence of what it is to be a Christian: to love and honor others when it isn’t particularly convenient to do so.

As a result, I am filled with gratitude this evening. Thank you, St. Mark’s Cathedral and Dean Waldon. Your kindness softens my family’s loss as we gather this upcoming weekend to celebrate E. Ray’s life.

Hallelujah.

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