“Tribute to Doc,” by Melissa Hager

Melissa Hager

Entering death with open eyes amps up the peaceful transition accorded me. One minute I am tethered to gadgets, tubes poking out of every part of my body, constantly assaulted by beeps and whirs in my too-sensitive ears. The next, I stare at whiteness, but clearly see it, as well as the faces of many who have come before me.

On March 3, 1923, a boy was born deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. He was named Arthel Lane Watson. Within one year of Arthel’s life, his family discovered he had been blinded from an eye infection. This did not bring pity from his family. He was expected to work and make do with the lot God had given him.

They wait with smiles, at different stages of their lives. Could it be Heaven is where you live forever at the age you were at your best on Earth?

The first song Arthel played was The Carter Family’s “When The Roses Bloom In Dixieland.” At 13 years old, he chopped down a tree on the family farm for his father in order to purchase his first guitar. It was a $12 Stella.

I marvel at the fact I can know who these serene folks are since I’ve never seen them. Blindness has been with me since before I was a year old. Heaven is obviously all it’s cracked up to be. It’s that place where you will “know.”

Brain synapses, not being used for sight, translated to lightning fast fingers and an impeccable ear for music. The nickname “Doc” was bestowed upon him on a radio show. He eventually earned an honorary doctorate from Berklee School of Music and received the National Medal of Arts.

The hospital’s machinery that attempted to keep me alive was no match against the driving beats of a standup bass, a mandolin, a banjo, and my old guitar. Lord, how I missed playing for the last little bit of my life.

Doc Watson, who won seven Grammys and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, influenced and worked with many major folk and bluegrass musicians. When asked about his illustrious career, he would humbly say he cheated with his capo. Doc went home to be with his Lord, May 29, 2012, one month to the day after his last performance at Merlefest. The annual music festival was created in 1988 to honor his deceased son, Merle.

But I can see Heaven is going to suit me just fine. Chet, Lester, Earl, and my boy, Merle (who looks all of 9 years old), wait in a group, instruments in hand. It’s time for this picker to fly.


The Obnoxious Expert, by Hope Brown

Hope Brown

Most people would deny being a know-it-all, but the truth is that few are exempt from the occasional fall to this weakness. Knowledge is not the weakness. Individuals can know a lot of information, perhaps even close to all the knowledge of some topics, but being an expert in one or many fields does not make people know-it-alls. Know-it-alls are obnoxious experts, people who arrogantly assume they know all about a topic, whether or not they actually do, remain inconsiderate and unyielding to other possibilities, and flaunt their knowledge at the expense of others’ feelings. Such people are often difficult to connect with, cannot be taught, and are usually accompanied by a condescending attitude. Average individuals rarely want to listen to or socialize with these types of people, even when they may be right in their views and opinions, simply because of their patronizing mannerisms. Part of being human is being fallible. The inability to recognize this imperfection hinders individuals’ capabilities for learning, and can be destructive in relationships for various reasons. With this in mind, people should make every effort to be open to all viewpoints, even those with which they disagree because tolerance is a much more sophisticated way of thinking than narrow-minded intolerance.

When thinking of a narrow-minded individual, most think of particular people in their lives. Knowing my husband’s step-father, John, might demonstrate to others how having closed opinions to many ideas outside of their own is a terrible way to live a life. Recently, when the mother of my mother-in-law died, John felt that he knew exactly how the funeral arrangements should be handled. Not only that, but he also felt that he had the right to say that my mother-in-law would not be contributing any funds to help pay for expenses because the funeral was not handled as he said it should be. John may have had some valid arguments, but his delivery was flawed, and created unnecessary friction in an already difficult circumstance. Sadly, this is just one illustration of John’s narrow-minded temperament. My mother-in-law and John used to attend church with us several years ago, and when John disagreed with issues that happened in the church, they left. When my husband Chad and I refused to attend the “Church of John,” we received verbal abuse in a meeting at their kitchen table where we were labeled willfully disrespectful as they attempted to “straighten us out.” Since then, they have attended several churches for short periods of time, usually until someone does not believe John’s way. Now they get dressed for church in their living room on Sunday mornings; total attendance is two, and there is no one to disagree with them. Even as far back as eighteen years ago when John first became Chad’s step-father, John would assert that he was the one who “raised” Chad although Chad was already out on his own by the time his mother married John. John may not have meant his claim to sound arrogant, but that was the message conveyed. This, of course, alienated Chad, and he has never been able to view John as anyone more significant in his life than his mother’s second husband. Naturally, John has been deeply offended by this snub, and is unable to understand why this slight has occurred.

This failure to understand the feelings of others demonstrates a flaw in the character of the individuals who choose to remain close-minded; it is nearly impossible to gain appreciation for any topic if people think they already have all the answers. This argument does not mean there are no experts because certainly some have been trained or have years of experience in various situations. However, people have a greater chance of learning new ideas if they remain open to the possibility that no matter how much training they have there is always more to know about a subject. Teachers are perfect examples of this refined way of thinking in action. If instructors already knew all the answers, there would be no need for annual training days to update them on any new information and teaching styles, and continuing education would be ultimately useless. Without continuing their education, educators would learn very little, even though there are always new ideas about instructional techniques, use of technology, how people learn, and of course every subject area imaginable. Having additional training requirements does not mean that teachers know nothing about helping children learn; it simply means they have the potential to obtain greater knowledge. All people have this potential if they are simply receptive to the possibilities of open-mindedness.

Open-minded consideration of controversial ideas is not indicative of a lack of opinions or being easily swayed from the beliefs that make individuals who they are. Sophisticated thinkers, such as Wayne Riggs, an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department of the University of Oklahoma, contend that thoughtful consideration of opposing viewpoints indicates a willingness to seriously consider all sides (177). Most would agree that this consideration of all sides does not imply an absence of convictions, but rather that those individuals’ opinions are accompanied by the awareness of their own fallibility, and an ability to handle disagreements with maturity and respect for others. Riggs also references Jonathan Adler in his article “Open-Mindedness,” both saying in essence that being human makes it highly possible that some of our core beliefs and opinions could be incorrect. Careful evaluation of opposing views could be a way to eliminate, decrease, or diminish the impact of false beliefs that individuals possess (Riggs 181). On the other hand, opinions and views that have a solid foundation will remain stable under careful inspection, and can even be strengthened by open-mindedness. In either case, mature individuals should have the humility to recognize when they are wrong and change their views accordingly, or maintain their opinions with dignity and respect for the feelings of others when their positions are revealed to be correct. As a child through early adulthood, I attended a church that taught the use of make-up and jewelry would doom the offender to eternal punishment. For years, I took the claim at face value and followed the “rules,” even affirming these beliefs to others if asked. When I matured enough to realize that “because they said so” is a terrible foundation for beliefs with eternal significance, and began to dig a little deeper into that assertion, I discovered it was not make-up, jewelry, or any other surface-level issues, that should be emphasized. Had I been close-minded and refused to closely inspect any view other than my own, I would still be blindly supporting a belief that may not have been entirely accurate. Instead, I was able to change my position on the matter and understand that the focus should be placed on weightier matters such as integrity, attitude, moderation, kindness, and other similar virtues.

These weightier matters that should be highlighted are negatively affected if people are unable to be mature and considerate when analyzing the views and opinions of others. Often, when individuals refuse to recognize the value of any point of view other than their own, they become harsh and judgmental instead of loving and courteous; this wreaks havoc in relationships. For example, had John treated Chad as an adult with equal respect instead of harping on him as one would treat a child, a bond of mutual appreciation might have formed, creating a more peaceful relationship throughout their following years as members of an extended family.

When John or anyone else behaves in this manner, it is easy to reciprocate by labeling them as narrow-minded and judging these people for their know-it-all attitude. However, this reaction is equally problematic because many individuals are eager to gleefully point out the narrow-mindedness of others while often forgetting their own areas of closed thinking. Sometimes being judgmental is as simple as rationalizing “what I was taught is better than the ideas of others.” When my daughter brings home math sheets and shows me how her teacher has instructed her to find the answers, the thought that “my way is better” often crosses my mind. Although my daughter’s teacher is well-trained and experienced in these new and improved methods of learning, it would be easy to throw out those new ideas because the old way has always worked for me. However, when objectively considering all angles, I often find that the new way is better, and I learn a new way to do math, as when my daughter showed me some multiplication tricks they learned in her class this year.

Knowing one way to do the math does not mean it is the only correct way, and this concept can be applied in each of these scenarios. John’s idea for the funeral of his mother-in-law might have worked, but it was not the only solution that could work. Had he handled that possibility with consideration for others’ opinions, the tensions and hard feelings may have been avoided, and they could have potentially found a compromise that would have been an even better resolution. I have friends in church circles who still hold to the eternal significance of many superficial issues. Even though I now believe that moderation instead of avoidance is the key to those superficial issues, I have found that handling our differences with as much respect and humility as possible has greatly assisted in maintaining positive relationships with these friends. In all instances, openness to other possibilities has provided opportunities to learn more than could have ever been discovered by clinging tenaciously to personal thoughts and ideas. These benefits coupled with a positive attitude are a winning combination, and all human beings should endeavor to be sophisticated thinkers the next time they find themselves becoming or associating with an obnoxious expert.

Riggs, Wayne. “Open-Mindedness.” Metaphilosophy 41.1/2 (2010): 172-188. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. .

“He’s Always There,” by Sue Bloch

Sue Bloch

My glasses banged into the top of my nose as I fell flat on my face. The rough concrete stones crunched into my knees, and warm blood trickled out of my nose.

“Are you OK?” a male voice asked. “That was some fall.”

I couldn’t believe my ears – his voice was so familiar. These seven years after my beloved husband John passed away, he still follows me around. He has a special knack of appearing unexpectedly, especially in fragrant places.

I tried to answer and couldn’t speak. There was no air in my lungs. I wondered how many bones I’d broken falling onto the concrete path in the Japanese Garden in Seattle. And if I’d be able to get on the plane a few days later to return to India, where I was working? Painfully I rolled over onto one side.

Someone was stroking my hair. I hoped it was John.

“Mom, what did you do?” my daughter, Shelley asked. “Let me help you sit up.”

She gently lifted the glasses off my face. I was aware that my mind was in a state of semi-oblivion.

“The lenses are all scratched. Can you see at all?” Shelley entreated when I didn’t answer.

My eyes were wide open like a somnambulist. The pale, anxious faces of my two granddaughters slowly came into focus. Seven-year-old Danielle’s troubled eyes gazed into mine. Her younger sister Lia’s large blue eyes were wet with tears. I felt bad that I’d scared them. How could I tell them that I thought I’d seen their late Grandpa, sitting there on the bench – the very man who was now leaning over me?

I was conscious that my thinking was completely irrational, yet even the stranger’s voice shared John’s deep richness when he spoke. Such was the effect of my illusion.

“Can we help you to sit up?” the stranger interrupted my reverie.

“Just give me a few minutes,” I said lifting my head, as I got my breath back. “I’m winded but I think I’ll be OK.”

Slowly I stood up, leaning on Shelley’s arm with my left elbow and the stranger’s arm on my right. I couldn’t quite believe how gently he was touching my painful wrist. A wave of dizziness engulfed me as my heart thumped away. I was in a kind of waking chimera. Yet I let myself dream on to see where it would take me. My imagination carried me into a wild hypothesis.

“He’s back… he’s back…he’s back,” my internal voice repeated. I felt so bewildered. My stomach churned as bile oozed into my mouth.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I chastised myself, “John died over a year ago!”

My granddaughters, normally chattering and giggling, were quiet, so I guessed I looked a bit blue and bloody. My knees throbbed and my palms burnt where the skin had scraped off.

I pondered how much longer I was going to keep projecting my grief onto strangers. And why did I keep seeing John in so many places? As my head cleared, I became aware that Shelley was talking to me.

“Mom, it’s good that you can walk, so you haven’t broken anything,” she said hugging me. “Here, hold on to me.”

Befuddled I staggered forward and then slumped onto the nearest bench. My head still felt heavy from the effects of my fall and the extraordinary fantasy, which I couldn’t banish from my mind.

“I can’t believe I’m so clumsy,” I said holding a tissue under my nose to soak up the blood. “I guess I just missed that step. “

I was so insincere. What I really wanted to say was that I’d thought the stranger was my dead husband. I didn’t want to disclose the fact that I still clung to the hope that he’d come back to me. How excited I’d been to see him. The loss was excruciating as my aching chest closed up. Was this the agony John had experienced as the asbestos fibers had nibbled away at the lining of his lungs? It was as if my unrestrained metaphysical pain was embedding itself into my bruised body. I smiled weakly.

“I’m glad you’re OK,” the man said letting go of my arm as he eased his large, warm hand off my wrist.

He was tall, and the corners of his mouth curled up gently. His brown eyes were full of concern. I stared down at his shoes. The very same tan moccasins with tassels that John used to wear. In fact he was so very much like John. But the cold reality was that it was a stranger, and John was not there. My throat burnt as I swallowed my despair.

“Thank you for helping. I’m so sorry to have disturbed you,” I added, wishing he could stay a bit longer.

He nodded and walked back to the bench where he’d been sitting, and casually hung his arm over the shoulder of the woman he’d left there when he’d rushed to help me.

That couple had no clue that they’d been the cause of my fall. When I’d walked along the path on that chilly spring day, the scene of this loving middle-aged couple sitting on the bench had overcome me. They looked so much like John and me. The fragrant pines and spring blooms had brought back so many sensuous memories – of walks in gardens and forests, and generous kisses enveloped with the bouquet of pungent wild mushrooms and rhododendrons. I’d even felt John’s broad hands touching the skin under my sweater. The vision was so real, so much so that I’d not noticed the stair and stumbled flat onto my face. It was as though his presence threw me down on the concrete path. How much longer would I keep getting so upset?

As I shuffled to the car, I started to laugh. A silly nervous giggle, trying to disguise the pain of my folly. The harsh fact was that it was three months after the first anniversary of John’s death, and I was still struggling to believe he was gone for good. The joyous fragrance of spring evaporated. Purple and pink blooms faded away. The garden seemed stark and bare.

“What happened to you? “ Shelley asked softly as she eased me onto the front seat of the car. She looked at me strangely. “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

I wished I could tell her I had. My imagination, kindled by the sweet breath of spring, had tugged me into an emotional turmoil. My mind had raced down a nonsensical fantasy. Normally a rational, logical person, I was scared that I might be “losing it.” I’d also always tried to shield my kids from pain – theirs and mine, and I found it hard to open up to her then. Bemoaning my fate was not going to help anyone, and I didn’t want to further upset the girls. To assure her, my granddaughters and myself, I kissed them and pronounced that I was going to be fine. Yet I worried how I would ever convince myself that John would never be back.

Later, at her home, Shelley pampered me with painkillers, arnica and ice. As I sank into the pillows, loamy, evocative spring smells returned uninvited, clinging to lining of my nostrils. Distraught, I fell asleep listening to young bluebell stems crunching under my back as John nuzzled into my neck. Tears welled around my puffy eyes as reality chased away those precious memories.

The following morning I woke to find Shelley sitting on my bed holding out a cup of tea.

“Thought this might do you good,” she smiled. “How are you feeling now?

I sat up to take a sip.

“My ankle still looks blue,“ I replied pushing my leg out from under the duvet. “But the swelling seems to have gone down. I guess a sound sleep along with your amazing treatment has done me good. What does my face look like?” I continued gently touching my nose.

“Well, you’re no picture painting,” Shelley laughed. “Do you feel OK to get up? The girls are dying to show you how well they jump rope.”

I gingerly eased myself out of bed, and couldn’t help but worry as to why I floated so tenaciously between acknowledging that John was still somewhere close to me, and accepting the reality of his death. I closed my eyes, and saw myself scattering his ashes on a blustery March afternoon on a hilltop near Bolton in England, where he’d grown up. The sticky flakes blew back into my face and clung onto my moist lips as I threw his soul up into the cloudy sky.

I could taste his salty, charred body all over again. I needed to remember that final ceremony. Fantasy needed to be banished if I were to begin moving forward, even if it was only one step at a time.

After breakfast, the floor vibrated with life as I swung the rope for my energetic granddaughters to jump over. There was so much vitality and laughter around me. It was up to me to invite that energy back inside my body.

“Here, let me have a go,” I laughed, as they squealed with delight.

I could still jump on one leg, and my healthy ankle joined in the fun. No one was more surprised than I was.

“You know Mom, you’ve been doing so well since John passed on,” Shelley said hugging me. “But please try to be more careful.”

“Thanks for always being there for me,“ I replied tearfully.

I realized that the loss of John had penetrated my very being far more savagely than I was prepared to recognize. Perhaps moving to India instead of sitting night after night in the mute living room of our London home, hadn’t given me the time to grieve. Yet, what was once our warm, cuddly sofa had far too much space for me on my own. I just couldn’t sit there day after day missing John, wondering if he would ever be back.

Only last summer I took Danielle, now eleven, on a hike up to Twin Falls, near Seattle.

“Lets go down to the river,” she shouted, as she hopped from log to log.
I’d sensed John there with me amongst the aromatic firs, and forgot to concentrate on my footing. I heard the sound of my muscle tearing as I tripped over a boulder and again twisted my ankle. Danielle came rushing back up to me.

“Gran, are you OK or would you like to go back?” she asked concerned.

“I think I’ll be fine in a few minutes,” I responded tentatively, angry with myself that I’d been so careless, and upset that my loss was still, at times, so painful. The powerful memories of my time together with John still barged into my heart uninvited.

Danielle smiled broadly, when she heard my reply. Her braces reflected the sunlight squeezing in between the trees.

Her small hand pulled me up to standing and I wiped the mud off my jeans. My ankle bore my weight with some discomfort. I could still walk, albeit slowly, so at least it wasn’t broken.

“How come you always seem to keep falling?” Danielle asked as we carried on up the path.

How could I tell her that I still see her Grandpa in so many places, and still fall flat in so many ways? Yet she so often seemed to be there to help me up. I’d reconciled myself to the fact that I was strong enough to pick myself up when the going was tough. But I also acknowledged that I needed help and support around me to do that. Lively grandchildren and a loving family were a key ingredient in the journey back to life.

Coming to terms with the loss of my beloved husband has been complicated by a steadfast belief that John would return. I haven’t stopped looking for auspicious signs that might lead me back to him. Strangely, that has helped me enjoy John even though he’s gone. I’m now able to share things with him that I know he’d relish. During a vacation to France I had the audacity to invite him to our special tearoom in Paris, and ordered his favorite patisserie – a ‘napoleon’ cake consisting of puff pastry interlaid with a rich custard filling. With each bite, I could feel him licking his lips with joy. Somehow he’s always with me.