Archive for September, 2011

Sometimes Harry You Just Gotta Go For It

September 19, 2011

Glenn Jerome Blair was and is an amazing individual. Perhaps Glenn’s life can best be described by something he told me once when I was traveling down one of life’s paths and couldn’t see if and how it was all going to work out. I was discouraged and wanted more answers about the journey ahead. Glenn’s advice was “Sometimes Harry you just gotta go for it”! That was Glenn.

He always seemed to have a better car than the rest of the crowd, dressed `like a magazine model. The girls all loved him and if he wanted to talk to some girl or ask them out, he just went for it. Glenn’s college summer jobs weren’t usually of the typical cashier, camp counselor, or fast-food restaurant variety. You’d be more apt to find Glenn in high end shops catering to wealthy yacht owners.

Glenn wasn’t afraid to reach out and grab the golden ring. Back in the day all the guys envied James Bond. Glenn loved James Bond movies. He told me he talked with the CIA once about joining “the company”. He was unofficially offered a cryptography job in the Mediterranean ocean. Most of us just sat around and envied 007. Glenn applied for the job … then turned it down.

I was a bit older than Glenn but there were many areas where I went to him for counsel. Job search was one of those areas, especially as my fashion advisor. He for instance introduced me to the pressed Levi jeans and Harris Tweed sports coat look.

Glenn came to me for advice too. I’d get a frantic phone call and he’d want to talk over some crisis. So he’d show up for the big talk. His crisis would be something like, there’s these 3 amazing women and I’ve got tickets to the big concert and any one of them will go with me if I ask them … what do I do? So Glenn … explain to me how this is a problem? Another time he was in the market for a different car and he’d found three fantastic deals on three classic automobiles … what do I do? Same thing for career choices, job offers, how do I spend my summer vacation? Maybe I should take a year off and accept that guys offer to sail around the world.

Back then I often wondered how it would go if Glenn suddenly had a major setback of some kind. I grew up going to the Shriners Hospital for Children over in Portland. The kids I was in there with had some real problems. How would Glenn have dealt with problems like ours? Then along comes ALS. I need not have worried.
We were in the Horse Brass Pub shortly after his doctors came to the Lou Gehrig’s disease conclusion. We were meeting someone he knew from work. Good looking woman as I remember but she was much too busy being gagga over Glenn to notice my freshly ironed Levi jeans and Harris Tweed sport coat. Glenn ordered tomato juice. For those of you who have never been to the Horse Brass … just so you know … most people at the Horse Brass order something other than tomato juice. So this babe mentions the unusual order and Glenn says “Oh that … I need to avoid alcohol now that I’ve been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis”. You’d have thought he was explaining he’d switched mouthwash because Listerine doubles as a treatment for dandruff.

Gonna let you in on a little secret. Those of us who have visible disabilities that can result in cartoon double takes and mouth hanging stares from people … we have things we do to pull the focus away from all that. We use misdirection the same way a magician gets you looking and thinking about what one hand is doing while he does something tricky with the other hand. I know a couple guys who have no arms. They sit at the dinner table using silverware with their feet. Two minutes into a meal they have cast some magic spell over the situation and everyone has forgotten all about it.

Glenn was no exception. In spite of being new to all this, he was a master at it. I’ll never forget being out at our churches Lewis River Campgrounds a few weeks before Glenn started using a cane. He came out of the restrooms and headed down the sidewalk towards the dining hall like he was walking onto a yacht. All he needed was the apricot ascot like in the Carly Simon song. I remember thinking he had his dads walk … something I’d never noticed before. In fact it never occurred to me till I wrote this, but maybe he was aping his dads walk so people wouldn’t notice his own gait had changed. So the sidewalk used to have what sidewalk inspectors call a toe-kick where it met the road in front of the canteen. He paused just before stepping onto the road. He reminded me of Ben Cartwright checking out the Ponderosa while the Bonanza theme song played in the background. He looked around, then stepped out and moved on. What you could easily have missed in all his Ponderosa perusing was him taking in something he’d never needed to pay much attention to before. Not too fast and not to slow because either of those would draw attention … he took in … the toe-kick. He was good. Damn good.

Things progressed. Glenn took me for one of his last joy rides in the Porsche. He never had any trouble finding the accelerator and that day was no exception. We flew up the gorge turned around at the Bridge of the Gods and flew back. Now I have been known to drive roads where angels fear to tread … but I never felt any closer to God than on that day. Not sure why … we’d only slid off the pavement that one time. The next time I saw Glenn he’d turned in his keys.

Sometime around then … we had one of those mouthwash conversations about whether or not to go on the ventilator. He hadn’t made a decision yet … just saying he would need to at some point … like it was no big deal. Then his daughter Rebecca became part of the equation. I was living in Seattle by then and got busy with family and career. Don’t you hate being a grownup? The next time I saw Glenn, Rebecca was talking … Glenn was not … and he was on the ventilator. His mom, Bev, and I had a conversation about the making of the decision. I was only half listening and taking what I did hear with a grain of salt. It seems like she might have been saying she talked him into going onto the ventilator. But Glenn didn’t do things just because mommy told him to. What I kept hearing in my mind was Glenn’s advice to me about going for it. “Sometimes Harry you just gotta go for it”. He’d gone for the ventilator.

During the last several weeks, Glenn was often a topic of conversation among folks knew him. As a matter of fact, many of my friends who didn’t know Glenn are probably really tired of hearing about him. But among those of us who knew him, Glenn stories can be very comforting. One topic that comes up more often than it probably should in comparison to the rest of Glenn’s amazing life … is the ventilator decision. A subtopic to “The Big Decision” is often, “quality of life”.
Glenn understood quality of life. Glenn lived to be 53 years old and the ventilator stage of his life accounted for roughly 35 percent of that. But make no mistake, Glenn found quality of life. What Glenn understood was that quality of life isn’t in your arms and legs, hands and feet, fingers and toes. It’s not in your health at all. If it was … my life would have been blow out of the water on the day I was born. Part of the answer is to fill your days with things you enjoy doing. After the big decision … Glenn’s life couldn’t be filled with all the things he’d done before, but he could still fill it with stuff he enjoyed.
He filled his days with football games and sports of all kinds, westerns, old movies, and even soap operas … all on a big screen TV. I gotta admit, at first I didn’t get the soap opera thing … till I figured out he watched the soap operas … with his nurses. Glenn was good to the women in his life. Yes there were still plenty of good looking women in his life. Glenn had a whole harem of nurses, and of course his lovely wife Corrinne, all waiting on him hand and foot.

But the thing that really determines the quality of your life, in so many ways, and on so many levels, is your attitude and Glenn always had a good positive attitude.

The way I see it …. life experience does not determine attitude, your attitude determines your life.