2024.17 : Winner

Teamster's Paradise

To cultivate a constant state of meditation is to ensure that your vital energy never diminishes. If you were certain that you would die tomorrow, you would never allow it to wane. Vitality fades when you forget about death. So, grit your teeth, fix your gaze, and confront death in this moment. Feel it so intensely that it feels like it’s attacking you. Fearless energy arises from this awareness. At this very moment, death is right before your eyes. It’s something you cannot afford to overlook.

— Suzuki Shōsan (1579–1655)

Greta’s first 36 years haven’t been easy; you can tell by the intense look on her face, even when she’s smiling. A warm smile is her resting face, and despite her short, petite, and thin frame, her presence is big and strong. Greta’s kindness is a mixture of sincerity and a desire to avenge with kindness those who were not kind to her in return. While I don’t know what her tattoos mean to her, I do know she enjoys changing her hair color to fight boredom with routine.

Once a week, Mom and I look forward to spending time with Greta as she attends to our lunch table with extra care. Greta has a fondness for Mom; if she spots us in her colleague’s sections, she’ll come over to say hi and ensure we’re being attended to.

One day last week, Mom spent the day elsewhere. I needed lunch without having to give it any thought. Reflexly, I returned, took my seat, and pulled out my laptop to sneak in some finishing touches on a work project before ordering. Then I heard Greta’s voice behind me, ‘Oh nooo.’”

“Oh… Mom’s with another. Just me today.”

“Oh, I thought something happened to her. So relieved.”

“Thank you, sorry for the scare.”

Greta looked around, took a deep breath, and decided if she should say it. She decided to.

“I lost my father two weeks ago…”

Greta’s emotions were bottled up. It struck me that she hadn’t decided how she was going to mourn. Her father was in his late sixties.

“The last time I saw him was here at work. He came to visit me. His health was failing him. Diabetes. He looked like death. I thought it might come soon for him.”

She went on to share that she didn’t know what she would say at his funeral. With that, we returned to small talk between waitress and customer. I finished my lunch, completed my work, and it was time to go. Then the narrator of my life spoke up, ‘Time again to be the uncle to another. She needs a shared experience. Call her over. Tell her.’ Long-time readers will know I have embraced being slavishly obedient to the narrator.”

Across the expansive restaurant, I did the subtle hand wave. She made a beeline. “I have unsolicited advice if you want it.”

“Yes. Please.”

“Not sure if this will make sense or resonate. Any unfinished business with your father?”


“Then… He came to say goodbye to his daughter. He died before the wheels completely came off and he hit the wall. He. You. Both of you escaped the absurdity of living too long. Celebrate his life at the funeral. Tell your story of him as only you know. My mom, for example… I can’t look at you when I say this or I’ll tear up.” I looked away to share.

Greta’s energy shifted upward.

My Uncle R. was a formidable man, akin to a pit bull. The wise instinctively feared and respected him. Likewise, his wife, her husband, Aunt B., the wise instinctively feared and respected her. As a child, like most, I felt a twinge of fear around them, much like one does around pit bulls. But that fear was eclipsed by the overwhelming sense of security and love they provided. Even at a young age, I knew I was under their protection; I had nothing to fear from this life.

“Take my uncle. After losing his lifelong love, the way he wanted it to go, as he was the kind of man who dreaded the thought of passing first; leaving her alone. He was in his favorite living room chair. One of his sons was in the other room. On the phone with his favorite sister, laughing. All of a sudden, instantaneously, Uncle was freed from this mortal coil. Nothing to be sad about. He won life with a perfect death.”

She took a moment to process the unexpected.

“My dad won too.”

“Greta. Sounds like he did.”

The weight on her shoulders lightened. I felt honored to witness her mind deciding right in front of me how she would choose to process her grief, how she would mourn. She saw a glimmer of light on the other side of the fog of sadness.

Later that afternoon, I received a message from Aunt B’s sister: ‘Today is Aunt B’s birthday.’ Happy birthday, Auntie. In honor of Uncle R. being a proud lifelong teamster, this week’s photo is one of his worksites.

And now… know the photograph.

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