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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

342: We achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.

Day 342: Sunday February 21st, 2021:

We achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.

Gather out of stardust, earth-dust, cloud-dust, storm-dust, and splinters of hail, One handful of dream-dust not for sale.”

Langston Hughes

This is a photo of William Patin (Patin), my brother in law who passed away on February 18th 2012. He was born in Texas City Texas in 1941 and the racist county clerk filled out his birth certificate and added a middle for him: Hitler.

From his earliest days Patin, as we called him, understood that racism was a way of life in Texas and throughout the South. He escaped the poverty and ugliness of Texas City by enlisting in the Navy as an 18year old. He served two tours of duty in Viet Nam on a swift boat on the Mekong River. He then spent 18 more years in the Navy as a radar instructor.

Later he worked for the Post Office for 20 years.

He and my sister Tina were married in Los Angeles and have three beautiful children: Kara, Corey and Brendan. All through his life, Patin endured the pattern of racist treatment - from the police in Texas City to being followed and frequently stopped by the LAPD for being in a "white neighborhood." When the family moved to Reno someone called in a report that a black man in a van was picking up children in front of a local school. It turned out those children were his - and he and my father were picking them up from school.

(Sons Brendan and Corey, Patin, Tina and daughter Kara)

During this month when we celebrate Black History, we remember the aggressions people of color have endured - from slavery to mass incarceration to the daily "micro aggressions" of people averting their eyes, moving to the opposite side of the street or following a person of color in a store.

Patin was a loving father who felt the need to explain to his sons to be careful whenever dealing with the police. He and my sister won the hearts of many people because they opened their home and hearts to everyone. There was always something good cooking on the stove like dirty rice or on the barbecue (squirrel really does taste like chicken...).

During the month of Black History we ask ourselves over and over again: What does it mean to be human. What are the connections that draw us together as one human being.

Patin understood in a deep way that we are all bound together; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. That's what it means to be human.

In November 2011 we found out Patin was sick.

I wrote this to our family:

We now know for certain that Patin has cancer of the lung. The doctors are supposed to provide a strategy for dealing with the disease this week. Patin is in pain but eating well. They just provided whim with more pain medication. Tina (my sister) and Patin are each working very hard to figure out next moves. They're doing research, answering all the phone calls from the hospital and trying to live a life.

They show us every day that the greatest gift we can offer each other is our love. And that love endures.

We celebrated Patin's 71st on January 5th. He died a month and a half later on February 18th, 2012.

Here are two readings from his celebration of life:

How Did He Live?

Not how did he die, but how did he live? Not what did he gain, but what did he give? These are the units to measure the worth of a man as a man, regardless of birth. Not, what was his church, nor what was his creed? But had he befriended those really in need? Was he ever ready, with word of good cheer, to bring back a smile, to banish a tear? Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say, but how many were sorry when he passed away.

(Son Brendan graduated with a Bachelor's in Fine Arts. His thesis project honors his father and his ancestry)

When Great Trees Fall

By Maya Angelou

When great trees fall, rocks on distant hills shudder, lions hunker down in tall grasses, and even elephants lumber after safety.

When great trees fall in forests, small things recoil into silence, their senses eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die, the air around us becomes light, rare, sterile. We breathe, briefly. Our eyes, briefly, see with a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened, examines, gnaws on kind words

unsaid, promised walks never taken.

Great souls die and our reality, bound to them, takes leave of us.

Our souls, dependent upon their nurture, now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed and informed by their radiance, fall away.

We are not so much maddened as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves.

And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. They existed. We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.

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