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September 12, 2011
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I have been pretty busy and tired lately, so I haven’t had a chance to add a new post for a while. This week I am busy as well, aiming for what will probably be the last art fair of my career with the Driftless Art Fair in Soldiers Grove. I have been wanting to do this little gem for years but always had a conflict with another commitment the same weekend. This year I cannot go the distance to do this other show so I am thrilled to finally be home with all my friends for this one.

In the meantime I did want to get out a short note expressing another little blessing in my life. Last weekend Peg and I went to Burlington, Wisconsin to gather with my six siblings at the beautiful country home of another couple who have been like siblings to me over the course of 30 some years. The intent was -as usual- to enjoy each others company, but also to meet and communicate about all our thoughts and feelings about my illness and impending death, and to listen to Peg as to how they can all support her in this.

A little history! The seven of us siblings moved a lot as we grew up due to our dads job, which caused us to become fairly dependent on each other emotionally. Always being the new ones on the block or in the school opened us up to a lot of ridicule, constantly reminding us each of how “different” we were. Of course we could do this very effectively with each other as well; but -still- we knew we were a tribe, and this gave us some comfort. Then we all grew up, left home, began our own lives, and developed some distance.

About 15 or 20 years ago is it (?), we started our annual sibling reunions where we get together to share, laugh, hike, reminisce, and -of course- eat … always eat … basically renewing our bond with each other. Since we did rely on each other for emotional support, and for understanding our constantly changing environments while growing up, we had a natural habit of sharing what was on our minds and in our hearts. Little was relegated to being taboo in our conversations, and we learned a lot about life by sharing our different perspectives about it.

Following in this spirit, we realized that we were all dealing with my death in different ways and thought it might be a good idea to share these … thus last weekend was organized. At times during the weekend I would become fatigued, and I would either go for a short, relaxed walk in the familiar 40 acres of woods around the home, or I would just put my feet up in the recliner in the next room and listen to the lively chattering’s around me. My comfort came from knowing that the sibling bond would still be strong even without me, and that everyone will be alright … including Peg who, being the love of my life, has become a sister to my siblings, and I am comforted to know that they will be there for her always.

I have learned over the years that the LaMartina sibling relationship is not all that common. Misunderstanding and distance has often created alienation between family members, and the natural bond can often be lost. Or -less dramatically- there was just never that much trust and sharing in the first place. Still, there is much that may be salvaged in many of these sibling relationships. Few may be able to share what the La sibs can, but many can share an unspoken love and understanding. This reminds me of a double blessing in my life because Pegs seven siblings are another close knit family. They come from a very different background than mine, but their love for, and their friendship among each other is clearly palpable. I have never doubted that they loved me too (and their support for Peg and I right now can’t be overstated), and I have never doubted my love and respect for them. How lucky can one be?

And maybe now I am getting to the point of this post. What I have learned about love and connection with my own siblings has enabled me to create this with you, the other friends in my life. I have never been contented with shallow, ambivalent friendships; but thrived on deep, honest, and loving ones. My friendships ultimately became an extension of the tribal affiliation I had with my family of origin, to blossom into a larger, broader group consisting of a diverse and rich community of friends. Even though most of our upbringings may have encouraged us to evaluate, judge, and create exclusivity; most of us have managed to dig beneath that and enjoy each other in spite of our differences. It’s not always easy, but love is what lubricates the process. I love all my siblings, and love them in spite what what I approve of, agree with, align with, or not.

To take this another step; connecting with people outside my family shouldn’t seem like such a huge bridge to cross, so long as I don’t feel an obligation to judge or criticize them. Love means knowing that we all have our problems, challenges, vulnerabilities, weaknesses, flaws, and problems, but that this only represents a small portion of anyone and should be taken as a given. The rest is a massive series of novels containing insights, feelings, thoughts, cares, compassions, experiences, and affections which, put together, make up the character and personality of a person and establish our commonality. We are all related, and this relationship creates the foundation for compassion which derives from a desire to love.

It’s as simple as that, really … was never meant to be complicated. It may not be easy to practice, but it is not complicated.

As I walk through my final days here on this Beautiful Earth, this is what I carry with me: the connections, not the differences. It’s those rich connections that remain in my heart; the rest is just transient dust that blows on and then blows off the core of what is valuable and true in the hearts of all those I love.

rick

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Rebecca Wainscott permalink
    September 14, 2011 8:42 pm

    Spanish guitar?? now there’s something I’d like to receive before you go….maybe at your Life Celebration, you might share just one song?? a special flavor of transient dust….
    Hugs, Rebecca

  2. Anne O'Connor permalink
    September 14, 2011 11:26 am

    Rick,

    I, too, have a strong sibling bond. It’s difficult for me to consider all of us without one of us. I am so glad that you have this base, and that Peg, too, can rely on both sides of the family. You walk through the world now as a man who has known a lot of love. It’s a great way to meet the world, and it makes it easy to be with you.

    Anne

  3. September 13, 2011 9:28 pm

    Thank you Mike for that beautiful tribute and letting us catch a glimpse of Rick through your eyes.

  4. MikeL permalink*
    September 13, 2011 1:36 pm

    This is for Rick’s other family: his friends that mean so much to him. I am the oldest of the “tribe”, as Rick calls us. Rick is not only my closest sibling in age, but my oldest true friend. Like brothers everywhere, we fought often as youngsters. But starting in our teens we shared many great and fantastic adventures. We worked one summer for a large corporation of dairy farms when I was seventeen and Rick was sixteen. In just three months, I witnessed Rick transform from the cliched 98-pound weakling to a well-muscled “hunk”. A couple years later, we would both work for a man who owned carnival games. Rick and I, along with a number of other college kids, became vagabond carnies traveling in Woodstock-inspired school buses around the country and collecting people, stories and adventures that would fill a very exciting book.

    Shortly after those heady years, I got married and began a family. But Rick, ever the searcher, had more and greater adventures in store.

    Rick never lost his connection to our family–except for a notably brief period when he was taken in by a different, more sinister family: the Moonies.

    But the pull of his own family and roots was too strong even for the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s bizarre and evil designs. Rick attained a national notoriety at the time for being one of the few people ever to escape the psychological sway of the Moonie cult machine on his own.

    After that strange episode, Rick found himself on the other side of the psychological divide and spent a few years helping other victims of cults and fanatical religions escape their psychological captors. It was also at this time that he rediscovered the family of his biological roots and his difficult estrangement ended.

    A few years later, he met the love of his life, Peg and a new family was formed. In another few years, he would extend his family to an entire community: an intentional community called “Dancing Waters”. From this rural base of pastoral beauty and solitude, he would begin his career as a nature photographer and receive acclaim from far and wide.

    Now Rick became part of a family of artists who traveled around the Midwest to exhibit their work at numerous art fairs each summer. This is why his next–his last–art fair this weekend is so important to him as well as to his art fair family. It brings to a close the most productive part of his life as an artist, which began so long ago with wonderful paintings he created as a teenager as well as his musical talent playing the Spanish guitar.

    What stands out throughout his life was Rick’s connection to family, which changed in form and scope over the years, but has always been the basis for whatever he does.

    And so it is with his friends. I know that Rick’s connections to all his friends are among the most satisfying and enriching he has. Those who add their wonderful comments here stand in for those who feel less able to do so, just as I stand in for my own brothers and sisters whose feelings and love for Rick are just as strong as mine, but who feel less confident to express themselves.

    Thank you all for being here with Rick. Home, of course, is where family resides, whether in the physical sense, the emotional sense or the spiritual sense. And so we gather here with Rick as his family. And it is as his family–in spirit and in love–that we accompany him on his final journey home.

    • Matthew Schliesman permalink
      September 13, 2011 10:02 pm

      Mike– thank you for your added perspective to this story and history. There is such eloquence in our family!

  5. Mokasiya permalink
    September 13, 2011 1:00 pm

    Dear Rick
    there is only love here, there is only love.
    Blessings,
    Mokasiya

  6. Matthew Schliesman permalink
    September 12, 2011 10:57 pm

    Rick– your Schliesman cousins have long been impressed by your sibling weekends. Marion used to tell me about them with great delight. While it is not quite our style, we appreciate the bonds all of you have nurtured, and our connection with your family is more than genetic, more than shared blood, more than overlapping stories and family histories. As we delight in our time with each other, we also delight in our cousin time. Your themes here resonate on many levels, including a book project I’ve been working on for several years, but that’s another story for another time.

    Thanks for these perspectives. You, Peg, and the La-Family continue in my thoughts.

  7. September 12, 2011 10:30 pm

    You do have a unique relationship with your siblings. I come from a large family, but we don’t connect on an intimate level, and the ability to honor the differences and even disagree without being disagreeable is rare in siblings. What a blessing for you and Peg.

    I will look forward to seeing you at the Driftless Art Fest – I love going to that, it amazes me that little Soldiers Grove can pull off such a nice event.

    Charlene

  8. September 12, 2011 10:20 pm

    Rick…your eloquence speaks volumes…and, yes, tears do form…tears of joy, really. You

    inspire me to be my best self as you are clearly expressing that quality in yourself. What a

    gift you are…to your family, to Peg, to all of us who know you and love you. Your words have

    the ability to penetrate the heart in a very unique way. Thank you for being you.

    Love, David

  9. Julie permalink
    September 12, 2011 5:57 pm

    Ah yes Rick, with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes I read.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful essays. I adore them.
    You are “giving” us all a most amazing and remarkable gift, one I can’t even say how fortunate I feel to “receive”. The hearts job is to give and to receive . . .

    Keep writing as long as you can, buddy!
    With love and peace~

    Julie

  10. Rebecca Wainscott permalink
    September 12, 2011 5:50 pm

    HI Rick,

    I find myself looking forward to your postings and missed you these last few days, even though I knew you were out of town, etc.

    What a wonderful family experience you’ve been blessed to have, at least with your siblings …. thank you for sharing those details. It’s refreshing to hear that someone has been able to know that kind of closeness and trust with their family of origin. I can’t imagine ever being able to really talk honestly, or intimately with my sister or brother or mom. So I’m enormously grateful for the extended family I’ve been able to nurture here over these last 17 years. Especially now that my only child has turned 18 and is shifting in her needs for my attention and her physical presence in my life.

    It is another important topic to explore – how we develop our closest friendships, and the ways we consciously and unconsciously attract and are attracted by certain individuals. Perhaps later when I have more time I’ll have more words to share.

    I sure look forward to your being at the Kickapoo Art Fair this weekend.
    Take Good Care,
    Rebecca

  11. Diane Banner permalink
    September 12, 2011 1:42 pm

    Your words touch me deeply, Rick. I feel bonded with family and friends in a way that feels right now beyond words to describe. I want those friendships to grow stronger and for new ones to form with many others I already have met or have not met yet.
    I long for the whole world to be full of people who are open and accepting and full of appreciation for one another. I feel compelled to become an open, accepting, appreciative person. May it be so. Little by little, I do feel my own personal world growing to be more like the world of my dreams. I am experiencing more love than I have ever know, yet there is so much more to know personally. And many people appear to be closed, critical and indifferent. Can I accept them as my beloved brothers and sisters? Thank you for being such a loving human being. You continue to inspire all those of us who know you to open ourselves to really learning how to love.

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