By Randy Moore
A Tribute to Max
Sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch: five friends connecting us to the subtleties of life. Imagine a fiery sunset, the whistle of a wood duck, chocolate melting in your mouth, a whiff of earthy musk, and a reassuring embrace from just about anyone. It’s our physiological senses that give meaning to our dance with reality.
Not everyone enjoys these gifts with the same acuity. My father became blind when he was in his mid 30s from a life-threatening accident. As he aged he also lost most of his hearing and taste. Living in quiet darkness was complicated by the gradual collapse of his equilibrium. The indignity of falling became a source of despair for a man who valued independence over everything. Witnessing his struggles taught me much about the treasures of my senses.
I remember the morning he combed his jet black hair with toothpaste and another time when he brushed his teeth with Brylcreem. The echo of long ago laughter lessens the pain I feel at times about his decision to end his life. His journey has framed many of my thoughts about humanity, compassion and living in the moment.
My father was a veteran of the Marine Corps in every breath of his being. His irrepressible pride touched me as early as my own birth. He tried valiantly to have my mother deliver me on November 10, the hallowed birthday of the Corps he loved. Tolerating his impossible urgings, Patricia Ann waddled dutifully along Oceanside Beach while sipping castor oil. His highest hopes fell short by 48 hours; a story that’s tickled the funny bone of many Marines and a few penguins.
Being a warrior didn’t mean Max approved of war. He despised fast-talking politicians for sending young men to die in distant lands while hiding behind the deferments of family influence. Semper Fi was about loyalty to his brothers and not the political class.
It has taken me decades to understand the guilt Max lived with much of his life. He was one of the survivors of a robust unit that was nearly wiped out during the Korean War. More than a thousand Americans expired over two weeks of frozen hell in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. The trumpets of glory and the pride of serving couldn’t erase the remorse he felt for being lucky.
Max told me he saw some of his closest friends blown to pieces. Telling me about the horror one late night was one of the few times I saw him break down. He sobbed like a child watching their beloved dog being run over. I was stunned given his strength; an aging blind man who wouldn’t have blinked to stand up to any bully. It wasn’t bravado either.
His very name was a tribute to a sport he was forced to master by his father growing up in a small town in Kentucky. Max Gene Moore had two namesakes and both men were former world champion boxers – Max Schmeling and Gene Tuney. The family legend is my grandfather would prod older boys to poke fights with Max so he could practice his techniques. The pinnacle of his brawling adventures was pummeling the all Navy champion on a ship in front of a host of disappointed sailors. His glee in watching fellow Marines being paid by swabbies for losing their bet never waned.
My father left a farewell recording admitting he could no longer function on his own; a painful realization dramatized by 13 pennies. He would add a penny to a glass on a stand next to his bed every time he fell. Imagine falling more than a dozen times each day while navigating to the kitchen, the restroom and other places. He had other challenges: severe insomnia and a mysterious spot on his lung he wouldn’t talk about.
Choking back tears, his final words were a tribute to the unforgotten heroes who died 50 years earlier. Their sacrifice gave him courage to take charge of his life while he still could. Nothing frightened him more than the inglorious ending of living in a nursing home or being a burden to others. No amount of reassurance could dissuade him.
In happier times, Max would walk to a nearby convenience store to pick up milk, butter, cigarettes, and other essentials. Returning home, he was perplexed to find items he hadn’t purchased –chewing gum, candy bars, peanuts, extra lighters. I accompanied him to the store to see if I could unravel the mystery. I smiled as soon as we stepped inside. It turns out the owners were Korean-Americans. No doubt he had disclosed his prior service and the family assumed he had lost his sight defending their homeland. The extra goodies were tokens of gratitude.
On our way home, Max chuckled when I explained what was happening. His mood faded gray and I knew why. The thought of being honored undeservedly had released the ghosts of guilt. We stood quietly on the sidewalk; two men linked by blood and humanity. A single tear rolled down his long face like a tiny waterfall. I’ve seen that tear on other faces including my own; a drip of human remorse distilling the complexity of life.
“Let’s go back Randy so I can tell them the truth.” I gently protested. Dad, maybe it’s better to accept their kindness. Perhaps it’s some kind of healing for their unspoken pain? Max pondered the possibilities and begrudgingly agreed.
Memories of my father’s blindness and dignity have blessed me with the ability to see life more clearly.
It’s a precious gift like all of our senses.
Randy owns Triple 3 Marketing. He’s a long term advocate for positive change, having owned community magazines since 1999. Randy sold Positive Change Media in April 2009 and took a year off before launching Triple 3 Marketing. In addition to helping business owners, he also provides private coaching. Randy has a masters degree in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he studied persuasion and attitude change. Contact Randy at email@example.com.