Alex Van Luik, a Life

Of course Alex genuinely liked and loved his parents, and in his special collection of photos there were also pictures of them, like this one from just a year before our father died:

The cigarette store phase came to an end when Alex finally won his social security disability and he stopped working, which was causing him a lot of pain by this time, and he started living very frugally thanks to help from a friendly and caring real estate agent he met online, who became his best friend and stayed his best friend for the rest of his life.  I will not mention her name either.  About this time he had to stop doing his elaborate photography jaunts and he was satisfied just hanging out and taking short trips with his new best friend.

A really telling insight came to me recently from this best friend.  She mentioned his liked Paul Schwartz' music in the "State of Grace" album, and that he felt he was now living in 'a state of grace' with his regular disability income giving him worry free stability, and his now having a woman friend he really liked being with.  

Like any relationship, but especially any relationship of anyone with Alex, there would always be bumps in the road.  The bump in this case would be Alex diagnosing any friend or acquaintance's life and insistently prescribing remedies for what he saw to be their weaknesses and failures.  He meant well, but it was a way of being that was toxic to enduring friendships.  He would often share with me his frustrations with people not taking his advice for bettering their lives, even me and some of my closer relations.

This was an invitation from Alex to turn into an Alex advising Alex.   My consistent advice on this issue, which he never considered valid, was to just accept and enjoy people just as they are.  If you see what you consider obvious faults, just consider them interesting variations on how to be human, and do NOT diagnose or advise.  

Unless asked, and even then do not assume you have now been hired to run this person's life.  They are not declaring themselves incompetent to you, they are just admitting to you that they are normal flawed humans like you and I obviously are.

Alex never took this sort of advice from me.  That failure to take advice given to him ought to have been a lesson for him.  It wasn't.  It just reminded him he wasn't yet done rearranging my thinking and my life.

He was very serious about the worth of his advice.  He invested a lot of himself into it.  In the distant past he once got so frustrated with me over some argument we were having, to which I simply replied it was none of his business and to 'go away.' Go away obviously meaning 'on this issue.'  Instead he cut off all communications for about 3 months.  He had email because of my insistence that he have it, I couldn't afford the phone bills.  So I dragged him into the digital age back then, and paid for a year's worth of Compuserve for him, which he learned to appreciate.  

So after the 3 months I sent him a cute little email asking what it was we were fighting over, I had forgotten.  So, slowly the communications started back up.  

All of this concerned my failure to appreciate and implement his advice about what was a dysfunction he had diagnosed within my family that I should be fixing.  Of course it was a real problem, and it was my fault that it continued, after all I was the manager of this department of life called my family, or so the prevailing theory went at that time.  

But his prescription was unpalatably harsh and autocratic, even cruel, in my view.  I remember having been the object of such stern measures as a child and being quite traumatized by it even now when I dwell on it.  The drastic remedy he insisted on simply wasn't me, I don't throw the driver out of the car (family) to take the wheel and steer the car where it ought to be going.  It is not the car that matters, it can take a few hits to save one or more of its passengers.  

I try to suggest a course correction, of course, and may affix some penalty for failure to comply, but while hoping it works I try to keep the person that is the focus of the problem in the car with me, at some risk, to maintain what little influence I may have.  Alex just could not see such a patient, nuanced approach as viable, and maybe it wasn't.

Who really knows?  It all worked out OK in the end.  The end was a long time coming, but so what?  What is a family's purpose?  What is life's purpose?  Alex and I never did agree on our answers to those questions.

This critical approach to dialogue is not what cements friendships, in fact it killed many of his friendships, some of which he was enthused about and then reported having ended for one cause or another.  Every cause involved that same underlying motif of people walking away from Alex once they got close enough for him to tell them how to think, act and live.  I am sure we all do this to some degree, but Alex was an extremist in this department.  

We exchanged hundreds of emails about his new best friend, the one that lasted as a best friend for the rest of his life and showed amazing loyalty, even involving her husband in providing Alex care and material goods when he needed them.  He genuinely liked her and so made it his goal to help her live a better life, a life more aligned with Alex's image of what a good life ought to be.  And there was the rub.

His best friend was a liberal in every sense of the word, much like me. Alex was the "wrathful Ogre" of conservatism and was so radically stubborn in his views that he got himself thrown off several political discussion groups or blogs on the Internet.  I tried to tell him to address issues, not personalities, but he would have none of that lame-brained liberal advice from me of course.

He also thought he knew the real cause and cure behind every ailment suffered by his best friend, even though his own ill health was obvious, as were its causes, to which he turned a blind eye.  

In addition to suffering from a passionate need to solve other peoples' problems, Alex had three other passions: aviation, landscaping, and books.  Alex specialized in aviation and landscaping books, combining these three passions into one.

His online bookstore, Windmill Books, did pretty well for a while and he made friends with other book dealers.  It was a very satisfying hobby for him.  His passion landscaping led him to modify quite a few people's yards, and he was good at it.  Of course if after all his painstaking work you let it go to seed or neglect its watering needs, the wrath of Alex could be visited on you.  Sometimes I thought he valued plants more than people but that isn't fair, he put a lot of himself into starting a yard that would look better with time, and it angered him to see it neglected.  But like his medical and political advice, he could be overbearing about his landscaping advice too.

When he grew up he wanted to fly, to be a pilot.  As he grew up he learned that his mild color-blindness disqualified him for commercial or military pilot training.  So he became an airplane buff instead and all you needed to do in his presence is point to a plane and you would hear an astonishing amount of detail concerning it.  

He was enthralled with his early childhood memories of flying to the USA on a Lockheed Super Constellation, an 18-hour flight counting one refueling stop.  One of his prouder moments was finding a Constellation near Los Angeles and taking his parents to see it:

In response to a request from him just a few weeks before his death, I took some photos of planes in the recycling process at Roswell airport, and he was very appreciative:

I learned of Alex's death while at business meetings in Paris, so on my way home from Paris, I took a series of photos while passing a waning thunderstorm system over Texas.  I remember being very melancholy then, and wishing him well as I clicked.  The fact these were powerful, but waning, thunderstorm cells seemed appropriate:

This view seemed particularly appropriate.  It reminded me of the ancient Egyptian belief that souls enter the next life's world during the orange light of sunset:

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