Of all the various anniversaries and holidays without Ez, his birthday is consistently the most difficult for me. Don’t get me wrong, the anniversary of his death is always a doozy – days if not weeks of traumatic memories that I compulsively relive. But I’ve gradually learned to live with those memories and to make my peace with them. And it’s not that birthdays mattered so much to Ez, because they really didn’t (though he always prepared a beautiful Greek feast for mine, and we threw a hell of a party for his last). Even Thanksgiving, which was his most favorite day, our most favorite day, has gotten a little less painful. But whereas other holidays and anniversaries bring memories and feelings that become distilled and more familiar with each passing year, his birthday brings up ambivalence and apparently unresolved feelings. I want to celebrate his life, but I still have so much rage over his death. I want to think about him and the time we had together, but instead I spend the day ruminating in his absence from my life and in my own grief. Continue reading “45”
Ez should be 44 today. He made it to 40, which was longer than anyone expected at the time, and yet way too short by any calculation. Ok, so he got to the top of the hill without having to go over, as they say we do after 40. But the thing is, Ez couldn’t wait to get older.
Today would have been Ezra’s 43rd birthday. The weather in NYC is the kind he liked the least- wet and unseasonably warm, yesterday’s snow melting into gray city slush. I imagine he would have spent the day in his shop, determined to make something beautiful out of it. In imagining this, I feel his distance. Not his absence, as I have felt so intensely over the last two and half years, but the space-time between then and now, him and me, us and this. I suppose that’s what happens after some number of moons and trips around the sun, especially in relation to a traveller like Ez. But I have struggled to make sense of this particular flavor of pain, much less move through it with any grace.
A year ago today, on his 40th birthday, Ezra posted this “lonely photo.” It came at the end of a blog post that recalled a long list of things he’d been able to do that year, despite his grim prognosis, and probably due in part to his choice to refuse chemo and to embrace palliative care. He also described feeling untethered, given that his birthday and the end of 2013 had seemed like it would be his last horizon. Ez lived five more months, during which he made many more objects and dinners, and took many more photos.
Daniel Ezra Caldwell died at home on May 24, 2014, after six years with cancer. He was cared for by his wife Hillary and other family and friends, with the support of the hospice team from the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.
Born in 1973, Ezra grew up in Putney, Vermont. As a boy, he moved from one passion to another – juggling, acting, rock climbing, building crossbows and puppets, making constant use of his fathers’ woodworking shop. From the age of eight, he spent much of each summer in northern Vermont with the Bread and Puppet Theater, performing as the baby gorilla in their annual circus. After graduating from the Buxton School in Williamstown, MA, he lived the village of Santa Marta in El Salvador for a year during the post-conflict reconstruction, working in a woodworking shop with ex-combatants.
He attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, first focusing on art and design but then making an unlikely switch as a complete novice to the modern dance department. After graduating, he danced for Momix and Gabriel Masson Dance, then spent a year in a masters’ program in dance at Bretton Hall, part of the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. Here he began to use video and persuaded an entire institution that there were two of him, the twins Daniel and Ezra, as documented in abundant footage. One of them attended the masters’ program; the other was a chef in a local Thai restaurant. His cooking benefited from the year as much as his art. He left without completing the degree, stubbornly determined that a written thesis should be unnecessary for an arts degree.
On returning to New York, Ezra choreographed and performed with his own small company, at times collaborating with his musician brother, Thomas Bartlett. He had work commissioned by universities in Belgium and Holland, performed in festivals in Europe and the US, worked as artist-in-residence at Sarah Lawrence, and at dance workshops in Lima Peru. For almost ten years, he taught at DanceSpace NY, later Dance New Amsterdam, gathering a following for his athletic and demanding classes.
In 2007 he moved away from dance and teaching, turning back to the involvement with fabrication and design that had preoccupied him since childhood, and which had been refined during summers and other stretches doing construction and cabinet making. He had for a while been assembling bikes from components, putting them together for friends and family and dance students. But now he learned how to weld and quickly became a respected custom builder and designer, turning out his elegant Fast Boy Cycles in a shop in his brother’s basement next door.
In 2009, Ezra was married to Hillary Nanney in a fisherman’s church in the La Have Islands, Nova Scotia. Ezra had been visiting the islands every summer since he was a boy, and he and Hillary spent many weeks over recent years kayaking, mussel gathering and exploring with their beloved dog Putney Sue.
Ezra was always, in one way or another, a performer and an artist, but he was happiest when his creative impulses locked on to the practical side of life. Beautiful bikes met his needs better than fine art. He liked performing more as a cook than as a dancer. He created and enacted a rich, unique life and death and he never lacked an audience.
Ezra decided a few years ago to forego further treatment for his cancer, and spent most of his remaining months deeply engaged in the things that mattered most to him – making bikes and other objects, mountain biking, photographing the world around him, cooking, playing pool. As his capacities diminished, he seemed always able to adapt and find new ways to satisfy his passion for productivity and mastery. Courageous, independent, opinionated and stubborn to the end, Ezra amazed, delighted and exhausted his family and close friends. At the same time he entertained and inspired thousands of people through his blog, which demystified cancer, chemo and colostomy bags with flair and humor.
Ezra is survived by his wife Hillary, his brothers Zachary Caldwell, Sam Caldwell and Thomas Bartlett, sister Mary Bartlett, parents Sheridan and Edward Bartlett, nephew Gunnar Caldwell and grandfather Alexis Nason, as well as numerous cousins and other relatives.
In lieu of flowers, if you wish to make a donation in Ezra’s name, the family asks that you consider one of the following:
Recycle-A-Bicycle’s Earn-A-Bike program is a school-based program that teaches students basic bicycle mechanics through RAB curriculum. Students then volunteer time after school and earn hours in exchange for a bicycle frame. Participants build bikes for themselves, friends, and family members, too.
To donate please visit: https://secure.qgiv.com/for/rec and click on “Ezra Caldwell Memorial Fund.”
Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) is a not-for-profit home health care agency that provides direct home care by physicians, nurses, rehabilitation therapists, psychologists, and more. For the last year of his life, Ezra became a passionate advocate for palliative care, due largely to his experience in VNSNY’s Hospice Program, as well as the Palliative Care wing at Mt. Sinai Hospital.
To donate online, please visit: www.vnsny.org/community/support-vnsny/donate; by phone, call: 212-609-1525; or by post, send checks to: 107 E. 70th St. NY NY 10021 (Make checks payable to: Visiting Nurse Service of New York; memo: In Memory of Ezra Caldwell).