181. Sleet slides down the foggy Russian window pane

Yuk, yuk, yuk!!! The poorly lit gray world outside my warm office setting is dripping down my wide windows. It’s impressionistic sort of, except there is no gorgeous light to set the drizzles dancing with crystallized fire. I expect to see Fyodor Dostoyevski at any moment, mumbling about the Double Man in each human heart, stumbling about in his great coat muttering about civil service clerks in Imperial Russia. But it’s not St Petersburg in 1869. It’s Chambersburg, PA, 2013, two days before Thanksgiving. The odd man at my door asks if the drug rehab place is still here. “Nope. Gone seven years now, my friend.” And he leaves for his equivalent of Siberia. Weird. Maybe he was a desperate soul seeking redemption and, not finding it, is on his way to murder another unfortunate soul in an unheated apartment he shares with 12 others. And away I go trying to make sense of randomness. If not legal or scientific sense, then at least I try to pull things together into a barely plausible narrative.

Illustrations of I.S. Glazunov to the novel “The Idiot” by F.M. DostoevskyWow, how lost can a guy get? (I am referring to the guy at my door not me or Fyodor or you… but you don’t know that.) The Trans-Siberian rehab train left the station about the time Bernie Maduff came off the rails. Wonder how Bernie is doing in federal prison? And then I wonder which side of reality is more drizzly– the near freezing street scene on this side of the guy’s pupils or the backside where his optic nerve almost connects to his burned-out brain’s mother board? The same question can be asked of Bernie– which side is worse B? The prison around you or the prison inside you? And have you seen Fyodor lately? Muttering, always muttering.

I think of eccentric things when I am left unsupervised. My mind is like a shopping cart that randomly rolls along aisles collecting Pop Tarts, borsch, dental floss, pork loin, coffee, peach yogurt, light bulbs, and witch hazel rubbing alcohol. What am I going to do with all these disparate items? Not sure, but I am sure that something will turn up. A turnip, for instance, gotta get one of those. My mind is extremely associative. I glom onto anything that will stick to my throbbing fuzzy gray matter Velcro mass blob-organ. Well, here you go. My blog has hits from foreign countries. You know which country is second to the USA in traffic on my eccentric blog? The Russian Federation. True. Is True, Comrade Blogovski. My stuff is odd enough in the native tongue; I can’t imagine what Russians think. No, actually I can.

My default impersonation voice is the Russian guy. A long time ago my youngest daughter cried out in frustration to my wife, “Mom, why did you marry this man?!!” I gave her my best Kiev accent, “Yessica, it vas long vinter. Your musser vas very hungry, desparrot even. I vas last husband on shelf.” To which she screamed even louder, “Mom, he’s doing the Russian guy. Make him stop!!!” Those were good days. Now she just hits me with a pillow or a puff of contempt.

My wife’s cousin’s ex-husband grew up in Armenia. Conveniently his name is Armen. He used to talk to me at family gatherings, usually in lugubrious Solzhenitsyn-like complaints about American life. He’d sometimes end in a rhetorical question for me. Here’s an example.

“You know in old country, if you vere sick, you got aspirin. Vun aspirin. Now, here, if you get sniffles or aches, you go Valmart and they got pink bubble gum or grape, cherry, or fruit punch Advil, Tylenol, Motrin, ibuprofen, aspirin, and so on. So many you can’t see all of them at vun time. Tell me, Burrito, vaht is bayter?”

Why he thought I had an answer worth hearing, I’ll never know. People often think I am someone or something that I am not. Still, I feel compelled to answer even rhetorical questions… “Ya know, Armen, I think it’s about the heavy burden of freedom. We have a lot of choices, and a lot of choices means that you have to think more. In Old Country you had one doctor, one aspirin, one option. No mystery there. But in America we have a flurry of options. Too many it seems. But I’d rather have too many than only one. In fact, one is not an option, cuz there’s no opting besides nothing. It’s one aspirin or no aspirin. Here we have baby aspirin, 200 mg. aspirin, 500 mg. aspirin, all sorts of combinations with flu or cough medicines, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and flavors out the butt. It’s daunting, true, but at least you get to think.”

“Huh. In old country you got choice as long as you listen to Beeg Brother. We vere Leetle Brother, always. Russia vas Beeg Brother. You no make Beeg Brother mad.”

And some things never change. Our Big Brother is Big Government or Big Wall Street/Corporate America. They set the menu from which we choose. It’s freedom of a sort. What would that look like if everyone drove a black Ford Escort? Everyone had corn flakes and whole milk for breakfast?

Dull, deadly dull. So I want to celebrate creative individualism, the full color spectrum of cough syrup and analgesics. Praise competition that drives performance. Congratulate the visionaries who sorted through thousands of options and arrived at the best one.

On the other side of a free society is dull, drab conformity driven by fear. It’s similar to being addicted to opiates. If you stop or reduce your levels, you get dope sick. Marx claimed that religion was the opiate of the masses. Well, Karl, I’d like to suggest that rigid dogma of any flavor is the opiate of the masses. Whether it’s communism or consumerism, humans drink it down and can’t pry themselves from it. It’s fun watching China these days as they wrestle with their manmade dragons. The coerced conformists give all for the state while the state’s big honking plutocrats drain off billions of free market money for themselves… hey, they’re only human despite all the hogwash dogma.

So if you see Bernie or Fyodor, Karl or Mao, wish them a Happy Thanksgiving/Hanukkah and Black Friday from me.

“Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.“

—Steve Jobs, “Commencement Address at Stanford University“ American Rhetoric (delivered June 12, 2005)

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180. Jubba Jubba, Holy Moly!

I like how words sound; maybe I just like sounds. I guess sounds come first and then words result. My granddaughter Leah is 9 months old and just now acquiring her language skills. She can say “MaMaMaMa”, “DaDaDaDa” and other sounds that aren’t yet words. But she demonstrates receptive language way beyond what she can say. If you ask her where daddy is, she looks for the door. Say “Kermit” (the dog) and she crawls over to the dog dishes or toys. The same applies to “ByeBye” “Sleepytime” “More” and other communications. She demonstrates a clear understanding of each word’s meaning, which is kind of magical if you think about it. How do repeated sounds one day cross over and become meaningful units of information? One day, rolling random sounds flow by like meteors from space, and the next day they line up in racks and stacks with labels and measures full of structure and order. Miraculous, if you ask me.

You’ve probably read John 3:16, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God starts as word and then becomes enfleshed as a man/god, Jesus. In His short human life he gave us the language of love, mercy and grace, and redemption. It’s an awesome language if you speak it, but just having the receptive language ability is pretty cool too. In baby land the sounds become words and dwell among us as language. Chaotic noises occur randomly, but a developing brain begins to search for order. Little Leah’s brain associates a sound she generated with an external thing in her view. Her attentive mother reinforces this association once she realizes it’s happening. Grace smiles and claps and says, “Good job, Leah.” I suppose a nonverbal language has already been laid down between mother and daughter. What a great laboratory for learning anything! Surrounding a toddler with loving touch and smell and sound and taste reinforces all the newness she is discovering. Blending these senses into language consciousness through the channel of sound is a staggering concept.

I see a strong parallel between these two examples. God is like a parent who loves us and wants to communicate with us in deep meaning; so He gave us Himself, the meaning maker, in the form of Jesus. My daughter wants the same sort of deeper communication with her child, and so she happily labors to guide little Leah into meaningful language. The result is not always pretty with believers or kids, but now and then the outcomes are miraculous.

We Skype every now and again. Like her mother at the same age, Leah tries to climb into the computer screen to touch her grandparents and Aunt Jess.

Visual representations are beyond her concrete understanding. Unlike the immediate environmental word=noun or word=concept association, the computer image is 900 miles northeast of her. That understanding is going to take many years to grasp. Piaget claimed that concrete permanence is a developmental stage, i.e., when a toy is hidden under a blanket, the child knows the toy still exists. I guess this means that for now we stop existing when the image goes away. I’ll work on that, my Blogglers and let you know how it progresses. I want to be permanent in my granddaughter’s mind.

Many adolescents and adults want to see God steadily. In a sense they have not reached object permanence in their spiritual development, though God is not an object. When they are in His presence through reading His word or worship or fellowship with other believers, they see and grasp Him. However, like my granddaughter, once a veil comes over His presence or the screen goes to black, they stop perceiving and pause their belief. Sure, we’d all like to Skype with God or walk alongside Him regularly. But if that were the case, we would be operating on our senses and not on faith. And our senses are not good at remembering. In AA they say don’t act, HALT. When you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired, you should pause and reflect. Why? Because when we are operating only on our senses, we make fools of ourselves. Act rather on faith.

Many folks I know struggle with faith in the unseen God. Yet these same folks believe in and trust their bank, their retirement fund, Social Security statements, and more unseen institutions of mankind. Let’s face it: you have to trust or you’ll never get anything done in life. Not trusting leads to self sufficiency where you have to own and defend your own land, drill your own well, make your own electricity, food, shelter, clothes, etc. Some of these folks have bunkers ready for Armageddon survival. Out on the fringes it gets ridiculous. How much fear energy does it take to build an underground bunker? And then, what do they do as the years go by and the bunker just sits there, a gaping hole full of faithlessness?

“Jubba, jubba” means nothing more than four melodic syllables from a Grateful Dead song, “Mr. Charlie”. It’s the equivalent of Space debris hitting the desert portion of the planet of our brains. But if you add the structure of other contexts, you can arrive at Jubal, a flute playing figure from the Old Testament; or Jubal Early, a Confederate Army Civil War general. With a little Latinization you can arrive at jubilation, a lovely word that means full of joy or exultation. All of this ordering could make you downright jubilant.

Slam that up next to Holy Moly! and you get joyous exultation plus an expression of surprise. Sadly, there is no such thing as a moly, Bloggolies. It’s just a sound that rhymes with holy. But don’t stop there. We are Burrito Nation. We can supply our own contextual structure and arrive at meanings never imagined before. Moly. A liquefied cheese that contains 10% mold, a variant of bleu cheese. Said to resemble moleskin if allowed to congeal. Now that’s some holy moly. Or he could be a French Impressionist painter, Claude Holy Moley, pronounce Mo Lay. No matter the context, my pointillist paint dab friends, jubba jubba, holy moly, looking high, looking low…

179. Sunday evening gray bear

Something about Sunday evenings in the fall after the clocks have been reset… a moody grayness rises from the ground like a ghost bear that does not have enough fat stored to make it through winter; he can’t sleep yet, so he roams and rummages through trash cans and refrigerators left on unguarded porches. It’s been dark for an hour, but it’s only 5:30 p.m. My mammalian brain wants to hibernate in a modern manner– sit in my recliner and watch football games into the late hours with a bowl of chips and a drink. I’m not very interested in this moment. It’s just background noise with an occasional break out play that’s worth a second look. “How did he catch that pass with one hand while falling backwards?!!” Beer and car commercials interrupt the droning stadium rumblings, both have beautiful female models designed to snap men out of their numb slumbering. It’s not working. “Keep your beer and cars, you gorgeous temptresses!” I’m a modern gray couch bear. Not dangerous really, just present like a boring unsalted metaphorical slug at the end of its slime trail.

My theme song floats up into consciousness. It’s “California Dreaming”…

“All the leaves are brown
And the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk
On a winter’s day
I’d be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.”

That dude wants to leave winter in New York City and his boring girlfriend, I believe. He’s fighting off hibernation and consternation. I’ve felt that way, wanting to be in the warmth while stuck in the cruel cold of a relationship or weather pattern. He’s stuck between folly and melancholy. Now I know there is no such place or construction, Blogaritas. I just like how it sounds, okay? {Don’t make me get off this couch and open a can of whipped cream and fire hose you. You know I’ll do it.}

Oh no, here comes Tom Petty. I’ll handle him. “Hey, Tom.”

“You don’t know how it feels to be me.
Let’s get to the point, let’s roll another joint
And let’s head on down the road
There’s somewhere I gotta go
And you don’t know how it feeeeeels to be meeeeeeeee.”

Tom doesn’t have the answer to Sunday night ennui either. He has the same question. What’s the point here? He just asks it musically with a jaded Florida boy attitude.

“Well, Tom, I don’t know how it feels to be you, probably like my jaw jacked up on novocaine feels. I think you ought to head on down that symbolic rock-n-roll road of life. You have a dream to run down, and, Tom, you’ll need a lot of joints to get there, Bro. Just remember, the waiting is the hardest part.”

“Thanks man. That’s cool.”

Now here comes Bob Dylan, and you know he has to put in his two cents.

“I can’t understand
She let go of my hand
An’ left me here facing the wall
I’d sure like to know
Why she did go
But I can’t get close to her at all
Though we kissed through the wild blazing nighttime
She said she would never forget
But now mornin’s clear
It’s like I ain’t here
She just acts like we never have met.”

“Thanks for that, Bob. You are not old and inconsequential. You are a legendary icon. Now get out of here, cuz beyond here lies nothing.”

It’s like that. There is a vague expectation of life on a Sunday evening, something like a half-forgotten kiss that came while raking leaves in the twilight of adolescence. A neighbor girl laid one on and set the woods on fire, and that honey fire smolders to this day. But it’s gone, the trail back to that memory is paved over and rerouted to a cemetery. That’s it! The smokey bear is a gauzy mute harbinger of death. Where will I sleep tonight, Emily Dickinson? In a leafy woods or a graveyard?

“Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality”

Thanks, Em, keep in touch ( you wet blanket, party pesticide ). She is so dead, man.

I need something here, not too terminal but not vague and totally self serving either. Environmentally friendly honesty with psychic traction. I don’t know what that means, but I think I could sell cars with b.s. like it. Wait, wait. That’s my cell.

“Hello. Hi Mick. So you were driving in your car, and a man came on the radio telling you just how white your shirts could be, but he can’t be a man cuz he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as you? Is that correct?”

“Uh huh. No satisfaction. Okay. well I gotta go. Say hi to your mates for me. Sure, next time you’re in town. Bye.”

Whew! I remember when that would have been something to talk about. Now I can’t get off the phone fast enough. Those crazy Rollin Stones. Great name but the Wrinkled Iguanas might be more accurate these days.

I think I need to go to boredom detox then rehab. And then Bored Anonymous as part of my boring aftercare. “Hi, I’m Burrito. I am a boredaholic.”
“Hi, Burrito.” When rock legends and literary icons can’t stir me out of my grayness, what can? Twenty six people in a church basement working the 7th step of the BA program?

Step 7. I must humbly ask my higher power to forgive my shortcomings:
“Lord, forgive me for my boring shortcomings and meanderings. There are typhoon victims floating in the ocean for shark food and here I am cleaning my navel fighting a yawn.”

Something will come to me in the next 50 words because that’s how I am editing this post. I have miles to go before I sleep and promises to keep.

Okay, something should be arriving any minute now. Yo! I got a goal to hit. Hmmm, that one finger nail is getting mighty proud. I should trim him back. Maybe dust the ceiling fan while I’m up. Okay, I give up.

178. Tangled words, wires and narratives

In my line of work I hear a lot of stories, so many that it’s easy for wires to get crossed and confabulations to occur. It’s as simple as confusing song lyrics when our order-seeking brains close loose data points into coherent narratives. For years I thought the chorus to John Lennon’s “Across the Universe” was “Jack-a-roo Day Ohhhhmmm”, and referred to a little boy version of John Lennon day dreaming. Wrong! The lyrics are “Jai Guru Deva Om”, a meditation mantra of sorts. According to a reproachable source I found on-line–

So all together it means, “I give thanks (victory) (salutation) to Guru Dev (or heavenly teacher), om”.

Well that’s a different twist to the same sounds I heard. Despite my forced framing of the lyrics, I could not redefine them. It reminds me of our Japanese exchange student Yushi and his lovable language concoctions. My daughter Grace came home from high school in 2005 talking about this exchange student who was like a lost puppy, who was living with a retired dentist, and could we keep him? We had a spare room since Erin was in college. We met Yush and found him to be very much like an exotic lost puppy. We accepted the challenge. Yush’s English was spotty at best. His most common expression, uttered after a fruitless search for English words, was “Sumsing”, accompanied by a nasal laugh over a wide helpless grin. Even now, years later, when there is a quiet moment in our family, and someone asks another, “What are you thinking?”, it’s not unusual to hear the reply, “Sumsing”. Followed, of course with a snorty purse dog laugh.

He loved sports greatly but did little academically. He and I played basketball and chess; we watched a lot of sports on television. And we went paintballing once then to an Orioles/Red Sox game in the spring of 2006. Yush was a character in his own way. One night as we sat down to dinner of chicken, green beans and rice, Yush looked to me and said, “Missa Hahny, you got riscence?”

I was perplexed but began using context clues to complete the pattern.

“Do you mean rice, Yush? Would you like some more rice?”

“No, riscence. You got riscence?”

“I’m not following you, Yush. Are you asking about a special rice with incense? Like an aromatic basmati rice?”

“No, no. When you do counseling, you got a ricense then?”

“Ohhhhh, you mean LICENSE. Yes, Jackaroo, I have a license.”

It must have been around New Year’s when this conversation took place. I told my friend Dave about it. The next weekend when all of us went to visit him and his family over the holidays, he had a welcoming sign on his front door that said,

“WE GOT RISCENCE!”.

As I said earlier, Yush and I played a lot of chess. One day he moved all his pieces directly in front of my pieces so that no movement was possible. He said, “I win.” Sometimes he’d stack the pieces, putting a pawn on top of a rook and declaring it a queen. It didn’t help his game. He lost a lot of chess games that year. Meanwhile we watched playoff NFL football games. One Monday on the way to school, he asked me, “Missa Hahny, why blacks always win?” Once again I put his words into a previous context. I thought about the games we had watched the day before and pondered a nonracist answer that made sense. “Well, Yush, there are Black players on both teams, so Blacks will always win.”

He smiled at me and what I thought was a nice politically correct answer.
“No, I mean in chess. Why blacks always win?”

That’s when I realized he was jerking my chain. “You little crustacean. Because I always play black. That’s why.”

Image result for highway sign bridge freezes first pictureYush laughed his little chihuahua dog nasal laugh at me. Like the 90 degree day in May when we were driving to a picnic for the exchange students. We crossed a bridge that had a sign posted: “Caution, bridge freezes first”. He turned to me and asked, “Missa Hahny, you sink bridge will be freezed?”

Yush joined the tennis team at school, but he often forgot to stay for practice. If he remembered to bring his racket, he forgot practice. If he had his racket and remembered he had an away match, he missed the bus. The only proof I had that he actually did sumsing with the racket was he sporadically hit balls against our two garage doors. Thump, thump, thump, while our border collie Nick retrieved any misses. Then it was ON, because Nick would not easily release the retrieved tennis ball unslobbered. But I think that dogs speak all languages, and he and Yush communicated better than any persons did.Image result for border collie with tennis ball pictures

Yush loved eel. We went to a Japanese restaurant in a nearby larger town and that was his first choice. His smile and eyes and sighs of comfort all matched up that night. It was home cooking, baby. I’m afraid that many nights there was loneliness and feeling “otherly”. He liked our dog Nick and the t.v. character Mr. Bean, neither of whom said much. Oh Yushi! I think he was a lost puppy in Tokyo too. His lack of work ethic frustrated his successful father who told me I should be glad I had daughters and not sons to raise. Years later in a Christmas card Yush asked, “Why am I still small? I have no girlfriend” as if I could answer that question and state of being. My best answer is “Sumsing”…Chihuahua, huahua, huh, huh, huh.

Image result for multicolored beaded necklace picturesConnecting the dots is how we make meaning out of disparate details, dots, words, symptoms, signs, etc. We pull the thread of coherence through these bouncy beads in an attempt to make patterns, units of order, and ultimately a slice of reality that fits the larger pie of reality we already know. We often get it wrong, isn’t that right Yush?

177. Pay it Forward, no, wait…uh, okay

So this morning was Coffee Nation. Gene was already there when I arrived early at 8 a.m. Pastor Kyle was in his corner whispering in tongues about the Detroit Lions. The new barrista Jim was on duty, solo for the first time without supervision. He’s a literalist, I think. Jim not Kyle. He combined an earth science undergraduate degree with a master’s in divinity so that he can do disaster relief work, i.e., a cross between an evangelist and a weatherman, or a preacher in a tornado… whereas Kyle is a water spout wrapped in a preacher’s skin, kinda like a wet burrito. In any event he did not know about the Coffee Nation and I did not take the time to educate him, again, Jim not Kyle. I simply said, “Jim, can you run a tab for me and my crew? We get together on Thursday mornings and I put it on my tab.” He assured me that he could do this as I handed him a twenty dollar bill.

Image result for pay it forward pictures“Oh sure.” I pointed to Gene and said hello to the guy behind me, a peripheral personality whose name I have forgotten. I got my coffee and sat across from Gene. We started chatting. About five minutes later the familiar dude whose name I’ve forgotten called my name, “Hey, thanks.” I looked at him and noted Jim’s smile and nod at me. In a millisecond I figured it out– Jim thought that No Name was with my crew. “Oh you’re welcome.” I smiled to myself. ‘I’m an accidental nice guy this morning… funny thing.’

For the next hour I chatted with Gene about this and that. I stood up to settle my bill with Jim. A nice lady was waiting for Jim to finish making her several fru-fru coffees. When she moved to pay him, he said “Ma’am, I have four dollars here to go toward your coffees…thanks to this nice gentleman.” I was stuck in a cognitive revolving door. I smiled my stupid guy smile again. She thanked me as Jim explained that I had started a pay-it-forward chain, and that over the past hour many customers had continued to pay for the next customer’s coffee. I was speechless and penniless. Again, I smiled like a monkey that had missed a vine and fallen 100 feet face first onto the jungle floor.

“So, Jim. We’re good?”

“Oh yeah, I just love it when folks do that. It’s inspiring.”

“Okay, well two thumbs up then. Pay it forward, Man.” I walked out into the cold rainy morning. In four years of Coffee Nation that had never happened, which has saved me a lot of money, come to think of it. I had to laugh at the untold story. Correcting the mistake would have taken longer than it was worth. It’s only four parking tickets, I thought. I can afford it.

Cryptically, as I sauntered over to my office, I remembered the story of David Brinkley, the old co-anchor of the Huntley-Brinkley News Report from the old, old days of black and white television. He was rushing through an airport when a fan stopped him. “Oh, you’re Chet Huntley”, the fan insisted. As Brinkley told the story, he had in that moment to decide between journalistic integrity or personal expediency. He chose the latter, realizing if he took the time to correct this fan, he’d miss his plane. So he agreed with her mistake for personal expediency.

“Yes, Ma’am, I’m Chet Huntley, and I’ve got to catch my plane.”

She replied, “Oh, good. I can’t stand that David Brinkley fellow.”

Oh Blogwads, we rip what we sew…and reap what we have sown.

Oh, Irony, why dost thou plague me? No one ever said this, but I wanted a dramatic segue to a third vignette. The problem is that I don’t have a nifty third vignette that somehow loosely connects to the previous two, no matter how tenuous the thread of connection. Dang it! I’ve written myself into a corner… which demands extreme creativity to make it appear that this was my destination all along. Plus I can edit to make it seem that way.

In a dark corner near the bathrooms I heard strange syllables being uttered by a man in a caffeinated stupor. “Our year…it’s our year.”
“Verlander. Cabrera. Prince. No, no.” It was Pastor Kyle in a brief psychotic episode driven by sports grief. His Tigers had gone down in flames to Big Papi and the Red Sox during the ACLS playoffs. He had the all too familiar 1,000 yard stare of a multi-tour war veteran. He held his head up with both hands at his throbbing temporal lobes. Foam was forming at the corners of his mouth. I could not tell if this was residual macchiato foam or if he was self frothing. The situation was dire. I sprang into action.

“We’ve got a man down here! I need some help.” I threw Kyle down and loosened the top button of his shirt. I splashed cold water on his delirious face as he continued stammering, “It’s going, going, gone. Big Papi has cleared the bases with one swing.”

Jim noticed the commotion and recognized the unrelieved disaster. He jumped over the bar with one leap and sprinted the 30 feet back to where Kyle lay. All of his training kicked in. He was seeing things in slow motion. He pushed me out of the way and announced, “I’m a professional. Stand back.” I complied gladly. Not knowing where this might end and whose liability it was anyway.

Jim expertly cleared Kyle’s airway and began CPR. Three compressions, one breath. Kyle came back quickly. “Ewww. Why are slobbering on me? What happened? What’s going on?”

I stepped in to try to explain. “Kyle, this is Jim. He is a weatherman preacher. His hands are registered with the Red Cross. He noticed your sports disaster and jumped in to help resuscitate you. He may have saved your fantasy football season. You were choking and gasping. We had to do something.”

Still confused and dysphoric, Kyle said, “Why? Why did you save my sports life if all I’ve got to look forward to is more suffering and loss? I’m a Detroit fan.”

Calmly I put my hand on his trembling shoulder. “Kyle, I needed a third vignette to close my blog, man. You’re paying it forward. It’s all good.”

176. Diamonds, lost and found

Image result for diamond picturesThere are a few things I’m sure of in this life; darn few. One truth in this small basket is the brilliance of love, which is why I suppose diamonds have come to symbolize committed romantic love and marital fidelity. Even though the mining and distribution of African diamonds begin and end with mistreatment of mankind by bad men, these precious stones shine on. Even Pink Floyd wrote a song about one. “Shine on you crazy diamond.”

My buddy Clark gave his lovely bride Pat a diamond engagement ring years ago. He had to overcome his political gag reflex and acute hatred of the diamond market in order to write a check to the snake-toothed salesman who said he wasn’t making anything on the deal. For the love of Pat.

Love is not always about doing what you really want to do, like kissing that pretty girl. More often it involves doing what you don’t want to do– change a nasty diaper; sit up all night with a sick loved one; listen to the same problem your spouse has that you know how to fix. It’s “forgetting” that your favorite team is playing at 4 p.m. when your wife has invited company for a formal dinner at 5 p.m. Especially if your wife is Pat.

Image result for marilyn monroe  pictures

If you have had the fortune to meet Pat, then you already know the futility of my words in trying to describe her. She lights up a room with her spirit and lovely attitude. She lives in the moment in Pat’s world, which is a sweet place to live. Purity and kindness and light radiate from her. She just turned sixty and made that number proud to be associated with such a lively and sentimental teenaged beauty. Being around her and Clark sparks others into playfulness and affection, especially when she dances her patented Pat moves. Though she is afraid of bears, she has charmed pit bosses at casinos and hardened curmudgeons all around. If she were a bank teller, bank robbers would come to her to orchestrate their surrenders. “I’m sorry I upset you, Pat. I don’t want the money. Here, you take my gun and call the cops. I was wrong. I apologize. Don’t cry now, there–there.”

They met at a singles dance about ten years ago. Clark was coming out of his second divorce and feeling like a bank robber. Pat had never been in a big relationship. She’d been too busy caring for her elderly parents, her sister and her sister’s kids. She lived in apartments all her life and was content with what she did have. After some joyous dating, they married. Clark presented her with the engagement ring in a box that lights up when opened. He told me how Pat would sometimes get up at night and just open the box to gaze at her beautiful diamond.

Last month Pat went to her dentist on the first cold day of the season. She wore her gloves for the first time this fall. Somehow, somewhere between her workplace and the dentist’s office, the diamond came off the ring and was lost. It was like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger or an ice cream sundae without the maraschino cherry on top. Awful. She called Clark and he searched that day and later that night with a flashlight, hoping to catch a bright reflection in the darkness. No luck.


He called to tell me of the lost stone. All I could think of was Pat staring at the lit jewel box with no diamond in it. Poignant and tender but not tragic or fatal. Losing a symbol is not equivalent to losing the thing it represents. If bald eagles become extinct, our country will endure. If crosses are outlawed, Christianity will continue. Somehow I knew that the diamond would be recovered and a good story would result.

Sure enough, I got a call over the weekend from Captain Lucky Tan, aka, Clark. The stone had been found. Mick Jagger had been recovered. Dripping red cherries could plop on whipped cream again. The dental hygienist had seen a sparkle between the dentist’s chair and the rubber mat that surrounds it. As she looked closer, she saw it was Pat’s diamond. Found. Rescued. Saved. Reunited with her ring, her hand and her marriage. I was happy for her and Clark and for cosmic justice. And truth be told, for the story to blog. Unlike the story about my high school ring, this one ended with redemption and reunion. (There was no brilliant love in my ring story, just Daffy Duck in an oven. Consequently it was barely interesting.) But Pat’s diamond? Well, it was like the Prodigal Son story in my mind, deserving of a feast.

If you know your Bible, Jesus told the parable story of the prodigal son who demanded his inheritance before his father died. The gentle father granted him his arrogant and impatient wish. The son left to impulsively squander his father’s wealth. He was lost and dead to his family. Depleted of all material wealth. At the edge of his sabotaged world, surrounded by pigs in excrement, he came to his senses and returned to his father. He imagined the fair treatment he could expect upon his return– slavery in his father’s household. However, this swiney son was greeted with joy by his father, who lavished love and gifts upon him. He had clearly forgiven his son’s arrogance and selfishness. He did not ask for an apology or evidence of pure motive. He called for a robe and a ring and a feast. His beloved son was alive. Celebration was the only option.

Pat’s diamond has that sort of value for me. Something of great worth and symbolic power was lost. Sadness and anger and pain at the loss filled the emptiness. In its absence the diamond became more present to her mind and to Clark’s. But this little tragedy pricked them to think of the joy and blessings that they do have, the blessed life they are privileged to share. And now, let the feast begin. Break open the fine wine; put on Marvin Gaye; dance and spank the baby, Pat.

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175. Missed Appointments

There is an expectation when two parties make an appointment that it will be kept. When the appointment fails due to one party not following through, there is disappointment. Perhaps both parties feel disappointment, but definitely the one left holding the bag is disappointed. I’m in the appointment business. I meet around 30 clients a week and juggle 15 to 30 phone calls per week, plus an assortment of e-mails. I make mistakes. I hate it, but I do. It’s never a fun moment when two different clients are in the waiting room expecting the same appointment time. Oh no. It’s worse than mistakenly walking into the women’s bathroom, which I did in the Frist Museum in Nashville two years ago. I kept hearing this woman’s voice in there while I was in a stall. I thought, ‘Boy is she ever gonna be embarrassed when she realizes she’s in the men’s room.’ I was shocked when I heard a second and then a third woman’s voice echo in the suddenly huge vault. I knew then that my village was missing its idiot. I ducked my head and walked directly out the door and into the men’s restroom to wash my trembling hands. It’s also bad when no one is in the waiting room, which is a more common experience.

Let me think of famous missed appointments. They are hard to find because they’re not memories we want to recall. Guilt and shame cover these hurts. When I was preschool age, I believe, I have a vivid memory of waiting for hours on a Sunday afternoon on 14th Street near the Washington Monument for a bus that did not run on Sundays. My mother and little brother were with me. My mother kept looking for “11C”, the local bus that stopped in front of our suburban house. I don’t know why we were there to begin with, but eventually my father drove up in an old Buick and picked us up. It’s a strange and silent memory that holds much more, I suspect. I was too young to question my mother’s sanity at that point. Later that would come in bizarre conversations about things that, like her fantasy bus, would not ever arrive.

When I was in 3rd grade, I was supposed to be an altar boy at St. Louis Catholic Church and School. I went to the school with boys whose brothers were already altar boys. They knew the ropes, or should I say robes? Anyway, practice was after school and I managed to miss those by riding my school bus home to familiar turf. I could tell you who got on at what stop because of the twice daily repetition over several years. Bus F, Mrs. Reed was our driver for a year or two. Never an issue that I can recall. Peace rolled down Kings Highway, past Berkshire Drive, along the Parkway, past Virginia Hills Avenue. If we missed the bus, which we did on occasions, we walked the two miles to school. Like Jerry Seinfeld’ famous whine, “But I don’t want to be a pirate!” I didn’t really want to be an altar boy.

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Missing… somehow I was supposed to be a priest. Someone thought that was a good idea for me, the third of four sons. I think it’s a leftover medieval concept. The oldest son was to inherit the estate; the second son was supposed to be a soldier; the next son went to the clergy; and I guess they ate the fourth or fifth sons during long winters. Missing out on altar boy life ruined my chances for the priesthood, thank God. I can’t imagine a more gloomy life than being a priest. I was more outgoing and spiritual than my three brothers, so I can sort of see the reasoning behind lobbying me, but that’s an awful thing to do to a young man. While the country was breaking out of its conservative 1950’s cocoon, I was supposed to be spinning a new cocoon of celibacy and self annihilation? Nahhh. I feel sorry for the guys who bought that package. It’s like buying your father’s burned out Oldsmobile from him and thinking that you now rock. Sad.

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Fourth missed appointment: I was supposed to maintain my birthright appointment and anointment of Catholicism. I let that go about 15 years ago. I describe myself as spiritually anorexic back in those days: I was starving for spiritual food, but all I got was ritual and hocus pocus, a promise of later fulfillment. I gave it forty plus years and did not see desirable fruit. Instead I felt like I had to apologize for the anemic modern ways of the Catholic Church and its horrid past theo-political exploits. The turning point came when I went on a mission trip with my oldest daughter to Mexico, which I had always believed was a Catholic country. What I found out was many Mexicans had the Virgin of Guadalupe in their front yard and had no idea about Jesus. It was superstitious hocus pocus that finally severed my spiritual umbilical cord with Catholicism. In a way it felt like a junior high romance that just didn’t offer a realistic future relationship. You can’t live in the past.

Truth be told, we don’t really know how many missed appointments we have missed in life. Unless someone tells you that you missed the love of your life or the ideal job or the perfect house, how would you know? I prefer to focus on the positive side of perception– kept appointments. In this blogging business I expect to meet my self imposed limit of 1,000 words per post. Somehow I figured that was my frame to fill. In counseling sessions my frame is an hour. (Writing 1,000 words takes much longer than an hour, folks.) I am currently engaged in multiple appointments that resonate with truth for me. My job, my family, my faith, my social life all seem to vibrate in pleasant, complementary frequencies. I am a contented man.

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