441. Mesmerorials

 

 

[my apologies to blog only connections. I sometimes have great difficulty posting to facebook and have to reconfigure my postings to publish there.]

Image result for rainy spring day photosIt smells like spring again, fertile wet soil and pollen dust colliding into rare swirling perfumes. A rabbit has a nest under my back deck, which is driving my grand-dog Kermit insane as she sniffs through the deck boards and digs around the outer edges. She is  determined to rout and ravage that rascally rabbit. Meanwhile Momma rabbit has a buffet of lettuce and asparagus mere hops away from her babies. She is no fool, but I might have to shoot her later. I am not running a bunny hostel after all. No Hugh Hefner here. I have no interest and no license for raising wildlife in my back yard.  Facts is facts, Ma’am. Life is both sweet and harsh. The check out time is .22 magnum o’clock, Bunny girl.

Image result for two ducks on a pond picturesA pair of ducks also like to drop in on our little fish pond for an evening bath. Kermit the pool guard keeps limited hours, however. The pond is usually closed these days. “I’ll see your pair of ducks and raze you three rabbits”, she would say if she could talk. She is an elegant coon hound/ doberman mix who lopes like a deer across the yard, chasing anything on the ground. The only time I’ve heard her bark was when she was locked in mortal battle with a ground hog under the arbor vitae. I put a bullet through the groundhog and that was that. Sweet and harsh, so it was.

Image result for paintings of foreverSomething gets in me on cloudy spring days, melancholy or some other vague mood with no name. I don’t write on glorious sunny days. No. Instead I’ll plant flowers or cut the grass. Maybe go for a bike ride. But on these pewter gray haze days my mind wanders down emotional bunny trails, across memory lanes, around curious cul de sacs seeking deeper introversion… Meaning or at least equilibrium.

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I’m not good at most things that people pursue– money, organization, athletics, power, status, career advancement, big houses and fancy cars. But God did bless me with proficiency in language. I can speak, joke, teach, write, counsel, sing, or banter fairly well. And I’m glad for that, even though I would have traded anything to have been a great ball player in any sport when I was a sulky kid in uniforms that fit bigger boys. I see old pictures of myself and just wish I could tell that freckled kid to be patient, “Your day will come. It all works out wonderfully.”  But he can’t hear me through the yellow film covering the old Kodak snapshot. I suppose I would not l listen to my 75 year old self today if he suddenly whispered to me across the years between us. ‘Life is lived through the windshield and understood through the rear view mirror’, someone else said. Oddly or not, I am driving into my elder days and seeing my life in the rear view mirror as a dream, still unfolding in themes and mysteries. Thank  God I did not find my meaning and voice in money or sex or athletic prowess since they fail and eventually fade away. They are not the destination but merely glamorous bill boards hogging up the landscape along the lonely highway to meaning.Image result for paintings of remorse by dali

I know I should finish my billing, especially since my future son-in-law Zach dutifully fine tuned my computer yesterday. I’m sleep walking, though, dreamily pondering life, the parts and the whole of it. You know heal means whole, and so to be healthy is to be whole.

Old English hælan “cure; save; make whole, sound and well,” from Proto-Germanic *hailjan (cf. Old Saxon helian, Old Norse heila, Old Frisian hela, Dutch helen, German heilen, Gothic ga-hailjan “to heal, cure”), literally “to make whole”. 

This stuff fascinates me, my friends. Like mythology, language is random, illogical and eccentric. So naturally I am all in. Heck, my mother’s name was Helen, and I never fit all that together until this minute. On some level to be with one’s mother is to be whole and healed. She is literally where you came from, pal.  I see it in my grand daughter when she cuddles into her mom’s lap, as if returning to the womb. The parts cease their separate isolation when they are rejoined in the whole. Ultimately the whole for believers is a place of health and saving and wholeness known as heaven, where we will crawl on God’s lap again. Call it what you will.Image result for child on God's lap paintings

 

Yesterday I sat at a memorial service for a friend. Chris Little. Pastor. Husband. Father, Quite a man in my estimation. I posted about him last year when he died. It remains my all time high post for visits. And that’s as it should be. He deserved so much because he gave so much, dying in his newly tilled garden last April. Chris tilled a much larger garden, however:  his congregation of twenty years.  What did he plant? The Fruits of the Holy Spirit, according to Paul the Apostle in his Letter to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience),kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Over and over and over he planted, trusting in God to harvest the outcomes of such rich roots, seeds and bulbs. I knew him for only a few years, but I saw deep into the hull works of his character. How long do you have to sail in a worthy ship to know and trust it in harsh weather? Not so long.Rev. Christopher T. Little

The Harvest… will continue to trickle in to church and in to love and in to family and in to heaven. Wave after wave polishing jagged human stones till they are smooth gems fit for a celestial crown. My wish for you, Chris, is contained in Dylan’s old young song.Image result for polished stones by seashore pictures

“Forever Young”

May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous

May you grow up to be true

May you always know the truth

And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous

Stand upright and be strong

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy

May your feet always be swift

May you have a strong foundation

When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful

And may your song always be sung

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

 

I just want to check every box, my friend.  Till then.

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407. Not… now… Forever…Granpa Wine

Image result for champagne and shrimp picturesThings run their course for one reason or another. What we enjoy and anticipate doing wears off over time. That’s the human condition. We get bored of the same thing over and over no matter how good it is. Call it sedition. Shrimp and champagne were great yesterday but not so soon again today. Steak and beer? Sure. Ice cream and pretzels. Not again. Not right now. Still, some things are eternal.

[My first draft was about this being my last entry, but as I wrote about my feelings, they changed. Like Otis Redding singing, “Stop this pain in my heart”, the more I said and wrote about quitting, the less I wanted to quit. Too much desire on this side of the keyboard to stop, but enough static to think about it.]

Springsteen is great, but not again right now. Santana too. My ears are sound burned, perhaps because my mind is unspunked. Put the records away for now. Marvin, Clapton, Hendrix, give me a rest, just for now. Hmmm, you know Johnny Cash sounded so good near his death. Eternity sang harmony with his rough hewn voice, sanding away any false sentiments. Potent as formaldehyde with a whiskey chaser.

Smoked a pack a day back in the day. Never again. Nicotine is anxiety’s best bad friend.Image result for loose cigarette picturesThirty five years ago my pregnant wife asked me to smoke outside where it was 5o degrees below zero. I smoked one and concluded that the entire habit was stupid. It was one of my top ten decisions in life, below following God, marrying my wife, and having kids, doing therapy, oh, and quitting teaching.

Image result for green pepper plant picturesGardening was once a tender joy for me, watching a pepper plant stand tall and bear fruit once filled me with wonder. I still like gardening, but not as much. The fertile magic diminished as the work increased. Other good things came knocking on the same door, but the man behind it grew tired.

Golf was a cool thing briefly. Maybe I’ll go back to it when I’m retired for the second time. Oh what a fight, though, just to be average. Like chess, you can learn a lot about a buddy over 18 holes. How men handle failure tells you a lot about their character. Golf rewards the man who has efficiently done the least work.Image result for golf pictures

I had a phase when I liked to play with tiles, finding wholeness in broken things. There is untapped potential in a good dumpster, my friends. Finding mosaic beauty is a noble cause. The whole gives meaning to each disparate piece. My writing is similarly mosaic, lacking meaning in the particulars. If you fuzz your mind, you might find some value in the whole. Then again you might find nothing more than rubbish. I guess it depends on what you went looking for.

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Used to run seriously. Seriously, I was slow but steady for 3, 5 or 7 miles. Felt so good and alive to find that runner’s zone of zen outside myself. A body in space obeying gravity and healthy guidelines. But the joints jabbered in pain and my back joined in the chorus.

Then I drew and did water color cards, little pictures that held a  wordless story I somehow needed to tell. When I stopped that practice, I realized it was my way of unloading daily anxiety onto paper with lines and shapes and colors. Each card was a 90 minute journey away from the lion’s jaws.Image result for watercolor paintings

Hunting tickled something in me I did not know was there till it was gone. Primal, visceral, powerful, and essential. You need a license, though, and some planning. After you pull the trigger, it’s all work. Unlikely to go there again.

Chess has always been a faithful friend, however, always fun. Look out retirement village. I’ll be check mating till my foolscap matures into full blown dementia.

Now it’s ballroom dancing with my bride. Maybe the best of all endeavors I’ve ever sampled. The zen of twoness puts a smile on my face when we mirror one another successfully. Mates, take my worn down soles advice: dance with your woman while you both can still move.

Image result for wine bottle picturesBrewing beer or making wine has that same sort of appeal for me, though I’ve never done either. On the way to work this morning I began to ruminate about making figurative “Grandpa Wine”. I was talking to my beloved granddaughter by phone yesterday, promising to nibble her toes off in my dinosaur voice, which she loves to rebuke in her three year old squeal. “No, Granpa. Don’t eat me!”

“Why not?”

“I made my bed.”

“Oh, I’m so proud of you. Good girl.”

“I made mommy and daddy’s bed too.”

“Whoa! You sure are a good big sister.”

“I uh, I uh, uh I want you to be a dinosaur again and chase me.”

“Aarrrgggh.”

“Weeeeee. No, Granpa. don’t eat me.”


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“I can’t, Honey, you are holding mommy’s phone. Just give it to her if you get scared.”

“Okay, be a dinosaur again. EEEEh!!

These little moments are super sugar-saturated grapes that drop from life’s vine

Only to be squeezed into wonderful Granpa wine

Sweet whispered breaths and wisps of hair

Giggles and laughs, smiles and smirks we share

All go into the batch

We jump around and flop

on all these things And  try to catch

every dropImage result for wine stomping pictures

Explosions of joy spring out of her soul

While to keep up I crawl

She sings and poses

Bows in the kitchen to pick up imaginary roses

Heavy and plump these grapes on the vineImage result for grape vine pictures

Only to be squeezed into Granpa wine.

Funnel the juice in magnum bottles to the max

Seal with crisp Corks covered in wax

And store horizontally for a long,long timeImage result for wine cellar pictures

Break out a bottle on Thanksgiving

To toast our fun loving and living

Share old times as your eyes shine

And a familiar warmth runs up your spine

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So, Leah,

Before my funeral bells chime

Sip and savor this Granpa wine

Note the bouquet of wild berries and stale Cheetos

And just a hint of nibbled off toes.

It must age as the flavors unfold,

But Granpa wine will never grow old.

 

 

 

406. Funhogs

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[Disclaimer:  the following did not happen outside my twisted mind. No animals were killed in the filming of this blog entry. By reading further you agree not to file a lawsuit against the author. Furthermore, you agree and assent that reality is a matter of personal perspective and thus cannot be proscribed or prescribed by one party to another.]

She said meaningful intimate things to me, as we walked to our car after a tango lesson at the hillside winery, beneath a full moon.

I had to agree and ignore all the prepositional phrases that would usually constitute a run on sentence, but after decades of teaching and marriage, who cares? Run on like a broken spigot of chianti, I say. To life, to life, la chaim. Run on like a grand symphony or a chocolate fountain.

“What’s not to like? I have a beautiful wife who wants to see me most nights. We’re healthy. Our kids turned out well. We have two awesome grandkids. Many friends. Abundant blessings all around, I’d say.”

“Yes. Knowing how uncertain life is makes it all the more poignant.”

“Are you poignant at me?”

“Yes I am, and your deadly puns.”

“The best puns like scorpions kill, honey…. You know that guy in Lowe’s who told you how beautiful you are on Saturday?”

“Of course. That was different, like weird different. Did it make you jealous?”

“No. I just agree with him. You stagger me worse than a bad pun.”

“You mean like when we are dancing and I try to lead?”

“Sure, there’s that torn rotator cuff, but what a lucky guy I am to be your partner in dance and in life. Not to mention that I’m covered under your Major Medical Blue Cross insurance.”

“I feel the same way.”

“That deserves a kiss as punctuation.”

Schmackk!! Nibble. Cuddle. “Stop! Why must men always grope?”

“I’m not groping; I’m grasping. Besides, one of my favorite heart memories is not grasping at anything, it is watching you dry your hair with the hairdryer while playing fetch with Johnnie and his tennis ball. That’s truly a beautiful image for me.”

“Why on earth do you say that?”

“Well, for the longest time when I’d run the hair dryer, he’d come to me with the tennis ball in his mouth, all excited, you know. He’d drop it and expect me to kick it like you did. But my hair is so not there that I’d be done before he got started.”Image result for bald man with hair dryer pictures

“Really? He’s so smart.”

“Yeah, it took me a while to figure out that you had trained him and the hair dryer was his cue to fun.”

Image result for older couple sitting together at night pictures“What is your cue to come around?”

“Well, let’s see. After you blow the breaker with your hair dryer on maximum, I come to see if it’s working. And to see your beaming face.”

” Not funny that first part. Still, this is the fun part of life. And we are Funhogs.”

“Agreed. It all seems simpler now. You know, the mortgage is paid. Our retirement is fixed. No worries there.”

“It’s more than that, though. We’re over the half way point in our lives now, and the days are richer, I think. Here we are on a Wednesday night, for Goodness sake, dancing and having a glass of wine while the world twinkles off in the distance.”

“Yes. I’d love to freeze this moment, but I’ve said that many times in the past, you know, and here we are thinking this is the most delicious moment of our lives. So maybe we shouldn’t freeze this one; just enjoy it while it’s fresh on our tongues.”

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“Sign me up for that. Maybe we could share a blueberry. Maybe you could peel me a grape.”

………….. After a make over in the living room………

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“I know we aren’t really smarter these days, but we’re wiser, I think. Did you ever think our house could be this pretty?”

“Yes, I did. I never believed it would cost this much, but that’s something else. In the end we don’t remember what something cost; we remember what it’s worth. Yup, yup. That’s what I thahnk, Jenn nay. Worth every Penn nay. That’s what Momma always sayed.”

“So, Mr.Forrest Gump Clairvoyant, how did you know it would end up so lovely?”

Birth of Venus by Botticelli“Simple: you are beautiful, and where you tread needs to show that. Remember Venus on the Half Shell by Botticelli? Wherever she stepped, in mythology anyway, spring broke out beneath her feet. So, it’s like that, my goddess. Beauty erupts at your toenails’ approach.”

” It’s The Birth of Venus. She’s not an oyster, you know. You are so full of Irish baloney.”

“True, and it’s a fine buttery blend of blushing beasts, so it is. Made from ground squirrels, ground hogs, ground possums, and a young pheasant for texture.”

“What am I going to do with you?”

“Hug me, squeeze me, tease me… just for a start.”

“You didn’t get enough attention when you were a kid, did you?”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. As Shakespeare said, “Some men are born great; some achieve greatness; and others have greatness thrust upon them.”

“You must be a ‘thrust upon guy’ cuz you sure weren’t born great and you haven’t achieved much.”

“True. Indisputably true. The thimple truth isth thometimes I’m just thilly with these thingsth. Thay! Isth that a new hairsthyle you’re sthportin?”Image result for daffy duck images

“So you devolve into Daffy Duck when things get therious? Theriously?”

“Yesth. It’sth a coping sthrategy I useth in sthticky thituationsth.”

“Sthtop or I’ll thscream.”

“Okay, enough of that routine. We need one more vignette for this blog post, my Dearie. What is your fondest, not fondlest, memory of me?”

“That’s hard.”

“Because there are so many to choose from?”

“No, that’s not it. Let’s see, um… it’s a repetitive memory of a repetitive experience. When we dance, you know, and you are supposed to lead, and I lean back waiting to be swept off my feet, and then I look in your eyes and realize that behind your blue eyes is an ocean of Play Doh, and then I lead and tell you what to do next, which is why I tore your rotator cuff last spring…”

“Uh hum, that is a run on sentence, Sweets.”

“And you will drink it down like free chianti.”

“As your champion, I will gladly wear the wounds of love’s many battles, my Lady. Mostht thertainly.”

Image result for kneeling knight in front of h is ladyThis never happened. As the three long time readers of this blog can attest, rarely is reality accurately depicted here. It’s mostly verbal Jello that fails to set up due to a lack of integral pectinosity. Do not eat this. Do not step off the top paragraph. Do not print this on a plastic bag and wrap it around your head as it could cause asphyxiation and/or death. Do not take seriously or brain damage may result.

 

 

 

 

 

378. Go Dog Go

One of my children’s favorite bedtime stories was a simple book called Go Dog Go by PD Eastman. It was/is so uncomplicated and innocent, just like childhood should be. Dogs race around in cars and stop at this absurdly large tree canopy to party like wild dogs. Through out the nearly plotless story two dogs meet sporadically and the female asks the male, “Do you like my hat?” to which he replies, “No” and then they race off while the narrator says, “Go Dog Go”. Wonderfully childish stuff. The climax of the book is when the male dog finally says, “Yes” to the female’s last hat offering and they go together to the tree party. Silly, simple, unsophisticated. Only a child would enjoy such a book.

Singularly uncluttered illustrations left a lot of empty white space on each page so that the dogs in their cars were unmistakable. Lots of room too for a little girl with baby shampoo scented hair to lean against her dad and point to each silly dog with a tickled fascination. Which often led to a bit of real tickling and giggles. Sure, we know dogs don’t talk, drive cars or climb tall ladders into a cloud-like tree canopy to party, but we suspend some of what we know to sample little pizza slices of fantasy. Our little ones have less knowledge to suspend so it’s easier for them to fall upward into fantasy.

My grandbaby called me Dinosaur Grandpa recently during a Skype session. I didn’t catch the connection to any experience until her mom, my daughter, said, “Don’t you remember chasing Leah around the house at Christmas, pretending to be a dinosaur? You were going ‘Roar!! AAARGGGHHH!! Blaaaaaa!!’and crawled after Leah as she shrieked for her tiny life.” Well, yes I did, but I didn’t realize that would be a lasting distinction for her two months later. Makes you wonder about what the lasting impact of bad behavior would be on a little girl’s pure mind. (Scar tissue holds such children in thick bondage to past pains. Trust me on this one.) It’s a funny dance we do with our vulnerable ones who want to be chased and scared one minute and cuddled and reassured the next. Somehow, like coyote pups fighting one another in their mother’s den, our toddlers are hardening their knowledge of the big bad world, practicing safety and seeking security in fantasy play with trusted playmates.

The Wizard of Oz was a scary favorite movie for my kids. Watching as an adult is an entirely different experience than a five year old’s experience. The wicked witch was so real to my kids in their innocent worlds. They would curl up in a growing revulsion of Miss Gulch and then the Wicked Witch herself. Of course my girls identified with Dorothy and her magical ruby slippers, “glitter shoes” as my Jessi would call them. She had to have a pair of red glitter shoes. Once at church she tried to take a pair of gold glitter shoes off another little girl’s feet. Funny thing about those ruby slippers of Dorothy:  they protected her and drew deathly attention at the same time. Why is it that being a pretty girl with blingy shoes makes you both favored and targeted simultaneously? Not fair, but girls learn to harden themselves against the wickedness of the world. It’s not just in a movie.

Anne of Green Gables was a powerful series for me and my girls. Megan Follows stole our hearts along with all the cast in the Wonder Works tele-version of the classic series. We hated Rachel Lynde, the nasty nosey neighbor who warned Murilla  “orphans will poison your well”, planting the seed of doubt in stoic Murilla’s thinking. She mocked Anne’s red hair and lit her anger fuse. Quietly, though, Anne found comfort in Matthew, Murilla’s bachelor brother. He accepted and loved her, it was clear. My girls fell in love with these characters, and all of us wept when Matthew died in the story. This experience was not so much fantasy, though it was not real. Like some folks do today with Downton Abbey, we used to cancel competing activities so that we could be home on Sunday evenings to watch the next installment of Anne, our new best friend. We even once planned a trip that we never took to Prince Edward Island. It was just too expensive or we were too strapped financiallyOh well, I hope to be present with my granddaughter when she meets these lovely characters. Perhaps we will finally make it to PEI after all.

All three of my daughters became big readers, which pleases me to no end. Reading good literature is like crosstraining for your mind. You meet the most interesting people and places and time periods in novels. Whether it’s To Kill a Mockingbird, another dark favorite that pits childhood innocence against institutional adult racism, or Little House on the Prairie, my girls found enough reality traction that drew them in emotionally and intellectually to other times and places, hearts and minds. They will forever be different for the better because of these experiences. As good as the movies are, they never approach the novel’s glorious gift of a limitless imagination. In the safety of a book’s pulpy pages my girls could paint their own pictures of the awesome Laura Ingalls Wilder or brave Scout, creepy Boo Radley or wise Atticus Finch.

Here is my conclusion. It’s a beautiful thing to watch your kids grow in knowledge, wisdom, love and experience, from the simplest to the most complex levels.  I’d gladly sign up for those days again with the hope that I would be wiser, more loving and patient the second time around.  I guess that’s what grandparenting is all about, though. You get a do over with the next generation…

“Do you like my hat?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then let’s go, Dog, go. Wooohooo, party on the tree top!!”

“Read it again, Granpa.”

Whispering, “Will you chase me like a dinosaur.”

Whispering  back, “Okay, ready?”

Nodding with grinning expectation and dancing eyes.

“Roaaaarrrr!! Arrrggghhhh. BLAAAAAA!!”

“No, no. Don’t eat me.”

“You better go, Dog, go.”

“eeek shriek eeek giggle badabuump. All fall down.”

The End.

366. Breathtaking

Walls of snow line the streets of Turtle Town. For some reason, lack of funds maybe, the Boro did not remove the snow as it usually does with an army of heavy equipment and dump trucks large enough to rival a Baltic nation’s. So it sits like instant mix mashed potatoes piled alongside the black macadam roads and alleys of our humble, shepherds pie kind of town. The rising temperatures help with the less than meager removal effort, which is actually counterproductive because this week is Ice Fest, a downtown merchants group idea featuring ice sculptures placed along two blocks of Main Street. Yep, frozen water sculptures in the middle of winter; and here the temps are warming up, threatening the entire enterprise. One year, oh fifteen years ago maybe, it rained the whole week of Ice Fest, which resulted in Slush Fest. The finely carved figures were turned into watery gargoyles and grotesques. Needless to say, it was not a breathtaking experience.

Which got me thinking:  what takes your or my breath away, Blog Breathers? Is it a tragic moment or a spectacular vista that pulls your breath out of you? Incredible beauty or incomprehensible grace? A letter from the IRS? Seeing your ex- with a new partner? Seeing yourself naked?

Breath is the essence of life. If a baby does not breathe at birth, no oxygen flows and brain damage begins. For adults it’s about three minutes, I believe, before brain damage commences. So whatever takes our breath away must connect deeply to our slice of humanity, for better or worse, way down in the brain stem where our automatic survival instincts and reflexes reside. Breath was tenuous 25 years ago for my then infant daughter. The die was cast. Which die? half a pair of dice or a metal form? Instead of the facts, your perspective will answer this question

Last night at the winery my lovely daughter was singing at her best. Lo and behold, her first grade teacher showed up, pushing her walker slowly across the floor as her husband steadied her gait. “I saw it on Facebook. I had to come,” she exclaimed. “I might have to leave before you are through because I’m older than dirt. Don’t let that distract you, Jessi. I just can’t stay out late any more. Do me a favor and let one rip full throttle, Angel, okay?”

Now I am used to my daughter performing at a high level, her lush voice paddling through rushing rapids and cute chutes of tricky syllables like a skillful kayaker in white water. I don’t get as anxious or rapturous at her gigs as I once did. The new and exciting have become the familiar and comfortable, a steady joyous cadence nontheless.

Lois sat next to me very comfortably like family should, oozing kindness, appreciation, and joy. Some disease was trying to take her breath away. She was having none of it. Instead she ordered red wine and sipped optimistically. She chatted up the connections, remembering twenty years ago when our precious daughter was the only girl in her first grade class. Having been an outcast at the parochial kindergarten the previous year, we had been anxious about how Jess would fare in a public school classroom. Lois was the Answer to our prayers. After a few weeks Jess came home with a big cardboard star covered with decorative stickers and positive adjectives. She was Star of the Week. That star hung in her bedroom for years, radiating love and acceptance over her as she slept, breathing quietly as a happy puppy curled against its mother.

I spent a morning in that classroom twenty years ago. It was so filled with love and acceptance. I recall that all ten kids played musical chairs at one point. Lois would hug the kid who wound up chairless. After a while I started to wonder if her hugs were more desirable to the kids than a silly chair without her in it. That day I saw more love and validation in an hour than I recall having seen in a lifetime around schools. I almost forgot to breathe because a big balloon of gratitude clogged my airway briefly.

At 9 pm Jess started singing. Lois lit up, put her hand to her mouth repeatedly as she gasped. “She’s beautiful!” “Oh dear God she is precious!!” “What a voice.!!!” Tears dribbled over her cheeks. She reached across me to grasp my wife’s hand. Deep down in her brain stem, I believe Lois wanted to jump and dance exuberantly as the musical kayak shot through her veins and all across the rivulets of her frame. “I love that song.” “I’m so proud of her.” Oxygen flowed; feet tapped; hands clapped; heads nodded; smiles spread; and warmth expanded solar plexuses. Another minor musical miracle occurred.

God is good.

Just like in the old musical chairs protocol, Lois had to hug Jess as she finished her set. She didn’t, no, couldn’t leave until Jess sang Carol King’s “I Feel the Earth Move”, full throated and beaming with joy. Music is her oxygen. Surely she would die without it.

Goodnights were shared and broad plans made for the next time. I felt the residual glow left behind from Lois and Don linger in the empty chairs beside me. I was sure now that those kids slipped out of musical chairs on purpose. Love and beauty are in the eyes of the beholder. And what power the beholder exercises over the loved one.

 

 

341. Thanks

Gratitude is such a powerful antidote to complacency, that overly comfortable place where we take life or others for granted. “Thanks” is a simple acknowledgement of a gift and implies appreciation if spoken without sarcasm.

“Thank you so much. I’m speechless with joy!”

“Honey, I just poured half and half into your coffee. It was nothing, de nada as they say in Mexico.”

“I know. But I think it was AWESOME!! It’s the nicest thing anyone has done for me today.”

“Babydoll, it’s 6:20 a.m. Give the day some time. You know, maybe someone will call you and say sweet things about you. Maybe a package or a card will arrive in the mail. Let the dog snuzzle you.”

“Maybe, but for now this pure and simple act of kindness is enough. I am loved homogenously.”

“Honey, are you tripping?”

 “No!! I’m just grateful for life, breath, a hot shower, dental floss, coffee, our house, warmth, you…”

“I hate to sound cynical and jaded. Maybe I’m crusted over and don’t feel it like you do. I appreciate all those things too, but I suppose I wouldn’t even notice unless someone stole them from me.”

“That’s a tragedy, I think. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone… that’s an old Joni Mitchell song, right?”

“Yeah. Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Pave Paradise, put up a parking lot.”

“What was that song called?”

“Big Yellow Taxi.”

“Really?  What’s that got to do with anything?”

“It’s a line in the song… ‘A big yellow taxi took away my old man’….  uh, after she heard the screen door slam. You know, a broken relationship and Joni is missing her loverboy now that he is gone.”

“They took all the trees and put’m in a tree museum”

“I gotcha… Now they charge the people a dollar and half just to see’m”

Together,  “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…. pave Paradise put up a parking lot. Dooo Whop Whop Whop.”

“You know I could sit here with you and watch the sun rise every morning. Usually I ‘d be rushing around to get to school right now instead of sipping coffee next to you.”

“Now you’re talking. I’m feeling this way more than I ever could about the coffee, the shower, my hair gel. Being at peace with you as you settle next to me, the dog snuzzling my leg, the fireplace glowing… yeah, gratitude is sorta’ bubbling up in my aorta.”

“That rhymes.”

“I know. I am the wordsmith nightingale.”

“No, you’re the mockingbird.”

“Wait. You read one blog post and now you’re my home girl?”

“No, I’ve always been your home girl. Like for 42 years or so.”

“I am so grateful for that, my dear Owl.”

“Owl?”

“Wise, gives a hoot, hoot, a toot, toot.”

“I liked the aorta sorta line better than the bad bird reference.”

“Wren did your taste change, My Tweety Bird?”

“Oh no! Here we go. Are you doing birds or words for 300, Alex?”

“I’d like raptors for 200 please.”

“The answer is Your Favorite Raptor.”

“What is the red tailed hawk.”

“Ding, ding.”

“Quail yourself, my dear. Think of the children, Christmas, Tiny Tim.”

“Why it should be Christmas indeed for me to drink a toast to Mr. “Finch.”

“Don’t be such a sapsucker. Tern the other cheek.  Swiftly swallow your pride.”

“There are four species of birds in that last quote.”

“And what did I win? Say the Daily Double, please.”

“Sparrow me your pleas, you warbling vulture.”

“Yes, my raven haired pigeon.”

“Thank God no one else can hear this impoverished drivel.”

“I  love it when you talk to me multi-syllabically.”

“That’s a sentence that has promise, it’s musical and suggestive of more to come.”

“Of all the gin joints in the world, you had to walk into mine.”

“Casablanca, Bogey and Ingrid Bergman.”

“Yes, doll face, you know how to whistle. Just put your lips together and blow.”

“C’mon, it’s too early in the morning for my brain.”

“And I’m glad for that too. The world can wait for us today.”

“You’re not going all complacent on me, are you? Are you taking it all for granted again?”

“No, but I think I have found a sort of settled gratitude, full of awareness and bliss in peaceful coexistence. No one is paving this paradise, Tweety Bird.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

335. Amore perfect day…

Image result for brilliant fall day picturesA more perfect day I can’t recall

as the lazy leaves litter emerald lawns-

no need to cut or weed again

till spring dawns.

The sky is a sapphire dome

with a glowing tungsten sun

massaging fifty five degree air

into ideal running weather.

As I run out and then home

A wisp of a breeze about.

No traffic, no body in the park

jogging along trying

to get out of myself and

breathe God’s glory in and out.

“Abba… I belong to You.”

Brennan Manning suggests this prayer

for 30 soothing

minutes a day, only this prayer

till transformation arrives.

Old Norman Rockwell would cry

’cause he couldn’t paint this blissful

riot of colors and shapes yanking at

my eyes for praise and wonder.

I just keep pounding away
savoring the dusty smell of dry oak leaves
Don’t think, draw no conclusions
Be a leaf tumbling down to the earth
Simply breathe, “Abba… (inhale)
I belong to you” (exhale)
 
Forget the connections and the constant
knitting of perceptions into some fruitless fabric
of meaning. No, unravel me, God.
Blow through me
shredding all my manmade knots;
pull me through the knothole
to Your side
where truth and love reside.
Here I’m too big in my pride
Too wide in my self love
Shrink me, God, with a syringe of humility
Draw me down gently like a sunset
“Abba… I belong to you”.
 =====================================================================
This was my internal monologue as I jogged my two miles today, waiting for my body to revolt, but it didn’t. The lungs and legs kept churning reliably. So nice since I hear of many folks with compromised health, and I, of course, naively hope to be the exception to disease and injury. Silly self delusions. No one gets out alive, though many get out unaware of eternity, never knowing why they lived or what it meant. No thanks. I’d rather have the truth in pain than ignorance in bliss.
 
I came up the rise to where Eric’s blue fountain sits, a little oasis for dogs and humans. 360 degrees of autumn glory sang out to my senses. I hugged the round fountain, warmed by the afternoon sun. “I miss you, Buddy. Your love, your joy, your purity. Go Steelers!! Yeah Buddy.” I thanked him for the short drink and started to wander off, wondering how Eric is doing in heaven. Joy, joy, unspeakable joy is all that came to my love kneaded mind. I thought about his funeral in February. We sang “Joy to the World” to him and for him. On this fall day I thought Beethoven’s 9th was in order. “Ode to Joy” is the English  translation. Everyone knows the melody. Just a couple of lyric lines will do…
All creatures drink of joy
At nature’s breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
 Image result for orchestra director pictures
I imagined Eric leading a celestial orchestra the same way he used to lead bands at the winery when we all went to dance. Eric would dance and sway in his own zone of supreme happiness. Everyone knew he was special, beautifully special. My friend Clark said, “No one got more joy out of his time than Eric.” And I agree. Let that sink in as you drink in joy. What a wonderful way to honor Eric’s memory with a fountain to refresh you and your dog; a dogwood tree to impress you with its beauty; and a bench to rest upon. Eric was a famous rester and generous with his extravagant joy.
Months after Eric’s funeral his dad Dave kept praying for a word from God to know that Eric was alright. His father’s heart was gnawed at by the relentless rodents of not knowing. Then one afternoon his phone rang with an unfamiliar number. Music blared, the Vienna Boys Choir… and then an old voicemail from Eric burst across time, “Hey Dad. I’m fine. Love You. Bye.” Joy, unspeakable joy, swept over my friend like one of those street cleaner machines. Big brushes scrubbed away disbelief and grief for the moment. He ran to get Vickie and share the wonderful message from the maestro of joy. Listening to it eased the ache of the razor blade in his heart, as grateful tears rolled down his cheeks. “My Boy is all right. He’s alright. He managed to call me. Wow. Unbelievable.”
In the ICU Dave’s question had been “Why? Why?” as Eric lay like a pin cushion mannequin, tubes and monitors tethered all over him. Now his word was “Wow! Wow!” Faith blown away by answers.
Tears swell in the back of my throat just remembering this fantastic story. And I breathe again without running, “Abba… I belong to you.” Eric belongs to Dave. Dave belongs to God. We all belong.
 
It won’t be long till we are pulled through the knothole of time and space that separates us bodily from the Creator.  For now, only our souls can slip through the keyhole like smoke rings to the other side. Every now and then a smoke ring blows back through the keyhole, catches us by surprise on a perfectly glorious day… and unlocks the universe.

299. Coincidental Miracles

Coincidence is what non believers call unexplainable phenomena in their lives, stuff that seems to have been orchestrated by an intelligent higher being that they don’t believe in, so they say, “Wow, what a coincidence!” Instead of “That’s miraculous!”  Coincidence works in the secular scientific materialistic explanation of the world and human behaviors. Here’s an example:  If a blind, lame Great Dane fell off a plane over Kentucky in May during the Derby race and happened to survive the landing and then ran ahead of the million dollar horses to win the race… “Well, what a coincidence!” just wouldn’t reflect the reality witnessed. I’m sorry; it leaves something to be desired. If a team of insurance company actuaries figured the odds and then had their math checked by MIT mathematicians and Google gurus, what would the odds of success be? 1 in 1,000,000,0000,000,000,000. Essentially zero. And yet these folks would scoff at the idea of a higher power being involved. Absurd, either way you look at it.

Serendipity, on the other hand, more accurately reflects the reality than coincidence does.

1. noun.  an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. It suggests that someone could have an aptitude, a predisposition for experiencing very cool occurrences. That’s better but not quite the right size nut for this metaphorical bolt. Too loose… won’t hold under pressure. Dictionary.com tells me that the origin of this word is from a fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip. Fairy tales often incorporate magic and inexplicable super powers. However, I’m not comfortable hanging my beliefs on a magic spell or a secret super power any more than I’d want to hang my health on a pharmaceutical cocktail from the apothecary.
A miracle, on the third hand, is an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws. Such an event may be attributed to a supernatural being (God or gods), a miracle worker, a saint or a religious leader. Theologians say that, with divine providence, gods regularly work through created nature yet are free to work without, above, or against it as well. Okay, now the blind, lame Great Dane can win the Kentucky Derby not on his own power but through the power of God.
In Yoro, Honduras they have a parade each year to celebrate the Miracle of the Raining Fish that supposedly occurred a long time ago to end a famine in this desolate mountain town. You probably think I’m making this up, and I don’t blame you. However, if you trust Wikipedia, here’s a note on the subject:
Spanish priest Father José Manuel Subirana was a figure in the history of Christianity in Honduras. He arrived in Honduras in 1855 and worked here until his death in 1864. Today the name of Father Subirana is linked with the legend of Yoro fish rain “lluvia de peces”. The legend tells the following: “Father Subirana saw how poor are the people in Honduras and prayed 3 days and 3 nights asking God for a miracle to help the poor people and to provide them food. After these three days and nights God took note of this and there came a dark cloud. Lots of tasty fish rained from the sky, feeding all the people. Since then this wonder is repeated every year.”
Every once in a while freaky things do occur in life, defying all odds and expectations. Only ignorant folks brush them off. Here is one from the memory banks for you that lands between coincidence and miracle… and it is true.
In 1982 I taught 10th grade remedial English at the local high school. Among the repeaters were two Korean kids, Jae Taik and his sister Min Jeung. Min had “failed” English because she struggled with basic English and needed a tutor. Instead she was given Watership Down and told to read and report on it. Jae Taik, on the fourth hand, had just finished 8th grade. I was confused about his presence. I asked  him why he was in my remedial English class. He said, “I want to learn.”  I was suspicious. The next day I pulled him aside and told him I knew why he was there. “You are your sister’s insurance policy, her ringer to pass. Right?”
Avoiding eye contact he told me, “Sir, I want to learn.”
I replied, “Hey, you aced the pretest, so you already know this grammar material. There is nothing else in this course. So let’s make a deal:  I guarantee you that Min Jeung will pass summer school. What would you like to learn?”
 Image result for breakfast club pictures
Sheepishly he told me he liked astronomy and Star Wars. I thought a moment and suggested that we read the Greek myths, which actually have connections to astronomy and the quest theme of Star Wars. He accepted. Min Jeung passed summer school. Jae Taik and I became close and spent some additional time with my family. The next fall he tried to play football. He was a decent place kicker but was told a senior was going to do the kicking even though Jae Taik was better. “Which Korea are you from, Kid?” he was asked. It was one of many shames for this lonely young man on the outside looking in.  His family moved to Los Angeles a year later. I heard from him once or twice a year with beautiful Korean cards. I was not and never did get used to being treated with such respect.
 **** Harp music plays in the background*****
In 1993 I had a student teacher, a tall Mexican/Indian American named David Vega. He was a very polished guy despite growing up in the tougher part of Los Angeles and attending L.A. High. He told me about playing guitar and basketball in high school. He mentioned his friend J.T., who I assumed was a Black guy from his ‘hood.  Never once did it occur to me that he was even the same age as Jae Taik, let alone that they could have possibly run into one another, or, on the fifth hand, been a close friend with him during high school.
As fate, coincidence, serendipity or God would have it, I picked up Jae Taik one weekend in 1998 or so when he was in D.C. for a visit. I was listening to flamenco guitar on the c.d. player. He mentioned that he liked it too, and that his old friend David Vega played flamenco guitar.  I said, “How about that. My student teacher’s name was David Vega and he played flamenco guitar… but it’s impossible that you could know him.”
“Six five, green eyes, black hair?”
“Yeah, but it’s not even imaginable that in a country with 300 million people…”
Well, it was. The next evening David and J.T. and I walked together down my street after dinner feeling very euphoric and magical, or should I say blessed? But it was merely a coincidence, the odd intersection of fate with serendipity… or maybe a small miracle.

 

267. So Long, been good to know you, Eric

Lots of soft hearted, wet eyed folks gathered at King Street Church this past Saturday to say good bye to one of our favorite persons. It dawned on me at church the next day that Eric never preached a sermon or won a theological argument with anyone, but he won over many hearts for Jesus with his unbridled joy. Who plays “Joy to the World” at a funeral?  Eric.

I was asked to speak about Eric. I made the following comments during a celebration of his life.

Eric was a pure gift of love…

from a loving Father to a loving family. He blessed our community.

He was like a shared golden retriever who canoodled his head under your hand.

Before you knew it you were petting him and feeling better.

Eric had that giving spirit and knew where he was loved.

He tenderly blessed us all.

 

That blessed gift returned to the Giver last Saturday

Leaving us bereft:  stuck between breathing deep sighs of sadness

Or not breathing at all.

All good things come at a great cost.

The great pain and deep sadness we all feel today

Are measures of that big hearted guy, we knew as the Sexy Cowboy.

Yeah Buddy!!

 

You know, in Texas they have an expression for fake cowboys–

They say, “He’s all hat and no cattle.”

Well Eric was all HEART and no cattle.

I think he was afraid of cows.

 

Humor me for a moment and close your eyes:

Picture Eric sitting next to you with his crooked grin

With that bird swoop thing he did with his head,

 his bright eyes peering at you through his Harry Potter glasses.

 

Take a long look and smile back at him

And hold to God’s promise that we will meet again

In glorified bodies

Minus the pain,

minus the ills of this world.

 

Give thanks for what Eric’s life was… a loving gift.

 

Take your last hug and exhale.

Eric has a poker game to play with Evie

And everyone knows that she cheats at cards.

 

Well, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, pardner.

And this is the hard part:  it’s time to say farewell.

 

God bless you and So long, Sexy Cowboy.

Like the God who made you, You are unforgettable.

I did not realize how important Eric was until he was no more. In the eyes of the world he was in the margins, out on the periphery. However, I believe in God’s eyes he danced at the epicenter of what we call love.

Image result for blackbird in a loaf of bread picture

An odd image kept coming to me when I thought of Eric’s death. I saw a black bird pecking his way out of a loaf of bread.  It had been baked into the dough, I suppose. I knew the black bird was Eric and the bread was God’s word, the  Bread of life. I knew this was a resurrection and not an entombment. Surely, Eric brought God’s word to life for those who knew him. In Isaiah 55 verse 12 Isaiah gives this supernatural vision:

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I will remember the Sexy Cowboy riding off into the sunset. There’s a party in them thar hills. Eric will save you a table near the dance floor.

 

 

 

266. Eric

 

My buddy Dave and I met in Honduras on a mission trip 12 years ago. We clicked. He never had a brother and I had one too many. When we got back home, my family socialized regularly with him and Vickie and his son from his first marriage, Eric. Eric was very special. He was short and skinny but he had a big personality. He liked monster trucks and cowboy boots, cowboy hats, big belt buckles, and country music. His self given nickname was “Sexy Cowboy”. And he obviously had an innocent yearning thing for my youngest daughter Jessica.

Dave and Vickie were exceptionally gracious with us. They invited us to their family functions and on vacations as well. They came along on a Bahamas cruise with us a few years back.  We got to know Dave’s dad Don before he died, and his mother Evie, for many years before she died. Evie was a trip all by herself. Always in a hurry and easily bored. She took trips often and would bolt out of parties as soon as she grew bored. She died last year after failing to turn her car off when she parked it in her home’s garage. Awful, true, but that’s how Evie rolled. Over curbs and up off ramps on the interstate. She was uncontainable.

But Eric was the mascot, the buddy. He loved dogs and would write us innocent emails asking how we were and how our dog Johnnie was. On visits to the local winery he would dance by himself or with a gaggle of women. He’d duck his head in an avian circle when he talked. He often laughed out loud like a happy bird. Sometimes he just made happy noises and sang to himself. You could not help but like him and feel safe around Eric. He had no guile as he snuggled into your armpit or hugged with his little hands and arms.

His health was fragile over the last years of his life. He had trouble with losing his hair and problems with his skin. His step mother Vickie was a nurse who cared for him diligently. Dave and Vick took him to dinner every Friday night at the local Mexican restaurant, Montezuma’s. He was the focal point of attention there. On Saturday mornings they would go for breakfast at another local greasy spoon. The waitresses loved Eric and flirted back and forth with him.

He wore Harry Potter glasses on his spunky nose. He never stuck that nose into anyone else’s business. He was just innocent, sweet, and loving.

A couple of years ago he began losing weight. At first it seemed connected with mood or choice. However, after a while it became clear that something serious was wrong with his intestines. Lyme’s was looked at along with many other illnesses. He became lethargic and seemed depressed. Eventually Crohn’s Disease was diagnosed. Eric weighed about 80 pounds and looked like an Auschwitz survivor. Thankfully, though, he began to put on weight with  his new medications. He was soon up to 100 pounds and his old, singing happy self. His “guns” were back and he’d proudly show off his biceps while laughing at the attention.

Last week we heard that he was in the local hospital due to a loss of blood pressure. We assumed he’d be transferred to a larger hospital and things would  be taken care of. What no one knew is that he had suffered a heart attack and kidney failure at 27 years of age. His blood pressure was so low and he was dehydrated. Yet his body could not process the fluids that were pumped into him to save his life. He was attached to just about every medical device you can imagine– intubated, restrained, sedated,  catheterized, and weighted down. His body swelled with unpassed fluids.

On the way to see him Saturday morning, a large black and gray hearse pulled out in front of us like a bad omen. At the CCU we weren’t really ready for the matrix of tubes and pumps and electronics that he was the center of. Sweet, simple Eric crisscrossed with wires and tubes and hoses. My heart sank into my shoes and all I could do was try not to walk on it as it beat out tears into a puddle on the tile floor. I wept and continue to weep for Dave and Vickie and Eric’s other loved ones. He, no doubt, is smiling and singing in heaven with his grandparents. He and Evie were thick as thieves on this side. I’m not sure how it works in heaven. On  the way home that same stinking hearse pulled out again at the same intersection. We noted it as an eerie coincidence and nothing more.

I think my wife suggested that  Jess sing for Eric since he was her biggest fan when he was conscious. We did not know it would be his last song. Later that day I recalled that Jess had fought for life in this same hospital 24 years ago as my wife and I heard a song on the radio that fileted our aching hearts when she was just born. It was Garth Brooks’ Unanswered Prayers. I don’t know why I remember such things. I guess I store them in similar places in my brain.

Jess scanned her inventory of songs on her phone and  came up with Laura’s Song. I’d heard it a thousand times on the local Christian radio. Till that moment it was just another song out of context. Only Jess was composed as the lyrics spilled over Eric like a sacred benediction.

“Blessings”

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguiseWe pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguiseWhen friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Some moments freeze due to trauma and some due to ecstasy. That moment was a bit of each. Eric died later that day around 6 p.m. The Sexy Cowboy had left the building. He was loved.