387. Little ChrisT.

Woke up to a stunning Facebook message this morning. I saw the death notice of a man I so admired and respected, and whose occasional company I enjoyed greatly. His crisp, clarion voice of true authority; and sharp, sincere gunshot laughs; his strong smile; eyes that led like a long dock out into deep waters…gone? Dead? Impossible!!  He’s ten years younger than I am and in better shape. Let me reread this. I rubbed my eyes and wiped sleep off my face, but the words on the page remained unchanged. “We are devastated by his loss”, Keri wrote. I am in that gutshot we. Something like an earthquake rattled the shelves in my mind. Containers of fond familiarity and jars of pickled reassurance smashed on the rocks of reality below. Waves of shock and confusion hit. Sorrow for his wonderful wife, his kids, his son’s upcoming wedding… all swirled together into a melted mental muddle. As I stared at my monitor, it kept ringing with replies to Keri’s post from friends and loved ones. “Boink, boink, boink”, sounds of life echoing back from a well of sorrow to news of his death. What? How? Why? Too much to process. 51. Spring Gardening. ER??

No, no. Restart, reboot. It can’t be true. Surely this is one of those elaborate Eastern European scams from Slovenia you hear about on the news. I had a false obituary posted on line a few years ago that led to Ancestry . com or something.  That’s it. Just restart your computer and update your malware, that’ll do it. Good as new….

No matter, Chris is, was, and will forever be a man of God. The only question is this: Is the rest of Chris T. Little in heaven now? A big chunk was already there. “He is surely with Jesus now… cuz he always was”, a soundless voice fluttered across my mind, like a dusty butterfly… “he always was”. As I stared at his name, Little Christ kept imprinting on my brain. Pastor Chris T. Little was a Little Christ in our community. Like Jesus he was deeply loved by many but also deeply depreciated by folks who should have known better. And there are always the folks with one footprint in each camp, watching which way the winds of popularity blow. No matter. Chris loved you all because he forgave you all and trusted Jesus to do the math. He did not waste time on bitterness, jealousy, or pretense. His words “I don’t have  time for that”, echo in my memory. That’s one thing I loved about him:  he spoke the unvarnished truth. Unfortunately, many folks like their truth the same as their hot dogs–slathered in sweet relish. Chris, however, spoke the mustard seed truth. That’s what mattered to him.

When I first met Chris, I noticed our extreme differences. I never imagined that we would call one another friend one day. He was a Navy engineer and a United Brethren pastor. Those of you who know me know that I am not an institution, authority-loving sort of guy. I am a former English teacher and a current professional counselor. Okay, and I’m a rebel. I backed into God while covered in the excrement of my own sin not out of my own proactive glorious righteousness. But Chris never asked me to give a faith doctrine defense in order to stand next to him. No time for such nonsense– like Jesus.

Chris and I consulted on some shared cases. Ours was a two pronged approach– his side was spirit led; my prong was more secular, mental health led. Still, we respected one another and were good teammates, serving God in different and unequal ways. He was the quarterback. I blocked.

One epic case we shared over nearly three long, tough years. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the details, so I’ll keep them confidential as they should remain so. However, Chris stood tall and immovable against Satan’s powers and principalities. His voice thundered with the Holy Spirit as he claimed the truth of the Scriptures and refuted the lies and deceptions of Lucifer’s minions. In the process a soul was rescued from the bloody battleground between heaven and hell. As each brain curdling encounter ended victoriously, he’d smile and laugh at the incredible happenings we had witnessed. “Well that was fun, huh?”

We talked a lot back then. I never would have managed to come through that extraordinary experience without him. Like any friend I’ve lost in my life, I wish I’d talked more often, but there was no urgency, or so I believed. But there is urgency if you do not take your next breath or day of life for granted, or believe it’s an automatic that you will awake in the morning. Once he said out loud what we both were thinking, “You think God is gonna ask us to do this again now that we’re trained?” My answer?  “I sure hope not.” And yet, compared to being comfortably alone versus uncomfortably present with my departed friend,  I would gladly take the discomfort option all day long.

I pray that his mission, though cut short, was still complete. Chris T. Little was a good and great man. Yet he was a humble servant of Jesus Christ.  A Little Christ who led and fed many souls at the altar of God, one mustard seed at a time. Mother Teresa was a Little Christ.  St. Paul. Martin Luther King too. They revealed the majesty of our Supreme Savior in how they lived their humble lives amid a forest of mustard trees.

Dying in one’s own garden seems poetic as well. Planting requires effort up front and patient faith in the future crop. Although Chris is no longer with us, his crop will be a hundred hundred fold.  John 12: 24 tells us, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Until we meet again, my Little Christ friend, in a forest of mustard trees. Be with God.

383. Counterintuitive

Here’s a disturbing question for you:  When do folks suicide most often– summer, winter, spring or fall? Most folks think winter and the holiday season is ripe for suicides. That may be, but it’s spring that consistently hosts the most suicides in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. (You know they are opposite, right?)According to the CDC April and May show a marked increase in suicides in the U.S. and other northern countries, and that suicides actually decline in the bleak winter months. One study I saw clearly demonstrated Monday as the favored day for suicides to occur. Maybe those folks just didn’t want to go to jobs they really hated. Hmmm, you’d think quitting or calling off might have been more effective.

Not to make light of suicide. I feel deeply for folks who are in such a pain filled state that they can only think of destroying the pain container instead of destroying or managing the pain. It’s the all-or-nothing approach to problem solving, similar to burning down your house to make sure you eliminate the pesky mice that run around your kitchen at night. Undeniably, it works; but this solution obliterates the plaintiff, bailiff, courtroom, reporters, judge and jury. It’s an odd sort of justice that obscures the original injustice.

I recall a local anesthesiologist who offed himself on an examining table at the hospital to protest real or perceived maltreatment. The thing is, we’ll never know what the rest of the truth  was because he executed himself as he executed his strange justice. I do not recall if it was a Monday in spring or not. Doesn’t matter. His job was to anesthetize patients in surgery and to revive them afterwards. It’s supposed to be a round trip ticket not a one way. Which is why single passengers who buy one way airline tickets with cash attract so much attention from the TSA. The guys I know who do this are not terrorists; instead, they are repossessing cars or delivering machinery. In any event, they are coming back… unlike Dr. Doom, who fully anesthetized himself forever.

Sad and disturbing. No one can grasp the unbearable weight that moves a finger to pull a trigger of the cocked pistol at one’s temple. Follow the triggered nerve back to the tortured brain that has been rehearsing this exit strategy. Almost all suicides are completed alone, which reduces the risk of revival or interference. Still, what an airless bedroom closet or bathroom it must be as the suicider sits and builds up the critical and final momentum for the ultimate terminus. Like waiting to vomit and then ride the terminal wave out of consciousness, where the constant is becomes the eternal is not. The pain and hopelessness must feel like giant aliens that must be destroyed.                                                                                 Image result for giant alien pictures

The demoniac self named “Legion” in the Gospel of Mark 5, had so many unclean spirits driving him that he smashed rocks against himself and ran around tombs naked and screaming near the pig herds of the Gerasenes.  His repetitive insanity was ended by Jesus with a command, “Come out of him, you unclean spirit.” The legion of unclean spirits came out and complied. They asked Jesus not to torment them and begged to be cast into the nearby herd of pigs. He complied and they possessed the pigs, leading 2,000 to hurl themselves into the Sea of Galilee and drown. That’s a lot of bacon, folks.

One life was saved, one mind restored. And you’d think that the folks around the Gerasenes would be pleased, but they weren’t. They begged Jesus to get back in his boat and leave. No thank you or praise or worship, nope. Just fear simmered in the melted grease of confusion. It’s been said that miracles don’t produce faith; rather, faith produces miracles. I agree. Despite witnessing the overcoming of supernatural forces, the locals wanted no part of this Savior. Counter intuitive again. If you don’t want the problem nor the solution, then really, what do you want? More confusion, I suppose.

 I recall a story of a young man’s suicide with a pistol. The parents were devastated, yet they gave the gun to the victim’s younger brother.  I’m not a gun hater, but if your older son overdoses on oxycontins do you give the rest of the prescription to his little brother? Or if the one hangs himself, do you give the remaining noose to his kid brother? Seems counterintuitive again. The math of suicide is not that hard to do, if you simply possess the courage to do it.
 semi-colon
Despite the common terminology, no two suicides are identical. Some are grandiose exits with letters full of anger and bitterness. Some are murder/ suicides involving children or partners, parents or pets. Somewhere in the convoluted thinking the perpetrator believes the survivors can’t make it without him/her, or he/she can’t make it without them… and it’s better to make it a package deal. Some are desperate hangings while the family is away. Even when clear reasons are attached to suicides, survivors ponder the WHY? I suppose this question comes from the valuing of life on the one hand, and the incomprehensibility of destroying oneself on the other hand, which is literally no longer there.
Guilt and shame follow suicides as surely as the million WHYS. Yet, if survivors look hard at the evidence, it is usually not their fault. The fault is most often in the suicider’s brain, where he/she solves a temporary  problem with a permanent solution. Overkill is a fair comment, I believe.  Intuitively healthy minds seek survival and generativity. Counterintuitively, unhealthy minds seek death and the cut off of their loved ones. A life well lived is a beautiful thing. A suicide is, no matter how meaningful or dramatic, is a disaster.

330. Tightly letting go

The ghost grip rises northward out of my upper spine and starches all those supple muscles in my neck that had found warm relaxation at the beach last week. It’s just a single stressful day of the routine, and already the coffee, tension, and focus are pulling together like rusty marionette strings to make my head nod, smile, turn, and tilt. EEk!! It’s a bad trade, but the ratio seems to be 1:8, one day of work cancels out 8 days of relaxation. I’m trading dollars for pesos. Why?  Why do we do this to ourselves? For achievement of one sort or another, so I am told. We build resumes of rigidity.  And when we’ve had enough, we brittley retire from the brutality. Once we are fully, hopelessly  wooden boys, we finally soften up in preparation for the end– the letting go of doing and the embracing of being.  My retirement song will be “I’ve got no strings to hold me down, to make me fret or make me frown. I had strings but now I’m free, there are no strings on me.”  Pinnochio, where are you, man? I went to school. I worked like a donkey. And I behaved badly here and there. Now I want to be a no strings, fleshy, real boy again. If you can’t make it, Pin, at least sent Jimney Cricket to talk me down. I don’t want to live in a whale’s belly any more.

My peer group met at my house this morning for French toast and bacon, grits and coffee. (Grits come with or without you asking. It’s passive-aggressive Southern Food Fascism, an informal way of taxing and testing your guests. How will they deal with the grits? Like John Wayne or Lil’ Wayne? It’s a Rohrschach Test with boiled ground corn.) Whipped cream and blackberry pie filling were available along with organic maple syrup. Our topic for discussion?  The end of life, the inevitable decline of aging. For a field trip Dave 2 suggested that we visit his retirement community, which he just loves. A breathless lack of enthusiasm met his suggestion. No one wants to plan his own slow, fragile demise. So we don’t. We read about it in our book– Atwul Gawande’s Being Mortal. Lots of good stuff in there for other people to use. But Lordy, not me. I just hope to die in my sleep… long before I lose control of my bodily functions and mental capacities. I want autonomy, firm flesh and freedom till the end. Problem is, we don’t get much of a choice in the matter.I think it was Woody Allen who said he wasn’t afraid of death, he just didn’t want to be there when it happened. Me too, Woody.

According to Gawande, your best insurance policy against winding up in a nursing home is having a daughter.  Fortunately I have three. I hope at least one of them will keep me out of the nightmare of institutional living if that’s where I appear to be headed. Like most American men, I don’t want to become dependent, or more dependent than I already am. It’s a strange dynamic, this aging process. In a way it’s like playing poker with Death. You win almost every hand when you are young and can’t even imagine losing one day. As you get past 50, though, you notice the face cards aren’t coming your way very often. Forget about aces. You’re pulling a lot of 5’s and 8’s. No straights or flushes either. You fold more often and win seldom. Some folks call for a new deck at midlife. They quit their job or marriage, their church or their kids. Wanting a new purpose, passion or cause, and facing a barren horizon that is too much to bear…  they demand, “Dealer, new cards!!” The Dealer chuckles at these naïve players, neck deep in mortality.

“SNot that easy, Boys. Mortal means ‘ssssubject to death’… not if but when. SSSSoo, how about another hand, eh?” Eventually everyone learns that the Dealer always wins. Since this is the inescapable end of the material world story, what are you doing with the time we think is still available? Are you making a tighter, tougher resume? Are you tightening your abs and working a veggie diet?  Lots of antioxidants?  Good, good. But are you adding value to the time you are reupholstering?

Back to Pinnochio. He lost his strings when he explored his freedom. He blew it. He skipped school and fell for Stromboli, the bad dude with the traveling carnival. Every time he lied, his nose grew, which is not a bad adaptation. [Imagine if our politicians had this adaptation. They would be upright swordfish. Reporters would be skewered nasally in press conferences. Congressmen would skewer one another at hearings as they lied back and forth. In presidential debates, the guy with the longest nose would be declared the winner. Chris Christie wouldn’t have to lie about Bridgegate any longer because New Jerseyites could just drive back and forth to Jersey City over his nose.]

Anyway, Pinnochio found his soft flesh after saving his woodcarver father Geppetto’s life. Just when you think old Pinoak had drowned after the awful whale Monstro chased him, he is transformed into a real boy by the blue fairy. Boom! Why? What’s the Pinnochio secret?  Sacrificial love, my little wood shavings. He gave his life for his father, his wooden life, that is. Old Pinoak stopped lying and started using his noggin to rescue Geppetto and the cat. Image result for pinocchio and geppetto in the whale pictures As a result the Blue Fairy returned to change his splintered wooden heart into one of flesh. It almost sounds like a religious parable, eh? Sacrificial love actually transforms the giver and receiver. Like Shakespeare said about Mercy…

“The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown”

Sacrificial love may be mightiest in the weakest and most vulnerable, folks who have nothing to spare but find this gift in the empty cupboards of their lives. So, I’ll play another hand with Death. He can have my sawdust. I’m taking my fleshy heart with me.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

252. “Call the doctor or I’ll kill you!”

I tend to exaggerate, but my wife did say something like this to me this morning. You see  a month ago she’d written on a piece of gray cardstock that my doctor’s office had called me for a follow up appointment … because she does not want to be a widow at 58, especially since I have finally learned to dance with her and show some promise for retirement. I had faithfully used that reminder card as my bookmark for the past month. She bugged me a few times and I said that I would call the office to schedule, but here I am thirty days later, senseless and defenseless. She’s worried that I may have some hidden cancer that is eating me up, metastasizing as I am fantasizing about being younger and buffer than I am. I told you that I tend to exaggerate. Now keep in mind, my blogstas, this is the same woman who once told me to unloosen my belt and unthaw the frozen roast beef. To which I replied, “You want me to tighten the belt and refreeze the meat?” The current threat is ironic, I think.  It boils down to this paraphrase, ‘Prolong your life or I’ll end it now!’ In some strange way I think I still have to unthaw that meat and I am it, and I am scared.

So this  got me thinking about other ironic communications in my life. Years ago in Sunday School class our then single gun-toting cowboy Josh was famous for saying off the wall things that would occasionally make sense. His favorite color was/is camo. His favorite shoe?  Tony Lamas boots. Favorite truck?  Dodge Ram. I don’t recall the exact conversation, but Josh offered that the devil comes on like sheep in wolves’ clothing. He meant the opposite; however, he had such a history of twisted clauses and phrases that it was anyone’s guess which way he wanted it to roll. The imagery is weird either way, but I’d never heard of herbivores skinning out a carnivore for a new suit.

That is the beauty of irony; it’s completely opposite of your expectations. Shame on you for thinking that way! Incomplete communication is the heart of many trick questions. Here’s one that occurred to me. “Which one of the following months has 30 days in it– June, July or August?”  Well, they all have thirty days, but if you push and pull a bit, you can imply that the answer ought to be June alone. And that vague gap is what lawyers drive wedges into to end contracts or nullify agreements or just to be mean.
At the coffee shop this morning the Nation was meeting in earnest. Two games of chess were played satisfactorily. (I dominated.) However, Joel, the consigliere exchequer of the Nation, was making noises behind us, two tables thither. It’s cold this morning, which got me to bust out the Eddie Bauer down jacket, affectionately known as Mr. Fluffy. Joel has a bizarre attraction to my fluffy jacket like the old Charmin toilet paper commercials proclaimed, “It’s squeezably soft.”  He has heard me say that it’s $2.00 a squeeze if I’m in the jacket, and $1.00 a squeeze if I’m not.  Anyway, we bantered back and forth about his predilection and how it meets a primal mammalian need to suckle. I offered to clip a binky on my jacket for next week so that he could have the full experience. He declined saying it was too weird. To which I responded, “Why is it okay for lawyers to pinch and squeeze their customers, but when their customers want a piece of the action, it’s a no squeeze zone?”
Ah, the suckling irony of it all!
Earlier this week, Tuesday night to be exact, I worked until 8:30 p.m. and then checked my cell phone– three texts and three voicemails. I could quickly guess that Danny’s Garage meant my car was ready, so I began walking the two blocks to pick it up, hoping that the keys were under the mat as usual. Two texts were from my wife reminding me to pick up our daughter at 8:30. One voice mail was, I was sure, her attempt to confirm why I had not responded to either text message. I’d been fully engaged with clients since 2:00 pm without any break, that’s why. I hustled to pick up the car, then the daughter, and answered another voice mail with a live phone call. It was exhausting. Guess what? My wife was upset with me that I had not texted her back a simple “ok” to confirm that I’d received her three reminders. At 9 p.m. when I was finally eating supper, I did not have room in my brain to store her complaint. So I just stared at her like the substitute village idiot.
Fast forward to Friday afternoon. As I was leaving my office to pick up the dry cleaning and go by the bank, I noticed a reminder text from my bride to pick up our daughter after her work day. Though I already knew this and had it on my calendar, I panicked and fumbled with my phone. I quickly typed “k” to acknowledge her text and avoid future pain. But my phone would not let me send that. No, technology was using me not vice versa. I tried again as I was driving, which I think is a crime unless you have just picked up 30 pounds of dry cleaning.  I missed the k key and typed “LLL”. I was screwed. The phone tried to edit me and refused to send that also. Finally I typed blindly “PLO” and sent it by mistake.  Uh, what’s the deal here? I pondered how she would interpret this error… “Are you comparing me to a terrorist organization?”
Sure enough, an hour later she called to inquire about the PLO. I told her that’s how you spell “ok” when you are driving a five speed SUV and you are scared of your wife’s retribution. Okay, I guess sometimes the truth is the best policy. She chuckled and gave me three points for the effort. “You know you could have just waited till  you got home to safely text me.”
“I know, I know, but I needed to unloosen my belt and unthaw the meat before you kill me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

242. One crisp fall day

Some days call your name with a different slant of sunlight or a final cricket chirp as you close the windows to your bedroom for the summer’s end. We humans notice sensory changes through the bodily inputs of smell, sound, sight, touch, and taste. Even the subtle ones like lowered humidity or wind direction can trigger our minds toward preparing for the winter or pull on emotional strings of past losses and grief. As I mowed the grass this past weekend I bumped my head against a winesap apple, strode under a Bartlett pear, pushed around sleeping butternut squashes, and came out alongside a heavy grape vine pregnant with zesty purple fruit. Glorious, glorious abundance from little past efforts on my part. But the devilish deal is this: to eat of this fruit is to simultaneously accept the end of the growing season. It’s not bittersweet, but the moment is tangy and crisp, poignant. The older I get, the more I feel the silent sting of these days. I pause just shy of melancholy. Then again, I could be overthinking this experience.

In vain attempts to lengthen summer my wife and I have scheduled warm southern fall trips in October. Last year it was the Gulf Coast of Florida. Wonderful, yes, but it felt like a magic trick to fly two hours and gain a month of growing season, like a rabbit came out of a magician’s top hat and hopped away. This year it’s out to Arizona. I know it will feel fantastic to recapture the heat and feel my body relax in the Arizona desert warmth. The catch is coming back to instant chilly weather, dampness, and dreary low sunlight days. What would you rather do: leave Baltimore or come back to it? Springsteen wrote a song about it, Hungry Heart. What’s an old guy to do?  I can’t stop time or ignore the delicious fruits of the moment I am in. Do I eat and die, or fast like a fanatical anorexic who fears death so much and thereby only prolongs a slow version of it? I suppose the longer I reside in the desert, the more change I’ll come to see. The desert is subtle, blogalinas.  However, no land can be immune to time’s relentless march. No rabbit will hop from a sombrero in Tucson, nosirree. More like a gila monster will crawl out of a boot, to be culturally and geographically correct.
So, as this day warms up into an early autumn gem, I’m confused. My body knows the sunlight is lower octane now; it’s welcome but not celebrated.  I suppose I’d celebrate this  very same day in the early spring, but no. This day promises less not more. So I resign to pull up the squash plants, and yank up the late beans and peppers. I remember one last hill of red potatoes that need to be exhumed. Soon enough even the green grass will fade to muddy brown and then a frosty white. It’s time to draw in the frivolous furniture of summer days and the fragile potted plants on the deck.  Wind up the hoses and drain them in the process. We’ll babysit all of these seasonal items for another six months and do it all again on the other side in April. Yet I find myself pausing longer at these changeover moments. How many times will I repeat these mundane tasks? Not to be morbid, my bloggerators, but to be realistic I count 20 years of life expectancy in my expected assets accounting column.
As I see it, I’ll have about 15 years of retired life if I die on time. That’s an appropriate book end to my life. My first 15 years were spent in pre-tirement, I suppose, with the middle 48 spent entirely in tirement. No wonder I’m tired.  In my first 15 years I learned how to be a functional adult, although there is still some debate about that claim.  So figuratively speaking, my life will be a fat book of 48 years secured by two fifteen year old bronze book ends. On my life’s tome I’d like a nice leather binding with gold lettering, “Burrito Special Vol. 1” deeply tooled into the cowhide. Wait. I think I’m overthinking this thing. Left unsupervised, Irish people tend toward melancholia, tragedy, and the morbid. Halt!!
I actually ate that winesap apple. It was shockingly delicious. I insisted that my wife take a bite…forget the Garden of Eden allusion. Her name is not Eve. Later she made a butt kicking roasted butternut squash soup. And I’m considering harvesting all those grapes for juice or jelly. The pears don’t soften up till October.  Perhaps that’s the answer to my unechoing silence:  enjoy the harvest now. Live abundantly and gloriously. Laugh at death. He is simply doing his job, scything away daily without benefits, days off or any retirement plan.  Death is merely a UPS delivery guy in black, minus the truck. Just sign for the package and he’ll be on his way.
Then there’s that other thing called eternity. I can’t get into that right now, my little chinchillas. I have to do some billing and  then vacuum. Also, there’s someone at my door with a package.

240. Time is short

No time for silliness, my silly blogwillies. Get that smirk off your face and stand up straight! It’s time for sober realism. Or somber surrealism. Pick one.  It’s the end of the world as we know it…. We could say this every day, dontcha think? We do say it every day… on the news anyway. “It’s the worst case of the dreaded Ebola virus since the last one. Epidemic Domestic Violence. HIV/ AIDS. Anthrax. Epic Abuse. WMD. Chemical weapons. WWJD? Catastrophic. WWTMW. Expialadocious.” And that’s just the sports section.

 

“Oh my furry whiskers, I’m late. I’m LATE!!”

So, in order to save time and live expeditiously, we began planning our funerals at coffee summit nation this morning. Steve volunteered way too much information about his post-life needs. He expressed his wishes that the nation would function as his pallbearers, providing there were six of us, sober, and at least four capable of weight bearing loads. Dustin has a bad back but was assigned side, left duty between two taller members in good  standing. He can still call cadence without actually supporting any of Steve’s corpse’s weight, unless Steve consents to post mortem mummification. As in life, so too in death.

Steve asked that I would give the eulogy if I did not precede him in death. I am considering preceding him just to get out of that gig. What would I say, ” Steve liked pain. Amen.” Further, he requested that the pallbearers wear black suits with white shirts and black ties and dark sunglasses like Men in Black or the Blues Brothers, depending on our collective mood– high tech or old school blues. Furthermore, which is more than further, he wants Taylor Dayne’s greatest hits played at his funeral. He said his widow Robin will understand and appreciate this 1980’s touch. Well, in my journalistic effort to document her greatest hits, I found that Taylor’s real name is Leslie Wunderman. Okay? Uh, I was crushed almost as thoroughly as when I learned John Wayne’s real name was Marion Morrison. And John Lennon’s real name was John Lennon. Do you see a drift toward crisp, one syllable Nordic stage names here? But never mind; we have no time to waste. Steve is aging and we must plan his memorial. Fortunately we still have him presently carrying on across the table this dreary morning about needing to go to Vegas and be tazed. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”

“And so, let us remember him in death as we did in life. Steve liked pain, NASCAR wrecks, Taylor Dayne, lots of napkins and mindless violence. Amen. Please lower the carcass now before the shedding of the tear gas. Thank you all for coming. There will be a reception at the coffee shop following Steve’s internment, if his name really was Steve and not Rod Blogoyavich or Petroff Nogoodnovich.”

Meanwhile Gene brought his class picture from 1965 to the table for our inspection and to see if we could accurately pick him out of the black and white line up. Only the newest provisional member, David, was correct. Which means that, counter-intuitively, the longer you have known someone, the less likely you are to be able to pick him out of a childhood photo line up, thus proving once again that eye witness testimony is shady at best.

To test our theory we had Gene commit a simple crime in full view of pedestrians and commuters and then hang around for identification. He kicked the glass out of the Gypsie gift emporium door and then sat back down. Ten minutes later the Turtle Town police showed up. When they asked us if we’d seen who did it, we identified Gene and his younger version in the old class photo. The cops arrested him, thanked us and hauled him away as he tried to con his way out of it with “it was an, an, an, experiment, officer.” I hope he gets out in time for Steve’s funeral. I don’t want to carry all that dead weight alone, mummy or no mummy. I think it’s odd carrying corpses around, unless you are in an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

It’s unfortunate, indeed, that life is so short that we must occasionally throw one another under the troika, as they say in Russia. But we can’t be wasting time. No sirree. However, as I consider this profound thought, it brings the entire Coffee Summit Nation’s purpose into question. Our sole expressed and implied mission is to waste time, to avoid work, and to contribute next to nothing to the greater good. I guess that’s three missions tied tightly in our one-sided napkin constitution, thus the previous troika allusion. (The original magna napkina is getting harder to read after five years in my wallet.) If this mission statement is true, then something important needs to happen soon for the Nation to continue in its false sense of urgency. We must invade another table or challenge the banker contingent to a uselessness contest. You see, three snappily dressed, snarky bankers from an abbreviated bank (M&T) stroll down to the coffee shop every day whilst we are harmlessly wasting our time. They laugh and make comments about the Nation, but one day Boy oh Boy, we are gonna go off on them like espresso steam spigots. We may have to wait till Gene gets out of jail and Lance remembers what time we meet so our numbers are in our favor.
Steve may have to postpone his funeral and take one for the team until we re-establish hegemony in the downtown community of nations. Oh, so little time and so many delusions.