418. Gratitude

Image result for free bulging bellies picturesAs one year bulged its way into the next over the food and drink and presents and party people, I realized that I had not blogged in a couple of weeks. That tells me something: I must either be content or constipated. I know the latter is not true, but I need to ponder the former. Am I content?  I think so. I am full on many levels, fulfilled even. Maybe even overflowing in the sense that my cup overfloweth.

Lacking anxiety as well, because anxiety cannot be contained in contentment; it is a psychological gas that presses against the space it expands into. Anxiety is the steam of an overheated mind; brain sweat from the racing rat wheel of worry. This deformed child of worry makes one’s eyes squint; pulse tick up; sweat seep; capillaries squeeze shut. Symptoms go on and on– the nauseated stomach, gas, reflux, insomnia, etc. All traceable back to the drip drip of adrenaline into a worried and worn out body. Raw fear.Image result for anxiety images

And what motivates the rat wheel, you ask? The endless game of “what if?” that’s what. Since there is no definitive answer to the “what if?” game, the cognitive rat brain simply runs faster and faster in order to keep up with its self imposed pace. “What if this spot on my back is cancer? What if  I can’t get insurance? What if there is no after life?  What if there is and I wind up in Hell? What if I die on my next birthday? What if the country implodes? What if …?”Image result for rat on a wheel picturesThe rat is exhausted.

Oh, but the antidote to all this angst is the peace of mind, body and spirit that gratitude delivers. Truly, it is a gift that expands in melting paraffin waves of relaxation and fulfillment. Gratitude is a word derived from gratis, Latin for thanks. Thanks for what? Well, for what is; what has been; and what may likely be. Gratitude collects one’s thoughts and feelings like random pieces of laundry. Gratitude washes the negativity out of each garment and sets it out clean and fresh again. Sort of like forgiveness. And whom are you thanking? The Gift Giver, of course. Image result for grateful images

A young man once surprised me with an unexpected mini-lesson on gratitude. “Yeah, I’m doing okay with the lithium. This is the longest I’ve ever stayed compliant, you know. I do counseling twice a month, and that helps. I work out every day for an hour, no matter what. Overall I have a lot more activity in my life with more relationships. I can see that I was hibernating two years ago, but now I’m crawling out of that badger’s den. But you know what is the most important factor?”

“Well, I’m guessing it’s not one that you have already mentioned, yes?”

“Of course. I think gratitude is really powerful. More and more I see it in my life. When I am able to look thankfully at what I do have, I am filled with joy. And the funny thing is this: the facts of my life really haven’t changed. It’s my perspective. I knew this all along, but I thought there had to be more factors. But in theses last six months I’ve been focusing on the good in my life, my blessings, my living friends, what I can still do. And it’s enough. Way more than enough. I can’t easily get depressed when I am full of stubborn gratitude.”

“Nice!  I agree. Gratitude is thankfulness for what you do have and who you are instead of moaning about what you lost or never had to begin with. It’s coming to peace with who you are. Gratitude has no room for envy of others and how life should be ideally. Instead, the grateful look at what is and give thanks. It’s living in the world you are in, in your own skin, and enjoying it.”

“Yeah. I don’t have a career anymore because of my bipolar, but I still have a family that loves me. I have my daughter, though her mom and I are divorced. I can still ski and play golf, work out, do manual labor. I have to do vigorous exercise some days to check my self, usually to force the energy to flow. If I don’t pull the blanket back in the mornings, then I’m inviting the ticks into my brain.”

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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.

Image result for artistic mosaic tiles images

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.”


Image result for grandpa with granddaughter pictures

“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

Image result for smiling three year old girl face

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

350. Wizardry

funny drunk people, dumpaday (37)Here we are, just you and me, blog drunks. Truly, though this same message is out there for anyone to read, it’s just the two of us at the space bar now, Joe. The lights are low. Pandora plays the old classics softly behind the screen.  “Bartender, set up another post for me and my friend. Make mine a double.”

Why do you come back?  I ask you, why? Surely there are better things to do with your time than hang out with an old rambling dude self-named for a Mexican lunch special.  If I were you, I would not hang out with me. Can’t stay away, huh? Have you no self respect? The guy behind the cyber screen is troubled. Remember the Wizard of Oz? He was just a lost illusionist. He was the same guy in the carnival wagon in Kansas before the tornado hit. You knew that, right?  A good man but a bad wizard. I’ll appropriate that description. I’m a bad, bad wizard, Joe.

If Harry Potter called me out to a wizard magic dust off, I’d lose. Snap!  No question. But if that little jerk knows what’s good for him, he won’t or I’ll skewer him syllabically. Oh, but misery loves company, eh my drunken friend. What’s that? I’m miserable? No, I was sitting here with you, dude, nursing your pouty pout. You came to me. I did not come to you. Oh yeah. You logged in to my synapses not vice versa.

This muddling reminds me of a lady who came to see me because her coworkers told her I could help her. She had a short fuse; hated people; broke into panic without any warning; and was generally an endearing but totally frustrating smartass. From the first session she let me know that she did not like me and that I sucked.

“Is that all you can say, ‘How do you feel about that?’ C’mon. That’s pretty lame.”

“Yeah,  so it seems. You are really angry.”

“Oh, ya think?!! Nice, blame me because you can. And I’m paying you for this. Thanks.”

“Wait a second. You called me, remember? I didn’t call you and plant issues in your brain.”

“I just called to get my coworkers off my back. They told me how wonderful you were. Wrong.”

Laughing, “Definitely wrong. I suck.”

“Okay, laugh it up, you smug bastard.”

“I can’t help it. You keep  punching at who you think I am. I am amazed at the difference between your image of me and who I think I am.”

“Oh, sure. I know how therapy works: you get me to believe I have deep problems that need sixty sessions to fix, and then I have to come back week after week. Meanwhile you can’t see me cuz you’re on a cruise in the Mediterranean.”

“Actually it’s up to you to reschedule, which I’m thinking you’re not going to do. And I cruise the Caribbean.”

With utter contempt, “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? If I never rescheduled. But I’m not gonna give you the satisfaction.”

“So what do you want to do?”

“I don’t want to, but I’ll be back in two weeks, same time, same day. You’re not getting rid of me that easy.”

“I’m not trying to get rid of you.”

And so it went. Tina would crack a bit and then defend the crack.

“Damn you! I told you stuff last week that I should never have shared. I haven’t told anyone that crap in 40 years. And now you have the control. I hate you.”

“You know as well as I do that I can’t do anything with your confidential information. It is toxic, for sure. How about leaving it here with me. Think of me as a toxic waste dump.”

Laughing, “That won’t be too hard.”

Laughing back, “I gave you a beach ball to hit. I thought you would.”

“See, there you go again being the smartest guy in the room.”

“Uh, unless you have a gender swap secret, I am the only guy in the room.”

Guffawing, “Okay, no. I mean I am not a dude, which leaves you. God, I don’t know how your wife puts up with you.”

“I don’t either. She is a saint.”

“Don’t agree with me when I slam you. That takes all the fun out of it.”

“I’m just rollin’ with the punches.”

Slowly this very angry oyster opened and flushed out her septic secrets. One day she told me she was pissed off at me.

“Well, that’s not news. You’ve been busting my butt since we met.”

“You took away my sarcasm. I used to be really good at it, but I can’t pull it off anymore since you told me it was passive aggressive back biting anger. God! You take all the fun out of life.”

“I am a party pooper, loser, pathetic guy in a sweater.”

“That’s all true, but… uh, I’m only gonna say this once… (sotto voce) you are good at this.”

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.”

“I’m not gonna say it again.”

“I thought I heard you say I was good at this. Is that right?”

“Yes, smartass.”

“I prefer intelligent donkey.”

“You would”, chuckling.

We worked faithfully and Tina got better. The super-guarded angry woman began taking risks, telling folks no, and making herself vulnerable. She revisited old guilt inducing memories and reconfigured responsibilities. Some bad folks had hurt her and convinced her adolescent self that it was her fault, always her fault.

Somewhere along the therapy journey she found herself, the part she loved and did not blame. That was a glorious day. Eventually this dark, angry female funnel cloud came in smiling and weeping tears of joy.

“I can’t believe how happy I am. I never would have believed it was possible. I pushed back the curtains at home. I don’t care if some pervert looks in my house. No one is going to steal my joy again.”

“That’s awesome. I am very happy for you.”

Then in her inimitable fork tongued way, “You really are good at this, but I’m still praying for your poor wife. I don’t know how she puts up with you.”

“I don’t either.”

Image result for woman walking into the sunset picture

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

307. Mr. Scratch Off

I just noticed him again, sitting in the alleyway outside my office. Early morning, bent over a lottery scratch off sheet, methodically rubbing a coin across the silver filmed boxes under which fortune awaits him. “Oh Luck!  Strike me. Fulfill me”,  I imagine him saying to the goddess Fortuna. He’s older, maybe 70’s with a cool ball cap on his head. Alone, very alone.

Now maybe it’s because earlier this morning I heard Otis Redding singing “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, but the lyric … “and this loneliness won’t leave me alone” floats across my consciousness. Lonely and alone are not equivalents. Lonely is a qualitative state versus alone which is a quantitative measure.  As I walk by him again, I am not lonely though I am alone. I just left my monthly peer group breakfast book share. The six of us old guys had a lovely time and talk together, discussing David Brooks’ book The Road to Character. Good stuff. Good community, like a good cup of coffee, is so rare among men, regardless of the content covered, becomes awesome when layered over with the cream of a good book.Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay

My peer group is composed of retired therapists– one MD/PhD, three PhDs, and two MS guys. Average age is mid sixties. I’m the only one still working and barely still in my fifties, (okay, 59) and they thank me for paying toward their Social Security and Medicare programs. And you know what?  I find it a privilege to keep these old geezers going. There is a lot of experience and wisdom in those other five noggins that is freely shared because of their gracious spirits. I deeply enjoy the camaraderie and know we share a mutual appreciation. (And I’m not sucking up since they don’t read my blog, okay? Why you gotta be like that? Sshheeesh!!)

One thing I am sure of– these men are not lonely nor are they putting their hopes in lottery tickets or some other unlikely probability. They have been delayers of gratification, putting off the pleasure of the moment for the greater good in the distance. All served others professionally with disciplined grace. On top of all that they managed to make a decent living in the human services. That’s a pretty big deal by itself, but what is more impressive in my book is that these dudes are retired yet still sharpening their wits and expanding their horizons. Who does that? Only rare birds. I want to be like that when I grow up and out of the buzziness of the working world.

In his book Brooks proposes two states of man or Adam. Adam I, the resume man; and Adam II, the eulogy man. Achievement and competition come from Adam 1. Character comes from the second Adam as he soldiers through suffering. As Greg said, “There are so many pithy comments in these pages… here’s another.”  Page 15, “Adam 1 aims for happiness, but Adam 2 knows happiness is insufficient.” The Adam 2 folks Brooks describes learned to quiet themselves in the valley of humility. That’s a big valley, but as I recall my trek through Sabino Canyon, it was a humbling experience feeling like I was in between God’s majestic fingers. Yeah, humility came over me like a storm cloud raining torrents of gratitude.

My prayer was not for more or a lightning bolt of happiness to hit me. No. I was in the moment of joy, connected to the Creator via His creation. Luck had nothing to do with it as I sat in the shade of a mesquite tree with hummingbirds flitting over me. Not luck but blessings showered over me so much that the molecules buzzed like minute grateful cicadas. Blessings do not leave one lonely since they come from a relationship. Luck on the other hand is a piece of cold statistical probability.  Mr. Scratchoff could be a winner if 12 million other players lose. At the end of the day he will remain alone and outside a relationship with his material winnings.
“I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh
I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time”

Perhaps more tragic is when someone like Mr. Scratchoff does hit it big, like the big game hunter who knocks down a rare lion only to have it devoured by hyenas as he stands by helplessly, he winds up emptier than when he began. What is not earned is lost almost as soon as it appears, my blogerras. So scratch it now– all or nothing– or wait on faith to get somewhere incrementally, no, sacramentally.

218. Enter title here

It’s Easter Monday. I am home on a beautiful sunny day with my wife, grand daughter and two of my three daughters. My oldest left yesterday for NYC.  I’ve had a walk, a game of chess, a round of groundhog hunting, some voluntary yard work, coffee and meals, and time for this entry. Now that is a well balanced day. It’s been since Christmas that I had a scheduled day off. Wow, what a difference taking two makes. See, I also took Good Friday off. I can feel my neurotransmitters mating and producing more and more of themselves even as I type. I’d feel like some sort of mental frotteur except they are a part of my own body. So what does that make me? Highly sensitive, I guess. Yes, that’s it.

Yesterday my wife and two older daughters and I sat out on our deck in the sunshine. Grace and I played chess and chattered on as we do very dramatically with each move, jibberish from Seinfeld or song lyrics or who knows what; things like “Who’s your Daddy now? Boom!” “Oh, you wanna be like that? Baboom on yo’ momma!”  Meanwhile my daughter Erin and my wife sat quietly with big hats and sunglasses on reading on the bench seat across from us. That’s when I uttered, “Can you find the introverts in this picture?” My wife is making me read the book Quiet by Susan Cain. It’s all about the unbridled power and genius of bridled  introverts. Whoopee. I am a self-diagnosed ambivert, but I’d rather not talk about it right now. I hate being put in the middle of things.

I walked alone this morning. It was so quiet I swear that I heard the dew drying on the grass. I could hear individual bird wings as they flapped by. A lady at the park had two wiener dogs that would not fill half a five gallon bucket, but we don’t measure dogs by the gallon. [Could I get two gallons of wiener dogs? And a quart of Chihuahuas for my side?] We do measure liquids that way. My wife was getting her hair cut later in the day and bought some boutique special shampoo. I overheard her say it cost $33 per bottle, not gallon or quart. $33 per bottle. I’ve never bought a bottle of wine or liquor for that much money, but I suppose it has secret herbs and spices and precious metals all blended into the fine essence d’oro, which is 98% water. It does not matter. All is good. She’s beautiful and I’m happy. I learned a long time ago not to mention what things cost… not even wiener dogs, paired up in a bucket. Maybe they’re a thousand dollars to the right buyer. As my buddy Vince learned with his Great Dane, the initial purchase price is just the down payment on a dog. Same as an engagement ring in marriage.

The sun is setting. It’s cooling off. Rain is  expected tomorrow or Wednesday so the farmers are spreading manure lavishly on their big stinky fields. Big tanks of the stuff roll down my street drawn by young men in giant tractors, eating pizza bare handed out of the box. What a deal, to haul manure all day long. Like working for the government. I suppose it helps keep a guy single. If you are in deep poop to begin with, who needs to get married?

Gratitude vs. lassitude. Hmmmm. I get gratitude, thankfulness. Now lassitude is one of those dictionary.com tasks. I like definition # 2. “a condition of indolent indifference”. I think I’m feeling a mixture of the two states– grassitude, thankfully painless laziness.  Yeah, that works. Like having a staycation on a cruise ship in dry dock outside of Baltimore. It’s a good day, but I’m not going anywhere.  As the temperature sinks, the indifference stiffens a bit. A chill chases my indolence but not my gratitude. I may be experiencing “assitude”, which is a horse’s ass with an attitude.

My wife is already finding me part time jobs in my retirement, which is at least five years away. “You’ll be bored with the monotony,” she tells me. “You can’t wait to get rid of me,” I offer back. “True, but you can offset our health insurance costs while seeing the country.” She thinks I’m going to be a professional presenter.

“You can teach and tell stories. People like you.”

“One problem, dear.”

“What’s that?”

“I have no topic.”

“Think of one. You have five years.”

“But I am crippled by my ambivertism.”

“Shut up. Don’t give me your assitude.”

“Maybe that could be my topic: Ambiverted Assitudes in the Mental Health Setting.”

She’s a mind reader, I swear. She brought home the local newspaper for me. “Read the bank article.”

I began reading about the bank that holds most of my money. Seems they were just released from the state’s equivalent of the SEC’s watch list for shaky financial institutions, and I don’t mean that their tellers are part time belly dancers. No. If my bank were a person, it would not be allowed to fly. Sooooo, I just opened  a new business account with them because they did not charge me for that service, which the previous bank did, $20 per month for them to watch my money. I’m faced with this dilemma: pay money each month to my bank for no apparent reason, or stay with a bank that is being watched where I could lose all my money. Sheesh!  Neither offers interest or any special services, not even a gallon of free wiener dogs to start with.

This is why you shouldn’t take time off work. You find out all this stuff that you don’t really want to know. Frotteurs, ambiverts, overpriced shampoo, manure hauling, lassitude, and raw bank greed, which is redundant to manure hauling. If I’d just kept working I would not be all worried and worked up now. But the good news is that I can keep on working in my retirement, and if I’m lucky, right up to death.

 

196. contractors and incompleteness

I know I’m not the only one out there who has trouble finding and nailing down handyman contractors. It’s been the same story as long as I can recall… contractors don’t communicate well if at all. They might come if the job is interesting, i.e., has potential for a big payday. But the truth is that I’m not gonna talk about contractors. I changed my bloggin’ mind at church today, well sort of. The issue of not getting a guy to call me back about a bathroom vanity switcheroo or a laundry room sink disaster is not such a big deal. Plus, the garage door opener chain broke while I’ve been waiting for two floor jobs to be addressed at my workplace. Okay, there is plenty to gripe about with construction incompleteness, some of which I can do myself. The problem is that I can earn more money per hour and be happy with my work than if I try to use my clumsy hands to lay a floor or edge carpet or replace a sink. These are sinkholes for me to fall into and I don’t need the stress of my construction failures laughing at me from my daughter’s bathroom mirror as I cut another hose or pipe or board too short. I have done a lot of the work that surrounds me here at my home computer. I see my construction flaws daily, and no, I am not a perfectionist. So, I’m willing to pay $40 and $50 an hour for a crafty guy to bring some of my mess back to functionality, cuz living with physical incompleteness gets annoying in the First World. You know, you just want the mess or inconvenience to go away.

But today as Pastor Kyle spoke on James 1: 1-4, he focused on the trials in our lives that produce perseverance. I happen to like perseverance, tenacity, even stubbornness. Today’s post is the result of me destroying a finished blog I had written on legacies, complete with three photos. Somehow I clicked the wrong tag and blew up my first post 195. I took that as a sign to go in a different direction. It was a bit pompous and presumptuous. I go there often, I’m afraid. Anyway, Kyle’s second example of a trial was that of losing a child, how that can destroy one’s faith in Christ and be a faith wedge. I was struck emotionally and spiritually because almost 30 years ago my wife and I lost our second daughter at birth.  Her name was Lisa Ellen. She would be 30 next month, but I guess that is a pleasant redundancy for an old father who never held her.

It was complicated. She had a diaphragmatic hernia, which means that her lungs had no space to develop in utero. Her abdominal wall was perforated and her viscera pushed her lungs into submission. That’s okay in the womb, but you need lungs once you are born. Literally her birth was her death. She could not get that first gasping breath when she was delivered. She didn’t cry; she couldn’t. As she struggled to live in a breathless world, the delivery room turned into an E.R. code blue. My wife and I turned numb… and stayed numb for a year, maybe two. Yeah, that was a rough time in the silent valley of the shadow of death. Even thirty years later we get a dark feeling whenever we drive by the old farmhouse we lived in at the time… the baby’s nursery was set up across the hall from our bedroom. The crib with a mobile on it sat empty. I remember waking up next to the crib one night, having dreamed that she had cried. We had to take it down and pack all that stuff away along with our hopes and dreams for that little girl. I was 28. My oldest, and only daughter at the time, Erin was 2.5 years old.  She gave me Michael Jackson’s album, “Friller”, a week before Lisa died. I was so devastated that I don’t think I ever processed her young grief. It was all a blur. I just recall an insensitive nurse asking how we wanted to dispose of the body. She was impatient to be efficient and could not give us any grace.

For two years we were unfulfilled. The holes in our hearts were the size of little feet and tiny hands we could not touch.  We languished in anguish. We cried a lot and fell into a dark blue funk. It was not just grief but hopelessness as the barren months went by. It had been way too easy to get pregnant when we weren’t trying; now it seemed tragically impossible. I felt sad for Erin as a lonely only child. However, in this bleak space we found a closer place with God. I am sure that if we had been in charge of the script of our lives we would not have lingered in pain and hurt for so long. But that’s how God scripted it. Finally in 1986 we did get pregnant. We were filled with joy and trepidation. We knew how great and how awful a delivery room could be.

There was no debate on the name once we knew that it was a girl. Grace, it had to be Grace, undeserved favor of the Lord. A gift. An unearned blessing or reward. In late December of that year our Gracer the Eraser showed up, healthy and spunky and funny. Her presence healed the deep wounds that we had suffered. It felt like we had been crawling across broken glass for two years, shredding ourselves as we attempted to solve the problem of infant absence. Suddenly all that disappeared. We were complete.

So, Lowe’s might call next week and we could have the vanity by Easter, maybe. My floor tiles remain stacked at my office waiting for someone who wants to deal them like a deck of cards. We lift the garage door for now. It’s all good cuz it’s all meaningless stuff  that doesn’t matter.  My completeness is not sold in any aisle anyway. Life is a gift, Blog friends.

186. the lull latte

Image result for christmas landscapeIt’s a quiet Christmas morning. Frozen outside, a weak sun cannot melt the ice spots on our deck. Inside, the wood pellet stove fan’s whir is interrupted by the augur pushing more pellets into the hopper to burn. My bare ankles detect a chill at floor level just above the ridge of my new slippers. I adjust the stove’s setting a click higher as a sneeze sounds upstairs where my oldest daughter and wife sip tea and read books silently.  My youngest daughter sleeps behind me on a recliner after a tough night of coughing and sipping robitussin. And I, I want to memorialize gratitude on the blank document before me.

The grand baby Leah was off all  night as well. She had a wet sort of cough and a stuffy nose. At ten months of age she can’t have medications willy nilly, nor can she sleep with her binky in her mouth while snuffling through a stuffed nose. Something had to give last night, and that was her parents’ right to sleep. They held her upright and sat in a steamy bathroom on and off to ease her discomfort. As Grace cheerfully said this morning, “If anyone else prevented you from sleeping all night, you’d be upset and cranky. But when it’s your own baby, well, it doesn’t matter.” Simple truth: love sacrifices.

Several times over the past two days I have gazed at my granddaughter’s sparkling angelic face and smiled a joyous smile back at  her. She pulls her binky out of her four tooth grin and offers it to me with an outstretched little baby girl arm. Each time I think but don’t say, “Grace, thank you for not going right to work and delaying these moments for years or forever. What a great gift you have given us. As parents we did not have a choice. We  had to work up to, during, and after delivery. We lived on the edge, often upset and cranky with each other and with our station in life.  We could not be as resilient as  you. Thank you for this joy born of faith.”

“Thank you Stu for working without complaint or measuring to provide Grace and Leah this ideal time together. Thank you for who you are and who you choose to be in a world that clamors to divide your attention and loyalties. Thank you for loving God, my daughter, and my granddaughter so deeply.”

Grace, baby Leah and hubby Stu drove over to Stu’s good family this morning. Fortunately they live only three miles away so we don’t have custody cravings and clashes. They are good people, those Gallaghers. I want to thank them for putting family ahead of stuff, and for putting faith first in their family. Days like today are rich dividends paid on those investments. Not big material gains but subtle relational ones, for all the gifts exchanged mean nothing compared to the laughs, the smiles, the hugs and the love of family. “Thank you Dan and Joann for holding cracked family systems together and re-bonding the fractures. Thanks for  parenting again as grandparents. You are twice blessed.”

 

This year we really dialed it back on the gift giving, not because we had to. It was more a question of stewardship and priorities. We lack nothing. It’s an odd contradiction when you must really concentrate and take inventory to come up with a gift wish. After a few searching moments, I said, ” I could use a belt.” My wife bought me two. I’m full, Blogelves. Anything more and I will overflow in wasteful luxury. What I wanted was abundantly present before and around me– my faithful wife, my three fabulous daughters, my amazing son-in-law, and my precious granddaughter. All in harmonious peace.  Friends visited during the day, then we all went to church, opened presents and played a tough game of chess and later Scrabble. (I lost both… happily.) It’s all good.

So in the quiet of today comes the lull, the slow and easy break from the breakneck life we live. It’s the root of lullabye, a repeated lu-lu-lu sound that soothes children to sleep. I imagine Mary and Joseph lulling baby Jesus back to sleep in the brutal world they inhabited. Soothing sounds from a loving mother, better than robitussin and vodka, and before you know it the babe is rhythmically breathing, a little bird in its downy nest, a little lamb on its mother’s warm, fuzzy belly. The lull is a safe and satisfied place to be, a drainage ditch off the bayou of joy. You can bed down in the sweet long grass there like a fawn, safe and blessed. A pause in the struggle of survival. Today tastes like victory, like tiramisu and cheesecake with rich creamy coffee. It’s playing the X on a triple word space overlapping a double word line in a  seven letter word play fifty point bonus. Yeah, like that.

Yesterday at the coffee shop the coffee was free. I said to Andrea, “This must be what heaven is like.” She did not disagree. I told her I would initiate a pay it forward program all day long for coffee. She was unimpressed with my antilargesseness.  But it’s all good in the lull, the moment between inhale and exhale as oxygen hooks up on dates with blood cells in your lungs. Sure, there is more stress coming tomorrow. The world will erupt again in chaotic activity and conflicts of all sorts because this was too small or that was too large. Our first world problems will seep up to street level like sewer gases. But for the moment I’ll have the lull latte. Thank you.