434. Indefatigable Joy

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Some days, hombres, are rough around the edges and wrinkled in the middle.  Today is such a day.  Alas, a big snow storm is brewing and the snowblower won’t start; nothing new there. Still, I yanked and yanked the pull cord and sprayed and sprayed starter fluid (ether) around the carburetor intake to try and overwhelm it with fumes to ignite the fuel or the operator. The thing looks  brand new, and it should since it just sits in the garage like a super model all year until we get a whopper snow storm, which is due tomorrow. Now you might say that I have had all year to fix the thing since it performed so poorly last winter in the historic 33 inch blizzard. But to know me is to hate me when it comes to being proactive. I am actually tempted to just lie down and breathe the ether for a while, perhaps even pretend I had a quiet stroke to distract my wife from guilting me for my incompetent indolence. And who could blame her? I don’t enjoy being helpless, but I can’t get all bent out of shape about life’s little irritants. I never wanted to be a twisted pretzel.

I had two computer cords to return to our former internet service provider and forgot both of them on my way to work this morning.  No big deal yet. They are fining us $150 for early termination, despite ten years of being a faithful customer. Shake it off, I say. Then as I unlocked my office door, my key snapped in half. The business end looked back at me like a silver snake in a hole hissing, “Have a niccccccce day.” I had to laugh out loud. At least it locked in the open position. ‘Could be worse’, as my buddy Steve says. I called Nancy’s Lock and Key and told them my plight. “We’ll get to you by the end of the day.” Reassured, I nearly skipped over to the corner coffee shop for a blueberry muffin and medium coffee, but the barrista was sluggishly slow to wait on me. He had a kidney stone to birth and looked like a man menstruating for the first time: pale and weak.  I felt very fortunate not to be him.Image result for pale pained faces male

I got back to my office just in time to open my lap top but not check my phone messages. My first appointment guy walked through my door; only he was the wrong guy. I was expecting Bill and here was Jim. Uh oh, another snafu for me. I began to stutter my explanation to Bill and to figure out when to reschedule and when to feel stupider and incompetenter, when I thought, ‘Hey, I have one voice mail to check. What if that is Jim cancelling? What are the odds? 90 to 1 maybe.”  I checked my voice mail. It was Jim cancelling. Pow!! Due to the expected blizzard tomorrow, his company had moved all meetings up to today. Victory was mine!! It was a perfect triple win-win-win. Except I still had no snowblower that worked. Sure, it was shiny and good looking in a eunuchy sort of way, but completely  impotent.Image result for broken snowblower pictures

I sat down with Bill and then the next three clients. Zoom, zoom. The day was flying past as the wicked nor’easter approached from wherever nor’easters approach. I felt like I was in a poorly written novel that was limping toward some sort of denouement. Things were getting resolved too easily, and oddly enough their tension seemed to give me empathy and focus for my anxious clients. For some inexplicable reason, I felt no worries or dread at all. I did feel some pressure on my bladder, though. As Archie Bunker didn’t say, “You don’t buy coffee, you rent it.” How Great Thou Art played on AccuJazz, Will Bernard at the guitar. Man! Everything fit so nicely. Even if I had no faith, I’d have to by two o’clock on this day or be a complete heretic. “Hallelujah to ya!!” I felt like yelling to somebody, anybody. If you can’t be smart, be Irish.Image result for st patrick's day celebrants pictures

I realized that I was choosing joy as I dodged metaphorical bullets. Then I wondered if I were experiencing the placebo effect of belief in good outcomes, thereby ensuring good outcomes. Was I placeboing my  self?  (Don’t you hate when someone turns a weird noun into a verb like that? Like Tebowing or tuxedoing. It’s downright smarmy.) No, I was actually just accepting the brokenness around me with a light heart, a bouncy helium heart without mania rocket fuel involved. My back and leg still hurt as usual and my taxes are not quite ready for my accountant, but I am choosing joy over pain or guilt and embarrassment.Image result for joyful faces

Maybe yesterday’s mini lesson on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit actually produced some fruit in me.

The Fruit of the Holy Spirit is a biblical term that sums up nine attributes of a Christian life according to Paul the Apostle in his Letter to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”Image result for peace images and picture

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.”

416. Joy Joy Joy!!!

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Happiness is one thing we all desire; it’s the great American compromise concept for property, which our founding fathers substituted as follows,  “the pursuit of happiness” for “the right to own property” at the last minute in our Declaration of Independence. It has a sexier and less materialistic ring to it. Happiness is, however, an illusion that cannot be sustained anymore than a snowflake on your fingertip can be preserved.  As soon as you get it, you begin to lose it.  So it is appropriate that we are granted the inalienable right to pursue happiness, not to attain it.

 Joy, on the other hand, is a sustainable state of the heart. It lasts in ways that include moments of happiness but supersedes happiness like jet planes supersede kids’ kites and birthday balloons. Allow me to explain further on this joyous day. If happiness is episodic bubbles which float to the surface of our lives that eventually pop open into wonderful moments, then joy is a constant photosynthetic relationship that steadily goes on and on. Happiness ends and must be pursued again and again. Joy is self sustaining.

Let me give you three examples of happiness and then three examples of joy in order to make the distinctions clear.

Image result for christmas applesHappy 1. My wife’s coworker gave her a battery operated galloping horse that lit up and played the tune you all know from cartoons, The William Tell Overture. The gift was not for my wife but our granddaughter, who was temporarily thrilled and mesmerized by the equine-amity of it all. However, like all sources of happiness, the thrill began to degenerate soon after is was unleashed. Today the horse is in the infirmary with an amputated back leg. Happily, it still plays the William Tell Overture, but, as B.B.King sang, the thrill is gone.

Happy 2. Two years ago we traded in my old white 2000 Honda CRV with 215,000 miles on it for a brand new 2015 ocean blue Honda CRV with 3 miles on its odometer. It was fascinating and fabulous to drive my cushy new car around, so quiet and sleek and modern and comfortable. Then I began to notice all the other new blue Honda CRV’s out and about. The cool factors slowly slipped into routine conveniences that depreciated over time. Now it has 26,ooo miles on it and my heart does not swell when I drive it. Truth be told, I need to have it detailed because I have not been a good car boyfriend. “The frill is gone,” as my youngest daughter Jess would have said twenty years ago.

Happy 3. The slick suit, the big screen television, the treadmill, the computer… all brought brief happiness over the past years. Now, however, they sit by idly unappreciated; used without any excitement. Not so long ago it felt glorious to chill with these things.  Now, like a broken down refrigerator, the chill is gone

Joy 1.  Last year at this same time, my daughter Grace, son in law Stu, and my only grandchild at that time burst through the front door weighed down with gifts and luggage. Darling Leah was given permission to make the Annunciation she was bursting to share, “Mommy has a baby in her tummy!” I was beyond happy. I think I fell to my knees and hugged my granddaughter as my heart soared at 30, 000 feet. Unspeakable joy began its fission in my mind/body/soul interconnections.  I felt lighter, gushing with optimism in the anticipated future. Somewhere in my memory vault this moment connected to Grace’s wedding years ago when I walked her down the aisle of Christ the King Cathedral in Atlanta as sister Jess sang an angelic version of “Ave Maria”. Gravity stopped for me that day, and it felt like I was ice skating through cream cheese. Wonderwurk. Weightless fluff. Beaming faced joy swept me up and up pas the elegantly carved ceiling.

Joy 2.  “I’m pregnant.” Four and a half years ago I heard those words over the phone and fell into my wife’s joyous arms. Our family was moving into another generation. My daughter’s marriage was fruitful. We were grandparents!! I had no idea what to expect, but the anticipation was intoxicating. Unlike a drug or alcohol it did not diminish over time.  Strangely I was the only healthy member of the East Coast family who could fly out to Arizona when little Leah came home from the hospital.  She slept on my chest for hours, so I dubbed her The Glowworm and hummed songs to her new ears.Image result for glow worm toy pictures

Joy 3. Last night Zach proposed to my youngest daughter and gave her the ring he had designed around my mother in law’s diamond. Once again my heart filled past bursting, even though I knew this moment was coming. Joy rolled in waves off of Zach and Jess, hitting each of us as we admired the beaming bride to be and her ring. No church bells rang out, but in my head a chorus of a thousand church bells pealed and chimed, resonating joy across the landscape. Once again the promise of many tomorrows breathed out deeply. Joyously I inhaled all the imagined moments that would come to fruition.

As I ponder all of these moments I am feeling the warm tug of joy pulling at my cheeks and my guts like a shot of propofol. I only had one dose of it for my colonoscopy a decade ago, but I woke up thinking I was James Brown inside Michael Jackson’s body. When the nurse asked me how I felt, I sang, “I feel good, butta butta butt butt, like I knew that I would now. I feeeel nice, like sugar and spice….” Then my wife put her hand over my mouth apologetically to cover up, “So good, soo good, I got you, bump bump bump bump!” But like all earthly based things, the propofol did not last. I went back to being a cleaned out old white guy without polyps.Image result for james brown and michael jackson together pictures

Ultimately, my good blog aficianados, joy is found in relationships that last.  And on this Christmas Eve I want to encourage you to look beyond happiness, beyond materialism, and into the Divine. Joy lives in mystery, the promise of a sustainable future, and, I believe, a ray of God’s love that infuses your heart.  Whatever you believe, I pray that you will have a blessed Christmas filled with moments of happiness and suffused with enduring joy.Image result for rays of light in space pictures

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.

351. Christmas Songs Like Cookies

Favorite Christmas songs change as you age, I think, just like childhood cookie choices and Christmas activities. And every year one or two are added to the standards list.

As a kid I could gorge on oatmeal cookies, Oreos, or even plain old sugar cookies, or ginger snaps. My favorite was chocolate oatmeal no bakes, which really are candy not cookies. Also a good bowel super charger. As my triglycerides float higher in later life, I have to pass on these sugar factories, fatty foods, salt, and useless white flour products. As I get older and wiser, I have to choose healthier foods… and songs.

The Christmas song book goes on forever with hymns and old standards that go back a hundred years. Some are sad and slow, and some are joyful. It takes a lot to wiggle into this musical encyclopedia.  John Lennon’s So This is Christmas is sort of an anti-war Christmas tune.

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

By the end of the song he slips in the War is over line. Maybe that’s why I don’t get the Christmas spirit out of this song.It’s political.

When you think of traditional Christmas songs, Silent Night and The First Noel saturate the sad and slow market. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Oh Holy Night are still home runs in my book, but I decided to research the most popular Christmas songs. After an exhausting 10 seconds I found a list of the top ten without any explanation of their metrics. I thought I’d share and seek your feedback as I offloaded mine.

The source is About Entertainment, if it matters to you. I can’t argue with their #1 The Christmas Song by Nat king Cole. One of my faves also.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos

How many songs mention our Indigenous Arctic Natives? I challenge you to name one other song with Eskimo in it. So far, so good. Love that saturated silky smooth calf’s skin voice of Nat Cole. Soothing. I bought one of his records at the grocery store for 99 cents when I was a kid. Still have it.

#2 is a sad one from a sad time… World War II days. It’s Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, made famous by Judy Garland

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on
Our troubles will be out of sight (my Lord)
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on
Our troubles will be miles away
Note the focus on troubles. Sad as it is, this was a rewrite of the original because the movie producer of Meet Me in St. Louis thought it was too depressing. I appreciate the song, but I have a hard time endorsing it in the top ten. Tying Christmas to historical times or politics, well, misses the point, I think. Which brings me to #3, Lennon’s So This is Christmas. I’ve already addressed this above. The message of Christmas, the birth of a redeeming savior, ought to override the blues of the day, the wars and the human failures.
#4 I think should be #1. Oh Holy Night, a tough song to sing, is transforming when sung well on Christmas Eve. It’s the first one in this list that mentions Christ or Savior. I am biased toward the original reason, the pre-commercialization purpose of Christmas: to re-create and commemorate the original epic story, before it became Santatized. I have no problem with gifts and Santa and the familiar myths that have sprung up alongside the original story of a savior redeeming mankind. I just want the original to have its place at the center of history, minus reindeer and Santa and elves. The God of the Universe met humanity in the humblest of places. He did not fly in on a sleigh full of presents.
#5 is Springsteen’s version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Okay, I like the Boss and it’s fun to rock the holidays. I like to hear this once per Christmas. That’s it.
#6 Baby Please Come Home For Christmas. Baby, please don’t. What the heck is this doing on the list? So  wrong.
#7Jingle Bell Rock. Again, contemporary Yulishness. It belongs in the secular song book of early rock and roll. Not this high, folks. Not worthy.
#8 Little Drummer Boy. No, no, no. Parumpapumpum. No, no, no, no, get outta here son.
#9 Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. Get outta here. Kids, okay. Adults, no. Sing this at the kids’ table.

#10 White Christmas by Bing Crosby. Hard to dis. The man could croon. What if he and Nat Cole did a duet? Liquid cheesecake. Heroin addicts would stop to listen. Good juice.

So, everyone has their favorites. What are yours? Joy to the World, needs to be up near the top of my ten greatest. My buddy Eric loved this song and I loved him, so it’s a safe top three in my book. I’ve always been partial to The First Noel and Silent Night, so we’ve got a top four. I’ll throw down with Nat Cole’s Christmas Song to round out my top five.
Sure there are many others to debate, but that’s for you to do. I’ve already chiseled my choices in stone.
Have yourself a Merry Christmas, big, little, medium, secular, sacred, commercial or not.  May your days be merry and bright, and may all  your Christmases be white.

 

335. Amore perfect day…

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

as the lazy leaves litter emerald lawns-

no need to cut or weed again

till spring dawns.

The sky is a sapphire dome

with a glowing tungsten sun

massaging fifty five degree air

into ideal running weather.

As I run out and then home

A wisp of a breeze about.

No traffic, no body in the park

jogging along trying

to get out of myself and

breathe God’s glory in and out.

“Abba… I belong to You.”

Brennan Manning suggests this prayer

for 30 soothing

minutes a day, only this prayer

till transformation arrives.

Old Norman Rockwell would cry

’cause he couldn’t paint this blissful

riot of colors and shapes yanking at

my eyes for praise and wonder.

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

294. Leah

My granddaughter is a two year old spitfire picklebutt named Leah. She has been at the center of yet another Tusconic experience here in Arizona this past week.  From the first moment after her nap last Friday, she asked her mom in a tiny, whispery voice, “Where’s Wonka?” and then scrambled to my bedroom to celebrate being in the same space. (“Wonka” was her near approximation for “grandpa”, but it seemed to capture something more than the generic label for her mother’s father… and stuck.) She smiled her precious smile between her silky pink cheeks and it was on! Dancing, and arm waving, and chase, and babies, and puzzles, and books, and  the I-pad (thank God for Netflix).

Everything was alive with her energy but only for a few minutes at a time– jumping on the bed while singing “No more monkeys jumpin’ on the bed”, “The wheels on the bus”, “Ring around the rosey”.  A whirling dervish if ever there was, whirling through emotions like a roulette wheel. I kept hoping for red 17, but randomosity ruled.

Her dad Stu is in “Cow if fornya” doing his work right now. He flies Apache helicopters with the National Guard. When a jet would fly over her house, Leah would run out and wave and say, “Hi Daddy” in the general direction of the noise. She likes aircraft too. It seems to be in Stu’s family’s blood. Not many two year olds have a poster of a helicopter on their bedroom wall. Leah does, and she knows Daddy flies “Ha-pache copters”.

At her school there are many kind rules. “This is my work” means “I’m not sharing right now; go beat feet somewhere else.” “Too many  people” means just that. Someone has to go, but it hurts a little when you are the only other person and she yells, “Too many people, Wonka!”

Two days ago we spent maybe an hour playing the money game. We both happened to have shirts with pockets. Leah grabbed a couple of fists of coins from her piggy bank and dropped them carefully into my pocket one coin at a time. Then she scooped them out and dropped them into her shirt pocket. And again…”Do it again”, she said. I have no idea what she gained from this pocket money changing, but I gained sweet breath and tenderness that was worth every penny. Love makes simple things delicious and unforgettable.

Being two and highly verbal and strong willed, she puts on her bossy pants at least once an hour and commands or demands… “No, no, no” as she shakes a little empress finger at something or someone. Some kids get sugar highs; I think Leah gets power highs that have to be moderated with surgical precision. Time outs are readily available on the carpeted stairs where she wails about the injustice of the incident she has likely forgotten. Oh the drama!! Scarlett O Leah, “I shall always have Tara” ( and a thousand stuffed animals, books, Kermit the dog, a trampoline and blow up  pool in the yard, a kitchen set, a rocking chair, etc. etc.). She’s a hoot even when she’s pouty and attempting to rule the world tyrannically. When the time out is over and she demonstrates remorse, “I sorry, Wonka”, it’s all good again. Time for a fiesta for the prodigal granddaughter’s return. Blackberries are a favorite.

Five minutes later she wants to share something, a book or a carrot. “Make space” means slide over for her wiggle butt to snuggle in beside you. Now yesterday we had to ride up to the Guard airbase to drop off Stu’s car he’ll need when he gets back from Cow if fornya. I drove behind my daughter in the Prius with Leah. Grace tossed me a double CD of Raffi’s greatest hits. “Just put in the new Raffi and sing along, Wonka.”  Well, I engaged the CD as we got on to the I-10… but it wasn’t Raffi. It was some bogus fake  Raffi and a disc of Tchaikovsky’s pop hits. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like the folks at Times Square who buy a Rolex for $10 from a street vendor only to find out at Battery Park that it’s a fake and doesn’t even keep time. Fortunately the Baroness of Bossiness was content to sing her own soft songs all the way out to the airfield.

Once Grace rejoined us I registered my complaint. “You told me weed but you sold me basil.”

“What?”

“The Raffi was all wrapper and no Raffi.”

“Oh, sorry. Was it a disaster?”

“No, it was Wonkastic actually.”

And away we went to a lovely “rench raunt” beneath the Catalina Foothills. It was lovely despite the part time efforts of the Diminutive Despot to work her Mommy into a braided rug. Leah makes crow noises that warn of the terrors to come.  In just a blink she turns from a fuzzy domesticated puppy into a wild “Cow yote”, who can turn herself into a cooked spaghetti noodle when you try to pick her up and place her in another time out. She is a gamer, let me tell you, and would be in the Baby Hall of Fame if not for a few moments here and there… like Pete Rose. She sort of gambles on getting her way until you go nose to nose with her for the integrity of the game of parenting.

And then after her latest walk she brings a rock, an acorn and purple flower to document her adventure. They are still warm from the Arizona sun’s radiant energy and her little marshmallow hand. She shows me her knee boo boo which I kiss twice, and I realize I’ll miss her soft voice, her funny expressions, and her hummingbird spirit.  It’s all good like pure oxygen in my blood.

So long my Cow yote puppy.

 

 

245. Jackie Wilson said…

I remember Van Morrison’s song “Jackie Wilson said…” from way back in my life. I think  I  was 17 and bought his very blue tinted “Saint Dominic’s Preview” album. Loved it then and now. The sub title, “I’m in heaven when you smile”, is so simple and sweet. There’s just not that much more to it, folks.  The rest of the song is rhythm and rhyme and energy that makes your whole body move. I love the line, “And when you walk across the room, you make my heart go boom, boom, boom.”  Ahh yeah, it’s basic and vital, written by a young man for young folks. Ebullient. There’s a word for you, blogniks, to boil over with enthusiasm, to bubble. Van had that magic then and the humility to give credit where it was due.

Van scholars claim the song was a tribute to Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite”. “Gotta love you baby, knock me off my feet.” Do you know it?  Go ahead and Google it… “sheee’s aaaaaalright.” Another simple song with interesting vocal tricks and horns thrown in. A great beat with lots of emotional tingle and pop. Simple, uncontroversial stuff. No sex or drugs or politics, just cleverly articulated infatuated young male passion. That’s what Jackie Wilson said. What’s that got to do with anything?

Well, I’m back in Tucson again, visiting a very verbal granddaughter of 20 months. I had to get the calculator out to figure that I am 703 months old now. It’s been a blurry few days with her at the center of the blender. She whirls around in the living room singing  broken bits of “London Bridge is falling down” and “Ring around the Rosey”. So simple and reet petite. And when little Leah walks across the room, she makes my heart go boom, boom, boom. Let it all hang out.  There is no wonder why I’m in heaven when she smiles. Why is it that the wondrous joys of childhood are drained off as we become homogenized adults? And where do those heavy cream days go, my blogworshippers?  Do we make ice cream out of them that is served to God? Do we ever get to eat of that ambrosia again?

As  my wife and I think more concretely about relocating to Arizona, I keep looking at the landscape and lifestyle with flaming match heads of lust in my heart. I want it… the dependable sun, the flat valley, the dinosaur spine ridges on the east and west. This landscape whispers to me like no other. I love the beach, but I also know that I tire of the relentless surf and the ever changing windy weather. I love the mountains and valleys, but they are high maintenance that I am not interested in pursuing.  Here it’s still as a basking lizard and just as wild.  The other day as I biked alongside the Rillito River wash I watched a pair of coyotes wandering about. I called to them and they regarded me very lightly and went back to their foraging. It was 11:00 a.m. No worries. Later a wild dog sprinted out from under a low hanging mesquite tree as the coyotes approached it. No collar or leash on these canines just a few hundred yards from busy neighborhoods. I find that live edge of undomesticated animals living just outside the concrete walls to be thrilling. This environment has not been and will not be tamed. It can’t be. Like cultivating the moon, son. It ain’t happening.

Over the western ridge of Tucson is the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. What a jewel! The drive alone is worthy of filming as you meander across a 3,000 foot mountain gap called Gates Pass. We spent yesterday there under the brilliant October sun, which registered in the high 90’s. Still, it was glorious. Like the state flag that features red and yellow wedges of sunlight powering off a half sun, man, it just permeates you if you let it in. Walking around the various exhibits, I felt as if gravity were stronger somehow. Perhaps it’s the sun over-magnetizing you as you walk from javalinas to coyotes, from rattlesnakes to butterflies and hummingbirds. Maybe it’s that heavy cream re-surfacing from earliest childhood, wordlessly asserting itself, telling your old body to slow down and soak in this expiring moment.

The basic purity, the simplicity is hypnotic. This desert, early rock and roll, my toddler granddaughter. All good and unpolluted. I have seen the end of some lives already in my 58 years. I can see the end of mine, sort of. I know how much of it will turn out. And this awareness makes the moment sweeter, more poignant. Just for the heck of it I stopped and picked a prickle pear from a cactus this morning. Its invisible thorns were like thistles, but I could not see them with my sunglasses on in the bright sunlight. I could feel them in my fingers and thumb as I rubbed the fine hair defenses off the fruit. I tasted it for the simple reason that I wanted to know its flavor. Unspectacular but interesting. Maybe you can make wine out of such things. It was a childish thing to do and I reveled in it. Talking to a coyote is just as fanciful as tweeting with a hummingbird or grunting at a javalina. But it’s a natural reaction to raw beauty staring you eyeball to eyeball unblinking. Don’t miss this moment. Dance it out. Revel in the wonder of it all.

Jackie Wilson collapsed on stage while singing “Lonely Teardrops” in 1975. Trust me on this one. Don’t Wikipedia me behind my back, blogglers. He sang, “My heart is crying…” as his literal heart went into arrest mode. What a way to go. He lingered in a coma for nine more years, dying at age 49.  His time in the sun was long over. Mr. Excitement was dead. Sort of. Technically his wonderful voice lives on in his many recordings and we’ll all have to make do with that… what Jackie Wilson said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

239. Happiness or Joy?

After.

This morning the Stones “Happy” is rocking out of my computer. “I need love to keep me happy, baby, keep me happy. Happy, baby won’t you keep me happy?” Keith Richards wrote and recorded the song in four hours and sings the lead. No surprise. I read his autobiography a few years ago. If you cut out the drugs and sex and craziness, a 600 page book shrinks to 60. Richards is probably as well known for his drug use as for his music. I’m not here to bust Keith again. I think he’s had enough of that. (I mean, at his heroin peak even his dry cleaner could have been busted for possession.) Rather, I want to look at his lyric of continuous need as being another way of expressing addiction.

Addicts don’t choose. After a while they are “chosen” by their drug to ingest more or to withdraw or to itch, vomit or die. Addiction seems like one of the best tools Satan ever helped construct. The foretaste and promise of ecstatic freedom that results from astral levels of dopamine leads to a barren prison cell in the desert when that psychedelic elevator crashes. At first blush the drug struts down the high fashion catwalk looking like a fallen angel of pleasure. Some intense desire is fostered in the user that feels like falling in love with infinity. A physical, emotional, and spiritual high lifts the user up out of his mundane world. On later inspection this elevation is seen to be the hoisting of a carcass to make butchering easier for the Butcher. Happy at that point in the game is merely the appearance of functioning in civil society. That runway high fashion model turns out to be a drag queen hooker sweating it out to get by for another hour. It doesn’t matter where you begin with addiction; the terminal points are the same for all– devastati0n and death.

Another song that comes up in my cue is Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”. It’s pretty clear that bad things are going on. Frankie Lee/Everyman needs money and then winds up in some sort of brothel dying of thirst. Meanwhile, Judas Priest/Satan, is more than happy to oblige his needs. Are these two separate persons or two personas battling for the soul of one man? I don’t know. It has the feel of a condensed morality play, though. Some souls are stolen and others  sold daily at yard sale prices by their former owners. Some are rent-to -own deals. I think that’s how it is with addiction– a pay as you go reverse mortgage. At the end of the term you are evicted from your own life.

Before.
Despite what our Declaration of Independence claims, the pursuit of happiness is a fool’s errand. Happy is an emotion, a mere snowflake on your fingertip that melts before you can put it on your tongue. Nothing more than a pleasant sneeze. And yet, if you ask educated adult Americans what they most desire, the most common answer given is “I want to be happy.” And then what? “Happy” comes from the old word “hap” which means “luck”. “Hap” or “happy” is what happens, and is merely a derivative of luck. Who would hook his wagon to a lucky meteorite?  A gambling addict.
“I can quit whenever I want to.”
“So why don’t you?”
“I don’t want to.”
“Yeah, but that’s a hedge to hide behind. It’s circular logic and dishonest.”
“Hey, I’ll quit when I run out of money or drugs or smokes or liquor, or when I die. Okay?  Like I said, whenever I want to.”
“I’m afraid you’re confusing “want to” with “have to”.
“Whatever. I don’t want to. Okay? I want the complete annihilation of needs and wants. There, how’s that answer?”
“It resonates as truth to me. Thank you. Oh, look!  Three cherries. You win another fix. Powder or crystal?”
 At the other end of the pool is joy. Joy can be a mood state as opposed to an emotion. Joy can be maintained without a steady stream of hits or fixes. In some way it’s a transcendence of need or want. To choose joy is to rise above the mundane and stay there despite one’s circumstances. It’s a courageous choice not a cowardly default. Joy has a longer shelf life than mere happiness. It does not simply happen. It is chosen like a partner for life. Many times throughout a marriage one partner can legitimately claim to be miserable but still faithfully love the other partner. Happiness may not be present but joy is.

My buddy Quasimoto, Sr. got a bum deal in his recent hip surgery.  The anesthesiologist nicked his sciatic nerve during the epidural procedure. Good news: the hip is healing just fine. Bad news: his foot is on fire with nerve pain as if his foot is being dragged behind an eighteen wheeler across Death Valley in August at noon. Merciless. And yet his foot is numb, immovable. Is he happy?  Heck no. Does he have joy?  Actually he has Pat, and she is the definition of joy. Her loving cup is bottomless. Despite all the unnecessary pain that could lead one to fetch a ball bat and swing it through a doctor’s office or just call a sharky lawyer, Quasi continues pushing the rock uphill. He has no guarantee  that he will recover, ever. It’s been five weeks and not much has changed yet. Their travel plans have been shelved for now because of a two millimeter mistake. But their rusty days are overlaid with gold leaf joy, thanks to Pat.
Despite the pain, helplessness and anger, they hang together and, I believe, grow their marriage even stronger in its tenth year not because of bliss or comfort but due to pain and suffering.  Huh? Yeah, that’s not a typo. Because of pain and suffering grinding the surfaces between them, Pat and Quasi can bond even better than before. Being a woodworker, Quasi knows that if you want to unlock the beauty of a fine piece of wood, you have to punish it by sanding it over and over again. And that is where they are right now, in the deep sanding that reveals the deepest beauty. It’s counterintuitive that joy overflows throughout the punishing process, but happiness can’t stand the sawdust where joy stands alone.