434. Indefatigable Joy

Image result for tornado pictures aftermath

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

299. Coincidental Miracles

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

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

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


7. thirdly

I’m freshly 56 years old and I figure I have lived 2/3’s of my life, leaving me 1/3 to go, and it’s not the best third. At the end of the first third you have midlife looking at you, though you still have lots of youth left in the tank. At the end of the second third you have no youth left in the tank and the grim reaper waits like a tiny sailboat dot on the far horizon. If you haven’t come to grips with your purpose and meaning by this age, then you’re done. You will need an addiction or some pathology to compensate for the vast emptiness that swells in your guts like the cold North Atlantic Ocean…while that sailboat with the funny dark guy gets closer, and No, that is not a paddle in his hand.

I stumbled into meaning and purpose many years ago. After graduating college with a degree in English Literature, I worked a few wrong jobs that led nowhere. Meanwhile my new bride was working with singular focus on the career that she still practices thirty three years later, which is also how long we have been married. She is a straight line person and I am wiggly. Why does this not surprise you? God, nature, and movie scripts always put opposites together for better or worse. Her stability, however, has grounded me throughout my life. And I hope that my wiggles have kept her from being too rigid and lightened her heart a bit.

One day long ago while I was working as a proofreader in a Big 8 accounting firm on K Street in Washington, D.C., alongside a guy with his Ph.D from Rutgers and another guy who graduated from Princeton,(which sounds impressive but is sadder and hollower than an empty subway tunnel since we read accounting proposals for sewage treatment plants and car dealer conglomerates. Not sad enough for you? Read all day about ‘fecal coliform floatables’ and get back to me ). My wife told me that I was not a paper person but a people person. Okay, I thought, so what? She told me that I needed to be with people to enjoy my work. She then said I should be a teacher. Alright. I quit at lunch time and took the subway/bus combo home for the last time. I left a brief resignation note. “How do you get a one armed proofreader out of a tree?  Wave at him. Goodbye.” My friend Mark lived with us at that time and he reinforced my wife’s idea. That was enough for me.

After a move to Pennsylvania’s hinterlands I started the path to be certified to teach English, and then I labored in that mine for 23 years. Yes, I am a people person, but there’s more to teaching than being with people. “What was it like teaching middle school?” is a question that I get often enough. My response varies between “Like herding cats” and “Like being a crash test dummy”. Still, I enjoyed most of my time in that strange mine of humanity. That formal experience accounts for nearly one third of my life, so I can’t flush it away like the proofreader gig. My resignation letter was longer and more dignified. When I retired early, I actually had somewhere else to go. Which I’ll cover in another post.

I taught, or was in the same room where education was taking place, over 3,000 students. All of them had families that live in the area with parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. So, though I am not from this area I have become an identifiable person. I routinely run into past students or folks who know former students of mine. It’s an odd experience for a fairly anonymous guy from the D.C. suburbs, where no one was a native and families came and went with the military or government every three years. I am not from here, but my children were born and raised here. As far as I know, this origin point has not hurt my three girls yet.

Here is an unbelievable example of the universality of random connections. I was recently in Honduras on a mission trip. At one compound where our team stayed, another mission team from the USA was just finishing their work. We all had a big dinner together. You guessed already, didn’t you? A young man across the table was a former student of mine. “Jim, right?”  “Yeah, I thought that was you.” No big surprise for either of us.   But this is not the biggest mind melting experience with former students. I’ll save that one for a later post. And it is not the former student/now surgical assistant at my vasectomy either.  That was a shrinking experience for me that a less stable man could not have endured. At least this is what I tell myself as I try to dissociate from that memory. The smile on her face was haunting.

I’ll stop here before I give you my social security number and passwords to all my accounts. I know that I need to close out the cross country hitchhike and report on the progress of the Coffe Summit, and I will fulfill my blogger duties. “On this you can depend and never worry”, sang Diana Ross.