Monday, January 21, 2019

That's how cold it is

I have on socks--that's how cold it is.

After I ruptured all my ligaments in my right knee in September 2016, I couldn't put on socks for months and once I could again, I didn't.

The only time I wore a pair of socks in over 2 years was for my daughter-in-law, Cathy Chen's, institution as a judge. And I left one of the socks in Baltimore.

I like not wearing socks. It simplifies my day. It makes less to laundry. And I like the feel of bare feet in shoes.

But today I was wearing a pair of moccasins because the tread was good on ice--which is everywhere today. They sometimes slip off without socks, so I put on socks.

They aren't bad.

(The ice that still coats the trees all around us, looked beautiful today in the sunshine--but in the light of the Full Moon, it looks magic, wondrous. The trees, I know wouldn't agree. The temperature is 0 right now at 8:26. Tomorrow it warms up to freezing. Wednesday and Thursday in the 40's with rain. What a strange winter this is. I'll decide tomorrow about socks....)


I didn't break my word

There was no post yesterday, even though I promised last week to write every day to write my way out of my Trump Funk.

The electricity went out in our area yesterday at 2 pm and wasn't back until midnight.

My computer runs of the stuff, so I didn't write.

We went to bed a little after nine, there being little else to do. I was under every blanket in the house, still in my clothes. Bern woke me after midnight with the good news that power was back. I slept until 9:30 a.m.

When I went to bed the temperature in our house was 59 degrees but was back to the 67 we keep it at when I woke up.

Cold and dark isn't the best.

Hope you're staying warm--and watch the ice, if you live in Connecticut.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Mary Oliver, Rest in Peace

Mary Oliver died today.

I used to think of myself as a poet. And my soul is, just not my words.

I love poetry and Mary Oliver was one of my favorites. Take this, from "Daisies" for example:

It is possible, I suppose, that sometime
    we will learn everything
there is to learn--what the world is, for example
    and what it means.

Then, our daughter, Mimi, had a class with her at Bennington College and said Mary was harsh and judgmental and sometimes cruel.

So, she wasn't one of my favorites anymore.

But how can you not love this:

TODAY

Today I'm flying low
and I'm not saying a word.
I'm letting all the voodoos of ambition
sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten
and so forth.

But I'm taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move, though really I am traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.


Pretty amazing.

I wish her well on her journey into the stillness and the distance.



disturbing and disgraceful

I just watched a video on the Washington Post web-site that was horrifying.

There was a gathering of Native Americans in Washington today to celebrate 'indigenous people' around the world. One of the group, who were being taunted by anti-abortion protesters, got separated from the group and encounter a group of teen boys in Make America Great Again hats at the Lincoln Memorial. The man, who is a Viet Nam veteran and head of a group that supports Native American young people, was surrounded by the teens.

He continued to beat his hand drum and sing his chant about resisting oppression, but one of the teens stood less than a foot from him, smirking and looking like he was thinking (my interpretation) 'you're not as good as me'.

The man's name was Philips and said later he felt unsafe as other teens were encouraging the boy.

People were chanting, "build the wall, build the wall", which is so ignorant it is beyond belief since Philips and his people were here before any of us was.

The teens were from a Catholic high school in Park Hills, Kentucky who were sent to DC for the anti-abortion rally.

The school said appropriate action--up to and including expulsion would be considered.

I certainly hope so.

Go watch it on the Washington Post web-site and feel the revulsion I felt.

How have we sunk this low?

Well, I think I know but I won't say his name.


some words to ponder

Here are a few of the quotes from my Mastery Foundation quote box. Well worth pondering.

"The truth may well be even more difficult to relate than it is to find" --Albert Murray

"If one does not have wild dreams of achievement, there is no spur even to get the dishes washed. One must think like a hero to behkave like a merely decent human being." --May Sarton

"For myself I am an optimist--it does not seem to be much use being anything else." --Winston Churchill

"The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you've gotten the fish, you can forget about the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit; once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning; once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten the words so I can have a word with him?"--Chuang Tzu

I chose those because I am longing for truth, wild dreams, optimism and a man who has forgotten the words.

Actually, Chuang Tzu's words are still teasing me on. I'm not quite where they are leading. But I'm optimistic about finding the 'truth' in them.

Lose not faith, beloved. Dream optimistically in these shadowy times.

Always long for the light that is to come.


Friday, January 18, 2019

Keeping my promise

OK, I'm writing every day--for two days at least!

Men who are queasy should read this post.



Today I went to my urologist, Dr. Wong--I know, I know, an unfortunate name for a urologist.

She put a camera up through my penis to my bladder.  Not the most pleasant thing to experience and for me, especially strange and odd since she looks so much like my daughter in law, Cathy Chen. Plus, another woman--a middle-eastern woman was in the room with her.

Thing is, Dr. Wong is still trying to understand why my PSA, which I shouldn't have at all since I have no prostrate gland, jumped up to 4 from 0.01.

One answer would be that my prostrate cancer moved somewhere else--but CAT scan and Bone scan and peeking in my bladder ruled that out.

So, another blood test in 3 months and another visit to Cathy look alike in 6 months.

But for now, all is well.

To put a camera in your bladder they pump in water and air! My bladder was full when the test was over so I peed in the bathroom, but the air came out too, so I had a Number One fart or two. Really odd and strange...

(One thing I've learned from all this--I don't get stressed about unknown possibilities. I just do what I have to do and move on. Not bad for a way to be, I'd say. But you really don't want a camera in your bladder--trust me on that....)


Thursday, January 17, 2019

OK, I know....

I realized I haven't been writing much here under the Castor oil tree lately when I found myself last night searching my files of writings for something to post.

Then I realized why I haven't been writing.

I am finally in Trump-Funk big time.

The shutdown and almost hourly lies have finally driven me into a form of mild depression that keeps me from writing.

And I am not a depressive person. I am your best 'glass half full' or 'full glass just looks half full' guy.

Often in my life as a full time priest I would listen to folks sit in my office and talk about their depression. I agreed to listen twice to all that, but since I've never been depressed and am not a trained psychologist, on the second visit I would give them three names of psychologists I trusted. Many thanked me later. Unlike some ministers I've known, I am clear about my limitations. I know to 'refer quickly' when the problem is out of my league. I believe religious clerics are 'generalists' and have no business--unless they have training in psychology--dealing with any psychological problem.

Two years of this president has worn me down, little by little.

I think that's my problem--and probably the problem of many others: every day brings a couple new outrageous tweeted insults to his opponents and outright lies, it's hard to get outraged over and again.

I'm suffering from 'outrage overload'--the Trump-Funk.

So, I'm going to force myself to write here every day. I'll try not to focus on my daily outrage--though that would be therapeutic for me--but I can't guarantee you that.

Maybe I'll go back to my Mastery Foundation quote box and let them inspire me to higher ground.



Monday, January 14, 2019

words that matter

Now in the, what is it? 24th day of an unnecessary and ego driven partial government shutdown, which is costing us as a people a small fortune each day, I need some words that matter.

Ann Overton, head of the Mastery Foundation, which has been a part of my life for nearly 30 years, sent each of the Board members a plastic container full of quotes--more than a year's worth, so I read a few each day.

This one, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a Ph.D. of native American and Latin American roots who has written several books about women in history, spoke to me in what she calls 'shadowy times', which is an excellent way to describe life in this strange and frightening presidential administration.

Hope these words speak to you as well.

"One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of your soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like there--to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do."
                                                                     Ckarussa Pinkola Estes

Take heart my friends, and show your soul.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

read this

Enough people haven't yet read this. Read it!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


Something from before

I noticed some folks had been reading this. It means a lot to me. The story haunts me from time to time. It's all fiction except my uncle Del did die in Florida and I didn't go to his funeral. But it wasn't Christmas so it doesn't matter.

This story has been with me since I was 20, so it means a lot to me.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


The Pepperoni Cure-All

(This was written for a Junior Year in college Creative Writing Class. I've worked on it some since. The ironic thing is that Dr. Ross McDonald, the professor, said the thing about the duck and the State Policeman 'didn't ring true'. In fact, that scene is the only thing that is 'true'. I saw it happen when I was about the age of the protagonist of the story. Really. Don't tell me 'irony' isn't everywhere all the time.)



The Pepperoni Cure-All
Everything would have been alright, Richard told himself, standing in the whispy, Christmas night snow, if Luther hadn't danced with the duck. Then he remembered telling himself earlier, everthing would have been alright, if I hadn't sat on that rickety stool and talked to Stacy. And before that, everything would have been alright if Dom hadn't wrecked his car trying to screw Jackie Martin.
And it all led back, no matter how many times Richard went over it in his memory, to his uncle. If Richard's uncle hadn't died like that, on Christmas Eve in some immaculate Florida hospital....Yes, that's it, Richard thought, if Uncle Dale hadn't died, everything would have really, truly been alright.
***
(I remember being five. I remember some things before that, but more clearly than anything—my first, clearest memory—I remember being five and running across a long green field in summer...running toward Uncle Dale and letting him lift me up high and take away his hands for just a moment, long enough to give the feeling, the illusion of falling...falling-without-really-falling, because he tightened his arms again and held me and I was looking down into his face, laughing and him laughing an then, after falling another second or so, he spun me around—a swirl of sky and field, green/blue/green/blue—an rubbed my face with his rough, bearded face and it was like...it was like nothing has been since.)
***
1
Father and son sat in a darkened room—completely dark because no one had turned on any lights since the call came. The call had come in daylight, where there had been no need for light. So Vernon and Richard sat in a dark room and Susan, Vernon's wife and Richard's mother, was upstairs, where there was light, packing.
Vernon was crying softly. Richard wished some lights were on, even if it were only the lights on the white pine Christmas tree in the corner. It was simply too dark. There needed to be some light for Richard to tell his father that he was not going with him to Florida for Dale's funeral.
Up above their heads, father and son could hear Susan crossing the room, walking fast, gathering clothes, knowing they must leave at dawn.
In the darkness, Richard could smell the white pine and the lime after-shave his father used. The lime was spoiled by the smell of travel. Vernon had driven all night from Florida and arrived just in time to discover that the brother he had left in that immaculate hospital had died while he was driving across North Carolina.
As soon as Vernon was in the door and had the news, he slumped in his favorite chair. He had not moved for three hours. Now, he sat in darkness, mourning his brother. He did not yet know Richard wasn't going to the funeral. Vernon had simply assumed Richard would.
You know,” Vernon said to Richie and the darkness, “even if I had known Dale was going to die before I got home...Even if I could have known that, the ride back with George would have been worth it. We talked, Richie, my older brother George and I talked...really talked...for the first time in years, the first time ever, maybe. About Dale and us growing up and lots of things. It was good, I don't know if you understand, it was so good....”
If the Christmas tree lights had been on, Richard would have seen his father's wet face creased with reds and greens and blues. But there was no light. Father and son sat in the dark and listened to the foot-falls above them. Susan packing. She called down the stairs, “Richie, will you pack for yourself or should I do it?”
Richard was 19—27 days from 20—he was a college sophomore home for Christmas break. And he had months ago decided, even before his father and uncle George left for the first trip to Florida, that he was not going to Dale's funeral. He simply was not going. And nothing could make him, not even his father's soft, invisible tears in the darkness. Not even his mother calling down the stairs. Nothing in heaven or on earth would make him go to Florida for that sad, meaningless ritual of putting his uncle Dale in the ground.
Vernon blew his nose into an already soaked handkerchief. Richie sat in darkness and wished that he could, by force of will, turn on a light. Susan stood at the top of the stairs, waiting, and called again--”Richard, did you hear me?”
It was then that Richard said, out loud in the darkness, “I'm not going, mother.”
After that, Vernon rose from his chair and turned on a light to enlighten the argument that did not good. Richard was not going.
***
(When I was small, long before Uncle Dale sold his Esso station to Poppy Erskin and moved to Florida to be near his daughter and her family...sometimes he would eat lunch at our house. He would get up from the table and tear a package of Red Man in half and put half of it in his mouth and lay down on our couch for a nap. He always put The Welch Daily News on the couch beneath him to keep from getting car grease on the fabric. I would watch him sleep and wonder if he swallowed the tobacco juice. He never seemed to spit—whether he was asleep or awakek—and when I asked him about it he told me he had pockets in his cheeks, just like a squirrel and when I was older he'd take me hunting and we'd kill some squirrels and he'd show me the pockets in their cheeks. But he never did, because he knew I'd hate hunting and knew that he was lying anyway. He simply swallowed the tobacco juice and didn't get sick.)
***
2
They left at dawn—Vernon and Susan and George—driving in Vernon's new 1966 black Ford Fairlaine 500.
Vernon put his hand on Richard's shoulder and started to speak, but just nodded and got in to drive the first 300 miles. Richard stood in the dim cold for a long time after they were gone, just looking down the street where they had driven. Then he went to the basement of their house and banked the furnace with fresh coal. That had been his final argument about staying home.
Someone has got to keep the finance going, Daddy,” he had said. “Or all the pipes will freeze in the cold.”
Susan had been involved by that time. “I've already asked Mr. Short across the street. I'll give him and key and he can come in whenever...”, she said.
Vernon had raised his hand and she stopped talking. He looked directly into his son's eyes as he spoke, “Richard will stay here and keep the furnace going.”
That is all he said. And his son felt deeply moved, profoundly close to his father in those words.
After the furnace was tended to, Richard went to his room and slept until just past noon. He had no dreams and woke full of pain and not hungry at all.
At 12/22 p.m., he turned on the Christmas tree lights and opened a present from his mother's sister in Charleston. It was a brown sweater with a darker brown corduroy front. He imagined it would itch. He put it back in the box and crumbled the paper—red and green with swirling snow flakes—to take to the basement and put in the furnace when he gave it more coal.
As he passed the kitchen phone, it rang. It was Mrs. Short from next door. After pleasantries and sympathy, she said, “Delbert was going to tend to your furnace, but then your mother called and asked if we would look out for you instead.”
Richard nodded, but even though he could see the short house's kitchen window from his own, he knew she couldn't see him nod. So he said, “yes m'am”.
So...” she said, very uncertainly, because Richard had always been a strange and dreamy boy and she didn't know him very well, “I thought you should come for Christmas dinner with us about 4 o'clock....”
Thank you Mrs. Short,” Richard said, as polite as could be, “but I won't be eating a big dinner today. I want to be alone.”
There was a long silence on the phone. Then Mrs. Short said, “I know how upset you must be, Richard, but life goes on, you know, and you really shouldn't miss a Christmas dinner.”
By the time she finished talking, Richard knew that his mother's hand was heavy in this concern. He said, as sincerely as he could, “if I change my mind and need to eat, I'll sure be there Mrs. Short. But don't expect me and don't wait on me. I really think I'll want to be alone.”
After hanging up, Richard went to his room and slept until almost four o'clock.
***
(When I was eight, Uncle Dale bought me a first baseman's mitt. I remember how red my hand would get when we played catch on the railroad tracks behind my house. The glove said “Ferris Fain” on it and though I didn't know who he was, Uncle Dale told me he was 'a superior fielder' and I could 'do worse' than have Ferris Fain's name on my mitt. Every warm day we would toss until it was so dark that all you could do was throw pop-ups and listen to the crickets singing down by the creek behind the Short's house. I always wished my mitt had been signed by Bill Skowren or Orlando Cepeda.)
***
3
George Lucas had left his three year old Buick Electra for Richard to use. Just past four o'clock, with 3 eggs he had boiled, a napkin and a salt shaker, Richard went to the alley and sat in the Buick, listening to sad country music—George Jones and Tammy Wynette—and eating the eggs. When he was finished, he carefully folded the egg shells into the napkin and sat in the car watching it grow dark.
He looked over at the mountains behind the creek. There were no pine trees on that particular mountain so everything was brown, turning gray in the winter twilight. He tried to remember what happened to his first baseman's mitt with Ferris Fain's name on it and remember for the life of him. Near the top of the brown-turning-gray mountain, he could see a strip mine where the trees and earth had been torn away. He noticed how the earth was peeled away to reveal rounded patterns of different colored rocks beneath. All the rocks, in that light, were brown, turning gray.
Richard wondered why he was so cold, even with the Buick's heater on high.
Then it started to snow.
Back in his house, he sat by the front window for a few hours, watching the snow. The Christmas tree to his left was on as he sat by the window and he counted the lights on the tree: first the red ones, then the green, then the blue, then the white.
When he finished counting, the phone rang.
Hello?”
Rich?”
You, Dom?”
Yes, I need help.”
What?”
Long story, can you come and get me?”
Talk louder, Dom, I can hardly hear you.”
Listen, I'm at old man Barker's house on Peel Chestnut Mountain. I wrecked my old man's car, dropped it in a hole on an off road. Do you know where I mean, the Barker place?”
Yes.”
Come and get me.”
Dominic Rizzo was crazy. Richard knew that, even without Vernon's testimony and his father was Dom's boss on the hoot-owl shift at French #2 mine. But Dom was his friend. So even though his Uncle Dale was dead and cold in Florida, and even though the snow was sticking to the road, and even though he hadn't checked the furnace since the morning, Richard pulled out of the alley in his Uncle George's car to go get Dom.
When he got to old man Barker's place it was snowing like mad and Dom was outside waiting. When Dom saw it was Richard, he ran back to the house and brought out a girl, all bundled against the cold. She slid into the middle of the front seat beside of Richard and Dom followed her in.
Let's get the hell out of here,” Dom said. “I need a beer.”
Richard searched his memory and found that the girl's name was Jackie Martin. She was probably little more than fifteen and Dom should know better. She had a lot of makeup and it was obvious she'd been crying. But nobody was talking and Richard was driving so he drove to a roadside cafe and pulled into the red dog parking lot. It was snowing so hard that the Christmas lights around the windows of the cafe were eerie and shimmering.
***
(Once, two years before he died, Uncle Dale and his family were visiting West Virginia. Uncle Dale was sitting in a lawn chair in our front yard. It was autumn and the mountains were burning red and orange and yellow. Uncle Dale's grandson, Marty, came around the corner of our house, grinning like crazy, with his pant's pockets bulging. I asked him what he had in his pockets and he nearly laughed as he told me, “rocks!” His face was smeared with coal dirt. Uncle Dale put his hands behind his head and leaned back in the chair, crossing his feet in front of him. “There are no rocks in Florida,” he said to me. I laughed. Then I remembered the only time I'd been to Florida, the first time I'd seen the ocean. I remember standing on the beach, looking out at a storm gathering on the horizon and almost crying out with aching. The ocean was gray and ominous and I was 13 and it was so big, so infinitely big, and I felt so infinitesimally small. I remembered that and then Uncle Dale looked at me and said, once he knew I was listening: “Really, I'm not kidding. There are no rocks in Florida. Just sand. Not a single rock. I hate it. It's going to kill me.
***
4
Dom bolted from the car and ran into the cafe through the snow. He almost fell, slipping on the snow covered gravel. “God-damn!” Richard heard him say. Jackie Martin was sniffing, rubbing her nose with a balled up Kleenex.
You want to go in,” Richard asked.
No,” she said, between sniffs. “But you go on, just leave the motor on so I'll be warm.”
You're sure?” He said.
Sure, I'm sure,” she said, with some anger.
Inside the Monarch Cafe there were four red booths, two against the front wall, one in the back corner and one in the middle of the room. There were three pinball machines and a long bar with rickety stools across the back wall. Dom was already on a stool, drinking a beer and Richard noticed that Luther Barker, old man Barker's oldest son was in the back booth with a large, black-haired woman who wore blood red lipstick. She had enormous breasts and was laughing very hard. Between them, on the table, was a duck—fat and white—with a string around it's neck. The woman and Luther seemed to be laughing at the duck.
Tammy Wynette was singing a sad song from the jukebox about losing her lover.
Richard went straight to the bathroom. On the way he noticed there were cheap Christmas ornaments hanging from the lights and all around the edges of the room. There was an enormous bread company calendar hanging on the men's room's door with a picture of pine trees and a snowy church with the messages “Happy Holidays” and “Betsy Ross Means Good Bread.”
The bathroom smelled of cheap whiskey (out of bottles in brown paper bags since only beer could be sold by the drink in West Virginia) and stale urine. The walls were painted a dying-grass green. Above the urinal there was a crude drawing of a naked woman, on her back with her knees almost behind her ears. She was pushing a long, thin dildo into her vagina. Beneath the picture, written with a much sharper pencil, was the title: THE PEPERONI CURE-ALL.
As Richard left the bathroom, he was thinking about the missing 'p' in 'pepperoni'. When he got back to the bar, Brenda Lee was singing “Jingle-bell Rock” and two more people were there. There was a tall State Policeman in a khaki jacket, too small and unzipped. He was talking to Lou, the man who ran the Monarch Cafe. And Stacy Jame Ebel, a high school classmate of Richard and Dom's was sitting beside Dom drinking Miller High Life from a clear bottle.
Richard sat beside Stacy and listened to Dom's story.
God, Jackie is tight,” he was saying, eyes already glazed from two quickly drunk beers. “I must have tried to get into her six times and she started yelling, 'it's too big, too big!' and crying like crazy. I was so pissed I tried to turn around on that narrow road and dropped my old man's car right into a hole. No way to get the damn thing out tonight.”
Dom motioned for another beer. He was grinning and saying, in a high pitched voice to no one in particular, “it's too big! Too big! Jesus!”
Lou was moving toward the beer cooler but the State Policeman called him back and whispered something in Lou's ear. They both laughed.
Stacy James told Richard that he'd been fired from the shipyard in Newport News where he made really good money and was now working at a can factory in Baltimore. “Here's my job,” he said, shaking his head, “I push a god-damned button and this big ass sheet of aluminum gets cut in half and goes on down the belt. Down the line somewhere it gets turned into cans. I don't know how.”
Do you like it?” Richard asked, trying to picture the sheets of aluminum and the shiny cans at the other end of the line.
Stacy sniffed, “it's a job,” he said. “I live in a rented room and drink a lot of beer.” Stacy was pale and melancholy. He spun his stool and looked right at Richard. His voice was beery. “How about you, my man,” he said, “how's college?”
Fine,” Richard said. “Really fine. But my uncle died yesterday.”
Dom glanced over, a Falstaff in a dark bottle half-way to his mouth, poised. “Which one?” he asked.
Uncle Dale,” Richard told him. “The one in Florida.”
Dom took a long swallow and stared at the bottle rings on the counter. “Damn,” he said, “that's a shame.”
He used to run the Esso?” Stacy said, still looking into Richard's eyes. Richard nodded. “One time I was in there at night,” Stacy continued, “I don't remember why, and Gene Kelly's boy, the really dark kid, was trying to borrow money from you uncle. What was his name—big nigger—Potter, that was it. Anyway, your uncle told him no and Potter pulled this big knife on him. I almost jumped over the Coke machine when I saw that knife.” Stacy laughed, remembering.
You'd look good on a Coke machine,” Dom said. He got up and wandered over to the silent jukebox and fed it two quarters. The machine whirled and clicked and George Jones starts singing a fast, honky-tonk sounding country song, a song about drinking and running around.
Anyway,” Stacy went on, leaning against the counter, speaking softly, “your uncle got up, real calm like and something like, 'Potter, you're just drunk, you don't want to do this,' and quicker than anything, Dale took that knife away from that big nigger, twice your uncle's size, and twisted Potter's arm behind him and threw him out into the road before anyone besides me knew what was happening.”
Richard leaned in, listening, but Stacy paused. He took an unfiltered Camel from a pack on the counter and lit it with an aluminum lighter. As he let the smoke out through his nose, he said, “next day your uncle gave Potter a job pumping gas and washing cars.”
Richard smiled, almost laughed and then almost wept.
Wasn't that the damnest thing?” Stacy asked in what seemed to be genuine amazement.
Dom had been standing, absent-mindedly in the middle of the room. Just as Stacy finished his story, Dom yelled out, above the twanging steel guitar of the record, “God-damn, look at this!”
Luther Barker was up on the floor, dancing around the duck, holding its string in one hand. The duck went in a circle as Luther danced around and around, and the sting tightened on the duck's neck. Luther was stumbling drunkenly as he danced and the woman in the booth laughed so hard she was about to fall out of the booth. She put her elbows on the table and tried to hold her head, but she rocked sideways with laughter.
The State Policeman, who Richard didn't recognize, shook his head with disgust and started toward Luther. Richard saw it all in his mind before any of it happened and there was nothing he could do. He couldn't move a muscle. He was paralyzed on his stool. He tried to close his eyes and look away. Dom was laughing now and Stacy was laughing and the State Policeman was grabbing Luther by the shirt and hitting him hard in the face with the back of his right hand. Once, twice, three times he hit him and then let him go and Luther fell backwards and struck his head on the edge of the table where the fat woman held her head in her hands. Blood spurted from Luther's lip and nose and suddenly no one was laughing. The duck staggered toward the front door, choking, and vomited some green bile on the floor.
The record had ended and everything was silent except for the whirling and clicking of the jukebox, finding the next record. Richard was suddenly free from his paralysis and ran across the room, bumping Dom on the way, making him spill some beer.
Hey, watch it....”, Richard heard Dom yell after him, but the door of the bathroom slammed shut and Richard threw up what was left of the eggs into the toilet and gagged until his eyes watered.
When he looked up, he saw the picture of 'the peperoni cure-all' and, through tears of mourning and relief, all he could think of was wishing he had a pencil so he could put in the missing 'p'. Through the bathroom door, he could hear the State Policeman yelling obscenities at Luther and a country singer whining, intentionally out of tune, “I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...just like the ones I used to know....”
***
(The last time I saw my Uncle Dale, we were sitting on Uncle George's porch and it was spring and we were arguing about religion. I can't remember how it started but he was being stubborn and telling me that anyone who hadn't accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior—including Jews and Roman Catholics—was going to hell. I knew he didn't even believe in hell, that he didn't believe in anything much, that he was a comfortable agnostic. But he went on saying it, knowing it was making me crazy. He sat there with his hands behind his head and his legs stretched out and his feet crossed, like he always sat, being stubborn and baiting me. I got mad and stormed off the porch. He called out to me, “I'm going back to Florida tomorrow morning, Richie, don't forget to write.” And even as mad as I was with him, I had to laugh. We both knew we'd never written each other a letter in our lives and never would. It was early Spring, I was home on Spring break and it seemed to me he always planned his trips to West Virginia around my breaks from college. The robins were digging in my Uncle George's front yard. That October, Dale got sick and on Christmas Eve he died.)
***
5
Dom decided to have Stacy take him home, so Richard drove Jackie Martin back alone. He hadn't tried to explain where Dom was since he knew Jackie hadn't expected him back anyway. She nodded at Richard sadly when he slid under the driver's steering wheel and said, “sure is snowing hard.”
Richard turned on the wipers. Ice was beginning to stick to the Buick's windshield and he drove slowly, peering out a clear space surrounded by gathering ice.
When Richard stopped the car outside Jackie Martin's house, nothing happened. She didn't open the door and get out. Instead, she sat, stone still and stared at her hands.
After a long while, Richard said, “Jackie, you're home.”
Nothing much happened, even then. She stared at her hands and then looked out the window. “Here's the truth,” she said, very softly, much more like a mannered, mature woman than little more than a girl, “the worst thing about this night is that you had to know about what happened, how Dom and I were parking up on the mountain and....” Her voice trailed off into silence.
Finally, she looked at him, her large, over-made-up eyes, puffy from crying, looked directly into his heart, his soul. “I'm so terribly sorry your uncle died,” she said. “Mr. Barker told me while we were waiting for you to come. I know how awful that has made your Christmas—even more awful than mine.”
Jackie leaned across and kissed Richard softly on the lips, her fingers gently touching the back of his neck. Richard thought it was one of the softest kisses he'd ever had.
Thank you,” he said. Then she got out and ran through the snow to her house.
When he parked the car in the alley behind his house, he noticed Jackie had left a balled up Kleenex on the front seat. He took it with him and as he stood in the alley he knew the snow would stop soon. It was turning colder and the snow would stop. He tried to imagine his parents and George taking turns driving through southern Georgia, almost to the Florida state line. He walked to the front of the house and noticed the only lights were the Christmas tree lights he'd left on all day. They were green and red and blue and white. He smiled and rubbed the last, dying flakes of snow from his face with Jackie's Kleenex. He could smell her face powder on it.
As he opened the front door, he shivered. It was cold inside and he knew the furnace had gone out.

From some time ago

This is when I first wrote about deciding to retire from St. John's in Waterbury. It was just over 9 years ago. Thought I'd share it again.

It is pertinent since I spoke today at St. James' Annual Meeting, about the Church as 'community' and 'institution'.

After I left St. John's, someone asked me, "what do you miss most?"

"The people--the community...." I replied.

"And what do you miss least?"

I didn't even have to think. "Annual Meetings!"

And now, for my sins, I will attend three this month.....


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Day One

Today, January 10, is the first day that my plan to retire from my position at St. John's has been general knowledge. A letter went out last week that most people already received and I talked about it at all three services--just an initial and general comment, really. My last day will be April 30, so there is time to have longer, more serious conversations. After over 20 years there will be a lot of good-byes to say. And since someone leaving is like a death, I imagine we will all go through some of Elizabeth Kubla Ross' 'stages of death': denial, bargaining, anger, depression and hopefully, acceptance.

I've already experienced in others most of those stages. Some people who knew, before the letter went out, had the first reaction: "you don't mean it...." Others asked if there was anything they, or the church, could do to change my mind. Some spoke a bit harshly with me--words like 'abandoning us' and 'betraying us' were actually spoken. And many are simply sad--already in depression. A few have wished me well and told me they are happy for me. Thing is, people jump back and forth during a long illness--which, in a way--is what now until the end of April will be! My hope is to help the parish--and myself--come to acceptance in the end so my parting can be as wondrous and important as my time with St. John's has been. That's part of what I'll be trying to develop a discipline about by writing down the days.

I also want to reflect on my time here--I have grieving to do and things to let go of before I can leave cleanly. I usually work through things better in writing than in other ways, so this journal of the last few months of my ministry and presence here will help me do that.

I might start looking at 'the church' with a critical eye. One of the things I want to do when I have more time that will begin in May, is to write about 'the church' as an institution and a community. It is meant to be the latter but spends more time and energy of being the former, in my opinion at any rate. So I might drift into that once and a while.

And, really, is will be a time for me to say good-bye to some of the best years of my life. I was 42 when I arrived and didn't have a gray hair on my head though my beard had turned gray years before. Now I'm going to be a white haired guy of 63 when I leave. That's a lot of water under the bridge and a lot of wafers across the rail. It's also a lot of dying and being born and getting married and being sick and moving away and struggling and rejoicing. It is quite remarkable how little a priest 'does' like work. Most of my ministry is 'being there'. Woody Allen once said, "just showing up is 90% of life." In ministry 'just showing up' may be even more than that!

I've had discussions with other priests--and a couple of bishops--about my belief that ordination is ontological, not functional. There are 'functions' I can perform under the particular and peculiar polity of the Episcopal Church. But they aren't hard and soon become like 'muscle memory'. But I truly believe (as truly as I believe anything...we'll run into my odd theories about 'belief' at some point) that 'being a priest' is simply that--'being...."

I have a seminary classmate--probably many of them--who wear clerical collars. I don't and haven't for years--but that's just me. If I did wear a collar the last place I'd wear one is on an airplane--it attracts crazy people like a magnet and even the sanest of us is a little crazy at 38,000 feet trapped in a large, efficient sardine can. Once my friend talked to a man all the way from LA to Chicago. As they were circling O'Hare, the seatmate said to my friend, "what do you do for a living?" My friend looked down at his black shirt and Anglican collar and said, somewhat confused, "Why...I'm a priest...." And the man replied, "I know who you are, I want to know what you do...."

My friend asked me what I would have said. Truth is, what I would have said is something like, "who I AM is what I do...." Let him chew on that while he waits for his baggage.

I'm sure that will come up again in these musings under a Castor oil tree that will no longer be with us on May 1--my life and time at St. John's.

Hope you'll come along for the journey....

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Three of the most beautiful words....

NO SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS.

Pretty normal words, but music to my ears!

Back on December 18, I wrote about going to my urologist because the PSA in my annual physical was at 4 or so, twelve years after my prostrate and the cancer in it was removed.

So, Dr. Wong (unfortunate name for a urologist, I know) ordered more blood tests and then a CAT scan and bone scan I had yesterday.

I was driving on I 91 on my way to Higganum, when my phone started it's "Hello, Moto" routine. I can barely take a call sitting still with both hands, much less at 70+ mph, so I didn't answer. When I got to St. James, I found a voice mail from a technician in Dr. Wong's office. From then until about 1:45 pm, I called her back 4 times and missed a call from her. My anxiety was rising by the  minute. though Bea told me that if it were 'bad' news, the doctor would have called herself.

My phone started to ring right at Stop and Shop and I careened into the parking lot and nearest space to answer.

Shanique told me these three words: "no significant findings" in either scan.

I told her those were beautiful words.

She laughed and said, "Well, I guess that's true."

Then I drove home to tell Bern my new favorite words.

I know some of you have been thinking about me and even "praying", for goodness sake--in this day!

Thank you for that. I'll learn next Friday what Dr. Wong has to say about the PSA. But today--as Fate would have it--I took communion to a family who knew two men who, just like me, had prostate surgery and radiation and then years later their PSA came back and for both it was nothing.

"No significant findings", just stuff medicine doesn't yet understand.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

There are 2 crisis's--just not yours

I watched, as you may have, the President's address tonight and the Democrats' response.

None of the three could win a high school debate contest, but two of them spoke Truth while He-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named did not.

The President did admit there is a 'humanitarian crisis' at the southern boarder--one he created--where the legal right to apply for admission to the US because of dangerous conditions in their homeland is being delayed and delayed and delayed. And children, separated from their parents by this draconian administration have not been re-united but put in prison like situations with inadequate health care.

Plus, the other crisis is the partial shut down of the US government which has 800,000 federal workers either working without pay or furloughed without pay. Basic needs--food stamps, promised aid to native American's, safety in airports, care of national parks, availability of federal museums and much more--has been limited or ended.

Open the government and THEN talk about boarder security, which is much more complex than the President even understands.

Open the Government.

Open it now.

Congress is wanting to if only the President will agree.

And to this point, he hasn't.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

nieces and nephews

It just occurred to me tonight--Bern and I have no nieces and nephews.

I'd never thought of it before for some reason.

I'm an only child and both of Bern's older brother or sister ever had children.

Mimi and Tim have three nieces--Josh and Cathy's three girls.

Josh and Cathy have Eleanor and Cathy's two brothers' children.

Bern and I have none.

I had eight sets of uncles and aunts and 2, 4, 8, 1, 2, 2 first cousins--and nieces and nephews to my parents.

And Bern and I have none. No nieces and nephews.

It's always been so--but I never realized it in such a way as tonight.

I miss those nieces and nephews I never had.

I do.

And I hope Josh and Mimi realize the gifts that they might be.

I would have been a good uncle. That I know and know fair well....


Broken hearted

A New Year's Resolution I always make that is always broken is this: 'this year I won't care so much about sports'.

Today the Chicago Bears, my favorite NFL team, kicked a field goal to defeat the Eagles on the last play of the game. But the Eagle's coach called a time out before the ball was snapped and when the kicker tried again he hit the upright and missed the field goal.

Alas and alack.

Here are the teams I give my heart to:

college, any sport: West Virginia University, where I did my B.A. But the only team from WVU that is almost always in the running for National Championships is the rifle team--which often wins. Irony of ironies--I hate guns!

NBA: the LA Lakers, because Jerry West of WVU was a Hall of Fame player for them. Even with Labron James, they are barely above (by two games) having a losing record this year.

MLB--the Yankees, because my father, ready to set off to WW II and Omaha Beach was given tickets to a Yankees/Dodgers World Series game before he went to Europe and decided the team that won would be 'his team'. The Yankees won and I grew up in southern-most West Virginia as a Yankee's fan. My blood is pin stripped.

And the Bears. The reason I love them is that when I was young they had a running back named Gayle Sayers who I adored and their home uniforms were black helmets and black jerseys and white pants, which I found remarkably attractive.

And no matter how much I try to avoid feeling too much about sports, I do.

I was a junior high basketball and football player. Good in basketball, so/so in football. But I reached my full growth in 9th grade, so when I went to high school everyone else had out grown me and I had no sports future.

(The Eagles have a running back and defensive back who are both WVU graduates. So, as odd as it might seem, they'll be my team this year, even though they beat my beloved Bears. I still need someone to root for. I am one who cares too much about sports....

Except for Nascar--I don't care about that at all. And don't even consider racing cars a 'sport'.)




Saturday, January 5, 2019

Epiphany sermon



Epiphany

           
           
            Listen to the words of Isaiah:“… A multitude of camels
                shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah…”

          Epiphany gets me thinking about Camels.
Camels are remarkable creatures—a miracle of design.  Without Camels the history of northern Africa and what we call the Middle East would have been very different.
          And the Magi wouldn’t have made it to Bethlehem.
          Camels have two humps and are larger than their one-humped cousins, the dromedaries.
Those two humps are made of fat for the camels to live on when there’s nothing to eat. And when they do eat, they eat the sparse, thorny plants that survive in the desert.
          Camels have thick fibrous pads on their feet to keep the heat of the sand from burning them and to maintain better balance. They can travel 70 miles a day and can store 30 quarts of water in their stomachs. In extreme heat they can go without water for nearly a week.
          Camels have flaps on their nostrils that close during sandstorms.
They are a miracle of design. You couldn’t make up an animal more suited for that part of the world than a camel. And since they can carry 600 pounds on their backs, they made trade and exploration possible in the harsh, barren regions of the middle East.
          Because of Camels, great and sophisticated civilizations flourished in one of the most inhospitable areas of the world.

          Camels almost certainly carried Balthazar, Melichior and Caspar on their long journey to from Babylon to Judea.
          So, Epiphany makes me think about camels and about those exotic astrologers they carried to Jesus.
          Bethlehem was a tiny village in the first century when the Magi arrived. A back-water town. A “one horse” town—or, more accurately, a “one camel” town.
          The Magi were wealthy men from a high priestly caste. They were sophisticated—and important enough to demand an audience with King Herod and to cause a stir in Jerusalem.
          Bethlehem must have seemed strange and primitive to them.
          I have a mental picture of the Magi as they approached Joseph’s simple working-class house. They must have wondered if their calculations were somehow off, it they had read the heavens incorrectly. How could the Golden Child the stars had foretold be here in this ordinary place?
          The word of their arrival would have spread like wild-fire through Bethlehem. The whole village must have come out to gawk and wonder at these astonishing foreigners. Their caravan would have drawn a crowd of on-lookers, pondering what would bring men of unimaginable wealth to such an unimportant place.
          Balthazar, Melichior and Caspar were used to marble palaces and royalty. Yet there they were, ducking their heads to enter the low doorway of a carpenter’s house, dropping to their knees on the straw-covered, dirt floor, opening gifts of astonishing value before a simple, teenaged girl and her toddler son.
         
          Epiphanies seldom come on camel back.
          Epiphanies are seldom wrapped in silk and gold.
          Epiphany is the un-concealing of God in the midst of life. And epiphanies seldom come on camel back. God is seldom revealed, seldom unconcealed in the spectacular and remarkable events of life.
          In fact, there is a dictionary definition of an “epiphany” that I memorized many years ago because I knew I needed to remember it. It goes like this: “an epiphany is the sudden, intuitive knowledge of the deep-down meaning of things, usually manifested in what is ordinary, everyday and commonplace.
          God is manifested to us like that: suddenly and intuitively. An epiphany points us past the surface meaning to the deep-down meaning, the essence, the very core and marrow of understanding.
            But seldom is “god-ness” manifested in the unusual, spectacular and extraordinary. When God comes to us, it is in what is ordinary, everyday and commonplace.
          Epiphanies do not have as much to do with “what we’re looking at” as they do with “the way we see.”
          Let’s give the Magi credit—they knew how to see. For two years and thousands of desert miles, they had expected to find a Prince, a King, a Golden Child in a Royal Palace. Yet, when they entered that humble home and saw that commonplace family in the midst of their everyday life with their ordinary little boy, they knew how to see. They brought out their gifts and they “fell down and worshiped him.”
         
          If only we knew how to see so well.
          When I lived in Divinity Hall at Harvard Divinity School, my best friend was Dan Kiger, who’s became a Methodist minister in Ohio. Dan and I played Gin Rummy every day for an hour before dinner in his room for a penny a point. All these year’s later, he still owes me money.
          On the wall of Dan’s room was a poster consisting of thousands of black dots on a white background. I stared at it for countless hours while Dan decided what to discard. I thought of it as an interesting “impressionistic” picture.
          Then one day, while we were playing Gin Rummy, a friend from down the hall came in to borrow an envelope from Dan. While Dan was looking for an envelope in his desk, Hank said, “that’s a great picture of Jesus” and pointed to the poster of a thousand dots.
          After Hank left, I sat staring at the poster for a long time. “How’s that a picture of Jesus?” I finally asked Dan.
          He got up and pointed to one of the thousands of dots. “That’s his left eye,” was all Dan had to say. Suddenly, I saw it—it was Jesus! And I could never again see it as merely thousands of dots.
          Epiphanies are like that. If we only know how to see, God is everywhere in our world, in our lives.
           
          We need eyes to see.
          We need to see that God is manifested to us in what is common and ordinary.
          We need to see the one dot in the millions of dots that is the left eye of God.
          The Sufi’s have a saying. Whenever you hear hoof beats, look for a Zebra.
          Those are the eyes we need. Eyes to see Zebras and Camels in the midst of what is ordinary…eyes to see God in the commonplace…eyes to see Star Light in the dust motes of our everyday lives…eyes to see the Christ Child in every child’s face….eyes to see what is “most holy” in what is “most mundane”….



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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.