Thursday, December 27, 2012

The drive from JFK to Cheshire (via Hell)

A great Christmas, thanks for asking. Just Bern and Mimi and our friend John. Very quiet and small, which I like a lot (not to say noisy and large) isn't nice too....The granddaughters and their parents are on a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean with the rest of Cathy's family. Tim was in Florida with his parents and brothers, where Mimi went the day after Christmas, flying out of JFK.

We started about 12:30 p.m. to the airport, wondering about both traffic and weather. My  mapquest told me to take the Wilbur Cross to Rt  8 and then down to 95. I hate 95 and was telling Mimi how much I preferred the parkways when she looked at her smart phone's GPS and told me her woman was telling her to stay on 15 all the way to the Whitestone Bridge. I was delighted. It's the first time in recent memory I was happy to have a smart phone anywhere in my vicinity. I find it annoying when you try to shake hands and people have to shift their smart phone to their left hand. Unlike cell phones, which usually reside in pockets or on belts, most people I know who have smart phones are always holding them, like an extension of their hands, another body part.

Anyway, we had a nice trip and I dropped her off at JFK around 2:40--pretty good time, then I started back....

The Van Wyke Expressway that we had so easily driven down only a few minutes before, now resembled a Yankee Stadium parking lot. It took me over an hour to get to the Whitestone and then, just as I thought I had smooth sailing, the Hutchinson Parkway came to a screeching standstill. I sat absolutely still for 10 minutes, gazing out at red parking lights into the horizon and beyond. I'd heard on the radio during that time that the Hutch was a nightmare all the way to the CT border. I looked around and realized I was three car lengths from the exit to the New York Thruway and 95. I sat another five minutes, trying to talk myself out of going against my instincts and risking 95. There is something less anxiety producing about creeping along two lanes of traffic with no trucks than creeping along 4 or 5 lanes of traffic surrounded by tractor trailers...I don't know why....

But I overcame my nature and got onto the shoulder and took the exit. For 10 minutes or so, I was patting my 'non-nature' on the back and telling it how smart it was as I whizzed along, all the way through the toll booth on the NYT. But then the White Plains exits came up....

I'll spare you all the tedium of the next 4 hours and 50 minutes. This will give you a hint, I never got above, 20 mph between stops until Bridgeport, which was ironic because in Bridgeport it really began to snow. Until it had been melting flakes and drizzle and, most of all, TRAFFIC.

Around 4:50 I got off at Old Greenwich and ran into a Mobile station to pee about a quart and a half. (I know people hate these urinary tract stories, but it was part of the Hell I was going through.}I then got into the car and was so beyond rationality I drank two bottles of water before I got to Milford where I pulled off into the snow covered truck parking lot and didn't even try to get into the Travel Center, I peed behind my car as a snow plow clearing the lot swerved to miss me. That would have been awkward to explain to Nationwide...

I didn't stop again until I was near both home and a package store where I got a bottle of wine I was going to need....

Snow covered roads from Bridgeport to Cheshire and stopping in my driveway at 8:17--nearly 5 1/2 hours after dropping off Mimi. Her flight was postponed once, she called Bern at 5. But she still might have gotten to Ft. Meyer's before I got to Cheshire. (Bern and I have several times driven to Baltimore or from Baltimore in under 5 1/2 hours...)

So, that's how I spent my day after Christmas. Hope yours was much, much better....

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Almost Christmas

I did a wedding today at St. Andrew's in Northford--one of the churches in the Middlesex Cluster. Norman and Sharon married too young--19 and 20--and a son was born and they divorced. Forty years later--after very little contact--their granddaughter insisted they both come to the same event. They discovered each other again and were remarried today. Just his mother and father, son and daughter-in-law, a child from her second marriage and a whole host of grandchildren were there. It was truly special.

Then I picked up Mimi at the train station in New Haven. When Mimi arrives, what could be wrong? Josh and Cathy and the granddaughters are on a cruise with Cathy's parents and her two brothers and their families. Must be great--but I'm not sure I'd like Christmas on the high seas....

Then, the kitchen is finished!! The tile went in today and, unlike every other step, actually took a shorter time than estimated. We thought the tile guy would be back tomorrow...but no, he finished....

There are couple of minor things that won't take more than half-an-hour that the contractor, Jon, has to do the week after Christmas. But it looks great. The long ordeal is over....

I want to share with you something I think I share every Christmas: a quote from Michael Podesta, who is a graphic artist and calligrapher from Virginia. He's a good Episcopalian, whatever that means, and it is from a print that shows a slightly rolling desert, a half-moon and stars on a blue background (all very abstract). I know this is his quote since he always gives credit to words he uses in his calligraphy.

If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things. If we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives with action, when will we have time to make the long, slow journey across the desert as did the Magi? or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds? or brook over the coming of the Child as did Mary? For each of us there is a desert to travel, a star to discover and a being within ourselves to bring to life.

Joyous, Joyous Christmas to you and all you love....

Friday, December 21, 2012

Comedy or Drama?

I heard someone say on radio today that there are two kinds of people: "people who think their lives are a comedy and those people who think life is a drama."

That's probably true, though for the past week, I've been caught in the drama of Newtown, I usually see life as a comedy, and I'm the fall-guy star.

All the slapstick of our new kitchen aside, today the Christmas tree fell down. It's been up for a week or so and no problem. Bern put the lights on a few days ago--we do still acknowledge Advent and don't have the tree up and decorated before the last few days before Christmas.

But I was putting on the ornaments today. I love that part, meeting old friends again after a year. We have so many ornaments--being married 42 years does that--that we normally have two trees: a white pine for me and a blue spruce for Bern. I decorate my tree only with things that fly--birds, angels, butterflies and silly things like the ornament that has an angel riding an elephant with wings. We have lots of weird things like that. And Bern's tree is usually earth bound things and all the ball shaped ornaments.

But since we have been so hassled by the endless steam of workers making our kitchen all new, we only have one tree this year. In the dining room beside one of the 7 foot tall windows in the front of our house. It happens to be the window our Puli likes to lay beside and look out at the street and all the horrible threats to our existence.

Today, Bela was laying there while I decorated the tree and Bern put stuff away in the kitchen that is done enough to put stuff away in. I went to the bathroom--there are other blogs about my bathroom habits that you can find it you want to, though why would you want to? Then Bern was yelling to me and I ran into the dining room, probably the biggest room in our house, and a room other people, if they lived here would make a living room with a big TV and all. We have no TVs downstairs. And our living room is a small room because we seldom 'live' in it. That's where the other tree would have been had things been different. The dining room is a place to eat, which is what we like more than most things, so we made the biggest room the dining room.

Too much explanation.

Anyway, I suspect the Puli, Bela by name, was where he usually was, under the tree looking out the window and he saw a monster in the street in front of our house and lept up barking, knocking the tree over. He weighs 50 pounds and is built like a Sherman Tank, so I have no doubt he could have done that.

Finally, after several options ended in madness, Bern drove a nail into the window frame and I handed her twine from both sides of the trunk of the tree and we tied it in place. That sucker won't fall down again and I put the large bag holding Bern's present so that Bela can't get back behind the tree again.

Every year for 7 years or so now, Bern creates some visual art for me for Christmas and I write her a poem or a short story. Below is the poem I wrote last year for her. She gave me an almost indescribable collage of everyone who is blood of my blood--our two children, their partners, our three grandchildren, our dog and cat--all pictures with folded paper coming out of what they call me. Dad, Jim, Baba, Grandpaw, Grampy, Man, 'mommy' for the cat and an incredible background of all those names over and over. I can't describe it, you'd have to see it. And I have seven years of stuff like that. I should have a show. I'll get an eighth one in a few days. Anyhow, here's last year's poem. This year I wrote a 26 page short story about a dog that gets lost and then...well, I can't give it away, but it is Christmas Miracle stuff.


(A poem in five parts for Bern—Christmas 2011—with much, much love....Jim)

(WHITEOUT is a weather condition in which visability and contrast are severely reduced by snow.)


A solitary figure trudges
across of faceless landscape.

It is bitterly cold and bleak beyond believing.

Nothing makes sense.

Exhaustion is near.

It is dawn, or dusk.

Faint light.

(The horizon disappears completely and there are no reference points at all, leaving the individual in a distorted orientation.)


Down is up.

Left is right.

Forward is back.

East is South and North is West.

The figure pauses. Sits.

Dreams of sleep or sleeps and dreams.

Either the other, or the one.

(Whiteout has been defined as: A condition of diffuse light when no shadows are cast, due to a continuous white cloud layer appearing to merge with the white snow surface.)


Without a shadow, who are we?

A shadow is proof positive that we are there:
We take up space,
block light,
displace air,
have substance,

To cast a shadow is to be Real.

Without a shadow, where are we?

Do we exist? Have being?

Shadowless, are we real?

People can be lost in their own front yards during a true whiteout, when the door is only 10 feet [3.04 meters] away, and they would have to feel their way back.)


I often experience whiteouts—mostly in winter, which is appropriate.

I feel lost, disorientented,
confused by pain, physical failures,
the frailties of my body,
my memory,
who I am,
not knowing if I BE,
or not.

Some whiteouts are emotional:
fear of fading away into unbroken white,
wondering if I have been
good enough,
loving enough,
caring enough,

Disappearing in whiteness,
dreaming of sleep,
sleeping dreamlessly.

Longing, longing greatly,
longing always
to feel my way back to the front door.

(In whiteouts no surface irregularities are visable, but a dark object may be clearly seen. There is no visible horizon.)


You are the front door of my life.

You are the 'clearly seen' object when my horizon is not visable.

You have always oriented me in the whiteouts of my life.

Whether I have been good enough,
loving enough, caring enough,
enough...or not,

I could find my way,
reach the front door,
orient myself,
see the horizon,
survive the whiteouts,
weather the storm,
move through the bleakness and the chill,
the dreams of sleeping
and the sleeping dreams
and find my way home.

You give me back my shadow
and make me exist,
make me real,
make me

You are the 'home' of my life
and the clearing that leads to light
and wholeness, and wonder,
and magic, and love.

And simply,
just this:



I haven't felt like blogging. I haven't felt like much of anything. Not since 9/11 has any event hurt me so much. Those children....oh, all that is possible is to ache.

Now most everyone is buried. How hard that must have been on everyone there.

Cheshire is about the population of Newtown. I can't imagine what it would be like, such carnage.

It has been hard for so many, mostly for the parents of those children....Oh, all that is possible is to ache.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Triumph of Evil

I apologize profoundly for using this space to whine about my kitchen and my plumbing and whatever else I've whined about lately. I've tried to make it humorous whining, but today, when Death came to Newtown, I realize I have nothing at all to whine about and I realize not much of anything is humorous right now.

With 20 children and the adults who died today in Sandy Hook Elementary School all over the media, it's hard to feel my life is anything but remarkable.

Two of our grandchildren are 6 and most of the dead children are, apparently, that age. It is impossible to let yourself begin to imagine what those parents are feeling...and even if you began to 'imagine' it wouldn't be anywhere near the reality and depth of their pain.

It's been my experience as a priest that the worse lost anyone can endure is the loss of a child. I once was called to Mary Gray's house in Institute WV when her 64 year old son had died. Mary was in her 80's and when she saw me she burst into tears and said, "Jim, did they tell you my baby died?"

Nothing is worse or more unnatural or more evil than the death of a child.

My son called and I told him to hold those 3 little girls especially tightly tonight and let his heart ache for those people in Newtown who won't be able to hold their children this night.

The victims are all that matter right now. There is no need to try to psychoanalyse their killer, as I've heard so many try to do on TV and radio. It doesn't really matter what drove him to such depravity, all that matters are those who died, too soon, oh so very much too soon.

And it really isn't time to start the raving (which I will eventually start!) about gun control. All that matters today is the victims and the lives they will not get to live, the joys and sorrows they will not experience, the future that Evil took from them today.

And the survivors, perhaps more because their lives are now a nightmare of grief and loss and pain.

That's what matters today.

May their souls and the souls of all the departed, rest in peace.....

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Nightmare before Christmas grows darker...

OK, first of all, the drywall/painter didn't show up today. Jon, our contractor couldn't get in touch with him to find out why. Maybe he was on a binge or maybe he had a coronary. Who knows? Jon said he was usually so dependable. Well, people ARE dependable, until they aren't.

Then, this, we'd been smelling a faint smell of poop for a day or two and thought the cat had done something untoward. But then Bern went down in the basement to where our broken washer is--we hadn't been down there for a while since THE WASHER IS BROKEN....And discovered that stuff was coming out the the drain the broken washer used to drain into until it was broken. Turns out, every time we ran water or took a shower in our bathroom off our bedroom...or flushed the toilet...some of that came out of the drain. Obviously, the main drain from our bathroom, into which the washer used to drain before it broke, was plugged up somehow.

The plumber came really fast (perhaps spurred by my telling the secretary, THERE'S SHIT IN OUR BASEMENT) but it took several hours and he had to clean out all manner of things from the drain pipe to get it clear and working right again. He asked if there was any problem with the kitchen sink. Hah! We have no frigging kitchen sink and on the current time line won't have one again until next Wednesday and it won't be functional until next Saturday. I've developed a philosophy about kitchen sinks, how they are up there with human hearts and central heating in the hierarchy of necessities.

Plus, the cat, who runs into the basement at any chance, ran into the basement and was missing most of the day. Since the back yard door to the basement was open for the plumbers, he could have escaped. A cat whose spent his whole life inside except for one escape 6 or so years ago. When the plumbers left (and we put back the room load of junk we had to move for them) Bern said, "Well, Lukie might be in Hamden by now....And I don't care!" He came waltzing in when it was time for his dinner. God knows where he'd been.

Things were so bad that Bern was most stern with the Puli--who drives me crazy since when workers are in the house I either have to put him in my car or stay with him in our bedroom. I've read 7 books now since they've been working on the kitchen. And Bela lays with me on the bed. Sometimes I read him a paragraph I really like but who knows if he likes it! And every half-hour or so he leaps off the bed and barks at the door for 5 minutes or so....Maddening....

The stove and overhead microwave (both really cool) and dish washer are in now--though the dishwasher can't work until the sink is put a week from Saturday, three days before Christmas!

Jon is a great contractor but the problems with the carpenter--no right angles, no level 162 year old floors--put  him off his game. Then the drywall/painter guy didn't show up today....gosh, I'm repeating myself...which is the least of my psychological problems right now.

Bern is at her women's group. When she left she said, "I'm so glad to be out of here...."

Don't tell me "this too shall pass", I'm soooo over that being a comfort....

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bern and the kitchen sink

Our kitchen is still not done. It's 8 days and counting, We have no kitchen sink and you don't know what it means until there isn't one.

Screw the kitchen sink--Bern had a biopsy on a cyst on her pancreas a week ago Monday,. The results came back late yesterday afternoon.

Completely clear!!!

MRI's every six months for a while, but no need to do anything else.

We don't need any other Christmas presents....

I can live for a long time without a kitchen sink--though it annoys me greatly.

I'm not sure how I could live without Bern.

She does so much.
My contributions to our common life is that I take out the trash and recycle stuff, I keep the litter box clean (most of the time), I cook quite a bit and I do my own laundry. Everything else, Bern does: the finances, cleaning the house, cooking when I don't, changing the beds, washing towels and sheets, talking care of everything outside--the yard and all--choosing the kitchen sink that isn't here next.

Oh, I do handle taxes, but she saves the receipts and checks and all that I need.

I haven't written more than half a dozen checks in the last quarter century.

From the moment I heard the two words "growth" and "pancreas" I imagined my life changing in ultimate ways that were not acceptable to me, but inevitable.

Deep breaths. Several.

I could live forever, I truly believe, without a kitchen sink.

I'm sure I would live on without Bern--the love of my life for 48 years and my wife for 43 years next September--but I'm not sure how or in what way or why.....

I don't need to ponder that for now.

But I do wish we had a kitchen sink.....

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Today we drove to Providence and back with Mimi and Tim to be at Bern's uncle Frankie's 90th birthday party. Then drove to the train station to send Tim and Mimi back to New York and us back to Cheshire. A great day. A very great day.

Frank is one of the most gracious, generous, friendly men you'd ever meet. And he has a great, great sense of humor. And he is sharp as a tack, correcting details for his daughter, Francis and son, Anthony when they were honoring him.

Frank is much more computer literate than I will ever be. He is on the Internet about as much as he is in dialysis each week--which is quite a lot. And physically, if you can over look  his kidney problems, he is fine except for the neuropothy in his legs that makes it hard for him to dance, which Fran invited him to do, but he can walk with a cane.

I've known Frank as long as I've known Bern--since I was 17--and I'm older than than now.

Here's something interesting that will tell you something about Frank--two of his doctors, one of his nurses and the dietician and social worker from the dialysis unit came to the surprise party. I don't know any of the medical people I deal with who would come to a party for me! Everyone falls in love with Frank, and for good reason.

He was Bern's father's youngest brother. Born in this country, his parents--Bern's grandparents--were from Bari, Italy. Both Dan, my father-in-law, and Pete, were Italian born. Frank was born here and though he speaks and writes and reads Italian fluently, he has a West Virginia accent and 'Americanized' in ways his older brothers never seemed to.

He is charming, almost courtly in manner and when you talk to him you have the feeling that he thinks you're the only person in the world with something of interest to say. My wife loves him dearly, as do I, as do most everyone who ever met him. He is a man without enemies. A man who never met a stranger. A man who, in the 1950's in the coalfields of West Virginia, objected to the separate showers for black and white miners.

He's always been amazing to me. And equally amazing was his Croatian wife, Annie, who died 7 years ago. Frank's children thought he would fall apart since Annie did everything--laundry, cooking, even balancing the check book even though Frank was an accountant for US Steel. But he didn't fall apart. He learned to do all those things and helped everyone who loved Annie to get through their grief....

There is so much to tell him about him that I don't have space or time. I'll just use a story Tony told when talking about them. In 1959, when Tony was 9, a steel strike shut down the coal mines just before Christmas and things were lean all around. Frank took Anthony with him to Welch, the only place in McDowell Country that passed for a 'town'--6000 people and the county seat. Fran went a day or two before Christmas when he usually did last minute shopping, but he didn't do any shopping that day. Instead he went to the bank and exchanged paper money for silver dollars and filled his pockets. Then he and Tony walked through town, meeting person after person who they knew, and Frank gave all the children they stopped to talk to a silver dollar for Christmas instead of buying gifts for his family. The coal miners were out of work, but Frank was management and still had his job.

When they got back to the car, Frank had one silver dollar left and gave it to Tony, telling him, "what goes around, comes around...."

Tony kept that silver dollar for over 50 years and had it framed with the words, "What goes around, comes around" and gave it back to his father.

No dry eye in the house. I'm getting that feeling in the back of the throat you get before you weep just writing about it.

That generous, compassionate, good and true man, has something now to remind him that is it True with a capital T that 'what goes around, comes around....'

Happy birthday, Frank. And as many more as you can have.....

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Plumb was not true in 1850

So, our cabinets are almost in, but not without issues. Our house was built in 1850 when plumb was not yet true and 90 degree angles did not yet exist and floors were never level.

The carpenter had to call the contractor--and Jon, who was also the contractor who painted our house and saved us thousands of dollars by talking me out of two coats--came and consulted with the carpenter and is committed to making the kitchen look right in the end.

Today I was held captive in my own bedroom by a Puli named Bela. Our dog only likes 12 human beings (making him a bit like Jesus as I think about it.) He loves Bern and me and Mimi and Tim and Josh and Cathy and the three granddaughters (Morgan, Emma and Tegan) and our friends John, Sherry and Jack. Anyone else he would gladly bite. So when there are people working in the house, I have to stay with him in our bedroom. I read a book on Tuesday and another on Wednesday and one and a half today. I was glad to read so much, but it feels like prison to be in a room with a Puli who sometimes is content to lay on the bed with me and sometimes barks at the door incessantly until I throw my book at him or give him a treat.

At this point it looks like the kitchen sink won't be back until next Thursday at the earliest. They have to come and install the appliances and take moldings for the counter and sink and like that. Never mind that nothing is plumb or straight or on line.

But the cabinets and drawers that are in close with just a push and silently. Some marvel of doors and drawers makes them close so wondrously it makes my heart leap within me. Especially since a whole host of doors in our cabinets were held shut by rubber bands before and some of the drawers required all you strength to open and close. Heaven.

But I urge you to ponder this: notice how often you use your kitchen sink and the garbage disposal there. Just notice and ponder that for the next week while we don't have either. And realize how altered you life would be. This is a valuable exercise that will put you in touch with how blessed and fortunate you are to have a kitchen sink and a garbage disposal when much of the world can only drream--and probably can't--about having those marvels that we take for granted.

I look forward to taking them for granted again soon.....

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cheshire is going Green and I'm pissed off...

We got this new recycling bin, larger than a trash can and since the town way transitioning they picked up no recycle stuff or garbage during the week of Thanksgiving. Which, for us, meant two weeks before a pickup.

We recycle like it's a religion. Now the town is only picking up recycling stuff every two weeks. We normally, in a week have two little bins and lots of stuff in blue recycling bags. We'll fill the new big bin in a week.

Today I put out one of our little bins to see if they'd take it along with our new big bin. They did take the stuff in it but they also took the little blue bin, thinking, I imagine, we were turning it in.

They should pick up trash every two weeks and recycle stuff every week instead of the other way around. I didn't tell you yet that I put half of a big bin worth of recycle stuff in our neighbor's big bin since she's away.

Here's the nightmare, we want to recycle and do, but if the town only collects it every two weeks I'll be putting stuff in neighbor's bins or in our trash....Our trash can was full today, but considering trash hadn't been picked up for two weeks and Thanksgiving happened....well, this whole thing isn't working for me and I'm pissed off.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Pancreas and the Kitchen Sink

Sorry to be away so long--Thanksgiving happened and the Pancreas stuff and the Kitchen sink and all--so I haven't been faithful to my blog. Again, sorry.

Thanksgiving was glorious. Our children and their partners and our three grand-daughters and John, our great friend, and Hanna who we've know forever. It was just great and profound and wondrous. Maybe I'll write about it sometime.

Then there is Bern's Pancreas. There's a growth on it--medical people seem to use 'cyst' and 'tumor' as synonyms when they talk about it. Found by accident when Bern had siaticia and thought she had a kidney stone.

Disagreement between doctors and radiologists in two opinions. And then, the second, more hopeful opinion doctor did a needle biopsy yesterday at Yale-New Haven Hospital to hopefully show that the growth (no matter what you call it) is benign and harmless. All went well except Bern, in the operating room, had a conflict with the anestesiologist, that, if we had it on tape would go viral on UTube.

(An aside here--my spell check has gone haywire and I am not in control of the correct spelling of anything right now. OK?)

So, it was a day trip to New Haven. We arrived at 12:30 and didn't start back to Cheshire until 6:15 or so. I wandered around, trying to find a place where I could smoke and since blocks of New Haven are property of YNHH and their signs are unrelenting and harsh--you can't even smoke on the sidewalks--the sidewalks for Christ's sake--anywhere on the five or six square blocks of the campus that is the hospital.

(Sometimes, when people are giving me grief about why I smoke, I tell them, "I am a Priest of the Lord, and as a priest I stand always with the oppressed. And who, in our society, are more oppressed than smokers?)

 So Bern had this ridiculous argument in the procedure room with the anestiseologist about how she was going to put to sleep for the procedure. The Dr. had been clear it would be that stuff Michael Jackson used to go to sleep and not general anesthesia. But the anestiseologist, insisted she was in charge. Bern, never someone to let someone she disagrees with 'be in charge', got in the 'go to sleep' doctor's face.

As Bern tells it, she said to the anestiseologist that she would not have two tubes down her throat since the procedure required a tube down her throat.

The anestiseologist said, "But they go to different places...."

And Bern replied, "But they enter in the same place...."

Apparently there was much back and forth and Bern's doctor came in and held Bern's hand and the anestiseologist finally was overruled by her supervisor and Bern got what she wanted. But it only goes to show, you have to 'manage' your health care.

I was to have a biopsy on something or other in my bladder my urologist did not understand and when I was moved to the operating table from the gurney, the anestiseoligist in charge saw a throat lozenge wax covering on the gurney.

"Did you eat that?" she asked harshly.

"No," I said, "I sucked on it because I was coughing."

She called off the proceedure.

My doctor told her is was "bullshit" and "crazy" but anestiseoligists have absolute, almost god-like powers.

I went upstairs and had the procedure in my urologist's office with a local. I would have preferred being asleep, I assure you, but the cough drop didn't make it a bad experience..

Besides all that, they tore out our kitchen today. We have no kitchen sink for several days. You never know how valuable a kitchen sink is until you don't have one.

I encourage you to join me in pondering the remarkable, incredible, life-giving characteristics of a kitchen sink.

Just imagine, if you can, how much you don't even realize you need it. Astonishing, I assure you, to have no kitchen sink....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

So it begins....

Mimi arrived on the 6 pm train from Grand Central. Life got brighter and more wondrous when I picked her up.

The dog follows her around instead of me. Everyone is blessed by Mimi.

Cathy and the girls and Sumi, the dog, leave Baltimore tomorrow morning--the earlier the better think. We've talked to the girls and they are 'So Excited!!!' About coming to Connecticut. To them it seems like a wonderland.

Josh will come on the train after work--maybe here by 9 or so tomorrow night.

Tim comes on Thanksgiving on Amtrak. John will pick him up and then pick up Hanna and the the 11 of us will have Thanksgiving together.

Not much better than that.

May your thanksgiving be as rich and wondrous as ours.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rag Socks and AA batteries

As I get older, I notice some things. One is that I'm not as fast on the uptake as I used to be. The other is that I'm rapidly going out of style.

The latter first, and then the former.

I exclusively wear rag socks. That's what I call them. They are thick and made of cotton with some wool blend. They are the kind of socks you would need for boots--but there is this, they have no elastic on the top. They are, in that way, distinct from 'crew socks'. I threw away all my socks, two drawers worth, that were not rag socks. I have decided, in my dotage, to wear only rag socks. I wear no socks much of the year and so, when I do wear socks, I should wear what I like. That's my stand and I'm sticking to it.

So, Saturday, I went out looking for rag socks. I went to Kohl's, Bob's and finally, Marshall's in Hamden. No rag socks whatsoever in Kohl's. I even asked someone who worked there if there were rag socks and she, 45 years younger than me if a day, stared at me like I'd asked if the vampire star ship was landing soon....

In Bob's, I found a few rag socks--what I call them--but they were $10 a pair. I was also looking for boxer shorts. I like boxer shorts with a bit of color and style. The ones at Kohl's and Bob's were like $22 a pair.

So, I went to Marshall's in Hamden. If you like Marshall's, you need to go to Hamden. It's like a Marshall's super-store. I found lots of what I call rag socks and lots of boxer shorts that were colorful and fun and all that was about half what it was anywhere else.

I bought 12 pairs of rag socks and 12 pairs of boxer shorts. I probably should have bought more since I am obviously going out of style at a sustained rate....

Then, the other night, I was writing a blog about Ben's funeral when my computer seemed to seize up and I couldn't type. I tried everything my small techno-brain told me and nothing worked. So I played 15 hands or so of hearts, never realizing I could play hearts with my mouse and never need the keyboard.

The next day I went on line and looked at stuff on AOL--which I love and everyone I know tells me is trash, just to let you know how out of style I am....Tried to finish the blog and couldn't type and then played 21 or so hands of hearts--something I do too much in my dotage...I love hearts. Then, about 17 hours after my keyboard stopped working, I (slow on the uptake) pondered if my keyboard needed four new AA batteries.

Lo and behold, that was it....17 hours isn't a terribly long time. But it is a long time to keep trying to type on a battery inhibited keyboard....Oh, well. So much for that. So it goes....

Friday, November 16, 2012

His name was Ben

I officiated at a funeral today. That's not a new experience for me. In my 21 years at St. John's in Waterbury, I averaged a tad over 40 funerals a year. All told, I'm closing in on 1000 funerals. Not the kind of achievement you set out to accomplish....Yet, I am honored and humbled each time I'm involved in a funeral, no matter the circumstances. I've told the 30+ seminarians I've supervised and mentored that the most important things they'll ever do as priests is funerals.

I mean that. And I am privileged to have been a part of so many--for one thing, I'll never say dumb shit like "he's in a better place" or "God wanted her home....". I'm reliable for not saying dumb shit because I have no words at all to say in the face of death. I just sit with the survivors, help them plan the service and hold them if they want to be held.

Ben's mother called me yesterday--we've talked a lot since Saturday when Ben died in a horrendous accident while working on the family's property in New Hampshire--and she said "I feel out of control!" I told her--which is the limit of my conversation with people who have lost someone they love like a rock, "you are out of control. You are ultimately out of control." I wondered if I had tread too near the edge, but she sighed and said, "I am out of control. I have to give up being in control."

Oh, yes, beloved, when people die there is no 'control' to be in control of. When people die, a dear friend of mine wrote over 40 years ago (where does the time go?) when a friend of hers died in Viet  Nam, "it's like a bird flying into a window on a chill morning....."

Fix that, if you can.

You can't, give it up, no control/no control/no control....

In that approaching 1000 funerals, I've never be a part of one quite like Ben's.

He was only 19 when he died. Wednesday, the day before his funeral, he would have been 20. Imagine what that day was like for his parents---no, don't, you CAN'T imagine it and you shouldn't try. You just shouldn't. You and I cannot for a moment imagine what that was like unless you too have lost a child to death. And if you have done that, don't try to imagine because it would be too painful....

Anyway, I was going to the funeral home Wednesday night to pray the prayers for a Vigil with the family. I was to be there at 4:45 but a wreck in Middletown got me redirected and I didn't get there until 5:05. When I arrived there were several hundred people in line to speak to the family. I was carrying a Book of Common Prayer, which serves as my calling card since I haven't worn a clerical collar for decade or more, so people let me cut line. I told the family it was nonsense to try to do the prayers and told them we'd meet in the morning.

The service was at Holy Trinity in Middletown, thanks to their generosity, because St. James in Higganum wouldn't have held the crowd. St. James can seat 80 or so, packed in, and nearly 400 people showed up for the funeral.

At huge funerals like this, often only a few people receiver communion. But I ran through over 350 wafers as a disc of Ben's favorite music played. That and the fact that most everyone at the rail had wet eyes if not tears running down their faces, I realized this funeral was in the top 5% of all the funerals I have done for authentic grief.

Ben's aunt, who is a pediatrician, talked about how special he was and handed out stickers that said, "WWBFD?"--what would Ben Foisie do?

I never met him, but I do think, after all I heard and was told about him, that was a reasonable question. One to ponder. He was so authentic, sweet, accepting, loving, honest--'special', indeed--that trying to live as he would have lived had he been able to--might be a superlative way to live.

Altogether, a remarkable burial office. Altogether something that made me better, stronger, kinder, more open.

Just the gift that death should give. If we are only open to the giving....

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

When Autumn comes to Connecticut

It is Autumn in New England
and the cry of the leaf blowers
is heard in the land.

Like huge birds, their raucous
mating cries sound
across the lawns of Cheshire,
drowning out everything
but their passion.

Men with ear protectors
vacuum the leaves into
large wooden boxes
on the backs of trucks
and carry them away
to who knows where....

The leaves, who gave
us joy in their greening,
are like and embarassment
in their old age.

They must be hauled away--
out of sight and out of mind.

We keep our leaves
and pile them down from
our deck and let them repose
in peace. Decades of them
now, pressed down by snow,
together--our old friends--
dignified and rotting,
which is natures way.

The red maple in the back,
the one I can see out the window
to my right,
is holding  her leaves for dear life.
 Few have fallen.
The ones that remain
shimmer with an almost
day-glow orange
in the afternoon sun.
They should not fear the end.
They will be gathered together
to wait for the snow.

We don't forget our friends....

Friday, November 9, 2012

Standing in line

I was in line at Stop and Shop the other day and was looking at the cover stories on the Globe--a tabloid that, in all transparency, I must admit I've never read--but I do look at the front everytime I stand in line.

The Globe is an equal opportunity defamer. The two stories on the cover were about Barack Obama's Cocaine selling and being registered as a "foreign student" at Columbia and Mitt Romney's sex crime....or, as the Globe put it: SEX CRIME!!!

The things you can lean standing in line with some Ben and Jerry's vanilla ice cream, dandruff shampoo, two on-vine tomatoes and some spreadable cheddar/bacon cheese.

What a great media we have....

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I Swear to God...

"I swear to God' this  happened.

Hey, I'm an Episcopal priest, I take oaths to God with a modicum of seriousness....

Late Monday night I went on Huffington Post web site, which has had for months an election map which has invariably favored President (I said "President") Obama. On Monday night it had the president with 271 electoral votes and Mitt Romney with 190 with lots undecided. It also had the opportunity for you to go on and figure out your prediction.

I  played with it for a while and then wrote down this:

Obama 303, at least.
With Floridia, 332.

I put that piece of paper in a paperback copy of Alice in Wonderland and put it in Bern's desk.

Far before Ohio was called, I went and got it and gave it to Bern.

"I wish I was as confident as you," she said.

"I'm not 'confident'," I told her, "I'm right."

This evening Florida fell into Obama's column, giving him 332 electoral votes rather than the 303 he had before that.

Hey, I'm not Nate Silver by any means. I went with my gut and my hope. And I NAILED IT!!!

If you don't believe me--and why should you--ask Bern, she'll tell you it is so.....

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Christmas Morning

I woke up this morning and it was Christmas and almost everything I wanted was under the tree....

Four more years.....They're going to be good ones....

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A modest way to world peace....

I was in the Vet's office with my dog and a woman was there with her three month old granddaughter in one of those humongous strollers people have now that turn into a car seat somehow. I don't get how they work but I don't need to know since, chances are, I'll never have a three month old child to worry about.

Anyhow, I watched how people reacted to the baby. People make silly faces at babies and say things you don't normally hear in conversation like: "Goo-goo, whoo-whoo, baby, baby". One young Asian woman even took out her car keys and shook them for the baby, making faces and talking in non-sense syllables.

Here's what I was pondering while all that was going on.

What if we all greeted each other, friends and strangers, the way we greet unknown babies? What if we made silly faces and did baby talk and shook our car keys at each other in the store or on the street or when someone came to our house? What if 'passing the peace' at church consisted of babbling and funny faces and shaking shiny things to each other?

What if each of the Presidential debates had begun with Romney and Obama making silly faces at each other and going "Goo-Goo, Boo-Boo!" and showing each other their keys?

What if the beginning of each meeting of the House and Senate was that kind of behavior? Or the prelude to arguments before the Supreme Count, or the opening ceremony of the UN's general assembly?

Imagine Palestinians and Jews passing each other making funny faces and saying silly things and shaking shiny objects?

I mean really, what a baby causes us to do is to find the very depths of our silliness and affection and willingness to look foolish. In other words--our best of all Angel.

It would be hard to have an enemy if we were being silly and affectionate and foolish to each other all the time. And there's no way you could consider fighting a war with people who danced around making faces flashing car keys at you....

This may just be the simplest way to find an atmosphere of acceptance of differences and a forum for settling difficult disputes. And the remarkable thing, if you think about it for just a moment, is that it would be completely natural and right: we were all babies at some point and people made faces, sputtered nonsense and shook keys at us. We'd just be doing that for each other.

Wouldn't that be a way to acknowledge the 'baby-ness' of each of us? And after we'd made fools of ourselves to each other, wouldn't it be terribly difficult to be disagreeable and hostile to each other?

My wife told me to stop talking about this long before I got as far as I've gotten writing it down. So I made funny faces at her and said "Goo-Goo, Maac-Maac" and showed her my keys. She laughed.

Who wouldn't?

I think I'm on to something here. Want to try it out and see...?

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Day of the Dead

Today, November 2nd, is All Soul's Day on the Christian calendar. Our neighbors in Central and South America take it very seriously. They spend time with those they love but see no more on this day. We should take it more seriously than we do.

November 1st is the day Christians celebrate All Saints--those exemplary figures in the journey to the Lover of Souls who have left an example for us to strive for and reach for and lean into.

All Souls are all the other dead--like you and me--who lived and struggled and had joy and great pain and knew wonder and died unremembered...except by those of us who loved them.

I'd invite you to gather your Dead around you. To invite the memories long forgotten to be fresh and knew. To spend time with those you love but see no more.

I plan to be present to my parents, my wife's parents, a beloved cousin, aunts and uncles,  a whole group of friends and mentors (getting larger each year!) and welcome them into my life again, to share a moment, a memory, the love that bound us together.

My mother died when I was quite young--just after my 25th birthday. I remember feeding her one of those little waxed cardboard containers of vanilla ice cream on a small wooden spoon a day or two before her death. She did not know who I was, but she loved vanilla ice cream greatly and it is a great memory for me. One of my aunts, the only aunt or uncle who is still alive, came into the room while I was doing that. "Jimmy," she said, "has anyone wished you happy birthday?" Until she asked I hadn't even remembered it was my natal day.

My father lived to see our children. He called me one night and told me, "you're friends are here and they're taking my stuff." I realized he was seeing things and had his pistol out. I asked to speak to one of my 'friends' and he came back a minute or two later and said he couldn't find them. That was a call at 3 a.m. The next day I flew from Hartford to Charleston and rented a car in the midst of a sudden snow storm. The West Virginia Turnpike was officially closed, but when I told a State Trooper what I was up to, he let me drive it. "Just don't think you'll be helped anytime soon if something happens," he told me.

I got to Princeton and called my Dad from a pay phone--remember those?--and told him to take the bullets out of his gun and lay them on the kitchen table where I could see them. I peered in the window and saw them splayed across the table and went in. I brought him back with me to CT after getting his power of attorney from a local JP (who probably should have been removed from office for believing my Dad was 'of sound mind'!)

He lived with us in New Haven until he started wandering away and had to go to a nursing home. At least I got to spend time with him, in his diminished capacity, that I never got to spend with my mother.

I think I'll invite them over tonight--on this Day of the Dead--to hang out and reminisces about days long ago that we shared.

Just ponder for a while, what you might say to those long dead. Invite them to share a few moments and tell them what you need to tell them. And listen for whatever wisdom might be returned to you.

Does that sound just too weird? This, in the Celtic year, is the "Thin Time"--these last days of October and first days of November--the 'thinnest time', in fact--when the barriers between this life and the next and whatever in in between are dropped and wondrous journeys can be made between the realities. That's why Halloween ('All Hallows Eve') is around this time.

The time is 'thin'. It is the Day of Dead. Ponder that. On All Hallows Eve the saints and souls walk among us, looking for hospitality.

Invite them in to sit a spell, to 'bide for a while. How weird and wondrous it is to sit for a time with those who are dead....

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Being 'special' isn't so great....

So, over the past year, I've had three eruptions of blisters and such to accompany minor wounds on my hand and forearms. I went to a dermatologist who tried to figure out why. She couldn't give it a name. At least she could treat the conditions.

Just this week, after a week of having my bruised foot turn to blisters did I make the connection and call her. She told me that she is now sure I have Epidermilysis Bullona Asquisita (known in the dermatologist world as EBA.)

She can treat the condition. But it won't be the last time. I developed this, like most people who have it, after 50. Another form of the same condition is hereditary. Not mine. I looked it up on line and found about a million hits. I read enough to know I can't understand the medical lingo and far enough to know you don't die from EBA but it is a pain in the ass.

I'd been doing everything wrong. She believes I'm allergic to Bacitracin, which the Dr. at Urgent Care told me to us (he was great, inspite of that). All I'm doing is soaking it twice a day in a 1 to 3 mixture of vinegar and water and taking an antibiotic that is doing as much damage to my insides as the one she told me to stop taking. (But no mention of bowel movements--not me!)

Here's the thing: from what I read on line, 0.25 people per 1 million have this condition.

200 million or so Americans means that I and half a million people have this. That's way better than the "the 1%".

But who said being special is so great....?

Sandy avoids Cheshire

Perhaps it is the oh-so-perfect suburban setting, or the righteousness and loving kindness of the residents, or just some accident of meteorological happenstance. Whatever it was, Storm Sandy ignored Cheshire while battering the shoreline from the Carolinas to Maine and lots of places inland as well.

Here--loaded up with batteries, water, non-perishable food and candles and flashlights--we waited and waited for the Godot of a storm that never came. Electricity all the way through. Internet service as well. Our furnace doing it's job of keeping our house at 62 degrees F.

Just after six, thinking we'd be eating salad by candlelight, I decided to cook dinner. Watching TV later, having imagined we'd be reading books by flashlight, it suddenly dawned on me--Sandy is avoiding Cheshire.

Lucky, you might say. Or, blessed, as I would prefer, the storm of the century made it's way northeast and simply overlooked this little town in CT. Not even any trees down, that I know of. Almost no rain. Wind, certainly, but no more than I remember from a dozen other storms.

Lucky and blessed. Though I watch post storm TV and listen to post storm NPR and their is a nagging feeling in the back of my mind. What is it exactly? "Survivor's Syndrome" perhaps?

We were so prepared and didn't need to be.

Cheshire--one of the forgotten spots on the Eastern Seaboard. Lucky. Blessed.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Waiting for the big blow

It's a little (no, 'a lot') eerie to be sitting around waiting for the storm. All the hype has given me some unease--should I move my car from under that tree? do we need to clear the porches? what will we do with the dog who hates even a drizzle or a light wind and doesn't want to go out in it? how many batteries are enough? is there a battery operated stove somewhere? can I get to see my Dr. about my foot at 10 a.m. tomorrow or will Cheshire already be blowing away?

Once, when the lived in Charleston, WV, the snow storm of the millennium was coming. Gov. Rockefeller closed roads and forbade being outside. The stores were stripped down to bare shelves and everyone hunkered down. The day of the storm came...and nothing happened! I mean NOTHING!

We wandered the streets like homeless people wondering what had gone wrong. I mean, we were spared great inconvenience and hardship and possible danger and we wandered around, looking at each other, bathed in cognitive dissonance, filled with shock and awe.

It didn't snow a flake.

I'm wishing and hoping that will happen this time--but I don't think so....

Stay well and ride out the storm safely.


Friday, October 26, 2012

He's the President after all

I just wrote my daughter--my light, my wondrous being, I love her so--and told her not to worry about the election. I may be the last Democrat who believes Obama will win big. The popular vote might be close indeed, but the electoral college, I believe, will be a convincing win--say 300 to 238.

Think was, my spell check rejected 'Obama' as a word.

The choices it gave me were: Baa, Barn, Badman, Bagman, Barman, Batman and Bema (what the hell is that???)

Hey, he is the President, after all. Why doesn't his name pass the Spell Check function?

And what about Barrack? Why doesn't that deserve a Spell Check?

(my foot) I stubbed my foot two weeks ago today. My last four toes were black and blue and green for a week. Then I put on a sock with some Medicated powder in it and went to the Diocesan Convention. The next day, my foot was covered with blisters--half a dozen of them, between the toes and an inch long. I blamed the powder. It took me another week of doing what they asked me to do at urgent care, to remember that I've had 3 previous outbreaks and eruptions of  blisters and rash on minor injuries. So I called the dermatologist who couldn't figure out what was up with those eruptions and told me to call her when I had another--which I didn't want to have--so today I remembered all that and called her and have an appointment on Monday early.

I'm also on an anti-biotic for the foot that causes remarkable bowel movements--but I've been asked to not discuss bowel movements on my blog....

I'm beginning to feel old--talking about Dr. appointments and bowel movements (though I'm not going to say no more about those.....)

By the way.I've noticed the readership of my blog has fallen off. So, if you don't mind and you really get some enjoyment from it, tell people to check it out. Embarrassed to ask, but I would like to know I was spending time writing this stuff so that people could read it.

Just today someone told me at UConn in Waterbury that she was reading my book. Well, I stopped putting chapters of The Igloo Factory on the blog out of forgetfulness and since nobody seemed to be reading it, left it half-finished. Stuff like that.

What a wimp I am, begging for people to read what I write.....Sorry....But DO tell you friends.....

Friday, October 19, 2012

There are some things you don't need to know

So, probably like you, I get lots of emails from places I never asked to send me emails.

Today, I got one from some group NEWSMAX or something, titled, "Five signs you will develop Alzheimer's."

I was about to click on it, just for the information value, when I said to myself, "Why would you want to know that?"

I'd bet at least one of the five--if not more--would be something I experience. "Difficulty opening things" or "losing things" or "wondering why you opened the refrigerator" or "What are you doing in this room when you came here intentionally" or "Forgetting names of people you know well."

So, if I read the 'signs' and had some of them, I'd be spending the next few years waiting for Alzheimer's to arrive....

There are some things you don't need to know.

I deleted it and moved on with my increasingly diminished life....

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Facebook is the Anti-Christ

I get all these email from FACEBOOK about posts, messages, updates, stuff like that. "My timeline", whatever the hell that means....

I've been on FACEBOOK for, I don't know, 5 years and have looked at it exactly three times. Each time I had no idea whatsoever what I was looking at or why or to what purpose.

There was an email thing tonight about Monica Tiso, who I adore, being sorry she watched the debate on her I-pad, or something like that. So I go on Facebook for the 4th time in my life and find a list of people who want to be my "friend" that is so long that I never got to the end of it--though I scrolled for five minutes.

I knew about 5% of them! Some of them were institutions, colleges, businesses.

Who are these people?

I have enough friends that I actually 'know'.

FACEBOOK has got to go. The stock is going in the toilet. That's where the whole thing should go!!!

(Apologies to anyone who knows what it is about and loves to have 600 'friends' you don't know.....)


Coming down where you're meant to be....

Tonight, I went to the third and final forum, hosted by the Cluster I serve and led by Ian, our bishop, about the work and missionary concepts of Roland Allen (a late 19th Century and 20th Century Anglican Missionary. Allen developed a way of 'being church' called Total Common Ministry or Mutual Ministry, depending who you're talking to.

The Middlesex Area Cluster Ministry--three churches located in Northford, Higganum and Killingworth CT--seeks to practice (and you're always 'practicing', you never get it right) Total Common Ministry. My contract requires I spend 13 hours a week in my ministry as Interim Missioner. Sometimes, I do more. Sometimes, I do less. So it goes. It mostly averages out.

There are two 'Sunday only' priests--Brian teaches liturgy at Yale Divinity School and Molly teaches at Hartford Seminary and is the Secretary of our diocese. They both have Ph.D's. I have a humble D.Min. But we're all "The Rev. Dr...." These three small congregations have an uber-educated group of clergy. Brian and Molly are remarkable and wonderful, each in their own ways. Brian is British and has one of those British senses of humor that dry and droll and self-deprecating all at once. Molly is young and full of energy and passion. I love them both and am honored to work side-by-side with them in the Cluster.

The meeting tonight made me realize that I have, in some blessed way, come down just where I''m meant to be.

In my years of priesthood, I've served three remarkable congregations. St. James in Charleston, West Virginia--an African-American parish full of people with Masters and Doctoral degrees since St. James was near a historic Black College. St. Paul's in New Haven, CT--a richly diverse parish with both town and gown and black and white and well to do and poor. Finally, I served St. John's, Waterbury, CT for 21 years and retired from there. St. John's was also wonderfully diverse--including a large Hispanic congregation. What all my places of service shared was rich diversity, an urban setting and a profound commitment to outreach and service in God's mission in the community around them.

MACM (pronounced "Mac-Um") and it's congregations also have a deep commitment to outreach and service in God's mission around them. But they are rural, not urban, and not at all diverse in the ways I'm used to . (Someone asked me what was different about MACM and the churches I've served. I told them "I'm not used to being around so many white people!" Which is true but not a problem.)

Here is the astonishing difference between MACM and my service to my three dear and wondrous parishes: MACM seeks to practice Total Common Ministry.

Wherever I've served--and I hope you notice I always say "the churches I've served" rather than "My parishes, reveals that I've always had the intuitive notion that I serve rather than possess. I have always had a role in the communities I've served AND I've had the "authority" in those communities. I've done all I could to give that authority away to lay folks and staff members, but it has always been true that the authority was mine and mine alone. Div-vie it up and pass it around as I could, it always came back to me. In those three astonishing churches, I--an outsider--HAD the AUTHORITY.

Total Common Ministry is another creature altogether. In TCM, the 'authority' does not lie with the priest but within the community. The priest serves as a sacramental minister, but the model is not 'a congregation gathered around a priest. In Mutual Ministry, the community has the 'authority' and the priest 'serves' within that authority.

It is a remarkably different way of  'being church' and one I have come down within and realized it is where I was always meant to be.

I do other things now, out in the world, instead of having my world be the parish I served. I teach at a UConn branch and lead workshops for the Mastery Foundation and live and move and have my being--part of which includes participating in the three congregations and in the Cluster as a whole as a sacramentalist. I tell the story and tend the fire and pass the wine. But the day-to-day life and being of the three churches and the Cluster is under the 'authority' of the people who ARE the three congregations. I get to hang out with them but I'm not "in charge" in any way that matters.

I love this way of 'doing church' and 'being priest'. It is just the best.

I'm not sure most seminary trained priests could lean into it the way I do. There is a distinct 'privledge' and 'entitlement' most priests expect to receive. And that simply doesn't exist in Roland Allen's paradigm. The priest is simply a member of the community with certain obligations to fulfill in the sacramental life of the community. The priest is 'part of the whole', not the straw that stirs the drink. It is a radical shift from the normal model and paradigm--but one I find to be liberating, empowering and transforming.

What a joy to find that you've come down where you were meant to be at last....Joy and Wonder, no less than that.....

Sunday, October 14, 2012

So how was your weekend?

I went to Holy Cross Monastery this week end, up in West Park, NY, which should be a happy thing. And the silence and reflection was good, but nothing else went right....

Friday evening, I went up to my car to listen the Yankee Game against Baltimore. (It was, by the way, the only game they won this weekend!) On my way back, in the dark--and it is Very, Very dark in West Park, I was walking toward the lights of the Monastery and turned to soon, tumbling over into the weeds, hurting my wrist, stubbing my toes and cracking my head on a rock. It was right in the middle of my forehead so I bled (as they say) like a stuck pig. (I don't know how a stuck pig bleeds, but by the time I got up and into the monastery and into a first floor bathroom, my moustache and beard were both full of blood and it was running down my sweater.) It took about ten minutes of paper towels and cold water to stop it and clean off my face. Then I went to Compline with a cold paper towel against my head--but everyone was either too holy or too polite to mention it.

The next day, besides a small goose-egg on my forehead and a tiny wound where my third eye would be if I were Hindu or Buddhist instead of Episcopalian, my middle three toes were black and blue and quite painful. That day, by the way, West Virginia University lost in football for the first time this year (dropping from 5th to 14th in the college rankings) and Derrik Jeter broke his ankle and the hearts of Yankee fans everywhere. (I did see on the game this evening--which the Jeterless Yankees lost to the Tigers to go down 2 games to none in the best of seven--a fan in the stands with a sign that said "What would Jeter do?" And interesting twist of the WWJD craze that drove me crazy a few years ago.

You notice, I'm sure, that both my injuries and despair are caused (directly of indirectly) by sporting events....

Maybe I need to get a life without sports....That or get a flashlight when walking outdoors in the dark Hudson Valley night....

Monday, October 8, 2012

Irish Stuff III

Dromantine has it's own lake. It's much bigger than a pond but probably not called a lake, now that I think of it. And that body of water is populated by swans. Swans are some of the  most amazing creatures I know of. They are so huge, for one thing, and that neck thing they have going on is truly astonishing. I sat out in the rain for half-an-hour watching them one morning. Swans, it seems to me, should have been one of St. Thomas of Aquinas' proofs for the existence of God. Watching them glide and feed convinced me.

The Irish love to sing. Each day, after dinner, most of them, along with me, would gather in a room with an honor bar (Euros and Pounds accepted) and sing. Lots of Irish songs, of course, some in the Irish language, which lots of folks there could speak, but two of the guitar wielding guys loved to sing American songs. They did "Almost heaven, West Virginia" each night just for me, along with Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan and lots of blues stuff. Interestingly enough, they sang with an American or Southern or Black accent when they preformed those songs. I tried to get them to 'talk like an American' and there was no hope! Then I remembered that singing comes from the other side of the brain from talking. I knew a guy once, David, who had the worst stutter I ever heard. He sounded like he might choke when he tried to converse. But he sang in St. John's choir for 30+ years in a wonderful, tone perfect Tenor. Other side of the brain stuff. Not one stutter or halt when he sang. Amazing. (The almost perfect beauty of the human brain--another proof for God's existence?)

Just the lilt of the accents of the Irish is a kind of poetry itself, but they are also good about being able to recite poetry. Each night of singing involved reciting poetry as well. One African Missionary named Jimmy, a guy a few years older than me, recited "The Avowal" by Denise Levertov, one of my favorite poets. Denise Levertov once said, at a gathering of poets and theologians (add in physicists and that would be a meeting of minds devoutly to be wished), "The crisis of faith is the crisis of the imagination. If we cannot imagine walking on the water with Jesus," she went on, "then how can we ever do it?"

Here's the poem Jimmy recited from memory.

The Avowal
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I lear to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit's deep
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.

Much of the workshop I help lead is about just that--"knowing no effort earns anything, that free-fall is where we find grace."

It's astonishing to notice how people don't give value to anything that doesn't require 'effort'. Centering Prayer, as we teach it in the workshop, involves only this: "put your butt in a chair and shut up for 20 minutes, intending to be present to God".

People want to make that 'hard' and 'arduous' when, in reality, it is anti-hard and anti-arduous and requires only this: 'give up effort...."


Sunday, October 7, 2012

How 'bout them 'eers'?

That's West Virginian for "How about those Mountaineers?" A question posed regarding the WVU teams.

WVU is ranked 5th in one poll and 4th in another after beating Texas, which was ranked 11th.

What a toot!

The football team has, most of my life, had a way of breaking your heart. But this year it's real.

6th in one poll and 5th in the other--this is 'in the nation' mind you--is Kansas State. WVU plays them in Morgantown Saturday after next. Imagine that! I can't even picture what Morgantown will be like on that day.

Really, this is cultural 'high' for me.

How 'bout them 'eers'?

Irish stuff--2

Are free at Dublin Airport, though I thought all of them were locked until I discovered the little bar under the handle that released the brake....At JFK they cost money and you can use a credit card to get them though I didn't. Ireland 1, US 0.

I bought a carton of Marlboro on the trip over on the airplane for $37 dollars--almost $50 cheaper than in CT. But, for some reason, you can't smoke on airplanes anymore. I remember when you could. Sometimes I ride a plane that still has ashtrays in the arm of the seat. Sort of like riding in an Edsel. I feel insecure when that happens.

International flights give complementary wine and beer even in coach. On the way back, the guy on the aisle on my row--I was by the window--drank copious amounts of wine. We were sitting in the emergency row, great legroom, right beside one of the main galleys on this enormous plane. The guy, who was a red-haired Irishman, must have had 3 liters or more of Pino Grigio. I had quite a bit but he left me in the dust. And when we got to JFK he was still, apparently, sober. God bless the Irish....

What an incredible place. A palace above a lake with swans. On the way out in the cab I kept gasping because the vista around the next turn was more amazing than the one before. Finally, after I said, "Oh, my God, how beautiful!" the driver said, "I guess we don't appreciate it enough." How true. Something to ponder: how we don't appreciate the beauty around us enough. One of hymns at St. Andrew's, Northford this morning was "For the beauty of the earth...." The creation is a constant wonder. I'm planning to notice it more and more....

The Irish drive me a little nuts by how self-effacing they are. I'm a master of 'self effacing' and they make me look like a rookie. I heard this at a table at one meal: "I went to get a wee haircut last week and the wee lassie who cut my hair asked me if  I'd like a wee trim of my eyebrows and I told her a wee trim wouldn't be enough!" General laughter. I asked the table if there was anything 'big' in Ireland or was everything 'wee'? They looked at me like I'd asked a question in Bulgarian. The "wee" thing is amazing to me. I even heard someone describe a large man as "a wee big bloke". Go figure....

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Irish Stuff

I've been in Ireland since my last post so I thought I get back in the swing with some Irish stuff.

There's too much of it! Every meal, until I started being really stern and all Ugly American-ish with the the servers, I'd leave my plate half-full and the Irish around me would look at me with a mixture of pity and contempt.

Root vegetables are remarkably present. I had rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, carrots and a couple of things I couldn't name though I knew they grew underground from their taste. And the potato thing is still a mystery to me. Mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes and fried potatoes all offerings at one meal and the Irish mostly took them all!

All the meats--ham, pork, beef, beef stroganoff , pork chops--were very good. A little weak on the two fish entrees I had--overcooked and bland. Well, to be honest, most of the food was more bland than I am used to eating. But healthy and good.

I had five desserts, none of which I recognized as something I had eaten before. But all pretty good--and believe me on this, the whipped cream (along with the butter) was far superior to what passes as whipped cream and butter in the US.

It might be the famines in the DNA but my Lord they eat a lot of food! Plus, here's how you eat in Ireland: you put the knife in your non-dominant hand and the fork in your dominant hand and never lay them down, using the knife to push food onto your fork. Elbows always at your side. There was a couple from Indiana who have been working in  Belfast for two years and I noticed they had taken up the eating style. "You get tired of hitting people with your elbows," they both told me. Dining tables seem smaller than here and I kept hitting people in the shoulders with my elbow while eating. I see how you would quickly adopt the Irish eating style.

Getting from JFK to Dublin was a snap compared to getting from Dublin Airport to Newry and then to the conference center--Dromantine. I knew where to catch the bus to Newry from previous trips. I landed and got through customs in record time to catch the 10:20 bus. But the bus was already filled from central Dublin, the only stop before the airport, so I had to wait for the 11:20 bus. That one had only limited seating and their were 30 of us by then, waiting to get to Newry or Belfast. The bus company was amazing. A representative had showed up shortly after the full 10:20 bus and promised us we'd all get on a bus. After the 11:20 bus pulled off he put the Newry people on a local that stopped three times before Newry and at the third place we  had to transfer to another bus for the last bit. Newry is an hour and a half from the airport and it took me nearly four hours to get there. Standing in Ireland's perpetual drizzle for that long meant I was water-logged in the taxi out to Dromantine.

(More Irish stuff later)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Poem (of sorts) for Bern while she was away

Where are you?

I keep listening for you moving around
in the TV room,
walking downstairs to smoke,
making noise somewhere.

I know you're gone to West Virginia.
I took you to the airport,
for goodness sake.

Yet, I keep listening for you
moving around in our house,
so used to you being there.

I guess I'll take the Puli
out to pee,
and check on the Yankee score,
and have a snack
or just go to bed
and lay there
waiting for you to come, wondering
where you are,
missing you in my space
more than I imagined I would.

Bird and Bach

OK, I think I've gotten some of the nonsense of the new and unimproved down. Maybe I can write about something besides how upset I am with the new and ridiculous home page for Blogger.

Our bird, a parakeet named Maggie, loves classical music. So we keep WSHU--the last classical music NPR station we can receive--on by her cage all day.

I haven't done a scientific study (Lord knows I couldn't do a 'scientific' study given the NFP ending of my Meyers-Briggs scale) but I've noticed some things.

Like that organ music makes her lean against her cage on the side where the radio is and not move.

Bach, in any form, seems to have the same effect.

She dances back and forth to most of the Romantic stuff.

She sings along with Mozart.

It gives me faith in music to watch her.

It has similar impact on me. I really miss the great McManis organ at St. John's. I'd just lean into the side of my cage and be joyfully still.

I'm so frustrated....

So, I'm not even sure how to view what I've posted. The terms have changed--'publish' instead of 'post' is, I think, how to send stuff. In place of a spell check click, there is an ABC click with a line through it which simply puts a line through the word you want to know if you spelled correctly or not. And nowhere I have found, is their a 'view posts' tab. I'm sure no one--out of the 12-15 people that might read "Under the Castor Oil Tree" wants to read my rants about But until I figure it out, that's all you'll get. IF I can figure it out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

OK, before I even get started....

OK, before I even get started. I noticed just now two things, it's getting harder and harder for me to get to this place a write a blog. spent 5 minutes tonight trying to tell me how they've made my blogging easier, better, more fun before I could get HERE and actually write a blog!!! Also, I've noticed my new, improved, easier, better, funner blogs are being written out without acknowledging my paragraphs. Their fault, not mine.... Being an English major, I write in paragraphs--on old typewriters there was even a symbol on the upper row of the keys that stood for 'paragraph'. It was a capital P with an extra leg. Who knows where that went. And typewriters had a key called "Return" which on computers is called "Enter". For my taste, "Return" trumps "Enter" every time. I'm going to 'publish' this and then view it to see if my careful use of pagination has been changed. I HATE CHANGE....

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dinner list

I have lots of files on my computer--hundreds and hundreds--and sometimes I glance through them to see what all I have. I found one tonight called 'dinner list'. What it is, I think, though I don't remember writing it or when--is a list of rules for children when going to another person's house for dinner. Surely I didn't write it so long ago as when our children needed such a list. I didn't have a computer back then. I suspect I went to what I expected was going to be an adult dinner party and sat next to a child too young to come to an adult dinner party. Who knows. At any rate, I share it with you tonight... DINNER LIST 1.You will not take off any of your clothes during dinner, lest you die. 2.You will not wipe your hand on your clothes after shaking hands with our hosts, lest you die. 3.YOU WILL SHAKE HANDS LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE…..Lest you die. 4.If our hosts have any pets, you will not twist their legs or ears or tails or otherwise annoy them lest you die. 5.You will take your napkin and put it in your lap. There it will stay, verily, throughout your meal. 6.You will accept anything passed to you in way of food—no matter how icky it is—and take only the smallest amount of the most icky things and not scream about how icky they are, lest you die. 7.You will not spit food on your sister/brother or on your plate or on the dinner table, lest you die. 8.If you must—lest you die—spit food at all, it will be into your napkin on your lap. 9.You will not comment on any body part of our hosts either to your sister/brother, or your parents or anyone else lest you die. 10.You will not say any of those 14 words we all know you know but have agreed you will not say, lest you die. 11.You will not—under any circumstances—tell any stories about your siblings or parents that will humiliate and mortify them…lest you die. 12.You will stay at the table throughout dinner, even if you think you are going to explode; especially if you think you are going to explode…and you will not mention your impending explosion under any circumstances, lest you die. 13.No matter how good dessert is, you will not eat dessert from someone else’s plate nor lick your plate nor say, GIMME MORE CAKE, nor do anything to humiliate and mortify your parents, lest you die.

Friday, September 21, 2012


I went to my urologist today. I took Ann Tyler's "Beginning Good-bye" and finished it in the waiting room and the exam room waiting for the doctor. I recommend it highly--or anything by Ann Tyler, the girl's a writing machine. In between the waiting room and the exam room, I peed in a cup and talked to the nurse, asking her how my PSA was. She wasn't supposed to tell me but because I am so disarming and charming, she did. It was so low it couldn't be measured. I was thrilled! That meant, I imagined that I wouldn't get an injection of Luprin--a drug I was on for over a year before last March. I haven't had it since then and my PSA actually went down! The doctor came in. We shake hands a lot. We shake hands when he comes in and when we leave and then again at the desk after making my next appointment. It's not bad because his hands are small and soft. The urologist who removed my prostrate 8 years ago had hands like an NFL linebacker. Since these are people who stick their fingers up your butt, small hands are a plus.... He told me that--after 8 years and after surgery and radiation (that messed up my bladder quite a bit)and hormone treatment, I was "essentially cured". I'd come back every six months for a year and then every year for a while, but what I heard him saying was that finally, finally I could say I was a cancer survivor! Praise the Lord and pass me another glass of wine! I told him in the last six months that I realized how lethargic Luprin had made me. He smiled, "well yes," he said, "I hear that a lot." So, I didn't go to them gym today as celebration. My seldom going to the gym over the year before the last six months (when I've gone 5 or 6 times a week) was due to the drug. I just didn't realize it until now. And the 15 pounds I gained and the occasional sweating spells and the lack of energy--all that was Luprin related, but I didn't realize it because in a year you can get used to how you feel and think it is normal, I guess. (He was so pleased with my progress that he didn't even put his finger up my butt. I had a cover story that I needed to have a bowel movement and a finger up my butt would be a problem, but I didn't need it. Truth is, whenever I think a doctor is going to stick his finger up my butt, I need to poop. That's just me and don't know if it is generally true....Women might be interested in this: whenever a doctor sticks his or her finger up your butt--I've had both male and female urologists--they invariable, like a knee-jerk reflex--say "sorry". My inclination, when they say 'sorry' is to say--though I've only said it once to my GP who've I had for a quarter of a century--"how was it for you? Want a cigarette?") I'm so happy about all this I could weep for joy...Probably, I'll get hit by a bread truck crossing the street next week....

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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.