Well, gentle readers, it has been over five years since the last post so I have some catching up to do. The other night I watched a documentary on Joe Cocker and re-discovered his album “I Can Stand a Little Rain,” released in August of 1974. The album was a re-entry into the music world after the crazy Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour. The title song’s lyrics provides me a vehicle to re-enter the blogosphere.
I can stand a little rain. The other day Missy and I were in the yard working. Well, I was working, and Missy was directing me as I transplanted nandinas into the no man’s land between my driveway and the neighbor’s yard. After a little while, my neighbor Caroline was out walking around. I braced myself for what I thought would be her criticism of my planting in the no man’s land. She never said anything, and then a little later came into our yard and told us her husband has terminal pancreatic cancer with maybe six months to live. She asked that we not tell the neighborhood. Wow. Then I saw him in the yard — he was orange. His liver had already begun to shut down, and he was completely jaundiced. I have lived next door to them for six years. I know something about them but not much when you boil it down. I am certain there is a story there but either they didn’t tell it, or I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t hear it. This happened just a week after Easter when we retell the paschal story year after year, just like the Jews tell the Passover story year after year. But what about all the forgotten stories? When we have lost parents, we have family pictures but don’t know who all the people are, we have snippets of stories affiliated with memorabilia but no complete stories that we hand down. Gone, just like that. When we bury our neighbor, who will tell his story? Who will listen?
I can stand a little rain. My mother passed away during my absence from writing. She fell, tripping on her oxygen tube, and injured her back. She told me she knew she had hurt herself. She began to self-medicate for the pain with the anti-depressant drugs which led to much drama and exacerbation of the situation. Long story short, my sister was in the middle of wedding planning and just didn’t have time to deal with it. Evidently they had had a fight, and mom was alone. Mom’s help didn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation. My brother and I are both over nine hours away and really not tuned into how bad it really was. She was finally hospitalized, and surgery was scheduled. It was a Hobson’s choice, fuse the vertebrae in her spine and risk the complications of surgery on an eighty-year-old, or do nothing and leave her in excruciating pain. When we visited her post surgery in the hospital during the wedding weekend, it was awful. She was contorted in pain, semi-conscious and, by any definition, a basket case. She was sustained in that state of misery for another few weeks before she passed away. Sadly, when I asked about last rites, my sister told me that she, my sister, wasn’t there yet. Mom died the next day.
I can stand a little rain. We have buried far too many people over the five years. A sibling-in-law, two priests, an old friend, a beloved pet, and the list goes on. When my sister-in-law was killed accidentally, it completely shattered our paradigm. Early one November Wednesday evening, Missy received a call from a police officer that her sister was in the hospital while I was out walking Zeke our Basset hound. After the officer explained who he was and why he had Beppy’s phone, he asked who Missy was to Beppy. Let’s face it a male voice coming from a call on Beppy’s phone was odd, and the officer wanted to see who she called all the time. The officer gave Missy directions to the hospital and off Missy went. I stayed and contacted her sibling and sent her directions. By the next morning from all over the country, her siblings and two of our children were at Beppy’s bedside at the hospital. The decision was made to give what organs that weren’t damaged to Donate Life for transplanting. I returned home to our dog, and Missy had her birthday dinner with her brother and two oldest children. They drove home and left for Jacksonville the next day. Somehow we put together the funeral, wrote the eulogy, and coordinated collecting the two youngest children to bring them to the service. The suddenness of an untimely and completely accidental death traumatized us in ways we didn’t expect. It made each day seem more important, more fragile. Beppy died just a few weeks short of her 60th birthday. So, the birthday party, for which the invites had already been mailed, became a celebration of remembrance. My brother-in-law tasked me with eulogizing her at her burial service and the memorial service on her birthday. It was heartbreaking, and what was particularly freaky were the sirens and lights on the road outside the venue near where she was killed at the time of her death. It rattled me, it still does. We light candles for dinner every night because you just don’t know what tomorrow brings.
I can stand a little pain. When my sister-in-law died, the service was at the family parish and the priest, the Dean of the Cathedral, if you will, was just outstanding in her pastoral care for the family. It was extremely trying and everybody was exhausted. When it was over, Missy was ready to return the to the Episcopal church, apostasy be damned. We can be salt and light. Happy pew potatoes. So we attended a church that was downtown and very sparsely attended. It was adequate, no in your face sermons, just kinda empty. About nine or ten months in, we got an email that the priest had been removed. No explanation, no dialogue, just gone at the whim of the bishop. Wow! So we didn’t want to stay there. We visited another church, one that I had visited when I first moved up here since it was just blocks away from the apartment. The priest was just amazing. He was engaging, knowledgeable, personal, and pretty much everything you could want. All is good. So we went to Peru to visit our third child and sent him a picture of us at Machu Picchu with instructions for his eyes only, which he promptly put on the church Facebook page. Sigh. When we got home that Saturday morning, we napped, and then went to the grocery store. The phone was ringing when we walked in with news that our priest was dead. He had suffered a heart attack and died. Staggered we went to church the next morning and just cried with the other members of the congregation. What now? What now? After a series of supply priests, we were on the verge of running out of priests. Then we were sent an interim priest, a woman whose husband had been arrested for child pornography. She had been at Sewanee trying to figure out what had happened to her world. She came down to our congregation and was being emotionally healed when she suffered a stroke. We nursed her back to health and pretty much complete recovery, and she accepted a call to become a rector in another state. The diocese sent us another interim priest, who coincidentally we had known in Jacksonville in the EIGHTIES! It was fun to be reacquainted with him and his wife. We played golf and enjoyed the fellowship of two old friends. We got word just the other day that he had been killed in a motorcycle wreck. It makes me wonder what are we being prepared for? In God’s economy there is no waste. So somewhere there is a lesson; I just need to identify it.
But when the rain comes through the floorboard, So in the next four years, we closed three households. It was challenging in three different ways. One was the sheer volume of stuff, sixty years in one house can cause some accumulation. Trying to get everyone on board to deal with it was a far heavier load than the stuff itself. The house had sat empty and unoccupied for almost five years. Engaging Missy’s siblings was a struggle but eventually it was done. As all the memories were unpacked, then repacked and given away, thrown away, or just moved to a corner to deal with later, it occurred to us that so many stories were being put away. A funny call from Missy’s brother happened when a neighbor had brought him a diploma from the University of North Carolina earned by a grandparent. He was put off that this had been thrown away and blown out of the can and picked up by a neighbor. Missy asked, “Do you want to keep it? If so help yourself.” “Well no, but it just shouldn’t be thrown out.” was his response. “If you want it keep it, otherwise it is being thrown out.” What else is there to do with a diploma from two generations ago? Her sister was a pack rat, and that had its own challenges. Again, as we went through piles and piles of papers and files trying figure out if it was important enough to keep, we learned a lot about Beppy. We read letters, notes, and cards trying to determine if they should be kept or pitched, and that gave us a framework to her many and very diverse friendships. We packed up her travel mementos and mailed them to her friends with a note explaining that the trinket would be much more valued by them than the Salvation Army store. Missy is so kind and thoughtful that way. My mother’s estate, well, I should say my sister is tough. Both of my parents had their will changed within six months of their passing. My attorney friend says that does more than raise an eyebrow at Probate Court. Anyway, my sister was named the executrix of the estate, and she wasn’t afraid to use that power over my my brother and me. She can be passive aggressive it to put it mildly, a pitiful victim in one breath and a fire-breathing dragon the next.. It was not a happy dissolution nor distribution. Let’s just leave it at that because that is what I did. I thought about fighting it but the higher road seemed the better option. Where I am going is we now have three storage units of stuff. We feel like we need to save and honor the legacy and not just throw out. Then Missy read me an article about millennials. They don’t want our stuff nor their grandparents’ stuff. It has no sentimental value to them and most likely won’t match the IKEA furniture they love so much. So we are left with trying to dig through what might have value at some time in the future and what we need to tell the truth about; nobody wants it. We are digging through our emotions too, as the pieces are pitched or donated, so goes another piece of the story. Will anybody even care?
I can use some rest, For my 60th birthday present to myself, I bought golf clubs. I played as a teen and really liked it. I put away the clubs when I married and hacked only occasionally. So I ordered a set of clubs highly rated for beginners. I have really enjoyed going back to the course. I joined a little club near the house and have taken some lessons. The pro said I have an old school swing. Going out in the late afternoon and just hitting balls or playing a round is so relaxing. I don’t get frustrated when I play. I hit some nice golf shots and I screw up royally when I rush or don’t think about my swing. So I just hit another ball, no biggie. I can break 100 now and hopefully by the end of the summer, I will break 90. It is so restful to be out in the quiet and concentrating on something as unuseful as golf swings. It clears my head as I can’t worry about other things when I am trying to swing the club correctly. I love grabbing an ice cold beer after a round and the smell of the bathroom cologne in the locker room It is just so old school and male. I love it!
I can stand a little sorrow. My dog died this year. It has really wrecked me emotionally. I keep wondering if there was something more I could have done for him. I slept downstairs on a couch beside him for almost three weeks. I knew he was slowing down but I wasn’t ready to let go. The vet heard a murmur in his heart right away, and the x-rays showed how his heart was extremely enlarged. We tried some meds but he never got back in the game. We had him put down at home that Monday afternoon. It ripped out my heart to say goodbye to him. But he is out of pain, and I know he had one hell of a good life. Here is my eulogy I posted after he died:
After one week since Zeke passed away I feel called to share some thoughts on Zeke, but first thank you to all of you who took the time to express your condolences to us. Zeke was a wonderful pet, and he changed me in so many ways. As I look back, he was pure Bassett — independent, willful, playful, friendly (except to cats) and on the furniture. His first 5 and a half years he basically ran wild on Mill Hill Island. He perched in the door to keep watch on the neighborhood and more importantly the driveway so he could monitor arrivals and departures. Every day he was waiting for me to return home from work. We would play and wrestle as I got out of the car. As I reflect, what a wonderful ceremony to transition from work to home. No matter what had happened that day, playing with a puppy was the first thing that happened at home. Most days, he would go “swamp dogging” and come home covered in mud, and Missy would have to get the hose and wash him off. The year I moved to Chattanooga and Missy stayed home to honor her teaching contract he was her companion. They would come visit and then he would wait on the porch hoping I would come home like I had some many afternoons before. When we moved, we are on a much busier street so I began to accompany him on his walks. Well that became the routine. He taught me patience, as he smelled every single smell. Or if he found a cat to growl at for what seemed like hours. He got me out, and I met all of our neighbors as a result. We know EVERYBODY on the street as well as the other dog walkers and runners and joggers. Zeke and I became fixtures in the morning and evening out on the street. Zeke knew how to get comfy. His morning nap after the walk was on the couch on the sunporch so he would be warmed by the morning sun. Missy would take him out around noon for a “smell-a-thon” as she described it. In the late afternoon he would be in his chair on the sunporch monitoring the driveway. When I pulled in, he would jump down and run to the stairs to the basement and garage. If you have ever watched the videos of soldiers returning home from an extended deployment greeted by a dog that was going crazy in happiness that is what we did every single evening. He was ready for dad to play and wrestle and more importantly get out on the street to walk. He was my charge and my responsibility. I had to set aside so many emotions, urges, distractions to honor my commitment to his little routine that made up his world. I am going to miss him in so many ways. He was determined and persistent and annoying about getting his way. He took his time and did it his way. I acquired many coping skills as a result. But most of all he was an expression of my sense of duty. Losing Zeke doesn’t hurt any more than watching the brake lights dim as a child drives off into their future. Life is about saying good-bye when the time comes.
Zeke’s time snuck up on me. I should have noticed him slowing down and his body not able to do things it had done for so many years prior. I didn’t notice him laboring to be there for me. We just lived our routine, so it was a surprise when the vet explained his heart condition. I thought Zeke would live for several more years, it turned out to be only weeks, and I was caught off-guard. Now I have that second cup of coffee that I had so longed for when he would be insistent that we leave for the walk — NOW. I was not prepared and the sting of that really hurt. Missy and I are getting better. She is a little nervous that all the time, attention, and affection that went to Zeke will now be directed her way. Yikes!! I will be able to leave to play golf now without having to get home to feed and walk Zeke. Missy and I can take off for a quick overnight trip anywhere now. But at the end of the day, even though life has unfolded as it should, I miss my little buddy.
I can stand it till tomorrow. Tomorrow seems so far away at times. It is so easy to get caught up in the drama of today. I have learned how to forgive. I have forgiven my sister, I have forgiven the Episcopal church, I have forgiven my past. As I stand in the present, I want to learn to be unencumbered with guilt, anger, frustration, and expectations. Missy and I have turned 60, we know how to do a funeral, a wedding, and a party. We have prepared for retirement, we have embraced a more healthy lifestyle as we prepare for tomorrow. We are looking at trips to take, and things on our bucket list to check off. We have been through a lot, yet we have been obedient, we have tried to do the right thing. Sometimes righteousness is nothing more that doing what we have been taught to do — feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the shut ins, and turn away from what we know to be wrong. We can endure a lot; we have learned that. We have learned to be grateful, no matter how small the blessing. We have learned to learn from life; there are wonderful lessons if you just look hard enough. We have learned to listen. We have learned that there may not be a tomorrow.
I can stand a little strife. After our priest died, we had a parade of supply priests. One was particularly liberal both politically and theologically. He was pretty in your face about it. It seems that is the norm now, to get in somebody’s face. I look at the Antifa movement, and all I see is the Klan reincarnated. The fact is they just seem eerily similar. They don’t care what you think, believe, or know; they are there to silence you, by force. The threat of violence is the intimidation factor. They wear masks just like the Klan. They lead everyday lives the rest of the week but put on their masks and instead of burning crosses, they use crowbars and mace to tear up property and hurt people they judge to be wrong in their thinking. They aren’t to lynching yet, but give it time. I saw an article about the Dalai Lama and politics. He says the biggest barrier to conversation between the two sides is contempt. We hold those with whom we disagree in contempt. I do too; I admit it. I find the intellectual laziness of so many on the other side of the discussion contemptible. Don’t they have any curiosity? Don’t they want to explore the science and run the experiment to see what happens? It has been shown over and over that the data is jimmied so as to produce the desired outcome. It is very frustrating. So I think we need to listen more, to hear their story, to understand how they arrived at that conclusion. That could lead to a different outcome, and different ending to the story.
Just another taste of life It is weird to be in a gym again and working out regularly. Missy gave me the gift of good health for Christmas this year. We go to a gym called Orange Theory Fitness, and it is wonderful, wonderfully hard. You wear a heart monitor that tracks your heart rate. The idea is to push yourself to around 84% of your maximum heart rate and try to maintain that pace to increase anaerobic metabolism to facilitate weight loss. It is working; I am down 25 pounds and feel great. But the best part is being around the young staff. These kids are my kids ‘ages, and it is so fun to banter back and forth with them. I like to hear their stories about how they came to be a coach and what they did in college. Most are former jocks and like the athletic lifestyle. It is a 55 minute routine of pure hell, but then I just feel fantastic. I have changed my diet to accommodate the work outs and accelerate my weight loss. It is a wonderful change in my routine from watching tv to watching a monitor with my heart rate on it.
I can stand a little love Welp, we celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary this year. That is a long time, yet it seems like the time has just flown by. We have lived into our marriage and partnership by throwing ourselves into our collective life. The curious thing is that the intimacy has increased while the ardor has dimmed a little. We know each other so well, and we understand the value of compromise in many more ways than just conflict resolution. We embrace the chance to learn from each other in ways that surprise me at times. When I get frustrated and impatient with Missy, I just picture her as her six year old self. I know what a mess she was from the stories I have heard, and I just embrace that little girl and the impatience fades and appreciation grows. Well that and going outside to sit in my chair with an adult beverage over lots of ice helps, too.
I can stand a little love Our oldest child, a daughter, was married last year while I was away from all of you. She met her husband during her hike of the Appalachian Trail. Given the camp counselor I am married to, and the outdoorsy couple getting married, I will give you three guesses on the venue where they got married. Yes, Western North Carolina in the hills, yes at a camp, and yes the camp the bride attended as a child. I think the visits to other venues were a ruse to make me feel like they were open to other type weddings. At the end of the day, it fell to where it was meant to be. The wedding was planned, I mean NASA level planned. Thank you, Google Docs. I would watch Missy’s computer screen and see all the edits to the spreadsheets and documents by the bride, her sister, and Missy. It was amazing. As a result, we only suffered errors of omission during the weekend, and little ones at that. It was gorgeous. The weekend started with a reception for our guests, then the rehearsal dinner in the camp dining hall, followed by a Contra Dance. Saturday was full of activities, just like you would expect from the head counselor and her team. From hiking to boating, to lectures about the AT to yoga, to painting, to corn hole. Then the ceremony. Funny thing, I was the one holding it together. I knew if I emotionally slipped in the slightest, we would all be crying. The reception was beautiful, the food outstanding, and we capped the night with fireworks from across the lake. It was a true celebration of the persona of the bride, groom and most importantly the M.O.B (mother of the bride)
But when I am on my last go-round Faith, hope, and love. Paul tells us love is the greatest of those but I don’t know. I think faith and hope are pretty darned important. I have had another friend commit suicide. I think that brings the total to around six or seven. It is as devastating as is it heartbreaking to hear of another human giving up, giving in to whatever demons that are terrorizing them. I have no doubt that the use and misuse of anti-depressants contributed to several of these suicides. Malcolm Gladwell has written about the contagiousness of suicides. It is scary. But these people didn’t know each other. They are all from different orbits in my life. I can say that the ones that talked with me, that shared some personal aspects of their story, it was full of frustration, disappointments, unrealized dreams, and unmet expectations with no likelihood of a dream ever coming true. Some of it was circumstantial but a lot was self-inflicted, bad choices that made things harder, and the dream more elusive. I grieve for my friends; I miss them and wish I could pick up the phone and talk with them again. I strive to be cheerful, to help people see the sunny side of life. I can’t bring them back; I can only share their story and try to keep their memory alive in my life.
I can stand another test I was asked to serve on our neighborhood association board, and this has proven to be a test, a test of my patience. The board’s average age must be mid-seventy, and that includes a couple of forty somethings. You can do the math. We sit down every month to rehash local issues and discuss possible solutions. I can describe it in one word, tedious. I don’t mean to be cranky; I really don’t. That is why I stopped blogging before. I was getting too cranky. Really folks, it is why I stopped being a liberal, nothing ever gets solved, EVER!! We just revisit and talk more. I think back to my attraction to the altruistic pipe dream that tells us we just need a little more government spending and programs and we can reach the idyllic utopian place of universal love and prosperity. It has been heartbreaking to discover the cynicism on the part of the politicians and operatives who find it in their best interest to NEVER solve ANYTHING. You think back to Johnson’s war on poverty and the transfer of trillions of dollars from the wealthiest to the poorest, and it has made no difference whatsoever. In fact in some census data, the rate of poverty has increased (remember to be skeptical of all data anymore since all that matters is the agenda). Education, another trainwreck of government policy gone wrong. Some pundit described our education system as a vast money-laundering scheme; taxpayer dollars to education, teachers union dues collected, unions reimburse the politicians who vote for more spending on education. What works is what Jesus showed us, one at a time. The Holcomb Rucker Pro Tournament in NYC and its basketball park has a motto, “Each one, teach one.” What a wonderful expression, teach one. Teach values, teach dreaming, teach skills, teach education, teach manners. I need to practice patience and see what I learn at the next board meeting. Maybe I need to be open to somebody teaching me.
I can stand another test As I described earlier Missy and I have too much stuff, mostly items inherited. As we join the “downsizing movement” of our generation the test of knowing what to keep and what to pitch has consumed us recently. It sure feels good when we clean out another rat’s nest. Our daughter, a designer, has a mission statement “Make information beautiful” our mission statement has become “Make stuff accessible.” We save because you never know when you might need it. I mean we could put together an entire theatre company costume set from the back of our closets. You just never know. We have cleaned out three households in a five-year span. Whew!! The big takeaway has been we need to get rid of stuff; that will be our biggest gift to our children. The rub is that you don’t know what the future holds, and it just seems wasteful to throw out perfectly good items just because we haven’t used them in the last ten years. I mean really? Well Missy has embraced the minimalism movement. I showed her the J.P. Sears video on the subject. She gave me a big harumph and moved on. Here is another test, the hard part, accepting the fact that what we hold dear has little or no meaning to our children. They just don’t want it. Our oldest, she loves vintage things so some of the pieces are attractive to her. Our son want shiny and new. He wants to buy it, and he wants it new. Our little girl may never settle down and need anything at all. Our youngest son wants only our most unique pieces. So as we go through things, it is the emotional component that has been hard. We have been taught, ney drilled into our psych, the need to respect our legacy and these pieces are part of that legacy. It is hard, but then we tell the truth to each other, load the car and go to the Salvation Army with another load
Cause I made it before “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson As I stand mid-way or so on the back nine of my life (do you see how I use golf metaphors now that I am playing again?) and look back, I think about how some of the life decisions have turned out, and I really can’t complain. I have had people I didn’t recognize come up to me and thank me for some small favor I did for them years ago. I have helped injured motorists out their wrecked cars twice. I have more friends than I deserve, and some of them really are pretty intelligent. Not to get too snarky, but my children can get really affectionate when they need something. So, yeah, I have made it before.
and I can make it some more I like to be in the arena, to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 speech in Paris. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” I have blown it, and I have made it when I got back up. I was in a Sunday school class and the lesson was about how Joseph was a righteous man. I thought about other men in the bible described as righteous. Noah, and David come to mind. In their cases, they weren’t perfect, they were wholly human. After the experience Noah survived, I would have gone on a bender, too. And David, well he had an appetite to say the least. He paid dearly for his sin, and it left a pretty good sized scar on his heart. But both men kept turning back to God, both knew right from wrong and struggled to do the right thing. If I continue to struggle to do the right thing, I know I have made it. The interesting thing is that Missy and I have become aware that we do live lives of service — to our kids, to our families, to our neighbors, to our church, to our world. You might just say I have made it some more.
While the song continues with the refrain I made it before I will make it again, I feel like I have been able to catch you up, gentle readers, and get back to blogging some. I hope that my rants, thoughts, and observations will bring you some fresh perspective. I am remarkably content with my situation, so hopefully that will be reflected in my posts. I have blogged before, and I will blog again.