Mortality at the doctor’s office

Mortality is a funny thing.  Awareness of it comes in brief flashes, at random times throughout our lives.  It can often come at what may at first seem like such an inopportune time, but is more likely to be right when needed.  One such moment happened for me the other day when I had a preliminary sleep test done.  Turns out I am having an event about every 4 minutes while I sleep where my O2 levels drop and my average oxygen amount is on the low-end of what doctors want.  So it’s off for more tests to see about an official diagnosis this week.

Now, I have to follow this up by saying that I dislike doctors, I hate hospitals and clinics, and am just generally unhappy with the medical profession.  This is nothing personal against the number of heroic and wonderful people who willingly give care to millions of people each and every day.  And when I am in to see them I try to be the best behaved patient they meet for that day.  But in part because of having spent many…MANY days and nights dealing with chronic health issues for years and years, I am increasingly leery as I get older, of going in to see a doctor for anything.

But back to this test…

As I was reading up online (actual reputable places like WebMD, etc), I began to realize just how easy it would be for me to not wake up sometime and why my doctor was so insistent that I get this test done.  I called him back to set up the follow-up so here we are.  But it made me wonder about my life, will I be here for when Boo gets married, for when D gets hitched?  How many more years do I have and more importantly, what am I doing with them?  When Boo asks for my attention, did I really give it to her?  Did I play and focus on creating memories and stories that will last long past the time I’m gone?  When D calls or texts, have I done enough to show D how I feel and how proud I AM of the good things D has done in life?

It also made me think about my father, who also has breathing problems (he’s got a CPAP, although it’s not helping as much as we’d like) and the fact that he turns 72 in just a few months.  I honestly am not sure what to do without him in my life and I don’t even like thinking about it.  My mother is 68, so it’s not like either one of them is a spring chicken anymore.  But there is something terrifying I think when you think about losing your parents.  Even more so than when considering losing your grandparents, which I have done years ago.  It’s that lack of a buffer between you and the end.  That creeping sense of the grains of sand leeching through the hour-glass.  Am I ready to deal with the world without their guidance and sure hand helping me?  Have I told them everything I want them to know?  What about the questions I still haven’t found the answers to (most notably, at what point do you finally figure out this whole “growing-up” thing?)?

This is not to say that I am suddenly in a panic, desperately trying to flee from whatever happens.  I’m not.  My faith helps me feel secure in what comes after, and I am trying to improve the quality of the time AS WELL AS the quantity of time I spend with people, but it’s just been weighing on me more lately, as I reconsider my words, my actions and the priorities of my time.  I want everyone I come in contact with to feel the love of the creator, to understand that they are precious and that this gift we call life is fragile and fleeting…but also that it is vibrant and strong.

I needed this.  My father used to tell a story when he was preaching (yeah, he was a minister too), about a mule that would do anything you asked…but first you had to hit it with a 2×4 to get its attention.  It was a metaphor he used to talk about our relationship to God, the world and each other.  And Lord knows I have spent plenty of days wandering around without purpose or focus or otherwise knowing what I was doing and not appreciating what was around me.  I have had many 2×4 moments in my life.  This was another one.

I hope the time I am given is being well-spent.

I hope you know that whether we have been friends for years, are casual acquaintances or strangers new met, that I look forward to knowing more about you and hope nothing but the best for you.

I hope the Creator blesses you to be a blessing upon creation, in whatever form or fashion that takes.

I hope you know that you are loved.

Anniversary fun

Crazy doesn’t begin to describe it.  Our first four anniversaries have been marked by a certain…flair for the unusual.  For N and mine’s very first anniversary, we spent the day at a homeless shelter.  I was participating in an intervention for a member of our congregation, while N watched her 2 year old son.  Our second anniversary N was on bed-rest due to complications with her pregnancy.  We defied the doctor though and in a brash outburst ran to Wal-Mart (with N in a wheel-chair to argue later we didn’t really take her off of bed-rest) and bought ourselves a food processor.  Wow… what rebels.  Our third anniversary was the most normal yet.  We got baby sitters long enough to have a dinner out without the kid, but ended up with some bathroom issues later that made it a bit more memorable than we’d like.  Finally, this year the plan was to go out of town for a long weekend away from home and away from kid, dog, etc.  The night before we left we had really severe weather that knocked out our power around 2am.  We were truly blessed however as the Basement Troll and our parents said “Go, go!” and took care of it all while we were gone until power came back about 24 hours later.  I can’t wait to see what 5 years brings….

My Sacred Space

sacred space,

n space—tangible or otherwise—that enables those who acknowledge and accept it to feelreverence and connection with the spiritual.

I had to wonder about this concept earlier this week.  A friend and co-worker of mine had sent several of us a picture of a fantastic house for sale in our city.  It was a 17 bedroom, 17 bathroom castle going at a bargain price of only $2 million.  Unfortunately we would need something like  51 people paying on the mortgage or so in order to even consider covering that sort of money.  But the address for this place was on a similarly named road to another house that actually is and was special to me.  First, a little backstory.

My father’s parents came from hard beginnings.  Grandma was abandoned by her parents and left with her grandparents when she was young.  Grandpa came from a homesteader family out west when his mother and the kids had to move back here when his father died of TB at a very early age.  Both suffered loss of parents and family and as a consequence family was always very important to them both.

They married and had three boys, the youngest of whom was my father.  When my dad was young they bought this house and my grandfather started work on it.  They bought it from the son of the original owner, who had been a doctor.  The house had a back party house, three garage/outbuildings plus the main house on about 6 acres of land most of which was forest.  The tennis court in the back eventually was taken over by the woods but the peacock pens provided feathers that I still have in my house to this day.

My grandfather worked, along with help from my uncles, father and cousins, over 50+ years on building, improving and adding onto the property.  And every year for as long as they were alive, at Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays and birthdays, our families would gather together at that house.  It passed from my grandparents to one of my uncles to one of his children, staying in the family for almost 70 years.  Memories of four generations of our family center on that house and that property.  Prayer meetings, fireworks, picnics, swim parties (after the pool was added), and more color the images of my childhood.  As a child who moved a lot growing up, it was one of a very very few places that I felt like was home, a place to connect with the land of my family in a way only farmers of old understand.

My cousin eventually got divorced and they lost the house to foreclosure.  It’s up for sale again and while I thought I had resolved myself of the idea that I would never own the place, the thought of it going up for sale to someone outside my kin brought a surprisingly strong sense of loss to me and has in general hung over me the last day or so.

It’s not that I want the place, I know it’s a bit of a financial deathtrap for anybody who’s not really well off, which is certainly not this lower-middle class family.  But the assurance that if I wanted, I could go over to visit, to walk the paths of my childhood and share the memories of climbing through the woods, the secret places in the garage attics, my first apartment…all of that is going away and it surprises me how much that still hurts.  But maybe it shouldn’t surprise me.  For me, family is spiritual, family is sacred.

Family is the filter through which I have always looked at life.  It is the foundation to my understanding of God, creation and my place in it.  It is how I describe my best friends, my church companions, they are also a part of my family.  And for me, at least on my father’s side, my best memories of family are from that house, that property and with my grandparents now long gone it is like losing that last touchstone with them even if the more grown-up part of me realizes that’s not the case.  But it was home for a time… in a very special and spiritual way, it WAS sacred space to me.  A place where I stayed while doing church mission work, a place where I would share in morning devotionals with my grandparents, where I really felt close to God looking out and walking through the woods.

My understanding and sense of the divine has grown since those days, but this was a special place to me, kept in the deep recesses of my soul.  It is time to say good-bye to the place and perhaps, write down the stories from our time there as family.  After all, my children are growing and they do not have the connection to the place that I do.  They are developing their own sense of sacred spaces.  For D it will be radically different than Boo given the 15 year difference in their ages.  But I want to help nurture and create that same sense of affection and importance for them as they look to ground their journey with the Divine (in whatever form it takes) as they grow older.  And to help them learn, through my modeling, what it means to truly let something go if you love it.

So good-bye and God-speed to whomever becomes the new owner.  Know that you have big shoes to fill, and numerous opportunities to be blessed.

Some days you wonder…

I.  As in me, myself and… I cannot do this alone.

This journey, this transition, this transformation… it’s something that utterly upsets the habits and balance of my life before and as such is beyond the entirety of my power to affect.  All I can do is be willing.  Willing and open to the opportunities and possibilities that are there for me to take if this is what I really want.  And I suppose at the end of the day that’s the question that matters more than all the rest.  I’ve been involuntarily liberated from my past and all the old ways of seeing and doing in my life.  Do I really want to go back to them?  I can, at least at times, see a partial picture of what might be laying on the horizon and I think it’s worth struggling for.  It’s just so bleedin’ far away…And I’m really tired.

I collapsed on my bedroom floor today for almost 45 minutes and cried…

Old memories

I found my diary a couple of days ago.  My actual physical diary.  I’d been talking to my son about writing down some of the things he’d been struggling with, his feelings of betrayal, loss of trust, and abandonment.  We’d talked about ways we coped with what has happened and I’d been sharing about my diary and about this blog and he had stated that he didn’t know what to write about in his, if he started one.  So I shared with him the very first entry of my diary, from March 29th, 1991:

Dear Diary,

today was a bummer of a day.  we just left Bizmart and a totally awsome turbo graphic 16 for $125.00!!  & my dad wouldn’t buy it.

p.s. the day wasn’t a total bummer because I hit the jackpot, found money, and get to go to C.P. [Children’s Palace – btw] if dad doesn’t stay too long (he he ha he won’t!!)

p.p.s. He did!!

total bummer

After sharing this with him he had less trepidation about writing something down.  If I can just get him started writing something, to get in the habit of putting his emotions down on paper…it may not be a perfect solution but it would be a start to perhaps allow him some healing as well.  So since I hadn’t read my diary since I last put an entry in it I’ve been reading it off and on, skipping parts and going back to others.  The last entry in the thing however still strikes me.  Not the whole thing, but here is the last part of the last entry in my first diary, dated Jan. 6th, 1999:

Have you ever seen a man so consumed w/appearances that he even orders his own thoughts as to make them more poetic?  The thoughts that one utters when one is alone…?  I have, I see him every day in the bathroom mirror and we cross paths as we get ready for bed.  But I don’t really know him.  Or understand him.  His loss, his hurt, his anger.  Maybe one day I will.  Either that or maybe I’ll become the man on the other side of the mirror.  Never can say…

It’s interesting how things come full circle.  I may have come back to a similar place, a single father,nervous and unsure of what the future holds, but I have gotten to know the man in the mirror.  I have become the man in the mirror, and the man looking in.  It has not been easy blending the two, but I am who I am.  I am loved for who I am, I am forgiven, and I know my boundaries.  My need to be needed and to control others has made my life unmanageable.  I can let go, usually.  I am at peace with being alone – most of the time.  I am not perfect.  And those in my life don’t have to be.  There is a new day dawning and God walks with my son and I.  We don’t always realize it.  We don’t always want it.  But God is there.  And God will not leave us.

It has been hammered home how much my life means to the people involved in it.  People I am ashamed to say I have not taken the time to get to know as well as I should have, have reached out to me, via emails, Facebook, in person, to share their love and support with me.  And I am so grateful and so thankful.  I love you all.  And for those who have ridden this journey with me from the beginning… well, there really isn’t anything else that needs to be said is there?

And with that, I wanted to share the first poem I ever copied down in my journal.  It was from a book of Favorite American Poetry, a book my mother owned and for all I know, still does.  And a friend recently sent me a power point with the first verse of it, something else that was a blast from my past, but I think is very appropriate here:

Love

I love you, Not only for what you are, But for what I am, When I am with you

I love you, Not only for what you have made of yourself, But for what, You are making of me

I love you, For the part of me that you bring out

I love you, For putting your hand, Into my heaped-up heart, And passing over all the foolish, weak things, That you can’t help dimly seeing there

And for drawing out, Into the light, All the beautiful belongings That no one else had looked Quite hard enough to find.

I love you, because you Are helping me to make Of the lumber of my life, Not a tavern, But a temple, Out of the works of my every day, Not a reproach, But a song

I love you, because you have done, More than any creed could have done, To make me good, And more than any fate could have done, To make me happy

You have done it Without a touch, Without a word, Without a sign You have done it by being yourself Perhaps that is what Being a friend means after all.

Ghosts of memories past…

I was removing files from my old computer the other day and came across a journal entry that I had written almost 5 years ago.  I’ve posted portions of it below.  I think the thing that strikes me the most about this is that even all those years ago I already sensed at least in part, that if I didn’t open up things would get bad.  I have never found it easy to be open with people, to trust, to really be myself.  This past year as I have had to face the consequences of my actions of my late teen years and early twenties and even into my late twenties I’m ashamed to say, I have also had the opportunity to let some fears go.  And to forgive myself some of the burdens I was carrying.  It’s not that I’ve done anything criminal, never done drugs or abused someone or assulted someone or anything.  But as I say below, I’ve been arrogant, uncaring, manipulative vengeful and hurtful in my actions…and I should know better.  I was raised better than that.

I’d like to think that the face that I can even talk about this is a big step.  The fact that I can acknowledge what I have done, picked fights, dodged responsibility, undermined people around me does not make me a better person, but it gives me hope.  Hope that I can and have and will continue to change.  I can’t fix everything overnight.  There are some facets of my personality that I may never be able to get “right” if there is such a thing.  I asked God to break me…break me of my habits, behaviors and beliefs that were contrary to where God wanted me to be and contrary to who God hoped I’d become.  Part of that breaking was this – losing the comfortable facade, the public face of Me, and in return, allowing others to view me as I am, and finding out that I really can be forgiven and loved.  I chose the title of this entry on purpose.  Just like Scrooge I’ve had my Christmas Eve visitation and just like him – I hope to be able to wake on the morrow with a renewed appreciate of the wonders of creation around me, and a new found love for the people around me, all my brothers and sisters.

For those of you with whom I’ve been friends for some many years (and new ones as well!)…

Thank you.

And…

I’m sorry.  I’m glad you saw something in me worth hanging on for.  May our lives together be better for it.

I’ve burned a lot of bridges behind me.  Ones that others put up in some cases.  She once told me that “yeah, you don’t think of others a lot…what do you think about?”  How to know.  How do I tell her?  That the reason I don’t have a lot of friends is because I’m scared to let anyone too close.  That I’m ashamed … and I don’t want to have to lie to more people.  I lie.  God knows I’m ashamed of doing so…but not enough to stop.  I should beg forgiveness from the people I’ve wronged with my lies.  My fear and pride always get in the way, and I don’t…

When the person who you depend on doesn’t share your core beliefs it’s hard.  And that’s my problem.  I depend too much on someone else for the things, that any psycologist worth their salt would tell me, I need to find within myself.  I’m just too scared to look.

I just needed to vent.  Five minutes would have been enough.  I guess what I need to do if I am to consider staying in this relationship is to explain to her where this comes from and decide what we can do about this openly.

There are some doors that should never be opened.  I don’t know that I believe this any longer.

It certainly didn’t work so well the first time around.

Storytelling

My Grandfather and me
My Grandfather and me

Being a storyteller is a dying art.

There is a deep and powerful tradition of storytelling throughout human history.  People would gather around fires, in dining halls, cabins, and numerous other places to hear a great yarn, or to spin one.  Stories were how people communicated history, identity, dreams for the future, rules to live by and countless other things.  People always have their own ideas as to what quality is MOST human.  Personally I think it’s our ability to tell stories.  Other animals use tools, pass on knowledge, require companionship and have some sort of social hiearchy.  Other animals feel/show pain, joy, love.  Other animals communicate through amazing means.  But I don’t see any of them gathering around to tell stories.  Granted, I’m not entirely convinced they don’t…especially whales and elephants…I mean what else are those big mammels going to do with all their free time…but anyway…

Stories are how we pass on religious truths, family traditions, the importance of heratige, and yet…all too often as a society it seems that we defer that responsibility to others.  TV, movies, books – those who are gifted at telling great tales have a celebrated place, as they always have.  Their audiences are wider and tools flashier to be sure.  But is that the same?  Sitting in a darkened theatre with fifty other people, staring of moving pictures of other people having adventures, then leaving afterwards quietly to go on with our own lives…is that what we’re reduced to?

I tell stories to strech my imagination, to share hopes and dreams with friends and family.  I tell stories because I want to recount funny memories, share important thoughts, share beliefs.  I’ve often viewed my role-playing hobby and the ministry that I offer to be very similar.  Both rely on a sense of the emotional moment, appropriate use of drama and comedy, both bring people together and can pass on knowledge or raise important questions.  It’s one of the reasons I try to read to my son at least a couple times a week.  We end up talking about the story and what words mean almost as much as we actually read.  Sometimes I make up stuff too.  It’s the sharing that’s important.  That’s part of what’s missing in the stories we tell each other today.  Where is the sharing, the common bonds that bind us together?

We often hear phrases like “global village,” “common humanity,” “shared future.”  But what are the stories we tell to make it real?  How do we transmit the importance (if you feel it’s important…I do obviously) of these concepts to our own personal community?  One person standing behind a podium lecturing us changes nothing.  Repeated video clips of people requesting help, challenging us to change, encouraging us to a brighter future…they may help for a time.  But stories are what endure.  Stories are what remain.

One of the best moments of the last couple years for me, came at one of the most difficult times – the death of my maternal grandfather.  He moreso than almost anyone I knew lived a life of stories.  As the last day of my grandfather’s life here on Earth began he had been moved out to the living room in his bed, so we could all be near him and present with him.  He was unconscious for most of the day, but there, at the end he woke ever so briefly – my son got to show him the last picture he ever made for him as well as some toys he’d gotten for that Christmas.  I doubt that image will ever leave my mind.  My grandfather, a man of virtue, love, laughter and stories, creating one last memory…one last story, there at the end.

We are made of stories.

The stories we tell ourselves to get by.  The stories we share with others to define how they perceive us.  The stories that are told about us that shape others outlooks on us and our actions.  The stories that make us laugh, the ones that make us cry.  The stories that bring us hope, hope that, in the end, it will all mean something.  I love telling stoires.  I love hearing stories.  They may be the same stories over and over again, but sharing them with people anew, every time they’re a little different.  I think that’s one of the reasons I like stories better than movies or novels.  A story is a living breathing evolving thing.  Just like us.

I don’t know where my story ends.  I hope not for a while.  I’m not sure of how my son’s story will turn out.  I’ll do my best to share with him the stories that I think are important.  Others will share theirs.  Hopefully mine are funnier.  He is already making his own story.  And his story, our story is impacting the lives of many others who have tied their stories to ours.  We are woven together with words.  We are the story of humanity.  One of the greatest reactions I ever got out of my Sunday School class was when I told them they are creating the next set of Bible stories.  All of us are, every day as we live, breath, love and die in this world.

You are part of someone’s story.  Maybe part of mine.  Just by reading this, you slip in, maybe not say anything, but your passing is noted.  Your interest impacts somewhere.  Stories are strange and mysterious things.  They have a way of starting one way and suddenly veering off in a totally different direction.  But in the really good ones – it all ties down together at the bottom.

Below is my eulogy I wrote for my Grandfather’s funeral.  As you read it, ask yourself this – “What’s my story?  And what’s it say about me?”

It should be noted in history, that by common consent with tear-stained cheeks and bittersweet smiles, this was one of the best Christmas’ ever.  It seems strange to say but I believe Grampie would understand, and agree.

The love and support that has been shown to me and my family has simply been overwhelming.  Couple that with the stories, the laughter and the sharing that my family has done with almost all of us here…it’s been a long time since this many of us were gathered together.

I can’t define my grandfather, but I can share with you this.  Grampie was not a particularly demonstrative man with his emotions, especially the soft-touchy feely ones, but I never have known another man whose life was so full of love.  He showered us with it.  Me, the skunk, the prune, all the George’s, we’ve never doubted his love for us.

I was blessed with a rather unique opportunity in that for eleven years I got to travel with my grandparents every summer to various reunions, sorry family camps now, all over the country.  As I’ve grown older the memories tend to blur together but there are many things I still remember, like sharing the tranatuala with Phil among others, Grampie showing me how to shake out my shoes for scorpions, him and that bag of rattlesnake eggs, grammie taking me out swimming in Lake Huron.  Grandpa teaching me how to play harmonica in the back seat of their car.  Many more memories have been shared this past week.

With mom in the hospital a lot as a child I can remember spending lots of weekends with my grandparents.  Much of that time was taken up playing games, among them Carum & Crokanal.  That was grandpa’s and mine’s special game.  We’be break out the pieces and spend what seemed like hours flicking those small wooden pieces all over the place and oh how he’d jump and laugh whenever we sent one over the edge.  Many was the time he’d get a look in his eye and nod over in grandma’s direction as she sat blissfully unaware in her chair and then grandpa would let fly and it’d land right in her lap and she’d be all a flutter. Or driving with him in the car and playing tag the bumper with the car in front, or complaining about “female drivers”, just to get grandma riled up.  Of course I couldn’t talk about him and not mention circus peanuts and licorice.  Grandpa had a special drawer where he kept his bag of circus peanuts right by the bed and he’d parcel them out every time I came over.  I was also his guinia pig when it came to hot sauces and cheese and I have to admit, my own son has suffered some of the same EEEghhhewww and AAAHHHAHHAAH as I have over the years from gorgonzola and goat milk cheese to jalapenos and habenaros.

We are a left today with a legacy of laughter and love.  I’m reminded of that even as my heart cries because of something grandpa said to me about joy.  It’s not that joy means we’ll never have pain, it’s that we believe in the hope and promise of what’s to come in the midst of our pain that we may thrive and live with glad hearts and good cheer.