Friday, December 30, 2011

Hope for the Future

On the 6th of December in 1971, I kissed my 8 1/2 month pregnant wife and boarded a flight to begin the journey that would take me to war in Vietnam.  My son was born three weeks after my departure on the second day of the new year.  I learned of his arrival  on January 5 when the Company XO greeted me with the words "Hello, Pappy!  It's a boy!"

I have seldom felt prouder or more elated.  I bought a round at the officer's club and another at our Company Bar. Later that night, I wrote letters to my wife and son expressing joy and hope for his future.

That son turns forty this week. So far, it's been a great ride.

Over the past forty years, I taught or watched my son learn to crawl, to walk, and to talk.  I've watched him play soccer, sing in a show choir, and perform in plays.  I watched him fall in love, get married and greet four children of his own.  I saw him ordained as a minister and proudly perform the wedding ceremony that united his younger sister with her intended.

I did not always approve of everything my son did or how he did it, and probably never will.  He is not me and we think and do things differently.  But over the past forty years, I've learned that I don't have to approve of all of someone's actions to love them. And even some of his misadventures turned out kind of neat.

I learned that being a parent doesn't cease when a child grows and assumes his or her rightful position as an independent, responsible and productive member of adult society. Roles and responsibilities may change, but parenthood continues.  Nothing has or could ever stop me from being my son's father, or him from being my son.  And for this, I am grateful.

Forty years ago, I was blessed with the arrival of a son, and in him, joy and hope for the future. Since then, I have felt that same joy and hope as I greeted another son, two daughters, and eight grand children.

What has similarly filled you with hope and joy?

What can you do and what are you doing to realize that hope?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fast Forward Through the Year

(A guest post by Karol J. Lodge)

Life is being fast-forwarded. 

It’s not just Christmas but the entire year. Try buying a roof rake or snow shovel to replace a broken one in February. End of season clearance is over and everything is gone or stored for next year. 

You can buy a lawn mower, rake or garden hose in February, but there are no winter coats.  Do you need a bathing suit before March?  We have plenty!

Time has changed for this generation. Looking forward to anything loses impact when, by the time it gets here, you have been marketed into looking forward to whatever is next. 

June brings the “back to school” sales with warm coats and boots. September looks past Halloween to Christmas, school supplies having been picked over long before.

Songs that were popular when we were young are now popular in advertising, maybe so we baby boomers won’t object so much to life running full force to keep up with all the great technology. 

I object to “Surfing USA”in January and “So This Is Christmas” in July but then I guess I am just not keeping up.  

So, how do you deal with life on fast forward?

How do you keep the seasons in their proper places?

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Holiday Tradition

Call me sentimental but I love Christmas -- the lights, the decorations, the carols, and the general feeling of celebration.  Most of all, I love reading or hearing the Christmas story, not in modern English, or in a paraphrase, but in the language of King James in which I first heard it as a child.  

When I was a child and young teen, the annual reading of the Christmas story was something of a family tradition.  My mother would open her Bible and begin reading with the words "Now it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus" and continuing through a journey to Bethlehem where we learn that "the days were accomplished" that Mary, "being great with child" "should be delivered".  "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, for there was no room for them in the inn." 

The picture is both wonderful and poignant -- the young couple, unable to find a room, the days being accomplished, and the birth of a son who, regardless of circumstance, was properly cared for, wrapped up and laid in the only suitable bed available.    

Next we see a band of shepherds "abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night" on a night that promised to be the same as any other.  We read that an angel of the Lord appeared and they were "sore afraid".  But the angel said "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the City of David, as savior who is Christ, the Lord." And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men."

A child? A savior? Peace? On earth? Good will to men? What is this?  The shepherds were curious and "went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger."

That is the story. 

Reading or hearing it on Christmas Eve is a family tradition.

What are your family's holiday traditions? 

How will you claim the promise of peace on earth and good will to men?

Monday, December 19, 2011

On Being Irked

I am irked.  I am officially irked.  And, even more irksome, I am irked by something I possibly could have prevented.
Allow me explain. 

I have a morning routine by which I assure that all of the essential activities get performed -- medication (check), blood glucose test (check), ID badge around neck (check), correct items in briefcase and pockets (check), coffee brewed and in travel mug (check), car keys in hand (check) -- before I go out the door and flying down the highway.

Clipping my cell phone to my belt is one of my morning routine activities performed each and every workday. I was therefore surprised last Monday to find when I reached for it, that my cell phone was not in its customary place on my belt. After thinking "Bummer, dude!" and "I must have been knocked out of sequence" I thought "No problem.  I'll pick it up when I get home."  I then promptly forgot the whole thing until Tuesday morning when I reached for my cell and noticed once again that it was not there. I relived the same conversation with myself, except this time when I got home I didn't forget to look.

I looked and my wife looked.  Then we both looked together and voila! No cell phone -- not where it was thought to be, not in any pants or jacket pocket, not among the cushions of my easy chair or slipped into the mechanism of the recliner, not on either computer table, not in the pile of half-read books that lives by my easy chair. My six-year-old but still-very-serviceable cell phone was gone, taking with it my frequently called numbers and the pictures I had yet to post to Facebook.

The last time I remember seeing it was when I turned it on after church on Sunday.  After that, I'm just not sure. Maybe the clip slipped from my belt when I removed my coat at the mall on Sunday afternoon.  Maybe it never got securely clipped to the belt after I turned it on and fell off at some unknown location.  Either way, it was gone and gone is gone. 

The bottom line is that Tuesday evening, my wife and I spent some real quality time with the nice young man at the Verizon store comisserating, getting the old phone deactivated -- I don't want anyone using my minutes but me -- and acquiring a new one, a basic dumb phone with no more features than the one it replaces.  All that remains is to manually add my contacts and frequently called numbers. 

The problem is solved.
I am still irked, but have managed to conquer the irksome experience without lasting damage to either my personality or my disposition. 

So, how do you handle life's irksome experiences?
Or do you let life's irksome experiences handle you? 
Have a great day and don't let the irksome things get to you!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Madness

This past week, for the first time in several years, I visited the mall at Tyson’s Corner Center.  I had a special gift to buy that was only available in a store at that particular mall.  The time was available to go get it and I went.  

I was extremely disheartened by the experience.    

The drive was pleasant enough. Traffic, although jammed bumper-to-bumper from the mall entrance to the parking area, was generally light.  Parking near the entrance doors was packed, but I got a good space near the exit ramp and enjoyed the walk.  Once inside, I checked the directory, found the store I wanted near the farthest point from where I was, and started walking.

Let me state for the record that Tyson’s Corner Center is not small.  Known in commercials as “where the stores are”, it is anchored by  Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Nordstom, Lord and Taylor, and Nieman Marcus and supported by over 300 other specialty stores, shops, and dining establishments.  The atmosphere is busy, bright, and ostentatious, filled with lots of shops catering to an upscale clientele.  More than other place I’ve known, "where the stores are" at Tyson’s Corner Center is both a shrine to the American gods of excess consumerism and the quest for ever more ever better stuff, and a monument to the purchasing capacity of those who have a lot more money (or a higher credit limit) than they have good sense. After all, do not we Americans believe that enough is good, more is better and too much is just about right?  

Inside the mall, one’s eyes are assaulted by too many bright lights reflected from too many mirrors and too many highly polished windows.  The ears are assaulted by too much music blaring from too many speakers.  Each establishment seems to have its own particular brand of muzak and to be in audio competition with every establishment near it.  And finally, the mind is assaulted by so many images of so many piles of so much merchandise that it is rendered incapable of appreciation, much less a decision on what to buy.  Rather, the temptation is to flit from one desirable offering or bright shiny object to the next. To the uninitiated, it is mildly frightening.

Most shoppers are “looking”, “window shopping”, or “hanging out” rather than buying. Most are totally oblivious of anyone save themselves.  And that’s sad.

I have never been one for whom shopping is considered a sport or a fun way to fritter away a slow afternoon.  My preferred mode of operation is to know what I want and where to get it and to go there, get it, and get out.  I don’t go to the mall to “hang out” or “look around”. I go to accomplish a mission.  When buying gifts, I may make an exception to the “looking around” part, but still attempt to know the kind of thing I’m looking for and where such things may be found before setting out and to focus my search on those places.  

I find myself longing for the kinder and gentler times of my childhood, when gifts were bought at local stores where you knew an were known by the proprietor and gifts were treasured because of the value of one’s relationship with the giver rather than their monetary or passing fad value.  

Long story short, I found the store, made my purchase and was back home in time to watch the end of a football game I had abandoned early in the second quarter.  I will not be going back any time soon.

So, where do you plan to shop, and what do you plan to buy this season?

And is your gift about the gift itself, or the relationship between the you and the receiver?

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Goose is Getting Fat

"Christmas is coming.
The goose is getting fat.
Please to put a penny 
In the old man's hat!"

I have a confession to make.  Most of the year, I'm a logical engineering type, a cross between Dilbert, of cartoon fame, and Star Trek's Mr. Spock.  But every December first, the clock turns back and I become a kid again, eagerly counting off the days and making all of the traditional preparations for Christmas.  

The outside lights go up shortly after Thanksgiving, a job traditionally reserved for our second son and best accomplished after dark on the coldest night of the season to date.  

At about the same time, the advent wreath and manger scene come out to assume their rightful places for the season.

The tree is put up and decorated a bit later.  We will not have a full-size tree this year, but a smaller one that will live on a table.  We are still negotiating whether to put it in the living room or downstairs with the TV.  Either place, we will have way too many decorations to use them all.

During all of our preparations we will play Christmas CDs by artists ranging from Luciano Pavarotti to Mannheim Steamroller, and it will be good.

However, at our house, it's just not Christmas until we've heard the John Denver and Muppets Christmas Album ( at least once and preferably many times more.  It may be hokey and it may be corny, but for my family  it's an unbreakable tradition.  Nothing does more to put me in the spirit of the season than to hear Mr. Denver join the muppets in "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  Nothing brings home the spirit of the season more than hearing Miss Piggy lead the muppet family in a round of "Christmas is Coming".

"Christmas is coming.
The goose is getting fat.
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat."

Christmas is not about the lights, or the tree, or the decorations, nor even about the gifts one anticipates receiving, but about the acts of kindness and mercy, charity and good-will one can do for those who can never reciprocate. 

These acts need not be large.  As the song goes on to say

"If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do."

We are not asked to give what we have not, but what we have and 

"If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you!"

Every little bit helps.  And you will be blessed.

What acts of kindness, mercy, charity, and good-will will you perform this season?

Why not make it a tradition to continue them throughout the New Year?

"and God bless you!"

Friday, December 2, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Today, we celebrate my wife's seventeenth birthday.  Lest any of you get the wrong impression, let me state unequivocally that I have but one wife and her natal day is much more than 17 years in the past.

Today, we celebrate the seventeenth anniversary of my wife's second birthday  -- the day on which she had radical breast cancer surgery and became, in the language of those who have been treated for cancer, "a survivor."  Like all birthdays, today marks a milestone.

After treatment, remaining cancer free for five years signifies a cure.  During those five years, my wife had  blood work and visited the oncologist every quarter and then every six months.  For the next five years, she visited the oncologist once a year.  On the visit corresponding to ten years cancer free, her oncologist released her with the words "I never want to see you again."  She replied "You're a nice guy, but I never want to see you again either".  That was seven years ago. Today, follow-up consists of an annual mammogram and regularly scheduled periodic physical.

Surviving cancer or any serious threat changes one's outlook.  For the survivor and those close to her there is no such thing as "just another day".  Rather, each day is recognized as the extraordinary gift and occasion for gratitude that it is, each breath and each moment as an occasion for joy.  The sun shines brighter; the rain falls more gently; birds sing more sweetly; kittens, and puppies and squirrels are cuter and more wonderful; and time spent with family and friends becomes more precious as do the people themselves.

It is written somewhere that "You have never lived until you have almost died.  To those who have fought for it, life has a flavor the protected will never know." A survivor knows that the statement is true.

Both my wife and I are truly grateful for the last seventeen years, in celebration of which we plan to drink wine and eat ice cream.  And for all of the days remaining to us, we will celebrate the blessing that is each day.

Is your day a gift or a burden to you?

What do you plan to do about it?