Return To Sender (Birds & Blooms)

Elvis Presley put it this way in his 1962 hit song, didn’t he?

“Return to sender. Address unknown. No such person. No such zone.”

But that is not exactly how I felt yesterday when I opened mail from the magazine, Birds and Blooms, mailed to my mother at this address. Mother has been deceased for 20 months now. But the magazine was offering her a greatly discounted subscription.

I will not venture a guess as to what level of consciousness or awareness the dead possess right now; what they can see, fathom, or feel in the great beyond. Hades, the unseen realm, holds mysteries I have yet to understand with much clarity (although the story in Luke 16 seems to indicate there is keen awareness). But I suspect that if mother wants to read Birds and Blooms in her present location she can get a rate far better than the one offered down here.

I cannot imagine her not reading. She was an avid reader. And she loved beauty.

Unlike the woman described in Elvis’s unrequited love song, however, I will not return the mail to its sender saying, “Address unknown.” And I will not state, “No such person. No such zone.”

I know her address (I am sure a designation of general delivery is adequate); I know there is, indeed, such a person. And I know there is a zone in which she now lives (even though the exact zip plus four may not be available). At any rate, Dad is there with her, and . . . he used to work for the post office years ago, so . . . they’ll get their mail.

Passover began this week. And Easter is almost upon us.

And although I am careful not to make this blog one in which I deal with many spiritual matters (if you are interested in my attempt at honestly discussing spiritual matters, please see http://www.thegodstory.wordpress.com), there are times when the overlap is hard to avoid.

In a few days we will hide plastic eggs in our yard, and our 3 year old grandson (along with our grown and married children) will hunt for them. Then we will be joined by other family members, eat a delightful breakfast (intentionally not avoiding nitrates for a change), and celebrate resurrection.

Now here is where some of my readership may be tempted to “click” off this site, and move on. But I hope you do not. Because my intentions are far from intrusive. Let me explain what I mean.

Every year at this time we witness the rebirth of plants: trees blooming, flowers budding, grass sprouting. The pollen which frustrates so many of us plants itself all over everything in hopes that there will be a chance at germination, and new life. Our word “spring” is a reflection of this resurrection motif; that which appears to be dead and lifeless now gushes, surges, blossoms into living color.

Right now the dogwoods are in full bloom, and the azaleas are dazzling. I am particularly fond of the redbuds. Petunias will make their debut, and countless plants of astounding beauty (like the rose, the hyacinth, the iris) will enthrall us with their matchless visages.

In the moments when I can lower the handkerchief from my face, take off the mask that protects me from pollen . . . I am undone. Impressive is hardly forceful enough. Flabbergasted may come close. Astounded. Enthralled. All are attempts at describing the inflation of the heart, the rapture of the soul, the boundless appreciation that results when you witness something of exquisite and incomprehensible beauty.

And it happens every year. Just like clockwork.

The Bradford Pear trees announce its coming, and are almost always frozen back into place before spring actually arrives (like they didn’t get the memo). And the daffodils follow suit, taking their cue from the misguided pears, and join in the apparent false alarm. But . . . then it comes. It finally does come.

I cannot imagine my mother and father no longer existing any more than a scientist can imagine matter no longer existing; matter may take a different form, but it does not cease to exist.

“For out of it (the ground) you were taken;
for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
(Genesis 3:19b)

Resurrection, resurgence, is part and parcel of our lives, too; not just the plant world. We fall down, and then we “stand up” again (Greek, anastasis); we are defeated, but then we “rise.” Our hopes and dreams die, but then . . . they are revived.

Without new life, new beginnings – we would all be utterly miserable, and in despair. But built into life itself is this fascinating and rejuvenating phenomenon, this revitalization, this – resurrection (if you will).

That is what I see when I look at the spring! Life!

Again!

As the Apostle Paul stood and made his defense before the Jewish King Agrippa many years ago, he made a curious but insightful statement as he attempted to counter the political charges brought against him. He said,

“Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?”
(Acts 26:8)

It is not incredible at all. For we see the natural pattern of it demonstrated every year at this time.

Amazing? Yes!

Incredible? No!

Rebirth and renewal is “in our DNA” (so to speak).

Observe it.

Celebrate it.

Claim it.

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Sunday Morning Musings (45 minutes at Dunkin’ Donuts)

Watching people eating, interacting, working . . . with George Strait singing in the background.

Cars arrive at the drive thru, people place their orders of sugar and/or caffeine then drive away. A constant stream of humanity.

A father negotiates breakfast rules with two young children obviously on their way to church; one child is compliant, the other is not.

The store manager comes out to talk with me, because we have more than just a doughnut/bagel relationship. He talks of his family, his life “by the grace of God,” he says. He once played professional soccer, and plans to coach at some future point, when the time is right.

There is jocularity, laughter, good will. At times I do not understand each and every word the manager says with his Indian accent, but it is all right. We are friends.

I am sixty now, and I ponder the remainder of my life. I want it to count: influencing others, bringing joy to my family, learning how to live meaningfully.

Life slips by . . . days, weeks, months, years. I want to keep my eyes open.

A heavy and heavily tattooed young man sits nearby with a girl who might be his sister or daughter; he belches, then utters a muffled obscenity. And I am reminded of the prejudice I need to surrender.

Humanity is a mixed bag, isn’t it? But what we all share far outweighs our visible differences.

A cool early spring rain is on the way, they say. We all hope it will clear the air of the yellow pollen that has accumulated on all the cars.

Cleansing . . . is what we all need, I suspect.

An older man (like me) I know from the gym just came in. We have acknowledged each other for many weeks; time to exchange names today, perhaps.

The young tattooed man, attached to his iPhone, just asked the young girl with him, “how is your story?” (she is reading a book). She responds, then he chuckles and jovially, supportively says, “pretty good!”

Maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all.

Time to go meet my gym friend at his table. “Dave? Nice to meet you. I’m Ivan. Now I’ll know what to call you when I see you at the gym!”

The manager comes out, shakes my hand, then . . . embraces me, and asks if I want more coffee. I decline, then quickly say goodbye to each of the five employees there as I depart.

It occurs to me: of all the beauty apparent in springtime – the flowers, grass, trees . . . none of it comes close to the beauty I see in all these human beings around me, today. Their faces . . . are like flowers in my life.

I will breathe deeply.

Oops! Gotta watch that pollen in the air!

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A Moving Tale

I am in the middle of some major life transitions, changes that are welcome yet challenging at the same time.

I am moving the office for my part-time job to a location 10 minutes from my home. This job actually began in a way similar to this: almost 20 years ago I moved the office from the Indianapolis, Indiana area to a location within walking distance from my my home in Red Bank, Tennessee. But not long after that the business was moved to Atlanta, Georgia and I began a commute which could take anywhere from 35 to 75 minutes (and you never knew which it would be).

Less driving in the “big city” traffic will be a welcome change.

But the process of culling through decades of materials and shredding the chaff, moving furniture to the middle of the room to prepare for wall painting, enduring paint fumes and paint dust, working in a space that even a mouse would find confining, and not knowing where anything is anymore – these I could do without! All this while trying to stay abreast of new leads, and keep the normal business going.

Such is change, I suppose. It is both a welcome guest and an impertinent intruder.

My wife is in transition, too. The bookstore where she has worked part-time for 6 and 1/2 years is closing its doors in late April. In some ways it will be a relief for her, but in other ways a sad goodbye to a place (and a group of people) where she has contributed her heart. Social security will kick in to keep us off the streets (hopefully). And I told her that now she can say to people, “I am on a fixed income.”

My youngest daughter is being forced to change jobs at the end of this week; the company where she has worked these past few years is now not able to pay her for the excellent work she does, and she begins a new job on Monday. A hard transition for her, but it is fortunate she has something else to go to, I suppose. The pain for her is great. Nevertheless . . . here she goes.

Spring is upon us, and the last surprise snow storm and snap of cold weather may be about to be history. Flowers are raising their pretty little heads, and soon the sound of mowers and blowers will be heard on a regular basis again. The HVAC man was here to check our AC system today; all is in order for the warm months ahead.

Change.

Transition.

The stuff of life. Right?

Seasons in the weather. Seasons in our lives. We must let go of the past in order to embrace the future. Or as my friend PK puts it: “You take all the emotion and intensity of the loss and face it. And then you go get a new dream based on the new reality.” (Home Run, by Kevin Myers and John C. Maxwell, p. 185 – published in 2014 by FaithWords).

We are all obsessed with how it’s going to look, aren’t we? Our future, that is. What’s it going to look like? Will I be OK with it? Will everything be all right? Will I be happy?

In my life there have been many changes: moves across the country (several times), job changes, career changes, different standards of living, friendships lost, and different friendships created. But in each new setting I can honestly say the rewards have far outweighed the costs.

Recently I gave notice that I was not returning to one of my part-time jobs, one I have held for the past 11 years, and one in which I have delighted. The timing just . . . seemed right. One could make the case that I was giving up a “sure thing,” passing up an opportunity that was open to me, one that had stood the test of time. And yes, I had those discussions in my heart of hearts, and in my head. But still, it seemed right to make a move. I followed my heart.

I am reminded of the old Randy Travis song where total abandon and heartfelt venturing push us to have “no doubts” and “no fears,” then lead up to the exclamation we make to our souls:

“Look, heart!  No hands.”

Riding a bike (as in the song) . . . and living a life . . . are not so very different. Of course, Mr. Travis is singing about love and interdependence. But he hearkens back to our memories of youth, because he knows we all – at one time or another – tried on the mantle of abandon. Or . . . at least we dreamed of wearing it.

In adulthood we long to be settled; we strive to find stability, predictability, emotional equilibrium. Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with the oft quoted line,

“only insofar as we are unsettled is there any hope for us.”

We try to construct a house of cards all around us. Then a gust of wind blows them down. Or we build ourselves a tower out of matchsticks, only to watch them tumble to the floor. It matters not what great care we took to construct our chosen edifice; eventually it will come down. For change . . . is what is constant, is what is lasting, is . . . what we can expect.

And so we move.

Sometimes we have to “have a funeral and get a new dream” (John C. Maxwell, p. 184 of Home Run,referenced above). Of course, that is usually when things don’t go as we’ve planned. The truth is, even when they do go as we’ve planned, we must make changes. It is part and parcel of life.

The key is not to focus on the changes all around us; rather, to foster a stability inside us that can ebb and flow with whatever external transitions may come. We become adaptable, flexible, adjustable, versatile. We learn to “walk with kings,” but not “lose the common touch” (to quote Rudyard Kipling’s, If, one of my father’s favorite poems).

You see – we will be OK. That’s the truth of the matter.

In fact . . . we will be better for it.

And eventually, as we learn how to let go of things, embrace change . . . and move . . . we may one day find ourselves speeding downhill with our hair blowing in the wind. Living without regret, without apology.

Enjoying the ride. Hands held high in the breeze.

And we may form the words with our mouth:

Look, heart!”

“No hands.”

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The Corvette Stingray: A Love Story

It’s hard to tell where my taste for certain foods originated; why grilled hamburgers are so absolutely wonderful, why ice cream cries out to be enjoyed by the bowl full, why good coffee sometimes just hits the spot. But my love for cars . . . and one car in particular . . . that can easily be tied to one specific memory.

My father’s black 1951 Plymouth will always hold a special place in my memory. And the 1963 Plymouth Fury (push button automatic) was the white chariot he used to transport us across the country to our new home in Arizona in the summer of 1963. The Fury eventually became mine in December 1974. And from that time on I have made my own additions (1976 Volkswagon Rabbit, 1983 Pontiac Bonneville, 1988 Chevy Celebrity wagon, 1995 Chevy Lumina, 2000 Chevy Metro, 2000 Dodge Caravan, 2001 Chevy Metro, and a 2004 Toyota Corolla – my father’s posthumous gift to me).

But they all pale in comparison to the Corvette Stingray.

When I was a young teen I got to ride in a Corvette Stingray. I think this is the only time I have ever had a ride in a Corvette. I sat in one just a couple of months ago; it was brand new, and the owner was kind enough to let me gawk up close. But that is it! That is the extent of my experience with Corvettes.

And yet . . . I love them. I am enthralled with them. I even collect 1/32 scale metal models of them.

The ride I took was with an older friend named Alfred (who was quite the playboy); it was a mid to late 60s Corvette (I can’t be certain of the year). I was in late junior high school, or possibly the 9th grade (the first year of high school in AZ).

That car could turn “on a dime” (as my Daddy used to say). It was a dark sparkling blue color if my memory serves me correctly. The power and acceleration were remarkable!

And that is the extent of my up-close exposure to Corvettes. Not impressive, is it? But that’s all it took.

One car. One ride. One memory. But a lifetime of effect.

And that amazes me, quite frankly! I guess it could be like so many other things I have wished for, i.e. once you have them you really aren’t that happy with them, and you find it was the longing for them that really possessed you, not the thing itself.

Naaaahhhhhhhhhh!

Not a chance! Have you SEEN a Corvette?

What is arresting to me is the thought that one exposure to something, or someone, can set a person on a course that lasts a lifetime. That . . . is profound, indeed.

And it leaves me wondering how seriously I take the effect I bring to my relationships. The words I say, the actions I engage in. I wonder what longings my two daughters will carry with them through their lives, longings that I helped create (possibly by one act, one word). I wonder what effect I will have on my wife, my grandson. And others.

People are like walking indelible ink stamps; we go about our day marking the folks with whom we interact, stamping them with our own unique badge, our logo, the ensign that represents the world inside us. And yet, sometimes we are in awe of the wreckage we leave in our wake, or by contrast – the good that results. We are clueless. Unaware that our words, our actions could matter so much.

But they do.

Matter.

When I turned 50 years old a decade ago my family surprised me with a trip to Austria. Six days (including travel) of adventure that I will never forget: Salzburg and Mozart, Vienna and Beethoven, Easter in Franz Joseph Haydn’s church, the Sound of Music tour. Amazing!

That trip also included a trip to Mauthausen, a German concentration camp near Linz. Unforgettable . . . in its own right. The “hills” were “alive” that day, but not with the sound of music; rather, the ghostly cries of the hopeless.

I have been marked forever by both the beauty I saw in Austria – and the horror.

It is not likely I will have an opportunity to return to Austria in my lifetime. So . . . one visit will have to suffice. But sometimes . . . that’s all it takes to make an indelible impression.

But we were talking about the Corvette . . . it is so easy for me to wander off topic, isn’t it?

Corvette celebrated its 60th anniversary last year in 2013, so . . . I guess we are the same age! I think it came off the production line in June 1953; I didn’t come off the production line until November that same year. Nevertheless, we come by our symbiotic relationship naturally.

(Can symbiosis be one-sided? You see, I doubt Corvette knows I even exist!).

Today promises to be an absolutely beautiful day. Plenty of sunshine. Mild temperatures with a bold hint of spring. And so far, the dog and I are the only ones out of bed (Daylight Saving began overnight). I don’t think I have made any indelible impressions yet today, but . . . who knows what the day may bring?

And there is a good chance if I am out and about today – I’ll see a Corvette. Top down, anyone?

IMG_0438
My 2004 Toyota Corolla and I being introduced to a 2014 Corvette.
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Not Until You Say “Uncle”

It was just a phrase that children used to say in a wrestling match when one child would get the upper hand; the beaten child would have to say “uncle” in order to be released from the debilitating grasp of the superior fighter. The origin of the phrase is uncertain, but it may have come from a 19th century British joke about a talking parrot. No one knows.

Stating the word uncle indicated a spirit of acquiescence, concession, admission that one was in submission to a greater force, a higher power (at least for the moment). I never liked using expressions of this sort when I was a boy; I thought they sounded silly, made no sense to me, and so I refrained. Well . . . I refrained unless the bigger boy who had me down on the ground demanded it of me; in that case I offered it quickly, albeit reluctantly in my mind.

As an adult I have had to say “uncle” on a number of occasions. Not typically while I was in a headlock, of course; rather, in moments so oppressive and so inescapable that acquiescence was my only choice. Dashed dreams. Relationship failures. Disappointments of various kinds.

Losses.

Each situation was one from which I could not escape, a devastating loss that stared in my face and would not turn away. I could choose to try to ignore it (which was impossible), deny it, move away from it, or disregard it. Of course, these choices were a tactic doomed to failure. Ultimately, I had to face the dilemma, embrace the wreckage, and acknowledge the devastating event, before I could move on with my life.

In other words I had to say “uncle.”

Until I did so, I remained in a prison of denial, a fantasy land which offered no real joy, but a land where the light grew more and more dim as the time of denial persisted, until it approximated the dingy, gloomy, and cheerless atmosphere I used to see in soap operas on our small RCA black and white television in the 1950s and early 60s.

I lost two important men in my life this past week. They both died on the same day, hours apart, in adjoining states. They were the husbands of my mother’s two sisters. One was 92, the other 86.

And I said, “Uncle.”

I said uncle because they were both uncles to me. And I said uncle because the loss was such that I could hardly bear the pain, but could not turn away. I had to relinquish them to the grip of death. I had to acquiesce and submit to a higher power. I could offer my love and condolences to my cousins and their families, but . . . I had no power to alter the reality of the loss.

When I said uncle as a boy I was released from the vice grip of my adversary, and the wrestling match came to an end. But as an adult – the relief that comes is not instantaneous; the wrestling and struggling do not cease quickly; I submit, I give up, I surrender – but the pain is still there. It does not let go so easily.

Both of these men had an impact on my life. And they were true and faithful spouses to my aunts. They leave behind children with the highest ideals, and aging mates – both challenged with Alzheimer’s. But the legacy of these two men will live on; their values will outlive them in the generations to follow. Such was the influence of their character.

So . . . I will say, “uncle.”

Life (and death) will demand it of me.

In truth, I said “uncle” when I lost my father, then once again when I lost my mother. I said it when my niece suddenly passed away, and one of my friends lost his battle with cancer. I said it thirteen times last year. And I’ve already said it several times this year.

But my wrestling match with life continues. Acceptance eventually brings some relief, a brief reprieve, a welcome lull, an intermission. Then once again I will be brought to my knees, right-sized, remade, reshaped. And I will say, “uncle.”

I am learning (as the years go by) more and more to be a man of faith. And although many readers of The Lost Story do not share my faith, I would be remiss if I did not tell you that my two departed uncles were both men of faith, too.

You see, when I say uncle I am admitting pain, acknowledging loss, admitting powerlessness, and grieving; but I am not undone. I am not beside myself. Not without hope.

And so . . . when I am forced to the ground, when I have been bested, when my strength is not adequate to the task . . . you may watch as my lips form the word uncle, but rest assured . . .

I am far from vanquished.

I hold a sword at my side.

Posted in Aging Parents, Assisted Living, Family History, Fathers, Nursing Homes, Stories, Uncategorized, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Do You Own Your Story?

When I was a little boy growing up in East Tennessee in the 1950s I never recall wanting to be someone else.

But as years went by I began to notice things about other people, e.g. their possessions, their appearance, their talents, etc. And it wasn’t long before I actually wanted to be someone other than who I was; I wanted to be the person I was awed by on the TV; I wanted to be the athlete at school who was so admired; I wanted to be the successful student in college who seemed to know exactly what he wanted to do with his life.

In adulthood there was a continuation of this fantasy, but it took a more subtle form. By this stage of life I had come to realize I could not be that other person. But the fantasy still gnawed away at me anyway, making me feel like a failure, causing me to see myself as less than others, making me demean myself and reduce my life to fit the smallness I felt.

When you listen to the story of another person’s life you can either appreciate it for what it is, or you can wish to make it your own. The trouble is, all the while you are vacillating between these two, you are also living your own life, writing your own story, filling the pages of your own book. Even when you are unaware of it.

Which leads me to ask the question, “Do you own your story?”

When I was a child my father used to tell stories about the various occupations he had had in his early years: steward on the railroad, repossession agent, sandwich deliverer, ice plant worker, etc. And I was fascinated by all those jobs. I wanted a life like that (I thought). Then as I grew older I began to see that might not have been the most successful employment history to accrue.

Nevertheless, it was Dad’s story. And I loved him, varied employment story and all!

By the way . . . I got my childhood wish. I could give you a laundry list of all the different jobs I’ve done in my lifetime.

Sometimes, that bothers me.

But as I grow older, I have come to see it all very differently.

Our life stories are like that, you know. The proverbial “grass is always greener” in the story of someone else. My story. Well . . . that’s just – MY story. You know. Nothing special.

Not so!

It is, indeed, very special. Unrepeatable. Without parallel. Unique. Not to be compared with anyone else.

I have written (but have yet to publish) a brief essay on orchestration in life; one day I may share that with you all. Whether you are a person who believes in supernatural direction in your life, or you are more comfortable with the belief that it is all random, you still must admit that factors converge in our lives and relationships are enmeshed in such a way that certain events occur and particular alliances are solidified.

Human beings tend to rank those events and alliances; we decide which ones to consider valuable. That’s one thing that makes celebrity so important to us, isn’t it? It’s why we esteem the CEO of Ford Motor Company more than the Brook Park, Ohio assembly line worker. It’s why we value the political opinion of a Hollywood actor over the employee at Chick-fil-A.

And . . . perhaps most damaging of all (and incongruous to boot) . . . we turn and judge ourselves in this same way. Our own life story is put under the fantasy microscope. And we (and it is no surprise) – come up short.

As I have stated in the video explaining the origin and intent of this blog (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cL1pdOSyj4), your own story is more than worthy of being made into a blockbuster movie. I truly believe that.

I began to sense this about my own story not too many years ago. You see, I no longer wish I was someone else. My aim in life now is to be the best version of ME that I can be. As my friend, Landon Saunders used to say, “if you try to be someone other than yourself you can never be more than second best.”

The aspirations in my life, the successes and failures, the triumphs and disasters, the “agony and the ecstasy” (thank you, Irving Stone); these are mine. And mine alone. I own them. I do not love them all. But I embrace them. They have combined in such a way as to make me who I am. And although I would love to go back and rewrite some of my life history (lop off a bit here, shave off a bit there), I must “relinquish all hope of ever changing the past.”

The truth is, like the repeated anthem in the subject of time travel, to change these parts of my life would alter things in such a way as to make my life unrecognizable, not to mention the effect it would have on the life story of others. [I don't mean to cheapen my point by directing you to movies and books of fiction; it's just that I know most of us have at one time or another considered the what ifs of this scenario.]

Five years ago my father lay on his deathbed. I can tell you right now that his career path was not on my mind in his final weeks. I was proud of the man he was (imperfections and all) separate and apart from any occupation he had had, or any title he had been given. It’s not that it mattered little. It’s that it didn’t matter at all.

Your story and my story have similarities and dissimilarities, points of identification and points that would bewilder the wisest of sages. If your story contains great disappointments – you qualify. If it has moments of helium-filled elation – you qualify. If it consists of seemingly endless vistas of boredom and sameness – you qualify.

Own your story!

Embrace the unrepeatable, unique treasure that is your life. Your journey is your saga (to borrow from Old Norse); it is the stuff of legend. Triumph has no meaning unless there has been disaster or near-disaster. And love cannot exist where there is no loss, or chance of loss.

And so, let me ask the question again: Do you own your story?

You know, you carry it with you whether or not you care to recognize it. You could build on it, if you’re willing to acknowledge it. And others can benefit from it, if you’ll choose to tell it. If that brings shame, it can also bring honor. If that exposes hurts, it can also engineer healing.

Own your story! If you do . . . there is no telling where your journey may take you.

“By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.”
(Samwise Gamgee, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings)
Our Story took us out west, summer 1963. Our lives would never be the same.

Our Story took us out west, summer 1963. Our lives would never be the same.

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The Biggest Loser (Losing BIG)

My youngest daughter is to blame, of course.

She’s the one who introduced us to The Biggest Loser and the celebrity fitness gurus, i.e. Jillian, Bob, and Dolvett. We watched the 15th season on Hulu and finally caught up with the regular TV broadcasts so that we were able to see the Live Finale this past Tuesday, February 4, 2014.

You just can’t watch the life stories of individuals, their failures, triumphs, brokenness, strivings . . . without becoming emotionally involved. And, of course, the thing we all look for, the thing that enthralls us the most perhaps, is their transformation. We watch them morph before our every eyes in a matter of weeks.

We lamented the exit of several contestants (yes, this is a game, a competition isn’t it?) we had grown to love, and cringed as some others returned or remained (names will be withheld to protect the innocent – actually, to protect me).

But results are results. And television is television. So, in the end, three were left standing, each one vying for the $250,000 prize money. And then a larger group of others who had previously exited the show competed for the $100,000 prize money (the ones who had been forced to continue their training/weight loss at home, on their own).

When Tumi appeared on the stage we were so impressed; she had lost just over 54% of her original body weight, and she looked tremendous. She had become a distance runner. And when she won the $100,000 prize we were so pleased (even though we rooted for Craig as well).

But when we saw Rachel we were shocked (to put it mildly). Evidently, Jillian and Bob were shocked as well (the camera caught their surprise when she appeared on stage). We had rooted for her throughout the season, because she was relentless in her training; mentally she was a tigress in her ascent toward the goal.

And I will not in any way take that away from her. She worked hard to achieve what she achieved. The last time we saw her before the Finale she looked like a vivacious and vibrant 24 year old. But that night – she appeared old; her face was drawn, without color. And her arms hung by her side like slender sticks. She had been around 150 pounds, but on the night of the Finale she weighed in at 105 (losing 59% of her original body weight).

This thought occurred to me: I wonder if she could survive even one day of training on The Ranch in this condition?

Opinions expressed in social media have multiplied exponentially on this subject in the last two days. And I hope Rachel is able to weather this divergent attention emotionally; it would be hard for anyone. Ironically, the lovely and talented Karen Carpenter died exactly 31 years ago to the date (February 4, 1983) as the result of a heart attack brought on by rapid weight gain as she recovered from anorexia.

But what concerns me more is this: what do we lose when we catapult the appearance of our body to a status it was never meant to have?

I know this is controversial. And I must admit I go to the gym as many days per week as I can arrange; I hate to miss. Last week a friend of mine and I were discussing whether or not this was an “addiction” or “dedication.” Ken said, “All right, let’s do this! We won’t come to the gym to exercise for three weeks. If we can do that, then it’s not an addiction!”

We both declined to participate in the test.

We all want to look good. And we all want to be healthy. Extremes are what we need to avoid. We all know this. But we also sometimes consider the proverb, “if a little is good, then more is better.”

What is good . . . if taken to excess, can become bad. A beautiful story of struggle and triumph . . . can morph into a tale of corruption and unspeakable disaster. There is a reason Overeaters Anonymous says that overeating and anorexia are two faces of the same disease.

One thing I appreciate about The Biggest Loser is that the trainers focus not only on the outward shape of the contestant’s body, but on the internal struggles and failures that cause them to overeat. Not without surprise, this above all things, makes the show fun and rewarding to watch.

In my pursuit to be the biggest loser,  i.e. to conquer the demons that hold me down in my life, I do not want to Lose Big as well. That is, when all is said and done, and I stand on the scale that measures my true self: my body, my spirit, my emotional well being, my psyche, etc., I don’t want to see the body of Adonis with the spirit of Aporia.

We have become enamored with the shape of our bodies. And in large part we evaluate our relative worth by our appearance. If we look good, we are good. If we look bad, well . . . we need to get help. Soon. But inside . . . in our heart of hearts . . . we can be in an endless desert.

When that desert is depicted visibly in our bodily shape, others may encourage us to get assistance, and come to our aid. But when that desert is covered over with the mirage of physical fitness, our six pack may obfuscate the disillusionment that lies just beneath the surface.

So . . . I am off to the gym! I have about 10 pounds to lose (yes . . . , again). I know I will never be the biggest loser.

And . . . I plan to live in a way that assures I will not lose big.

The only way to avoid losing big in this life is to integrate body and soul, flesh and spirit, sinew and psyche.

My best to you on your journey, Rachel.

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