The Ring

Fifteen years ago my marriage was in a shambles. I had done 24 years of damage to our relationship and, as Malcolm X said regarding JFK’s assassination, “the chickens” had “finally come home to roost.”

We were at a breaking point, several events serving as the final catalysts of our destruction; we were headed for divorce.

We had just celebrated our 24th anniversary when some secret damning information came to light; the demise of our relationship was on the horizon, and I started to plan the way I would explain our separation to friends.

I won’t bore you with the sordid details, but suffice it to say I gained some valuable insights in the ensuing weeks; these came from conversations with friends (both past and present) as well as strangers in a support group I had joined. The crumbling marriage held together somehow, and we began to make slow progress toward restitution.

In my support group I was given literature to read, and in the process of reading I came across a phrase that stopped me in my tracks. It was “commitment of permanency.” When I read the phrase I realized it was something I had never had in my marriage. I did not even know how to be fully committed, fully invested, totally involved in any relationship.

As I began to learn more about myself, and face the deleterious behaviors I had embraced, I realized that “commitment of permanency” was a quality I aspired to possess, and I set my mind and heart to the task.

My wife had given me back her wedding band in disgust. So . . . unbeknownst to her, I carried it in my front right pants pocket each day; it rested inside the circle of my own wedding band (which I had removed as well), symbolically encompassed by my protection, my love, my new commitment.

Symbols are interesting things. Clearly, they are not the substance which they represent,  and they can be as hollow as empty words. On the other hand . . . they can be as powerful as a battle flag that rallies the troops, or a shiny badge that carries with it the whole vested authority of a sovereign nation.

I took my chosen symbol seriously. I carried those two rings, one encircling the other, for many weeks. Because for me, it was significant that I learn how to shield, guard, prize, cherish, and encompass my chosen bride. I was reminded of the framed counted cross stitch we had been given at our wedding; it read,

“Choose Thy Love. Love Thy Choice.”

I could not afford a diamond engagement ring when we were planning to be married (39 years ago now), and as the years passed it seemed a needless expense. But a decade and one-half ago I made that a new priority. I picked out a diamond ring, surreptitiously paid on it for six months, then planned the special way I would present it on our 25th anniversary in Charleston, SC.

After we recited our marriage vows to one another, we exchanged rings (except that I had secretly replaced her wedding band with the new diamond ring for this occasion). It served to mark an anniversary that would not have happened at all had I not honored the new reality those rings symbolized in my heart.

Our relationship has steadily improved since those days. Now we are true partners. Not perfect, mind you. But best of friends, nonetheless.

And it all began . . . with a ring.

I was just reminded of all this today as I listened to Craig Groeschel talk about the book, “From This Day Forward.”

And I was prompted to write this brief synopsis of my experience with rings, because – in a very real sense, by all accounts, our story should have ended 15 years ago.

But it did not.

A large ring surrounded a smaller ring. And in that nested place of refuge a new relationship was born. The never ending circle of the ring tells the tale, and symbolizes the beauty that can be found – in the refusal to ever give up.

Posted in Family History, Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Bourne Veracity

Matt Damon may once again breathe life into his alter ego, Jason Bourne. A 2016 release date has been mentioned, but it is still unclear if production will happen at all, so don’t get too excited just yet. Nevertheless, if you are a Bourne fan it’s hard not to get at least a tiny thrill out of the idea of this proposed sequel.

This is due, in part, to the excellent acting of Matt Damon who seems to grace every movie he is in with a unique flair that is his and his alone. But the Robert Ludlum stories are classic in their own right, so the two go hand-in-hand to produce an unbeatable package.

Some think the name “Bourne” is a reference to 19th century Ansel Bourne whose “dissociative fugue” (loss of identity and memory) became famous in psychological circles, but it is hard to establish this with any certainty, although it sounds quite plausible to me.

I must admit that when I woke up this morning and lay quietly in bed the word “bourne” came to mind. But I was not thinking of the movie; rather, the phrase from Hamlet, i.e. “from whose bourn no traveler returns . . . .”

That is, I was thinking about my mother and father, both departed from this world.

“Bourne” means boundary, limit, goal, or destination [evidently, bourne and bourn are the same word with a variant spelling]. And Shakespeare’s reference in Hamlet’s soliloquy is clearly describing death, that “undiscovered country” from which visitors never return. And I woke up this morning thinking, “where are they?”

The thought is not a new one for me, of course. It visits me regularly.

Religious faith offers some answers to this question, of course. But it is devoid of the kind of detail I seek. Well meaning persons can sometimes pontificate on the subject, but in the final analysis their words often lack credibility.

So, what assurances are we left with? Can our departed loved ones see us? Do they care about what happens on earth? Can they offer assistance to us in difficult situations? [The questions are endless].

Friends and relatives of mine who are of the atheistic persuasion believe that when you die you are “like Rover, dead all over” (as the preachers used to say when I was a boy). And my intention in writing this today is not to argue that point. It is merely to make some observations about which I’ve been thinking.

When life departs from a person, I mean the moment the last breath is drawn . . . the soberness of the moment is astounding; the silence is deafening. The moment is sacred even if the departed one is not someone you know.

But if you know the man or woman, or if you are a close friend or family member, the moment of his/her passing has a gravity that rivals Jupiter; you may gasp for air or even grow faint. And if you are not affected in this kind of way you will, no doubt, find that your emotions are arrested, held captive by the momentous event you have just witnessed.

Something monumental has occurred. Of that, there is no doubt.

Is it simply because every person is important to someone else? And so we instinctively and naturally respond with compassion when someone departs this earth, even if we don’t know him/her?

Or is it that the gift of life itself is so unbelievably valuable to us that we agonize over its passing whenever we see it go?

My father crossed a boundary almost 6 years ago, a bourne from which he has not returned. My mother reached that same destination 2 1/2 years ago, and I have not seen her since. Others relatives and close friends have made that same journey. Either they have gone nowhere and have simply ceased to exist, or they have passed into an alternate state and will eventually reappear in another form in the circle of life, or . . . they have indeed reached a destination, crossed a boundary, entered a realm with a one-way door – and they are there now.

[BTW, Christian people find it all-important that Jesus crossed this same boundary and yet returned; this is the bedrock of their faith. My parents shared this faith, as do I.]

Life is so sacred. Relationships so precious. Living is an invaluable gift. Existence such a privilege. Awareness is priceless.

I cannot conceive of it just ending. Everything in me finds sonority, enjoys resonance, when I entertain thoughts of a life after this one. Does that prove anything about where my parents currently reside? Of course not.

But it is consonant.

After all, if Jason Bourne can be resurrected for another episode . . . anything is possible. In fact, it would seem inconceivable . . . if he did not return.

Posted in Aging Parents, Family History, Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Waiting . . . for Snowfall

Many businesses are closed today. Schools are playing it safe, too. After all, just one year ago Atlanta was inundated with a winter storm that snarled traffic literally for “days” and the Governor (and other officials) were given a sound verbal thrashing by stranded citizens and parents of school children who had to spend untold hours on their school buses.

So today, they are playing it close to the chest (so to speak). “It’s coming,” they say. But the forecast is changing slightly. Now it looks like more rain than anything else. And it may come later than expected.

And I am home, too; the job I was supposed to go to today was canceled late last night. Of course, there are always things to do. But . . . I am still left in somewhat of a holding pattern – like a jet airplane waiting its turn to land or on a runway waiting in a long line of planes for take off.

Waiting disrupts everything.

And in the end you want the waiting to have been worth something, don’t you? Almost to the extent that even if you are waiting on another Snowmageddon or Snowpocalypse (as some termed it last year) you find yourself disappointed if it does not occur. Then we accost the meteorologists, deriding their computerized weather models, and vowing never to trust them again. At least . . . until the next time a weather disaster is predicted.

Instead of being glad we were made safe, and no weather disaster occurred, we are angry that our normal way of life was disrupted “for nothing” (as we put it).

We cannot be pleased, can we? We border on insufferable with our attitudes sometimes.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to me how life patterns become so ingrained in us that change to them leaves us in a state of confusion. It becomes hard to order the day because our normal routine has been upset; the things we normally do as a matter of course are not done, and it is as if the absence of those habitual procedures leave us stranded and without a compass.

We manufacture our own personal Snowmageddon sans the snow. We leave our vehicles in the middle of the interstate highway of our lives, and begin to walk . . . rather, trudge through unfamiliar terrain. It is cold, bleak, and disturbing to us.

Give me routine.

I know some folks seem to thrive on the unpredictable, and for them the more uncharted the day – the better! I am not one of those persons.

And I am not ashamed of that!

I dare say that waiting is not in anyone’s hip pocket. As I mentioned in the previous blog article, it is hard for all of us. Clearly, there are lessons to be learned as we wait (if only we will learn them), and we can train ourselves to be more adaptable to altered life situations. And I promise to work on this skill if only . . . if only you would go ahead and give me back my routine (for goodness sake)!

So, here I sit. Here I wait. I thought I could at least write about it as the time passes.

In another hour or two the cold rain will likely begin, followed in the wee hours of the morning by some snowfall (or so they say). Temperatures will hover around freezing in the early morning, then give way to milder temperatures that should melt anything that has accumulated up to that time. So, tomorrow promises to be a bit closer to normal.

But today’s apple cart has been upset. No doubt, the news tonight will be filled with comments of disgruntled persons who will say that officials should have better predicted the weather and given us another normal day of commerce. No matter! Remember, we can’t be pleased.

Soon, my routine will return. And I will probably find that I long for something . . . (you guessed it) . . . unpredictable to occur!

Posted in Family History, Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Did You Get the Virus Yet?

Intercostal muscle strain. That’s what they call it.

It happens when a 61 year old man tackles a fallen tree with a hand saw, subdues it, cuts it mostly in half, then attempts to military press it over a fence and send it crashing to the earth beneath.

I’m in pretty reasonable shape for my age; I lift weights and walk on the elliptical on a regular basis, am only about 20 pounds overweight, and eat relatively well. But . . . that did not exempt me from the consequences of straining to cut that tree down.

Actually, it had been there for months. And I had put it on my “to do” list. One night during a storm the tree had fallen and I found it the next morning straddling our backyard wooden fence. In short order I went out and shifted its position slightly so that it was resting on one of the wooden support beams concreted into the ground (rather than resting on the flimsy slats). “There! That should hold it until a later date,” I said to myself.

Months went by . . . . Finally, I decided (the fact that my wife kept asking me to deal with it had nothing to do with it) it was time to cut this tree down to size. So, after trimming the other bushes in the backyard I headed for the unwelcome intruder. And . . . you know the rest of that story.

So, about 8 days ago I began to feel a strong pain in my right rib cage. It was in a very definite area, but I could not get to it, could not touch it in a way that identified the exact spot of assault. Ice couldn’t seem to deaden it, and ibuprofen didn’t seem to phase it. If I was sitting I could not usually feel it. But rising from a chair, or with legs extended in bed it was clearly present.

I went to the gym (as was my usual course) and tried to do exercises (much lighter, of course) in an attempt to identify the exact motion that would aggravate the pain. But to no avail. Nothing seemed to reach it. I spoke with several trainers about it, googled it online. Hernia didn’t seem to be the culprit, but intercostal muscle strain sure fit the bill. And there you have it.

With a repair time of anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months I’ll be good as new. What?

Then to add insult to injury my eldest daughter came down with a nasty virus, then my youngest daughter, and then . . . me. Thankfully, I didn’t suffer with it as violently as they, but it has zapped me, nonetheless. In fact, I am still not over it.

I have been relatively impervious to illness for a number of years now. Oh, on occasion something would put me below par for a bit, but not for long. I have been rather healthy. But embarrassing as it is, I must admit there is a sense of great pride that goes along with not getting sick “right along with everyone else.” [NOTE: The fact that my wife began to have a twinge of it last night, but seems to be fine now, exacerbates that deflation to my pride.]

Then . . . this happens. And I am . . . just like everyone else. Isn’t it amazing how a slight change in a person’s temperature – even just a degree or so – makes them listless and incapacitated? We are delicate beings whose quality of life is maintained within a relatively small spectrum.

“To heck” with schedules, plans, goals and objectives. When you get hurt, or sick, all your best agendizing must be laid aside. It must wait. And you . . . must wait.

I am not a good waiter. No . . . I am not talking about waiting tables (although, that is one job I’ve never done in my life). You know very well what I’m talking about, because you have the same problem, don’t you? None of us is very good at waiting.

And yet . . . some things can only be arrived at by waiting. In those cases no amount of “by hook or crook” can advance us toward our desired destination. Healing comes gradually, and in its own time.

So, there has been lots of Netflix, napping, and trudging to the bathroom and back; a few pieces of toast, boiled eggs, and broth with soda crackers; Gatorade and Sprite, etc. But I am confident that one day we will emerge triumphant into a life that is a bit more fun to live. And, frankly, that’s how it has always worked.

So, have you gotten the virus yet? If not, I hope you don’t! I hope you continue to feel strong, impervious to disease, and unable to identify with the foibles and weaknesses of us lesser beings.

But if you do indeed find yourself flat on your back . . . embrace it as best you can, and remember that “this, too, shall pass.” Oh . . . and be careful using muscles you are not accustomed to using. Hire some professionals like I’m about to hire (to finish the job). It may hurt your pride (and wallet), but . . . your ribs muscles will thank you!

Posted in Family History, Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The State of the Onion Message

Two nights ago President Obama presented the annual State of the Union message. To say that it “made history” is an understatement! Whether or not you agreed with all the President had to say, or whether you think our country is or is not headed for better days ahead, one thing is certain: we are headed somewhere.

And it behooves us all to take stock from time to time as to where we are headed personally, as families, and as a nation.

This analysis can be called (for lack of a better name) “the State of the Onion.” [NOTE: the unfolding and gradual revelation of various aspects of personal life have been described as something akin to peeling an onion, layer by layer exposing deeper, more private, and more fundamental building blocks of a person’s life]

I usually find State of the Union messages to be very uplifting, encouraging, inspiring, and challenging. I suppose, of course, that is their intended purpose.

But when I look at my own life, the progress (or lack of progress) I have made in my own personal endeavors, and the areas where I need improvement, I sometimes come away a little discouraged. That is, the State of the Onion is not always as inspiring as the State of the Union.

And yet . . . I must assert that improvements and insights into my own personal life have an eventual effect on the State of the Union as well. Unruly citizens make for an unruly nation. There is carryover from my personal life that influences the public policy of the nation of which I am a part.

So, as the New Year has begun, and the State of the Union presented, as religious organizations point followers to renewed dedication, as businesses gear up for the challenges of 2015, and as investors examine and prognosticate about our financial future – I would like to suggest that we not fail to focus on our own personal onion.

The truth is, you are the only person who can peel your onionskin. You can choose to delve deeper into an understanding of yourself, or you can refuse to do so and “go about your days.” You can peel the onion, layer by layer; or you an choose to let it be.

Trouble is, unless you eat like Jim Carrey in The Grinch, onions are not really good unless they have been peeled. Neither are human beings. We all develop a protective skin on the outside; there are no exceptions. But we are of little use until that skin is peeled.

Can it be discouraging to peel your onion? Definitely!

Will personal change be made mandatory by what is revealed? No question about it!

But the benefits, to you and to others, will outweigh all the pain – hands-down.

So, let me encourage you to get out your peeler and start to work. Better days are in your future if you peel the onion. That is a guarantee.

No matter what the true state of the union is in any given year, or in any given administration, you will have control over the state of the onion.

And having that . . . your life, and the lives of those around you, will flourish.

Posted in Family History, Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Happy New Year!

A New Year! Once again we have embarked on the journey into a brand new year, and the excitement is all around us, isn’t it?

I watched on the television as people on the other side of the world celebrated exuberantly with fireworks, etc. hours ahead of our own festivities. And when the clock tolled midnight here in the Eastern Time Zone the champagne flowed, the tears fell, kisses were shared, and numberless voices welcomed the coming of the New Year!

It’s just another day, isn’t it? I mean, nothing has really changed except the way we write the date on our checks, right?

But something about it engages the hearts and minds of people all around the world, at least in the developed countries. We celebrate. We dream of new adventures. We embark on journeys that we hope will be fulfilling and (truthfully) satisfying beyond our wildest dreams.

We lay aside the sadnesses and disappointments of the previous 365 days, and hope for better days ahead. Interestingly enough, we celebrate this new beginning with a fervor that rivals the piety and religiosity of the most dedicated spiritualists, whether we be men or women of faith, or not. For at least one moment in time . . . as the clock strikes 12 . . . we are unified in our hope, and expectant both as individuals and as a people.

And it is almost magical. At least for a while.

As I pondered this phenomenon I was struck with the realization that every day holds the same promise. Does it not?

Doesn’t each new sunrise provide us with the exquisite opportunity to right our wrongs, change our ways, and revitalize our relationships?

What if we somehow were able to harness that New Year’s Eve excitement? What if, as individuals, and as a people, we learned to see each New Day in that same light? Wow!

And why not?

Isn’t that what the saints and thinkers we most admire are known for? Living in the moment? Making each new day the most special day yet? Perfecting the art of valuing other persons in a way that empowers them and revives them? Fully actualized and present in every possible moment?

Well? What’s the secret? What’s the magic mantra that makes it all happen? How do I receive this monumental realization that is bypassed by so many? [One must ponder that for one’s self].

“The future isn’t what it used to be. Only today is all that’s promised me,” sang the Judds many years ago.

The fascinating and incomprehensibly beautiful thing about life is that we receive a daily reprieve with each sunrise, a brand new chance to change our world, an opportunity to better ourselves and others that happens so regularly (like clockwork) that we fail to sense its awesome quality.

That’s why the only New Year’s Resolution that makes any real sense to me comes from Ebenezer Scrooge: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” May we follow his example.

So . . . Happy New Year!

Today. And . . . every day.

Posted in Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Gift

This spring I will complete my 12th year as an entertainer at Stone Mountain Park. It has been a wonderful experience in countless ways.

About 10 years ago I was privileged to work with master story teller, Tom Marquart, as he told the story of the birth of Jesus . And not long after that my friend Scott Rousseau wrote a version of the Christmas story that we began to use every year at the park. It was called “The Gift.”

“The Gift” has been through several revisions over the years, and it has become a staple at Stone Mountain Park during the Christmas season. If you ride the train around the mountain after 6:00 PM at night you will hear Grandpa Lacey (or one of his relatives) telling the story of the birth of Christ; it is a homespun conflation of the celebrated tale, mixed with country humor and charm.

The point is obvious, of course. The gift is Jesus; the gift is the offer of eternal life. And, as Grandpa Lacey says, “There just ain’t no price tag you can put on that one.”

As I sit in my den this morning, surrounded by beautiful Christmas tree lights and decorations, I am reminded that my life is (and has been) one massive conglomeration (for lack of a better term) of gifts.

It is simply astounding!

The places I’ve lived, the people I’ve known, the opportunities I’ve had, the sunrises and sunsets I’ve witnessed, the literally countless enjoyments I’ve savored for 61 years . . . the GIFTS of my life have been amazing.

We talk of gift giving and receiving especially at this time of year, and we have created the term re-gifting (for those not-so-special presents we pass on to others); we gift-wrap and we speak of a person’s giftedness (when looking for talent). Clearly, a gift is something the recipient does not earn; it is not payment for services rendered.

Thus, the beauty of the term. It has not been sullied over the years – at least not yet. Non-profit organizations continue to engage patrons by asking them to make a “gift” (as opposed to a donation), and fundraisers are careful to employ the word “gift” when helping persons to draw up a will that includes their organization.

We love gifts!

Grandpa Lacey asks the crowd on the train, “What’s your very favorite thing about the holidays?” And he knows that at some point (often right away) someone will say, “gifts” or “presents.”

And at that juncture the Par-cans dim, and he shares with them his gift, the gift of a story.

And quite a story it is! Whether or not you believe it to be true in every detail (I know some of my readers do not) there is an engaging charm about it, and the traditions surrounding it are enrapturing. As the character played by James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams says, “the memories will be so thick” you will have to “brush them away from your face.”

The “gift” is life.

It is shared by believers and unbelievers alike. For believers it is a gift that extends from here to beyond the grave; for unbelievers it is a gift only during his/her life on this earth. Nevertheless, it is a gift: unearned and undeserved. And it is LIFE.

As I have shared “The Gift” at Stone Mountain Park for these many years I have paid attention to the fact that I never tire of telling the story (there have been seasons when we’ve told it as many as 350 times). I think I know why it doesn’t tire me – at least in part. Because when I tell the story something happens between me and the audience.

I’m not talking about hocus pocus; rather, there is a profound sense we share in those moments – the sense that we are discussing the most elemental ingredients of the universe. We are discussing life.

And we are discussing an aspect of life that makes no sense apart from the existence of ultimate love and altruism: we are discussing the giving of gifts, i.e. giving to others without measuring their deservedness, and without regard to compensation.

We celebrate giving in this season. And I get to tell trainloads of people about it!

Posted in Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments