Me Too!

A week ago I found myself googling to find the meaning behind the numerous memes on Facebook with the simple words, “Me too.” The answer appeared quickly, of course. The numbers of persons expressing identification with the experience of sexual abuse and molestation grew each day to a staggering number.

I wasn’t surprised. If you’ve lived any length of time in this nation as an adult in recent years, and have shared openly with others about early sexual experiences in life, or even just paid attention to the news, or bothered to read a book on the subject, or watched a documentary or two about social/familial issues, or . . . (if you’ve just been conscious at all) you have been aware that the phenomenon of sexual molestation in its many forms has become a thread woven tightly into the fabric of our modern enlightened society.

From time to time there is an outcry regarding this that receives media attention, and for a bit we focus on the issue, watch and/or listen to newscasts about it, or discuss it on talk radio programs.

Such was the case earlier this week as I listened to Tom Ashbrook on NPR, interviewing an expert on the subject, taking phone calls from women who wanted to express their feelings on national radio and give guidance to others who had experienced sexual violation at some point in life, as a child, or as an adult.

One caller suggested that men ought to get with their female friends and listen to how this kind of thing affects them; another said that men ought to get with other men and discuss how they can better treat women and not exploit them.


I have no objection to those ideas. Except that . . . that’s not likely to change a thing!

We talk out of both sides of our mouth in this American society. We promote free speech. That is, until it is offensive to us. [Then we don’t want to allow hate mongering radicals to speak on our college campuses]. We balk at the notion of creating/enforcing laws that ban pornography, and we fight vehemently for the rights of adults to have the freedom to choose their own particular “poison” (so to speak).

When sexual abuse comes into the media stream we create programs that highlight the exploitation, and garner support for groups that help strengthen those affected. Then we go home and turn on the TV and watch Game of Thrones, and we further embed in our minds the very notions that contribute to the perpetuation of the abuse we decry.

We cannot have it both ways!

And yet, we try. We stand for freedom in the extreme. Because we are afraid we cannot pronounce a proper moral edict, or define moral boundaries for others. The masses no longer seem to agree on right and wrong, and so we are an impasse.

If we truly want to reduce the amount of rampant sexual abuse in this country we must first of all realize that when we pronounce an action WRONG or PROHIBITED, we must by necessity buttress the moral pronouncement with matching laws, attitudes, and instruction in our society, and in our individual homes.

If our adult entertainment has no boundaries, and we fight for the rights of adults to choose for themselves carte blanche, then we cannot expect what entertains us to never appear in reality. Human beings reflect exposure. That’s why PTSD is a real problem, and not just something those wounded by it are told to simply get over.

Our society is laced through and through with sex: sexual innuendos, sexually themed entertainment [have you been to a country music concert lately?], sexually oriented advertisements, sexual comments made by political figures, allegations of sexual misconduct in the news, sexual humor, etc. Can you expect that a young man growing up in the midst of all this, watching cavalier sexual behavior on TV and in the movies, being introduced to the notion that anything that smacks of strict laws and mores that govern appropriate sexual conduct is prudish . . . can escape the temptation to engage in, experiment with, or fully embrace the identity that “Me Too” victims call sexual predator?

“No rules. Just right!” Maybe this is more than just an Outback motto.

When my rights violate your rights we tend to quickly say, “That’s out-of-bounds.” But when my rights create a place in my mind for the fermentation of evil thoughts/desires which may eventually violate your rights, no violation has occurred. [I have a gun, it is loaded, and I am watching training video after training video on how to shoot and kill women.  I have even pointed it at several woman. But I haven’t pulled trigger. Yet!]

Are you comfortable with that?

No big deal, right? No harm, no foul! Really?

Ladies! If you have been the victim of sexual molestation, I am so sorry. Band together with others who have been hurt, support one another, talk to your male friends and encourage them to learn to see you as a person instead of an object. But know this: the tide of sexual abuse will not be stemmed until a major part of our society can agree upon more restrictive boundaries of sexual freedom, a more conservative definition of inappropriate entertainment, and the implementation and enforcement of more conservative laws that govern sexual behavior.

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Sunblock, Total Eclipses and Other Solar Phenomena

So, this is the BIG DAY in the U.S.A., the total eclipse of the sun! It will happen in just a couple of hours from the time I am writing, and I am really excited. Supposedly, it hasn’t happened in quite this degree since 1918, well before my time, of course.

We prepared a couple of weeks ago, buying special glasses at Lowe’s so we could be ready for the event. And even though some clouds and the possibility of rain was predicted a few days ago, it appears the sky might just be crystal clear here.

As I reflect on the coming solar phenomenon this afternoon I am reminded that blocking the sun is not such an uncommon thing; human beings have done it for untold years, of course. With shade trees, umbrellas, sunglasses, sunblock for the skin, etc. The difference with THIS sunblock today is that we are not in control of it!

For approximately 2 and 1/2 minutes the moon will block the sun, and if you are in the right spot darkness will come in mid day. Sounds almost Biblical, doesn’t it? I plan to video the fade into darkness with my iPhone while looking at the sun itself as it appears to vanish. I’ve heard it’s an eerie and unnerving experience. Unforgettable!

We use the word “eclipse” all the time, of course, usually in a metaphorical way, describing when some event is overshadowed by another, when a thing that previously drew our attention succumbs to a new phenomenon that upstages that which preceded it.

Right now in our country we are wrangling over racial issues that threaten to divide our nation, or at least the media tells us we are in danger of division; sometimes it’s hard to tell what is really going on in this age of instant news. Morality, right and wrong, and social sensitivity are the hot topics of the day, woven together with politics and the economy.

We have been introduced to the idea of “fake news,” not a truly new phenomenon, but one that seems more apropos to our nation now more than ever before. Occlusion, blockage of the truth, obfuscation; these are the things that alarm us now. We’ve suspected for a few decades that we were being misled from “on high” about a number of important social issues, but now we feel certain that the information we get from television, internet, radio, etc. is tainted with agenda and deception.

Monuments, flags, place names, and other symbols of our nation’s past are now in question, and the attempt to destroy or remove these objects must run the gambit from the face of Stone Mountain in Georgia all the way to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, from New Orleans in Louisiana to Savannah, Georgia and beyond.

But for between two and three minutes this afternoon EDT we will pause in the midst of all this turmoil and uncertainty, look up into the sky, and marvel at the majesty and incomparable celestial display right in our backyard. It’s as if Barnum and Bailey have come to your house and set up the Big Top tent right where you live.

But again . . . it is a phenomenon outside of our control. We couldn’t even control the threat of clouds blocking our sight of this event. We are completely and finally just observers and witnesses of the event.

As for me . . . I expect to take those 180 seconds of time today and allow myself to be awed, lifted for a brief time out of the conundrum of current social ills fed by the lack of moral principle in our country, and immersed in the awesomeness and grandeur of our solar system (and our universe) which is present and active each moment we take a breath, not just in this brief eclipse event.

In so doing I may be reminded of the fact that human beings, no matter their color or nation of origin, are important to their Creator and important to me. We realize we are all tiny beings when we encounter true awesomeness. And that insight will come as I look up, as I broaden my scope of vision, as I am made right-sized by seeing the total eclipse of the sun.

And perhaps . . . if I can learn to live from this broader perspective, this macro framework, maybe I can better measure the things that are smaller.

If the sun were to stay eclipsed, remain overshadowed, we would truly experience disaster. But when it emerges again this afternoon, and shines its light on us, we would do well to soak in its rays of insight and reflect its warmth around the world.

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“It sounds like you’re getting to do many of the things that bring joy to you. And that is very good!”

These were the words of my friend, Will, spoken to me almost a decade ago.

They still resonate with me. Loudly.

Because, you see, I was disappointed when he said them. Sounds crazy, I know. But I was! I had just finished providing Will with a litany of reasons why my life was not going as I wanted it to go; how I was having to work four different part-time jobs to keep body and soul together for my family, and how even that was not adequate since it didn’t provide health benefits, etc.

And when I got done, he said those words that have haunted me ever since. I could not see why he didn’t feel sorry for my pitiful plight. I was singing/playing guitar for a living, teaching music at two other facilities, and working at the office job that used to be a full-time position. And I was weary of the pace.

Weariness is a burden, no doubt. And it can color all the rest of our lives if we allow it to take root. I am not saying it is imaginary. It is very real, and cannot be ignored for long. But a far more serious malady was plaguing me the day I spoke with Will: a combination of feeling sorry for myself and wanting others to commiserate with me about my situation was the real culprit at work.

Those were the days when I believed joy was elusive, before I realized that

joy can undergird a person’s life in such a way that tragedy, pain, and struggle cannot surmount it, cannot overtake it.

I was making the classic error of missing the forest for the trees, of discounting the good in my life because it was mixed in with the not-so-good.

When you embrace negativity, whether it is due to fear or true disaster, it invades your psyche like a cancer, metastasizing at a staggering pace. It eats up the good along with everything else in its path.

When my wife and I were newly married and I was in graduate school we were friends with a great couple, Randy and Patsy. They were so much fun to be with. After a while we began to categorize one another as either “posi” or negi,” that is, positive or negative. Guess which category I was always in?

The tone of your life is seldom set merely by circumstances.

Those who have experienced great tragedy are not always the ones with a gloomy outlook. And those who have experienced great ease in life are not always the happy and serene ones. In fact, many times the opposite is true.

Will had listened objectively to my list of jobs, and he could see more clearly even than I that much of what I was doing for a living intersected beautifully not only with my gifts, but also with my joys. I wanted sympathy from him, but what I got . . . was much more valuable. A fact substantiated by my keen memory of his words years later.

My wife reminded me, today, to hit my “reset button.” Look around, observe the beauty surrounding you, the blessings of life that are priceless, the persons that adorn your day. In a word . . . the joy of which you get to be a part.

As I was speaking with a fellow employee at work this week I used the expression “default” to refer to my natural tendency to fret and worry. Before personal computers we didn’t really describe our penchants and proclivities that way. We always knew we had emotional and psychological defaults, but we certainly did not refer to them in that way.

If I can be aware of my emotional defaults, then work toward adding some new software to my negative psyche that would be a great improvement. I might even find, as Will pointed out many years ago, that the things I am doing actually bring me joy. And I have every right, nay, full responsibility to embrace that joy.

I guess I could call that new approach “Will Power,” or something clever, right? Ha!

Perhaps you are not currently in the job you thought would bring you satisfaction, or the relationship you just knew would make all the difference, or the financial situation you dreamed of having, or the level of health you counted on. Hit the reset button on your life.

Look at your situation! Ask others close to you to weigh in on your situation, too. Do not discard their points of view just because they might clash with yours. You may find yourself quoting their words many years hence.

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The Biltmore Estate

Photo by Ivan Benson

Today my wife and I visited The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. It was our first visit. And what a delight it was, too.

If you’ve never been there you must put this on your bucket list; it is well worth your time and the price of admission. Named for their Dutch family village of origin (“Bildt”) and an old English word for rolling countryside (“more”), this estate was imagined by George Vanderbilt after a visit to North Carolina in 1888 when he was just 26 years old.

The massive acreage initially purchased has been reduced drastically to a mere 8,000 acres now, the lion’s share having been sold by Mrs. Vanderbilt to the U.S. Forestry Service for a pittance after her husband’s early death in 1914. George Vanderbilt first opened it up to friends and family on Christmas Eve 1895.

The house had electricity from its very beginnings, and sported an indoor swimming pool, bowling ally, gymnasium, etc. It was filled with ornate furniture, thousands of first edition books, original artwork from the masters, an elevator; it employed 35-40 house employees, and included extensive flower gardens and an enormous greenhouse.

Unlike other opulent places I have seen in the past that have left me with admiration but also a desire to just go home to the simplicity of my own life . . .

I could move into the Biltmore tomorrow and be just fine and dandy.

George Vanderbilt was the grandson of the extremely innovative and tenacious Cornelius Vanderbilt. Although raised in simplicity, his grandfather’s acquired business acumen served him well, as did his catlike ability to seemingly always land on his feet. He left his descendants a fortune.

George was an avid reader, reading approximately 81 books per year; his collection contained over 22,000 volumes. He had the wherewithal to travel, collect rare pieces of art, furnishings, and ideas; his home is filled with the evidence of these travels. It is an exquisitely tasteful collection.

You cannot help but be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the estate: extensive fields of wildflowers, heavily wooded expanses, fields where hay is being mowed and rolled, rushing streams, wild azaleas lining the roadside. And inside the house itself with over 250 rooms the amount of hardwood is astounding. The craftsmanship is unparalleled, and I could not see a single crack visible in the plaster. Every look out the rear windows, whether from the long porch or from a bedroom, provides a breathtaking panoramic view of the mountains and surrounding forests.

Innovative systems for the ironing of tablecloths and bed sheets, a basement motor supplying air for the pipe organ in the first floor dining room, a lighting system installed in the floor of the swimming pool, and even a creative way to collect the excrement of cows in the dairy farm floor (which has now been replaced with a winery BTW) and use it for fertilizer in the gardens, etc. The innovations go on and on.

But I digress. As I was saying, the sheer size of the estate is a show stopper. And it was interesting to me, today, that as a large storm was moving in on the area, dark clouds approaching ominously . . . I was struck by the fact that the estate itself seemed equally as impressive as the mighty storm:

two large and immovable forces facing off with one another.

To build, furnish, and landscape the Biltmore no expense was spared. George’s wife had opened it up for visitors as early as 1930 at the request of the City of Asheville, to increase tourist revenue during the Great Depression. But as with all things material, soon it was too expensive to maintain. After about 1956 there was no longer any original Vanderbilt family member living there. And the large estate fell into disrepair.

The family has assured that great pains are taken to make its restoration authentic to 1895 standards; a worker there today told us it takes approximately 5 years to restore a single room properly and furnish it with original art, books, rugs, and furniture.

Stone Mountain Park is practically in my own backyard, so I see the three figures carved into the granite on a regular basis. But it impresses me every time with its grandeur. I’ve not seen Mount Rushmore, but I’m sure I would be impressed there as well. And one day I hope to see the amazing Crazy Horse Memorial, and the Noah’s Ark replica in Kentucky.

These man made marvels, along with many others I have not yet seen (particularly in Asia and parts of Europe) are awesome. And a part of their grandeur is more often than not their enormous size.

Please understand, I am not saying that The Biltmore would win in a contest with a giant thunderstorm, or that any number of these monuments could not be effaced by the forces of nature; certainly they can. All I am saying is that the feeling one gets in the presence of these fortresses of creation is one of stability, majesty, and longevity.

Human beings tend to be wowed by size and grandeur. Witness the Tetons, or El Capitan; Kilimanjaro, or Everest. The size of the oceans, the grandeur of the Redwoods and Sequoias . . . . The list is endless. [And if we go the opposite direction and begin to include in our list the tiniest things we can see our reaction is the same; the minute impresses us, too.]

Size matters, doesn’t it?

It is built into us human beings to respect grandeur; we are floored by splendor, awed by enormity. Although there may exist in us a sense of smallness in the presence of the majestic, concomitant with that there exists a sense that things are in proper proportion.

There is a sense of security that accompanies our awe, a rightness that inspires safety to our trembling emotions.

Thirteen years ago this month I stood in front of Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, the church where Franz Joseph Haydn was recruited as a singer at the age of 8. It is awesome in size and architecture, and absolutely gorgeous inside. It was Easter 2004, and the church was packed during mass.

And I felt the same awe, the sense that things were as they should be: my smallness, and the greatness surrounding me. Proper proportions. Security.

“. . . All’s right with the world.”
(Robert Browning)

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Metaphor: the Essential Ingredient

Photo by Ivan Benson

We lost a famous poet this past week at the age of 87; his name was Derek Walcott. Today, NPR has been featuring his work, and discussing his effect on humanity. In one sense, I must confess I don’t know that I’m familiar with his work. Nevertheless, I am intimately familiar with one of the tools of his trade: the use of metaphor.

I have been thinking about the power of metaphor over this past week, especially since returning from an out-to-town trip to visit with my wife’s elderly and frail parents. We tend to listen to music a good bit when we are traveling, and one particular piece struck my heartstrings as I listened to the haunting and ominous song, “Into the West,” from The Lord of the Rings.

What can you see on the horizon?

Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea, a pale moon rises.
The ships have come to carry you home.

Of course, as I listened, I pondered my own close brush with death this past October. But more than that, I was struck with renewed realization of the awesome power of metaphor. And I pondered writing about it soon. Thus . . . this blog entry.

We are sentient beings, of course, aware of our own existence and the existence of persons and things around us. Yet this awareness alone does not explain our penchant for expressing our deepest thoughts and longings through metaphor. We are “all about” denotation, what words literally mean, until it comes to things we hold closest to our hearts (Ah! There is metaphor at work, too).

When it comes to love . . . or hate . . . or birth . . . or death . . . we flee to metaphor, we latch onto hyperbole, we cling to illustrative language, because something deep within us tells us that the simple, straightforward definition of things isn’t enough; it isn’t the whole truth, or the full spectrum.

And that amazes me!

It must be that the nature of life, the awareness of existence, the fullness of living in this world calls us, engages us, even pushes us into a level of contemplation that goes beyond the visible, beyond the readily explainable, into another realm.

Thus, we have poets writing poetry. We fly like birds, we drown in sorrows, we pass away like the early morning fog, we are ablaze with anger, etc. And it doesn’t seem to matter if you “like” poetry or not; you may find it quite cumbersome and confusing. Nevertheless, when you encounter the Gordian Knots of your life you will, more often than not, be forced to use metaphor to describe them.

When my mother passed away in August 2012 I was at her bedside within an hour or so of her death. We watched as she was briefly examined, then pronounced dead in the wee hours of the morning. I approached her body as it lay still, touched her hands, examined her face with what would be my final glimpse of her on this earth. Her hazel eyes were mostly closed as I drank in the serene yet lifeless visage before me.

And I was completely engulfed in the stark reality of that moment, and sobered beyond words. Of course, all that had happened was that her heart had stopped beating. She had taken one final breath (the nurse told us) after having been asked if she was all right (and she had said, “Yes”), and she was gone.

But metaphor will not allow us to stop there. Because the facts are not adequate, it seems.

When a loved one passes we must use metaphor; to refuse to do so (even if one could) would dishonor and dehumanize the whole occasion to such an extent that it would be surprising if the rocks themselves didn’t cry out from the ground.

This is one reason why some war atrocities are so infuriating to us. Life is sacred. And when we do not treat it as such we do damage to ourselves that is not possible to quantify.

I think metaphor points to a reality we all wish were true, even if we find ourselves unable to embrace it intellectually, e.g. atheists, agnostics, etc. It is the cry of our primal nature (if you will), buried deep within our DNA. And we dare not extinguish it, for to do so would make us less than human.

I, for one, do not pray that I can write; rather, that my words will flow freely. I do not merely want to be understood; rather, I want to make heart connections. And when I do depart this life at some future date, I hope to either fly away, or bag-in-hand, board a ship that will take me home.

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The True Cost

Photo by Marco Bellucci

Photo by Marco Bellucci

It’s hard to know what something really costs, isn’t it?

I mean, if you buy a piece of clothing you find appealing, and you begin to explore where it was made, who designed it, how and by whom it was manufactured, and the source of the raw materials used to create it . . . you could almost fill a small book.

The storybook I used to read as a young boy . . . you know the one that shows where food comes from, and traces the journey back from the milkman, etc. is a profound resource that creates a much-needed perspective on life. I no longer remember the name or details of the book, but the concept it taught remains with me to this day.

The business world is very cost-conscious, of course. Businesses that don’t count the cost do not usually last very long. And lasting a long time, or at least long enough to make a healthy profit or create a healthy benefit for people, tends to be a well accepted raison d’etre for any business.

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday regarding the pace at which we live our lives in the United States, and we contrasted that with the apparent pace of life in much of Europe. For example, both of us were familiar with the enormous number of “holidays” that friends of ours seem to have in Holland and Germany.

In spite of the fact that we tend to view pioneers in our nation’s history as harder working than us lazy 21st century Americans (and no doubt their comparative deprivations were sizeable), and we muse about how we probably wouldn’t last a day without air conditioning or central heat, etc. the truth is we work longer hours and carry much more stress than our forbears ever dreamed was humanly possible.

And . . . they might be right! Now granted, we live longer, grow taller, our athletes are stronger and faster, our level of production is something that would cause a John Henry to drop his steel-driving 20 pound hammer and shrink in awe. We are rather amazing, aren’t we?

But heart disease is killing up prematurely, various cancers are rampant, and our fascination with all things technical has taken up captive with our iPhones, iPads, Apple watches, and multifarious devices; things intended to save time have made it possible for us to fill our time even more efficiently. “Time is money,” we have often said. And money is what we want. What we need. What we must have. At any cost.

The high incidence of criminal indictments for fraud, tax evasion, insider trading and the like is testimony not only to the long standing human predicament, but also to the fact that think we need so much more than can be honestly derived.

My 2016 heart attack has caused me to rethink a great deal of what I used to take for granted. One thing that continues to haunt me is the notion that the way I learned to live my life, the way I learned to work (from 7th grade onward) at a go-at-fast-as-possible pace, may have indeed led to a heart attack in an otherwise healthy-looking man in his early 60s.

Our life patterns are usually begun at a very young age. And changing them is like pulling teeth; most of us think we would rather just ignore the decay and make the best of it, even though we know extraction is the only thing that will bring relief.

Do you, for instance, know the true cost
of the way you are living your life?

We look around us at the Jones’s (you know, the ones we’ve always had to “keep up with”) and what they have, and we arrive at a standard of living that we accept; we would swear by it like the rising and setting sun. We berate ourselves until we reach it. And when we do we set our sights a bit higher and choose a new and improved family of Jones’s with whom we compete.

And who can begin to say what effect television and movies have had on our standards; cloistered in our homes we make friends of flickering images on the screen in front of us, and we look to them to define our relationship standards, our income standards, and our whole way of life. After all, dealing with real people as become an outmoded skill; we have machines that do that now.

And the stress is crushing us. But we do not relent!

We cannot drop the steel-driving hammer. We cannot surrender. We cannot do the thing that would bring us more peace, more health, more joy, more . . . . for fear that we will fall behind in the race to – the race to . . . . What exactly? What are we racing toward in such a headlong fashion?

We are, as it has been phrased, “hell bent.” That is one goal I think we will attain.

My heart attack makes me want to reconsider some things.
Like almost everything about how I function.

Is it too late for me to change? Time will tell.

But I can make a marathon out of a simple household task. I can attempt to “fill every minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run” (thank you, Rudyard Kipling), but is that what will truly bring me life?

I want to get off the treadmill, out of the hamster’s cage with the spinning wheel powered only by my effort. I want to learn how to rest. How to simply BE.

I hope you will go with me, if only because that will make it easier to keep going the right direction. But with you or not, I must go. I must reset my sights. And honestly, I think I may need a whole new operating system.

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A Real Tool: the Coping Saw

My father was good with tools! Especially when working with wood. His father was born in Sweden in 1878, and Dad used to have some of his father’s tools until thieves broke into his and Mom’s Tucson, AZ house years ago and took them.

Dad taught me to love tools. Not so much by showing me how to use them; rather, by showing me his own respect for them.

One tool that caught my attention early on was the coping saw. Unlike the mighty and heavy hammer, the coping saw was more my size, and more delicate (even though it could have sharp teeth, depending on which blade was installed). I saw Dad do some amazing things with this saw.

In the hands of a master the coping saw could produce cuts impossible to make with a conventional saw. It’s ability to make turns in very small areas is a sight of beauty to behold. The coping saw seems to suggest to its admirers that

it will perform well in anyone’s hands.

But that is far from the truth.

I don’t know when the expression “a real tool” originated; you know, the pejorative expression that is a modern insult to males? But whoever came up with it demonstrated they didn’t have proper respect for good tools! Because a person with proper respect for tools would never suggest they are just objects to be USED. Am I wrong? No, I am not!

Among the “real” tools I have respected, the coping saw is in the top ten. Versatility, a sense of elegance, and subtle strength are among its virtues.

But why is it called a “coping” saw?

Whether its origin in only a couple hundred years old (as some suggest), or five centuries or more, it is clearly not of modern invention. Its name is likely meant to refer to the “coped” or angled cut sometimes used in construction, which aids water drainage from the top of a wall. Be that as it may . . . the primary purpose of the saw is seen in its ability to curve, to maneuver (if you will), i.e. to cope.

And it is here that I find its meaning most helpful. For somehow, through the passage of time (possibly originally from Old French “coup,” to strike, then Middle English trade or exchange, to wrestle, strive, persevere) we have arrived at a word that makes reference to how we deal with situations in life. Psychologists talk about our “coping mechanisms.”

Our skills with coping are as varied as my own experience using a coping saw. For though it appears easy, of course, it is not. If the blade is too loose, or if the blade is too tight, your maneuvering is destroyed. I have even broken blades because they were too taut. Instead of giving to strength to the cutting process, I ended it prematurely.

In any event . . . coping skills matter.

We all use coping skills, of course. The abused child learns coping skills. The overprotected child learns coping skills. The overindulged child learns coping skills. The neglected child learns coping skills. Even the well-adjusted child learns some coping skills. We all learn coping skills. It’s this world we live in, you know. It forces you to have to cope!

Now you may not be good with a saw. But it would benefit you to learn good coping skills in life. You can learn a great deal from a saw. I learned, for instance, two important lessons:

  1. You can’t force a cut without destroying the wood (or the saw).
  2. You can’t stop the cutting process abruptly without losing the ability to maneuver.

If you force a cut you will often find yourself plowing into the wood much further than you had intended, thereby ruining the design you had in mind. It’s like water building up behind a dam; a small crack evolves into a gushing gorge in seconds. Not a good coping skill in life either.

If you stop cutting in order to position yourself better for a curving maneuver you will often find yourself stuck in place. It’s kind of like turning a corner while riding a bike; it’s easier to stay upright and make your turn if you’re moving. If you stop to position yourself for the turn you will fall. Adjustments are best made while still in motion.

Coping is not only natural, it is mandatory.
No one gets by without having to cope.

Christmas was just last month. And I was reminded that even the mother and father of Jesus had to use coping skills due to the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Savior: Joseph had to deal with Mary’s shameful pregnancy; the couple had to wrestle with the inconvenience of traveling during the final days before giving birth to a child; they had to persevere when there was no place other than an animal stall available for the delivery; the new family of three had to flee the country when the threat of annihilation was apparent. Coping.

How did you maneuver this past holiday season? How well did you cope?

Pushed to our limits during times of stress (joyful or sad) we tend to cope in a variety of ways: financial overstretching may cause us to overeat; wrestling with family company from out-of-town may tempt us to overindulge in alcohol; balancing work with parties and shopping may cause us to function on much less sleep than usual, so we may compensate with too much coffee or other stimulants.

We must be careful to choose how we cope with these difficult situations, so that our coping doesn’t create even more problems with which we must cope.

The inauguration of a new (and shall I say “different”) President will happen tomorrow, so that along with the beginning of a New Year, with its attendant resolutions and stresses, there saunters in our worry of the unknown, uncertainty of the future, and insecurity fears.

Flexibility. Gentleness (with ourselves and others). Forgiveness. We must not try to force situations. And we must realize that we must maneuver and re-position on the fly, because that is how coping is done.

So, keep that blade moving as you form those curves. And let the wood tell you how much pressure it will endure.

With a bit of concentration . . . and care . . . you might even admire the cut you make. And the result – might just be . . . a thing of beauty.

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

My Adventure: Simplicity

Simplicity. It’s one of those things that many of us had as children, but at an age when we were incapable of appreciating it. It occurs when the stuff of life is boiled down (so to speak) to its essential ingredients.

Simplicity brings clarity, focus, and well defined purpose. Often we associate it with poverty, or lack of possessions. But it is not exclusively the property of the poor.

Several years ago my wife and I began to create an entertainment program where I would combine songs and stories; we called it “Simply Put, Simply Found.” It never really got off the ground, because . . . well, life is not simple for most of us. The demands of my odd work schedule (combining several part-time jobs) made it hard to focus. As a result, the project was provided no Simplicity with which it could be Found.

My heart attack three months ago changed that radically. In fact, I am still in the process of finding out all the things it changed, or will change, in the future. It is why I am titling the year 2017 “Adventure” for myself, personally. Because that is, indeed, what it is: uncharted personal territory, with mountains to climb, and valleys to cross.

And it has brought (through no wise effort of my own) a good bit of simplicity to my life. Each day has pretty much the same agenda: get better. Get proper rest, take your meds on schedule along with supplements (I do adhere to a few witch doctor neutraceuticals, if you must know), try not to over exert yourself, but get regular exercise (monitored at cardiac rehab).

I am improving. Although I know there is a ceiling to that improvement since I did damage to my heart. And I also know that down the road there may be other hurdles to encounter due to the aforementioned damage. But that is just how it is. Now that I can drive again, I do run some errands, go to a movie once in a while, check emails, and write on my blogs, etc. (in fact, I am working on a new blog for heart attack survivors now at

But life has become MUCH MORE SIMPLE than it has been, rivaled only by when I played with Army men and rode my scooter, “Lo,” many decades ago.

And I love it!

I am able to do much of what I used to do physically, just no gym workout, and not too much singing and playing guitar (too little wind and stamina yet), no excessive leaf blowing or raking, no climbing on the roof, or lifting heavy boxes (or grandchildren).

Well . . . maybe I’m not really able to do much of what I used to do (after looking at that list). But as a result, life has become much simpler.

I do not rise early in the morning anymore (usually 7:00 AM or later). My rest is critical to my health now more than ever. Bored? Never! I find plenty to do, but my focus remains on improving my health, planning for our future (financially and otherwise), and considering my options. I am a praying man, so I am able to spend time in prayer about others as well as myself.

We are totally reliant on social security income currently (and gifts from generous friends and family), and even though that source is not adequate at least it is predictable.

As I look back to the past there are certainly things I wish I could still do. But I also see that the simplicity that has been forced on me is a beautiful thing. It helps bring clarity to each day, and encourages me to “stop and smell” those proverbial “roses” we always talk about.

I am almost at the point where I can say I am glad this happened to me. Because the simplicity it imposed on me has been so refreshing. It makes me wonder if it’s even possible to impose simplicity on yourself just shy of tragedy or disaster.

What has been your experience with simplicity?

Photo by Joe Diaz

Photo by Joe Diaz

Posted in Family History, Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Will You ALWAYS Want to be With Me?

Sometimes the most arresting questions seem to come “out of the” proverbial “blue.” And often, they come from a source you would not expect. This particular question came from my grandson; he is 5 1/2, going on 25.

My wife and I were taking him and his 2 year old sister to Dunkin Donuts; they were both safely buckled into seats in the back, and we were sitting up front making conversation with our grandson. [NOTE: our granddaughter was in one of her silent moods this particular morning, giving us one of her “I couldn’t care less” looks].

We were rehearsing with our grandson how we used to take him to Dunkin Donuts every Tuesday morning when he was little, and how much we enjoyed those times.

He said, “You really like being with me, don’t you?” [which put a smile on our faces, of course]. And we quickly said, “Oh yes, we always enjoy spending time with you!” Whereupon he asked the title question:

“Will you ALWAYS want to be with me?”

As parents and grandparents we often discuss the natural candor of children. In fact, when I was younger, Art Linkletter became famous for a TV show where he illustrated the oft repeated truth, i.e. “kids say the darndest things.” It was quite entertaining.

What we don’t always discuss is the profundity that a child’s honesty sometimes produces.

“Will you ALWAYS want to be with me?” is a question not just asked by a five year old; rather, it is a question that stirs deep down inside of every adult as well. I would call this inadvertent when asked by a child so young, but the truth is that unless conditioned otherwise, when a child asks a question, they mean exactly what they’ve said.

It is the question being asked by the elderly lady in the nursing home. And it is the question being asked by the old gentleman residing in the independent living facility. It is usually directed toward immediate family members, but it can also be directed to friends and more distant acquaintances.

We see it clearly in the elderly, don’t we? And we often discuss how sad it must be for them to have been so valuable to friends and family at one point in their lives, and now to face the fact that few really choose to be with them, and even fewer want to be with them. My wife has often pointed out to me that the old folks in those nursing homes, etc. were at one time vibrant contributors to their employers, vital citizens in their communities; people would come to them for advice and counsel.

They were sought after. But . . . no longer.

Yet inside of them resides the identity they held in the past, the sense of value they added to their workplace, or their home.

No doubt, as they ask the question, “Will you ALWAYS want to be with me,” they sense the clear and resounding response: “No.”

Yes. We see it in the elderly. But do we see it in the teenage girl, the young adult man, the middle-aged worker? Because the question is in their minds, too, I wager. It is the question we ALL are asking of those around us.

It is a concept that is venerated at weddings, where promises are made and vows said, all of which hover around and support this very idea: I will always want to be with you. But unhappiness and divorce often drive it into the ground. And our life experiences teach us that to maintain our much needed status with others we often have to do some psychological or emotional gymnastics.

It’s tiring. But we do it anyway. Because we know no other course. And we so dearly need the object of our efforts.

In our careers we often strive for it as well. We want to be needed. We need to be wanted. We need to be needed. And we want to be wanted. And without stating it so boldly . . . what we really want to know from our place of business is will you always want me here?

Even in the work arena we often find ourselves jockeying for position, seeking leverage, always guarding ourselves (as best we can) against the loss of the thing we most want: to be needed, to be wanted. Because to us, that means we are loved, valued.

It’s why young persons sometimes seek out alliances with unsavory organizations; it’s why people sometimes settle for unhealthy relationships; it’s why we stay at jobs long after we should have moved on.

One of the most powerful things you can say to another human being is this: “I will always want to be with you.”

And if you do, indeed, stay true to those words, and buttress them with behavior consistent with those words, you will foster growth and security that is boundless.

By the way, as the car carried us to Dunkin Donuts that day, my wife and I eagerly embraced the opportunity of a lifetime. Without any hesitation whatsoever, we said in unison:

“Yes indeed! We will ALWAYS want to be with you!”

Now all that remains is to live out the words. And if given the chance, to say them again.

And again.

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

The New Abnormal

Ever since a close friend visited me in the hospital, and mentioned to my wife that we will now have to adjust to “the new normal” (post heart attack), we have batted that expression around and discussed the variety of possible changes in my/our life from this point forward.

I began cardiac rehab six weeks after my myocardial infarction, and my blood pressure and a number of other factors have been measured from time to time. By my count I am improving, so I figured health care professionals would heartily agree with my self assessment.

Sadly . . . they have been reticent on the subject.

This has led me to face repeatedly the very real possibility that my heart’s pumping power, i.e. ejection fraction may not (despite my desire and prayers) come back to a healthy percentage. I should know the verdict by December 7. [I choose not to comment on any possible allusion to that date which may come into the reader’s mind. Hush!].

And that has prompted me, today, to begin to think in terms of what I affectionately call the New Abnormal.

Whether or not you have experienced a heart attack, some other life threatening or otherwise debilitating situation, you are no doubt familiar with the universal life experience of dashed dreams, unexpected tragedy, or a simple change in plans with far reaching ramifications.

What was once the normal flow of your life is radically altered, and you enter the interim phase that sits prominently between the Old Normal and the New Normal; I call it the New Abnormal. I call it that because: (1) it is indeed NEW; and (2) it is anything BUT normal for you.

Harsh realities have a way of winning out in the end. In fact, the only way I know of to avoid acknowledging them is to enter into a fantasy world that could easily be referred to as psychotic. So, unless you want to go down that path . . . acceptance becomes the hurdle you must vault.

And acceptance rarely comes without a fight.

I don’t know what view you have for your life, or what features you have banked on, counted on, depended on in order to reach a place where you would say you have lived successfully. That varies greatly, of course, depending on factors that relate to emotion, religious faith, financial income, health, relationships, etc.

But I do know this:

every one of us has in our mind’s eye
an idea of how life ought to turn out for us.

You may not have written your idea down on paper, but you have one. You may not be able to clearly articulate it . . . but it is present, deep in your psyche. In fact, it is like the ground upon which your mental house sits; you assume it, and never question it until an earthquake compromises its soundness, or a large crack in the foundation indicates its erosion.

You trust this idea, this perspective, this emotional lens (if you will) until your mental spectacles are dropped and broken, someone else cracks the frames, or you realize (perhaps for the first time) that the images you see through those glasses are out of focus, blurry, and clearly misrepresented.

Congratulations! You have now entered the New Abnormal, where everything in your life must be looked at again; where your time worn plans, objectives, and expectations must be reevaluated and refocused; where relationship with yourself and others changes, and

what was in the past can no longer be from this day forward.

When I was young I used to observe older men exercising, e.g. walking in their slacks, etc. And I used to say something like this: “If I can’t do enough exercise to merit wearing gym shorts, etc. I wouldn’t even bother exercising!”

But today, at cardiac rehab, I walked a 2 mile per hour pace on a treadmill for 15 minutes, then rode a recumbent bike at Level 4 for 15 minutes (careful not to get above 50 RPMs), and finished with stretches. All in long pants. And not at any speed I would have honored in the past. And there is a chance that in the coming month I may receive the news (as incredulous as it sounds to me now) that I am. . . disabled.

Today . . . I was the consummate old man I used to observe as a young man.

You see, I am in the middle of the New Abnormal. I am in the process of grieving the loss of past strength and health, and discovering what expectations to construct for the future. Because no matter what happens on December 7 . . . things will never be the same again.

My initial reaction to unwelcome change is disbelief, anger, and fear. But as time goes on I will have the chance to see new opportunities. I can (as my friend, Landon Saunders, once said) learn to . . .

use my wounds as tools.

My life is not all gloom and doom now. New adventures lie ahead. New discoveries about myself, the world I live in, and the people that people that world. And if I will but surrender to the New Abnormal . . . the sun will indeed shine in my future, and . . .

A New Normal will emerge.

Photo by Carlo Mirante

Photo by Carlo Mirante

Posted in Family History, Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments