America – Land of the Free

Today is America’s birthday. A great day for celebrations. Parades. Fireworks. Flag waving. This should be a day to be proud of our great nation.

Unfortunately the chilling images of children in detention centers at our southern borders cast a dark shadow over this great day. Meanwhile, in our nation’s capitol, the president is assembling tanks and armored vehicles in a garish display of military might. Mr. Trump is using our troops as political props in a sad attempt to burnish his image as a powerful leader.

This is America! What has happened? Where is our love of mankind?

As a nation have we become so narrow-minded; so entrenched; so chauvinistic; that we can’t accept another point of view? Are we condemned to be living in fear or loathing of our neighbors? We sing “God Bless America” but where is God in all our hateful rhetoric? How do we pledge to be “One Nation Under God” and deny basic freedom and dignity to those in desperate need of asylum? While families are being separated and babies are being torn from their mother’s arms, where are our statesmen and stateswomen?

What can I do?

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First of all: instead of wringing my hands and swearing at the television, I will be a patriot. I will wave my flag. I will continue to write to my congresswoman and senators and the president. I will vote. I will debate. I will support candidates who will fight for justice for all. I will stand tall. I will speak up. I will remember that our nation is not perfect. I will celebrate what I can. I will protest what I must. I will pray. And I will remember.

I will remember those who have died to protect our freedom. I will remember that my great-grandparents were immigrants who were welcomed into a strange land with no money, no education and no discernible value or skills to offer. They didn’t speak English. They didn’t have degrees. They probably wouldn’t be welcomed today.

As a nation we have much to do. We have to work to insure our freedom and to guarantee freedom to all who enter here. We can do better! Our children and grandchildren deserve to live in an America that is still beautiful.

Our nation should be celebrated today. It’s messy. It’s imperfect. It’s mine. It’s yours. It’s ours. And it has ALWAYS been great.

Peace,

Denis

“I pray to God that you never have to flee violence or poverty or persecution with your children. And if that day comes that you must and your babies are forcibly removed from your arms, I will fight for you, too.”Brené Brown

 

Baby’s Breath

2:00 AM and the baby is crying. It requires every fiber of my being to pull myself out of my dream of being single and carefree and childless. When I finally realize that my beautiful wife has finally drifted off to much-needed sleep and is even more exhausted than I am, I rouse myself and stumble into the nursery, There he is. Warm, wet and bawling his little blue eyes out. I change what by now must be the 10,000th diaper and look at that face which is a startling reflection of my own. Why did we do this? What were we thinking?

Shh! Shh! Shh! I plead with the 2:00 AM screamer, hoping that he won’t wake the five year-old and three year-old who will be bounding out of bed in mere hours wanting breakfast and love and attention. I wonder then if the milk is bad and if we have enough cereal in the pantry. I know I’m running short on attention but I remember that I’ve been told (or read in Reader’s Digest or some other scholarly tome) that love multiplies it never divides. And so I trudge on.

I pick up the squaller and cradle him in my arms and I am overwhelmed by the sweet aroma of baby’s breath. That sweetness is nearly miraculous and I am humbled and frightened because fatherhood is a daunting responsibility.  I carry him to his mother’s arms and lie down next to them. Suddenly everything seems manageable. Somehow we will make this work. 

As I dose off to blessed sleep, I think of the young nurse in the hospital, who just a few short months before, was surprised how happy and excited we were when learning that this was our third child. Perhaps she had never smelled sweet baby’s breath or had never experienced the soul-transforming power of a tiny heart beat next to her own. 

Family

1983

Our baby boy was born on the day after Father’s Day in 1983. But that moment; those memories, were yesterday, and today, and tomorrow and will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Peace,

Denis

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Our two youngest granddaughters spent last week with us. This was kind of a big deal because these two haven’t spent any time away from home without their parents. Ainsley is five and Gwen is three. The five year-old thinks she’s in charge but the three year-old is often the one who is calling the shots. We all learned a few things from our week together. We laughed a lot and cried a little bit, too. Most of my tears were silent. You NEVER flinch or show fear or a three year-old will have you over the barrel! When she cried it was because I said NO! In fairness, nobody wants to be told no.

back yardMy lovely wife had the lion’s share of the responsibility, as I worked all week, but in the evenings and on the weekend I joined in the fun, too. We played outside everyday. We would have “dance parties” on the patio. Our inflatable pool was a source of joy and learning, as we tried to hold our breath under water (and learned to spit the pool water out after gulping some of it). We played ball in the backyard – soccer or wiffleball or “chase the ball” or whatever. Sometimes our outdoor play included looking for bunnies in the garden and then chasing the elusive beasts back into the lilies or honeysuckle.

It was exhausting and exhilarating. The girls sometimes pick at one another as sisters often do. Mostly over silly things: “Look what I have!” followed by, “I want it!” Or “Let’s play Disney Princesses” and then the fight would ensue over who got to be which princess. Usually we would let the squabbles play themselves out because really Ariel and Jasmine and Elsa and Tiana are pretty much one in the same. However at times adult intervention was required. One thing is for certain, we all went to bed early every night and slept soundly.

poolI learned that there is a bully at daycare (whose name will not be used to protect the innocent). This girl has been very rude (or WUDE as Gwen explains it). Apparently she has told our adorable granddaughter that she isn’t her best friend. And of course this hideous child has also pushed in line on occasion and says “oh my gosh” – which apparently are bad words in some circles.

One day Gwen told us that her baby doll would need to go to the doctor. This was all the more amusing because Gwen has the raspy voice of a two-pack-a-day smoker and declared matter-of-factly, “My baby’s dead!”  I thought it seemed a little late for the doctor but I’m not three.

Both girls learned a new word: consequences. If you make a choice you must live with the consequences. Crying because you wanted the green cup until your sister asked for the blue cup or throwing yourself on the floor because you didn’t want a hair clip until your sister had one and now you can’t live without one – these are consequences. This is tough territory for a three year-old and five year-old. But someone we all survived.

Truth is, I learned more from them than they learned from me. I learned we should all play outside whenever we can. We should dance on the patio and not worry about who may be watching. Ice cream cones should be served with every meal. We should all take more time just to be silly. We should all laugh more and cry less. And we should all (not just the girls) wanna have fun!

Maybe they should stay for two weeks next summer. I think I have a lot more to learn.

Peace,

Denis

Red Rover

“Red Rover, Red Rover, send Denny on over…” 

I remember as a child playing “Red Rover” with my cousins at my grandparents house. Because we were Catholic and growing up in the ’50’s and ’60’s, there were always a lot of us. Having 45 first cousins didn’t seem exceptional in my little world. Games that required a large group of small kids were pretty easy to play at Grandma and Grandpa’s. The object of “Red Rover” was lost on most of us. Certainly it was lost on me. I think we were supposed not let someone break the line or maybe trap them when they attempted to break the line. Perhaps there were no rules or we made them up to serve our purpose. Anyway, we would laugh and capture or repel one another or whatever we thought we were supposed to do. And we would do it over and over again.

1920283_10203140571134940_7189401573547634534_nWhen I think about those days of long ago, I realize that my cousins were my first friends. My cousins were my first peers. They were the ones that would laugh at me when I burped or farted or peed my pants or picked my nose – good peer pressure. I’m still thankful for their encouraging ridicule. Thanks to them, I am (nearly) socially acceptable.

My cousins were also my first partners in crime. We laughed when we heard our uncles and dads talking and some of them would use cuss words. Their cussing was pretty mild compared to today’s standards but we thought it scandalous and hilarious. On occasion we would “pretend smoke” our candy cigarettes and try out some cuss words. We were not allowed to play in the corn fields or in the beans or in the tomato plants but we could be persuaded to step foot into the forbidden zones when the adults were otherwise occupied. Grandpa always said to leave the barn cats alone, but at our own peril, we messed with them. These were not sweet little house kittens. These were nearly feral cats whose only goal in life was to keep the mice at bay. Picking one up would usually result in scratches and bites. The fact that the barn cats were “forbidden” made them that much more enticing. 

I’m still close to many of my cousins. Three of us are the same age (which I suppose happens a lot in big families). We still laugh and play together. We three still use some cuss words now and then and although we’ve given up candy cigarettes, we enjoy an occasional adult beverage together. Our lives are simultaneously different and the same. Being connected to one another in love and friendship makes the months and years between our get-togethers seem merely like days. And being together makes us feel like kids again.

10478692_10202593128809224_3266273771514063748_nMy cousins were the ones who taught me that belonging is important and necessary. We belong to one another – we share a history. Somehow I think God is mixed up in all of this. God decided we belonged together. For better or worse, we are family. 

I hope that there is a heaven. And I hope that if I’m fortunate enough to be there at the end this life, my cousins will be calling out, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Denny on over…” 

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Weary Traveler

Life is a journey. As with any journey, there are good times and bad. There can be unexpected turns or detours along the way. And sometimes EVERYTHING feels like an  uphill climb.

Losing Mom and making arrangements for Dad to live with assistance has been emotionally draining.

Mom’s funeral was a healing experience. The liturgy was beautiful. The luncheon was perfect. Our family held each other up both physically and spiritually. We cried, but mostly tears of joy for a life well spent. Mom would have been pleased and proud.

weary heartGetting Dad moved into an Assisted Living apartment was trying – lots of red-tape. Furnishing his new apartment with some of his (their) furniture has been bittersweet. It’s nice to give him familiar things but hard to take apart the house that had been their home for 57 years. Still harder is watching Dad grieve and trying to be strong and gentle at the same time while struggling with my own grief.  Nothing prepares you for this.

Mostly, I’m tired.

No one told me that grief could be so exhausting. Sleepless nights. Or nights interrupted by dreams or reminders of things left undone. Also the seemingly endless activity that is required in planning a funeral, finding and getting Dad settled into a new home, moving furniture, filling out paperwork, hours on the phone with my siblings reassuring each another that the decisions we are making are the right ones, staying strong and “holding up” and doing all of this while life goes on.

I’m not complaining. We were blessed with a Mom who lived to be 90 years old. I’m just feeling weary. I will rest later. Right now I have to keep on journeying.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Holding Noah’s Hand

My grandson Noah is a fierce competitor who likes to win. He’s the family’s UNO® champion and I really do try to beat him, but I just can’t. He plays soccer and basketball and baseball. And whether he’s on the field or the court, he gives it his all. He’s a good student, too. He works hard and gets all A’s. He’s quick-witted and loves to tell jokes. He’s thoughtful, inquisitive and he understands things beyond his years. He’s a human dynamo; always on the move; always ahead of the curve; always ready for the next adventure. I struggle to keep up with him. Most times I feel like he’s an adult in an eight- year old body.

And then he holds my hand.

He holds my hand when he feels uncertain about a new place or a new experience. He holds my hand when he feels frightened (although usually he’s fearless). He holds my hand when he meets people for the first time. He holds my hand and he’s a little boy again who needs his grandfather’s love and protection.

Noah meMore importantly, he holds my hand when I desperately need it to be held. I’m not sure if he knows it or senses it, but lately I need my hand held more than he needs me to hold his. He might be the toughest kid on the field or the court or the playground, but he still holds my old hand in his. He doesn’t seem to mind if anyone sees us walking hand and hand together. He takes my hand and makes me feel necessary and loved and blessed.

My Mom’s funeral was last week, and Noah was my shadow. He sat with me and held my hand and eased my pain. His great-grandmother was gone, and he was heartbroken, too. Yet he was more concerned with comforting me than being comforted himself.

Perhaps he is an adult in an eight-year old body. But all I really know is that he’s an eight-year old boy who brought Christ to me on the saddest of days by holding my hand.

Peace,

Denis

  

Mom

Mom, I love you. Thank you for all that you’ve done for me.

Mom Noah Me

Thank you for giving me life.

Thank you for my siblings and for teaching us how to love one another and reminding us that we always need one another.

Thank you for teaching me about God and how to pray. Your example of faith lives on in your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Thank you for loving Dad (and by the way, he adored you, too). I also appreciate that I inherited your energy and your sense of humor – even though Dad thinks he’s the funny one (and we all know he was never the fast one).

Thanks for throwing or kicking a ball, running bases and always joining in whatever game was being played in the backyard.

Thanks for being a good cook and for always having a dessert with every meal. Also, for never making me clean my plate as a kid – your mantra “just take one more bite” saved me from some otherwise torturous mealtimes.

Thank you for always keeping a clean house and having clean kids (even though we often resisted your nearly constant need to wipe our messy hands and faces).

Thanks for always welcoming my friends into your home. Especially that little girl from Saint Peters.

Thank you for being a ‘force to be reckoned with’. You weren’t large but everyone knew that you were in charge. You were calling the shots right up until the end. (And yes, I made those phone calls.)

Thanks for laughing so hard at times that you would cry. And for crying when you were sad, hurt, or heartbroken (and for allowing us to cry with you).

Thank you for teaching me how to do addition in my head – no one could do it as fast as you!

Thanks for teaching me how to drive a car, and for never losing your patience with me while I was struggling to learn.

Thanks for staying beautiful and up-to-date in your appearance and attitude. I’ve always been so proud to be seen with you Mom.

Thank you for loving Debbie, Pat and Tony as much as your own children. And for always saying that you couldn’t have picked better daughters-in-law or son-in-law yourself.

Thanks for loving our children and always making time at Gram’s house special for them. Two words: blueberry muffins!

Thank you for always keeping a toy box in your sewing room. And for letting the grandkids and great-grandkids sometimes take a toy home.

Thanks for proudly displaying all the pictures of your great-grandchildren on your refrigerator and telling me each time that I visited how those smiling faces filled your heart with joy.

Thank you for being you. And for surrounding our family with your love.

Mom, you will be missed but you will never be forgotten. And you will be loved for all eternity.

Peace,

Denis