I still vividly remember our wedding day and my bride walking down the aisle. It felt surreal. The sunlight was streaming through the windows and the light seemed to be emanating from her. I believe I saw my future in her beautiful green eyes at that very moment. That was 44 years ago and the light still shines. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in this life, but the one thing I did right was on January 4, 1975 when I said, “I do.”
I do. I did. I will.
Debbie and I have had an incredible journey along the way. Raising three children and pursuing multiple careers. Living on two continents. Meeting new friends while holding on to those we’ve known since childhood. Being blessed with five grandchildren. Traveling the world together. Praying together. Laughing together. Crying together.
We do. We did. We will.
I have a friend who says he’s the lucky man alive. I think I could challenge that, because I’ve always thought I was the luckiest guy on Earth. I have been blessed beyond measure. I know that I don’t deserve the life I’ve been given. So, I thank God everyday.
I do. I did. I will.
Life hasn’t always been easy but the good times outweigh the bad. The laughter drowns out the tears. And sometimes hanging on means holding on. Holding on to one another. Never letting go. Remembering in our darkest hours that our love will survive. If all is lost, our perfect love can still be found.
We did. We do. We will. Forever.
P.S. Happy Anniversary Deb!
P.S.S. I would have written this song for you 44 years ago, except you know that I don’t have any musical ability whatsoever. Anyway, you’re still perfect for me.
Recently our grandchildren had their school pictures taken. Of course all of them are beautiful and the photos will be treasured always. But while thinking about school pictures of the past I couldn’t help but reflect on the anxious moments that “SCHOOL PICTURE DAY” sometimes created.
When I was a kid, Mom had my brother and I wear matching clothes on picture day. Not sure if the humiliation was intentional. Every year was another black and white snapshot of crew cut, buck teeth and plaid shirt. Looking back on those photos from 1st to 8th grade is like looking at the progression of early man from Neanderthal to modern human.
With our own children, who wore uniforms to school everyday, picture day was special because it was “out of uniform” day, too. I have never really understood a school that takes pride in its uniformed minions allowing (encouraging?) picture day to be uniform-free. So one day each year the “what am I going to wear?” crisis took place. Truth be told, looking back at those old photos, it appears that some of those fashion choices were made with intentional humiliation. Sorry kids – we apparently possessed poor parenting skills.
With digital photography and nearly instant access, parents today are offered a multitude of choices; different poses; different backgrounds; different lighting. Adorable keepsakes all.
But somehow I kind of miss the crap-shoot of the old days. The only choices we had were: wallet size, 5 x 7, or 8 x 10. The mug was the same on all. You didn’t know until “SCHOOL PICTURE DELIVERY DAY” if you had kept your eyes open or if you were smiling or if your hair was sticking up or if you were missing teeth or if that black eye or fat lip was noticeable.
Those photos may have been a truer chronicle of our school days than what today’s kids have. At least they’re funnier.
Years ago I worked with a guy who had a young son. My workmate discovered the little guy, who was usually quite active, in solemn contemplation. Concerned that his son was anxious about something, he gently asked, “Hey buddy whatcha thinkin’ about?” His five year-old’s response: “Cheese.” He was just blissfully enjoying the moment. Not worried tomorrow. Or what had or hadn’t happened the day before. Just cheese.
Sometimes I long for those “cheese” moments in my life. Times when I am truly present. When I can turn off the worries and the anticipations of tomorrow and let go of the recriminations and regrets of the past. I’ve tried centering prayer and meditation but I usually fill the silence with silly pop songs in my head or I struggle to remember if I’ve paid a bill that was due or what my third grade teacher’s name was. I’m a “what’s next? – let’s move on” kind of guy. It’s a struggle for me to S L O W D O W N and smell the roses.
This weekend was my 45th high school class reunion and I felt blessed to be very much in the moment. Of course we reminisced about school days long ago but mostly I met my old friends where they are today. Some married high school sweethearts. Many of us are grandparents now. Some have had amazing careers. Some have found great fortune. Some have had more than their share of heartache. But for a brief shining moment we were the NEW AND IMPROVED class of 1973 in 2018. An updated version – free of adolescent angst. We weren’t the jocks or geeks or cheerleaders or rebels anymore. We were just old friends sharing a moment in time. The wrinkles and gray hair and extra pounds seemed to magically disappear as we embraced one another. We shared laughter and rekindled friendships. The familiar faces and warm conversations made me feel as though I had just graduated and turned right around and walked back through the door.
I know that it was just one moment in time. I know that we will all rush back to our busy lives for better or for worse. But I left the evening feeling extremely grateful. Thankful for my friends. Thankful for my memories.
And so I’m sitting at my desk today smiling to myself and thinking about high school (and a little boy who once loved cheese) and I’m living in the moment.
My son Blake tells me that he’s pretty sure we are all one consciousness. The universe experiencing itself; a pulse experienced through different hardware. He believes that unconditional love is the answer but what is the question?
He and I sometimes have these existential kinds of conversations. What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Or is it all some elaborate myth? Were we “created” or do we exist because of some cosmic happenstance? Do we need God? Does God need us?
It makes me think. And wonder. And pray. And sometimes I wonder as I pray.
People behave badly. We murder. We rape. We abuse children. We discriminate based on religion, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. We arm ourselves. We build walls. We exploit the most vulnerable amongst us.
Genesis tells us: God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. But if ‘God is love’ why is there so much un-Godlike behavior happening in our world. If God made us in his (her) image why aren’t we loving one another? Why aren’t we lifting one another up? Why aren’t we caring for one another?
And then I crawl out of my hole and look around. I see every little loving thing that my wife does each day for me and countless others. I see my friends who have often lifted me up during times of heartache and self-doubt. I realize that I am cared for not just by friends and family but by strangers who work for peace and justice in our world.
My grandson Noah asked me recently, “Pawpaw, do you know what zeal is?” Before I could offer a definition he exclaimed, “It’s how God loves us and how God wants us to love others!” And I realize then that we do! We do love one another. We do lift each other. We do care for one another. Not always. Not all of us. Not often enough. But we do!
And perhaps that’s the question – why not always; why not all of us; why not often enough? Unconditional love is the answer. God was once again revealed to me through my seven year-old grandson. God is in the love we share; in the countless times that Noah has lifted me up from my gloominess and my self-pity; all the times that we have cared for one another. Noah full of zeal! Blake too has loved me and lifted me with his kindness; his sincerity; his goodwill. These two (uncle and nephew) come from very different places – physically and spiritually but God is there – loving; lifting; caring.
Evil exists. Bad things happen. But that’s not the end of the story. God has given us power over evil. We just need to share the gift of Love. Perhaps then others will ask the question – why not always? why not all of us? why not often enough?
The expression “getting your just desserts”, that which is deserved or merited was originally “just deserts”. Because most modern English speakers are unfamiliar with that old sense of desert, the phrase is most often understandably written just desserts.
Growing up with a mother who is half French meant that we were treated to dessert with every meal – cakes, pies, cream puffs, cookies, brownies, puddings, whether it was deserved or not. What lucky kids we were! Sweet, rich, delicious, fattening desserts were just part of our life. Eating dinner (or lunch) was really just an exercise in getting to the reward of dessert. It wasn’t until I was nearly grown before I realized that our family was unique. Sadly not everyone had homemade desserts with each and every meal. Ever sadder, some folks didn’t even have store-bought dessert! Why not??? I still can’t understand nor explain that anomaly.
When my wife and I were first dating I was invited to her home for dinner. Her mother prepared a beautiful meal. After dinner I was asked if I would like a cup of coffee. Of course! What else would I drink with dessert? Coffee was prepared and poured and then nothing. Nothing. No mention of dessert. No inkling of dessert. No dessert. We talked. I was even offered a second cup of coffee, which I gladly excepted, hoping it would prompt the serving of THE DESSERT. But still nothing. And then the strangest thing happened. Dinner ended. Without dessert! I remember thinking that Deb’s mom was going to be really embarrassed later when she realized that she had forgotten to serve the dessert. I sheepishly mentioned this to Deb later in the evening and she said, very matter-of-factly, “We don’t usually have dessert.” I was astonished and then I really questioned whether we should continue dating. What kind on family was this? Were they Communists? Or some weird religious sect? Were they allergic to deliciousness? What in hell would make people “usually not have dessert”? Not even the store-bought stuff?
All these years later when I reflect back on this it makes me keenly aware that we all have expectations. I’m often anticipating something to happen the way I want it to happen – the way I think it should happen. I expect someone to behave the way I want them to behave – the way I think they should behave. I’m waiting for that dessert that may never be offered. And herein lies my disappointment and frustration. I’m so programmed to “the way it ought to be” that I sometimes miss the joy of new experiences. I’m so conditioned to “following the rules” that I miss the adventure of an unexpected journey. Opening myself up to new ideas and new places and new people doesn’t negate my life story. Instead it enriches me and gives depth and adds greater meaning to the traditions that I hold dear. So often I am certain that I don’t deserve something better (love, joy, happiness) that I stop trying to achieve a better life. I stagnate in my self-loathing and self-pity. But I know that there is more and I believe that the best is yet to come.
Perhaps “no dessert” all those years ago was my just desserts. After all, look what I gained in the process. By the way Deb and I have been married for over 42 years now and she converted. We are a dessert-with-every-meal family. So I guess we both gained something on this journey together.
I’m probably not alone in sometimes imagining what my life will be like in the future. What may be unique is the amount of detail that my daydreams include. Often when I’m stuck in traffic or on a tarmac or at the DMV, I will time-travel to the future:
Recently I imagined a day when President Anna (my 5 year-old granddaughter who will most certainly be a politician or a Hollywood agent because she can talk anyone into anything – well me anyway – and is a budding ballet dancer) was presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to her cousin Dr. Charlise (my 9 year-old granddaughter who will be an Egyptologist and a research scientist because she reads everything she can find on ancient Egypt and loves reality television shows or books with titles like Extreme Medical Maladies or Abnormal Sea Life) for discovering cures for cancer, heart disease and boogie fever – which has seen a resurgence from the 1970’s while Attorney General Noah (my 3 year-old grandson “Life’s a Party Noah”, race car driver and brother of President Anna, which is how he’ll get the Attorney General gig) and Pope Ainsley (3 month-old baby sister of Charlise who will be the first American Pope – and a woman!) look on. Of course I’ll be there too.
Future President, Attorney General, Scientist and Pope
Not all of my daydreams are quite this detailed but more often than not, they are. Should I be concerned? I don’t think so. Don’t we all imagine life in the future? Doesn’t everyone wonder what life will be like someday? I assume that it’s just natural human curiosity to try to work it out in our minds; to imagine what is coming so we can be prepared. Certainly most of my preparation for the future will be figuring out how to accept the nearly constant praise for my amazing grandchildren. I’m certain that I will learn to accept it with humility.
Okay, so most of this was written “tongue in cheek” but I do daydream at times about the future and I always imagine that I’m there. I’m not quite so egocentric that I think life won’t go on without me. I know that someday I will die. But I do like to think that I’ll still be there – in spirit, in memory, in the love that I shared. I believe this because all those that have loved me are still here. In my heart, in my soul, and in everything that I say and do.
God gives us eternal life. And sometimes in the quiet stillness, I get a tiny glimpse of what that really means. And someday, well you know…
Our home office is actually a multi-purpose room. It’s truly a third bedroom that was converted into an office and now serves as the toy room, the art supply room, the nursery, the occasional spare bedroom and whenever possible is actually used as an office. I often find my center here. I pray here. I blog here.
I love this room because it is full of reminders of all the love in my life. This room is comfort and joy to me. And even when it’s a little messy – toys or books or art projects strewn about – it is still a place of repose. Sometimes when I’m alone I read the grandkids’ books to myself, like “You Are My Wish” by Maryann Cusimano Love – “I am your soft lap; you are my climb. I am your story; you are my rhyme.” – what poetry! it just tugs at my heart!
Sometimes this room is full of activity with three grandchildren happily playing or creating some new works of art. Sometimes this room is still except for the soft breath sounds of Noah while he is napping in his crib. Sometimes music is playing through the speakers thanks to a handy son-in-law. And sometimes it’s just me clacking away at the keyboard of my computer and then proofreading and deleting (and re-typing and re-reading and deleting again). It truly is a multi-purpose room.
And the love abounds. It’s found in the favorite toys and books. It’s in the little mementos of our travel abroad. It’s in the photos of friends and family. It’s in a note from Deb of little importance (except it’s written in her beautiful penmanship). It’s in the small plaque that reads, “God Only Knows What I’d Be Without You”.
This room will never be featured on HGTV or shown in House Beautiful. It’s cluttered and a bit haphazard. It’s full of Legos and storybooks and baby dolls. It’s relatively small and it lacks any real style. But it’s our room. And it’s our life. And it reflects our love.
They say that home is where the heart is – this room might just be our soul.
My life is a little ‘upside down’ right now. Home is Saint Louis but because I live in the United Kingdom now that’s home, too. So after a nice visit back home, I’m back home. But which is which?
I suppose the answer is both.
I love my family and miss them terribly but Deb and I are here in England together and that makes it right. And we are having our big adventure and meeting new people and seeing new places and sharing this special time together. Right here ~ right now.
On the other hand my heart is in the United States with my kids, grandkids, parents, siblings, and friends. Right there ~ right now. So I am a man living in two countries. One physically; one emotionally. And that’s right, too. Right here and there ~ right now.
Next weekend we will go to Paris for a little get-away. Paris! A little holiday from our year-long holiday. And then we’ll come back home to England. England!
If someone had told me 37 years ago when Deb and I walked down the aisle together that we would someday be living in the U.K. and traveling Europe together I would have thought they were totally mad (and I say ‘mad’ now because I’m practically English). But back then we were a couple of 19-year old “knuckleheads” without a pot to pee in. And now here I am writing this after just finishing my cottage pie and sticky toffee pudding whilst ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ is playing in the background on the telly. And it’s for real.
This year my Lenten journey has been different from any year that I can recall. It’s not just because I’m living in England (although that has something to do with it); it’s that I’ve made a conscious effort to find God in all things – even the shitty stuff.
Each year I look at Lent as a time to cleanse my soul; refresh my spirit; and let go. This year I’ve decided to hold on. I’m holding on to grudges, hurts, disappointments, and hate and ‘staring them square in the eye.’ I’m forcing myself to encounter my own sinfulness. I’m examining the times when I have failed to love. Self-examination is not for the faint of heart but I’m reminded that God is always with me. Even during my lowest points I have not been abandoned.
Often when things don’t go my way I want to cry or scream or cuss (or all three). But usually the bad things pass or the disappointment fades or the hurt heals and I realize then that I could never survive without my faith. The faith that is nourished by my family, my friends and my community. The faith that sustains me during life’s heart-breaks, setbacks and disappointments.
It seems that disappointments come in all forms. My 18 month-old grandson Noah attends a gym class. Said gym class consists of running around on padded mats, swinging from bars, throwing the occasional ball and following some limited instructions with a bunch of other 1 or 2 year-olds. It’s great fun! This week while doing his “routine” he spied an obvious grandfather watching through the visitor’s window. Occasionally he would stop and wave at the man. At the end of class while Noah was walking toward him, the grandfather scooped a little girl up in his arms (apparently his own granddaughter). With that, Noah sat right down and cried. I’m not certain if he mistook the man for me but that’s what my daughter suspected. Maybe he just wanted to be held – don’t we all? Maybe he was wondering why he wasn’t the one being swept up into his Pawpaw’s arms? We’ll never know exactly what was going on in Noah’s little heart and mind.
Of course after hearing that story, I nearly sat on the floor and cried, too. Why did I leave my grandkids to come to England? Why must Noah cry? Why does the separation have to hurt so much at times? What can I do to make it right? At that moment I desperately needed Noah in my arms and still today I ache for his touch. On Easter I will have the joy of holding him and his sister and his cousin. Until then I will just hold on to the bittersweet thought of his disappointment. Poor Noah – poor me!
Jesus’ victory over death on Easter Sunday is our victory, too. But perhaps first we must embrace our own suffering to be truly joyous on that glorious day. I know that I will be beaming on Easter with Noah in my arms. Until then, I will have to continue my soul-searching and confront the pain and disappointments in my life. And remember that God will never abandon me.
I’ve had a little drummer boy at my house this year (and two little drummer girls, too). There’s something about having the grandkids around that makes Christmas that much merrier; that much happier – the giggles, the silliness, the excitement. It’s all pure joy!
Come Let Us Adore Him
But then there’s been the “holy” moments, too. Those kind of sneak up on me:
This morning Charlise’s Polly Pocket® and one of her friends have decided to join the Wise Men at our Nativity scene. Why wouldn’t Polly want to “come and adore Him”?
On Christmas morning at Mass Anna sang “Joy To The World” very loudly and to the delight of the parishioners sitting nearby – a solo choir of angels! (Thank you Assumption Parish Pre-school and Miss Ashley)
And somehow Noah seems to find those times, when I’m feeling especially nostalgic, to run to me and wrap his arms around my neck and wipe away any melancholy – my little drummer boy!
This is one of those special Christmases when all three of our kids are home – Tyson home from Korea and Blake from Wisconsin and of course Bess and Travis here in town. It’s especially wonderful because next week Deb and I are leaving for our big European Adventure. And exciting as it is, it means more separation from our loved ones – so it’s bitterweet.
So this morning I’m having a quiet moment and thanking God for my blessings. And looking forward to some more family time (so rare; so precious) and along the way there’ll be lots more love and laughter and maybe even a tear or two, but my little drummer boy (and girls) will be there to wipe them away – pa rum pum pum pum!