Coping and Copying

Recently I reached out to some friends to see how they were managing during this most unusual year. Of course, calling 2020 an usual year is the understatement of this unusual year. And now I’ve done it again; unusual. Clearly I need a better adjective – perhaps abysmal or abnormal or outlandish or freakish or monstrous, but none of those words truly do justice to the pain, disruption, and misery of 2020. Eight years ago we lived in England and my British friends consider 2020 a terrible inconvenience. My American friends consider it a sh*t-show; not nearly as eloquent but certainly to the point.

While inquiring how friends are coping, I’ve learned a lot about resilience, good nature, humor, perseverance, hope, love, and faith.

Here are some of the comments my friends have shared:

“Summer is here with its ‘heat warnings’ and ‘water restrictions’. We thank God for AC and don’t venture out for walks, unless it’s early in the morning or late in the evening.”

“It helps that Missouri is one of six states with no open container law!”

“I cope with humor. I haven’t had a haircut since February and my hair gets frizzy in humidity. I am worried about my memory. Every time I see my reflection I think that although I don’t remember putting my finger in a wall socket, I must have.”

We have closed the office and are all working from home. My wife’s office closed before mine so she commandeered the study. I am reduced to working at the kitchen table. Schools are closed now, and with the boys locked up, they have turned feral!”

“Sure miss you guys. Hope to be able to get together soon.”

“I just finished one of our “chat sessions” where a dozen of us were on Zoom. It isn’t perfect but it is surely a good solution.”

“I miss friends and all of the activities we enjoyed. We are just watching and waiting.”

“We are just driving around. Pretty much the only thing we can do safely.”

“These are very difficult times, but we will be okay with God’s help and our friends holding us up in prayer.”

So, my friends are coping, each in their own way, and I am trying to cope by copying some of their positive attitudes and gentle humor. I am also trying to remain hopeful and prayerful. It certainly helps to know that even though we are not physically together, we are NEVER apart in spirit and love.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay hopeful.

Peace,

Denis

Take My Hand

“Take my hand.” It’s such a simple phrase. It can be delivered as a command. Many times with my children and grandchildren it is imperative that they must ‘take my hand’. It guards against danger – traffic or crowds or unfamiliar surroundings. It can be offered as a gesture of kindness or friendship. Please ‘take my hand’ and I will help you along the way over rough terrain or an uncertain future. It can be a request. ‘Take my hand’ and help me, steady me, hold me, give me strength and the courage to continue on.

For me, it has mostly been an expression of love. ‘Take my hand’ and join our souls. Walk with me on this journey of life.

I have been blessed beyond measure. I have a wife of 45 years who is still the light and love of my life. I have three grown children who amaze me and challenge me and love me as much as I love them. I have five grandchildren who fill my life with love and joy and laughter; they give me hope for the future. I have friends and family who give tirelessly of themselves and bring balance to my life.

Each of them – all of them, have held my hand; have strengthened me; have pulled me up from the depths of despair. They have held my hand in times of joy and sorrow. We have clasped hands in times of immeasurable happiness. I have felt their heartbeats pulsing through my own veins. They have rescued me from mundane annoyance and incomprehensible pain. All of this by simply ‘taking my hand’.

As a child I held my parents hands. Whether crossing the street or being consoled, I felt protection in that hand. I was rescued from fear and uncertainty with the simple gesture of having my hand held. Now with aged fathers, Deb and I often find ourselves holding their hands. The roles have reversed in a way. The protection that our Dads’ afforded us is now being returned by steadying old hands that need support, tenderness and guidance.

I believe in a higher power. I believe in a God who has brought these loved ones into my life. I know when they ‘take my hand’ it is God’s hand holding mine. Each of these people is bringing Christ to me.

My prayer is that I can be allowed to be Christ to them as well. God rescues each of us; sometimes we just need a hand.

Peace,

Denis

High School Class Reunion and Beyond…

Saturday was my high school class reunion. I have to admit that I approached this reunion with some amount of trepidation. I’m not sure why. I’m not the only one who is now 40 years older than when we graduated. We’ve all had our share of life’s joys and sorrows; triumphs and setbacks. But High School leaves this indelible mark on your psyche: jock or geek; brainiac or goof-off; good girl or bad boy. Some of us spend the rest of our lives trying to live-down our high school hijinks and some of us spend the rest our lives trying to relive our glory days (sad to think that some might have actually peaked in high school).

I suppose secretly I was hoping that maybe the captain of the basketball team would be fat and bald and that the homecoming queen would be a hot mess. Turns out that they are still attractive and even more importantly they are nice people. Guys that were jerks in high school seem to have mellowed with age. Girls that were unattainable then are somebody’s grandmother today and still beautiful. Some former classmates have incredible families. Some have had amazing careers. Some have accomplished great things. Some have enjoyed simple pleasures and good lives. It appears that time is the great equalizer.

I was the geeky kid that always forced my way into situations where I didn’t belong (probably still do). My best friend was a popular jock in high school and NEVER stopped being my friend although I probably made it difficult for him at times when I was in full nerd mode (we’re still friends today). The smart kids were my friends in school too, even though I barely managed a C average (maybe they took pity on me). I suppose that I never knew my place. Still don’t.

But the place I’ve found, with my lovely wife, has been the perfect place for me. We’ve built a life together that is full of love, joy and laughter. We’ve celebrated our successes, shouldered our burdens together and been partners through it all.

My class reunion was a lot of fun. I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen in years. We shared a lot of good memories and plenty of laughs. I realized last Saturday that reunions are a reminder that life is precious and time marches on.

Once upon a time a group of individuals shared a special time and place: High School. It was unique to us. For some it might have been angst-ridden; for others it might have been delightful; and for still others it might have been a bore. But it was ours.

We were the Duchesne High School Class of 1973!

Peace,

Denis

Remember When Valentine Was A Saint?

Growing up I celebrated Saint Valentine’s Day. Somewhere along the way it just became Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure why, maybe it was a concerted effort to eliminate all that is good and holy from our world or to brainwash us into buying Hallmark® cards. More than likely it’s just a harmless derivative of what once was a Catholic feast day honoring a saint whose very existence is in dispute. Generally it is believed that Valentinus was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II for aiding and marrying Christian couples (hence the romantic connection). But several Valentines are mentioned in early Christian history and many legends surround the name.

St. Valentine

Whether Valentine was a legend or a saint doesn’t have much bearing on how we celebrate February 14th. Today Valentine’s Day is a day for lovers. Whether it’s a new romance or a time-tested marriage; whether it’s the celebration of love between parents and their children or best friends; it’s a good day to say “I love you”. And how can that be a bad thing?

For me, my wife Deb is my Valentine. She’s the one that stands by me through thick and thin. She is my leaning post, my rock, my partner, my inspiration and my joy. She is the one that gives meaning to my life – she is my lifetime Valentine. If some red roses and a romantic meal together will show her how much her love means to me – it’s a small price to pay.

We love one another everyday but I believe that Valentine’s Day is a good day to love a little more. Hug those that are close to you just a little bit tighter. Kiss your wife (or husband) with a little more passion. Send a note to someone that you’ve neglected. Call a friend just to say hello. Help carry a load. Mend a quarrel. Make peace. Love.

Some folks might bemoan the fact that the ‘Saint’ has been taken out of Valentine’s Day but I think that Valentine cards and heart-shaped boxes of candy are as harmless as bunnies on Easter. And maybe, just maybe, it’s better to honor those saints living among us than some saint from antiquity.

Peace (and Love)

Denis

The Wads

Our daughter Bess’ first college roommate was a one of her best friends from Homestead High School.  Down the hall from her dorm room was one of her other best friends from grade school and high school.  So leaving her at the University of Wisconsin that freshman year didn’t seem quite so daunting because she had good friends nearby.  That year she would meet two other girls – one from Cedarburg High School just north of where we lived, and another from Minnesota.  Even though Bess and Laurie had been friends the longest (since 6th grade) and she had known Kristy since freshman basketball in high school, all five girls bonded pretty quickly.  They became a pack and carried (or were carried) by one another for the next four years.  Their friendship continues to this day and I suspect it will last their lifetimes.

Their junior year at Wisconsin it was decided that they would leave the dorms and move into a townhouse apartment – the five plus one more.  Six girls in a townhouse with 2 bathrooms – that’s three girls per bathroom – you can do the math yourself.  College-age girls share EVERYTHING.  They shared one another’s clothes; they shared each others cosmetics; they drank and ate after one another (I found this particularly disgusting); they even shared one another’s beds – perhaps if it was a stormy night or if they had nightmares (and probably when a roommate had a boy spend the night – I’m just sayin’…).  It was this habit of being so TOGETHER (literally and figuratively) that garnered them the nickname ‘The Gay-wads’.  Now for the record that nickname came from one of the other dads – not yours truly!  I’m not certain what he meant exactly (probably just that they were too close and that outsiders might think they were gay, I suppose) but the girls thought it was hysterical and after that they referred to themselves as the ‘The Gay-wads’; later shortened to ‘The Wads’. 

The following year the ‘plus one’ moved on and ‘The Wads’ moved to yet another place (sans Laurie who was studying abroad in Spain).  This time they lived in a converted bungalow with an additional couple of new girls.  But ‘The Wads’ remained solid.  I’ve only been allowed a glimpse or two into their world – the shared stories have been altered (and sanitized).  There’s a reason that the University of Wisconsin was voted the #1 party school.  I’m sure ‘The Wads’ helped maintain that reputation.  In spite of all the partying, I know that these girls were there for one another time and time again.  I’m certain that some actual studying took place, too.  After all, they did all five graduate!

Graduation from Wisconsin was bittersweet – they would all be moving on.  Some of them would work after graduation; some would continue on to graduate school.  But one thing was certain:  LIFE WAS CHANGING. 

Our daughter graduated with a double major in Political Science and Spanish and went to work in Human Resources at a large hospital in Milwaukee.  Kristy went on to a doctoral program in Boston via Purdue and Austin.  Laurie went to law school at Marquette in Milwaukee.  Katie went to work as a nurse in a hospital in Boston.  And Amanda joined the Peace Corp, eventually ending up in grad school in Michigan.  The ‘Wads’ were officially grown-ups (sort of).

Today all five are married (to people that I approve of – as if that matters).  Our daughter, Bess was the first to marry – seven years ago.  Katie was the last – two weeks ago.  Their lives have taken each of them in different directions and they all have a world of opportunities and experiences still awaiting them.  But when they get together once or twice a year they are still the ‘Wads’.  They laugh at the same silly jokes and reminisce about the same crazy adventures (or misadventures) that they shared.  The spouses have been allowed to come along on this journey and it’s a testament to their love that each husband or wife seems to enjoy/tolerate ‘Wad Weekend’.  I believe the spouses may have formed a support group of their own.

Sometimes I miss those girls that were – before jobs and spouses and children.  There was once an innocence about them and it seemed like collectively they would one day rock our world!  But you know, the reality is they are rocking our world.  They are all contributing members of our society.  They think before they act.  They work for positive change. They care for those in need. They are stewards of our planet.  They are the teachers, nurturers, builders of a future that embraces diversity and opportunity of all.  They are the best our world has to offer. 

When they get together they might still be “Gay-wads”.  They might giggle and act like 18 year-olds again but something happens when they go home.  They become the women of integrity and substance and beauty that they were meant to be.  And I am honored to know them. 

Our daughter Bess is raising her own beautiful daughter now and will give birth to baby #2 in just a few weeks.  My prayer is that someday my grandchildren have their own group of ‘Wads’ and that they will know that kind of true and lasting friendship.

Peace,

Denis