Respecting Life

As a Catholic Christian I have a responsibility to respect life. Lately I’ve been thinking about what respecting life means to me. Not “Respect For Life” the pro-life mantra with all of it’s political implications but respecting life; the life we’ve been given and the lives of others.

In 1996 when our daughter was in high school she had the opportunity to be a foreign exchange student. At sixteen years old she traveled alone to Santo Domingo, Ecuador and lived with a host family for the summer. Her hosts welcomed her as part of their family. She attended school with her sisters, joined in family events, was never allowed to walk the streets alone without her brother’s protection and was completely immersed in life in Santo Domingo. During her time in Ecuador, she and several other international students spent a bonus week in the rainforest. They rode an antiquated bus into the jungle, slept in hatched huts, encountered huge snakes, fought off marauding monkeys who would snatch food from their picnic tables, and experienced a life most hadn’t realized even existed. Part of that week also involved meeting indigenous peoples in order to appreciate their culture.

Because this was before the days of smart phones and texting and easy access to the internet we were able to only receive one fax and two phone calls from our daughter during her time abroad. Needless to say, when she arrived home she had much to share.

I remember vividly her telling us about her experience in the rainforest. Her best friend was over and our daughter was sharing her photos while describing in detail everything we saw. She mentioned how they had all been offered a drink of some concoction from a wooden bowl. I believe it was considered a blessing or sign of hospitality. She took the vessel and held it up to her mouth but she didn’t swallow. Pretty discerning for a sixteen year old. She was respectful but cautious. (Her mother’s influence should be credited for that gracious maneuver). When we looked at the photos of how the people were dressed (and undressed) and had painted their faces. Her friend exclaimed at the top of her voice, “Oh my God, I would stare!”

Those two girls, at sixteen, respected life. My daughter concerned by what might be mixed in that unknown concoction, nonetheless was respectful enough to accept the gift given. Her friend’s reaction to the native Ecuadorians unusual costumes was only an embarrassed, “I would stare!” Neither girl expressed disgust or hatred or fear of a different life. They were respecting life. A life so different from their own but deserving of dignity and respect. I was so proud of those girls then and I am proud of the women that they have become. They are both mothers now and they are raising their children to also respect life. And they are changing our world. One works in immigration; one works in education.

In a interview in America Magazine on October 1, 2020, Jeannie Gaffigan said, “My faith, family and Catholic education have given me the belief in the innate dignity and worth of every single human being. Human life is sacred, and all humans have equal value. Of course, this means it is wrong to intentionally take a human life under any circumstances, but it is also wrong to disregard human life through racism, unjust social and economic structures, providing inadequate access to health care, wantonly harming the environment, abusing or neglecting anyone—a child, a mother, a father, a grandparent, an immigrant.”

Our daughter and her best friend were also given a Catholic education and faith and love of family was instilled in them as well. I can’t take too much credit for the amazing person that our daughter has become but we did teach her to respect life.

So here is my prayer; here is my hope. That one parent will teach one child to respect life. And our world can be transformed one child at a time.

Peace,

Denis

I Am Who I Should Be

When I was in high school, I was 6’-2” and weighed 120 lbs. soaking wet. My parents’ friends and some family members would often ask if I played basketball. The assumption was of course that because I was tall and skinny, I should be a natural on the court. The truth was that I had the coordination of a newborn giraffe. Come to think of it, I kind of looked like a newborn giraffe. I doubt that I could have run down the court without tripping myself. So, no I was not a basketball player. But folks thought I should be.

When my wife and I got married we were young and had no idea of what might lie ahead. We were a couple of small-town kids in love and that seemed like enough to get us through. Lots of people felt obliged to tell us that it would never work out and that we were making a big mistake. Of course, it wasn’t easy, but our love survived and thrived. I was (and am) happy to be married to this amazing woman, even though people thought I wouldn’t be.

When we had children, I tried to be a “hands-on” dad. I could change diapers, burp and bathe babies, read bedtime stories, dry tears (sometimes my own), and all the rest. My wife was the true nurturer, but I was no slouch. I did everything she did (except breast feed) and I believe it made me a better daddy and a better man. Other men, I knew at the time, questioned why I would be so involved in what they believed should have been my wife’s job. Even my own father wondered why I was so wrapped up in all this baby business. The kind of dad he was – that’s what he thought I should be.

As our children grew, I stayed active in their young lives. This “hands-on” dad would be faced with challenges in child rearing. Three teenagers each with different interests and divergent paths at times felt overwhelming. With prayer and patience (mostly the prayers were for more patience) I did the best I could. Once, another parent questioned why I wasn’t “helping” my son with his science project. The implication was that he would do a lousy job without parental supervision. When I replied that I didn’t want to do my son’s work and I would rather see him fail on his own than succeed with me covertly completing the science project, the other parent thought I was dead wrong. A few years later our other son decided to dye his hair bright green when he was in high school. I remember a parent asking me why I would let him do that. I shrugged and said, “First of all, he didn’t exactly ask for my permission and secondly, I was only disappointed that he didn’t dye it blue, which is my favorite color.” These people didn’t think I was the father that I should be.

When our only daughter got married, I was an emotional wreck on the inside. I loved her fiancé and was certain he would be a good husband and I knew that we had raised a strong, intelligent, confident young woman. Still, I could only think about the baby girl that I had held in my arms and I wasn’t sure if I could get through her wedding day without being a blubbering idiot. I prayed and asked God to give me strength. I didn’t want anyone to mistake my potential tears as unhappiness or displeasure in her decision to marry. Thankfully I got through the day with a smile on my face and not one tear fell (at least not from my eyes). Later at the wedding reception folks marveled at the fact that I wasn’t crying. They all thought that I should be.

Now that I’m a grandfather, people mistake me for an old conservative. Maybe it’s because I live in a bastion of conservatism – in my county Republicans often run unopposed for elected offices. I can’t be the only white-haired old guy who is also a progressive. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have white hair and they’re not wearing MAGA hats. I’m certain there are other men my age who consider themselves feminists. Surely other 60-somethings want humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, the end of discrimination against minorities and women in the workplace, dignity afforded to those in LGBT community, effective gun control legislation, protection of our environment and the abolishment of capital punishment. I find myself often silent in social settings – not wanting to be offensive and trying hard not to be offended. My friends know me (the real me) but it seems at times that even they don’t think I’m who I should be.

I guess I’ve spent my whole life not quite meeting other people’s expectations. I’ve never apologized for not being who or what others thought I should or shouldn’t be but at times I’ve been sheepish about it. Sheepish – not in the shy or embarrassed sense (“Oh please don’t tell anyone that I changed a diaper last night and that I voted for Jimmy Carter”). But sheepish – in the following blindly along with the other sheep. (“I don’t like your racist, homophobic, xenophobic blather, but I’m just going to nod and walk away without challenging it”). Shame on me! Because that’s not who I think I should be.

So, I pray. I have a small faith group that I meet with monthly. My prayer partners help me put things into perspective and remind me to rely less on myself and more on God. My wife keeps me grounded and loves me more than I deserve. My kids constantly astound me by being even more generous and loving as adults than I ever dreamed possible. My grandchildren are the jewels in this crown of goodness called life that has been bestowed upon me; none of which is deserved but is nonetheless cherished beyond measure.

Sometimes I still feel like that newborn giraffe – clumsy, frightened, ridiculously ill-equipped to take even the smallest step but somehow I trod on.

Perhaps that’s exactly who I should be.

Peace,

Denis

Nine Years of Joy

Our Grandson Noah turns nine years-old today. Where does the time go? It seems like yesterday I held him in my arms for the first time. 

SelfieNoah has filled those nine years with love and joy, There are people who carry joy with them wherever they go. Noah has that gift. Any encounter with this joy-giver always makes me feel better; better about myself; better about life; better about this world. Noah has spirit. He has an amazing sense of adventure. He’s often the life of the party. He’s always looking for the good time; the big laugh; the happiness in every situation. He’s fun and funny. And he shares his boundless joy!

Noah is moving forward at record speed. He is growing in leaps and bounds. He seems to be in a hurry to get on with life; to learn more; play harder; face new challenges; enjoy new adventures; love more deeply. He is always looking forward to his next test; his next game; his next school year; his future. 

Noah and meStill, as he races toward that future, I know that he remembers to look back, too. For that, I am forever grateful. I hope when he looks back, he sees the love and security he has in being part of this family. I hope when he looks back, he sees that he has been nurtured and loved beyond measure. I hope when he looks back, he can take pride in his home; his school; his church; his community; his country. Those will be the building blocks of that future he seems so ready to take on.

Sometimes when I fear my future, I think of Noah and how he will conquer this world someday and make it a better place. Come to think of it, he already has. His kindness and joyfulness are much-needed antidotes for the sickness and sadness and corruption that I see in the news every day. When we are together, he and I, we share our stories – mine of boyhood memories of long ago; his of successes or challenges on the ball field or in the class room – we connect in way that is both physical and spiritual. Noah meets my every need, just by smiling at me; holding my hand; embracing me; telling me that he loves me.

Noah and NanaAs much as I need this beautiful boy,  I believe he needs me too. My love for him is unconditional. I’d  like to think that I love Noah the way that I hope God loves me. No proof of worthiness required. No test of loyalty needed. No apologies necessary.

Just boundless love and eternal joy.

Peace,

Denis 

P.S. Happy Birthday Noah Boy!

P.S.S. This is one of Noah’s favorite songs. 

 

 

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

 

 

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

  

Be The Change

At times I am overwhelmed. There is so much suffering in our world. We are divided as a nation. I feel hopeless and helpless. I have become discouraged and disenchanted. Hatred seems to rule the day. Many of our political leaders have decided to take the low road – creating fear and panic; demonizing whole segments of our population; building walls instead of bridges.

I sometimes find myself waiting for things to get better. As if somehow but just wishing for a better world, better country, better town, better neighborhood, it will guarantee that things improve. I don’t want to get too dirty, too tired, too messy, too involved, but I sure wish someone would.

I thank God for people who have a positive impact on our world. Those brave souls who are doing their part to make a difference. Folks who are willing to put their love of their fellow humans into action. Standing up for what is right and having the courage to put themselves out there to listen and learn and to help others. Saints among us. And examples for us all.

Trying to be a Christian and falling short of that ideal is a reoccurring theme in my life. Cynicism hardens my heart. Gossip and hateful rhetoric dulls my mind. Distrust and dishonesty saps my spirit. How do I change? Where do I start?

As I often do, I look for wisdom and inspiration from my grandchildren. They renew my soul. They’re the future. I want to follow their examples of love and kindness.

threeRecently our oldest granddaughter Charlise donated her long beautiful hair to a charity that provides wigs for those battling cancer (she donated enough for two). Her selfless act humbles me. Our granddaughter Anna finished her basketball season this past weekend. She hugged me tight after her game, thanked me for being there, and told me that she loved me. Those words were golden – just being there made me worthy of her love. My grandson Noah told me that someone at his soccer game on the opposing team said something very unkind. And then he told me that he felt sorry for that boy because no one had taught him how to be a good sport. Noah wasn’t angry. He was sad for the other boy. Noah’s coaches and his parents have taught him well.

Once again, I was schooled by the children. They are already having a positive impact on our world. They’ll be the change. They are the future. And I hope that I get to join them there to do my small part.

Peace,

Denis

A Nation of Immigrants

For most of us we needn’t go back more than a few generations to find ancestors who immigrated to the United States.

In my own family we are descendants of fur traders who journeyed from France to Canada and ultimately to the Midwest around the time of the Revolutionary War, as well as Germans seeking political refuge and Welsh miners and laborers escaping possible starvation in the 19th century. Some came seeking fortune and wealth. Some were fleeing poverty, political injustice, or religious persecution. All came hoping for a better life.

In the 18th and 19th centuries when our nation’s economy needed foreign labor, my great-grandparents and great-great grandparents (and many other immigrants) provided it. Most of them suffered great hardships yet they built lives and in turn they served their new homeland. They worked hard. They built homes. They built churches. They raised families. They built our nation. They built a better life for the generations who followed.

Today our nation’s economy still demands foreign labor, yet there are insufficient visas to meet this demand and a political climate that denigrates immigrants. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face unreasonably long separations, due to backlogs of available visas. U.S. immigration laws and policies need to be changed. Today’s immigrants are also hoping for that better life that we take for granted.

immigrant familyWhy do we often label those who are seeking asylum as villainous? Why do we disregard the humanity at our borders as pawns in some political game?  Why do we only see danger, terror, and suspicion in those searching for a better life?

There may have been some who were frightened by my 13 year-old great-grandmother when she immigrated to the U.S. alone in the late 1800’s. She spoke no English. She had no marketable skills. She had nothing to offer. Nevertheless, she persisted. She found a better life for my grandfather, my father and ultimately me.

The next time we think of immigrants as non-persons or some problem that we wish would go away, we should remember that for most of us it was only a generation or so ago that we were in their shoes. And how much better is our nation because our forebears crossed that border?

Let’s be a nation that welcomes our sisters and brothers.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheese

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.

LIVE-YOUR-LIFE-TO-THE-FULLESTThis 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.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

Uber Confessions

I travel in business quite a bit. In my travels I use Uber, which is a ride-sharing or private taxi service. Uber drivers use their own vehicles and provide quick convenient service. Typically the cars are clean, well-maintained and the drivers are safe and courteous.

Because these individuals are not professional taxi drivers their manner is often casual and friendly. What has surprised me most is what these drivers have shared about their personal lives. And why?

Many drivers tell me where they were born and where they now live. Several have told me about their jobs (besides being an Uber driver). Most will share details about their families – married, single, divorced, children, etc. At times I feel like a guidance counselor or a therapist or a confessor.

I had one driver who expounded on his misogynistic and racist points of view, sighting books and Alt-Right websites and publications. Initially I ignored him but finally I asked him to please stop. I think he was offended that I was offended.

I had a driver tell me in detail about her physically ill mother and her emotionally ill daughter who had recently lost custody of her children. I could only manage to say “I’m sorry” and “Gosh that’s tough”. At 5:00 in the morning I hadn’t the necessary wisdom or empathy to meet her needs.

Another driver told me that he and his brother “rapped” and although he wasn’t a professional rapper and hadn’t recorded any of his songs, he was nonetheless very talented. I was spared any spontaneous performances. I took him at his word for how immensely talented he is. And I suppose I just look like someone who would really appreciate a well-rapped verse or two.

One driver, who appeared to be in his nineties complained that people don’t seem to have any respect for one another these days (which I agreed) and then he proceeded to rant for the entire trip about women drivers, Asian drivers, stupid kids on the road, those assholes on bicycles (his words-not mine), truck drivers and various and assorted other “road hogs”. When we arrived, he told me that he really enjoyed our conversation. I don’t believe I spoke a word.

One female driver kept a video playing continually that monitored the front and rear doors of her home because her twelve year-old son was alone and they lived in a neighborhood prone to gang violence and frequent break-ins. Her son’s father lived nearby and had a gun which apparently she found reassuring. I just kept saying, “Wow!” and “I know what you mean” even though I had no idea what any of it meant.

desmondtutu1-2xI had a driver who was from India and we spoke about Indian food that I have eaten and loved but he laughed out loud every time I spoke and nothing I said was truly funny. Maybe it was the way I pronounced chicken tikka masala (I’ll never know). We laughed and laughed!

My latest driver shared a heart breaking account of his girlfriend (bi-polar) and their living arrangements (homeless off-and-on) and his recreational drug use (I was assured he was drug-free that day). I couldn’t help wonder how he afforded the car he was driving but I thought it prudent not to ask. I tried not to think about whether he was high while driving but I was thankful when we safely reached my destination.

It has occurred to me that these drivers are part of God’s creation. They have a need to tell their stories – we all do. Perhaps just listening is the gift I can give to them. I’m not condoning racism or drug abuse or 90 year-old crankiness but I’m not here to judge either. I should be listening for God’s voice in theirs and returning God’s love to them in my limited ability and perhaps that can be part of my story.

And it wouldn’t kill me to give them a tip once in awhile…

Peace,

Denis

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1

 

 

A Reason for Seasons

I often joke about the fact that no sooner than we rid the house of all the Christmas glitter and tinsel, it’s time to get out the Easter decorations. And then when we finally wipe that last bit of fake plastic “grass” out of the nooks and crannies, it’s time for barbecues and fireflies. And then pumpkins and so on and so on…

Perhaps my need for seasonal change is the reminder that life is indeed in constant motion. I mark time with events – birthdays, holidays, graduations, anniversaries. For me the cyclical nature of seasons is reassuring. It’s comforting to know that with the unknown comes the known. I face change and uncertainty with each passing day but I also have the reassurance of yet another season. Another Christmas, another Easter, another Thanksgiving. I believe the traditions that we celebrate with each season help keep me grounded. I believe that holding on to what I know helps me handle the unknown.

seasonThink about a favorite memory. Was it summer or winter? Spring or fall? That moment will never return but that season will. I’ve been told that we are creatures of habit, but I am also a creature of adventure. I need the security of the familiar, but I long for new experiences. I think that having seasons, those repetitions, those traditions, gives me an advantage while I summit the mountains; while I swim the oceans; while I explore the unknown. My life changes but soon it will be spring again and I will return to a familiar place.

The seasons also remind me that I can’t just expect tomorrow to be better. Life will always be challenging. Disappointment and heartache may fill my days but I must learn to be thankful for what I have. I should find peace and happiness now. I should treasure the gifts of love that I have been afforded in this life. Because winter comes, too.

There is some comfort in the surety of it all. The seasons help me remember to slow down once in a while and savor the moment. I thank God for my blessings (and even my struggles) and then I step out to face the unknown.

Peace,

Denis