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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laffy Taffy

Kids are inherently selfish. It doesn’t make them bad. It just makes them kids. When you’re small, your world is small. And what you have is yours – your toy, your bike, your candy. Often sharing is mandated. Children will be admonished to “share with your brother” or “share with your sister”. Usually the little miscreant will oblige but not always cheerfully. As parents, we try to remind our youngsters that sharing is ‘the right thing to do’.

But in a world full of selfish and self-centered adults, teaching kids to share seems a daunting task. ‘ME FIRST’ is the mantra of so many in our society that giving or sharing seems to be an antiquated idea. After all, how can I get ahead if I’m busy taking care of someone else? Why should I sacrifice any of my time, talent, or treasure to someone who hasn’t worked as hard as I have to achieve it?

In the United States the idea of the self-made man is iconic. Pulling one up by his (or her) own bootstraps is almost heroic. It is the quintessential American figure. But is any of us really able to do everything alone? Has no one else ever helped even the most successful (depending on what your definition of success might be) among us? I doubt it.

We all need one another. We all need to be helped from time to time. And we need to help others in return. Sharing is giving. Giving is helping.  So young parents, please keep reminding your kiddos. Make him share. Teach her to give. Model that same behavior.

laffy taffyI am encouraged because after school one day recently, my (almost) seven year-old grandson gave my wife a piece of Banana Laffy Taffy®.

Let me explain: In first grade if you’ve had a good week at school the teacher allows you to pick something from the candy jar. Noah loves candy but he also knows that his Nana loves Banana Laffy Taffy®.

So when it came time to choose, he chose unselfishly. He chose something for someone else. He ran excitedly up to her to present his treasure. He earned it. He deserved it. But he gave it up with love. And with tears brimming in her eyes she accepted his kindness.

I hope and pray that his small gesture is just the beginning of lifetime of sharing and giving to others. What an example he has given us. I remain humbled.

Peace,

Denis

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

 

 

 

Fledglings

This spring a cardinal made her nest in the hydrangea tree in our front yard. We’ve been on “bird watch” since I first discovered the nest with four tiny eggs. Momma bird would sit quietly on the nest until I got too close and then she would fly away chirping (actually squawking) until I moved away from her brood.

birdsA week or so ago the first egg hatched, followed by two more the following day. The fourth egg never hatched. I guess, such is nature. At first the three baby birds were just all eyes and beaks and fluff. Always with their necks outstretched, waiting for momma bird to deliver some sustenance. Momma bird would fly from rooftop to tree to ground and back and then do it all over again and again. She would pull worms from the ground and return to the nest only to fly away again in constant pursuit of food for her young.

birdYesterday as I was looking into the nest, two of the babies jumped out! Then on to a branch and then onto the ground. Momma cardinal became hysterical. The squawking and flapping and flying around was startling to say the least. It was as if she was sounding an alarm. And indeed she had. Soon daddy cardinal was on the scene. Both appeared to be searching for their timid youngsters who had taken shelter in the rose and holly bushes in our front garden. They were like tiny sentries on guard. Desperately struggling to protect their young from what might lie ahead. This morning the nest was empty save for the un-hatched egg. The fledglings have officially “flown the coop”.

All this nature-watching has made me keenly aware of how time marches on. We all were once fledglings who had to brave the unknown. Some of us might have jumped from the nest and others of us might have been nudged. Regardless we somehow found ourselves in unfamiliar terrain dealing with the unimaginable.

As a parent I remember feeling woefully unprepared when my son left for Air Force Basic Training. There was so much more that I needed to teach him! How could the little boy who wore Velcro® tennis shoes to kindergarten (because he hadn’t yet learned to tie his shoes) be prepared to defend our nation? When I walked my beautiful daughter down the aisle on her wedding day I couldn’t help but think of the little girl who I had seemingly held in my arms just days before. And when our youngest son left for University my heart ached with a sense of dread that I had become obsolete. Fledglings three!

And there I was, a daddy cardinal squawking and flapping my wings. Frantic and slightly hysterical. Perhaps more afraid of what was coming my way than what might lie ahead for my baby birds.

But time and experience have taught me that those bittersweet “fledgling moments” are just part of the journey. Life goes on. And usually gets better. My kids still need me. And while I don’t need to provide protection from the unknown, I am still called upon for sage advice from time to time.

Capture.PNGNow we have five grandchildren aged 12 to 1. Our beautiful baby Gwen turns one year old today. She’ll have her own “fledgling moments” soon enough as will her sisters and her cousins. I just hope I’m around to squawk and flap my wings as needed when the time comes.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Getting My Just Desserts

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.

Capture.PNGGrowing 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.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Full of Grace

Anna9Nine years ago the most wonderful thing happened. My granddaughter Anna entered this world and captured my heart. Nothing has ever been the same since.

Anna has an old soul. She has the gift (shared by few) of being able to walk into any room and sense whatever is needed by those around her. She gives herself completely. When she is with you nothing else matters to her except being in that moment. Whether she’s playing with friends or helping her little brother or just “hanging out” with her grandparents, she takes the time to listen and truly engage in the game or the activity or the conversation at hand. She is thoughtful, polite and loving.

Anna has a mighty spirit wrapped up in one tiny nine year-old body. She laughs big. She plays hard. She prays deeply. And she loves unconditionally. I am humbled by her kindness, amazed by her generosity and honored to be her grandfather.

I see my daughter in her love of laughter, her desire to excel in school and her need to be the family peacemaker. I see my son-in-law in her inquisitiveness and in her joy of learning new things. I see my wife in her deliberate approach to life; always stopping to “smell the roses” and never wanting to be hurried along. She shares her other grandmother’s artistic ability and love of nature. And me? Well she may have inherited some stubbornness and perhaps a talent for writing.

I believe that Anna will do great things in her life. Truth is, she already has. On more than one occasion she has afforded me a glimpse of heaven. And it’s a beautiful thing. You know, the name Anna means “full of grace”. I suppose nothing else really needs to be said.

Except happy birthday and I love you!

Pawpaw (Denis)

“Children’s children are the crown of the elderly” ~ Proverbs 17:6

 

Wisdom (or lack thereof)

Come on wisdom! All my life I’ve heard that with age comes wisdom. I’m still waiting. 61 years and 10 months old and I feel no wiser now than when I was 18. More experienced maybe but no wiser.

I would love to be able to expound on existentialism or the theoretical importance of justice or the evolution of macrobiotics. But alas, nothing comes to mind.

I have a sweater I sometimes wear that makes me look like a college professor. And when I speak in a slow, deliberate and thoughtful manner you might suspect that I actually know what I’m talking about. But mostly I’m just making stuff up on the fly. No time for in-depth analysis when I lack any real depth myself. Dang it! I thought that I would be a lot smarter by now.

My kids (who are actually no longer kids and are, in fact, wise) will tell you that I have offered plenty of advice but none of it “sage” or particularly helpful. Mostly I just speak in platitudes or colloquialisms: “If you walk like a duck, and quack like a duck, and hang out with ducks, people will think you’re a duck.” Or: “If everyone was jumping off of a bridge, would you?” Or a personal favorite: “If you’re not going to help push, you could at least get out of the car!”

reasonI’d like to make sense of this world. I’d like to make sense of this life. I’d like to impart some wisdom to those around me that might actually improve this world and their lives.

Now I’ve been around long enough to know that there are plenty of dumb old people. I just always hoped that I wouldn’t be one of them. Maybe there’s a “Wisdom for Dummies” book that I could buy. Or a seminar that I could attend. Or a self-help group I could join. Or something.

What’s an old dumbass to do? I’ve heard it said that truly wise people will never reveal all their wisdom. Instead they let their humility belie their superior intellect. Maybe I could pretend to be wise and humble. On the other hand, I suppose I should just learn to accept who I am. And thank God for all those people who love me in my infinite non-wisdom.

Thankfully, I think I can pull that off while I continue my search for wisdom…

Peace,

Denis