Putting Life On Hold

We’ve all experienced the frustration of calling a doctor’s office or bank or billing department or any government agency and being put ‘on-hold’. Those minutes can seem like hours and usually the ‘on-hold’ music makes the experience even more intolerable.

Covid-19 has put our lives on hold. Work has been interrupted or completely stopped. Schools are closed. Graduations, weddings, and family reunions have been postponed or cancelled. Even more heart-breaking are funerals that have been restricted to only a handful of family members with a promise of a memorial at “a later date”.

As I watch the number of Corona Virus cases continue to climb and the death toll surpass 60,000 people in the U.S. alone, I feel hopeless and weary. When will it end? Will our lives ever return to normal? So much is unknown and so much information seems to be inaccurate or downright misleading. Should I watch and listen to media “health experts”? Can I trust any politicians? Do I listen to well-meaning friends and family members? Often it all seems like so much “hold music” interrupted every now and then with a “please continue to hold” thrown in for good measure.

When will this incessant ‘on-hold’ ever end?

I for one, have decided to hang up on the hold call. Instead of focusing on the health scare, financial uncertainty and forced isolation, I’m trying to take this time to be more prayerful, more attentive to my wife (after all we’re stuck in this together) and more grateful for the many blessings in my life. I’m thankful for friends and family members with whom we have safely stayed connected via social networking and technology. I’m thankful for an employer who has allowed me (so far) to work from home. I’m thankful for schools and teachers who have supported our grandchildren in their efforts to learn-at-home. I’m thankful for the health care professionals who are striving to keep my dad safe and healthy at his assisted-living residence. I’m thankful for the countless numbers of people I encounter who are wearing masks in an effort to mitigate the transmission of this deadly pandemic.

And I’ve found some joy: The laughter of our younger granddaughters responding to my silliness via FaceTime: the willingness of our grandson and his older sister to continue to do their school work before they go out and play each day; that same granddaughter who has decided to write letters and send small gifts to residents of a local care facility in her community; the text exchange between our oldest granddaughter, where she confirmed that I would likely look like Santa by the time our quarantine ends (I’m sure she was referring to the beard I’m growing and not my ever-expanding waistline); the more frequent phone calls from our younger son who says he’s “just checking in” (but even if he’s just bored or lonely, it’s great to hear his voice).

So, life is ‘on-hold’. But I hope when we return to normal or to our new normal some of these ‘on-hold’ measures remain: Siblings happily spending time together; families slowing down enough to cherish one another; parents learning by teaching their youngsters; friends staying connected; phone calls from our sweet boy.

I’m still not happy to be ‘on-hold’ and I haven’t turned a blind eye to the suffering and loss in our world. I’m not expecting someone to “flip a switch” and magically take this all away. I’m not looking for a panacea or a miracle cure. What I hope for is courage and patience. What I pray for is compassion, understanding and continued faith in my fellow man.

May you all stay safe and healthy.

Peace,

Denis

When Doing Nothing Is Doing Something

These are strange times we’re living in. COVID-19 (the corona virus) has changed our world. For most of us there is a feeling of utter helplessness. Compound that with fear and anxiety about what is yet to come and a steady dose of misinformation and it’s a real recipe for disaster.

What can I do? What should I do? How long will this last? Is this just the beginning? What about my older friends and relatives? What about my kids and grandkids? Hell, what about me!!??

Depending on your news source, the information you receive may differ from your neighbor’s. Depending on your job and employer, you may be without work or you may be working remotely. Depending on your age and general physical condition, you may or may not be a serious health risk. But no one seems to know exactly what to do/who to believe/what to expect.

Here’s what we know:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Social distance – keep six feet apart from any other person.
  • Avoid being in groups greater than ten.
  • Stay home (if you can).
  • Be patient.

We also know:

  • Healthcare workers are our heroes.
  • Law enforcement and first responders CANNOT work from home.
  • Many people will be unemployed for an unforeseeable future.
  • Prayer helps (even if we’re just praying for patience).

I jokingly told my daughter earlier today that I’m in ‘Day Three’ of my captivity. And that’s really kind of how it feels. I’m more about action than contemplation. I’m restless and I need to be doing something. But right now doing nothing is doing something. I’m potentially saving lives by restricting my activities.

“hero of [covad-19]” Maxim Fomenko 2020 – Germany

There has been a tremendous amount of caring and love and creativity in our world during this pandemic. Folks are posting positive messages on social media to lighten our moods. Local grocery stores have established “seniors only” shopping hours to reduce traffic in their stores. Virtual prayer groups are being formed. Artists are creating works to honor heroes and provide beauty and light amidst our bleakness. Nothing can erase the heartache of those who have lost loved ones as a result of this deadly virus. No amount of good cheer and patience will completely relieve the suffering of those who are struggling with poor heath or financial disaster. And yet, kindness, compassion, and gentleness will ease the pain of those who are suffering.

Each of us can do something by doing nothing. Stay home. Stay healthy. Stay hopeful.

And when your self-imposed exile starts driving you a bit batty, read a book, write a letter, make a phone call, post a blog.

Peace,

Denis

Patience

Advent is counter-cultural. We’re encouraged to slow down and be patient. While advertising suggests that we must “hurry up while supplies last” our Church recommends that we take these weeks before Christmas to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus. In our waiting we are encouraged to be still.

Be still and wait! These attributes are not my strong suit. I’m usually loud and in a hurry. Quiet reflection often just annoys me. I hear the ringing in my ears. I become easily distracted. My mind jumps around to the various and assorted IMPORTANT THINGS that need to be done. You know, like when will I ever get those Christmas decorations up? Did we buy that other gift for our granddaughter that we had discussed? How much have we spent so far this year? Is it more than what my first new car cost? How much did that Pinto cost, anyway? What was that salesman’s name? I can remember his face. What am I supposed reflecting on? Something Jesus-y? Oh, Christ! I mean: Oh Christ, help me find patience. Some patience. Any patience. But please hurry!

I pray. In my clumsy, free-range sort of way. My prayers are more like fleeting thoughts – never fully formed or well-articulated. I believe that God listens to my prayers – poorly formed and selfish as they may be. I pray and God listens. I cry and God hears me. I try and God accepts my humble efforts.

So I may not be patient or even slightly non-manic but I try. And I will try again. I will slow down whenever possible. I will read and listen to music when afforded the opportunity. I will listen (really listen) to others, albeit my attention span is often that of a 3 year-old. I know my weaknesses but I am also aware of God’s strength.

I will prepare my heart for Christmas but I know it won’t be easy. I’ll let go of what I can. I’ll unplug whenever I can.

I will S L O W D O W N and trust that Christmas can be perfect even if I’m not.

And on Sunday I’ll light the pink Advent candle which symbolizes hope. And I hope to find patience.

Peace,

Denis

Prepare the Way

Advent 2012 -4A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”     Luke 3:4-6

Luke’s Gospel is actually recalling the words of the Prophet Isaiah. My personal rule is that any time the New Testament quotes the Old Testament we should probably pay attention because apparently it is something that bears repeating.

During Advent we are called to ‘Prepare the Way’. But what does that mean? This reading always leaves me with images of giant earth-movers, backhoes and dump trucks frantically lowering hillsides and filling in ditches and chasms. But is that what Isaiah had in mind? I don’t think so. I believe that Isaiah was speaking metaphorically. I suspect that some of us are the valleys that need to be filled and others of us are the mountains that need to be toppled. And often, I suppose, we’re a bit of both.

I know that my own arrogance, pride and boastfulness need to be ‘made low’. My heart and spirit could use some ‘filling up’ right now. And of course there is plenty that needs to be ‘straightened out’ and ‘made smooth’.

So this Advent season when I hear those ancient words of Isaiah I am reminded that God is not asking me to fix the world. He is not expecting me to make others walk the straight and narrow. He is speaking only to me about me. He is asking me to prepare myself to receive his Son. To let go of my pride and my sinfulness and to be more loving and giving. God is inviting me once again to be filled with his Spirit. And to prepare myself to revel in the birth of our Savior.

Peace,

Denis

O Come Emmanuel

Today is the first Sunday of Advent; the beginning of our preparation for the Christ-Child. And as we do most years, we sang ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ at Mass this morning. That beautiful and mournful and hopeful hymn that has always been part of my life touched my heart in a new way this year.

O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel; that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear

Lonely exile. LONELY EXILE. LONELY EXILE! Those two words kept reverberating in my head. And that’s how I felt (how I feel). In lonely exile here. Our Church has been so busy lately defining what it means to be a Catholic Christian that I feel marginalized.

If you vote for this person you CAN’T really be Catholic; if you support women’s ordination you CAN’T really be Catholic; if you love and support gay families you CAN’T really be Catholic; if you don’t walk in lock step with the Bishops then you CAN’T really be Catholic.

And so I’m an exile. I refuse to exclude; to hate; to judge; to deny love to those who may not follow ALL the rules.

I’ve decided to join the other ‘lonely exiles’ in prayer this Advent season. I will pray for (and with) others in my Church who may feel disenfranchised; who feel left out; shut out; and alone. We may be silenced but our silent prayers cannot be stopped. And we are companions on the journey. God alone listens to our hearts and responds.

O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all humankind; Bid thou our sad divisions cease, And be thyself our Prince of Peace.

Advent 2012May you find love, joy, comfort, but mostly peace in this Advent season.

Peace,

Denis

Waitrose, Sainsbury, Tesco and clotted cream

Salad cream?

Grocery shopping in England is an adventure. We generally shop at Tesco because it’s close by and reasonably priced by UK standards. It’s clean and well stocked. Deb prefers the more posh Waitrose and I like Sainsbury near my office for quick pick-up items and great (and cheap) wine selections.

Onion marmalade - really?

Regardless of where we shop, I’m amazed (and often puzzled) each time by some of the products available. Our shopping trips are getting shorter but my attention span in grocery stores is shorter still and I am not as fascinated by the 17,000 varieties of olive oil as my dear wife.

In all fairness, Deb is an excellent cook and knows what she needs to prepare fabulous meals. The challenge is sometimes finding the proper ingredients, especially with me standing on the sidelines tapping my foot or grimacing. “Oh, for the love of God just pick an olive oil!”

Spanish, Italian, Greek, Israeli...

Because I’m bored and to “help” I have become Deb’s ‘advance man’ in the grocery markets. While she leisurely glides the trolley through the aisles, I run ahead like a dog in search of the elusive rabbit for the next item on her list, which I retrieve and return to her usually to find it’s “not exactly” what she wanted. Defeated I return said item back to its proper place like the sad pup that I am and try again.

This game continues throughout the store. Next item and I’m off in search of the ‘Holy Grail’ of vanilla paste or clotted cream or lemon curd only to have my hopes dashed again and again and again. But I can’t stop myself! Deb and I are like the tortoise and the hare of Tesco: me madly dashing from aisle to aisle while she calmly (painfully) examines each of the items and makes her careful selections. And she ALWAYS wins!

Of course this is further complicated by the multitude of varieties and British names of items on her list. Who knew grocery shopping would be so challenging? And so fun. I love my wife; I love my life. I’ll meet you at the till!

Peace,

Denis

I Give Up!

It’s Lent and Catholics are expected time to ‘give up’ something. In years past I believed that by  ‘giving up’ or ‘doing without’ I was able to prove my mettle. I could wear it like a badge of honor – “Look at me – I’m stoic.” “I must be holy and worthy because I gave up eating chocolate or drinking alcohol, or stopped using curse words (a personal favorite) for forty days!” But didn’t that miss the point? Could I continue to be a jerk and give up candy and God would still be pleased?

I don’t mean to trivialize something that millions hold so dear and I also know that many people choose to make Lenten sacrifices to honor the great sacrifice that Jesus made for us. But for me at times it all seems so silly – so superficial.

“When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” Matthew 6:17-18

This year, “I give up!” I will let go of my need to ‘let go’.  Instead I will make a concerted effort to ‘do something’. A few years ago a friend sent this to me. It’s not necessarily a Lenten ‘to do list’ but it could be. I’m going to give it a try:

This Year

Mend a quarrel ~ Seek out a forgotten friend

Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust

Write a love letter ~ Share some treasure

Encourage youth ~ Appreciate one another

Manifest your loyalty in word and deed

Keep a promise ~ Find the time

Forgo a grudge ~ Forgive an enemy

Listen. Listen. Listen. ~ Apologize if you are wrong

Give a soft answer ~ Try to understand

Gladden the heart of a child

Examine your demands on others

Think first of someone else ~ Be kind; be gentle

Laugh a little ~ Laugh a little more

Deserve confidence ~ Flout envy

Take up arms against malice ~ Decry complacency

Express your gratitude ~ Welcome a stranger

Take pleasure in the beauty of the earth

Speak your love ~ Speak it again

Speak it once again

Peace,

Denis

That’s Mr. Cranky Pants To You!

Some days are better than others. Today is one of the “others”. Bad night of sleep. Lousy weather. I have a crick in my neck. I have employee evaluations to complete. And I have an appointment to see my dermatologist (who for the record has no bedside manner; although I don’t why you’d have to be in bed to see a dermatologist).

And it’s Christmas! Well, it’s Christmas on T.V. and at the mall, and on the radio endlessly, and at work – another boatload of sweet treats and fatty delights was just delivered here. And I swear some of my co-workers would eat dirt on a cracker if it were free. So I’m a little cranky today and I should probably just stay in my office so no one gets hurt. But for the love of God, will someone please stop draining the coffee urn without brewing another pot of coffee! Is that too much to ask? Because it’s Christmas and I’m supposed to be cheerful and I can’t do that without some caffeine. I’m begging you! Just one cup of coffee…

Deep cleansing breath. Deep cleansing breath. Go to a happy place. Go to a happy place. I try so hard to not be a curmudgeon but sometimes it feels as if the cards have been stacked against me. I’m really a lovely person (once you get to know me) but even lovely people can have crummy days now and again.

I admit it. I’m running a little low on patience, compassion, and give-a-shit-ness today. And I don’t care if that’s not a word either. I’ve received three calls on my cell phone this morning from someone who says each time, “hold on I’ve got the wrong number”. What am I supposed to “hold on” for (to)? Is this some kind of elaborate joke or some vicious conspiracy to slowly drive me mad? It’s working!

For the record I would like to just wallow in my self-pity and embrace my contemptuousness and be left alone (WHY CAN’T THEY LEAVE ME ALONE?). And the idiots on the road this morning (no doubt singing along with “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas” blaring from the ALL CHRISTMAS radio station) were particularly annoying in their inability to get out of my way! Not too mention the eternal roadwork on the Expressway exit near my office which is a daily thorn in my side. Poor me!

Tomorrow will likely be a better day. And I will likely be in a better mood. But today the forecast is cranky with a good chance of crabby. So brew another pot of coffee and steer clear of Cranky Pants!

Oh and Merry (almost) Christmas!

Peace,

Denis

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJxi0zCdGEY

Patience (or lack thereof)

Last Wednesday Deb and I went to our favorite Chinese restaurant for lunch. We enjoyed our ‘usual’ – hot braised chicken and a cup of tea. When the fortune cookies arrived I switched them around so that the one nearest me would become Deb’s and vice versa. Here’s how they read. Deb’s: “your charm will bring you something wonderful soon”. Mine: “you must remain patient in order for good things to come your way”.
 
Deb’s charming and will get something wonderful? And I need to be patient? This was a little too close to the truth! We both laughed but Deb laughed a little too hard and said something like, “Boy that fortune cookie was made especially for you, ha, ha, ha, ha!” I immediately lost patience with the fortune cookie game – it was time to go!
 
Patience is a virtue that I’ve witnessed in others but rarely experienced myself. I tell myself that I don’t have time to be patient – that’s what impatient people do. Besides after lunch I had to rush out and get Deb something wonderful. She on the other hand has plenty of patience. Of course I would be patient too if my ‘charm’ alone could bring me untold treasure!
 
I’ve been thinking a lot about patience as we enter this season of Advent. For the next four Sundays we will be reminded to  S L O W D O W N  and be patient. We are expected to wait. We are told to be hopeful. Our salvation is (almost) at hand. But waiting alone is not enough. Being hopeful about the good things to come isn’t the complete answer either. Impatient people like me, try to “gird our loins” and tough it out so that we can get through these weeks of waiting. We prove our worth by being watchful and ready to embrace the impending joy of Christ’s coming.
 
But that misses the point. The beauty is the waiting. The joy is in embracing the longing. The peace comes when we surrender ourselves to God’s plan. True patience then is actively living in the present. It requires us to let go of our need to finish the game; win the race; get to the prize. The true joy of Advent is acceptance. Accepting our here and now; for better or worse. We live with the hope of better things to come but we must love and treasure what we have now if we are to truly be fulfilled in the future.
 
That’s a tall order for the impatient amongst us. But with God’s help and your prayers…
 
Lord, we are the clay and you our potter: we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:7
 
Peace,
 
Denis

Sneezing, Runny Nose, Itchy, Watery Eyes…

My cold medicine claims to relieve my sneezing, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, etc. I guess the key word here is relieve. Relieve the systems not eliminate them – ugh! Why can’t I feel better now? And what about the pounding in my head? And what about my (nearly) constant coughing?

It’s a perfectly beautiful autumn day here; The St. Louis Cardinals have just won the World Series; The Green Bay Packers are headed to 8-0; Last night was our ‘Dinner Club’ and we shared a fabulous meal and lots of laughter with great friends; Halloween is tomorrow (and my grandkids have the most adorable costumes) and I can’t stop coughing my fool head off! Poor me! Why me? WHY ME??? Come to think of it, Poor Deb, she’s got to put up with me. I’m not a very patient patient.

None of this makes any sense. I’ve gotten my flu shot. I take (mostly) good care of myself. I eat right. I get a reasonable amount of exercise and rest. And yet here I am, fallen by the common cold. “Cough, cough, cough.” “Sniff, sniff, sniff.”

But somehow I’ll muddle through. And please don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve already got that covered. I just need to find the remote control, my Puffs Plus Lotion® tissues and my Vicks VapoRub® and settle down in front of the T.V.

“You know Deb, a cup of that peppermint tea would be nice.” “Deb?” “Deb?”  “Cough, cough.” “Sniff,  sniff.” “Deb!!!”

Pray for me! This might be a long recovery…

Peace,

Denis