Monday, September 26, 2011

Roger, Mister

When I was very young I thought the rest of the world worked the same way as in my house. So I thought that if a policeman pulled you over they would stomp up to your car and tell you “Now, you can’t have it!” It made sense that if you couldn’t play nicely with something then it would be taken away.

I wanted to be a policeman when I grew up. I had no interest in taking people’s cars away. I just wanted to drive around in a Plymouth Fury with the siren wailing and lights flashing. I loved cars back then. And I was a fan of the TV show Adam 12. The show straightened me out enough that I learned police don’t normally confiscate your car for a moving violation. One bit of misinformation I clung to for a while was I thought the younger police officer was named Roger because that’s what he said when he answered the radio.

Another thing that I used to think as a kid was that Mister Rogers had a piano player in his living room. From the beginning of his show he would walk in beaming and usually bringing something with him. He would sing about how it was a beautiful day and that he was glad to see me. Throughout his show when he would sing reassuring songs I would hear the piano off camera playing. Mister Rogers must have had a guy sitting there all the time. I hoped he was nice like Mister Rogers too.

I liked Mister Rogers so much I remember having a dream I when I was that young. My mom told me it was time for Mister Rogers. I turned on the TV and there he was smiling. And this time he had finally brought something I liked more than anything. He was holding some toy cars.

One day when I wasn’t dreaming Mister Rogers was beginning. The music swelled as the room was panned past the traffic light and magic picture that showed movies. Up to the door it went and in came Mister Rogers. He was still smiling but not as wideas usual and he was holding a slip of paper. When his song ended and his shoes were on he told me that he had received a parking ticket.

Mister Rogers spent the episode going to traffic court. He told the judge he didn’t have change for the meter and went into a store to get some and when he came out he had a ticket. The judge calmly advised him to carry more change with him. Even Mister Rogers broke the law. Of course he hadn’t meant to. But the episode showed how a violation is still punishable even if you didn’t mean for it to happen. He reminded me that there are rules that everyone needs to follow.

This time of calm television shows that gently impress a good moral code may be gone. I don’t know because I don’t really watch TV anymore. I know that a show like Adam 12 where two L.A.P.D. officers never firing their weapons or having a serious car chase with totaled vehicles probably wouldn’t make it on TV today. And the juvenile delinquents on that show appeared too clean and well spoken. Maybe back then all they needed was some time with Mister Rogers. He could calmly tell them how he liked them just the way they were and that they would never go down the drain.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Stew of Life

There is something about warm comfort food that gives me a feeling of security that I can’t find anywhere else. I can’t remember the first time I made mulligan stew. I remember learning the name from a nutrition education show that I watched back in elementary school. The first time I made some might have been in Budapest. I’ve made it in the years since. I don’t think of the dozens of pots I’ve made that they have ever been exactly the same.

In Budapest I got all the ingredients at the shops that were right outside the downstairs of our flat. The ground meat was pork, not beef and called Darált hús. Harrison called it daralpoosh and Prajna and I thought that was adorable. We used fresh carrots, potatoes and whatever else I could find to throw in. I never found celery in Budapest, but there was a canned sauce made from paprika and tomatoes that was my special something that always made my mulligan stew shine. The sauce, called lecso is available at a European market close to me but it’s pretty expensive. I was still thrilled to find lecso there. But I’ve never found the sweet fresh paprikas that defined Hungary. They were everywhere. You could buy them at any produce market as well as metro stops and even on the street.

But I couldn’t find them here. Then our friends brought some to church. I was so happy and went on about how the Google doodle commemorating the discovery of vitamin C shouldn’t have been of oranges but of these sweet little yellow peppers since that’s what vitamin C was discovered in. I tend to talk in run-on sentences when I’m emotional like that.

I asked our family friends if I could borrow some of their peppers. Yes I said borrow. And all through church I thought about making a big pot of mulligan stew for supper. My first thought was to spend Sunday afternoon just making stock and actually make the stew the next night. Prajna did what she does often and gently bought me back down to Earth. I had enough time to make the stew for that evening. We asked our friends to supper so it really was like we were borrowing the peppers. One of the great things about mulligan stew is I have to make a lot. In Budapest we liked inviting other teachers over for some.

In the middle of the afternoon I put the largest stock pot on the back burner with a cup of brown rice and four cups of water and set it boiling. On the front burner I put in chopped up celery that was pretty old, chopped up broccoli stems, and the shavings of the carrots I would put in the stew later. I added water and the vegetables cooked away to mush, creating a stock. I cut up the carrots, potatoes and celery and set them aside. I wanted to add them at the right time so they would be cooked just right. I cut up the peppers loaned from our friends and added them to the big pot then added some beef flavoring and canned tomatoes. I cut up an onion and cooked it in a skillet with a pound of ground turkey. Ingredients were everywhere, some being cooked, and others waiting. There were a lot of dirty dishes and pans. I tried to clean as I went along.

Then I strained the vegetables from the stock, poured the green broth in the big pot and added the potatoes, carrots and celery. Then I was ready to start the white rice cooking. And I nearly lost my mind. Two little parts of the rice pot were missing. I searched every place they ought to be in the kitchen. I asked each of my children repeatedly. I must have looked like someone in a cartoon who is on fire the way I was trying to remain calm while all the while thinking about every bit of preparation that would be for nothing and we had friends coming over and I would not be able to make sticky white rice and what was the use of eating mulligan stew without a bed of sticky white rice and I might as well give up and run away to the desert and live under a rock.

Then Prajna found the parts to the rice pot. It was as if I was in a depressurizing airplane and she offered me an extra oxygen mask. I felt like suddenly my life was back together. I started the rice and added everything to the big stock pot except some frozen peas and green beans. I went outside to feed the mushy vegetables to our chickens and calm down a bit. When I came back in after a while I realized that when I had moved the big stock pot to the front burner I had turned off the flame. The stew was not cooking and my potatoes and carrots that took the longest to cook were just sitting in the stew not getting hot or soft. This was only a minor setback. I turned the flame on full blast and covered the pot. Later I added the frozen vegetables. Our company arrived. The last thing I did was mix a cup of water with some flour and sweet paprika powder. I stirred it up good and poured the paste into the stew to thicken it up. I turned off the heat and let it sit for about 15 minutes while the kids played together for a bit.

When it was time to eat I ladled my stew over the rice. The carrots and potatoes were cooked, but still firm. They were perfect. Sitting in the water not cooking while I was losing my mind might have contributed to that. I think I could say that if was the best mulligan stew I had ever made.

And here is the inevitable likening to how my life is like a good pot of mulligan stew. Friends contributed a key ingredient that I couldn’t get anywhere else. It was mostly fun to prepare. But I nearly lost my mind at one point and was saved by Prajna. And now I’m sharing it. Maybe I shouldn’t have named this blog Roadwalker and called it Mulligan Stew.

Monday, September 12, 2011

प्रज्ञा

When I fill out the little “about me” questioners I usually put pretty much the same thing. I say how old I am, how many kids and that I like to write. Sometimes I’ll say I’m working on my first novel. I think that people often define themselves with their likes and dislikes. I also find myself identifying myself as Harrison’s father to many people at church. Then I nod and acknowledge yes he is good at the piano.

I don’t mind being the father to my kids and enjoy being the husband to Prajna. I don’t hang out in circles where people know her more than me anymore. There were about four years where she was part of a separate world. Prajna worked for a popular beverage retailer for a while to help the family make ends meet. If I stopped in there I was Prajna’s husband. Or I may have been the Americano guy with the antediluvian laptop.

Prajna’s store went through some turbulence over the years she was there. Managers came and went and employees had life dramas. Eventually I told Prajna that she was the glue that held that place together and my assessment was confirmed by a supervisor one day with my metaphor repeated exactly. Then when we moved to our new house next to my job Prajna quit. I was concerned for a while how we would get by. But Prajna began to feel so much better. The children felt better. I didn’t have to feel guilty telling her goodbye as she left at 4 in the morning. And all around the whole family sighed and relaxed as if now things were as they should be. Because Prajna was never meant to be defined as glue for a store or a barista. She was always meant to be a wife and mother. And today while her profile might say that she’s a homeschool mom of 5 children who loves to read and is training for her first full marathon in February, there is a lot more to her than can ever be listed.

There are not even words available that can say how much Prajna is loved by her family and her husband in particular. While I stumble for the right words to craft into a novel I still have difficulty putting into words just how much I love her. Maybe it’s because I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my writing and while I might scribble out a mediocre blog once a week, it’s much more important to communicate to her. And if I can’t put right into words how I feel I might just clam up.

The moon this morning at about 6:15 was off to the west and brilliant against the lightening blue sky. I remember once just over 20 years ago watching the moon go down over the pacific one summer morning. Up in the sky the last star faded and disappeared as dawn arrived. And I was so miserable because I was so lonely. That was all I ever felt before her. I’m so thankful to God for bringing her to me. And I love Prajna so much.

One more thing on Prajna’s profile might list the date of September 12th. Today is her birthday. Happy birthday Prajna. I love you.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Winning the Real War

A recent event is burned into the memory of Americans and even the world. They were horrified at the senseless killing of innocent people. The attack was completely unprovoked. Five little girls died. I’m talking about the Nickel Mines School shooting in October of 2006. A man entered a one room schoolhouse for Amish children. He let the boys go and barricaded himself in with the girls. He bound them with zip ties. His plan didn’t go as he wanted when police arrived on the scene within a few minutes. Outside, the police heard shots. They stormed the schoolhouse to find ten girls shot and the gunman killed by his own pistol. Five girls died at the scene or in hospitals within a day. Information from his suicide notes revealed that he was angry at God. His plan was to punish God by hurting those Christian girls.

The shooting is only the beginning of the story. Immediately following the tragedy the media closed in on the small community. The Amish are known for horses and buggies and no electricity. They choose not to use technology and instead focus their lives on following the teachings of The Bible as closely as possible. To the outside world this community appeared like innocents who where in no way prepared for an assault from the evil outside. And then the Amish families shocked everyone else. They expressed forgiveness to the shooter and reached out to his widow and children. Members of the Amish community speaking under anonymity made it clear that no-one got together with a plan to forgive the murderer and his family. It was just done. It is their nature.

Inevitably, the shooting drew comparisons to the tragedy of September 11th 2001 with an unprovoked attack and innocent victims. Editorials spouted how if the Americans had been this forgiving then we wouldn’t be at war and there wouldn’t be more lives being lost.

I’m not going to try to go there. I cannot condemn or defend the United State’s response to the attacks. I’m not that knowledgeable to say if the following wars have been worth it or if we are safer today. I just don’t know. What we all know is that ten years ago everyone’s world changed forever. Nothing was ever the same and we had to find what is called a new normal.

When people learned of the Amish school shooting a common reaction was that this poor community was isolated and innocent. Focusing on Bible teachings and a simple lifestyle how could they comprehend a gunman with zip-ties murdering their children execution style? There were even some people who shook their heads at the grace the Amish community extended to the shooter and the family, as much as to say: “That’s not how you’re supposed to react when you’re wronged like that.”

But I’m here to stand up and say something today. The Amish families still grieved for their lost. They just included the shooter in their grief. They demolished the schoolhouse where the shooting took place. They did not want a concrete reminder of the tragedy. Their reaction was not one of naïve people. And it was one of people not dutiful to any worldly notions about how to live and respond to evil. They acted out in obedience to God.

The grace and forgiveness of the Amish in the wake of the school shooting is certainly something we can try to emulate. But can we extend absolute grace and forgive those who hurt us? What are we afraid of?

There is already so much fear out there. We can only do so much to fortify our boarders and airplanes and buildings and infrastructure. But our hearts can be adhered to God and His teaching. We don’t have to live in fear because no matter what we lose we know that we are children of the most high God. I don’t know if I personally can always live this way. But it is my prayer. If we all could live without fear then the war on terror would be won.

There are a lot of “if’s” in today’s entry. But the noise of a building falling and thousands of people dieing and the sound of a shotgun blast in a little schoolhouse all mean that there is evil in the world that we will never be able to completely predict or avoid. But five years ago a small group of people showed us what God’s love and grace is like. They showed us how God extends to us forgiveness. And when I see the heart of Jesus in their lives, that brightness does something to me. And the fear begins to fade away.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why Overcome?

Drinking an icy cold Coca-Cola on the way to work gave me something to look forward to when it was time to transition from staying at home all morning to going to work in the early afternoon. It was the same time every day. It was definitely a habit. Some could even call it an addiction.

Now that I’ve kicked the habit people are encouraging me and telling me how poisonous the high fructose corn syrup is. All I can say is it was more of a financial decision. But I have lost weight. The dangers never really concerned me.

In the summer of 1988 a first-aid instructor watched me light a Marlboro and asked how long I had been smoking. When I told him about two years he said that if I quit that day my lung would be healthy in just under a year. That was the most compelling reason to quit. The warning labels and admonitions from friends and even the rising cost of cigarettes didn’t slow me down. Only being told that there would be recovery made me consider quitting.

It wasn’t until I had a girlfriend that things were getting serious with that I finally quit smoking in 1992. Even then, there was something in it for me if I quit.

I think that when someone is engaged in a self-destructive habit their self-esteem can be low enough so that they don’t care what they’re doing to themself. But also there is a powerful denial going on that can make someone ignore the negative effects of the behavior. I think that denial is the biggest hindrance to the first step of admitting that there is a problem.

I wish that all it took was being told the positive effects of giving up the destructive habit. But there are levels of addiction and bondage to dangerous and deadly habits that I have never experienced. Sometimes it seems as if there is no hope at all. But I’ve also experienced a Christ centered recovery group that helped me out of the darkest time of my life. I still attend that group to maintain my reliance on God before anything else. Sometimes it feels like I have a long way to go. But if I turn around and look back I see how far I’ve come. Losing 20 pounds by giving up soda is a pittance compared to the spiritual and mental recovery I’ve experienced at Celebrate Recovery. If my blog hasn’t said much today, well I’m already working on next week and hope it will be one of my good ones. But if there is anyone dealing with hurts habits and hang-ups and wants to consider that there is hope for freedom. Go here if you want to know more.

Here is what’s in it for you: Hope.