Monday, February 27, 2012

How I've made it This Far

     As well as I can remember, I’ve never told anyone this story before.  Now I’m telling the world.  I was spending 4 weeks working at a Boy Scout camp on Maui.  I was 21 and it seemed a little obvious to the camp director that I was bumming it getting room and board and payment in the summer between college semesters.  I was still working hard and he saw to it that I had little down time working the kitchen, teaching for merit badges and coaching archery.  I even led the protestant vesper service Wednesday nights. 
One lazy Sunday afternoon I was sitting in the office doing nothing and I watched the camp director get out the lawn mower.  He may or may not have started mowing, but it wasn’t just a few minutes before he got in his vehicle and left.  Mowing the grass in the assembly area was barely started.  I saw my chance to be a good boy scout. I would finish the job anonymously.  The camp director would come back and see the job done and think highly of all the workers there that day, not knowing who had finished the job.  It wasn’t just altruistic. I would feel less like a bum too.
I started mowing.  It was pleasant.  I was used to operating a push mower.  I mowed for a little while when the mower sputtered to a stop.  It was out of gas.  I had no idea where any was stored.  The job wasn’t even half done.  I was so disappointed I considered siphoning gasoline from my Mustang.  I didn’t have the tools and someone would have spotted me.  I went back to the staff cabin and didn’t watch for the camp director to come back.  No one knew that I had tried to do that.  As I’ve thought about it years later I think maybe he left for town to get some gasoline.
I usually get anxious and irascible around my birthday.  I have tried to explain it that I begin to regret bad decisions, and wish I had done things different.  I wish that I had not been coasting through college.  That summer was right in the middle of four years of not studying much and never being mindful of a future.  There are a lot of regrets and I listed several last year on my blog.  Sometimes I just wish I could make more of a difference.  I wish I could have completed mowing the lawn and made the camp director pleased. Maybe I really wanted him to suspect that it was me who did it. 
But the grass would have grown back in just a few days.  The work I do now never lasts either.  As usual, one of the last things I did at work on Saturday was vacuum the room where the kids assemble.  The next morning there is my youngest son eating a half a donut spilling sprinkles all over my nice clean floor.  Church hadn’t even started yet and there was my work, tainted.  And that is the way it goes and if I cannot accept that then I have some serious issues and don’t belong practicing the custodial arts.
So I’ve tried to work through the disappointment in myself this February.  It’s easy to see all the blessings I have and know that God took care of me despite my carelessness.  And the impermanence of what I do each day reflects on the big picture, something that I’ve had trouble seeing all my life.  I am seeing that the best of intentions can be thwarted.  The cleanest of floors will be dirtied.  Life cannot go the way I want it to a lot of the time.  But like an unstoppable force it will move on and I can sit and sputter like an empty lawn mower or I can smile at the joy my 8 year-old shows at eating a donut with sprinkles. 
One last thing that is somewhat related to all of this:  I have thought about what to write on the day before my 45th birthday.  I can do a lot of thinking while I vacuum.  I wanted to write something exceptionally significant.  I thought about listing off all the people who have helped me out all my life with support of all kinds, encouragement and so many other things.  I thought about teachers and friends who spent time listening to me when I needed to talk.  I thought about people who gave me a chance or a second or third chance when it didn’t look like I should be allowed another.  I had friends come and celebrate my birthday with me yesterday.  That meant more to me that I could ever express in words.  
But among all the people who I can try to remember making a difference in my life I don’t know how many there were that I will never know about.  Like me when I tried to mow the grass in secret, how many others have taken care of me without me ever knowing?  How many people have lifted me up in prayer?  I will never know how many people have actually made a difference in my life.  I’m sure the number is considerably more than my weekly readers here.  
So I’ll turn 45 tomorrow.  And as much as I like to crow about how much of a loner I am, I would never have made it this far and in this good of a mental and spiritual state were it not for more people than I will ever know.  Thank you.


Monday, February 20, 2012

The Lesson of Valentine's Day

     Tradition says that the first valentine was sent by a Christen martyr.  Perhaps he felt that before being eaten by lions, he had nothing to lose by sending a love note beforehand.  There was no fear of commitment.  Others might go on how Valentine’s Day is a conspiracy by the greeting card people in conjunction with jewelers and chocolate manufactures.     
     When Prajna and I pondered over the calendar to set a date for our wedding, the sixth of February worked best for us.   We never considered that every year the proximity of our anniversary to Valentine’s Day would diminish the latter.  We never really celebrated it.  It was a thrill on our first anniversary to eat the last of the wedding cake that had been saved while an infant Harrison looked on, bemused.  How could heart-shaped chocolates compare to that?
     Despite our avoidance, I may have still bought Prajna a Valentine card some years.  But I know that once I had a daughter I began getting cards for her.  I had read an article in Reader’s Digest or Guideposts written by a daughter about how her father never failed to buy her a card each Valentine’s Day and sign it: love, Daddy.  I thought that was important.  This was a way to model love to a daughter who would one day be loved by another man.  So every year I’ve given Sarah a valentine.  And most years I get one for Prajna too. 
     So last week I got two valentines and wrote up a simple note on each one.  I hate cards with long pre-made messages and usually don’t write a whole lot myself.  And then a friend at church offered me some chocolate-covered strawberries.  I got two little packets of them, took them home and put them in the back of the meat drawer of the refrigerator.  They remained undiscovered.  The morning of Valentine’s Day I got up before the two sweethearts of my life and put the cards and strawberries at their place.  I breathed a little sigh of relief.  I was cool now until Mother’s Day.
     Then my 8 year old son got up and looked at the table.  He wanted to know where the rest of the cards and strawberries were.  Where were the ones for everyone else?  In other words,  didn’t he have something special from his daddy?  I missed the signs that there was a broken heart and told him that I just gave valentines to the girls.  I didn’t see the hurt in him.  And I never considered that a little boy doesn’t care about genders.  If his sister gets a holiday token of love and he has not, that means less love is for him.
     By late afternoon, Nathaniel was an emotional wreck.  Prajna called me at work at explained how he felt.  I was floored.  Sometimes I can completely overlook people’s feelings.  It hasn’t happened in a while, but it sure happened then.  I was very disappointed with myself.  The same friend who gave me the strawberries had heart shaped lollypops on her desk and urged me to take what I needed to rectify the situation.  On my work break, I created two homemade cards from construction paper and the few markers I found in my office.  I thought I should give Jamie one too since Nathaniel was getting one.  I wrote simple notes and taped the lollipops in each one.  
When I came home for supper Prajna was cooking a special valentine meal.  Along with the day’s mail I delivered the last two valentines to Jamie and Nathaniel.  Then I went and spoke to my two oldest sons and apologized to them for not giving them anything that day.  Harrison blinked in surprise at the thought of his dad giving him a valentine card.  But he was able to understand how Nathaniel felt.   Jamie loved his card.  Nathaniel was tied and feeling sick and stayed in bed.  I think he still liked his card.  
It was the best Valentine’s Day we had ever celebrated.  And yes, the most we ever celebrated too.  Whether or not the day is a commercial conspiracy or commemorates a note to a friend before being eaten by lions, the day will be more important to me from now on.  In addition to the orange lollipop and valentine I got from Nathaniel, I was reminded how little boys can use a little note of love just as much as little girls.  It’s 6:30 as I wrap this blog entry up.  He’ll come shuffling out of his room in a little while and depending on his mood he’ll give me a hug or a half-hearted scowl.  But whatever I get from him today, I will always be grateful for the lesson he gave me this year.   


Monday, February 13, 2012


I wasn’t disturbed when the paving machine lifted its machinery. Even at my young age, I knew there were connections in other places.      

     I loved looking at the road when I rode in the car.  Is it rushed beneath us it looked soft and almost liquid.  I knew it wasn’t, though.  I don’t have a specific memory but I must have been very young.  I could have been crossing the street holding my mom’s hand and my curiosity called me to reach down.  Or I may have snuck out the front gate and touched the surface of 1st South Street.  But I knew that the road was a rock.  Looking closer I realized that it was lots of little rocks stuck together with tar.  I could tell by the look of the freeway (or fast-road as I called it) in Phoenix that it was made of cement.  No matter.  It was still a road.  And although I failed to grasp lots of simple concepts at my young age, there was one rather abstract notion that I believed firmly.  There was only one road.
     If all the roads connected, then they were all one.  I hadn’t looked at maps much but I’m pretty sure I knew that there were more roads across the ocean.  But in North America, there was just one road.  The pebbles stuck with tar in front of my house connected to the main street that went on to connect to the highways and eventually freeways.  Those freeways went to California and New York City and Washington DC and Vermont and Hershey, Pennsylvania.  I could touch the street in front of my house and touch the world. 
     One afternoon I watched with ecstatic fascination the paving machine laying new road over the old.  I may have been 7 years old, give or take a year. I thought I was the luckiest kid on the world at that moment.  This was the pavement, road being made.  Knowing what I know now, it was just putting down a new layer of tar.  The big truck came to a cattle guard and paused.  This was where the road suddenly ended, and for about three feet there was a perpendicular trench with steel bars, then the road continued.  The truck crossed until the back part that dragged like a dirty blanket laying tar was at the cattle guard. There was a grind of machinery and the back of the truck lifted up.  The truck advanced just a few feet until a workman signaled.  The truck stopped, the back lowered and the truck went on its way.  The faded, dusty road was made new, ready to tantalize a young imagination some more. 
The road had a break in it.  There was a spot here where the road from Clarkdale to Jerome was broken.  Could this be?  If the roads didn’t touch, all I had at my feet was a tiny world, cut off from the rest. I only had to think for a moment to remember that there was an outer road that led to Jerome.  You could even drive all the way to Cottonwood on the old highway and come back on the bypass and head up to Jerome.  The break here meant nothing.  There would always be a way somewhere if you were willing to take the trip.
Over the next few years I never lost that feeling that there was a world out there.  Even living on Maui with limited roads and finite space, I never lost the feeling that there were endless possibilities.  The world and the future were wide open and I would walk on whatever road I wanted. 
I’m going to be 45 in two weeks.  I haven’t traveled the roads of the continent as much as I wish.  But as far as my metaphor for the road being life goes, I have walked a few difficult ones.  And a lot of the roads I choose were the wrong ones.  It’s not enough to admit that today I’m trying to walk a straight and narrow road as best as I can with help from others.  I’ve not walked alone now for 19 years.  I’m leading others on what I pray is the right path. 
There really were parts of the road where I thought I was going the right way only to see the way either cut off or just taking a wrong turn.  In the past, instead of taking an alternate route I sat on the hard pavement and did nothing.  I finally was helped up and shown the right way.  It meant walking far back for a while.  It meant a longer walk and often seemed meaningless.  But sometimes you’ve sat for so long you just have to keep up for a while just to remember how to walk.  Sometimes you need to get away from that break in the road far enough so that you have a clear way to the right destination.  It’s okay.  The destination isn’t going anywhere.  If I keep my eyes fixed on it I can keep walking on the road. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Push back the covers and feel what is real.

     Everybody wanted to be Ferris Bueller. Even the antagonist of the film must have been jealous of his winning style.  I wonder however if I was not alone when I watched the movie and identified with the secondary character, Cameron.  The poor guy in high school blinking at what was going around him and wondering what was happening to him.  All things considered, he would rather stay in bed all day.  He’s says he doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, and is asked what he’s interested in, to which he replies: “nothing”.
     That was me when I watched the film and through most of college.  I was so directionless and confused.  I thought I wanted to be an actor or a screenwriter or write novels.  But deep down in my heart of hearts I knew that was not an achievable dream.  Aside from an inkling that I liked to write, all I knew is that I was lonely.  So I did what I always did.  I lived in the moment and wasn’t mindful of the future.
     It was years later that I learned what that mindset is.  When I don’t consider the future, and especially when I don’t take seriously the present that is called being flippant.  I didn’t know what this word meant when I first heard it.  It sounded like a fancy name for a dolphin.  The person who taught me this word was concerned about my uncaring outlook.  It was important to her that I take my life more seriously because we wanted to share it forever. 
     It’s easy for me to laugh off a cavalier attitude as a character flaw like an amusing quirk.  And that right there is archetypically flippant.  If it’s a defense mechanism then it’s an unhealthy one.  To me, when I dismiss the seriousness, it feels like laying back in bed and pulling the covers up to my chin and ignoring the rest of the world. 
     I have had this mindset for a week or so now.  While December makes me edgy, February makes me feel depressed.  With Naomi’s birthday on the 10th and mine on the 28th the sands of time chafe me like nothing else can.  I haven’t written for a week.  I even had trouble getting up in the morning.  And it seemed impossible to see anything in the future past my nose.  
     I don’t’ want to stay like this.  I wanted today to be different.  I got up this morning.  I have some ingredients for buttermilk pancakes coming to room temperature.  And I’m writing.  That is something I’m interested in.  And today I’m going to one of my favorite restaurants with my favorite person in the world to celebrate 19 years of marriage.  
     She has stuck with me through the years of character flaws, even the Decembers and Februarys.  And if I can make the effort to examine my life and work through my character flaws with help from others, I can see what’s important.  
Tomorrow will come and it will still be February.  I want to remember, I hope I can remember, that I do care.  I like who I am today.  I enjoy my job and writing.  I love being a dad and I love Prajna Faux.  And this isn’t a message in a bottle either.  I want the world to know.  Happy anniversary Prajna.  Thanks for helping me dissolve the flippancy and feel what is real, like my love for you.