Friday, November 10, 2017

Random Thoughts on a Long Pedal

I’ve turned over a new leaf, or new spoke, in that I bike on the NC Triangle’s Tobacco Trail once or twice a week.  It’s a converted rail track that spans about 24 miles and is straight and flat. I do about 16 miles which is the limit of my artificial ankle and a goodnight’s sleep.  Most times I go with my friend, Larry Williams, aka Kayak Larry. We pedal next to each other down the path starting in New Hill for about 5 or 6 miles as I regale him why everyone is against me and that life has never, ever given me a fair shake. Oh, the injustice! But after 30 minutes or so, Larry accelerates down the trail without me like the Roadrunner does in those cartoons; then waits for me at a cross street or rest station in the next town. What can I say, my name is mud.

But lately Larry has been on a long sojourn in Italy followed by hikes in Western NC on the App Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway. I miss him, but the solitude and my ITunes playlist make it bearable. During the week when everyone is working, the trail is lightly traveled, and November is almost the end of summer so autumn is the perfect time to pedal. Solitude meets low humidity.

With my playlist punched in, I scissor down the path with an Elise Robineau Adagio. I imagine I’m riding on the crushed stone path that belts around Lake Lucerne in an early morning mist, then “Billy’s Theme” by Jessica Williams, puffing the perimeter of Manhattan’s Central Park. Three miles in, I thumb a short Zydeco tune – the perfect bike music. The Creole music is brief because in the middle of the woods, I don’t want to reach even the lowest edge of Tachycardia. With “Bye, Bye Boozoo” by Beau Soliel, I’m pedaling on the flat expanse next to Bayou Teche in Louisiana. Then Stephane Grappelli in Paris and Oscar Peterson almost anywhere. What fun! I’m positive everyone I passed must have admired my form. In the music, I pedaled like a dizzy snake. We can’t always go through life riding the break.

I also biked with happy thoughts knowing I finally solved the ointment issue. Men, unlike women, develop certain medical issues when biking (okay, okay…chafing). As you know, unlike the female, men have outside plumbing…I’ll say no more. On previous rides, I’ve tried an ointment from our medicine cabinet that Donna had recommended a week or two before.  It had a long name that I thought started with the letter “m”. She told me afterwards that I used the wrong ointment on two consecutive occasions – the tube I applied had the opposite medicinal remedy, i.e., skin tightening.  Of course, this must be all her fault. In her defense, Donna told me, somewhat unconvincingly, she left the appropriate tube by our sink. My defense is that the “m” tube I chose looked important, and besides, I wasn’t paying much attention to her when she was advising me, and besides that the print on the tube was too small to read. No matter, I forgive her.
Third time is a charm though. I wrote bike in bold magic marker on the correct ointment and brought it with me in my bike bag.

But that got me thinking. Why do men have outside plumbing and women the reverse? In other words, why does God like women more than men? Any argument to the contrary will provoke a question by me, “Have you ever been in a baseball catcher’s stance and missed a fastball without the benefit of support? Well, have you?”

That’s a question only God can answer. I kept thinking, though, and started to put the playlist in the background and wonder about God. With age I try to seek the experience of God instead of just reading what others have written. In a paradoxical way, that experiencing leads back to thought. After several mile markers on the trail, the Our Father suddenly popped in my head and I started reciting it. It’s my go-to prayer from Matthew. I always say it as a first gesture of worship when I go to Mass. Perhaps because it’s so grand in scope, so full of God’s purpose. I thought about how many times I’ve said that prayer (6 times in the rosary…6 times forever) and not focused on the 2 words in the title. If I’d thought about it at all, it was in an ethereal way. If you’re a Christian, you believe that God is the Father of the trinity, the Creator, and through inference, our father. John says God is love; He is with us always, comforting, teaching, guiding, correcting, and hoping we obey His will.  Hard to see for us sometimes, although easier to see in other people’s lives.

 I know that, but the thing I ran through my mind on the Trail and became a deeper realization. He is my father – he sent Bud and Millie to be my parents (and great parents they were!), but in the bigger picture, His love encompasses all His creation – and by creation, I mean all of us. Bud and Millie were my and my sister’s parents and He, being our father, was theirs. Just as my sister, Nancy, and I, are parents now, and so on and so on. He is our father in fact and not just spiritually. See what I mean? My bike goes in a straight direction, but my thoughts go circular.

On the one hand regarding worship, I thought about the fact that I’m an alcoholic and alcoholics have large egos – it’s baked in. I can easily veer from intimacy and worship of God to my own self-importance – and I’m cognizant of that danger. I can make myself the biggest profile on God’s tapestry of faith – so a push-back occurs, and I strive to humble myself, limit myself to being one link on the theological chain and a small one at that. It may make me humble, but if I raise the guardrails too high, I make God humble as well. And God is not humble.

No He’s not.

On the other hand, my worship can be filled with another tension. As I get older, I realize more and more that we’re in the post-modern age of relativism where culture cuts God’s anchor chain of truth, and we consequently substitute ourselves as the last word on morality. Even many believers do this at times, and I’m not excluding myself. During the ride, I think about my time left in this world, and to retrench and use it to follow God. To obey…even when I don’t understand, even when it’s hard, even when I don’t agree, or think it’s just, even when I don’t understand. I will do it imperfectly, but I will try.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Donna Gets Better

NURSING - Glowing Neon Sign on stonework wall - 3D rendered royalty free stock illustration.  Can be used for online banner ads and direct mailers..

I found the following email in a draft file from last summer that I planned to share on FB...but, ahem, forgot to do so. It's from June, 2016.

We were heading out to a ballgame when Donna told me that she had  symptoms that mimicked heart trouble. She ended up having a cardiac catheterization – she then was discharged with good numbers and no discernible heart issues. She was in the hospital for 4 days.

I was in her room most of the time – talking, reading, writing, and observing the nursing staff…and it was a sight to behold. I have never seen a more caring group of people. Donna had 3 RNs and 2 Techs who were outstanding, each in a unique way. They shared competence, hugs, answers, follow-ups, and unlimited re-assurance. They saw Donna’s anxiousness and addressed it. They comforted while dispensing. They were wonderful.

I had time to think a lot while I was in the hospital room. I had been to my mechanic, Mike, a few days earlier. He put on two new tires for me. One tire had reached the end of its tread life, and the other had open steel belts that glided on the asphalt without the benefit of rubber – a kind of automotive arthritis. Mike is honest and gives me a fair price on parts and repairs – always has the car ready when he says it will be. He gives a good account for himself at work, and I’m sure in life. He likes fixing things, but he is no nurse.

He doesn’t have to talk to the car or be concerned for its feelings or anxiety. He doesn’t have to deal with the car’s family wishes, or take any blame. The car doesn’t care.

The nursing staff at Rex hospital in Raleigh are special. I saw them leave at the end of the day, and they left everything on the field.

In whatever afterlife they believe in – they will get the floor seats. No question.

Donna and I went out yesterday, spent some money, and bought each one of them a box of expensive chocolates (not the dinky ones at the end of the aisle in CVS. No Sir!) and attached a personal card. I gave Donna a list of each person’s attributes as a suggestion of what to write. I know, I’m awful.

We wanted to acknowledge and honor their work. I hope that chocolate gains altitude and jets into their hearts and heads and stays there for a while. Although being chocolate, that time may be abbreviated.

During her stay, too many people were texting Donna in the hospital. I finally made a suggestion…with tongue firmly planted in cheek…indicating to all the texters she would love a home-made apple pie (my favorite, not hers) to help in her recovery.

 Those folks know me, know I’m kidding, and know apple pie is my favorite. So viola! We come home and there are 2 pies at our front door!

I spoke with my friend kayak Larry, and when I stated my shock, he said, “We never know when you’re kidding.”

I feel real guilty about it. Maybe I’ll feel better... if I have another piece.

Next time I’m just asking for money.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

So Long, Farewell to 2016

“Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement.”
-A Short Guide To A Happy Life, by Anna Quindlen.

First the bad news from 2016. Out of approximately 90 posts from this blog, I’ve lost 30. My fault. I never backed them up with a flash drive since it was on Google, and I thought that if I ran into a problem, I could rely on Google support. Little did I know there is no Google support to speak of. Out of the 30 or so posts, I would like to recoup one, the“30 Years and a Wake Up” - about my alcoholism. If by some remote chance you have it, please let me know.

Now the good news from 2016.  Everything else.

Throughout the year two ideas attached themselves willy-nilly to my thinking like Post-it notes. One involved a renewed appreciation of family and friends; another the value of time. As I age, I seem to favor the familiar. I think of my wife Donna and how much happiness she has brought into my life. I am so, so grateful she has opened up her life and allowed me to enter. I don’t deserve her and don’t tell her often enough how much she means to me.

I’m grateful to my life-long friend, Jack, and the hours we’ve spent on the phone discussing Boston sports and growing up in a south shore suburb. Our memories will die a hard death as long as we have cell phones.

I’m grateful to my friend Larry. He doesn’t live life; he ignites it. He presents enthusiasm and good cheer to everyone he meets – every day. He’s fun to be around, and I have fond memories of our biking, kayaking, and working on the disassembly of my clothes dryer - on our knees - on my garage floor. What will 2017 bring?

I’m grateful for my sister, the original energizer bunny, who will not only survive the encroaching dystopian zombie apocalypse; she will thrive. Her time will be spent transporting the neighborhood zombie children to elementary school and then arranging quality childcare. She’ll do medical runs from New Hampshire to Mass General Hospital in Boston when the zombie parents’ limbs start falling off. As long as she doesn’t breech the entrance to any remaining retail space (Can’t you just see the New Hampshire store signs just over the border? “No Massachusetts sales tax – Zombies 10% off on Tuesdays.”), she’ll be just fine. The zombies and I will be grateful for her efforts in the coming years.

I’m grateful to live in a tree with so many strong branches.

During these yearly summary type of things, I dislike folks who recommend the best movies/books of the year. I, of course, would never do that. You’re an adult, you can figure it out yourself.

Best movie you’ve never heard of in 2016: I’ll See You In My Dreams – teaches baby boomers that life still has some atrial fibrillation to it, and besides you get to hear Blythe Danner sing.  On a trip to Northern Ireland, Donna and I saw flags designating protestant or catholic neighborhoods. The movie 71 (Netflix) explains the context – but very violent and exhausting to watch. Don't worry about acquiring a comfortable seat - you'll be on the edge of whatever seat you choose. Also liked Me Before You and Before You Go (also Netflix). I liked Before You Go a lot. I don’t know why.

Books: I told myself in my late 20s I’d found the great American novel – The Great Gatsby- and that I would read it every year. I read it last year for probably the 4h time. The characters aren’t as engrossing this time out, but they still live inside F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wonderful words. Also re-read The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V Higgins. The best crime novel ever written according to Elmore Leonard. It’s filled with gratuitous sexual references and plenty of misogyny so be warned, but I named a restaurant in my Boston Harbors Murder novel, “Dave Foley’s Steakhouse,” in honor of a character in the book. The 1973 movie is just as good.

So one book about broken dreams, another about broken bones. The characters in those books should have listened to their mothers.

I have noticed that as I age, somebody moves the chains when I’m not looking. I was filled with disgust during the 2016 Presidential race – with both party candidates. In retirement, my morning routine involved strong coffee and cable news, but the election coverage became so depressing, I turned to YouTube videos on our new smart TV. I bounced from auto detailing in a snowstorm (I’m not kidding), to Duke Ellington At Newport, to a Maserati Ghibli road test, to the best technique for wall painting with a roller, to the proper way to tie a bowtie. One after the other. Talk about your cognitive dissonance? No wait, cognitive dissonance was a Youtube 20 minute TED lecture.

The bottom of my TV screen was filled with a string of past videos that resembled a group portrait of a dysfunctional family…but it was still better than watching the election coverage…and then a good thing happened. A really good thing.

During my YouTube search, I came across video posts of a Catholic priest, Father Ian Vanheusen. He does 1-2 minute videos that can carry you through the day – “Our Mission”, “A Generation of Saints” and, “Desolations” are a good place to start. I watched one every morning, and many of them multiple times. His heart is full of God and wants us to realize that we all live in a community of saints – everyone of us. Check him out on YouTube or his website, You don’t have to be Catholic, you don’t have to be perfect, you can even be unsure of God.

So not a bad deal. I lost Trump and Clinton, but gained God. And that leads me to another thought from 2016 and Father Ian’s videos. Sometimes I wonder if we’re more ocean than land. God finds us formless with only rudimentary self-knowledge as we’re drifting through the troughs of the white caps. We slowly get filled with God’s gifts as He pushes us from deep ocean to shoreline. He is our following sea that propels us through the wave break toward land to use (or not-our choice) those gifts for others in need. He waits, and if necessary pushes us back out to sea for more nourishment, for more quiet, always wanting the best for us, always wanting us to realize what’s important in this life, always hoping we come to know what matters, always hoping we come to know Him.

I’ll leave with more Anna Quindlen,
“Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and stand of pines... Keep still. Be present.”

Happy 2017!