2/7/20: Going through old stuff in the garage, trying to organize…my never ending project…and found an orientation CD from Kristen’s years at NC State. It occurs to me that she graduated five years ago this May. I look around at other stuff that’s cluttering up the garage, junky stuff, crappily built stuff, precious stuff, stuff that predates the CD by a decade or more: A little birdhouse with childish writing. A kite made of balsa wood and wrapping paper. A dusty kid’s Zebco pole that still has a tangle.
Kristen is a minimalist, she’d gently chide me for being overly sentimental and hanging on to such junk; she’d quote Thoreau: “Simplify!” She’d shake her head. But in “The Game of Life,” reality version, I’m approaching millionaire acres or the poor farm while she’s just getting to “Stop! Get married. Spin for prizes.” And just as the time between the bird house in 1997 and orientation in 2012 went by in the blink of an eye, so will the game; and one day…maybe as she’s adding kids to her little plastic car…she just may want these things of her childhood back.
So until then, I’ll continue my role as the curator of family memorabilia. The stuff will continue to gather dust; my dream of an cool organized workshop will remain a dream; and I’ll sit here with our birdhouse and strum a few chords and remember the Saturday morning that we built it like it was yesterday.
1/15/20: Last night, I went with the fam to see “Little Women.” As I watched the story unfold, I was struck by the similarity of the characterizations and my own three girls. Each of the sisters in the story had their own distinct personalities and talents: The fiercely independent author Jo; the sensitive musician Beth; the temperamental artist Amy; the grounded eldest, Meg.
I snuck a glance at them; three unique personalities, three sisters who had fought and laughed and loved. I had been there for each of their births and baptisms. I had seen their first steps. I had seen each develop an awareness, then an interest, then a proficiency in something.
As I watched them in the flickering light, I realized they were no longer children; I had only been a steward for a season. I had let go of the handlebars, given each a final push…and like the characters in the movie, each was now finding her own way with her own abilities on the foundations we built.
Not sure what comes next; those chapters are blank pages known only to God. But I silently gave thanks for the years that flew by with astonishing speed and for the three amazing young people sitting next to me in a darkened theater eating popcorn and watching a movie that they could only fully comprehend from one perspective. I only hope I’ll be able to watch it with them again, years from now, when they’ll see it from another 😎
11/3/19: Today was “All Saints Day” at church, a time when we remember those believers who have gone on before us. As we sang the familiar hymns from the same hymnal I used as a kid, I thought about the days of my youth at Advent Lutheran in Boca. My dad always sang vigorously…most of the time in tune…while my mom like to nudge me during the more laborious ones and point to the composer, always some unknown pious soul from the 15th century.
We sang “For all the Saints” and the words and tune…plus the sermon about “the cloud of witnesses” watching us…reminded me of a different era at Advent. Sue and I would attend with Kristen, this little 2 yo redhead with her Pebbles Flintstone bun. Mom and Pop’s attention during the sermons dropped dramatically in favor of quietly looking at kid’s books and showering her with little treats and hugs.
So today, Kristen attended worship with us and as I looked at her, still seeing vestiges of her 2 yo self, singing the hymns that we…and those before us… sang, back to the 1400s… I reflected that next September, she’ll be married. Lord willing, she and her husband will have kids…and as the great celestial wheel turns and the seasons of life change…Sue and I will find ourselves paying less attention to the sermon and more to those who will some day be remembering us on All Saints Sunday.
9/20/19: There’s this old guy I hang around with as part of our church’s outreach program (“Stephen Ministry”). It pairs us with people going through a rough time… death of a loved one, divorce, unemployment. Our job is to provide a listening ear, typically for 6-12 months.
In 2012, I was matched with an 89 yo guy whose wife had just been institutionalized with dementia. He reminded me of Pop…one year older, depression era, Greatest Generation. He never complained, served in WWII...no matter what was going on, everything was always “pretty good.”
For seven years, we walked together; the decline and death of his wife. His transformative journey and gradual loss of independence as his heart grew weaker. The death of two siblings and a niece. We talked about things; personal things, private things. I was supposed to be the caregiver, but I think in many ways I was the beneficiary. His faith was low-key, never showy, but I saw his daily devotionals and his bible next to his chair and knew from our talks that it was his faith that had sustained him during his dark seasons.
Yesterday he was moved to Hospice. He was heavily sedated and his breathing was labored. They said he could hear us, but that his time was near. I pulled up a chair and said quietly some final words and a prayer. His hand tightened around mine; I know he heard me. This morning, they called; my friend passed away at 8:15 on this last day of summer.
I thought about the brevity of life…tenuous, no promises, ephemeral. We are “a mist that is here for a while, then disappears.” What matters is the state of our soul at the end. My friend left peacefully…into, I’m sure, the embrace of He who ordered the winds and seas to cease. Just a gentle reminder that we don’t have a guarantee of tomorrow.
“You don’t have a soul. You ARE a soul. You have a body.”
~ C.S. Lewis
9/10/2019: Today is Pop’s birthday, he would have been 95. The picture is him, maybe 18, a pilot trainee. He always loved aviation, being untethered from earth…his heart was in the clouds. I think there may have been some spiritual dimension involved…the poem “High Flight” comes to mind.
As I was going through old stuff, I found this picture of Kelsey…she must have been 5 or so. As a little kid, she always seemed to have this certain undefinable quality about her…can’t describe it, but it was noticeable and more than one person remarked on it. She seemed to be able to discern things the rest of us couldn’t. My camera caught her in one of these reveries.
I was struck by the similarities of the pictures…two people, almost seven decades years apart…thousand-foot stares, pondering who knows what. From one I learned; the other I taught. But I think there is something more, some quality of Pop that’s in Kelsey that’s beyond me.
I’m just glad the flame is still burning
8/15/19: Was going through a few friend requests and saw a mutual friend I’d not heard from in years. She was cute, a baton twirler in band, a cashier at Winn Dixie. I’d bag for her just to make small talk. I asked her to prom a week too late. Wonder what she’s up to now, I thought as I clicked her link.
I was shocked and saddened to land on her memorial page. My friend from band and Winn Dixie had slipped away “after a long courageous fight” on a bleak January day in Austin, TX at the age of 58.
Unbidden, the Carpe Diem scene from Dead Poet’s Society came to mind. Did she have a good life? Did she get at least a few bucket list items checked? A few what ifs came to mind. We come to forks in the road and sometimes have very little time to choose. With astonishing speed, 40 years goes by and we find ourselves awake as the world sleeps, pondering questions better left unanswered.
Farewell, my friend. I hope life was kind to you.
7/20/19: July 20th, 1969, I suppose, is one of those “where were you when” days. For me, a half century slips away and I’m at my grandparents in Punta Gorda, typical 60s house: terrazzo floors, Florida room, jalousie windows. A 19″ B&W TV on a rolling cart, clicker VHF knob, dial knob for UHF. The Gustafsons smiling at us from a milk carton; don’t worry, all is well.
A lot of nothing all day: mostly guys in white shirts and ties in front of flickering screens at Mission Control. Bits of radio discussion, beeping, mostly unintelligible, views of the moon never before seen.
At 3:17 pm came the electrifying announcement that the Eagle had landed and after an interminable eight hours, Neil Armstrong…a quiet former naval aviator, Eagle Scout, pilot at 16…emerged.
Nobody breathed. A step… a puff of moondust from his boot…then his famous words. Unbelievable.
For me, two things afterwards resonated perhaps even more strongly than the landing.
The first was the picture of the earth from the moon; this blue-green marble, somehow impossibly simply hanging in space. Everything I’d ever heard about darkness and light, lesser and greater lights, brooding over the waters, came to mind.
I also later learned that Buzz Aldrin had snuck aboard some Communion wafers and a tiny container of wine and celebrated the Eucharist on the moon: “I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup,” he told Guideposts magazine. “It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.”
Neil slipped quietly away in 2012; Buzz is still going strong at 89. But as I take Communion this Sunday, I’ll think about two guys in a tiny ship on a different world 50 years ago and how we are all marvelously connected through time and space in a way we can’t really comprehend. Yet. 😎
5/27/19: Any of my friends who had Mr. Barnes at Boca High will remember him: gruff, tough, but fair and deep down, a nice guy. But he suffered no fools and called everyone by their last name with a “Miss” or “Mr.”
I had him for “American Military History” and his accounts of battles, tactics and how things worked were tinged with humor but interesting. One day I made the mistake of mentioning to him after class that my dad had served as a B-29 pilot. A few days later at dinner, my mom hands my dad a letter. He opens it and as I’m eating my meat loaf, his eyes dart back and forth. He puts it down with a pleased expression. “Well, isn’t that nice! Your teacher, Mr. Barnes, would like me to come speak to your class.”
I was stunned, my toes curled. What? Oh no….oh man, my dad?? In front of all my friends? Oh fuuuudge, I may as well pack it in now….
The day finally arrived, a knock on the door, Mr. Barnes opens it, and in walks Pop. He’s wearing a leisure suit and his big black no-nonsense IBM glasses. I slumped lower in my seat as friends turned to me with a mixture of expressions: sympathy, amusement, curiosity. Mr. Barnes motioned for him to sit on a stool. He began to speak.
He started with an account of America before the war and his experience growing up in a house where only Norwegian was spoken until he was five. How he had loved aviation and had hung around the local little airfield, doing chores in exchange for rides in the planes. Joining the service at 17, his parents’ anguish of their only son going off to war. Flight school, training, the rigorous discipline, interesting details of the planes. He wove a narrative of humorous recollections and technical details during the stateside days.
When he got to the combat days, the narrative turned darker. The flak-filled skies over Japan, 16-hour flights starting at 4am, enemy fighters, watching friends’ stricken planes cartwheeling down to the blue Pacific. The rigors of flying in formation with hundreds of other planes over a target already in flames, the enormous updraft carrying large debris up over a mile.
I looked around. Every kid was sitting in rapt attention. No doodling, no reading, no bored stares. They were all listening to Pop in his dorky leisure suit and glasses. As I looked at him, it was as though the years fell away and I saw not a middle-aged guy in a silly get-up; I saw a young guy, only a few years older than me, flying the most sophisticated plane in the world at the time, in charge of a crew of 10 other guys, no screwing around, life and death.
When he finished, Mr. Barnes stood and began applauding. As the rest of the class followed suit, my embarrassment turned to pride. Man…Pop…who knew?
On this Memorial Day, I’m thinking about Pop…and all who served…with gratitude. Thank you for growing up so fast and heeding the call to do what needed to be done.
Thinking about my Mom, who left us nine years ago to be with Jesus. Glad I had her as long as I did…we had fun but also our moments. I remember once I screwed up big, can’t recall details, but it was a case of Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. All efforts to defuse it at a tactical level failed, launch codes engaged and silo covers opening as 5:00 crept closer. My doom was sealed.
Had a sudden thought. Ran up to the bus stop, approx 1/4 mile from our house, where I could see far down rural Glades Road. I finally see my dad’s station wagon coming and as he turns onto our street, I jumped off the pasture fence. “Hey buddy,” he says. “What are you doing?” I said i was just there to see how his day went and catch a ride home with him. Aw, what a great kid.
“Elevator speech” was not known at that time, but I was an unknowing early adopter and in 60 seconds got my side of the story told and how sorry I was. My dad puts an arm around me as we pull up in the driveway, Aw, that’s OK buddy.
I walk behind him into the kitchen, my Mom standing there, can’t wait to unload. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS KID DID TODAY?” she demands, hands on hips. Pop: “Aww, I know, he told me…it’s OK, we worked it out.” I lean out from behind my protector and the look on my Mom’s face was unforgettable. WTH…damn, the kid outflanked me. I won’t forget this, buddy. Her look could have curdled milk.
But a mother’s love overcomes all and I was eventually forgiven. I think I even earned some grudging respect that day. Love ya, Ma