Sunday, May 31, 2020

Living While Black. . . Or Not

I don't know what to begin to say about George Floyd's murder.  Or Ahmaud Arbery's.   Tragic, wicked, sickening, senseless, evil, and a million other things.  And they mess with my world view, just a little.  I've got a million impressions swirling in my brain, and I'm not sure they add up to a coherent thought.  But I've got to get them out. . .

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My own experience with the police has been uniformly positive and helpful.  We've had visits from the police relative to most of our kids, at one time or another, and every time, I felt like the police were on my side.  Even when I've gotten traffic tickets, I've never felt like the police were 'out to get me'; I knew what I'd done.  But George Floyd shows me that there are such people as rogue cops, even if I've never met one.  And none of my black friends and neighbors, even the most 'establishment' of them, have quite such a sanguine attitude toward the police as what my experience has formed in me.

I am quite certain that race relations are much better now than they were in the 50s and 60s, when I was growing up (I wrote about my own youthful experiences of racial matters here, years ago, in my old blog); anyone who says otherwise is either too young to know what it was like in those days, or out of touch with reality.  I knew real racists in those days, many of them 'respectable' folks.  Nowadays, you can't be the kind of racist that was all-too-easily tolerated in those days, and still be counted 'respectable'.  But it is all too painfully clear that, as far as we've come, we've got a long, long way yet to go.

My older kids went to a large, urban public high school, the kind of place the 'diversity' types love.  The student population was just about equal parts white, black, Hispanic and Asian (if you lumped Vietnamese, Korean, Pakistani and Arab kids together under the 'Asian' banner).  I thought it was really cool that my kids could be exposed to kids from so many different backgrounds and cultures, just by going to school every day.

 My three oldest sons all played on the sports teams, with varying degrees of success.  But their teammates were predominantly, uh, non-white (the football and basketball teams were more than half black kids, with the rest white and Hispanic; one of my sons played baseball, and his teammates were about equal parts Hispanic and white; the soccer team was the only one that had significant numbers of Asian kids).  In my experience, there is no better way for young males to bond with each other than by being sports teammates.

4M in particular was a successful athlete - captain of the football team, he also played basketball, ran track and wrestled.  As a captain, he'd often have his teammates over to our house after games, just to hang out, and celebrate or commiserate.  His teams did a lot more commiserating than celebrating.  Some of his teammates were pretty gifted athletes, but the teams were consistently awful.  I asked him about that once - "How can you have so many talented athletes on your team, but never win?"  He said to me, "Because more than half the guys don't have dads."  I asked what he meant, and he said, "They won't submit to authority, and when they encounter trouble, they quit.  If they had dads, they wouldn't be like that."  But you don't hear a lot of people wringing their hands over the effects of fatherlessness on kids. . .

Three stories - 

4M's football team played a team from a nearby town, almost-but-not-quite a suburb of OurTown.  They were one of those 'traditional power-house' teams, and our kids. . . weren't.  But we managed to put together one of our best games, and it stayed close for the whole game.  We were sitting in the Visitors' bleachers, on the opposite side of the field from the Home bleachers, which in that town were huge.  At one point, a group of young locals - I'm talking maybe 10-12 years old - walked around to our side of the field and started yelling, "Niggers go home!" at the parents sitting in the stands.  I was. . . stunned, aghast.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing, or that in this day and age, there were still people, living within a 15-minute drive of my house, who evidently felt like it was perfectly fine for their kids to spout garbage like that.  I was outraged, but one of the black parents looked at me almost with pity.  "You probably don't see much of that," he said, "but it's not all that uncommon."

It wasn't just that school, which has a reputation of being kind of a 'redneck' sort of place.  Even in the wealthy, educated suburbs, we would encounter strange stuff.  Their kids wouldn't come around tossing N-bombs at the visiting parents - they were way too educated and highbrow for that - but the referees. . . oh, my.  Apparently, in Suburban Referee School, they teach you that city kids, especially the black ones, are basically out-of-control, so you need to establish your authority early and often, or you'll lose control of your game.  So, when one of our kids would complain about being held - *tweet!* - 15 yards, personal foul, unsportsmanlike conduct.  If one of our kids got cheap-shotted and nothing was called, if he complained about it - *tweet!* - 15 yards, personal foul, unsportsmanlike conduct.  If one of 'their' boys got demonstrative (or even one of our white kids), the ref would admonish him with a raised finger, and send him to talk to his coach.  I recognized that behind it was fear, pure-and-simple.  These were city kids, coming into our lawn-manicured world, and if you don't sit on 'em hard, they'll get out of control, and you'll have a riot on your hands.  'Cuz that's how city kids are.

I never understood the kind of 'paranoia' that my black friends talk about, until I sat as a 'teammate' with a group of black parents, and it was my kids getting crapped on by 'the system'.  Suddenly, the world looked very different; it was an eye-opening peek behind the curtain. . .

As I said, 4M's teams were consistently terrible.  His junior year, they didn't win a single game.  His senior year, though, things clicked a little better for them, and they actually won three of their nine games.  After the first win, in particular, his teammates came over to our house, and they were. . . geeked.  Having not won a game in two years, they were all sky-high, running around the yard, yelling, chasing each other with the garden hose, stuff like that.  Jenn and I were pleased for the kids, and inclined to be fairly indulgent of their harmless shenanigans since, what the heck, they hadn't won in two years.  As the clock wound toward midnight, though, I began to get concerned.  One of our neighbors was a cranky old guy with whom we'd already had a few run-ins.  I pulled 4M aside and basically said, "You've got to get these guys calmed down, just a little.  What do you think will happen if old Mr. Z wakes up at 1AM, looks out his window, and sees 30 black kids running around our yard?"  It kind of pisses me off that I felt like I had to be more careful because the goofy, excited kids in question were black.

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And now, it's becoming personal.  See, one of my grandsons, not quite 6 years old, has a black birth-father.  He's a bright, mostly-cheerful little guy with the standard mixed package of strengths and weaknesses, blessings and troubles (his own fatherlessness not least among them; but we're trying to mitigate that).  But he looks 'black'; or at least, 'black enough' that I worry just a bit how he'll be treated when he gets older and 'out in the world'.  I know he'll face challenges that I never had to face; nor any of my kids.  Just because his skin is darker and his hair is nappy.  And there are still people like Derek Chauvin in the world, and Gregory and Travis McMichael, who might pull him over for 'DWB'.  Or kill him for no damn good reason.  And that gives me a pain in the pit of my stomach. . .

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

We Are Born to Die. . .

The virus is raging, especially here in Michigan, which ranks third among states in the US in COVID cases (but only tenth in population).  The thing is, Detroit is getting hammered, and the farther you get from Detroit, the less bad it gets.  Just to set perspective, the City of Detroit has a rate of 85 COVID cases per 10,000 population (about one in 120 people); the three counties of the metro area (not including the city itself) are between 25-30.  Two other counties adjacent to the metro area are at about 15.  Other 'urban-ish' counties within 100 miles or so of Detroit (including the one I live in) are at 6-7 cases per 10,000 population (about 1 in 1500).  The rest of the state is 2 or less. . .

We have friends who live in Detroit; the wife/mom is a nurse, and daughter of good, long-standing friends of ours.  Their whole family came down with the virus, and their next-door neighbor died of it.  They are all recovered now, or well on the way to recovery.  For them, it was like a not-too-nasty flu.  Obviously, for their neighbor, it was considerably more than that.

Watching the numbers, it looks like we are at or just past the peak of the pandemic.  Which, of course, is the exact wrong time to relax.  No one wants to be the last soldier to die in the war. . .

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It is perhaps ironic, but these recent weeks have brought a lot of death into my life.  A man who filled a significant 'mentor' role in my life for several years, who helped me through some major rough spots with my kids (partly because he'd been through similar rough spots with his kids) died a couple weeks ago, just before the panic hit.  He was as wise and joyful a man as I've ever known.  He was 91.

About a week after that, a good friend's wife died.  I had known her for years, even before she married my friend.  She was kind and gracious, the kind of woman who made you feel like you were the most important person in the world.  She'd suffered from Alzheimer's for the past few years, and in her last days, she declined precipitously.

A week after that, my aunt, my mother's older sister, died.  Her family and ours had always been close, and we took several memorable vacations with them over the years.  She had been in declining health for a while; she was 88.

The thing is, none of them died from COVID (at least, COVID wasn't given as the cause of death).  It was just their time. With so much death swirling about the public consciousness, it all just reinforces the truth that we are all born to die, "as sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7).  To put it more crassly, none of us gets out of here alive.  My own advancing age, together with recent health issues, which are more like 'really annoying' than 'scary', have me thinking of my own mortality more than I used to. . .

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And yesterday brought the news that Al Kaline had died.

How do I explain what it means to me that Al Kaline died?  He was my boyhood hero.  In that way that boys do, he was the sun of my solar system for many of my formative years.  He was the best baseball player that I had the opportunity to see even somewhat close-at hand.  It was a long way from my hometown Up North to Tiger Stadium in Detroit, and I only saw a few games live-and-in-person that Al Kaline played in.  But I remember the first Tiger game I ever went to, as a boy probably 11 years old.  We walked into the stadium, and saw the great green expanse of the field.  As we walked along the concourse to our seats, some of the players were warming up - stretching and playing catch - and there he was - Al Kaline!  I was mesmerized to see the great man in person, playing catch just like I did in my Little League games at home!

Al Kaline had been the Tigers' best player for many years before I was even paying attention.  His first major-league game was in 1953, three years before I was born.  His breakout year was 1955, when he was the youngest player ever to lead the league in batting average, and I was in utero (at least, by the end of the season).  By the time I was really paying attention in '65 or so, his best years were mostly behind him, although he was the Tigers' best player even still.

In 1968, when I was 12, the Tigers won the American League pennant, and the World Series.  Kaline spent much of the season injured, and by the time the pennant was clinched, it was hard to find places for him to play, because the young guys who had replaced him were all playing well.  Even still, he scored the winning run in the bottom of the 9th against the Yankees in the pennant-clinching win in September.  And then, in Game 5 of the World Series, with the Tigers down 3-games-to-1 to the Cardinals, and trailing 3-2 as they came to bat in the bottom of the 7th inning, Kaline came up with the bases loaded and singled, driving in the tying and go-ahead runs to stave off elimination so the Tigers could live to play another game.  They went on to win games 6 and 7, and thereby, the World Series Championship, which is, to this day, still a high point in my young life.  Kaline had a terrific World Series, batting .379 with 2 homers and 8 RBIs in 7 games.

Kaline was a consummate defensive ballplayer, blessed with good speed, an other-worldly sense for reading the batter's swing and anticipating the flight of the ball, and an amazing arm.  He was a right-fielder, and so was I.  Of course, in the major leagues, the right-fielder typically has the strongest arm of the outfielders, since he has to make the long throw to third base, whereas in Little League,  right field is typically where you try to hide the slow, fat kid, because fewer balls get hit that way (the majors have more left-handed pull hitters than Little Leagues do).  But no-one ever made the throw from right-field to third base any better than Al Kaline.  In that same Game 5 of the World Series, Lou Brock was on third base for the Cardinals, with a chance to add to their lead.  The batter hit a medium-depth fly to right, which, especially with Brock on third, would almost always score a run.  Kaline played the ball in textbook fashion, lining himself up a couple steps behind where the fly was coming down, so he caught the ball on the run and fired a 300-foot strike to the catcher.  Lou Brock, to his credit, never even moved off third base, and his run never did score.  There is another story of a time Kaline threw out a runner while sitting on his butt in the outfield.

The thing is, as great a ballplayer as Al Kaline was, he was an even better man.  Quick to deflect accolades to his teammates, or even his opponents, humble, self-effacing, he was the epitome of quiet grace, and leading by example.  He hated drawing attention to himself, even years after his playing career was over.  All he ever wanted to do was play ball as well as he possibly could.  And that was incredibly good.

When I was in college, his son was a student at my university, and even lived in my dorm for a year.  From time to time, we'd see Al and his wife dropping off their son in front of the dorm, which was a special thrill, the few times it happened.

For a man, even an old man like me, his boyhood hero holds a special place in his heart, his soul, even his concept of himself.  I know that I have aspired to the same kind of quiet, gracious excellence as Al Kaline exemplified (it probably helped that my dad was cut from similar cloth; maybe that's why I latched onto Al Kaline).  The world will seem a poorer place without him.

Rest in Peace, Al Kaline; you were one of the best there ever was. . .

Friday, March 20, 2020

Interesting Times

Once again, I must offer my sincere and abject apologies to whichever ancient Chinese persons I have offended, to have been thus cursed to live in such Interesting Times. . .

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Life In the Time of the Virus

We are hunkered down, not quite sheltered-in-place.  We've made a few trips to the grocery store,and after the initial panic last weekend, we've mainly been able to get what we need (even toilet paper!). Other than that, though, we haven't been out much.  Not that there's much to go out TO.  7M is a student at the local mega-university, and all his classes went to on-line instruction last week.  Likewise, 8M's high-school has also gone all-on-line, and it is an open question as to whether commencement will happen as usual.  Our grandson's day care is simply closed until further notice.  Our church has been live-streaming masses said in an empty building.  Yesterday, the every-other-week Bible study I'm in met via Zoom; I was the only one who didn't have a webcam.

Cancelling the NCAA basketball tournament was a bit of a shock to the system.  Normally, yesterday would have been the first day, and the TV would have been tuned to hoops from noon til midnight.  And my Spartans were looking really promising, too (it's probably merciful that the Detroit professional sports teams get to recede from the public eye). . .

Jenn had been doing childcare for 1F's son (now five months old), but she (1F) decided that she didn't want to put Jenn and me at risk, both of us being over 60, and therefore, at 'elevated risk'.  It's a little odd, being the object of my kids' concern like that.

Jenn has made a couple of shopping trips for a friend who's less willing than we are to venture out of her house.  She leaves the groceries in the garage, rings the doorbell, and leaves.  Sometimes her friend will come to the garage door and talk with her, but she won't get the groceries until Jenn is safely in her car and on the road.  The same friend will also call Jenn three times a day to chide her for not taking 'social distancing' seriously enough. . .

Being confined to our house with other people who are also more-or-less confined to our house poses a few odd challenges.  Two sons who need quiet places in which to connect to their on-line classes places some strain on scarce resources of quiet places in our house.  Not usually a terribly difficult problem, but we've also got our 5-year-old grandson here, and he doesn't always keep close track of which rooms are 'spoken for', so he can't just roam freely (and noisily) through the house like he's used to.  There's more of a sense of the house being crowded than used to be the case.

7M has been burning off some of his nervous energy by doing projects around the house, and God bless him.  He gutted the walls in the kitchenette of the basement efficiency he's sharing with his new bride, and built new walls, replaced the grungy old basement window with glass blocks that instantly let in light that hasn't been seen in that space since we moved in, 20 years ago.  But his increased levels of activity also mean that space becomes even more scarce as he re-locates the contents of the kitchenette while the work is in-process.

My 401k has taken a beating, which could be alarming, as I'll need to start drawing on it about a year from now.  But I'm not panicking; hopefully, the market will recover once the pestilence has run its course, but it definitely makes the times even more 'interesting'. . .

I saw an article on-line yesterday, saying that some folks have started re-hanging their Christmas lights, as a way to reach out to their also-sequestered neighbors, to introduce a bit of cheer into the bleakness, and a tacit encouragement that we'll all get through this if we can just hang on.  I loved the idea, besides which, invoking Christmas ("God with us") seems to me the perfect note to strike.  So yesterday evening, 7M and I went and strung the lights around the porch roof (ours is not a gaudy or elaborate display).  We'll see if any of our neighbors catch on. . .

Hope all is well with all of you reading this.  Hunker down as best you can, and stay well. . .

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Return of the Prodigal

For about the past year-and-a-half, we haven't seen hide nor hair of 3M.  He disappeared, didn't tell anyone where he was (including the mother of his then-4-year-old daughter), and basically dropped out of our life.  The other kids would occasionally see something of his on Facebook, but never with any way of knowing where he was, or how to contact him.  That's how we found out that he had a baby son last July.

So, a couple weeks ago (before COVID came to Michigan), we were heading across the street to a gathering of friends at one of our neighbors' houses, and there, parked in front of our house, was 3M, with his new woman.  We sort of stared at each other for a minute, then ran through the obligatory "What are you doing here?" - type greetings.  We dropped our contribution to the potluck at the neighbor's house, then invited them to come in and have dinner with us.

We had a really good time together, and just basically got reconnected.  There's really not a whole lot more to say.  He seems to be in as good a place as he's been in a long time - working, clean and sober.  He's even doing a pretty remarkable job step-fathering his new lady's kids.  I'm sure it will take a while for comfort levels to come all the way back, but for now, we've got all eight of our kids back in the fold.

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Grand-girl at Ground Zero

Last Sunday, 4M and his wife welcomed  their new baby daughter into life in this world.  She was born in Seattle, which is basically Ground Zero for COVID in the US.  Which is kinda freaky, but you can't very well tell a baby not to be born until it's safer.  4M's mother-in-law is staying with them for a couple weeks. She got out of Michigan just before the initial wave of panic hit, which is probably good for her.  The bad news is that she went to Seattle, where the curve still hasn't flattened yet.  But on the other hand, she doesn't need to be in a hurry to return to Michigan, either. . .

I can say that our new grand-girl is a certifiable cutie (but honestly - if she were homely, would I tell you that?)  Photos we've seen, we see both her parents in her; she has her daddy's cleft chin (no idea how that got to him).

So, the grand-kid counter has been spinning wildly out-of-control for the last few months.  Let me see if I can make an accurate count. . .

- Two have been placed for adoption
- Three were born in 2014
- Three have been born in the last nine months

So, that's eight, counting just by DNA.

But there are also

- Three siblings to one of the adopted kids, with whom we have a relationship, and who call us 'Grandma' and 'Grandpa'
- 6F's 3-yr-old step-daughter (did I mention that 6F got married this past winter?)
- Two (and maybe three) of 3M's step-kids, who are young enough that they'll be part of our family moving forward.

So six, maybe seven more; and all of a sudden, we have 14 or 15 grandchildren.  Forgive us if our heads are spinning, just a little bit.  But the times, they sure are Interesting. . .


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Well, Here We Are. . .

When I'm Sixty-Four (John Lennon - Paul McCartney)

When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a Valentine,
Birthday greeting, bottle of wine?
If I've been out 'til quarter-til-three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?

Every summer we could rent a cottage on the Isle of Wight, 
If it's not too dear.
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee - 
Vera, Chuck and Dave

I could be handy mending a fuse when your lights have gone.
You could knit a sweater by the fireside,
Sunday mornings, go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?

You'll be older, too. . .
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.

Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating points of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say - 
"Yours sincerely, wasting away."
Give me your answer, fill in a form - 
Mine forever more;
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?

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When I got up this morning, Birthday Breakfast was waiting on the table for me.  And there are rumors that my kids and grandkids (none of whom, oddly enough, are named Vera, Chuck or Dave) will be joining us for a celebratory meal, which may or may not culminate with pumpkin cheesecake. . .

Looks promising, indeed. . .  ;)

Friday, November 15, 2019

I'm Not Dead Yet. . .

You may have noticed that I've been pretty scarce around these bloggity precincts.  There are a variety of reasons.  I'l try to give you a decent accounting. . .

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In June (probably not long after my last post before Halloween), I woke up and couldn't get out of bed.  Not sure exactly what happened, but my back and my legs (especially the left one) were in excruciating pain, as bad as any I've experienced in my life.  I did eventually manage to get out of bed, but it was something like a 10-15 minute ordeal.  Life persisted in that vein for a couple weeks before I finally decided that, whatever it was, it didn't seem to be transitory, so I went to see my doc.

Turns out I had a couple of herniated discs in my lower back, which were pressing on my sciatic nerve, which responded by sending intense, shooting pain signals down my leg.  I got a cane for myself, which at least allowed me to gimp around and not be bed-bound, which was handy.  I started  throwing pain-killers at it; it turns out to be more challenging than you might expect to find pain-killers that will actually deal with the pain without killing YOU in the process (especially since I told my doc I didn't want any opioids).  I eventually got on a combination that would just keep me functional if I rotated them every four hours, but that wasn't a good long-term strategy (after a while, your liver and/or kidneys start to object).

Anyway, one of the features of the pain I was experiencing was that it was very uncomfortable to sit still for very long periods of time ('very long' meaning 'more than 5-10 minutes').  And at least for me, blogging means sitting.  Besides which, when you're in more-or-less constant pain, even if it's being somewhat managed, the creative juices just don't flow as freely as when you're not.  Among other things, I couldn't put my own shoes on; if I planned on leaving the house, Jenn had to put my shoes on for me.  So, those were not the happiest of days.

I started Physical Therapy, and got referred to an orthopedist.  I was fairly certain that back surgery was in my future (honestly, at that point, my basic attitude was like Rocky in the first movie - "cut me, Mick!").  But the doc suggested an injection before we went straight to surgery, which made sense to me.  So I got the shot, and almost immediately, I felt a LOT better.  I could get out of bed almost normally, and if I had a chair that was at least a little bit padded, I could sit for a decently long period.  After a month, the doc checked me out.  I was doing so well that he asked me if I wanted another shot.  I thought about it for about three milliseconds and said, "Oh, hell yes!!"  So I got another shot.  And the next day, I set my cane aside.  And put on my own shoes.

And it has continued to get better from there.  I quit one of my pain-killers entirely (the one that was most likely to cause liver damage), and started weaning myself off the other one.  It was prescribed for three doses a day, but for a couple weeks now, I've been taking one in the morning, and that's all.  I've had a few days that make me think that I can start skipping days pretty soon.  So my health is much better, and 'normal life' is looking pretty darned normal, indeed. . .

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We're also doing a fresh round of grandchildren, this time with married parents, which is a new thing for us.  1F and her husband welcomed a baby boy in mid-October, and he is a certified cutie.  Jenn is cutting back her work hours so she can take care of him three days a week while 1F goes back to work.  So we're entering a new phase of life, which carries the promise of being really delightful.

4M and his wife are expecting a little one in March, so there's that to look forward to, as well.  On top of that, he just took a new job, which will have them living in Michigan again by spring.  So, exciting times on that front, too.

We haven't seen or heard from 3M for a year-and-a-half, but we did hear 'through the grapevine' that he begat a little guy this past spring, who we haven't met (and likely won't for quite a while, if ever).  So, you know, we haven't totally gone out of the grandchildren-from-unmarried-parents business.  If you're keeping score at home, we now have eight grandlings (at least by DNA, counting the one due in the spring; there are other ways of counting that would say eleven or six). . .

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Besides all that, we finally got around to getting our bathroom remodeled.  We had some, uh, water issues with the old one, and the floor was getting mushy to the point that I worried about punching a hole in it one of these days.  Besides which, it was just generally badly executed (the previous owner was, to put it gently, a cobbler).  So, our remodel was down to the studs and floor-joists (which could be a bit of a thrill if you got up to use the non-existent bathroom at, say, 3AM).

Without going into tedious detail, I'll just say that the new bathroom is spectacular - an open shower, with no tub, tile walls and floor, two sinks and Jenn's piece de resistance, a laundry chute that deposits the laundry in a basket next to the washing machine in the basement.  It wouldn't even be an exaggeration to say that our friends have been asking us if they could shower at our place. . .

We went back-and-forth on whether we wanted a master bath for our 'private' use, or whether we needed it to be more 'public' than that.  We finally hit on what I think is a really clever resolution, involving a pocket door that we can lock, so it's a 'private' bath when we want it to be, and 'public' when we want it to be.

The whole project took two months to finish, but absolutely worth the wait.  The other day, 2F was over, and when she walked into the new bathroom, she sighed, and said, "Every time I walk in here, it just makes me smile."  I know what she means. . .

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We also paid off our mortgage.  And bought our gravestone (not, you know, that I'm more in touch with my mortality, or anything like that).  At least future generations will know that we were here, and when, and for how long.  Because, you know, genealogy. . .

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Four years ago, Jenn and I signed up for a Biblical School that was being offered at our church.  It was a four-year program, taught by folks with seminary degrees in Scripture.  I jumped at the chance to actually be taught the Bible, instead of just gleaning what I could on my own, and I loved the  program.  But that was in the days when I was still working, and still driving an hour-and-a-half there and back.  So when the first year was completed, and it was time to sign on for the second year, we just couldn't manage it.  But ever since, we've been on the lookout for the same school being offered at another parish close enough for us to get to.

So this fall, it's being offered at another parish maybe ten miles from our home, and my calendar is a lot freer than it was last time, so we signed on for another shot.  Hopefully, this time we can finish the whole four-year program.  So far (nine weeks in), it has been wonderful, every bit as good as the first time.  And this time, we actually have the time to do justice to the workload.  So our days are filled with reading and studying Sacred Scripture with real direction, and praying and meditating on it in deeper ways than we've had the opportunity to do before.  So that's been occupying us, too.

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So, that's what I've been up to, and why you haven't seen much of me around these parts.  I'm not sure how much I'll be posting here in weeks and months to come; possibly not much at all.  But I do still read your blogs (those of you who still blog), and even leave comments from time to time.

And may God bless you all richly. . .

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Blessings On Thee, Little Man. . .

A couple days ago was Halloween, our culture's annual ghoul-fest-cum-candy-grab.  Jenn and I have typically taken a somewhat detached approach to the festivities, but we'll play along good-naturedly, and have a stash of miniature sweets on hand to pass out to the costumed youngsters who make the effort to venture down our one-block dead-end street.  When the weather is nice enough (a relative term, to be sure; Michigan in late October is rarely what you might call 'nice' in any absolute sense), we'll flip up the lower pane on the storm-door and poke our heads out to greet the youngsters who come to our door.

This year, the weather was not even 'nice', much less 'nice enough'.  Temperatures were in the low 30s, the wind was howling, and spitting rain turned to snow as the evening wore on.  So, we wimped out.  Rather than greeting the costumed kids who came to our house, we turned on the porch light and just left a big bowl of candy by the door, with an invitation to the kids to help themselves.  Incredibly lame, I know. . . Of course, that approach has certain, um, vulnerabilities attached to it, but the weather was so nasty that we wouldn't have been surprised if there had been no trick-or-treaters at all.

Alas, in a fallen world, vulnerabilities like that are almost guaranteed to be exploited, and sure enough, at one point, we heard a ruckus from the front porch, and when we glanced out the window, the candy bowl, which had been full enough just a few moments before, was empty, and a rowdy group of revelers was scurrying away from our yard.  I went out to retrieve the empty bowl, preparing to turn off the light and pull down the curtain on this year's observance of Halloween, such as it was.

As I did, a young fellow, maybe 7 or 8 years old, was coming up our steps, his dad waiting back on the sidewalk.  He and I stared at the empty bowl, and I lamented that some greedy folks had bogarted the entire supply of festive candy (God knows who you are. . . just sayin').  As I surveyed the porch, I noticed that three pieces of candy had been strewn across the porch in the frenzy, and so, with an apology, I suggested to the young man that he could take those, since it was all we had left.

He bent down and picked up the three pieces, thanking me, and then placed one piece back in the bowl, "in case somebody else might want one."

There may or may not have been a tear in my eye as I looked at the dad in silent acknowledgement of a young man of exemplary character. . .

God bless you, young man. . . I wish there were more like you. . .

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It's five months since I last posted here (and more like six since my last 'substantial' post).  I might post something in the next little while, explaining my absence.  But, neither do I want to give anybody (possibly) false hope that 'I'm back'.  It is certainly not the case that nothing worth posting about has happened in our lives. . .

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Words to Live By. . . Or, You Know, Not. . .

Stuff I've come across on the way to someplace else. . .

"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."
          -- Mark Twain

"It's funny how falling feels like flying. . . for a little while. . ."
          -- Jeff Bridges

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

DNA

My son (4M) gave me a DNA test for my last birthday.  I've been meaning to do that for a while, just waiting for life (and my budget) to settle down a bit, what with three weddings and all.  I've subscribed to Ancestry.com for a couple years now, and I've been looking forward to what I might learn.  So I spit in the little tube, and sent it off.

About a month ago, I got the results.  I don't know exactly what I was expecting to find; I've been doing genealogy, at varying levels of activity, for over 30 years, on both my adoptive and birth families.  I have a pretty good idea of what ethnicities are intermingled in me.  I suppose I hoped to make some connections with parts of the various and sundry families that I didn't know very well, and maybe fill in the picture in greater detail.

Ethnicity-wise, there were no surprises - 45% England and Wales, 30% Norway/Sweden, 15% Ireland/Scotland, and 10% 'Germanic Europe'.  I guess I'd have expected a bit more German, but none of it took me by surprise.  My birth-father's mother was full-blooded Norwegian (both her parents were off-the-boat), so the large Scandinavian component wasn't surprising.

The thing I was most interested in was the connections with other people - cousins, etc, who could connect me with families I didn't yet know very much about.  And boy, was that interesting!

They gave me a list of people in their database whose DNA matches mine, along with an estimate of how closely we're related.  At the top of the list was my birth-mother (I had been at her house in California when she sent her test in last year), who was duly identified as "QQQ is your mother".  Which was no surprise, but still, it was a small measure of validation that all the detective work I did 30 years ago had been correct.

The second name on the list was one of my birth-father's daughters, my half-sister.  Again, nothing I didn't already know, but a small validation that Mom had told me the truth about who my birth-father was.  Not, you know, that I doubted her. . .

The third name on the list was a man I'd never heard of, who was called out as a 'likely first cousin'.  In checking his other connections, he was also closely connected to my half-sister, so I surmised that he was from Birth-Father's side of my DNA.  I asked my sister if she knew who he was, and she said, "Never heard of him."

Well, that was a surprising response, to say the least.  'Likely first cousin' is a pretty close connection to have 'never heard of him'.  Even if his family was somehow estranged from hers, you might suppose that she at least had some inkling of who he was.  So I did a little poking around on-line, and found his mother's obituary, and his step-mother's obituary.  Connecting a few dots, he was about the same age as 1F.  He'd been born in Utah, and now lived in Virginia, where his mother had moved after divorcing his dad when he was in high school.

Long story short, the father of DNA-Match-Guy was also born in Utah, about a year before I was.  I called my sister again, and asked if her dad had ever been in Utah.  Why, yes, she said, he'd been stationed in Utah while he was in the Air Force.  In fact, she went on, he'd told her a story about having to get a quick transfer out of Utah - something about 'woman trouble'.

Holy shit.

Of all the possibilities of things I thought I might encounter from a DNA test, it never occurred to me that I might find another unknown half-sibling (DNA-Match-Guy turns out to be a half-nephew to me, which falls into the same range as 1st cousin).  It shouldn't have been all that strange an idea to me - I mean, my own existence was evidence of certain, uh, self-control deficiencies on Birth-Father's part.  But somehow, I'd framed this story in my head that I was the only one - a few years after I was born, he'd gotten married, and had his two daughters with his wife, and la-la, how the life went on.

But I wasn't the only one; I wasn't even the first.  Turns out, he had, uh, cast his seed farther and wider than I'd suspected.

Birth-Father died a year-and-a-half ago.  For nearly 30 years, we had a good (though not particularly close) relationship.  I still appreciate having known who he was, and gotten some sense of what his life was about, even if it was quite a different life than mine (I mean, he went to the University of Michigan, for heaven's sake).

On one level, this 'new information' shouldn't matter, and it really doesn't.  I already knew of, and made my peace with, his rakishness as a young man; heck, that's why I'm here.  But somehow, knowing that it happened twice (at least; who knows if there are others?) makes me a little sad.  One thing to have a fling with my birth-mother when they were in college; another to blithely hop from woman to woman, leaving out-of-wedlock children in your wake.  But, it is what it is, and it doesn't materially change my life. . .

Yeesh.

I'd love to actually meet my erstwhile half-brother; I've had a lot of fun with my two half-sisters, even having only met them when we were all adults.  But honestly, I have no idea what his life is like, or what sort of person he is. I'm not sure what kind of rude surprise I might be for him, or why he'd ever want to meet me.

La-la, how the life goes on.  4M is sending Jenn a DNA test (he was going to send it for her birthday later this summer, but we talked him into giving it as a Mother's Day gift).  We already know of a few rather significant 'unknowns' in her genealogy, that we're (I think) looking forward to learning more about.  We will see what we will see. . .

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On a more unambiguously happy note (and not unrelated to DNA), 7M got married a week-and-a-half ago, so our cycle of three weddings in a year is complete (1F and her husband celebrated their anniversary the day after 7M's wedding; we're looking forward next year to Mother's Day weekend without a wedding in it).

There is something really happy about our kids (three of them, at least) getting married.  In my mind, it is something like a marker of a degree of strength and stability in their lives, a kind of 'well-done' to us as parents, but even more, to the lives they've made for themselves, so far.  Not that I suppose there are any guarantees - I've been around WAY too many blocks by now to think that - but it is a very good thing.  Between 7M, and 4M and 1F, I am enjoying the dynamic of bringing in-laws into our family.

1F also told us recently that she and her husband are expecting their first child together this fall.  Hmmmmm. . .  A grandchild born to married parents - how does that work?

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Victory!

"Lo, I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. . . When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

'Death is swallowed up in victory.'
'O death, where is your sting?
O death, where is your victory?'

. . . But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

          - The First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 15

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Love Hurts

Lent is upon us once more, so in its honor, I've decided to re-post something in a 'penitential' mood. . .

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“If I never loved, I never would have cried.”
Simon & Garfunkel, I am a Rock

“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing, compared with love in dreams.”
Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

“[Jesus], having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
The Gospel of John, chapter 13, verse 1

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Mother Theresa was fond of saying that our main task in this life is learning what it really means to love. She was also fond of saying that there is no spiritual growth without suffering. And I’ve come to understand that the two – love and suffering – are not so very separate from each other.

I think we’re sort of conditioned by our culture to think of love in terms of mellow warm feelings toward another person – taking pleasure in their presence in our lives, wanting to do things together with them, or give our time and energy for their sake. But if warm-fuzzies is all that we mean by love, it winds up being pretty shallow and lame.

In a fallen world, it comes to seem that any love worthy of the name inevitably has a tragic aspect about it. We are all fallen, broken persons, and our fallen-ness and broken-ness redound to the pain of those who love us. And hobble our ability to love others as we ought. We inevitably hurt and disappoint those who love us, and in many ways, the measure of love is the manner in which it deals with those hurts and disappointments.

Our kids have taught some of this to Jenn and me.  Some of our kids have been pretty amazing at various points in their lives, and it was pretty easy to soak up the accolades we received for being 'such wonderful parents'.  But those same kids have also hurt us more deeply than we could ever have imagined.  In my worst dreams, I never imagined one of my daughters being pregnant out-of-wedlock, and now all three of them have.  Others of our kids just defied us in every possible way, and left us wondering why God had entrusted us with the task of raising children, since clearly, we knew nothing at all about how to do it.  Still others just got lost in the chaos swirling around their siblings, when we simply lacked the resources to keep all our 'balls in the air' at once (how many of you are old enough to remember the plate-spinning guy on The Ed Sullivan Show?  Raising kids can be a lot like that).

All of our kids, in one way or another, have suffered from my (and, I suppose, Jenn's, although even to say so evokes thoughts of The Log and The Speck, besides which, it feels like talking behind her back) failures of love.  I could go down the list, from 1F to 8M, and give instances of how my love was conditional, or weak, or insufficient; how I've paid more attention (whether positively or negatively) to some of them than to others, and on and on.  Every one of them has suffered because I, whether out of my own sinfulness, or just my human limitations, simply didn't love them as much as they needed me  to.  But perhaps we are learning, just a little bit better, what it means to love. Perhaps we can dig a little deeper, and give our kids the love they need, where once we’d have come up short. Perhaps. At least, I hope so. . .

It’s not just the kids, either. As much as I love Jenn (and she me), there is, even still, a tragic aspect to our love. She has not avoided disappointing me (or, to be certain, I her), even though she is still the most amazing woman I’ve ever known. Some part of the measure of our love is coming to know – really know, where it hurts to know – each other’s weaknesses and character flaws, and keep moving forward. Even to cover for each other’s weaknesses (whether or not we ever thought we should have to).

So, again - the measure of our love is not the absence of our disappointments with each other. The measure of our love is what we DO with the inevitable hurts and disappointments that we inflict on each other – can we let “love cover a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8), or not?

And then we have the example of God Himself, who “demonstrates His own love for us in this – while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus didn’t wait for us to get our shit together in order to make a gift of Himself for our sake. He loved us, “to the end,” even in all our fallen, broken, garbage.

In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said that, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” And I think it’s likewise when it comes to ‘learning what it really means to love’. To love greatly is to risk being hurt greatly. To ‘pour ourselves out’ for the sake of the beloved, with little or no regard for what we have left when we’re done.

“And greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Jesus, with all trepidation, I ask of you. . . teach me how to love. . .