Tuesday, December 25, 2018

God With Us. . .

This is a conflation of a couple of Christmas meditations I wrote in my 'paper journal' back in the day (20 years ago and more. . .), and a partial re-post of what I posted here a few years back. . .


"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
     and they will call his name Emmanuel - 'God With Us'."
          - The Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 1, verse 23
              (ref. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 7:14)

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
          - The Gospel According to John, chapter 1, verse 14

"In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets
     at many times and in various ways;
But in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. . ."
          - The Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 1, verses 1-2

"For we do not have a High Priest who is unable
      to sympathize with us in our weakness. . ."
          - The Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 15

I recall a sermon I heard once, in which the preacher made the point that, in the Incarnation God, who is greater than the Universe, willingly confined Himself in human flesh.  The One who created the Universe, who called it into being and sustains it by His merciful love, emptied Himself of his infinite Divine prerogatives and lived among us, as one of us, knowing, in His own body, our finitude, our weakness.  It's as though I, in my compassion for worm-kind, became a worm, to live as a worm among the worms, to understand in my own life and experience, what worm-hood is like.  Except that God taking on human flesh is a bigger existential 'leap' than me becoming a worm; I already know what it's like to live in a body, for one example. . .

So then - God is no longer remote from us; He has come to us - God is with us.  He's One of Us (I think of the Joan Osborne song from the 90s; she asked a better question than perhaps she knew. . .)

How differently would we understand our lives if we were more consciously aware of this foundational truth - God is with us.

How differently would we relate to our minor trials (or our major ones, for that matter) if we knew - really knew - that God is with us.

How different would our sins look to us if we really understood that God is with us?

What a privilege, what an awesome possibility is laid before us - God has become one of us, that we might become like God.  And yet how little do we - do I - take hold of it and venture so bold as to live by means of God's grace?

And then this -

"He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all - 
     how will He not also graciously give us all things?"
          - The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 32

God didn't have to send His Son, the Eternal Word, to be incarnate, but he did.  And if He did that, what won't he do for us?  Can I even grasp what this - the Incarnation - means, in terms of how God wants to relate to me?  With what gracious favor, what kindliness, what gratuitous, extravagant, profligate love, He regards me/us?  The 'plans He has for [us], plans for good and not for evil, to give [us] a future and a hope?' (ref. Jeremiah 29:11)

It reminds me of what CS Lewis said in 'The Weight of Glory' - "We muck about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us."  We just don't get it. . .


O God, have mercy on us; help us to see clearly, and to know, really know, the lavishness of your love for us.  Let it change us, purify us, make us holy, make us more like you created us to be in the beginning, to be your presence in the world, to shine as lights in the darkness. . .

Thursday, November 22, 2018


In honor of Thanksgiving, I'm re-posting a pair of (I hope) pertinent posts from bygone years. I mean, I think they're not too bad. . .


Sometime around the year 1420, a monk named Thomas a Kempis wrote a book, The Imitation of Christ (in the original Latin, Imitatio Christi), which in the fullness of time would become the most widely-read Christian book besides the Bible. And, in its turn, it also became one of my own all-time favorite books.

The Imitation reads like a medieval Christian Book of Proverbs - wisdom for living the Christian life from a wise old monk. It is simply dense with rich and challenging quotes, several of which have made their way into my 'Book of Favorite Quotes' (not available in stores). One of my favorites, which I commend to the attention of all my blog-friends, is this, from chapter 6 of Book 3:

"A wise lover does not so much consider the gift of his lover as he does the love of the giver."

I first came across this many years ago, but it has become one of the favorite 'bywords' that Jenn and I will quote to each other. It bespeaks a kind of humble gratitude, which has served us really well in building our marriage over the years.

On the face of it, it's pretty simple, really - sort of like etiquette for opening presents on Christmas morning - be grateful for the gifts you get, even if they're not exactly the ones you were hoping for. But you know, Thomas doesn't present it as etiquette advice; he just says, "A wise lover. . ." More like, "this is wisdom beyond what meets the eye. . ." And it works, on multiple levels. . .

As most of you know, I'm adopted. At some point when I was in college, I connected the dots, and the realization dawned on me that I had been somebody's 'unwanted pregnancy', once upon a time. It occurred to me that my very existence was due to somebody I'd never met, taking the trouble to see me through nine months of pregnancy. Jenn and I got married and began having our own children (1F was actually the first person I ever knew who was genetically related to me), and all the while, the realization of what it had cost my birth-mother for me to be alive was growing stronger. Until finally, the sense of gratitude for my own existence became my strongest motivation to find and meet my birth-mother.

My birth-mother and I have always had a great relationship. Not so much because either of us are such wonderful people, but because at the bottom of it all, our relationship is one of mutual gratitude. I'm grateful to her for giving me life, and putting up with everything that went into that, including relinquishing me to be adopted by a family that could raise me. And she's grateful, even after all the years, to have a relationship with the son of her womb (and a fine son he is, if I may say so myself). We're both fairly quirky individuals (shocking as this may seem to you, I know), and there could be a lot to be annoyed with in each other, if we were so inclined. But from the beginning, our relationship has been founded on gratitude, so the quirks just seem really minor.

And likewise in my marriage. I'm so grateful to Jenn for throwing her life in with mine, for the love she gives me every day, and for the richness of the life we share together, that her quirks (and yes, alas, she has one or two) just aren't a very big deal by comparison. And I know it works the same way from her end. It's not just a matter of 'seeing the glass half-full' or 'looking on the bright side', although both of those are good advice. Temperamentally, I'm just not a 'glass-half-full' person. But being able to receive with joy 'the gift my lover brings' (Beatle-lyrics-reference alert!), just because I know how it's expressive of her love for me (quite a separate question from how good a gift it is) (but let me be clear - it is a most excellent gift), brings deep joy to my whole life. I'm certainly not meaning to hold myself up as a shining example of superior virtue, or anything like that. But I do believe we've learned something really good and valuable. . .


The conviction has grown within me, over the years, that gratitude is, on a very fundamental level, the most appropriate response we can make for our lives. Gratitude to God, certainly, and most fundamentally. But even on a more mundane level, gratitude to our parents; to our teachers, coaches and mentors; to our brothers and sisters, and our friends.

Existence itself is a gratuitous gift, for which there is no appropriate response except gratitude. Loving relationships; food, clothing and shelter; all the mundane, daily circumstances that, individually and collectively, bring joy and meaning to our lives.

Every one of us has his/her own set of things to be thankful for, and people to be thankful to. Rather than riff off into my own 'list', I'll just encourage all my blog-friends, however briefly, to give some thought to what you're grateful for, and to whom. . .

Thursday, October 25, 2018

With My Body, I Thee Worship

Re-posting one more of my best. . .


A while back, a phrase came into my mind (phrases do that to me, from time to time; it's my cross to bear), and it hasn’t left me alone ever since. It’s from an old, traditional form of the Catholic wedding service (incredibly geeky, I know, but what can I do?). Anyway, at one point during the vows, the bridegroom says to the bride: “With my body, I thee worship.”

With my body, I thee worship.

There is a real depth there, a real richness, that goes beyond merely “I love you,” or even, “I want to have a life and a family with you,” although those things are certainly included in it. It captures very well how I feel about my wife, and how I aspire to have my life be joined to hers.

On multiple levels, sex is an act of worship – Catholics would invoke the grace of the sacrament of Matrimony. But in a simpler, earthy sense, I can simply say that I mean to worship Jenn. Not, obviously, in the same sense in which I worship God – I would mean something like ‘reverence’, or ‘venerate’, or ‘honor’ or ‘esteem’, but none of those words capture the full sense of what I mean the way that ‘worship’ does. Jenn is worthy of veneration, just like, say, Catholic theology would say the saints are worthy of veneration, but she is the saint whose life is bound up with mine.

GK Chesterton wrote that being constrained to one woman was a small price to pay for the privilege of having even one woman, and that sense of reverential gratitude resonates deeply with me. Getting to know Jenn – really know her – is like being let in on a great mystery. As a Christian, I want to go “further up and further in” (to borrow a phrase from CS Lewis) – grow deeper in my love of God, and give myself more fully to Him. In an analogous way, I want to ‘go deeper’ in our marriage, and the life we have together. I want to know Jenn better, be known better by her, give my life more fully to her, and that begins to get at the ‘worship’ I aim to give her.

I have often remarked to Jenn that reproducing ourselves together is the coolest, most amazing thing we could ever do. In a way, it is the biblical 'one flesh' in its most concrete form (or, if you will, in our case, eight fleshes). I mean - think of it - we're making another PERSON out of the substance of the two of us, and our love for each other.

In Holy Communion, Catholics believe that we receive Christ directly into our bodies (there is a very earthy aspect to Catholic theology that I find immensely appealing). In an analogous way, we give ourselves, and receive each other, directly into our bodies when we make love, under the covering of the sacrament of Matrimony. It’s all so rich, I can scarcely say what I really mean.

With my body, I thee worship.

Utterly, completely awesome. . .

Friday, September 28, 2018

It's Personal. . .

In honor of the 29th anniversary of my reunion with my birth-mother. . .


Sometime when I was in college, the realization dawned on me that, as an adoptee, I had been somebody’s ‘unwanted pregnancy’ once upon a time. And in the fullness of time, especially once Jenn and I married and began having children together, that became one of my strongest motivations to search for my birth-mother – I wanted to thank the woman who, though I had never met her, had carried me in her womb for nine months, and seen me through to the beginnings of my life in this world. (And just as an aside, for me as an adoptee, even such a basic concept as that I'd been carried in someone's womb once-upon-a-time could be disconcertingly abstract).

Along with that realization, I came to understand that, all things considered, I was probably fortunate to have been born before 1973 and Roe v. Wade. I had never particularly staked out a firmly-held position on abortion (My younger self was probably mostly ‘pro-choice’, without having given it much thought), but once I understood that, had I been conceived in another time, I would have been a pretty likely candidate for abortion (white college women abort roughly 98% of their ‘unwanted pregnancies’), the question took on an entirely different, and personal, aspect.


I recall a conversation I had with my birth-mother some time after our reunion. She was talking about her life as a pregnant-and-unmarried woman in the 1950s, and how difficult it had been for her, and she said something like, “I just wish I’d had the choices that women have today.”

I nodded sympathetically. . . until the penny fell all the way to the bottom.  Ummmmm. . . you understand, right, that we're talking about ME here? I mean, we’ve had a really, REALLY happy reunion, and both of us are glad for the opportunity to know each other, and our respective families. If you had exercised the ‘choice’ you’re alluding to, none of that would be even a remote possibility. You might still wonder who I’d been, but without any possibility of ever knowing. . .

She understood. Not that she was wishing that she’d aborted me; only that she’d felt so trapped when she was pregnant, and wished that she’d had anything at all she could have done about that. Now, I could understand how trapped she felt. Frederica Mathewes-Green has written and spoken insightfully about women who "want an abortion the way an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg" (and I would highly recommend her book which is the source of that quote; it's an utterly unique book, just for her refusal to take part in the standard shouting matches.).

And I get that. I have the utmost compassion for women who are pregnant when it is nigh unto catastrophic for them to be so. All three of my daughters have been among those women, not so very long ago. And my heart ached for each of them, wishing there was something, anything, that I could do to make it easier for them. . .


But, back in 1955-56, that was ME in my birth-mother’s belly. Not merely a clump of cells, or a faceless ‘fetus’ (honestly, as we sit here, you and I and every other human being are living, breathing clumps of cells; but of course, we're much more than that, and so we were in our mothers' wombs, as well) – it was me, with my own genetic code, distinct from my birth-mother's (or my birth-father's). And if my birth-mother had had an abortion, it was me who would’ve died.

And the ripples go out from there. My adoptive parents might’ve adopted someone else; who can say? But they wouldn’t have adopted me. My classmates and friends and Little-League teammates could scarcely be said to have missed me – how do you miss someone who, as far as you know, never even existed? – but something of the life we shared together would never have happened. Jenn would most likely have married someone else (I mean, she’s an amazing woman; she'd have had guys standing in line for her); but she wouldn’t have married me (and who can say how that might have gone for her?). And our children would never have come to be – her children, if she had any, would be someone else entirely (I've occasionally gotten a chuckle from the thought that I'm the personification of the 'population-control' movement's worst nightmare - an 'unwanted pregnancy that turned into eight more mouths to feed). . .

And so it goes. In fact, those of you who were born after 1973, have you ever wondered how many children who might have been your friends or classmates or Little-League teammates, or heck, husbands or wives, were never allowed to be born? Cold statistics tell us that, in the US alone, the number would be on the order of 60 million or so by now - a fifth again of the population of our country (worldwide, the number would be many times that).  Do you ever wonder who those people might have been?

But just to cite a number misses the point. What music was never made, what literature was never written, what cures for which diseases never came about, for want of the men and women who might have done those things, but were never born?

And even still - to talk in terms of 'who might have done what' misses the point, too. It's not so much that, eg, the late Steve Jobs (an adoptee like me) was so worthwhile for what he did, but that every human life is intrinsically valuable in-and-of-itself. And 'humanity-at-large' benefits from every one of its members, whether they 'accomplish anything' or not. Certainly, we've all benefitted from the fact that Steve Jobs, or Beethoven, or anyone else, were born and not aborted. But we'll never know, in terms other than bloodless, colorless statistics, what 'humanity-at-large' has lost for those tens of millions who were never born. . .

My point here is not to guilt-trip any woman who has ever had an abortion; my heart absolutely goes out to those women, for they, too, have had violence done to them; they've been sold a bill of goods, given a false promise. I only hope to put a more ‘human’ face on the question, and challenge anyone to think of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ not as a ‘problem’ with an easy technological solution, but as something real, and human, and flesh-and-blood. And life-and-death.


I don’t think my birth-mother is terrible for wishing she’d had more choices available to her (honestly, on one level, it’s easy for her to say; she’ll never bear the cost of having chosen otherwise) (but, to be utterly clear - the very last thing I mean is to trivialize what it cost her for me to be here).

No, I actually think she’s pretty cool; as birth-mothers go, she’s definitely one of the best, and I am as happy as I can be that we’ve known each other for all these years. I understand how trapped she felt 60-odd years ago, and I absolutely appreciate, and am utterly grateful for, the sacrifice it was for her, for me to be here today. It’s personal for her in an entirely different, but analogous, way to how it’s personal for me. And I understand that.

Existence itself is a gratuitous gift, the only fitting response to which is gratitude.  I am as grateful as I can be for my life, my family, my wife and children, and all of my friends, including those of you who are reading this; for existence in this rich and fascinating Universe, and for the Hope of the World to Come.  And none of that could ever have come to pass for me, if I'd been snuffed out before I could be born.

So you see, it's personal - it involves persons, created in God's image and likeness, with inherent worth and dignity not conferred on them by any other human being. Mothers and fathers and children - persons, one-and-all. And my birth-mother is one of them. And so am I. . .


It's occurring to me that the 20s of September are becoming a pretty event-rich time of year for me/us; besides my reunion with my birth-mother. . .

One of my sisters has her birthday on the 26th; the other has her wedding anniversary on the 25th.

A year ago, on the 23rd, I had the stroke which, while fairly minor, all things considered, has permanently altered the boundary conditions of life around here.

19 years ago on the 24th, 7M (17 months old at the time) was run over in our neighbor's driveway.  That he has lived to robust good health (including honorable-mention all-state as a high-school football linebacker) (to say nothing of the fact that he'll be getting married to his high-school sweetheart 8 months from now) is the most amazing miracle I think I've ever seen. . .

And yesterday, Jenn and I had lunch with my blog-friend Skip, and his bride, as they passed through our neighborhood on their lap of the US (in the process passing, in Jenn's nomenclature, from 'fake friends' to 'real' ones; Pinocchio never had it so good. . .)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

My Love

I started this blog a dozen years ago to talk about marriage and family life, as I've known them.  And to tell the world about the wonderful-ness of my wife.  So, I give you a two-for-one re-post in honor of Jenn's-and-my 38th anniversary. . .


The Love of My Life

A few years back, a blogger wrote me an e-mail, in which she said, among other things, “You entered into marriage with the love of your life.” And I know what she was talking about. Jenn is indeed The Love of My Life, and blessed am I because of it.

A few years ago, Jenn had a little daily tradition - when I would come home at the end of the day and she heard the back door open just before dinner-time, she'd call out, “Is that The Love of My Life?” Which was wonderfully heart-warming for me. I'd usually respond by saying, “I sure hope so!” And as time went on, the younger kids joined in the fun. So that, when I opened the back door, 8M would often come running; when he saw that it was me, he’d run to Jenn, calling out as he went, “Mom! It’s The Love of Your Life! The Love of Your Life is home!” It doesn’t get any better than that, let me tell you.

But, truth to tell, I didn’t marry the Love of My Life; I’m married to the Love of My Life, but she wasn’t that when we got married. Some of you actually did marry the Love of Your Life – your high-school sweetheart, maybe, or someone whom you just knew, within minutes of your first meeting, would end up sharing your life with you. That wasn’t the case for Jenn and me. When we got married, I was marrying a very good friend, someone with whom I shared several important life goals and aims, with whom I got along very well, and whose company I enjoyed enough to think that we could actually have a life together. She agreed with me enough to accept my proposal (heck, the two of us getting married was probably her idea, before it was mine); we got married, and la, la, how the life went on.

It’s almost funny to look back on it now, but Jenn still tells people that our first year of marriage was the worst year of her life. Her adjustment to the new ‘life-together’ was a bit harder than mine, I guess. . . But, somewhere along the line, over the ensuing years (38 of 'em, now), she became the Love of My Life. We put in the necessary work, we shared our lives, we suffered together, and in the process of all that, our two lives became one, to the point that I can’t imagine my life without her. This woman, whom I liked and admired way back when, has proven to be even more solid, more admirable, and more amazingly wonderful than I thought she was. . .


Only My Love Does It Good to Me

There are times when I’m simply overwhelmed by the wonderful-ness of my wife. Times when I just look at her and ask myself, “How is it that the most amazing woman in the universe threw her life in with me?” And I’m just in awe of my good fortune.

There might be a few women in the world (stress on ‘might’ and ‘few’) who are physically more beautiful than Jenn, but when I consider the strength of her character, the beauty of her soul and spirit, she blows them all away. I’ll say it again – she is the most amazing woman in the universe. I almost feel bad for the rest of you guys that she’s my wife. Almost.

And the thing is, I’m well aware that I did nothing in particular to deserve her. I’m still not real sure why, all those years ago, she brought that rubber ball to me, when it seems like there must have been lots of more desirable guys than me available to her. But I’m glad she did. I’ve often described how we knew each other pretty well before we ever got to the point of courtship. And that’s what’s most amazing of all to me – she’s told me many times how God told her, before I even proposed to her, “What you see is what you get with him.” She had a pretty good, sober assessment of my character. AND SHE STILL MARRIED ME! That blows me away, and I’m grateful for it every single day I’m married to her.

And even now, after 38 years, I’m still blown away. She knows me way better now than she did back then, and she still throws her life in with mine. For all the clear-eyed, sober appraisal of my character she had when we were courting, there are lots of things, not all of them good, that she’s only learned from living with me for 38 years. And she still stays married to me. Amazing!

“Somewhere in my wicked, miserable past, I must have done something good.”

Simply flat-out amazing. . .


So, thank you, My Beloved, My Life-Mate, My Partner, My Closest Friend, The Mother of My Children, My Wife.  If the last 38 years have brought us to a place we never imagined, what will the coming years bring us?  As they say in Narnia, "Further Up and Further In!"

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Heartbreak Is Part of the Deal. . .

The time seems ripe for a re-post of what is (at least by my own appraisal) one of the best things I've ever posted in this humble space, so I commend this to your consideration once again. . .


Over the course of my nearly 40 years of parenthood, I have come to the conclusion that parenthood is, by its very nature, inherently heart-breaking.

That is not, by any means, to adopt a cynical or 'woe-is-me' attitude to the biggest, best, and noblest thing I've done with my life thus far (however poorly I've actually done it; and the empirical evidence is pretty damning).  It is to say that, one way or another, our kids will, inevitably, disappoint us; sometimes crushingly so.  And that the heartbreak of parenting is one of the main ways that we fulfil what Mother Theresa liked to refer to as 'our main task in this life' - 'to learn what it really means to love'.

When my kids were born, I held such high hopes and dreams for them.  Not, to be sure, that I had 'The Plan' for their lives, or anything like that.  I actually looked forward to the adventure of finding out who they were, and what amazing and wonderful traits they would blend from Jenn and me into their own, unique selves, and what traits of theirs might go off in some entirely unforeseen directions.

And it has been wonderful to see all their lives unfold.  Several of our kids are very musical - 1F, 3M and 7M perhaps most especially.  3M and 8M are near-genius bright.  4M and 6F are both hard-working and good-looking, and 4M and 7M were star athletes (sometimes I wonder how these kids ever came from me; Jenn assures me that they did).  1F, 2F, 5M and 8M are all very kind and compassionate.  And so it goes.

But our kids, being, alas, human (wait, that doesn't sound right; I'm really, really glad that they aren't newts, or tapeworms, or whatever), are subject to the effects of The Fall, just like Jenn and I are (well, I know that I am; I'm pretty sure that she is, too, but her case is less obvious than mine).  And therein lie the seeds of heartbreak.  In our early years of parenthood, we hoped to raise a family of kids who were better than we were - with all our strengths (which we were just arrogant enough to think were considerable), but none (or at least, not so many) of our weaknesses.  We hoped that they would be smart, strong, wise, virtuous, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent, without all that nagging selfishness and venality.  Because, of course, we were better than our own parents had been, right?  (Well, of course not; but we thought we were.  It's a Boomer thing.)  And we would just impart our own superior wisdom, virtue, etc. to our kids, and all would be well.  Right?


When 1F was in her teens, people used to congratulate us for having raised such a wonderful young woman. And I (perhaps inspired by a salutary humility; or perhaps merely prophesying a glimpse of the future) used to reply that it wasn't really wonderful teenagers I was after, but rather capable, wise and virtuous adults. And it wasn't too many years before my own words were borne out, to my own chagrin.

Back in the days when our older kids were passing through middle school, the Religion teacher (if that strikes your ear as a trifle odd, it's a Catholic school thing. . .) was a very wise woman, who became a good friend.  In the course of a, uh, conversation we were having about one of our kids, who was proving to be a tad more intractable than we had planned on (but which didn't seem to faze her all that much), she told us, with a wistful maternal smile, that the day would inevitably come when we would find ourselves talking to the police about one of our children (and not necessarily the one we were discussing at the time); that it had happened to her, and that it happened to most parents sooner or later, no matter how earnest or capable they were, and that we shouldn't freak out when it did.  And Jenn and I both shook our heads inwardly, certain in our own minds that her words were ridiculous, that such a thing would never happen to parents as conscientious as we were.

Such touching naivete, right?

It wasn't that many years later (distressingly few, in fact) that one of our kids (I'll decline to say which one) threw back at us, as I was retrieving him from a night in jail, that all of our kids down to him had now had run-ins with the police, and that, as far as he was concerned, that constituted slam-dunk definitive empirical proof that we were simply, utterly, execrable parents (OK, he didn't use the word 'execrable', but he used one of its synonyms).  In the years since then, that flawless record has been extended by a few kids younger than him.

I have written elsewhere of some of the youthful (or even not-so-youthful) misadventures of our older kids.  I won't rehash them for you here (and I think I've mostly taken those posts down from my old blog), but trust me when I say that we were utterly, absolutely flabbergasted.  We'd said and done all the right things, as best we could see, and as best we were able (well, you know, aside from a certain proclivity to outbursts of temper, and a few (*ahem*) minor character flaws on that order; but God understands our weakness, right?), and it hadn't been enough.  And I can tell you that it hasn't ended with them; our younger kids have made their own significant contributions to the broken-ness of our hearts

It slowly dawned on us (perhaps a good bit more slowly than it should have, but both Jenn and I had been 'good kids', so our own experience had left us a tad ill-equipped to deal with kids who were less 'with the program' than we'd been) that God, in his wisdom, had blessed our children, just as he'd blessed us, with Free Will (what He was thinking when He did that, I've had occasion to wonder).  And that, our own earnestness and sincerity notwithstanding, our kids, even though made, as we were, in the Image and Likeness of God, were also, as we were, subject to the effects of The Fall, and capable of the same sorts of jaw-dropping venality we were; sometimes, even moreso.  Even astoundingly moreso.

Taken all together, in the fullness of time it became an occasion of deeper insight into what it means to be human, to carry simultaneously within ourselves, and virtually side-by-side, both significant markers of divinity, and appalling selfishness and venality.  And to learn, on a deep, down-and-dirty level, what Jesus was talking about when he said (in so many words) that the measure of love isn't how you treat agreeable, congenial people, but rather, in how you deal with (as Thomas a Kempis called them in The Imitation of Christ) "hard, obstinate and undisciplined people".  Which is to say, people like our kids.  And us.  At least, some of the time (distressingly much of it, to be brutally candid).  Put another way - it's not the absence of heartbreak, or disappointment, that makes our lives successful, it's what we DO with the heartbreak that will, inevitably, come into our lives – can we let “love cover a multitude of sins”, or not?

So yeah - heartbreak is part of the deal.  Our kids will never be as perfect as we wish they were, and their flaws will be all-too-evident (and the ones they've picked up from us will be duly galling).  But somewhere along the way, we'll have made progress toward what Mother Theresa was talking about, learning 'what it really means to love'. . .

O Lord, have mercy. . .

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Prank You Very Much

My blog-friend joeh (aka Mr. Cranky), over at The Cranky Old Man, recently posted about some college-prank hijinks from his own college days, back in the previous century.  Which reminded me of some of my own collegiate prankish-ness from back in the day (but more recently than Joe's).  As it turns out, I already posted on this, almost eight years ago, so I hope you will indulge me this re-post.  I mean, I'm doing it for you, and your enjoyment. . .


 I don't know what it was like where any of you all went to school, but at my school, pranks are a time-honored tradition, ranging in complexity from the simple 'pennying-in' (in which the prankster(s) wedges pennies between the prankee's door and the door frame, thus causing greatly-increased friction between the tongue of the latch and its corresponding hole in the frame, rendering it impossible to turn the door knob), or removing the microphone from the prankee's phone (this was a function of the old-style cord-phones with a handset; the prank became much more prankish when followed up by a call to the prankee's phone), or 'beer-canning', in which a 'wall' of beer cans was constructed, leaning slightly into the prankee's door, so that when the door is opened, the cans fell loudly onto the linoleum-tile floor, all the way up to considerably more, um, elaborate pranks.

The stories at my school have come down through the generations - the time a group of guys disassembled their buddy's Volkswagen and reassembled it in his dorm room, for example. Or the guys who, when their buddy went home for the weekend, removed all the furniture from his room, and replaced it with a patch of sod and a small tree; when they went down to the river that flows through the middle of the campus and kidnapped a duck, which they then leashed to the tree, the prank was complete, and awaited only the prankee's return to his room. Being a loyal member of the student body, I tried to do my part to carry on the grand tradition. Two pranks in particular stand out on my resume. You would be very kind to indulge my retelling of them. . .


 In my freshman dorm, there were various groups of guys who tended to hang out together on the weekends. One group of guys usually went out to hit the bars, staying until the bar closed (those were the days when 18 was the legal drinking age in Michigan, so virtually all college students were legal drinkers). I was usually in with a group of guys who played Hearts or Risk until the wee hours. So that, when the bar-hoppers returned to the dorm around 3AM, we were usually the only ones still awake to greet them.

One such night, we were just finishing a game of Risk when the bar-guys returned, loud and boisterous. We left our game briefly to exchange greetings. One guy, named Mike, was particularly, shall we say, worse for wear. We watched as Mike staggered down the hall toward his room at the far end of the hall, bouncing off one wall and then the other, until, about two-thirds of the way there, he passed out in the middle of the hall.

Now, at this point I should tell you that the particular dorm I was living in was something like a 'science dorm'; which, for purposes of this story, meant that many of us shared the same classes. Which became the immediate occasion for the hatching of our prank. As we stood in the hall contemplating Mike's prone-and-unconscious form (which may or may not have been drooling on the floor), it came together.

We quickly returned to our rooms and switched from our Friday-night casual attire (which, in the men's wing of our dorm, involved more skivvies than some of you might want to think about) into our more everyday going-to-class clothes (by the mid-70s the distinction could be pretty subtle, but it was there). Grabbing armloads of textbooks, we gathered around Mike's unconscious form and shook him awake. "Mike!" we yelled. "Are you still here?!? Wake up, man! We've got a Chemistry mid-term in 20 minutes! You just slept through the whole weekend, man!"

Mike, now awake, but not appreciably less drunk than he'd been fifteen minutes previously, stared back at us, uncomprehending. "Huh?" he said. So we repeated our line, and slowly, our message seeped into Mike's consciousness. "Are you shitting me?" he inquired (we were, but we weren't about to tell him we were). "No, man - you slept through the whole weekend, and now we've got a mid-term in 20 minutes!" Mike was exceedingly dismayed as this knowledge worked its way into his brain. Rising to his feet, he began cursing himself. "Aw, MAN! I can't believe I did that! I didn't study at all! I'm gonna fail for sure!" Staggering the rest of the way to his room, he stripped and got into the shower (which he set at something like 32.6 degrees Fahrenheit), in a forlorn attempt to wake up and/or sober up. A steady stream of loud expletives emanated from his shower.

In the meantime, our merry band of pranksters returned to our rooms and reverted to our more 'skivvy-ish' Friday-night attire, then wandered slowly down toward Mike's room. Finding him in the icy shower, we professed our confusion - "Mike, what are you doing? It's 3 o'clock Saturday morning!" Mike looked back at us, still not notably soberer than he'd been when he got there. Slowly, the realization dawned on him that he'd been had. And, in his drunken haze, that realization enraged him. He charged out of the shower, chasing us all down the hall. But of course, he was still drunk. Besides which, he was dripping wet, and running on a linoleum floor. So he didn't chase us far before he slipped and fell, right up against a door that someone else had helpfully beer-canned earlier, thus causing the intended metallic racket (it just hadn't necessarily been intended for him). It was all too much for poor drunken Mike to deal with, and he burst into tears, creating one of the more pathetic scenes to which I have ever been a witness - a drunk, naked, wet guy, sobbing in the middle of a pile of beer cans. . . Or is that just mean of me?


A couple years later, I was living in a different dorm with my buddy, let's call him Alex. Early in the spring, we had one of those delightful unseasonably-warm days, the kind where people throw open their windows just to smell the fresh air for the first time since before the winter. Adjacent to our dorm was a women's dorm, and that very fact was more than some of the young men in our dorm could handle. One pair of guys in particular were especially rude and crude, keeping up a steady loud stream of obscenities directed toward the young ladies next door.

After enduring this stream of vulgarity for as long as we figured we could (and longer than we figured we should have to), Alex and I hatched a plan. Looking out our window, we ascertained the room from which the obnoxiousness was emanating. In fact, the guys would lean out their window whenever they would yell at the girls. So Alex, who had a bit of the daredevil in him, climbed up onto the roof from the balcony at the end of our floor, and I passed a bucket of water up to him. The plan, such as it was, was that, the next time our guys leaned out their window to yell at the girls next door, Alex would douse them. I watched from our window as Alex took his position, lying with his head and shoulders just over the edge of the roof, waiting for our prey to reappear. Except they never did. Apparently their mood had passed. So Alex and I decided to abort the plan, and dump the bucket harmlessly onto the grass below.

Except that, instead of dumping the bucket away from the building, Alex dumped it inward, toward the building. So that a cascade of water fell in through the still-open window of our erstwhile disturbers-of-the-peace. At that point, the pace of events quickened dramatically. In short order, two very angry guys came running up the stairway to our floor, from the one below, where our 'friends' lived. First, they went to the room directly above theirs, only to find a very bewildered resident with closed, but very wet windows, wondering (a) why his windows were wet, and (b) why these angry guys were banging on his door.

Alex, even from his rooftop vantage point, sensing that the moment might not be opportune for him to climb back down onto the balcony, nevertheless handed the bucket down to a freshman who lived in the room next door to ours, and who was in some sympathy with our aims. So that, when the still-angry guys from the floor below came back down the hall, wondering who had doused their room, if the guy above them hadn't, they suddenly encountered our young man holding a bucket on the balcony, providing them with a new target for their rage. It turned out that they had a TV set in their room, which they kept directly below the open window through which Alex had poured the contents of our bucket. Or, by that point, I should more properly refer to it as a former TV set, since the watery cascade had, as they say in the industry, gazorped it. And they were ready to do some serious bodily harm to the poor kid holding the bucket.

I knew it wouldn't be right to let the kid take a beating for our misbegotten prank, so I casually wandered out to 'see what the commotion was about', trying to adopt the role of peacemaker, and, you know, 'defuse the situation'. Meanwhile, other guys were running up and down the hall, breathlessly announcing that "There's someone on the roof!" Which was sort-of working against my peacemaking, defusing efforts, and moving the angry guys to suspect that my own motives were, shall we say, less than pure.

Alex, meanwhile, had gone to the other end of the dorm and climbed down to the balcony at the opposite end of the building. So that he came sauntering down the hall from the opposite direction, wondering what all the commotion was about. Perhaps they discerned something a trifle ungenuine in his demeanor, but in fairly short order, he became the new object of their wrath. The situation was touch-and-go for a while, until one of the guys cooled down a little and convinced the other one that beating the stuffing out of us wasn't worth the trouble, so they left and went back to their room, while the three of us heaved a heavy sigh of relief. When I explained the situation to Alex (he hadn't known about the blown TV), he more clearly understood the nature of their wrath (of course, it also rekindled his glee, since perhaps our plan hadn't worked so badly, after all). So he went to the party store across the street from the dorm, and bought a peace-offering of beer, which he and I took to their room. They accepted it, and then told us to never let them see our faces again. Which, so far as it depended on me, I was only too happy to oblige. . .


The story didn't reach its final conclusion until a couple months later. I was returning to the dorm after my last class of the day, and there were three police cars, lights flashing, parked in front of our dorm. As I stood there, wondering what was going on, the police emerged from the building, with our two erstwhile victims in handcuffs. They put them into the back seats of separate cars, and drove off, leaving me still wondering what had happened. The next day's newspaper contained a front-page article describing a major on-campus drug bust. Two guys had been arrested who were doing business on the order of $50,000/year (and these were honest-to-goodness mid-70s dollars, not the meek little things we have today) out of their dorm room. And then my eyes got real big when the article went on to note that the dorm they were taken from was ours. After that, Alex and I got a huge laugh (with a hefty dose of the willies mixed in) from the idea that we'd fritzed the TV of a couple of major on-campus drug dealers. . .