Sunday, December 30, 2007

Our Purpose In Life

Yesterday I received the following email.

I have a question that might be something you could address in your daily thoughts sometime. Do you believe everyone on this earth has a purpose? If you do, how does one go about finding this purpose? I know several people who are asking "why am I here?" because they cannot seem to find the reason.

I do believe that everyone on this earth has a purpose. Some will find their purpose, others will not. A few choose evil instead of doing good. Most of us will not be well known figures who change the course of history although some of us might be. I have known some individuals who have affected the lives of thousands if not millions of people. All of us, however, have the ability to affect those around us. How we do that is part of the mystery of who we are and why we are here. This idea is the whole point of the traditional Christmas movie entitled "It's a Wonderful Life". In the movie a suicidal man, with the help of a angel, learns how he impacted the lives of those around him and how life would have turned out if he hadn't been around. Some of us have wonderful gifts or talents for the benefit of others while some may feel rather ordinary and think they have nothing to offer. For most of us our purpose is to be who we are and to let our uniqueness speak for itself. Most of my life I have felt very ordinary. I was never the smartest kid in school or the best player on the team. I never felt I had any special gift or talent. In worldly terms I have not achieved great success. To use the words from a Pink Floyd song, I sometimes felt like "another brick in the wall". I never had low self esteem but I didn't think I was anything special. I probably felt like this until I got into my forties. At some point in that decade of my life I began to realize who I was. Now I didn't just wake up one morning with that realization. I was doing what some people call their "inner work". In simple terms this "inner work" involved a combination of psychological and spiritual study and personal insight. I wasn't in therapy but I was on a quest and a spiritual journey and I was searching for meaning in my life. My self discovery really opened me up to accepting....and loving...who I am. Later, when I hit my fifties, and I came out of my self a little bit, I started realizing that many people seemed to really like me. People were attracted to me. They started telling me their problems and often listened to my counsel. I began sending out my daily thoughts and, much to my surprise, they became very popular with many people. Strangers and friends began telling me how much I had enriched their lives. I still feel pretty ordinary, and I am not without issues and needs, but some people think I am a very unique and interesting person. I don't completely know why but I am starting to understand that perhaps my purpose in life is to simply be myself and share who I am with other people through writing and speaking. So, I will continue being a contemplative, a Zen practitioner, a rock and roller, an aging hippie, and a flawed man who's favorite purpose in life is being Pa Paw to a little girl named Chloe. Every person's journey is unique. I don't know if you find your purpose in life so much as it finds you. It's also an evolving thing. I now have a sense of my purpose in life but I do not think it is complete yet. Life is a mystery so I am not sure where it will lead me for the remainder of my days. If you do not have a sense of purpose in your life, be patient. I doubt if many people have a strong sense of purpose when they are very young or if you never look within yourself introspectively. I think insight and a sense of purpose comes with age and maturity and the wisdom that can only be obtained by living. It's not about education or knowledge, or job titles. I am often amazed by the variety of people and their different professions read my daily thoughts. On a bad day when I am struggling to write something for my daily thoughts, I wonder "what the heck do I know about anything"? Then, later in the day, I will get an email telling me that I said exactly what someone needed to hear that day and I know it's part of my purpose in life to write these daily thoughts. Your purpose will come to you. Be ready when it finds you. Your purpose may be something you do for others as a service but it can also be your personality or attitude or caring spirit. Your smile may be the light that illuminates another's darkness. When you are united with your purpose, it will burn inside you, and you will know what it is.

A Short Break In My Vacation

My extended Christmas weekend has come to an end. I am back at work for a couple of days before my extended New Year's weekend. I hope all of you had a blessed and merry Christmas. As it has always been, Christmas was a good time for me. On Christmas Eve I visited my father. For the time being he is in a nursing home where he is receiving some physical therapy to strengthen him and help him regain his mobility. When I visited him, his mind was much clearer and he seemed more aware than usual. He did not make it home for Christmas but we do expect him home at some point. The evening of Christmas Eve was as busy and hectic as ever with family visits and gift exchanges. I was reminded how blessed I am that we have gifts to exchange as well as families on both sides that get along and actually like one another. As with all families, there are many different personalities and life styles. In spite of that we enjoy one another and accept one another. It is a blessing to not have the kind of family drama that often separates families.In my life Christmas Day is much slower and calmer than Christmas Eve. Now that my wife and I have been elevated to grandparenthood, we get to stay home and our family comes to visit us. It's not exactly the over the hills and through the woods experience but it is a new tradition that I hope lasts many years. My Christmas morning is spent preparing a brunch for everyone. After a nice meal, we gather in my living room to exchange gifts. It was all a grand success and everyone was happy, especially Chloe. She was really into it this year. One of my gifts was a world's greatest Pa Paw sweatshirt. Along with that I received my annual supply of books, a few clothes, and an assortment of music related items. These items will get me through the cold winter months ahead. I also received a new wallet but I now have no money to put in it.I love Christmas and the holiday season but I am glad it's almost over. I admit it is a bittersweet feeling. I like the excitement and good vibes in the air during the holidays but I also dislike the hectic pace and stressful demands. I look forward to a return to my day to day, usually quiet, regular routine. The nothingness of January can also be a holiday of sorts. Before then, however, I must survive New Year's Eve when I will be partying with my granddaughter, Chloe.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Vacaton

Today is the Winter Solstice. It is the darkest and shortest day of the year. In view of that, everyone needs to glow today and put a little light into the world!

I wish all of you a blessed and joyous Christmas. I know that not all of you are Christians but I hope the happiness and joy of this time wraps itself around all people of all beliefs. Christmas is traditionally a time when we think about peace. May our world be a more peaceful place in the new year. If all of you who read these thoughts and all of the people you forward them to practice peace within your own lives, peace can spread throughout our world like ripples on a pond after a rock has been cast into its stillness. I would also like to take this time to thank all of you for the many kind notes and personal stories that you have sent me throughout the year. I am grateful for the support and encouragement you give me as well as all the confidences you share with me. I don't really expect responses to what I write but I do get them. If you are an old friend and I haven't heard from you in a while, drop me a line sometime. If you are a stranger, I hope we meet someday.

Those of you who have been reading my thoughts for a few years may occasionally see something that looks familiar. Since I am always getting new readers I sometimes will include something I wrote in the past. Recently when going through my archives I came upon the following story. The memory of that day brought a smile to my face. It's always nice to have these kinds of experiences. They awaken in us the realization that the sum of our lives is made up of special memories and experiences. As I get older the bad experiences of my life are buried and forgotten under the weight of all the special and good experiences. I think I have written enough about Zen so that most of you have some understanding of what it is. For a good understanding of what Zen is, see the quote below from D. T. Suzuki. The experience he is describing is a Zen experience. It's being where you are and doing what you are doing. It's being in the moment and practicing mindfulness. One could say that it's having your mind and your body in the same place at the same time.

Several years ago I drove to eastern Kentucky with a friend to visit a Zen community. It was not a place where you would expect to find such a community. Slightly off the beaten path, there it was. Nestled among the trees was a collection of log cabins and nearby, on top of a small mountain, was a Zen temple. If I didn't know better, I could have imagined myself in Japan. One of the Zen masters gave us a tour of the area. Afterwards we went into the temple and meditated. The front of the temple was open and I had a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. Hawks were circling in the sky and I felt totally one with everything around me. If only for a brief moment, I was where I was.

Someone sent the following to me yesterday. I thought it was very funny and so I want to share it.


I wanted to share something funny with you.....a reaction to one of your daily thoughts from my friend Marta. She is Italian and she lives in Milan. It is such a joy talking to her and the way she crafts the English language is always amusing to me. I forwarded to her your Wednesday's thoughts from this week and her reply was..."Kimberly, he has a healthy ego, no? Is he the most important man where you are working?"

I have been reading all day, confined to my room, and I feel tired. I raise the screen and face the broad daylight. I move the chair on the veranda and look at the blue mountains. I draw a long breath, fill my lungs with fresh air and feel entirely refreshed. I make tea and drink a cup or two of it. Who would say that I am not living in the light of eternity?-D. T. Suzuki

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Moods Are Like The Weather

I had dinner with my granddaughter, Chloe, on Tuesday night. I picked her up at the daycare as I often do. She was so cute with her Christmas sweatshirt. It was red and had Santa and Rudolph on it. Rudolph's nose was blinking on and off. Chloe is only 3 1/2 years old but she seems so grown up sometimes. She's quite the little person. Talking with her is like talking to an adult. Actually, I would rather talk to her than to most adults. I like her simple and direct observations about life. She's a Zen child and lives totally in the moment. She will be wild with excitement and joy on Christmas morning. I have nothing but pleasant Christmas memories from my childhood with my own children. Now I have great memories with a grandchild.

Yesterday I went out for a walk during my lunch break. It was a totally gorgeous day. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the air was cool but not cold. Walking a couple of laps around the park totally refreshed me. I was tempted to go down by the river, sit on a bench, and watch the barges go up and down the Ohio River. Yesterday's daily thoughts included a quote that said, "Sometimes I just sit and think. Other times I just sit". If I had gone down to the river, I could have spent the entire afternoon just sitting and letting all my thoughts and concerns float away with the river current.

Last night my son had dinner with the Archbishop. My wife went to a Mexican restaurant with her friends. Me? I stayed home and had a bowl of cheerios with sliced bananas. Afterwards, I read the morning paper before falling asleep for two hours in my chair. It was an exciting night!

I have been in a contemplative mood and I have been reflecting on all the different parts of my life. It's occurred to me this morning that my life seems to go through the same patterns over and over. I go along for days and weeks and even months feeling content and satisfied with my life. Then, for no apparent reason, I don't feel content or satisfied. I get in a slight funk where I seem to feel empty or bored. These waves of feeling are like the tides of the ocean as they come in and go out. I don't know why they happen. I think I often feel like this when the holidays approach. These times of expected happiness are not always on the same schedule as my emotional moods. My life doesn't change that much from day to day so I usually try to ignore my moods. Moods are like the weather. They constantly change and who says that a sunny day is better than a rainy day? Both are necessary and they work together to bring about the desired results. When a farmer plants a seed, doesn't he need the rain and the sun? If there's one without the other, the seed doesn't grow or reach maturity. So, like the weather, one must patiently wait out our changing moods. Sometimes, when I am down, something will happen that will cause me to suddenly wake up and be in touch with something deep within me that fills me with a new joy and zest for living. My life has been full of such awakenings. I love the surprise when they happen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Recognizing The Good Things

There's less than a week until Christmas. Many people are busy and perhaps feeling a little overwhelmed. Some are stressed because they haven't finished...or started... their shopping and maybe the money has run out. Others have plans for Christmas meals. The food needs to be bought, Kroger is riot zone, and there is much cooking and baking to be done. A few are starting to panic. With all of this, how could anyone feel bored? Sometimes we feel bored when the joy has left our lives and few things can kill joy faster than stress. Boredom is a double edged sword. It can be an indication that you are missing opportunities to appreciate all the people and good things in your life. Other times I am happy to be bored because it can also mean nothing bad is happening in my life. Perhaps in our desire for more in life we have failed to appreciate what we already have. Boredom can make us feel empty. There's few of us whose lives are truly empty. Most of us are guilty of taking our lives for granted. Sit down sometime and examine your life in detail. Review in your mind and heart everyone and everything that is part of your daily life from the most important people to the most mundane things. I imagine that your list would be quite long if you were honest. Here's just a few things on my list in no particular order.

All my family, friends, and co-workers, as well as the strangers and unknown people who perform services that help sustain my life. Who do you think grows the food we eat, or makes the water and electricity come to our homes?

Pets. I still miss my cat and I hope he is well. I know many of you are animal lovers.

Employment. I don't always want to come to work and sometimes I complain about my job but I am also very grateful to be employed. I am treated well and I work with very nice people. I have a wonderful staff and they make me look very good. My employment has provided a very nice life.

My home. I live in a quiet neighborhood. My home and my body are approximately the same age and in the same condition. They could use a little work but I am also comfortable living in both.

Faith. I believe there is a God and that there's more to life than meets the eye. I am not as religious as some people imagine but I try to live a life that is spiritual.

All my little creature comforts. I am blessed to have my own space at work and home. I have created places that are peaceful and comfortable. My workplace is full of pictures of family and places of natural beauty. I have some spiritual objects that keep me centered. I can drink coffee and listen to music much of my day while I work. I have enough solitude to keep me from going crazy and enough people to keep me human. At home I have my books and music and a comfortable chair to sit in while I drink coffee and stare out the window. During this holiday season I have some pumpkin eggnog and Boiled Custard in the refrigerator. Last week Chloe and my wife made chocolate chip cookies. I have eaten all of them.

My health. Although I have some health conditions, I am not near death as far as I know, and they do not keep me from enjoying most of life. I am not as healthy as some but also not as sick as others. I can still walk up and down stairs even if my knees sometimes hurt.

Electricity, indoor plumbing, hot showers and baths, heat in the winter, air conditioning in summer, food in the pantry, nice furniture, clothes and shoes to wear even if I am not always in style.

The freedom to write, the gift of being fairly good at it, and the encouragement of many to keep doing it.

I know I have already mentioned people but my granddaughter, Chloe, gets special mention because she keeps me young and has awakened my sense of wonder and awe of life. It's been very good for me to be a Pa Paw. One should sometimes look at life through the eyes of a child.

Last but not least. Music. It is one of the great joys of my life and I am happy to be an aging rock and roller who has friends that share my passion. You know who you are. I still get around pretty good for an old guy even if I do have to take the next day off after a rock concert. It's not because of drinking or doing drugs. I do neither. It's because I am tired from staying out late and I need my rest. Age, and a lower energy level, have some drawbacks. Party on, Dudes!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Seasoning Our Lives

What a beautiful morning sky we have today!

A few weeks ago my wife made some chili. I brought some of it to work for my lunch. As I was eating it, I thought it was very bland. Later, after I got home, I asked my wife, "Did you remember to put the chili seasoning in your chili"? Whoops! She had forgotten it! It turns out I was eating hamburger in tomato sauce. I am not trying to expose my wife's lack of culinary skills. By her own admission, she has few skills in the kitchen. Even though I don't cook much anymore, I can cook just about anything. When I was in the seminary and monastery, cooking was one of my primary jobs. Everything I know about cooking I learned from Brother Francis, Brother Brian, Brother Andre, and Brother Thomas. In those days I could cook meals for a hundred people. Actually, these thoughts are not about cooking. They're about seasoning. Life can be bland if there is no seasoning. Most of us have lives that can sometimes seem very humdrum and monotonous. It's easy to feel like all you do is get up and go to work or run all over town for your children's sporting events or constantly load and unload the washing machine and dryer. When all you do is work and chores, life can seem bland. I think one of the ways you can add some seasoning to your life is to spend some time doing things that you find personally enjoyable. Obviously, this implies taking some time for yourself. Sometimes you might have to take a day off in the middle of the week just for yourself. However you find the time, spend it doing something that you enjoy. Go to a coffee shop. Read a book. Listen to your favorite music or watch a movie. Take a class at a local college. Expand your mind. Catch a play. Go to a museum. Take in a concert. Walk in the park. With all due respect to the people in our lives, we are not just someone's child, or someone's spouse, or someone's parent. Each of us is an individual and we have some responsibility to be who we are and to develop as individuals. We can't find all of our identity in others. When we season our own personal lives, we also season the lives of those around us and we add flavor to life.

Once as I was walking out of my office building I saw a friend who receives my daily thoughts. She jokingly said, "Are you a real person? I thought you only existed in email!" I am sure many of you might think that. Many of you are strangers to me and we have never met. Of course, I sometimes get emails from people who say they feel like they know me well because of all my stories. The truth is that I am a real person. Like all of you I wake up every morning and I have to face whatever the day brings my way. Like all of you I try to live a good and meaningful life. I hope that whatever I am able to influence is better for it. Occasionally I feel like Jimmy Stewart in "It's A Wonderful Life". When I am down I wonder if my life makes any difference to those around me. Some days I wonder if I am even noticed. After I saw Bruce Willis in "The Sixth Sense" I wondered if I was dead for about a week afterwards. Thankfully, those are rare days and most of the time I feel like Jimmy Stewart at the end of "It's A Wonderful Life" when he realizes what a difference he has made and how blessed he is. The bottom line is that I am just like all of you and, yes, I exist beyond email.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Visiting My Father & Dinner At My Son's House

I woke up on Saturday morning with the sound of sleet pelting my bedroom window. I was so happy that I didn't need to get up and leave my warm bed or my house. When I did finally get up, the outdoors was a mess. My car and the entire neighborhood were covered with ice and the freezing rain was pouring down. Eventually the temperature rose above freezing but the rain continued all day. We ended up getting 2½ inches of rain on Saturday. Later in the day I did venture out to visit my father in the hospital, along with one of my brothers there. Dad was a little out of it and slept most of the time. When he was awake it was difficult to judge how aware he was. His eyes seemed empty and I felt sad looking into them. When it was time to go he was sleeping again so I did not wake him. Since I rarely see my brother, and even more rarely have time for a personal conversation with him, we drove to a nearby restaurant for some lunch. It was good to have an opportunity for some quality conversation.

Later on Saturday I talked to Chloe on the phone. She doesn't yet have me on her speed dial but her father had called and she wanted to talk with my wife and me. We had a pleasant conversation. As soon as she learns to dial a phone, my phone will start ringing off the hook.

Sunday was a quiet and beautiful day. The sun was shining most of the day and it was cold and crisp. Later in the day my wife, son, and I went to my other son's home for dinner. He and my daughter in law, along with Chloe's help, had the whole house decorated for Christmas. Mike inherited that skill from my wife. He also prepared an excellent dinner. He inherited that skill from me with a little help from the Food Channel. My son and daughter in law have a beautiful home. Everyone knows that I am proud of my son Nick who is becoming a priest but I am also proud of his brother. My son, Mike, was my wild child and we had some difficult years. In spite of that, he has also turned out very well. He has a wonderful wife, an excellent job, a beautiful home, and a daughter that I adore. Looking at both my sons, I feel very successful as a parent. For all of you still raising children into adulthood, hang in there. I was far from being a perfect father and my sons have both turned out great in spite of that. Parenting is not a race. Sometimes you just have to be patient and wait for the fruit to ripen. By the way, there's little doubt what tree these two fell from.

Friday, December 14, 2007


I am very grateful this morning. On Wednesday morning my daughter in law was driving to work when her car was clipped by a semi truck. It caused her to go into a spin and end up in a ditch. Some of the car's air bags went off. Stacy is fine but we are not sure the car is going to survive. Fortunately, Chloe was not with her. The trucker didn't realize that he hit Stacy's car. He did stop, however, because he thought that one of his tires had blown out. The unexpected can happen anytime. Your life can change in an instant. Cars can be replaced but people cannot. I am very grateful that Stacy is fine, my son still has a wife, and Chloe still has a mother. I believe that I already live with a grateful heart and that I don't need events like this to remind me of how good and precious life is. It does, however, remind me and I hope this story also reminds all of you.

My son, Nick, is home for the holidays and a school break. It seems like we were just going through the process of him applying for the seminary and now the first semester is already over. He will be home for a few weeks. During this time he will also make a retreat at a Benedictine monastery. While he is home I will have to share my private bathroom and listen to the sound of video games in the middle of the night. I may wake up in the middle of the night and think the house is on fire but in reality it will be a pepperoni pizza baking at 3:00 AM. It will also increase my laundry workload. In spite of all of this, I will be happy to have him around for a few weeks as long as he stays out of my chair.

My home will be like Santa's workshop this weekend. Thanks to my wife, I believe that 99% of everything that needs to be done for Christmas has been completed except for the mammoth task of wrapping all the gifts. The wrapping paper, bows, tape, and scissors will be working overtime this weekend. The safest thing for me is to do is stay out of the way and do what I am told.

Earlier in the week I mentioned that I considered my daily thoughts "seeds that are thrown to the wind". Last night at home I received a note that said, "Michael, I thought you might like to know that some of your seeds have been carried across the ocean and they have landed in Cambridge, England". The Internet can be a wonderful tool that allows people all over the world to communicate easily. The world is a much smaller place in these times.

Someone once said "I love mankind, it's people I can't stand". I understand this sentiment. I guess on some level I have always had a goal to love everyone but, quite frankly, I haven't achieved this goal. Some people are just annoying. In my defense, I like most people and most people seem to like me. I like variety and diversity in people. If I don't like someone it has nothing to do with their gender, race, sexual preference, religious affiliation, political agenda, or musical taste. They're probably just a jerk. I saw a cartoon once of God making the world. He was dressed like a chef and was "cooking up the world". In the cartoon he has what appears to be a salt shaker that he is sprinkling into the "world" that he is cooking up. The shaker is labeled "jerks" and God is saying "Just to make it interesting....." This cartoon has made it easier for me to accept that some people's purpose in the world seems to be to irritate the rest of us. Of course, we all have our bad days. I have been called a jerk before....and worse. If our personalities are seasoning for the world around us, what kind of flavor are we adding to the mix? Are we sweet or sour? Do we bring out the best flavor of what's around us or do we completely ruin the taste?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Staying Calm In The Busyness

Each morning before I leave home I spend a few minutes in silence. After I get out of bed and perform all my morning rituals, i.e., brushing my teeth, showering, dressing, making coffee, eating breakfast, preparing lunch, choosing music CD's for the day, walking to the end of my driveway for the newspaper, and, finally, morning prayer, I simply sit in my chair with my eyes closed. I want my last few minutes at home, before the busyness of my day begins, to be in silence. This gets my day off to a good start and helps me stay centered throughout my day. I am fortunate to be past the stage of life where I must get children ready for school or daycare so my mornings are naturally quiet. Periodically, throughout my work day, I will also pause for a moment to simply breathe and allow myself to become re-centered. It is difficult to stay centered all the time. There are many people, things, activities and distractions that will pull you out of your center. My centeredness sometimes appears as a daze to others and I have often been accused of having my head in the clouds. I am guilty. To be honest, I like clouds and I enjoy having my head in them. I think being centered within yourself is important all of the time but especially during times of stress and extreme busyness. For most people, this time of year is very stressful and busy. Everyone has a million things listed on their to do list. There are presents to buy and wrap. We decorate our homes. My wife is freaking because we have not gotten our outdoor lights put up. We wrestle with the question "To bake or not to bake"? Will everyone in our family be happy with their gifts? Did we spend too little or too much? Who's names did we get in our family drawings? What do they want? Many people have church and other volunteer commitments. On top of all of this is the unspoken expectation that everyone be happy. After all, many of our Christmas carols proclaim that "this is the most wonderful time of the year"! The pressure to be happy when you may actually feel sad can seem very intense. Christmas can be a wonderful time of year. It can also run you ragged, empty your bank account, or make you depressed. Put Christmas in perspective, honor it's spiritual roots, and celebrate it as best you can but don't let it run you ragged or create problems that will come home to rest in January. In all of the busyness and demands of this time of year, stay centered within yourself, maintain a place of calm in your heart and life, and let the joy of the season wrap itself around you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Merry Christmas!

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday's weather was clear and bright and sunny with temperatures near 70 degrees. The effect on my mood was like the lifting of a veil. I wouldn't exactly say I became a bundle of energy or a ball of fire but I felt better and my brain actually seemed to function properly. During the late morning I went for a walk in the park and it seemed like spring. The only things missing were blossoms on the trees and the songs of birds. In Kentucky you can sometimes experience all four seasons within the same week. Snow flurries are predicted for Saturday and that makes me happy, too. When I got back to my desk and looked out my window, I saw a car drive by with a Christmas tree tied to the top. It wasn't exactly the Griswold Family Christmas Tree but some one's trying to get in the spirit of the holidays.

This past weekend I was coming out of a restaurant when a stranger held the door open for me and said "Merry Christmas"! I was almost at a loss for words because I couldn't remember the last time anyone said that to me. Is it just me or have you also noticed the lack of verbal Christmas greetings in our culture? I know the last couple of years there has been some controversy over "Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays". I think most people, regardless of their religious affiliation, recognize that Christmas has it's roots in the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus despite the over commercialization and secularization of this time of year. Christians believe that Jesus is the Light of the world. There is no historical proof that Jesus was born on December 25th. However, early Christians picked this time to celebrate the birth of Jesus because December 21st is the Winter Solstice and this is the darkest time of the year. What better time to celebrate the Light of the world than at the darkest time of the year? Celebrating Christmas on December 25th, therefore, has more of a symbolic meaning than an historical one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rough Start To A New Week

I received a couple of emails yesterday that brought smiles to my face. The first was from a co-worker at Humana. He told me that last Friday he was feeling uninspired and shared that with his boss. He was expecting her to send him something motivational or funny to cheer him up. Instead, she sent him my daily thoughts. I didn't even know she received them and neither did he! He asked me how many people receive my daily thoughts. I have no idea. My distribution list has grown over the years and many who receive them forward them to others. As far as I am concerned, my thoughts are like seeds thrown to the wind. I have no idea where they go or what they do. I am happy if I make one person's day better with something I've written. Another email was from a friend of mine who has a few years on me. I think he's in his late 80's but I am guessing on that. He was responding to my thought that you know you're getting old when your child is 56. He said, "Old is when you have children on Medicare". I believe he does have a son on Medicare. This reminds me of a former employer who is now 96 years old. He is being cared for by his young son who is 72 years old. They are both widowers and on Medicare. Bob Dylan and others who are rock stars of my generation are starting to get the Social Security checks and Medicare benefits. We are all getting older. It's just that some of us have a head start on others.

The rain of the weekend continued throughout the day on Monday. Was it the dampness that made my bones ache and my body feel old and stiff? Was it the overcast day that made me feel as though I needed a caffeine drip to be intravenously fed into my dull and empty mind? In general, I wasn't sick but I just didn't feel good. It's not unusual to feel like this on a Monday. As the study of physics tells us, "A body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion". Do not fear. I should be at my usual 83% full capacity by Wednesday. I am trying to work up to a 85% capacity by going up and down the stairs and taking the occasional walk outdoors. Yesterday, being concerned that my head was going to go face down on my keyboard, I went outside for a walk in the light rain. My hope was that it would energize my brain and loosen my stiff muscles. It helped but not as much as a hot bath would do.

There are two weeks until Christmas. The somewhat warm and wet weather doesn't exactly set the mood but the Christmas tree lots I see around town help. A little snow would help a lot. Laying aside all the things I could complain about, I find within myself a quiet joy and a grateful heart during this time of year. Life is mostly good for me and I know it. It's not all a walk in the park or a day at the beach but I know I have much to be happy about. I try to remember that on days that seem a struggle.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Visiting My Father

Today is Monday and it feels like it. My mind is open because it feels empty. Yes, I am moving a little slow today. You would think I would be well rested. I slept a lot over the weekend. Even Chloe slept till 10:00 AM on Sunday. Maybe the fatigue of recent days caught up with me. It may have been the dark, dreary, rainy weekend we had here in Louisville. Whatever the reason, whenever I wasn't doing something or being with Chloe, I was out like a light. I did go see my father on Sunday afternoon. He is still in the hospital. When I visited him he was calm and docile. I'm not sure he realized who I was all of the time. We talked a little. The rest of the time I just sat with him and watched the fish aquarium in the sitting room. We hope he's home for Christmas.

Today is my mother's 78th birthday. You know you're getting old when your child is 56!

Today is also the 39th anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton. For those that don't know, he was a monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani and one of the greatest spiritual writers of the 20th century. I did not know him personally but I feel like I do. Some of his former students at the monastery are my friends, I lived in the same monastery for a year though not at the same time, I've made two retreats in his hermitage located in the woods near Gethsemani, and I have read many of his books as well as other books about him. I was honored in 2005 when I was asked to speak about him at the Cathedral of the Assumption here in Louisville. Giving a homily at mass is not something I normally do but I gave it my best shot.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Office Christmas Party

Many of you know that my youngest son, Nick, is studying to be a priest. Yes, I am a proud papa. Yesterday there was a front page profile of him in the local Catholic newspaper called The Record. Here is a link if you would like to read the article.

Henry David Thoreau says we should be suspicious of any enterprise that requires new clothes. Tonight I have to attend my wife's office Christmas party. She bought me a new pair of pants for the occasion. The invitation said the dress code was "cocktail attire". Like with most dress codes I have no idea what that means. Is that black tie? Are you kidding me? Does anyone think I am going to spend $150 renting a tux so I can stand around for a couple of hours and drink with total strangers? I actually own one suit but I bought it 50 pounds ago and it doesn't fit me plus it's eight years old. I bought it the year my parents and in laws both celebrated their 50th wedding anniversaries in 1999. I can't die anytime soon because I have nothing to wear. It's been so long since I wore a tie that I can barely remember how to tie a Windsor knot. I wonder if I still have my clip on tie? Most clothes don't really feel right to me until they're about 10-15 years old. One of my favorite sweaters would require carbon dating to determine its actual age. I was recently watching Jerry Seinfeld on the Jay Leno show. He was making jokes about the fashion statements of the average Dad. He said that most Dad's wardrobes reflected what they considered the best year of their life. If that is true, then 1969 must have been a great year for me. Whatever I end up wearing, I must be on my best behavior. Someone has already told my wife that "I'm anxious to meet your husband. The way you describe him, he sounds like an intelligent person". Why does she tell people I am intelligent but at home I am always wrong and I never get to make a decision?

I will need a good night's sleep tonight. Sometime on Saturday I will be visited by an elfin princess who is spending the night. At some point she will help Granny bake cookies and make party mix. I am not aware that we're having a party but what difference does that make? The real challenge of the weekend is to keep Chloe away from all the bags and presents that are stashed around the house waiting to be wrapped. Her little hands will be tugging on my arm every time I sit down. "Come on, Pa Paw, let's go in the kitchen so we can make your coffee. Come on, Pa Paw, let's go in your room and play the drum. Come on, Pa Paw, let's look at pictures on the computer. Come on, Pa Paw, let's play the piano. Come on, Pa Paw, let's look at the tree. Come on, Pa Paw, let me get on your shoulders". There will be no rest for Pa Paw this weekend. I wouldn't have it any other way. Have a peaceful weekend!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Greatest Medicine Is The Emptiness Of Everything

Today is the feast day of St Nicholas. He is the original Christian inspiration for Santa Claus. My youngest son is named Nicholas. Check the following link for more on the history of St Nicholas.

My friend, Fr. Dennis, received the following fortune from a cookie in a Chinese restaurant and asked for my interpretation. Here's the fortune and what I think it means. What do you think it means?"The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything."One possible meaning is this. All the things that fill us up, other than God, ultimately will cause us some level of pain, worry, or loss. When we are empty of everything except God we are free of this pain, worry, and loss. Therefore, the emptiness of everything not God, replaced with the fullness of God, is the greatest medicine. I am not sure I want to be empty of everything. Yes, there is pain, worry, and loss in life. There is also happiness, enjoyment, excitement, pleasure, friendship, love, laughter, granddaughters, music, great meals, art, sunrises and sunsets, and many more good things. I could go on and on. I'll take my chances with pain, worry, and loss, in order to have all the good stuff. The combination of the good and the bad is called life. God is part of every aspect of life, the good and the bad. The ability to feel joy, and occasional sadness, is what being human is all about.

My father, who will be 83 years old in January, has been put in the hospital. As many of you know, he has Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Although he does space out at times, he is still aware of who people are. The Parkinson's is probably more of a problem as it greatly limits his mobility. A day or so ago he was unusually confused though not agitated. The hospital stay is a precaution and time of evaluation for his mental state and current medications. I expect him to come home but please keep him in your prayers. My mother, who is 77 years old, and in relatively good health, could also use a few prayers as she is my father's primary caregiver. My sister, Sherry, is a close second on the care giving.

I saw two or three snowflakes yesterday. This means that the local media, and especially the weather men and women, can begin their annual overreaction to the potential for winter weather. If we see ten snowflakes or more in Louisville, all the major highways will have salt trucks lined up to begin the process of putting corrosive material all over the road. The salt is a bigger threat than the possible snow. Judging from the parking lot and madness at the grocery store last night, I think others must have also seen these renegade snowflakes. Employees all over the city will now begin looking out the windows all day and, at the first sign of accumulation, begin asking if they get to leave work early. I did go outside for some fresh air in the afternoon. I was almost blown away and I nearly lost my hat. I guess it was the Alberta Clipper the weatherman said was hitting my area. It doesn't look much like Christmas but it certainly feels like winter.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Day After The Night Before

Yesterday was a quiet and mostly solitary day for me. It's always nice to take a day off during the work week. It has a feel very different from the weekend when many people are taking the day off. I got up early and took my wife to work since we needed to pick up Chloe from the day care at the end of the day. The rest of the day I piddled about. I consider these days as a training ground for being a retired old man someday. I wasn't completely unproductive. Now all the laundry is done. The dryer is a wonderful alarm clock for midday siestas. I actually picked Chloe up from the day-care on the way to my wife's office. Sometimes when it is only Chloe and me in the car I feel like Morgan Freeman in "Driving Miss Daisy". I am trying to keep the car on the road and pay attention to all the other drivers who seem intent on crashing into me. At the same time Chloe is talking my ear off, asking me a thousand questions, and saying, "Look Pa Paw, look"! At one point, after we were parked on the street outside my wife's office, she said, "Go Pa Paw! The light is green"! Then she got off on another topic about a cat that I think lives with her other Grandma. She was quite adamant that I take her there and get the cat NOW. At that point I thought I was "Driving Miss Cranky". By the end of the night, however, she was all smiles and hugs and kisses. At one point we watched the Shrek Christmas special three times. Her father was two hours late picking her up. Now I know what I will give him for Christmas.....a watch!

My John Fogerty concert was very good. It was a different show from the last time I saw him. First of all it was indoors on a cold night as opposed to outdoors on a warm but pleasant summer night. He still played many of his hits as well as songs from his new CD and a few obscure songs from his past. My friends and I all had a good time. One of my friends that attended with me was my oldest friend, Tom. I am actually a little older than Tom but I have known him longer than any of my other friends. Tom and I met in high school when we were fifteen years old. We took Drivers Ed together in summer school and drove the teacher crazy. We have had many adventures, especially in our youth. Some are the stuff of legend. We are both moving a little slower now. At one point during the show, Tom asked me if I needed some ear plugs. Most of us have such stories from our youth of things we did or we think we did. The mists of time sometime blur reality. Most of these adventures we would never tell our children and we hid from our parents. This concert was probably the last musical event of 2008 for me. It was a slow year for music but I still managed to see Eric Clapton, The Police, Leon Russell, and finally, John Fogerty. My John Fogerty ticket has now been added to one of the two coffee mugs I have that are stuffed with every ticket stub I have since a 1987 Pink Floyd concert. Ticket stubs from the 60's, 70's, and much of the 80's have been lost to the ravages of time. However, I know where I was.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Why Write?

I woke up just after 6:00 AM on Sunday morning. Outside my window I could hear the rain. I pulled my blanket up closer to my chin and dug my head into my pillow. I didn't want to leave the warmth of my bed. Daylight seemed a long way off. However, it was the first Sunday of the month and time for my monthly trip to the monastery. I didn't need to be there until 9:00 AM but I had planned a stop along the way to have coffee and conversation with my good friend, Fr. Dennis. Soon I was on my way in the predawn darkness and falling rain. The rain was light, however, and I enjoyed my solitary drive on the lonely roads as I sipped my first cup of coffee. Dennis loves the Christmas season and I could see his Christmas trees through the glass wall of his chapel before I could see his house. After my arrival we were soon having some wonderful conversation. I was sorry when it had to end. The monastery and other friends were calling my name. Once at the monastery I was soon into more engaging conversation and discussion. Afterwards, during mass with the monks, I noticed my old friend, Fr. Timothy, who was home for a visit from his work in Rome. When I was a young novice at the monastery he was my primary teacher and mentor. Before I left the monastery I was able to have some conversation with him. We have remained friends for nearly 40 years. After a miracle lunch where little food seemed transformed into a small feast, I headed back home in the rain. Before I left I managed to acquire some leftover monk bread and cheese to enjoy later. When I finally arrived home, the house was empty and my couch called my name. Soon I was transported to the land of dreams.

Over the weekend I was reading the blog of a friend who questioned why he even had a blog. I wonder the same thing all the time. Why do I write these daily thoughts? Do people really care about my thoughts or stories from my life? Am I living under the illusion that I have something meaningful to say? Do I really think I have some insight into life or worthwhile spiritual experience to share with others? Who do I think I am? Who really reads this stuff? Who really cares? I don't know. My wife thinks I am just full of myself. Sometimes I want to stop but part of me now feels compelled to do it. I think I may have gone from liking to write to needing to write. Long before email and Internet blogs I kept handwritten journals. Of course, those were written for my eyes only and were much more personal than my emails and blog. I still write about many of my thoughts but not all of my feelings. I guess I will keep doing this for now. I do receive occasional positive affirmation from people who do find something in these thoughts that makes a difference to them. If my thoughts don't change lives, they do occasionally improve someones day.

Tuesday night I will be running the streets and howling at the moon. Actually, I no longer howl at the moon because when I do I sometimes get choked and then I can't catch my breath. What I will really be doing is attending what I am sure will be an awesome concert by John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame. I saw him for the first time about a year and a half ago in Cincinnati and it was one of the best rock and roll shows I have ever seen. Tonight he will be in Louisville at the Palace Theater. Tuesday I will be resting from rolling on the river with Proud Mary. It's tough being an old rock and roll road warrior. I guess I should be grateful the show is not in another state! Of course, that wouldn't stop me.