Saturday, February 28, 2009

Chloe Sneaks Off To The Mountains

Last weekend, while my wife and I headed north to Indianapolis to visit my son at the seminary, my other son, along with my daughter in law and granddaughter, made an impromptu trip to the mountains. From what I hear Chloe had a wonderful time and whenever they were in their hotel room Chloe would beg to "go back into town". Here's a few photos from their trip. Look closely at the photo of Chloe with the coffee maker. Inside the coffee pot is a toy chicken. Chloe asked her Dad if he wanted some "chicken coffee".

Friday, February 27, 2009

Some Final Pictures From France

Recently I have been reading some of my own stuff that I wrote in the past. Someday I hope to publish a collection of my best writing. I even thought that I would title it "Stumbling along the Spiritual Path...the Everyday Thoughts of a Tie Dyed Mystic". At some point in my reading I came upon my journal from a trip to France in 2005. It was a wonderful experience and I remember it with fondness. A few weeks ago I posted a few pictures from the trip and now I would like to share a few more. One is me giving a talk at the conference I attended. I would never have dreamed that in my life I would be in France giving a talk in which people from all over the world would be my audience. Admittedly, all these people did not travel to France to hear me talk. I was one of many speakers and most people did not know who I was until I introduced myself. One is a picture of the Abbot General of the Cistercian Order, Dom Bernardo, my traveling companion, Mike Johnson, and me. Another is two American friends from Iowa and me. The last picture is simply the beautiful French countryside in early summer. On this dreary day 2009, I find it quite uplifting and I look forward to my own Kentucky countryside looking the same.

My Two Favorite World Leaders

Home Alone With Total Freedom

I was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by the sound of pouring rain. When the wind began to blow I felt drops of rain landing on my face. It's a great thing to wake up in darkness, snug in your warm bed, with the rain falling from the sky outside your window. When I left the house to take my wife to work it was warm. At this moment the temperature has already fallen ten degrees. Winter is returning with a chance for light snow tomorrow. Next week spring, and possibly summer, will arrive. Beyond that, who knows? I am sitting here with a cup of freshly brewed "Seattle's Best" and the music of Peter Gabriel playing in the background. I am home alone all day and I can do whatever I want. It's a great and wonderful feeling to have such freedom. It may not be for all the right reasons but I love my solitude. A day like today is like being given a bag of perfect moments.

Yesterday I had lunch with my friend, Wayne. He is a chaplain at the local VA hospital. We talked of many things but the most intriguing subject was the mystery of God. When I was young anything related to faith that couldn't be explained was written off as a mystery. Now that I am older, everything related to God and faith is a mystery. Nothing is certain for me and much does not make sense. I am lost in the mystery and the darkness. The question is "Have I completely lost my faith or is this actually progress on the spiritual path"?

In another encounter with a friend via email I discussed the "Spirituality of Subtraction". In our culture we tend to think life is all about gathering and hoarding and piling up stuff. In the spiritual life it is really about letting go, not grasping, and subtraction rather than addition.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Who Are You?

I made my first blog entry on September 12, 2006. From then till now I have posted 570 entries. For a long time I was curious if anyone was actually reading them. Before doing this I used to send daily emails to hundreds of people. Most days I would receive some replies to what I wrote. When I stopped the emails and focused on this blog, I felt like I lost touch with most of my readership. I began to feel as though I was only writing for myself. In October of 2008 my friend, Bryan, installed something called Sitemeter to my blog. This tool counts the number of "hits" I receive and it tells me where in the world people are reading my thoughts. I was quickly amazed how many "hits" I received. Since mid October until today, I have had 3,450 "hits" from all over the United States and around the world. At first I wondered if thousands of people visited my blog only once or if it was the same few people over and over. I am still curious who regularly visits. I know who some of you are but there are countless strangers who are unknown to me. Whoever you are out there, friend or stranger, I would love to hear from you and learn where you are in this world. If you are so inclined, please write to me and introduce yourselves. Of course, if you choose to silently lurk out there, occasionally stopping by to check me out, I understand. I do the same thing to others.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Feeling Tired Of Everything

I shouldn't complain about my life but sometimes I do. Sometimes I just get tired of it all. Certainly it has its blessings but many days it feels like a treadmill that goes nowhere. Maybe all this is no more than a return of the wintertime blues. Maybe it's suppressed feelings related to my Dad's death. By the end of my workday I was feeling very fatigued and that's when my mind was invaded with negativity. I was sitting in my car waiting for my wife to come out of her office. I was sleepy and my head was bobbing to the beat of the music playing on my radio. I felt physically tired, mentally tired, and spiritually tired. I am so tired of working. Yes, I am grateful to be employed and to have the ability to earn a paycheck. However, I have been working since 1967...42 years...and I am simply tired of it. I am tired of boring work and dealing with people. In fact, I think I am tired of dealing with people everywhere. Lack of enthusiasm for work may be compounded by watching my life savings melt before my eyes. Another thing I am tired of is the never ending bad news about the economy. These thoughts were followed by the dread of going to the grocery store. After seeing many television images of hundreds, maybe thousands, of starving people chasing after a truck hoping to catch a five pound bag of rice, how could I complain about casually walking through a well stocked supermarket choosing what I want and basically having the money to pay for it? There's no justification for my complaining but still I do it. While I am complaining let me state for the record that I am very, very tired of the cold weather. I need some sunshine and warm breezes. In addition to some warmth and sunlight, I would like a month at the monastery. Yes, I would like one month to sleep as much as I like. One month to walk in the woods and fields. One month to sit in the silence. One month to care about nothing but myself. One month to think or not to think. One month to get up in the night because I want to do so. One month to drink coffee and simply look out a window. Did I say one month to sleep as much as I want to do so and to live my life on my schedule? The monastery may be an odd choice for where I want to spend my time. Why? Another thought that I've had lately is how much I miss the faith of my youth. It seemed so simple then. It was easy to believe and accept everything I was taught. Now, as an adult, the life of faith is more difficult and challenging. If the faith of my youth was full of light, my adult faith is full of darkness. Most days I don't even know what it is that my faith is in. Without being overly dramatic, I really am in a Cloud of Unknowing. O well, it's late at night. The siren song of my bed is calling. Perhaps some sleep and the light of a new day will improve the way I feel.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tired Of Cold Weather!

I have stayed home all day and have not left my house except for a brief moment when I walked to the end of my driveway to pick up my morning newspaper. It is cold outside. The temperature has been in the 20's all day and light snow flurries waft through the air. Even though I love snow and even enjoy cold weather, I am tired of winter. I long for a spring day full of sunshine and the fresh smell of clean air and blossoming flowers and budding trees. My mind drifts to the picture above. This is the small village in France where I stayed a few years ago. I don't expect to be in France again anytime soon so I would be just as happy to see spring in Kentucky.
It's been a quiet day of reading and doing the laundry. After the long day I had yesterday it was good to get a full night's sleep. I still got up early, made a pot of my beloved coffee and read the morning news. Tomorrow it is back to work for another week. I don't mind working and I even enjoy what I do. However, I enjoy not working and what I do at home even more. If I could just convince my employer to keep depositing money into my bank account even if I stop coming to the office!
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says there are three basic obstacles to the coming of the Kingdom. These are the three P’s: power, prestige and possessions. Nine-tenths of his teaching can be aligned under one of those three categories. I’m all for sexual morality, but Jesus does not say that’s the issue. In fact, he says the prostitutes are getting into the Kingdom of God before some of us who have made bedfellows with power, prestige and possessions (see Matthew 21:31-32). Those three numb the heart and deaden the spirit, says Jesus. Read Luke’s Gospel. Read the Sermon on the Mount. Read Matthew’s Gospel and tell me if Jesus is not saying that power, prestige and possessions are the barriers to truth and are the barriers to the Kingdom. I’m not pointing to Church leadership, I’m pointing to us as the Church. The Church has been comfortable with power, prestige and possessions for centuries and has not called that heresy. You can’t see your own sin.
-from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Trip To The Seminary

Today my wife and I drove to Indianapolis to visit my son and attend "Parent's Day". Nick is in his second year of attending the seminary and he will graduate from college this coming summer. One of the changes for the seminarians this year was moving into a monastery that formerly housed a community of Carmelite nuns. These type of nuns traditionally live very austere lives. Generations of Carmelite nuns are now spinning in their graves because of this change. The monastery is very simple and austere and it reflects the lifestyle of its previous occupants. It has a medieval, castle like ambiance. Nick's room is eight feet by eight feet and has an arched wooden door that leads out into what was formerly the nun's cloister. The entire monastery seems designed for nuns no taller than four feet high. Yes, my son and the other 16 seminarians are studying to be priests. They are generally a great group of young men. However, the reality is that they are a group of very normal, college age, guys. They are not Carmelite nuns. Today started off with a mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Indianapolis and a group of priests. Also in attendance were most of the parents of the seminarians. My son, Nick, gave a talk to the group. He did a great job and I was very proud of him and the things he said. It was the first time I had ever seen Nick do public speaking. During the mass I found myself thinking of my Dad. One week ago, at the very same time, we were having Dad's funeral mass. Afterwards, we had a brunch and tour of the monastery. It was a very enjoyable day until it was time to drive home. At some point in the morning it started to snow. By the time we left I had to clean off the car. The entire way home was in near whiteout conditions with limited visibility. The drive home was work. Turn the windshield wipers on. Turn the windshield wipers off. Run them full blast. Adjust them to the delay mode. Get blown off the highway and blinded by eighteen wheelers flying past you. By the time I got home I was weary and stressed. Still, it was all worth it and I had a great day.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Some Thoughts From Others

Here are some thoughts from other people that I have received recently. I'm too tired tonight to have my own thoughts. I wouldn't share these if I didn't also like them.

Real holiness doesn’t feel like holiness; it just feels like you’re dying. It feels like you’re losing it. And yet, you’re losing it from the center, from a place where all things are One, where you can joyously, graciously let go of it. You know God’s doing it when you can smile, when you can trust the letting go. Many of us were taught the no without the yes, the joy. We were trained just to put up with it, to take it on the chin. Saying no to the self does not necessarily please God. When God, by love and freedom, can create a joyous yes inside of you—so much so that you can absorb the no’s—then it’s God’s work
from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, by Richard Rohr

I come from the East, most of you here are Westerners. If I look at you superficially, we are different, and if I put my emphasis on that level, we grow more distant. If I look on you as my own kind, as human beings like myself, with one nose, two eyes, and so forth, then automatically that distance is gone. We are the same human flesh. I want happiness; you also want happiness. From that mutual recognition, we can build respect and real trust of each other. From that can come cooperation and harmony.
-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Forever is composed of nows.
-Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Trying Not To Be Ordinary

Sometimes I get an idea that I might write about later and I send myself a note so I remember the idea. I just read an email that I sent myself a few days ago. All it said was "Trying not to be ordinary". I can't remember exactly what I was thinking about when this thought came to me. I may have been thinking of myself and my desire to not live an ordinary life or perhaps it was a momentary reflection while thinking about my father. By most accounts my father was an ordinary man. However, many, many people paid their respects at the funeral home and he was deeply loved by his family. While sitting in a chair at the funeral home and observing the room full of people, I looked at my sister and remarked, "All of this is because two people met one another back in the late 1940's". In other words, because my mother and father met one another, fell in love, and got married, a funeral home was filled to near capacity 60 years later. Our individual lives do make a difference even if we seem very ordinary on the surface. Dad's life was mostly hidden from the world at large and yet his influence has spread to many people and many places. He wasn't trying not to be ordinary any more than he was trying to be special. He just lived his life and without really thinking about it, he was not ordinary and his life was actually special and he will have an impact for years to come. Above is one of the last photos of my Dad at the 2008 New Year's party in the nursing home about six weeks ago. My Dad was a simple man. The following quote makes me think of him and his love of gardening.

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.
-Charles Kingsley

Chloe Comes For A Visit

After work today I picked up my granddaughter at her daycare center. I hadn't seen her since before my father died. It's always a joy to see Chloe. Her car seat was in the trunk of my car so before leaving the daycare I had to reinstall it in the back seat of my car. By the time I secured the seat in my car and Chloe in the seat, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was cold outside and the winds were blowing at a speed just shy of qualifying for a Level One hurricane. Securing a car seat in a car can sometimes feel like you are docking the space shuttle to the space station that currently orbits the earth. Finally, with Chloe secured and Grandma digging for suckers in her purse, we got on our way to the Five Star restaurant called McDonald's. After dinner we came to my house and played until just a few minutes ago. I love Chloe visits but at the end of a workday I barely have enough personal energy to maintain minimum life support systems like breathing or pumping blood through my own heart. When she leaves I usually head straight for my chair. What an endless source of energy Chloe has. It is a challenge to keep up with her. These workday visits only last a few hours. If it is a weekend we sometimes go to the park and feed the ducks. Here we are on a beautiful day last autumn.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I Love Every Minute Of The Day

Although I am not a fan of getting out of bed on someone else's schedule and I am very weary at the moment, I love every minute of the day. Getting out of bed is tough but I love a new day. I love my quiet time in the early morning when I drink my first cup of coffee. I like the early morning drive to work and my walk through the park next to my office, especially if the sun is rising in the eastern sky. Some days I even love my workday. Even though I sometimes enjoy my workday, what I always enjoy is when it is over. It feels great to get in my car at the end of the day and breathe a sigh of relief as I drive to my wife's office and wait for her. After arriving home and having dinner, sitting in my chair is a blessing. My evenings are enjoyable as I read, watch the news, listen to music, catch a movie, or nap away. Finally, at the end of a good day, my bed feels great. Yes, I love every minute of the day.

Recently, I re-discovered an obscure song by the rock band "The Who". The song is called "Blue, Red, and Grey" and is from the CD called "The Who by Numbers". The lyrics reminded me that I share Pete Townsend's feelings about the joy of the everyday.

Some people seem so obsessed with the morning,
get up early just to watch the sun rise,
Some people like it more when there's fire in the sky,
worship the sun when it's high.
Some people go for those sultry evenings,
sipping cocktails in the blue, red and grey,
but I like every minute of the day!
I like every second, so long as you are on my mind,
Every moment has its special charm,
it's all right when you're around, rain or shine.
I know a crowd who only live after midnight,
Their faces always seem so pale,
and then there's friends of mine who must have sunlight,
they say a suntan never fails.
I know a man who works the night shift,
he's lucky to get a job and some pay,
and I like every minute of the day.
I dig every second,
I can laugh in the snow and rain,
I get a buzz from being cold and wet,
the pleasure seems to balance out the pain.
And so you see that I'm completely crazy,
I even shun the south of France,
the people on the hill, they say I'm lazy,
but when they sleep, I sing and dance.
Some people have to have the sultry evenings,
cocktails in the blue, red and grey,
but I like every minute of the day!
I like every minute of the day!
-Lyrics by Pete Townshend

Monday, February 16, 2009

Religion Versus Spirituality

I will be the first to admit that sometimes I tire of organized religion. The pettiness of many churches along with some church's obsession with owning the "Truth" is not attractive to me. Many people who are "religious" do not seem to be undergoing any type of personal conversion or "metanoia". That being said, my father's recent funeral mass reawakened in me an appreciation for ritual. A non Catholic friend who attended Dad's funeral liturgy was impressed with the organization of it all. I have a new appreciation for how the ritual of the mass gave my family and others a framework for praying and remembering my Dad's life. The ritual also allowed for the participation of many family members in our farewell to Dad. I would still like to see the average Catholic parish talk more about conversion, "metanoia", contemplation, and the experience of God and less about five year plans, budgets, bingo, fish frys, who's right, who's wrong, who gets in Heaven and who's going to Hell. Here's a good quote from the Dalai Lama on this subject.

I believe there is an important distinction to be made between religion and spirituality. Religion I take to be concerned with belief in the claims to salvation of one faith tradition or another, an aspect of which is acceptance of some form of meta-physical or philosophical reality, including perhaps an idea of heaven or hell. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma, ritual, prayers and so on. Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit, such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony, which bring happiness to both self and others.
-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Dad's Funeral

Today my family and I gave my Dad a first class funeral. Yesterday there were literally hundreds of visitors to the funeral home. At times I was overwhelmed. By the end of the night I was totally wasted from talking, smiling, being hugged, and shaking hands. Today started off with his funeral liturgy. I planned the liturgy by picking all the readings and songs. I gave each of Dad's grandchildren a part in the ceremony. Six of Dad's grandchildren, including my two sons, were pallbearers. The rest did scripture readings, prayers of the faithful, and a poem requested by my mother. I gave a eulogy. After the mass, we headed to the cemetery where my brother, Bob, an Air Force Reservist, arranged for a military honor guard since my Dad served in the United States Navy in World War II. When we arrived there were two sharply dressed Navy men at attention. As part of the ceremony they folded the American flag that covered Dad's casket and gave it to my mother. After that, one of them played "Taps". Standing outdoors, on a beautiful sunny day, with a deep blue sky, the haunting notes were very moving. Afterwards we paid our final respects and left Dad to rest in peace.

Here is the eulogy that I gave at the funeral mass.

Eulogy for Dad

It was just a few weeks ago, on January 18th, that we celebrated Dad’s 84th birthday. It was a Sunday. I tried to visit Dad in the nursing home every Sunday. When I got there that day Dad was in a great mood. There were lots of family members present and he was getting lots of attention. We sang “Happy Birthday” and gave him a cupcake with a candle in it. It was good to see him in an upbeat mood.

Dad was a member of what Tom Brokaw called the “Greatest Generation”. He was born in 1925. Calvin Coolidge was President and Pius XI was the Pope. He grew up during the Great Depression and he served in the United States Navy during World War II. After the war he did what millions of other men did. He came home and began to build a life. The foundation of that life began on June 18th, 1949 when he married my mother. If Dad had lived until this coming summer, he and my mother would have been married 60 years. The next big event in his life was me. I came along in the early spring of 1951. Over the next thirteen years I was followed by Carolyn, Kenny, Sherry, Bill, and Bobby. We have given Dad 14 grandchildren who in turn have given him four great grandchildren so far. At this moment one more is on the way. Life and the next generations continue.

Most of Dad’s working life was spent in the local power plants of what used to be called the Louisville Gas and Electric Company. Much of that time was spent working “swing shifts”. Working different hours every week must have been a great challenge living in a small house with six children. When I was young Dad often had to work on Sundays and in those days no Catholic ever missed going to church. Mass was still in Latin and here at St Margaret Mary there was a 5:30 AM mass. If Dad had to work that day, Mom would get all the children out of bed and we would attend this mass even in the dead of winter. In order for Dad to get to work on time we would have to leave right after receiving communion. He would take us back home, drop us off, and go to work. We would return to our beds. Later in the morning when we woke up for the second time, it was like the whole experience had been a dream. I can also remember a time when Dad drove me to church on a weekday, in a snowstorm, so I could serve the 6:00 AM mass. There simply was no thought of not being there. In those days the first three rows of pews would be filled with the Ursuline Sisters who taught in the school and the pastor, Father Stuart, was a force to be reckoned with. I can still remember him shoveling his way from the rectory to the church with his cassock blowing in the wind.

When I think of the childhood my siblings and I had, the image that comes to mind is a cross between “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Wonder Years”. I now know that life in the 50’s and early 60’s wasn’t as simple and uncomplicated as it seemed to be but it sure felt that way at the time. It was during this time that Mom and Dad began attending what surely has amounted to hundreds, maybe thousands, of sporting events for children and grandchildren.

Dad was blessed to have a long retirement of over 20 years. During most of that time he was in good health. He loved yard work and gardening. Before his health declined, he spent much of his time in the back yard regardless of the weather. Everyone in the family received a tour of his garden whenever they visited. There were times when I dropped by unexpectedly and found Dad tilling some soil, planting some flowers, or tying up some tomato plants. In those moments he often reminded me of some of the old monks at Gethsemani. Like many of the monks, Dad was a simple man and definitely in touch with the earth and things that grow. I inherited Dad’s looks and much of his personality but not his green thumb. The gift of growing flowers and vegetables didn’t pass on to me.

The last few years have been difficult for Dad. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease robbed him of his health and the ability to do the things he loved. Dad lived the last year or so in a nursing home. There were times when I visited him that he was exasperating. Dealing with him certainly taught me a lot about patience. However, there were other times that seemed like sacred and holy moments. I especially liked visiting him at meal time so I could feed him. Other times we just sat outside so he could feel and breathe some fresh air. It was probably in the last year that I felt closer to him than ever before. Throughout his ordeals he had his bad days but his sly humor also occasionally surfaced and it made you smile. It surfaced in his recent and final hospital stay. The night before he died several of us were in the room with him. While holding Sherry’s hand he looked at her and said, “You’re my favorite”. Sherry said, “Dad, don’t say that too loud. We’re not alone”. He gave her a wry smile, looked at my brother, Bill, and said, “You’re my favorite, too”. A few days earlier I was the only one at the hospital. While I was there the hospital chaplain dropped by and the three of us prayed together and Dad was given the Sacrament of the Sick. In spite of his Alzheimer’s, he still remembered all the words to the “Our Father” and “Hail, Mary”. It was another sacred moment.

Dad was not perfect. He had his faults. None of this is important now. What is important is the positive transformation that he made over the course of his life. He mellowed over the years and he handled the challenges of his recent years with dignity and humility. In the end he surrendered, as all of us must do someday, and he left this world in peace, surrounded by love. If Heaven is a collection of all the best moments in your life that lasts forever, Dad is now sitting in a lawn chair in his back yard, on a beautiful day, in the shade of a tree that he probably planted. Sitting around him are all the dogs he ever owned. Together they feel the warmth of the sun and the cool of the breeze, totally lost in the moment.

Michael Brown
February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

My Father's Obituary

BROWN, JOHN Y. JR., 84, passed away Wednesday, February 11, 2009, with his family at his side and returned to his Heavenly Father. He was a Navy veteran who proudly served his country in World War II. John was preceded in death by his parents, John Brown Sr. and Teresa Calvert; his sister, Val Chimel; and a great granddaughter, Grace Lueken. He is survived by his loving wife of 59 years, Ruby J. Brown; six children, Michael W. Brown (Denise), Carolyn S. Roberts of New York, NY, Kenneth L. Brown (Marcella), Sherry M. Castagno (Philip), William M. Brown (Karen), and Robert L. Brown Sr; a sister, Sareta Young; 14 grandchildren; and four great grandchildren. His funeral Mass will be 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, with burial to follow in Resthaven Memorial Park. Visitation is 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Friday at Arch L. Heady Westport Road. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Mass of The Air, 508 Breckenridge Lane, Louisville, KY 40207 and the Alzheimer's Association, 6100 Dutchmans Lane, Ste 401, Louisville, KY 40205.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Passing Of My Father

My father passed away this morning a little after 8:00 AM. At the time of his passing I was walking down the hallway to his room. I was almost there when my sister came out and told me that he had just passed. It was a peaceful death. My sister was saying prayers with him and he just floated away. I was able to spend some private time with his body. Even though I am a very emotional person I am usually very stoic. Sitting with my father's body, I was unable to control my emotions and the tears flowed. They were a mixture of sadness, love, relief, and joy. The last few years have been very difficult for Dad and I am happy that he is now released from the physical and mental suffering that was part of his last years. I am still feeling very emotional as I type these words and I am certain my tears are not over. One of my sisters wants me to write a eulogy for Dad. At the moment that seems overwhelming to me. Hopefully, though, in the next couple of days I can pull it together and gather my thoughts. I knew this day was coming but now that it has arrived, I feel very empty.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Keeping Vigil With My Dad

My Dad is in the hospital and is not expected to live more than a day or so. He is on a waiting list for the local hospice but the hospital staff doesn't think he will live long enough to go to hospice. Since yesterday I have been keeping vigil with my extended family. At the moment I am home for a short time. In a couple of hours I will return to the hospital. This experience certainly has a feeling of Deju Vu since I just went through this with my mother in law in mid November. Last night I am certain my Dad realized what was going on. At one point he asked, "Why is everyone here"? Later he expressed a desire to my siblings and me that he wanted to hug each one of us. I was first in line, presumably because I am the oldest. Everyone else left the room. I gently leaned over my Dad and rested my head on his shoulder. From the corner of my eye I could see tears in his eyes. In retrospect there are now a hundred things I wish I would have said but now all I can recall is that I told him not to be afraid. It is his time. My only desire is that he has a peaceful passing from this life because the last few years have been very difficult for him.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Today Was A Beautiful Day!

Today was a beautiful day. Of course, any day that starts with Chloe tapping me on the shoulder to wake me up has the potential for greatness. She woke me up at a decent hour and we went downstairs for breakfast and my second viewing of Madagascar: Return 2 Africa. Children's movies have come a long way. They're as enjoyable for adults as they are for children. Later in the morning it was time for The Chloe Chronicle: Return 2 Her Parents. The sun was shining bright and all the ice and snow were gone. It was a great day to be out driving around. After dropping Chloe off to rejoin her parents, I took advantage of a short line to give the car a much needed bath. I had almost forgotten what color my car was. I must admit that I love a clean car.

Later in the afternoon, after I returned from Chloe's house, I fell asleep in my chair as a warm breeze blew in my window. It's hard to believe that little over a week ago we had one of the worst ice storms in my memory compounded by single digit temperatures. Local folklore is true. If you don't like Kentucky weather, just hang around a few days. You can sometimes experience all four seasons within a single week.

Now it is one more Sunday night and one more time to take out the trash. Tomorrow is another Monday and the beginning of another work week. Just shoot me now...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Day Music Changed My Life

I may be acting a little over dramatic but it was on this date in 1964 that music changed my life. The morning newspaper reminded me that it was on this date in 1964...when I was 12 years old...that the Beatles came to America. News wasn't the same in 1964 and we didn't have the Internet so I can't remember for sure if I realized on this day that the Beatles were landing at JFK airport in New York. I do vividly remember their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. I sat on the floor of my parent's living room and watched black and white...while they played live in a theater that is now the home of "Late Show with David Letterman". Millions of Americans, not just teen-ager's, watched them. Much has been said about how that night was a kind of antidote for the national sadness that began a few months earlier with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That night the Beatles seemed much more innocent than they were in the picture above. We know now that they were never innocent. The Rolling Stones took all the heat for being bad boys. The album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" came out in the Summer of Love, 1967. By that time few young people of my generation were innocent and the whole world was in technicolor.

The Ice Age Is Nearly Gone

When I left the office yesterday it was a beautiful, warm, sunny day. Before going to the hospital to visit my Dad I made a stop at Border's Book Store. It is my favorite store because it has every material thing in life that I want. The store is full of books and music and movies and coffee. While I was there I bought the new book by the Dalai Lama entitled "Becoming Enlightened" as well as an excellent collection of some of John Coltrane's music. Admittedly, some of Coltrane is difficult for me to absorb. He has music that can only be appreciated by other musicians. Frankly, some of it is too far out there for me. The collection I bought has more accessible songs like "My Favorite Things". One of his albums/CD's that I highly recommend, however, is "A Love Supreme". So at least part of my day yesterday was spent driving around in the sun with the cool and jazzy saxophone sounds of John Coltrane inside my car.

Today is another in what promises to be a string of spring like days. As I sit here, the window is open and a cool breeze flows into my room. Outside it is 59 degrees, the sun is shining, and the wind is blowing. For the first time in over a week what I mostly see is the ground. Only the most hardened and large piles of snow and ice remain. I can actually walk out my front door and go to my car without taking my life into my hands. There will be even more sunshine in my life in a few hours when I go get Chloe. She is coming over to spend the night which she usually does every other weekend. Tonight we will watch "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa". I bought it for her at Target last night. I also slipped a DVD of a 1977 concert by The Who into the cart. I jammed on that this morning while my wife was still in bed.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Visiting My Dad In The Hospital

If you keep up with my blog you know that my last visit with my father was difficult. It turns out that he is ill with a urinary track infection among other things. When his body is sick, his mental problems are exacerbated. Yesterday he was admitted to the hospital. I left work early today in order to go spend some time with him. It was another difficult visit. He is receiving IV fluids and is in no physical pain but mentally he is suffering. I tried my best to comfort him and assure him that he was safe and being well taken care of by the hospital staff. He wasn't buying it. He was yelling out and constantly repeating himself over and over. The more I tried to comfort him, the more hostile he got. We did have a few minutes of peace when the hospital's Catholic chaplain stopped by unexpectedly. The three of us had a prayer service together and the priest gave my father what Catholics call the Sacrament of the Sick. The priest was a true African and very black. My father is old school and I was nervous he would use a racial slur towards the priest. Thankfully that didn't happen. The priest was impressed with the fact that I knew exactly what he was doing so afterwards when we talked I shared with him about my background and that my son is studying to be a priest. He was also impressed that my Dad, who has Alzheimer's, still remembered all the words to the "Our Father" and "Hail Mary", two very standard prayers in the Catholic tradition. After about 90 minutes with Dad, my mother and niece showed up so I made a quiet exit. It is difficult to see my Dad in such shape. His 84 year old body is wearing out and his mind is mostly gone. Through out my visit he keep asking the hospital staff and me to help him. When I asked what he needed he said, "I don't really know". Pictured above is a picture of my Dad during a happier time back in the autumn of 2008. He is surrounded by much of my family. We had all just completed an Alzheimer's Walk to raise money for research.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Coming Out Of Darkness And Into The Light

I really wish I had this quote yesterday when I wrote about feeling like a fish out of water or being someone on a different page than everyone around me. Now I realize that I am just on an island. I hope I am not "Lost".

You should be an island to yourself, a refuge to yourself, not dependent on any other but taking refuge in the truth and none other than the truth. And how do you become an island and a refuge to yourself?In this way. You see and contemplate your body as composed of all the forces of the universe. Ardently and mindfully you steer your body-self by restraining your discontent with the world about you. In the same way, observe and contemplate your feelings and use that same ardent restraint and self-possession against enslavement by greed or desire. By seeing attachment to your body and feelings as blocking the truth, you dwell in self-possession and ardent liberation from those ties.This is how you live as an island to yourself and a refuge to yourself. Whoever dwells in this contemplation, islanded by the truth and taking refuge in the truth...that one will come out of the darkness and into the light.
-Digha Nikaya
From "Buddha Speaks," edited by Anne Bancroft, 2000.

A Few Reasons Why I Love Rock And Roll

I am sitting here in front of my computer in my cold music room. Outside my window it is 17 degrees and overnight it will once again dip into the single digits. Spring is looking better all the time. In the background I am jamming to the Quicksilver Messenger Service. They are a great but relatively unknown band from the late 60's. Any moment my wife will come over here and ask me to turn it down. Yesterday I wrote about being misunderstood. My wife does not understand my obsession with rock and roll and music in general. Yesterday at work a co-worker told me how much she liked Bruce Springsteen's performance during the Super Bowl. The conversation was a opportunity for me to give a complete discourse on why I love rock and roll. I am an introverted, passive, non aggressive person with a low energy level. Rock and roll is extroverted, assertive, aggressive, and high energy. In other words, it is the total opposite of me. To those who only know my more spiritual side, my quiet personality might seem incompatible with rock and roll. Rock and roll's brashness and sheer volume might seem unattractive to a man who regularly visits a monastery famous for its silence. Rock and roll is really a secular religion for me and I am in love with it. There is no doubt that I am a child of the 60's and a card carrying member of the Woodstock generation. My generation cannot exist without our music. Strange as it might sound to some, even rock and roll can be a spiritual experience. There have been many times with friends and strangers where I believe a musical experience was also a transcendent experience. This even happened after I stopped doing drugs! Anyway, it doesn't matter if rock and roll makes sense. It doesn't have to be explained or justified. As Mick Jagger sang, "I know it's only rock and roll but I like it"!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Being Misunderstood

A young co-worker recently lamented on her Facebook page that she felt misunderstood. It is not only the young who feel this way. Much of my life I have felt the same way. As I get older it is easier for me to accept but like most people I would like to not only be loved but also to be understood. Much of my life I have felt like a fish out of water or someone who is on a different page than most of the people around me. Why have I felt this way? It brings up the question, "Who am I, really"? I read an interesting thought recently that said when two people meet, six people are in the room. There's the person you think the other person is. There's the person the other person thinks you are. There's the person the other person thinks they are and there's the person you think you are. Finally there's the other person as they really are and the person you really are. When I walk down the street, strangers only see one more middle aged, gray haired man hobbling along. In the workplace, where I am virtually a senior citizen, some of my co-workers may see me as a cooler version of their father or, God forbid, their grandfather. Even within my immediate and extended family I do not believe I am seen as I really am behind my face. Perhaps the clearest picture of who I am is a picture no one ever sees. It is me as I am when I am alone. Of course, I understand that the way I see myself and the way I hope I am is not necessarily who I really am. The whole question of who I am and what forces in my life formed me into who I am fascinates me. I sometimes wonder what those who know me really think of me. Who or what do they see? If they like me, what is it about me that attracts them? If I turn them off, why? Sometimes, however, this concern about my reality, other's perceptions, and whether or not I am understood is tiresome to me. As I get older I sometimes find myself caring less and less if I meet others expectations, if I am understood, or if I am even liked. There's a perverse freedom to be found in not caring about these things. Additionally, it can also feel like a great blessing to be an introvert. Yes, I like people and I want to be loved and understood, but I am also quite happy with my own company. I don't really need every one's approval and I have learned to live much of my life without being understood by most. Perhaps another kind of freedom is also having enough self confidence to walk around without any masks and boldly trying to be who you are.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Great Meltdown

If I told my granddaughter that we were having a meltdown, she would immediately think of one of her favorite movies called "Ice Age...The Meltdown" and she would wonder where all the woolly mammoths and saber tooth tigers are. The reality is that the ice age we have been experiencing this week is having a meltdown. Yesterday temperatures were in the mid 40's and today they are in the mid 50's. All of the ice has fallen from the trees, most of the back roads are clear, and streams of water flow everywhere. This meltdown has a very liberating feeling.

I have spent the afternoon on my usual Sunday tour visiting the parents. The beautiful day and melting ice were reason enough to be in a good mood. I thought I would enhance the mood by listening to an open air concert, recorded at the height of summer in 1972, while I drove down the road. It was a performance by the New Riders of the Purple Sage. The NRPS are what happens when a bunch of hippies smoke a lot of weed and play country music.

The first stop was my mother's house. I had a pleasant visit and I expected to see some siblings there but Mom was home alone. Most of my family, except for me, experienced power losses during the ice storm. Because of that some of them stayed with Mom who had power. The second stop...visiting Dad...turned out to be heartbreaking. When I walked into his room he was yelling for a nurse. He was not having a good day. He was very agitated and confused. He told me that he hadn't been fed in three days and that he wanted to get up. The truth was that he had just had lunch and had only been in the bed for ten minutes or so. In his mind everyone was ignoring him. For him a minute is an hour and he has virtually no short term memory. I tried my best to comfort him and to ease his mind. Nothing I did or said worked. After about an hour I simply had to leave. I couldn't take it anymore. It broke my heart to see him in such mental distress. When I got out in the parking lot I called my sister and gave her a report on my experience. She is going to go over to the nursing home at dinner time tonight and make sure he eats something. I was in tears on the way home. I turned off my music and drove in silence. I have been present when my wife's parents took their last breaths. Seeing my Dad in his current state makes me wish his last breath would come soon. I absolutely hate seeing him suffer like I saw today, especially when I am so helpless to alleviate it. At the moment I feel exhausted from the experience. Part of this is because he's my Dad. Another part is likely due to the fact that I am a very empathetic person. I do have a strong sense of how he feels. It is relatively easy for me to put myself in his shoes and his bed. All I can do is pray that God comforts his mind and gives him some inner peace.