Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Am Back

My new PC is finally up and running. I have been without a personal PC for a few weeks. This is my excuse for a lack of writing. In addition to the lack of a PC I have been on vacation and my house is in chaos from home improvements and decorating for Christmas. I was also out of town for a few days on our annual family trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I haven't worked for ten days. In that time I have become addicted to getting eight hours of sleep each night. Tomorrow morning I will re-enter the rehab of daily work and less sleep. I will miss my leisurely mornings of drinking coffee and reading the morning news. The time off has been good. The trip to the mountains was enjoyable. The town of Gatlinburg was full of Christmas lights and decorations and it was a good start to getting me in the mood for Christmas. Thanksgiving was another pleasant holiday although it was difficult not to think of the challenging days we had last year at this time with my unplanned hospitalization and my mother in law's death. The night before this year's Thanksgiving I gathered with my old gang from my high school days for an evening of beer drinking and the telling of war stories from our now faraway youth. A little while ago my wife and I had one more dinner with our youngest son before he headed backed to the seminary. I don't think he was anxious to go but I gave him a little pep talk and hopefully he will quickly be back in the swing of things at St. Meinrad.

This past weekend my granddaughter spent the night. Last night as we were lying in bed and talking, after the second or third reprimand from Grandma, Chloe looked at me and said, "I love you, Pa Paw. Don't go to Heaven". She is a very loving child and she worships me. I knew what she was saying to me. She was saying, "Pa Paw, don't leave me". Although she is only five years old, she knows what going to heaven means. She understands that the "Old Grandma" is now in Heaven and she doesn't want me to join her there. I know someday I will make her very sad when I do leave this world but I hope that is a long time from now. I hope I live long enough to watch Chloe grow into a young woman. If I "go to Heaven" and that separates me from Chloe, then it wouldn't really be Heaven for me. Minimum requirements for Heaven are the people I love and good music.

Tomorrow it is back to my regular routine and my "normal" life. Vacation is always great but it must be balanced with not being on vacation. As Arlo Guthrie once said, "You can't really appreciate a light unless you have a dark place to put it in".

It was eight years ago today that George Harrison left the planet. Today I played some of his music in his memory. One line of a song really moved me. I will end these thoughts with this thought from George.

"If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there".
-George Harrison

Monday, November 16, 2009

Where Have I been?

I am still without a personal computer at home. This is the primary reason I only posted thoughts one day last week. A new computer hard drive is on order and I am waiting for it's delivery. After it's arrival I will be back into my usual inconsistent but more regular posts.

Christmas, painting, and some general handyman repairs are in full swing at my house. A list of repairs and painting needs that has been accumulating for a while are now getting done. Why the sudden accomplishment? My wife is the project manager and she is paying someone else to do them and the work is not dependent on my effort or skill. In general, I have little skill with tools and repairs and even less desire or energy to do them. What I have right now, for the first time in my life, is a little extra money. It is wonderful to come home everyday and see things accomplished through no effort of my own. I envy the skill of men and women who are able to fix things or build them. Some people admire my writing skills but I admire the skills of carpenters, painters, electricians, and others who create and fix.

My granddaughter came over this weekend. One of the things my wife and I did with her help is begin the massive undertaking of bringing all the Christmas decorations into the house. They are now everywhere and my home resembles Santa's workshop or, perhaps, his garage. Because of the painting and other work being done, all the decorations cannot be put up yet. Most of that will be accomplished next week while my wife and I are on vacation. The best way I can describe my current living situation is "absolute chaos". Anyone who knows me well understands how much I hate chaos. I believe there is an order to the universe and I desire that order to reach into my life and my home. For better or worse, I like order and balance. Right now both of these are nonexistent in my home and it causes me some personal discomfort. However, when the work is done and the decorations completed, my wife and I will be very happy, the house will be beautiful, and Chloe's eyes will be filled with excitement over the pending visit by Santa Claus. I had to explain to her on Sunday morning that it wasn't Christmas Day...yet.

Another thing my granddaughter and I did over the weekend was watch the Wizard of Oz twice. When I found out she liked it, I bought one of the new remastered and restored 70th anniversary editions on DVD. Chloe's favorite character is the Scarecrow. This movie came out in 1939, twelve years before I was born in 1951. I was probably Chloe's age when I watched it the first time. Since then I have watched it countless times myself and now I get to enjoy watching it with her. In twelve more years I, too, will be 70 years old. When that happens I wonder if I will be remastered and restored?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bare Trees And Christmas Past

My computer crashed a few days ago so I have been somewhat hampered in my writing. Sometimes when I have a quiet moment I can write at work on a break or during lunch. In the evenings I have been borrowing my wife's laptop just to check my emails. I have to do this when she isn't using it. She is in the process of full throttle Christmas shopping so she is burning up her keyboard and her laptop is smoking. So far our bank account hasn't exploded. No one can say my wife isn't doing her part to stimulate the economy. Maybe she's the reason the Dow is over 10,000.

This past weekend we officially started getting into the holiday spirit. My whole family went to see the new 3-D animated version of Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol". I thought it was very good. Jim Carrey was a great Ebenezer Scrooge though it may have been overkill for him to also portray the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. The animators did a great job of creating Victorian London and the 3-D effects were occasionally mesmerizing. My granddaughter, Chloe, sat on my lap throughout the movie and she sometimes reached out and tried to grasp the snowflakes that appeared to be falling right before our eyes. A few intense scenes, and several of the 3-D effects, caused her to jump a few times but she seemed to enjoy the movie especially the scenes where Scrooge was flying over London with one of his nocturnal visitors.

On this early November day many of the trees are now bare. A few hearty leaves still cling to branches but most lawns and side streets are accumulating their annual piles of leaves. Still, enough leaves are hanging on to create a colorful mural of autumn's beauty. I so love this time of year. This past weekend was warmer than normal for this time of year but nearly as perfect as one could ever want. One must slow down and enjoy these moments. Soon enough the cold winds of winter will be upon us. I don't really dread those days because I think winter also has it's own beauty. When the first snowfall appears I will be giddy with joy, especially if it happens on a weekend right after I have been to the grocery store!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Zen Of Ordinary Days

Let me start with a couple of quotes from the famous Zen Master, D.T. Suzuki, who was a big influence on Thomas Merton's understanding of Zen.

"The truth of Zen, just a little bit of it, is what turns one's hum drum life, a life of monotonous, uninspiring commonplaceness, into one of art, full of genuine inner creativity".

"Life, according to Zen, ought to be lived as a bird flies through the air or as a fish swims in the water".

These days my life is flowing rather gently although there is some increased activity due to the upcoming holiday season and some mysterious rumblings in the air at my workplace. Most of my days are filled with routine, the daily chores of living, the occasional boredom of work, and the never ending longing for rest and freedom that is occasionally satisfied with a weekend or a good nap. It would be difficult on any level to think of my life as exciting or artistic, full of "genuine inner creativity". Some kind souls may think of my writing as creative but for me it is just a way to process my thoughts and feelings with the hope that maybe it also helps others to do the same with their own thoughts and feelings. My understanding of Zen has always been a rather simple one. When asked, I reply, "Zen is doing what you are doing and being where you are". When I do this successfully my life is "lived as a bird flies through the air or as a fish swims in the water". When I am present to what I am doing and I am where I am, then my life seems to flow, and, if not artistic, it at least has a natural beauty. When birds fly, they don't think about flying. When fish swim, they don't think about swimming. When you are doing what you are doing, you're not thinking about what you are doing. When you are where you are, you're not thinking about where you are. Zen is not about thinking. Zen is not about doing. Zen is being. Zen is about "flow". Flow is the sensation of being lost in space and time. In a sense, Zen and "flow" are being so aware that you're not even aware that you're aware. There's nothing ordinary about that!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Remembering Dad

Tonight I attended a memorial mass at the church where I grew up as a child and where my father's funeral mass was held on Valentine's Day of this year. On November 2nd of every year the Catholic Church celebrates what is called All Souls Day. It's a day where all those who have died are remembered. Tonight was especially dedicated to all those who have died in the last year. My mother, most of my siblings, some of my nieces, and a brother in law and sister in law were also there tonight. It was good to remember Dad in a special way. Thinking of Dad and looking around at members of my extended family reminded me how lucky I am to be part of such a good family. I am equally blessed on my wife's side of the family. The picture above was taken during the last year of my Dad's life. Along with Dad are my brother, Bob, and sister, Carolyn. In addition to them I have two more brothers and one more sister. I am the oldest sibling. Dad, I hope all is well and that you are looking out for all of us.

Who Is The "I" in "Me"?

When I use the pronoun "I", who is the "I" that I am referring to? The person that is "me" is just one example of a human being and the older I get the more I am amazed at all the subtle and not so subtle forces that form and shape me into the "me" that is represented when I refer to myself using the pronoun "I". I began thinking about this today after reading a selection from Thomas Merton's "The Inner Experience". Over the years I have learned much about the characteristics that make up my personality. The Myers-Briggs (MBTI) taught me that I am an introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiver. The Enneagram taught me that I am a Sexual Nine with a One wing. My personality, like all personalities, certainly has its strengths and gifts. I am not blind to my own goodness. Equally true, however, is that my personality has a shadow side that is less charming to many and often annoying to me. I love order and hate chaos. In general, I think there is a right way and a wrong way to do most things. I am a perfectionist and I drive myself crazy with my obsessive need for order, perfection, and completeness. Along with this I think I am also a little obsessive/ compulsive. I am a creature of habit and routine and I don't like to change the ways I do certain things or the order in which I do them. If perfectionism and OCD are not enough, I think I also have some level of Attention Deficit Disorder. Going from Point A to Point B can be a journey of a thousand miles for me. Why? It is because I am easily distracted. I often struggle with being focused, especially when I have little interest in what I am doing. On the other hand, when I am really into what I am doing, I can be what one person called "hyper-focused". Some psychologists also call this "flow". So, who is the "me" that I am referencing when I use the pronoun "I" ? I am a collection of good and bad tendencies with strengths and weaknesses. I can be a highly functioning individual but I can also easily slip into totally dysfunctional behavior. I have a loving heart and a gentle soul but I can occasionally be a completely annoying person. The good news is that most of the time, and the older I get, the best of me is what people usually see even if I am not consciously try to display it. The best of who all of us are will usually burst forth and those around us will usually accept our imperfections as a small price to pay for what is good.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Another Sunday Night

Another Sunday night, and a new month, has rolled around. It's been an enjoyable weekend. Saturday began as an overcast and cold day. In the afternoon, however, the sun came out and it turned into a glorious autumn day. Soon after the sun set the trick or treaters started arriving. There were not a lot of them. I live in an older neighborhood with mostly older people so there are not a lot of young children living around me. More and more will eventually move into the neighborhood and there will be yet another renewal and rebirth. One young child, dressed as a Ladybug, did show up at my house and she was still here this morning. It was my dearly loved granddaughter, Chloe, who brings much joy to my life. I discovered during her visit that she had recently seen the classic "Wizard of Oz" movie and she loved it. After we went to bed, during our usual bedtime conversation, I had her cracking up with my imitations of the various characters. Chloe especially liked my imitations of the Scarecrow and the Tin Man. After she left today I went to the bookstore and bought a DVD of the movie so we can watch it together during her next visit. While at the book store I was seduced by the CD cover and concept behind the new CD by Sting. It's called "If On A Winter's Night..." It's not exactly a Christmas CD. According to the liner notes, it's "Inspired by Sting's favorite season. It's a collection of lullabies, carols, and other songs that celebrate the many facets of winter". It's very good and relaxing. It plays in the background as I write these notes. After my wife and I took Chloe home, and shopped at the bookstore, we had a quiet and relaxing afternoon. After dinner at a local deli, we are back home to enjoy the rest of our day before beginning a new work week. Tomorrow will be a busy day for me. I am going to the University of Louisville for a luncheon and a talk. After I finish my workday I am attending a memorial mass for my Dad tomorrow night. In a few months he will already be gone a year. A year ago this week I began a difficult November with a trip to the hospital due to a staph infection that coincided with the hospitalization and subsequent death of my wife's mother. Those were difficult and sad days but now times are much happier and life is very good.