Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I'm Still Here

Recently a friend wrote the following on my Facebook wall, "So did you just move out of our lives or what"? I could see why he and others might think that. I have not dropped off the face of the earth. In a sense, however, I have retreated. I currently have no obligations or commitments beyond work and family. It has never been a secret that I am a solitary person. This very night I have enjoyed being alone in my room most of the evening. I have only ventured out to talk to the workmen in my backyard who are building me a wonderful privacy fence that looks and feels like a monastic enclosure. I also made a quick run to the grocery to pick up some items for an office meeting and employee ice cream buffet. In addition to my wonderful new fence, my thoughtful wife bought me a beautiful, solar powered Buddha fountain for my new enclosure. Maybe on my next visit to the monastery I can talk one of the monks into giving me one of their signs that says "Silence is spoken here". The backyard is still a little messy with construction debris but it will soon be a wonderful place to sit, be still, and bath in silence.

While I was at the grocery I ran into a person from work that I have not seen in quite a while. Whenever I meet someone like this they always say, "I still miss your daily thoughts". They are referring to a time when I sent out daily thoughts via email to approximately 600 people. In those days I pushed myself to write something five days a week. Now I feel like I can barely come up with anything worth sharing once a week. Nothing much has changed from the days of daily emails and now. Even then I was working full time and feeling just as tired at night as I do most nights now. I'm sure I still have things to say that others will find worth reading but these things surface less frequently now. I've said so much over the years. Since my daily emails morphed into this blog I have made over 800 entries here. These days I think I am more in a listening mode than a talking or writing mode. I am deep into middle age. It is a time of many blessings but it is also a time of feeling a little lost. I am near the end of some journeys and perhaps near the beginning of journeys that have not been revealed to me yet. So, I am still here though perhaps a little quieter.

For those of you who have been wondering where I am, I have a question for you.

Where are all of you?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Awesome Things Volume XVIII

Three day weekends. Almost every weekend I find myself thinking, "If I just had one more day". All weekends are wonderful and I know everyone looks forward to them. However, I think we will all agree that an extra day makes a huge difference. That extra day makes you feel like you really had some time off. Most weekends I am running and doing and feeling busy. They rarely feel like a time of rest. Having the extra day seems to slow the weekend down and when it's over you feel at least somewhat refreshed.

Having a home. Everyone knows my home is trashed right now and life is a little chaotic for me. Still....I have a home. I saw two homeless men on the way to work this morning. One was sleeping on the sidewalk outside the White Castle. Seeing these men reminded me to be grateful for all the good things I have and the bad things I don't have. Most days I live with an attitude of gratefulness but sometimes I need a reminder of how blessed I am. Like all human beings I sometimes whine. I am almost always embarrassed later when I realize I've been whining. What do I have to whine about? I live better than most of the people on earth. So do you. Let's all be grateful today for all that we have and all that we are spared.

The Simple Life. Even though I have had some success in life and I have acquired some material things, I have found that it is the simple life that make me happiest. My goal at this stage of my journey is to make my life as simple and uncomplicated as possible. This is easier said than done. Modern life is complex and stressful. It is a real challenge to live a simple life. I am not talking about being poor and living in poverty. I am talking about taking and gathering less and letting more go. This refers to obligations as well as having more stuff. Of course I am speaking as a middle aged man. In youth we must build up and gather. In my stage of life you start breaking it down and letting it go. I like stuff as much as anyone but an hour with my granddaughter makes me happier than anything.

Sunshine! Need I say more?

Finding your gift. I read this morning that everyone has a gift. It may not necessarily be artistic but you have something to give. If you don't know what that is yet, here are some clues. How did you come out in the StrengthFinders test? What were your top five strengths? Is there something you enjoy doing so much that when you are doing it you loose track of time? What task gives you great satisfaction? You may be an artist, or a great cook, or a comforting friend to others. Everyone brings something to the party.

Going to the movie with my granddaughter. Over the weekend I took my granddaughter to a movie. I thought we would go see the new Shrek movie but she really wanted to see "How to Train your Dragon". Once there we had to buy popcorn, Sweet Tarts, and Skittles. She sat in her own seat for about five minutes before she looked at me and said, "I want to sit in your lap, Pa Paw". Since movie theaters are often cold, I always take a flannel shirt or sweater along. Before the movie even started, Chloe told me she was cold so we will both ended up using my shirt like a blanket with her arm in one sleeve and my arm in the other. Such moments are what life is all about.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Slave To The Clock

Even though I had some family obligations over the weekend, I also had a fair amount of leisure. Today during my morning walk I found myself thinking about how much my life is a slave to "the clock". A clock tells me when I must wake up. A clock tells me when I must begin work and when I can stop working. A clock tells me how long I can take a walk when I am at work. Often, especially in the afternoons while I am still in the office, I find myself constantly looking at the clock. Even when I leave my office to go pick up my wife, a clock tells me how long I have to wait until my wife's clock tells her she can stop working. A clock tells me when to go to bed. If I disobey this nighttime clock, my morning clock will be very angry. Clocks run my life and, quite frankly, I hate it. One of the reasons I love weekends is that generally I live without being a slave to the clock. I even avoid wearing my wrist watch on weekends. I wake up when I am rested, I go to bed when I am tired, and I eat when I am hungry. I think many people look forward to retirement, not to avoid work, but to throw away the clock. Few people are masters of their own time. This is why they crawl into work on Monday mornings and why they fly out the door on Friday afternoons. I don't mind doing work, especially when the work is fulfilling, has a practical purpose, and you feel a sense of accomplishment when it is completed. For most people, however, work is like a prison sentence where you are "doing time" and your primary goal is to get to the end of it so you can be released from what too often feels like bondage. Many people feel like this even though their work and jobs may not be all that unpleasant. When I was young and feeling like this my father in law once said to me, "Wait until you've been doing it for 40 years"! Well, I have now been doing it for 43 years! According to the "clock of life" and my social security benefits, I must work another 7 years before I have earned my rest. I'm not sure I will last that long and my goal is to get rid of all my clocks before that time. They will be replaced with one Zen clock that has no hands or numbers. My Zen clock will simply say "Now". What time is it? It is now. It won't matter where the sun is or what season of the year it is. Once the clocks are gone I hope to discover the real work that I am called to do. This is the work where money does not matter and you never look at the clock.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bird On The Wing

It's a cool and quiet Sunday afternoon. Outside a steady rain is falling. Earlier the rain was so heavy the workers constructing my privacy fence had to stop for the day. I look forward to the fence's completion as it will resemble a monastic enclosure. I'm sure that when it is completed I will feel like a Carmelite nun separated from the outside world. Unlike a Carmelite nun, when it is completed I will probably sit in my swing and listen to my Ipod playing "The Wall" by Pink Floyd.

At the moment, though, I sit here at my desk surrounded by the sounds of my washing machine and the music of Steely Dan. Pretzel Logic? I'm not sure which CD is playing. To me it is all just Steely Dan music. When I woke up this morning I discovered a bird flying around in my house. I must assume the bird was in my house all night. One of the workers must have left a door open. If at any point in the night he had landed on my wife's face, the police and the local coroner would still be here documenting my wife's death. When I discovered the bird he was flying around in the room where I am in now in a state of absolute terror. The St. Francis within me kicked in and I was able to catch the bird without harming him. I took him outside and let him fly away. I'm sure I made the bird's day.

Earlier this morning I attended a brunch at my sister's to celebrate another nieces college graduation. I was standing in the kitchen getting a cup of coffee when a woman I didn't know told me she loved my glasses and that I had a very distinguished and intellectual "look". We introduced ourselves and she asked "Didn't you go to the seminary"? I replied that I did but now it was my son who was the seminarian. She then asked my views on the current state of the Catholic Church. When I began to pontificate my liberal views and opinions I quickly realized I was having a conversation with an arch conservative who thought nothing good has happened since the Council of Trent in the 16th Century. I quickly realized that she wasn't very open to my thoughts on women and gays so I quickly moved over to the bowl of mini muffins and country ham biscuits. I also whispered a thank you to my sister for introducing an ultra liberal...me...to her arch conservative neighbor.

My three day weekend is almost over. It went by quickly but the extra day was so nice. I really need to start working a four day work week and have three day weekends every weekend.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Awesome Things Volume XVII

College graduations. Five of my nieces and nephews graduated from college this past weekend and a couple of them, including my son, completed their first year of graduate school. I think all of them are either continuing their educations or will be starting internships. Education is its own reward even if it doesn't make you the big bucks. Education, if you do it right, opens your mind and brings you, not only knowledge, but enlightenment. As you grow older, and you continue your education through living, you also acquire wisdom. The combination of education, knowledge, and wisdom, is very powerful. You are never too old to learn. I am 59 years old and I am still learning. Hopefully I am also a little wiser than I was in my youth.

Kitchens and other things we take for granted. At this moment in time I have no kitchen. Every appliance is gone and every cabinet has been ripped out. It is just a shell of a room. I cannot cook or wash the dishes. Everything else that would be part of the kitchen is now in the dining room. Did I mention that my first floor bathroom is also missing? The new sink and toilet are in the living room along with all the coats, hats, scarfs, and gloves from the closet in the hallway. The ceiling in the closet had to be repaired from a leak caused by the bathroom directly above it. The laundry room is also a disaster area. To say that my home life is chaos would be an understatement. One sign of progress is the beginning of a new privacy fence in my backyard. When it is completed I think I will add a small Zen garden with a Buddha statute and some gnomes for the amusement of my granddaughter. Trying to get some insight into this whole home remodeling thing, I found an obscure scripture passage that you may not have seen before.

"God made man and rested. God made woman and no one has rested since".

Most people sooner or later realize that it's the small things in life that make us happy or give us joy. For me this morning it was a sausage and egg biscuit from McDonald's. The lack of a kitchen has greatly affected my ability to eat at home so I stopped at McDonald's this morning and purchased a biscuit and coffee. As my father used to say, "It really hit the spot".

Waking up on a Thursday and realizing that it's your Friday. I had this experience this morning. Today is my Friday and I am thrilled. Other than weekends I haven't had a day off in a while. I usually need a reason and tomorrow's no different. I'm having some appliances delivered. The best day's off are the days when you don't really have a reason. You are taking the day off because you can. It is a day where you will sleep late and then leisurely drink coffee and read the morning newspaper. About 10:00 AM you take your first nap. When you wake up you stare out the window for a while before you finally take a shower. After that you might go to a bookstore, antiques store, or whatever else suits you. When you get home you take another nap before going out to dinner. When you get home from dinner, you change your clothes, sit in your chair, stair out the window some more, and then take your final nap of the day.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Practicing Patience

I woke up on Saturday morning to a very cool day. When I went to bed on Friday night the air conditioning was on. When I got out of bed on Saturday morning I had to turn the heat on. This is spring in Kentucky. My home life is chaos. I have no kitchen or running water on the first floor of my house. In the kitchen every cabinet and appliance is gone. It is just the shell of a room. I cannot wash my dishes or clean my clothes. It gives me a whole new appreciate for refrigerators, dishwashers, sinks, running water, and cooking ranges. Life has gotten a whole lot simpler. One nice thing is a six foot high privacy fences that is being built around my back yard. When it is finished it will be like a monastic enclosure. At some point I will add a small Zen garden with a stature of Buddha. I will also add a few gnomes for the amusement of my granddaughter.

Five of my nieces and nephews graduated from college this past weekend and a couple of them, including my son, completed their first year of graduate school. I think all of them are either continuing their educations or will be starting internships soon. Education is its own reward even if it doesn't make you the big bucks. Education, if you do it right, opens your mind and brings you, not only knowledge, but enlightenment. As you grow older, and you continue your education through living, you also acquire wisdom. The combination of education, knowledge, and wisdom, is very powerful. You are never too old to learn. I am 59 years old and I am still learning. Hopefully I am also a little wiser than I was in my youth.

Life is good, if chaotic and a little stressful. I am really hoping the improvements on the home front will be completed within the next month before I take a week away from work for some vacation time. Until then I will continue trying to develop the art of patience.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Awesome Things Volume XVI

The week didn't start off awesome. This past Monday I had a hot flash on the way to work that made me feel like I was going to pass out. Then I absent-mindedly got off on the wrong exit forcing me to alter my route. When I got to the parking garage someone was using a jackhammer on concrete and you know how wonderful that sounds early in the morning. However, as soon as I got out of the garage the sun was shining bright, the air smelled clean and fresh, and there was a cool breeze. All of that was awesome.

A new day. Yes, a new day is a big deal. Many people who were alive yesterday are not getting a new day today. As cliqued as it sounds, each day really is a gift and a new beginning. Most problems don't seem as bad in the morning as they do at night. A new day is full of possibilities. Today, for example, there is a possibility that the contractors I have working on my house will actually show up. There was a time in my life I could not hire people to do my work because I had no money. Now I have a little money and no one wants to work. But it's a new day and I am hopeful that I will see some work accomplished when I get home tonight. If I don't the workers will feel the wrath of my wife. Trust me. That's a scary thing.

Positive People. I once wrote an article about how energy is exchanged whenever we encounter and interact with another person. Sometimes you can almost feel it. After every human encounter we either walk away feeling good or feeling bad. Have you ever been feeling down and then one of your co-workers makes you laugh or gives you a few encouraging words and you walk away feeling better? On the other hand, have you ever interacted with another person who sucks the life right out of you with their negativity or "woe is me" mentality? When I have encounters like that it feels like the life force is ebbing out of me. I imagine this is how Superman feels whenever kyptonite is in the room. Positive people put out positive vibes and make those around them feel better. It can be a simple act. A kind word or a smile can totally change the direction of another person's day for the better. However, whenever I see a negative person who is always complaining I want to run in the opposite direction or hide under my desk. What type of person are you?

The end of the workday. You can love your job and generally enjoy your day and still be thrilled when the workday is over. I admit that I need structure in my life and working is better for me than I care to admit. Most days it is a reasonably enjoyable experience. It's not enjoyable like sitting on a beach with a pina colada or being in a Corona beer commercial, but rarely unpleasant. Whether it's a good or bad day, I always feel a sense of relief when I am finally back in my car and putting the key into the ignition. Some days I think, "Thank God I am out of there"! Many other days, however, I feel like I did some good and I earned the rest and relaxation that awaits me at home. I know some of you still have young children at home and may not have this luxury. I'm a person who believes in the importance of balance. You wouldn't appreciate daylight as much unless you also experienced darkness. Without work, or some other kind of activity, leisure can get boring. Many times when I sit next to elderly, retired men on a bench at the Mall, they tell me how much they miss work. Whether you are working or retired, you need a sense of purpose and a reason to get out of bed each morning. Most days I don't mind coming to work but I never mind leaving either. 8-)

Dancing with my granddaughter. It should be no big surprise to anyone that I am not a very good dancer. My granddaughter, however, loves to dance so sometimes we dance together. She loves Chuck Berry. If you don't know who Chuck Berry is, ask your parents. He's the Father of Rock and Roll. Chloe will sometimes ask me to "put on some rock and roll, Pa Paw". As soon as I do she will start dancing around and "get her groove on". It cracks me up.

My granddaughter, Chloe, is in Kindergarten this year. As any of you with children this age know, you don't necessarily get to go to school in your own neighborhood. This year Chloe was fortunate enough to go to a school near where she lives. Of course, this whole school year her parents have been sweating whether or not she will get to stay there for the rest of her elementary level schooling. The good news is that her parents got a letter yesterday telling them that she does. I hope if any of you are in the same situation you also got a letter with the results you wanted. I can't believe that Chloe is almost six years old. I cannot remember life before she existed.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Life Goes On

The poet Robert Frost sums up life in three words. It goes on. These three simple words also sum up very well my particular part of the great adventure and mystery called life. I am trying to minimize my life and pare it down to that which is essential. What is essential may be no more complicated than working, resting, and playing, with a little intellectual activity thrown in to keep what's left of my brain from completely shutting down. At this time I have little desire for anything but the essential. I love the simple and uncomplicated life. I do not need challenges or excitement to be fulfilled. When the time comes for retirement from necessary work, the transition to an old man who putters around the house and wanders from room to room will be an easy one for me.

In the eternity that is now I still feel like a busy man and life remains chaotic. The home front is still in the midst of remodeling and updating. I expect my kitchen and laundry room to be gutted and emptied this week as new cabinets are installed or built and new appliances replace the old ones. I like order in the universe but in my home a "Big Bang" is creating a whole new universe. It is nerve racking at times living with the chaos and the unpredictability of contractors but it will be worth it in the end. If you take the construction out of my life, all is relatively calm. Hopefully all the work will be completed by the end of the month and my life will go on in a more peaceful and less stressful environment.