Friday, December 28, 2012

The End Of Another Year

I must admit that I am a little envious of my youngest son. Tomorrow I am driving him to the airport for a flight to Europe and a trip that will last nearly three weeks. His first stop is a week in London England, followed by ten days in Rome, Italy. While in Rome he will be visiting the Vatican and seeing the Pope. As most of you know, my son is a Deacon and will be ordained a priest in May. Going to Rome is basically a trip to “Corporate”. While he is there my wife and I will continue the tradition of spending New Year’s Eve at home with our granddaughter. She has spent every New Year’s Eve at our house as long as she’s been alive. We will start the day with a trip to the movies to see “The Hobbit”. I feel certain she will wear the Gollum tee shirt that she got for Christmas. If you don’t know who Gollum is, it is too late to catch you up. The night of New Year’s Eve we will party by making pigs in a blanket and other high fat, high carb delights that have absolutely no nutritional value. We will try to stay awake long enough to watch the ball drop in Times Square but many years we don’t make it because we are all falling asleep. Eating bad food and staying up till midnight is about as wild as my life gets these days. Still, I would rather be with my granddaughter than with the thousands of people in Times Square or downtown Louisville. 2012 has been a good year and I look forward to 2013 as I begin my 62nd year of living. As soon as the holidays are behind us my wife will be on a “mission from God” to prepare for my son’s ordination. She will be a woman possessed. Pray for me.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Christmas Anti-Climax

I am back in the office after a few days of vacation.  Once again my family and I were blessed this Christmas. Although we had to make some adjustments this year in terms of scheduling, it all worked out fine. Today I am trying to maintain my Christmas joy but I always experience a bit of a Christmas anti-climax once Christmas Day has passed. I was talking to my friend Fr. Dennis yesterday and we discussed how Christmas Day is the beginning of the Christmas season in the liturgical life of the Church but it is often the last day of the season for many people in the secular world. Yes, I know we still have New Year’s Day to go but I don’t personally associate that day with Christmas. I did very well this Christmas which means that Santa must have turned a blind eye towards some of my behavior in 2012. I already have one big goal in 2013 and that is to get my first book published. That process has begun already but hopefully will pick up speed once the holidays are behind us. For now, though, I sit here feeling much gratitude for all the gifts I have received in 2012 whether they were material gifts, gifts of the heart, or just good things that came my way as I lived each day. As we get ready to embark on a new year, I hope all of your lives are blessed and filled with good things.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Magic And Believing

Last night I dreamed I had a one on one with the Dalai Lama. I was expecting to receive a word of wisdom from him. Instead I found myself giving him a foot massage. When I told my wife about my dream this morning, she replied, “At least he didn’t say BESURETODRINKYOUROVALTINE”!

I told this story a long time ago but many of you probably didn’t hear it and it bears repeating. When my granddaughter was three or four years old she picked up one of the Magi from my Christmas crib. She looked at me and said, “Paw Paw, is this the Burger King”? I think most of you probably remember the old Burger King commercials. They have since been discontinued because the Burger King was a little creepy. With a child in my family, Christmas still has magic. It’s always a little sad when children stop believing in magic. This reminds me of a great line from a mini-series that I watched many years ago about the days of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. At the end of the show the magician Merlin sadly says “There’s no more magic because the people no longer believe”. When the magic and the pixie dust disappear from our lives, the world gets a little darker. I can only take so much reality and I get tired of being an adult. I think that’s why I appreciate my granddaughter so much. Even if she can’t slow down or reverse the aging of my body, she keeps my spirit and heart young. I think that’s why children and grandparents get along so well. Chloe is a child growing into an adult. Grandparents are older people turning back into children. When grandchildren and grandparents are the same emotional age, all is bliss. I hope there is still magic and a little pixie dust in your lives. If not, go to the magic store and buy some. This time of year they're always on sale.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Christmas

As Christmas Day approaches my inner child gets more excited. Although I am confident I will receive some nice and thoughtful gifts, I find more joy in the happiness of others. My wife and I are generous with our children and granddaughter. I have the empty wallet to prove it. Although many people think I look like Santa Claus, my wife is the real Santa Claus in our family. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day used to be a lot busier for me. There were parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles to visit. Now my wife and I are the older generation. My mother is still alive so we go to her house on Christmas Eve, followed by a visit to a sister in law’s for my wife’s side of the family. Christmas Day, however, I get to stay home and my brood comes to my house. In years past I was very busy and a little stressed because I basically prepared the equivalent of the Frisch’s Breakfast Bar for my family. Since my youngest son is now a Deacon and must be present at Christmas masses in the parish where he is assigned, my family Christmas celebration and exchange of gifts will not happen until Christmas afternoon this year. This allows Santa and Mrs. Claus to sleep in a little and not be so rushed. Since we are having a Christmas dinner instead of breakfast, Mark’s Feed Store will be catering the meal and I will have no kitchen responsibilities. I am very happy about that. The best part of Christmas, however, is my granddaughter. She still believes in Santa and she will be wild with excitement. To be honest, she is not 100% sure I am not really Santa. A few years ago I went to her daycare center about this time of year dressed in a red hat and coat. I created a small riot among the children. Some thought it was very cool that Chloe’s Paw Paw was Santa Claus. Since I won’t see Chloe again until Christmas Day I have finally gotten a break from the Elf on a Shelf. I’ve exhausted myself moving that little guy around the house!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Can Dance!

I might be getting old but I can still dance and I've got the moves!  Check me out!

Family Stability

One of my children recently gave my wife and me a compliment. That in and of itself is an historical event. A few days ago my oldest son said “Mom, you and Dad are the only people I know who have stayed married and you’ve always been there for me no matter what”. This realization came to him because of family complications that often become evident around Christmas time and other holidays. In my own family we are having to make adjustments this year because of new people and new situations. There is no doubt that the definition of family has evolved over the years. However, I don’t think the evolution of what family means is the problem. I think the problem is the instability that many children and even some adults feel as relationships change, people come and go in our lives, and emotional adjustments must be made. I have not found marriage and family life to be a walk in the park by any means. I’m sure my wife would say the same. It’s been a lot of work. However, for the sake of my children and my granddaughter, I am happy that my wife and I have stuck together. We all need a safe harbor in our lives and I am glad my wife and I can be that for our sons and granddaughter. My parents and my wife’s parents were both married over 50 years. I appreciate the effort they made to do that and I hope my children appreciate the effort my wife and I have made. A sense of stability is part of feeling secure. I understand that some relationships need to end and I am not being judgmental or critical of others. I also understand that some relationships end that cause heartbreak. However, when you grow up and become an adult, relationships are not like going steady in high school. At some point one must choose wisely, make a commitment, be faithful, do the work, and hope for some good luck.

The Unfiltered Life

It is said that every time two people meet there are six people in the room.  For each person there is the person they think they are, the person the other person thinks they are, and the person they really are.  I was thinking about this after reading some thoughts on how to see life and reality unfiltered.  Let’s be honest.  Few of us see life as it really is.  Most of us see life and reality through a variety of filters.  These filters, much like the many layers of our personalities, have been formed throughout our lives by all the experiences we’ve had, the way we were raised, and, in many cases, by our education or lack of it.  It’s probably safe to say that few of us truly see things the same way.  In the work environment, for example, there are people who are very happy and content.  There are some people, however, who think they are in a concentration camp.  Some people are happy with everything while others are happy with nothing.  Our happiness is generally in direct proportion to our gratitude.  Some people are grateful just to wake up in the morning and realize they have been given another day of life.  Others people are never grateful for anything.  Why are some people happy and grateful while others are unhappy and feeling like nothing good ever happens to them?  Certainly attitude is a big factor.  Another factor, however, is how unfiltered your life is and how much you are able to see life realistically.     

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Tension Of Opposing Emotions

I spent the weekend feeling the tension of opposing emotions. Like most people I went home on Friday night feeling very sad about the senseless killings in Connecticut. I watched the news all nights and just horrible for all the children, their parents, and all the first responders who had to deal with the situation. The rest of the weekend was spent with my granddaughter and I was just so happy that she was alive and well and happy. I got up on Saturday morning and drove to her school and church where she celebrated her First Reconciliation. This is what Catholics call going to Confession. The next step for her is her First Communion. Saturday night we went to Brown Park by Baptist East hospital and watched through the Christmas lights that assembled. Afterwards we went to my parish church to see the living Nativity scene. I recommend the park and the Nativity scene especially if you have small children. Yesterday we went to the movies and saw “The Rise of the Guardians”. I recommend this children’s movie too. I love my granddaughter so much and I cannot imagine my life without her. The tragedy in Connecticut reminded me how fragile life can be and how quickly it can be taken away. It also reminded me of the importance of love and family and the great joy of having a peaceful life where such horrors as occurred in Connecticut do not visit us. If you have young children or grandchildren, hug them tight this Christmas and every day.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Three Gates

The Three Gates

The old Sufi taught that right speech had to pass through three gates. The first gate asked, “Is it true”?  The second gate asked, “Is it necessary”? The third gate asked, “Is it kind”? The old sheik taught him that it would be better to be silent than to utter words that had not passed through the three gates.

For those that do not know, Sufism is the mystical side of Islam. This teaching is very similar to the kind of teachings also uttered by the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early Christian era. I tend to think that many basic teachings such as this one can be found in all the major religions. This is a great teaching regardless of what religion or philosophy you follow. Who among us couldn’t do a better job of guarding one’s speech. I try to avoid complaining, gossip, and any kind of hurtful speech. I am human, however, so there are times I do all of these things. I strive to minimize complaining by focusing on gratitude. Workplace gossip is an easy trap to fall into. I think the best way to minimize workplace gossip is for leadership to be as transparent as possible and for everyone to always tell the truth. I am doing better with minimizing hurtful speech because age and the awareness of my own weaknesses has taught me to be more patient and tolerant of others. Even though I don’t always remain silent, I also believe it is better to be silent than to speak a lot. I can't remember who said it but I did read once that “one should not speak unless your words improve the silence”.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Death Of Ravi Shankar

I found out yesterday that the great Indian musician, Ravi Shankar, had passed away. He was in his early 90’s and considered by most as the world’s greatest master of the sitar. He was certainly the best known sitar player in the world. Ravi Shankar combined two of my greatest loves. He merged music with spirituality. He performed at the first great rock festival called the Monterey Pop Festival where he totally wowed all the blissed out hippies. He also played at the original Woodstock. In the late sixties he became friends with the Beatles and soon became a spiritual and musical guru to George Harrison. By the time of his death in 2001, Harrison had become a Hindu like Shankar. You can hear Ravi Shankar’s musical influence on the Beatle albums called “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver”. It was at the request of Ravi Shankar that George Harrison organized the first rock and roll benefit concert in 1971 called “The Concert for Bangladesh”. Every time a musician dies, I am sad. Too many have passed away in my lifetime. Fortunately I saw most of them before they left the planet. Unfortunately, I never saw Ravi Shankar. Music is one of life’s greatest gifts and musicians are my favorite artists. Imagine your life without music. Music has been a great friend and a great comfort to me in my life. When I am happy, it makes me happier. When I am sad, it consoles me. Thank you, Ravi, for enriching my life.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Quiet Mornings, Peaceful Evenings

As Christmas approaches and the mornings are dark and cold, I start my work days at home, sitting in silence, coffee mug in hand, looking at the twinkling lights on my Christmas tree, and focusing on my breathing. Whether it’s a work day or a holiday, I love the early morning. I schedule my time, especially on work days, so that I have approximately twenty minutes each morning that can be devoted to meditation. It gets my day off to a positive start and it helps me stay centered throughout my day. I am not one to get up at the last possible minute so that I have to rush getting ready, then drive like a maniac in order to get to work on time. Over my working career I’ve witnessed many people virtually running into the office, stressed out and frazzled, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t get out of bed a little earlier. I like to see the day coming and not be thrown into a day that started without me. I not only love mornings, I love evenings as well. I love the quietness of early morning and I like the feeling of crossing the threshold of my home after a good day at work. Occasionally I struggle with the whole middle part of the day but I always try to enjoy every minute of my life. There is no doubt that when one gets to the age I am you start to have a whole new appreciation for time. I am not in a panic about time but I am realistic enough to understand that I have more time behind me than I do in front of me. I urge you to make the effort to add quality to your time. Savor the moments and avoid the mad rush of always being late for something. Spend some time being with yourself and doing nothing. When you get ready in the mornings, don’t gulp your coffee. Feel the warmth of the mug in your hands. Notice the aroma. Enjoy the taste. Life is made up of moments. If you don’t pay attention, you will miss them and when you get to the end of your life, you’ll realize you missed your life too.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Visit With The Nuns

Yesterday was my mother’s 83rd birthday. She is pictured above.  Like a good son I called her and wished her well. She is the last of the parent’s for my wife and me. My mother is the only person in my family who is older than me. It was also the anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton. Merton was a monk and writer who lived in the same monastery as I did although we did not live there at the same time. I would list him as one of the primary influences in my life. Much of what I know about the contemplative life I learned from Merton’s writings.

Last Friday I took a day off from work and spent the day with my good friend, Fr. Dennis. Although he is retired, he still does priestly duties for parishes and religious communities when needed. One of his occasional activities is to say mass for the Sisters of Charity at Nazareth in Bardstown. Last week he was saying mass for them all week so I went with him on Friday. The Sisters of Charity recently celebrated their 200th anniversary as a religious community. They are a very impressive group of woman who are out there in the world doing real ministry with real people. In my opinion, religious women are usually more on the cutting edge of ministry than men. After mass Dennis and I had lunch with the nuns. They fed us well and the nun I sat with challenged me with some engaging conversation about the priesthood, the church, and politics. When I told her I worked for a healthcare company she immediately questioned me about healthcare reform. We also discussed modern day theologians. She was certainly one of the community’s intellectuals. I love to be around smart people. I also met another nun who told me about her attempt to make bourbon balls. She wasn’t happy with the finished product because she thought they weren’t strong enough. Her solution was to inject each one of them with additional bourbon using a hypodermic needle. Nuns can be very resourceful!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Introvert In An Extroverted World

I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that all things pass. The bad news is that all things pass. This morning I mourn the loss of my privacy. We’ve had another mass move within the office and I have been moved from a very private corner cubicle to one that has absolutely zero privacy. This may not seem like a big deal to most people, and it really isn’t a big deal in the great scheme of life, but I am an off the chart introvert. I crave privacy and solitude. It’s not that I have anything to hide. I am a person who generally keeps his nose to the grindstone throughout the workday. I just find the lack of privacy difficult to deal with and I strongly dislike being in the middle of a lot of activity and distractions. Being an introvert doesn’t make me special. There are lots of us in the office. We are the ones sitting at our desks while all the extroverts are out of their chairs seeking human interaction. This isn’t the first time I have needed to adapt to a move not of my choice. When I do have some control over such things I always choose a cubicle off the beaten path. When I do not have control, and that is most of the time, I hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I will adapt to this new change even if all I can do is turn up the volume on my iPod.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Organized Chaos

This morning I was reading an article about geese flying south for the winter. When geese fly in a group they fly in what appears to be a V formation. I hope at some point in your life you have looked up at the sky and have witnessed this. The article said the flying formation is a more complicated than a simple V formation. Within the V formation, and around it, some geese are in different positions that could be considered organized chaos. All the geese, however, seem to know exactly what they are doing and the seeming chaos is not random. Scientists believe there is a high level of communication going on between the geese and there is an overall harmony and order that is happening. If you’ve ever seen this formation of geese flying overhead on an late fall or early winter morning, it is a thing of beauty. When there is order in the universe, and everything is working in harmony, there is always beauty. This is why so many people find solace in nature. This is why people flock to national parks and retreat houses in rural areas. People love beauty, harmony, and the order that creates them. It is soothing for the soul and it helps us to be centered and grounded. When life is wild and crazy and dis-ordered, it frays our nerves and destroys our harmony and inner peace. Let’s all trying to fly in formation today even if a few of us may appear to be in organized chaos.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


I strongly dislike conflict. I know it is part of life and sometimes serves a purpose but I still dislike it. I find it exhausting and it rarely brings out the best in me or others. I prefer cooperation, compromise, and peacemaking. Compromise is the end result of skillful negotiation. It represents a win-win for everyone involved. As President Obama once said to the Republican leaders of the Congress, “Compromise isn’t you getting everything you want and me getting nothing I want”. Compromise is a meeting in the middle. In today’s world the art of negotiation and compromise seems to be a lost art, especially in the world of politics. Conflict sucks the life right out of me. On the other hand, cooperation energizes me and motivates be to work harder. It improves my attitude and increases my desire to be a team player. When conflict is the result of one idea versus another, we should seek ways to combine the best of both ideas. Conflict often happens when people think dualistically. Conflict occurs when people think a solution must be either one way or another. Cooperation happens when people think in terms of both/and rather than either/or. I am not na├»ve to the fact that conflict is difficult to avoid and that compromise is not always easy. However, I would prefer to use my energy compromises than fighting. Blessed are the peacemakers and those who strive to bring people together. We are always better as individuals and as groups when we work together and support one another.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Life Is A Teacher

Regardless of what spiritual beliefs or philosophy guides your life we all have the same teacher and the teacher is life. No matter what we believe each of us has to deal with the life we have and the demands and challenges of our life. Life is the teacher and life is the test. When I was in the monastery there was a discipline of prayer. It was no easier for a monk to get out of bed for prayer than it is for an office worker to get out of bed for a day at the office. In the monastery we had night prayer called Vigils at 3:15 AM. In my young life as a parent I had night vigils for feedings and diaper changes. When I was a young man I complained about having to work. My father in law said, “Wait until you’ve been doing it for forty years”! Well, I have been doing it for forty years and I now understand what he was saying. Work has been a discipline and a teacher for me too. In addition, thirty eight years of marriage, thirty four years of parenthood, and eight years of grandparenthood have also been my teachers. As I once said, “Education gives you knowledge but life gives you wisdom”. Life is a great teacher and the experiences of life can fill us with wisdom. Our individual lives also challenge us in many ways to be faithful to our beliefs and personal philosophies. If you believe in love, kindness, and compassion, life will test you in many ways to determine how much you believe in them. Your life is not designed to annoy you. It is designed to shape you, mold you, teach you, make you stronger, and to fill you with wisdom as you grow older.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Purpose And Belonging

I had two experiences over the weekend that were related to well-being. The first experience was going to the movies with my wife and Chloe to see ‘Wreck-It, Ralph”. This was a cartoon about video game characters. Ralph was a character who was tired of his role as a bad guy and wanted to start being a good guy. The entire movie was layered with meaning but the basic message that I carried away is that we all have a purpose. We may not always understand it and may not even see it. Many of us search for meaning and purpose outside our roles or circumstances only to discover later we had it all along. This is was Ralph discovered on his personal journey.

My second experience related to well-being was a family reunion on Saturday night where I met a long lost cousin. She was born out of wedlock to one of my now deceased aunts at a time when such things were quite scandalous. She was put up for adoption and no one in my family knew of her existence. She was an only child to adoptive parents and they died many years ago. Like many such people she longed to know her roots so she began to search for them. She eventually found my family and has now been fully embraced. She is joyful to have gone from an only child who was orphaned to being a member of a large extended family. She has fit right in which says a lot about the power of DNA.

From “Wreck It, Ralph” I was reminded about the importance of a sense of purpose, and from my new cousin I was reminded about the importance of belonging. It was a very insightful weekend.