Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Living With Grief

Yesterday was the one month anniversary of the death of my best friend.  I miss him very much.  I still expect to see his name on my caller ID but the phone is not ringing.  In a world that has given us Facebook, where people have hundreds and thousands of “friends”, the reality is that if you have a handful of real friends, you are a very fortunate person.  I know lots of people and lots of people know me.  However, there are only a few people who are truly part of my inner circle.  My friend, Dennis, was one of these people.  Some people think of me as their guru and advisor.  Some people hang on every word I write.  I generally try to write in a positive way that encourages other people.  The reality is that some of my writing comes from my own pain.  Occasionally I need a guru and advisor.  Dennis was this person for me and now that space is empty.  I was thinking about Dennis last night as I tried to fall asleep.  It occurred to me that part of my difficulty dealing with his death is perhaps a lack of traditional closure.  One day Dennis was alive and well.  The next thing I know I am at his funeral.  There was no funeral home visitation and I never saw his body again because he was cremated.  The whole funeral home process now makes a little more sense to me as a ritual that has meaning and is part of the grieving process.  I am a long way from being over this event in my life.  I still can’t think about it too much without upsetting myself.  It gives me much to ponder.  It makes me more grateful for the deeper friendships I have.  It reminds me to never take anyone or anything for granted.  It’s a painful lesson but, perhaps, a necessary one

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Open Your Eyes!

When I left home this morning there was a magnificent sunrise.  It was truly breathtaking.  It has been a while since I noticed such beauty.  Even though I regularly encourage others to practice mindfulness and to be in the moment, I don’t always do it myself.  Sometimes I get so caught up in the routines and demands of life that I forget to pay attention and notice things.  Today’s sunrise reminded me that despite whatever struggles one might be experiencing, life goes on and there is beauty all around us.  It was a wakeup call for me to not let the demands of the moments overshadow the wonder of the eternal now.  The world is full of beautiful art, most of which I cannot afford.  Today’s sunrise was a work of art that was totally free and given to everyone to enjoy.  I wonder how many of you did?  It is so easy to go through life asleep or with your eyes closed.  We all need to wake up and pay attention.  Life is continually giving us gifts but too often we don’t notice them.  Today I encourage you to wake up and be alive.  Open your eyes!  Notice the goodness and beauty around you.  Whenever possible, stop what you are doing and drink it all in.  Don’t be overwhelmed with the demands of your life or its busyness.  Once in a while just stop, breathe, and enjoy it.  Today’s sunrise was a gift I would not have received if I hadn’t left my home at the time I did.  Sometimes being in the moment is all about timing and the time is now.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Yin and Yang

Last night I slept in my bed for the first time in over a week.  It was wonderful.  I have a whole new appreciation for it.  I am sure most of you have been sick or injured or have taken care of a sick or injured person.  The nights are always the worst.  For the last week or so my wife and I have been living on the first floor of our home and sleeping in our chairs.  Occasionally I moved over to the couch.  Life being what it is I am taller than the couch is long.  The nights have seemed eternal and I feel like I’ve been living a Twilight Zone existence.  The one part of this that I have enjoyed is when morning finally arrived.  As soon as daylight appeared I headed to the kitchen to make coffee and breakfast for my wife and me.  She loved being served although I didn’t get any tips.  I loved the simplicity of sitting in my chair sipping my coffee, enjoying the silence for a while, and then watching the morning news.  After a while I would clean up the kitchen and any other messes, maybe do some laundry, give my wife her daily medicine, and read the morning newspaper before cleaning myself up a bit.  As with most situations that are done long enough, one tends to establish a routine.  I can’t help myself in that regard as I am a creature of habit and routine.  This experience also gives me a sneak preview of what the future may hold as my wife and I continue to age.  It has been a little challenging for me and it certainly has been for my wife who is generally a mover and a shaker.  It is also a reminder to enjoy the moments of life when all is good.  Sooner or later life will throw you a curve ball and provide you with a challenge.  It’s the yin and yang of life.    

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Where I Have Been

Life is fragile and can change in the blink of an eye.  One minute you are having dinner in a restaurant and the next minute you are on your way to the emergency room.  This past Friday my wife and I had dinner with our youngest son.  Afterwards he came to our house to pick up a piece of furniture.  I was helping him put it in his car and my wife was watching us.  Suddenly, with no warning, she lost her balance and went down like a bag of rocks.  Fortunately my son was there to help me get her up and into the house.  At first we thought it was a bad fall but nothing too serious.  I thought her pride was injured more than anything.  Thinking everything was fine my son left.  My wife and I sat at home for a little while before deciding a trip to the ER was in order.  We were in the ER for six hours and the diagnoses was a shattered elbow and three broken bones.  We left the ER at 1:00 AM and headed to Kroger for a prescription.  Kroger is a much different place at 1:00 AM, especially since my wife and I rarely go out after dark.  It was a long and difficult night and we had to be back at the hospital at 7:00 AM for her surgery.  The surgery was estimated to take an hour and ended up taking nearly three hours because the bone damage was worse than originally thought.  On the way home, after the surgery, and while my wife was very high on good drugs, she asked me three questions, i.e., 1) Was it raining in the car?  2)  Were we in Mexico? 3) Did she have another baby?  I started to answer yes to all the questions but I told her the truth.  The last few days I have a been a full time nurse and caregiver.  This is not my true calling and I have a new respect for anyone who does this full time.  We have both been sleeping in our Lazy Boy chairs because my wife can’t sleep in our bed with any degree of comfort.  We are both a little sleep deprived.  I would have worked from home today but I discovered last night that my home PC has a virus so I couldn’t log on to work systems.  At the moment the patient is doing fine until the drugs start to wear off.  However, I think it is just wrong that the caregivers aren’t given drugs too!       

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Leaving The Temple

Every workday, after we get ready for work, my wife and I come downstairs for our morning coffee and toast.  The coffee maker is on a timer so it finishes brewing at the exact moment we walk into the kitchen.  When out toast is ready we both walk into the living room and sit in silence.  After I eat my toast I usually read a thought from whatever book I am reading.  Currently I am reading Into The Silent Land by Martin Laird.  When I am done I sit in silence and meditate.  When it is time to leave for work a Zen bell on my phone rings.  It has a temple gong kind of sound.  When I hear the sound I look at my wife and say, “It’s time to leave the temple”.  She usually responds, “But I don’t want to leave the temple”!  Admittedly, most days I do not want to leave the temple either.  On the rare occasion when I am on a spiritual mountaintop I don’t want to leave there either.  However, the reality is that we all have to leave temple or walk back down the mountain.  Someday I hope to retire to the temple with the occasionally outing to the mountaintop but that day is not here.  Life happens in the marketplace.  Most of us spend a great deal of our lives outside the temple and at the foot of the mountain.  There is where we are shaped, formed, and molded into the people we are.  However, we all need some respite from the demands of daily life so we also need to occasionally sit in the temple or on the mountaintop.  Sometimes we need to sit in silence and solitude and be one with God and the universe.  If I do get to retire someday, I think I am going to fire that bell ringer.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Getting Older

Thursday is the workday when I start to run out of gas.  When I come into the office on Friday I am running on fumes.  When I get home on Friday night my mind is thinking “Let’s party”!  Then my body responds, “Are you out of your mind”!  Most young people think it must be terrible to get old.  That’s not really true.  I like being the age I am.  When one acquires some age you tend to mellow out, be more laid back, things don’t upset you as much as they did in the past, and you are more relaxed in your living.  My chief complaints about aging are a diminishment of energy, strength, and endurance.  In other words, I can’t do all the things I used to do.  I get tired more easily, manual labor is more challenging, and I can’t run all day and night.  When I was young I had lots of energy, weekends were spent running the streets and howling at the moon, and I was physically strong.  Now I am happy just to be home.  I prefer a simple life with little activity.  My mantra is “Isn’t it great to do nothing all day and then to rest afterwards”.  Even though life slows down, it doesn’t lose its appeal.  If anything one begins to live more intentionally because life becomes more precious.  One begins to look more for depth in life.  You have less time and patience for non-essentials.  You realize the time is a gift that should not be wasted.  We should all remember this regardless of our age.         

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Life Is Not Always Fair

Life is not fair and the way it plays out can rarely be explained with logic.  Some people seem to have a charmed life while others seem to have a disproportionate amount of suffering and struggle.  Some people seem to have all the good looks and brains while the rest of us are average.  Some people seem to have all the talent while many of us struggle to find our gift.  Some people seem to meet the challenges of life with relative ease while most of us must struggle and crawl our way to meet life’s minimum requirements.  I generally believe in karma but sometimes bad things happen to good people while other people who are less than good seem to fall into good things.  I cannot explain life.  All I can do is try to live my own life with meaning and gratefulness and try my best to support and encourage others to do the same.  Despite the unfairness of life, I tend to think life happens as it should.  I have been very blessed in life but I have also had my share of pain and heartache.  It is easy to be grateful for the blessings but sometimes difficult to see the value of the pain and heartache.  However, my pain and disappointments have often been good teachers and in the long run may have been blessings in disguise.  You can’t give up just because life is unfair.  Life with purpose.  Live intentionally.  Strive to be good and to do good.  Life has meaning even if it may be unclear to us in the moment what its meaning is.    

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Life Is A Journey

Every Monday my wife and I pick up my granddaughter at her martial arts school and we take her out for dinner.  Yesterday was no exception.  It was also a shopping trip for new school uniforms.  This was a reminder to me of the passage of time and the cycle of life.  The summer is flying by and in a matter of weeks a new school year will begin.  Like most children Chloe is not thrilled.  My granddaughter, and all young people, are in the stage of life when one prepares for life and when one gathers in what is perceived as necessary for life’s journey.  My preparation and my gathering are behind me.  I am at the stage of letting go, simplifying, and deconstructing as I strive for personal self-actualization.  Watching my granddaughter grow up, seeing all the road work around town, watching the construction of new buildings, while grieving the recent passing of my best friend, remind me that life goes on.  All of life is a journey.  When we begin the journey we have no idea where it will take us and we have no idea when it will end.  Many people have goals and some have desired destinations.  These are good things but we should not forget that the journey of life is the destination.  If your whole focus is the preparation, the gathering, or the goals and destinations you desire, you may miss the journey and you may find yourself wondering, “How did I get here”?  As your travel through your life, know where you are, and enjoy the moments because life is made up of such moments.  As John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans”.      

Monday, July 15, 2013

Responding Versus Reacting

In physics for every action there is a reaction.  This is a law of nature.  For most of us, this is also true in our emotional lives.  Many people believe that their feelings is who they are.  This is not really true.  Our emotions do not define us.  When things happen in our lives we usually react in some way.  I tend to overreact to things I do not like.  I also tend to underreact to things I do not consider important.  Of course, what I do not like and what I do not think is important is not necessarily reality.  One of the challenges of life is to get beyond emotional reactions to things.  Overreacting and underreacting are emotional responses.  What we need to do is strive to respond to life and not to react to it.  In my mind a response is more intellectual and considered.  When my reaction is anger, I try to figure out why I am angry.  What is it about the situation that makes me feel angry?  I am a man of great emotion and occasional passion.  Deep feelings and passion are not bad things in and of themselves.  However, I try really hard to get past some of my emotions and to respond to things in a more considered and thoughtful way.  This is very hard for me sometimes.  Maybe it is for you too.  I challenge everyone who reads these thoughts today to go through this entire day without reacting emotionally to what happens to you.  Whatever challenges this day brings, try to respond rather than react emotionally.  My guess is that you will find it very difficult.  This is one of the reasons I meditate.  Meditation helps me to be centered.  When I am centered, I am calm.  When I am calm, I can more easily respond rather than react emotionally.  Sometimes in my day I have to say, “Breathe, Michael”.  You should do the same but use your own name. 8-)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Then Why Think About It?

My oldest son was jammed up at work yesterday so my wife and I came to the rescue by picking up Chloe at her karate school.  It is always a bright spot in my day when I get to see her.  I think she has a little bit of my personality.  When I walk into the school there are usually dozens of children doing some kind of group activity.  I can always quickly spot Chloe.  In the midst of all the other children and the activity, she is almost always off into her own little world.  Sometimes it takes a few minutes to even notice me.  When she finally sees me I get a big smile and she runs towards me for a hug.  Recently I overheard a conversation between Chloe and my wife.  It went like this.
My wife:  Chloe, did you know Paw Paw’s friend died and went to Heaven?
Chloe:  No.
My wife:  It makes Paw Paw very sad when he thinks about it.
Chloe: Then why does he think about it?
Only a child could have such a simple solution to something as profound as grief.  I love the way Chloe and other children see life.  For most children, life is simple.  They are totally in the moment and their vision is unclouded.  We adults make everything complicated and as a result we are stressed most of the time.  Last week Chloe turned nine years old and I could hardly believe it.  Some of you have been hearing and reading about my granddaughter since the day she was born.  It is joyful to be part of her life and to watch her develop into the person she is.  If you are still raising children I understand from my own experience that it can be exhausting and stressful.  However, you can learn a lot from children.  In the quieter moments of your life, sit back and watch them.  Listen to them. They have much to teach us.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013


At my friend’s funeral last week he was described as a man of great contradictions.  Anyone who knew Dennis would certainly agree.  However, if the truth be told, I think this could be said of most of us.  Last night I watched a music documentary called “It Might Get Loud”.  It was basically a conversation between three famous guitar players about their roots and their love of music.  Once a friend said to me, “Michael, when I think of you I think of two things.  I think of music and spirituality”.  Last night’s documentary film certainly was a reminder of my deep love and possible obsession with music.  I often think I could spend my entire day listening to music while I am reading books about it.  At the same time, I am a man who has spent the better part of my life on a spiritual journey.  At times this all seems in conflict.  When I had to create a user name for my personal email, I chose tiedyedmystic.  This was based on my hippie free spirit attitude as well as my spiritual desires for union with God.  I am a rock and roller who loves silence.  I am a long time married family man who is a Trappist/Buddhist monk in my heart.  I am a people person who finds people exhausting.  I am a person who rarely shows emotion but often feels overwhelmed by my emotions.  I am a person who wants to serve and help but I also want to be left alone.  These are just a few of my contradictions.  Hopefully, like with my friend, Dennis, these contradictions somehow balance themselves and the person that is me is a good person and decent person.     

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Meaningful Life

I am just an ordinary man trying to live a meaningful life.  I try to live my life with a deep spiritual awareness while striving to practice kindness and compassion to everyone I encounter.  This is not easy.  It is said that the human spirit is indomitable.  When under duress most people pull through in the end.  The challenges of daily life are often subtle and rarely seem monumental.  Most of our daily lives involve faithfulness to people and commitments, honest work, daily chores, care of the body, and attending to the needs of those who are closest to us.  Beyond the needs and chores that we expect each day are the curve balls that life sometimes sends our way.  In spite of all the challenges and disappointments, life is still a wonderful thing.  In addition to an attitude of gratefulness I also strive to maintain a sense of wonder.  This, too, is sometimes difficult.  I must admit that I am often cynical about life.  In spite of that weakness I try to always allow myself to be impressed.  I want my life and the lives of others to have a “wow” factor.  In the midst of the ugliness of life I want to notice the beautiful.  When I am walking down the street I want to notice the flowers and I want to inhale their aroma.  When it is a hot day like today I want to notice the breeze as it blows through the trees and across my face.  I want to be in touch with life.  I do not want to sleepwalk my way through my life with my senses dulled and my awareness minimal.  A meaningful life is a life lived in awareness.  It is a life lived awake.  Such a life is meaningful, spiritual, and alive.      

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Forever Is Composed Of Now's

Forever is composed of now’s.
-Emily Dickinson
Recent events in my life have reminded me of the importance of living in the now and enjoying every moment of my life.  Even when I am reasonably able to do this, and it’s not easy, it is a challenge.  It is difficult to be present.  If we are honest, most of us would have to admit that we spend many moments of our lives doing things we don’t want to do and being places we don't want to be.   Acknowledging this, how do we find joy in the moments of our lives?  I think we have to seek reasons to be grateful, especially when those reasons are not obvious.  Maybe you don’t like getting out of bed in the morning.  Be grateful you are alive.  Maybe you don’t like coming to work.  Be grateful you have a job that provides financial support for you and your family.  Maybe your Boss is driving you crazy today.  Be grateful for the times the Boss has shown you kindness.  Maybe the morning and evening commute is getting on your nerves.  Be grateful for your mobility and ability to drive.  Maybe you don’t feel like cooking dinner.  Be grateful you have food to eat.  Maybe you don’t like to clean or do laundry.  Be grateful you have a home to clean and clothes to wear.  Beyond the mundane activities of life, be grateful for sunrises and sunsets.  Be grateful for good books and enjoyable music.  Be grateful for a comfortable chair or bed after a long day of work.  If you struggle to find good things in your life for which to be grateful, be grateful for all the bad things you have been spared.  Strive to be grateful for your life and all the life around you.    

Friday, July 05, 2013

Celebration Of A Life

I got up this morning and drove through the rain to the Abbey of Gethsemani for the funeral of my dear friend, Father Dennis Borca.  I listened to Mozart on my morning drive.  Dennis was a great lover of classical music.  The Mozart I choose was prayerful and a bit sad befitting the occasion.  The reality of today's event was very apparent as soon as I pulled into the monastery parking lot.  In the drizzling rain, but under a canopy, Dennis's grave was still in the process of being dug.  Dennis had been cremated so the actual grave was rather small.  Eventually I found my way to the small chapel where the funeral mass would take place.  One of the first people I saw was my son, Father Nick.  Much to my happiness, and I'm sure Dennis's delight,  my son was going to concelebrate the funeral mass with the Archbishop and other priests who were present.  It was a very quiet mass.  I did one of the readings.  I started out with a strong voice but began to lose it as I got near the end of the reading.  The more difficult task went to Father Curtis Thomas who gave the homily.  Curtis is a another dear friend of Dennis and his homily was very heartfelt and emotional.  When the mass was complete we walked out of the chapel and down the steps of the Abbey church to what is called the secular cemetery.  The cemetery contains a variety of people dating back to the Civil War era.  The monks are buried in a different cemetery within the monastic enclosure.  The Archbishop blessed the grave and led the final prayers.  When the service was over and people began leaving, I got down on one knee and put my hand on Dennis's urn.  The urn was actually a small wooden box made by monks.  Dennis's name was carved into the box with an inscription that said, "I give myself completely to God.  May He not be disappointed".  It was my final farewell to a man who was my mentor, my spiritual brother, and a dear friend.

I then took my son out for lunch where we had some good conversation.  It was a comfort for me to have Nick there today.  I was very proud of him. 

On the drive home I took the scenic route through the countryside.  This time I played a CD called "The Troubadour of the Great King" by John Michael Talbott.  It's a joyful piece of music, with a medieval feel, that celebrates the life of Saint Francis.  Dennis and I both loved Saint Francis.  In fact, when we first met we were both living in a Franciscan community.  It seemed fitting to listen to something joyful and Franciscan as a way to celebrate Dennis's life.

On the way home, the sun began to shine.        

Monday, July 01, 2013

Great Sadness

As I write these thoughts I am sitting home alone.  From time to time I cannot help but cry.  In the background some light classical music is playing in memory of a dear friend who loved classical music as much as I love rock and roll.  I got up today like any other Monday.  When I got to work I had a email from my friend, Father Richard Rohr, concerning the death of our mutual friend, Father Dennis Borca.  I was not aware of Dennis's death until I read Richard's email.  I was and still remain in shock.  Dennis was a very dear friend.  Beyond friendship, he was like a big brother to me.  He was also one of the funniest people I have ever known.  Every visit with Dennis included lots of laughter.  He was quite the story teller.  Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis should be familiar with Father Dennis because I have frequently mentioned him in my blogs.  In the early 1970's we lived together in the same Franciscan community.  Father Richard was also part of that community.  Dennis eventually left the Franciscan order but remained a priest.  About seven or eight years ago he retired from active ministry and bought a home very near the Abbey of Gethsemani.  We have been getting together about once a month this entire time for friendship, spiritual discussions, and meals.  Occasionally I would spend the night at his home.  This past May Father Richard was in town for the Dalai Lama's visit to Louisville.  Dennis and I attended one of the Dalai Lama's talks together where Richard also spoke.  That week Richard and I also spent a night at Dennis's home for a Franciscan reunion.  It was a wonderful time.  Just a few  weeks ago Dennis concelebrated at my son's ordination to the priesthood and was one of the priests who laid his hands on Nick's head as part of the liturgy.  He couldn't have been more proud of Nick if he was his own son.  Only a couple of weeks ago I made my last visit to Dennis's home.  When I arrived in the early morning, he served me some sweet rolls for breakfast that neither of us should have eaten because we're both diabetics.  Usually we also go out to a restaurant for a meal but on this last visit he said, "Why don't I cook us some hot dogs and we can just sit here and talk".  Dennis was my closest confidant.  There were no secrets between us.  I am deeply saddened by his death and it creates a huge void in my life.  I will miss him terribly.  On my last visit we talked of death.  His great wish was to live as long as his parents and his greatest fear was concern over what would happen to his two dogs when he died.  I shared my desire to retire and my hope that we would both be two retired old men together.  Today has been a day of tears for me and it will be quite a while before my sadness goes away.  His last words to me were, "I love you".  The feeling was mutual.  Dennis and I had some great years together and I am sure he will watch over me for as long as I am still here.