Recollections of My Mom – Part 2

“We were living in a 3 room apartment when Phil was born so his crib was in the bedroom with us.  In the morning he’d awaken early and lay there and watch us and if we stirred in our sleep, he would react by standing up in his crib and letting us know he knew it was time for the day to begin.  Sometimes I’d awaken and through a slit in my eyes glance over to the crib and see him eyeballing us and so I’d pretend to be asleep a while longer.  Seems I always needed my sleep and enough sleep was not enough sleep!”

Mom is styling

Mom styling it on Adams Place

“We moved upstairs to a 4 room apartment and from there we could see trees and the roofs of houses and we would sit by the window and watch the birds and at times, the squirrels.  At times we’d sit there and watch the rain and recite the poem, ‘It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring …’ You would recite pronounce it something like, “A rainen, a pouring, the old man a’yoring. He went to bed and bumped his head and couldn’t get up in the morgan.”

Long after Mom has passed she continues to be a blessing in my life.  These stories, these glimpses into viewing the world through her eyes, are such an amazing gift to me and my siblings.  Unbeknownst to her recording these stories and thoughts opens a window into her world from 50+ years ago – her dreams, her struggles, her hopes.  Thanks Mom.

 

Recollections of My Mom – Part 1

“Philip was up every 3 hours day and night wanting to be fed.  This being my first child, I was influenced to some degree by the stories I’d heard and knew he had to burp well after feeding or else he could vomit as he slept and that could be disastrous.  Phil would feed a little and then fall asleep and I’d have to awaken him to be sure he burped and then feed him some more, because he had taken so little.  Well, it ended that each feeding took and hour and a half and we finally finished that round of feed, sleep, burp; feed, sleep, burp; feed sleep burp; and we’d both get to sleep, only to turn over for the 1 1/2 hours and be awakened for the next session.  Needless to say, I am not sure who was more tired, he or I.   Some early pictures would reveal that he was doing quite well, but his father and I were walking around like zombies from lack of sleep!  Pat would take the 2 o’clock feeding so that I would have a longer stretch of sleep but it soon took its toll on both of us, although from the weight noted above [5 lbs. 10 ozs. at birth and 8 lbs 15.5 ozs at 3 weeks old], Phil did quite well.”

Mom at Uncle Jack's House

Mom as a young teen at Uncle Jack’s house

Mom’s Musings – 12/30/63 and 12/31/63

“Saw Steven in the afternoon – He drank 4 ozs. of formula – looks like Philip only he has a rounder face and fatter cheeks.  Spoke to Philip on the phone; he kept repeating ‘paint a wall’ and ‘wagon’.”

 

“Did not see Steven until 5:30 this evening.  Very blue and lonely all day.  Steven drank 2 ozs.; keeps rolling eyes to top of head. Spoke to Philip at Grandpa ‘B’ house. Told me daddy went to the store.”

 

One thing I have to note is how blessed I am that my mother took the time to write down  her thoughts and how intriguing it is to catch a glimpse into her thoughts, emotions, and her world.

Mom’s Musings – 12/29/63

“Dec. 29 – This day was somewhat of a nightmare but thank God I came through the afternoon crisis.  Pat, Mom and Dad, Margaret and Pat’s mom came to see me in evening.  Too bad Ann will be going home tomorrow. Could use moral support.”

Brothers

 

While rummaging through some boxes I ran across some journals/notes written by my mom.  I’ll be posting some of them periodically and perhaps jotting down some of my thoughts.  This first post describes the day by brother, Steven, was born.

Going Beneath The Surface

More Conversations With My Father

I won’t talk about the trip down to North Carolina after Christmas. That was a literal shit show – four adults, three dogs and luggage crammed into a Subaru Forester on a ten-hour car ride. You can only imagine. We’ll save that for another time. Instead, I’d like to talk about my talks and walks with my Dad during the few days I was down in North Carolina.

Dad has a little business; a dog walking business, to be precise. This requires him to spend his mornings and sometimes his afternoons being of service to our four-legged friends. Plenty of chances to delve below the surface of a man who doesn’t reveal much to begin with.

Dad has a tendency of over the past year or so to repeat himself. Telling the same stories or replaying of events as if he is telling it to me for the first time. Lately I’m noticing that he is mixing up his stories – weaving past events into current events. I say this partly to acknowledge to myself he is getting older and that opportunities to have these conversations will be fewer and fewer. Despite his physical health being good, he is showing signs of slipping. I think he realizes it too. He complains that he can’t remember where he put things, he can’t remember people’s names. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for him to not be as sharp as he used to be. Yet, despite these realizations that things are not as they used to be, there are many moments of clarity that allow us to get a little closer; opportunities to share in times when the future looked bright for him.

One morning we talked about his days in Army. I don’t know how we arrived at that topic but I went with it. I’ll attempt to paraphrase and summarize our conversation.

Why did you enlist in the Army?”

“I enlisted because then I’d have some control over my future. If I let them draft me they could send me anywhere. I had a friend of mine who waited to be drafted; he wound up being stationed in Germany. Not a good situation at that time.”

Why? Weren’t you worried about Vietnam?”

“No. Vietnam wasn’t on the radar then. Back then the concern was Berlin and the Communists/Cold War. That was a real worry. Tensions were very high then. I didn’t want to put myself in a position of being sent to the front lines during the Cold War.”

What were you assigned to do during your stint?”

“After basic training in Fort Dix I was shipped out to Oklahoma for training with artillery. I got pretty good at it; so good in fact that I was able to get my unit to zero in on the target within four shots and within a few minutes. I had other duties too. I remember being on guard duty one night and I had one guy in my unit who wasn’t too swift. He had the watch before me; I told him to find me when his watch was almost over so I could take over for him. I was going to get some shut-eye. Next thing I know, I wake to revelry playing. ‘Oh shit!’ I quickly got dressed and ran to find the guy who was supposed to wake me. ‘Why didn’t you wake me?’ ‘All the barracks look alike and I gave up trying to find you.’ Needless to say we got ripped a new one but it was worse for the other guys than it was for me.”

Why?”

“The other guys would tear up the town whenever they got a weekend pass. Sometimes they’d get drunk or thrown in the brig for disorderly conduct. Not me though. I would stay on base and play cards with the officers. Occasionally I’d get a care package from my mother, good Italian food from the neighborhood, and I’d share it with my superiors. They appreciated that. So, when it came to getting the assignments from the NCOs, they’d give the crappy ones to the others and give me the plum jobs. [smiles and chuckles]. There was a method to my madness.

Before long my time was up and I was given a choice – re-enlist in the National Guard/Reserves for one more year or walk away and take my chances on getting drafted. I re-upped in the National Guard/Reserves and managed to avoid Berlin and Vietnam. In a year my discharge papers arrived and I was done!”

The last day of our visit arrived. The car is packed. The dogs are in the back of the car. As the others say they’re good byes they make their way toward the car. I hang back for a bit. Dad approaches me with his arms outstretched. I think to myself, “Is he getting choked up? Yes, he is! He’s choking back some tears.” We hug for a few seconds but it seems longer, a lot longer. Lumps grow in each of our throats. “I’m glad you came down to visit. It means a lot to me that you could spend some time with me.”

Me too, Dad.

Me too.

Jesus Didn’t Have Teenagers

It is just before 5:00 on a Thursday morning. It is raining and rather cool for late September.  I have gotten about 4 hours of sleep, if you can call tossing, turning, can’t-turn-off-the-thoughts, twisting around, it’s 5 AM might as well get up – sleep.

The past 24 hours have been something, I can tell you. I work as a counselor assistant at an inpatient drug and alcohol facility. I deal with a lot of people with serious issues and lots of serious consequences. I like my job. I really do. Not all of my clients “get it” – the recovery thing, but some of them do. Those that”get it” make it all worthwhile – all the frustration, all the countless hours, all the emotionally exhausting work that goes into leading addicts and alcoholics from the brink to a better, more whole life.

Yesterday was an exceptionally long day – 11 hours. Monday and Tuesday were long days also. So coming home last night was supposed to be a welcome respite from the frenetic atmosphere of treatment. It certainly started out that way but quickly devolved into chaos and drama.

Did I mention that I have a teenager?

My son has issues, issues that I don’t feel is appropriate to discuss in such a public forum as this. I will say that he has been diagnosed with PTSD and is supposed to take some medicine to help him regulate himself. He is not consistent with doing that simple task and the evidence of what happens is clear. The result … a crazed, manic, obsessive desire to upend the downstairs because he wants to clean. Threatening to throw out other people’s stuff, rearranging things because that is where he thinks it should be placed and generally causing havoc and mayhem in the household (all at 9:00 at night). I suspect, as the decibel level in the house is ever-rising and the cursing would make a longshoreman wince, that he has not been taking his meds and that suspicion was confirmed. As anyone who has dealt with someone with PTSD, when the manic state begins it is very difficult to de-escalate the situation until the stage of exhaustion is reached. After an hour or so of arguing, threats, me walking out to cool off, trying to disengage from the circus unfolding in my living room, we finally reach the stage when the balloon pops and things begin to settle down.

Honestly, I really struggle with dealing with this. It is exhausting. We’ve been dealing with episodic displays like this – and worse – for the past two years. There are times when I just want to give up. There are times when I just want to walk away.

There. I said it. Sometimes I question my sanity and my decision-making process. I question my ability to stay the course. Yes, I know. As a Christian I’m supposed to ask “What would Jesus Do?” in situations like this. I’m sure that Jesus would continue to love and turn the other cheek and stuff.  Spoiler alert: I’m not Jesus. I’m a guy that yells, curses and loses his temper … a lot!  My patience is not inexhaustible.

It’s dawned on me recently that we don’t know what Jesus was like as a teenager. The gospels go from Him being 12 or so to Him being 30. Nary a syllable about his teen years or His life as a carpenter working with his father. Did Jesus give Mary and Joseph a hard time? Did He carry around tons of attitude when His hormones kicked in? Was He a know-it-all? Did He have an entitlement mentality? Did He lord his status over others saying, “Don’t you know who I am?”  Did Mary and Joseph throw up their hands in desperation, yelling at the heavens in frustration?  Did Mary ever question saying “yes” to that angel all those years ago?

One thing we’re told about Jesus is that He could understand what it was like to be us, humans. He experienced the same things we do, He struggled with the same things we do, He felt the same emotions we do. I mean, that’s one of the greatest aspects of the Christian faith, isn’t it? God wasn’t just sitting on some lofty plane without any understanding of the plight of humanity; no, He became one of us and could empathize with our struggles.

So, if that’s true maybe Jesus was a pain the ass to Mary and Joseph during his teen years. Maybe He flouted their authority and sassed them and felt entitled. I don’t know for sure. The record is silent on that matter.

One thing I do know is this: the gospels are silent on Jesus having a family of his own. There is no mention of Him having to deal with a surly, snarky teen. There is no discussion about how He responded to a teenager who had attitude as big as the day is long.

Perhaps there’s a reason for that. Perhaps not even Jesus could keep his cool in dealing with a teenager. Perhaps He would have reached a breaking point with His patience and cast the teen into the sea like he did with the herd of swine. That certainly wouldn’t have been “on message”.

Imagine, an entire faith never takes wing on account of a surly teenager who tries the patience of God.

Jesus never had a teenager to deal with. Just saying.

100°

 

Summertime.

 

 

North Carolina.

 

 

Heat … oppressive heat.

 

 

I am spending a long weekend at Dad’s here in sweltering North Carolina. It is so smothering it always makes me wonder why on God’s earth would anyone settle in these parts before there was air conditioning?

 

 

I came down to lend a hand with some projects around the house that Dad can’t do anymore at his age. Now, if these projects were indoors I doubt that Dad would really need my help. After all, he does have central air conditioning!

 

 

No, these projects would require a lot of time outdoors … in the heat … in the humidity. There was a storm a little while back and there was a lot of fallen tree limbs and debris in the back yard; the back yard is quite large and runs about 50 yards from the house to the river bank. The debris was close to the river and had to be cut up, gathered and hauled to the front of the house and piled near the street. Back breaking, sweaty work with many long trips back and forth.

 

 

Given the heat advisory of over 100° (yes, I picked the hottest weekend of the year to visit), it was essential to life and limb that I start out in the cool of the morning. So, I began. The back yard was sheltered from the sun on account of the tall pine and ash trees. I was thankful for the shade for it provided at least a 10° temperature relief for some of the work but the shade was little consolation for the misery that the humidity brought.

 

 

Although the back yard was shady I was not so fortunate for half of my journey dragging limbs and brush to the street. The front of the house provided nowhere to hide from the already blitering heat. So with each trip the shirt and shorts become more drenched in sweat. With each trip the sun beat down with increasing intensity as the morning wore on. By Noon, the job was done and I was spent.

 

IMG_20160723_111753384_HDR

 

 

I cooled off down by the river with a cold drink in the hopes it would revive me. By the river there was not only shade but also a cool breeze blowing in off the water. I felt myself returning to life but that was not to last as I still had to walk back to the house. Walking back to the house, the refreshment was short-lived and was replaced by the oppressive oven of heat a mere 10 yards from the river. The only air moving at this point was the incessant vibration in the air caused by the cicadas singing their summer song and the buzz of the countless dragon flies. It felt like someone had thrown a hot, wet, wool blanket over me.

 

 

I never really understood why people in the South moved so slow; I understand that I’m from New York and everything we do – talk, eat, move, think – is fast but Southern life always seemed to move in slow motion to me. I didn’t get it … until today. During the summertime in the South there isn’t much activity in the heat of the day. Even with air conditioning things slow down, way down, in the sweltering heat and humidity. I didn’t really understand why until I had to work in that heat today. It wasn’t until today that I understood the method to their madness. The slow-down was a matter of survival in the steamy heat of the Southern summertime. If you’re foolish enough to be working in that heat you won’t last for very long in this world.  I mean, there’s a very good reason the song “Summertime” is sung at such a slow pace!

 

 

So I got to thinking; if I could learn a little something about someone else’s culture and customs and get some insight into their way of life perhaps I could understand them a little better. I don’t think it’s enough to be tolerant of others (although that’s a start). Maybe we have to better understand where each other is coming from, walk in their shoes, to understand them a little deeper; understand the environment, understand the customs, understand the beliefs and behaviors.

 

 

Taking the time and making the effort to understand someone just might make us more human, make us act better toward each other and maybe, just maybe, allow us to see just how similar we are to one another. Instead of out-shouting each other we could learn to respect each other because we’d be able to recognize that there is no “other” there’s only “us”.

 

 

I think we could use that around here.

 

Civility in Brutal Times

It was a delightful, sunny afternoon and we were having a cookout in the backyard.  Spring had finally arrived and we were looking forward to hanging out in the back yard and spending some family time together.  We even invited Kris’ girlfriend and her younger brother.

Without warning, a tempest blew in.  Not a weather tempest but an attitude and language tempest.  The air was suddenly punctuated by a stream of profanities, profanities spewing from the neighbor’s back porch and over the fence.  It seems the teen son was disrespectful to his mother and the mom’s boyfriend was going to straighten him out.  Here he was, mixing spittle with the f-bomb, three inches from the boy’s face, teaching him a lesson about being disrespectful to his mother.  The irony of the situation was not lost on me.  The tirade continued for several minutes and was so intense that the guy did not hear me from the back fence calling several times for him to stop.  When he came up for breath, I interjected again, informing him that he needed to “cool it” as we didn’t appreciate being forced to endure that kind of language and verbal abuse.  That seemed to break the cycle and the verbal abuse stopped.

Marko Javorac

Photo by Marko Javorac on flickr

We all lose our cool and say things we don’t mean during the heat of the moment but this was different.  This was a purposeful, disrespectful way of supposedly teaching a young man about being respectful to others.  That doesn’t work for me.  Not cool.

This made me think of the vitriol and disrespect we show one another in our society today.  I know – most people don’t behave like that but it seems that more and more people today think it is “okay” to use violence (verbal or physical) to settle disagreements.  More and more people have demonstrated an increased intolerance of differing views and opinions.

So why are people surprised that it shows up in our political scene? I’m not condoning it, not in the least.  It just seems to me that the political arena is a reflection of our society.  Perhaps politicians are intransigent because we have become intolerant of others’ viewpoints?  The politicians are merely reflecting the darker angels of our nature rather than the better angels like they should be doing.  Maybe that’s asking too much.  I don’t think so.

So where do we go from here?  Sliding ever lower into dis-ease and violence or do we turn it around and move closer to respectful discourse?  How do we do that? Wait for our leaders to show us the way? I don’t think that’s the answer.  We need to hold each other to a higher standard, one of mutual respect and dignity; but if we’re going to hold someone to a standard we have to ask ourselves this: “Where do fall on this civility spectrum?”

As Ghandi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If we want a return to civility, respect and dignity we need to start living by those principles ourselves.  In other words, treat others as your would want to be treated. Still the best way to live even after all these years.

For more reading on the need for civility … I Am Second article

Follow Me

Undoubtedly many, if not all, of us have found ourselves in a situation, in a conversation or in a relationship that touched on the very core of a fundamental part of our belief system; those moments caused us to check on what we believe in – define it, discard it or alter it. If you haven’t had one of those moments yet … you will.

I’ve come across those “forks in the road”, those moments in our lives that make us ask, “What do I believe? What are my values? What is the true self? Is this the direction in which I want to go with my life?” Case in point, my political views.

When I was younger I was a staunch conservative. I identified myself by the tenets of “right wing” politics with a stubbornness that bordered on arrogance. Maybe that’s a function of my youth and inexperience in life. To me, everything was black or white without much gray. If you didn’t believe as I did, there was something wrong with you.  Now I’m older and perhaps a little wiser. My experiences with people, events and alternative thoughts have broadened, my political edges have softened quite a bit and there’s a lot more gray in the world. Recently, my spiritual beliefs and faith underwent a similar re-examination. I had to take a look at my faith and assess its core values.

I am Christian and as many of you know, I am a part of a wonderful, inspiring, challenging, sometimes goofy but always loving family of faith called Hopesprings Community of Faith in Bangor, PA. I first attended the gathering several years ago when I was young in my recovery from addiction. My history with “religion” was spotty and bland; I wanted and needed something more. In my recovery process I was searching for a deeper, more personal relationship with God as I understood Him. I didn’t understand God all that well at that point except that God loved me, never gave up on me (even when I was at my most despicable) and saved me from teetering into the abyss.

I began to question the old rules and dogmas, crafted and honed over millenia, and in which I was raised. They felt wrong, constraining. They felt like chains and weights that made it difficult to move closer to God. Now I understand that society creates some rules – guardrails, if you will – to keep us within a range of acceptable behavior. The rules are necessary to prevent chaos and to protect us from ourselves and others. But sometimes the rules hog-tie us and keep us from seeing the underlying value the rule was designed to promote; especially so when we elevate form over substance. So it was with me and “religion.”

So, I “stumbled” across Hopesprings one Sunday morning still hungry for something more. It felt like I had walked into an alien world.  Here was a group of people – inked, young, old, beaten, successful, broken, mending – joyous and loving on others and the community! Michael began the lesson that Sunday and by the end of the gathering I was in tears – Niagra Falls! This happened again and again, even today with Jonathan as the pastor, week after week. This was no aberration. This is what I was looking for – a community who believed in only two “rules”: love God, love others; here was a family who practiced those fundamental beliefs in real life, on the streets of the community, in small ways with lots of love.

Two rules – love God, love others. So, is this what Jesus meant when he told Matthew, Peter and others “Follow me” (Matt. 9:9; John 21:19, 22)? I mean, the very definition of “Christian” is one who follows Jesus the Christ, right? What does “following” entail? What does it look like in real life?

Todd Van Hoosear

Todd Van Hoosear

Now I can complicate the hell out of making a PB & J sandwich and I know that something as deep as my faith can be made very obtuse, twisted and overly complicated. But Jesus was anything but complicated although we do a really good job of making His message complicated. Case in point – the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The scholar knows the rule of “love your neighbor” and Jesus confirms this. But the scholar is uncomfortable with what this is asking him to do and he attempts to incorporate exceptions to the simple rule. “What do you mean when you say ‘neighbor’? Who is my ‘neighbor’?”

I am no Bible scholar and I don’t have to be in order to determine what “following” looks like in reality. I can look no further than the way Jesus lived His life. In all matters, the bedrock of His actions and His words was this: loving God and loving people, without exception! He was unconcerned about their socio-economic status; unconcerned about society’s opinions of the poor, the sick, the nameless and the voiceless; unconcerned about the rules that got in the way or obscured the people from connecting with God.

He not only broke the rules but chastised those who created the rules to bog down the people’s hearts and bodies. He repeatedly called out the elite and the pious who elevated following the letter of the law but refused to acknowledge or show mercy to the unfortunate. He shined a light on the hypocrisy of those who claimed to be religious on the outside but whose hearts were black and cold on the inside.

Act justly, love mercy and walk with humility (Micah 6:8); love God, love others (Mark 12:30-31). Simple, easy to understand “rules” to live by. For me, this is what it means when Jesus says “follow me”. Don’t overcomplicate this – when He says “follow me” He’s saying “Watch what I do, listen to what I say, see how I treat others and do the same thing. I lead by example” This is the way to live a life of connection with God and others. Don’t get caught up in the rules that will weigh you down and prevent you from acting justly, being merciful, being humble or serving your neighbor.

So many “Christians” seem to get tied up and entangled in the rules. They equate “Christianity” with a straightjacket of rules – rules about what music to listen to, rules about what clothes to wear, rules about what prayers to say, rules about what sect to belong to, rules about what TV shows to watch … and the list goes on. Too often they treat others who don’t fit in their box as “less-thans”, flawed in some way. They can be judgmental and arrogant thinking that their way is the “true” way. The same could be said of political parties, other religions and cultures. They can be harsh and unforgiving. They seem to fail to consider where they would be if God was as unforgiving, impatient and unmerciful as they were.  In short, a lot like me in my youth.

So what brought all this on? I was presented with a situation that forced me to examine what my faith was all about. I had to look at my values, my beliefs and ask “Who am I? What’s important to me? What am I made of?”

This wasn’t a life or death struggle that prompted these questions. It was a simple meeting in a principal’s office to discuss ramifications of an occurrence at school. This was a meeting where I learned very clearly the difference between law and order, rule-bound, harsh Christianity and the merciful, compassionate and sometimes uncomfortable version of Christianity. I learned that some people’s interpretation of Christianity can be focused on being judgmental, unforgiving, harsh and lacking in patience; what was even more frightening was how they seemed completely comfortable with calling themselves Christian while justifying their rigidity.

I’m all for there being consequences for one’s actions and, in this case, there were. What I was not at all comfortable with was these “Christians” who gave up on my son, who failed to see the potential in him, who saw him as one who should not expect much in his life as he will not be successful, who gave up because things got a little hard. They quit on him and in the process quit on Him; they effectively said that God was not able to do good works in him. Their lack of faith in God was both blatant and astounding!

Where would we be if God have up on us? What would it look like if God threw up his hands and said “This is too hard. These people keep screwing up. I don’t have the patience for this anymore?” What if God got tired of pursuing us? How hopeless, desperate and bleak would our lives be? I shudder to think of where I would be if God had given up on me!

Well, I don’t subscribe to that nonsensical version of Christianity. I am a member of the merciful, just, loving, forgiving and graceful family of the Christ; he has infinite patience and never gives up the chase. The God of my understanding is one of love, mercy and forgiveness.

Follow Him, I will, to the best of my ability.