Not Cease from Exploration

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Transition

Since I am in currently in a graduate finance class, I don't feel bad about conducting some basic accounting.  Here we go.

In the last four months...

...I was retired from an employer where I worked for nearly 28 years

...My 51 year old younger brother passed away

I've also read a potentially life-changing book (that I'm starting share with others), and I've had far more time to think than which is probably good for me.

Oh, and I'm finishing up my graduate degree (hopefully by mid-year).  A lot of stuff.  The word "unpack" comes to mind when I think about all of it.  In fact, all I think I need to do is add "heart attack" to the list and I get some kind of prize from the government.  Just kidding, about the heart attack (my heart is in good shape) and the prize.  

Now none of this is intended to illicit anything even remotely resembling sympathy (which, as we all know, sits squarely between "sh*t" and "syphilis" in the dictionary*), as I'm busy enough without it, and truth be told, I just don't like the attention.  Pretty odd from a guy writing a blog, huh?  Life is never without its contradictions. 

Anyway, I had planned to write about government funding for the arts, which has become something of an issue in northeastern Pennsylvania.  I even have the posting titled, but I just can't seem to start it.  It's as if I need some kind of transition space within my own head, something to take me away from the above list, back into more of a normal way of thinking.  Not that there has ever been anything normal about how I think...about anything.  My head is, at any given moment, not a place that anyone else would ever want to visit, filled with tons on random thoughts swirling around, mostly all at the same time.  I'm just lucky whatever voices I hear are my own.  Scratch that; I sometimes can hear my Mom's voice...but it's always yelling for some odd reason.

Thinking again about the idea of transitions, I think we all have this odd relationship with change.  We hate it when we feel bombarded by it, but yet we'd probably die of boredom without it.  I know that's true for me.  Now granted that I do wish some of the change in my life didn't actually involve other people dying, but hey, I didn't get a vote in the matter.  Whomever does make those decisions is a bit higher up on the celestial organization chart than your's truly.  Along those same lines, I'll share that there hasn't been a lot of action of the career front for me, but more than one person has said to me that this is because there is a plan...a larger reason...if you want to call it that...for me to have been unencumbered over these past few weeks, so that I could attend to other things.  I'll confess that I don't know if I believe that to be true, in part because I just don't see some kind of larger power in the universe actually caring all that much about this kind of detail.  However, I may be falling into the trap of trying to explain, in human terms, something that is infinitely impossible to understand in human terms.

In any event, I've burned through several paragraphs now without saying an awful lot.  This posting has been the Captain Crunch, if you will, of Internet content.

By the way, I love Captain Crunch, even if my wife says that it taste "like cardboard".

Which makes me believe that I need to end things on a somewhat more weighty tone.  So how about this:

5 Things I Have Learned Since October, by Steve Albert

1)  Friends.  Nothing exposes the fallacy of social media "friendship" quite like a personal crisis.  I am deeply thankful for the condolences (both on-line and off-line) offered by so many; I am bewildered by the fact that I didn't hear from others.

2)  Routine.  Even in the midst of seeming chaos, I'm always trying to create a new routine.  We humans seem to be wired for wanting the predictable.

3)  Being Present.  Being fully present in the moment actually does help when things get tense and tough.  Oh, and I'm the last person in the world to advocate anything new-agey or tragically hip.  Study this stuff, as it's worth it.

4)  Job Search.  Looking for a career opportunity in 2017 is a heck of a lot different than it was the last time I checked.  Then again that was 1988.

5)  Your Kids Get Older.  It's great to be proud of your son or daughter when they do well in school (for example).  As they get older and become concerned about your well being and offering you sound advice?  Well, that's pride elevated to a whole new level.  It almost makes getting older worth it.


* * * * * *

(*) Dictionary:  A book that defines words, PG (pre-Google). Used in a sentence:  (Steve) Mom, how do you spell cataract?  (My Mom, Yelling) Look it up in the dictionary!


Friday, January 13, 2017

In Gratitude...

...for all of the thoughts and prayers expressed to me and to my family over the past week.  For anyone interested, my brother's obituary can be found directly below.


During the viewing and the funeral Mass, some folks said to me that I was "strong" and "taking this so well".  Let me dispel both ideas:  I wasn't.  What helped my spirits though (and as I explained during the eulogy on Thursday) was the fact that I knew, very personally, just how much pain my brother Chris was in, particularly over this past year.  Knowing that he had now found the peace that escaped him in this world, well that made the difference.

I want to also say thanks to a few others who were of tremendous help during this ordeal.

Reverend Patrick Albert, who is my/Chris' cousin, for coming right over to the house after Chris was found and for all of his support for the family and our spiritual needs during these difficult past few days.  Pat is a credit to his collar.

Lackawanna County Deputy Coroner Louis C. Stefanelli, who went above and beyond during the initial hours after I found my brother.  The county is lucky to have such a dedicated professional in its employ.

The Scranton Police Department - For their professionalism and concern on January 5th.  You would be hard-pressed to find a better police force anywhere in the country.

Neil Regan Funeral Home, for the wonderful arrangements and the magic that they performed for my brother's viewing.

My Wife, for her unfailing support over the past year as I struggled to help my brother.

My Daughter Rebecca, for her professional advice and assistance over this past year.  How wonderful is it when you can rely on your son/daughter for advice?

* * * * * *

It's always difficult when you lose a family member.  I suspect that it's especially difficult though when you believe that the loss could have been avoided, which is how I feel about my brother Chris.  Many of us will probably always wonder if we could or should have done more.  Regardless, if you or a family member struggle with an addiction, just know that where there is help, there is hope...and there is a lot of help available.  Don't give up.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Help Resources for Veterans

Addiction.Org:  Help for the Family





Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My Brother Chris



My brother passed away some time early to mid-last week.  Sadly, we don't know the exact date of his passing.  I am thankful that I was the one to find him, as that spared others, including his wife or my brother Rich, from that terrible visual.

Christopher Paul Albert lived a full life, and was many things, including a very proud father, husband, son, friend, veteran of the United States Navy (Naval Med Corpsman, stationed with the Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina), altar server, former postal carrier in Lodi (New Jersey), amateur boxer, a graduate of Montclair State University, fan of the manual transmission, cook, Republican, lover of cats, talk radio consumer, music aficionado (especially the Rolling Stones and the Doors), runner, voracious reader of biographies, a genuinely funny person, federal government IT guy, gifted with gab, and tireless rebel without a cause.  He also knew precisely how to infuriate his older brothers (especially me) with a level of efficiency that would make a Japanese automobile manufacturer nod in approval.

One of my oldest memories of Chris was, as at a very young age, his repeated habit of running arms first into glass storm doors, cutting himself up like someone working at an OSHA-fined meat-packing plant.  I kid you not.  This was then...
In his early teens he was, as noted above, an amateur boxer, having had several bouts under his belt at the Scranton Catholic Youth Center.


It was a perfect way for a teenager with pent-up feelings to deal with the world.  Back then Rich and I would taunt him by saying things like "Sure Chris, you'll be a boxer...you'll be boxing apples, pears, and pineapples at the local Acme supermarket".  Brothers can be such jerks.

Recently, he held the world's record for most number of overnight calls to Steve Albert, set at 13, between 8 pm and the following 10 am.  It's a record that's not likely to be broken, if ever.

As he grew older, he was someone who increasingly struggled to make it in a world that seemed to offer fewer and fewer easy choices as time quickly past him by.  I repeatedly told him that he held on to amounts of unexpressed emotion that were, at best, unhealthy.  So much anger and pain boiling so deep under the surface, which some may view as odd, given his easy smile and ability to tell you what he thought about anything and everything...except of course for, I suspect, the very things that troubled him the most.  But I knew things that most other's didn't; we were, after all, two part of a band of (real) brothers, with a shared set of experiences.  I don't claim to know his pain, but I know where part of it came from.

Now if there's to be a moral to his passing, it would be something like this:  In life and in the end, we can't ever really deny how we feel, our inner demons if you want to call them that; we either choose to face the demons honestly, or we allow those same demons to destroy us from the inside out through passive, or even active, neglect.  For the record, we all have our own inner demons and we all have to make this choice, whether we want to or not.  Life has a way of always settling accounts.

So now what's left are a lifetime of memories to be held close by all who knew Chris.

(About 1970 - Band of Brothers, Dressed in Easter Best:  Chris, Rich, Steve &Joe)

(April, 2010 - Chris, wearing a shirt I bought him that perfectly matched his sense of humor)

(July 3, 2015 - My Wedding:  Chris, Joe, Steve & Rich)

(Meeting of the Round Glasses Club, Somewhere in the 90's - Mom, Steve & Chris)

Finally, I'd like to believe that Chris is now in another place, a better place, with our Mom, once and for all reconciled in a way that escaped both of them in this life.  No more anger.  No more rebellion against things he probably never fully understood.  No more denial and the demons have been vanquished forever.  Chris and Mom are both now fully absolved and cleansed, resting in peace together.  Then again, they could also be arguing about the last presidential election.

* * * * * *


In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving"
But the fighter still remains
(Paul Simon, The Boxer)




Monday, January 2, 2017

2017

I am a firm believer in new year's resolutions, also known in some circles as simply "goals".  Setting goals for yourself is always good; so what if you put a new year's banner on them?  I honestly don't get the bad rap that new year's resolutions get.  Anyway, here are a few things I'd like to accomplish in 2017.

Physical Health - I need to keep my weight stable (well, ideally slowly tracking down).  I would also love to eliminate one prescription medication in 2017.  I don't take that many medications now, but one less would be great.  I'm also going to continue with five days a week of cardio exercise, supplemented with the remaining two days of being very active.  News Flash:  I'm getting older!  But then again so are all of us.  Being healthy now is more of an investment for the future than anything else.

By the way, if you want actual, real advice about fitness (and related resolutions), you can check out THIS BLOG by my friend Sean Gowden.

My Emotional Health - I am going to continue to work on staying focused and present in the moment, especially as it relates to maintaining a positive attitude.

"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but thought about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is." 
- Eckhart Tolle

Some may shake their heads and mutter "Oh boy, more pop psychology", but I truly believe that every situation we find ourselves in, no matter how seemingly dire, is itself neutral, and furthermore it has the opportunity to teach us an important life skill. This isn't some fly-by-night observation, but rather something I've learned...and obviously continue to learn...throughout my life. And it's difficult at times, but one of the things you learn in life is that the difficult things are almost always worth it.

Spiritual Health - I'd like to say something like "go to church regularly", but that would just be blog filler.  In reality, I'm probably not going to be going to church any more frequently than a few times a year.  What would be nice?  Probably finding something like a "spiritual adviser", someone I could dialogue with about weighty matters of faith.  Nothing formal, just conversation.  I'm open to suggestions.

Odd-n-Ends - A few other miscellaneous things...

  • Education - I'm going to finish my graduate degree some time this year.  That will be a load-o-stress off my shoulders, that's for sure, but it will be well worth it.  My (late) mother would be very proud.
  • The Blog - I've often thought about pulling out some of the better postings from this blog and finding some way to use them.  Maybe a self-published book?  I know, that screams vanity, but in almost eight years I am sure there is at least some good stuff worthy of paper.
  • Volunteer - I want to volunteer more regularly to help some of the causes that matter most to me.  
  • Current Events - I'm going to make a conscious effort to stay away from national news in 2017.  There's just too much negativity out there, and quite frankly, it sickens me to no end.  I'll continue to follow local news, and I won't claim that my self-imposed blackout will be absolute, but I will say that I've been doing it since the election and it has made me feel a bit less stressed.  


Here's to a 2017 that's full of ceaseless exploration for all of us.




Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Bookends

What can you say about a year that starts with a health scare and ends with (arguably) a career scare?

(from THIS website)

Part of me thinks that I shouldn't even try, but I'm going to keep writing anyway, so let's see what comes out.

Thinking about the year, it's easy to be negative, at least on the surface.  However, that's just a cheap sentiment.  Or so I want to believe.  Regardless, as is the case for most of my life (and that of most others), what seems like a negative actually ends up being a net positive.

Take, for example, some health issues I was facing at the beginning of the year.  Yes, getting a chemical stress test isn't something I'd recommend as a party game.  And a sleep study?  Well, let's just say that it doesn't actually involve all that much actual sleep (unless you try very hard...see HERE).  And a few other tests I won't even mention, the sum total of which added up to more needle sticks and doctor visits than I've had since my appendix burst in 1969.  Still, what problems I seem to have had have (hopefully) been remedied, and the whole episode taught me the value of taking better care of my physical self.  Granted, I don't have all that many bad habits to begin with (Is watching TV preachers just for fun considered a bad habit?), but still, age has a way of catching up with us, whether we like it or not.  Better to deal with stuff like this earlier than later.

On the career front, well, I can't say with complete candor that a major job change was a complete surprise, because it wasn't.  In fact, I'll cop to this one:  The possibility of a change has always been in the back of my head, wandering around like a stray cat through an alleyway.  Easy to deal with?  No.  Opportunity to learn a few important life lessons?  Of course.  The accounting is still on-going on that second front, but suffice to say that in the end, it will be all worth it.  It has to be when you think about it deeply, as we are all given changes like this in our lives, and it's as if the universe (and/or God) says to us "Hey, you know that choice you've been putting off?  Well, guess what?  We're tired of waiting, so this is going happen right now, in spite of your sloth, okay? Thank you, drive through.".

Two major life events, and one common theme:  Choices to me made which I had, in all likelihood, been putting off for a long time.  What I do with them, well, that remains to be seen.  Here's to keeping the faith in 2017 and beyond.

Now 2016 wasn't all health gloom and career doom.  In fact, by just about any objective standard, I had a great year.  I am still married to my best friend and we celebrated our one year anniversary.  My daughters are all doing well (go ahead...ask me about them...I dare you...), as are my stepsons.  Oh, and I purchased this...


Yes, quite possibly the least red-neck man on the planet now has an over-sized pick-up truck.  And I love it.

Learning is important to me, and 2016 I did learn quite a bit...

I learned that a lot of people are pulling for me in this time of change.  

I learned just how fortunate I truly am to not be suffering from many of the maladies that seem to plague so many in this day and age, including mental health and substance abuse issues.  I genuinely grieve for those who do suffer.

I learned to rely on others just a bit more.  

I learned to be a bit more fearless.  This goes hand-in-hand with relying on others; for me, it takes a leap of faith to rely on someone else.

I learned that all of the work I've done over the years to not needlessly dwell on the past has really paid for itself, several times over.

I learned that the Eastern Gray Squirrel is actually a ninja with a fluffy tail.

I learned that I have mad electrical skills.  Four words:  Power to the garage.

I learned that faith is the hardest simple thing in the universe.

Not bad 2016, not bad at all.

Gratias Ago
Last, but not least, and seeing as though this will be my final posting for 2016, I want to say thanks for reading my blog.  I appreciate your allowing me to share bits and pieces of myself with you.  I hope that you and yours had a good 2016 and that the prospects for 2017 are even better.


Steve Albert
West Pittston, Pennsylvania



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In the Trump Era - What Should We Do?

Well, the election is over and the actual electors have voted.  Donald Trump is our President-elect.  If that frightens you, well just what should you do?

Something along the lines of the "what should we do" question was posted by my sister-in-law on Facebook, in a far more eloquent way than I am describing.  It's a good question, and while I don't have an eloquent answer, I do have a few thoughts.  For whatever it's worth, here they are...

Act - I'll speak out about and financially support the causes that matter to me.  This includes promoting basic human rights for the LGBT community, helping organizations that address women's health issues*, and supporting a local organization that helps the homeless.  Curling up in a ball isn't an answer as far as I am concerned.

Remember - I'll also use these next few years to remind myself that we can NEVER truly and entirely rely on the government to do the good work. At best, the government is amoral, as in doing no harm; at worst I think it's immoral.  In my opinion, this is one of the biggest blind-spots in the liberal/progressive community, namely this idea that the government can or should fix most things.  That too easily gets the collective "us" off the hook.  The commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself", not "have the government do that for you", or worse yet, "force you to love your neighbor".  Handing stuff off to the government seems to me to be something of a cop-out, a way for us to have someone else do the dirty work.  


This is not to say that we shouldn't hold the government...and it's inhabitants...accountable, because we should.  However, we have to remember that government is really about doing essential things for the common good, for making sure that there is an even playing field for everyone, and for protecting us from each other (as sad as that sounds; sorry, I don't want my neighbor to open a pig farm or install an anti-tank gun on their roof).  We want government to be amoral precisely because morality is a human quality, not a bureaucratic or institutional one.  The fact that the incoming administration can potentially take rights way from a group of people proves my very point as to the lack of morality inherent in government.  

Be Hopeful - I'll remind myself that sometimes you need to take two steps backward in order to take three steps forward.  That's as true in politics as it is in our personal lives.





(*) Done in honor of my three daughters and my late mother.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Report & Quotes, Nadia Bolz-Weber's "Accidental Saints - Finding God In All The Wrong People"

Preface:  It's something of a quandary when I think about it...sometimes I create a posting that garners a lot of readers and I'm left with the feeling that I somehow have to "top" (or at least equal) it with the next entry that I publish.  It's as if I feel guilty for not following up the original posting with something of equal or greater value.  That, by the way, is the reason why I haven't posted anything in a week.  Seriously, this kind of thing actually weighs on me.

Thinking about what to do, well, I'm reminded of that great quote for the 1983 movie War Games...



...and the sage advice it provided.  I also try to remind myself that I started writing this blog over 8 years ago primarily just for myself.

So this is where I've landed, and it's okay.  I only feel slightly guilty.  Slightly.  There will be more popular postings in the future, of that I am sure.  In the mean time, if someone does read this and decides to pick up a copy of  Accidental Saints, well then my guilt will be relieved.  

On to the book report.



* * * * * *


I finished this book a few week ago, and am finally getting around to putting some notes together for myself, which I'll gladly share with the 16 or so* of you reading this posting.


Why this book?
This is the second book I've read by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber; the first was Pastrix.  That book was a good read, so I opted to continue the journey.  You can find both books HERE.


Did I like it?
I'd give it about 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Would I recommend it?
Like most things in life, "it depends".  I readily confess that I like reading books that deal with weighty topics such as religion, philosophy, personal growth, faith, etc.  If any of those topics interest you, well, you might like any of Pastor Nadia's (her own reference to herself) books.


Be forewarned:  Pastor Nadia's language can be a bit gruff at times.  I like that aspect of her writing by the way.  The best comparison I could make, relative to other authors, is that she's a sort of religious version of Hunter S. Thompson.  That's high praise in my book (no pun intended).

What was compelling about the book?
The two things that I found compelling about this book are:

  1. Faith for the rest of us.  More so than many other religious author (and I've read quite a few) Pastor Nadia is able to talk about faith is a way that's very real in a starkly compelling manner.  This isn't some esoteric regurgitation of scripture with a tenuous tie to modern life; no, this is about how scripture can apply to the lives of real people living all too real lives.  There is also no religious hierarchy in Pastor Nadia's book; all...including herself...are equally flawed.  I find that sentiment incredibly refreshing.
  2. Writing Style.  As noted above, I enjoy Pastor Nadia's writing style.  If you are interested in learning more about faith, but are turned off by the idea of reading a book by a clergy member (out of fear that it will sound like oh too many Sunday sermons you heard as a kid), well then this book may be for you.
What wasn't so compelling about the book?
One basic criticism:  Like many other authors who write about faith, Pastor Nadia has a habit of hitting the same themes over and over again.  As someone who had engaged in some educational work for a living, I thoroughly understand the basic need to repeat important themes; however it can get tedious if you begin reading a section and almost immediately guess how that particular story will resolve itself in the end.  File this under the category of "minor critique" though.  

Here are a few select quotes that can give you a flavor for the book:


"The most qualified to speak the gospel are those who know how unqualified they are to speak the gospel." (page 30).

"After years of therapy and twelve-step work, I've finally realized that trying not to need others isn't about strength and independence; it's about fear.  To allow myself to need someone else is to put myself in a position to be betrayed or made to look weak." (page 99)

"I told them that Jesus could have hung out in the high-end religious scene of his day, but instead he scoffed at that, choosing instead to laugh at the powerful, befriend the whores, kiss sinners, and eat with all the wrong people.  He spent his time with people for whom life was not easy.  And there, amid those who were suffering, he was the embodiment of perfect love." (page 110)

"Whenever people annoy me beyond reason, I can guarantee it's because they're demonstrating something I'd rather not see in myself." (page 123)

"It felt like the church's way of creating job security:  the church makes us feel so bad about ourselves that we then have to go to the church for absolution." (page 132)

"This Jesus whom we follow cried at the tomb of his friend and turned the other cheek and forgave those who hung him on a cross.  He was God's Beatitude -- God's blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong."  (Page 188)




(*) I'm joking, of course...it will be more than 16.  Maybe 20.

Monday, December 12, 2016

9840

Nine thousand, eight hundred and forty is the number of days I've spent as an employee of a terrific organization.  That ends today, more or less at 11:59pm.  It was a good run, by any measure.

Now I'll answer the question that some may be thinking right off the bat:  Am I bitter/angry/cheesed-off/upset/rankled?  The answer is an absolute and resounding NO.  How could I be?  I worked for one of the greatest institutions of its kind in the whole world.  And I got to do that for more than half my life.  How is that not a blessing?

Speaking of blessings, when I think back over the years, I see so many wonderful things to be thankful for:

I learned from some truly brilliant (and I mean brilliant) people.  And not just leaders, as many of those brilliant people never had a haughty formal title.  The value of the education I received is simply priceless.

I earned enough money to help pay college costs for my three (now graduated) daughters.

I had the opportunity to learn an occupation...several, actually.  If anything, the company encouraged and nurtured my professional wanderlust.  By my own account, I had nearly 4 careers over the years.

I developed skills that have prepared me well for this day.

I was able to travel to places I never would have seen otherwise.  My first ride on an airplane/jet was a company business trip to Boston in 1989.  I got to spend a week and a half in Hawaii on company business.  I could go on...
(2005:  Dinner in Dubuque, Iowa)

I was given the opportunity to help people and make a difference in their professional lives.

I made mistakes and was given the gift of learning from them.

I was able to hire some truly remarkable people who will continue to make a difference for years to come.

I could go on and on and on, but I won't.  I will make a special note though of the fact that I met my wife at work, something that, alone and in and of itself, would have made the whole experience worthwhile.
(July 3, 2015)

Does this mean that my life is now composed of equal parts sunshine, smiles, unicorns, kittens, and rainbows?  Of course not.  Any kind of transition like this is stressful, mine included, and I've had my share of bad days over the past few weeks.  Heck, I've had a job since I was 14 years old (and I'm not going to do that math...), so for me, this is uncharted territory.  As someone who values order and control in his life, this is a tough one.  However, I'm going into this new territory well prepared for what may be in my future.

As a closing thought to this chapter in my life, I'll repeat what a vice president I reported to a few years ago was fond of saying, namely that "...we choose how we show up".  Ponder that thought for a moment:  We make the choice as to what we say and what we do every day and in every situation we encounter in life.  "We choose".  More powerful words have never been spoken.  As I think about my transition, I'm keeping those two words in mind.



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My Mom, Smiling

I've had some free time of late, and one of the things I've been doing is going through old records that I inherited from my Mom (who passed away in 2013).  My Mom had this period, apparently, when she was very active in the Scranton Boys (now Boys and Girls) Club.  This was probably in part because her four sons all needed something constructive to do with their time and boundless energy, so why not go there?

Anyway, I found a half dozen or so newspaper clippings from that period, including one where she was actually smiling.
This particular clipping is from January 29, 1973.

I honestly don't have many photographs of my mother with an actual smile on her face, making this somewhat rare.

I won't get into the deep pseudo-psychology of why my Mom rarely seemed to smile, other than to say she had something of a tough life.  I'll confess to not being much of a smiley person myself, although that's not for lack of happiness or joy, but instead, more about a face that seems to look, well, stupidly fake when I smile.  If anything, I seem to have a face built for accountancy, or maybe financial services human resources.