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Friday, June 30, 2017

The Not-Sailor

The title references THIS posting.

Your's truly, along with my wife and mother-in-law, where the guests of my cousin Frank and his wife Kathy on his actual, real-life sailboat.  I'd describe the experience in poetic terms, but I would probably just end up subconsciously nicking the lyrics to Sailing by Christopher Cross anyway, so I'll pass.  What I will say is this:  I can understand the allure of the activity.  
Ms Rivers was given the opportunity to "woman" the helm, and she did spectacularly well.  In fact, it seems like an activity that she'd like to partake in at some point in the future.

As for me, well, I was given the opportunity to "man" the helm, but a bruised hip (from a bike ridding fall a few days ago) made me think the better of it.  Bashing it again just wasn't something I was up for, so I wasn't taking any chances; besides, something tells me that depth-perception is probably a halfway reasonable qualification for a helmsman anyway.  

Looking into the future, I can see nautical activity in our retirement years.  I know Ms. Rivers would enjoy it.  As for me, well, just being somewhere sightly warmer, and by the water, would do just fine.

Many, many thanks for my cousin Frank and his (truly) first-mate wife, Kathy, for hosting us.  We truly had a wonderful time.  Unlike Ms Rivers, I don't have a large or particularly close extended family, so the older I get, the more I appreciate what time I do have with those with whom I share some genetic material.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time (typing) - Road Apples, #173

I actually am sitting on a bay, although I am actually about 12 feet from a dock, truth be told.  I am also definitely wasting time.  As part in parcel of that wasting time, I offer the following...

...I had another posting started about how I love being near the water.  However, I deemed that dumb-ass, and therefore it will not see the light of day.  I do like the water though.  Thinking ahead, many years into the future, I'd like to retire somewhere that is a) Slightly warmer than northeastern Pennsylvania and b) Near the water.  Why?  To quote that great scholar Bluto Blutarsky, "Why not!".

...Is it normal to always have a random song always playing in your head?  At the moment it happens to be The Who's "You Better You Bet".  "I know only fools have needs, but this one never begs".  As I said, random.

...It's difficult to truly comprehend the size of cargo ships, and by extension the marvels of international trade, until you actually see one in person.

...On today's agenda was pretty much nothing.  My better half went to Washington D.C. with my youngest stepson and her niece.  These days I find Washington D.C. to be disgusting, so I opted for some creative loafing on the Chesapeake Bay.  I have no regrets.

...I brought two books on vacation and haven't made much progress.  They are Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace and The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by the Rev. James Martin, S.J.. Lobster is a tougher read, mainly because Foster Wallace is a pretty literate guy, and his writing is infused with references to authors that I know about (Updike, for example) but will likely never, ever read.  I'm committed to both books, regardless.

...I haven't thought much about work.  That's a good thing, although I will regret it come next Monday.

...Blogging 101:  I struggle sometimes with something I shouldn't, namely this kind of pull to write about something that I secretly think other people might be interested in reading.  This is in spite of the fact that one of the stated ground rules of this blog is that I just end up writing about stuff that interests me, and me alone.  The sad reality is that I do check page views and I actually do know what kinds of content actually drive interest.  For the record, this posting won't.

...This week's Fall Count:  2.  Fall #1 was coming into the house Monday evening, missing the location of a step.  Fortunately I fell and rolled over (kind of like a dog).  The only damage was to my pride and two fingers.  Fall #2 was an old-school fall-off-of-bike-roadrash.  I was biking with my 80 year old mother-in-law, who, by the way, didn't fall.  Since it's been a long time since I've actually fallen off of the bike, I view this is as a kind of "red badge of courage" moment.  My right hip and elbow, both of which were on the bleeding edge, beg to differ.  Tomorrow we are going sailing, and my goal is to be injury free.

...Forget illegals from south of the border, the bigger threat apparently is the Nutria.

...Crabs are giant sea-bugs.  So are lobsters.  There, I said it.  Cockroach bisque anyone?

...Sadly, I have been somewhat exposed to the news over the past few days, via my father-in-law's consumption of the television variety.  I'm trying hard to not pay attention, as I am more or less still under a general news boycott.  Unfortunately, part of what I heard involves North Korea.  And I keep remembering the story whereby candidate Trump allegedly once asked why we don't use nuclear weapons.  I'm hoping that falls under the category of "Fake News".

...Speaking of "Fake News", here's what that term actually means:
Newsflash:  All news, as it is written by emotional humans, is slanted.  The trick is to get it from a variety of sources, so as to see that the truth, as it always does, lies somewhere in the middle.

...We had a stray dog visit us (several times) this afternoon.  Eventually his owner was found driving by looking for him, so pouch and master are now reunited.  I love dogs...conceptually.  The actuality of dog ownership is another story.  To be blunt, I'm not (yet) a good enough human to be entrusted with one of God's most wonderful, loyal creatures.  Good thing that cats are low maintenance.

...Pennsylvania is liberalizing marijuana rules, and soon growers will be establishing businesses in the state.  As stated before on several occasions, I think the recreational use of marijuana is f&%king stupid*.  However, "f&%king stupid" isn't a crime, otherwise professional wrestling and Nickelback would be illegal as well.  Yes, it get it, marijuana has medicinal uses, and for those that use it in that way, well, good for them.  Here's to cancer patients gaining much needed weight through the munchies.  Let's not kid ourselves though, many who advocate for the legalization of marijuana are more interested in getting high and listening, for example, to the Dave Matthews Band.  Pouring burning crap into your lungs while listening to Ants Go Marching just doesn't sound appealing to me, mostly because that reality one is trying to escape will sadly be there long after the song and the high is over.  Yes, in the end, reality always wins.

(*) Yes, getting drunk is f&%king stupid as well.  No, I don't drink either.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Unlikely Sailor

My late brother Chris was a very proud veteran of the United States Navy.  He is now, in fact, buried in the veterans section of a local cemetery, something that would make him happy. As I woke up this morning and looked out over the water, it reminded me of just how odd it was that he ended up in the Navy.  However, my brother Chris was nothing if not always full of contradictions.

First, a few things to level-set:

  • Chris was not a particularly great swimmer prior to joining the Navy.  None of us were; we were poor kids growing up in a housing project, so our options for swimming were pretty much limited to free public pools and whatever we could experience in summer camp (which, because we were poor kids growing up in a housing project, were somewhat limited).
  • Chris never expressed any interest in the Navy, in sailing, in anything even remotely maritime. 
  • As far as I know, outside of maybe once during a summer vacation to Atlantic City (P.G.=Pre-Gambling, when AC was just this decrepit, decaying shore town), none of us spent any appreciable time on boats.
  • I don't know of any relatives who served in the Navy.  Our father and his brother both served in the Army (one as a medic, one in the Army Air Corps during World War II), but I know of no one in the Navy.

Truth be told, I'm not sure what drove Chris to the Navy.  I do know the decision to join the military was a logical one for him, as he wasn't an academic type in school (none of us were...I had decent grades without working too hard, but I think that was just random genetics at work), and he had a burning desire to move away from home as quickly as possible.  He also had basically zero marketable skills...none of us did at that stage...and in Scranton we as far from politically connected as one can finding a job right out of high school that paid enough to live (independently) simply wasn't going to happen.  What to do?

As best I can recall, Chris knew he wanted to join the armed services upon graduation from high school.  My best guess is that, for him, the Army was too common, the Air Force was boring (and they don't let kids just out of high school fly planes) and the Marines offered only one real job opportunity, namely killing people.  I suspect that his friend Tim was also involved in this decision.  Anyway, after meeting with a Navy recruiter and being given quasi-graphic descriptions of what certain women will do for money in the Philippines, well the decision was made.

About the only time I had ever heard of my brother Chris actually being humble was to be found in his letters home from basic training.  Whatever they did, they did it well, because the process of basic training (which for Chris was in Great Lakes) literally broke him down and re-formed him.  Someone who had been undisciplined was suddenly just the opposite.  Maybe that large Hispanic drill instructor yelling "Ricky Recruit" at him the top of his lungs to do with that state.

Here's where the story gets just a tab bit odd (well, make that "odder"):  My brother opted to train to become a medical corpsman.  Note that Chris expressed zero interest in anything medical.  Nothing.  Zero.  Zilch.  He liked cooking, so I had thought that maybe that's where he would land, but no, it was medical stuff.  In later years, while likely under the influence or coming out from under the influence, Chris would describe how horrible some of the visuals he saw in his medical career, and while sorting out fact from self-dosed pharmacology may be somewhat difficult, I do believe that Chris saw some difficult visuals in his service.

Here's where I get to throw in yet another contradiction:  My brother Chris never served on board a ship.  Yes, a sailor who never actually sailed.  Instead, his service was spent between Norfolk, Virginia and Camp Lejeune in South Carolina.  In talking to Chris over the years, I never got the impression that the stint in Norfolk was all that memorable from a career perspective.  Personally, that's where (I believe) he met his first wife, but job wise, it seemed to be something of a yawn.  He did, over the years, talk quite a bit about Camp Lejeune though.  By way of back-story, the Chris of the mid-1980's was very physically fit, and since being a medic with the Marie Corps required being able to keep up with said Marines, that part was a lay-up for him.  Other random tidbits from Chris during this time of his service included:
  • Squid - Apparently this was the preferred insult dished out by Marines to sailors such as Chris.
  • Shot in the Butt - When asked, Chris said that his stint with the Marines mainly consisted of giving Marines penicillin shots.  And not for random cuts and scrapes, if you know what I mean.
  • Chiggers - When asked about the worst part of Camp Lejeune, other than the heat, Chris would always talk about chiggers...and having to dig them out.  You can read more about them HERE.

After leaving the Navy Chris never displayed any interest in working in the medical field.  Instead, Chris ended up in government service...with the Postal Service, Veterans Administration, and Office of Mine safety.  I honestly don't think any of that work actually interested him all that much; after all, his work at the VA and Office of Mine Safety was in maintaining computers, and even I knew more about computers than Chris ever did.  What did interest Chris, and what he did as side jobs (and one full time gig while living in New Jersey) for virtually all his life, was cooking.  My brother loved to cook.

In a life full of contradictions...a man who was a pro-abortion, anti-established religion "conservative"...the non-academic who never the less earned his college degree...a tough guy who simply loved cats and adored brother never the less embraced all of what he did with enthusiasm.  He was, by every measure I've heard, exceptionally good as a medic.  As a cook.  As a postal carrier.  Even as an IT guy (although I still think I knew more about computers than he did).

Somewhere in New Jersey:  The unlikely sailor 
having earned his college degree, 
with his mother, daughter Miranda, and brother Rich.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Of loss and feeling cheated

I’m going to apologize in advance for any funkiness with regards to the font and/or text size, as I am working with a hodgepodge of not-so-finely coordinated tools this week, involving much copy and pasting, a tethered cell phone internet connection and probably several other things I am forgetting at the moment.

* * * * * *
Sunday, June 25, 2017
The older I get, the more I appreciate the lyrics in some of Roger Waters' Pink Floyd songs.  For the benefit of the un-initiated, some of his songs (such as the incredible “Wish You Were Here”) deal with the loss, if you want to call it that, of band founder Syd Barrett.  You can Google the details if you want.

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

I’m on a much needed vacation this week, and part of the “much needed” part, I think, comes from a need to mentally deal with loss.  It’s not as if I haven’t already tried; well, in point of fact, I haven’t really tried.  Part of me doesn’t really know how to deal with this stuff.  I have a lifetime of mostly avoidance when it comes to dealing with such things, going back to when I was a kid and my mother would be yelling at the top of her lungs and I would find some safe place to weather the verbal storm.  Some skills, if you want to call them that, stay with you for a very long time.

The loss, for what it's worth, is really two-fold:  My (former) job and my brother, both of which I thought/had hoped would be with me for far longer.  Both of which, I will also add, provided me with plenty of cues that they wouldn’t (be with me far longer).  In both cases, my ability to deal with strong emotions by mostly not feeling them has been on full display for only me to see.  For the record I know this is unhealthy, but in an almost odd quasi-parallel to my brother, I’m not sure I know how to stop.  At best, over the years this blog as been one of the few ways I can try to sort things out in my own head.  Sad but true, you just happen to be along for the ride.

I want to also add that part of how I feel is a certain kind of disgust at myself.  The worst possible thought bubble I have about others is that “they are weak”, which is precisely why, I think, I struggle dealing with my dual losses:  I simply don’t want to be weak.  I don’t want to be that “weak” person who can’t get over stuff.

To the extent I have dealt with anything it was been my loss of a job, poured mostly into my new job.  I feel a kind of frenetic whirl as I am at my (new) job, so much so that there have been a few days when my chest has literally been pounding as the day ends.  I am shocked and almost dismayed at the level of concentration I put into it, so much so that I almost feel like a different person.  In some ways, it just doesn’t seem like me; at best it’s this turbo-charged on steroids version of me.  It’s like this heavy suit I put on when I go to work and take off as I leave Jessup, Pennsylvania.  To make matters truly surreal, I have simply wonderful co-workers…they are professional, exceptionally well qualified (as well qualified a team as you find in any organization, bar none), and hard-working.  In fact, I couldn’t ask for a better group of folk to work with, which adds a kind of exclamation point to the notion that how I feel is a kind of manufactured (in my own head) reality.  Yes, I landed well, but far too often my thoughts go back to the one-way 30 second video conference call that ended my nearly 28 year prior career. 

To that last point, I don’t even recall what she said in the 30 second video stream, other than the outcome.

Monday, June 26, 2017
I had hoped that my brother would have been around for much longer.  Part of me envisioned spending more time with him as we got older.  We had talked, for example, about going in an exploratory hike around the old Rocky Glen amusement park.  I knew he would be able to retire early, as he had worked for the federal government for most of his life, and that this would afford him some level of comfort.  The idea of maybe going on vacation with Chris and his wife had crossed my mind as well.  With Chris, or so the Chris I like to remember from years past, there was a kind of independence.  I didn’t have to worry about him, or help him, or otherwise be the “smart, successful one”, something that pains me on so many levels.  Of course, as the years went by and his illness began to consume his life much like a cancer, all of that went out the window, and I was left at the bitter end being someone who did in fact worry about him, as well as helping him out financially (which, I will add, was a mistake…but a mistake I would make over and over again).  Chris was one of the few people in my life that I truly had a shared experience with, who could understand some of the dynamic that shaped our mutual and perturbed views on life.

I feel robbed, that somehow life has needless cheated me out of two important things, and for the life of me, I didn't really ask for all that much in the first place.  I functionally didn’t have a father growing up.  I had a mother who was incredibly bitter and angry much of the time.  Was it too much to ask to at least have all of my brothers?  Apparently it was.

Growing up, Chris and I were both every different, yet we also had so much in common.   In an odd sort of way, it’s as if we were both cut from the same cast, but we both drifted in opposite directions.  My brother was a smart guy in every sense of the word.  If he set his mind to something he achieved it.  With rare exception, he was successful at just about everything he attempted in life.  He was persistent and passionate, two qualities that I greatly admire in anyone, let alone my brother.  He was also supremely confident…from the outside…so much so that he could be accused of arrogance.

Where we drifted apart, it was, I think, in how we handled the stresses of growing up in our dysfunctional environment.  Where I drew inward, he lashed outward.  My coping skills included over-thinking and rumination, while his mostly included rebellion.  Chris was, without a doubt, a rebel with a cause, with that “cause” being fighting back against an upbringing that he somehow viewed as having cheated him.  He ran away to the Navy and I ran away to college, but since I was the far more cautious of the two, I waited two years.  We both knew that something was off in our childhood, but neither of us had the skills to actually understand, let alone cope, with the circumstances.  And I’m still looking.

Perhaps what I saw in my brother was a final chance of having someone around whom, as we were both older and wiser, would be able to help finally and fully unpack our shared childhood.  I’ve been cheated out of someone who understood, at a very basic level, this far too difficult to explain shared experience.  Chris was someone who, in the absence of real answers, would at least be able to offer some affirmation that it wasn’t “just me”.

In the end, I know that, deep down, I am still truly blessed, and that everyone carries their own cross in life, even if some are far heavier than others.  Mine may, in fact, be relatively light.  Still, maybe my hope had been that my dues in this part of life were prepaid in years past, that somehow at this point things would less dramatic.  Note that I never wrote the word “easier”, because I get that part:  No one ever says that life is or should be easy. 

So here I sit, on a back porch overlooking the Chesapeake Bay on a very sunny Monday morning.  There is a breeze in the air, and a boat in the bay putting down or pulling up crab pots.  My legs are a tad bit sore from a 6 mile + bike ride (with my mother-in-law, no less), but otherwise I am fully functional.  If ever there was a place where answers could be found, it's likely here.  At the very least, it feels peaceful.  Maybe...just maybe...that's what I really need right now:  Some peace.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

When the "I am emotionally indestructible" body armor comes off every once in a while (such as now), you can probably get me to admit that little things such as Father's Day are meaningful.  Hearing from all three daughters (and having dinner & quality time with one) and receiving a card from my stepsons was very nice, even if today was something of a whirlwind of activity.  For me though, fast-paced days are probably the best days I can have, if for no other reason than they serve the invaluable purpose of getting me out repetitive cycles of thinking about things and towards simply just living things.

Speaking of Father's Day, I was talking to my youngest daughter about being a father, and she told me about someone she knew who was afraid to be a father, mostly because this young man didn't have a good role model growing up.  I could relate to that on one level, and one of my brothers chose to not be a father for pretty much the same reason.  However, I always took the opposite approach:  My father was a tremendous asset to me as a parent for one simple reason:  He shows me what not to do.  Looking back now over a span of something like 50 years, I can only recall now a few interactions with my father...

...that time he took me to a bar on Adams Avenue in Scranton.  I can still smell the beer, cigarette smoke and urine hanging over the place like some death cloud.

...that one time I remember him being in our house on Pine Street.  I didn't appear to end well.

...the time he gave me a bottle of shampoo as a gift.

...the few times I (and my brothers) would meet him in some flop hotel where he would dole out $75 to each of us.

...the times when I would take my mother to visit him in the veteran's home in Dundee, New York.

Not exactly Leave It To Beaver kind of stuff.  Still though, in life, we are given a set of circumstances, and what we choose to do with those circumstances defines who we are as human beings.  I never occurred to me to not be a father myself because of how I was raised.  I did, from time to time, worry that I didn't exactly know how to be a father, but along the way I met a few good men (such as my ex-wife's late father) who provided me with good examples to follow.  When I didn't know what to do I simply did my best, hoping that positive intent would trump flawed execution.

Back at the present day, I continue to do my best as a father, which means that I continue to probably make plenty of mistakes, all be it well-intentioned ones.  While that sounds like something of a downer, I can say the following with complete certainty:  In a life where showing up is half the battle, I've already succeeded in learning from my own father, as I did, in fact, actually show up.

Thursday, June 15, 2017


We have an initiative at work related to wellness, and while I do confess that I've struggled with parts of it (the initiative...and...well...wellness as a whole), at my core I know it's a good thing.  A really good thing.  As part of this initiative, the HR team gets together every other week to talk about what we're doing to promote wellness within our group.  Now there are other elements to this, including group competitions, and theme days (Fruity Fridays), but I'm not going to get into any of that; if you're interested in this from a professional standpoint you can always contact me via email.  Anyway, one of the things we're striving to do as a team is to have an informational topic (related to wellness, of course) discussed during a bi-weekly meeting.  Being something of an idiot/glutton for punishment, I volunteered to speak at the next wellness get together on the topic of mindfulness.

The "idiot" part, above, is more than just simply Trumpian hyperbole...there's something of a basis in fact, as while I know a fair amount about mindfulness, I struggle mightily with it.  Given close to 2,000 postings, I know I've written about this topic before, and will likely write about it again.  So sue me.  The point is this:  I have to give a little talk about mindfulness on Friday.

I have some ideas as to what I'm going to say.  Probably the bigger question though is this:  Why did I volunteer to do this in the first place?  In some respects, you can forget "struggle mightily"; I would say that I actually suck at it.  Maybe this makes me an ideal candidate to talk about mindfulness, as I'm something of an exaggerated version of everyone who struggles with a mind that wanders off of the present moment like seagulls just happen to wander into a dropped pizza slice on a Jersey boardwalk.

By way of a virtual time machine, I spent a lot of my child and young adulthood struggling mightily with worrisome thoughts about both the past and the future.  I wasn't fond of where I came from, and I was constantly worried that someone would "find me out" as being the fraud I was in the not-too-distant future.  In fact, being a father at an early age (mid-20's) was something of a saving grace for me, in that it almost forced me to back away from so many destructive thoughts and instead focus on taking care of business for my family.  Of course, back in those days, it wasn't called "mindfulness".

Fast forward in the virtual time machine to when my children were no longer children, and I had to face a kind of existential crisis of my own, much of which is documented in the early days of this blog.  It was at that point, struggling mightily with a few things, that I actually began to read about the importance of being who you are, about how utterly useless ruminating about the past was, and how much of one's life is wasted worrying about the future.  In a kind of very real sense, I needed to be told these things (but smart people who have written books), just as we are all told very fundamental things early in our lives.  It's just that this fundamental thing didn't make it to me until I was something like 46 years old.

"But Steve, you always seemed like you had your act together."

The key word in that sentence is "act".  I very much moved through life making it sometimes by sheer force of will, all the while dealing with perceived inadequacies, both real and imaginary.  My superpower back then was perseverance.  What I wanted was something cooler, like lasers shooting out from my highly dysfunctional eyes; instead, I got self-inflicted shame and pervasive worrying (oh, and perseverance).

So yes, I did learn quite a bit about mindfulness.  About not wasting my precious time on Earth worrying about what might come.  About compartmentalizing thoughts centering on the past into two basic buckets:  Things that could help me appreciate the today and...well...garbage.  I've also learned how mindfulness shows up in our daily lives.

What's the most important thing I've learned about mindfulness?  That's actually a simple question to answer:  Mindfulness isn't a place...or an achievement...or a badge of honor...or a rank...or a guru status.  It's not something you are able to master, at least not in how I think about such things.  No, mindfulness is a practice.  There is no goal, other than to simply practice it.  Practicing it more doesn't necessarily make me better at it by the way.  In fact, of late I've been struggling with the practice, but this is yet more proof that it is a practice in the first place.  Expressed another way, "trying to practice" actually is practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness, at its heart, is the simple act of simply being.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Body Count

This weekend I had the home to myself, as my wife and my stepsons were in Massachusetts visiting family members.  I would have gone, but I'm saving up my vacation time for an upcoming trip (the trials and tribulations of the new employee).  Anyway, the timing was actually pretty good, as I had been meaning to do work on our second-floor porch, which just happens to be about 6 feet from where I type this very posting.  A quiet house meant that I could make a lot of noise...and grime...with only the cats to offend.  The actual work, by the way, went well.

By way of digression, we really liked the second-floor porch when we bought the house, but it was probably the most shabby part of the structure.  Structurally, by the way, it's in very sound condition.  However, the screening seems to pre-date the Korean War, and as a result, it just had to go.  While just replacing the actual screens would have been okay, I preferred, as I usually do, to take a far more difficult route, namely to rip out the screening and its framing.  The underlying idea was to go from 7 panels of screening to 4, improving the amount of light, airflow, Feng Shui, etc.

(front facing panels, before)

(front facing, new framing)

Oh, who am I kidding:  I just like to play with tools and break things.  Where "things" hopefully don't include body parts.

I do, in all candor, have a habit of injuring myself with most household projects that involve things that are heavy, sharp, or otherwise even remotely dangerous.  There was the time, for instance, where I literally filleted my leg as I was cutting drywall (afterward I learned "never use your leg as a cutting board").

Anyway, I did, in fact, remove all of the old screens and associated framing, as well as building the structure for the new screens.  See above; I actually made more progress than what you see in the photo.  My wife does most of the painting work in the house...well the painting that requires decent eyesight to things are pretty close to being turned over to her for phase two of the project.

As far as breaking things, well, no broken bones.  That's the good news.  The bad news?  Well, there's this...

(with apologies for showing an unadorned body part, and yes, I dropped lumber on my foot)

...and a few cuts to my fingers.  One of the cuts was on the bleed-y side, so much so that I ended up having to undue some electrical work (part of the project involves replacing a porch-mounted flood light), as I started to bleed all over the wires.  Can you imagined how that would have smelled had the power come on?  The bruising and bleeding comes a bit more easily these days, thanks in part to modern pharmacology's wonderful blessing of next-generation blood thinners.  

For the record, I'm actually pretty good with electrical work, and, believe it or not, have never accidentally so much as lightly shocked myself.  For the life of me, I'm not entirely sure how this is even possible.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Bad News on the Doorstep

There was a tragic event in my neck of the Pennsylvania woods this week, details HERE.

It's not worth me telling the story of what happened, mostly because I don't know.  Well, I know something horrible happened, I know there was violence, I know that are likely mental health issues at play.  I know enough to reference this for the posting.  I don't want to know anymore.

It's simply too difficult for me to process this kind of thing, at least now.

Speaking of now, I'd like to think of myself as a mentally tough individual, and perhaps that's true on most days and/or months.  It's certainly true some of the time, but even I can get overloaded when it comes to death and despair.  Since the passing of my brother, well, it feels as if my emotional bank account has been running at something of a deficit.  At most, I can feel deeply for the families of those who died in this story, including the perpetrator of this horrible crime.  It's easy to be angry at this young man...the perpetrator...but he was certainly someone who was suffering as well.

There is a kind of irony to this posting actually when you think about it:  I feel emotionally vacant at times, in part because of the death of my brother, and this young man was likely exploding with emotion such that he caused deaths.

A friend on Facebook posted an update related to those who suffer from mental health issues, which is certainly a right and noble thing to do in this circumstance.  It's that posting, and my reply to it, that drove me to this space.  My overwhelming thought?  There is just so much collateral damage that comes from dealing with mental illness, and true to form, the closer you are to it, the more damage it inflicts on you.  When you are in that circumstance it can become exceptionally difficult to know just what is the rational thing to do.  Logic and proportion fall sloppy dead*.  It's the ultimate puzzle full of pieces, some of them missing, and no picture on the box for guidance.

As I noted in my reply to that Facebook posting, my heart goes out to those suffering as a result of this horrible event.  May they eventually find some peace.

(*) With a nod to the Jefferson Airplane.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A (Stern) Catholic Upbringing

I've had this posting in my head for a number of years, and for whatever reason, it's been percolating even more so lately.  That's probably a sign that I need to "work out the poison".  For the record, I write this as someone who probably owns more books on religion and religious thought that most non-clergy folks.

(A small sampling)

I mention my small book collection not because I want to impress...or whatever the opposite of impress is...anyone, but more so just to make a point, namely that I do think about the bigger things in life (this life and maybe the next one) often.  And I do seek answers, although I also confess that for the most part, my searching tends to yield more questions than anything else.

Much of how I see and seek things in the area of faith and religious thought comes from how I was raised.  My mother, born a Baptist (or so I believe) converted to Catholicism in the early 1960's.  While pretty busy as a poor single parent, she never the less insisted that her boys attend church ever Sunday.  We were also altar servers for many, many years, and three of us Albert boys attended a Catholic high school, more or less in spite of my mother's ability to actually pay for it.  From a religious formation perspective, I think we got the standard drill, or as Mother Angelica would later call it, "Catechesis".  For me, it was so well ingrained that I was able to become the president of the Catholic students group my senior year of college.  So where did things fall off the rails?

Thinking back to when I was far thinner (both in weight and in critical thinking skills), the over-riding word that would describe growing up Catholic was "stern".  In our parish, we had a stern older priest who didn't actually seem to like kids all that much.  The parishioners didn't seem to like kids all that much either.  I remember stern lectures from the pulpit about the noise made by kneelers going up at inappropriate times, about folks who would leave the church right after receiving communion, about countless other items.  For a church building that was actually (in hindsight) pretty beautiful from an aesthetic perspective, it was not such a beautiful place to be in, truth be told.

The standard rub you hear about Catholics, by the way, is that it's too much about rules and regulations.  A kind of "paint by numbers" mentality towards the hereafter, whereby if you just do the right things, if you go through the right motions, somehow your celestial punch-card will be sufficiently full as to allow you to sit on a cloud after you die.  I get that criticism, and on one level I even agree with it, but it was never the thing that really made my Catholic upbringing so unattractive in the rear-view mirror.  The retrospective has afforded me the luxury of seeing a much bigger paradox:  For a place that somehow celebrated a loving God, it was just not a very happy or loving place.  As I said, a stern place lead by a stern priest, and full of stern and unwelcoming people.  As a young kid, it wasn't shocking that I also viewed God in this kind of stern light.  Now I did meet more than a few wonderful priests both back and since then, but as a young kid, the happy and engaged priest was the exception, not the rule.

A byproduct of my Catholic upbringing was a kind of latent fear of being anything other than, well, a Catholic.  While I've always loved reading about other religious philosophies (as a teenager I read every single book the Scranton Public Library had on the Mormon Church), even as a kid I could never make the leap away from being a practicing Catholic.  I was in my 40's before I stopped going to church on a semi-regular basis.  Why then?  I suspect it was more to do with a lot of the pressures I had back then in my life, with the underlying nut being that this thing that was supposed to bring me comfort...namely a religious faith...didn't.  As I've written on the blog before, there was also the issue of divorce that I had to later contend with, but by the time that issue crept up in my life, well, the ship had already sailed.

There's been a lot written (including a very insightful Pew study you can link to HERE) that goes into detail about the decline of organized religion in the United States.  Maybe what I've written here is mirrored by others, and quite frankly I don't have the time or the energy to see if that's actually the case.  In a sense that line of thought really doesn't matter anyway, as while religion is a collective action, it is also inherently a deeply personal one as well.  My 40 years of trying to find at least one answer in the faith of my upbringing left my pretty empty handed, but certainly not bitter.  If anything, I have tremendous admiration for those that actually do find answers (or at least comfort) in their faith.  That's a super-power that I lack.

It would be easy from the above text to think that I'm angry or disillusioned with organized religion, but that's actually not the case.  In fact, I think I have more admiration for organized religion now than I ever had in the past.  While as a kid what I saw was a sea of sternness, now I actually know people that find answers and comfort in their faith, regardless of the actual faith (including Catholics).  That's a good thing.  Me?  I'm just going to keep reading.