Friday, November 11, 2016
This piece first appeared on the website City Dads Group and I have permission to post it here.
My 11-year-old sons will be home from school soon. We discussed the presidential election this morning. They seemed a little stunned, but I was glad to see they weren’t frightened. They may come home that way, though.
I imagine different scenarios. What I might say to a kid who asks if everything will be OK; who asks if a president can really deport people or ban a religion? What’ll I say to the other when he asks if Mom will still have a job, or if we are going to have to move somewhere?
I will answer them gracefully, I will say important things like, “Your life shines brighter than all of this. Decency, courage, honor, truth, love never go away, they are steadfast. Things will change, a darkness may descend, but the light of hope cannot be extinguished.”
We will hug in the driveway. I will weep for and with them. I will lift their quivering chins and look them in the eyes and tell them they are safe and cherished. I will apologize for my naivete. I will choke back a sob as I tell them I was wrong, very wrong.
I will watch as they throw a backpack down in disgust at the injustice of it all. I will tell them I understand, that injustice cracks hearts and weighs heavy on the soul. I will tell them to stick up for themselves and advocate for others. I will tell them hope is never lost.
Because no matter what side of this whole thing you are on, you can do this: Volunteer. Find a place you can help and call them, go there. This new administration is going to change things, and it may add more misery to millions of lives.
You can donate food or money, support LGBT causes, make sure children are safe and fed, walk a friend home after dark, embrace the homeless, advocate for others. One thing, even one little thing, could help. Helping others is just that, helping others, but, you see, you are an “other.” You need to give that frightened man, that widowed mother, that shivering child, your warm hands, for they are you. Fuck that “there but for the grace of God go I.” No, it is more like “There goes I.” Shining hope into the broken corners of society shows you your own light.
Do the important things — love, give hope, lift others. Let this not be the end of decency. Let this not be the end of honor. Let this not be the end of courtesy. It’s up to us now, let us not be afraid, let our light shine.
Never relinquish hope.
+ + +
The boys came home a few minutes ago. I wait in the driveway as I always do, the bigger boy tosses me his backpack as he often does. The other boy is quiet, as he usually is.
“Hey, Dad, I need to ask you something …”
Here we go, I’m ready. I steel myself, and wait for the scene I practiced all afternoon to begin.
“… what’s for dinner?”
“Oh, and Dad.”
Here it comes.
“I think we are going to start basketball practice next week, the coach’s son is in math with me and he said something about it.”
And they walk into the garage and on into the house.
You see, they didn’t lose hope. They can’t. They are hope. To them it is dinner and practices and friends and difficult math homework and books. It is the good yet to come. They are not innocent and selfish, I don’t mean to say that. No. They are confident and sure in that good yet to come. And, isn’t that hope at its purest? They can’t be distracted away from hope, it is designed into them.
I’ve come a long way from the volunteering thing I mentioned.
Or have I?
The truth is, I am the trembling boy in the driveway, just as sure as I am the homeless, the forgotten, the disenfranchised and broken who have and will need my, your hope.
Remember, we are all each others hope and that hope has a home in the heart. Let it shine. Do not place it under the bushels of fear, cynicism or despair. Let it shine bright in you, from you, aim it toward the others, particularly the children, and see theirs lighting you as well.
Hey boys, head on over to this post if you want to know how I really felt and still feel, about the events of this past week. In other words, wait, there's more, there's always more.
Hey, you're here.
Listen, I'm gonna drop character here for a sec. The results of this election have stymied me, gobsmacked me, bewildered me, stunned me. I feel, well, roughed up a bit. I may have hit my head so hard with my own hand that I'm not sure who I am anymore.
Am I that boy who grew up in the country with grass-stained knees and yellow hair? Surrounded by good country folks whose opinions about others were questionable? Where there was a sameness as dull as milk but not nearly as refreshing?
Am I a teenage football player ogling cheerleaders and saying off-color things, bullshit things, things as untrue as the mustache I tried to sport?
Am I that same teenage boy playing Peter in a fall production of "The Diary of Ann Frank"? Crying real tears as the despair hit me at the end of the second act that cold opening night?
Perhaps I'm that same boy, a senior now, standing in a field, leaning against a beat-to-hell, piss yellow VW Beatle, Rolling Rock in hand screaming "It's only teenage wasteland" to The Who and any Gods that might have been listening?
Am I a college freshman leading a posse of man-boys out into the cold Athens streets into bars and trouble and legend? Or, wait, am I that same kid getting his mind blown by Sartre and Kafka, Ionesco, Williams and that Shakespeare guy?
Am I a lonesome waiter, a boozesome bartender, surrounded by a busyness I'd never known in a city I'd no business being in? Am I taking in every face, every gesture; feeling every emotion, weeping through them; listening to every story, remembering every sorrow?
Am I a fresh start, different place, different faces, the same stories - the only stories, essentials. Am I a thirty year lifer of tables and barstools, winekeys and tablecloths?
Am I suddenly a husband?
Am I improbably a father to twins, to boys?
Yes, yes I am.
But who am I right now, at this moment of confusion?
I'm all those dudes, and scores of others. When emotion and memory entwine, tense is suspended. I can taste that skunky Rolling Rock right now. Every table I've ever waited on, every person I ever laid a bev-nap in front of, are right here. A moment in a wedding, white and good. Two babies laughing. All in present tense.
But what of the real present.
Ah, that's the problem. I've not had time to understand who I am this time.
Should I spew my emotions out here? Get on board the vitriol train which runs both ways these days? It's tempting, but that yellow-haired boy doesn't understand why we have to be so mean.
Should I be more sympathetic to the locker room talk, try to understand the back room racism, be more understanding of the xenophobe because once - now, you see - I was like that? No, because the teenage boy and the college would-be Lothario and the wily bartender will all tell you it is bullshit and we know it.
Should I be the Pollyanna I play so often on my blog? You know, when I speak on love and honor and charity and capitalize them for affect? When I look forward for and with the boys with faith in humanity, with dignity, with hope. Do I mean it? The father looks back at me in the mirror and says "every damn word."
Should I put on my warrior hat, tarnished with years of disuse, and charge into the injustices so many tell me won't come, but will? No, because the me typing these words in not up for the fight, although "Teenage Wasteland" boy says he is.
Should I run towards my gay friends, arms outreaching, only to have them run away as I scream, "No, don't run, it's a happy, hippy, philosopher's beard not a redneck beard!"?
Should I wear a safety pin on my sweatshirt and point myself out as a "helper"? Will any one believe it? Do we need blue and red stars on out foreheads like some dystopian Sneetches so we know who to trust?
Do I stop drinking Yuengling because the owner's a dick? Is that the distribution team's fault, or the truck driver's, or the men and women who designed the logo, or the bartender that pulls the draft?
Does that place with the burgers I like so much not get my business anymore 'cause I heard the investors are Republicans? What of the servers there, the mom with two daughters, the college girl at X? What of their vote?
What if the fireman thinks I'm a Liberal, will he let my house burn down? Will the cop be leery of my old Ford truck.
Do I go back to church where most disagree with the choice I made?
What the actual fuck?!?
I'm scared, boys, because I am unsure of the path ahead.
But, this is the hard part to understand, all those others are. They've defined me so well, shown me who I am so thoroughly that their collective soul, here, alive in me right now is sure of the path.
I can't imagine this makes much sense.
Boys, it's hard to be an adult. Choices are never very clear and there is a lot, a lot, of improvisation and questioning along with every one we encounter.
You know what? I was willing to give myself a place to rant here tonight. I wanted to but my rant confused and contradicted me. I've typed twice as much tonight as you see here. But, I deleted it because it made me uncomfortable. Some of it was hateful, some was violent, some was laced with more expletives than even I am comfortable with. Most of it was a betrayal of myself, myselfs, all that I was and have come to be.
In the middle of one of my more rantier moments here tonight, I lifted my steaming head and looked out into the backyard and saw this.
There is not a one of me that wouldn't stop to look at that.
Yeah, maybe I'll just stick with the Pollyanna thing.
It's late, I've no time to really edit this, which it obviously needs, and the boys will be home from the Xavier basketball game they went to tonight.
Peace, we'll get back to our regular programming next week.
Friday, November 4, 2016
This was on the grocery list a few days ago:
It's cute, isn't it?
There's more, of course. When we were first married, Marci used to put little love notes and smiley faces and such on the list that hangs on the side of the refrigerator, she still does. When I asked Z to put cookies on the list, this is what he did. I don't think he ever saw Marci do it, or saw it on a list before, it just occurred to him.
I'm glad it did.
I've decided to do a thirty-four week "retreat for Everyday Life." It is presented by the Collaborative Ministry Office at Creighton University and is founded in Ignation thought and the tenets of the Jesuits - The Brothers of Christ. It suggests a theme and a path for prayer and reflection and...
...blah, blah, blah...
It's not complicated. I won't be wearing holes in my jeans knees or thrice whumping my chest above my heart or fasting or proselytizing - all laudable - but, I will give it some thought.
One of the bible dudes said something like "pray without ceasing." Yeah, that's a tall order. But, what if our very thoughts are like prayers, every action a folding of the hands, every breath a celebration? If I welcome an idea into my heart with the hope that it will bring me deeper in Faith, wouldn't then every subsequent thought and revelation and fear be but a prayer?
This week tells us to prepare for the journey. This week asks us to be honest and joyous and free. Mostly though, this week asks us to go back in our lives, to think about our young childhood, our adolescence and our young adult life.
"Let's let the Lord show us our lives."
That's some radical thinking, right there. I always look back at my life as a self-guided tour. I feel my own sorrows, I rejoice in myself, I brave the memory of bad times, I celebrate myself for my victories. All, bolstered and lifted by my own damn self.
But what if someone else led the tour? What if God led the tour?
I've been all through my life, honestly. If nothing else, I've always been introspective. My timeline is pretty solid. I've felt the feelings, all that. In my arrogance and sheer smugness, I figured their wasn't much for God to show me. And you know what? I was right.
Except... the light was wrong, or the perspective was off or something. I wasn't the hero or antagonist in this writing. I was not the main character in this narrative, I was in the chorus at best.
This time through, my attention was called to what others - what God, for God is always in others - were doing for me. This kindness, that help, that understanding. Beautiful things and powerful wisdom, enormous love. From parents and friends and family, strangers, lovers, enemies. So much I've missed in my story, or forgotten, really.
It's a great exercise, but I think we are doomed to be tragic heroes of our own stories, I know I am. But...
I was looking at some old photographs from my childhood days, hoping maybe to see something new. Something profound or heart skipping, looking for what God was trying to show me, which one shouldn't really try.
As I flipped around pages, looking at pictures I know well, I didn't see just the trapped moment, this time.
A picture of a boy in a football uniform beside my old school isn't just about me. It's about the dirty split uniforms and scrapes my mother cleaned and mended. It's about trips to and from practice. It's about coaches and community and place. A picture of little Billy Peebles, posing with a football on a fall day in rural Ohio, is, lastly, about me. It is about the respect and honor put - sometimes undeservedly, I might add - towards me. The picture is just a culmination of countless acts of love bestowed on me by others. Sound familiar?
I think I knew all this. Especially now as a parent. It's good to remember that we are lifted along the journey by others. I think I fulfilled the basic intent of this weeks theme, don't you?
But there was something else, something I couldn't grab. I kept, in selfishness, looking at my face in picture after picture. Yes, even when I was trying to see something different I kept searching my own face. Now, remember, I am trying to take the tour, not lead it. Then, why do I keep scrutinizing each expression, trying to read a boy's mind decades ago?
There is a series of pictures taken on an old Instamatic in seventy-two. Black and whites of a shed JB and I built one summer. The shed from this story about Mr. Barnes and us. JB is in some of them. In one he's petting our old dog, Deputy. There is a blurry one of me peering from a window - the window - of our shack, but this is the one that caught my eye:
I flipped back to a few others and it suddenly occurred to me, I wasn't looking at the boy, the boy was watching me. I looked at other pictures and in many I am watching something. Candles on a cake, a brother, my dad, nowhere. Even when I am looking at the camera, I seem to be looking at the person behind it, or even through them and on to the future, my now, now.
I've spent my whole life watching and it all probably started as a kid. I've never thought of that really. That as a boy, as the last of three sons, there was a lot to watch. I grew up in the late sixties and seventies, there was a lot to watch. I grew up around fields and woods and gravel pits and ponds, there was a lot to watch.
I think though, all I did was watch. I wasn't trying to understand, infer, learn. I was just taking it all in, knowing somehow, that I'd have time for that later. And, that has served me well over the course of a lifetime. I didn't then, and I may still not, know the importance of all that watching, but it occurs to me that it might now be that "later" I've been waiting for.
I look at that boy sitting in a shed and see him watching me, a pleasant, expectant look on his face and I hear him say, "You're turn."
I'd like to tell you about a long term plan that has me publishing something here on Fridays about this retreat, each post framed around the theme of the week, you know, sort of as a writing prompt. I won't though, I am really not good at long range things, I can think of a few other ideas I had like this which now lay fallow in the back pages here.
I will tell you this, though. I can't give an honest account of myself without including my journey through Faith. I can't not use words like God and Spirit and, if it's fitting, even Jesus. And, to be honest, I'm tired of trying to work around them, trying to be vague in the hope of not offending those who aren't walking this road. I don't want to be didactic or condescending or disingenuous, although some might see it as such. And, most certainly, I don't want to offend or insult. If I have, or do, let me apologize now.
Peace to you all. So few come around anymore, I appreciate your time, I really do.
It's funny, it pretty much just "occurred" to me to write this today. I was going to write on cuteness.