Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Happiness And Catching Watermelons

I feel like I have been beat up. I am sore all over. Why? I haven't exercised or done any manual labor in the last few days. I think the culprit is a little three year girl. Much of the weekend I was picking her up and down, playing with her on the floor, or sitting in my chair catching her as she leaped into my arms from the love seat next to my chair. Sometimes when I am with Chloe I feel like one of those old silver back gorillas on a Animal Planet special. Usually there is an old gorilla just trying to be still and take it easy. However, there is usually one or two young gorillas climbing all over him. Eventually the old gorilla gets tired of it and flings them off of him. Catching Chloe reminds me of an experience in my youth. I was a teenager and I had been out drinking with my friends. The next morning I didn't feel so hot but I still had to go to work. In those days I worked in a grocery store. When I got to work I tried to keep a low profile. Unfortunately the boss spied me and gave me the job of going outside and catching watermelons that some old farmer was going to toss me from a truck. I had to catch these huge watermelons and stack them outside the grocery store. A few times they were so big and the old farmer threw them with such force that he almost knocked me down! The whole time I was doing it I silently vowed that I would never drink again. Of course, it was a promise to myself that I didn't keep, at least not for a while.

The Sunday newspaper has an article entitled "Being happy can be elusive". It basically said that today's people, despite all their wealth and comforts, are no happier than people in the past with less money and fewer comforts. It stated that there are three types of happiness. There's the "good day" when you do not have to spend too much time in tasks of drudgery and you can indulge in some things that bring pleasure. Most of my worst days are "good days". There is "euphoria", which is an intense and fleeting state that involves some risk. An example of this for me is putting up with all the hassle of going to a concert and being rewarded with some great musical performances. Finally, there's your basic "happy life" which requires hard work, striving, nurturing, maintaining, mourning, and birthing. This is the ongoing and lasting happiness that requires some effort on our part. The article goes on to describe some "happiness habits" that we need to form in order to do the work of being happy.

Here are fa few examples....

Figure out what's important to you. Do you value a certain kind of job, material things, a relationship, time alone, time with others, time to relax, time to be creative, time to read, time to listen to music, or time to have fun?

To be happy you have to make happiness a priority. Decide to make more time in your life to do more of what's important to you and makes you feel happier. Start with little things and work up. Little things might be reading for 15 minutes, taking a walk, calling a friend, or buying a great smelling soap, shampoo, candle, tea, or coffee that you will enjoy every time you use it.

Focus on what is positive. In a journal write down as many positive things as you can about yourself, others, and life in general.

Appreciate what is working in your life. In the major areas of your life...your health, job, love life, friends, family, money and living situation...what is going well?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Into Great Silence

I was able to get home a little early on Friday afternoon and have some quiet time alone. I decided to use the time to watch a film entitled "Into Great Silence". It was a 3 1/2 hour film about the Carthusian monastery called La Grande Chartreuse in France. The film was mostly in silence. What few words were spoken were in French with English subtitles. All other sounds were natural sounds such as rain falling, bells ringing, monks chanting or the day to day sounds of everyday life. This film was not a documentary in the traditional sense. I found it to be visual poetry. It was a 3 1/2 meditation on silence and solitude and the mystery of God. No one could call this film exciting but I was mesmerized by it. The Carthusian monks are the most austere and strict monastic order in the Catholic Church. Very few people are called to such a life. I was happy, however, on a quiet and solitary afternoon in my life, to get a glimpse into their life. I find it a comfort that there are such people living such a life.

I was reminded of the monks as I lay in my bed on Friday night. There was a delightful rainstorm in my little corner of the world. The day had cooled enough for me to open my bedroom window so I could enjoy the sound. Can it get any better than going to bed on a Friday night with the pouring rain outside your window and the alarm clock turned off?

Much of my Saturday was spent doing the great grandparent tour. I was also able to see my sister who is here from New York. We had Chloe with us so everyone could see her as well. She and I spent some time running around in my parents backyard. As a result we both ended up with bug bites on our bare legs. By the end of the night I was very tired. As usual, Chloe slept like a log beside me as I clung to the edge of the bed. At 7:45 AM on Sunday I was downstairs watch Madagascar. I guess she's temporarily burned out on Ice Age...The Meltdown. By the time she left on Sunday afternoon, I was really, really tired. When she left with her father I was home alone again. I sat in my chair and allowed myself to be wrapped in the peace and quiet even though my living room looked like a war zone. Now it is Monday morning again and the start of a new week. According to the weatherman it promises to hot and dry week with temperatures in the low 90's all week. When I feel the heat I would mentally transport myself to La Grande Chartreuse. Much of the film was shot in the winter when deep snow surrounded the monastery and covered the mountains and nearby forests.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Passing of a Generation

In recent months a number of monks at the monastery have died. They were all elderly. Most monks die of old age. These monks and others who are still living are the last of their kind. Their deaths signal the end of an era. What is so special about them besides their holiness? These are the monks of my father's generation. Many of them served our country during World War II. They came home from the war somewhat disillusioned as many battle weary soldiers are. They were looking for some meaning in life after witnessing such horrors as the Nazi concentration camps and the devastation of much of Europe. In their search for meaning they turned to God and hundreds flocked to monasteries. All of these now elderly monks were in their prime when I was very young man living in the monastery. They were my role models for holiness. They are still an inspiration to me. When I attend mass with the monks I see them with their wheelchairs and walkers. Even in their old age and infirmity they are still faithful to the call and the inner voice that led them to Gethsemani so many years ago.

Last evening I picked up my granddaughter at the daycare. I really didn't need to do so because my daughter in law got off work in plenty of time to do it herself. I still wanted to do it. Why? It's very simple. I love her. I enjoy being with her and talking with her and playing with her. It keeps me young. Plus, I figure Chloe's mom can always use a break.

The weeks fly by at a dizzying pace. This work week has gone by almost as fast as a weekend. The weekend promises to be a busy one. My sister is here from New York. Chloe will be over for the night on Saturday. My wife needs to visit her mother and I need to take Chloe over to see my parents and sister. By the time Chloe leaves on Sunday and we have fulfilled all out family obligations, my couch will be difficult to resist on Sunday afternoon!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Why Does Life Always Seem To Work Out For Me?

I am not sure why but life always works out for me. Is it because I am a generally positive and optimistic person? Is it because I always try to put out positive vibrations? Is it because I have a playful and light hearted approach to life? All of this could be true. However, I believe a big part of my good fortune is that I really strive to live with a grateful heart. I am not just talking about being grateful for life's big windfalls. I am speaking of a gratitude that appreciates all of life and its simple pleasures and joys. In a world, and more specifically a culture like ours, there will always be more than we can ever have. As the comedienne Steven Wright says, "You can't have everything. Where would you put it"? Even if we can't have everything, we all have so much. The least in our society has more than most in the world. Of course, I am not just talking about material things. I am talking about family and friends and laughter and love and joy and happiness. On my worst day I can find things to be grateful about. On a material level I am just an average middle class guy. On the level of true riches, I am quite wealthy. Happiness and joy and love and the enjoyment of life doesn't mean you will have a life with no problems or pain. I have had my share, though perhaps not as many or as much as some. Happiness is not something you find after a long search. It is something you discover within the life you have now. Happiness is not having what you love. Happiness is loving what you have. I have much of what is really important in life and I believe all of you do as well. If you think not, you haven't found it yet. Look more deeply into your life and find the hidden treasures. They may be right before you!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ordinary Time

Once again it is late night as I write these thoughts. I have had a pleasant evening. Earlier, after a day at work, I picked up my granddaughter, Chloe, at her day care. We are always happy to see one another. I enjoy these mid week visits and I am very happy that I can be such a part of her life and she a part of mine. Yesterday I shared how spending some of my youth living in a monastery helped form me into who I am. Now, in my middle years, I am being formed by a small, blue eyed girl. She has opened my tired eyes and filled me with renewed zest for living. Sometimes I wonder who's the teacher. It is me or her? Whatever the case I have very happy to have her in my life.

Most of my evening was spent alone. I was very happy and content to clean up the kitchen and finish the laundry. The music room I have sometimes mentioned is nearby so I can easily do these things in the company of music and with my chair close at hand. In between loads of laundry, putting away clean dishes, and loading dirty dishes into the dishwasher, I spent time gathering some of my favorite music to share with a friend. If you are a music fanatic like me, and you meet another music fanatic, it's like finding a brother or sister that you were separated from at birth. There's an immediate connection and it's lots of fun to get to know one another and to share the joy of music.

Although I am sure there are hot days still ahead of us, we have been having wonderfully cool and beautiful mornings. As I walk across the roof of my parking garage on the way into my office I find myself bathing in the beauty of these mornings and dreaming of Autumn.

Just as the waters of the great oceans all have one taste, the taste of salt, so too all true teachings have but one taste, the taste of liberation.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My Life...Then And Now

While I was visiting my father on Sunday he asked how long I would have been in the monastery if I had not left. If I was still there I would have been a monk for 35 years. I do not regret leaving the monastery because in many ways I have not left. The monastery and the monks are still a part of my life. Although I did not end up as a monk, much of who I am was formed by that experience. I have wondered from time to time what kind of monk I would have turned out to be if I had stayed. Would I be happy and well adjusted or could I have turned out to be a self absorbed narcissist? I probably wouldn't be exactly who I am today. Although the raw material of who I am as a person would be the same, how that would have been shaped by 30+ years of monastic life versus the same amount of time in marriage and family life would differ. Monastic life has its own set of challenges but most of them are the internal struggle of facing your own nothingness. My life in the world has also been filled with similar internal struggles but also coupled with the basic struggles of surviving in the world, being faithful to a marriage and trying to raise two sons to become good and decent human beings. Monastic life is a life lived in community and if lived well this community is a great support to the monk's personal journey. If lived badly an individual can get lost in the community and avoid many of the challenges of living with others. This can happen in family life, too, but I think it may be a little more difficult to get "lost" in a much smaller living environment when your spouse shares your bed and the children are right across the hall. Every life, whether you are a monk or a husband and father, requires dedication, discipline, and perseverance. No lifestyle is easy all the time and all are challenging much of the time. Spending time in a monastery taught me a different way of looking at life and afterwards I did see things differently. Elements of the monastic life followed me into my life as a husband and parent. When I was in the monastery, and still today, monks get up in the middle of the night to pray. They gather in church everyday at 3:15 AM. Believe it or not, it's not too bad once you get used to it. I still do it when I go there on visits. Of course, after leaving the monastery I thought my days of getting out of bed at 3:00 AM were over. I was wrong. I still remember an early experience of parenthood when my oldest son, Chloe's father, was an infant. I was awakened from a deep sleep by his cries. It was time for a feeding. I prepared the bottle and sat on the end of my bed holding him and feeding him. I looked at my clock. It was 3:15 AM! I was still doing night vigils. In those long ago days in the monastery I was Brother Dominic. Today I am Pa Paw. It's not a bad trade off.

My Father And The Funk Brothers

When the alarm went off this morning I couldn't believe it was already Monday again. The good news is that it is a beautiful morning.

I spent some of my Sunday afternoon sitting with my father. He is 82 years old and has Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. He cannot be left alone so whenever my 77 year old mother needs to get away, someone must sit with my father. It was an enjoyable experience. He sleeps a lot these days but he is still coherent. Sometimes he seems to not be present but he is still with us in body and mind. The Parkinson's is not advanced. He can still get around with a walker but he moves very slowly. A trip to the bathroom is a very long journey. He asked me about my children and their lives so I filled him on all the happenings going on with them. I mentioned the monastery and he had many questions about how the monastery was doing. He said he would like to visit it again but I do not believe he would be up for the trip. At one point I think we were both taking naps. It would have been interesting if my mother and Aunt had walked in on us while we were sleeping. He is an older version of me and I am a younger version of him. Without my beard, I look like his clone although he is a bigger man than me. All in all it was a quiet and uneventful afternoon and I'm sure my mother was happy to get a way for a while with her sister.

Last night I watched a very interesting documentary on the Funk Brothers. Who are the Funk Brothers? They are the musicians who played on all the great Motown songs and other sounds coming out of Detroit in the late 60's and early 70's. They were the unsung heroes of the great songs by people like Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, the Four Tops, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and all the other great singers of Motown. I never saw most of the great Motown artists but I did see the original Temptations and the Four Tops perform. Although I was mainly a hippie and a rock and roller, I always thought the Motown sound was great, too. I couldn't even begin to list the great artists and songs that came from the city of Detroit. I lived in the city of Detroit in 1970-71 and I believe I did drive by the original Motown "Hit Factory" at least once.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Weekend

What a beautiful morning! It is bright and clear and sunny and cool. All mornings should be so wonderful!

Is it already Friday again? The days are just flying by. I guess that full days, busy nights, and the six hour naps that are called sleep add up quickly. Yesterday after work I thought I would never get out of downtown. Traffic was bumper to bumper. People kept blocking the intersections and then no one could get through the lights when they changed. Eventually,a frustrated policeman got out of his car and started directing traffic. He didn't look happy. After passing the policeman the right lane was blocked by utility workers. When I finally approached my ramp to the interstate, there was a fender bender blocking the turn lane. All of this tested my patience. Gridlock is one of my pet peeves. Finally I was on the interstate and headed to Chloe's day care. I felt so free when I could finally accelerate. We have approximately two more weeks till the work being done on Interstate 64 is completed and the downtown area is back to normal traffic flows. If only I could fly......

It should be a leisurely weekend. I have no big commitments and my wife has already put out the word that no one should ask her to do anything. Saturday will be Harry Potter day and off to the movies we will go. After that we will stop at Border's books so my wife can get the final Harry Potter book.A short biography of my son was featured in a local Archdiocesan vocation newsletter. He is one of six men in various stages of life who are beginning their studies for the priesthood. He will be leaving home in less than a month. Although my food expenses should be reduced by approximately 50%, I will miss him. Who's going to assist my wife and I when we screw up the television remotes? Last weekend, during an intense moment in a family meal, he leaned over to me and said, "The celibate life is looking better all the time"!

On this day back in 1969 Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Gift From Bhutan

Yesterday, near the end of my workday. I returned to my desk to find a package addressed to me. At first I thought it was some business related stuff but a closer inspection revealed it to be from a friend. About a month ago this friend and kindred spirit went on a trip to the country of Bhutan. Bhutan is a Buddhist country located between China and India. Much of her trip consisted in backpacking around the countryside visiting Buddhist monasteries and other places. I asked my friend to think of me and carry me in her pocket during her travels. Her gift to me was a small locket style container made of silver and filled with some soil from Bhutan. Along with this gift was a lovely note telling me how she thought of me everyday while symbolically carrying me in her pocket. I was very moved that she would do this and it reaffirmed something that I realized early on in our friendship. We were indeed kindred souls on the spiritual path. My body has never been to Bhutan, and it may never be there, but my spirit has been there and it was carried in the pocket of a friend.

When I finally left work yesterday I was very tired. Besides my daily work, Monday night was grocery store night and Tuesday night is always a Chloe night. Last night I had a very important mission to accomplish. In addition to a quick stop at a friend's music store, I needed to go to Target. I was tasked with an important goal. I needed to purchase the DVD of Ice Age...The Meltdown. This movie is Chloe's latest fixation. She's over Madagascar for the moment. When she was over Tuesday she wanted to watch Ice Age. It had been one of the free movies on HBO and we had intended to Tivo it. Unfortunately we forgot to do that and when we tried to play it for Chloe on Tuesday it was no longer available. She freaked! A freaked out three year old is quite a challenge for two very tired fifty-something's on a work night. I spent $20.00 on the DVD last night and it will more than pay for itself tonight when Chloe is once again at my house. The cool thing is that I also like Ice Age because the characters are prehistoric creatures and I love that stuff. I can feel the excitement already!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Those Not Busy Being Born Are Busy Dying

I woke up today at 5:30 AM. I was deep into a dream that had me in Hawaii. I never did make it back to the islands.

The late actress Katherine Hepburn when asked if she thought life was hard replied, "Life is hard. It kills all of us"! Even the now senior citizen, Bob Dylan, sang in his youth, "Those not being born are busy dying". The other night I was eating dinner with my family. I shared with my oldest son that after finding out I was a diabetic I started watching my carbs to lose weight and I have lost about fifty pounds. He jokingly said, "Dad, you're not losing weight because you are dieting. You are losing weight because you are dying". I knew he was joking but he is right and so is Bob Dylan. We are all dying everyday. It will take some of us longer than others. None of us know our time. Even though I am a 56 year old diabetic, I may outlive some of you young people. In spite of my health issues I come from a pretty good gene pool with a history of longevity in my family. I have also had a few near misses with potential death so nothing is guaranteed. My health issues have actually had some positive benefit in my life. I am probably living healthier at this time of my life than I ever have. These thoughts, however, are not really about dying. They are about living. Life is so precious and such a gift. We need to live it well. I am not talking about extreme living or a life of grand adventure. Most of us will never live adventurous lives. We will live mostly quiet, hidden lives full of the ordinary. We can still, however, live lives that are deep with meaning, full of love, and purposeful. Many people spend much of their lives getting ready to live. Some die before they ever begin to live. The time to live is now. I love to watch dinosaur programs on the Discovery Channel. It is not unusual to hear the narrator say something like, "Tyrannosaurus Rex ruled the earth for 75,000,000 years". 75,000,000 years for one species to evolve and finally disappear????? We might have, if we are lucky, 75-80 years as individuals to evolve into our best self before we die. Do you feel a small sense of urgency about living now? Living with a sense of urgency does not mean that we have to live with a sense of panic as well. Intentional living is living with a sense of purpose. As you load the backpack you will carry through life, do not weigh yourself down with inessentials. Focus on what is really important. Let go of worry and needless concerns. Travel light. Hold no grudges. Forgive everything. Love much. Harm no one. Smell the flowers. Feel the wind. Dance to the music.

About ten years ago a friend asked me to write and read poem for her wedding. I had forgotten about it until yesterday when she sent it to me and asked if I remembered it. Looking at it now I do remember it and I am sharing it today for others that might like it. I do not consider myself a poet but I have occasionally tried to write poetry.

For Susanne on her Wedding Day

From the dawning of the day, until the sun sets on the horizon,love calls us by name, and seeks us out in the silent spaces of our lives.

It beckons us to hear it's voice...and listen.

What is this love that speaks so quietly and touches us as a gentle breeze?

It is the passion of youth that becomes the warmth of age.

It is the conflict of differences that becomes the acceptance of uniqueness.

It is the sharing of struggles and the enjoyment of simple pleasures.

It is the gift found in the balance between yourself and another.

It is the home we never want to leave, and the place, when we are lost, that we long to be.

It is our beginning, our end, and everything in between.

It is the very life of God within us, and it is what we celebrate today.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Relax And Be Happy

From time to time, we need to remind ourselves to relax, to be peaceful, we may wish to set aside some time for retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, drink tea with a friend and enjoy being together as if we were the happiest people on earth. This is not a retreat, it is a treat! -Thich Nhat Hanh

The above quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, was part of yesterday's daily thoughts. Even though I am not a Buddhist, I so love the Buddhist approach to living. Done properly it is gentle and serene. It makes me realize how so many of us, including me, get so easily upset about so many things, most of which are trivial occurrences or misunderstandings. There is not a day of my life where I don't encounter drama in one form or another. It would seem that some people take Shakespeare too seriously in his proclamation that "All the world's a stage"! Personally I prefer my drama at Actor's Theater and not in my living room or workplace. This is an unrealistic expectation on my part because where there are people, there is drama. We humans are such emotional beings and these feelings often get the best of us. Of course, it's our feelings and emotions that make us human. We are full of so much capacity for goodness and love. Unfortunately we also have great potential for pettiness and making mountains out of molehills. Although I am a quiet person on the surface, I am also a very emotional person with deep feelings about many things. Sometimes this aspect of my being has been a good thing and other times it has gotten me into trouble. I believe I have a great capacity for love and compassion but my passionate nature sometimes overreacts to events or things people say. Sometimes it is a struggle to find a balance between my often conflicting emotions. There are times I have wished to be like Mr. Spock on Star Trek who had no emotions at all. I always admired his calmness and lack of dramatic and emotional responses to what went on around him. However, I am not a Vulcan. I am a lowly earthling with sometimes difficult to control emotions. Sometime all the world is a stage and I am the star of my own drama. Drama is not always a bad thing but sometimes we need to throw in a little comedy or perhaps some satire. Most of life's so called drama is just the result of imperfect people living in an imperfect world. We should all take Thich Nhat Hanh's advice more often and drink tea or coffee...or even attend a rock concert with a friend...and enjoy being being together as if we were the happiest people on earth.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Police At Churchill Downs

This past weekend I felt like I participated in a triathlon. I slept in on Saturday but got up early enough to have some quiet time before going to my son's house for a belated birthday party for Chloe. I stayed as long as I could but I needed to leave early because I had committed myself to volunteer at the Police concert. I quietly slipped away while Chloe was cooking dinner in her new pretend kitchen. I met up with my friends and we headed to Churchill Downs. We were working to raise funds for a local high school cheer leading team. Whatever money we would have been paid for our work would go to the team. Our reward, besides being able to do some fund-raising for a good cause, was to see the Police concert for free. After checking in we were assigned our jobs and taken to where we would be working. It basically was a sweet gig. I was an usher/ticket checker in section 321. I was also given the additional responsibility of holding the "official" flashlight. My section was in the Grandstands with a perfect view of the stage. Shortly after getting to our assigned spots, Sting and the rest of the Police came on stage and did a sound check. It was pleasant to sit there in the empty Grandstand watching them play while looking at the colorful flowers in what is normally the Winner's Circle on Derby Day. Things were very calm and a little boring until the darkness fell, the Police came on stage, and all the $7.00 beers that had been consumed all afternoon kicked it. At that point it was pandemonium as the clueless drunks and other lost souls forgot where they sat or what section they were in. It was the job of my friends and me to point in the right direction or lead these party animals to their assigned seats. No one gave me a hard time even when I had to ask them to vacate seats that weren't theirs. In fact, most people were very friendly. The concert itself was very good and I enjoyed it spite of being on the job. I have been going to rock and roll concerts since I was a teenager although this was the first time I actually worked at one. The only real down side for me was having to stand all night. By the time I got home I was exhausted and very hungry. As I was walking in my house, my son was walking out. When I got in the house I tried to be very quiet so as not to wake my wife or Chloe who was over for the night. I was sitting quietly in my kitchen having a bowl of cereal. The next thing I heard was a "Hello, Pa Paw"! There was Chloe, at midnight, standing in my kitchen wearing her new Princess dress. She looked like she was going to a costume ball. We sat at the table for a while sharing a bowl of cereal with two spoons and discussing the great taste of Lucky Charms, especially the marshmallows. Before I knew it my son was back in the house with a bag of food from Taco Bell. Then Granny was awake and she and Chloe and me all ended up taking baths before we all ended up going to bed...finally. This is a typical Saturday night at the Brown house! If any of you encounter me today and feel a sudden burst of heat, it is probably radiating from my sunburned bald head. The hat I usually wear didn't meet the dress code for ushers. In spite of that, my friends and I looked pretty snappy in our security shirts!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Another Busy Weekend

This week has flown by for me. In fact, this year seems to be flying by. In spite of my best efforts to slow down and be present to the moment, I too am often caught up in the fast pace and busyness of life. Workdays are usually full of activity and often pass as quickly as leisure time. I seem to no sooner be home and in a relaxed state when I realize that it is already bed time. Like most people who work the five day, nine to five routine, I look forward to Fridays and the weekend. Weekends are rarely restful. Last weekend I spent most of the day on Sunday at the monastery. Tonight I must do some shopping in preparation for a family birthday party for Chloe and a small project at home. I think I also have to pick up some stuff at the grocery store but I can't remember why. Tomorrow I will get a little extra sleep before heading to Chloe's midday birthday party. I will have to leave that early because I volunteered to do some work at Churchill Downs in exchange for seeing the Police concert for free. When I get home from that, tired and eager for sleep, there will be a little munchkin in my bed full of birthday party dreams. I will be clinging to edge of the bed all night trying not to fall on the floor. On Sunday Chloe's parents will be coming to my house to help with a small project and eat dinner (Now I remember why I have to go to the grocery store!). Before I know it, it will be Sunday night and I will be in some dread of starting a whole new work week. All of this will keep me quite busy but it's my life. I don't really mind any of it and most of it will be enjoyable. It would just be nice to have a little more leisure for the mind and body to rest. I am sure that most of you are in the same boat. Life is busy and hectic and often demanding. The only solution is to hang on and enjoy the ride. Within all of this activity will be moments and opportunities for gratefulness. I am happy for all of this and grateful that I have family and friends and that there are things in my life to celebrate and enjoy. I wish the same for you. Have a peaceful weekend!

Les Paul

I watched a wonderful show on PBS last night about the life of Les Paul. He is now 90 years old. Many of you may be wondering, "Who is Les Paul"? He is the inventor of multi track recording as well as the solid body Gibson Les Paul guitar. How many nights of my life have been spend in a theater, arena, or stadium listening to master guitarists playing a Les Paul guitar? I would have to go through my entire music collection to remember all the incredible guitar players I have seen in my musical adventures. I've seen everyone from Duane Allman to Frank Zappa. People who know me understand that I am not a very excitable person. On the surface my emotional barometer varies very little. I am generally quiet and calm. However, on the inside is a very different person. When I am at a musical event, especially when seeing what I consider very serious artists, and especially guitar players, I am experiencing a wide range of emotions. Musicians have made me cry, laugh, and smile with joy. I have stood in rapt attention with chills going up and down my spine as they weave their musical magic. Many of these highly emotional experiences have occurred watching someone play a Les Paul guitar. One of my favorite bands is the Allman Brothers Band. I have seen them more than any other band. One of their original members is a brilliant guitarist named Dickey Betts. He is a master of the Les Paul guitar and he writes incredible instrumentals. A few summers ago I saw him play a solo gig in a very small and intimate outdoor theater. It was a very beautiful night. Nothing but a few feet of lawn separated the audience from the stage. Most of the show I sat in my seat . At one point, however, I could no longer contain myself. I went down and sat on the grass and was literally at his feet intently watching his hands as the played the chords and his hands glided up and down his guitar fretboard. I think I even stood up at one point and made several bows in his direction. Like Wayne and Garth from Saturday Night Live's "Wayne's World", I thought, "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy"! I admit it. For me, music is one of the most exciting things in the world. Much of this excitement and joy is the result of a 90 year old man who had a better idea for a guitar. Thank you, Les Paul!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Criticism And Rainbows With Chloe

All of us are sometimes criticized. It is sometimes referred to as constructive feedback to give it a more positive spin but it still feels like good old criticism. I have been criticized many times in my life and I admit that I didn't always take it very well. It's not because I think I am perfect. It more because I really strive to be perfect and to do the right thing. When someone tells me I am not reaching my goal or meeting an expectation, it hurts. I don't know if there is a painless way to receive and accept criticism. I do, however, believe there is often a painless and positive way to give constructive feedback. First of all you must always respect the dignity and feelings of the person on the receiving end. Constructive feedback can be presented in a gentle, even loving, way. Constructive feedback doesn't have to be presented with totally negative terminology. The reality of a situation can be presented in a non threatening way balanced with positive examples of how the situation could have been handled or how it might be handled in the future. I don't think any decent human being comes to work or does anything with the intention of making mistakes or doing poorly. In today's complex and highly technical work environments. the use of computers often make the possibility of errors more likely than not. Some management gurus, like W. Edwards Deming, believe that mistakes in the workplace are usually the blame of a system or process rather than the person. When was the last time a "system" or a "process" was put on a work improvement program? People seem like the only option for criticism, so they are usually given the blame. None of us are perfect and we do make mistakes and sometimes our mistakes may be carelessness. Sometimes we may need encouragement or some deserved criticism. If we deserve it, we need to be humble and accept that we have made a mistake or need to get our heads on straight. If we are the leader, the parent, or the friend, do it in a caring, non threatening way so the person walks away with some dignity and resolve to try harder. Encourage them. Don't break their spirit.

Yesterday was Tuesday so I had dinner with Princess Chloe. She was in a great mood and I was happy to see her. While at dinner there was one of those sudden summer rainstorms. We were seated right next to a window so we joyfully watched the downpour. Later, as we were parked in the Pharmacy drive thru picking up my monthly batch of pills, Chloe exclaimed, "Look, a rainbow"! There, outside the window on her side of the car was not one, but two very colorful rainbows arched across the sky. It was a beautiful sight and a reminder of the wondrousness of life and how magical moments can suddenly appear out of nowhere. I was proud of Chloe for seizing the moment and being present to the beauty and wonder of it. Maybe all the time she spends with me is influencing her in a positive way. Later, when she wanted to step on a bug, we had a difference of opinion on the value of all life. I need to work on that with her during our next dialogue.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Everyone Is Important

We live in a culture that places high value on job oriented achievement and financial success. All of us, whether we like it or not, are subjected to this mentality. Society is more concerned with what we do than with who we are. People are more impressed with you if you are a doctor or a lawyer, even if you are a bad one, than if you are a carpenter or a plumber. The irony is that I am sure there are many doctors and lawyers and other people of means that would gladly give a plumber whatever it takes to unclog their toilet or pay a master carpenter their price to build them a customized wooden entertainment center. Every time I pass a construction site and see all the workers I am envious of their talent and amazed at their skill. I think the important thing is to find something that you love and do it. One should be motivated more by the love of the work than the size of the paycheck or the title. Of course this must be balanced with earning a living that supports a lifestyle in which you feel comfortable. Many are comfortable with a simple life, others need many things. Not everyone has the desire or the talent to be a doctor or a carpenter. I believe, however, that we are all good at something although it may take us years to discover our gift. Even if we may be in a job that doesn't completely reflect our love or our talent, there are jobs within jobs that can reflect who we really are. I never had any desire to be a supervisor in a large office. Much of what I do is not what I love or who I am. However, my current situation does allow me to teach and express myself through my daily thoughts as well as offer me many opportunities to help and counsel people. Be who you are, discover your talent, find your gift , and do what you love. Everybody and everything is important. We need doctors to heal us and lawyers to protect our rights but we also need people to pick up our trash and keep our pipes flowing.

Last night I realized that Chloe and the Dalai Lama have the same birthday!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Picnic At The Monastery

Yesterday I rolled out of bed at 6:57 AM and headed for the shower. It was early but the sun was up and daybreak had already arrived. As soon as I was out of the shower I woke up my son. He was going to accompany me on a trip to the monastery. Soon we were ready and we left home, stopping only for gasoline, coffee, and some muffins. Part of our plan was to stop at the home of my friend, Fr Dennis. There we would share breakfast and celebrate an intimate and causal mass. Driving south the sun shining out of the eastern sky was bright and piercing. It was glorious in its early morning radiance. Traffic was light and the days heat had not yet taken over. I always enjoy these usually solitary drives to the monastery. This time my son shared my solitude. He was engrossed in a book so conversation was light and each of us was lost in is own thoughts. The time with Fr Dennis was relaxing. The three of us had mass in his small chapel. I believe it was the first time my son had been part of such a simple mass. Later in the morning we headed to the monastery where we were planning to join a group of friends and monks for an annual summer picnic. It was with some dread that I anticipated being outdoors. The temperature was supposed to be 95 degrees. I silently prayed that we wouldn't go up in the woods near Dom Frederic's lake. Although a beautiful spot in cooler weather, I find the woods a dreadful place in the summer. Hot temperatures, high humidity, and the usual tick infestation made the woods less than appealing. Fortunately, when I met up with everyone I learned we would gather at Thomas Merton's Hermitage. It was still in the woods but located in a clearing and the house would provide some respite from the heat. Several of the monks, and a large group of people I did not know until yesterday, also joined us. This hermitage was a place where Thomas Merton lived seeking solitude. There was no solitude yesterday but the gathering was enjoyable and the food was great. Yes, even simple monks enjoy a good meal! At one point we moved outside on the porch to hear Br Paul read some of his latest poetry and for all of us to dodge the kamikaze wasps that seemed to endlessly attack us. Fr Michael also shared some thoughts with us. I love these trips to the monastery and my memories of living there as a young man and also the blessed times I had alone staying in Merton's hermitage. I was happy to introduce my son to this part of my life. It keeps me spiritually grounded to maintain friendships with the monks and others who come to the monastery. I enjoy its simplicity while I am there but I admit that I truly enjoyed the air conditioning in my car on the way home. It was still mid afternoon when I arrived back home and soon I fell into a deep sleep. It was all good. This week an advisor to the Dalai Lama will be visiting the monastery. Wish I could be there!

Friday, July 06, 2007

My Granddaughter's Birthday

Today is Chloe's birthday. She is three years old! Below is what I wrote on the day she was born. It was her birth that got me started on sharing personal thoughts, experiences, and meditations. If you have enjoyed my daily thoughts for any part of the last three years, you can thank her. Her birth and life have been a major inspiration to me. It's almost like I can't remember the fifty three years of my life that existed before her arrival. She has rejuvenated me and given me a new and fresh view of life. I believe she arrived just when God thought I needed her. Before she was born I was tired and sometimes weary of my life. The daily grind was wearing me down because sometimes in life you feel like you are just going through the motions. Through her I have been renewed and life now often seems new and fresh. Interacting with her has caused me to look at life through the eyes of a child instead of the tired eyes of an adult. If you can't tell by now, I am not only wild about Chloe, I am grateful for her existence. I hope that we always have the loving and close relationship that we now have. I am confident that we will and I look forward to watching her grow up. Often in life I tend to follow the philosophy of "Why stand up when I can sit down"? May Chloe continue to challenge me and say, "Pa Paw! Get up! Play with me!"

We received a telephone call from my son last night informing my wife and me that our daughter in law was starting her labor. We received additional calls as things progressed. At some point my wife advised them to go to the hospital. This morning we headed to the hospital to join them and wait for the birth of my first grandchild. All went well and now I am the proud grandfather of a beautiful baby girl named Chloe Nicole Brown. I am so proud and happy. She weighed approximately 6 ½ pounds. She has all her fingers and toes and by all accounts is healthy. I was able to hold her shortly after her birth. She seemed so small and fragile. It has been a long time since I held a newborn child. I am thrilled to be a grandfather but am also in some disbelief that I have reached this stage of life.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Holiday In Mid Week

Most of last night I thought it was Sunday. I was all prepared to gather the trash and put it on the curb. Happily, today is really Thursday. Tuesday was a weird day at work. There must have been a full moon or everyone was just really in need of a day off. It was a blessed relief to leave work and go to the day-care to pick up Chloe. Nothing brightens my day like time with her. It is wonderful for me to be a child with her and to share her vision of life and her sense of wonder. It is a wonderful thing to be a grandfather.

Yesterday was a quiet day for me. It was full of simple pleasures. The alarm clock was turned off and I slept later. When I awoke and went downstairs, I had my morning coffee with a muffin and the daily news. The neighborhood was quiet and I was at peace. Later in the afternoon my wife and I went to a movie at one of the local cineplexes. My son, the future priest, had to work. Someday he make be ministering to the faithful. Today he is still a Customer Service Representative at the Papa John's Corporate Office dealing with people who are angry because their pizza didn't have enough pepperoni on it. After the movie I had one of those wonderful naps when you seem to have slept for hours. My day ended watching the Boston Pops Orchestra and John Mellencamp playing and singing patriotic songs before a massive fireworks show. The kid next door was quieter than usual. Most years he has an arsenal of fireworks and explosives equal to our local Thunder over Louisville and the Boston Pops concert together. He usually saves the best till my bedtime. He's older now and a little quieter. I think his attention is more focused on girls now than firecrackers. By the end of the night nature was producing its own fireworks. As I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep, lightening and thunder filled the sky. I think I drifted off when the rain finally arrived. I hope everyone who had the good fortune of a day of rest and relaxation yesterday enjoyed it. At this time of my life, I live for such days. Its not that work is so bad. Its just that being at home and doing what I want when I want is better. When my father in law was still alive and I was a much younger man, I was complaining to him about work. He responded, "Wait till you have been doing it forty years"! As someone in their early twenties I couldn't understand what he meant. Now I do because I have been working for forty years. I got my first job at age 16 as a bag boy in a mom and pop grocery store. After forty years of school and work, one starts to yearn for the finish line. Of course, I know myself well enough to know that even when I no longer have to work, I will still need to do something. That something, however, will be something I love and it won't even matter if I get paid or not. Doing what I love, for free, is freedom.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

4th Of July...Now And Then

Tomorrow is the 4th of July. On this day Americans celebrate their independence. This year it will be 231 years since we won our independence from the British in 1776. Today they are our best friends. Unlike many people in the world all I have ever known is freedom. I try not to take it for granted. Every night when I watch the daily news and I see all the war and famine and tyranny in the world, I am grateful for my freedom. I am grateful for the freedom to live where I want, work where I want, worship where I want, associate with whom I want, and think as I please. Freedom, however, is not free. Many have paid the price for the freedom we enjoy. It is easy to understand why so many people want to be part of our country. Although it is still more difficult for some than others, I believe anyone can be whatever they want in this country. It pleases me to see people of every race and gender, ethic background and religion able to succeed and pursue happiness. Life is still not always fair but the freedom we enjoy is the best game in town. Think about this tomorrow as your grill you hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs and chicken, and drink your ice cold beer with your family and friends.

It is difficult for me to think of the 4th of July without remembering the largest concert event of my life. On a 4th of July weekend in 1970, my friends and I piled into my non air-conditioned 1962 Volkswagen Beetle and headed for a city called Bryon, Georgia, deep in the South, during an extreme heat wave. Approximately 500,000 other young people from all over the place did the same thing. We were free if only for a weekend. For a few days we escaped the tyranny of parents, schools, employers, and the draft. We were surrounded by our peers, people who probably had more hair than sense but for a few days, anything went, and the best music of the day played endlessly. I think gasoline was approximately twenty cents a gallon. I could fill my car up for about $2.50 a gallon and got thirty or forty miles a gallon. Good tickets for the Police concert that will be in Louisville in a couple of weeks are approximately $200. This festival with some of the biggest acts of the day like Jimi Hendrix, The Allman Brothers Band, Procol Harum, and others cost $18 for all three days! In those days $200 would have taken my friends and me across the country. At this time of my life I had no idea what was ahead of me and what the coming years would bring. Today I have a lot less hair, a little more sense, but still a deep love of music and life and joy. At age 56 I now have certain minimal comfort expectations and requirements. There's no more sleeping in a field or the back seat of a Volkswagen. Today I would require a fully equipped Winnebago. Since that time, life and freedom have been good to me. Some of the people who were with me on that hot July weekend are still part of my life and I am grateful for their friendship. We thought we were born to be wild. Now we just hope to keep our cholesterol in check. Dude, don't bogart the Lipitor!

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Secret

A couple of months ago a co-worker gave me a DVD of "The Secret". I took it home and stuck it on my bookshelf and then it became a secret where I put it. Over the weekend I discovered it so I spent part of Sunday afternoon watching it. Apparently the DVD and book of the same name are quite popular although I was basically unsure of it's content. I did have a bit of a clue because another friend sent me an email that said I knew the "Secret" without realizing it because many of my daily thoughts had elements of the "Secret" in them. What is "The Secret"? Basically the secret has to do with the belief that all of creation and being are subject to the laws of attraction. In other words, we attract what we think about. If you are always worrying about debt or sickness, you will always be in debt and feeling sick. If you think about prosperity and well being, you will be prosperous and healthy. I don't think it is quite that simple but I do believe in the basic concept. I believe in positive thinking, good vibes, karma, and faith. I don't believe that simply thinking about a BMW will put one in your garage. I do believe that much of what we believe does become our reality. Although I have had negative and cynical thoughts in my life, in general my life has always turned out good and somehow all my needs are met. I am generally a positive and optimistic person who strives to live a life of faith and who tries to always put out good vibes. Although everything doesn't go my way, most things do to my satisfaction. I would agree with the basic message that is the "Secret" but it is not magic. I do believe in and encourage positive thinking. I believe you get what you put out there. If you are a negative, pessimistic, nasty person, don't expect a lot of great things or wonderful relationships to come your way. Practice the religion of kindness and kindness will come your way. Do good and good will be done to you. Love and you will be loved. Have faith and you will move mountains. What we think often does become our reality but just as important is how we live and what we do. Although I believe all these things, I do acknowledge that sometimes bad things happen to good people. I could give you a theological explanation of why there is evil in the world. Whatever the explanation, you cannot deny there is evil and bad things do happen in the world. Evil has always been with us but I believe goodness will always win in the end. Would there be evil if every person was kind to his neighbor?

I haven't been able to get the young man out of my mind that killed himself last week outside my office window. His obituary was in Saturday's newspaper. Not only did he share my faith, he was a Magnum Cum Laude graduate of the University of Louisville Speed Scientific School in electrical engineering. He had attended medical school for two years and was doing research at the Cardiovascular Research Institute. His parents were both doctors. What a loss for them and for society. I can't help but wonder what was so lacking in his life that he felt it had no value? Very sad, indeed!