Friday, August 29, 2008

Connections

I think most of us would agree that we want love in our lives. If we feel unloved, or if we have no one to love, everything else in life kind of pales. I believe that in order to feel love or to be loved we need to feel a sense of connection with other people. There are many kinds of love. Many people think of romance when they think of love but that is only one kind of love. We may feel love or a sense of connection with many people. If we are lucky we might feel love and a sense of connection with a significant other. However, not everyone experiences this. We may love some people but not necessarily feel a deep connection. We may also feel connected to some people but never think in terms of loving them. Even if you take the idea of love out of the equation, I still believe we seek and need connectedness with others. Why do so many of us need to belong to groups outside of our families? In most cases it is because we need a sense of connection with others who may share an interest or hobby. Certainly I feel a sense of connectedness with my personal family as well as my extended family. They are my home base and provide stability in my life. I also feel a sense of connectedness with the many spiritual friends I know from my connection to the monastery. I feel a sense of connection with my small, but intimate, circle of friends who share my love of music and I feel a sense of connection with people with whom I regularly share a meal. I also feel a sense of connection with many co-workers and certainly all those who read my daily thoughts. I admit, however, that I am not the kind of person who runs around and tells everyone how much I love them and I do feel more affection for some people than I do for others. I think I qualify as a "hugger" but I don't want to be hugged or kissed by everyone. My personality and upbringing make some connections and emotional feelings easy for me while other connections and emotional feelings are more difficult to handle. I can express myself much better in the written word than with the spoken word and I hope my actions speak louder than all my words in the ways I connect with others. I am very grateful that I feel connected to other people and I hope they feel connected to me. When you do not feel connected to other people, then you are disconnected from life and from love. No one wants to be disconnected and out there all alone. It is one of our biggest fears.

Doesn't it feel great to cross the threshold of your home after a long day at work? My daily life at work is usually not too bad but even a good day can be exhausting. Each afternoon after my workday is over, I walk down eleven flights of stairs and through the park to the parking garage. When I settle into my car and turn the key I breathe a sigh of relief and say a prayer of gratitude that it's time to go home. I drive a few blocks to my wife's office and wait for her. Many days, when she gets into the car, she looks at me, sometimes laying her head on my shoulder, and says, "Mike, we've got to get out"! I know what she means and why she says it. As two people in their mid fifties, we've spent most of our adult lives working and making all the changes and adaptations that modern work requires. There is a point where the weariness sets in. It's a kind of battle fatigue. Returning home each day is like finding your base camp where there is relative safety, food, a warm fire, and a place to sleep. My home, in spite of all its imperfections, is my castle and refuge. When I was young, especially when I was still living with my parents, I couldn't get out of the house fast enough. I wanted my freedom. Now that I am older I can't get home fast enough. Some days I don't want to leave my home. Every night, after cleaning up and changing my clothes, I quickly find my way downstairs to my little hideaway where I sit in my chair, listen to music, and read the morning paper. More often than not, I fall asleep soon afterwards. I feel like Bilbo Baggins in his little Hobbit Hole. Dorothy was right when she told the Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like home"!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sometimes Pipes Don't Drain

I absolutely love spending a day home alone in the middle of the work week. In keeping with my long standing tradition to take off the day after an evening out, I was out of the office yesterday. On Tuesday night I went to a very small concert in a very intimate venue. I believe the building was a renovated church. It was part art museum, part performance hall. I had never been there before and it was nice to experience a new place. With my friends, Josh and Bridget, I saw an artist named Chris Smither. He has been around for a while but I only recently became familiar with his work. He is a singer and finger picking style guitarist and songwriter, with a very unique foot tapping style, who specializes in acoustic blues and folk music. It was a very enjoyable evening.

While standing at my sink yesterday, washing out my coffee pot, I couldn't help but notice a yellow tint in the tree leaves in my backyard and those of my neighbors. Much of my backyard is already covered in leaves. Yesterday the temperature was in the 70's most of the day. Autumn is in the air. We still have some hot weather ahead of us, and summer will not go gently into that good night, but the transition from one season to another has begun. It's one of the things I like best about living in Kentucky. We get to experience all four seasons. My favorite is autumn and I look forward to an increasing number of cool mornings and beautiful days.

Nothing brings life to a halt faster than plumbing that doesn't work properly. Recently the tub in my bathroom began showing signs of a sluggish drain. Like most people I was hopeful that a little Liquid Plumber would fix the problem and life would once again flow as it should. However, like every other time I have used Liquid Plumber in my life, it did not work. I finally had to make the call that everyone dreads. The plumber needed to be called so he could perform his exorcism on the demon living in my drain. So, in the midst of enjoying my day off, I had to wait for the plumber. I am always nervous when workers come to my house. First of all I am afraid that I will fall asleep and be out like a light when they knock on the door. When I don't hear them they will go away and bill me later for doing nothing. My biggest fear, however, is the unknown. Every time I have ever had a worker come to my house, I have one of the following experiences.

The seemingly simple problem that generated my house call is only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger problem.

Whatever my problem is the workman says "I've never seen anything like this before".

My warranty doesn't cover the problem.


The bill is $400 when I budgeted $100.

Yesterday my brand new warranty that I have been making monthly payments on would not authorize or approve what the plumber recommended. My drainage problem was a little more serious than a simple clog that could be "snaked" away. We were talking replacing pipes, cutting holes in walls, replacing drywall, etc. What would life be without problems and challenges? Well, I think it would be very nice. I think life would be wonderful if drains never clogged and toilets never overflowed. Guess what? That's never going to happen. One must accept the good and the bad. My house and my body are approximately the same age. Both could use a little work and both have drains that don't work as well as they used to do.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Life Of Faith

There are few people in the world, Christian and non Christian alike, who didn't think Mother Teresa was a saint. We tend to think that all holy people are filled with inner peace and absolute certitude about God's love and presence. A book has been published recently, based on 40 years of Mother Teresa's letters to her spiritual director, that makes us aware that her actual experience of God was filled with doubt, questions, and a great spiritual dryness that was anything but comforting. In spite of this she spent much of her life ministering to the dead and dying of Calcutta. Her example inspired many to follow her and they now work around the world in some of the poorest and most destitute places. Mother Teresa lived a true life of faith. She remained true to the path of life on which she was placed in spite of her doubts and spiritual emptiness. Those of us who believe in God want to feel good about it. We want our belief to comfort and sustain us. We want to feel the life of God within us. What if our faith does none of that? I often think of the Israelites who witnessed the power and intervention of Yahweh as He led them out of Egypt. I also think of the Apostles and others who lived with and interacted with Jesus. Even with these direct and very personal experiences of God they all faltered, wandering in the desert and running at the first sign of trouble. Yet, Mother Teresa, with no such direct experience of God as far as we know, stayed faithful to God and the difficult path she was called to walk. When you think about it, isn't this what faith is really all about? Though God can choose when and how He might reveal himself to us, much of the faith journey is walking down a dark path in a cloud of unknowing. I believe that Mother Teresa was a saint and a holy woman and that she now experiences the light that was hidden from her in life. If we are blessed with some spiritual light and insight, we must remember the words of another holy woman, Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Spanish mystic, who said "We must remember in darkness what we once experienced in the light".

Monday, August 25, 2008

Breakfast With Katie

It was another busy but very enjoyable weekend. They sure go by quickly! I woke up early on Saturday morning eager to meet my old friend, Katie, for breakfast. We has not seen one another in 38 years. Even though we've had some email correspondence and she's been getting my daily thoughts for a few years I wondered what it would be like to actually see her after so many years. I stood in front of the restaurant and waited for her. As soon as she drove into the parking lot I knew it was her. She didn't look that different to me, just a little older. As soon as we saw one another we had a big hug and when we were seated in the restaurant we just looked at one another for a few minutes. She seemed as happy to see me as I was to see her. Her personality and smile were exactly as I remembered them and she remembered my laugh. It was like no time at all had passed. Conversation was easy and we both laughed a lot. She reminded me that it was me who taught her how to drive a stick shift on my old VW Beetle. This is not the first time I have reconnected with someone from my past. Each time it has been a wonderful experience. I find it very nice to renew a friendship with someone who was a significant part of my life at one time. For me, it has been great to bring the past into my present. It has been easy for me because I am not the kind of person who has left a trail of broken and painful relationships nor have I ever burned bridges. Sometimes life and time separated me from people. It was never intentional for me and I doubt for them either. About half way through breakfast my prearranged surprise for Katie showed up. Yes, it was Chloe. When we spoke earlier in the week she asked about the possibility of meeting Chloe and I told her I would see what I could do. As you can imagine, Chloe was a big hit. Later, after my son left, an old lady came up to our table and told Katie and me what a lovely child we had! So, do not be afraid of your past. It can be the gift that keeps on giving. Live your present life in such a way that someday it, too, will be a gift from the past.

After breakfast on Saturday, Chloe came home with Pa Paw. Her best question of the weekend came on Sunday morning. We were still in bed when she said, "Pa Paw, why is Meemo saying it's too early to talk"? Someday Chloe will understand that Granny isn't a morning person. Fortunately, I am, so I enjoy it when Chloe shakes me awake and greets me with one of her world class smiles. When she does it we usually snuggle for a little while and we lay in bed and talk until we decide to go downstairs. After that we don't see Granny for hours. Yesterday, after we got up and made "Pa Paw's coffee", and Chloe's Strawberry "pink chocolate" milk, we sat in my chair and watched Walt Disney's version of Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book".

What is prayer? Most people would answer that prayer is talking to God. This is correct but it is not the entire answer. There are many kinds of prayer. Prayer as talking to God may be the most common form of prayer. Contemplative prayer, however, is more about listening to God. Instead of going to God with a laundry list of needs, one simply sits before God and says, "Here I am, Lord!" Contemplative prayer is more about listening and waiting than talking. It is sitting before God as an empty cup waiting to be filled. Too often we go before God as an empty cup with our wish list of what we want God to put into our cup. In contemplative prayer we sit and wait and offer our emptiness to God. We let God choose how we are best to be filled. In Psalm 42, we hear, "Be still and know that I am God". If you want to pray in a more contemplative way, find a quiet spot and simply sit. Be silent and still. Wait for God and he will come to you. Do this a couple of times a day, preferably before you start your daily work and again when your work is done. Twenty minutes each time is a good start. Be silent, be still, and breathe. There is a famous story about a priest who, every time he goes into his church, sees an old man sitting looking towards the tabernacle. Finally, after seeing the old man many times, the priest asks him, "What are you doing"? The old man said. "I look at Him and He looks at me". The famous mystic Meister Eckhart said, "The eye with which we look at God is the same eye with which God looks at us".

Friday, August 22, 2008

Music Shows On The Horizon

MY wife is really into the Olympics and I'm not so for the last week or so I've had a lot of unsupervised time. For the most part I've been a good boy. I've listened to music, read books, got on the computer, watched a little television, or stared into space. Last night, however, I had the deep realization that I am very happy today is Friday. After I read the newspaper I stretched out on my couch and within minutes I was out like a light! For approximately two hours I was lost in a dream marathon. It was one of those deep, out of this world kind of naps where the accumulated fatigue of the week took over and when I woke up I didn't what day it was, what time it was, and I really wasn't sure what planet I was on. I'm happy to report that I woke up back on earth. I must have found my way back through the correct time portal so I am here today.

Saturday morning I am meeting someone for breakfast. Who? I am meeting Katie. Who is Katie? Well, I have mentioned her before in my daily thoughts. Katie was my girlfriend in the summer of 1970. Although Katie and I reunited a few years ago through email, we have not seen one another in 38 years! 1970 is a little blurry to me looking back from 2008. I don't think Katie and I were the romance of the century but we were 19 years old, young, carefree, and had little responsibility. At age 19 we were old enough to have some freedom from our parents but still young enough to not be filled with worries, concerns, and obligations. We were young hippies so we focused on fun and much of the summer was spent attending various musical events. I did talk to Katie on the telephone earlier this week and she still sounded like that 19 year old girl I remember from 1970. I am a lot older now and so is she but I bet there will be a lot of laughter on Saturday morning.

I've got some big musical events coming in October. Sometime between now and then I might need to get a job as a Wal-Mart greeter or as that person in Fazoli's that hands out extra breadsticks so I can pay for all of this. My first event is David Byrne. He is most famous as the founder and leader of a band called Talking Heads. Sometime in the 80's David Byrne was on the cover of Time magazine as rock and roll's "Renaissance Man". He received this honor because he is talented in so many areas but especially in the creation eclectic music. My next musical event is called "Experience Hendrix". It will be at the Center for the Arts. It is a concert where a group of famous musicians play the songs of Jimi Hendrix. I saw the real Jimi Hendrix twice. The first time was in 1968 with my friend, Tom, at the Cincinnati Gardens. We both got in a little trouble because we cut school, picked up our girlfriends, and drove to Cincinnati in my 1962 VW. The parents weren't too happy the next day. It was a very expensive concert. The tickets were $5.00 a piece. I still have mine. The next time I saw Jimi Hendrix, Tom was there again and so was Katie. It was 1970 and we were at the Atlanta Pop Festival. We were there with 500,000 other hippies. Two of the musicians that will be at the "Experience Hendrix" tribute are Mitchell and Billy Cox. These are the men that played drums and bass with Hendrix at that 1970 show as well as a small show the year before called Woodstock. Also playing at the "Experience Hendrix" show are Buddy Guy, the great bluesman, Kenny Wayne Shepard, a young white guy that can really play the blues, David Hidalgo and Cesar Rojas of the band Los Lobos, and Hubert Sumlin who is another blues giant that played with Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters and Chris Layton who played with Stevie Ray Vaughn. I can't wait for this night!Speaking of rock and roll, Chloe is spending the night on Saturday. She will work me like a mule.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

No More Fear

My good friend, Father Dennis, called me last night and we talked for over an hour. We had some serious conversation but he also had me in hysterics, laughing to the point that I almost forgot to write any daily thoughts. When I realized it I made a cup of coffee, grabbed one of the books I am reading, and sat at my keyboard. Thankfully, I at least had a topic that I wanted to write about. Of course, when I first sat down and put my hands on my keyboard, all I had was a topic. My mind was totally blank. Many of my daily thoughts start out that. I begin with a complete void. Eventually I take a leap into the darkness and most of the time words begin to flow. One word turns into a sentence. One sentence connects with another. Soon I have a paragraph. Abracadabra! I have daily thoughts for one more day.In The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, there is a wonderful section entitled "The Origin of Fear". I would love to quote the entire chapter but it's too much to type so let me give you what I think are the highlights.

The psychological condition of fear is divorced from any concrete and true immediate danger.

Fear comes in many forms, i.e., unease, worry, anxiety, nervousness, tension, dread, phobia and so on.

This kind of psychological fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now.

You are in the here and now while your mind is in the future. This creates an anxiety gap.

If you are identified with your mind and have lost touch with the power and simplicity of the now, that anxiety gap will be your constant companion. You can always cope with the present moment, but you cannot cope with something that is only a mind projection. You cannot cope with the future.

Our bodies are constantly receiving messages from our minds that we are in danger and under threat. The emotion generated by this message is fear.

Anyone who is always identified with their mind will always have fear as their companion.

Very few people have learned to be disassociated from their own minds. Therefore, in our fearful states, we are also surrounded by many other people who are living in fear. Fear feeds on fear.

I read in the newspaper the other day that more and more bears are coming into Anchorage, Alaska. Being chased down Main Street by a hungry and ornery grizzly bear would fill me with fear. However, very few people, if any, have actually had this experience so it's illogical to never visit Anchorage, Alaska because this might happen to me. In fact, when I think about it, I have rarely had moments that were cause for justified fear. One of the few I remember was being trapped in a car that I thought might burst into flames. When I thought that might happen, I did have a moment of real panic. Even on some occasions when my mind told my body to have a minor panic attack, I knew I was in no real danger. It was all a mind game being played on my emotions. I have a small Chinese saying taped on my computer at work. It simply says, "What is lacking at this moment"? Well, when I think about it, the answer is nothing. When I am sitting at my computer at work it means I have a job. I am cooled from the summer heat. I have a nice cup of coffee. My fan blows its gentle breeze across my face. I can listen to my favorite music. I might even have a smile on my face from a funny email sent to me by a friend. I'm not even lacking freedom. If I really needed to leave work, I could. 99.9% of the time, nothing is lacking at the moment. Most worry is about things that might happen but often do not. I am not lost in Zen bliss here. Sometimes bad things really do happen and in the moment of their occurrence we may feel real fear. However, I bet if the average person added up all the days of their lives and then added up all the days where there were real events justifying real fear, the days of justified fear would be minimal.

Today's homework is as follows: Imagine living your life without fear. Say no to the mind games. Live in the now and be grateful for all the bad stuff that isn't really happening. Do not live in fear. Live in joy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Simple Solution

At some point in my career, after working on a variety of projects, I came to the conclusion that some people in my company love complexity. In many discussions people seemed wary of simple answers. It seemed that if the answer wasn't complex, then it couldn't be the right answer. Albert Einstein, however, said something to the effect that when we discover what we think is the answer to the mystery of the universe, if it isn't simple, it's probably the wrong answer. I'm probably going to side with Albert Einstein on this one. If he and I are wrong, then I will use his theory of relativity to escape to another time. Seriously, I really do believe that most things in life are simple. For example, thousands of books have been written about the spiritual life. Some are so complex I do not understand them. I do not think the spiritual life is complicated. I think it's simple but difficult. Love and compassion are not complicated. You either practice them or you don't. It's easy to love my granddaughter. It's more challenging to love someone who annoys me to death. I feel great compassion for the truly needy. It's more challenging to feel compassion for the lazy and unmotivated. Pope John XXIII, famous for his wisdom, once said, "Make simple what is complicated and don't complicate what is simple". Simple solutions are not necessarily ignorant ones. Simple solutions don't always come from simple minds. Complex answers are not always a sign of deep intellect. I say all of this with the knowledge and understanding that some things in life truly are complicated and there are appropriate responses to life's challenges that can be complex. However, don't let a desire to impress others with your complicated solutions always override what might just be a simple and common sense solution to a problem. Before you call the TV repair man, make sure it's plugged in. Once I had my car towed because it wouldn't start. It didn't need a complicated engine overhaul. It just needed gas.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Living Naturally

We are continuing to have beautiful weather. I love to step outside my front door in the early morning, stand on my porch, and breathe in the cool, fresh air. Later, after I have completed my morning commute and parked my car, I walk through the park between the parking garage and my office building. In the East, the sun is shining bright and walking through the park relaxes me before I jump into my days work. The weather has been so pleasant lately that I find myself also going outside during my lunch. Yesterday I did this and it was wonderful to have a few moments of quiet reflection sitting on a bench looking at the water fountain. I was brought back to reality, however, when I realized that birds had pooped all over my bench. Why do birds only poop on benches in the shade? Do you think it's because the benches are right under the trees? Gee, maybe that's why the bench is shady! How do you like that for deductive reasoning? I'll be happy as long as the birds don't poop on my bald head.

I am still reading the Tao Te Ching. Chapter 23 is about living naturally.

To talk little is natural, fierce winds do not blow all morning, a downpour of rain does not last the day. Who does this? Heaven and Earth. (I can't help but think of my friend, Natalie, in South Florida who awaits a hurricane. Even a hurricane doesn't last forever.) But these are exaggerated, forced effects, and that is why they cannot be sustained. If heaven and earth cannot sustain a forced action, how much less is man able to do. Those who follow the way become one with the way. Those who follow goodness become one with goodness. Those who stray from the way and goodness become one with failure. If you conform to the way, its power flows through you. Your actions become those of nature, your ways those of heaven. Open yourself to the Tao and trust your natural responses, then everything will fall into place.

I believe that which is called the Tao basically contains what I consider universal truths. The Tao Te Ching is 25 centuries old so it predates some religious traditions. Anyone who had done any study of religion knows the major religions share many basic truths. There's more than one way to study and learn the Truth. Some of my Christian friends get upset when I suggest that Christians don't have a monopoly on the Truth. In my mind that is liking saying Christians have a monopoly on love. I think Gandhi, a Hindu, hit the nail on the head when he said, "I like your Jesus Christ. It's your Christians I have a problem with". I think most of you know what kind of people he's talking about. I think what this chapter of the Tao Te Ching is talking about is "How do we really follow the Way"? It doesn't matter if you consider the Way to be the compassion of Buddhism, the non violence of Hinduism, or the love of Christianity. This chapter is saying that the transformative power of the Way, whatever way we follow it, is not found in big bursts of energy or in actions we do more for others than for God. Our inner transformation is to be found in the daily living out of our beliefs and convictions. If you live compassionately, you will become compassion. If you live non violently, you will become non violence. If you love, you will become love. "Your actions become those of nature, your ways those of heaven".

I found the following quote from Thomas Merton last night and it really describes many of my own feelings. Thomas Merton was a monk at the monastery where I once lived and that I visit monthly. Merton has been one of my great teachers in life although we have never met in this life. Maybe the next one...

Paradoxically, I have found peace because I have always been dissatisfied. My moments of depression and despair turn out to be renewals, new beginnings. If I were once to settle down and be satisfied with the surface of life, with its divisions and its clich├ęs, it would be time to call in the undertaker. So, then, this dissatisfaction which sometimes used to worry me and has certainly, I know, worried others, has helped me in fact to move freely and even gaily with the stream of life. My unspoken (or spoken) protests have kept me from clinging to what was already done with. When a thought is done, let go of it. When something has been written, publish it, and go on to something else. You may say the same thing again someday, on a deeper level. No one needs to have a compulsion to be utterly and perfectly "original" in every word he writes.
-Thomas Merton. A Thomas Merton Reader.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Camping With Chloe

Most of the weekend was very relaxed and restful. I slept more than I wanted to do. Even though I often complain of being tired and weary I really don't like to sleep too much. I prefer to be awake, not only spiritually but physically as well. Occasionally my body craves sleep but I am happier when I am awake and enjoying life.

Early Sunday afternoon I went to visit my father in the nursing home. I had hoped to get there for his noon meal so I could feed him but by the time I got there he had eaten and was back in the bed for his afternoon nap. I talked to him for a little while but he fell asleep so I left him in his dreams. Shortly after I arrived back home Chloe and her parents arrived. My son was going to do a few chores for his mother and my job was to take care of Chloe and prepare dinner. Knowing that Chloe would be a full time job I got dinner prepared on Saturday so all I would have to do on Sunday is pop it in the oven. I have an honorary PhD from the University of Oz in Applied Imagination but I am no match for the imagination of a four year old child. Yesterday Chloe and I pretended we were on a camping trip. She was wearing my wife's back pillow and I was wearing my brief case. These were our backpacks. Various pillows were our sleeping bags. Two of my bookends were our friends, the rabbits. Every time we got settled in our campsite, she would want to hike to a new room. After about the fourth or fifth time I must have showed a little impatience. She looked at me and said, "Pa Paw, you need to chill out like my Mommy"! By this time most of the chores were done so I baked my dinner, fed everyone, cleaned up the kitchen, gave Chloe and her parents the leftovers, and sent them backpacking to their own home. How could such a little girl wear me out so much???

Way back in the mid to late 70's, I walked into a hip little record store called Karma Records. I was on a mission. I was curious about a new kind of music I was hearing about. Keep in mind that there was no Internet in those days. I walked up to a clerk and asked, "What's this reggae music I am hearing about"? She handed me an album, which was something we old people listened to before CD's, IPods, and downloads. The album was from an artist called Bob Marley and the Wailers. I have been a fan ever since. I thought about this experience over the weekend after watched a documentary and live concert on DVD that a friend had recently given me. Sadly, Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36. During his lifetime, and to this day, he is considered the biggest superstar of the Third World. Reggae music has a hypnotic beat and it's lyrics are usually filled with deep social commentary about race, poverty, and freedom. Many people of all races love Bob Marley's music and message. If you are not familiar with Bob Marley, here are a few CD's I would recommend as good places to start. This music is not only enjoyable to listen to, it's music with a message.

Legend (This is a greatest hits collection)

Babylon by Bus ( A very nice live collection from one of his last tours)

Live! (This is the first thing I ever heard from Bob Marley. It's a recording from the Rainbow Theater in London, England during the late 70's)

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Struggles Of Life

All though my life in general has been very good, it has not been without struggle. All of the struggle was not personal. Sometimes they were the struggles of people I care about. I firmly believe that struggle is part of everyone's life. No one gets through life without it. Struggles can be financial, emotional, spiritual, work related, poor health, difficulties with relationships, or a myriad of other things. The regular experience of struggle, or the possibility of it being right around the corner, is part of the reason I think it is so important to live in the moment and to be grateful for all the goodness, beauty, and blessings in your life. We all wish we had an easy life but it is the struggles that form our character. Babies and young children like my granddaughter have innocent faces that are smooth and without lines. The struggles of life chisel our faces and when we are old our faces tell the story of our lives. Sometimes when people my age start to have gray hair, they run for the hair dye. I used to have a full head of hair and my hair and my beard were very brown. Now I am very bald and when my beard is long I look like Santa Claus. As I heard one person say, "I'm proud of my gray hairs. I've earned every one of them"! At certain times of my life when everything seemed a struggle and I sometimes felt overwhelmed, I thought the hard times would never end. Now I look back on the worst of times and they seem like bumps in the road. That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Courage comes from facing fears, persevering through struggles, and digging deep to find whatever you need to meet the challenge that is testing you in life. As I have often told my children, life is wonderful but it's also sometimes difficult.

In the past I have shared a few thoughts about work and how we shouldn't find our total identity in what we do. I shared the believe that we are not what we do. I am Michael, Dad, Pa Paw, Son, Brother, Spouse or Friend among other things. One of my friends and readers responded that many of us, even if we don't find our identity in work, still often find our identity in the different roles we assume. It occurred to me that I sometimes avoid identifying with the roles I play because I also think I am more than these roles. In other words, I am more than someone's husband, father, son,brother, or friend. What if we found our identities in characteristics rather than roles? What characteristics would describe who you are? When I list what I like to consider my personal characteristics, I want to say things like "I am spiritual. I am strong. I am compassionate. I am tolerant. I am forgiving. I am intelligent ". Of course, even if these were all true, I would also have to say things like "I am weak. I am lustful. I am lazy. I am procrastinating. I am undisciplined. I am sometimes an idiot." Buddha keeps it simple. When asked who he was, he simply replied, "I am awake". In reality I am a little of all these things. Some days my light shines bright and all around me are warmed by who I am. Other days my light is dimmed by my more human weaknesses and no one is impressed with me. On those days I rely on the light of others to energize and renew within me the best part of who I am. .

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Evening With Chloe

I am writing this about thirty minutes after Chloe and her Dad have left my house. Chloe took all my energy and her Dad emptied my freezer. It reminded me of when my wife and I used to leave her parent's home. We never left empty handed. Before I left work yesterday I looked in my desk drawer and found 55 cents. I went into the breakroom and bought some animal crackers because I like to pick Chloe up at the day care bearing gifts. After picking her up she told my wife and I that her Mommy is using a "Pooper Scooper" and that she's not too happy about it. Once we got to my house she had me playing so many games that I can barely recall all of them. I know at one point I was the Papa Bear and she was the Baby Bear. Of course, I couldn't just be a Papa Bear that sits in a comfortable chair. No, I had to be a Papa Bear that crawls around on all fours. I did finally convince her that I was a Papa Bear that could only crawl on a floor that was carpeted. After that she spotted what she thought was a guitar case. When I opened it she said, "That's not a guitar! That's a Dulcimer"! I was amazed that she knew what a Dulcimer was. She then told me that someone on Sesame Street plays a Dulcimer. When she tired of that, we had to go outside for a walk. First we went in my backyard where I got about 287 bug bites. I convinced her we should take a walk on the street. Of course, she insisted on riding on my shoulders. I'm not sure what Chloe weighs now but carrying her on my shoulders is like walking around with a 50 pound bag of potatoes on your neck. We ended the night sitting on my front porch while she pretended to grill crab apples. Of course, to do that properly I had to first go into the kitchen and get a real spatula. Chloe has unlimited imagination and energy. It is a major chore, but a labor of love, to keep up with her.

Lately we have been having beautiful weather and some very sunny days. At certain times of the day the sun shines very bright. It is so intense that I have to turn away quickly after I glance at it. This is how I imagine the direct experience of God would be. Many of the great mystics describe the experience of God as burning, intense, and even painful. In the story of Moses on Mount Sinai, we are told that Moses had to turn his back as God passed by. In this life the best most of us will get is a glimpse of God. His light is too bright and we cannot look directly into it. Of course, like our experience of the sun, we can feel the light and warmth of God even though we cannot look directly into the light. God, like the sun, is always there, even on cloudy days.

Everyone who has been reading my daily thoughts for any length of time knows how much I love music. I am basically a rock and roller but I like all kinds of music. As a new feature in my daily thoughts I am going to start occasionally recommending music that I like. It may be rock, jazz, folk, blues, or even classical. I hope that some of you may be motivated to give some of it a try. (I am not on commission with the music industry!)

Here are three Miles Davis CD's I highly recommend. These are from the late 60's and early 70's. They represent Miles' transition from more traditional jazz into what became known as jazz fusion. Jazz fusion is basically a marriage of traditional jazz with rock and roll. Many of the musicians on these CD's are popular in their own right, especially guitarist John McLaughlin.

In a Silent Way
Bitches Brew
A Tribute to Jack Johnson

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Spirituality And Pipe Smoking

Today is Wednesday. Most work weeks Wednesday is the high point of my personal productivity and from what I can tell it appears that most of the people around me on the same schedule. I have been studying myself and others for years and here is a summary of my self observations.

Mondays. I start out slow and begin to fizzle out almost immediately.

Tuesdays. An intense but short lived burst of energy early in the morning gives me hope for personal productivity that is soon dashed on the rocks.

Wednesdays. I spend the day in the illusion that I'm nearly attaining my peak of a full 85% productivity rate.

Thursdays. Weariness catches up with me from the one burst of energy I had on Tuesday coupled with the mental strain of maintaining the illusion of productivity all day on Wednesday.

Fridays. Completely exhausted from everything I did Monday through Thursday, I pray to a higher power to energize me long enough to get back home so I can crash and burn in the comfort of my Lazy Boy chair.

Today, however, I must conserve my energy because I am picking up my granddaughter, Chloe, from the day care after I get off from work.

When I was in my early thirties I decided to smoke a pipe. I did it because I loved the aroma of pipe tobacco. I had often been in a gathering of people and the fragrance of carefully blended pipe tobacco would waft through the crowd and I thought it smelled wonderful. I went out and bought a beginner's pipe and some tobacco. I soon discovered, much to my dismay, that while smoking a pipe one could not smell the pleasing aroma. Whenever I smoked my pipe other people enjoyed it. Some even asked me to smoke just so they could enjoy the sweet smell. I, however, could never enjoy the aroma of my own pipe smoking even though I did enjoy the relaxing and contemplative nature of pipe smoking. I believe all of this is a metaphor for the spiritual life. When one is living a spiritual life, like when smoking a pipe, you don't really enjoy your own spiritual qualities. Your holiness and goodness cannot really be perceived by yourself. Only other people can experience your holiness and goodness. A spiritual person may be aware they are living a spiritual life, like a pipe smoker is aware they are smoking, but they don't really enjoy the effects of their spiritual life as much as those around a pipe smoker enjoy the fragrance of pipe smoke. In spite of the fact that I couldn't enjoy the aroma of my own pipe smoke, I kept smoking for many years. I rarely smoke now for health reasons but I still have my entire collection of pipes. Some are quite valuable and others are real pieces of art. I also keep trying to live a spiritual life even though I rarely feel spiritual, I am not always aware of my own goodness, and I never feel like I am a holy person. I do know, however, that there are people who think I am spiritual and good and maybe even a little holy. If this is their experience of me, like pleasing aromas are the experience of people around a pipe smoker, than I am happy and perhaps my purpose in life is being partially fulfilled. All goodness and holiness is a gift of God and not of our own doing. Living a spiritual life is really more about openness to God's grace rather than doing things to achieve holiness through our own efforts.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Our Emotional Lives

I did not visit my father in the nursing home over the weekend but my wife, son, and I did take my mother in law out to dinner. My father and mother in law have much in common but are also different. Both of them suffer from some mental incapacity. Neither of them know what day it is unless you tell them and then it seems they both immediately forget once you tell them. Both of them still recognize family members but seem to have no short term memory whatsoever. They live in the moment. They both enjoy visits but I doubt if they remember the visits once they are over. My father will say things, with a very slight smile, that he knows are humorous, but he never laughs or shows any emotion. My mother in law shows little emotion as well but laughs heartily. This makes me wonder if the real death of a person begins when there is no more emotion. My emotions have certainly gotten me into trouble more than once but I like it that I am an emotional person because as long as I have these outward manifestations of my inner feelings I know I am alive. I suppose my father and mother in law still have many inner feelings that their minds may no longer be capable of processing and manifesting on the outside as emotions. How complex we humans are! There are so many parts to who we are and our complete identity is maintained only as long as all the parts are connected and functioning in harmony. Our personal connectedness is then connected to the rest of humanity and the universe.

Zen is doing what you are doing and being where you are. It sounds simple but in reality is quite challenging. Zen is also about balance. This is also very challenging. Keeping all of the different parts of our lives in balance is like spinning five or six plates on the top of long sticks all at the same time. Getting enough rest, doing enough work, but not too much, being with others but also being with the self, being active and being still, enjoying life and being present to the sacred, knowing when to go and when to stop, when to speak and when to be silent is a daily challenge. If your life feels out of balance, it probably is. Life moves fast. Sometimes you must slow down to keep it all from spinning out of control. You can't be present to the moment if you are outrunning yourself. Stop now, close your eyes and simply breathe for a moment. Refresh yourself.

I was having wonderful moments at the monastery long before I started writing about them in my daily thoughts. Now my son is spending a week at the monastery, perhaps sleeping in a guest room used by his father, hearing the same tolling bells with their ancient call to prayer, bathing in the eternal silence that has graced the hills of Nelson County since 1848, quietly sitting in the Abbey church as the monks chant the psalms. Maybe he will come home with a better understanding of the mystery that has been wrapping itself around his father for so many years.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Role Models

This morning was a taste of Autumn. The temperatures were in the 50's. It felt great and I loved it. Show me some pumpkins!

One of the small gifts I try to give myself on the weekends is to never get out of bed before the sun rises. Most workdays I get out of bed while it is still dark and I am never happy about it. Sunrise seems the perfect time for Michael to rise. Granting myself this small gift I was able to get full nights of sleep on Friday and Saturday nights before spending my afternoons chasing Mummy's and helping Batman catch the Joker. Since it was my son's last weekend at home, I spent my Saturday and Sunday afternoons going to the movies with my wife and son. Along with reading books and listening to music, going to movies is one of my favorite things to do. I realize that most of what I love to do is passive in nature and my mind is usually more active than my body but it's who I am and what I love. Books, music, and movies are not as exciting as mountain climbing but they're not as dangerous either. Over the weekend nine people died trying to climb the mountain called K2. Today my son is leaving for a week long retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani before heading back to Indianapolis for another year of seminary training. Even though Nick spent much of the summer living at a local parish, he was home every weekend and now it may be a couple of months before I see him again. He successfully passed all his summer school classes with good grades so that will allow him to graduate from college at the end of this upcoming school year and to move up to the next level of seminary training. My guess is that he could be a priest within the next five years or so.

I did not see Chloe this weekend but I certainly thought about her when I saw preview's to the new Madagascar movie. For all your parents and grandparents out there, it comes out on November 7th.

Recently I wrote about parents being role models for their children. Who are the role models for parents and other adults? Hopefully, our own parents, even in their weaknesses, have been role models for us. My own parents have been together for nearly 60 years. They were not perfect but they did the best they could in the circumstances that life gave them. They raised six children with a lot fewer resources than I have had and we all turned out fine. When I look at people I am attracted to as role models, many of them are holy men and women and people with artistic natures. Unfortunately, many artistic types and entertainers have not led lives that should be emulated. Ironically, art is often born from pain and dysfunction. Not all artists are dysfunctional but certainly a large number lead troubling personal lives. Even many holy types have led extreme lives that may not have always been healthy or balanced. Some of my role models for living are Jesus, Buddha, Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Dalai Lama. However, I am also inspired by everyday, common people. Anyone who is righteous, honest, kind, compassionate, spiritual or poetic in their view of life is an inspiration to me. People don't have to be perfect for me to admire them. I am attracted to artistic types, not for their lifestyles, but for their depth of vision and feeling for the sometimes hidden beauty of life. Art brings forth my deepest feelings about many things. I love people who cause my soul to stir within me whether its through their words, painting, sculpture, acting , or musical talent. These are just a few thoughts. Hopefully, they will help you to think about your role models and why they are your role models. Finally, are you a role model for others? I am not only speaking about your children, if you are a parent, but are you a role model for all those around you?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Letting Things Settle

One of my favorite spiritual writers is a monk named Father Basil Pennington. He is known all over the world. I had the good fortune of meeting him and spending time with him on several occasions. Sadly, he died a few years ago and I heard of his death while I was in France in June of 2005. I am currently reading one of his books and in one chapter he talks about how someone new to the monastic life goes through a period of time when they must let all the information and data and experiences of life in the world settle down within them. When lived correctly there should be a calming of one's life after some time living in a monastery. Although I once lived in a monastery I was not there long enough to allow this inner settling to complete itself. However, building on my monastic experience and adding the maturity of years I have achieved some clarity in my life. The murky and distorted vision that people living in the world often have should transform into a clearer vision when one slows down and allows one's inner life to settle down. A good way to visualize this is to take an old fashioned Mason Jar and fill it with water. Once filled with water, add a few spoonfuls of dirt, some small stones, and maybe a few twigs. After you have done that, seal the jar and shake it up. The swirling and murky water represents the lives that many of us have. Take the jar and set it somewhere where it won't be disturbed. Eventually....slowly...the dirt, stones, and twigs will settle to the bottom and the water will be clear. The clear water represents what living in the monastery, or practicing meditation in the world, will do for us. Taking the time to sit still and allow things to settle will give us the clarity that we can never have when we are meeting ourselves coming and going, when we are overloaded with data and images and noise, and when we live our lives like our hair is on fire.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Taking Care Of Chloe

On a normal workday I supervise 21 adult men and women as well as manage their work. This requires significantly less energy than taking care of my granddaughter, Chloe, for the same amount of time. Chloe has some type of rash that requires her to stay out of the day care for a few days. Because I am Pa Paw and I love her, I volunteered to take a day off from work so she could spend the day with me at my house. She arrived barely awake at 7:30 AM yesterday. As soon as I looked at her I knew something was wrong with her. Besides the rash, her face was slightly swollen but when she smiled at me I knew it was Chloe. The next two hours were spent watching cartoons on the Disney Channel. Shortly after that, the Chloe I know began to emerge from the haze of her predawn medication. We began our standard process of wanting everything in sight including a variety of food products. We had tea parties and I took her for walks on my shoulders. Soon, however, the bewitching hour of another dose of medicine approached and our relationship began to deteriorate. "I don't want any medicine"! she said. I knew then that her father had lied to me when he said it would be no problem getting her to take her medicine because she liked the cherry favor. "How could I have been such a fool"? I wondered as I prepared Chloe's medicine. I know many of you have children or grandchildren and have been through this experience. Trying to give Chloe her medicine is probably the closest I have ever come to actually experiencing an exorcism. I had to hold both her hands in one of my hands while she kicked her feet and clenched her teeth. Thankfully it was liquid medicine so all I had to do was slowly inject it into her mouth. For that moment I was very unpopular and I hated being the bad guy. After I successfully got the medicine in her and wiped off her face, she gave me the silent treatment for the next half hour. Pa Paw was no longer the greatest man in the universe. Eventually the freeze subsided and she warmed back up to me. Uncle Nick was home so we sent him to McDonald's for some lunch. Not long after that I knew the medicine was taking effect when Chloe asked me to cover her up with a blanket while she sat in my chair. Soon she was in dreamland so Pa Paw took the other chair and joined her. Much of the afternoon was spent sitting on the front porch watching a squirrel who was watching us. When Mommy showed up we went through a less intense experience of another dose of medicine before we hugged and kissed one another good bye. Except for the brief experience of demon possession in the middle of the day, we had a very nice time together. I was happy to have the ability to take a day off from work to respond to the higher called of being Chloe's Pa Paw and caregiver. As soon as Chloe left I began to cook dinner so it would be ready when the Queen arrived home. Cooking dinner is no problem for me because I am a good cook. She arrived home a little late. Why? Well, she walked out of her office, stood on the curb and awaited her chariot. I am her usual charioteer. After standing there five or ten minutes she had the epiphany that she had actually driven herself to work and the chariot was parked two blocks away in a parking garage. Judging from the look on her face when she walked into the house, I think I might be a little more appreciated now. Maybe I will get a raise.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Back To The Tao Te Ching

Yesterday I had to leave work early and spent part of the day working at home. Working at home was a challenge. Even though I have an office in an upstairs bedroom, my computer is downstairs in my music room. Immediately to my left is my couch and just a few feet away is my Lazy Boy recliner. They sang their siren song to me all afternoon. I should have asked my wife to tie me to my desk chair the way Ulysses was tied to the mast of his ship.Since I had gotten home earlier and didn't have to face the evening commute, I took advantage of the time and drove to the nursing home to see my Dad. As I walked in I saw him in the dining room waiting for his dinner. I was happy that I arrived just in time to feed him and talk to him while he ate. I enjoy feeding my Dad. I consider it a sacred moment and an opportunity for some intimacy with him. The conversation is light because he can't handle anything too heavy at this point. About half way through the meal one of my brothers showed up so the two of us stayed with Dad until he was ready to get back in the bed. Like most people in his condition he would like to stay in bed all day. However the staff won't let him and he is up for every meal and then required to sit up for a while. Before we left my brother and I took him for a stroll around the parking lot. It was probably 95 degrees but he thought it felt great because like most old people he's easily chilled. It was a good visit.

I've been a little sidetracked lately but I am back into the Tao Te Ching and the Chinese philosophy of Lao Tzu. Verse 23 is about living with flexibility. Let me quote a few lines of this chapter.

The flexible are preserved unbroken. The bent become straight. The empty are filled. The exhausted become renewed. The poor are enriched. The rich are confounded. Therefore the sage embraces the one. Because he doesn't display himself, people can see his light. Because he has nothing to prove, people can trust his words. Because he doesn't know who he is, people recognize themselves in him. Because he has no goal in mind, everything he does succeeds. The old saying that the flexible are preserved unbroken is surely right! If you have truly attained wholeness, everything will flock to you.

The first thing that strikes me about these words are the paradoxical nature of the words themselves. The bent become straight, the empty are filled, the exhausted become renewed. These words have a lot in common with the Christian Gospels. The first shall be last. The last shall be first. Take the back seat and you will often be ushered to the front. If you want to be the greatest, seek to be the least. They also remind me of some of the writings of the 16th century Spanish mystic, St, John of the Cross. Let me quote a few lines from some of his writings.

To arrive at having pleasure in everything, desire to have pleasure in nothing. To arrive at possessing everything, desire to possess nothing. To arrive at being everything, desire to be nothing. To arrive at knowing everything, desire to know nothing.

I think what all of this is saying to us is not to go down what we think is the obvious path. In our culture so many of us are so driven and full of our own desires and plans and goals. We think we know everything, including what we want and how to get there. The spiritual life, however, is one of paradox. What seems obvious is often the wrong path. The dark path is often the path of enlightenment. The mighty oak tree seems the strongest but is often the first to go in a tornado or hurricane. One of the strongest trees is actually the tall and slender palm tree. It can survives the hurricanes of life because it is flexible. I know I often fight life and my resistance may have sometimes kept me from going where life wanted to take me. I am not suggesting that all of us should be like rudderless boats on the ocean tossed about by the waves with no sense of direction. What I am suggesting is that our journeys should not always be guided by the world's compass. Follow your heart, follow your bliss, and let the wind fill your sails. As J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings says, "All those who wander are not lost".

Monday, August 04, 2008

How Have You Done It For So Long?

Once again it was a very full but relaxing weekend. I spent much of the weekend with my friend, Father Dennis. We met for breakfast in Louisville on Saturday morning and then I followed him out to his home in Bardstown. Dennis lives in a somewhat secluded home on a hill near the monastery. My plans were to spend the day with him, stay overnight, and then do my usual monthly activities at monastery on Sunday. Part of my Saturday afternoon was spent driving around the countryside looking for a couple of small Catholic churches where Dennis would be saying mass for another priest next weekend. I enjoyed this as I love small country churches and I had never been to these places. One was called St. Francis Xavier and the other was called Holy Rosary. Both were near where my mother grew up as a child and where I attended a family reunion a few years ago. I met the local priest who was very nice and welcoming. We had some great conversation. He told me he remembered meeting my son and that he will pray for him as he continues his studies for the priesthood. Dennis and I also had much conversation over the weekend. He is a gracious host and always makes me feel very welcome. I feel very much at home in his house. He has a basement that is an introvert's dream. It is full of his very large CD music collection and tons of books. If I die and go to heaven and I wake up in Dennis's basement, I will be happy.

On Sunday morning I met with my lay group and one of the monks at the monastery. Among other things, we discussed the question "What is the experience of God?" It is a simple question that has no simple answers. Fr Michael, one of the monks, shared a story about a meeting of monks at the monastery where this question and the many answers given created much tension between people. The experience of God is many things to many people. We also discussed the challenge and difficulty of describing the experience of God. One of my former teachers believes you can't really describe it. You can only talk about it in analogies. The experience of God is like.....

What is the experience of God for you?

I got home as soon as I could on Sunday because it was my 34th wedding anniversary. Everything in my life is now measured in decades. I am in my sixth decade of living. My marriage is in it's fourth decade and my employment for the same company is in it's third decade. My children are no longer children and my parents are elderly. In today's world, people, especially young people, often look at me in amazement, like I am a super hero, when I share how long I have been married to my original and only wife or how long I have worked for the same company. They say, "O my God! How have you done that for so long"? The easy answer is "One day at a time". Some days it was easy. Other days it was difficult. Sometimes I was happy and content. Other times I felt trapped and restless. There were days of deep gratitude that my life was secure and balanced. There were other days of resentment when daydreams of adventures I was not having filled my head. Occasionally I wondered how I ended up in such a life. Being married, having children, and working much of my life for an insurance company was not part of my youthful dreams. I am too much of a romantic to dream of such an ordinary life. All of this makes me sometimes wonder if we truly choose our lives or if they choose us. I say this because my rather ordinary and sometimes boring life has actually been quietly filled with adventures big and small that often had deep meaning and, in retrospect, show me that my life has had a sense of purpose. These experiences have weaved my life into a tapestry that will one day tell the story of my life. This really hit home last week when, as part of a team building exercise, we were asked to share one interesting fact about our lives. I though to myself, "Just one? I could give you a whole list". Without the foundation of a long marriage, good family, and stable employment, my life could have been nothing more than a lost soul wandering in the wilderness. There's a Native American saying that goes, "In old age nothing is better than a warm fire". Even though I probably don't always appreciate it, the stability of my life has provided much of the "warm fire" that we all need and want.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Clueless About Parenthood

Yesterday after my work day ended, I picked up my wife at her office and we headed to my granddaughter's daycare. I was looking forward to dinner with Chloe at McDonald's, her favorite restaurant. After picking her up she told me a story about how her dog pooped in her bedroom and that her mother was very mad at the dog. After dinner we took her home. When I arrived at my son's house, he and some friends were practicing the manly art of stump removal. I'm glad he didn't ask for my help. He is deep into a landscape renovation. Before I left to go home, I had to walk Chloe around on my shoulders and chase her around the house. "Do it one more time, Pa Paw"! I'm not sure how many times I did it before I was seeing stars and felt like I was having a heart attack. "Tickle me, Pa Paw"! "Let me climb on the stairs and jump. Will you catch me, Pa Paw"? "Chloe, Pa Paw is old. I need to sit down a minute". Whew! This little girl wears me out but I love being with her.

If you're in the mood to purchase a smoking blues CD, buy the new CD by Buddy Guy. It's called "Skin Deep". Eric Clapton, who is no slouch on the guitar, considers Buddy Guy the "greatest living guitar player". I have seen Buddy perform many times. At the last concert I attended I walked up to the stage and he gave me one of his guitar picks. It is now a treasured music artifact and has a place of honor in my music room. Are you impressed that I am still out there rocking and rolling at age 57? Buddy Guy is in his 70's and he plays the guitar with the energy of a 25 year old. Long live the blues!

When I decided to get married at the tender young age of 23 way back in 1974, I thought marriage would be like dating. If two or three hours with my wife to be on a date was so enjoyable, how much more so would it be to spend 24 hours a day together! I don't need to tell any of you who are married or living with another person how naive this was. Marriage is not that simple. If I was naive about marriage, I was even more clueless about parenthood. Although I grew up with a Mom and a Dad and five brothers and sisters, I had no idea about the demands of parenthood until I became a parent myself. When my sons were babies and young boys, the demands were great but once you got into a routine, it wasn't so bad. All my wife and I had for guidance were our parents and a paperback copy of Dr Spock's book of parenting. I was blessed to have a spouse to share the responsibilities with and we had no major issues until my oldest son reached puberty and the teen age years. In the spirit of kindness and forgiveness, let's just say he was a challenging young man. Neither of my children are perfect and they are also very different from one another. The good news is that both of them have turned out very good in spite of many mistakes made on my part as a parent. In spite of my own personal weaknesses and mistakes, I have tried to be a positive role model. I have tried to be faithful to my own values and to live with a moral consciousness. They did not always agree with me and I am sure there were times I was considered a clueless old man. I tried to always do and say the right thing, expressing my beliefs and opinions, while trying to instill in them a sense of right and wrong. All of this is a preface to the main idea I want to put out today. If you want your children to turn out to be decent human beings, stick to your values and be a positive and moral example to them. Later in life they will forgive your mistakes if you remained true to what you believe and practice. Most parents try to make up for whatever weaknesses they believed their own parents had. Unfortunately, your own weaknesses will eventually appear and you will make different mistakes. Your children may never actually tell you what they admire about you or what a positive influence you were. However, their lives will say volumes. My older son was a challenge in his youth. Now he's a good husband and father. His brother wasn't a lot of trouble but he had his own issues. I like to believe that the kind of father I was has positively influenced the kind of father my oldest son is to Chloe. I also hope my spiritual nature has had some influence on my youngest son's desire to be a priest. All in all, I've been blessed and all the challenges and demands of parenthood have been worth all the effort and struggle. The seeds you plant early in their lives will blossom later. Then, as an older parent, you can sit back and enjoy their maturity and coming of age.