Monday, August 31, 2009

The End Of Summer

Today is August 31st. As far as I am concerned it's the last day of summer. I can tell by the morning and evening light that the seasons are changing. It's dark now when I rise and the darkness returns sooner in the evenings. All in all we've had a very cool summer with few days in the 90's. Today was a gorgeous day with clear blue skies, no humidity, and the high temperature was only 75 degrees. When I left my home this morning the air was cool and invigorating. As I write these notes the A/C is off and the sounds and smells of this late summer night waft in my window. We are entering into my favorite time of the year, the time of cool days, autumn colors, and coming holidays. Ironically, during this time of year when nature begins to die and winter's cold is not far away, I feel renewed and rejuvenated. Admittedly, by winter's end I sometimes feel a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder and I crave the sunlight that will soon be diminishing.

I confess that I have a lawn service that mows my grass. I love the sound of someone else mowing the lawn. As I sit here the poor guy is outside, mowing and trimming, in total darkness. I can't tell from here but he must be wearing a coal miner's hat with a light on the front of it. I have no idea how he can see what he's doing. I will probably wake up in the morning to find alien crop circles in my front yard.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

24 Hours Of Living

The last 24 hours or so have been rather enjoyable. Yesterday, being Friday, I had lunch with my friend, Wendy. We have worked together and apart for a number of years. We don't see one another too often apart from lunch so every Friday is a like a little reunion. Friday got even better when I took off a couple of hours early from work. I needed to chauffeur my wife who has a broken foot and cannot drive. The payment for my services was accompanying me to see the new movie "Taking Woodstock". This Ang Lee film is more about the events that led up to the famous Woodstock Festival than about the music. Watching the film was like watching home videos of my youth.

Today I went to the Abbey of Gethsemani for a reunion of former members of the monastic community. When I wasn't being a young hippie, I spent part of my youth living in a monastery learning about the monastic life and the spiritual journey. Relatively speaking it was a short time in my life, and a very long time ago, but it was also a time that greatly influenced who I am today. Today I was with other men who also had this monastic experience. There were men who had lived in the monastery in the 1940's, 50's, 60's, and every other decade till now. Depending on when they were there the experience might have varied somewhat. The monastery, like the world, has not been without change. The day started with mass with the current monastic community. After mass, there was a very enjoyable lunch where I was able to meet some of these other men. We shared stories and laughed a lot. I was also able to spend some time with monks who have been my friends for many years. My experience of the monastery was very good and healthy. I feel blessed that I have maintained relationships with some of the monks individually as well as the entire monastic community in general. It has been especially gratifying to continue being treated like a member of the family. Today felt more like a family reunion than a gathering of mostly strangers who had a common experience.

I did have a deeply religious experience on the road to the monastery this morning. I received a message from God to slow down. It was delivered by a Kentucky State Trooper who told me I was driving 76 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone. In my defense I was driving my wife's shiny, new, fire engine red, Pontiac G8. Even the very nice policeman said, "Mr. Brown, you're got a hot car"! Policemen love shiny, new, fire engine red cars, especially when they are a blur going down the road and they are parked nearby with a radar gun! Most religious experiences are priceless. This one is costing me $173!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Making Peace With The Imperfect

There's a wonderful website that I visit on a regular basis called Zen Moments. It is a site with stories that help me keep my own life in perspective. The word "Buddha", as many of you know, means "Awakened One". I am a long way from being a fully "awakened" one. I have my moments of clarity but, sadly, I have too many moments where I am asleep. At best I am probably a person sitting on the side of his bed rubbing his eyes. I am trying to be awake but sometimes it seems that all my effort is focused on simply rubbing the sleep from my eyes. Zen moments, the website and the experiences, help me. Yesterday's thought on the "Zen Moments" website was titled "Making Peace with the Imperfect". Reading it I was reawakened to something I already know. Life will never be perfect. 80% is about the best you are ever going to get. This idea is called the 80/20 law. If you take anything in your life, i.e., relationships, work, or life in general, if 80% is good you should jump up and down with joy! Now this law is not just a mathematical formula to justify all that's not right or perfect in your life. It also applies to ourselves. Everybody and everything seems to want a minimum of 100% of everything we have to give. Employers often say they need 110% from everyone. Guess what? It's not going to happen. On our best days as individuals we probably can give only 80%. Like the people and the world around us, we are not perfect and our efforts will never be perfect either. We are all flawed and we are all broken. All the people and all the things around us are also imperfect, flawed, and broken. This does not mean that everyone and everything in life are failures. We're just human and all things are in flux. If Buddha is only right about one thing, I think it is that all things are impermanent. To quote from Zen Moments, "What comes together, separates. Whatever arises, must decay and pass away. It's a natural law. All things that arise and cease are inherently unsatisfactory". None of this is meant to convey doom and gloom. It simply means we must make our peace with the imperfections of people, including ourselves, and everything else in life. This is especially true, and difficult, for people like myself who are perfectionists, idealists, and romantics. Although I can't stop being who I am, I can learn to let go of my unrealistic expectations of people and life. Going forward I am going to make a renewed effort to appreciate the 80% of my life that is very good instead of obsessing on the 20% that seems to be missing or is less than perfect.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Good Day

Today was a good day full of simple pleasures. One thing I have learned in life is that the simple things often bring the most enjoyment. I got up early like I was going to work but I stayed home. No, it wasn't a spontaneous gesture of playing hookey. I had planned to stay to stay home. Even preplanned, it felt liberating. After taking my wife to work I stopped at a local bagel store for some coffee and a breakfast burrito. Soon I was back home where I enjoyed more coffee along with my local newspaper and a USA Today. My primary reason for staying home today was to assist my son. Today he left for another school year in his quest to be a priest. This year is a little different. He has graduated college and is now moving into what is called Major Seminary. In other words, he is now going to graduate school to study theology. This year he is attending St. Meinrad School of Theology. The school is owned, and mostly taught, by Benedictine monks. I helped Nick carry out all his stuff and pack his car. Afterwards we went out for lunch and then he headed down the road. A few hours later he called me to say he had arrived safely, found his new room, and moved all is stuff. He'll have the weekend to get settled before classes start on Monday. After Nick and I parted ways I went to a nearby Mall and sold off some old, poor sounding CD's. I then took the money and used it to buy a handful of the new Rolling Stones Remasters. My wife thinks I am crazy but any audiophile will agree with me that newly remastered or remixed CD's have a superior sound that is a night and day difference from the old analog transfers that were originally put out when the CD format was created. My daytime hours ended with a visit to the doctor. No, I am fine. My wife has been complaining about pain in her foot. A trip to the doctor resulted in a diagnoses of a bone fracture. Now she's wearing one of those casts that looks like one of Frankenstein's boots. She can't drive so I must continue as her charioteer. Now, the day has turned into night. I sit here in my music room, at my little desk, with another cup of coffee and a slice of sugar free banana pie. This is as exciting as it gets for me most Friday nights. I'll have most of tomorrow to also spend in leisure. Tomorrow night, however, we'll go out for a family dinner to celebrate my daughter in law's birthday. Afterwards, my granddaughter will come home with me for an overnighter. There will be no leisure then. I don't care because I always look forward to her visits.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What's On My Mind? Almost Nothing!

I seem to be getting lazier and lazier with this blog. It's late night as I write these thoughts, whatever they turn out to be. I'm doing the last of my son's laundry before he leaves for school tomorrow and I'm jamming to some Steve Ferguson and the Midwest Creole Ensemble. He's a local musician who got his start in a cult band called NRBQ. Truthfully, I am not really getting lazy about writing. The real truth is that I don't know what to write about anymore. I'm not complaining but my life is very boring right now. There's not much going on. I am pretty much reliving the same day over and over. My life really does seem like Groundhog Day. I get up too early, go to work, come home, often fall asleep in my chair, and then I stay up too late. Seconds after I close my eyes and fall asleep, the alarm goes off and I do it all over again. I'm not doing anything new or different. I haven't even been to a concert in months. This is the first summer since 1990 that I haven't made some kind of road trip to see a favorite band. I am also not reading much so I don't think about much. I still go to the monastery but those visits are usually quiet and uneventful. To be honest I am enjoying this quiet, low key life where I don't feel an obligation to give people their daily inspiration. Frankly, I don't feel very inspirational these days. Quite the opposite, I am feeling very ordinary and uninspiring. Of course, I am still capable of rising to the occasion and saying what others need to hear. Earlier this week as I was walking through the lunchroom at work, a co-worker asked for some words of encouragement and I was able to deliver. I am under no pressure to write and I have no writing obligations. In some ways that is nice but now I am not being challenged to think and reflect and share my insights. Like with most areas of my life, I do best when challenged. Without a challenge I tend to shrink away and be silent. I need to be pushed and encouraged. Perhaps I don't have enough personal assertiveness or drive to do much without others expecting it of me. Still, I cannot give up this blog. I know people all over the world read it. Just this week I had my 7000th visit. However, I very rarely get any response from my readers. I no longer have an sense of whether or not people even like what I write. I guess at this point I write mostly for myself while hoping it also has some value beyond my own need to write.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Son's College Graduation

While my granddaughter starts the journey of her education, my youngest son has completed a major milestone in his journey towards the priesthood. This summer he has graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Simon Brute Seminary at Marian College in Indianapolis. In a few weeks he will start graduate school and continue his education at St. Meinrad School of Theology. This school is run by a thriving community of approximately 100 Benedictine monks. I am very proud of my son, Nick, and his brother. Both of them have turned out very well despite my shortcomings as a parent!

Chloe's First Day of Kindergarten

This past Thursday my granddaughter, Chloe, started Kindergarten. I am still in disbelief that she is already five years old. Her first day was a little traumatic. Going from a comfortable and familiar daycare environment to the bustling confusion of the first day of a new school year could be traumatic for anyone. To be honest, I think her mother was more upset than Chloe. I am an over protective "Pa Paw" but I know Chloe will be fine and she will quickly adapt to her new life. The picture above is Chloe standing outside her new classroom.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On The Road Again Through Space And Time

I took Friday off from work. Since my son is home from school and could keep my wife company I thought I would take advantage of that and stay overnight with my friend, Fr. Dennis. I got up early, dropped my wife off at her office, and headed down the highway. I met Dennis for breakfast and then we spent much of the day driving around the beautiful back roads of the Kentucky countryside admiring nature and occasionally stopping at small country churches. The part of Kentucky where Dennis lives and where the Abbey of Gethsemani is located is very historical, especially if you are Catholic. Late in the afternoon when we returned to Dennis's home I decided to take a nap. It was about 3:00 PM when I laid on the bed. I woke up briefly about 4:00 PM. The house was perfectly silent. Thinking Dennis might also be taking a nap I made no attempt to get up. The next thing I know it was 6:00 PM and Dennis was standing in the doorway of my room going, "You getting up, bro"? I had been sleeping like Rip Van Winkle. It felt so good. When I got up we went out again for a brief drive in the Kentucky twilight. Later, when it was bed time, I had no trouble falling asleep again and I slept like a baby until Dennis's two Basset Hounds woke up and began yelping. It just showed how tired I was and what a good sleeping environment a quiet home in the country can be. After waking up and having breakfast I spent most of the morning at the monastery where I met with a group of friends, attended mass with the monks, and had a delightful lunch. I am blessed to have such friends and such a place as the monastery in my life. Since I once lived there as a young novice, it still feels like home.

I've been taking another trip this weekend. I say that with some hesitation. This weekend is the 40th anniversery of the famous Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969. When I got home this past Thursday there was a musical dream on my door step. The new six CD, eight hour, musical retrospective of Woodstock titled "Woodstock, 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur's Farm" had arrived. I have been in hippie heaven. It's obvious that a lot of love and care went into this musical collection. Much of the music has never been heard before. The six CD's and all of the performances are sequenced in the exact running order of the actual festival. It includes not only musical performances but many of the now famous stage announcements and the sounds of the massive thunderstorm that turned the festival grounds into a sea of mud. This collection really gives you a sense of being there. I did not attend the Woodstock Festival. The next summer, in 1970, I did attend an event just as big called the Atlanta International Pop Festival. A little while ago I received a call from my long time friend, Tom, reminding me what we were doing 40 years ago during the Woodstock weekend. It was the summer of our high school graduation. While Woodstock was occurring in New York the two of us were taking the acid trip of a life time. 40 years later we are still trying to piece together the events of that weekend. Now we are still friends who are much older and preparing to attend our 40th high school reunion in a few weeks. All of us from the Woodstock generation are a lot further down the road these days.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

So sang Bob Dylan on his "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" album. Well, a hard rain fell last week causing lots of flooding and misery for many, many people. Tonight there's more hard rain. I hope it doesn't cause people any more heartache. Normally this rain would be a welcome sight. Today was dreadfully hot and humid. I live in what is called the "Ohio Valley". It's a beautiful place but an allergy hell if you are prone to such things. Most of my life I been unaffected though I often wonder if I have ever breathed at full capacity. In the last year I seem to have fallen victim to local pollens, molds, and spores. My nose has been running, I'm sneezing, and, when outdoors, breathing is difficult. I'll need another allergy pill at bed time. All of this aside, I have been enjoying a quiet night. I've done a few Zen chores like cleaning up the kitchen and washing a load of laundry. It's a typical Monday night. My son left this morning for a seminarian retreat at the Sisters of Loreto in Springfield, Kentucky near the Abbey of Gethsemani. He'll be gone most of the week, followed by another week at home, before reporting to St Meinrad School of Theology for his first year of theological studies. This coming Thursday my granddaughter, Chloe, begins her first year of real school. Yes, little Chloe starts kindergarten this week. Meanwhile, I continue living my same life of daily work where I dream of the weekend. In the evenings, if I can stay awake, I read the morning newspaper, listen to music, and, occasionally, reading books. Sadly, I don't read as much as I used to or as much as I desire. I am simply too brain dead on work nights. The young people I know are preparing for their futures, whether they know what they will be or not. I'm not sure I am preparing for anything. The future is uncertain. The parts that seem certain I don't always want to think about. When one gets older the future gets a lot smaller. What to do? An obvious answer is to maximize the present by being as alive to it as you can be. This can sometimes be a struggle when one is bored with the routines of life or fatigued by their demands. It hard to be awake when you are asleep. Still, with whatever energy I can muster, I try. Practice makes perfect. If I keep trying, maybe I will someday be good at it.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

1969 - 2009 40 Years Down The Road

When 2008 turned into 2009 I had no immediate idea that it would be a year with so many memories. In 1969 I was eighteen years old. I graduated from high school. It was the summer of Woodstock and the first steps of men on the moon. Of course, it wasn't all good. The Vietnam War was raging on, Sharon Tate and her friends were brutally murdered by Charles Manson and some of his followers, and in December of 1969 the good vibes of Woodstock were destroyed when a young black man was murdered by a Hell's Angel in front of Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones at the now infamous Altamont concert. This event was memorialized in the film "Gimme Shelter". On a more personal level, I will soon be attending my 40th high school reunion. I graduated with nearly 500 people. Almost all of them have been tracked down. 30 people from my class have died. The rest are all over the United States. I always find it amazing how you can spend a chunk of your life with a group of people, or share an event with thousands of people, only to realize later that you will never be together with those same people again. Lately I have received a steady flow of emails pertaining to my reunion. There is a group of very dedicated former classmates who have done a lot of work tracking down people and organizing the event. Occasionally one of these emails will contain a photo of the planning committee. My friend, Tom, a classmate and friend for 40 years, and myself, joked that everyone in the picture "looked like bunch of old people". When I shared this with my wife, she said, "Have you looked in the mirror lately"? There's no doubt that everyone, including me, has traveled many miles since 1969. We are not the youthful, energetic, young people we once were. I'm sure many have had very good lives. Others, I am also sure, have probably had more difficult times. Regardless of the ups and downs of my own journey, I am glad to be one of the survivors. I look forward to seeing old friends that are still part of my life as well as the many that I have not seen in 40 years. I'm still blown away that 40 years has passed! This reminds me how important it is to live in the moment. It's the only effective way to put the brake on and slow things down. Regardless of age, I am still a rock and roller and a pretty cool Pa Paw. I'm not part of the "Walker Brigade" yet!

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Joy Of Friday Night

If you are a person like me, a person on the 9 to 5 treadmill of daily work, there is no feeling like finally getting home on a Friday Night. You've survived another week of work demands and the prospect of getting to sleep in on Saturday seems like a great gift. At my age I rarely do anything exciting on a Friday night. In my youth I couldn't get out on the streets fast enough. Those were days of endless energy. These days I can barely maintain minimum life support systems. Staring into space and the same time...can sometimes seem like a great challenge. Although I look forward to Friday, it is a difficult time to get through during the day. Going out to lunch with my friend Wendy, or other friends on occasion, is usually the highlight of the day. The remainder of the day is difficult. Most of my staff works at home and I rarely see them. Many of those in the office only work half days on Fridays. The exception to that is the management. We are expected to work a full day whether we need to do so or not. Of course, some would say management works half days everyday even though we are there all day. Needless to say, Friday afternoons are a ghost town in my office. When the imaginary whistle goes off in my head at quitting time I practically run out of the building. Today was no exception. Waiting for my wife outside of her office is also challenging. The meter maids walking up and down the streets ticket cars as easily as shooting fish in a barrel. I am always on alert for their bright yellow shirts. I spend at least part of my waiting time playing hide and seek with them. Today I eventually found a hiding place in front of the local County Attorney's office where dead beat dads were running in and out dropping off their past due child support payments. Eventually my cell phone rang. My wife was out on the curb awaiting her chariot. We then met my son for dinner. Now I am in my room with some Sly and the Family Stone jamming in the background. A late evening cup of coffee sits beside me. Hopefully, this jolt of java will keep me awake until bedtime. I am giddy with joy at the prospect of sleeping in a few extra hours in the morning. Tomorrow afternoon my wife and I, along with our son, will attend a seminarian's picnic with the Archbishop of Louisville. I think that's my only commitment for the weekend. I hope so. A day of complete rest and relaxation of Sunday would be an added joy to the weekend.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Lots Of Rain!

I was having a very quiet week until yesterday morning. Shortly after I arrived at my office the sky turned ink black, the heavens opened up, and more rain fell in one hour than ever before in the history of local weather forecasting. For a while it seemed that Judgement Day had arrived. In actual fact the local meteorologists didn't see this one coming. They knew it would rain but they didn't know the massive storm would build up over Louisville and hold its ground. Approximately six inches of rain fell in little over an hour. It completely overwhelmed the local drainage system. Our local library was hit especially hard and thousands of books were destroyed. Many cars stalled in high water or were flooded in parking lots. Other local landmarks that were also hit hard by the flooding were the University of Louisville and Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. I was more fortunate than most. There was no flooding in my neighborhood and while at work I was safe and dry on the 11th floor of my building, though at one point the glass Atrium above me shuddered under the high winds. My car was also safe and dry on the 2nd floor of my parking garage. A second storm occurred in the afternoon adding more water to an already critical situation. My thoughts and prayers are with all those whose homes or businesses were damaged. Fortunately there were no deaths or serious injuries.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Earlier this week I was rummaging through a closet when I discovered a box of forgotten photographs. They were quite a revelation. These pictures represented snapshots of my life for the last 30 plus years. What struck me the most was how many happy moments there have been. Some of the events in these pictures were the births and childhoods of my two sons, many Christmas mornings and other family celebrations, trips to the mountains, Grateful Dead concerts, visits to the monastery, and more. There were pictures of me with hair down to my shoulders. These brought smiles to my face since I am sitting here now looking like a Buddhist monk with a beard. Now, in these days of the empty nest and occasional unhappiness, I pause to think that many of my best years were the years of raising my children. In spite of this I refuse to think the best years are all in the past. I want to live with the mentality that today is as good as any other day and that the future is full of promise. Each stage of life should have its own value and rewards. My children are grown men but now I have a beautiful five year old granddaughter who worships the ground I walk on. I am still working but the dream of retirement is in sight and within my grasp. My body isn't what it used to be but I think my mind and heart are better than ever. These old pictures brought back a lot of happy memories but they also brought some sadness. I was reminded of family members, especially my wife's parents and my father, who are no longer with us. Death and my own aging has changed my life. Lifestyles and traditions of the past are gone forever and new lifestyles and traditions are being created. I'm glad I found these photographs. They remind me that my life has probably been better than I think it has and perhaps I have not always been as grateful as I should be. Going forward, I will mourn some of what has passed, try to be happier in the moment, and always be hopeful for the good memories that haven't been experienced yet.