Exciting Possibilities

As I was listening to Pastor Kerry’s sermon, this morning, I thought of the innumerable exciting possibilities that are before us. He spoke of those of us who are happy and content in our faith community and yet…how do we reach out to so many of our human family who need some good news and some friendship and some hope…because they feel hopeless.

I remember how I felt when we first attended First Presbyterian Church in Carbondale, Illinois. First and foremost I was searching for a church where I and my family were welcome. Along with that we were seeking a worship service that when it was concluded we felt better for having attended. Life is hard and it involves us in problems and concerns and stress and we need a context to deal with the challenges. Although MJ and I were well into our middle years and we had two wonderful sons…we were still uneasy and apprehensive as to how we would be accepted at the church that we immediately felt a kinship with. We were so pleasantly surprised at how friendly the members of the congregation were and their pleasure that we were there. During my past church experiences I had been an elder and deacon and a trustee at one time or another. Yet when I was asked to be a member of the Trustee Board at First Presbyterian…I was nervous and somewhat in doubt as to the abilities that I brought to the task. I was so welcomed by the outgoing chair of the Board and then, Dorothy Baker, the on-coming chair…that I felt I was, with God’s help, up to the job.

We church going Christians have a blessing and we have a burden. Someone reached out to us when we were seeking a fellowship that would welcome us and encourage us to be an active member of their group. In our world of insular… lonely… sad… and the lack of trust in our neighbor that is exacerbated by the plethora of conspiracy theories, that seem to be around every corner, who will reach out to our brothers and sisters of our human family if we do not? I have been a member of groups that felt exceedingly comfortable with each other and much like a family dynamic ensued. I feel very much as a welcomed family member in our church. But, it was not always that way. If someone had not continued to love and care about me….

Happiness is ahead of us. Social dinners at our favorite Winery are already occurring. Travel is considered to be safe with the proper precautions. There is a rest and ease and comfort in taking the vaccinations. You will breath deeper and feel safer once you have received your jabs. If there is any lesson that I have learned over our 2020/2021 Pandemic it is that we are all in this together. Rich and poor and academic and tradesman…gay and straight…the churched and the un-churched…we all have a second chance at unity and family and leaning on each other and needing each other. We have the opportunity to increase our house and to expand our walls…to build a bigger and longer table…

If we have the courage…


A Positive Attitude In A Negative World

It is another, ‘beautiful day in the neighborhood,’ if you choose to see it. The temperature is in the 60’s with a soft spring breeze and the sun is shinning. I have experienced that life’s road affords us all… high mountain experiences…and the low valley disappointments. A blogging friend noted that he admired my positive outlooks in the blogs that I write. I write those blogs having experienced some low, valley, moments in my life. But…I made the conscious decision to focus on the positives of life…when I was still a child. It became clear to me, early on in my life, that bad things happen to us all…or bad things happen to good people. This life does not promise that life will be a, ‘Bowl of Cherries.’ As the popular author of the book entitled, ‘If Life Is A Bowl of Cherries…Why Am I Always In The Pits,’ by Erma Bombeck.’ Sadness and strife and worry and loss is waiting around the corner…for all of us. None of us are exempt. We all receive our share…and some of us feel that we receive the lions share…

But there is a rainbow at the end of the storm. Each of us receive the extension of God’s love for us if we have eyes to see it. Many years ago I was terminated from a custodial service that I worked approximately 16 to 18 hours per day for. Shortly thereafter I was hired by Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale where I ultimately became the Superintendent of the department for the last 13 years of my career.

Hunger is a motivating factor. I have experienced hunger. For many years…hunger has not been a concern for me or my family. At one time I walked everywhere that I needed to go…while my friends passed me by in new automobiles. Now MJ and I own a new Subaru, Forester and travel to Europe when we desire a holiday on the fascinating continent.

My dear friend, Jeff, lived as a homeless child on the streets of Chicago, Illinois. Now his is independently wealthy and has a business in the United Kingdom and our family have visited he and Margo on several occasions.

Our 2020/2021 Pandemic has illustrated to us that nothing can be taken for granted. We have been accosted with a devastating viral illness that has taken untold lives. We are living in, thus far, a once in a generation Pandemic. Our current time and environment shall be written about in history books for the next 100 years or more. It is impossible to asses if more Pandemics are on the way…that is indeed the case…sooner or later. But, through the morass of challenges and hurdles and valleys and rocky roads…there is the bright light of hope and opportunity and positive and progressive life for each of us as we make our way through this terrible and wonderful…drama of life…as we negotiate the rocks and shoals of landing our ship on to the shore of happiness and opportunity and fullness of the life that God has given us…

And…Now What?

My happiness is complete as I am back on the writing porch. Few home improvements have afforded me more joy than the screened in magnificent porch that my friend, Jim Calloway, built for us in the beginning days of my retirement…2011. Twenty-eleven seems like yesterday…but it has been 10 years. Someone asked me if others enjoyed my writing….to which I replied that I did not know…but that I certainly enjoyed doing it. I think that nothing has anchored me more in my retirement years than writing on a daily basis. If I miss a day…I am sad to have done so. Mom had an old cast iron Royal Typewriter when I was a child. When I looked at that machine…I dreamed of being a writer. Mr. Feazel encouraged me to write in Eldorado High School as did Miss Barton. My favorite professor at University, Carol Burns, told me that I could achieve any university degree that I sought and my professor for Literature Analysis told the class that most of them could never to hope to write as well as an anonymous paper of mine that he read to them. Now I am certain that these gracious compliments were much over-blown and full of hyperbole…but they did stick in my mind.

Life is about finding something that you enjoy doing and then doing it. No big secret formula or special hidden map to happiness…as Nike says, ‘Just Do It!’ I have known people who were held back by their own low expectations. Fulfillment and happiness are available to you if you have the courage to change your habits or to inculcate new ones. Self realization is not in the talking about it… but in the doing…

So what comes next for we intrepid survivors of the Great 2020/2021 Pandemic? Shall we return to our insular ways and our introverted tendencies? We could ensconce ourselves in conspiracy theories and ‘Larps’ that are created to manipulate us and steer us to a hidden and destructive agenda. I have been watching a six part documentary regarding QAnon that is amazing and revealing and disturbing. Live Action Role Playing is LARP. I would be less than honest if I said that I was repelled by all conspiracy theories as I have believed since I was a youngster that President John F. Kennedy was not killed by the lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald. I watched Jack Ruby gun Oswald down on live television in my living room in Eldorado, Illinois. I thought at the time that something was not right with the story of the Kennedy Assassination. The Warren Commission did not convince me other wise. However conspiracy theories have grown into hydra headed Medusas and contain within them danger and death for innocent people.

A new normal awaits our tired and longing eyes. If we have learned anything from our once in 100 year first hand experience with the Covid Pandemic…it is that we are all in this together…there is much more that unites us than divides us…we need each other to lean upon as we journey back to Jerusalem.

Rob, my committee partner on the Personnel Committee for the Session at First Presbyterian Church, emailed me today. Each time that I either speak with Rob or email him I am struck with what a wonderful and genuinely nice person that he is. Governments and Churches and Academic Committees…can do nothing but excel to excellence if they will only collaborate and not obfuscate…or work to illustrate who is the leader and who is the follower…

‘At Noon Darkness Fell Across The Whole Land Until Three O’clock’

‘As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall, but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews. Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!’ In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him hurled insults on him. From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli Eli, lama sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, ‘He’s calling Elijah.’ Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put in on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.’ And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’ Matthew 27: 32 – 54

‘And The Common People Heard Him Gladly’

Windy is the watchword for this Tuesday. Walking in 24 mile per hour wind will take your hat right off of your head unless you have a Tilley Hat that has the famous wind strap…that you can place under your chin. As I watch and listen to the George Floyd murder trial I am struck, once again, how most of us do not breath the rarified air of the political heads or the philosophical elite of our day. We live much of our life battling and struggling and some despair regarding our environment and our possibilities for a better future. We go to the local market to purchase our necessary groceries and we encounter our friends and neighbors there. We are happy to have enough money to buy some groceries and many of us vividly remember what it was like to not have funds for food. There is a large group of Americans that are not treated like Americans. Many hard working poor people feel that they are living in a different world than those who have resources and education and hope for a bright future.

Have you ever been a member of a group that is not seen? Have you ever spoken from your heart and the people who you were speaking to averted their eyes or checked their watches or smiled condescendingly… Do you know how it feels to have been treated wrongly or bullied or abused…and the actions are supported by the hierarchy of management and administration due to your not being a member of their preferred class?

Have you ever spoken to powerful people and your complaints or issues were subsequently explained away by a marginalization of you? At times it seems that the poor and the marginalized are, indeed, living a different reality and subject to different rules than the privileged majority. Now I have felt all of these things…and I am white. I understand how people feel when they speak and are not heard…when they are present and are not seen…when they are wronged and their managers and supervisors and political leaders support the wrong that they are undergoing.

Christ spoke to the poor and the drunkards and the women of the night and those who had been forgotten by the society of his day. Jesus did not ride in a golden chariot or adorn himself in silk and satin robes. He sought those who were not seen by the recognized religious scholars. ‘Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, Jesus, Master, have pity on us! When he saw them, he said, Go, show yourselves to the priests. And as they went, they were cleansed.’ Luke 17: 11 – 14.

Unhappiness abounds in our present world. There is such a dichotomy between different peoples of both social and ethnic and economic backgrounds in our country. It has been said that cocaine is widely abused by many who work on Wall Street…as they make millions for their clients and for themselves. Opiate addiction is an epidemic throughout our nation. There is no question that many soccer mothers and fathers enjoy each others fellowship and company while being on a regiment of calming or stimulating drugs…to help them get thought their day in the suburbs and the requirements of an up-scale lifestyle. Alcohol addiction is the not talked about killer among the upper class and the academia and the power players in our world.

Mr. George Floyd had some drugs in his system and he was a dedicated christian who when he greeted you would clasp your hand with both of his. Mr. Floyd was 6 feet and 3 inches tall…a big guy…it has been said. I am 6 feet and 3 inches tall…and I would not hurt a flea… He had struggled with drugs for years…and he loved Jesus…and Jesus…loved him…

CAVU…Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited

President George H. W. Bush had a small plague affixed to the stone wall of his Kennebunkport home in Maine that simply had the four letters, CAVU. The letters stood for the areonautic term of, Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited. President Bush was World War II Navy pilot. He said in a letter to his children that, ‘My life is CAVU…and it will be until the day I die.’

Really our lives are often limited by our own self imposed chains and weights that we encumber ourselves with. Life is a Horn of Plenty if we choose to avail the bounty that is before us. It is easy to let others place limits on our abilities…or to fasten the yoke around our own neck…until it feels normal and somehow right for our environment and our station in life. In volunteer work there are so many things that need to be done…and often we feel unqualified or that someone else is more qualified than we are for the important task. Each journey begins with a first step.

Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today. This includes adventures. If you want to write a novel…get started today! If you want to travel…buy the tickets and pack your suitcase. Do not plan for retirement fun…many folks do not live to retire. When there is a task to be done and you would like to attempt it…do it…raise your hand and say, ‘Here I am Lord!’

I wanted to be a writer since childhood. After I retired we visited our friends, Margo and Jeff in Nice, France. I was inspired by Margo’s dedication to writing her blog and publishing her books. To hear her speak of her passion for writing and to see, first hand, her writing studio…I was hooked…and I returned to the States to write, almost on a daily basis since that 2014 month long visit.

At 29 years old the superintendent of Building Services and the Associate Director of the Physical Plant at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale begged me to take the assistant superintendent of Building Services vacancy. I did not really want it…I felt unqualified…I had not held the position of foreman for little more than a year. But, I thought if not me…who…if not now…when ? So, I accepted the position and held it for 12 years and subsequently became the superintendent of the department for the last 13 years of my career. My career goal was to become a foreman in the department and I had no visualization of holding either of the management positions.

Accepting a task or a position or a lifelong desire will cause you to step up to the plate and give the task more than you realized that you had to offer. I watched with some interest…several individuals that were hired at SIUC who were lauded and praised for their infinite abilities and skills and how we were so fortunate to have their presence on our Campus…only to see them leave for greener pastures in 1 or 2 years. All the while others that went unseen…worked diligently and without praise or accolades in the worthy accomplishments of enriching our University and subsequently the entire Southern Illinois region.

43 Years

Forty-three years ago I was one nervous Newton. MJ and I had been engaged for two months and this was the day of our wedding. Looking back it appears that we did not believe in long engagements. After the minister pronounced us man and wife and she put her little hand in my large one…I knew things had changed for me. She had a little house trailer and a Ford Maverick car. I had been sharing a house with some young men that I attended church with and I had a 1963 Ford Fairlane…that was on it’s last legs… MJ was a school teacher and I worked for a janitorial firm. I wondered if I would ever measure up?

I had 3 days vacation from work and when I returned to the job I noticed with some delight that MJ had packed two cheeseburgers in my lunch pail. When I told her how delicious that they were she responded that I should not get accustomed to the delicacy as our limited budget would not fund a cheeseburger lunch every night.

Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale offered me a job in their housekeeping department and I took it with gusto! I more than doubled my salary. I vividly recall the Christmas of 1978 as we were driving our new Ford LTD down to Eldorado to celebrate the holiday with my mom and step-father…that I felt like I was finally in the game of life. I had a good paying job and a new automobile, that seemed like a Lincoln Continental, to me. We had money for Christmas gifts and cheeseburgers!

March 24, 1978 seems like yesterday. Our journey has been rapid and wonderful. Aaron and Jonathon are our pride and joy! MJ told me this morning that she wanted us to hang several of our paintings, that have been waiting for wall space for some time. We just completed hanging 10 paintings and 1 mirror…MJ is beaming! Pagliai’s Signature Pepperoni Pizza is for lunch and Tom’s Place Pasta for dinner. Each of us gave the other a anniversary card with the theme of travel…great minds think alike.

Goodbye Parker…Our Friend

Today is Parker’s last. Her health has progressively declined since her boyfriend, Brody, died at the first of January. Twelve years ago I noticed St. Francis Animal Care as they brought many of their clients to a pet food store in our town. I saw a collie and told MJ that perhaps we should consider a third dog for the Brooks family. This was a few months prior to December of that year…and during the movie, Avatar, that Jonathon and I were viewing in the Mall AMC Theatre…MJ telephoned me and said that she had her eye on a Black Labrador pup who had been thrown out of a automobile in Gulley Park and had her jaw broken and had to have it reset and three teeth removed. I enthusiastically responded that she should pay the adoption fees and we would add her to our two Boston Terrier Pups.

Parker was a small bundle of black soft fur and razor sharp tiny teeth. From our first day with her she had health problems.

During her first year of life I woke MJ up in the middle of the night and said that if she wanted to see Parker alive she had better arise as I sincerely felt that she was dying. We telephoned an emergency number we had in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and were prepared to drive her there when suddenly she stopped vomiting and defecating and took a little nourishment and subsequently nodded off to sleep. On another occasion we were on an Alaskan Cruise and received a telephone call from our Vet telling us that Parker might not make it. Thankfully she survived although Dr. Kane told us that they almost lost her twice.

Parker has had two major surgeries for cancer and none was found. She is a sweet girl and loves to please her human family… She loves to bark…and takes great pleasure in the practice! She and I have spent a lot of quality time together as we are both awake much of the night. Of late… cancer has finally taken it’s toll and she has ceased to bark at the neighbors or dogs or anything that she can observe from her front window. She loves Duck Hearts and Granola and her momie… She has been a friend and a confidant and someone who is always glad to greet any of us. She wants to kiss us…but we know where that tongue has been…