Spider-Man

It was to my great delight to find out last week that Spider-Man No Way Home won the Kid’s Choice Award for best live-action movie.  As I wrote several weeks back the latest Spider-Man film should have received an Oscar nod for best picture.  But Hollywood, as we saw at the Academy Awards Ceremony, is not only full of snobs but a bad indicator of a good movie.  Kid’s on the other hand see the truth, sometimes to the dismay of adults as in The Emperor’s New Clothes.  They live more” in the moment” than most adults do and therefore can see more than most adults can see.  If a kid says something is good or bad, it’s best to pay attention.

Stan Lee got his start in comics while still a teenager.  He went to work for Timely Comics as a writer somewhere in the late thirties or very early 40s.  Lee worked for Timely for 20 years until that fateful day when his boss asked him to come up with a Superhero team comic book to go head to head with DC’s Justice League of America.  Lee teamed up with Jack Kirby and The Fantastic Four was born.  The Marvel Legends began.

What many people don’t realize is that Lee was ready to give up working in comics just before that fateful day.  He had enough writing thinly veiled comics that copied whatever was popular at the time.  In other words, if Zorro was popular, Lee would write a Zorro-type character and sell it.  Anything for the company to make a quick buck.  Really The Fantastic Four was a to be a copy of The Justice League, except for the fact that The Fantastic Four acted like a team only when they had to, they were no Justice League.  The League had honor and high moral standards.  Heck, they were indeed super friends.  The Fantastic Four could just barely tolerate each other.  They brought true human problems and emotions, including resentment and despair,  into comic books and the industry was changed.

But I digress.  As stated Lee was ready to quit comics.  He had begun to talk with his wife about leaving the industry and beginning work on what he hoped would be the great American novel.  His wife convinced him to give comics one last chance and in that last chance, The Fantastic Four was born.  Lee took every bit of the creative talent he had in writing the story of the Fantastic Four.  Maybe he figured this was his last shot so he’d go out in a blaze of artistic glory.  Instead of going out Lee began to soar to heights of popularity and stayed there until the day he passed away.

After The Fantastic Four Stan and Jack created the Incredible Hulk which, believe it or not, did not sell well at the beginning.  The Hulk, also, wasn’t green when he first made his debut, he was grey.  But things did turn around.  Grey turned to green and we have the Hulk that we all know and love today.

Lee came into his third inning.  He was up to bat.  Would he strike out or would he hit a home run?  OK, enough with the sports metaphors.  Amazing Adult Fantasy had reached its fourteenth issue and it was not doing well.  Adult: would mean that a bit of sleaze was probably in this magazine but Stan Lee himself tells us that the comice book was a collection of fantasy monster stories usually about five pages long.  The stories were written by him and illustrated by Steve Ditko.  The magazine was about to be canceled after the publication of its fifteenth issue and Lee decided to experiment. 

Stan Lee was a big reader of the Pulp Magazines that were published in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  Many germs of comic book characters that would come later can be found in these ten-cent novels in a magazine.  The pulps’ main characters included The Shadow, Doc Savage, and one that Lee particularly liked The Spider.  The Spider was just an ordinary guy who was an expert marksman.  He disguised himself with fangs and a hunched back.  His true Identity was Richard Wentworth the last in the line of a wealthy family.  He began his career after saving a college friend from criminals.  Lee liked the name The Spider but he had other ideas than a man who was good with a gun.  Lee was about to break more comic book rules.

Teenagers were not the main character in almost any comic book.  There are a few notable exceptions.  Superboy, stories of Superman when he was a boy and then a teenager.  Captain Marvel Jr and Mary Marvel were both teenagers when they got their powers but unlike Billy Batson when he became Captain Marvel by shouting SHAZAM turned into an adult Mary and Junior stayed teenagers.  The last is Kid Eternity a teenager who was murdered but is granted the ability to come back and fight crime by being able to call up all the heroes from the past.  Aside from these most teenagers were sidekicks to other Superheroes.  Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl all fall into this category.  Even Johnny Storm, The Human Torch of the Fantastic Four was not on his own though eventually, he would gain his own solo stories.

Lee decided to take a chance and make his next superhero a teenager with all the problems that come with being a teenage boy.  He kept the name Spider but dropped the marksman and gave the young man the abilities of a Spider.  With those thoughts in mind, Spider-Man was born.

Lee didn’t have much hope for his new character.  He didn’t start him off in his own magazine as he did with The Fantastic Four and The Hulk.  He starred him in the last issue of Amazing Adult Fantasy only now the word adult was dropped from the title and Spider-Man made his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy number 15 in August of 1962. Lee’s first two creations were illustrated by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko was the artist for Amazing Fantasy and Lee stuck with him for his new creation.

Not many people need to be told the origin story of Spider-Man.  A teenager, Peter Parker, who is a bookworm and a student of science is shunned by his peers.  On attending a demonstration of radioactivity, a spider who has absorbed some of the radiation during the experiment, bites Peter giving him the abilities and proportionate strength of a spider.  Peter, after learning of his new abilities decides to cash in on them and make himself rich with his new talents.  He hopes to be able to help his elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben who had raised him.  He designs a costume for himself to conceal his identity, web-shooters to gain another spider ability and begins to make TV appearances.  He also becomes arrogant and a bit self-centered.  When a thief runs by him in the hallway of the TV studio Peter lets him go and tells the police that it is their job to catch crooks, not his.  On his way home that night there are police cars at his home.  His Uncle Ben has been killed by a thief he found in the house.  The police tell Peter that they have the killer trapped in an old warehouse.  Peter immediately dons his costume and goes after the killer himself.  Peter does nab the guy but on catching him realizes it is the same crook he let run by him in the studio.  His guilt overwhelms him as he feels responsible for his Uncles death.  He remembers something his Uncle Ben once told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” 

Stan Lee says in the book, The Origins of Marvel Comics, with the publication of Amazing Fantasy number 15 and the story of Spider-Man out of his system, Lee went back to working on his new superstars.  Lee essentially forgot all about Spider-Man.  It would be months before it was realized that Amazing Fantasy #15 was a best seller and the reason had to be Spider-Man.  There was a swift meeting held and The Amazing Spider-Man comic magazine number 1 made its debut in an issue dated March of 1963.

Spider-Man has entertained us now for 60 years.  He has starred in several different Marvel Magazine titles and is probably one of the most iconic heroes of all time.  Spider-Man is to Marvel what Superman is to DC, their most recognized character and almost a symbol of the company itself.  Spider-Man like Superman has appeared in almost every form of entertainment.  In television shows, both live-action and animated, and movies also both live-action and animated, novels based on the character, a newspaper strip, and a Broadway musical, the only thing Spider-Man did not get is a radio show.  Spider-Man was born a bit too late for that.

Spider-Man broke down all kinds of barriers in his 60 years and continues to do so.  The comic book character took on many of the social issues of the 60s and 70s and made an impact.  I well remember being affected by Peter’s best friend Harry Osborne having a drug addiction.  It helped keep me on the straight and narrow.  There were also gut-wrenching stories like the death of Peter’s first true love Gwen Stacy at the hands of The Green Goblin.  There were also some joyful tales including Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson an event that took place in the comic book, the newspaper strip, and at a live ball game in NYC.

Spider-Man continues to entertain us today.  His movie adventures are now reaching millions of people and his comic books are still enjoyed.  As I stated at the beginning of this blog, it did my heart good to see Spider-Man No Way Home win The Kid’s Choice Award for the best live-action movie.  I hope that the film will pick up more honors in the months ahead.  It’s also my hope that The Academy of Motion Pictures begins to see that movies based on comic books or children’s literature or animated films all have artistic value and should be placed in the best films category.  To me leaving these movies out, movies that the people love is a disgrace.  A movie does not have to be filled with sex, over-the-top violence, and foul language to be a good film.  It has to have a solid story well-formed characters and great acting.  The Marvel movies have all of that.  DC we are waiting for you to catch up.

Holy Week and Health

I have written extensively on Holy Week elsewhere.  I have, however, never taken the time to introduce the life-changing possibilities that are given to us because of this week.

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday.  I wrote a little about Palm Sunday in my article on Lent.  Palm Sunday is the remembrance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he is praised and palm branches are spread on the road before him and waived in the air around him.  This is a King’s entrance into a city even if that king is riding on the back of a donkey.

We know from scripture that many things occur during this week.  Jesus cleanses the temple from money changers and teaches openly in the temple.  We know that the Jewish leaders form their plot against Jesus and we know that Judas Iscariot agrees to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. With that background, we come to Holy Thursday.

Holy Thursday has two significant events.  Or maybe three, the last supper, Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, and then his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane.

The Last Supper is the time that Jesus is the most intimate with his disciples and gives them his last instructions.  Hel also gives instructions for those who would believe in him because of the disciple’s word.  He wants his church to be one.

The Church being one is something Christians have struggled with since the reformation 500 years ago.  The Church is not one.  It is splintered into denominations and sub denominations all believing that they have the correct view of the teachings of Jesus and the writers of The New Testament.  This is much to our shame.  We all live in the same house but we divide ourselves into separate rooms rarely venturing into the other rooms.  It will be a great day when Jesus comes back and reunites us all again.

Holy Communion is established during The Last Supper.  Jesus took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take and eat this is my body,”  He then took a cup of wine and blessed it and sent it around to his disciples and said, “this is my blood.”  This was to begin to make the disciples understand what was about to happen.  Jesus’ betrayal, an unjust trial, a whipping or a scrouging, and his death on the cross.  Holy Communion is a reminder of all those things to all Christians no matter their denomination.

After the supper is over Jesus takes his disciples to a garden on  the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem it is there that he prays to God that the events that are about to unfold could be passed on but he ends with “Thy will not mine be done.”  Judas then arrives with other men to arrest Jesus.  He betrays Jesus with a kiss and Jesus is led away.  Hid disciples scatter.

The illegal trial l being held in the dead of night is slow going.  No witnesses can agree.  Caiphas, The High Priest, eventually asks Jesus if He, Jesus, is the son of God, Jesus responds “I am.” This is all the disbelieving religious rulers of Jersusalem need to hear.  Caiphas proclaims blasphemy and hopes for Jesus’ death but that decision is not his to make.  Israel is held by the Roman Empire and only the Roman Governor can sentence anyone to death.  So Jesus now Jesus is brought to the Roman Quarters to find his fate which would be decided by Pontius Pilate.

Pilate can find nothing legally wrong with Jesus.  Not by Roman law.  Hoping to appease the Jews Pilate has him scrouged.  This is a whipping but the whip is made up of several leather cords.  Each cord has bits of metal and bone tied into it.  With every lash pieces of Jesus’ back start to rip off slowly exposing the muscles as his skin is shredded.  There is a belief that Jesus received only 49 lashes as Jewish law permitted fifty and the Jews stopped at 49 to not break the law.  This beating, however, was done by Romans who had no reason to obey Jewish law.  The number of lashes could have been less or more.

Jesus then appears before Pilate again and Pilate offers to set Jesus free but the Jews would have none of it shouting at the governor to crucify Jesus.  Usually a scrouging was enough.  But these people wanted blood.  When the Jews brought Caesar’s name into it saying that if Pilate did not have Jesus crucified he would be no friend to Ceasar.  Pilate had no choice it was between this man and being reported to the emperor.  Pilate washed his hands to show he had no desire to kill Jesus.  He then sent him to be crucified.

Crucifixion was a horrible way to die.  First Jesus was forced to carry the crossbeam to the place of crucifixion.  He was too weak to do this by himself due to the loss of blood and Simon was forced to help him.  When they got to the destination the beam was flung to the ground.  Jesus was roughly pushed to the ground as well and his hands were stretched out across the wooden beam and then his wrists were attached to the cross with large nails.  The beam with Jesus attached was then raised to fit into the vertical beam of the cross.  This had to be excruciating.  At this point one nail was driven through both of Jsus’ feet, which were placed one on top of the other, securing them to the cross.  The knees were left bent a little.

This happened at about the noon hour.  For three hours Jesus would hang from that cross.  In the position that he was in he couldn’t breathe and to get air into his lungs, he had to push up against the nail in his feet which hurt tremendously.  He would grab a breath and speak.  These were the seven times he spoke.  His last words were, “It is finished, Fathe into your hands I commit my spirit.”  And Jesus died.  This is Good Friday.

The Roman soldiers pierced Jesus’ side to prove he was dead and water and blood came out.  This indicated that Jesus died of a heart attack brought on by suffocation.  His body was released to Joseph of Arimathea and was placed in Joseph’s tomb in a garden not far away.  The tomb was then sealed with a huge stone and a Roman guard was posted to guard it.  Many would think this is the end of the story but it isn’t.  Jesus, on the third day in the tomb, rose from the dead.  The stone was rolled away and Jesus left the tomb and death behind him.  This is Easter Sunday.

Jesus’ death and resurrection were God’s plan to reunite the world to himself after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.  All men sin and “fall short of the glory of God.”  God required a sacrifice to take on all of the wrath of God against sinful people.  He chose his son to make that sacrifice and in so doing set us free.  “Whoever believes in the son of God have the right to claim themselves to be children of God.”.

What to do with this.  First, you can’t dismiss it once you know it.  Jesus is either the risen son of God or a total fraud.  You can’t say he was a great teacher because of the many things he taught the central fact was he claimed to be the son of God.  He predicted he would be killed and that he would rise again.  Jesus fulfilled more than 300 prophesies from the Old Testament.  Bearing that in mind Jesus is either who he claims or he is insane but you can’t say he was a great teacher.

So the next thing to do is to decide what you will do with Jesus.  If you believe him a whole new life awaits you.  If you dismiss him you may find yourself in a place you do not want to be for all of eternity.

What does all of this have to with health and weight loss?  Quite a bit.  You see Jesus wants me to live my best life possible.  And part of that is living a healthy life. I have fallen into many bad habits that destroyed my health in many ways.  But Jesus not only saved us from our sins but he offers the inner strength to do the impossible because ‘Nothing is impossible with God.”  And I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead for me to be the best me.  He allowed himself to die so that I could live a good and happy life.  That life includes good health and a servant’s attitude.  Being healthy and also being able to say, whenever the opportunity arises, “How can I help?” to anyone who may need help.

My health journey continues.  I have been in physical therapy for the last six weeks at Advanced Physical Therapy and Aquatics.  I am being well taken care of by Josh and Steve and the rest of the staff.  They have developed a program for me to follow that has helped me gain strength and stability in my body.  I was evaluated on the first day I was there and reevaluated yesterday.  The reevaluation showed marked improvement from where I started.  I thank God for leading me to this place and for the expert guidance of the staff.  If you live in or around the Springfield Delaware County area of Pennsylvania and you need P.T. this is the place to go.

I went to see my primary care physician today and found that I have lost two more pounds.  At first, I was disappointed, but the nurse and the doctor pointed out that it was better than nothing which is another way of saying I took two steps forward and no steps back.

Easter is a time to rejoice and there are so many things to rejoice about.  You know God in one way or another tells over 800 times in The Bible to rejoice, to be glad to be happy.  In the book of Proverbs, it says that “A merry heart is good like a medicine and a downcast spirit dries up the bones.  I think this idea has been distilled down to “Laughter is the best medicine.”  And it is!  We all go through rough times.  Times that we think we will never laugh again, that joy is impossible.  But those times don’t have to last.  You can find joy again by turning to God and turning to others.  I have found this to be the truest thing in life.  Happy Easter and may God bless us, every one.  (This applies even more at Easter than Christmas)

Setbacks

Life is full of twists and turns.  It has surprises-both good and bad and can take you on roads you never meant to travel.  Hans Christian Anderson said Every man’s life is a fairy tale written by the finger of God.”  GK Chesterton wrote, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist.  Children already know that dragons exist.  Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”  I think as adults we forget about the lessons of fairy tales.  Not the sanitized versions of fairy tales that Disney has given us.  (I do love those but they aren’t accurate)  The true fairy tales that were collected by the Brothers Grimm in Germany or the romantic French fairy tales or the stories written by Hans Christian Anderson and the ancient fables of Aesop are long forgotten as we enter adulthood and yet we need those lessons even more at this time in life.  CS Lewis said, “One day you will be old enough to read fairy tales again.”  For me, that time has come.

The last two weeks have been a heavy time for me.  Emotionally I fell into a deep depression that made me unable to write this blog.  My heart was so heavy with sorrow that I wasn’t sure I would ever write again.  When I disclosed this depression to my friend Richard he told me to write when I was ready and not before.  I took that advice and I stayed away from my keyboard secretly wondering if I would ever write again.  While in this depressed state I woke up one morning and got out of bed and when my feet hit the floor something happened to my left foot.  I could just barely walk.  There was a stabbing pain every time I took a step.  This was a Sunday morning and I dreaded going to the emergency room of any of our local hospitals so I stayed in bed and waited until the next day to call my foot doctor.

I felt very alone and abandoned during this time.  The depression hadn’t gone away and my injury of, whatever this was, just made things go darker.  Because of all of this and being afraid of falling I canceled a trip to NYC to see Hugh Jackman in The Music Man.  I had the tickets for three years.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience but I had to let it go.  Doing this, though correct, made things much worse.

I went to the foot doctor the following day and he did X-rays right there in the office.  My foot got a whole round of pictures taken.  I think to this day there are more pictures of my feet than my head.  The X-rays showed that there were no broken bones but a swelling of the bone occurred.  It was a flair-up of arthritis in my foot which is severe in both feet, but the left foot seems to take the brunt of everything.

I was told to go home and stay off of it as much as possible.  To ice it and cancel my physical therapy until the next week.  I was told it would take anywhere from 3 days to 21 days to heal.  So I stopped at the market loaded up on provisions and went home.

I was severely depressed, I was confined to my home, I had to cancel a trip that I had waited three years for, and I felt I had no hope.  What do you do when you feel you’ve lost everything that matters.  First, you eat.

I, without a doubt, have a comfort food addiction and I allowed that addiction to have full control.  I bought vanilla icing and spread it on Pop-Tarts.  I was eating ice cream and chocolate syrup.  I went to McDonald’s for the first time in 4 months.  I was binging eating and it was to make the pain I felt go away.  It didn’t do that.  It just made me feel worse.

This behavior only lasted a couple of days.  One morning I woke up and was reading my daily devotionals.  I receive, every morning, in my email, a paragraph or two by Henri Nouwen.  That morning’s writing was talking about entering the gate thru the narrow road.  And as we get to know Jesus through that narrow gate it can be painful.  But the pain is good because it helps purify us and changes us into the men and women God created us to be.  In other words, it molds us like a sculptor shapes a piece of stone into something beautiful.  In other words, God is like Michelangelo as he carved out David.

The email also talked about the Eucharist.  How we need communion for strength to get through the journey of our lives.  I thought about that.  I don’t believe, as the Catholics do, that The Eucharist is the actual blood and body of Jesus.  I do believe that something very important takes place when you receive communion.  I think God blesses you and his face shines on you and a divine something happens in that moment and a spark of who Jesus is, enters you.

With those thoughts, a peace that I have not felt in a very long time came down on me.  The peace that the Bible describes as being beyond our understanding.  I felt that everything was going to be alright and though both the road and the gate were narrow I could make it through despite the pain.  I began to follow my new diet regime again.  I threw out what was left of the Pop-Tarts and frosting.  I don’t think there was much more to get rid of.  My soul and my house had been cleansed.  I felt better.

I am back in physical therapy as of yesterday.  The pain in my foot remains but is not as severe.  I’m making good food choices and I feel emotionally well.  I am glad that I gave in but I didn’t give up.

I read a quote recently that I hope inspires you as much as it inspires me.  Life is full of hurdles that seem to be too high to jump and chasms that seem too wide and deep to cross, but we were made for these challenges. We were created to be in this world and to become our best selves despite adversity.  The quote comes from a book my friend Beaj recommended to me.  The book is called The Gap and the Gain and the quote is “The rule is simple: the person who fails the most will win.  If I fail more than you do, I will win.  Because in order to keep failing you’ve got to be good enough to keep playing.”  The Gap and the Gain is by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy.

I began this blog by talking about fairy tales and dragons. I am on a fairy tale adventure right now. The stories of Hansel and Gretel, Price Phillip slaying the dragon in Sleeping Beauty, and Frodo taking the ring to Mount Doom will inspire me to travel on the road I’m on and to stay with it. I will destroy the dragon of depression and will kill the witch of being overweight. That is my quest and my destiny.

Next week my new weigh-in results and Holy Week.

It Takes Courage To Change

It was in the late 4th century that a boy was kidnapped off the coast of what we now call England.  He was about 14 years old and he was kidnapped by Irishmen who took him to Ireland and sold him into slavery.  At the time this was common practice.  England was part of the Roman Empire and its citizens were Romans.  The boy was of noble birth and lived on a coastal estate.  His parents were staying in a nearby town at the time and not only the boy was taken, but also all the servants.

Rome was beginning to fall apart at this time and much of its military strength was brought back to Rome.  This left England ripe for the picking by the Irish Marauders that would cross the sea to capture what they could from England’s coast.

That boy would remain a slave in Ireland for six years.  During that time he was made a shepherd and tended the sheep of his captors.  For long periods he would remain alone his only company the animals he tended.  It was then that God spoke to this boy.  He told him it was time to escape and how to go about it.  The boy followed the instructions and escaped back home.  That boy’s name was Patrick.

Patrick returned home and became a priest.  He then did what not many men would do.  He returned to the land of his captors to minister to them and to bring the good news of The Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Irish people.

If there are heroes in this world Patrick ranks as one of the foremost of all time.  To go back to a land that enslaved you, that mistreated you, that abducted you from your home took more compassion and mercy than many of us ever show.  To embrace those who hated you with love is both courageous and heroic.

Everything that we know about Patrick’s life was left to us by him.  There are two letters.  The first, A Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus and Confessions.  The first is a lettter to a slave-raidng king and his mercenaries and the second is a defense of his work that was made necessary because of accusations made by other churchmen.  It is believed that the churchmen were jealous of Patrick’s success in Ireland.  Remarkably, these documents are available online to read.  They dispel all the rumors and myths about Patrick and show him for the simple man he was.  Simple but full of courage.  Patrick’s courage took him to face his enemies and serve them in love.  He could have stayed safely at home but instead, changed a nation of heathen into believers in Jesus Christ.

It takes courage to make changes.  Patrick had to have a store of courage to believe that God had spoken to him and to initiate the plane God had given him to escape.  Once he was free it took tremendous courage to return to the land of his captors and serve them.  All change for the good of our lives or the good of others takes courage.

Courage is defined as “the ability to do something that frightens one.”  Note that courage doesn’t mean that you are fearless.  That actually would make change easy.  Courage is when you find the strength to do something even though you may fear that something.  Most people dislike and fear change and that is why change takes courage.  Adapting to a new and healthier lifestyle takes courage.

It has been since December 6th that I began my life-changing adventure.  At the outset, I was frightened.  I didn’t believe I could do it and neither did I want to.  Along with the need to change came the knowledge that if I did not change I was going to die.  My weight was extremely high.  As I have said in the blog more than once there are no old fat people.  Overweight people inevitably die before their time.

I am now at the beginning of what many would call old age.  I am in my early sixties my birthday is Saint Patrick’s Day.  Being born on that day made me hungry for the knowledge of this great man and he has become one of my greatest heroes of the faith.  The others two being Saint Francis and Saint Nicholas.  Saint Francis though rich and entitled made himself poor in order to serve those around him.  Courage!  Saint Nicholas at the council of Nicea went up to a man who was preaching heresy and slapped him in the face.  Courage!  Saint Nick is a lot more complex than an old man who brings toys to children.

Courage is found in unlikely places but it can always be found if you want something badly enough.  I have had to find courage throughout my lifestyle change.  I continue to need courage because the old habits want to come back.  I still crave McDonald’s and Burger King.  I occasionally slip and have some pie or cake but I keep that to a minimum.  I still crave juices but those are very rare and I am finding real delight in cold water.  In fact, I find myself craving water which is new for me.

This courage had born results.  I saw the doctor last week and was weighed.  I lost 7 pounds during the month of February.  That makes a total of 32 pounds since starting this journey.  I am grateful to God for his grace, to my doctors for their help and to my friends and family for their support.  No one ever makes changes that will last be themselves.  It takes a community of people and the grace of the mighty God to make these occur.

God Bless you all and Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

PostScript. It is a myth that Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. It is too cold in Ireland to have snakes. It is also a myth that Patrick used the three-leaf clover in order to explain the three in one trinity that is the Christian God. For those who are unchurched God consists of The Father, The Son (Jesus) and The Holy Spirit. These are myths but they are also delightful.

The Bat-Man

It was late in 1938 when the powers that be realized they had a hit with Superman.  Action Comics number one had hit the newsstands in April that year.  Superman was the flagship hero and was on the cover. The sales of the original book went through the roof but no one knew why.  It took a few months before they learned it was all about Superman.

What was next was the need for another costumed hero.  The management went to artist/writer Bob Kane and asked him to develop a costumed hero for their Detective Comics magazine which had already been around for a while.  They didn’t want another Superman.  They wanted a costumed detective.  Bob was approached on Friday afternoon and he promised a new hero by Monday morning and he did it, but not alone.

To me, Bob Kane was one the shrewdest and one of the most evil men in comics.  He was shrewd in the fact that before he signed anything away that he created he got lawyers involved so he owned a piece of the property.  Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster did not do that and signed Superman away for one hundred and thirty dollars.  For many years they lived at almost a poverty level while their creation was making millions.  Kane was evil in that he didn’t give the same advantage to those who helped him create his work and so for years all the credit and all the accolades and all the money went to Kane.

Kane left the office of National Periodical Publications and went home to brainstorm.  He came up with a character in red tights, a mask, like the one Robin would eventually wear, blond hair, and stiff wings.  He brought his sketch to his buddy Bill Finger and told Bill the name of the character was The Bat-Man.  Bill did not like the look of the character at all. He changed the costume color to black and gray.  He got rid of the mask and suggested a cowl with bat ears.  The stiff wings were replaced by a billowing cape and the symbol of a bat was drawn on the chest.  The Bat-Man was born.

Kane took the new sketches to the editor, Vin Sullivan, and they were approved.  Now Kane had to write a story.  He went back to Bill Finger and made a deal with him to ghostwrite Bat-Man and receive none of the credit. Kane agreed to pay Finger out of the money he was making.  Finger agreed to this, much to his regret in later years. 

Bill Finger was the mind behind most of the things we love about Batman today.  Beyond the stories, he originated to the utility belt, The Batcave, Robin, The Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler.  All without receiving any credit.

It wasn’t until the first comic book convention in 1965 that the truth slowly began to leak out.  Bill was invited to speak and the session was recorded.  He told his story and a fanzine article was written.  When Kane got wind of the story he publicly denounced Bill Finger and continued to take all the credit for himself.

Bill gave some other interviews and tried to get his rights to the character.  This became more and more painful as 1966 rolled around and Batman became a TV sensation.  Bill would only see his name associated with the character once.  He co-wrote one episode of the television series.  He asked his co-writer if his name could go on top in the credits.  In his lifetime it would be the only time he ever saw it.

Bill Finger died a pauper with eviction notices taped to the door of His apartment in January of 1974.  He was 59 years old,  A son, who none knew he had, cremated his father and brought his ashes to the northern Pacific Coast.  His son drew a bat symbol on the sand and scattered the ashes over the symbol.  He watched while the ocean carried his father away.

The years would go by in the 1940s and other artists and writers would leave their mark on The Bat-Man.  Jerry Robinson would make the first new contributions by eliminating both the hyphen and the “the’.  The Bat-Man became Batman.

Not many years ago a young writer named Marc Tyler Nobleman came across the story of Bill Finger.  Marc had previously written a book on Superman’s creators and wanted to do the same for Batman.  He assumed the story was about Bob Kane but Marc unearthed the material about Bill Finger and with that he began a crusade to win Bill the credit he deserved.

After months of research and detective work, Marc was able to locate the granddaughter of Bill Finger.  They worked together by bringing the problem to the fans thru Comic-Con panels and interviews.  The wheels of justice turn slowly but they do turn and Athena, Bill’s Granddaughter met with her lawyer and the powers that be at Warner Brothers the parent company of DC comics an agreement was reached and starting with the film Superman Batman The Dawn of Justice Bill Finger was listed as co-creator of Batman.  His name would be on all future Batman projects including the comics and films.

For more information on this amazing journey to justice please see the film Batman and Bill which is a Hulu original.

Not much more needs to be said about Batman.  Everyone knows that one night while coming home from the movies Thomas, Martha, and young Bruce Wayne are stopped by a thief.  The thief takes Thomas’s wallet and Martha’s pearls and then kills them in front of Bruce.  Not long after Bruce makes a vow to avenge his parents by warring on all criminals.  He trains for years to become both physically and mentally perfect as a human being can.  Late one night he feels he is ready and as he thinks of what symbol would strike terror in the hearts of criminals a bat crashes through the window and Bruce decides.  With the money left to him by his parents Bruce is more than wealthy enough to collect all the things, he would need to set out on his mission, and thus Batman was born.

At the moment, in theaters, there is a new movie titled The Batman.  This would be number ten in the big-screen adaptations that began in the mid-sixties with the release of the Batman movie that was based on the popular TV show.  Before that, there were two serial films of Batman in the 1940s.  This latest film stars Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman and I honestly cannot recommend it.

First, the film is dark.  Not in the story but in lighting.  Even the daytime scenes are filmed on cloudy days so light just doesn’t penetrate.  I found some of the scenes hard to see and at two hours and fifty-five minutes the darkness became tedious.  I found myself looking at my phone for the time more than I should have.  In fact, in a Batman movie, I shouldn’t have felt the need to look at all.

Second, they messed with Bruce’s family.  Making his mother Martha a mental case and to cover that up Thomas goes to the mob for help.  Thomas Wayne in comic books would never do that.  This leads to Thomas feeling he needs to turn himself in which leads to the mob killing Thomas and Martha Wayne instead of a random shooting.  It’s the randomness of his parents’ death that is at the heart of Batman.

Third, they messed with the Riddler’s real name.  Since the beginning when Bill Finger created The Riddler his real name was Edward Nigma or E Nigma and enigma is a puzzle and Edward was obsessed with riddles and puzzles leading him to be so compulsive that he had to leave a riddle before he committed a crime.  The new movie changes his name to Nash or Norton.  Sort of destroying a major part of the character.

I was very disappointed in this film.  We are going to see four more DC character movies during the rest of this year.   The Flash, Batgirl, a direct to HBOMAX a live-action film, Black Adam and Aquaman.  I hope Warner Brothers does a better job on these though I have my doubts.

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Picture, in your mind, a beautiful ballroom.  Men in tuxedos and women in gowns.  An orchestra is playing beautiful music while the men and women dance the waltz and other folk dances.  There is a sumptuous buffet laid out with every kind of delicacy and delicious pastry that the mind of a master chef can conjure.  People are dancing and eating and talking and laughing.  Suddenly the bell in the high tower begins to chime midnight.  The orchestra stops playing.  The dancers standstill, the chattering stops, and forks and plates are placed on the nearest tables.  The last bell of midnight rings and the people with one voice recites, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever amen.  The people all silently leave the ballroom.  Mardi Gras is over, and the Holy Season of Lent has begun.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of the season of Lent.  It is called Ash Wednesday because Catholic and Orthodox and some protestant denomination Christians receive ashes on their foreheads.

The origin of Ash Wednesday and Lent are not clear, but it is believed to have begun during the time of the Apostles but recognized officially at The Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.

Since that time Christians have received ashes on their foreheads as an act of repentance from sin.  Ashes themselves have been used to express sorrow for sin for centuries.  The old testament records in The Book of Job, Job saying to God “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.  Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.  The prophet Jeremiah calls for repentance saying O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth and roll in ashes.  Jesus in the New Testament refers to the use of ashes for repentance when he says in Luke 10:13 “Woe to you Chorazin!  Woe to you Bethsaida!  For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.”

The ashes received on Ash Wednesday are not any ash.  In many churches, the ashes come from the burning of the palm leaves harvested for the previous year’s Palm Sunday.

The receiving of ashes is a simple ceremony, although a whole service is usually wrapped around the tradition.  When it becomes time to receive the ashes the repentant person comes forward and the ashes are placed by the priest or minister in the form of the cross.  One of two lines are said by the celebrant while placing the ashes.  “Remember oh man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” or “Repent and believe the Gospel.”  With either thought, the participant is made ready to enter the Lenten Season.

The season of Lent is the forty-day before Holy Thursday for the Catholic faith or the Forty days before Easter Sunday for some protestant faiths.  Either way, Sundays are not included in the forty-day count as they are considered “Little Easters” and the fasting and other observances are suspended on Sundays.

Lent is a time of fasting and prayer as well as a time for the giving up of certain luxuries like desserts, the movies, television, or other things that may distract us from our pursuit of coming to know God more deeply.  Ultimately, knowing God better is the pursuit of Lent.

The forty-day time of Lent comes from the forty days Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public ministry.  This event is recorded in The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  During those forty days, Jesus fasted and prayed, and in our following Him in this way we come to know Him better.

The celebration of Lent has become pretty simple for Catholics since the Second Vatican council.  Fasting has become a simple no meat on Fridays, though more rigorous fasts are not discouraged.  Prayer and attendance at mass and special services are still requested but not so much required.  This was very different in the past. 

According to Maria Von Trapp in her first book, The Story of the Trapp Family singers, Lent used to be quite the rigorous time.  Fasting was strictly observed and that meant no animal products at all.  No meat no fish, no cheese milk, or eggs, and not just on Fridays but for the full forty days.  The time spent on eating was used for prayer and the money spent on the food you would normally have had was given to the poor.

Mortifications or the giving up of certain items is a way of dying to yourself.  The scriptures say when we die to ourselves, we are raised up with Jesus and Lent is a time to put those ideas into action.  Many people use Lent as a time to give up things that they struggle with that are ultimately harmful.  Some folks stop smoking and this a real dying to the self.  In giving this up for Lent, it may, in turn, be given up for good.  The drinking of alcohol may also be stopped during this time and for those who have a problem with alcohol this could be life altering.  The same could be said for gambling or the consumption of fast food or unhealthy food that we have begun to rely on for self-soothing.  In giving up these things, which can be so hard, we truly die to ourselves and thus the term mortifications.

Some folks add practices during the time of Lent.  There are Lenten devotionals that will take a person on the forty-day journey by providing a Biblical reading and then thoughts and prayers as well as ideas for actions to be taken.  Many people who don’t regularly read their Bibles will make time to study the scriptures daily.  Those that do read their Bibles daily may take the time to read the Gospels and study the life of Jesus more closely.  There is a new idea for Lent that challenges us to go to our closets on each of the 40 days and look for a piece of clothing that is still in good condition, but that we no longer wear, and place that shirt, or pair of pants or dress into a bag.  At the end of the season, there will be forty pieces of clothing ready to donate to Goodwill or The Salvation Army.  This is also another dying of self.  Letting go of the things that we don’t need is a way of putting the things we own into proper perspective.

Lent is also a time of cleaning.  We don’t just get our hearts ready for the resurrection of Jesus but our homes too.  Spring Cleaning may come from the old Jewish custom of cleaning the house thoroughly so that not a speck of yeast could be found.  This was to make the house ready to celebrate Passover and the instructions to do this are found in the Old Testament.  We now clean our homes thoroughly in preparation for Easter.

This is the time of year when Spring is arriving.  Since Lent can begin as early as February it may take a little longer from year to year for the snow to melt and the weather to get a bit warmer.  But the weather does get warmer the days get longer, it is believed that the term Lent is shortened from the word length referring to the days becoming longer and the beginning of Spring, and we begin to open the windows and bring in the fresh air and get rid of the dirt that grime that accumulated during the cold months.

For some Spring cleaning is a week-long event.  Every drawer and cabinet and shelf get emptied and dusted.  This is another time that things that are no longer used can be gathered up and given away.  Toys, books, dishes, electronic devices, cooking utensils, and paraphernalia can all be given to those that don’t have what they may need.  The mattresses on the beds get turned.  The light fixtures get taken down and cleaned.  Every aspect of the house gets a good going over.

For those with lawns or gardens to care for, the outside gets as good as the inside.  The grass gets raked so the winter debris can be removed, and the new green grass can come alive.  Bulbs get planted as well as other flowers and shrubs.  Bushes and trees get trimmed and the outside of the house is made as clean and neat as the inside.  All of this is in preparation for Easter.

Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week and commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  On Palm Sunday the people of Jerusalem lined the way into the city laying palm branches on the ground for the donkey Jesus rode to walk on.

Palm Sunday Mass or Service is celebrated by the reading of The Gospel story of the event and in many churches, the celebration ends with the giving of palm leaves to the congregation to take home.  These palm leaves are then brought home and placed somewhere special in the house for the year.  Some people make decorative crosses from the palm and these crosses are placed throughout the house.  It reminds the occupants that though Palm Sunday was glorious it would lead to Jesus’ death and his resurrection.

Again, according to Maria Von Trapp, Palm Sunday was also a day when palmbuschn were brought to the church.  These were bouquets of pussy willows along with box wood and fir branches decorated with dyed colored wood shavings and fastened to a stick about three feet long.  On the stick was tied a small bottle of Holy Water and these bouquets were blessed by the priest during Mass.  After Mass, the bouquets were brought into the field and the woods each area of land getting its own thus the blessing of the church would come to the natural world so it could be protected from a flood, hail, and fire.

The customs of Ash Wednesday and Lent are thousands of years old.  They are as diverse and original as every area of the world that Christianity has made its way into.  But they continue to be celebrated because deep in our hearts we long to know God and to be known by Him.

Next Week:  The Batman

Loss

It was December 15, 1966.  I was 5 years old and my mother and I were in the kitchen.  It was there that she told me Walt Disney had died.  I remember wandering into our side yard and feeling like a light had gone out.  This man had visited our house every Sunday night for as long back as I could remember.  I didn’t understand death, I’m not sure I do yet, but I knew that life had changed and something wonderful had ended.

The next celebrity death that should have impacted me was Judy Garland.  It was June of 1969 and I was 8 years old.  My parents didn’t tell me of her death.  I think they decided I wouldn’t understand.  After all, I only knew Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  If they told me Dorothy had died I would have been devastated.  And it wouldn’t have made any sense.  She was still on the screen, every year.  How could Dorothy be dead?

As a child the TV and movie characters that you love are real.  The actors don’t exist.  Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were Batman and Robin.  Adam West and Burt Ward, the names at the beginning of the show were meaningless.  The need to believe is deeply entrenched in a child.  I never saw the line used to make Mary Martin fly in Peter Pan.  I never saw the cheesy special effects in Dark Shadows.  Peter Pan flew and Dark Shadows scared the crap out of me it wasn’t until I was older that I began to see the flaws.

Other examples are Sally Field and Patty Duke.   Sally Field was Gidget. In an episode of The Flying Nun, where Sally Field played Sister Bertrille, they showed footage from Gidget, where Gidget was surfing.  I didn’t see these as two separate shows, I figured Gidget had decided to become a nun that made total sense to me.  With Patty Duke, I had no clue that  Patty Duke played both Patty and Cathy Lane.  To me, they were two separate people and as real as my own family.

I must have been about ten when the fantasy in life gave way to reality.  That was the year I asked my dad if Santa Claus was real.  He didn’t give me an answer.  He said, “What do you think?”  I thought about it and realized that Santa couldn’t be real and in a very real way childhood came to an end.

Childhood’s end is probably the most significant loss any of us go through.  I don’t know that we see it as a loss at the time.  Most of us are in a hurry to grow up and find out what was in the mysterious bottles kept in the cabinet that only our parents drank from.  Or we can’t wait to drive or for school simply to be over forever.  It’s when we get older that we miss the magic of Santa Claus coming on Christmas Eve or, at night, staring out your bedroom window wishing on the first star you see or hoping this was the night Peter Pan would come and take you to Neverland where you wouldn’t have to grow up and no adult would be around to tell you what you should do.

I guess I’m lucky.  I still wonder about Santa on Christmas Eve and I think about leprechauns on Saint Patrick’s Day.  In my imagination, I can happily visit Middle Earth and Narnia and for a brief time suspend the horrors of this world.  I would rather face a dragon than continue to watch the mess the Republican Party and The Democratic Party continue to make of this country.  You can fight a dragon but you can’t fight city hall.

Since the death of Betty White on December 31st of last year I have been watching Hot In Cleveland.  This was the last show she starred in along with Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendy Mallick.  It was a show about 3 women from LA who have to make an emergency stop in Cleveland on their way to Paris.  Because of the attention paid to them by the men in Cleveland they decide they could have a better life in the new city and decide to stay.  They rent a house with a caretaker who is played by Betty White and the show is set.

Hot in Cleveland ran for six seasons on TV land and was funny if a bit earthy at times.  The scripts were good and the supporting cast was excellent.  The show had many guest stars from the best of TV, Carol Burnett, Robert Wagner, Tim Daly, and many others.  One show had William Shatner, Shirley Jones, and Georgia Engel all sharing the stage with Betty White and Valerie Bertinelli.  Most of my childhood TV shows were represented on that one stage.

It was when Regis Philbin made his guest star appearance across several shows that I began to feel a sense of loss.  Regis died in 2020 but he was a big part of my daily life both at home and at work.  I was a dialysis technician back in the 80s and the TV sets were all set To Live with Regis and Kathy Lee every morning.  I became a big fan of both of these stars and loved the show.  On days I wasn’t working or went in for the later shift I made sure I saw it.  The legacy of the show lives on with two other co-hosts but no one could match the energy of Regis Philbin and that energy was still present in Hot in Cleveland.  But I realized he was gone.

Not long after that, all the women that starred in The Mary Tyler Moore show came on as guests.  These included Miss Moore, Chloris Leachman, and Valerie Harper.  Betty White was already on the show and Georgia Engel had become a recurring character.  At one point they were all sitting around a table trading very funny insults when I realized that all the women at that table were gone.  This saddened me as well.

Early in the New Year news reached all of us that Bob Saget died in his sleep in a hotel room in Florida after doing his one-man stand-up show.  Bob was 65 years old and it recently came out that it was due to some sort of head trauma that he died.  Bob Saget played Danny Tanner on the much-loved Situation Comedy Full House which ran for 8 seasons on ABC.  He then reprised the role of Danny Tanner in the show Fuller House.

Bob Saget was a well-loved man both on and off the screen.  His co-stars had nothing but good things to say about him and the girls, now women, who played his daughters looked at him as a second father.  Not long after his death, I started to watch Full House again on HBO MAX and found myself welling with tears at almost every episode.  The episodes made me laugh but they were filled with a genuine sentimentality and the show plays just as well today as it did when it first aired in 1987 to 1995.

Many other celebrities touched my heart at their death.  Ethel Merman was first. She passed in 1984 but she was a part of my life because I had fallen in love with Broadway. Ethel Merman was and still is the queen of Broadway. No one was like her and no one like her will ever come again. Lucille Ball in 1989 was next.  Lucy was and always will be my favorite.  I felt very sad the day she passed.  Something else wonderful had gone out of this world.  In 1990 Mary Martin passed away.  My Peter Pan was gone, and I remember it well, a little magic left my heart.

Why do celebrity deaths or better yet the death of stars bother me so much?  I think with some of them I’m watching the generation before me flicker out and die.  Soon all those who grew up in the 20s, 30s, and 40s will be gone and all that will be left is memories and photographs and these are not just the stars they are my father, mom is already gone, my aunt’s and uncles and all those I hold dear to me.

Then there are the celebrities of my generation.  Bob Saget was 5 years older than me.  Mike Nesmith was a bit older but still part of my generation.  David Cassidy played a huge part in my life.  I went from Puff The Magic Dragon to I Think I Love You because of him and The Partridge Family.  I was saddened when he passed as well.

Seeing my generation begin to pass away made me realize that life is very short and your time could be up at any point.  The Bible says that “all the days of my life were written for me before I was born.”  This means that God knew when I would enter this world and the day is planned for when I will exit and that day is much closer now than it was when I was younger.

I don’t want to leave anything half done when it’s my time to go.  I don’t think I can make all of my dreams come true but I believe that some of them still can.  I’m writing this blog weekly for more than 6 months.  That’s the grace of God and me leaving something behind that may help others.  I’ve lost a total of 25 pounds so far.  I have quite a long way to go but I want to do it and make some of my other of my dreams happen.  It will be good to have a healthy body.

There are still wonderful adventures ahead.  I have no idea what most of them will be but opportunities will come and it’s up to me to say yes and find out what will happen.  Peter Pan says in the play written by JM Barrie that “Death will be an awfully big adventure.”  And it will be, “The journey doesn’t end here.  Death is just another path, one that we all must take.  The grey rain rain-curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass.  And then you see it.  White shores and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” – JRR Tolkien

The Academy Awards

Let’s start by saying I am not, nor have I ever been, a big fan of award shows.  I do like the spectacle and the sometimes-amazing musical numbers.  When it comes to The Tony Awards, I enjoy watching the scenes from different nominated shows because it is unlikely, I will see them on Broadway.  It’s a glimpse into a place I get to less than once a year.  Award shows in general just don’t seem quite right to me.  One person’s art is another’s garbage so how can an award show be objective?  Who’s to say what makes any art form great?

The Academy Awards are also known as The Oscars, a term I will use from now on, used to be at least fair in their award shows.  These days I don’t see it as fair at all especially with our new world of political correctness.  Political correctness seems to be something everyone hates and yet no one wants to do anything about.

I believe in equal rights for every person on this earth.  I believe that we should all be able to pursue those things that make us happy.  I believe that we should work in the field that we are gifted in.  I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect.  And I believe that everyone should be able to believe in what they choose to believe.  Every person has to grapple with their beliefs and then live with the outcome of that battle.

I don’t believe that we should forget or erase the past.  I don’t believe Columbus Day should be replaced by Indigenous People Day.  I believe there should be an Indigenous People day it just shouldn’t cancel out Christopher Columbus, who though a flawed man, like we all are, still did an amazing thing that I am reaping the benefits of today.  You see for me it’s not either-or but and.

This brings me back to The Oscars.  In 1958 Auntie Mame was nominated for best picture.  Auntie Mame is a comedy about a madcap aunt raising her orphaned nephew.  It’s a great film was a terrific cast and great performances.  The movie didn’t win.  It was a comedy and it was rare for comedies to win an Oscar but it was in the running now you never see a comedy in the Academy Awards.  Making people laugh seems unimportant to those who make these decisions.

In 1966 The Oscar for best picture went to The Sound of Music.  In 1965 both My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins were nominated for Best Picture.  My Fair Lady won but Julie Andrews took The Oscar home for best actress.  All three of these movies were family-friendly and were beautiful films.  Could you see any of them winning an Oscar today?  Of course not.  Not many films today that win Oscars are family-friendly.  Very few even get nominated and that is a tragedy.  We keep talking about needing diversity in our culture and that is absolutely true but diversity does not have to be serious or violent or sexy.  It can and should be fun exciting and humorous.  We need serious films with strong endings to teach us about life and the fact that it’s hard.  No one gets out without some bumps and bruises but life is also funny and joyful and warm and cuddly we need our films to express all these things and those that do this well should be given an Oscar, After all, it was Auntie Mame who said, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

This brings us to the nominees for this year’s Oscar for best picture.  This year’s nominations are not as bad as the last few years.  There really is diversity in tone and subject matter.  It was great to see West Side Story on the list and Dune, a Sci-Fi epic was a complete surprise to me.  The rest were films I am less impressed with but that is a matter of taste.  There is just one problem with this list.  One movie that checked every box that makes a movie great was snubbed by The Academy.

This movie was well written, filled with both action and suspense.  It has a great cast and had humor as well as tragedy.  The film was loved by almost everyone who saw it.  It got good reviews and ranked at 96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.  It has also won a Golden Tomato award.  It is still in theaters and is slowly overtaking the films that have grossed the most amount of money.  The film I am talking about is Spiderman No Way Home.

Spiderman No Way Home would have been up for best picture 60 years ago without a doubt.  It has everything a movie should have and then some.  Even surprises that no one was expecting but were wonderful to see as the story unfolded.  So what happened to us.  Why is this film not Oscar-worthy.  I’m not sure I know.  Still, I’ll take a shot at it.

I think the Academy has become a group of politically correct snobs.  They don’t see that life can be fun and that Superheroes, who are part of our modern mythology have a long-standing and respected place in our society.  There are college courses on comic book heroes and though originally a form of entertainment for children is now a form of entertainment for adults.  The characters are complex and interesting and the fact some of them have been around for more than eighty years proves that they have something that our world needs.  I think that is hope.

Today’s world doesn’t seem to have much hope.  This is reflected in some of our TV shows, our books, and our films.  Superhero movies provide hope because good always triumphs in the end.  Disney films do the same thing.  As did the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, and three films that were done in The Chronicles of Narnia.  Only one of these won best picture and that was The Return of the King the third part of The Lord of the Rings the first two parts were never even nominated.  Movies need to give us hope again.

It all comes back to story.  We are all a story have I have stated before.  We are our own story but we are also part of a bigger story that God began to write when he created the earth and everything on it.  Our movies and our books and TV shows and comic books are all ways for us to find our place in our own stories.  Are we the heroes or are we the villain?  Are we the one who disaster strikes or are we the one who saves the day?  The answer to these questions is yes, we are all of these.

Let me give you an example of how stories have affected my life.  Back in 1972, a television show premiered on the CBS network.  That show was The Waltons.  I was 11 at the time but the show became a family favorite.  The lead character John-boy the eldest son became a hero to me.  He had to wear glasses to read and I had just been given my first pair, he was creative and he wrote, and it was watching that series that inspired me to become a writer as well.  I wrote all kinds of things and for a little while in 6th grade started the first and only school newspaper my elementary school ever had.  The Primos Press.  I did this with my best friend Charlie Meo but behind all of it was John-boy Walton.

Stories shape us.  They help guide us and help us make decisions.  The process may not be conscious but it’s there.  We are formed by our own story and by the stories of others both fictional and real.  This is why we watch movies and it’s why we need those movies that are honored with an Oscar to be films that show the things we need to know.

Remember that movies are subjective so what I love will not always be what other people love.  But when a vast majority of people enjoy a film, that film deserves an Oscar nomination.  Spiderman No Way Home is such a film.  And it is a sad reflection on our culture that it was ignored.

When it’s Time to Change

“When it’s time to change,

You’ve got to rearrange,

Who you are into what you’re going to be.”

I don’t know if you remember or not, but back in the late ’60s and into the ’70s there was a popular television show called The Brady Bunch.  The premise of the show was that a widow with three girls and a widower with three boys meet and marry and TV’s first melded family was born.  The show was a situation comedy and ran for five seasons and 117 episodes.  One of those episodes was about change.

In the episodes the middle son Peter was going through the process every young man does when his voice changed.  This would have been no big deal but Peter’s brothers and sisters were entered in a contest to sing and Peter’s voice cracked every time he went for a high note.  The oldest brother, Greg, came up with a solution.  He wrote a song about the changes every teenager goes through and featured Peter’s changing voice.  The day was saved and the kids won the contest.

That song, the chorus of which is at the top of this article, is one that had followed me throughout my life.  Life is many things but one thing remains true there are always changes.  Some are small changes.  You have to change a doctor’s appointment time or for one reason or another, you cannot cook dinner so you have to eat out.  Others are large changes, your spouse has died and you must adjust to living on your own or you have been laid off work and you must scramble to find another job before unemployment runs out.

There are more light-hearted changes.  Moving into a new house can be stressful, but if you are moving from a small house into a bigger house it can also be fun.  Watching the seasons change from one to the next can be beautiful.  I personally love watching summer fade into Fall but I equally enjoy watching winter, as Oscar Hammerstein put it, “melt into Spring.”

I have written quite a bit about change in my weekly blogs.  My changes are not severe as losing a spouse might be nor are they beautiful as watching the seasons change.  My changes are personal and for the betterment of myself and my health.  They are good changes but don’t let anyone for one moment think they are easy.

A little later today I go to the doctor and will get weighed.  In that appointment, I will find out whether I have lost anything over the last few weeks.  It hasn’t been quite a month yet.  I have been following the same food regimen I had been following so I have hope but I’m also nervous.  I don’t expect that I shed 22 pounds as I did on my last visit.  I had almost six weeks from the point I started and the point I got weighed.  This time it’s just about four weeks so it cannot be the same amount of weight that has come off.  But I am hoping for some.

I think the interesting thing is that I don’t miss those foods that in the past I constantly craved.  I couldn’t go a week without McDonald’s and all the other fast food places.  I couldn’t go a day without large amounts of sugary treats, mostly pie.  I still eat sugar but far from the binges, I would go less than two months ago. I also don’t miss carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks.  I lived on Kool-Aid and lemonade mixes.  I fooled myself into thinking that these provided the vitamin C my body needed when I probably got the best vitamin C out of the daily multiple vitamins I was taking.  The things we tell ourselves to get our own way are probably the worst lies in the world.  In fact, it’s the lies we tell ourselves that most likely lead to the lies we may tell others.  I just thought of that but I will bet it’s true.

I lied to myself a lot.  Mostly about food.  I never went quite so far as to think that fast food was good for me but I did believe that it wouldn’t hurt me or make me fat.  I believed the same for sugary soft drinks.  I knew the indulgence of pies and cakes and chocolate was a problem but you can talk yourself into believing anything with the phrase, “one more won’t hurt.”  The problem is that one more does hurt.

As the song says, two months ago I realized it was time to change and I have been working on those changes ever since.  The first month of my new eating plan reaped a rich reward.  I lost 22 pounds this past, not quite a month, I lost three pounds.  It is not the number I would have wished for but it is a better number than 0.

I saw my doctor today and he does want me to incorporate exercise into my routine, which I have not done yet.  I have few options for exercise actually only one.  I have a set of free-standing pedals that I can place on a tabletop.  I can’t use my feet, but I can use my arms so I will begin there.  I’ll start with 15  minutes a day and move upward.  This will get me moving.  When I feel ready I will go to the YMCA and use the pool.  I can’t do that yet as some physical complications eliminate that as an option.  When I can get down about 80 pounds those complications should be gone.

So it’s time to keep changing and that is exactly what I intend to do.  It’s not going to be easy and there is a long road ahead, but I believe I can do this.  If you are thinking about any life-altering change now is the time.  Change is never easy but in the long run it is truly worth it.

Suicide

It shocked me to learn, last week, of the suicide of Peter Robbins.  For those of you who don’t know who Peter Robbins is, he was the voice actor who gave life to Charlie Brown in the first Peanuts specials in the 1960s.  He also reprised his role as Charlie Brown in the first Peanuts movie, A Boy Named Charlie Brown.  Peter was 65 at the time he ended his life.  As a friend of mine put it, “I hope he found peace.”

I heard of another suicide last week as well.  This wasn’t a famous person in any way.  He was a 72-year-old he left a note that said, “He couldn’t find a path forward to happiness.”

I wish with all my heart that these men had talked to someone before they ended their lives.  Depression to the point of suicide is not rare but it should be.  No one should ever feel that alone.  No one should ever feel that taking his or her own life is the only answer.

I have been dealing with depression most of my adult life.  I believed I was unloved and useless and like the note left above, I could see no path to happiness or contentment.  Many times suicide crossed my mind.  It seemed reasonable to kill myself.  I remember plans I had for committing suicide as way back as my teenage years. I planned I would get in the shower and stab myself so there would be no mess to clean up.  I had other plans too.

I felt like a failure most of my adult life because I wasn’t living up to somebody else’s expectations of me.  I put their opinion higher than my own.  I put what they thought was right for me higher than what I thought, or even what God thought, was right for me.  This led to depression.  Low self-esteem to the point of self-hatred and then to suicidal thoughts.  This all came to a head in March of 1990.

I had been living on my own for the first time since the previous October in what was the greatest apartment in the world.  It was the top floor of a Victorian-style home with all kinds of gabled roofs and large ceilings.  There was a tiny spot with a window and a small arched ceiling that made a mini chapel.  There was another spot between two rooms with an arched ceiling with no windows that looked like a cave.  There was, also, a bathroom with an old-fashioned tub with feet.  I loved that apartment.  At the time I couldn’t drive and the apartment left me very isolated.  I rarely entertained and nobody ever called.  I felt more and more alone and those feelings turned into a deep depression.  The depression turned to suicidal thoughts.

I should have hidden my bad feelings at work, but I couldn’t, so those feelings turned to bouts of anger.  I would lash out at just about everyone.  One day I was walking to the trolley stop to go to work and I firmly decided that I would kill myself the next day if something didn’t happen in the next 24 hours.  It was a decision but it was also a prayer because it was a threat I was making to God Himself.   My boss came in and I said something nasty to her.  She got away from me as quickly as possible but soon came back and called me into her office.  She told me I was out of control and these fits of anger had to stop or I would be fired.  I asked for the rest of the day off and went home. 

I made it back to the apartment and didn’t know what to do.  So I called my friend Manny.  Manny and I had been friends for more than ten years. He was a pastor and he was the only one I could think of who might be able to help me.  And he did but it was radical.

After listening to me, praying with me, and bathing me in scripture, as he called it, he then advised me to quit my job and move in with him and his family in Syracuse NY so he could help me one on one.  And believe it or not, I did it.  I packed up and moved to Syracuse.

I spent three life-changing years in Syracuse and met some friends who will always be a part of my life.  The problem is, though I learned a lot, I was not changed when it came to depression.  This was between the years 1990 and 1993.  I came home, worked a few different jobs, and ended up back in the job that I had left.

It wasn’t long before depression took a strong grip on me again.  This time I had to mask it.  I couldn’t lose this job.  So I hid my ugly thoughts.  I had seen a video on the way The Disney Company expected their cast members (all Disney employees are cast members) to act.  While working they were to consider themselves on stage and to their customers and fellow cast members they were to be positive smiling people.  This became my work ethic.  I was working in dialysis and while on the floor with my patients I was smiling helpful and encouraging.  When I got home I fell apart and despaired.

This went on for about 4 years until I finally talked to a nurse I had been working with for years.  She told me I should see the new associate pastor at her church.  He had counseling experience and might be able to help me.  I honestly didn’t want to do it.  I agreed, but only if she made the appointment.  I figured she would forget and I would be in the clear.  She didn’t forget and, my healing journey began.

It took years.  That first counselor turned into another counselor and a psychiatrist.  I had to take medication and that had to be dosed just right.  Over the years because of changes in insurance and people moving away I have had 5 counselors and 4 psychiatrists.  My current psychiatrist handles both the talk therapy and my medications.  I was blessed by each of these people in their own way.

Thoughts of suicide still cross my mind but they are fleeting.  More like a fly I can brush away pretty quickly.  My self-esteem has gone up and I can see value in who and what I am.  I know now that I don’t have to change for anyone.  I’m OK being me.  I have family and friends who I know love me.  I may not see them as often as I would like but I know for sure they are there in times of trouble.  Just go back read my blog titled Moving Day to find out how both my family and my friends pulled together to help me.

I’m not free from depression.  I’m not sure I ever will be.  But everyone gets depressed once in a while.  I have to be aware of when my depression is justified, caused by some real and possibly fixable situation in my life, and when my depression is chemical.  The chemical depressions are the hard days.  Sometimes you just have to see them through.  Sometimes you have to talk to a friend, a family member or a professional.  Sometimes these require hospitalizations.  I have been in the hospital twice with depression.  I don’t want to go a third time.  There is no shame in needing help during these times.  Anyone who tells you there is doesn’t know what they are talking about.

I can’t stress enough that everyone begins to listen for signs of depression and possible suicide attempts.  The first part is to listen.  We all need to be heard and sometimes our own need to be heard can drown out another’s need. Listen to your friends and your family.  Don’t blow anyone off who is feeling down for whatever reason and don’t brush off their pain as something they should just “get over.”  If you don’t know what to say, acknowledge that you’ve heard them and ask what you can do to help.  If you’ve listened without interrupting you may have helped enough.

If you are having thoughts of suicide talk to somebody.  There is always someone that wants to help.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.  I used to have this on speed dial at one time.  I don’t anymore.  I am proof that things do get better.

Musicologists have found that listening to the soft rock sounds of the 1970s helps with depression.  The Carpenters, The Partridge Family, Bread, Barry Manilow and so on can help stabilize your mood.  Singing along helps even more.  I have found singing Broadway songs helps me.  Especially the music of Rodger’s Hammerstein.  My Favorite Things is my go-to song as it depicts lovely things that if you can see them as you listen or sing they cannot help but make you smile.  “Raindrops on roses, and Whiskers on Kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favorite things.  You can’t help but see these things in your mind as you sing the words and as you do, your mood will lift, maybe only little at a time, but it will lift.

To both both those who suffer from depression and to those who know someone and want to help I want to leave you with this quote from Charles Dickens from his book Doctor Margold, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.”  For you who are hurting think of times, you have helped anyone.  You’re not useless.  If you can’t think of anyone go out and help somebody get out of your head and meet another’s need and you will feel better about yourself.  For those of you who are helping someone who is hurting emotionally, you have tremendous value and it is my hope that God blesses you for your kindness.