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.

Why Culture POPS for Me

I have been in love with pop culture for as long back as I can remember.  I guess that it started with the Batman TV series which began its run in 1966.  Even before that, I loved Lucy and Jack Benny.  I grew up watching cartoons that are now forgotten Beanie and Cecil, Tobar the 8th Man, Rocket Robin Hood, and Marine Boy.  All of these fascinated me and I continually wanted more.

After a certain age, I became a walking TV guide.  I knew everything that was on and whether it was worth watching or not.  In the first grade, I fell in love with comic books, and many nights my collection of comics sat next to me in my corner of the sofa while I watched TV.

My mother loved musicals and so I was thrust into the worlds of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loew and many others.  While reading comics I found that the characters would quote old movies or books and so slowly I began to watch old films as they showed up in the TV listings.  This was years before you could record or stream anything so if it was on that was the only chance to watch it.

I also began to read.  My mother read to me as a child.  Before bed, she read me all kinds of things until I was old enough to read for myself.  As I stated before comic book characters would quote books and I wanted to know what the quotes meant and where they came from.  I developed an early interest in Shakespeare, Greek myth, and Arthurian Legends.

I was reading well above my grade level even though you couldn’t tell that from my grades.  I began to blossom as a student when the emphasis was changed from grammar to reading classic literature.  It was then I could shine.

I don’t know what draws me to pop culture, both past, and present.  I  have written on it extensively.  Book reviews, movie reviews, and history.  In fact a couple of years ago I wrote a fascinating story about a forgotten show called The Goldbergs.  Not the new one but the show that was on the airwaves from 1929 until the 1950s.  The show was a radio show, a tv show, a play, a movie, and a musical.  And every script was written by the same woman Gertrude Berg.  She was pretty interesting too.  You can read her story here, https://pcmworldnews.com/news/2021/01/the-goldbergs-debuts-on-television-january-1949-2/.

I like to list all I could about my love of pop culture.  If you walked into my apartment you would be greeted by a bookshelf filled with books on show business of one kind or another.  The shelf is decorated with pop culture icons of the Golden age and the present age action figure of Green Lantern and The Flash.  Going further in you would find sculptures of the main characters from Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows.  Looking up you’d find peaking out of teacup Jacque and Gus the two mice from Disney’s animated Cinderella.  In my office, there is a replica of Sleeping Beauty Castle from Disneyland and it is surrounded by every character you could ever hope to meet in that place.  Even on my desk, staring at me is a small animatronic Yoda that talks when I push a button.  A small Starship Enterprise also sits on my desk right next to a Tardis from Doctor Who.  On my walls are movie posters, an authentic replica of Bilbo’s and Frodo’s sword sting along with a map of Middle Earth.  In the hallway, one wall is devoted to a map of The Magic Kingdom and the other is displayed all of the celebrity autographed photos I have collected over the years.

I have a Mickey Mouse wall clock, a Superman wall clock and on other shelves, I have a set of action figures that are the great authors including Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens.  In my bedroom, there is a collection of 7-inch vinyl figures that depict most of the Justice League of America.

And that is truly only a partial run down.  Most of this stuff will mean little to those I leave behind but it does give great joy to me.  I think that is what pop culture is.  Pop culture is a bringer of joy.

Most of pop culture starts with a story.  The Greek and Norse myths as well as Arthurian legends are all stories most of which were handed down verbally until someone decided to write them down.  We wouldn’t have Grimms Fairy Tales if the two brothers didn’t travel extensively in Germany collecting the folk tales that were there.  In many ways that is the whole of pop culture.  It is the handing down of stories from one generation to the next.

The first question I have about my definition is what about music or poetry?  They are part of pop culture too.  In many ways, songs and poems and paintings and sculptures all tell stories or they are part of a story.  So they fit in the definition.

That brings me back to us.  What draws us to the movies, to TV shows and novels, and all the rest?  What draws us to stories?

The answer is simple.  We are also all stories.  Every event in our lives is a story and every moment of our lives makes up our story which is intermingled with all the other stories of the people we know.  Whether they are family or friends or even enemies we are part of their stories and they are a part of ours.

Then there is the big story.  Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage and we are but players on it.”  Shakespeare was absolutely correct.  We are all part of the biggest story ever written and it begins; “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

That statement is the beginning of all the great stories that ever happened or that ever will happen.  In some sense, it is a myth but unlike the myths of the Greeks or the Norsemen, this myth is true.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe in the big bang theory or not God,  in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth.

What does this mean for us?  It means that we are part of God’s story that we were meant to be here and that all of our lives have meaning even if we don’t see it.  It is for this reason that we go-to stories.  That we go to pop culture.  We go to these to find the meaning to our own lives and that meaning is in those stories.  I didn’t realize that The Lord of the Rings could speak to addicts until I did some digging and found that Frodo and Gollum’s passion for the ring ate away at their wills until it possessed them the way an addiction possess the addict.  Scrooge’s adventures with the three ghosts of Christmas is a mini version of therapy where you look at the past and the present to try and change the future.  The Wind in the Willows teaches us the need for solid friendships and The Secret Garden is a story that makes it clear that hard work, a solid spiritual life, and good eating cab restore health to both mind and body.

I could go on and on.  Batman is an example of the unlimited potential in every human being. Superman says it best in his slogan he is the embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way even if the American way is under scrutiny at this moment.  Our stories, our myths, our pop culture is what makes us who we are and helps us find who we can be.

CS Lewis was an unbeliever until one fateful day he was having a discussion with his friend JRR Tolkien and another and in that discussion, Tolkien pointed out that Lewis loved the old stories the myths of the ancients but he said that The Gospel was a myth too.  Only it was the one true myth.  The one true story, the one true part of pop culture or any culture that makes sense of all the rest.

If you don’t know who CS Lewis is…well, that’s another story.

To Everything, There is a Season

Solomon says in the Book of Ecclesiastes “To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven.  Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.”  Stephen Sondheim wrote in Merrily We Roll Along, “It’s our time breathe it in worlds to change and worlds to win.”  And I am writing today it is my time.

After writing last week’s blog about letting go of people in my life who had become toxic for me I felt a new freedom.  The freedom to relax and be me but also to get on with life.  It has been said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  While I was feeling the need to constantly ask forgiveness from three people that had stopped caring about me, I was examining my life through their lens.  Seeing me as I thought they were seeing me trying to live up to something that didn’t exist.  After breaking free of that bondage, and bondage it was, I was able to see myself more clearly with a better lens and make the corrections in my life that needed attention.

And I did that.  I started going back to meetings that I had been neglecting.  I made phone calls to people whom I hadn’t been talking to but should have.  These folks encourage me and I can encourage them.  It becomes a give and receive, relationship as all relationships should be.  If you are in a relationship where you are always giving or are always receiving it’s probably an unhealthy relationship.

I have had a more peaceful life.  It’s amazing how much you calm down when you stop worrying about what someone else is thinking about you.  It’s good to feel calm.  I have also been able to read and concentrate on my reading.  Reading has become joyful again.  My spirit is lighter and I am smiling more.  I am in a much better place than I have been.

That’s not to say that I don’t have issues that need to be dealt with.  I saw my doctor today and he is sending me to another specialist to deal with my foot.  I fractured several of the bones in my foot back in April and though the bones healed the pain and swelling have not gone down.  It’s very difficult to walk but I do what I can.  Going to the market has been an achievement but I do it when I have to do. 

The saga with my ears continues and I need to see two doctors about that.  An ear doctor and neurologist.  All of the appointments are made.  I don’t know if I have written about my ear in this blog.  Let me get you up to date.  My ear has been leaking fluid for about four years.  The big question is what the fluid is.  The infectious disease doctor thought it was an ear infection and what was leaking out was a byproduct of the infection.  A doctor whose title I can’t spell but we’ll call him a super Ear Nose and Throat doctor thinks that what’s coming out of my ear is spinal fluid.  This guy tested the fluid in my ear and the test came back inconclusive.  He wants to do a radical surgery on me where he will cut a hole in my skull and dig down to where he believes there is a crack in my skull and patch the crack up.  Needless to say with a test that has come back inconclusive I do not want this surgery done.  I have been dodging seeing him until I can get another doctor to run the test on the fluid.

So as you can see life isn’t easy but it does have its moments of joy.  These come from friends that visit me or unexpected phone calls.  These come from the things that delight me like the latest Spiderman movie which was awesome or finding some of my favorite TV shows from the past are available to watch for free on YouTube.  These shows include Here Comes the Brides and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Joy comes unexpectedly and it really should.  If we were full of joy all the time how could we possibly know what Joy is?  There will always be sorrow and sadness in our lives.  It’s been that way since Adam and Eve left The Garden, but if any of us only experience sorrow and sadness we will go mad.  We’d have to.  Or we would become angry and bitter a true Scrooge as Dickens describes him at the beginning of A Christmas Carol.

So when joy comes we take it to heart and remember it.  Our joy whatever it is will get us through the tough times if we remember it.  So write down what brings joy to you.  Journal your joy moments so when things do get black you can look back and maybe smile through the hardship.  Auntie Mame says, “Life is Banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Eat the banquet that is in front of you.  Auntie Mame echoes Jesus who said, “A thief is only there to steal, kill, and destroy.  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 The Message Version)

And now an announcement that I was to make last week but had to put off because my doctor had to cancel my appointment due to Covid in his office.  I can make it now.  Since starting my new eating regimen on December 6, 2021, I have lost, drum roll please, 22 pounds.  What I am doing is indeed working and I intend to stick with the program.  A big thank you to everyone who has encouraged me.

Until next time may God bless you all.

And The Changes Continue…

The last two years have been rough on all of us.  I don’t think anyone in this country has not been affected by the Covid 19 virus.  It caused the deaths of loved ones and it has also caused those we love to separate from us.  This has been the hardest part for me.

Politically I am neither a full-fledged republican nor a full-fledged democrat.  Both parties have a lot to offer that this country needs right now and yet instead of seeking a balance we keep going from one extreme to the other.  Heaven help us all!

This blog is not about politics.  I hope it never will be.  This blog is about loss and change.  The first friend I lost was not even over an argument.  I corrected a post he put up on Facebook in the comments.  The post was political and inaccurate.  It doesn’t matter what the issue was.  He got mad at me for pointing out what was wrong and stopped speaking to me.  The second friend I lost I have known for over 40 years.  He texted me early one morning telling me of a situation he was in.  He felt threatened.  I offered the best advice I could at that hour and the texts kept coming.  Eventually, he told me he didn’t like what he was hearing from me and he too cut me off.  I got angry at this and probably sent a text or two I shouldn’t have.  The third friend just stopped talking to me for no reason whatsoever. He just stopped returning my calls.  He was a mentor to me and I relied on his wisdom for many years and now he is just gone.

Now, after all of this happened I did everything in my power to win these three back.  I asked forgiveness, sent ecards on holidays, left messages asking how I could make this right or how I could be forgiven.  I got stone silence.  It began to make me sick as I kept going around and around in my head about how I could make things right.  Everything I tried failed.  And the silence continues.

I was doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result and that is one of the definitions of insanity.  I was making myself insane trying to win back the friendship from three people who didn’t want me back.  They had control over me as long as I continued to beg for their forgiveness.  Something had to break and it did.

I finally realized that these guys were renting space in my head.  Space they had no business being in.  I called on a good friend who talked with me for a long time.  He asked me very direct questions if I was angry or bitter towards these three men and I’m not.  I’m hurt but I can honestly say that  I would welcome them back if they reached out to me but it is time for me to stop reaching out to them.  And I have.

The freedom of letting these three men go is amazing.  I feel better about myself and my life.  I no longer feel guilty about the situation because I know I have done everything I can to make it right.  The ball is in their court.  All three of these men are Christians I am looking forward to the day we reunite in heaven and can talk these things out and forgive each other there.  If it happens here all the better but I know it will happen one day.

This marks the end of the first month of my efforts to try and lose weight.  I will reveal at the end of this blog how many pounds I have lost.  I truly hope I lost something.

Starting a diet at the beginning of December may not have been the wisest course.  December has more food traps than any other month of the year.  I was able to maneuver through most of them.  I didn’t say no to all treats but I cut back and ate less of my favorites than any other year.  In the past, I would have gained a pound or five over the holidays.  This Christmas I think I lost.

One thing that stands out is I got in the car the other day and found it very easy to get my seatbelt buckled.  This has been difficult for quite a while now and yesterday it clicked with little to no effort so weight must be coming off or at least inches.  I’ll know for sure on Tuesday when I go see my doctor.  I have not weighed myself at home at all, only there.  When I see what his scale says I’ll come home and calibrate my scale here so I can weigh more often.

The original diet plan was to have two Slimfast shakes and a piece of fruit a day.  One of each for breakfast and one of each for lunch.  I found early on that I didn’t get hungry at lunchtime and so began skipping the second shake and fruit.  I seem to get hungry at about four PM and so I just plan dinner for five.  Sometimes I feel like my blood sugar may be dropping in the afternoon.  At those times I will eat a healthy snack.  My sister sent several bags of roasted and shelled chestnuts.  I love those and they are a good form of protein.  The whole bag is only 200 calories.

Dinner is for the most part meat, potato, and a vegetable.  Sometimes with a little sweet treat.  Last night I had eggplant parmesan and a nice multigrain roll with Land O Lakes butter mixed with olive oil.  All I drink anymore is water.  I have had some juice in small amounts on occasion but it has mostly been water.

Before the beginning of December, I lived at Fast Food Restaurants.  I love McDonald’s and a standard order would have been two triple cheeseburgers a medium fries, a Hi C Orange Lava Burst, and two apple pies.  I would have this several times a week.  I also frequented Arby’s, Burger King, Popeye’s, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried, and Wendy’s. Some days I would get breakfast lunch and dinner from these places.  I craved it.  I even felt I needed it but I was wrong.

Since December 6th I have not been in a Fastfood restaurant or used the drive-thru. The closest I got was a small popcorn at the movie theater when I went to see Spiderman No Way Home.  I figured going to the movies is not a regular habit for me so I could treat myself there.

Today is Sunday and as most of you know I publish on Wednesday morning.  I will finish this blog up when I return from the doctor on Tuesday.

It’s now Monday and my doctor’s office just called.  It seems there has been an outbreak of Covid amongst the staff and my appointment has been moved to next Tuesday so the weigh-in is postponed another week.  Seems like Covid is again changing our lives as I also heard at least one college is going back to Zoom classes when the semester starts and one community theater just shortened its schedule by eliminating two shows.  I find it inspiring that people are taking the correct precautions now.  No matter what life will go on and one day we will be out of this mess.

Epiphany

The Feast of the Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January sixth.  This celebration marks the visit of the magi to see Jesus and worship him as the newborn King of the Jews.  It is the end of the Christmas holidays as they used to be celebrated and in my own opinion should still be celebrated.  Put the tree up later bake some treats after Christmas, maybe even save some gifts for this particular feast.  Remember this celebrates the first people outside of Mary, Joseph, and some shepherds who knew who Jesus was.

I often wondered what the word epiphany means.  I had never really heard the word used outside the context of the holy day.  Epiphany means a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being.  In this case, the birth of Christ is revealed to the whole world the Jewish people being represented by the Shepherds and the gentile world is represented by the magi.

Matthew’s Gospel is the only Gospel that tells of the visit of the kings and you can read it there.  Time and tradition have embellished the story what we do know for sure is the Magi came from the east following a star.  The star disappeared as they approached Jerusalem and they went to King Herod who ascertained from the scriptures where the child would be born and sent the magi on their way telling them to come back and report to him when they had found the child so that he could worship him as well.  Herod was deceiving the Magi as he desired to kill the child.  As the Magi left Jerusalem the star reappeared and led them to a house where they found the baby and his mother Mary and presented gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.  They were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod and returned to their homes using a different route.

That’s what we know.  Here is what we have embellished.  It was at some time decided that there were three of them.  That they were not only Magi but Kings and that their names were Caspar, Melchior, and Belshazzar.  Also, that each was of a different race.  One white, one Asian, and One Black.

The Feast of Epiphany is also the twelfth day of Christmas as you may remember from the song the gift was twelve drummers drumming.  These twelve drummers are meant to represent points of belief in The Apostles Creed.

The Feast of the Epiphany is also known as 12th Night and it is the last day of Christmas.  There used to be 12th Night parties where games like Snapdragon were played.  I have always wanted to try to play Snapdragon.  The game is mentioned in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and also in Agatha Christie’s Halloween Party.  The game is pretty simple.  You get a big plate full of raisins you douse the raisins with plenty of brandy and light it on fire.  You then try to pick raisins out of the blazing plate without getting burned.  And yes this was a children’s game.

There is also a 12the Night Cake.  It is made from Puff Pastry and filled with almond crème.  In the cake is placed a ring or a tiny baby representing Jesus.  Whoever gets the slice of cake with the ring or the baby gets declared King of the Feast and is given a crown to wear.

Of course, all of this is gone now.  The Catholic Church has moved the Feast of Epiphany to the Sunday after Christmas and not many protestant churches recognize it at all, at least not in the United States.  And yet we sing about it.  We Three Kings is the song of the magi.  It’s not a Christmas Carol but a 12th night song.  And The Little Drummer boy which is completely fictitious is also a staple throughout the Christmas season but is never heard after Christmas as it should be.

Some biblical historians believe that the magi arrived about two years after Jesus’ birth.  There is some logic behind this.  The scriptures tell us that the Magi found the child in a house which means they had moved out of the stable where Jesus was born.  Herod asked the Magi when the star appeared and when he realized that the Magi were not coming back to him had all the babies two years and younger killed in Bethlehem.  This is known as The Slaughter of the Innocents and is the basis for another Christmas carol The Coventry Carol.  It is thought that the star appeared on the night of Jesus’ birth and it took two years for the Magi to reach him.

I am of the school of thought that says we go back to the old ways.  Let’s celebrate all 12 days of Christmas.  Let’s not set up our trees right after Thanksgiving but just a day or two before December 25th.  Let’s have parties and gatherings straight through until  January the sixth and have one last fling that night before we enter into our dull winter routines.  Christmas could be more fun that way and maybe even less stressful.  We could have dinner parties for twelve nights straight and see all of our family members.  Those twelve days, if observed could bring a whole new dimension to Christmas.

On January the sixth let’s take a moment to remember what the word epiphany means. >The manifestation of a divine being”.  It is acknowledging to the world that we believe Jesus was fully God and fully man as the scriptures attest to.  In many ways, it is an act of faith to celebrate this day and one I believe we can all profit from.

It is said that two groups of people were allowed to see the baby Jesus those who knew they knew nothing, the shepherds and those who knew they didn’t know everything, the magi.

2022 Is Here! What Will You Do?

Ok, let’s get this out of the way.  I am not fond of the celebration of the New Year.  I kind of feel like it is a bit of a cheat.  It seems to be a day where we are offered a new start where all the bad things disappear, and all good things take their place.  That is just not the case.  When you get up on January first the same issues in your life are right there staring you in the face and no amount of toasting in the New Year will solve those issues.

Now I know this is just me, or maybe not.  There are probably a few people who agree with me, but the majority are sure New Year believers and maybe they have a point.

New Year is a time of renewal in many areas of our lives.  A time to evaluate where we are and correct the course is necessary, To do this though you must do a deep self-examination and this is hard to do because it means being brutally honest about all areas of your life.

For instance, let’s use me as an example.  I admitted to myself a couple of months ago that I am overweight, grossly overweight and if I didn’t do something about it I would probably die much sooner than the rest of my family who weighs in the right range.  I told myself to look around, there are no old fat people.  And as far as I know, there are none.  I have been obese for years and the medical community didn’t warn me of the dangers, in fact, most of my docs avoided discussing the matter until I said, “Im fat and something has to be done.”  Then they could speak.

I believe one of the reasons the docs are afraid to talk about weight issues is because of this new thing called fat shaming.  Now while I totally agree that kids on the playground should not insult the fat kid, I disagree that once you have grown up and someone mentions your weight you should be happy someone cares enough about you to say something.  To tell heavyset, obese, or fat people to feel good about themselves and to be proud of who they are physically is just plain stupid.  I’m going to be quite clear.  I’m ashamed of myself for letting things go this far. I’m uncomfortable in movie and theater seats.  I don’t like the way I look and I know I am damaging my body by being this size.

This is a brutal self-examination but it is necessary if there is to be change.

We cannot live in a world where change is scorned or where people fear it.  We did, in Europe for many years and that time in history is called The Dark Ages.  Nothing changed during those terrible years but when they ended people began to think and thinking both good and bad is what brought us where we are today.

You can have Dark Ages ib your own life.  That time when you see yourself as perfect when you are far from it.  All the years I denied I was gaining weight were my own Dark Ages and it has led me to where I am now.

It’s not just the weight and how I look.  It’s getting out of breath while carrying something.  It’s feeling my heart race when all I’ve done is walk across the room.  Being short of breath from doing the simplest of tasks and having my feet and legs hurt all the more because of the weight I carry.

That exams my physical body and assesses the problem fairly well.  Now, what’s to be done about it.  I have already begun a program of weight loss.  With my doctor’s approval, I am doing Slimfast for two meals and a sensible dinner.  The reality of that plan is my morning Slimfast shake with an apple and 16 ounces of water lasts me till around four o’clock so for the most part I don’t use the second shake.  I know my stomach, at least, has shrunk as I can only eat a much smaller amount at dinner than I used to.

After a physical assessment is done a mental assessment must also be done.  My mental and emotional state, in general, is better than it was before.  I still need therapy and appropriate medication but in many ways, I am a much calmer person than I used to be.  I can be honest with myself, I no longer rely on comfort food to help me get thru rough patches and other negative behaviors have become much more under my control. My emotions are no longer controlling me as much as I realize that emotions are first response tools.  You have to be careful to digest a first response and think about it before acting on it.  If I get bad news, for example, my first response would be to eat something to make me feel better about the bad news.  I can’t do that.  First response emotions will die down and go away after a while especially if you use your brain to think through your response.  If we respond to anything in anger or fear it is pretty much assured we will regret what we have done.

Now I think more before I react.  First thoughts may be McDonald’s will not solve my problem.  Second and third thoughts could well be the solution to those problems.  Self-control is the beginning of learning how to deal with emotions.  If you have strong emotional reactions to anything, given time, rational thought will calm those emotions down.

We are made in three parts, The Physical, The Mental and The Spiritual.  Many people regard the spiritual as unimportant or attached to emotions.  It is not.  For me, the spiritual parts of us are about our relationship with God and his with us.  I am a Christian and I believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, as an adult lived a sinless life and taught the precepts of the Kingdom of God.  At the age of 33, he was crucified for what he taught but on the third day, he rose again from the dead.  He was seen by many and ministered another 40 days here on Earth before he was bodily taken up to heaven.  I believe that if you believe all of what I have just written and believe that Jesus is Lord you have a place in eternity with Him.  Repeating that is a way to decide how much work my spiritual life has to go.

This year I’m good.  However, Jesus taught us that we should be good to the poor and the suffering.  This year my question must be what I’m doing to follow my Lord in that area and the answer must be not much.  And I’m not sure where I should start.  My physical issues are many and my resources are tight and yet Charles Dickens wrote in A Christmas Carol “Any Christian working in his little sphere will not have time enough, in this life to complete all he can do.”  I paraphrased that but the answer I seek is what can I do?  Hopefully and humbly in future blogs, you will read the answers I found on how to help.

New Year’s may not, in reality, be a new beginning.  But it can be a renewal.  Get past the parties and the cork popping and really dig into who you are and who you want to be in the coming year and you find yourself on the greatest adventure anyone can take, the adventure of conquering yourself.

God bless you dear reader and Happy New Year.

Christmas 2021

I am not a poet.  As I assume all writers do I dabbled in poetry.  I went into fields and climbed trees and looked for inspiration in all the usual places I imagined poets would
go to find their muse.  I never found mine except once.

It was 1979 not long before Christmas when I realized I had no money to give my folks a Christmas gift that year.  It was my first semester in college and as all college students are, I was broke.  I thought and thought and slowly an idea came to mind.  I would write a poem.  Initially I must have thought it would be a Christmas poem, but it turned into something slightly more elaborate.  I wrote the poem, bought some poster board and hand printed it out with some small amount of artwork for the borders.  I was no great poet, but I was and am an even worse artist.  Still, it was a heartfelt gift and I present it to you now as I presented it to my parents as a Christmas gift.

Jesus

They say he was born in Beth’lem town,

And on that night there was the sound,

Of trumpets from the heavenly host,

And in all this the saints would boast.

He grew up alongside men,

Who in their sight he would begin,

A ministry of peace and light,

And leading people toward the right.

For three short years he labored strong,

And taught the people to go along,

A path of wisdom both just and bright,

To walk not in darkness but in light.

The leaders feared what this man taught,

And in their fear a man they bought,

A follower to betray the lord,

For they knew he feared no earthly sword.

They hung him on a wooden cross,

And men believed that they had lost,

A friend much closer than a brother,

Their only friend man had no other.

He died upon that cross so high,

And they placed him in a tomb nearby,

They placed him there while women moaned,

Then covered the entrance with a stone.

For three long days he lay there dead,

The world lost hope and all men said,

That he was good and just and wise,

But like all men he had to die.

But on the third day God shook the earth,

And when the stone rolled from its berth,

He rose again then into life,

And took away all pain and strife.

The world for long awaited this,

For this man he brought a gift,

Of everlasting life for us,

If in Him we put our trust.

As I have stated in other places you can’t have Christmas without Easter.  If Easter did not happen then there would be no reason to celebrate the birth of Christ.  We would still be partying in one way or another.  After all, Christmas did replace the roman feast of Saturnalia.  And that feast had parties and bringing in the green form outside, as well as gift giving.  But the church, as her job, redeemed the pagan holiday and its customs and turned it into one of the most beautiful times of the year. It makes us know that we are loved and somehow instils in us the need to love and help others.  As Dickens wrote it is “a time when want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices.”

Dickens further writes in A Christmas Carol.

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come around, apart from it’s sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it could be apart from that, as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time.  The only time in the whole calendar of the year when and women, seem by one consent, to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of people below them as fellow passengers to the grave and not another race of creature bound on other journeys.  And therefore, uncle though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe it has done me good and will do me good and so I say God Bless it.”

This was speech given to Scrooge by his nephew in A Christmas Carol.  Very few stage or screen productions ever let the actor have the whole speech but in those words is the true meaning and heart of Christmas.

Earlier this week a fellow Christmas Carol fan, Michael Castellano wrote a poem that embodies the whole story of A Christmas Carol.  He did this all-in-one day and I think it’s pure genius.  With his permission I present it to you now.

My Carol

A chill to my Christmas

with harsh blowing winds,

I’m mean and I’m ornery

when my story begins.

My hearts made of stone

I may never reform,

and to be quite honest

I should have never been born.

Money and power is all that I crave

and my earthly delights,

will end soon

at the grave.

Bah Humbug to Christmas

with its tinsels and lights,

my hatred is strong

where others delight.

my partner in life

has returned from the grave,

“I’ve come here to assist you

your soul I’ll help save.”

You’ll be visited by three spirits

you’ve nothing to dread

they’ll take you on journeys

from the foot of your bed.

The first spirit came

with a bright shining light,

to show me my past

on this cold winters night.

We visited scenes

from my boyhood at school,

where I sat all alone

with a spoon and some gruel.

Then on to the Fezzywigs’

with their great Christmas fete,

with plenty to drink

and abundance to eat.

The love of my life

my very own Belle,

she had me entranced

I fell under her spell.

But greed overtook me

I lost at loves game,

now everything’s different

and nothings the same.

The spirit soon left me

as the city clock struck two,

where I met a gentle giant

who sipped a strange brew.

” Come know me better!”

he said with a laugh,

a crown of live holly

adorned his large staff.

with a touch of his robe

such a soft gentle touch,

we flew over mountains

to a boy with a crutch.

He showed me my life

and my cold frozen heart,

although I saw much

it was only a start.

The giant soon left me

at the end of his haunt,

but inside his robe

I saw ignorance and want.

The last of the spirits

appeared from the mist

a silent spirit

my life to assist.

He showed me my future

my life at its end,

he scared me this spirit

but he was truly a friend.

My name on the grave

I was truly alone,

“I’ll change” I cried

please don;t leave me alone.

Now I’m a new man

the old man is dead,

I’ll help Mr Cratchit

and a visit to Fred.

I’ve finished my story

I’m finally done,

so Merry Christmas to all

and God Bless Us Everyone.

If you have no time to read A Christmas Carol or watch one of the film adaptations, you at least have this poem.

One more note about A Christmas Carol.  I have a tradition of reading the book every year.  I start at night on the 21st reading the First Stave Dickens uses the word Stave instead of Chapter in his book as it is a musical term meaning the verse of a song.  For the next three nights, I read a single Stave usually right before bed.  On the 25th Christmas morning I read The Final Stave entitled The End of It and live with Scrooge all the joy he found that Christmas morning.  For me, it’s a meaningful and touching way to read the classic.  It’s also something a family could do together.

One last thought before leaving you.  Several years ago I was working in dialysis at a local hospital and one of the docs gave me and the rest of the unit employees a little card with a free verse poem on it.  It was beautiful and very timely, and it is a reminder that the celebration of Christmas is only the beginning.  That little card did not have the author’s name, but I found that out recently and I present the poem to you as a last gift of Christmas.

The Work of Christmas

When the star is the sky is gone,

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas Begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among the people,

To make music in the heart.

  • Howard Thurman

Christmas Memories

I think was blessed to be born in the early part of the 1960s.  Technology had not come near the point where things were handed to you instantly.  Fast Food restaurants did not exist yet and microwaves and cell phones were in the far-flung future.  Because of this life was slower and could be savored and we did even as children.

Television was still in its infancy in the early 60s.  Sure it had been around a while but it was still black and white and though color sets existed they were out of the reach of most people.  We had three channels to choose from NBC, CBS, and ABC.  Eventually, we would have PBS and three UHF Channels for my area they were channels 17, 29, 48.  It was on these channels that the reruns of shows that had gone off the air would play as well as a plethora of old movies.  That was it and I don’t think all of that was established until I was at least 6 or 7.

So what did that mean?  It meant that we had to wait.  There were no streaming shows when we wanted to see them.  There was getting hold of the newspapers TV listings and scanning what was on that week to plan what you were going to watch.  And if you missed it that was too bad.  Never was this more true than at Christmas.

I was the youngest of four children and at Christmas time I became the ruler of the TV set, or at least my family let me think I was.  I was born just as the great Christmas shows were being made for the first time.  I was three When Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer first went up against the Abominable Snowman.  Mr. Magoo had already captured the world with his version of A Christmas Carol and so many were to come.  A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty The Snowman, The Year Without A Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Little Drummer Boy, and so many others.  I would grab The Sunday TV supplement every week, as soon as I learned to read, scanning for these yearly events and hoping my family didn’t have to go out the night they were aired.  If we did, it would be a whole year before I could see them again.  I was pretty lucky.  I don’t think I missed any of them except Rudolph once when I was in the hospital with an eye injury.

Anticipation, which ultimately is the theme of Advent, was in the heart of every kid I grew up with.  Not anticipation for spiritual things, that comes with growth and maturity, but anticipation for the fun and joyful things of Christmas.  In some ways, it was good practice for when we grew up and awaited Christmas for its true meaning.

But we didn’t wait just for kids’ shows.  There were other more adult shows that we waited for.  Bing Crosby’s yearly Christmas show, the same for Bob Hope, Andy Williams, and the now almost forgotten King Family.  The whole family gathered around the set for these treats presented to us by the three networks.

Then there was that special night.  My brother Vince would usually spot it first in the TV listings.  The night the movie White Christmas would air.  White Christmas was not a kids movie, it is a full musical that kids can be charmed by but also can be loved by parents.  So every year until the family began to go our separate ways all six of us sat around that TV and watched this beautiful movie unfurl.  That time will never come again but it is sweet to remember.

The family watching White Christmas led me to even more Christmas movies.  Things that were being shown but the rest of my family had little interest in.  Movies such as Holiday Inn and Meet Me in St Louis soon became more yearly favorites.  When a new version of Miracle on 34th Street was shown starring Sebastion Cabot and David Hartman I was hooked and wanted to see the original.  I had never heard of It’s A Wonderful Life until Marlo Thomas remade the film switching the gender roles and calling it, It Happened One Chrismas.  Eventually, these made-for-TV movies made me want to back to view the original and they all became favorites. I directed a stage version of It’s a Wonderful Life in 2000 it remains a lovely memory.

Still, we had to wait every year for these treats.  Watching television was not the only thing that made Christmas special.  I remember going out every year to find the perfect Christmas tree.  At first, it was in local lots where people were selling freshly cut trees, as we grew older my family began to drive out to Christmas tree farms where we would cut down our trees.  By then my brother and sisters were married and it was a caravan that would go to these places.  Stopping at Burger King for a quick lunch and then coming home to hot turkey rice soup and meatball sandwiches that mom had warming in crockpots while we were away.

Then there was the tree decorating.  No one was more of a perfectionist than my father when it came to how the tree looked.  It had to be straight as an arrow before one light or ornament could be placed on the branches.  And the lights, this was still back in the time when if one light had blown none of the lights would come on.  You then had to spend as much time as it took to find the dead bulb.  There were more Christmases with dead bulbs than without.

After that, we kids generally took over looking for our favorite ornaments to hang on the tree.  We had a nice variety of the delicate glass balls, homemade ornaments that my brother had done, and some store-bought figures.  My favorites were Santa’s eight reindeer with Rudolph in the lead.  Those needed to be spaced nicely so it looked as if they were flying around the tree.  My family were tinsel people and my dad again took charge of that,  Tinsel had to be placed delicately on the tree almost one strand at a time.  It took forever. when I learned about garland and you only had to drape it around the tree, I thought I had been given the Holy Grail of Christmas.

Christmas was family time, but not just our immediate family.  I had cousins and aunts and uncles and second and third cousins and we all got together on Christmas night, not just once but three times.  My father had two sisters, My Aunt Mary and my Aunt Dolores.  My grandmother, my father’s mother (My grandfather had died before I was born) would alternate  between her three children where she would go on Christmas day for dinner.  Where ever she was the whole family would descend on that house for dessert first.  After that, we went to the two other houses for dessert making it a three dessert holiday.  Actually, it was four desserts as we had dessert with dinner too.  We kids had a blast because there were still gifts to be received at each of the Aunt’s houses.  I liked going to my Aunt Mary’s and Uncle Steve’s best.  She had a wonderful bakery at the top of her street and she always had mini Danish and coconut cream pie which was my favorite.  I got it once a year as mom never made it. That is not to say Aunt Dolores didn’t outdo herself. At her house, there would be delicious stromboli and Christmas punch made with soda, juice, and a tub of sherbert.

Aunt Mary and Uncle Steve had another wonderful tradition that fascinated all the kids and most of the adults. In their basement, there was an enormous train display. It had mountains and tunnels and trees and all sorts of things to delight the mind of a child. I don’t know where the tradition originated and who was most responsible, my Uncle Steve or his eldest son Steven or if it was a yearly team effort. I do know that Steven kept up the tradition as best as possible in his own home. Trains weere a big part of Christmas. At our house there would occasionally be a set wrapped around the bottom of the tree. But nothing I have ever seen compared to that wonderful set in my aunt and uncle’s basement.

Christmas eve was a day of preparation, as a little kid I remember going to midnight Mass with my whole family.  The Mass was said in Latin up until 1966 so I understood very little of it.  It was, however, still beautiful to me.  There was a solemness in the church that I could feel but also great joy and anticipation.  In those days our church had the whole town of Bethlehem laid out in a special display, I remember filing past this to catch a glimpse of the tiny baby in his manger.  I couldn’t wait for that moment.  At that moment I knew Christmas had come.

I had been to see Santa and I made sure, one way or another a letter got written to him.  In those early days, my family had a custom of meeting my dad in Center City Philadelphia for dinner and to see the amazing light show at Wanamaker’s a prestigious, though now gone, department store.  We would take the train in town and meet Dad at the station, we would then proceed to a restaurant called The Pub and then on to Wanamakers.  The light show was amazing and if I was lucky I could sit on the eagle statue’s base, which was in the middle of the hall.  I am happy to say that Macy’s bought the Wanamaker’s building and keeps the light show going every year.

After the light show, it was on to Santa’s village for the walkthrough display of animated dolls in Christmas scenes, and at the end of the village was the man himself waiting to hear about my list of toys and questioning my behavior of the previous year.  Like I would ever tell him I had misbehaved.

There was still a last treat for the littlest of children.  Between the ages of maybe 3 and 10, you could ride the in-store monorail.  This monorail took you all around the toy department and let you see from above all the things you could wish for.  It was exciting because it was a ride that, after I was 5 years old, I could go alone.  I think that was the first thing I could ever do for myself.  I don’t think there was anything like it in any other store in the country.

Christmas morning came early, even if we did go to Midnight Mass.  Little kids don’t need a lot of sleep and I’m pretty sure I was the first one awake.  I shared a room with my brother Vince who was seven years older than me.  He was the second one to be awake on those mornings. 

I don’t remember eating breakfast on Christmas morning at all.  I do remember piles of gifts for all four of us under a lovely tree.  My parents were generous to us, for me, in the name of Santa.  Not everything was there but there was never a reason to feel disappointed.  There was enough to keep you very happy.

There wasn’t much time to play with my new treasures.  Shortly after we opened the gifts and got ready for the day we got whisked off to my other grandmother’s house for another round of gift-giving and receiving.  Sometimes my grandfather, who was a chef, would make apple dumplings with warm vanilla sauce and the sugar rush would begin.

And there was a sugar rush all day long.  My mother was a wonderful baker and so all kinds of cookies were made and decorated.  There were sugar cookies in Christmas shapes and raisin filler cookies that looked like little round ravioli, then there were butter cookies also pressed out into festive shapes and of course chocolate chip.  And it wouldn’t be Christmas if my mother didn’t spend hours making the Italian Pizzelle.

At dinner, which would always be a turkey (In the early years my grandfather, my mother’s step-father, would cook the bird, but as he got older my mother took over) we also enjoyed mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce from a can, until I learned how to make it myself, green beans, apple, and pumpkin pie and then, what we now call, a Jewish apple cake.  Back then it was a German apple cake.  I don’t know why.  The reason for the cake was that December the 25th was not only Jesus’ birthday but also my father’s and my mom did the best she could to separate the two.  After dinner, we sang Happy Birthday and gave him his gifts.  It was a shame that he had to do it all in one day but he took in stride and never complained.

In later years my sister’s Trish’s husband would be included in the ranks as he was born not on Christmas day but very close.  Mom would always get him a large chocolate chip pan cookie with Happy Birthday written on it from the local bakery.  A lot went on in the Roberto house at Christmas.  For the kids it was a lot of fun, for the adults I think, it was mostly exhausting.

I think the most important thing in my Christmas memories is that from a very early age I knew what Christmas was all about.  I didn’t need Linus to explain the Gospel story to me, I knew it and saw played out in church every year and every Sunday.  At an early age, I connected Christmas to Easter and in the third grade, I wrote a poem about the child who waited for death so near.  Even as a babe Jesus was both fully man and fully God.  This is the mystery of the incarnation, how God worked it all out I will never know.  I only know he did and because of Christmas and Easter, we have freedom from our slavery to sin and great joy in knowing that there is a reward waiting for us after death.

Christmas has come under scrutiny now and many want to dismiss the day.  Some folks only see the non-Christian side and just decorate trees and wait for Santa without knowing what is behind these symbols of the season.  This is very sad because these symbols, the tree, the holly, the wreath, Santa, the TV shows and big screen movies and everything else is pointing directly at Jesus.  But it is as the saying goes, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”  If you are interested in the great traditions of Christmas may I point you to the books by Ace Collns.  He has done his research well and in three volumes captures just about everything you’d want to know about the holiday.

What are your Christmas memories?  I’d love to hear about them.  Please leave them in the comment section so everyone can share your joy in the season.

Moving Day

This weekend began and ended the short journey from Secane where I’ve lived most of my life to Swarthmore.  To be upfront I know moving is hard but it should have never been like this.

It started badly from the very beginning.  My friend Bill arrived on time to help me at 8 a.m. the same time the movers were to arrive.  The movers did not show up until 10:30 they were two and a half hours late.  But wait let’s backtrack.

The trouble started with the initial phone call.  I  was hiring this moving company, one I had used before, both to move me and pack for me.  The main area of packing was to be my books.  I told the person doing the intake what I had to move and I specifically stated that I had seven bookshelves filled with books.  When the packers arrived they had nowhere near the number of boxes they needed for my books.  They called for more but it took about forty-five minutes for those boxes to arrive.  In the meantime, they put my books in boxes too large for them.  More on that later.

Bill, who was devoting his day to me, only had until 4 p.m. to help me.  It was generous of him to give me eight hours.  With the movers being two and a half hours late that made the time that really needed him on the sight of my new home that much shorter.  The loading of the ruck was uneventful it was the unloading that there were major issues.

My feet and my legs are very weak.  And quickly became painful when I am standing or sitting up.  Right now, my left foot which was injured in April is throbbing as I write.  This meant I knew I had to be very specific with the boxes as they were packed so that they would end up in the room they were destined for.  So every box was labeled accordingly.  I planned to sit near the door have the movers read me what was on the boxes and then let them be placed in the right rooms.  I even labeled the books as to which shelf they were to go.  This should have been easy and clean cut.  It became chaos.

The movers were bringing four boxes in at a time.  They barely read the boxes and when they did only the box that was on top.  Some boxes that were clearly marked, they asked “where does this box marked bathroom go?”  I told them which bathroom to put it in but it ended up in the far corner of the office.

At one point I noticed a gouge in a triangular shape outside the apartment door, in the wall that had just been freshly painted.  I asked the mover if he did that and he admitted it to me.  I then asked if he was going to report it and he said he would when they checked out at the end.  I was there when they called the supervisor and the damage was not reported.  I knew I was going to have to report it myself

Bill was doing all he could to help me.  But he ended up helping them by running up and down five flights of stairs with some of the lighter things.  It was during this time that he notices something strange.  One of the movers kept disappearing.  I thought the guy was unloading the truck but it seems that was not the case.  More on this later.

Between the bedroom and office furniture as well as the boxes I became more and more confused.  The one thing I did get out was where to place my bed and dresser.  I was in the room when the dresser was placed, I was not there when the bed was placed.  I had shown the mover where the bed was to go and it was made doubly clear by where the nightstand and lamp were placed.  When I finally got the chance to look in the bedroom the bed was in the wrong spot.  Not at all being able to move the bed I had to move the nightstand and find a way to power the lamp as there are no outlets on that wall.

I felt things were moving awfully slow.  I blamed it on the elevator.  It took less than two hours to pack the truck and four and half hours to unpack it.  Bill, as I said earlier, had to leave at four but he felt bad going.  I started to tear up.  Towards five o’clock I heard an argument between the two movers taking place outside the apartment in the hallway.  The one was telling the other that he had to stop and pray.  The other one said that he shouldn’t stop now as there was still a lot to do.  The first one said that it was past dusk and he had to stop.  The other guy came into my apartment and I asked what was going and he said, “that the guy had gone to pray and it had been happening throughout the day.  That explained the disappearances.

Eventually, it ended and I was left alone.  I first went and looked in the office and almost every box was packed in the office.  I couldn’t move any of them.  Then I looked in the bedroom and saw the bed in the wrong place.  Then I looked at the box in the bathroom, which I thought was the bathroom box it turned out to be a box of linen.  It was then that I lost it.  I called my sister and was talking to my brother in law, I started to cry uncontrollably because I couldn’t do a thing by myself to straighten the mess out.  My sister and brother-in-law live in Tennessee and he couldn’t help me.  In my mind, there was no one to help me.  I couldn’t begin to figure a way out of this mess.  I sobbed hard tears and cried out to God to send someone to help.  Then as God does on occasion I heard a still small voice say, “call Rob.”

Now Rob had been my wingman on packing day making sure the boxes got labeled correctly in one room while I was in another.  Rob is the leader of the Christian men’s fellowship that I was an active member of before Covid.  I hadn’t been back to the group but Rob and I stayed in touch.

It was a short call.  Rob said he would round up a couple of guys from the group and they would be over the next night.  Then the still small voice came again and said, “Call John.”  My cousin John had given me the past three Tuesday mornings to help me move in.  He was great to me and had told me if I need him again to just call.  So I did.  John promised he would come over on Monday morning.

From then on I just did what I could.  Which wasn’t much.  When I woke up the next morning I was determined to go to church but realized the bathroom supplies were in no box that I could even see.  So I had no soap or shampoo or toothpaste.  Somehow my little men’s traveling shaving kit was where I could get to it.  I had my razer, a toothbrush, and a travel-size bottle of Pert, so I made do.  I shaved, brushed my teeth with no toothpaste, and washed my hair and my body with Pert Shampoo and Conditioner, in the long run, soap of any kind is still soap.

I went to church, unpacked some small boxes that I could handle, and at 5:00 Jerry, one of the first men to come from the men’s fellowship, arrived.  He quickly got to work by tackling the wardrobe boxes.  These were four huge boxes filled with my clothes and coats.  They had been placed in front of my closet so I thought I could empty them myself but they were all placed backward with the side that you open the box on facing my windows.  These boxes have a rack inside of them.  Had they been facing the right direction, I would have opened a panel on the box and taken the clothes, still on their hangers, and placed them in the closet.  It should have been easy but I couldn’t swing the box around.  I tried opening one box on the opposite side and the whole rack collapsed.  I couldn’t pick the clothes up at all.  Jerry, moving like the wind, had all four boxes unpacked and all the clothes in the right closets in half an hour.

At 5:30 Rob and Travis, my other volunteer arrived.  Quickly the three of them had all the boxes in the right rooms.  It was at the ned that I found my bathroom box in the far corner of the room sitting all alone.  I thought that was going to be it.  I was wrong.  Though Jerry had to leave, Travis and Rob stayed and they unpacked and filled 5 of the seven bookcases.  I struggled not to cry at the ned.  These men gave me their time and their energy.  They were good company too talking while they worked and I directed.  They were happy to help.  It was a blessing given to me by them through the grace of God.

I felt like a tone of weight was off my shoulders.  Because the boxes were in the right places I stayed up until two a.m. emptying boxes and putting stuff away.  6 a.m. I was shocked when my alarm went off but I knew John was coming and I shook off the cobwebs.  At 8:30 John and much to my surprise and delight, his brother Nick showed up.  They made quick work of the rest of the books and helped me with some other stuff.  Again another blessing.  When John and Nick left I had a home.  There were still boxes to unpack and stuff to put away and pictures to be hung but that could be done over time.

I got a call that day from the moving company asking for an evaluation of how things went.  I held back nothing. The information I relayed was sent up the chain and I got a call today from an administrative person.  He listened to the whole story and told me that he would get in touch with the building about the wall repair and I would hear back from him later today about what they would do for me.  So far I have heard nothing and the workday is winding down.  I fear I will be disappointed again.

I have been told that moving is one of the most stressful things anyone ever does.  I never felt that way before but that turned out to be true this time.  However, every black cloud has a silver lining and my silver lining is all the people who reached out to help me, the people who took time to listen to me and to support me emotionally.  These people are the stars of this show.  It is my prayer that God blesses all of those who helped me and it is also my prayer that each of you, when you hit any snag in life, that there will be good people around to help you. Jesus said, “What you did for the least of these you did for me.”

It’s Not Where You Start…

It’s Not Where You Start It’s Where You Finish is not only the title of a great song it perfectly describes my life now.

It has been a crazy week.  Getting ready to move has many of its problems, but throw in a holiday and a Covid scare and you get quite the mess.

Last weekend I got a call from someone I had been hanging out with the previous Saturday that they had tested positive for Covid.  It would be a far stretch that I would have caught it from this person but the possibility was there so I went and bought a home Covid test.

Have you done a home test for Covid?  My understanding is that the home test for negatives ranges in the accuracy of the high 90s.  It seems they are less accurate for positive results.  The procedure for self-testing is a little hard.  There is a card that has to remain flat on the table the whole time.  Then you put 6 drops of reagent in a hole in the card.  Then with a long cotton swab, you swab out both your nostrils for 15 seconds each.  Then you slip the swab into a lower hole pushing it into the hole that has the reagent.  You then close the card and seal it and wait 15 minutes.  If a line appears in the lower half of the window of the card you are positive.  If it remains clear you are negative.  That’s it.  The kit comes with two tests.  I did them both and both came back negative. YEA!

Because Thanksgiving came less than ten days from my exposure it was prudent to stay home for the holiday.  There is no point in risking other people’s health until you are sure you’re not carrying.  At ten days out I took the second test and confirmed being clean.  Yea for modern science.

I don’t recommend spending Thanksgiving alone.  I wasn’t all alone, my housemate and I had breakfast together and I tried to make it festive.  We had fried eggs, Taylor Pork Roll, Buttered Toast, and Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls.  It was nice.  I wouldn’t see my housemate for dinner as she was working.  It was the last holiday we will spend together as housemates as my move has arrived.  I ordered Thanksgiving Dinner from a local diner and enjoyed it.  It’s not the same eating by yourself but the tastes were there and I had memories of Thanksgiving’s past and there will be more to come.

Friday it was time to organize as much as I could.  I have two rooms in the house that I live in now, an office and a bedroom.  I can cram a lot in a small space and it all had to be packed.  Statues and pictures and toys and ceramics and all other kinds of stuff went into box after box. 

Cleaning out the two closets were particularly interesting as I found stuff I thought I had lost buried under piles of other things.  Looking back it became a bit of a treasure hunt as both closets contained some wonderful items long-buried but now coming back into play.  I was Indiana Jones in my own house.

Right now the living room is filled with packed boxes waiting for Saturday when the movers come.  But that’s not all.

On Friday the movers will come and finish my packing.  Because of my disability what I could do the last time I moved I cannot do now.  My legs are in pain a lot and so are my feet.  I have an extensive library and the last time I moved I brought all the books and all the shelves over to the house myself.  I can’t do that now.  It’s just not possible, so the movers will come on Friday and pack the books up and my clothes, another item I moved in the past, and my large electronic devices.  They will be in charge of safely packing my stuff and then moving it the next day.

One of the things that this move has forced me to realize is my limitations.  I’m heading for 61 years old and my body doesn’t work like it used to.  Some things need to be changed, things that are in my power, and I intend to make those changes.  Still, there are other things that I have no control over like severe arthritis in my knees and feet and the neuropathy in my legs.  These are things whose influence will lesson as I take off weight but they will still be a part of me.  The pain will lessen but will not go away completely.  If I can get enough weight off my knees will be replaced and that will make some difference in my life.

I think the thing to keep in mind here is not that I have all these issues but that all the obstacles the issues have presented can be overcome.  With the help of family and friends, a very difficult move is made so much easier.  My niece and her husband were a tremendous help.  Yesterday my housemate, Lorraine, helped me clear out the bedroom closet. My legs being what they are I could not have done it without her help. My cousin John has come over every Tuesday and carted stuff over to the apartment for the last three weeks and is happy to help more if I need it.  My friends Rob and Gary have supplied boxes and support and Rob will be my wingman on Friday watching the guys as they pack and making sure the boxes are labeled correctly.  My sisters have also been a big help.  Even from Tennessee my sister Susan and her husband Kirk have given me encouragement and solid advice.  My sister Trish has helped with all the financial details and the stuff I didn’t know anything about as I never signed a lease before. My friend Manny has always been there for me for more than forty years. Though we are separated by miles he has been my greatest encouragement. A true Barnabus. A name meaning “Son of encouragement”   Lastly, my friend Bill has given me his whole Saturday to help me unpack and settle in. I’m very grateful to those I’ve mentioned as well as those I haven’t.

Moving is a great adventure and as the song says, it’s not where you start it’s where you finish and I’m going to finish on top.