Random Thoughts

Sometimes I have no idea what to write about in this space.  Most of the time an idea strikes me when I sit down and see the blank sheet of paper on my computer screen. Today I had a hundred thoughts but none of them would make a good blog on their own so here are one or two that I thought you may find interesting.

First The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power starts next week on Amazon Prime. If you are a Tolkien fan you have been aware of this and you are either anticipating the show with joy or dread. What amazes me is the number of people who have decided to give a negative opinion on a show they haven’t seen.  The show is based on the side stories that are told in The Lord of The Rings and its appendices. There is a lot of good material there and The Tolkien Estate and Trust are involved in the production. I think we are in for a treat. I will never understand how anyone can be judge and jury on something that no one has seen.

I also read this week that schools in Florida are beginning to ban books.  Banning books in any place is very frightening to me. This is behavior that occurred under Hitler in Germany. The government of Florida is not allowing the public to consume what our free press is producing. Now the first I read of this there was a list of books attached.  That list was revealed to be bogus. The correction was down to two known books The Diary of Anne Frank and The Bible. Banning either of these books from schools is just stupid. Most of our laws are based on Biblical principles. The Bible has played an important role in U.S. history and students should have access to it for that reason alone. The Diary of Ann Frank seems to be the desire to forget what happened to the Jewish people under Hitler. It used to be required reading and now it’s being banned. Something is dreadfully wrong here. I know it’s only in Florida at the moment but how long until this spreads to other states?

I also want to take a moment and discuss something that gets little press but is slowly becoming a national issue with both men and women and that is porn addiction. Porn addiction or sex addiction or as it is referred to clinically Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder is now something that is being taken very seriously by the medical and psychological community. Globally the porn industry takes in 97 billion dollars a year. This is an industry that everyone says they never look at but let’s face it more people do than don’t. Pornography is addictive because when you orgasm the same areas of the brain get stimulated as when a person uses heroin. Some people can use small amounts of heroin and not get addicted. Sex is the same. You can have a healthy sex life and not be an addict. Sex, however, when used inappropriately can lead to addiction and its consequences can be just as severe as abusing drugs or alcohol. The sex addict opens him or herself up to danger when they participate in anonymous encounters.  There is always the threat of venereal disease or AIDS. For those who use pornographic material the law of diminishing return applies.

The pornographic industry is very smart when it comes to marketing its product. You can go on the internet and get almost anything you want to see at no cost. The problem sets in when the free stuff fails to satisfy in the same way. At this point, you begin to look for something a bit more graphic or exotic, you may still find some for free but slowly it will become less and less and then you begin to pay. Once hooked on the paid sites people begin to spend more and more money sometimes up to six or seven dollars a minute to get what they crave. The industry has you hooked and an addict is born. This is the law of diminishing return and it works the same way with drugs and alcohol.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. For many people when pornography fails to satisfy they find themselves craving live encounters and employ male and female prostitutes. All of this can turn into hundreds and thousands of dollars a year for just one person. There is however hope for the addict.

Sexaholic Anonymous has been around for years recognizing the problem before the medical community did. Other groups have recently sprung up as well recognizing that this problem is more common than anyone wants to admit. The biggest problem and parents take heed, is the porn shop we have in our house.

In the year when I was growing up buying pornography was embarrassing. If you bought it at all, you went to a store that was nowhere near where you lived. You secreted it into your house and hid it from prying eyes. Now porn is available instantly on your phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop computers. Anyone and everyone is just a few clicks away from images they are better off not looking at. And this is both men and women.  According to the U.K.’s Daily Record, one in four women are admitting to using pornography. That’s 25% of the female population. Men’s usage is in larger numbers but women are moving up.

The reason I am bringing this to your attention is that these things need to be talked about. People need to know that there is help and that they are not alone in this battle. If you are caught in porn’s grip you are just as many clicks away from finding help on the internet as you are from finding your next hit.

Random thoughts. The things that run around in my head that need a voice. I’m sure you have thoughts about some of the things I wrote about today or maybe some thoughts about another topic all together feel free to leave your own ‘random thoughts” in the comments.

How Can I Help; The Philosophy of New Amsterdam

For the last four years, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the television show New Amsterdam.  New Amsterdam is a fictional hospital in NYC but it is based on the very real hospital Bellvue also in NYC. The show’s stories are interesting and compelling.  The scripts are well written and the cast of characters well defined.

In the first season and for the last four years the show centers around Dr. Max Goodwin. In the first episode, Max takes over as what I believe is now called The Chief Medical Officer in a hospital.  In other words, Max was running the show.  In the first three and half seasons, Max stays in this position until he marries Helen the head of the oncology department and they both move to London Helen’s original home.  Max is back now trying to get the hospital back from the evil woman who the board elected to take his place.  The culmination of that will take place tonight, Tuesday, May 10, 2022. 

In his first season, Max is constantly asking the same question whenever a problem arises.  That question is, “How can I help?”  That attitude begins to take over the whole hospital as you begin to see the main characters more and more, some subtly some overtly begin to take on the characteristic of caring for each other and the patients of the hospital.

Now you would think patient care would always be the top priority of all medical facilities.  Having worked in medicine for 30 years as a dialysis technician and a medical assistant.  I have seen the level of care for patients being eroded by government rules and paperwork.  Hands-on care by nurses is now relegated more and more to technicians who sometimes do not have the experience or the education to take on that care.  Mandatory 12 and 13-hour days made people exhausted by the end of their shift, and basically useless on their days off in between shifts because of sheer exhaustion.  Let me tell you no one asked, “How can I help?” We were all too tired just trying to keep up with our own work.  I know this because I left dialysis while working under these conditions.  But that is not the point of this blog.

What is the point?  The point is how better the world would be if, when we are told about another person’s problem our first response would be, how can I help?

We live in a world where the rugged individualist has become something to aspire to.  “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” or “Do you have to have someone hold your hand?” are both cliches that tell us we are all to be self-sufficient.  That we shouldn’t need anyone else and to quote Dolly Levi from The Matchmaker that we should “Thank God that no one else’s life is tangled up with ours.”  In The matchmaker, which became the musical Hello Dolly, Dolly learns that living that way is ultimately unhappy and the play and musical is her attempt, “to rejoin the human race.”

I think it’s time for us all to rejoin the human race.

People were never meant to live life on their own.  It’s a Bible fact that says two are better than one and that’s not about marriage it’s about life.  No one should have to or ever feel like they have to go it alone.  And yet many people do.  If this weren’t the case songs like Elinor Rigby or Alone Again Naturally, or Dust in the Wind, would never have become popular.  Let’s be honest those are basically songs to commit suicide to, and I’m willing to bet that some people have.

Suicide is another problem which I believe stems from the idea that everyone has to make it on their own.  Now, that is not the only reason.  There are many other reasons people commit suicide.  If you grow up being taught that this is the ideal way to live, making it on your own, then the minute you realize you cannot live this way you have to consider yourself a failure or feel less because you have to ask for help.  Can you imagine with me a world that instead of chiding you for not making it on your own, asks, “How can I help?”

It would be a friendlier world.  People would no longer be looking only at their own interests but also at the interests of all the other people in their lives.  Dickens makes this perfectly clear through the character of Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.  Marley was dead and in chains, eternally remorseful for all the times he “minded his own business,” and did not reach out a hand to those who suffer or are in need.  I call this part of Marley’s discussion with Scrooge, “Marley’s Lament.”

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”

“Life’s opportunities misused.”  Marley is not talking about opportunities to advance his career or to make more money.  He took advantage of all those opportunities and it led him to eternal torment.  Marley is referring to all the times he saw someone in need and walked away believing it was none of his business instead of asking, “How can I help?”

We are all, in many ways, self-centered these days.  First, it’s ourselves we look to and then our families.  After that, we may find time to help out a friend, but many of us don’t.  I’m thinking of myself as much as anyone else.

Today, for instance, I was just coming in from the doctor’s office, and a lady who I know just a little was coming in thru the other door.  I let her in so she wouldn’t have to scramble for her keys.  We said hello and I headed for the elevator.  While I was waiting she said a package had arrived that was supposed to help her with her TV reception.  She said she hoped she could figure out how to hook it up.  I responded that those devices are usually very easy to hook up and it should be no problem.  The elevator door was closing when I realized that she may have been actually asking for help.  I stopped the elevator door and said if you need any help come on up and get me.  I couldn’t just volunteer to come with her and set it up as I had to get out of the shoes I was wearing.  They help my feet but I can only wear them a little while each day.  I don’t have her phone number or apartment number so I can’t reach out and see if she needs help. I feel a bit bad for not saying outright, “how can I help?”

Most TV shows are entertaining very few are inspiring.  New Amsterdam is a show that I find both entertaining and inspiring.  It’s a rare breed of television show and I hope you all take some time to catch up with it.  It runs on Peacock and Hulu as well as NBC.  I don’t know where you can stream the whole series, although it may all be on Peacock.  I really encourage all of my readers to watch.

HEALTH UPDATE

I went to my Primary Care Doctor today and though he was pleased with me in general, the bottom line is I gained two pounds in the last month and lost none.  I wanted to avoid telling you this but when I began this journey I made a promise to keep you informed win or lose.

For me, I didn’t really lose this month.  Yes, I gained two pounds, but I gained those pounds while actively dealing with another health problem.  The stress of that problem influenced me to eat more than I was.  Previously I was never hungry at lunchtime, all of the sudden I was always hungry at lunchtime and I had only bad choices to eat.  And I ate them.  That health issue is now under control and I am back on the path I had been on.

That’s it for now.  Here’s my parting thought, if someone relates to you a problem they are going through, instead of offering advice first ask, How can I help?

The picture is the central cast of New Amesterdam from top left Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine) Head of Psychiatry, Dr. Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman) head of oncology, the big photo Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) Bottom left Dr. Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery) Head of The Emergency Room, and last Dr. Floyd Ryenolds (Jocko Sims) Head of Cardiac Surgery.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.”