I Believe

Alan Stark wrote I Believe.

On page 128, Stark wrote:
“I believe the definition of a friend is someone you call when you have really great news or really sad news.”

On page 111, Stark wrote: “I believe couples should hold hands at least three minutes every day.”

On page 156, Stark wrote: “I believe that memories are treasures worth more than gold.”

Three is that good number, the one that can mesh the unrelated and find a new truth. So I have an addendum to Alan’s beliefs, my big three for today.

I check myself off the definition of a friend. Today has been one of the saddest days of the last 11 months. There is no one I will phone to share the sadness. There is no one with whom I have that kind of comfort. There is no one to whom I could even begin that conversation, share that deep and penetrating loss.

Holding hands is vital, an intimacy to be cherished. Going out alone today, I did a virtual hand holding via four area wide garage sale events. Bob loved them. We trudged up the driveways as he searched for his bargain of the day and until he was too worn to continue. I bought three things just so the experience would be true, a book, a light switch, a leather purse. Three dollars ventured and a memory gained.

That brings me to those memories worth more than gold. My brain is odd. My memories are rarely specific in detail but definitely specific in feelings. Bob and I had two love stories, one in youth and the second in middle age and onto his last years. Between those chapters, I had another love story with a good man, the father of my children.

Today is not really an empty day. It is a day of far too many memories, far too much emotion, far too heavy with a sadness I cannot shake. I feel ashamed, weak, to be as I am today. Wonder why the amazing goodness that is so much a part of my life cannot handle the overflow of memories?

I believe that time as healer is a ruse. What really happens is that we get really good at covering over, pretending and doing make-believe. Today is my birthday and I want what I cannot have. I miss him.


Moving On, Leaving Behind

A Ramble–nothing more than a ramble to no where…

The self gets blurred, like that image in a store front window, recognizable but rubbery. Our edges are not defined any more, distorted by circumstance. We concentrate. We force our eyes to see, but only the beveled edge of the mirror reflects.

Life mapped, goals decided, timetables set. Head down, emotion on hold, we plow through holding to clear and defined self-promises. Something happens; medical diagnosis, financial hardship, a deeply altered relationship, a forced change, a death. So we wonder at the reflection of this gritty thing we see, this new person invading uninvited.

The worst part is that decisions have to be made, not by who we once thought we were, but by this acquaintance we have become. Nothing unique about this–millions of daily multiples, probably the truest normal. Still, it feels like an unattainable balance, this moving on, leaving behind.

This house has to be part of moving on, a change that refuses to be gentle but one that I know, sooner rather than later, must happen. I will replace can’t with must and find an easier place to live. Then, again, if I drag my feet long enough, dig in deep enough, concentrate on finding what isn’t in this current state of now, I just might find some chrysalis-butterfly-thing waiting. Maybe.

A Little Boy, 1983 (CCR)

A current lawsuit names Monsignor O’Brien as perpetrator of sexual crimes against children, against little boys trapped in O’Brien’s mantel of holy man, man of god, stand-in for Jesus. O’Brien started as Father O’Brien later promoted by his superiors for service to the church.

The lawsuit charges that a little boy, a young teen, could no longer live with the pain inflicted by O’Brien. A boy, probably in puberty, a faithful and believing member serving Mass, abused by a man honored by the church. This little boy could no longer tolerate, the pain. He gave his life away rather than live with what a representative of Jesus did to the boy.

This is the weekend during which we remember and honor the victims of 9-11 who died by an act of terrorism committed in the name of a religion.

May I suggest, Gentle Reader, that we honor the victims of a another kind of terrorism–the horror heaped on child victims sexually and physically terrorized by holy men of god.

A Little Boy, 1983

Private, Inescapable, Ubiquitous

Grief. Sorrow. Sadness. Loss.
Every life tastes the bitter; serious health threats, death, loss, feeling trapped by circumstance.

Every life stumbles on the communication that might heal with understanding. Every life must find the safest way to dismantle anger.

One of the worst days is the day when awareness folds down, enveloping the belief that wholeness can ever happen, the belief that time has any power to heal. The trap suffocates.

Grief festers contaminated, cluttered with wrong assumptions, with feeling ripped raw, with a loneliness that diminishes light, leaves physical and emotional exhaustion.

Experience allows no deception–people don’t like tears. Some dismiss the need for memories, discount the search for the comfort of answers when there are none. Friends hurry past tossing out a caring pretense, choosing to ignore, wondering at the weakness that takes so long to heal. They tire of the unraveling. They tire quickly.

Those who might have shared worship question the depth of sorrow and loneliness. Some want to patch with platitude and scoff at sorrow that reduces platitudes to emptiness.

A few professional mourners constantly play one-up-man-ship, as in “My life’s sadder than your life…let me pour it out”. Their lives scorched, locked on hold, never able to give.

Getting over grief is not the point, not even a possibility.

Getting though grief is the only way round, the only way to understanding. Time cannot be the measure. Touchstones are the measure.

Touchstones, many so brief that the power comes later, are the only measure.

Sons are a Touchstone, phoning when there is little to say but much to communicate…checking in, making contact, holding a long distance hand. Sons who come to work, and stay to comfort. Sons who tiptoe away from judgment yet always respond to any request. Sons are responsible for most of the good days.

Grandchildren who smile, who comfort with their youth, who let me love them as they are, stand firm as Touchstones.

There are friends who do not let you down. Old friends who offer a rare Thursday off to do whatever, who give perfect gifts of time and thoughtfulness are Touchstones. Friends who understand depression and know when to step in and when to stay on hold are Touchstones. Friends who phone or email, so the thread is unbroken, are Touchstones. Friends who share exclusive time and attention are a rare gift in a multi-tasking world.

Neighbors who mean every nuance of “Let me know if there is anything we can do” are Touchstones.

Healing, surviving, is a private process and becoming one’s personal Touchstone is required. Be easy. Offer the care you need, for body, emotional and spiritual. You are the only one capable of doing it exactly right. You are the one person who understands. Ask for what you need. Give way your anger and helplessness. Find your Touchstones.


A Love Story

Seven months and seven days of  living with a new love, a newly discovered man of depth and richness.  The discovery, layered in moments of that breathless ache, threatened to consume.

When a partner is unwell the shared days and nights become lessons in management, in make-do, in setting priorities, in hiding truth.  Things like house and property upkeep silently slip to the bottom of the list.  Promises to clear out the accumulations of a life time are forgotten.

No more excuses.  The time was mine and I set an auction date, clueless as to what was ahead. Manic with energy  to mask the grief, my mission was clean up, clear out, match the emptiness.

Here, in the clutter of bags and boxes, some dating to 1972, was this man–this man rich in talents and diverse interests.

Dog tags from his time in The United States Army, trophies won for cribbage and dominoes, pilot licenses both private and commercial, helicopter and plane,  log books teaching others to fly, mounds of hand drawn schematics, books to identify birds, wild animals, plants, hunting, fishing, tying flies, building fly rods, wood carving, tools designed and created to match a need, mementos of his friendship with Jack and Russ.  The collection of Heritage House books brought a memory of how he held a book,  any book,  with a kind of reverence.

In a chapter of our personal once upon a time, we made beer and wine.  His records were meticulous right down to the important detail of how long the brew lasted–the truest measure of quality.  Next to that box, I found his collection of daily missals and his letter sweater dating back to Bishop Ward High School days.  Family pictures were in every drawer tucked where he kept reminders.

And then there were the things he collected simply because they were beautiful.  Glassware, pottery, tools, pictures, antiques— all holding the magic of  what came before.

The list of discoveries is a rediscovery of a man I had lost in the passage through  health issues.  Deterioration pushed from all sides.   How very sorry and ashamed I am for letting that man slip away from me, for not always remembering and honoring all that he was.

Robert N. Antonopoulos, 1935 – 2010    I love you.

By Association (CCR)

The Leaven is the diocesan publication led by Archbishop Joseph R. Naumann.  The May 20, 2011 issue had Naumann’s article reprinting and commenting on a March 18 blog by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.  Dolan is the president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Thought I have met Archbishop Naumann numerous times, it is always the first introduction for him.  I am simply an entity to whom he nods and moves on so I claim no personal connection nor conversation with Naumann.  He is a busy man and I am another face in the current  crowd.

Archbishop Dolan’s blog retells his encounter with an outraged and courageous man, a baptized Catholic, who took advantage of the symbolic collar to confront the sexual abuse.  The man was not accusing Dolan of abuse but was expressing his contempt for the abuse scandal and the cover-up by the church.  In the second paragraph of Dolan’s blog he says, “..left me so shaken I was near nausea”.


It is good that Dolan was near nausea as are many of us each time we read another recounting of a priest physically and/or sexually abusing a child.  The nausea often gives way to vomit when we further read of Bishops and Archbishops covering for the pedophile.

And the victims?  If only they could vomit away the fire-brand scorching their being as they “…staggered with shame and anger from the damage of the wound…inflicted…”.   (Page 2 Column 1, May 20, 2011, The Leaven)

Memory preserved in stress is often skewed.  Fight or flight alters perception of a very public situation.  Dolan’s reaction was “What to respond?  Yell at him?  Cuss him out?  Apologize?  Deck him?…I staggered with shame from the damage of the wound he had inflicted with those stinging words.”   Flight or flight.

One of the surest and most effective techniques in advertising is the use of the expert, the famous person, the cultural icon as association to the product.  Spread the affirmations and heighten the acceptance.

Upside down displays that ugly underbelly concept.  Guilt shared is guilt diminished.  Teachers, Scout leaders, family members abuse, so abusing priest have companions thereby sharing the guilt.   Searching from earliest memory I have no recollection of confessional moments when a priest asked me if anyone else forgot morning prayer or took an extra cinnamon square from the confectionery on the corner.

In the third column of Archbishop Dolan’s blog, the The Leaven reprints the following:

“Notwithstanding the happy ending, I was still trembling…and almost felt like I needed an exorcism to expel my shattered soul, as I had to confront again the horror this whole mess has been to victims and their families, our Catholic people like the man I had just met…and to us priests.”

Dolan calls the ending ‘happy’ because the Denver airport scene ended with a handshake and a joke about exorcism.  Dolan’s words place the horror …to victims, families, Catholic people and priests…in the same bundle.  With all due respect,  Archbishop, you and your priests only stand at the edge of the hell lived by victims.  You only smell the smoke of the cover-up while much of the church is consumed by that stench.

Archbishop Naumann’s ending comments include a request for prayer for priests “…that we might strive to be shepherd after the heart of Jesus Christ.  Pray that we have the courage and generosity to lay down our lives in love for the good of the people we are privileged to serve.”

The Jesus Philosophy is a thing of richness of spirit while dressed in physical poverty.  The story goes that the man, Jesus, did lay down his life for the good people.  He was laid down in blood and pain, stripped of the meager garment and rope sandals.

Perhaps the good people, the people clinging to hope in their Catholicism, don’t want the death of their priests as evidence of service.  Perhaps  being “troubled”  (Bishop Finn/Ratigan/Troubled? The Bishop Is Troubled? ) isn’t enough.  Perhaps excuses and justifications by associations are bogus enough to be left with the other baggage.

Perhaps privilege to serve demands opening the doors wide enough for good people to be privy to  records, to documentation, to  resources, to  information, to every incident of cover-up.  Perhaps the good people served do not want the death of their priests but rather want their priests to live the life of  the Jesus Philosophy.

Archbishop Naumann concludes:  “Pray for our priests that they not grow weary or discouraged despite the challenges of their ministry.”

How odd.  Once again, the focus is directed towards the priests–their weariness, their challenges, their discouragement.  How very odd.


An unintentional hiatus but a hiatus just the same…

You are an amazing group, Gentle Readers.  Some of you, noticing the dearth of blogs, have contacted me asking the why of the dry spell.  I appreciate you more than I have words to express that appreciation.

My calendar has little respect for anything but the passage of time so that cluttered life-map cannot be excuse or  reason.

Some rearranging of family schedules has encroached on my version of disciplined writing, but adjustment should never be that difficult.  Union Station on the occasional Thursday rather than the standard Friday visit is simply a tweak that will eventually be realigned.  (Hi, De.)

Taking on a few extra commitments isn’t overwhelming, though some have been more time-consuming than expected.  In addition, I have spent hours writing two short stories depicting life changing events.  The stories processed important pieces of my history and I value the time and thought spent writing them.

Stutter steps while learning to handle the chores of this place should be just that–stutter steps–and nothing more.  Still, I continue to stutter.

The litany could get longer, but the point isn’t that chiseled and truly doesn’t matter.  My mind has gone underground, sort of like the moles building a city under the top soil of my yard.  Some of me has disappeared.

Hiatus is a brief stoppage, a thing to end on schedule.  I will find what is missing and look forward to tomorrow.