Last Call

last call bell

Before I get to the heart of why I have decided to stop blogging I thought I’d write a few “odds-n-ends” that are on the top of my mind after a few weeks away. Forgive the randomness.

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It’s been over two months since we cut the cord to satellite television and I have zero regrets. I was worried that my two youngest children, addicts to all things Spongebob and Nick Jr., would protest the most. They rolled their eyes at PBS Kids cartoons or various movies I found on Netflix that, since they existed outside the realm of Cartoon Network, the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon or ABC Family, were obviously boring and uninteresting.

peepWhat a difference a few weeks makes. In a very short time they have forgotten all about Patrick Star, Mr. Krabs and the gang at Bikini Bottom. My daughter’s favorite is now Peep and the Big Wide World, and she and her brother love to watch Arthur both on Netflix and when it’s on PBS in the mornings or afternoons. They have become Jeff Corwin addicts and love to watch any and all nature programs we can locate, such as PBS’s Wild Kratts. We made it through the first Advent and Christmas in years without asking for an abundance of toys advertised on TV, and have branched out to watch a few shows that they would not have given the time of day to before. Off the top of my head I can recall (and recommend) a few of those rare things we used to call family movies. Below I’ve placed the links to a few of them and their trailers on YouTube.

True, we’ve watched a few stinkers, but I can only think of one or two. I recently decided to add Amazon Prime also. The costs of these two services and the HD over-the-air antenna I’ve put on my roof are equal to about nine weeks of my former satellite bill. The free time we’ve all freed up to read, talk and play are priceless. And I didn’t need to worry about boycotting A&E over Duck Dynasty, one way or the other.

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Is it safe to go back on to Facebook again? For over a week my screen has been filled with the bearded image of a guy who is not Jesus from a television show I’ve never watched. I have no desire to wade into that whole discussion. But I will say that it’s fascinating that so many got their knickers in a twist over A&E’s decision to suspend and then un-suspend Mr. Robertson. Would that a small percentage of them get just as fired up about the wholescale slaughter of Christians in the Holy Land. The burning of churches over Christmas. The continuing tragedy of human trafficking. Or Gitmo still being open. Or that we’re still waging war overseas. With drones. Without consent of Congress. That we are $17 trillion in debt.

Or that equal among the sins he mentioned were the greedy, those that slander their fellow human beings or those who cheat on their spouses. I guess there is no GLAAD-like organization to goose step for them.

robertson meme

“A&E suspended Phil from my precious “reality” show? I won’t stand for it! Maw, where’s a picture of Phil? I’ve got to post it to Facebook quick to demonstrate my outrage!”

My eyes ache from rolling them so much at both sides of this kerfuffle.

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“It’s ridiculous, isn’t it, to strain every nerve to attain the utmost exactness and clarity about other things of little value and not to consider the most important things worthy of the greatest exactness?” – Plato, Republic 504d

Wise man, that Plato.

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Believe you me I’d love to ignore this latest outrageously outrageous outrage in the so-called Culture Wars™. I’ve got a life to live, as have we all. But the hypocrites in the media and the shock troops at GLAAD have mandated that you will be made to care. You will not be silent from the sidelines. And so it goes.

Enough of that. Let’s move on, shall we? (Yes, let’s.)

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Back to Netflix for a moment. A few nights ago my ten-year old son and I watched a quiet little film called The Letter Writer. This production was obviously a labor of love for those involved and while it didn’t involve a single CGI-generated special effect that I can recall, no sex and no violence, it did contain a beautiful message wrapped inside a lovely story that I recommend for anyone who is looking for something to enjoy on a cold, winter’s night.

The song you hear at the end of that trailer is called Angel Bones. You can watch the performance from the film as performed by Aley Underwood, the lead actress in the film, here.

There’s a culminating action of us all
Sometimes there are miracles
And our hands do the job
For every action you move these thing along
Everything you do moves these along

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Ten years ago we hired Megan, the daughter of friends of ours and new high school graduate, to be a summertime “nanny” for our then only son. Tuesday night Megan performed as the soloist and cantor at our parish during Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and did an incredible job.

Now this particular Mass is already my favorite and one that I find particularly beautiful and solemn, so perhaps I was already a tad emotional or simply moved with the joyful and hopeful spirit of Christmas. But after Mass was over I couldn’t resist walking up to Megan, take her by the shoulders and thank her for the gift of her singing. Then smiling I kissed the blushing girl on her cheek which she graciously accepted.

I’ve been prone to doing this more as I’ve gotten older. Friends and fellow parishioners at church are likely recipients. I’ve learned this action from my good friend and parish pastor Fr. Lyle over the years.

The world would be a bit friendlier if more people were open to this gesture of friendship and appreciation, don’t you think? I do.

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In the middle of this wonderful article on the beautiful burden that is friendship I found a terrific quote on prayer that I wanted to share with you all.

I don’t know if you are like me, but often I find myself praying—just because I can. I suspect that many of us pray this way at times. Whilst these prayers may have no specific object, they are nonetheless efficacious in that they give God the glory He is due and they serve to nourish the personal relationship we have with Jesus Christ. These prayers are not mere time-fillers, yet, paradoxically, they are nevertheless almost autonomic. They are said with a trusting heart, but they do not focus on any one particular need or intention. They sustain the daily conversation with God. These unattended prayers are simple, unadorned expressions of our need to communicate with our Maker. We say them because we can—and because we feel we should—yet they have no more specific purpose or intention attached to them. As such, I believe these prayers are latent with untapped potency. If they have not been dedicated to a particular cause then their full potential is yet to be released.

Glorious!

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Friendship truly is a burden when taken to heart. It is a heavy one that is rich with rewards. Anyone who has ever shared a long, deep and meaningful friendship will attest to this. They would also fight you if you tried to take it away from them.

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Three excerpts from my Facebook statuses during Christmas:

  1. I never worry about the commercialism of Christmas because I don’t worry about something I cannot control. This year I have instead focused on the fact that this is the last year that I know for certain that all five of us will be home for Christmas, mentally marking every moment, conversation and meal. Christmas is a great time to love and that is something I can do.
  2. When the holy Evangelist John was living at Ephesus and was far advanced in years, his disciples would carry him into church. Being unable to give a lengthy sermon, at each gathering he was accustomed simply to repeat the words, “Children, love one another.” His disciples and the brethren who were present, upon hearing these same words repeatedly, became impatient and asked, “Master, why do you always say the same thing?” John’s reply was wholly in harmony with his heart: “Because it is the Lord’s commandment; and if you did nothing more, it would suffice.” (from the Commentary of St. Jerome on the Epistle to the Galatians on this, the feast day of St. John the Apostle
  3. “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way and an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.” ~Archbishop Oscar Romero, El Salvador

Those paragraphs are microcosms of my thought process during the nine days I had off from work. On December 22 we journeyed west to my in-law’s farm to have Christmas with my wife’s side of the family. After a large, early-afternoon meal the grandchildren tore into their presents and delivered those they needed to deliver to their various godfathers and godmothers, as well as their grandparents. As everyone took a breath I asked my oldest son to join me for a walk outside to digest our meal. For the next ninety minutes we walked a few miles over the farm yard and country roads surrounding my father-in-law’s land. We talked about his turning 18 in a few weeks, the upcoming second semester of school, his final prep and summer baseball seasons, graduation, girls, finances, life, and of course his plans to enlist in the Marine Corps once he turns 18. It was a mature, sober discussion in which he reflected much on the recent years, lessons learned, and the fact that this would be his last Christmas with the family he’s known and loved his whole life. We wondered aloud where he’d be a year from now.

We shared many things, some for the first time, and I’ll never forget that walk and am grateful for it.

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In less than forty-eight hours I’ll celebrate my 46th birthday. During the past nine days that I had off from work I spent a lot of time cleaning in the storage room and my work bench in the garage, which led to more time thinking about the things I uncovered. Not just material/physical things, but hopes, dreams and goals of the past that I’d buried beneath the piles of “stuff”. I unearthed half-finished journals, intricately detailed plans for the future. In the garage were three large wooden figures from a set of five for a Nativity that I started to build for our front yard eight years ago. While teaching my younger son how to use a jigsaw as we build storage shelves I found them behind a stack of plywood that had been leaning against the garage wall. During the last week I found the hopes and dreams of my early-30s self, and at one point was overcome with emotion as I reflected over all I’d forgotten and set aside.

And set aside for what exactly? For a career? For a job that as I begin 2014 is in an unsteady state that may or may not involve my having it at this time next year?

Do not misunderstand me. I bear no regrets for the decisions necessary and those made over the past decade and a half regarding my work that has provided for me and my family. And in order for me to be able to comfortably forfeit my job (should it come to that) I need just one or two more things to fall into place before I’m ready to face it.

I wasn’t ready in 2000 to embark upon the waters of uncertainty. I had responsibilities and things that needed to be done. I still do. But I’m older, a little wiser, and in a place where I feel the time is soon coming when I will be ready to dust off those plans and set out on the journey.

Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.

By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that must never be trod again.

– Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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And this at long last brings us to the end of this post…and this blog.

In a recent post Heather King wrote that

…if you want to be an artist, you have to be willing to be totally ripped apart. Maybe that’s why we don’t have more Catholic writers (and painters, and poets, and composers, and musicians). Maybe we lack the willingness to be ripped apart…to let grace work its violence on us. To wait for a wedding that may or may not ever come, practicing, practicing, practicing. Preparing, hoping, praying, waiting.

In a culture of speed, control, choice, and instant gratification, to consent to the kind of waiting required of great art is a radical act of resistance. Instead, out of frustration, we perpetrate violence on each other. Instead of creating, we destroy. Instead of letting ourselves be killed, we kill others.

There is nothing more Catholic than letting ourselves be killed by love.

That is what Christ did in the Crucifixion.

Love has been the overwhelming message in all I’ve read or experienced this Christmas. I suspect it is the same message I’ve received my previous forty-four Christmases as well. It’s just that this year my inner radio was tuned to the right frequency.

After a detour of fifteen years I want to do what I love and that doesn’t involve my current employment, daily habits or even the subject matter on this blog. While I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read the words written here I have to tell you that you deserve better. Because I can do better and I aim to do so going forward. Should I blog again I plan to do so anonymously and well enough that you won’t know it’s me who is telling the stories you are reading.

The message conveyed by God through the Scriptures is love. Love through storytelling. I won’t return here again until I’m better at both. I know I’ve “stopped” on at least two occasions but always reneged. But this time I’m resolute. A change is called for.

God bless you all. And thanks.

*****

Within every human being there’s a God given ability, and if you find it and nurture it, you’ll be able to bless the lives of others.” – From the movie The Letter Writer

13 thoughts on “Last Call

    • Thank you Maggie. I’m very humbled to read this. I plan to keep reading your blog and will be looking for your book when you are published (and you will be). All the best to you!

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  1. I will miss reading your blog . You are a very talented writer and I hope you know that there are those of us who appreciated your sense of humor, your faith , and even those random tidbits . When a good man is good at writing the result is always something special and I will miss it , but I wish you luck and blessings in whatever you do in the future . –Gracie

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    • Gracie! I had no idea you were reading this. Thank you so much for your kind words. I was thinking of you and yours over the holidays. Be watching your e-mail. :)

      PS: Tuantu grunts his greetings, such as they are.

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  2. Jeff, I am sorry to read this is your last blog post! Although I have been reading so much for academics the past 17 months, I have enjoyed the times I have had the pleasure of reading your blog. I smiled when you told me about kissing your former nanny on the cheek. Our family kisses each other every time we see each other, and not just family, but new people we meet who are Middle Eastern. I would kiss complete strangers if they did not find it odd. The world would indeed be better if this was a routine gesture.

    Find the joy in your life, and may you be blessed and enlightened along the way. Cheers my dear friend!

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  3. I will miss your posts, Jeff. You are always an inspiration. But I too have recently taken a big break from the Internet — and I haven’t missed it. Oh, I’ve missed my writing, don’t get me wrong, but I haven’t missed the pressure I place on myself to post oh-so-often or sitting in front of a computer screen for hours… I respect your reasons for discontinuing your blog, but I do hope you’ll keep in touch. All the best, and God Bless — always.

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    • Thank you Jess. As happens every time I’ve taken a break my mind is flooded with ideas and the temptation to return burns anew. But I’ve got a few other things in life to work out that must take a higher priority this time around. I’ve missed seeing your posts too, and do continue to review my feed at WordPress as there are several blogs I enjoy reading.

      As for staying in touch: take a peek at your email. There should be something in there for you from oh, say…November.

      Tag, you’re it! :-)

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      • Don’t I know it!!! I will write back soon — promise!! And I understand having other things in your life take higher priority than your blog. That’s the way it should be, honestly, and definitely the reason I have been so quiet over this holiday season. I was busy doing other things!!

        It’s always good to hear from you. And yes, I will write back soon!!

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