Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Parting shots—I mean, thoughts—about 2008

In the deep end of the pool:
The only thing that keeps me from feeling sheer panic about the state of the world right now is my faith in God and the knowledge in my heart that He is in control.

In the middle of the pool:
I must cultivate a perspective of thankfulness in all areas of my life. My personal contentedness is almost wholly reliant not on my circumstances, but on my perspective. When I choose to see the blessings in my life instead of focusing on what I lack, my entire outlook changes. I suddenly remember that, in truth, this world is the hard one and I am not honestly entitled to a single thing that it has to offer. I may be indirectly responsible for the good things I enjoy, but honestly, I am no more worthy of them than anyone. It’s quite often by chance or thanks to someone else’s efforts that I have what I have—not because I earned it.

On a side note:
I’m watching the world rip on the UAW and its silly demands, ridiculous expenditures, overly generous treatment of the leaders of that organization, and I’m chuckling every time I hear about how the UAW’s sense of entitlement brought them to their current state. Is not the United States a bigger, badder example of the UAW’s values? How many people are whining now, and being rescued now, because they overspent and over-extended and had to cry for help? Is there not a preposterous sense of entitlement buried in every American heart? How many of us bemoan hungry children and homeless people whilst we sip our Starbucks, which we feel perfectly okay about drinking? I occasionally have the pleasure of eating at a restaurant—and always, always, the restaurant is filled, often with people complaining about how they have no money. Ironic? Stupid? Both?

In the shallow end:
Is it wrong for me to root for Jen Aniston? I do. I’m a married woman; of course I root for her. I am so pleased to see her being truthful, being positive, being sure of herself. I won’t lie: I was weary of Angelina big-lips long before she became a home-wrecker. Now I am really quite un-enamored of her. Still…is it wrong for me to notice that Brad is looking rather worn? That he actually wears the face of a still-handsome but lined and exhausted father of six? Does that make me a bad person?

In short—my advice to myself and all in 2009:

Trust in Jesus (but still lock your doors), remember how incredibly blessed you are, and be glad when people who once mourned begin to celebrate.

Happy New Year! Hope to see you in 2009!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A portrait of pals

I’ve seen them around many times, always walking along Babcock Boulevard. I’ll be driving by, and they’ll be making their way on foot. I always get a good look at them, because there’s never much of a sidewalk in the spaces they frequent; Babcock is lined with many necessary but unattractive industries, all of which seem to sneak right up to the edge of the road.

The short one is a man, slightly bandy-legged, usually wearing a scruffy coat, broken jeans, and nondescript work boots. I couldn’t tell you his facial features, because he often wears a baseball cap that obscures his details. There’s nothing hanging out the back of the cap, so I figure the fellow is either short-haired or tucks it up under the hat.

The tall one is a dog. A huge, rangy, all-black dog of indiscriminate breed, with the longest canine legs I’ve ever seen. The dog’s head sort of resembles a Great Dane’s—although this dog isn’t quite as sleek as that breed—and the dog’s gigantic face easily comes up to the guy’s bicep. They walk side-by-side, not hurrying, not tarrying, simply traveling with purpose. The dog is always leashed, and I’ve never seen him fight it or strain against it; like many large, mature dogs, he is confident and calm.

When I passed them today, the guy was seated beside the road on something—I’m not sure what—and the big beast was seated in the dirt next to him. Sitting like that, they were practically the same height. And the man was stroking the dog’s ears, and the dog was loving it, tongue lolling a bit, eyes half-closed.

It made me wonder where they live, and whether they walk for fun or because they have no choice. I’ve never seen them hauling big bags of dog food (or anything else for that matter), so I’m guessing the man must have a vehicle, since the dog looks healthy and well-cared for. I suppose the walks must be for the dog’s benefit. The beast certainly appears to be a dog that could walk on and on and on without tiring.

Are they best friends out of necessity? Did one find the other by accident, or was the relationship sought intentionally? Was the dog a tiny puppy once, and then metamorphosed into its current behemoth state? Did that smallish fellow have any idea of the size and appetite that would accompany the grown animal? Does the dog stretch out at the bottom of the bed and then, by morning, move up to claim a pillow, or is he relegated to his own doggy area on the floor?

The details don’t matter. They are pals, steadfast and true. At least in my mind.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Simple gift

Go tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born!

A savior, a redeemer,
Emmanual—“God with us.”

Have a blessed and grateful Christmas.

(Borrowed the image from a guy named Mike at—hope he doesn't mind.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rescue Bunny--a bizarre gift of love

So, my kid has this weird fascination with pretending to be a small, helpless animal. Occasionally, he likes to be a ferocious predator, but mostly he gravitates toward small and helpless, like a bunny.

Case in point: Rescue Bunny.

Rescue Bunny is a rather odd game of pretend, likely borne out of many hours spent pretending to rescue people from fires, people who are lost, people who are injured and can’t get to a hospital, etc. Somehow, those logical and somewhat expected little-boy fireman and police games morphed into this strange version in which the bed (or the couch, in a pinch) is a floating vessel of some sort—a vessel which exists solely to sail in search of drowning and often injured animals.

I don’t even know how the idea came about, really. I blame the child’s father. He was playing Rescue Bunny with the kid long before I even understood the point of the game. I knew that Marcus was intrigued by bunnies and had some favorite stuffed bunnies, but I didn’t know until Rescue Bunny was a favorite pastime that the boy had devised a simulated means of rescuing them. And why from water? Have you ever seen a bunny in water?

But the game lives on, long after it should. The first animal rescued is usually a bunny who happens to be Marcus, and then other animals are discovered (or should I say their stuffed counterparts are flung from the bed and then spotted afloat) and my heroic son must climb from the bed, grab the endangered critter, and toss it aboard to safety, where the co-captain (his dad or me) quickly wraps the poor thing in a blanket to warm and dry it. Sometimes the bed—er, I mean the boat becomes so cluttered with animals that we must go ashore to the animal hospital and drop off our load for veterinarian’s care.

To say this game of pretend is mind-numbing would not do it justice. And I’m sad to tell you that the boy never tires of it. He could play and play and play, rescuing one reckless, risk-taking, fuzzy beast after another. Is this normal? I dimly recall playing Little Lions when I was a kid; Lions was a similarly pointless pursuit in which my sisters and I, and any other kids we could coerce, would crawl around on the ground pretending to be cubs. I think it was inspired by a kid cartoon called Kimba or something like that…

Anyway. Rescue Bunny is a pastime that could only be endured by an adult when he or she truly adores the child who pleads for such an investment. I feel certain this is one kid memory I won’t be missing. I suppose I might miss the initial rescue in which Bunny (my little guy) is all wrapped up and cuddling for warmth on my lap. But honestly, all the rest of those stranded stuffed toys could keep on doggy-paddling and I wouldn’t mind a bit.

Ah, what we do for our little folks.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Your own personal zenith

I was driving this morning, running yet more errands with the boy belted in the back seat. I was delivering a raucous outburst along the lines of my own idiocy and forgetfulness and lack of focus (I’ve delivered a number of these lately) and this outburst was more vociferous than usual because it was the third or fourth time that morning that I’d experienced my own shortcomings.

First it was the misplaced keys. I suppose they weren’t truly misplaced, because I knew where they were: in the right pocket of the coat I wore yesterday. That’s where I always leave my keys. But why do I keep doing it? Then, I remembered a paper I needed and had to go grab that from upstairs while my patient son sat strapped in his car seat. And then, as we headed to our destination, I got in the wrong lane and ended up going in the opposite direction, away from the store I’d meant to visit.

That was the point that drove me to vocal uprising—that final wrong turn that took me away from where I’d been headed. I wound down the declaration of my frustration, and tried, not for the first time, to explain to Marcus why I was so angry. “I’m not angry at you, Honey—you know that, right? Mommy gets frustrated because she’s not able to think as well as she used to.” And he said he understood, although Lord knows if he does; I’m sure if he’s sitting in therapy some day, he’ll think back on my self-abusive tirades and blame them for something deficient in him.

My waning brain is cause for alarm, though, if not for diatribes. I used to be a clear thinker, able to catalog lots of tasks, and put things back where they belonged, and make certain I was in the correct lane and that the day’s events were mapped out neatly and efficiently, in geographical order… No more. It just isn’t happening like that these days. And I don’t have a newborn to blame, don’t have a gaggle of children hollering and throwing things in the mini-van, don’t take any meds. I’m just not as capable as I used to be.

That goes for all areas. Not as thin, not as limber, not as pain-free, not as able to go without rest. I’m not as.

It made me picture a typical human life of average duration as a mountain of sorts, or even a bell curve (remember, I used to teach). It seems we spend the first half striving to acquire things that we hunger for: basic skills, then knowledge, coordination, perspective, increasing freedoms and permissions. We work for all those years on “arriving.”

I don’t know if I even realized when I had arrived—does anyone? For many of us, there’s no a-ha moment of achievement. Unless you’ve earned bank presidency at a young age, or have been hired to coach for the NFL when you still have little kids at home, or find yourself aboard your own yacht while you’re still agile enough to handle the thing neatly and swim ashore if it sinks—unless you’re extraordinary in some way, it’s quite possible you’ll reach the pinnacle of your arrival and completely miss it.

You’ll figure out soon enough if it’s passed, though—oh, you’ll figure that out without any problem. You’ll start to notice brain misfires and malfunctions, you’ll start to make involuntary noises when you stand up from a squat, you’ll notice your skin beginning to sag here and there where once it was firm. You’ll play a sport some weekend and suffer for the next week. You’ll stay out too late one night and suffer sleep disturbances for days. You’ll look around one morning at work and realize that, if you’re lucky, you’ll still be here in this cubicle many years from now, vainly yearning for that corner office. You’ll stop talking about traveling around the world.

Then you’ll know, in your heart, that you’ve passed that point: your own personal zenith.

But there are advantages to aging, to becoming seasoned. I’ll tell you what they are as soon as I can remember them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A childhood fear revisited

I was solo parenting this evening as the boy and I headed out into the night. Usually, Dad accompanies us on Wednesday evenings, but he was at home completing some unfinished business, so Marcus and I headed down to church by ourselves—he to his kid club activity, and me to choir practice. The kid activities start and finish at about the same times as choir practice, and it gets a bit hairy when I have to do the pick-up instead of his father.

I should have known that practice would run over a tad; we’re rehearsing extra songs for Christmas, we’re running out of practice time, lots of people are sick this time of year so sometimes attendance is sketchy and the practices are more confusing what with people coming back from absences… I should have planned to leave rehearsal early so that I could collect my son on time.

I didn’t. I figured I could rush out of rehearsal, run across the street, and meet him without incident in relatively punctual fashion.

And that’s just not how life occurs, especially when it’s occurring in crowded spaces with throngs of people milling and last-minute requests to sign service commitments and forgotten umbrellas and the like. I was late picking up my boy. And we’re not talking mildly late—we’re talking pretty darned late. I ran across the street to his building, not waiting for the “walk” sign, scurried past the other bodies as soon as I was able to do so, leapt into and out of the elevator, ran down the hall to his room, and—

It was empty. The light was out. He was not there. No one was there.

Oh my God! Where is he? I practically collared a woman I did not know who was leaving the room next door: “Where is my little boy? He was in this room, right here.”

She looked around, asked another club leader, and that kind lady pointed down the hall: “He’s down at the information desk.” Okay. Okay. Breathe. I trotted to the information desk, still panicked, looking all around, and then someone else pointed to where my heart was sitting on a chair behind the counter, all alone, not another kid in sight.

And oh, his little face, his small pointed chin, pale and worried. His grey-blue eyes, big like saucers and quite serious. I wanted to weep. “Oh Honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so late.” He bit his lip, said nothing, looked at me with those enormous wet eyes. The ladies assured me he’d just gotten there, that he was fine, it was not a problem. But I felt awful.

I’ll tell you why I felt so awful: Because that moment, those few seconds and the look of confusion and concern on his white face, brought back to me with stark detail one of my own childhood fears: That my parents would leave me somewhere and never come to get me. Of course this never happened. It was a completely unfounded fear, a ridiculous uneasiness that had no source of reality whatsoever. But it didn’t matter; for at least the first six years of my life, probably longer, I was convinced that I’d be abandoned by my family.

I can recall many occasions, waiting for my mother to pick me up from school on days when she’d worked, waiting at school for my school bus when it was later than usual, even waiting for my ride home from a play date—and I would work myself into a state of frantic frenzy, anticipating what would happen to me when no one ever came to take me home. Why? What in the world caused this trepidation to bloom? I didn’t know anyone who’d been abandoned, wasn’t worldly enough at that point to watch the news and learn that yes, abandonment and worse does happen to some unfortunate children in this cruel world. So where did the frightened thoughts come from?

Who knows. I suppose there are very few childhood fears that make sense, really.

All I know is that seeing my son’s face brought it all flooding into my consciousness and I felt so terrible for having made him wait, for having left him to be singled out as the only little child whose parents hadn’t come. He climbed down from the chair where he’d been sitting, and I took his hand and held it tightly, apologizing profusely for my tardiness to the women who’d been keeping him company. Thank goodness a young memory is quick to change directions; even as we stepped out into the hall, Marcus was telling me about the cookies that a classmate had brought to class, one of which was wrapped in a napkin and clutched in his other paw.

We made our way to the elevator, and he said, “Mommy, what were you thinking?”

“You mean when I couldn’t find you?”


“I was confused, Baby, because I went to your room and it was empty. The lights were out. And I had to ask the lady next door where you were.”

“You had to ask the lady next door?”

“Yes, Sweetie, because I didn’t know where to find you. The funny thing is, I probably ran right past you when I was on my way to your classroom. I didn’t even see you sitting there because I was in such a hurry to get you!”

“You went right past me?”


“And the room was empty and lights were out?”


So went the ride home, a thankfully short ride, with him rehashing each moment of the ordeal several times. And when we pulled into the garage and I unlatched his seat belt, I reminded him that if ever I were late picking him up, he should remember that I was on my way and he needn’t worry. I would never leave him. As the belt slipped free and I went to withdraw my arm, he reached out and hugged it to his chest. And I snuggled him back.

And made a mental note to leave rehearsal early next time.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Another great flick

Okay, so I’m into the serious movies lately. My next one’ll be something simpler, I promise. But I’ve been pondering this one for a week or so now, and it earned a second viewing from me within that week. Not a common occurrence—I may have mentioned that before. The flick merits a blog post, for certain. And I believe it merits your viewing.

The movie is a documentary called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It’s narrated, and guided, by the dead-pan voice of Ben Stein. Yep, the teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The same guy who hosted that goofy show "Ben Stein’s Money." But this, truly, seems to be the role he was meant for: instigative inquirer. At its heart, the film explores the question of whether true scientific pursuits and the concept of a designer of life on earth are at cross-purposes; on the surface level, it discusses some examples of persecution by the scientific community (mostly in Amerika, I’m sad to note). Who’s being persecuted? According to Stein and Expelled producers, the persecuted are the few voices in the dark who dare to utter the phrase Intelligent Design. The movie goes other places, too, but that’s the gist of it.

Now, if you haven’t heard, Intelligent Design (a.k.a. ID) is the scientific moniker for acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, life began even in its simplest form through an act of a very advanced, possibly supreme, designer. The very complexity and miraculous nature of the cell, of recreation, of life itself—all of those are amazing to the point of at least suggesting to me that there might be a creator. But ID doesn’t really even take the leap of identifying any sort of creator; all it says, in its basest form, is that intelligence and the life that leapt from it had to come from somewhere, had to be given or granted—that it couldn’t just rise up out of primordial soup thanks to a helpful bolt of lightning.

The movie is awesome; it will make you laugh, make you think, make you doubt large portions of the “educated” public, and it will likely cause you some sober moments as Stein’s investigation leads him to a dark time in history: Nazi Germany.

It got me thinking about how really, the idea of Darwinian evolution removes our personal responsibility for so many things that we classify as deeply human. If we really are naturally selected, we don’t need to worry about preserving folks who are less able, who are old, who are handicapped. We can assume that nature will run its course and eliminate these people, and we can rest assured that our efforts to counteract nature will eventually fail. Sometimes, history shows us that people who embrace the idea of natural selection can justify cold-hearted attempts to “help,” or speed, the process. If we accept Darwin’s concept as truth, then we are released from any sense of moral obligation to our fellow humans or even to any living thing, since we’re all accidental and will be dealt with in the same arbitrary and likely ruthless conditions through which we came to exist.

(BTW, I don’t believe that.)

The information presented in this movie is fascinating; some of it I’d already heard, some I had not. The simplest life form requires over 250 proteins, in the proper order, to live. Primitive and modern attempts to create the scenario in which life “springs forth” from its building blocks have all proven uneventful. The very process of natural selection minimizes genetic material simply by its very essence. So how can living beings become increasingly complicated if those same beings are losing genetic material through the survival of the fittest? And not many thinking people argue that change occurs within a species over time—it’s been documented. But naturally selected change from one species to a different species has never been documented; how can a theory like that be regarded so highly by people whom we consider to be informed and intelligent?

These are just a few of the intriguing and still-unanswered questions the documentary raises. All of the chastised folks who’ve felt the sting of science’s one-way-only paddle seem to be highly educated, thoughtful, well-spoken individuals; not a one struck me as a nut. (I can’t say the same for a few of the die-hard Darwinists featured in the movie.) Who’s really crazy? What is science? What is proven, and what is unfounded?

I realize that the movie is likely slanted toward a pro-ID perspective—Stein himself declares that he is Jewish in his narrative—and I know better than many how a good editor can make a really convincing argument by cutting and splicing in the right places. And yet. And yet. I challenge you to see this film, to watch it carefully, and to come away without having seen serious tears in the fabric of evolutionary theory.

Come on, your brain will thank you. Besides, Stein urges the viewer to speak up, to get involved, for the sake of preserving freedom on speech, freedom on inquiry, freedom in general for this country we love. I, unlike Michelle Obama, feel proud to be an American most of the time; but when merely questioning a theory is squelched with fear, intimidation tactics, and “disciplinary measures,” I am worried about our future. Hence, today’s post.

The test of democracy is freedom of criticism.
~David Ben-Gurion

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Miscellaneous positive thoughts

A number of folks I know are going through some rough times—really rough. The economy still stinks. It’s practically winter and nothing will bloom for many months. My fat clothes continue to be too small. What should one do in the face of such opposition to cheer? One should focus on blessings and wonders. Taking a minute to consider what makes one smile can change the course of a mood.

Here are some things that can be relied upon to make me smile.

• an older man and woman, holding hands. The older they are, the bigger the resulting smile.

• the sound of my little boy giggling with abandon.

• a good, strong cup of coffee with just the right amount of cream and sweetener.

• noticing that my husband cleaned the litter box.

• puppies. Although not all puppies would make me smile at this point in my life; I’d opt for a yap-free variety, and I’d prefer for them to still have puppy breath.

• watching Polamalu snag an interception or two. Is he a human bullet, or what?

• securing a treasure for a few bucks from craigslist.

• hearing about the foul, lake-influenced winter weather in the Erie area…because I don’t live there anymore and it’s no longer my problem.

• that Christmas television commercial for Eat ‘n Park, where the star tries to fly up to the top of the tree and can’t quite make it…so the tree helps by bending down and scooping up the star. They use that ad every year, and it never fails to make me smile; sometimes it even makes me a little bit misty. Yes, I know I am becoming a cornball.

• and speaking of Christmas, it makes me smile that in less than a month, we will observe the day when Jesus was born, our savior, who left a throne to be a babe in a manger—to show us how to live and then to die for us, thus providing everlasting life.

So, think about what makes you smile! And smile! Or, share it here so that we can smile too!