Sibling Breakfast

Eight twenty Sunday morning, I shout down the hall.  “We have to leave now.”  Julie responds, “I’m ready.”  We get into the Flex and make the 10 minute trip to Butterfield’s breakfast restaurant.  We arrive exactly on time, 8:30 AM.

We enter and are met by the vanilla sweet smell of pancakes and the hellos of my sister Nancy and my brother-in-law Mike.  Mike offers a funny comment, which I only half hear due to the clatter of plates and my less-than-perfect hearing.  I smile and nod.

The host arrives and I instruct her that we need a quiet table for 6. She leads us to a round table towards the back of the restaurant.  Strong coffee is poured, and we all start to sip.

In a few minutes my sister Carol arrives smiling.  She apologizes for being late, she was up late babysitting.  We all nod and welcome her.  We wait for my sister-in-law Kathy to arrive until someone remembers that she wasn’t coming due to a previous engagement,  in this case a date.  My brother Dave passed away a few years ago and Kathy is dating again.  We all comment how happy we are that she is getting out and enjoying her life.

The waitress arrives and passes out laminated menus.  We take them and scan them in earnest. I find the process amusing, as we always order the same thing.  Swedish pancakes for Mike,  scrambled eggs for Nancy, omelets for Carol and Julie.  I always get the Lox and bagel plate, and I always order a styrofoam carrier to bring half of it back home.

Our chatting continues.  My family has never learned the fine art of conversation, and it is perfectly acceptable to interrupt each other as we build and add to our conversation streams. Of course, it is also OK to tell the interrupter to, “Wait, I’m not done talking!”

Nancy and Mike talk about their new, and at this point nameless dog.  As Nancy recollects the sudden loss of Toby (their last dog) she tears up.  “I don’t know if we can handle this dog.  He is so active.  Jeannine said she would take him if we can’t.”  I know my sister, nameless has entered their home, never to leave.

Carol recounts events from her recent life.  Time with her kids, talk of her grandkids, and her lifelong desire to become more organized and to simplify her life. Julie talks about our kids and updates the family about the grandkids.  She reflects on her psychotherapy business, now pretty successful.  I focus on my latest obsession, my upcoming retirement.  Lately, I have been pondering my next step.  I feel compelled to write, to take photos, to be creative.  I anguish, “Will anyone care about what I have to say?”  Carol reassures me that I write in an engaging style.  She ends by saying, “Mike I would comment on your post if I could figure out how to do it.”  I nod, as I know that she would.  My brilliant sister Carol does many things well, but she still has trouble with the simplest computer task. “When I get organized I’m going to learn how to do it.”  A statement that I have heard many times through the years.

I was the youngest child in our family of five siblings.  My two brothers are now gone.  In their place are my wife Julie, my brother-in-law Mike, and my sister-in-law Kathy. After decades together we are all siblings, with no distinction based on biology.

Our sibling breakfasts have become a tradition that happens every 6 weeks or so.  The format varies slightly from time to time, but their overall significance remains.  Sibling breakfast is a way for us to connect and celebrate our bonds with each other.  The meetings can sometimes be a vehicle for support or advice, but its main purpose of one of connection.

The waitress comes by and picks up our plates.  She offers more coffee, but we all decline.  Despite our lack of food and drink, we linger.  Our conversation continues until I finally say, “We need to set up a time for the next breakfast.”  Participants pull out their appointment books or smartphones as we negotiate our next get together.  We ask the waitress to take our picture, stand, and put on our coats.  Hugs and goodbyes follow.

It is still early in the morning, enough time for Julie and I to make to church.  During the service I utter a silent prayer, “God, thank you for my siblings and sibling breakfast.”

Simple Gifts


A chilly morning, the tip of my nose still cold as I type this.

I enter Starbucks and I am greeted by Smokey Robinson’s, “Tracks Of My Tears.” It is a happy sounding song whose upbeat tempo is in direct contrast with its lyrics. I tune into the happy tempo and ignore the sad lyrics.

My friend Tom is acting as the contractor for a window replacement at my house. He stopped by to supervise, which meant that I got to see him a few times yesterday. Bonus.

Our house was filled with the smells of baking. Julie had made some yeast rolls for the family, and my step-mother’s Winter Apple Cake for her small group at church. There is nothing like the intoxicating smell of baking on a cold fall day.

After dinner, we went to Band-A-Rama. It is a high school event where the various school bands play separately and then together. Grace is the first chair oboe in SWE (Symphonic Wind Ensemble), the top band at the high school.

Since the concert features 4 different bands it was held in the school’s fieldhouse instead of the auditorium. This meant foregoing the nice theater seats in lieu of the bleachers. Bleachers seem to negatively impact my back after about 30 minutes.

We sat down and soon Julie’s friend Glynis and her husband Tom sat next to us. Glynis is an English professor and a salt-of-the-earth kind of person. Julie and Glynis have been friends since Julie formed a mother/daughter book club around 15 years ago. After a few pleasantries, I turned to my phone to see what settings I would use to record parts of the performance.

Heavy in concentration I felt someone deliberately lean on me from the other side. It was Joe, my neighbor. He coached my kids in T-ball decades ago. We entered into conversation about our kids and the neighborhood before the music started.

The concert was long due to the fact that each band had to play a few pieces. Luckily, high school bands play pretty well and the experience was enjoyable. At one point one of Gracie’s friends came by and motioned a hello.

At the end of the concert, I ran into Jennifer and her husband. She is a Clinical Psychologist who works in my office. I nodded a greeting to her and her husband. Next to them was John and his wife Helen. John retired about 4 years ago and he was there to see his grandkids perform. He looked at me and as if he could read my mind he said, “Mike, you are going to love retirement.”

My daughter’s high school has almost 3000 students. How great it was to have so many nice people to interact with.

As SWE played Simple Gifts from Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” I thought that it was truly a day of simple gifts for me.

NNHS: “Simple Gifts”

Rose And Thorn

Another morning at Starbucks.  Another Tall of Pikes Place with too much half and half added.  The Spotify playlist is especially engaging this morning.  Music from the 40s.  Judy Garland, Satchmo, Billie Holiday.  I imagine that I’m grabbing a cup of coffee at a local diner before I head off to work in a wartime aircraft factory. My illusion only shattered by the computer in front of me.  Perhaps I can pretend that it is an Underwood portable typewriter.

Last night…

I wander into the family room.  It is around 7 PM and my family is in its post-dinner routine.  They are roughly arranged in the shape of an isosceles triangle. Grace has commandeered the “dad chair” by the french doors. She is humorously reading off a worksheet from her economics class. Yes, it is possible to find humor in macroeconomics. Will is on one end of the couch with earbuds in and face invisibly tethered to his iPhone.  Julie is on the opposite end of the couch.  She has built a nest.  Macbook, a hardcover book, a couple magazines, and a small bowl of precisely ratioed Smartpop and bean chips filled out her space.

I engage them and they are happy to reply, but in the short bursts that people do when they are trying to be polite but involved elsewhere.  I survey the landscape and realize that the only other comfortable space available would involve having Julie and Will move their belongings from the center of the couch. I do a quick benefits analysis and decide to recede to my own space and plug into my electronics.  I grab the latest Time magazine with the hopes of reading the cover story. I make a mental note that it may be a good topic for this month’s podcast. The quiet evening continues with my eventual conclusion of sleep.

I’m sure that this scenario is playing itself out in the other houses up and down my suburban street.  A typical evening in typical America.  And that is why I’m grateful for “Rose and Thorn.”

What is “Rose and Thorn?”  It is a conversational device that our family has been using for about 10 years. The rules are simple, the objectives are not.  Let me tell you how it works… but first I have to set the stage.

Those family members who are at home at dinner time are expected to sit down with the rest of the family and eat.  We try to avoid electronic devices at dinner (try, is the operative word). We say Grace. We settle in and follow our respective “start-up” routines.  Will checks out the meal’s protein source, Gracie carefully picks out her favorite pieces of cut up fruit, Julie sets up a plate that may include choices outside the regular dinner offerings, I start to assemble my salad “casserole.”

We start to talk…  “Will, why don’t you tell us your rose and thorn today?”  Will will then talk about his rose, something good from the day.  He will then say his thorn, a negative from the day. He may also say a leaf, something neutral.  Questions may be asked about his replies, and side conversations may erupt.  We go around the table until all willing participants have had their turn.

The vast majority of rose and thorns are pretty routine.  For instance, these are mine from yesterday:

Rose: I got to talk to people that I care about.

Thorn: I had to say goodbye to patients who I have become fond of.

Leaf: Dinner (a McDonald’s Southwestern Salad).

Other family members quizzed me about my responses. In this example, most of the questions were about my thorn, and I was offered some TLC about my loss.

The whole process of “Rose and Thorn” doesn’t take too long, but it serves an important family function.  It acknowledges that we each face ups and downs in daily life.  It allows my family to talk about those events, and to support each other.  It gives us a structure to talk to each other.  Naturally, we chat about other things too, but “Rose and Thorn” gets the ball rolling.

By the time dinner was over I knew what was happening in my family’s life.  It was OK that they were connecting elsewhere after dinner.  I didn’t need their undivided attention, and I was perfectly happy to drift into my own introverted space.

Sometimes simple traditions like eating together and having a conversation starter can become some of the most important things we do to maintain the relationships in our lives.  If you want to have a real relationship with someone you have to relate to them (duh).  The personal connections that we have with others are not business connections that rely strictly on growth goals or profit.  They enrich us by their sheer existence. They don’t happen magically, they require work, like any other good connection.  

People often make the false assumption that once a connection is established it should stand on its own.  This is not the case.  When we want a plant to grow we pay attention to it.  We water it when it is dry, we move it so it can be warmed by the sun, we prune off the bad parts and encourage new grown.  It is no different with the important relationships in our lives. What are your rose and thorn today?


Someone Else’s Shoes


Empathy is the ability to understand a person’s feelings or situation. This is different than identification where you actually identify with a person’s feelings. “Oh, I felt just like that.” As a psychiatrist, it is important to have empathy, less so identification.
Some people have a natural gift for empathy, just like some people have a natural gift for playing a piano. With that said, just like learning to play the piano empathy can be taught.
So where am I going with this? Hold on, I’m about to talk about Pella windows. What!? In fact, I’m going to try to bridge the theme of Pella windows with empathy and then join the two topics in what I think is a disturbing trend that I see in society. I’m doing this at around 5 AM in the morning, sitting in Starbucks, so we will see how this goes.
Many months ago my friend Tom generously offered to put in new windows at my circa 1984 house. Windows were not urgently needed, but they were aging. About 6 weeks ago they were custom ordered through Pella. They now reside in my garage, waiting to be installed. The initial install date was last week, but delays with his carpentry crew pushed the date up to this week, specifically yesterday.
Yesterday it rained, and the windows could not be installed. Today it rained, and the windows could not be installed. I am hopeful that the process will start tomorrow.
I know Tom, and I know that the windows will be installed as soon as possible. The only aggravation that I feel centers on the desire to get the job done. I’m one of those people who likes to check boxes off when a task is completed.
Tom has told me stories of customers who seem to ignore the reality that life happens. If a cabinet is delayed, or if a part is on order it can halt a remodel. Many people understand this, but other become incensed and angry. They assume that it is Tom’s fault. Their attitude is one of condescending superiority. They are unable to move past their own inconvenience and understand that delays also impact Tom’s bottom line. When work is not done payments are not made. He wants to finish a project just as much as his customers wants a project finished.
As a professional, I have been fortunate that most of my patients have been respectful of my time and expertise. However, I can also face individuals with a lack of empathy. The person who calls at 3 AM in the morning because they can’t sleep. The individual who becomes insulting and angry because they had to wait a few hours to get a return call, not caring that I’m seeing other patients. The patient who feels that I should have an encyclopedic memory of their past and present medications when I get a call from them on a Sunday afternoon.
A lack of empathy not only impacts the connections with the people around us, it also directly impacts us. I understand that it is impossible to install windows when it is raining. I feel sorry for myself, but I also feel sorry for Tom. We can bond over our mutual disappointment. However, what if my attitude was different? What if I wanted what I wanted, and I didn’t care what was going on with the other person (in this case Tom)? Now I’m frustrated and angry. I feel like a victim. I may act-out those feelings with anger or threats. Now everyone is upset. My day is ruined. I can’t even enjoy the end result of getting new windows. You can see that empathy is not only important for our connections, it is also important for our own personal well being.
I might suggest that when you are frustrated by a situation to “try to put on the other person’s shoes,” for a moment. Get a feeling for what they are going through and try to connect to those feelings. Approach the situation and the person with your new understanding. More often than not you will be a happier person and you will have a better outcome.




Another Rainy Day

Another rainy day. Another great excuse to stay in bed.

But how do I sustain a desired behavior? For me, the answer is reasonable consistency. When I establish a new pattern of behavior the more I do that behavior the more likely I am to do it.

It is easy for me to give in and say that I’ll do something tomorrow. However, tomorrow is always in the future.

This morning I heard the rain falling on my roof. The alarm went off at 3:40 and I hit the snooze bar once. As I laid in bed I thought about the possibility of getting an extra hour sleep, and I thought about the long workday that I was facing.

Then I thought about how I feel when I exercise. I thought about how I love to think in the quiet of the morning. I remembered how quiet times are usually the best time to connect with my inner self and my Higher Power.

I knew that my ducks were dry (they were soaked after my last rain walk) and I remembered where I put my umbrella.

Out I went into the mildly cool and damp air. Feeling alive and happy. At Starbucks, I ordered a Tall, but the barista gives me a Grande instead. Score.

In a few hours, Tom’s crew will arrive (pending weather conditions). I will welcome them, and then head off to work.

Another Monday. It is raining, I’m working a long day and I’m typing a long post on a smartphone. So why am I feeling happy? It doesn’t matter, does it?

A Friday

It is 5:30 AM on Saturday morning. I have claimed a little round table at Starbucks, and I’m ready to write. Claiming may be an overstatement, as I’m the only customer in the shop. This morning I packed a little Chromebook in an over-the-shoulder bag that I bought on Amazon for about $19. The Amazon photo of the messenger bag gave it the look of stylishly aged fine leather. The actual product resembles an item made of cardboard with a cheap “Contact Paper” leather veneer. So much for truth in advertising!

I am reflecting on last night, Friday night.

The end of my workday, my phone beeped. It was my friend Tom asking me if I was about to leave Rockford. We exchanged a few text messages. I finished my last progress note, packed up my computer, donned my Aussie cowboy hat, and stepped into the day.

The weather outside was beautiful. In fact, I would say that it was a perfect fall day. Seventy degrees, a light breeze, and the wonderful smell of fall. It is about 90 miles from home, and so I was grateful that the drive would be pleasant.

My iPhone automatically connected to the car’s Bluetooth audio system as I drove off. I placed a call to my sister Nancy. She answered the phone and immediately commented on the wonderful weather. She was camping in central Illinois and was enjoying the breeze from her pop-up screen house. The drive passed quickly as we talked over speakerphone. How is my family doing? How is her family doing? Did she find a new dog yet? She comments on my “Money and Mike” blog post. She grew up in the same household as me and held many of the same fears.

Nancy is a retired psychotherapist and it is easy to get into “psych-speak” with her. We both come to the conclusion that the fear of money is actually a fear of not having control of our lives. She then tells me about the joys of retirement. “Every day is Saturday, Mike.” She suggests, “Won’t it be fun to just come over and visit me for no reason? We can go exploring or out to lunch!” We both love exploring towns and local culture. I smile to myself. She is right, it will be awesome to have the freedom to not be productive. I confide in her, “I have spent my life taking care of other people. It feels wonderful when someone takes care of me.”

I find myself at home. I go inside to find my daughter Grace there. We exchange a few pleasant words. I look out my study window and there is Tom parking a huge dumpster in my driveway. He is a wonderful friend and he has offered to replace my windows.Tom is a general contractor who owns his own dumpster. For some reason, I find that fact very cool. Tom brings out the “Bob the Builder” in me. When I “help” him on a project (gofer would be a better term) I feel like I’m 12 again. It is wonderful to be less than perfect, to use my hands, and allow someone else to be the responsible one.

I go outside and greet Tom and his son Charlie. The dumpster already has a few odd pieces in it. A glass shower door, a giant mirror, and some other stuff. The three of us climb up on the wheel wells and proceed to throw large objects in as we attempt to break the glass. Charlie is the only one in the group who is under 10, but at that moment I feel about that old as I experience the sheer joy of my silly actions. Carol, my next door neighbor appears and smiles a hello to me. I ask her if she wants to come over and break some stuff. Another smile flashes on her face as she declines and returns to the confines of her home.

I invite Tom and Charlie in. I come from a culture where you show caring and hospitality with food, and I immediately start to offer both of them food options. Finally, Tom accepts some fizzy water and Charlie goes for a popsicle. We sit at the kitchen table with Grace who is snacking on a bowl of microwaveable Vietnamese Pho noodles.

Grace gets to see a video of Charlie’s latest guitar accomplishments. We talk about Pho noodles. Tom’s glasses break and he curses barely under his breath. We discuss the Cubs defeat, gene splicing and genetically modified fruit, Gracie’s college choices, Tom’ s angst over an unreliable plumber sub-contractor. The conversation continues until Tom signals to Charlie that it is time to go home.

I walk out with them to say goodbye and Mercury the cat bolts out the door. It is dark and Mercury is a solid black cat. Grace and I go looking for her using our phones as flashlights. Finally, common sense reigns, we return inside and leave the patio door open. Within 2 minutes Mercury is back inside. Her behavior suggests that she is happy that her misadventure is over.

Julie walks in with a bag of groceries. Salad fixings, a broasted chicken, and some grocery store sushi. I make myself a salad and add large chunks of chicken to it. I pour myself a glass of suspect box wine. Julie tastes my glass and turns up her nose. “No thanks,” she says. She opens up a bottle of the good stuff. Good meaning probably about a $6 purchase. We sit at the table. I sip, munch on my salad, and chomp on the sushi. We ask each other about our day and talk a bit about politics.

The family group text channel beeps, and it is Will, my son. He sends a picture from Menards where he is shopping with his friend Joe. The day before Will informed me that Joe always carries extra oil in his 18-year-old minivan because it leaks like a sieve. I’m glad that he is only about 5 minutes away.

My conversation with Julie continues. At this point I can’t remember what we were talking about, it doesn’t really matter. Julie’s phone beeps again and it is Kathryn, my Arizona college student. Kathryn recounts a trip to Trader Joe’s and sends a picture or two of her purchases. She tells Julie that her roommate thought Julie was 40 years old. “She thought you must have had me when you were very young.” Both of us realize that Kathryn is pulling Julie’s leg. Julie still likes the comment and smiles.And so my evening went. Nothing really, a typical Friday in many ways.

For me, these kinds of days are my favorite. Connecting with people that I care about. The significance of the insignificant. We weren’t solving problems or having great adventures, we were just connecting. Our conversations were simply  frameworks to allow those connections to occur.

We live in a world that prizes purpose. People get together to do things, go places, buy stuff. In reality, we mostly connect because we are social creatures. By our connections we build bonds, and we enrich our lives. Last night was spent connecting with people that I love and care about. A perfect Friday evening.

The cat after her misadventure.

Money and Mike


I sit, computer open, word processor loaded.  I wait.  I can’t say that I’m waiting for great inspiration, I waiting for anything to get my fingers to move on the keyboard.  I try to quiet my brain, I try to access my subconscious. I think about my walk to Starbucks.  What did I see?  What did I think? What ideas were generated?   

Ahh… OK, something is coming in…

I feel that some chapters are closing in my life.  Some planned, others not. There is the retirement thing.  Planned and in process.  However, there are so many aspects of this process that were unanticipated.  At this late date, it feels like there are many loose ends.

I worry about my retirement, and that worry mostly centers around money.  I have planned for retirement. I have saved and invested.  Yet, this fear is prominent in my mind.  I have had the luxury of buying what I wanted for many years.  Yesterday a large flat box appeared on my doorstep.  It contained a particle board computer desk. Cost around $200.  The desk will replace one that is over 25 years old.  The former desk designed for the technology of the 1990s, not 2017.  My wife questioned me.  Julie, “Why did you buy a desk?”   Me, “I have two monitors at work that I’ll bring home. The current desk won’t hold them.”  Julie, “You have two monitors at work?” (rise in voice interpreted as critical of me).  Me, “Yes.”  Julie, “Well, what are you going to do with the monitor that you have now?” (somewhat higher rise in voice)  Me, “I don’t know, maybe I’ll use it in the telepsych studio.”  Julie, “hmm.” A simple transaction of words that happened over the course of about 30 seconds.  An exchange so simple that it did not require any additional thought. Yet, it impacted me.

“Doc, you are a psychiatrist. If the interchange bothered you, why didn’t you talk about your feelings?”  Dear reader, it is important to realize that we live in complex worlds.  If every interaction was deconstructed and parsed there would be no time for the process of living.  

Was Julie being critical?  Possibly, but possibly not.  She may have just been making conversation.  But what about her tone? She had just come back from the auto mechanic, a place where she feels out of place and inadequate. After 25 years of marriage, I understand that she tries to exert more control after situations where she feels less in control.  This was a trivial event that did not indicate a major problem in our marriage.

What was more important was my reaction to our conversation. I had to resist the urge to strongly defend the purchase of a $200 particle board table. My mind quickly came up with a variety of reasons why such a purchase was necessary.  Why I had made a wise and thoughtful decision.  Thankfully, I was able to shut down the process before the words left my mouth.

Everything in life can be a lesson, a learning opportunity if you allow it to be so.  Growing up with little, I wanted things.  I had to strongly justify any purchase, even when I was the person paying for the desired item.  With effort, I could get things, but there was always an undertone of foolishness.  “Do you really need that scientific calculator?” I would then have to justify why a college science major needed a scientific tool. The implication being that my purchase was somehow extravagant, selfish, and unnecessary.  

I have earned a good living and I have been able to buy most things that I have wanted at will.  I always had money to pay the bills, go on vacations, save for the future.  More importantly, I didn’t have to justify rational (and sometimes irrational) purchases.  It has been a tremendous relief for me. I can’t imagine returning to a life where I have to explain to someone why I bought a new T-shirt or a carton of sour cream.

So what is the bottom line, dear reader?  I will buy less because I will have less. However, I will not play the tapes of old.  My history has shown me that I have been a good steward of my finances.  My house is paid for, I have no debt.  I may purchase things that are unnecessary at times.  I may even regret some of those purchases.  However, I am who I am.  I won’t burden Julie with my past guilt about doing things for myself.  I won’t incorrectly interpret her comments based on my past history.  I will enjoy life.  

I expect the next few years to be a time of adjustment and a time of growth.  As stressful as it can be, I like the fact that I’m revisiting so many issues that I had thought long resolved.  It isn’t like I’m going back to the past, rather I’m refining past corrections and exploring new horizons.  Perhaps it is symbolic of the fact that I’m not looking at the end of my career, rather I’m exploring the start of my retirement. A good thing, I think.


Finding My Way Back To God

I started to randomly write this morning and this came out

I am one of those people who tends to find meaning in things. I was the guy in English class who the teacher would call on when they wanted someone to explain the meaning of an author’s metaphor. I’m pretty sure that my ability to see past the obvious is to due to what my wife (Dr. Julie) has referred to as my autistic brain.

“So Mike, are you trying to tell us that you are autistic?” …No, I am not autistic. I relate to others and I have too much self-awareness to carry that diagnosis. However, it is clear to me, and to those close to me, that my brain is wired a bit differently.

If pressed, Julie would redefine her statement and say that my brain functions differently. Most people tend to think in a very efficient linear way. A cause and effect way of thinking. “If I do this, then I will get that result.” It makes sense to think this way, as most of the world functions in a linear fashion. “1 + 1 = 2,” “I have to bake a cake before I can eat it,” “I have to study to do well on my exam.” This way of thinking is very useful because once you learn a rule you can generalize it and apply it to many other scenarios. “I have to bake a cake before I eat it. Therefore, I also have to bake bread before I eat it.”

My brain is not contemporary. Instead of thinking linearly I tend to think globally. I pool information. Information is placed in categories, and the same piece of information can reside in many pools. All pools connect with each other, the level of connection changes as required. When I solve a complicated problem I have to chug through massive pools of information. Connections between pools of data form and dissolve and reform again. Eventually, solutions start to appear. Solutions can be workable or unworkable. They can be reasonable or unreasonable. They may be possible, or not yet possible. It is interesting that people think that my solutions to problems are due to some sort of high intelligence. They are really due to a different way of processing information. I’ll call this type of processing relational processing. I see how things relate to one another rather than how they affect one another.

This way of thinking can be inefficient when solving simple problems, and so I have trained myself to think in a linear fashion. I envy those of you who do this automatically. After practicing this skill for more than a half of century I have gotten better at it, but I still feel like a “lefty” trying to use scissors designed for a “righty.”

Just like the thoughts and facts that interconnect in my brain, I have also come to the conclusion that we are all connected with each other and the universe around us. By what glue? Here you can fill in the blank with the term that you find most comfortable. “The cosmos.” “Mother Nature.” “The collective unconscious.” I choose to think of the binding agent as “God.” Why? Because God is the most logical solution that I can come up with. Are there other easier solutions? Of course! However, none are able to explain existence as well.

We lived in an ordered universe. Everything works together from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest galaxy. We fantasize ourselves as masters of the universe because we have discovered a few odd facts in physic. With that said, we don’t even know if there are additional planets in the far reaches of our own solar system. The arrogance of ignorance can be intoxicating. When intoxicated it is easy to make decisions based on a limited data set. As a scientist, I can tell you that this happens all of the time. When I was growing up I was told that life could not exist without sunlight/photosynthesis. Therefore, planets that were too far from the sun could not support life. Then we discovered plenty of life at the bottom of our oceans in areas completely devoid of sunlight. These organisms used chemical sources of energy instead of solar sources to fuel their existence. Time to rewrite the science books.

So where am I going with all of this? Growing up my childlike concept of God was what I was taught in school. An old guy with the beard sitting on a throne made of clouds. My spiritual life was synonymous with my religious life. My religious life consisted mostly of rules. In my child’s mind, most of the rules were of the “do not” category. Long lists of commands that if broken would send me to directly to Hell. Miss Mass on Sunday? Hell… Eat meat on Friday? Hell… Have impure thoughts? Hell… Despite being a pretty good kid it appeared that I was going to Hell. The impure thoughts alone would probably land me in the deepest levels of damnation.

It was also evident that religious rules could be different depending on a person’s position or rank. Those enforcing the rules seemed to have absolution. Even common folk could get a dispensation. Meat on Friday = Eternal Hell. Meat on Friday with appropriate dispensation = enjoy, life is good. Additionally, most of the world’s population wasn’t Christian, so the rules said that they were all going to Hell. Unbaptised babies could not go to Heaven or Hell, they would go to Limbo. An all-loving God who is sending most of his beloved children to Hell? This confusing and contradictory information made me reject the entire concept of religion and (by association) the concept of a Higher Power. I did not have the sophistication to separate the two. Religion equaled God in my child’s mind.

I was raised Catholic, but I’m not bashing Catholicism. I am saying that the limited information (rules) that I was taught were incongruent with the evidence (data) that I was gathering. The hypothesis of “A loving God is active in our lives” had been disproven.

With God out of the way, I had to find another structure to hang my world on. I was already moving away from creative pursuits and embracing science. Science appeared to be the perfect foil to the above incongruence and inconsistencies of religion, and I jumped onboard. Unfortunately, science is extremely limited and completely insufficient to define many aspects existence.

With the frameworks of God and science removed as overriding explanations for existence, I was pretty much out of options. Science might explain how nitrogen bases were formed, and how their sequencing made up DNA, but it couldn’t tell Michael Kuna what my purpose or significance was in this universe. Religion could explain my purpose and significance, but it did so by non-sensical rules and threats of eternal damnation.

It is a hollow feeling to view life aimlessly. I used science for the order that it could give me, I felt that was about as good as I could get. But good was not good enough, and so I started to explore other aspects of myself and my universe. I started to quiet my mind and listen to the background “noise” around me. I demanded God to show himself if he existed and if he gave a damn about me. No burning bush appeared. However, I did start to become aware of something, what it was I wasn’t quite sure. Something quiet and peaceful. Something that seemed to be part of me, but at the same time not. Strangely, I remembered similar feelings in the past. Sometimes during times of real crisis, these feelings would appear. Sometimes along with a solution to a problem that would just pop into my head. Sometimes the feeling would allow me to trust someone and let them into my life. Sometimes they would make me feel less alone when I felt that I had nowhere to turn. I had passed off these feelings as coincidence, random bursts of dopamine and nothing more.

As I opened my mind I became more in tune with this force. Sometimes it was so quiet that I could barely feel it, and at other time it became so insistent that I absolutely could not resist it. My life was far from perfect, but it seemed to be where it should be. I have come to believe that force is God in my life. A presence that was with me even when I completely rejected him.

Are my feelings just wishful thinking? Are they delusional, the product of a psychotic mind? You may believe what you wish. To me, they are more than real. But what evidence do I have? Is it even possible that something like God exists?

These are some of my thoughts:

-It is highly unlikely in our vast universe that life exists only on our little planet.
-It is impossible to believe that intelligent life only exists on our planet.
-It is impossible to believe that we are the highest form of intelligent life in the universe.
-It is impossible to believe that the only kinds of life in the universe must somehow resemble us. Intelligent life can take many different forms.
-It is extremely likely that there are forms of life are so advanced that they can directly interface with us if they so choose to.
-The above is logical, even scientific. However, it requires faith to believe that a superior intelligence is interacting with us and doing so with purpose.

So who is God? A guy with a white beard on a cloud thone? A collective group in intelligent life forms? A singular entity? The Trinity? Is God completely separate from the universe? Is he a creator who resides elsewhere, if so where? These decisions are important for theologians who make their living pondering such questions. They are less important to me.

I do believe that something greater than myself has guided me. At times my limited mind has been unable to comprehend why I’m being pushed in what seems to be the wrong direction. Eventually, that wrong direction turns out to be the correct one. Weird, but a good kind of weird.

Do I ascribe to any particular religious beliefs? I was raised Christian, and this is where I hang my hat. How good of a Christian am I? I’m still a work in progress. My global brain gathers information and finds relationships between random facts. It tells me that my experiences are not random, as they have a clear pattern. My brain also tells me that many of my pushes have happened because of a force outside of me.

My global thinking makes me look at large chunks of data, instead of tiny fragmented pieces. If the Bible is the inspired work of God, then I believe that it was written to be understood in totality. The New Testament is a book of important lessons, not a lot of fragmented phrases.

People find secret messages hidden between the lines of Scripture, not me. I’m also not one to build a whole faith or belief system on a couple of passages. It is too easy to misinterpret such things, and it is even easier to manipulate others with a fragmented “Word of God.” The basic concepts of the New Testament are those of love, peace, caring, inclusion, forgiveness, help, and acceptance. When a religion talks about exclusion, division, and rejection, I run. If you believe differently, that is your prerogative.

So where does science fit in with religion? For some odd reason people feel a need to exclude one from the other. I see no logic in this. In my mind, scientific facts and spiritual beliefs exist quite nicely together.

I continue on my journey. I await what God has in store for me. I pray that I can keep my mind open. I wish you peace.


Another Monday

Another Monday morning. I sit sipping my coffee at a little round table and listen to streaming music at the Starbucks on Chicago Avenue. Today’s playlist is pretty upbeat and happy.

The last few weeks have been interesting to me, as my thoughts have been in both the past and in the future… less so in the present. There is a famous slogan in Alcoholics Anonymous that says, “If you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future you are pissing on the present.” There really is no way to sanitize this phrase without losing its impact. If it offends you, I am sorry. I’m also sorry about what I am doing to my present.

My past has been front and center. It came crashing back when I watched the Vietnam documentary on PBS. Further pushes came from some events in the news, and an invitation to my 50th-grade school reunion. Conversely, my future is ominously present with my looming partial-retirement in a few months. A confusing time for an old doctor who should be in the here and now.

The strange thing is that I feel that it is important for me to be reflecting on both time spaces. Important, but it has been hard.

You may recall that I was raised Catholic. For a large chunk of my adolescence, I oscillated from being agnostic to atheist. I rediscovered God kicking and screaming. Basically, He wouldn’t take no for an answer. I gave in.

Back to the post…
I find myself being in situations that are conducive to long conversations with people very close to me. People are bringing up topics completely out of left field. The strange thing is that they are exactly the topics that I should be talking about. I’m trying a new level of honesty with those that are close to me. A no holds barred honesty. I am finding words just coming out of my mouth with little preparation or thought. Something very unusual for me.

I am finding the process stressful, it seems more directed by my Higher Power than anything else. I worry that I will lose the people that I most care about in the process, but I also feel that I have no choice in the matter. This fear goes back to, “If you truly knew me, would you still care about me?” An ancient tape that I thought was long resolved. Strange that I would be facing such issues at 64.

Life is so interesting. You think you have the answers, but when you open up yourself you discover that instead of answers you have more questions. This post is not meant to be a cryptic, although it may sound that way. I’m just fascinated that I’m still pondering my existence at a point in time when others seem to have everything in place. As I retire my life is changing, but I am still looking for a purpose. Perhaps a new purpose.

I thought I had a plan of action, it seems like God may be pushing me in a direction. I’m uncertain if it is my original planned direction, or something completely different. I still don’t know what I will do when I grow up. So much for 24 years of formal education! Time to “Let go and let God.”


Another thundery night.
The peals powerful, yet comforting.
I debate with myself.
An excuse to stay inside, for sure.
At 5 AM my iPhone beeps.
A text from my friend.
He warns me of the thunder and urges me to stay put.
He knows my obsessive ways.
I smile to myself, it feels good to be concerned for.
I debate with myself.
On ducks, on jacket, up umbrella.
One foot in front of another, I venture out.
The heavy air quiets the streets.
The thunder has scared away the joggers and dog walkers.
The streets belong to me this morning.
One foot in front of the other, thankful for today.