Whom Do I Love?

The word love is a word that has tremendous meaning and significance, and at the same time, it is so overused that it has no meaning or significance.  We think we know what love is, but how can that be the case when it means nothing? Love is a conundrum.

People would tell my parents that I was kind as a child.  I believe that statement was, and is, true.  But kindness isn’t love.

As humans, we announce to the world that “We are in love!” An emotion so powerful that it takes rational thinking away.  But being in love isn’t love.

I love pizza.  But pizza isn’t love.

Dear reader, when I was younger, I felt like I couldn’t love.  I cared about people.  I tried to be a good person.  I tried to do the right thing.  But, I didn’t love. Like many of my deficits, I accepted this imperfection and moved on with my life.

Over time I became more aware of who I was, and it was then that I started to understand why I couldn’t love. I discovered that my inability to love was based on a personal decision.  The decision determined in my subconscious. It was decided by me but without my conscious awareness. You see dear reader, to allow myself to truly love someone would make me vulnerable.  I could become subject to someone’s control. I could be hurt.  I could be manipulated.  I could be used. I saw love as a weakness, not a strength, and there was no room for weakness in my life.  I would not let anyone get close enough to me to have access to my soft underbelly.

In the place where love should have resided there was a hollow spot. It was in an area deep inside of me.  A region occupied by other deficits.  My lack of spirituality, my feelings of personal shame, my fear of being different. A zone well protected, and well hidden from others.  In my young life, I emphasized my strengths and buried my weaknesses.  It was the most efficient way to move forward.

Such a strategy can only carry one so far, and so I started to fill those empty spot.  Slowly and carefully for most, except for the love deficit.

I regained my ability to love in one day.  That day was January 27, 1983.  The day that my first child, Anne,  was born.  Something that was completely unnatural and foreign to me became completely natural and familiar.  The ability to love was always inside of me.  It was just hidden so deeply that I had no awareness of it.

I now love freely.  I celebrate my vulnerability.  I view my ability to love as a strength, not a weakness.

So what is love? The best definition that I have found was written by a tentmaker in a letter a long time ago.  It follows:

Love is Patient

Love is Kind

Love Does Not Envy

Love Does Not Boast

Love is Not Proud

Love is Not Rude

Love is Not Self-Seeking

Love is Not Easily Angered

Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs

Love Does Not Delight in Lies But Rejoices With the Truth

Love Always Protects

Love Always Trusts

Love Always Perseveres

Love Never Fails

I am imperfect in my ability to love, but I ever strive to closer approximate this standard.  So, whom do I love? Those whom I love know it by my intent and actions.

At The Lorraine Hotel, Fifty Years After Martin Luther King’s Assassination

I debated about writing this post. I thought about writing it, then discarded the thought.  I thought about it again.  Even now, I write it with trepidation. I’m writing it because I know that if I don’t I will continue to think about it.  It will become an earworm.

I don’t want to come across as a privileged white male writing about the poor oppressed blacks.  I don’t want to seem as if I am pandering about their great struggle in the way that some closet condescenders do.  Those folks who join with their “brothers,” but do so with a hidden air of superiority.

I don’t even want to write about Martin Luther King on Martin Luther King Day.  Instead, I want to write about feelings, specifically my feelings.

I traveled to Memphis with my friend Tom and his son Charlie to tour the Gibson guitar factory.  It was a long ride from Chicago, but we are good travel companions.  We arrived early Sunday afternoon.  Tom had been to Memphis before and wanted to stay at the Peabody hotel, which is directly downtown.  It is a beautiful place with the classic styling of the 1920s. We settled into our room.

After a bit, we ventured into an unseasonably cold Memphis evening and walked the short distance from the Peabody to Central BBQ for dinner.  I was impressed with my slab of ribs, my friend Tom’s more discerning palate was not. From Central BBQ I could see the old sign from the Lorraine Motel.  Dear reader, if you don’t recall this is the motel where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated at in 1968.  The motel and adjoining buildings are now the National Civil Rights Museum. We decided to go to the museum on Monday, which was Martin Luther King day.

I was already struck with a racial divide in Memphis.  Our hotel’s occupants were mostly white, the staff was a high percentage black.  The blues bars patrons were often white, but the main performers were often black. This is not some political statement, it is just an observation. An observation that struck me.

On Monday we stood in a moderately long line at the Civil Rights Museum. The line moved quickly.  Due to the holiday, the entrance “donation” was reduced to $5.  My calculation was that the attendees were about 95% black.  I did not feel out-of-place.  I was met with smiles and nods from both staff and fellow visitors. There was clearly a, “we are so pleased you came,” feeling.

I entered a long room that contained a civil rights art exhibit.  I was struck with one piece that seemed to be a combination of abstract art and words.  The art had a high relief that gave it power.  It made me want to stare at it.  In the background, I could hear a grandmother talking to her young granddaughter.  She was carefully explaining to her the meaning of each picture while she deftly wove in just a little bit of history to reinforce her narrative. She wanted the little girl to remember.  She wanted her to learn.

I moved into another room, this one crowded with people. In the middle of the round room was a docent.  Talking with a loud clear preacher style oration, he recounted the history of slavery.  How colonists first tried to enslave the Native Americans, then indentured servants from Europe, finally Africans. Africans proved the best as they were purchased as property, and thereby couldn’t work themselves towards freedom.  He spoke of the first country to abolish slavery (Haiti) and the last one (Brazil).  He noted that children born from slaves were automatically the property of their owners.  As property, they could be used for whatever purpose the owner wished. They could be sold and taken away from their parents without notice or consequence. He said that the plantation owners were some of the wealthiest people in the country; their fortunes based on this labor model. I moved on.

I stopped at an old 1950s style bus and entered at the back door.  I looked at photos of black people crowded and standing in the back, while front seats were empty.  An audio recording of a bus driver barked orders: “Get on back. If you don’t give up your seat I’ll have you arrested!”  I moved on.

I came upon a Greyhound bus from the 1960s.  It was a wreck with its aluminum roof burnt into eerie shards. The bus contained black “Freedom Fighters” ambushed by a hate group. The bus had been set ablaze. I moved on.

I looked at the balcony where Dr. King was assassinated. I moved on.

Dear reader, I remember these events as a child.  I remember the hate that whites felt towards blacks.  I remember my fear that blacks were going to hurt me.  My belief that they were somehow inherently corrupt, bad, and dangerous.  I can’t even say where I got those fears, but I know that they were common in the blue-collar Chicago neighborhood where I grew up.

I don’t exactly remember when my prejudice left me, but it was a long time ago.  I believe the process was gradual.  I know that it involved interacting with African Americans.  I remember being fearful in high school.  I remember that during two different high school years two black teachers reached out to me.  They seemed to think that I was special and unique.  I was worth their time and energy.  I was worth taking under their wings.  They told me about their families, confiding in me their dreams. They encouraged me.  They told me I was meant to do more. I was here to do more.  I wanted to believe them.

I always knew that I was different, odd, and unlike others.  I thought different was something to be ashamed of.  I was ashamed of being me. Why was I born the way I was?  Why couldn’t I have been like everyone else? Those teachers also knew what different was, in me they saw a special kind of different.  I was unique and one of a kind. Rather than a thing to be avoided and rejected, they saw me as a person to be celebrated and cared for.

The teachers were just the start of my transformation from prejudice.  This essay is not about the black struggle.  It is about people who are judged based on  irrelevant trivial but identifiable attributes.  Human beings who are rejected, hated, punished, or worse based on characteristics that they have little or no control over.  Skin color, religion, political belief, gender, sexual preference, ways of thinking, body size.  Name your poison.

How is it possible for us to convince ourselves that there is justification for such actions? Yet, we do so easily and without apology.  We find the bad apple in a group and use them as our reference.  We remember the facts that support our hypothesis and ignore the data that rejects it. We evoke God and say we are doing His work when we exclude or torture others.  We are God’s people, we shout. The “others” are not.

Yet, it is so clear that diversity of all types makes a nation stronger.  It brings new energy, new ideas, new solutions. Excluding groups does the opposite.

Will it ever be possible for humans to identify with each other based on an individual’s worth and character instead of nonsensical and unproductive biases?  It has been 50 years since the death of Martin Luther King.  There have been changes and shifts in our world, but in some ways, our anger and prejudices have just moved to new groups to fear and hate.

…In the background, I could hear a grandmother talking to her young granddaughter.  She was carefully explaining to her the meaning of each picture while she deftly wove in just a little bit of history to reinforce her narrative. She wanted the little girl to remember.  She wanted her to learn…

 

KISS

KISS- Keep It Simple Stupid!

Saturday morning, 3:40 AM, and my alarm goes off, I hit the snooze bar for an additional 10 minutes, I get up.  Dressed, I go downstairs for an apple with peanut butter and a cup of strong coffee. I noodle on the computer for a bit and glace at the clock.  Time to put on my coat and start the drive to Tommy’s.

I arrive at his house it is 5 AM. I know that it is OK to come in without knocking, and I do so.  Tommy is in his study, behind his huge desk.  I pull out my computer, he is already on his.  And so another Saturday morning starts.

We chat, do a little work, examine some changes that he is making on his revised website, chat some more.  Tommy says, “Do you want to go to breakfast?’ “Where?” I ask.  “Where else,” he responds.  I know that he is talking about the Palace, a breakfast joint in Chicago, over 30 miles away.  “Sure.”

As we drive into the city Tommy comments on how clear the sky is, and we decide to make a detour to the lake to see the sunrise.  Tommy is a little boy in a middle-aged man’s body.  I completely get him, a little boy is hiding in me too.  Time for an adventure!

It is freezing, but the adventure is great fun.  Then fantastic omelets at the Palace; then home.

My daughter Grace left me a sticky note stuck on my phone.  “Dad, if you see Tom today can you borrow a C-clamp from him.”  Grace is trying to make her own oboe reeds and needs to use a C-clamp to properly secure the reed’s thread.  Tom is happy to lend me a C-clamp, but I forget about it due to our breakfast adventure.  Grace and I go to the Ace hardware in search of one.  Along the way, we chat and laugh.  Grace is astounded that the Ace has free sandwich cookies and popcorn for its patrons on Saturday.  She grabs both, I take a cone of popcorn.  “Are you sure we can just take them?” she asks.  “Sure,” I tell her.

Julie returns home after seeing a couple of patients and asks me if I want to go for a walk.  Dear reader, by now you know I love to walk. “Yes,” I say.  We walk to our little downtown and then past it as we meander along the river.  We talk about our kids, noting how proud we are of them.  They are getting older and we celebrate their increasing independence and grieve over it at the same time.  We are now at the backside of the strip mall where my Starbucks resides.  The little boy in me returns, and I’m determined to find a secret way to get into the Starbucks without having to go all of the way around to the front entrance.  I try opening many backdoors, most are locked.  Finally, I get into the back of the Penzey’s spice shop and feel victorious.  I saved at least 3 steps!

A quiet evening follows, supping on a grilled cheese sandwich and Amy’s Curried Lentil Dahl Soup. I then meander into my study with a 40-quart black garbage bag.  I glance over at my oak rolltop desk and roll my chair up to it.  My goal is to go through two of the seven drawers.  My desk is jam-packed full of junk, I have always been too busy to clean it out.  Old cell phones, calculators that don’t work, outdated prescription pads.  Ninety percent of the contents are tossed.  I find some treasures; rewards for my efforts.  A family reunion photo from 1995, some photobooth pictures of me from an unknown year.  A recipe for French Silk pie from Julie, before we were married and before she became Dr. Julie.  

Then a little TV, but I bore quickly.  I open a book on WordPress and I start to thumb through it, my concentration betrays me and I close it. The remainder of the night ends pleasantly.

Dear reader, for me this was a perfect day.  I spent time with people that I love.  I did silly things.  I ate good food.  I organized a couple of drawers and found a few forgotten treasures.  Is there any way that I could have had a better day? I really don’t think so.  So many of the pleasures of life are free, or nearly free.  I am grateful for Saturday, I am counting my blessings.

Me, year unknown.
Family reunion picnic 1995.
From Julie, before she was Dr. Julie.
Winter sunrise on Lake Michigan.
Chicago skyline at dawn.

There Are No Emergencies For Those Who Are Prepared.

There are no emergencies for those who are prepared. If you started to say that slogan in front of my kids, they could complete it, as they hear it often from me. It is true… to a point. So many emergencies happen because a situation isn’t thought through. This applies to all facets of life, from work projects to interpersonal relationships.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule. There are times when unforeseen variables enter the picture. However, many of my “emergencies” have happened because I was in a hurry, or too lazy to set up a situation appropriately. The time that I decided it would be safe to stand on a chair with a known broken leg would be an example of both poor planning and laziness. An extra 5 minutes of effort would have avoided several weeks of recovery pain as a result of crashing down onto a very hard concrete basement floor.

The above mantra also works when you want to sustain a behavior. I know that I feel better when I get some exercise every day. Going to the gym gives me the best workout, but walking offers me many more practical advantages. Walking allows me to pray and meditate. Walking is something I enjoy. Walking means that I can stop and get a cup of coffee. Walking means, I can stop and write (as I am doing right now). Walking, there is a good chance that I’ll see my friend, Tom.

There are potential pitfalls to walking as I’m no longer in a controlled environment. The three deterrents to walking for me are very hot weather, freezing weather, and precipitation in the form of rain or snow. In most cases, these are not insurmountable barriers. Over the last few years, I have been refining my waking “gear.” Warm weather gear is easy, wear less. Rain gear requires a little more planning; a good umbrella, “duck” type waterproof shoes, a light rain jacket. Cold weather presents more challenges. This morning I checked the iPhone weather app. It was -12F (-24 Celsius) outside! It would have been easy for me to stay in bed. It would have been easy to say, “I’ll walk tomorrow.” In my case putting things off can become a pattern, one day becomes two, two becomes three.

For Christmas, I asked my wife to get me a few items. UnderArmour thermal tights, a long sleeve t-shirt, and one of those “bank robber” face masks. Wearing these types of clothes are not particularly pleasant for me. They are very tight and remind me of my obese days. However, to accomplish a goal, you need to do those things that will most likely yield success. I walked yesterday without the UnderArmour, and by walk’s end my legs were burning in pain from the cold.

The rest of my cold weather gear sounds like an advertisement for a clothing catalog. Wool socks from REI, Columbia hiking shoes, heavy duty pants from Duluth Trading Company, a Woolrich flannel shirt, a Cabella down coat, Carhartt gloves. Add to this outfit a face mask, and a long scarf. There are no emergencies for those prepared! Out into the environment, one foot in front of the other.

The walk to Starbucks was still cold, but very manageable. I do not fear the return walk home.

Sometimes no amount of planning is sufficient to avoid a problem. A sudden storm appears when you are in the middle of nowhere. Your computer’s hard drive corrupts when a report is due. The person that you are trying to solve a problem with is erratic or irrational. Yes, there are times when there are emergencies for even the prepared. However, they are much less frequent. Learning to plan for situations and events also help you cope when things do go awry. Your mind is in a problem-solving mode, and you are primed to explore reasonable solutions.

I know people who prepare little. In fact, I would say some of them are comfortable with the chaos that poor planning yields. They live on the edge when it comes to their spending habits. They choose conflict over peace. They blame rather than solve. They deal with unnecessary emergencies. In the process, they waste their own energy and the time and goodwill of those around them. The power that could be moving them forward in life is expended to just keep their dysfunctional status quo.

It is not my goal to judge such individuals. I can only state that this is not my preferred behavior. Planning and preparation may take a little more time in the short run, but yield less “forest fires” to put out in the long run.

So, with UnderArmour, down coat, and wool socks I will venture back home. Some may make fun of me for being “too OCD.” Others may think me too controlled, and therefore not very exciting. They are all welcome to their opinion. A nice walk will reward me despite the fact that it -12F outside. When I get home, I will carefully take off, fold, and put away my cold weather gear. It will be waiting for me when I get up at 4 AM tomorrow.

Scarf, mask, hood. Ready for -12F.
Writing today’s blog. Coffee at the ready.

The Discarded Party Hat

The Discarded Party Hat.

Yesterday was New Year’s Eve; I had no intention of staying up until midnight. My alarm is set to 3:40 AM and I’m too old to function on a couple hours of sleep.

Last night Julie asked me if I wanted to watch a movie and I said, “Sure.” We clicked on a movie called, “Detroit,” and I paid the $3.95 rental. The movie is a fictional account of people impacted by the Detroit riots of 1966. It was violent and disturbing. At 10 PM I told her that I didn’t want to start 2018 with this memory. The TV was turned off.

Three-forty AM, my clock radio clicks on to BBC news and I immediately hit the snooze bar. I force myself to sit up in bed to escape my warm blanket. Eventually, I dressed and stumbled down the stairs. Into my pockets goes my wallet, glasses, and iPhone. On my wrist, I strapped my Apple Watch. I checked the temperature, -8F degrees.

It is my custom to send a morning text greeting to my friend Tom. I had surmised that he would probably be sleeping in on New Year’s Day, but I like wishing him a good morning. I tap out a “Good morning, Tommy,” and hit send. As expected, there is no return text. I make sure that I have a cup of coffee at home because I know that Starbucks was opening late today. My walk would be a circle route without any stops.

Flannel shirt, sweater, ski mask, scarf, gloves; time to hit the streets.

My walk is completely to myself. New Year’s Day, 5 AM, -8F below zero… no surprise that even the early morning joggers are in bed. I love the privacy.

Instead of praying or meditating I just think about random things. I circle my Starbucks, which is closed and completely dark. I find a lone party hat in the street. Made of cheap cardboard, it looks ridiculous in its synthetic pretentiousness. Last night it was proudly worn by an excited bar patron. Now it has become trash.

If you have been reading my posts you probably have noticed something about me. I tend to pool information and compare things. I see connections between things. That cardboard hat went into a pool. It was the pool of things that we think are important that are not. That pool not only contains objects, it also has a place for goals, relationships, and desires.

I thought to myself, “How many times have I worked on a goal that made no difference in my life? How many times have I argued over some point with a relationship that turned out to be completely unimportant? How many times have a wanted something that in the end provided no real benefit to me?” I’m sure the answer to all of the above questions is many.

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but on this quiet and cold morning, one was given to me. I want to spend my time and energy in ways that have meaning to me, and with healthy people who love and support me. I have a right to my opinions, but it is OK for others to have different ones. I want to move towards people and things that make me grow positively, and away from those who make me feel bad for who I am. I don’t want my life to be like that party hat; something that looks good from a distance, but cheap and phony close up. When I review 2018, I want to see myself in a more positive place, not a more negative one.

Happy New Year dear readers. Wishing you a meaningful life in 2018.

The discarded party hat.