A few thoughts on the Big Inevitability

OK. Good news first: my oldest brother Brad and his wife Cindy just found out from eldest daughter Erin and son-in-law Joel that sometime in October, they too will become grandparents. They are thrilled, as they should be and is most appropriate. It means one day, someday, they’ll have a little critter to come visit who may look something like this:

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And who can resist something who looks like that? Not you, certainly not me; that’s my grandson right there and let me tell you he is a blast. I worked with someone who became a grandmother in her mid-30’s, had four of them by the time I worked with her in her early forties, who said there was nothing better on this earth than being a grandparent. She was right. Quite right.

So I’m happy for them, and looking forward to adding “great-uncle” to my multiple hats, and look forward to meeting the star of future Butterfield Fishing Shows. As there is nothing better than being a grandparent, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing the future right before your eyes. It is the reward of age. The good Lord’s way of saying, “You’re not done yet. All those mistakes you made with your own? Here’s another chance. Good luck.”

It’s good to think of birth right now. Lately, I’ve been thinking an awful lot of death. My oldest cousin lost his wife unexpectedly a few weeks back. A high school friend lost his mother unexpectedly just a few days ago. While I’m not worried about either of them because both of them have the most fantastic support network of family and friends people can ask for, I’m still praying for them because both of them are in shock. They don’t have to say it. I know it. Neither of them are that old. My cousin’s wife wasn’t that old. My friend’s mother wasn’t that old. This wasn’t supposed to happen this soon. Yet it did. Tempus fugit, memento mori, but not yet, not now!

No. Sorry. It’s yet. It’s now. There is no way of knowing how much that hurts until you experience it. I’m not about to claim I know how they feel.

But here’s the reality I do have to face: This is going to happen more and more often to people I know, because that is the lesson of age. The great inevitability of life is on our way to death, people we love will die first and the older we get, the more this will happen until it finally happens to us. It’s no one’s fault. It’s not part of a divine plan. It’s just pure cold logic, frankly. Mathematics. The branch of such called probability. The older we get, the more people we know, that simple. The realization doesn’t really hit you until your late 40’s to early 50’s, though, because that’s when it starts happening more often. It’s no longer this rare event that occasionally disrupts your life. There’s a reason your grandparents read the obituaries in the morning paper every day.

So what can you do about it? Not much. Be supportive. Show in some way how much the lost soul was loved and the survivor still is. Give your heart and your shoulder. Pray. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This weekend is Palm Sunday. If you’re Christian, let this weekend and next remind you as well that death isn’t the end and this life is not all that we live for.

And hug those children and grandbabies while you can. 🙂

 

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If I could make sense of this, it would make a helluva book

The great omniscient “they” who rule the world say for a blog post to garner attention, mere text is not enough, one must provide a provocative insert that illustrates the subject matter.  Me?  Provocative?  Perish the thought. 😉  But I do like this tune, and it fits for what you’re about to read:

Now, how does this “provocative” little tune illustrate my subject matter?  Like this: For many, many years, it’s been the tune that goes through my head during Communion at Mass.

To, I don’t know, 80% of you or so, that means “… and?”  Because to you it’s just a tune.  But to the remaining 20% of you or so, just maybe you’re thinking “Oh, really?  During Mass, during Catholic, Christian Mass, you think of music from one of the most notorious converts to Islam on the planet, someone who once spoke out in support of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa calling for a famous author’s death, who has been forbidden to enter the United States on no-fly lists; who supposedly rejected his entire career and all its trappings as heretical just to suddenly decide a couple decades later maybe it wasn’t?  That’s the kind of thing you think about during Communion at Mass?

Uh, no.  I don’t think of any of that.  I just think of the song.  I like to think the music can be separated from the man who makes it.  Much like an author can be separated from the books he writes.  Lord, I’d certainly hope you not think I’m inseparable from Mac MacCracken or Ben Burke.  (If you have no idea who they are, click the “Buy J.P.’s Books” link above and do it; I could stand the sales.)

So, why do I think of it during Communion at Mass?  It’s not terribly deep:  in my faith, the closest father-son relationship in existence is between, well, the Father and the Son.  With the Holy Spirit, together they pack quite a punch.  They are inseparable.  They are literally one and same, yet different.  How they pull this off, no one knows.

Is this really much different than a father and son relationship among mere human beings?  No.  Yet yes.  Blood or adopted, he’s you, yet he’s not you.  In some ways you’ll always be like him, in other ways you’ll never be like him.  In some ways you can’t be him, in other ways you must be him.  And he must be you.  And he can’t be you.

So, yes, that’s the tune that goes through my head during Communion, pondering He Whom I must be like, yet in many ways am not and in many ways cannot be, yet I must try; otherwise, I do not live.

Am I making your head hurt yet?  Or are you just wondering why I’m writing what would have been a really good Father’s Day entry, the week before Mother’s Day?

I never was much for timing. 🙂

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Now if you want a provocative image for your week, here’s a good one:

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“I don’t always allow myself to be photographed nude.  But when I do, it’s in my Bumbo chair.”

The young man turns five months old this very day.  Come this weekend, we will travel to his abode and celebrate his mother’s very first Mother’s Day–and, as it turns out her fifth anniversary.  Lots of momentous occasions all at once, so I’m hoping you forgive me in advance if the next entry in this blog is a little late.

Cheers!

Let’s blog about the new Pope, why not?

Normally at work I can’t follow live streams.  I don’t know why.  I’ve always assumed that it was an HR-instructing-IT thing that we were at work to, uh, work, not watch live streams all day; ergo, no live streams, be productive, you’re welcome.

This week, though, one did work for me: the CNN feed of Vatican television just before the man who would be Pope Francis was introduced to the world.  If anyone from my employer’s HR department is reading this, I solemnly swear I did not watch the whole feed.  I merely listened to it, because I realize I am at work to work, not to watch live streams, even those of once-in-a-lifetime historical events.  I just watched the Pope step out on the balcony and speak and that’s it.  During a break.  Of course.

To my life-long-Catholic shame, it was the first time I’ve ever watched a Pope’s introduction live as it happened.  Before, I’ve always let CNN or the papers tell me what happened. The older I get, the more I realize what a foolish thing that is to do; so I watched this one live.

My first thought when the former Cardinal Bergoglio stepped out was WOW–if he were thinner, he would look remarkably like my grandfather.

My second thought when he stepped out was WOW–he looks scared to death.

Fortunately I stuck around and listened to him speak, and heard the translation of same, and caught myself becoming thrilled.

What can I say?  From all appearances so far, we’ve got a good one.

I mean in no way to hint that his predecessors weren’t “good ones.”  Only to say that this one will be a good one.  One that may bring many changes overdue and necessary to the Church.

Now let’s get “controversial”:  they won’t be the changes the mainstream media tell you incessantly that we want.  Humanae Vitae will not be revoked.  If that’s something you’d like to see, sorry; the Church must witness to the Truth as it believes our Savior taught it.

But our new Pope seems to have something in common with Henry David Thoreau, a three-word mantra if you will:  simplify, simplify, simplify.

Do not get caught out in the irrelevancies. I’m aware Thoreau was not Catholic, and I’m aware mantra is a Buddhist term.  So what?  The message is the same.

“How I wish,” Francis said to his first meeting with the media, “for a poor Church, and a Church for the poor!”

Who are the poor?  The impoverished?  In human terms, surely, and he surely refers to them in his wish for a “poor Church.”

But consider also this from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Who are the “poor in spirit?”  The humble.  The meek.  The gentle.  The simple.  From www.newadvent.org/cathen/02371a.htm:

The word poor seems to represent an Aramaic ‘ányâ (Hebrew ‘anî), bent down, afflicted, miserable, poor; while meek is rather a synonym from the same root, ‘ánwan (Hebrew ‘ánaw), bending oneself down, humble, meek, gentle. Some scholars would attach to the former word also the sense of humility; others think of “beggars before God” humbly acknowledging their need of Divine help. But the opposition of “rich” (Luke 6:24) points especially to the common and obvious meaning, which, however, ought not to be confined to economical need and distress, but may comprehend the whole of the painful condition of the poor: their low estate, their social dependence, their defenceless exposure to injustice from the rich and the mighty. Besides the Lord’s blessing, the promise of the heavenly kingdom is not bestowed on the actual external condition of such poverty. The blessed ones are the poor “in spirit“, who by their free will are ready to bear for God’s sake this painful and humble condition, even though at present they be actually rich and happy; while on the other hand, the really poor man may fall short of this poverty “in spirit“.

You’ll notice there’s lots of links in that.  Feel free to click on any of them for some fascinating reading.

What’s my point?  I’m beginning to believe the Catholic Church may have just chosen a Pope that will be one of its best, one necessary for our times, and one who will be very misunderstood, several times over.

All indications are that he is a simple, humble, spiritual man. Therefore those who would prefer things complicated, that they might profit from their own evil, will go after him with everything they have.

He needs your prayers, whether you’re Catholic or not.

And that will be enough proselytizing for today.

You’re welcome.

An insomniac spelling lesson

Daylight Savings Time.  Hate it.  H-A-T-E it.

The clock says almost three a.m. now.  My head says almost two a.m. now.  Can I sleep now?  No, because my head is confused, and when my head is confused my brain turns on to deal with it, and when my brain is on, I can’t sleep.

So I try to tell my brain to shut up and shut off.  You don’t want me to write what it tells me back.

This morning, after telling me back that thing you don’t want me to write, it reminded me I never put up an entry to this blog yesterday.  So here I am, up doing that.  It’s why the blog’s named what it is, right?  Heck, this time I beat the name by a good fifteen minutes.  An hour and fifteen minutes, compensating for DST, that thing I H-A-T-E.

It reminded me we’re halfway through L-E-N-T.

I didn’t think this year I was going to write much about Lent, and so far I haven’t.  I’m concentrating on facing my prejudices about how others see my faith, and while it makes for spiritual growth, it’s also a hard read simply because it’s so difficult to write about faith in God without pissing someone else off.  Two things we never argue with those close to us, the old saw says:  politics and religion.  For many the same reasons.  Two sides of the same coin.  We know what we believe, we know why we believe it, we don’t want it questioned; and when it is we get defensive and angry because now you’re not just questioning me, you’re questioning GOD and how dare you question GOD.  

It’s a rare soul who can listen to another speak of God in unfamiliar terms without feeling that edginess creep in.  You may be feeling it now just reading this.

I think part of it is the too-natural tendency to take one’s religion and confuse it for faith.  Most think faith and religion are also two sides of the same coin.  They can be, but more often they’re not.  Faith is the belief itself.  Religion is how one chooses to express it communally.

For some, a religion becomes their faith, and must be practiced to the letter, without question. There is no why, there is only what.  So when another asks why, the automatic response becomes “how dare you.”   At best, they walk away; at worst they get violent.

Repeat many times over, and the violence becomes war, and you get where we are today–more and more blaming religion for all the world’s problems, and by extension faith, in spite of good solid logic to the contrary.  Atheism grows in acceptance for much this reason.  I mentioned in last week’s entry that the “countercultural” religion now has its own counterculture against it?  There it is.

I am not one of the “new” counterculture.  I believe.  I have my reasons which I’ve written about before and don’t feel the need to bring up again.

But part of me “gets” non-belief very well, enough so that it pushes me to try and at least understand why so many don’t get what I believe.

And that out of me and into print, now I’m sorely tempted to go back to sleep.  But I think you get why I can’t. 🙂

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New entry of “Reed’s Story” up.  It’s a long one, but IMHO worth your time.  Of course I think it’s worth your time, I wrote it! 😀   Feedback welcome as always.  Thanks.

Suck it up, it’s almost Lent…

… already.  Good.  I like early Lenten seasons.  The earlier Lent is, the earlier it is over.  That’s my selfish secular side coming through, kids.  The bit of soul in me warring against that likes early Lenten seasons too, but for different reasons.  The earlier Lent is, the earlier incentive to expel the sugar-fueled gluttony the holidays bring that sticks around in spite of all good intentions, especially when January brings a plague like this one did.  If you can’t do it for yourself… if you can’t do it for your health… if you can’t do it even for vanity… perhaps, just maybe, you can do it… for GOD.  Maybe. 🙂

I’ve written a lot on this blog about Lent and God. It’s probably cost me some readers. I don’t care. It’s kind of important. As this entry from a couple of years ago spells out, belief or disbelief in God is the philosophical fundamental of human existence; everything you “are” as a human being hinges on whether or not you accept a higher power over yourself. That’s not nearly as deep as it sounds. We all ask ourselves “why” at some point; it’s the only answer that makes sense.

That’s the whole point of Lent, at least from the Catholic perspective. It’s a month and a half of looking into yourself for what’s there that’s getting in the way of your relationship with God, taking that, and ideally eliminating it–or at least putting it in its proper place. It’s why, though not required, many Catholics choose a symbolic thing to “give up” over Lent.  Soda pop.  Candy bars.

Or if you want to go deeper with it… your prejudices.

Now there’s a challenge: Stare down a hard truth for Lent. Face the other side of a long-held belief. Try to get why someone doesn’t think like you do.

Here’s a blog from an old high school acquaintance that’s pushing me to do just that.  Its subject is “spiritual surrealism,” or “spirrealism” for short.  Grossly oversimplified, it’s a take on the issues of modern religion through the eyes of two surrealist artists, one with an Orthodox background, one with a Catholic background.

Vonnegut likens artists to canaries in coal mines; SPIR well backs that up.  It is not pleasant reading.   I say that not to disparage it.  It is doing what art is to do. The more traditional you are in outlook, the more it jolts and shocks.  In fact, I’ve caught myself thinking while reading some entries, “Is he serious… or is this art?”  Is it his thoughts, or what the work displayed with the writing is to say?  After all, once his co-contributor to the site, upon being presented with criticism of what she said, responded “Did you like the art?”

So take that caveat with you as you visit and read, but for the sake of the Lenten exercise I have in mind, I will assume both contributors to the site are deadly serious.  And I will ask myself, why am thinking the things I am, feeling the emotions I am, while reading this.  I’ve already suggested some reading to them as well.  I may keep doing so, but I have no intention of critiquing their work.  That’s not the point of this exercise.  Lent is meant to be taken internally.  The point is to let their work critique me.

I doubt I write much more about Lent this year, so take that thought with you:  what we “give up” for Lent should be as much internal as external, if not more so.  IMHO.

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Finally, part seven of Reed’s Story is up.  If you haven’t read it in awhile, I’d strongly suggest re-reading parts one and two as well as part six before this one. If you haven’t read it at all, I’d strongly recommend reading parts one, two, three, four, five and six first. 😀  There’s a twist, see, and I’d hate for you to miss its full significance.  ‘Nuff said.  Criticism welcome at the email address in the link above, all I ask is you remember it’s a first draft.

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Finally, one more “proud grandpa” picture:

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Gotta say I love the “moonbeam phase” of early childhood.  Every smile this little guy makes is like a moonbeam straight into the soul.  Granted I’m not the one diaper-changing him or cleaning up his upchucks–though I have got to feed and burp him a couple of times–but I’ve got to think his parents feel the same moonbeams from him.  I hope so.  He’s showing signs already of being a rather cool character.

Big Ol’ Yellow Moon

Yes, I know, I’m late again.  Been painting.  The good news is I’m mostly done.  Three out of four sides of the house are “Uncertain Grey” again.  That’s the shade of Sherwin Williams Super Paint (or as I like to call it, SOOPER Paint) we had a local company I won’t name put on some seven years ago or so.  Unfortunately, they sprayed it on and in spraying it on  they watered it down so much that Uncertain Grey became Confused Pink, and when we had some new windows put in last year and painted around them the difference was… profound.  It looks much better now.  No spraying this time; I’ve been using a handbrush and a roller.

Somehow in the midst of that I got a little more of “Reed’s Story” written, but not enough to justify posting a fourth part yet.  I think this week I can correct that.  By this weekend I’ll have a little more up for you.  In the meantime, if you haven’t read what’s posted above in the “Reed’s Story” section, go for it, and let me know what you think either in the comments section or by emailing me at thelettersstp@comcast.net. All I ask is you consider that this is a first draft and it’s very rough.  Suggestions where you think the story might go or is going are most welcome.

My good wife got a hankering for frozen pops last night–as she likes to call them, “sucky things”–so being a good husband, I put my own desire to go to bed early aside and we went to procure sucky things and a few other necessities of life.  It was worth it only to see the moon.  Pretty thing, big and low and almost full, a lovely shade of yellow.  It’s still out right now as I type this, though on the other side of the sky, making for a well-lit morning.  Might have to stroll a bit and soak it in and enjoy the quiet.

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.–Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Enjoy your week.  Let me hear from you.


 

The Obligatory Yet 100% Real and Verifiable Fish Story (Which is Absolutely True)

Okay, first things first. This is what a five-pound bass looks like:

I am an honest man, so I must inform you the person holding this five-pound bass is not me. In fact, I have never met this man in my life, and I don’t want him to sue me for use of his image without permission, so I have deliberately decapitated him pictorially. Even if I did know him, he would not be part of this story. His sole purpose on my humble blog is to show you what a five pound bass looks like. So please, carefully absorb this image as you read the remainder of this entry.

As posted last week, I joined my father and two of my brothers for a fishing trip. Our destination was Lake Vermilion in Minnesota, not far from Cook; less than an hour’s drive from International Falls. If you are unfamiliar with Lake Vermilion, here is what it looks like on a map:

Please note the scale to the lower right on this map, and how short a distance on your ruler two miles is. Folks, this is one big lake. It is also a popular lake, with several resorts on its coastlines, and many private residences, even island ones that have to have supplies to their homes–or home–ferried by lake barge. I actually saw one of these on Lake Vermilion a couple of times. Being mostly functional moving machines they’re not very photogenic, so I’ll spare you a picture of one. Just accept the premise that this is a great big body of water, because it simply is.

And it is loaded with fish, and for six days, four of which were as perfect as one could hope, one of which it rained for fifteen minutes and then got hot, and another of which was just plain hot; we caught fish.

Now, these fish were typical of a huge freshwater lake as Lake Vermilion is.  My father caught a couple walleye that were in the slot (meaning they were  a size requiring them to be thrown back instead of mounted or eaten), one of my brothers caught a couple respectable size bass weighing just over a pound or so, another may or may not have but is being “modest,” and by the fifth day we had enough bass, perch and bluegill fillets for four honest meals, which we consumed in three, with fried potatoes and peppers, baked beans and sliced Indiana tomatoes for sides.  Two of those meals we had consumed by Friday, the last day of the trip and, deciding we would close out the trip with one final fish dinner and having more than enough to do so, Friday would be a sporting day of catch and release, one of us on each of our boats equipped with a camera to document our trophies.

And document we did.  Though I haven’t yet uploaded my camera, I personally brought in a twelve-inch perch.  That may not sound like much to the layman, but to a fisherman, it’s the perch equivalent of hooking Shaquille O’Neill.  Perch are not known for getting all that big.  A “keeper” perch is typically just a little bigger than the palm of your hand, and quite good with a spicy Southern-style breading.  But the combination of that, and another pound-and-a-half bass caught by my brother in the boat, convinced us this was a location well worth trolling in.

So we trolled, and brought in some more nice perch along with their baby brothers and sisters (friends, Lake Vermilion is swarming with perch), and several hand-sized bluegill, and a couple more respectable bass; and then my brother’s last rig got snagged and snapped in the water.  I could empathize.  Lake Vermilion does not give its bounty without sacrifice, having claimed six of my rigs already by that point.  So we checked the time and decided to head for our lunchtime picnic spot where we’d greet my father and other brother and compare progress.

As we started to pull out, my line snagged in the weeds.  I told my brother I was snagged, and as he put the motor in neutral so I could unsnag myself, the snag suddenly moved away from the boat with startling force, bending my rod at easily a forty to fifty-degree angle.

Epiphany struck.

“This is no snag,” I said to my brother, “this is a fish!”

And the fish fought me, and I fought it, and as fought it my brother grabbed the net there in the boat for the bigger ones, and as he got to the middle of the boat, I managed to get the fish within a foot of the surface of the water.

It was a bass.

It was a big bass.

It was a great big stinkin’ monster Godzilla-cubed five pound bass.

“OH MY GOD!”  my brother and I screamed in unison as he sank out of view, trying to pull my pole with him.

“Get him back up to the boat!” my brother screamed.  “Get him over to the net!  I can’t reach him!  Get him over here!”

“I’M TRYING!!” I screamed.  “God Bless America, this thing is a BEAST!”

I got him in our sight again, ginormous, sleek, succulent; realizing that this was no ordinary moment in my middle-aged existence, no, this was why God Himself created fishing, so ordinary men might know what is to wrestle Him as He Himself wrestled Jacob; and remembering that Jacob actually won, so might we, and so might I; and I threw every ounce of limited strength I have into pulling that fish in, and got him just close enough to my brother’s net that he could tip the tail, just tip it; and as he tipped that tail so the fish said “I’ve had it with you jokers” and flipped us off with it, breaking my rod in two and snapping the line at the same time.

And time itself, stopped.

Stopped cold in that one spot in Lake Vermilion.

And for that short eternity allowed to us, I laughed like I’ve never laughed before, and my brother, aghast, reeling in the shock, kept telling all the ways we could have caught it, should have caught it, and what we could have done if we’d caught it.  For about ten minutes we froze time like that, until my brother noticed someone in a power boat about fifty feet from us paddling.

I looked back at the power boat.

“Can you give me a pull?” he hollered.  “My battery’s dead; I live right over there across the lake.”

We did, making sure to tell him of our five pound bass adventure while getting his boat secured to ours.

“Sure it wasn’t a muskie?” he asked.  “There are lots of those in this lake.  My sons have a couple mounted.”

No sir, we politely insisted, this was a bass.  A five-pound bass.  

As is we got him across the lake to his home, where he offered us water or beer for our charity, which we politely refused; decided to make for our lunch spot instead.

And from there it’s really not much of a story.  We relayed our tale to my father and our other brother, who asked us deep probing questions to confirm our tale’s veracity, because there are no greater skeptics towards one’s greatness than his own family; and we enjoyed a fine meal of sliced turkey sandwiches, and then my brother and I went back to the same spot to see if we could get him again.

Of course we couldn’t.  One shouldn’t presume God will repeat and improve upon a miracle.  In fact He punished us for our arrogance by cursing our 25-horsepower two-stroke motor so it would quickly consume our remaining fuel, requiring my father and brother to tow us to a nearby resort for a refill.  For the essence of any good fish story, even real ones, is just a little bit of humility to keep it all in perspective.

And this is a real one.  Even though neither of us could reach for the camera to provide you the photographic evidence, it is undeniably true.

Yes.  It is.