The Aging Process

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Turning 30 was great. I’d heard that 30th birthdays could be depressing, so I took matters into my own hands and threw my own party. This was not the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, but it was at least in the top ten. Most of the people that I really wanted to spend time with were there and spending time with them was richly gratifying. The party had the added benefit of occurring on the first day of the World Series. I didn’t get to see much of the game (I was busy with hosting duties), but I got to see the end of it. Kirk Gibson hit the most famous home run in World Series history, winning the game and inspiring the Dodgers to the biggest upset in World Series history. I wasn’t a Dodgers fan, but it added to the atmosphere and settled a interesting bet at the party, but that’s a digression for another time. In all, it was as enjoyable an experience as I could have possible wished for.

And then the next year, I turned 31. That was a shock. I didn’t realize I was going to keep getting older.

Yesterday, I turned 61. It wasn’t an ordinary day. I ran a 5k that morning in a 25 degree wind chill and that night we had a family gathering to celebrate my and my sister’s birthdays. Lynne’s birthday was a while back, but professional duties made it impossible to do anything for her birthday at the time. So it wasn’t ordinary, but it was within one standard deviation of ordinary. Except for those events, I did the weekly grocery shopping and mowed the lawn and did the laundry. I also took a long nap, but that’s every Saturday for me, so nothing unusual in that. I gotta tell ya, at 61 “extraordinary” is often a euphemism for “bad.” In my case, ordinary was great, all I could have hoped for.

Nowadays I tell a lot of self-deprecating jokes about my age. I can’t seem to help it. These jokes are funny to me, probably funnier to me than they are to the person I’m telling them to. In a few years, they probably won’t be funny anymore, so I need to enjoy them now. But I am getting close enough to being old that I understand that aging is serious business and not for the faint of heart. I wake up with different pains in unusual places and no memory of how they got there. This morning, it was my right elbow. I swear I have no idea what I did to that elbow, but it’s got a dull and somewhat distracting ache that I know is not going away soon. My short-term memory has never been very good and now it’s swiss cheese. The aches, the memory problems, the other minor signs of physiological entropy, none of this is serious. All of it is annoying.

And yet, I still wake up every morning with a sense of wonder about what the day’s adventure will be. Maybe that’s delusional thinking, a product of that swiss cheese memory and low expectations, but it’s surprising how often that delusional thinking is rewarded. The Good Lord has seen fit to bless my life with so many awesome things that I couldn’t possibly find the time to count them. Birthdays for me are a mile marker that allows me to celebrate those blessings.

The “surviving to reach another birthday” part is just the icing on the cake.


Patriarch for a Day(Again)

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(Blogger’s Note:  This is a repeat.  I try not to do repeats, but I also try not to leave any blood stains at the scene of the crime.  Sometimes things just happen.  This post is from a little over three years ago, just two days after I walked my sister down the aisle at her wedding and then made a speech at the reception.  Despite my speech, they are still married.)

When my father passed away eighteen months ago, that made me the family patriarch, at least according to the social rules in some cultures, and at least according to some definitions of the word patriarch, and at least for just this tiny branch of the family (that would be the branch currently holed up in their air conditioned homes trying to survive the Kansas summer).  In modern society, that means next to nothing, sort of akin to being the smartest guy at the local zombie social club.  It’s not totally meaningless, but nobody in attendance really cares and you’re probably better off not bringing any attention to the fact that you have a functioning brain.  Okay, so that analogy isn’t great.  But the point is that I’ve never thought much about my role as patriarch, nor have I really wanted to think about it.  That’s partly because it’s just not that big a deal and partly because thinking about it makes me feel older than dirt.  Which brings us to the wedding and my chance to finally use all that information I’d gleaned about being a patriarch from watching the movies and television.

My sister got married on Friday.  Marriage is, of course, always an important event in anyone’s life, even if it’s not the first time, and it wasn’t for Anne or Pat.  So I was honored when Anne asked me to walk her down the aisle, a role that almost certainly would have gone to Dad had he been alive.  Anne’s not too stuck on tradition, although this wedding had a lot of old-school elements to it, with a real church and a real pastor and a real half hour delay before the start of the wedding.  They did forgo some of the more peculiar customs, such as the tossing of the bridal bouquet and that weird, slightly pornographic thing about the garter belt, and I suppose they could easily have nixed the whole “giving the bride away” thing as well, but they didn’t.  For a few minutes, I actually got to be a patriarch.

So I walked her down the aisle.  Then, once the ceremony was finished, I retired to a poorly lit office with my consiglieri and my oldest son Sonny, and allowed the invitees to come in to pay their respects and ask for favors.  I’ve already posted that part of the event here, if you’re interested in how that worked out.  Later at the reception, I gave a rousing toast to the newly married couple.  Well, it was mostly rousing, except for the beginning of it, when I went off script and stumbled around for something to say, and the end of it, where I forgot my script and just made up a bunch of platitudes.  And I blanked out in the middle of the toast, so I don’t remember much about it.  I think talked about Chinese spies and nuclear war or something.  Anyway, I’m sure it was probably the best speech I ever gave and if any of those in attendance disagree with that assessment, I would gently remind them of what the phrase “sleeps with the fishes” really means.

After all, what’s the point of being a patriarch if you can’t have a little fun.  They’re just lucky that I’m not watching Game of Thrones.

Ruining Dave

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I saw an interesting challenge on Twitter the other day. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of “Name a piece of pop culture that ruined your first name.” Without getting lost in the dark forest of trying to define what constitutes pop culture (perhaps a topic for another post), the answer for me is obvious. It’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. If I had a dime for every time in my professional career that I asked for something and the response was, in a calm, monotone voice, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that,” I’d probably have at least two or three dollars by now. And then there’s those wonderful moments when I express irritation about something and am told to “sit down, take a stress pill, and think things over.” Okay, there are bigger problems in the universe than this and I confess that the first time I heard the “I’m sorry Dave…” line, I laughed a lot. I’m long past the point of enjoying it now, but it’s not nearly as irritating as some of my other coworker’s habits, which shall remain undescribed for the time being.

Even with the name thing, it could be worse. I discussed this with my wife, who couldn’t come up with a specific example for her name, but she did say that if there is a character named Brenda in a movie or TV show, that character is almost always evil. I can only remember a few Brendas, but I think she might be right.

So, it’s a far stretch to say that 2001: A Space Odyssey has ruined my first name, but just a word of warning. We all remember what happened to HAL after he told Dave to take a stress pill. We Daves are capable of much destruction when pushed too far.

Just sayin’.

Reading Aloud – Part Two

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For those of you who regularly follow this blog, and also for you folks who don’t follow it, but are addicted to internet surfing and randomly ran across this blog on August 11th and also randomly stumbled on it again today, you know I’m a big believer in reading aloud. On August 11th, I confessed I read my “creations” to my wife before publishing them on WordPress because I live in mortal terror of embarrassing myself publicly with terrible writing, not that public embarrassment has ever truly stopped me in the past. I highly recommended it then and, 60,480 minutes later, I still recommend it. The mistakes that you miss when you scan a document after writing it are much easier to find when you actually have to listen to the words.

I’m a little zonked out on allergy medication today, so I’m going to quickly pass along some additional and similar advice. If you are married or similarly involved with someone, try reading aloud to your significant other on a regular basis. My wife and I do a little Bible reading every night. Now, I’m sure some of you are asking, “Why do you do that every night?” and some others of you are asking “Why do you read the Bible?” and maybe a few of you are asking, “How do you stop the ceaseless and inexorable flow of entropy?” Well, I can’t help with that last question, but I can provide answers to the first two questions. To answer that second question first, my wife and I are Christians and as Christians we profess a love of God through Jesus Christ. For those of you that have been in love, you know that if you truly love someone, you want to know everything about them. For us, the best way to know about God is by reading the Bible. That’s not the only way to learn about God. You can learn about God by cracking open a book about physics or mathematics or biology. You can learn about God by reading Shakespeare. The source that works best for us is the Bible.

So why every night? Well, it’s something we can do together. For reasons that I can’t go into, we are a little limited in things that the two of us can do with each other. Doing a reading is a way of connecting that’s entertaining and inexpensive and teaches us a little each time about each other. Remember what I said a little earlier about being in love? When we do the reading, we get to discuss what strikes us as important in the reading and sometimes that leads to some interesting tangents. And it’s fun. It’s a little like a date night, except we get to do it every night. If the Bible isn’t your thing, try the newspaper, or even Shakespeare. You might be surprised about what you learn about the other person. You might be surprised about what you learn about yourself.

And now the meds are telling to either take another nap or veg out in front of the television. Hope this helps!

Embracing the Superstition

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I am not generally superstitious. I claim no complete purity to that statement, which is why I’ve got that qualifier “generally” in there, but I do tend to find superstition silly and entertaining. In fact, I often challenge superstitions to do their worst. Given the opportunity, I walk under ladders. I deliberately seek out the number 13. We even own a black cat.

Last Friday was Friday the 13th and it came with a full moon, an event that by my calculation (Mumbles to self while making chicken scratches on a sheet of paper, “One in seven chance the 13th occurs on a Friday and one in 29 or 30 chance any particular day has a full moon…” Mumbles to self some more and then gives up and pulls out a calculator.) occurs about every once every seventeen years or so. It’s quite the black holiday for those who suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia and who also struggle with bouts of lunacy. Our high school football officiating crew was working that night and for a while it was a great evening. The coaches were great, the fans were great, the players were great, even the officials were great. I say that, of course, with all due humility.

That was the first half. I noticed as we were taking the field for the second half that the full moon was just rising above the horizon. Then it got weird. I’m a sideline official on the home team side of the field. It was like the coaches on my sideline got replaced by doppelgangers at halftime. Whiny doppelgangers. The players got chippy with each other. Both teams made a lot of mistakes that they weren’t making in the first half. Thankfully, none of them turned into werewolves. School administrators tend to frown on us carrying guns with silver bullets, so we were pretty nearly defenseless.

I suppose all this could be due to the appearance of the full moon on a cursed day, but I’m unconvinced. The best team still won and won convincingly. There were no serious injuries.

And the officials were still great. I say that with all due humility.

Prodigally Speaking

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I went to Sunday School today. That’s an unusual thing for me, because on Sunday it’s just a lot easier to sleep in and barely make it on time for the late church service. I’ve got a lot of reasons for this behavior, but none of them involve the quality of the instruction. Bill could be teaching on the first three pages of the dictionary and make it seem as exciting as riding an old, wooden roller coaster. This week, he was working through the last part of the fifteenth chapter of Luke. That includes the story of the Prodigal Son.

Hopefully, you’re familiar with it and if you’re not I’d highly encourage you to read it, regardless of your religious affiliation or whether you even have one, as the story is about humans doing all sorts of human things. Of all of Jesus’ parables, the Prodigal Son is the easiest to write yourself into the story. We’ve all been someone in the story at one time in our lives and some of us have had the privilege (or perhaps, burden) of being all three of the major characters.

For those of you concerned about being struck by lightning if you open a Bible or possibly bursting into flames if you open the link above, I’ll try to summarize, although “summary” probably isn’t the best way to describe this, as I’ll probably take longer than Jesus did. The story has three main characters, a father and his two sons. The father is rich and the youngest son asks him to split the estate and give him his share of the money. This isn’t explained in the story, but according to the values of that culture, the son’s request is dripping with animus. He’s basically telling his father, “I wish you were dead.” Nonetheless, the father relents and gives the son a bunch of money and the son moves out and does exactly what any normal man would do in that situation. He promptly squanders all of his money on booze and women. Now he’s broke and starving and the only job he can find is slopping the pigs, which for a Jew at that time is the equivalent of being a scuba diver for sewage lagoons. He’s reached the ultimate rock bottom of all rock bottoms and he’s likely on the verge of a sad and useless death and it occurs to him that maybe things weren’t so bad back at the old homestead, where even the servants had enough to eat. He swallows his pride and heads home, thinking maybe he can talk Dad into letting him be a hired worker.

Dad has a different idea. You see, ever since the son left, the father has been looking down the road at every spare moment, quietly thinking to himself, “Please come home, please come home, please come…” When the son appears off in the distance, the father does a sprint down the road and hugs his son, barely letting him speak a word before telling his servants to get his son clothing and jewelry befitting of a son of his. Arrangements for the homecoming party start immediately.

Which brings us to the oldest son, who is out working in the fields. He hears the commotion and heads back to the house where he’s told that his brother is back and the father is throwing a party for him. He gets indignant and refuses to join in, so the father must come outside to find him. The son rips into the father for the unfairness of it all and the father ends the story with this classic quote: “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” That’s the end of the story.  I always thought it deserved a happier ending than that, something where the older son comes to his senses and welcomes his brother, but you and I know that happy endings are for fairy tales.  Probably the older son just goes on being bitter.

As I said before my “summary,” all of us can relate to one of the characters in the story and some of us can relate to all of them. Growing up, I was always one of those annoying people known as a “good kid.” Mostly did what I was told, mostly stayed out of trouble. As you would expect, I tended to relate to the good kid in the story, but there’s a reason that some people refer to this tale as “The Story of the Two Prodigals,” because the “good kid” is every bit as separated from his father as the “bad kid.” That separation just manifests itself in a different way and because that separation is less obvious, it makes repairing the separation so much more difficult. Of course, as I got older, it was easier to see myself as the younger son. Once sin and failure have bloodied your nose a few times, you realize you’re in that same pig sty as the rest of humanity and there’s only one way out.

I’ve done the role of the father, too. I’ve got to say that role sucks the worst. There’s nothing more gut wrenching than waiting and praying for a separation to end. Of course, in Jesus’ story the father represents God and I suppose there’s something to be said for being omniscient and knowing how the story will end. Still, it’s easy to imagine God looking down on each of us and whispering, “Please come home, please come home…”

I Need a Hero


So I’m sitting alone on a Wednesday night in a hotel room in Topeka, Kansas (which, as I’m sure those of you who have read The Divine Comedy know, is exactly the wording that Dante uses to describe the lowest level of Purgatory) and I’m watching television and I’m suddenly struck by the selection available for my viewing pleasure. Here is a partial list of what was available:

Shooter – A movie about a lone warrior who is a former sniper of incredible skill who must use is skills to clear his name and save the people he loves while fighting overwhelming odds.

The Equalizer – A movie about a lone warrior who is a former Marine and a former intelligence agent with considerable skills in strategy, weapons, and self-defense. He must defend a former Russia prostitute against overwhelming odds.

The Accountant – A movie about an accountant (hey, give ’em some credit for originality here!) who once worked for the Mafia not only as an accountant, but also as a hit man. He also gets pitted against overwhelming odds and must use his considerable self-defense and weapons skills to save his own life and the lives of the few people he actually cares about.

Run All Night – A movie about a former Mafia hit man, who gets called out of retirement to save his son, who has run afoul of the hit man’s former employer. This one starred Liam Neeson, who at 67, has reinvigorated his career playing just this kind of character. In Run All Night, he’s more of an anti-hero, which makes this movie a little different than the other three (although The Accountant is also sort of an anti-hero movie).

I think I’m detecting a pattern here. The previous night (I was in Purgatory for three days total, for sins I’d rather not discuss at this time), another cable channel was showing the 1989 version of the Batman story which is another variation of the same idea, although I want to be careful here. I’m not talking about superhero movies, which in my mind is another genre entirely. These heroes do not have superpowers. They’re just regular human beings with “a very particular set of skills,” as Liam Neeson describes his character in Taken.

As a movie theme, this dates back a long time. The movie Shane is in this genre and might be the archetype for today’s movies. Many Clint Eastwood movies fit into this category or sort of fit into this category. What’s different now is that movie producers have figured out that movies with this theme rarely miss, even when they are bad movies, and sometimes make you immense amounts of money. There’s no telling when the current trend might end. The third movie in the John Wick series just grossed over $300 million, so I don’t expect it to stop soon.

I’m just going to posit a theory here, but I think these movies are popular because we’ve all got a desperate need for a savior. The Bible says that Jesus looked out on the people following him and saw that they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Nothing much has changed in two millennia. A lot of us have got a bunch of problems that we can’t fix ourselves and might sink us in the right set of circumstances. The rest of us have been in that spot before. We’re all looking for that person with “a very particular set of skills.” I’m guessing the number of people who need someone with Liam Neeson’s skills is very small, which is a good thing from a body count standpoint. We just need someone to get us through that financial crisis or health crisis or relationship crisis.

I’m not sure what any of this means or whether it’s actually helpful to anyone. Personally, what it proves to me is that when you are stuck in the bottom level of Purgatory, you get a lot of time to think.

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