31 August 2014

Farewell, but not yet goodbye

For years and years, when a young man or woman left to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, there was an event, usually a couple of Sundays before they left known as the missionary farewell. By the time they were mercifully shot shut down and replaced with a focus on the missionary and gospel teaching, these had become, in many cases, highly produced events. Typically, it involved several members of the family speaking about the missionary and it always included a few stories meant to embarrass said missionary. There were a couple of musical numbers by the missionary's family, or his/her friends, and then the missionary would speak. Bigger than this though was the Open House associated with the farewell. Invitations were sent, themes were created, and food specific to the missionary's assigned field of service was offered.

I know of where I speak. When I went out, mission farewell extravaganzas were pretty extreme. My open house included a centerpiece made of bread in the shape of, wait for it, an alligator. Spilling out of its mouth was a cornocopia of Florida fruit. The only thing my open house lacked was either a cocaine bust or an appearance by a couple of "Miami Vice" look-alikes. It was the 80's after all. Nearly thirty years on, can I just say I'm glad things have changed. It is now, mercifully, a much more subdued, simpler (see yesterday's post!) affair.

Today The Boy spoke in our services as i was his 'farewell.' He spoke sincerely of the opportunities in his life that he has had to make choices. He spoke of the examples, from Scripture and in real life, that have impacted his life for good. I am grateful for all those that have been an influence for good in his life. He spoke of his favorite scripture, which is found in the Book of Mormon:

O be wise; what can I say more?

There's a lot of wisdom packed in those seven words. I'm glad that we have the opportunity to choose each time to be wise or to be foolish. It's not always an easy choice.

I'm glad that today was just The Boy's farewell service and not the the day when we say goodbye. That's in seventeen days. Let's not speak of it. The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I both had tears flowing as we watched and listened to our Boy as he spoke today. We were surrounded by our daughters, a good son-in-law, the Baby/Toddler Awesome, and our parents and it seemed that things were all right with the world.

I'm just glad it's not goodbye yet.

PS - I have not yet taken The Boy's mission blog private. I will be doing that upon his departure in September. I have the names of all of you who want in on the blog and will notify you as soon as it closes. In the meantime, click here for today's update. It's a lot like this post. And if you want to keep reading that blog and you haven't let me know you want to be included, message me.

30 August 2014

Simple things

A few weeks ago, I spontaneously and unilaterally I should add sheepishly, reversed a decision that the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I had made about bringing the Awesomes back to Connecticutistan for The Boy's mission farewell, which goes down tomorrow. With e-ticket receipts in hand, I told my wife what I'd done and with the grandson as an epic bargaining chip, all was well.

The weeks since then have been a blur, but as we debated what to do while they were here, we decided to keep it simple. There's a lot to said for simple when you've got a one year old, grandparents from both sides and a nearly nineteen year old who's itching to move on under one roof. So far, simple has paid off. Meals have focused on being at home and using the grill. We decided not to cram in a trip to Boston or New York City, again with the focus on simplicity. Instead, we went peach picking. Who knew that in the middle of the 'Stan that we would find acres of fruit (peaches, pears, and apples) trees, literally ripe for the picking. And the scenery was beautiful. As we came up over a hill and took in all the orchards, Our Lady of Awesome literally gasped, 'Dad, this is perfect.' It was indeed. And then this happened:
The Baby Awesome, or more appropriately Gigantor, was taking in a fresh peach right off the tree and loving it. It was, for us, a simple moment of joy.

We brought home a bit of that joy in the form of peaches that became the basis of the homemade peach ice cream. We've laughed a lot as grandparents shared memories of The Boy's childhood. We even played a few games tonight. And when I say 'we,' I'm included in the tally. 

By small and things, great things happen. That's been made evident to me today as we've focused on family and the simple things that bring us joy. Simple is good. Simple is the taste of a sweet peach. Simple is being surrounded by a family you can't imagine loving any more. Like I said, the dimple things are the good, no, the best things.

27 August 2014

A Taxicab Confession

I had to do a same day turn to Tampa today for a meeting. The timing, admittedly, was a little tight, as is usually the case with same day turns, and of course, it went south.

One of the keys to a succesful turn is starting with the first flight o'the day, which is precisely what I did.  It took just one thing to foul it up. Today's one thing: a third flight attendant going M-I-A. The airline's solution was to ship some poor soul out of the ready reserve swamp at JFK to work our flight. We departed 80 minutes late and I was now going to be heinously late for my meeting. 

Upon arrival, I bolted for the taxi conga line and upon jumping into the cab, I said something normally reserved for poorly written cinematic histrionics or the finale of 'The Amazing Race,' "Step on it! I need to get (there) fast!" I should point out my cab driver was a 70 year old man. How do I know? He told me. He told me plenty actually. Before I knew it, the cab became a confessional.

Back in October 2011 (see 10/14/11 post), I wrote about an insightful experience with a cab driver in my beloved Chicago. That experience reminded me of the importance of treating everyone with a bit of dignity and respect. I needed every ounce of that lesson today. When I gave the driver the address of my meeting, he said he'd taken a fare there the day before and with that, he was off to the chatty races. After telling me he was 70 and had lived in Flo-ri-da for more than forty years, he mentioned that he was having surgery on his nose for skin cancer in a few days and that he was pretty nervous about the pain and how he might look. I mentioned that my mother had had similar surgeries and done great and that I was sure he'd be fine. We talked about the marvels of modern medicine and he noted how amazed he was when his appendix was removed through his navel down at the VA. Then things got gross. Why? He told me what his next procedure was going to be with the good people at the VA - a penile implant (never in a million years did I think those words would darken the pages of the Den). He said, without a hint of irony, "I'll be a happier man after that one." What do you say to that?

Here's what I said, "Oh look, we're here," because we had just arrived. I'm quite certain he was going to delve into the particulars of his upcoming 'procedure.' I was not prepared to hear about it. I chuckled as I got out of the cab, wondering how I get into situations like this. Is there something in me that tells people, 'Hey, set this guy up!' I seem to have a propensity to find myself in odd little predicaments like this. And I don't know why. This much I do know - he wins my award for Best Confessional from a Cabbie that I've ever heard.

Well done, sir, well done.

24 August 2014

It was a good day

Yesterday was a good day. A very good day indeed.

It started early with my (mostly) regular blood donation to the American Red Cross. As I've noted here previously, I was terrified of giving blood, to the point of not doing it, until I was 35 years old. When I finally 'manned up' lo those many years ago, donating blood has been a regular part of my life. Because sleep has become a mere suggestion in my life, I was up at 4AM yesterday and was first in line to donate when they opened. I was raring to go. Sadly, the bloodletting lady who interviewed me was not. Here's how our exchange went down, which I shared on Facebook (BTW - I was informed last night by The Boy that FB is 'completely stupid' - duly noted):

Bloodletting Lady: "Are you still a male?"
Me: (I should note I had not shaved and you can etch glass with my morning shadow and B) I'm wearing shorts - it looks like I'm wearing mohair pants) "Um, when I stood up to go to the bathroom this morning, yes, I still appeared to be male."
Bloodletting Lady: "I'm not a morning person. Yes or no, please."
Me: "Yes. And are you the person doing my draw?"

She was not the lady who did my draw. I was relieved but knowing it was going to be a good day, I was not deterred. With my pint given, it was on to the next part of the day. We spent the bulk of the day here with The Boy:

Boston Temple
Another step in his path to his missionary service was to attend the temple for the first time and to participate in the services there. It's a unique, special, and sacred place. It is a place of learning and for a young man or woman, their first time there is very much like a rite of passage. It was a privilege for the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and me to be alongside The Boy for this experience. Being there with him, knowing that he has chosen for himself the path that he is on was for us a moment to be grateful. Truly one of those moments when the occasional pain of parenting pays off in spades. Like I said, it was a good day.

We were reminded while there of, and it pains me more than you know to invoke the following horror, the 'It's A Small World' nature of this world. When we lived in Arizona, we had a group of friends with whom we shared much in common. We were all young marrieds, in our first homes, with babies, and a shared love of Mexican food. Fast forward to today and we are scattered and our children are older and spread all over as well. One of those friends had a son serving as a missionary in Liberia. Due to the horrific outbreak of Ebola, those missionaries were reassigned to other missions. This young man has been assigned to the Massachusetts Boston mission and we've been exchanging notes with his mom about running into him. Yesterday, we ran into him at the aforementioned Boston Temple. Given that we'd not seen him since he was two, recent pictures on the now 'completely stupid' Facebook, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML recognized him immediately. It was a lot of fun to talk to him. It was even more fun to get some pictures with him and text his family right then and there. Suffice to say, there was 'a lot of joy in Mudville' between a mom with a missionary serving and a mom with one who is about to leave.

Like I said, it was a good day. I'm more blessed than I deserve.

20 August 2014

Take care of them

On my quest for dinner at a Pakistani dive tonight, which I discovered was closed (permanently, I might add) when I got there, I walked past the Mexican consulate. Hanging proudly from its facade, and flapping gently in the (unusually) cool summer breeze, was this:
La bandera mexicana

I lingered for a moment in front of the building, gazing up at that flag. I may or may not have lingered too long because I was invited to move it along by a security goon. I couldn't help but linger because Mexico is the country The Boy will soon call home for the next two years. I said a silent prayer for the people there. I prayed that they will take good care of our son. I couldn't help but wonder if his visa application, which has been approved (we think), had been processed inside there. I'm sure if it was that the earth moved for no one as they did it. But for us, the earth is moving pretty fast as we get him ready to go and meet the people who will watch over him as he serves.

As I walked away, thinking about the good people of Mexico watching over The Boy, I grew nostalgic and thought about my daughters and who has helped us take care of them. When Our Lady of Awesome brought Awesome home and he and I sat down for THAT talk between a future son-in-law and father-in-law, part of what we talked about focused on me insuring Awesome would take care of my girl. He's a good man and he's doing a great job doing what I asked him to do when we had that talk. I think of CAL and the circle of friends she has. I know she's found a group of young men and women who make her life an adventure (even if that involves the occasional ridiculous gun activity). Her friends are taking good care of her.

Now, please don't think our children are helpless. They aren't. I'm just feeling grateful tonight for all those people, known and unknown to us, who take care of them. While parenting comes naturally to some, it is not for the weak of heart, even when your children are older and doing big people things. You still worry and you're still glad there are folks to help you take care of them.

And for those of you keeping score, I recovered from the tragedy of the closed Pakistani joint and drowned my sorrows in a delicious bowl of drunken noodles at a Thai place. Seriously, who doesn't love that kind of goodness?!

09 August 2014

On Hallowed Ground

We've had the pleasure of hosting CAL's roommate and as the kids say today, BFF, A, for the last several days. It's her first time in Connecticutistan and the East Coast. She's gotten the grand tour, including two days in New York City. It was refreshing to experience the city with someone who'd never been there before. It does put a different spin on the place, to be sure.

As a part of the two day "Show and Tell" bonanza, we took her to the National September 11 Memorial and this is where things went south, at least for me (I've been doing a slow burn about this all day, so buckle up, a long rant follows). For a host of reasons that I've documented here in postings on September 11th over the course of the last few years, 9/11 is particularly poignant for me. When we visited the Memorial when it was first opened, the Museum had not yet opened. Tickets were required to get on to the site and you were only on after a TSA DefCon 5 Security feel up. The mood was one of reverence as people gazed into memorials where the Towers once stood. Tears freely flowed as people read the names of those who died. It didn't matter if they knew them or not. People were honoring those who had died on that terrible day.

Imagine my dismay as we walked onto the Memorial site today. No longer are tickets required to get on the site. There is no security check. While there are signs posted throughout the site to remind people that they are on hallowed ground and to behave accordingly, it has become a circus. And not a good one, but then is there really a good circus? I digress. The site is mobbed with people. It seemed like each one felt compelled to grin broadly as they snapped selfies. Today I happened upon the name of someone who died that day with whom I share the same last name. For whatever reason, that struck me and a lot of the emotions of that day came back, and just like the last time we were at the site, tears began to fall. At that precise moment, some woman laid herself across the names of the dead I was looking at and with a big grin, took a selfie. I was appalled.

What is wrong with people? I wish I could say it was just Americans because heaven knows we have a well earned reputation for being particularly obnoxious, but in more languages than I care to count, I just got the sense people are treating this like any other tourist site, rather than the hallowed ground that it is. This is not Times Square. The Naked Cowboy, Elmo, Iron Man, or any of their ilk aren't here. Are people so oblivious and afflicted with such short-term memory issues that this Memorial is just another spot on their tour? My heart broke for a woman I saw today who wept at one of the names etched in the memorial. It was clear it was meaningful to her. And all around her, as she mourned, she got to hear things like, "Sid, where's a Starbucks?"

I don't pretend to be perfect and I know that I've committed my share of faux pas but I have tried to be respectful and reverent in places or situations that are hallowed or sacred to others. I'll never my forget my first trip to Rome when I was 17. I found myself with a group of Catholic kids from a private school in Dallas and they were all kinds of excited about going to the Vatican and for them, understandably so. I was amazed by the beauty there but shocked by the commercialism that surrounded the Vatican. There was someone selling Papal everything and anything within the walls of the Holy See. I struggled with that for quite some time. Many years later, during a trip to Istanbul, I remember visiting a mosque for the first time and being terrified I would do something to offend those in the mosque. I was so uneasy when learning that if we paid a few lire (yep, ancient times, people, before the Euro), we could see the men of the mosque praying during the call to prayer. Again, it seemed wrong to be doing that on what was something reverential to those of another faith. Just a few years ago, I found myself in Abu Dhabi, where I visited one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Before going, I read up on how to dress so as not to offend or be turned away. Inside one of the prayer areas, I, without thinking, picked up one of the Koran's that the faithful read from during prayers. Faster than you can say, "Die, infidel!" a security guard was at my side, taking the book from me and in stern, broken English, letting me know I could not touch any copies of that book. While relieved I was not on my way to living a remake of Midnight Express, I was embarrassed that I'd done something that might have been disrespectful in that place of worship.

I saw too much disrespect today at a place where nearly 3,000 people, innocent people, died. I saw too many people who really didn't seem to remember that fact. It didn't seem to be a place of reverence or one of hallowed ground. It was, like I said, just one more thing to check off on the "If it's Tuesday, it must be Schenectady" bus tour. The world could use a little more reverence and respect. Perhaps we'd be in a little bit better shape if we took the time to respect that which is holy or sacred to others, even if we may not understand why it means what it does to them. We've got to try to be better to one another. We just do.

06 August 2014

Coming full circle

Last night, my phone lit up, indicating I had an incoming FaceTime call from none other than The Boy. Before answering I had to ask myself if his edict that our communication was solely to be en espanol was still in place and since I couldn't remember, I went with that old standby, ingles.

In a couple of breathless, punctuation-free sentences, he announced the following: "SoIputsomeblondehighlightsinmyhairAnditlooksawesomeAndyoucantgetmadatmebecauseyoudiditooyourfreshmanyearofcollegeMomtoldme," and then he showed off his "Baywatch" worthy locks. To clarify, I mean if "Baywatch" ordered that their cast got their hair done in a dingy dorm bathroom, using cheap dye from Sally's Beauty Hut.

I had a split second to decide how I was going to react. I wrote about my own run-in with 'Sun In,' exacerbated by a tanning bed ("Paging melanoma on line 9!") during my freshman year of college here in the Den back in April 2013. Suffice to say, my late father was disappointed and more than a bit upset. I decided to not be upset. I mean it's not like he's dating America's Skankheart, Miley Cyrus. I would be IRATE were that the case. No, he's nearly nineteen and about to leave on a two year mission. In all likelihood, he will be getting haircuts with hedge trimmers, so a little last bit of his fun with his hair was OK.

So I didn't freak. I just told him the color had to be gone by August 31st, the Sunday he will speak in Church for his mission farewell. We agreed on that. I told him to go find a girl to swoon over his new blondeness. I have yet to hear how that went.

I couldn't help but laugh after we hung up. I laughed at my own eighteen year old self and how things come full circle. I see flashes of that kid from long ago in my son, The Boy. The good news is that he's far smarter than me. To quote Meatloaf, "It's all coming back to me now." It makes me laugh. Those were great times. But I wouldn't go back. Life is even better now. I'm content to take my wife by the hand and watch it all come full circle through our children. 

03 August 2014

Les (Not) Miserables

Regional Theater at it is finest
As part of our ongoing, albeit weak, attempts to get to know this corner of New England better, we headed to the village of Rhinebeck, NY last night for a dose of regional theater. Now when you think regional theater, you may think of something along the lines of what the woefully talentless Corky St. Clair foisted upon the unsuspecting people of Blaine, MO in the awesome "Waiting for Guffman." You might think of a horrific version of "A Streetcar Named Desire" starring that guy who danced a lot in "Laverne and Shirley" being put on in a dimly lit dinner theater in Vero Beach, FL, where the $4.59 plate of brisket is a brighter star than the hapless cast.

Truth be told, my expectations were at about that level as we pulled into Rhinebeck last night to see the production of "Les Miserables." I was kind of expecting to be miserable. I can report that myths were shattered last night. Shattered may be too strong a word; perhaps adjusted would be more appropriate. First, Rhinebeck itself. What a quaint little place! And fairly close to the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Presidential Library. Um, who knew? I didn't, because once again, as a victim graduate of the Scottsdale Public School System, thanks for omitting great swaths of American history. At least I graduated knowing the now defunct Lunt Avenue Marble Club had the best fried zucchini around. Because that was going to be helpful later in life. But I digress. Back to Rhinebeck - seriously what a cool vibe in that town. It was a beautiful drive too. Had no idea there was that much farm property in northwest Connecticutistan and the Hudson Valley of New York. Beautiful.

Another myth adjusted: a regional theater in what appears to be a big red barn can stage a pretty good version of "Les Mis." With less than 150 seats (my count), and our seats being on the third row, it was an intimate experience. The actors sang with visible vigor and if you were in the front row, you got a little of the Sea World Splash Zone experience, whether you wanted it or not, during a couple of the scenes. Was every one a trained singer / actor? Nope. Was every one committed to putting a great performance? For sure. Was it a little goofy? You bet, and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Here's the thing for me - it took me 13, count 'em, 13 years to read the unabridged version of Hugo's 'Les Miserables.' That's either completely committed and totally insane and the line between the two is razor thin. The redemptive message of Jean Val Jean resonates with me, as it does with many. The musical, although bombastic at times, with its soaring score, nails that message time and again. And I have to admit, they pulled it off, regional theater-style last night. So well done. Corky St. Clair couldn't hold a candle to you.

"Life's greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved." Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

02 August 2014

Learning a bit more about Tuxtla

Tuxtla Gutierrez
Preparing a child to embark on any excursion is never a walk in the park, but when it's a two year mission, the level of intensity gets turned to eleven (and if you don't get that reference, Nigel Tufnell would be saddened). We aren't quite at eleven yet, but as his departure date draws closer, so does the intensity.

As we do get The Boy ready to leave, I've been poking around the interwebs and that soothsayer of all web truths, Wikipedia, to learn more about Tuxtla Gutierrez. I've captured a few of the highlights in the blog that I've created for his mission, Once Upon A Time in Mexico. Take a gander at it and you may learn a thing or two. I know I did. I know that these two years are going to be an amazing, challenging, and transformative experience for him. I can't wait!

Now an important thing about this new blog - it is public for now but I will be taking it private as soon as The Boy leaves for his mission. If you want to follow his experiences via the blog, please message me directly or leave a comment below so I can include you in the reader pool.