In/on the joke

I wrote my last Dad Joke this week.

No, I am not jumping on the Dad Joke wagon, and I have not given up Dad Jokes for Lent graphica few days early. I have not tired of Dad Jokes nor do I think that there is an over-abundance of them contributing to global warming and that I need to reduce my Dad Joke footprint.

No, I simply wrote my last Dad Joke today.

Or, more accurately, I wrote the last Dad Joke that will be attributed to me.

On a brand-new baseball.

For now tucked away in a box with five other brand new, autographed-by-me baseballs.

One of my kids (or grandkids, great grandkids, great-great grandkids, or some combination thereof) will read said joke, off of said baseball, at my memorial service – some (very hopefully) forty, fifty years or more down the road from today.

Because that is the way it is laid out in my dead file; the red file folder with all of the details I want taken care of at my passing. Quotations to use in the program, songs to be played, that sort of thing.  Along with the instructions for distributing the baseballs.

The ones I autographed, including the two with my final Dad Joke. The half-dozen baseball - Rawlingsautographed baseballs (total) with my ashes inside. My family, long aware of this plan, has grudgingly said agreed that they will do their best to adhere to my wishes – though occasional requests for someone to take the lead on this little project of mine has yet to result in any enthusiastic volunteers.

Why baseballs?

The obvious answer is, of course, that I am a huge baseball fan.  Those that know me all know this, and my baseball-cum-urns will serve a two-fold purpose: not only can they displayed like any regular piece of sports memorabilia, but they will still be usable baseballs. Years after I am gone, when my grandkids, great-grandkids, and great-great-grandkids get together someone will always be able to say, “Hey! Let’s go outside and play catch with grandpa!”

And they will still be able to.

I actually purchased the baseballs about two years ago, along with the hole-saw attachment so whoever handles such things at the funeral place can drill out a hole in each ball, insert the ashes, then put the previously drilled out plug back in with some sort of sealant. (The hole-saw is secured in the box with the autographed balls.) But until recently, I just had not gotten around to getting the autographing done, and packing away the baseballs all nice and neat for storage – in part, because I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to write on the balls, and because I have been busy and just hadn’t gotten around to it.

We relocated back to my hometown of Minneapolis last fall, and this winter, while trying to organize my basement office space, I had the package of balls and decided now was as good a time as any to get them prepped, so I could hand them off to one of my sons for safekeeping.

I had them sitting out next to my desk for a few days, and while I had narrowed down baseball-ed3my phraseology to a select few ideas, I wasn’t totally sold on whether I should say the same thing on each one, or if I should go in a more creative direction.  Then, as these things tend to do, inspiration came from out of the blue.

I was on my laptop, reading about my hometown Minnesota Twins going through spring training down in Florida.  There was a humorous sidebar story about a Twins broadcaster, and then, bingo…there it was!  It just popped into my head; the needed line for two of the six baseballs.  The perfect punchline; short, sweet, on point…definitely me.

I finally had it: my last Dad Joke.

I thought about it for a bit, just to make sure it was THE line. I ran it through my head, then out loud, using different inflections, sticking the emphasis in different places.  Yep, I realized I had nailed it.

Later that evening, I signed the baseballs, adding the LDJ (Last dad Joke) to two of them, then gently secured them back in their tissue paper wrappers, putting each one back in its box, then placed all six baseballs and the hole saw in a larger box, slapping a big sign on the front, and sealed it all securely with packing tape.

Finished.

Bringing the box upstairs, I informed my wife and two sons that the baseballs I had long mentioned were ready to be placed in the safekeeping of one of them.  All three of them looked at me warily, my wife reiterating her long-held position on the topic; “Don’t look at me.”

Fortunately, my twenty-year-old son Sam acquiesced. “Why not? I’ll just put it in my closet and leave it there when I move out.”  His succinct, immediate repsonse seemed to edge toward surrender more than cheerful agreement, but I think when the time comes he will probably take it with him. We’ll see.

It is a nice feeling to finally have that little project done. Something else I can check off  popcornmy bucket (of popcorn) list.

Yeah, that one just came to me as I was typing this.

So, I wrote my last Dad Joke today.

To paraphrase the great comedian and baseball fan Rip Taylor, “They’ll LAAAauugh!”rip

 

 

 

#baseball #dadsashesinabaseball #deadfile #baseballliferanddeather

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High-def Resolutions

FACT: A majority of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.
FACT: A majority of those same Americans break, abandon, ignore, postpone, or modify-beyond-reasonable-recognition those same resolves-to-self-betterment pledges within the first two-to-three weeks of the new year.
FACT: Statistics don’t lie, and the figures I quoted above are polygraph certified.

As I type this, we are roughly forty-three percent of the way through the month of January, or about three-point-six-percent of our way through the year. It is way too early january-2019-calendar_lito abandon plans and goals; you have plenty of time to snap out of your ‘I already blew it’ doldrums and get your 2019 (and life in general) on the track you want it to be on.

The basic problem with resolutions (and resolving in general) as I see it is twofold: lack of follow through and support for setting/meeting any goals that may have been set is certainly the main culprit, but just as big an issue is a basic fact: just how grounded in reality and real life are your goals?

The solution to the busted resolution problem also has two key components: realistic expectations… and Post-It notes.

Yeah, those ubiquitous sticky-squares can make your life so much easier by allowing you to post basic, to-the-point reminders in the places where they will be easily visible, posit1.jpgthereby doing you the most good. You can slap those suckers on dang near anything, and the good ones will stay stuck there.

Think of them as pulp-based Jiminy Crickets.

The second part of the keep-the-resolution equation is basic self-improvement book/class/system/TED talk: SMART goals.  That is, your goals/resolutions should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

For this project, the goals should also be simple, so add another S, and the ‘time-bound’ part can be more flexible being as self-improvement of this type is more an ongoing thing, in varying Interludes. So, we’ll go with SSMARTI.

Yep. Set some SSMARTI Goals for yourself.

Today is that day! You still have over fifty-percent of January left to pull off a full reboot – heck, over ninety-five percent of the year still lies in front of you!

But enough with the statistics.  Let’s get real with some genuine, reality based, SMARM goals. Eh, resolutions. I won’t pretend to be some sort of self-improvement guru; I simply present here my personal examples of life-betterment for 2019 as simply a template for you to use and/or modify as you see fit.

Start by printing out my list, then tack it to your refrigerator or at your desk (or any suitable location) as a reference for when you use it as a guide to start making your Post its. (I recommend a darker color version; the pastels are way old school, and the yellow postit2_liones, in particular, remind too many people of legal pads, micromanaging bosses, and work in general.)  Oh, and if you attach a Post-It to a bulletin board, do not also stick a tack in it. That sort of redundancy kills any of the self-improvement-coolness vibe you’ll want to nurture.

Think of this entire exercise as a potential-for-many-paper-cuts-Fitbit. It can be done. You have plenty of time to get on/back on a new year/new you track.  Below is my list to use as your SSMARTI template. You can be a SSMARTI, too.

Here we go:

My Personal Resolves for a Better Me, 2019

(with footnotes)

More gut, less data

Less microwave, more crock pot

Make love, not war

More poetry (reading it, writing it)

chocolateLess chocolate…eh. Who am I kidding?

More hiking

More passion, less whining

More doing, less complaining

More compassion, less condemnation

Less La-Z-Boy, more chaise lounge ***

More peanut butter-and- jelly sandwiches.  With different jellies. Maybe even different nut butters (keeping them ALL chunky, however)

Challenge the status quo

More spirituality

2019-01-13More Bukowski and Kerouac

Write some Bukowski and Kerouac

Sip (not drink) more whiskey

More maraschino cherries

Quote Dylan and Sinatra more often

Camping!

Less salt, more cilantro

Beer

kickball.jpgMore blogging, less graffiti

Play kickball with grown-ups

Play more cards

Fewer emails, more notes and greetings cards

Walk the dogs more frequently ^^^

Honor an urgedrama

Make more whoopee, make less drama

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

More instinct, less planning/second guessing

More podcasts, less TV

More reading

Moderated hedonism °°°

More coffee/beer/lunch/dinner with friends

Make more friends to have coffee/beer/lunch/dinner with

Try different places for friends/coffee/beer/lunch/dinner

dsjjwp6uiae9e8yTry different coffees and beers

Try harder

Try harder more often

Try.

Always try.

Here is to a successful 93.4% of the year 2019 you have remaining.

*** Goes more to locale; deck, backyard, dock, beach, etc.
^^^ Post-it notes should not be stuck to dogs proper
°°° This may possibly conflict with anything related to poetry, chocolate, or whiskey

#resolutionsredux  #reboot2019

Lexiconvenience*

(* lexiconvenience noun  lex·i·con- ve·nience  \ˈlek-sə-ˌkän- ˈvēn-yən(t)s
language made to fit personal preference) 

I need a new word for euphemism.

As the world gets progressively weirder, and as I try to maintain some sense of dignity and self-control in my communications with others – both written and verbal – all the good euphemisms seem to be losing their luster from overuse – especially the ones people use euphemism-ed2to avoid to whole insensitivity-to-deity issue: gadgadzooksgosh; geejeepersjeez.

Aside from their overuse, they lack etymological ‘oomph’ – unless you are currently starring in a production of Grease.

Before you offer up new, non-offensive, not oblique suggestions, keep in mind that euphemisms are not exactly synonyms – although the major disparagements of our language are showing a fair amount of wear-and-tear as well; moron, idiot, nitwit, halfwit, imbecile, twit, dolt, nimrod, et al, are repetitively redundant in an accelerated manner as never before seen.

Personally, I blame Facebook and Twitter, though the case could certainly be made that we are living in different times – the Age of the Buffoons, perhaps.

Doesn’t have the same pleasing lilt to it as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ does it?  Since we seem to be living in a time that is just the opposite realm of intellectual renewal, 235bff49638c63dfa6d69b1a5bb587ab945db2d8maybe my first euphemistic recalculation can be something along the lines of ‘The Age of Fried Filaments’.

Eh, rather clunky.  And too obscure, as younger folks used to curly bulbs will be as clueless as they are filamentless.

I do have a personal euphemism that I coined a few years back, but it hasn’t really caught on in any major way: “Son-of-a-Bisquick-pancake!” I find S.O.B.P. a catchy little euphemism good for all sorts of occasions, and with a tweak to a syllabic inflection here-or-there, you can punch it up to convey a wide range of emphasis and meanings. Starting out with a hard, guttural “SON-OF-A…’” will get attention more quickly than a wistful, musing, ‘I’ll be a son of a…’ – the euphemistic equivalent of a Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey “Well whattaya know about that.”bisquick-4ed

‘Son-of-a-Bisquick-pancake!’ perfectly fits the definition of euphemism, too.  As is my wont, I turn to my friends at Merriam-Webster:

‘Euphemisms can take different forms, but they all involve substituting a word or phrase considered to be less offensive than another.

The substituted word might, for example, be viewed as a less coarse choice, as when dang or darn is used instead of damn or damned.’

“Damn, Skippy!”

That is another personal, flexible euphemism I like to use, and it usually hits its mark because, as I have gleefully discovered, if you say it with a bit of a chuckle, it gets a laugh, but when you add in a disapproving look and an edgier inflection, not a lot of people find skippythe applied moniker ‘Skippy’ to be one of subjective endearment.

“Damn, Skippy! Lighten up!”

As sometimes happens, though, doing my homework results in some different perspectives that don’t always fit my narrative thesis.  As the fine folks at M-W reminded me, ‘a euphemism may also consist of an indirect softening phrase that is substituted for the straightforward naming of something unpalatable: people being “let go” rather than “fired”; civilians killed in war described as “collateral damage…”

Ugh.

Damn, Skippy! That’s just watering stuff down to make things seem peachier than they really are, and I don’t think we need to go down that road.  As it stands, the idea of making something all soft-and-sweet-and-vague in this age of chaos and uncertainty is already being expanded by the absurdity of ‘alternative facts’ – which is not a euphemism for alternative-facts‘opinion’ it is just plain wrong from a grammatical and practical standpoint.

And that last statement is an English teacher fact, though this next one is my opinion: ‘alternative fact’ is the purest and unspoiled of oxymorons – a complete and contradictory abomination of language and rational thought. Though not being totally comfortable with the medical origins of the word ‘moron’ maybe I should opt for something more neutral; oxyclod? oxydolt? Oxydunce, perhaps.

This is the point where you, dear reader, gets to say to me, “Damn, Skippy! Step back!”

Son-of-a-Bisquick pancake!  You really did.

Santa Fidelis

“‘Twas a Wednesday before Christmas, and all through the mall
tho no children were present, this day topped them all…”

Some twenty-five years ago, I decided to pick up a few extra holiday dollars by taking a part-time job as a shopping mall Santa in suburban Minneapolis. As I was neither the natural size, age or type (nor naturally hirsute enough for the role) I wore a roll of foam rubber beneath my suit, silver nylon beard on my chin, and ended up working mostly the mall’s lower-traffic hours – late morning, midday.

On a very quiet Wednesday afternoon in early December, I was sitting there in my big Santa chair chatting with my college-student, elf-for-the-day Susie, and grad-school student/photographer,  brookdaleholiday2Jen. They, like me, were simply making some extra holiday cash; we were Santaland rookies, all. This particular day, we hadn’t taken a picture in an hour or so, though we did a lot of waving and yelling ‘Merry Christmas’ to assorted passers-by. As the three of us chatted about school stuff, I looked down the nearly deserted mall and saw a sight that was interesting, but not really of the season: walking towards us down the center of the mall was a tall, young, U.S. Marine, in full dress blues; alongside  him was a petite, simply dressed woman, maybe forty-five, fifty years old.

It quickly became obvious they were indeed headed right for us.

Elf Susie walked cheerfully back to the gate of Santa Land to greet the pair, and I straightened up in my throne and smoothed out my beard – although I wasn’t sure why as I didn’t see any kids. I watched the young Marine, who glanced around nervously, while the woman spoke to Susie.brookdaleholiday1

“O.K. Santa! This young man is next!” chirped Susie merrily, as she swung open the little white picket gate for the youthful Jarhead to pass, as Jen took her spot behind the camera. The Marine walked up to me and I greeted him with my usual “Ho-ho-ho” shtick, to which he replied quickly, coming to crisp, serious attention, “Merry Christmas, sir.”

Their story was short, sweet, uncomplicated. Unless you are a twenty-year-old Marine having his picture taken on Santa’s lap.

The young man was an only child, U.S.M.C. Corporal home on leave, and his widowed mother was very proud of his recent accomplishments: a marksmanship award, three ribbons and a training award. Having her only son home for the holidays was a huge thrill, and, per what the young Marine told me, and what his mother shared with Susie and Jen, she wanted only one other thing in the world for Christmas: nice pictures of her son in full dress blues.

With Santa Claus.

The young Marine told the young women  – and then me – he said had no idea why this particular setting was so important to her, but it was. So thus began a suddenly interesting Wednesday afternoon, just the five of us: Susie, Jen, proud mom, Santa…and the Marine.

This was in the days before digital photography; our pictures were the time-consuming, one-shot-at-a time, Polaroid-you-stick-in-a-cardboard-frame variety – and the young man’s mother wanted nine of them to send out to relatives all over the country. My arm around his waist, the young Marine sat awkwardly but patiently at attention on the arm of Santa’s throne, glancing around nervously.

After the first picture was snapped, he staged whispered to me, while staring directly at the camera, “I’m really sorry about this, sir.”

I smiled, quietly chuckled “ho-ho-ho” as Jen readied the next shot. “Sorry about what?” I asked, robustly Santa-like.

brookdaleholiday4“About doing this, sir. It’s my mother’s idea. I’m a little…uncomfortable.”

“Ho-ho-ho!” I bellowed.

I didn’t much look the part without help, but I could sure play it.

The scene played out, the Marine finally getting comfortable enough to lean into my shoulder a little bit, as Jen continued to focus and shoot, reminding us to smile – which the Marine did only slightly less uncomfortable with each shot. We sat there, his mother beaming with pride while chatting with Susie the Elf, me ho-ho-ho-ing-it-up, trying to help the guy out with his discomfort. After a few shots, I whispered to the young Marine.“O.K., I know this feels silly, but it’s making your mom really happy.”

He glanced at his mother, smiled slightly. “Yes, sir.”

He was loosening up a little, though that was countered a bit as by now as a small crowd was gathering, eyes wide; guess it’s not every day you see a Marine sitting on Santa’s lap. He smiled self-consciously. I made more Santa-small talk while Jen snapped away. “Grow up around here? Afraid you’re going to see somebody you know?” I inquired.

“Yes, sir,’ he said, staying focused on the camera, “I graduated from Park Center.” which was a high school within walking distance of the mall.  I nodded, ho-ho-hoed some more, asked him a few more questions, reminded him a couple more times about how his mother was smiling, talked sports with the young man, while Jen finished getting all of the pictures to the mom’s satisfaction.

It took fourteen shots to get the nine pictures the Marine’s mom wanted (I saved a couple of the botched extras for a time; they were wonderful.). As his mom was paying Jen and newly Marine-smitten Susie (from the fevered looks on many of the women in the crowd, she wasn’t the only one) finished sliding each picture into its candy-cane-and-reindeer-motif cardboard frame, the young Marine stood up, turned toward me, started to salute but then stuck out his hand to shake mine.

“Thank you, Santa, sir.” He said crisply, with just a hint of relief, in what I believe was proper-holiday-Marine-etiquette for the situation.

Then, bag of pictures in hand, proud mother and dutiful, loving son walked off, arm-in-arm back down the mall, as the smiling crowd quickly dispersed.

To my understanding, the young man was probably breaking protocol by wearing his dress blues in such a setting. But in the years since, I’ve gotten the opportunity to tell this story to more than a few Marines to not one objection. Younger Jarheads tend to dressbluehatlook at me quizzically, apparently pondering the obvious ‘what ifs’ if their own situations. Older Corpsmen mostly nod, smiling proudly.

All have agreed at my story punchline: it’s a pretty unique take on ‘Semper Fi’

As for me, every year around this time I read newspaper or magazine articles about mall Santas, the at times heartbreaking requests they get, the funny things kids say, that sort of thing, and I invariably think of twenty-minutes on a long-ago afternoon in a quiet, suburban Minneapolis mall.  Sometimes in conversation, someone will start talking about the best Christmas they ever had, or the favorite present they ever received.

I can always take things in a slightly different direction – with the story of one of the best Christmas presents I ever had a small part in giving.

brookdaleholiday3

The Christmas Pageant

Where are they now?  Every year around this time…I do wonder.

Speaking of wonder…

Nearly thirty years ago, I was involved with a small, urban Minneapolis Lutheran church. We were an aging congregation with only about fifteen kids (including toddlers)  in our Sunday school on a regular basis; this included three kids from one family – one of whom was fourteen and confined to a wheelchair due to Multiple Sclerosis.

What we lacked in group size we more than made up for in spirit.

When it came time to put together our annual Christmas program (the traditional Joseph & Mary story) we had very few options for Mary, as most of the girls participating were only seven or eight. Except for Sheri, our 14-year-old girl with MS, who desperately wanted to be involved with the program, which we said we would definitely make happen in some form.

Sheri was certainly capable of taking on Mary; she was vivacious, articulate, had a great speaking voice…but her wheelchair was problematic. The role required Mary to enter from the rear of the church and make her way to the front during the opening narration. Admittedly, much of this was set up by tradition and for dramatic effect, and we certainly had other options, but limited maneuvering room. While we had a ramp up the one step in front of the pulpit area (or ‘stage’) there wasn’t a lot of room for extras like a motorized wheelchair to turn or do much once you were up there.

My friend Mark Knutson and I were in charge of the youth committee, and we had given the idea some thought. When the full committee met to put together the program, the first item of business brought up was a request from Sheri and her mom to get her involved in the program, which Barb, the woman directing the program was nervous about.  One of the other women on the committee suggested Sheri would make a great Mary, noting that her motorized chair made that impractical, adding “Maybe she could sit off to the side and narrate”.

As a writer, the idea of the story being told first-person intrigued me.

Mark had a better idea.“What if we made Sheri our Mary, and disguised her wheelchair to look like a donkey”?  he proposed to surprised looks around the table. “We could cover her with blankets, and my brother-in-law is an artist, and I can get him to paint a couple of plywood donkeys that we could mount on the sides of the chair”.

After a few moments and some surprised looks,  Barb asked, “Do you think anybody would mind?”

Mark and I looked at each other and shrugged. “Who cares if they do?” And just like that, the decision was unanimously accepted. Yes, it really was that quick, that simple.

The evening of the pageant, it was hard to tell who was more excited; Sheri or her mom and dad. At least until the audience – including all four of Sheri’s grandparents – showed up. The grandparents sat in the front row, beaming with joy, as it was the first opportunity that Sheri had been given to truly participate in something like this in a major way. Mark and I had better-than-front-row-seats to it all – our own roles in the pageant: we were costumed as manger oxen, wearing homemade, long-snouted masks and kneeling in the small choir pen off to the side of the pulpit. We were there for pseudo-authentic manger atmosphere,  but also with hidden scripts handy to prompt any of our frequently forgetful young actors.

Our Mary needed no such assistance.

Sheri did a fabulous job, and between the plywood donkey cutouts, and the blankets we laid over them and Sheri, in her motorized wheelchair, it truly looked like Mary slowly moving through our candle-lit, church-aisle Bethlehem on her donkey led by Joseph; an incredibly Christmasmoving moment I remember vividly. It was a small space; looking out at the audience from behind oxen masks from our choir-manger, I could see people wide-eyed, some dabbing their eyes.  Holy Communion Church also had great acoustics; you could hear the gasps and murmurs of awe.

By the time the program drew to a close, tears were running down a lot of faces.

Sheri’s family was so grateful, expressing their thanks repeatedly for us ‘taking a chance’ and ‘letting’ Sheri be involved. We told everyone the truth; Sheri was our first choice and only logical option. As I added with a smile, to hearty laughter from Sheri and her family, “The fact that she came with her own donkey…was just a bonus”.

‘And a little child shall lead them.

 

One year later

11/18/17

One year ago I was still living in New Orleans – enjoying the weekend that started our week-long Thanksgiving break from school. I was a bit reflective, as it was going to be our last Thanksgiving in Louisiana and I had big plans focused on preparing for our move back home to Minnesota at the end of the school year.

John Lennon was right: ‘Life is what happens while you’re making other plans’.

The Sunday morning before turkey day was pretty typical get up at five, feed the dogs, enjoy good weekend coffee, check out Facebook, and online news outlets, get some writing done, all before heading to the French Quarter for church.

All was routine until nine-oh-five. In the intervening 8,763 hours (as I write this) a lot has changed:

We are back home in Minnesota as planned – wiser, happier, none the worse for wear. Well, maybe a little extra wear and tear. Well earned, I might add.

Later today, we will drive an hour to my daughter and son-in-law’s house to help celebrate my grandson’s seventh birthday. First time in six years this event will have us as real-life, not Skyped-in, participants.
On Friday, I received a thumbs-up on all that I am doing from my new doctor here in Minneapolis.

Over the passed year, I have learned to lead a healthier lifestyle, and I mostly stick with it. I learned much of what I know of such things from the staff at my cardiac rehab unit in New Orleans, where I was something of a rock star due to my A. regular attendance and B. the fact that in twelve weeks of grueling, challenging, but fun work I was the only member of my group to never fall off a treadmill (or any other piece of workout equipment) and/or get stopped in the middle of some sort of activity because my heart monitor was going bonkers.

I learned a lot from the four women running that rehab unit, and miss them tremendously. I am pretty sure they miss me, too or at least the different twist I brought to the proceedings. I am fairly certain I am still their only patient to regularly and repeatedly have this exchange in cardiac rehab:

“So, am I cleared to get back on my pogo stick yet?”
“No. And before you ask again, pogo stick is not considered appropriate aerobic exercise for rehab.”

Yeah, they miss me, too.

I have learned a lot over the last 365 days. On a Sunday very much like this one, yet nothing at all like this one, life changed for me. Here is how it all went down, as I recorded it then.

Tuesday, 11/21/17

Listen to your body

On Sunday, I had a heart attack. By Monday, I had learned a lot about a number of things; first and foremost, pay attention and listen to your body.

A synopsis.

Sunday morning, just past nine. I was working on my laptop, and checking the time, as I was going to get dressed, and be out the door just after nine thirty to go to church. I was just wrapping up what I was typing, noting that it was 9:05, and I felt a weird pain behind my breastbone.

This is not an unusual area of pain/discomfort for me, as I have a touch of arthritis on an upper rib, and sometimes, especially when I have been physically active, the tendons and muscles running across the are become inflamed. I can usually massage out the resulting muscle knot with my fingers, and sometimes throw on an ice pack.

But this was different.

It was not an intense pain, but it was steady, and noticeably different. I cannot describe exactly how it was that much different, but I knew it was out of the norm. I figured I would let it go for a few minutes and see, but then I felt two pin-pricks on each side of my jaw. That, I knew was not right, even though they lasted just a few seconds and were not radiating to/from anywhere. Then, I felt the same sensation is each shoulder, and even though it lasted only a second or two, and was again not radiating, I knew I should get into the hospital.

I woke up my wife, who had dozed off while reading, and told her I needed to get to the ER. We quickly got dressed, informed our son Sam about what was going on, and got in the car for the fifteen-minute drive to the hospital. While getting dressed, I felt a minor wave of nausea, so quickly popped in a TUMS.

The drive was fine, until the last few minutes, when the pain in my chest intensified a bit; not tremendously, but enough so that it was noticeable. I was not, at this point in great pain, but I knew something was way off.

Two minutes later, we pull up to the Oschner ER door, Amy goes to park the car. It was a blustery fall morning, cool and windy, but when I got out of the car and stood up, I felt flushed. When I walked in through the automatic doors, the desk staff commented on the cold wind blowing in. I walked up to the desk, gave them my info and insurance card, and they had me go sit down. I still felt off, but was not in appreciable pain. The clock on the wall said 9:45.

Then a young triage doc named Lance called my name, had me sit and took my BP. He looked at the reading, then immediately ushered me into a room about ten feet away, where he hooked me up to an EKG. he asked how long I had been having this pain, and I said, “It started just after nine” to which Lance responded, “And you came right here?” We finished, he walked me out and told me to take a seat in the waiting area. Amy had just walked in from parking the car, so this all (BP, EKG) happened very quickly. Lance said he would be right back, and I took the chair next to Amy.

By now I was very warm, and as I sat next too Amy, the pain started to intensify – actually, the pressure in my chest started to intensify, which led to pain all throughout my torso. A few minutes later Lance reappeared with a wheelchair, and said “Mr. Lucker, let’s go.” By now I was feeling rotten; chest pressure, I was hot, starting to become nauseous. As Lance started picking up speed with the wheelchair, it was like being on a carnival ride; I was relieved because the rushing air was cooling, but my nausea was getting worse. It seemed like a reasonable trade-off. Lance then turned sharply into a big exam room, and I counted at least eight people there, including a blonde woman who immediately introduced herself and said, “Mr. Lucker, Hi, I’m doctor —-, and we’re going to get you taken care of.” I unfortunately can’t remember her name, but she was incredible.

It was just like on TV. the doctor who had introduced herself was obviously the maestro, directing the crazy medical symphony; directing some staff members, asking for various stats from others, and talking to me directly, pointedly, calmly. One of the first things she asked was the same series of questions I got from Lance, with almost the same response: “How long have you been having this chest pain?” and “And you came right in to the ER? That’s good.”

This pattern repeated itself, but with variations once the catheter lab guys and cardiac surgeons got involved: “How many hours ago did the chest pain start?” followed by obvious surprise when I replied, “about nine this morning” – every time the question was asked an answered, the doctor would glance at the clock, then verify my response with something along the lines of, “So just in the last hour or so?” to which I kept responding, “Yes.”

At least six times that I remember, I went through this routine with a doctor – and that was just between my arrival in the ER, a trip to the exam room, and then being wheeled into the cath lab; a bit more than an hour, all told. Over the next day or so, I had the same conversation over and over, with other doctors and technicians, and all four of my stellar ICU nurses.

The response was always one of surprise, and clarification was always sought, accompanied by a glance at whatever clock or watch was handy. Turns out, I am something of an anomaly.

I listened to my body.

What I have come to learn from the excellent doctors and nurses who have been caring for me is that most people in my situation do not listen to their own bodies, and wait – sometimes too long – to take their situation seriously and seek medical attention.

I know this, because I asked, noting my surprise that doctors kept phrasing the question in terms of hours; “How many hours were you having this pain before you came in?” and seeing their surprise when I replied, “about forty-five minutes before I got here.”

I listened to my body.

The medical professional said that most people wait – either because of denial or fear. A quick bit of research on what the pros told me was easily confirmed; one NIH study I quickly found showed that 69% of heart attack patients had delayed seeking treatment for their symptoms. This quote from the NIH study: ‘The most important causes of having delay were: “hoping the symptoms to alleviate spontaneously”, “attributing the symptoms to other problems other than heart problems”, and “disregarding the symptoms”.’

I listened to my body.

I cannot imagine what would have happened had I not. Had I waited, or just blown everything off, or headed to St. Marks, the worst part would have hit somewhere else other than the ER. I would not have been two minutes away from a team of professionals, one of who immediately placed a nitroglycerin pill under my tongue and told me to hold it there. Had I not been in the Oschner ER when this episode escalated…?

I listened to my body.

Most people, faced with similar circumstances when it comes to their heart, apparently do not.

I am not writing or sharing this just to share my story; there are much better, more amusing, more curious parts of it to tell from a storytelling standpoint. I am sharing this because I was very fortunate, in large part because I realized that something wasn’t anywhere near right – even though I really didn’t feel ‘all that bad’ at the time.

I listened to my body.

Oh, and ignoring or downplaying heart symptoms is not just a stubborn-male attribute. One of the more interesting statistics I found when doing some basic research? Women are more likely than men to delay treatment.

Thankfully, I listened to my body.

I hope this encourages you to listen to yours, too.

Peace,

Mark

Self reckoning

For the record, I was never a fan of Judge Kavanagh as a SCOTUS nominee; far too conservative for me. I also need to note that as a young man, I was once a volunteer at a women’s shelter and have a unique perspective on issues regarding sexual assault. As an English teacher, I am all about context – and transparency. That being said, this is my perspective, one I have thought about seriously before sharing. If you disagree, that is fine. I don’t wish to engage in a back-and-forth on this; it is simply a commentary.  I just want to share a different perspective.

Most males of my generation have their judge Kavanaugh moment.

Yes, I said and mean ‘most’.  I understand that many will see that as hyperbole, and I also understand that it is a broad brush to paint an entire generation with, but I also believe it. I stand by the statement above: most males of my generation have their judge Kavanaugh moment.

High school, college, in their twenties – most heterosexual men of my generation have, at some point in time, gone too far with a woman, physically or verbally. I am comfortable saying that most men of my generation have at some point pushed beyond whatever boundaries there may have been in place, with varying degrees of consequences (if any) for themselves.

Not so the females involved.

I can say this based on a variety of tangible and intangible factors including, but not limited to

  • Well documented, reliable statistics
  • The glorification of such male ‘exploits’ in popular culture (music, movies, television)
  • The personal experiences of most yes, (that word again) of the women I know who are roughly the same age and demographic, plus the experiences of many of the younger women I know
  • My own, personal experiences with girls and women

Statistically, even just scratching the surface the numbers are grim: one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives, one in three women experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact sexual violence in their lifetime. Nearly eighty-percent of women report getting catcalled, or whistled at, or getting unwanted comments of a sexual nature.

When you break things down statistically, in all categories those numbers are much higher for women of color, and also those women on the lower ends of the socio-economic scale.

My personal experience with women I know would seem to roughly parallel those statistics, so I have little reason to doubt their veracity.  The scary thing is, that is just amongst women I know who have spoken (publicly or privately) about these issues.  I am quite certain that there are many women I know who have not shared their experiences with me.

The raw numbers alone are sobering.

Here is why I believe that most males of my generation have their judge Kavanagh moment: If I know this many victims, I must, percentage-wise, also know roughly this many perpetrators.

Myself included.

As men, if we are being honest with ourselves we must acknowledge our complicity in the problem here, how pervasive the ‘boys-will-be-boys’ mentality has influenced us. Gentlemen, who among us could, under oath, swear that we had never gone too far in some respect?  How many of us have never made a crude sexual comment or request directly to a girl or woman?  How many of us, in the heat of a moment, failed to heed the request of a to a girl or woman to ‘stop’ or ‘wait a minute’ or even ignored a flat-out ‘no’ – at least the first time such a protestation was made – even in the most seemingly benign of situations?

Looking back on my life as honestly as possible, I can certainly think of at least a few instances where I crossed some sort of line with coercion, ignoring signs or statements,  or simply not stopping something when asked the first time. And those are just scattered situations where I am thinking of.

People – women – who have known me at various stages in my life may have different takes.

I am just six years older than judge Kavanagh; it is reasonable to say that we are of the same generation. His testimony the other day about his youthful drinking habits did not shock me, as I believe that what he was describing was, while not necessarily typical behavior was certainly not an anomaly. Nor I would guess, was it seen so by most members of the senate committee (and the US. Senate as a whole) because they too had their youthful indiscretions in regards to a lot of things – beer, and drinking in general. Not uncommon.

They seem oblivious because they are; most of the committee members hail from a generation older than Judge Kavanaugh or myself.  News flash: wink-wink, boys-will-be-boys is learned behavior. Look at the people on that panel through that lens and all of this grotesque spectacle makes a lot more sense.

While there has been some rather pointed scorn, ridicule, and satire leveled on Kavanagh for all of his thirty-odd mentions of his like for beer, one thought keeps coming back to me in regards to the entire situation as most on both sides seem to agree: there was a lot of teenage partying and shenanigans going on…but little or no sexual stuff.

I call bullshit on that entire concept.

Somehow, I am expected to believe that a bunch of teenagers and college students, with their not-fully-developed prefrontal and frontal cortexes could regularly add copious amounts of alcohol to their social interactions, and yet still have the capacity to know where to draw the line in terms of sexual activity with any veracity at all?

Bullshit.

Men of my age, I have a question: how many of us have a story or two that we still tell (either humorously or as a cautionary tale) about some youthful indiscretion – sexual or otherwise?  How many of those incidents involve alcohol use (yours or by peers that sucked you into their orbit) and how many occurred stone-cold sober?  How many of your stories that involve youthful drinking would probably not have happened at all was it not for alcohol-fueled judgment?

Can’t break that down into percentages?  Try the math on this one: how many of those stories you know tell – gleefully or ruefully – were a direct result of you being an idiot teenager with a not fully developed brain? If you want to say ‘100%’ I’m good with that.

The fact that so many of the players in this drama (on all sides) are so blasé about the drinking culture that is being arduously rehashed over and over and won’t or don’t make the connection between the drinking and its links to other inappropriate behavior speaks to their privilege and their age; “Hey, it’s just we did back then.”

Thus, most males of my generation have their judge Kavanaugh moment.

Most females of my generation have their judge Kavanagh moment, but from a far different perspective – as victims. They unfortunately also have their Dr. Ford moment.  In many cases, multiple such moments.

Where does this leave me?  Having been a teenager of roughly the same vintage as Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford, understanding the problematic nature of the pervasiveness of boys-will-be-boys culture, having shepherded three children of my own through their teen years and been an observer of multiple nieces and nephews spanning the same, plus ten years of teaching high school English, I say this with confidence:  to me, Dr. Ford’s accusations and recollections are credible and believable, Judge Kavanaugh’s denials about the incidents and chummy culture of his youthful times are not.

You want me to believe that teenaged drinking started and ended with just drinking?

Bullshit.

Overall, we need to look at the big picture here as a country, and address some hard issues: does youthful indiscretion preclude one from public service as an adult?  Hopefully not, or the candidate pool then becomes very small. The bigger question to me is, was this teenaged behavior something someone grows out of, or did it set a pattern that carried on into adulthood?  There has to be a distinction there.  Most crucial is this: can the accused person not see or acknowledge how their behavior impacted others, or how it may retroactively be seen in a different light?

To not see this all-in logical context – teenagers and drinking can, and often does, lead to other misbehavior – I think requires a special sort of denial. To think that a group of teens drinking excessively or on a regular basis always knew where to draw the line defies logic.

Most males of my generation have their Judge Kavanaugh moment.

The bottom line for me is Dr. Ford’s accusations and recollections are credible and believable, Judge Kavanaugh’s denials about the incidents and culture of his youthful times are not.

Walking with Studs Terkel

The first job I ever had was delivering newspapers – tossing
them with vigor at various doorways from atop my big, black,
steel-framed paperboy bike, and the paper’s rubber bands would
sometimes slip, causing the paper to take the form of a cone
rendering them aerodynamically unable to fly well but…

…they looked a lot like the cones I filled by hand with
hard. muscle-building, ice cream in my next job at
Baskin-Robbins where the scooped gobs of vanilla were the same
shade as the naked potatoes I peeled by the fifty-pound bag to
make potato pancakes at my other gig at the Alpine Village Inn
where we garnished every plate of German food with a spiced-apple
ring, round and hollow just like the crullers and glazed-raised
I served to cops, mechanics,teachers, and folks my next stop
at the Donut House…

…where, in fact, all of our donuts (except long johns and the
crème-or-jelly-filled Bismarck’s) had center holes that resembled
the 45 rpm records I played on my first ‘real’ career-jobs at
multiple radio stations I worked at as an alleged adult for a
decade or so – places where people would call in to request songs
and birthday greetings or to win bumper stickers, chat about aliens,
vent about their loneliness because all they had was my voice
and cats and I tried to politely get off the phone, back to work
entertaining 24/7 hot-and-cold running weirdoes…

…a lot like the people I met in my next career incarnation in the
hotel business I grew to love, except hotel guests you encountered
face-to-face while they complained about cold pools, thin towels,
noisy ice machines, bad food or the fact that they got put in
a room on the 13th floor; at least they usually tipped you for
your time, effort, charm, expertise – except for a short stint when
I worked behind the desk with reservation computers and
boring accounting stuff…

…but that all came in handy when I went back to broadcasting and
helped manage a national radio network which gave me more technical
skills that were more helpful when I became a county social services
case manager, helping folks who could never tip, but who often just
needed someone to talk to besides their cats and the guy on
the radio with a call-in-show, so sometimes I could help make their
lives a bit easier…

…like I did in my next stop as a state employment counselor
which I enjoyed and did well with because, holy cow! I could relate
to most of the people on my caseload because I had done so many
different things that helped me be successful at helping people
find better jobs than the ones that had been snatched from them and
I could also talk with great authority on making transitions –
especially once the economy went south and the irony of being
laid-off as an employment counselor sank in…

….so I went to work for a company training their employees to do
their jobs, until they started cutting some of those jobs
and of course you don’t need to train someone to do a job that
isn’t there anymore and so then I finally finished a long-ago begun
college degree and mentoring my much younger classmates.

Now I daily find myself in front of a classroom full of often
disinterested, inner-city, high school, English students who don’t
understand at all how the real world works and see themselves as
not having many future options or long-term prospects…

…so the world just doesn’t need as many people to deliver, throw,
scoop, peel, and serve like back in my day so they don’t learn or need to
learn these seemingly but not really innocuous skills and now
any empathy I share with people falls on mostly deaf ears of kids
wearing earbuds which drowns out the siren-call of potential for
opportunity beyond being a discount store cashier or shoving lattes
across a counter…

…and I think back over the blue-collar and white-collar phases of
my careers and all I can say for certain now is that whatever the
color of my shirts, there was almost always a well-earned,
mostly-enjoyed-making-it, had some laughs, ring around those collars
and how maybe, just maybe, circles and rings and holes and loops
are some kind of theme in my life and then I find myself
talking in circles to my students because it’s what we sometimes
do just to get something to stick and quite often at the end of
the day I can easily picture myself back in a paper hat somewhere
asking…

”You want coffee with that cruller?”

Dressing the part

As I have now returned home to Minnesota (and landed a new teaching gig there) this little classroom escapade from a few years back in New Orleans resonates even more.  A good start-of-a-new-school-year memory from the Marchives.

Friday was a ‘dress down’ day at school – pay five bucks for the privilege of wearing your favorite pro or college team jersey and jeans. Yee-ha!   My inner-city New Orleans high school kids know img_20161007_155732nothing of hockey, so I was interested in gauging their response to me wearing my U of M hockey jersey.

With the exception of one kid who said, “Ummmm…Michigan?” (detention, AND an automatic ‘F’ for him) the kids mostly got the ‘M’ for Minnesota part, because they know me well enough, but my favorite interaction was with one of my more thoughtful tenth graders, a gregarious kid who always shares his writing with the class, and who often ponders things before speaking – a rarity in my classroom.

“So, Mr. Lucker…Minnesota, right?”
“Yep.”
“That’s where you went to college?”
“One of the places.”
“That a hockey jersey?”
“Yes it is.”
“You were a hockey player?”
“Nope.”
“You played football.”
“Nope.”
“Baseball.”
“Nope.”
Pondering pause, trying to fathom, “You weren’t a basketball player?!
“Nope.”
Pondering pause, ‘I give up’ head shake, shrug.
“I was a mascot.”

Pondering pause, eyes growing wider.

“You mean, a suit and everything? A costume?”
“Yep.”
Pondering pause, eyes still wide.
“Costume, big fiberglass head. I was awesome.”
goldie4Pondering pause, scrunched-up face, look of confusion.

“What Minnesota is again?”
“The Gophers.”
Pondering pause, head shake of incredulity.
“Damn, Mr. Lucker.”

He smiled, still shaking his head as he went back to his writing.

On the St. Mark

I will soon walk through the doors of St. Marks United Methodist Church one last time.  I first entered that hallowed space on the edge of New Orleans’ historic French Quarter in the spring of 2006; it was sixth months after Hurricane Katrina had wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast, and St. Marks was in a state of disrepair.StM1

No. St. Mark’s was in a state of renewal – it’s historic, perpetual mode.

That Sunday morning, I was a visitor; a tourist on my first trip to New Orleans, there at the urging of my boss, who thought that I should spend the weekend of my extended business trip to Louisiana getting a first-hand look at what hurricane recovery looked like.

The trip to New Orleans changed my life. So did St. Marks.

I had arrived in town the previous Friday afternoon, and checked into a hotel on the edge of the French Quarter; it was a place best described at that moment as ‘creepy’.  It was an older building (not by any stretch one of the oldest, but it had seen a few years) and the entire first floor had been gutted down to the studs as part of its post-Katrina revelation. Stark, and empty, but that isn’t what made it strange. The second story of the hotel had been untouched by floodwaters, so they were open for business.

Floodwaters not an issue, but my room appeared to have been untouched by time.

The dark, wide-grained, walnut paneling, large, clunky, light fixtures and olive-green carpeting dated the room to sometime in the late 1960’s.  The old desk phone by the bed – while not as dated – was of only less ancient vintage, adorned with myriad instructions and extensions for various hotel services.  The creep factor quickly gave way to kitsch, especially considering I was staying in a hotel in a part of a city that was older than the country itself.

It fit me.

As a writer and history buff, this entire sidebar trip was one of great anticipation and opportunity – and I used my time to simply stroll, observe, and record.  I spent Friday night and Saturday traversing every street in the Quarter, stopping periodically to drink chicory coffee, and write.  Or to stop, eat and listen to some jazz, and write.

I filled a brand new, five-by-seven-inch spiral notebook I had brought with me.

My first visit was twelve years ago.

That Sunday morning found me at a small breakfast spot I had stumbled across the day before. the night before, I had checked the old hotel directory binder in my room for a local church I could attend – figuring that most any nearby church would have ample amounts of history and quirk to suit my rather eclectic faith tastes.

It was a quick thumb through, as I discovered St. Mark’s UMC was just two blocks from my hotel and had services at ten o’clock – ample time for early-riser me to hit the streets, see some sights, and get some breakfast.  Plus, it was a Methodist church, and I was a Methodist churchgoer back home in Minnesota.

And we shared a name.

After breakfast, I went back to my hotel, packed up my stuff and loaded it in my rental car, before making the short stroll to church.  It was a muggy morning, and the Quarter had an air about it; a whiff of old mixed with new.  There was the typical ‘old’ smell – earthy, damp – mixed with new: freshly cut wood, new plaster, and cement -all held together with the mortal of lemon disinfectant, a special treat laid down that morning by street sweepers washing away a night of revelry.

I arrived at the church and took in the look of the place. It was old, dating to the early 1920’s, but on the exterior, it didn’t seem that Katrina had done much damage. Above the stmark2door was an old, hand-painted sign, reading ‘ST. MARK’s the METHODIST CHURCH OF THE VIEUX CARRÉ ’ – Vieux Carré the French for ‘Old Square’.

The sign and the sentiment are still there.

Once inside, I immediately got the sense that this place was not typical, and that it was not going to be business as usual. Scaffolding along the sides of the church showed where stained glass windows, wall plaster, and the ceiling were all getting some badly needed repair.  The corners of the sanctuary had piles of materials and tools, and there was a definite vibe of renewal.

Same for the folks in the pews.

People milled about, some with cups of coffee in hand, a few were engaged in conversation, many sat silently, by themselves, and some were even sleeping in the pews. A number of those in attendance looked to be homeless – because they were; all of their worldly belongings with them in backpacks, suitcases, boxes.  Scattered here are there were a different set of folks; more neatly dressed, seemingly more middle class.  Racially, I was surprised to pretty even split, black and white.  I have lived and worked in the inner city; my first thought was that I had stumbled into some sort of homeless shelter.

But that idea was quickly overshadowed by a humbling realization; if these folks were disenfranchised from their communities or families, they certainly were not in this place, on this Sunday morning.  The conviviality was palpable, unforced.  This was an interesting place.

Piano music was playing and people were starting to find their spots.

As I accepted a bulletin from an usher and began to look for a seat, a petite, blonde woman walked up to me, excitedly welcoming me, then warmly clasping my hand and shaking it. In a southern drawl as thick as cane syrup, she thanked me for being there, before excusing herself and answering a question of the ushers had about something.

Her name was Anita Dinwiddie, and she was the pastor.

What followed was as uplifting a service as I have attended, and the quirks I anticipated were everywhere. Among the most moving was the greeting and the call to come up to the altar, and ‘grab a flower’.  Just in front of the polished wood altar railing was a small table and scattered across it were a variety of fresh-cut flowers – daisies and carnations. Without hesitation, and with piano music playing, the majority of the congregants got up from their seats, walked to the front of the church, grabbed a flower, and then went to img_20170820_110909.jpgthe altar to kneel in prayer, placing the flower on the altar in front of them.

At least, some folks laid their flowers down. Many people held on to their daisy as they prayed – some clutching the stem intently, others twirling them around absentmindedly, as they prayed, got up, and headed back to their seat, giving the next person in line their chance.

It was a fascinating and profoundly moving five minutes – always is. I had never seen anything like it before or since.

Anita later explained that the tradition pre-dated her tenure by many years, and that the premise was simple; those who felt they had nothing to bring in terms of an offering would always have something – a simple flower – they could bring to the altar.

This simple, small piece of the Sunday morning experience at St. Mark’s is one of my favorite things about the place – and one of the things I will miss the most.  And though confession isn’t necessarily a Methodist thing (in a formal sense) I have one to make: as many times as, I have seen and participated in the flower ritual, I am often getting more from watching how others – especially first-time visitors – are moved by the sight of watching people pick up their flowers, and how they handle them.

Hey, I’ve been there.

The rest of the service was standard issue, traditional Methodist; classic hymns, prayer requests, joys and concerns, sermon.  Though very little is done without some special flair or twist.  The music on any given Sunday, was provided by some wonderful musicians of varying ilk.  Often, the soloist or vocalist you were listening to from the pew would have been performing on some nearby French Quarter stage twelve-hours before.

What might have been your cover charge on Saturday night is an offering plate drop-in Sunday morning.

At the conclusion of my first Sunday there, I was startled to see that not many people were all that anxious to scoot out the door. In fact, many were coming from the back of the church to the front.

Because it was time for the weekly meal.

Each week – then and now – the church serves a meal to the homeless immediately following the service; they have it down to a well-oiled routine, and the carts are rolling out while the pastor is at the back of the church saying goodbye to those who are leaving. each week, the meal is prepared, and then served by, groups from different churches – local, regional, and otherwise.

It is an impressive and impactful undertaking.

Along with their homeless ministry, St, Marks also has a strong, long-standing bond with the LGBTQ community. Back in 1973, an arsonist set fire to a well-known gay bar in the Quarter, and thirty-two people died.  Some of the victims went unidentified, and bodies were not claimed by families.  St. Mark’s was the only church that would allow memorial services and funerals for the victims; this church is not new to the ideas of diversity and social justice.  In the 1960s, during the turmoil of desegregation, the pastor of St. Marks held integrated services, and sent his children to help integrate a local school.

Service to all and inclusion have deep roots here.

Obviously, that first, not-at-all random (thanks, G-d) visit to St. Mark’s was not my last. Two years later, my family and I moved to New Orleans to help with the post-Katrina rebuild, and I became a semi-regular St. Mark’s attendee. The place – and the people – have made an extraordinary impact on me. Some of the deepest, most meaningful friendships I have made in my time in New Orleans began at St, Mark’s; some of the most meaningful and delightful discussions on faith I have ever been involved with came during St. Mark’s ‘disorganized religion’ sessions – for years held weekly, on Tuesday nights, at a local bar.

Pastor Dinwiddie, now retired and living in Texas, is now simply my friend, Anita.

My friends Brett, Jerry, Karl, Ed, Michael, Reita, Noble, and Corey (who took over for the retired Anita) – all welcomed me with warmth, and good humor, strong counsel.

It is a long list of things to be grateful for in my connections with St. Mark’s UMC; twelve years is the longest stretch I have ever spent with a single congregation.  I have seen a lot of people come and go, heard wonderful sermons and fabulous music.  I have signed many of the sympathy cards the church puts in with the guest register, then sends to victims of violence around the community.

I have learned a lot – about myself, about others, about life.  St. Mark’s is a cool place, and one that I will deeply miss.

Every Sunday service at St. Mark’s closes with a group sing; first run through with accompaniment, the second done a Capella, as everyone looks around the congregation and makes eye contact with someone else – bringing an entirely different perspective to the lyrics we sing; rinse-and-repeat. Incredibly cleansing:

Shalom to you now, shalom my friend!
May G-d’s full mercy, bless you my friend!
In all your living, and through your loving,
Christ be your shalom,
Christ be your shalom.

Backatcha, my St. Mark’s friends.  Backatcha always.

Today is my last visit to St. Mark’s.  I don’t know that I’ll ever feel as at home in a church.

And I am very okay with that.