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Happy Holidays? Eh…

I always celebrate Thanksgiving with mixed emotions. If I look at the real history of the holiday it leaves little to celebrate. I’m sure that when the Wampanoag People feasted with the pilgrim colonists, saving them from a dreadful winter of starvation (because that’s what human beings do for one another) they had no idea what lay ahead. I’ve sure the pilgrims were thinking “thanks for the food. Next year we kill your women and children and steal your land.” It’s no wonder Thanksgiving is a day of mourning for my Indigenous brothers. True history is usually hard to celebrate.

However, I grew up in a middle-class, white, suburban, and fundamentalist Christian home in Texas. That’s not the Thanksgiving story I was told. Mine was much more pleasant than the reality and had a white supremacy spin put on the whole thing, but that another story. Thanksgiving became a holiday to be celebrated with too much food, family, friends, and Dallas Cowboy football. My Dad was transferred to Denver in 1969. Coloradoans didn’t take to Texans moving there (after skiing with them I understand why…) so all my parents’ friends (mostly ex-patriate Texans and mostly from church) got together each Thanksgiving to feast together and watch the Dallas Cowboys.

We communally held our breath as Clint Longley threw his “Hail Mary” pass to Drew Pearson to win the game against the hated Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving 1974. Clint was the son of one of our church members and big brother to one of my friends. He’d also graduated from Abilene Christian College which is where all of most of our friend’s children either went or would go. We all watched the number one moment in Thanksgiving history. I’ve never seen such excitement, and given what professional football has become, may never see again. I’m quite sure Jerry Jones is the anti-Christ…

Years have passed and many Thanksgivings have drifted in and out of my memory. Grown kids and grandkids make planning Thanksgiving difficult. This year I’ll put a smile on my face and hope January 2nd comes quickly. The holidays have become a difficult time for me. My son Jeremy died two years ago. He was born on Christmas Day during the Denver “Blizzard of ‘82” so the holidays bring a lot of melancholy with them. I miss my son. Grief is a bitch…

Last year, Margaret and I celebrated Thanksgiving with my “birth” family in Kentucky. It was amazing to be with so many people that looked like me. That helped me through so many difficult days. This year I got a phone call from Momma that took the wind out of whatever sails I had – the cancer has returned, and the prognosis is not good (Momma was quick to remind me not to count her out yet. They’ve said that before.) I’ll be spending Christmas in Kentucky this year, making new memories with my people, my Momma. Sometimes I think that Jeremy’s behind all this. I don’t think he wants this to be a depressing time of year for his family. I know Momma doesn’t. Maybe the new memories will make a difference. I hope so.

I’ve often thought Thanksgiving was more of a commercialized greeting card holiday. I strive to be grateful each and every day, not just on the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving may be a special day to say thanks for the many blessings we have, but gratitude is something to be exercised all the time – 365 days a year. Gratitude is a verb, it’s action. Gratitude is taking care of the things we’ve been given – our world, our families, and each other.

We spent this Thanksgiving with friends, many of whom I haven’t seen in a couple of years (thanks to COVID). Our host reminded me that we were celebrating with our family of choice. It made me smile. It also reminded me to show my gratitude for the wonderful friends I have by being more accessible. I’m not going to wait for New Years to start on that resolution.

I hope that all of you had a blessed, peaceful Thanksgiving and the holidays bring you cheer, peace, and appreciation for all that’s been given each of you. I do appreciate so very much those of you who take a couple of minutes out of your busy day to read the ramblings of some old guy in Fort Worth, Texas!

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A Prayer For Today

“Love won’t be real or tested unless we somehow live close to the disadvantaged, who frankly teach us that we know very little about love.” – Fr. Richard Rohr

The was first thing I read this morning. It pierced my heart with its truth.

Opal’s Farm is close to the homeless missions and camps in Fort Worth. If I don’t make the light at Riverside and Lancaster Avenues, I’m going to have to deal with someone panhandling on the corner. I usually don’t carry cash and I feel bad that I can’t throw some money their way. I know what it’s like to be hungry. People say it just goes to drugs and alcohol, but that’s not always true. I’ve seen folks immediately walk to the convenience store across the street and come out with food instead of beer. Besides, I know what it is to need a fix, get sick without it, and be out of resources or credit.

I try to acknowledge the various characters I see while stopped at the light on most days. I know what it’s like to feel unseen and written off as inconsequential, to somehow be sub-human because of my status in the social hierarchy.  A pastor friend once told me that homeless folks told him over and over that they’d just like to be seen – to be acknowledged – to feel human.

Sometimes a simple “I’m sorry but I don’t have anything to give” can lead to some eye-opening conversations in the two minutes it takes for the light to change. A life story can be told in those two minutes. I’ve even found a couple of folks who I save a little cash for just so I can brighten their day a bit just as they have brightened mine. To paraphrase Ms. Opal, I can’t help everyone, but I can help someone.

Sometimes that same “I don’t have anything” can turn into an aggressive confrontation. The streets are ripe with mental illness and substance abuse that often leads to strange and threatening behavior from the street denizens. I find myself becoming jaded and cynical toward the very people with whom I had compassion for a moment ago. Fear does that. It’s times like these that remind me that I have a long way to go in loving others. It reminds me that love is a verb, an action word reflected in the things I do and not what I say.

I was always told that the opposite of fear was faith. I’m sure today that fear is not the opposite of faith – I can be fearful and still have an albeit small degree of faith. Fear is really the opposite of love when it comes down to it. Sometimes it keeps me from loving those that need to be loved the most. Maybe that’s why “Don’t be afraid” is found so many times throughout the Bible.

“Perfect love casts put all fear…”

When I remember the promise, it makes it easier to see people for who they are. Humans created in the image of a loving God, the image of love itself. I have so far to go but this has always been the starting point – trying to remember that there is no “other”, that we’re each a reflection of God- the imago dei. I can begin to escape the judgment, the separation, and the self-righteousness of the old tapes that play in my head.

Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”

– Dorothy Day, House of Hospitality

Just for today, just for this moment, God please help me to see you in everyone I’ll meet today. Let me learn how to love with the same abandon as you. I’ll be leaving for the farm soon. I’ll be stopping at the light at Riverside and Lancaster. Help me be the light today…   

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

                                                                                                  

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Jeremy and I

I got up early this morning to study for the final in a course I’m taking in Indigenous Religion and Ecology. Unfortunately, the coffee hadn’t kicked in and I fell down a rabbit hole and cleaned up my personal email instead. I apparently stopped doing so on May 29, 2020 – the day my son Jeremy died. Life seemed to take a different path after that day.

I wrote about the grief and the loss for a few weeks after he died. My public blog became my personal journal in the hope it would be cathartic for me and somewhat hopeful that it would shorten, or at least make bearable, the grief process. It didn’t. It simply became easier to write about Opal’s Farm and passing on quotes I came across that meant something to me than to speak of the pain of grief.

So, I’ve been silent the last few weeks unless it’s about Opal’s Farm. Spring planting has taken up most of my time. It’s hard to stay on top of all the great things happening at the farm – and there are some fantastic things happening there this Spring. I’m grateful for all of it. I wish I had more hours in the day so I could tell you all about it, but I don’t so I do the best I can business-wise.

When it came to writing anything else I found myself relying on the old “writer’s block” excuse -and that’s just what it was – an excuse. The reality is grief has reared its ugly head and clouded my thinking for some time now. It started around Christmas – that’s my deceased son’s birthday – and hasn’t let up.

I told my wife that I may need to finally see a grief therapist. This was becoming somewhat debilitating, but I didn’t want to spend a hundred dollars an hour for someone to tell me grief and loss sucks. I get it.

I also get that people don’t want to hear about my loss anymore whatever their reason may be.

Grief is incredibly isolating. People who haven’t lost a child don’t get it. They may have the best of intentions, or they may think it’s time (it’s been a year-and-a-half) to just “get over it” and move on. I understand. I’m ashamed to admit it but I’ve treated others the same way. Not because I want to but because of the discomfort, and often fear, I feel being around grief. We all do it…

This morning I read once again all the emails and articles written about Jeremy after his passing. He was loved by many. Although his talent as an artist lives on through his body of work, I find myself wondering if at best, he’s thought of from time, and at worst, if he’s been forgotten – everyone’s moved on. COVID robbed us of the celebration of life he wanted should he pass. We honored one of his requests at the small family homegoing we had for him – we had honey buns but couldn’t have a taco truck. I’m still waiting on that one.

Several years ago, Jeremy and I were headed out to a remodeling job we were doing. I miss our time in the truck together – the conversations, the laughter – although I must admit that working with Jeremy was rarely easy. We’re both pretty set in our ways! Still, we had a lot to laugh about. He told me that we should write a book together. I asked him why he thought that. His reply still haunts me today – “We could write about you and me. It’d be so crazy no one would believe it. We’d make the non-fiction bestseller’s list.” I can’t argue with that…

Jeremy 2019

There were several things that Jeremy wanted from me that I just never got around to while he was here. Some of them I’ve done, some I haven’t yet. He always wanted me to find my birth parents. He loved my adopted parents, especially my dad, but he always wondered about who were really were – where and who did we come from. I found that out last year when I met my birth mother – his grandmother – and learned so much of our family history. When I go to Kentucky in May I’ll be taking some of his ashes to lay at the family cemetery on the family farm we will be having our reunion at. My brother’s sons look so much like Adrian and Jeremy. Part of Jeremy belongs there too.

I’ve also begun the book he always wanted. I realized that Jeremy had a private persona and a public one as an artist. While most people know Jeremy the artist, few know Jeremy the man. It’s time for a broader (and crazier) picture of he and I both.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress and maybe post a chapter here and there. I don’t know if it will be a bestseller. In fact, I don’t even know if you’ll read it. I do know that what will happen will happen and maybe his loss and the pain I feel will mean something to me and the healing will begin…

This song plays almost everyday on my streaming station. It has become my song for Jeremy.
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Run, Maggie, Run

I came home a little early today to get stuff together for Earth Day at the Health Sciences Center tomorrow. I have a large volunteer group coming and a doctor appointment for Margaret as well. My brain has been running like crazy – at least until a moment ago.

My wife sent me You Tube link (attached below) and the tears have slowed enough to sit down and write.  Every now and then a song comes along that you swear was written for you. Maybe it’s about your life, your loved ones, or your friends, but it’s like the songwriter was inside your head. That’s the case with this one…

My Maggie was a ball of fur that I bottle fed until she ciould eat solid food. Her mother and the rest of the littler were taken to the shelter. She grew into sixty pounds with a beautiful gray merle coat and a raccoon mask across her face. Maggie was half Catahoula and half coyote – rebel was an accurate adjective, and her wild side was endearing to anyone who met her. Squirrels knew better than to set foot in our yard!

Maggie was my dog. She tolerated everyone else, and could even be affectionate toward them, but she loved me, and I loved her. She would curl up beside my desk and follow me everywhere I went – especially if I was going to the kitchen. We learned quickly not to leave anything we intended to eat on the counter. She assumed it was hers – even the birthday cake Margaret made for a friend. Maggie had an incredible radar for food. She could be outside and no matter how quietly I crept into the kitchen she would be sitting there waiting before I had a chance to finish opening whatever I was going to cook or eat.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving last year, she walked in and laid by my feet. I reached down to pet her and noticed her eyes didn’t look right. I knelt and took her head in my hands to love on her. She started to have a seizure and died right there in my hands. She was only five years old. We suspect she had an aneurysm.

I wrapped her in a blanket and gently carried her out to a place by the garden close to wear my Sheltie, Missy, is buried. I cried quietly as I laid her to rest. Sadie, our other rescue was her “sister”. I looked out the window later and saw her sitting and staring at Maggie’s grave.

I’m trying not to get tears on the keyboard as I write this. The last two years have been marked by some devastating losses – my son, my best friend, and others who I came to know and love over the last twenty years or so. Maybe Maggie’s Song will lead me through the grief even if it doesn’t fill the hole in my heart.

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Don’t Be an A-hole

It’s cold in my office today. I left the bar up on the patio door and Sadie, our lovable, sweet dog, decided something was important enough to warrant exterior investigation. She’s incredibly bright. She can open the door if she bends her paw just right. Unfortunately, she hasn’t figured out how to close it. The door was open this morning. The overnight low was twenty-one degrees. The coffee is appreciated more than ever…

I figured I’d warm up the fingers by writing an update on what’s happening at the Joel household I finally received my COVID test results back and they were negative. I figured they would be but it’s possible to be asymptomatic and still pass it on to others. My wife is having major surgery on February 1st, so I’ve been extra careful to avoid bringing COVID home. It took almost five months to get an open surgical room. COVID would put it off again and we definitely don’t want that.

My work is not just the food. It’s ultimately about unity between all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual preference, gender identity, and abilities. So, I’ve weighed heavily on writing something that’s divisive. The whole of our culture is divided right now. The last thing everyone needs is another divisive rant. Sometimes loving others requires saying what needs to be heard. Even Jesus got pissed-off about the moneychangers in the Temple.

I’d like to think I’m accepting (albeit begrudgingly at times) of everyone, but that would be a lie. Lately, even begrudgingly doesn’t work anymore. Case in point: Margaret and I have had all our COVID vaccinations, I always wear a mask, and maintain social distance when I do have to go into a store (usually Home Depot – it’s been my toy store for years…). We try to do all the things recommended by doctors and epidemiologists to stop the spread of COVID – for both ourselves and others in particular.

Last night I had to go in to pick up a dinner order that we’d ordered for carry-out. It wasn’t ready and I had to wait. An unmasked gentleman (and I use the term loosely) came up behind me – right behind me mind you – I’m not sure there was even two feet between us. He was close enough to feel his breath on my shoulders. I moved over to the corner to put some space between us. When he finished ordering he also moved into the corner, crowding me again.

I’m irritated when anyone gets in my personal space even in pre-pandemic times, but even more so now. I moved again and he moved closer to speak with his son. I moved once again. So did he. That’s when I could take no more. I looked at him and said, “Sir, you need to back off”.

He looked surprised. I continued, “I need you to maintain some social distance please. My wife is having surgery and I can’t risk taking anything home”.  Everyone was looking at me. Two of the folks that had masks on and nodded approval (two people in a room full of employees and diners). His son murmured “what a dick” and they took a couple of steps back – not six feet though. My food was ready so I got out of there as quickly as I could.

My wife was watching National Geographic documentary called “The First Wave” when I got home. It’s about the first months of pandemic when New York City was the epicenter for COVID. It followed doctors and patients through overwhelmed hospitals during the first wave. We ate dinner and I continued to watch (even though I had a ton of work to do). I became both saddened and angry to watch the death rate soar while healthcare providers shared the emotions that come with helplessness and over-work. Their valiant efforts could not overcome the effects of the disease and they watched friends and patients die and the grief of loved ones who couldn’t even say goodbye. I wept at the loss and frustration.

Sadness quickly turned to anger when I thought of that yahoo at the restaurant. Two years after “The First Wave” we’re still fighting COVID because so many refuse to mask, get vaccinated, or maintain social distance – all the things that would have slowed the pandemic, saved lives, and made of everyone safer – and their refusal is based on their “right” not to do so. Right-wing politicians in many states, like our Governor “COVID” Abbott, have made mask or vaccination mandates illegal. Playing to the Republican-Trump base is more important than saving lives…

This isn’t about politics, our “rights” or “the mark of the beast” people. It’s about having some concern for the common good, for all our friends and neighbors. It’s about not being an ass-hole and “thinking of others more highly than yourself (I read that in a book somewhere). I don’t like wearing a mask, but I do – not even so much for me but for others. I don’t like having to stand back from friends that I normally hug when I see them. If I’m honest, I’m a sissy when it comes to shots. I hate them, but guess what? I’ve had ALL my vaccinations – COVID and everything else as well. Follow the science people and exercise some common courtesy…

Facts no longer change minds and there is little communication, real communication, going on between those on either side of the issue (unless yelling at each other is considered communication. Common courtesy is not that common anymore. The one hope I have is that there are many others choosing to do the right thing – the courteous, wise, and selfless thing. That’s personal choice that’s good for everyone. Remember, don’t be an a-hole

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

A side note: The new Omnicron variant is far more infectious although early data shows it may not be as deadly – at least for the vaccinated. Many doctors are now saying it’s not if you catch the virus, it’s when.