Friday, November 27, 2015

A Time to Think of Giving Thanks

The Thanksgiving holiday is always a good time to take stock and recall what we're thankful for. The last time I did this publicly was two years ago; I shan't compare the two reflections. As I ponder the year, numerous events and people which inspire gratitude come to mind. Some events are horrific ones generating gratitude because I was not part of them.

I am thankful for:
  • Ellie, my sweetheart of a wife.

    I would hope the reason for this is obvious.

  • The downing of the Russian passenger aircraft, for which ISIS took responsibility ( and wanted, can you believe it, credit ).

    My gratitude is that neither I nor any of my loved ones were on that plane.

  • The visit of Pope Francis to the United States.

    I am grateful that he is the leader of my faith family.

  • The synod on the family that Pope Francis called and presided over.

    The specific outcome(s) of the Synod are not important; I am grateful for his calling for it, for his asking for input about it from the laity, and for his consistent message to the clergy in attendance: speak your mind, disagree if that what is on your mind, debate and disagreement are the marks of a church that is alive.

  • The many snippets ( sound bites if you will ) that Pope Francis has uttered ... and some of these precede this year The general tone is home-spun rather than intellectual wisdom, the kind most everyone can relate to. And it speaks of a church more interested in the people of the Church than the Church itself. A sampling:   
    • "Who am I to judge?"
    • "I see the church as a field hospital after battle."
    • "I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God ... "
    • "Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption:"
    • "It is harder to let ourselves be loved than it is to love."
  • The ISIS attack(s) in Paris

    While I certainly abhor both the attacks and the evil behind them, I am grateful they didn't happen here and that they didn't directly touch anyone that I know.

  • On a much more personal level, there are a number of 2015 events and people I encountered that inspire gratitude.
    • The retreat I went on just after Easter; it was a wonderful experience.
    • The fall that Ellie experienced while I was on retreat did nothing more than worry most everyone connected with it.
    • Ellie's moving in with Loretta to help care for her cancer ... I am grateful she was able to do that and proud of her for so doing
    • My ability to cope while Ellie was gone.
    • The extraordinary grace Loretta brought to her entire dying experience.
    • The friends of Loretta's who came to see her while she was in hospice and brought more than enough love to fill the room.
    • The staff at the Hospice who did so much to keep Loretta comfortable and welcome Ellie and everyone who came to visit Loretta
    • The staff at the Basilica who did so much to make Loretta's funeral and burial a celebration of her life.
There is much for each of us to be thankful for. Please do it. And please take a small amount of time at the end of every day to notice the beautiful things that happened and the people who touched your life that day.
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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Taking the Chill out of the Air

“Fire department!”

It's a brisk fall day. Ellie and I return to Loretta's after lunch, and she is chilled. She had spoken, half-heartily I thought, as if it's too early in the season, of having a fire in the fireplace. I seat myself at the dining room table. "I don't see the flu control," she says, "will you look?"

I come. I look. I fail. I am about to get on the floor and look for the handle up in the chimney.

"There it is," Ellie says, pointing at a lever that moves horizontally over the fire place door. I move it; we hear the flu change position. I return to my newspaper, Ellie lights the log and sits next to me at the table.

Soon ... "I can smell the fire," I say; "should that be?"

"It's ok."

I return my attention to the paper.

"Whoop whoop." Suddenly, a smoke detector is blaring. There are three smoke detectors within spitting distance of one another ( code requirement ) at the end of the hall ... one in each bedroom above the door, and one in the hall ceiling, inches from each door. I see no smoke, and I’m positive I need only to move a little air past the detector and we'll be home free. "Which one is it?" I wonder as I scoot down the hall. I find it and wave my rolled up newspaper at it; silence. "I knew it," I said to myself, "darn I'm good," and walked back to the table. Before I sit down it, or another detector, is blaring. "Well, rats," I say, and begin another trek down the hall.

Long story short, we are seeing the smoke that's setting off the detectors, I've exchanged my rolled up newspaper for twelve inch by twelve inch lid to a plastic litter box pail, I'm frantically waving it and I'm unable to silence the detector(s). We have to put out the fire. I douse it with water but this creates, of course, even more smoke.

We have all the windows open, one vertical fan left over from summer is running on high, and we're looking for another, smaller, fan to blow right on the alarm in the ceiling. ( This one seems to the one causing the most noise announcing: "smoke, fire, evacuate, evacuate" loud enough to drown out most commercial jets ). All the noise and/or commotion is bothering the cats, too; their high-pitched yowling is adding to it.

Suddenly, on the apartment door, Bang. Knock. Knock Bang Knock. "Fire department!"

Grateful they didn't break down the door, "Hi, I'm Walter."

Realizing there was no fire danger, they brought a huge fan to the outside doorway at the foot of the steps, and I immediately feel a cold draft from this fan. The lead fireman walks down the hall, saying, "The alarm will not shut off until the smoke is cleared," just before finding and using the kill switch on the detector. Silence. Golden silence.

The fireman determined the fire was, indeed, out, and, inspecting the fireplace, found the flu closed. Ellie and I had closed the flu immediately prior to lighting the log. Well ... no wonder, then

The fireman took Ellie's name for the report, told us there'd be no charge for the call, and we thanked him for coming as he left. Ellie and I, feeling weak-kneed and foolish, sat on the sofa, overwhelmed by thoughts of worst-case scenarios.
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Thursday, November 12, 2015

My Spouse is Coming Home Again

“They have to eat.”

Ellie is still living at Loretta’s ( for which I blame the cats ) and this is getting harder and harder. In addition to her wanting “just to be home” and my wanting the same, the actual caring for the cats is starting to wear on her. They eat ( and if  you know anything about cats you know that means she feeds them ) pretty much every three to four hours, 24x7. So, yes, even overnight they are yowling, meowing and expecting food.

I say, “They’re spoiled. You’ve done it.”

Ellie says, “They have to eat.”

Friends have urged us to consider putting them down … “They’ve lived a good life and you’d be sending them to Loretta,” goes the thought process. Neither Ellie nor I believe that’s a good idea. Even though we blanch at the idea of taking them home, and there don’t seem to be any viable alternatives on the horizon, both of us prefer that to putting them down.

We visited the cats’ veterinarian, who has four cats of her own ( and is hugely disinterested in adding two cats to that number ), to try to get a handle on some of this. “I keep my door closed at night or I wouldn’t get any sleep.” That pretty much sums up the meeting. Oh, in addition, “You’ve rewarded them for their behavior so changing that behavior will be difficult.”

On putting them down, this vet subscribes to the American Veterinarian Association’s position: she will not do euthanasia for convenience – which is how she would see this because the cats are healthy. Never mind that we received the cats accidentally and neither Ellie nor I have every actually had any cats of our own, or had a desire for same. Were we to take them home and things not be going well after two weeks or so, that would change the “for convenience” tag.

So … unless something quite unforeseen comes up very quickly, my life will soon change dramatically. I will be sharing the space of which I have had exclusive (mis)use for over 10 months with both my spouse ( finally ) and two cats ( yikes, really? ). This is clearly very good news with a dose of bad news mixed in. ( If you’re not sure which is which, you have clearly failed to pay attention. ) I’ll keep you posted.
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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Returning to the Neighborhood

"It was good seeing you again!"

I previously mentioned that this summer brought the end of an era to my neighborhood card game. The traitorous couple ( said with the utmost in humor ) that moved to Arizona was in town recently, and the visit promised both a dinner involving all 4 couples and a 4-hour all-male card game. I looked forward to both as soon as I knew of them.

The dinner, held two houses from mine, was splendid. I enjoyed seeing the transplanted couple. The food was very good, the atmosphere warm and amiable. Ellie, still recovering from the exhaustion of caring for Loretta and in the throes if a nasty cold and worse cough, was not in attendance. Because of her absence, I told the story of Ellie, us and Loretta's cancer. It was the first time I told the whole story to this audience, ( We didn’t talk a great deal when playing cards – we’re four men, after all -- and Loretta had died after the breakup of the game.) and the wives knew only what their husbands might have told them, which I suspected wasn’t much. They were quite caring and understanding about the situation. Pre dinner talk moved to the topic of life in Arizona, the move and related things.

When we sat down to dinner, ( corn bread and wheat buns, both a green and a fruit salad, ham, scalloped potatoes ) the hostess, suggesting she'd make a care package for Ellie, asked if Ellie likes ham. 

"It's one of her favorites," I told her.

 "Wonderful. I'll package that up. Don't leave without it." As if I could.

The meal was wonderful; the conversation included many follow-up caring inquiries into our life of the last year and dealing with both Loretta's estate and caring for her cats. I went home with both a care package and a heart full of gladness for our caring neighbors. And, of course, an eager anticipation of the next day's card game.

The game was a reprise of our monthly competition. We drew for partners, our special option rule was in effect, and we were scheduled for four hours. The singular difference was we were playing during daylight. I drew the new Arizona resident for my partner, and that pleased me; we shared a level of communication I did not share with the others.

We got off to a bad start; before my chair was warm, we had played just two hands but lost our first game. Before I got up for my first serving of snacks, we were down three to nothing. Luck was against us; when we bid, bad things happened. When we bid nulo ( this is a hand in which the bidding team intends to take no tricks ), we'd find big cards in the middle, and small cards in the opposing team's hands. When bidding high, we'd find the opposite. Soon enough it was five or six to nothing.

My partner is a very rational man, but he got up and, for good luck, walked around his chair twice; naturally, that made no difference. Not being superstitious, I got up and, somewhat desperate, walked around the table. That was equally (in)effective. Finally, I changed the pen I was using to keep score. Almost immediately our luck changed.

But not that much. I would love to tell you we started making no-trump hands, and setting them when they bid ... but I'd be lying. Our luck did change, but not that dramatically, and the 4-hour game ended, mercifully, with the score 9-3 (or, 3-9 if my team's score is mentioned first). We got up from our seats and thanked our host. My neighbor went to pick up his wife to drive up north, and my partner and I went outside.

"It was good seeing you again!" we said practically simultaneously. We hugged--a little awkwardly. ( Well, I’m not actually sure we hugged, but if we did I am sure it was awkward. ) He climbed into the car he had borrowed from his son and drove off; I walked home.
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