Thursday, June 25, 2009

the vigil

...11:07 on the clock radio beside my bed. He's supposed to call between 11:15 and 11:30, when the movie's over, then come straight home.... better get the phone, and put it on the night stand so I can answer it quickly and not disturb Lori any more than necessary...
...11:47... dosed off for call...walk to the bedroom window, make sure he didn't get home already and forget to call. No car. Open the window, strain to see the dark end of the driveway...could be parked there... no car. The night air is cooler now, was quite humid earlier. Open some more windows get, some cool breeze flowing...I'll sit in the chair by the window where I can see cars approach. Dial his cell phone...straight to voice mail...apparently phone off...seeds of suspicion now planted. We had a very overt, repetitious conversation at 8:30 when he left for a 9:15 movie...straight home after the side, you can't go to Tyler's resistance, complete agreement, anticipated complete compliance.
...12:09 on the phone's display screen....bedside clock a little fast, was within 10 or 15 minute margin of error, but no more. No math gets us to 12:09. 9:15 movie start, 10 minutes of previews and fluff, 2 hour movie, 10 minutes to exit and say goodbye to buddies, 15 minute drive puts him in the driveway before 12:00. Suspicions sprouting, that burning in the gut of fear and anger and powerlessness beginning to simmer. Should I go looking? Other than the movie theater I have no clue where to look. Call his cell again, fourth of fifth time, straight to voicemail.
.....12:20. Traffic thinning now out front, only occasional flicker of approaching headlights...I watch each car pass. Is this him? No, an SUV. Here comes one...too fast, he'd be slowing to turn into the driveway. Here he door neighbor, getting home from work, brief uptick of relief, now rage and panic rising. Hit the redial button, again...voicemail.
.....12:38. All the possibilities are bad. I've come to the tentative conclusion he did, in fact, go to Tyler's sleepover, and made the calculation to absorb my anger as a trade-off for hangin' out with his friends, and turned his phone off because he knew I'd call him and unload. Slow car...right size shape and color...nope, passed by. Beginning to rehearse the inevitable scene that's coming in my mind. Such a stunning defiance...hours ago we both appeared to be thinking the same, that those scenes, frequent of late, are horrific, and let's not have a new one, and trust is rebuilt one good decision at a time. I'm getting sleepy sitting here-I've been sitting here staring out the window almost an hour. I realize I'd be much angrier, or more nervous, if I wasn't sleepy-but my emotions are attenuated. I can't go to sleep. What if I wake up at 6:00 a.m. and there's still no car? But what do I do if I sit here until then? I have no plan. Wait...stew...speculate...replay.
...12:50. I've moved to the porch. The cool air has washed away some of the sleepy fog. The plastic, fake wicker chair is cool against the skin of my back and arms. I've turned it toward the street so as to see the flickering, dancing, headlight beams of approaching cars cut the darkness and assess from the sound and speed if it might be him. There's lots of stars visible in the slices of sky between treetops, and a streak of pale gray clouds against the charcoal background., motorcycle. Redial. Voice mail.
....1:09...Sleepy long do I sit here? Have to get up about 6:30, and it's after 1:00! Headlights...brake squeal...yes! It's him. Some relief...a range of possibilities, all terrible, is now dismissed...but I'm guessing I won't be back in my bed real soon...I've got a few questions first.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


It's happening again. Flames are roaring through our home, racing up and down the stairs, burning from room to room, filling the air with thick, choking smoke. The fire is burning up the joy, and truth, and trust in our home. It lies dormant, smoldering out of sight sometimes, and then, as if some new gust of oxygen refuels the flames, the fire rises up and scorches every corner of our home, every niche of our lives, and threatens to consume the very faith that allows us to breathe. It's been burning a long time now. The smell of the fire, the heat felt through the walls and doors is the new normal, the ever-present spirit of destruction that resides in our home, watching for signs of hope or confidence or renewal so it can rise up and consume them before they prevail. I don't know when this fire started, or where it actually came from. Was it carried into our home from other burning homes? Have I sparked this fire myself? Did I build a tinder box, a home filled with dead undergrowth ripe for fire? Is this some perverse challenge to my struggle to trust in Christ, as we are told we must? Am I being shown that all our failed attempts to douse this fire are somehow prideful, self-centered efforts, doomed to failure because we have reached out to the wisdom of counselors and professionals and our instincts as parents? Is that it? Or are we just fools, looking for lessons and healing and reconciliation and rebirth from a cold, empty, heartless cosmos in which flames burn at random, without regard for faith or family. Is there a lesson here at all? Or just that we are powerless to keep the fire away, that it's bigger and hotter and more persistent than our hope. Is the truth of the world that anonymous individuals and families are just not that important, and in the grand scheme of things, they can be destroyed and forgotten and the cosmos just spins? The cruelest joke is that we have ascended, as a species, to the point where we are capable of deluding ourselves about our value. We carry around a default setting to pursue happy endings and resolution, when life itself, our real world, the petri-dish in which we struggle keeps taunting us that we're idiots for thinking that way. The fire in our home cares not one bit for us, it just burns because it's fire.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

thoughts on the killing(s) in wichita

Some subjects, some events, are so radioactive, so divisive, that rational discourse about them is nearly impossible. Sometimes, regarding a given issue, opposition or defense is so vehemently held that discussion devolves almost immediately into hyperbole, platitudes, and accusations, and ceases to be conversation. Such is the case with the recent shooting death, in Wichita, Kansas, of Dr. George Tiller, allegedly by a militant anti abortion activist, Scott Roeder.
It's nearly impossible to engage someone about that incident without revealing our own underlying stand on the hyper-divisive topic of abortion, and from that point forward, it seems, we walk a tight-rope of consistency of opinion and position, even though the truth of the matter, the reality, may well require compromise and nuance and acknowledging areas of gray. For example, it is very difficult to keep a pro-choice advocate listening, or hearing, after expressing the opinion that while I firmly denounce this murder as an unacceptable tactic for pro-life activists to employ, I understand how the conclusion could be reached, by a rational person, that Dr. Tiller had to be killed. Again, I repeat, that is not my conclusion. I would not advocate or acquiesce to murder as a means to an end, even a worthy end. But to anyone who holds the position that abortion is the murder of an unborn, preventing hundreds by committing one is likely to be considered. Most people though, me included, who respect the value of life, would extend that respect which leads them to oppose abortion, to Dr. Tiller's life, as well.
The futile, never-to-be-resolved political debate over abortion doesn't seem to allow for any position, any thought, any middle ground other than the polar opposite, only black or white, all or none extremes we see defended on the cable news channels. But those somewhere in the middle, like me, almost have to see Dr. Tiller, though, as an extreme, an exception.Those leaning to the choice side, one would think, would see Dr. Tiller, correctly, as a lightning rod for opposition to choice, just like those leaning toward pro-life should be appalled by his murderer's discrediting of a whole movement. Tiller was one of only a very small group of doctors, maybe 10 in the U.S. that would perform the most controversial of procedures. He would do late term, second trimester abortions, and performed many hundreds. There are, of course, those “health of the mother” cases, but many were just “elective”, a term his clinic included in their description of services offered. The procedure itself, the methodology, is so disturbing, so barbaric, so clearly the taking of a life, I'm stunned by the pro-choice side's apparently unanimous regard for Dr. Tiller as a hero, now a martyr, for their cause. It's also alarming to listen to his defenders, who have positioned all anti-abortion activists as complicit with, and supportive of, the accused, dance with their words around what Dr. Tiller actually did. They use a Nu-Speak of less repulsive terms, substituting “reproductive services” for "abortion", the phrase “the right to choose” is now the innocuous euphemism for the right to deny a 22 week fetus any choice, to inject it's head with a lethal cocktail, then induce a miscarriage, if you so elect. Again, if Scott Roeder committed the acts he's accused of, he's a murderer and should dealt with as such. But if the assembly line, mass killings that have gone on at Women's Health Care Services, in Wichita, are over, and fewer still “providers” are willing to fill Dr. Tiller's void, that's a good thing.
I sometimes think the efforts of pro-life activists are a spinning of their wheels, especially through the courts and through legislation. Every move seems to further entrench the other side, and leads to the no compromise, no chink in the armor, blanket advocacy of every “reproductive right”, including
those “rights” offered by Dr. Tiller's clinic. And if suddenly, the pro-life side were victorious, and abortion procedures were universally banned, the unintended consequences would be numerous, and horrific. Like narcotics, prostitution, gambling, illegal immigration, underage alcohol and tobacco use, illegal weapons and many other “crimes”, their statutory prohibition doesn't stop the activity. It just sends it underground, creates a whole new class of criminals, and opens a profitable new window for those willing to feed the appetite. The only way to effectively oppose any of these behaviors, or to win a convert to the pro-life side, is through individual transformation and renewal. A change of the heart, becomes a change of the mind.
Incidents like the murder of Dr. Tiller, if seen as if on a battle field in a war, may make logistical or tactical sense. But to someone who comes to value all life-of the unborn, of children, of the elderly, of the starving, of the lonely, of the poor in spirit, and of their enemy, because Christ said we must, then we must mourn for Dr. Tiller as well. Sometimes, the tight-rope goes in circles.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I want to be Norm Abram. Well, maybe I don't want to be him, I mean I don't want to look like him, or be married to Mrs. Abram (not sure there is one) or swap kids with him. But I want to be able to do the things he does. Who, you ask, is this Norm? He's the host of PBS's New Yankee Workshop, and, in his day gig, is the master carpenter on This Old House, ever since the Bob Villa days. New Yankee Workshop is sort of the Martha Stewart Show for men. Like Martha Stewart, the real purpose of this show, and hers, is to make us feel like inadequate, talentless schmucks. We watch Norm crank out pie safes, and highboys, and Adirondack chairs, and roll top desks from some boards on his shelf, just as Martha nonchalantly whips up a centerpiece made from recycled socks for tonights dinner party of 12, while the Beluga and Shitakke (from her garden) appetizer settles. Yes, the point of these shows isn't to teach us these skills, but to remind us, me specifically, that my gene strand is missing the beads that make such projects possible, even conceivable. I'm just not handy. I delude myself into thinking that with enough time, the right tools, and adequate planning I can actually do the summer projects I've been daydreaming about. Heck, I can enlarge a deck. I can build an outdoor fireplace. Can't I? Well, probably not. I have had some rare successes at handyman, do-it-yourself projects. I added a set of steps to a deck a couple years ago that haven't fallen down yet. It took me most of 5 days, and when they were done, everyone I knew had to come see the newest world-wonder I had built, as if these 3 steps were one of the great pyramids. Norm would have built those steps between breakfast and lunch. He does have the advantage of a workshop equipped with at least 100 grand worth of power tools, many of which I have no idea what they do. I know what a table saw is, but that's about all. It's the place you lay the hammer you used last week, and that triangular shaped measuring thing with hieroglyphics all around it, and the owner's manual to the weed eater. In fact, I often feel like I need a glossary to understand what Norm's talking about. Dado? Biscuits? Joiner? Huh? The realty is, tools or not, these are skills we either have or do not. That old saying, “measure twice, cut once...”....I can measure twelve times, but when I cut it will be too short. When I try to drive a screw with a drill, like Norm, it goes about 2/3rds of the way in, then the bit slips, mauls the screwhead, and I spend 45 minutes getting that screw the rest of the way in, or back out. If I were to glue some boards side to side, then clamp them together to dry, like Norm often does, they could dry for a week and they'd fall apart as soon as the clamps were removed. I recognize my limits. Thankfully, this isn't as sensitive an area as some inadequacies are to males. Thinning hair often leads to comb-overs, and questionable machismo might lead to Harley T-shirts. My Norm envy could lead me to carry a belt sander around, but it hasn't as yet affected my psyche to that point. In fact, I'll probably take on one or both of those summer projects. Next summer, or the following, when they're done, there will be a bus trip to our place to see them. Feel free, then, to call me Norm.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


No matter how long
I've known that it's true,
It's hard to believe
that we move as we do.

Our Earth spins like crazy,
One whole turn each day.
800 miles per hour,
for us here in Pa.

You'd think we could feel it.
You'd think we could tell.
But I'd probably get carsick,
so it's just as well.

But that's not the end
of our ambient speed.
We're lassoed by Helios,
Flying round fast, indeed.

Astronomers tell us,
can this be right?
67000 miles per hour
all day and all night.

How can we stand still?
Why don't we fall?
Why aren't we hurled off
this blueish green ball.

Amazing. Fantastic,
yes that's For sure.
No, not the end, though
we're hurtling still more!

Our Sun's little family,
minus Pluto there's eight,
Zoom 'round the Milky Way.
Miles in a second? 158!!

Now, that's just crazy!
I can't grasp the pace
that my chair and my keyboard
are flying through space.

Yes, still more madness.
No, were not through.
Our Milky Way's zooming
at over half a mil, too!!

That's all I can handle,
I need to slow down!
All these big numbers
have my head spinnin' round.

But if you get stopped
for driving too fast
the policeman will look
in your window and ask...

You're moving quite fast, sir.
Do you know your speed?
Oh, yes I do sir.
Oh yes indeed.

Astronomically speaking,
per second one eighty five.
But my car's speedo
never passed 65.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

hush, little baby

It was so much easier, then, to comfort him, to help him calm down, to soothe his spirit when he was upset from a belly ache, or just too tired. He's nearly 17 now, closing hard on 6 feet, and the hurts are so much deeper, so much more complex, and often inflicted by forces and influences out of my reach. But I wish, like sixteen and a half years ago, I could just pick him up and park his little diapered butt on my forearm, and press his little head against my shoulder. He'd be sobbing hysterically, gasping, out of control upset. I would put my mouth right next to his little ear, my lips brushing against him when they moved. Then I'd whisper a silly little made-up rhyme and he'd fall almost instantly silent to listen, distracted from his demons. I'd whisper, ''Hush little baby, don't you cry, Daddy's gonna buy you a punkin' pie...if that punkin' pie's not good, Daddy's gonna buy you a piece of wood...''. My opened hand, then, could reach all the way across his little back, and I'd start to slowly, firmly, rhythmically pat his back-full hand, whole back pats- while we whispered, and his breathing would gradually slow to match the rhythm of the patting. ''...If that piece of wood's not fun, Daddy's gonna' buy you a bang-bang gun. If that bang-bang gun won't shoot, Daddy's gonna' buy you a whistle toot-toot...''. I'd emphasize the ''shhh'' sounds, and the ''sss'' sounds, and blow on his ear just a bit with the ''wuh'' and the ''puh''sounds. I think I have the first 3 verses of our silly song right, but beyond those three, it was probably never the same twice in a row, because generally by the 3rd verse, he'd heave a big sigh, and surrender his troubled spirit to sleep. It always worked. Then,we'd lay on the bed, with him sleeping on my chest, or Lori would lift him into his crib, his demons vanquished and his little mind at peace. Now, his dragons are real, and whispering in his ear is insufficient to comfort his troubled spirit. If only, for as long as we are a parent, if only our silly words, or a song, or comforting arms would send the troubles away! It is a dangerous, scary time to be 16 or 17, and I just wish he could sleep on my chest until it passes.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


First there is, in the distance, near the horizon to the northwest, an ominous darkness. Overhead, and in every other direction the sky is pale blue and bright, with some talc-like streaks of white, but from that northwest direction darkness approaches. As it moves nearer and covers more of the sky, detail becomes visible. These are mountain sized clouds, like charcoal colored smoke, that swirl and tumble and climb. At the leading edge, and in the semi-circle of visible perimeter the dark veil is translucent, letting some of the bright, light blue leak through. Toward the center, though, the storm is dark as ink, opaque, eclipsing the brightness behind it, and full of rage. There is, as yet, no thunder, no lightning, or rain. As the black mass overtakes all of the sky, the air outside takes on an unnatural blue-green tint, like viewed through a photographic filter. The bushes begin to sway, some in contradictory directions, the trees become animated, curling and waving their limbs, the air gets noticeably cooler, dried leaves scurry across the driveway, then eddy at the porch steps, but still no rain or thunder. In the heart of the blue-black swirls, writhing, violent fingers remind that one funnel shaped finger could, at any time, reach down to the ground and draw a swath of destruction. Then, as if an unseen hand yanked the chain, the rain bursts out in marble-sized drops, then a sheet. The sky flashes, thunder follows immediately, startlingly loud, quick, and near. The passing cars drop to slow-motion, their wipers not up to the task, and the gutters now curb high torrents extending out, inches deep, into the lanes. To the north, near the horizon, a semi-circle of bright blue reappears, reminding that it isn't nightfall yet, that the darkness is passing, and the sunlit late afternoon will return. As abruptly as the rain began, it now ceases. The cars speed up, sending a wake of water over the sidewalk. Thunder rumbles, in the distance now, as somewhere else someone else looks up into the heart of the dark violence. But here, now, the light blue regains control, and the soaked driveway and sidewalks steam as the warmth returns. The foreboding has passed, the anxiety has been dismissed, and the darkness has moved out of sight.