Reflections For Father’s Day 2020

Remembering my dad after his death 50 years ago

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

My father died in 1968, sitting in his recliner, popping M & M candy, and watching TV. These days I am doing pretty much the same thing he was at the end, except my sugar of choice is Famous Amos cookies.

He and I also share a similar disability. Our legs gave out on us.

It was never clear to his doctors what was wrong. He gradually lost mobility in his forties and, although they diagnosed him at an advanced medical center, the only answer was “nerve deterioration in his lower spinal cord.”

In my case, it is clearer, probably because research, imagery, and surgery have improved dramatically over these past decades. Spinal stenosis, where arthritis has squeezed the nerves so much that there is pain, loss of sensation, and muscle atrophy in the legs.

Dad used a walker to get around, dragging his legs along. I’m able to walk without an assistive device, but my gait is wobbly and my back pain makes the trip miserable. Once again, I have the significant advantage of medical discoveries; back surgery has given me many more possibilities.


My father passed down a few witty, if not profound, sayings I think of often.

“All good things must come to an end” is one of my favorites. It wasn’t always clear to what he referred, but I guess his demise illustrated its wisdom.

He also liked to say, “Eat to live; don’t live to eat.” To back this up, when we worked early mornings, at a restaurant he ordered the same breakfast every time: One egg over easy with dry toast.

One piece of advice, which I am not sure I understood at first, was “Treat girls like you would like to have your sisters treated.” Maybe it was a very compact version of the ‘birds and bees’ thing, but it wasn’t full of information.


One of the deeper conversations I had with him was by old-fashioned letter writing. After my father’s first heart attack, three years before his death, I starting writing him regular letters. Most of these typed pages with erasures and backspace corrections were typical. “How’s the weather?” “The car had a flat.” “Lake Michigan is frozen.” “Did you watch Bonanza on Sunday evening?”

Once, in contrast, I started a thread, more revealing for both of us. Having finished seminary and struggling with what it meant to have a calling, I said I felt that he had pressured me to enter the ministry. His response shook me: “On the contrary, I wanted you to go into business with me.”

Realistically, it was far too late. His disability had long past shut down Turner Distributing; the little refrigerated truck gone, the hot dog steamers sold, and the customers now had other vendors.

Like so many points in life, one turned me toward another future. When I succumbed to the merciless lure of the southern Methodist Church and became a pre-ministerial student, selling hot dogs on Jacksonville Beach boardwalk fell by the wayside.

As they say in 12-Step groups,looking back on “shoulda, woulda, coulda” makes no sense. Yet it still intrigues me, this Father’s Day, to think of many more driving all over Jacksonville with my Dad


Are you like me or is your father still around? If so and you can, at least chat with him and find out where you might have had past misunderstandings. It will enrich both of you.

If We Are White, Will We Ever Get It?

A lifetime of white privilege, along with personal obliviousness, blinds us

Photo by Nicole Baster on Unsplash

As a white man, I have been racking my brain. What can I write during days of protests and nights of violence after the police murder of George Floyd?

Maybe, nothing. Or at least very little.

In the same way that I refuse to ‘mansplain’ women’s reproductive health, I can not know what it is to be non-white. I am not even sure I can imagine.

What I have experienced from my childhood to now, is a cycle of ignorance and white privilege. All too often, I accepted it without thought.

My parents did not work at instilling bigotry, but I nonetheless grew up with unconscious racism. It was and is deeply systematic in Jacksonville, Florida.

There was ‘nigger town’, or only slightly better, ‘colored town’. The homes and businesses there could only be called shacks.

We had a black maid who had to ride the bus an hour to our home. I don’t remember her being called ‘girl’ but I often heard black men referred to as ‘boy’.

My churches and schools were all white. There were white beaches, they allocated only certain areas of the ocean shore to blacks.

I wasn’t until I was in graduate school and had black classmates that I realized how much prejudice lurked in my subconscious. Thanks to the generosity of a few of them in small group conversations, I saw how oblivious I was.

I have come so far and felt so supported in this journey away from ignorance that it is easy to forget how different that is for the black experience.

I am 80, white and male. What if I was black?

In this time of outrage and violence, it would fill me with hopelessness and despair not only for me but as much so for my country. Too many times before when the hurt boiled over, we didn’t learn and change.

Yet, now I see the postcard on my office wall: “I always entertain great hopes”. Can I? Can you join me? If so, we have to change ourselves first. That is the work we must do.

There Are No Winners In The Race Against Time

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”

A few weeks ago, when I was feeling morose, I said to my wife, “I feel my time is running out.” To which she responded, “Oh boo, it is for all of us.”

I knew my preacher spouse is profound, every Sunday I am more and more impressed. But this gem is one for the ages.


I am 80. People don’t live too much longer than that. Sure, there are plenty of nonagenarians and if I get there, I will shoot for 100.

Meanwhile, making it to next week feels challenging enough. Here are some thoughts about that.


Slow and Steady Wins the Race

As a former marathoner, I always cheered for the tortoise. I ran, but in the middle of the pack.

I raced for my personal win. No headlines noted it. I knew, though.

That is why, these days, I consider walking to the end of the block and back a victory.

Stopping for Rest is Just Fine

That same profound wife went into a cleaning frenzy yesterday, with significant results. I didn’t take part.

Our son and I spruced up the kitchen floor, but I had to stop often to relieve my back pain.

I was quickly back to my recliner, reading, or doing the New York Timescrossword puzzle. Could I give the excuse, “I was trying to keep out of the way?”

Maybe It Isn’t a Race At All

We have a small clock on our bedroom wall, and sometimes at night, I hear it. Tick, tick, tick, second by second. Sometimes it needs a new battery but otherwise is just ticks along.

Isn’t this the way our time goes? We look forward to something, expecting future joys but speeding too fast to see the ‘now.’

Who Really Wants to Know Where It Ends?

One of my races was Grandma’s, along the Lake Superior shore in Minnesota. It is a beautiful course that had a unique aspect. You could see the finish from the start. Although it began in Two Harbors, there, 26.2 miles away, was the Duluth skyline.

It was a mixed blessing. It was discouraging because Duluth didn’t seem to get closer. That same perception, however, made me keep my eyes on the lake and the cheering people along the way.


Astoundingly, maybe, this race against/with time is one where we are all participants. You can’t be a spectator. So instead of grinding it out, set your own pace. The only goal is to take one stride at a time.

A Letter to My 90-Year-Old Self

Right now will be my ‘distant’ past in 10 years; how will I feel about it?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Dear Much Older Warren:

If you are reading this, you made it!

Even so, you will recall there were many times it didn’t seem to be happening.

Remember COVID-19, when hibernation switched from pleasant to burdensome? It was a challenge to be both happy your home was virus-free while heartbroken about the deaths around the world.

I bet you haven’t forgotten the infamous colonoscopy shortly before your 81st birthday, either, have you? It was elective because you have always appreciated excellent health care. But fun? Not so much.

Then, how about the excruciating night of November 3, 2020? You knew Trump would go down, but you were haunted by the Ghost of 2016, so it never seemed a sure thing.


So, how will you look back on your eighties?

If it is anything like the previous decades, it will seem just a blink of an eye. Living with intention doesn’t stop time.

It didn’t help to read ‘inspirational’ quotes, did it? 
*Cheer up, things could be worse.
*Growing old ain’t for sissies.
*Age is only a number.
Puh-leeze!

The makeshift workout routine made a big difference. Not Crossfit or some other torture, but just enough.

Then, how do you evaluate a loving partner? Or kind and caring children? I absolutely know they bolstered my spirit many, many times.


So now what? Shoot for 100? It depends.

Quality of life, as they call it, is the key. If you can still walk, can shower and dress yourself, don’t put too fine a point on it. After all, 90 is old.

Another factor, tied for the first position, is your relationship status. Should you be coming up on your fiftieth anniversary, you are good. Otherwise, how did you even make it this far?

It is essential to dismiss thoughts of death because they will drag you down. As our dear friend, Bill Coffin once said, “I have too much to do in this world to worry about the next.”


Do I have any advice? Yeah. Let the past be the past and get on with it. Who knows, maybe you will see 2040.

Sincerely, Your 80-year-old Self

Why do I expect bad news from medical tests?

Something has to be wrong; I Googled my weird symptoms.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Two or three of us have cups of barium contrast liquid which we must drink over the next hour. (It tastes as bad as it sounds)

The imaging waiting area of my hospital is half full. Most of us don’t look sick, but why would we be here if not? (This was a week or so pre-coronavirus cautions)

Why did I think this was a good idea? Shaun, The Good Doctor, saw a hospital housekeeping man burping several times and said he probably had pancreatic cancer. Sometimes I do that. So, I have cancer.

Ok, I hear you being skeptical of my self-diagnosis but, after all, Shaun Murphy, a young autistic savant surgical resident in a California hospital, was so perfect on his various insights that I couldn’t resist.

Fortunately, you can’t just walk in and order your own CT scan, so I had to go to a real doctor. I like her; she takes me seriously. (I didn’t mention the TV doctor — I still had some dignity)

She set me up for imaging of my abdomen, adding that pancreatic cancer never has symptoms until it is far advanced. Good grief, now I am worried.

The scan itself is not a big deal. It’s nowhere near as claustrophobic as an MRI and only takes less than 15 or 20 minutes.

It is necessary sometimes to have a needle inserted in a vein for more contrast liquid to be injected. The technician, kindly, explained the warm flush that would occur briefly.

A little voice says, “Take a deep breath and hold it.” Then in a few seconds, “Breathe.” After three or four of these quick images, I am all done.

Now comes the waiting. My father used to say, “Good things come to those who wait.” What the hell did he know? These results could be terrible.

I now start a routine of checking my online health account every half-hour to see if the results are available. After a day or two, I move into “no news is good news” mode and only look at it every few hours.

Finally, I just give up. That is progress and, like the watched pot, the results come through.

Some of the medical jargon was a bit worrisome but as my wise spouse pointed out, nothing you wouldn’t expect in an eighty-year-old man.

The final line, designed, I am sure, to highlight my silliness about results, was the best of all:

IMPRESSION: No acute inflammatory process in the abdomen or pelvis.

Of course, future tests and procedures are still going to worry me. I know that, right? Maybe I ought to consider letting such unnecessary anxiety go. What do you think?

On Being 80 in the Time of Coronavirus

Sheltering at home is easier at my age but the challenge is other people.

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

Over the last year, because of surgeries, I have had to stay home, often confined to my recliner. So, this pandemic hasn’t caused me to change my daily routine that much.

What it has done is demand a new perspective, or at the very least, a reframing.


Normally, there is not much I have to do, except brush my teeth and, every so often, shower.

So, I can sit in front of my iMac to flip between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Then when I feel more ambitious, check out the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Boston Globe.

By this time, I usually start feeling hungry and shut down the computer to wander into the kitchen. Big decisions await. Cereal and toast? Eggs? Maybe just a bologna and cheese sandwich, to carry with me to my recliner.

And so on, and so on.


Now, that routine has been disrupted, not necessarily physically but emotionally, by the Coronavirus pandemic.

In a state of what amounts to self-indulgent hibernation, I often let quirks of my family annoy me. Clearly, it really shouldn’t take a pandemic to change that waste of emotional energy.

More importantly, the big question remains, can I continue sitting in my chair focusing inward when there are things I can do for others facing this pandemic?

That is a rhetorical query, of course, because there are ways to reach out.


Here are some:

Humor

Careful not to be mean spirited, I can attempt to interject light-heartedness when needed. I say ‘attempt’ because some of my “being funny” can be very annoying.

Kindness

Sometimes, I am not pleasant because I’m not thinking. If I did, it would be easy enough to stop and wonder if that is how I would like to be treated.

Connection (1)

As much as we sometimes rue “screen time” and are insulted by trolls, the Internet is a valuable tool to reach out to an unlimited number of others.

Connection (2)

Remember talking with someone on the phone? Texts and emails are important but calling someone and actually speaking with them can make a huge difference.


Taking these approaches can be tricky and won’t always work. Thus as counterintuitive as it might be, we might have to stop trying so hard. We’ve done enough. Sheltering in place is a big challenge so give yourself permission to slack off some of the time.

The challenge of this crisis has so many national and global aspects that it can be overwhelming. We need to narrow it down for us in our home. The above suggestions are a way of doing that. Try them.

begin here

a different order of time

“I had learned so much, I just had to think about it all for a while.”
Lynda Blackmon Lowery

It began three years ago, when the women’s ensemble I had sung with for almost 20 years took itself apart.  After the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, we had stumbled into some difficult conversations about race.  Powerful words, not carefully chosen, resulted in painful injury and broken relationships.  Two members of the group left.  Six remained.  In the months that followed, it was unclear whether we would be able to learn from our mistakes, find our way through the mess, grow in intellectual and emotional honesty and repair the damage.

For me, one of the consequences of this experience was the clear awareness that, as a white woman, I needed to learn more.

Waking Up White

A starting place was Debbie Irving’s book, Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of…

View original post 172 more words

No Playlists for the 80-year-old Man

Songwriters know what resonates with their listeners who are mostly young.


In my mornings, I get up around 7 AM and see if I can stand without falling. If so, I head to the bathroom to pee and get a swig of Listerine.

Then, it’s over to the scale to either perk me up or remind me today is the day to go easy on the chocolate milkshakes.

Back to my side of the bed, I dress in morning gear: pajama-type pants, a top in a complimentary color, and socks to wear with slip-on loafers.

I grab my Apple watch from its charger and put my iPhone in my pocket.

Next is the daily medication sorting. Ziploc snack bag for those I will take around noon and just pick up three or four to take in the bathroom.

There, I spit out the Listerine, which has lost its sting anyhow, and brush my teeth. (You don’t know how much I look forward to the hygienist complementing my oral care)

Now it is time to get into writing action, so I head over to my computer desk to turn on the lamp and my iMac.

While it boots up, I put some bird seed in the window feeder and pour a mug of coffee. (Since my spouse has set up the coffee maker the night before, and because I just want to be nice; I take a mug to her in the bedroom)

Back at the computer, I sort the various auto-logon windows, put on my wireless headset, and open Apple Music.

Now, what do I listen to? I enjoy female jazz artists the best but their lyrics? Not so much. New love, lost love, seeking love, remembering love, never finding love.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for love in whatever form but there are no love songs that celebrate what a couple has after forty years of marriage. (Except perhaps Leonard Cohen’s “If I Didn’t Have Your Love.” Look up the lyrics.)

When one of us dies, the other may find new love but nothing like what we have. Nor will Apple Music have any lyrics to apply to that relationship.

Meanwhile, maybe there still can be a playlist for the 80-year-old man, not just the young love stuff. Classic rock, for example, with its anti-establishment rhetoric and all the freedom songs which are still very much needed today.

Of course, we could stick to instrumental music. Huh.

No More Skipping Downstairs

Photo by Pau Casals on Unsplash

When even walking is a challenge, chasing suspects through ancient cities, up and down ladders, and across rooftops is, well…, impossible


I  love to watch detective and spy thrillers. Perhaps it is a subconscious desire to be one of those martial arts experts who can run at top speed, up and down stairways, jumping across alleys to the next rooftop.

I did run 12 marathons in my 40s but nowhere at a maximum sprint. Plus, at my height and weight, I would have to have some superpower to compete.

To be completely honest, at my age, any stairway is now a big challenge for me.


About a year ago, mindlessly coming up from the basement to the outside patio, I tripped on the top step and tore my right quadriceps tendon. I am not going to describe the pain right now but suffice it to say, it was significant.

A week later, a skilled surgeon laced it back to my kneecap, put me in a leg immobilizer, and sent me to the physical therapist. For weeks, I was not allowed to bend my leg more than thirty degrees.


For some years now, I have been aware of tripping and falling but who takes that seriously until something like this happens?

It wasn’t enough to wake me up when I walked out of a convenience store and missed a little step and fell down to the parking lot. Nor did I get the message the time I stopped the rental bicycle at the curb and fell right over on the sidewalk.


Arriving at a stairway these days, I stop and carefully decide what to do. Number one consideration: railings. If there are none, I might have to find another way to go.

Secondly, I force myself to slow down. Zipping up and down without thinking was my downfall. (Pun intended)

Then, focus. I try not to think of anything else until I get to bottom and then only when I make sure I have gotten all the way down.


I know I speak for a lot of us at these later years of life. As much as we might love to do so, there will be no skipping down the stairs or jogging up two steps at a time.

But, so what? If we can still get up and down without the use of an elevator, I think we have it made. Agreed

Think I missed my 70s

Can ten years pass that quickly? Maybe I need to wake up.

When I turned seventy, Obama had just become the President of the United States. I was about to launch my ‘career’ as a school bus driver in our college town transporting nice kids to good schools.

When our family wanted big box stores or a multiplex theater, the city was only about 10 miles away. The airport could be reached in less than an hour.

The Connecticut River was a part of the incredible beauty of our place. Various critters visited our deck to eat birdseed and giant white pines surrounded us.

I am proud to say that exercise and diet helped me stay active. Great medical facilities offered solutions to many of my health problems and allowed me to avoid some of the natural aging issues. I didn’t consider myself ‘old’ at all.


In short, I had it made, right? Of course not; it doesn’t work that way. My seventies had their own pitfalls, roadblocks, and detours.


My school bus was exponentially longer than our Ford Focus and I backed into objects more than once. A hibernating problem from my clergy days raised its ugly headed and did not get resolved.

We tearfully dropped off our oldest child at college, a thousand miles away. My spouse began law school while maintaining her job as the pastor of a big church.

We moved from New England to the Midwest and after three not-so-happy years, moved back.


Whew, the years zipped by. I wish I had been more aware of some of the events in my life. On the other hand, as I reconsider them, I wasn’t completely oblivious. In a longer memoir, I could explain just how rich my seventies turned out. I didn’t miss too much.


So, this is obviously not how I envision my seventies. Instead, more a retrospective, one which reminds me that it was ‘life as usual’. What’s wrong with that? Consider, as they used to say, the alternative.

Maybe next time, I might write about how I envision my eighties. I hope they are not always as challenging as my seventies but I would welcome all the positive experiences.

It won’t happen that way but so what? As I get closer to sunset, I try to live one day at a time. Every little bit is rich experience. It is life.