The Cycle

I don’t really know what this is supposed to be. I basically just started writing and this is what came out. Maybe it will mean something to someone. 

7A9AF423-78EB-4B1A-A110-6D3581A1FC3EThe muggy warmth of Texas in the late September has the oppressive feel of fate.
I’m fairly desperate for the stark clarity of a crisp morning, pregnant with the promise of a change of temperature and of circumstance. Fall, the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.

I await the sunny days of Winter when the vision sharpens to high definition and the sky takes on a starker contrast like a photo through a deeper filter. But patience… patience.

I want to build a fire in my back yard and pray beside it like an altar.
I want to divine the wisdom that manifests itself in the smoke and flame.
I want to lay in a hammock under a blanket in the cold night air drinking wine and reading a book with my wife falling asleep beside me.

But these pleasant moments are memories that seem so distant, I almost question their reality. It seems as though I will never experience them again.
Have I ever really known a freezing night spent huddled in an old coat?
There’s a clarity one finds in such circumstances, a reminder of what living feels like.
I need to feel that way again, to read beneath a large tree and fall asleep amongst its fallen leaves.

I need to be resurrected in the spring.

Advertisements

My Continuing Effort to Live Life in the Open

I canWP_20170709_08_57_46_Rich_LI (2)’t express how badly I need this. In about two weeks my family and I, (meaning my wife, my son and myself only) will be driving a thirty plus hour trip up the North American Pacific Coast. Maybe I’m crazy but I plan to relish every minute. And with the summer we’ve had so far, I can think of nothing more therapeutic than a thermos of coffee and a midnight drive through the Texas panhandle and eventually into the Rockies.

While it’s only the middle of June I feel like it’s been a full summer already, choked with stresses of absolutely every kind. As the school year closed I was approached by a student of mine who needed a place to stay for the summer. She’s an exchange student from Africa with some significant circumstantial challenges ahead of her and it was her desire to attend some faith formation summer camps in our area. With a hyperactive nine-year-old and a mother in law with advancing Alzheimer’s my initial response was to crack a joke and brush it off. But I didn’t. And when told my wife about it, she didn’t either. That night I slept poorly trying to decide what the right decision was, and quite frankly neither of us could make up our minds; so, we didn’t. We decided to follow through with the crazy notion of living our lives in the open. And I don’t mean by simply being transparent, I mean by embracing what I can only describe as an active passivity. We made a very intentional effort to not to carry on an internal debate as to the plan’s wisdom and simply say yes. I don’t know if it was the right choice, but it was the right choice for us at that moment.

It has not been easy. She’s a good student and the difficulty has not been about her but my mother in law. The mental confusion she experiences leaves her agitated much of the time, especially when we’re all home. Often, she fails to recognize my wife let alone her grandson, or a temporary resident.

Cynthia’s condition has worsened substantially in the past year. In the course of the day, my wife and I cannot leave the house together. Our summer visits with family require us to get help caring for her. And while Samantha remains an irreplaceable piece on the Living Alternatives leadership staff, it becomes increasingly necessary for her to work from her home office as her mother simply cannot be left alone.

How do I as a dad effectively communicate to my son the reality of his grandmother’s illness? There are times when I wish we as humans could simply download the knowledge and experiences of the passing generation. But alas, part of the tragedy of the human condition is that we are all sentenced to start at square one, learning and building only for ourselves; and we can only pass on our hard earned life lessons second hand. So how do I do that for someone who is mercilessly losing herself thanks to Alzheimer’s Disease? How do I make my son understand that my mother in law is not, in her totality, what she seems to be now? I try to explain in personal terms that she was once a young girl living a rough and tumble outdoor life in Australia, that she traveled, had adventures, fell in love, raised two children… in short, all the things in front of him are behind her. And sadly, these things that defined her life are being lost at least within the bounds of this temporal life. Now, sadly she is missing out, on what should be, the greatest pleasure of later life; namely the contemplation and memory of a life well lived, and people well loved.

In the meantime, Dom and I are preparing to return to school. (Well, I am. Dom, maybe not so much). This year will mark my 19th year as a teacher! And I am anticipating having more responsibility this year than last. I’m planning on teaching five classes (all individual preps) including one Teachers for the Nations, World History class, and a new Composition class I’ve not actually taught in a few years. I’m looking forward to the challenge, but awaiting the arrival of the reality. Another school year starts in T-minus two weeks and counting!

I’ll be signing up for another tour of duty at CHS and I would like to invite readers and sponsors to prayerfully consider sponsoring us for another year. I can’t imagine a life doing anything other than what I’ve been doing for 19 years now. There simply aren’t words to express our gratitude. I’m remain proud to be a part of my school. I’m proud of my students, the subjects I teach, and the work I’m privileged to do. Thank you all, a thousand times over for being a part of it. Readers who would like to be apart can contact us at: sponsorTHEmrhague@gmail.com

 

My Continuing Effort to Find God in All Things

When I first started writing this, it InstagramCapture_f0f80ce6-d9b5-49ce-a176-fffe83a7dacdgot lost in other things I was working on, so I titled it Unfinished” and filed it away. That probably would have been an appropriate title anyway, but it recently returned to my mind so I’ve tried to find my way back to my old thoughts while mixing in the new. I hope I’m not merely straining at a gnat, but here it is none the less. 

What does it mean to find significance in the mundane, or to see the Divine in everyday things? Growing up, I dismissed the mystic Christians as merely over emotional believers looking for spiritual answers to questions that required greater rationality. As I’ve gotten older however, I find that I am drawn more to the notion that perhaps rationalism requires as much faith as embracing what is mysterious. Maybe looking for the “Divine experience,” is as much an everyday, or rather every minute search, as is looking for rational truth. St. Ignatius referred to this as finding God in all things.

One of my favorite pursuits, when I’m not teaching, is travel, whether it be great or small distances. I count these opportunities as some of the greatest blessings of my life. In the course of last summer’s adventures, I found myself on a beach laying under a cabana reading and listening to the sound of the formidable waves crash onto the shore. As I drifted off to sleep I fixated on a bolt which ran through the wooden post holding up the cabana under which I lay. It was an ordinary piece of hardware, once painted over and now rusted with sand clinging to it. But for some reason this very ordinary device grounded me in the reality of where I was and what I was experiencing. I was in a foreign country, enjoying the presence of my wife along with the sights and sounds of that temporal place, and this ordinary, reliable, every day, item brought me to a place of gratitude. 

I’ve had other similar experiences recently. At work, standing beneath a tree watching my students on their lunch break and feeling the bark beneath my fingers and experiencing thankfulness for the shelter from the heat of a summer day in Texas. A clerical acquaintance of mine recently compared the process of finding God in all things, to that of breathing. He said we don’t live from one breath to the next merely hoping to repeat the experience. Nor should our connection to God be that way. Not just living from one divine encounter to another like swinging vines in the jungle but a constant stream of accepting life’s reality and acting on it.  

So often I feel like I live contrary to this principle, and that my pursuit of the divine comes in fits and starts. And I suppose that is simply a truism of my temporal, human existence. Recently, I was interceding for divine blessing in regards to a family matter, and I believe the Spirit spoke into my ear the words, “Son, you always have my blessing.” The difference I suppose, is that there are times when I feel that blessing and times when I don’t. So how do I escape the cycle of living merely for the times that I feel it? How do I live confident in the midst of so many daily concerns?

For me the answer may be in that sandy bolt. I’m trying to ground myself it the simple things that make me grateful; in the novel I take with me to the lake, in listening to an Audible book while I clean the kitchen, in introducing the family to my favorite stories at bedtime, after we turn down the AC and “make the room cold, like a hotel.” I guess I’m taking St. Ignatius at face value, I’m looking for God in all things and in all circumstances.

 

Reflections on Teaching, Students and the Nostalgia of Graduation

The nost6tag_240716-182602algia of the school year ending is one that for me, never weakens. School years are like long novels that the reader is relieved to finish but a little sad to place back in its place on the book case of memories. And as soon as the novel’s intrigues and conflicts are resolved the reader finds himself in search of the next book, if only to fill the space in his mind and heart left by the missing characters and their problems. I once read an author who said that “the man who reads lives a thousand lives. The man who doesn’t lives only one.” I would say the same is true of the man who teaches.

And while students come and go, I think nearly every teacher has THAT class (the lucky ones among us have more than one). Of course, any educators reading this know exactly what I mean. It’s the class you connect with instantly. The class that does the work not necessarily because they love the subject, (they may or may not) but because you’re the one who assigns it. The class that sees your subject and your period as the reason they’re “going to this school.” The class that “gets you,” and the class that “you get.” These are the experiences that sustain a teacher’s career, that keep you doing what you do year in and year out without the desire to do anything different.     

One of my “That” classes is graduating this year. Right now, I feel disbelief; and I feel old. But I also feel gratitude, both to God and that class. To the class because they kept me teaching at a time in my career when I felt it might be time for a change; and to God for the opportunity to teach more classes like that one.

Students only graduate once in their lives. And of course, it’s a milestone they remember the rest of their lives. Teachers graduate every spring. And while we can’t always remember each one with clarity, every spring brings the same mix of emotions. The sense of one season of life ending and the question what next? Well, first a rest. Hopefully a little travel, a little reading, a little regrouping and preparation, and then a new class, a new novel, new characters a new challenge… and new life to live.  As a teacher, it’s the rhythm of the life I’ve chosen. And while I wish I could remember all the names and faces that have graced my classrooms, I feel like a part of myself says goodbye with them every year. This year, it’s a pretty big part.

The Ballad of the 10th Grade

TthC08J073Yhis is a little limerick (sort of) that I wrote for a class I taught, as a part of a student appreciation day program. It’s composed mostly of a lot of inside humor and cryptic references but seeing as this particular class is graduating next month I thought it would be fun to post this as a little homage.

  

 

I have searched the Americas, looked high and looked low

I have traveled to England and Spain

But in all of my travels I’ve never found

A class like the 10th grade, which has brought me such pain.

 

They sing and dance in the night-time

And their music’s the real crime, and then want to sleep in the day.

They take constant pictures in which I am fixture, so I take all their cameras away.

I don’t need their hugs and their misguided affection.

I just grade their homework and offer corrections!

But alas their opinions I fail to sway.

 

So with my retirement looming, they search out my classroom,

Looking for trophies, mementoes, keepsakes and more.

But I have none to offer, just Dumb-dumbs and coffee

And a wee bit of reading is all that’s in store.

 

So what’s to be done with my troublesome 10th grade?

I’ll just flee the country, no mind if I get paid.

To the office I’ll send them. To McCormick commend ‘em.

And then all my dreams will be made.

 

 

 

 

 

A Series of Mysteries

christ-the-priestA brief word on this poem; I wrote this some years ago and while I’m not entirely happy with it, I wanted to post something appropriate for Holy Week. It’s based on the contemplative themes of both the Anglican and Catholic rosaries.

 

“Rejoice so highly favored” said the messenger who came.

“He will sit his father’s throne forever, and Christ will be his name.”

“In justice he will rule, and set all captives free,”

“Offering to all mankind the chance to live eternally.”

 

The Virgin traveled to meet her cousin, Elizabeth by name.

“Blessed are you the Mother of God the world will never be the same.

“Yes blessed is she who believed God’s promise.”

 

And when the Emperor had issued his decree,

St Joseph and his family made their way from Galilee.

To the town of Bethlehem they came and took shelter in a barn.

In these humble accommodations, Salvation would be born.

“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men who enjoy his favor.”

 

When the old man held the child he was filled with sweet release.

“Long have I lived to see this day and now my prayers are answered.”

“Master you may bring me home since I may die in peace.”

 

For three days fear and sadness clawed his parent’s hearts and minds.

Frantically they sought their son, while he astounded all the wise.

“Why do you seek me anywhere, but in my father’s house?”

“I must be about his will, for that is what I prize.”

 

Surrounded by his sleeping friends Christ prayed desperate prayers.

“Lord let this cup pass from me, but still I seek your will.”

“I’m burdened by the test which comes. I carry all men’s cares.”

“The son of man has been betrayed, but good will triumph still.”

 

An innocent man is beaten, wiped and tortured, a crime against both wisdom and justice.

The powerful exult themselves, and mock his family’s prayer.

On his head they place a “crown,” blood mingles with his hair.

 

They offered wine and myrrh, but he steadfastly refused.

Above his head they placed sign declaring him the “King of the Jews.”

They crucified him with two thieves and mocked him dying there.

The killers gambled for his bloody clothes while he hung nearly bare.

“My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”

On a darkened afternoon he died.

“In truth this was a son of God!” a guilty murderer cried.

 

For three days grief and sadness rent his disciple’s hearts worsening their cares.

But when the women went to cleanse him, his body wasn’t there.

“Rejoice so highly favored” said the messenger they found.

“The one you seek is risen! Death couldn’t keep him bound.

 

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exults God, my Savior.”

 

The greatest mystery to me is why

God born man would want to die for guilty men.

But as St John said, “he so loved the world that all who believed would likewise be unbound by death and sin.”

 

 

Living at the Cross Roads of Alzheimer’s and ADHD

It is a diffic14322295_10154541373494494_2917854039765467238_nult thing to be time’s mediator, to try to minister peace to the confused and unsettled mind of an elderly loved one and at the same time try to teach focus and control to the overactive impulsive brain of a nine-year-old man child. This is exactly the life my wife and I are currently living. It’s a challenge that often brings her to restrained tears and me to the point of exasperation.

I should emphasize it’s not always awful. There are moments of grace between my mother in law, who’s in what I suppose, is the middle stages Alzheimer’s and my son who is extremely ADHD. Moments like this morning’s when he got up early and helped her prepare her breakfast of cereal and peaches, or when she joins the rest of the family in the yard for a round of croquet. But there are also as many occasions when his practicing piano and general little boy noisiness draws a harsh or angry retort. Things can go badly on these occasions. My son gets defensive and she is more often blaming him for things that may or may not actually be his fault. It’s hard for me to watch her complain to her daughter, about the dinner my wife has made, and it’s just as it is hard for my wife to listen to our son’s thoughtless or impulsive responses to our instructions.

So why are we living this way? Why has Providence, knowing the difficulties and challenges of its members, put this unlikely family together? My life with my son teaches me to live that life in the open. To do my best to model a principled existence to someone without the experience to value those principles. My life with my mother in law is of course more circumspect. I am merely a support for my wife, who does her level best be present for someone who is simply not the person she has learned to love in the course of her life.

And now these two people in their opposing stages of life have been thrown together, into an awkward mix, one by the choices of his parent(s), the other by the choices of her daughter and we all must find a way to cope. I need to recognize the fact that keeping everyone apart does not necessarily equate with keeping everyone happy or at peace. My son needs to learn to love those who can be, (do to no fault of their own) very difficult to love, and that their lack of ability to reciprocate is not a sign of the lack of affection. My mother in law, while no longer really possessing the ability act out of memory, can only act out of her better nature, and hopefully, in this moment, choose what is most loving. My wife needs to learn that at the end of the day, none of this conflict is her fault.  

Ultimately nothing about our current life is fair. It’s not fair to my son that he finds himself living with someone who often sees him as a bother. It’s not fair to my mother in law that she lose her husband, then become ill, and finally at the end of her life welcome a “new” grandson and son in law who will invade her ever shrinking world. And of course, the expectation (imposed only by circumstance mind you), that my wife should have lived out her middle life caring for her deteriorating mother without having a family around her is grossly unfair.  

So, where does all this leave us? I think it’s partly a matter of perspective. In fact, perhaps the unfairness of this struggle would have been in its absence. Maybe the worst of it would have been the loss of opportunity to refine our individual characters’; the loss of a chance to love each other better. And maybe, in the next life, my mother in law will be able to look back on the life she’s living now and be surprised to find that she has learned some remarkable lessons from living with an obnoxious nine-year-old with ADHD. And hopefully my son will look back and realize that living with his adopted grandmother afforded him the opportunity to empathize with, and care for someone simply because they’re worth the effort.