*** LIBRARY of CONGRESS Honoree ***
*** AWARD of EXCELLENCE - Deep River Books ***

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reflections of a Baby Boomer

Much has been said about the Baby Boomer generation being an influential force in the world, but little has been said about how the world has influenced the lives of Baby Boomers. More has happened in the last 65 years than has happened in any other similar period in human history. The world has evolved and is evolving at a much faster pace than ever before and we are all trying to adjust to it.

Try to explain what growing up in the 50's and 60's was like to teenagers today and it would be like George Washington trying to explain to Boomers what life was like back in the 1700’s; it is that much different. One of the big changes in the world is that many Boomers are still in the prime of their lives thanks to improvements in health and nutrition. As a result, they are in a unique position to still shape the world of ideas if nothing else.

Boomers lived through the Cuban missile crisis, 9/11 and all the wars in between; through the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr.; through the civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights movements; through cycles of unprecedented economic growth to a world economic crisis of historical proportions. Now, as the world gets smaller and smaller, Boomers find themselves reflecting on all of this; they want to make some sense of what they have lived and will live.

A TIME TO… is a story about a Boomer who thought he was about to die in an instant. In that moment before passing to the next world, scenes from his past flashed before him that focused on spiritual milestones which had shaped his life. This was a revelation because he had not fully appreciated that these events had been defining moments until they were mysteriously presented to him in this way.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hello, its Me

As if life didn't have enough unwanted surprises lurking around every corner, 9/11 provided another that had been unthinkable before. What could be worse than knowing that we all could be blown up, vaporized, while going about our everyday business?

It's a question that wouldn't leave me following 9/11 until I came up with a satisfying answer. The only thing worse, I finally concluded, would be living a life without love, faith, hope and charity. Before 9/11, I had taken these principles for granted, like the air we breath. All of a sudden I realized that they aren't a given, that unless we all nurture them in our lives, they would all just disappear. I couldn't bring myself to imagine that, so instead I imagined a story about how one man came to realize this truth with God's help.

God, that inner voice of ours so hard to discern at times and so easy to hear at others, has a way of teaching us critical lessons just when we need to hear Him most.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What's Going On?

Now that I have posted many excerpts from A TIME TO... , in the coming months I want to share my thoughts about why I wrote it. I'll start by saying that it began with a whisper from God. At one time in my life if others said God whispered something to them, I would have raised my eyebrows and thought to myself, "OK, they are wacky."

Since then, I've come to understand that people don't mean (in most cases) God speaks to them with a human voice. He speaks to our spirits, because He is a spiritual being that lives in each of us, whether we know it or not. This gets a little tricky because some people receive spiritual messages and think it is God delivering them. The way to distinguish between God's voice and another's is by analyzing the message. If it promotes love, faith, hope & charity - it's God speaking. Otherwise, don't pay attention to it. This is where I think the terrorists got it wrong on 9/11.

Look for more insights about how/why A TIME TO... was written in the coming weeks and months. I'll also share comments I've received from readers.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Hells Gate Treasure

Excerpt #29 from A TIME TO...

Under the Hells Gate Bridge is a special place for Al and anyone else who knows the story of the sunken gold treasure that rests directly below the span which now carries long freight trains to and from Queens and Manhattan. Ever since Al was told that a fortune in gold went down there with a Dutch ship in the 1600s, he fantasized about recovering it for himself and his family. He just had to figure out a way to get the gold without being killed by the water’s powerful undertow, which claimed the ship, its crew and cargo. Many tried to claim it, but lost their lives instead of finding their fortune. So, when the bridge was built above it, the name, “Hells Gate” came to mind and stuck.

Al is mesmerized by the hundreds of swirling finger-like funnels of water that pull down anything on the surface of the East River as it flows under the Hells Gate.

“So close, yet so far,” Phil says when he arrives and interrupts Al’s reverie.

“What are you talking about?” Al asks.

“The gold… man, you’d think they could take one of those little submarines down there and just attach some cables from a big crane and pull it up.”

“If it were that easy, somebody would have brought it up a long time ago,” Al notes.

“Yeah, you’re right. So close, yet so far,” Phil repeats, more profoundly this time.

“Have you ever wanted something so bad, but something or someone prevented you from getting it, even though it was right there in front of you?” Al wonders.

“I can think of a few things,” Phil says softly.

Al understands Phil to mean he would have had his parent’s marriage survive. Being a rock star was probably another of Phil’s “So close, yet so far” wishes.

Al had one of his own wishes at the top of his mind at the time – dating Helene Colangelo – which he had kept to himself.

“So, you’re not dying?” Al asks to get the conversation back on track.

“No, man, I’m not dying. But I thought I did a few times,” Phil says with a chuckle.

Al stares at Phil with irritation written all over his face.

“You don’t believe me? Well, I guess I wouldn’t believe me either if it didn’t happen. It’s hard to explain. I’m not talking about being dead physically. My body didn’t shut down, but everything else inside me did. Suddenly, I was just a blank page with no past, only a here and now. It was kind of scary and exciting at the same time because everything that was familiar became strange, and I had to learn about everything all around me again, but this time with new eyes.”

Suddenly, this scene from Al’s life froze and Al now says out loud to himself,” What is this? Am I dead now? Is this a dream? What’s happening to me?” No soothing, mysterious voice speaks to him now as it did earlier. The only response is an unsettling silence that lasts about half a minute before the scene unfreezes and resumes where it had paused.

“”I don’t know what you mean? Your body’s dead when your heart and brain stop working. You died some other way?” Al asks incredulously.

“Yeah, you’ve heard of people whose body died and they have an ‘out-of-body-experience’? Well, just the opposite happens to me. My body is functioning, but it has nothing to tell it what it should be doing. That part of me is dead.”

“Very strange... I still don’t get it, but I’ll take your word for it,” Al says as Phil leans over the railing and stares blankly into the East River. “Is that why you … you, ah, eh, keep chan… I mean why you have so many different personnaaal….. why you have lots of interests?” Al asks, wishing he hadn’t.

“You know, it’s kind of funny. The first time it happened, I was in shock. It just kind of paralyzed me for a little while. I didn’t know up from down, or in from out. But then I figured it out,” Phil reveals.

“Figured what out?”

“Figured out that the person I was did die, which was sad, but it was great to move on from all the problems and hurts of the old me. The only problems I had going forward were deciding who I was going to be and what I was going to do as the new me.”

“Sorry, I have enough trouble figuring out who the original, one and only me is. How can you do what you just said without going crazy?” a befuddled Al asks.

“Maybe I am crazy... maybe. But, I’m sure I’d be crazy if things stayed the same, if the old ‘me’ didn’t die... very crazy.”

Al and everyone else who knew Phil and his many selves think he is crazy. Some even call him “The Crazy Chameleon.” But as Al relives this moment in his life, he better understood Phil’s explanation. Like Phil, Al had assumed different roles over the course of his life – child, son, brother, student, friend, enemy, adult, Peace Corps Volunteer, employee, coworker, husband, father. And while it wasn’t quite the same as what Phil experienced, Al at least now could understand him a little better. In this moment of distant reflection, Al sees Phil less a comical, crazy character than a guy who was just trying to cope the best he could with the trials of his life.

“So, when you said, ‘A dead man doesn’t want, need, or care anything about power and glory,’ what exactly did you mean?”

“Haa, ha, ha,” Phil laughs as he throws a stone into the river. “I don’t know. It just came out of my mouth. But you know, each time I change, I get new wants, needs, and cares. And, somehow, after going through the changes, “power” and “glory” become less and less important to me. I’m just interested in finding a comfortable place for me in the world. Hey, power and glory never last. Believe it or not, I’m looking for something in my life that lasts.”

“So, why do you want to be class president? What’s in it for you, if you don’t want power and glory?”

“Simple, I don’t like some of the things going on in our school, and I don’t see or hear anyone else running for president who says they’ll do anything about them. I’d really rather let someone else do it. Who knows, maybe I’ll get something done and discover something about myself that I don’t know.”

“Hey, man, I’m glad you’re not dying,” Al tells him sincerely.

“Yeah, me too,” Phil says matter-of-factly. “Dying inside scared me a lot the first couple times. But physical death really scares me… just too final. Once my body is gone, it’s gone.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Dream... A Cartoon... and God...

Excerpt #9 from A TIME TO...

At St. Peter’s Catholic Church on the lower east side of Manhattan, in the shadows of the World Trade Center’s imposing twin towers, a NYC fire department chaplain contemplates the dream he had the night before.

He struggles to find meaning in it since the situation he found himself in is so out of character. When was the last time he cleaned his living quarters? He has had a housekeeper for as long as he can remember.

But there he was in his dream dusting furniture and vacuuming dirt from the floors. The other strange thing about his dream is that he couldn’t get rid of the dust. In fact, the more he cleaned, the more dust would appear. Finally, it got so bad that he began choking on the dust and that’s when he woke up.

As he sips his coffee, a passage from the book of Genesis comes to mind. “…For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.” Maybe that is it, he thinks. The night before, he had discussed death at length with several fire fighters at Ladder Company 6. It isn’t a subject the fire fighters speak of often, even though they each had friends who lost their lives while battling fires. A couple of these fire fighters almost died on the job. Frank is one of them.

“It happened so fast. One second there was a clear path to the door out, the next, nothing but flames between me and it,” Frank told Father Tom with horror in his voice. “I looked all over for another exit… other doors…. other windows. Flames and smoke were everywhere. We’re trained to deal with every situation, but for the life of me, nothing came to mind that would save me. My heart was racing. I was dripping sweat and thought I was about to die….”

“Oh, thank God you didn’t,” Father Tom interrupted. “How did you get out?”

”A strange thing happened. ‘God help me, God help me’ I whispered over, and over. Then all of a sudden, images came to mind of some cartoon I used to watch when I was a kid on Saturday mornings. The next thing I knew, I was running through the flames that blocked my way out, just like the character did in the cartoon. I don’t know how I got out without being burned.”

“That’s a good story. Do you mind if I use it in a homily some time?” asked Father Tom.

“Why? Don’t you think it’s weird?”

“…Not at all. God works in mysterious ways,” Father Tom advised.

“I guess so. Sure, you can use it,” Frank confirmed.

“I’ve told you guys this before, but let me say it again,” Father Tom said with a lump in his throat. “You are my heroes. God has truly blessed you so that you can put your life on the line again and again for people you don’t even know – ‘For there is no greater love than to give one’s life for someone else.’”

“Father, can I ask you something?” whispered Steve, another firefighter.

“Certainly…anything,” Father Tom encouraged.

“Does God determine when we all die?” he asked as if he were a child.

After a brief pause to collect his thoughts, Father Tom responds, “Let me first ask you this before I answer your question. Does God determine when we are born?”

“My mother and father had a lot to do with it,” Steve offered.

“Ha, quite right… just as their mothers and fathers had a lot to do with their entrances into this world, and so on to the beginning of life on Earth,” Father Tom continued.

“I don’t get it. Did you answer my question?” Steve asked with a puzzled face.

“No. No. But now I can,” Father Tom said. “You see, God created all life and everything in our physical world. The natural forces that God created continuously reshape this world. You know... the weather, the ocean tides, and earthquakes. So when someone dies in a natural disaster, God did determine to a degree that death. It’s not that God willed that untimely death. He just lets nature take its course.”

“What about death by disease, accidents, murder, war? You know... things that come out of nowhere that take some lives and not others? It seems like God saves some and not others,” Steve explained.

“Wait a minute,” Father Tom interjected. “You’re getting ahead of me. As I was saying, God lets natural disasters, like tornadoes take lives. Why God set up this world to have all kinds of life and health threatening risks is a question only God can answer. I’ll include sickness and disease in this category. Then, there are those other risks that you mention, ‘accidents, murder, and war,’ that have more to do with the human condition. We have some control over these things. I say ‘we’ in that they are tied to human activity and our free will. These wouldn’t be risks if God didn’t make our bodies so fragile and he didn’t let us decide how we use our bodies.

“Again, you’ll have to get the answers about why this is so from God,” Father Tom reiterated. “We just need to understand and accept that this is life. It’s up to each of us how we respond to it. Oh, almost forgot to mention ‘evil’ and how it can influence the choices we make. So for reasons known only to God, we have natural disasters, all kinds of diseases, a body and a mind that bruise easily, and evil at work all around us that is responsible for lots of bad choices, including the taking of another’s life. The good news is that God helps us make choices when we listen to what he whispers to us.”

“So, God doesn’t determine exactly when we will die, he’s just involved in the bigger picture?” Frank asked.

“That’s the way I see it. And, the bigger picture includes our eternal life with God. Life on Earth is like a school where we learn lots of things to grow our spirits. And, upon graduation, we go to one of two places – Heaven or Hell. Not all suffering is bad. For some reason, often it helps us to graduate with honors if we let it.”

Father Tom’s gift from God is his ability to empathize with others, to help ease their sufferings. He listened, really listened to what they had to say about what was troubling them, and how they expressed themselves. That’s why his responses were always so effective in helping others. Father Tom’s gift was realized later in life. It wasn’t apparent in his childhood.

Something happened that shifted his view of the world. That something was very complicated in ways, but very simple in another. Father Tom told anyone who asked about the change in him this way, “I found God and then He found me when I was drawn to the priesthood.”

One thing that didn’t change from his childhood was his tendency to overstate any health concern. He was and is today a full-fledged hypochondriac. Those who know him have fun with it. “Looking a little under the weather Tom,” his fellow priests would say whenever they wanted to engage him in conversation. Father Tom accepted this character trait just as he accepted his prominent nose. It wasn’t one of his better attributes, but that’s who he was. In his later life, he came to see his hypochondria in a more positive light. In those times of concern, he found himself turning to God in prayer, and that he thought to himself is a good thing. Anything that brought him closer to God couldn’t be all bad.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Lack of Faith

(Al and Tadesse walked half a day in the Ethiopian countryside to get answers to their pressing questions from the wise man of a local village, Tsehye. They didn't know much about him. Tsehye at first pretended he only spoke Amharina, Ethiopia's national language. Once he could trust them, Tsehye spoke in English directly to Al about his lack of faith and shared his wisdom on the subject.)

Excerpt #8 from "A TIME TO..."

“Why? What do you mean? You sound angry,” Tadesse said with surprise.

“Yes. Why are you so angry? Was it something God did?” Tsehye asked in perfect English, with a scholarly British accent.

“What the... You know English?” asked an amazed Al.

“Yes, I know English. I picked it up at Oxford University,” said Tsehye with a grin. “Please tell me why you have a problem with my wisdom. It also sounds like you have a problem with God.”

Al and Tadesse looked dumbfounded at each other. “God? What God?” Al responded after Tsehye’s surprise wore off and his question registered.

“”OK. I see. You are one of those,” Tsehye said.

“One of what?” Al shot back.

“One of those people who turns their back on God when some tragedy or painful experience happens to them,” Tsehye said as he sipped his coffee.

“Who are you?” Al asked sternly.

“I’m a wise old man. Probably too wise for my own good,” Tsehye replied lightheartedly.

“”Why did you lie about your English? You were a student at Oxford, but you’re living like a poor peasant in the middle of nowhere. Something is not right. No more lies. Explain yourself,” Al demanded.

“Yes. Don’t treat us like fools,” Tadesse added.

“You came to me. I’ve shared my thoughts with you. Treating you like fools?” Tsehye repeated with a hint of irritation. “I lied about my English to protect myself. I had to be sure you were not a threat. You said yourself, ‘Change is in the air... big change.’ You must know there are government agents everywhere, ready to arrest anyone who would like to see change.

“I was poor... my family couldn’t afford to send me to school... But I was able to get an education by working odd jobs at a Christian mission. I did everything from making charcoal to washing clothes. In return, they paid me money, that I gave to my parents. They let me live with them, and they schooled me. I was a very good student, they told me. So good, that they helped me get a scholarship at a prep school in Addis Ababa. By the time I graduated, I was the top student there. I became somewhat of a celebrity because of my humble family history. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was in England, attending Oxford. A rich businessman paid for it,” Tsehye said while shaking his head as if his story was hard for even him to believe.

“I never met him. He never contacted me. Several years after I graduated and returned to Addis, I heard that he had died. A part of me wished that I would have had the opportunity to thank him, and a part of me wished that I had the chance to curse him. You see, I was a misfit... a man without a culture. I preferred Western music, art, literature, clothes, food and even English. It was what I had come to know best. My goals, my success all told me that Western culture was superior. Nobody came out and said that, but it was implied. Nobody ridiculed Ethiopian culture, it just didn’t matter. So, when I returned to Ethiopia to live after graduation, I couldn’t relate to most Ethiopians. And they treated me like the foreigngee I had become,” Tsehye said as he closed his eyes and turned away. The pain in his voice explained the tear that he wiped from his cheek. “Excuse me. I don’t know why I told you this. It is the first time I spoke these words to anyone but myself.”

“You talk about ‘faith’ and ‘God’ like you know them well,” Al said haltingly, as if walking on thin ice. “How has your faith and God helped you? Look at what you’ve become.”

“Ah, yes, by the grace of God, look at me now,” Tsehye said proudly. “I’ll finish my story another time. Now, I want to hear yours... the reason why you came to see me today,” Tsehye said gently and with great compassion.

“Tell me... this God that you talk about... Is he good?” Al asked.

“Of course... the ultimate good,” Tsehye replied.

“Is he all powerful? Can he do anything... even miraculous things?” Al continued.

“He can and does move mountains, heals the sick and raises the dead,” Tsehye said. “If that’s what you mean.”

“OK. Then why does he let things happen that leave innocent people dead or behind bars for the rest of their lives? I’ll tell you why. Either he chooses not to act, to prevent these things from happening, which makes him less than good. It makes him cruel and indifferent, like someone standing by and doing nothing when he sees a child about to be hit by a car but doesn’t push that child out of the way even though he was standing right next to him,” Al said with bitterness.

“Or, he doesn’t exist. I think he doesn’t exist because how could an all-powerful God exist and just not save innocent people from untimely deaths, or injustices that they have to live with for their entire lives,” Al added as he slapped the rock they sat around.

“What can I say? It sounds like you have already made up your mind... but maybe not, since you’ve come all this way to talk about it,” Tsehye said. “How long have you felt this way?”

Al looked at Tadesse then into Tsehye’s eyes and said, “Ever since a friend of mine killed someone to protect me. It was a big mistake. The guy he killed was just playing around with me. My friend is now spending the rest of his life in prison to pay for his mistake, and the guy who was playing around is dead. Two lives lost because of me....,” Al confessed. “And, because there is no God.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Tsehye told Al.

“Sorry about what?” Al blasted.

“Sorry you have suffered so much. I know there is a God,” Tsehye replied. “Blaming yourself for those things is wrong.... and just because you say there is no God doesn’t make it so.”

“How... How can you say all this? How do you know?” Al countered.

“First of all, you’re not responsible for what others do. God is not even responsible for what people do. Only we are responsible. God has given us the freedom to do as we please. For some this is a blessing, but for others, it is a curse because they make bad choices. To make matters worse, some of those who do terrible things don’t accept responsibility. Some even say ‘God’ told them to do it,” Tsehye lamented.

“Yeah, crazy people... only crazy people hear God talking,” Al interrupted. “God never said anything to me.”

“Ha, ha, ha... Are you sure?” Tsehye asked. “Maybe you’re not listening. Maybe he’s speaking a language you don’t know.”

“Yeah, maybe... Hell, you’re speaking English and I don’t know what you’re saying. So, I guess anything is possible,” Al offered.

“OK. Let me try to say it another way. God doesn’t speak to us with words, except those in the Bible. He speaks to us through our souls, our spirits... that part of us that is not of this world. It’s only when we engage our spirits that we can hear God. After all, he is not of this world. He just created it. To say there is no God, when we have Bibles and houses of worship all around the world, makes no sense. It makes a lot of sense to say God has spoken to the writers and the builders, and those who have revered their divine creations. Do you really think this is all just a collective fantasy?” Tsehye asked.

“Yes...wishful thinking for a God who takes care of those who pray to Him. It hasn’t worked for me,” Al said defiantly.

“Ah, so you did believe at one time,” Tsehye responded.

“I told you... If He exists, and I doubt it, He’s turned his back on me, and lots of others. Just look at the news everyday. Look at the poor, starving people in your country. So, I’ve turned my back on Him. I treat Him as if he doesn’t exist. It doesn’t make any difference to me if he exists or not. Either way, I’m living my life without Him,” Al declared.

“Are you sure?” Tsehye asked Al again. “Your bitterness speaks loudly. It tells me your soul is in pain. Listen to your soul tell you there is a God... a mysterious God who doesn’t seem to care about you and others in this world. You wouldn’t be so angry if you didn’t believe. God is alive and well in your anger. Can you hear your spirit talking to you?”

“No. I don’t hear anything,” Al said with a hint of confusion and a trace of disappointment.

“Then, I can’t help you, not now. You’re not ready,” Tsehye told Al.