30 Years

I lived in Boston for thirty years, nine months, twelve days, and about eight hours.  But who's counting?  It was longer than I had lived anywhere else, and although I was always (and proudly) the small town Iowa boy in the city, I loved it.  Boston was, and perhaps will always oddly be, my home.  

Now, as I sit on the north end of Whidbey Island, outside of Seattle, staring out the window at the Olympic Mountains to the west, I wonder how I got here, and where I was.  And to that, who was I?  Who am I now?  Who am I not?  Who might I be?  And what do I carry forward into the mist?

Maybe it is your tendency, as it is mine, to frame the past primarily in terms of regret.  Potential frittered away in perceived, or actual, lost opportunities.  A word unspoken, a walk not taken, a letter unwritten, a beer undrunken.  Most days left unseized, as the comfortable routines funneled into the road most traveled and averted more challenging trails.  I could kick myself.  So, here I am with my basket of regrets.  Poor, poor pitiful me.  And perhaps the contents seem so heavy mostly because, were I to have the chance, I know I would do it all again the same way.  This cheers me.

But, wonder of wonders, just as baskets have surface elements, they also harbor depths...    lower regions where lurks (dark) chocolate and assorted treasures.  So persevere...   toss off those water crackers and thin mints and have a go at it.  "Great Scott, man, you've got to dig a bit !"

And wouldn't you know, there they are at the bottom, better than gold bars:  Lessons learned.  Perspectives gained.  Wounds healed.  Fears assuaged.  Days cherished.  Forgiveness received.  Courage increased.  Torpedoes damned.  Friendships cast.  Opportunities abounding.


My wife and I went to lunch the other day at a Mexican restaurant.  Very tasty food and a cozy bar, although the bar sat empty that hour of the day as we were out in the dining room.  I looked at it longingly over the room divider, and suggested to my bride that, should I come up missing on any given evening she might locate me there.  After all, one does have an obligation not only to wander off now and then, but to test drive house margaritas to note their octane for future reference.  I do have a purpose in life.

At lunch I scanned the menu and immediately thought of that guy on the Food Network who goes in to rescue failing restaurants, often in part by reducing the number of menu items to streamline the operation and to avoid overwhelming the customers with choices.  (He usually sledgehammers down a few walls to boot while he's at it, but let's stay focused).  This Mexican restaurant and menu have so far escaped the rescue approach, and they appear to be doing pretty well, in spite of not yet having the food guy come in to modify the options and tear up the place.  On this particular day I went with the Deluxe Burrito.  It was a delicious combination of ingredients, and was well presented.  I only wish the waiter had warned me that it’s also the size of a propane tank.

I came, I ate, I staggered out.  We could all go on and on about restaurant portions these days, and I’ll speak no more of propane…  or methane.  But the size of the burrito was out of my control, and next time I’ll know.  The number of scoops of ice cream that I will have at home this evening is within my control.  And there’s the wonderful rub.  It’s that time-stopping moment of silence and decision, the life-altering power of private choices.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not the ice cream police.  What I’m trying to get at is, when does a “no” mean “yes” to something else that is honestly more satisfying, and maybe even more life-giving?  How will I live in that even sacred moment in time when the choice presents itself, never again in that instance to appear?  And what of my inclination to dismiss it as a simple and silly conflict?  Maybe it is in this case.  Or is this really a shaper of persons?  A critical divide?  A holy moment?

Are the decisions we make in small, daily, hidden matters actually of greater weight and consequence than we might imagine as we then observe our approach to larger, perhaps public matters?  That is to say, what are we doing when no one else is present?  Is it true that I am most fully myself when no one is watching?  Oh my.

On top of that, what meddlesome God would pry into my choices?  It must be to damn.  It surely could not be to save.  Good(?) God, I must find out.

I Am You

Crap.  (A modest, yet serviceable, midwestern expletive).  

I had nearly bought it…   no, really…   the notion that mine are the unique thoughts of the day.  That novel constructions are “par for the course” for me.  That surely no one (at least so far this millennium) has wrapped his or her mind around the personal insights with which I amaze myself daily and occasionally proffer to the public free of charge.  No ordinary speculations, these.  I trust you’ve been impressed.  But now lately my private insight yacht has been taking on the reflective water of others and I’m being forced to shore to reconsider.  Which is a drag.  Sort of.

Because there is an odd solace in a mirrored discovery.  I carry the silly disappointment that not only do others share my thoughts, they are very possibly well out in front of them.  But now too I see, the musings of others are likely mine as well.  And isn’t that curious?  And potentially bothersome.  I mean, if no one carries within himself unique considerations then there is everywhere to be and nowhere to hide.  How completely liberating.  And how wonderfully disturbing.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

For example:  How could you and I have a conversation about God that is not entirely shaped by our fears, assumptions, and personal histories?  In other words, over that beer, could we have a "free" discussion, a talk into which we don't immediately inject our favorite pet peeves or unexamined certainties?  You know what I'm talking about.  Because you are me.  And I am you.  And you and I are both without novel thoughts.  So why don't we lay down our God-damned (which they may literally be) defenses and discuss what could ultimately be matters of great urgency?  Respect me, listen to me, and challenge me, and I will show you the same courtesy.  And bring some decent jokes if you have them.  Who knows, we may discover not that which we’re inclined to believe, but perhaps that which is in fact true to believe, if it can possibly be known.  And isn't that what we're drinking about?


I’ve noticed that the older I get, the less I care what people think of me.  And I’m not just talking about my hair.  But instead of turning me into a cynic (“who CARES what people think?!!”…) it’s turning me toward and into engagement with others.  What a concept.  Rather than collapsing into hardened, guarded opinions and positions as we move toward crusty geezerdom, there is the option and the freedom to simply ask “why?”, with the “why” not springing from a need to then hijack the conversation as we may have done in our oh-so insecure youth, but instead to simply enter into it with authentic interest and openness.  Hey, if Truth exists, I’m not sure it needs my efforts to protect it.  The penetration of truth, and not the protection of truth, seems to me the proper longing and ambition for seasoned types.  And God knows I’m being seasoned.

There’s an interesting New Testament concept regarding foolishness, and it’s one that we might not imagine at first blush.  It speaks of God’s wisdom as really being accessible only to the foolish, only to those willing to enter into folly.  I know of course that everyone’s keen to hear that, and yet with the piles of so-called insight that you and I are accumulating in our modern world, might this invitation to folly be a portal?  An entry into a new dimension?  Come on, you know you’ve always wanted to be genuinely rather than commonly foolish.  So here’s your chance.

Related to this is the concern I’ve always had that, as a non-academic, there are severe limits on what I can “know.”  Restrictions on what I might acquire as “wisdom.”  But it seems to me (again, to reference the “folly” above) that it may in fact be the wisdom of God that allows true wisdom to be accessed only via foolishness.  I’m not talking about being intellectually flaccid, but instead embracing a foolishness that perhaps has humility as its companion.  Also, what little I know personally of the intellect’s cousin, Sophistication, or at least the observation of it in settings over the course of my life, is that it becomes a tiresome burden…   an awkward, life-sucking weight, always demanding diligent maintenance to sustain its image.  As maybe it is image and not substance after all.  Pity the man who spends his life in the care and feeding of sophistication.  What a boor.

But the man open to folly…  that is someone I would drink with.  And someone I would walk with.  And perhaps someone I would die with.

A Final Prejudice

I had a device implanted under my skull at birth, and it's been developing in sophistication and simplicity over the course of my life.  I think it's still updating, although it requires rebooting on occasion.  A few years ago I thought it was giving me gas, but then even I figured out that my systems are sufficiently separate that there would be no linkage.  I do experience a random tic and twitch now and then, but those could just as easily be caused by the Vikings never winning the Super Bowl.

The device monitors and measures deflection and absorption.  

The deflections are those moments when I quickly assign responsibility and/or fault to another.  (Often involving my brother, who when outfitted with the sandwich board advertising our hot dog stand, refused to walk down main street and instead hid on the north side of the hardware store so we couldn't see what he was doing.  As I recall, his efforts produced no customers).  The deflections represent an urge or need to locate cause and liability outside of myself.  In short, the world is broken because of others, not because of me.  My deflection meter regularly bumps into the red, but I recalibrate as I go so as to generally sleep well at night.

Absorption is its own sweet beast.  My device monitors the approach of power and honor, and the readiness with which these are absorbed into my system. (In my case a significant value-free bump on the meter as well).  The valve near the device generally remains in the full-open position to allow generous passage, and the substances frequently travel from my noggin directly to the heart, and then throughout my bloodstream as they nourish further growth.  I’m reminded of previous opiate experiences, but I trust that these infusions carry the stuff of virtue and will without fail be at the disposal of the common good.

My parents never gave me an owner’s manual for this thing, but I came across a late 1950s research proposal entitled “A Final Prejudice:  The Examined Life”  that spoke of the gadget.  I’m just a regular Joe/Jim, and I can only hope that I’ve done my small part for science.  Mine may be decidedly micro rather than macro evidences, but that's for those gifted to conclude.  (Did someone mention linkage?).  I’m just trying to live with my device.

Gym Wigdahl

I’ve returned to the gym after a long hiatus.  (I’ll hold briefly for your applause…).  Actually, that’s not quite true.  It had been many years since I’d set foot in a gym, having for decades been a “work-out at home” kinda guy.  Yes, I had a chin-up bar, and in fact I used it.  (AND to hang my laundry).  I had a compact little program that I stayed with for a long time.  Then, I got married, we left town, and I fell off the…      spinner.

Now I’ve returned to a health club and have surveyed the scene…   

First, there are the seniors on treadmills.  We’re talking no incline, and SLOW…     like a time machine in reverse.  One 30-minute session and it’s now 2035.  But God bless ‘em.

Then, of course, there are the Messrs. Muscle.  These guys are cut, like door frames with a chest.  But some of them have morphed beyond proper proportions and resemble inflatable NFL players in your front yard, but with the air let out of their legs. 

And finally, Betty Gumby.  I’ve never seen such flexibility.  When she's in full form, warmed-up I guess, she wraps into a 98-pound paper clip.  Betty should have work-out clothes made of caution tape.  Were I to attempt those poses, after the snap you could pack me in carry-on luggage.

I do struggle with what might be my role at the gym, whether it’s one of intimidation or that of inspiration.  I would say that I currently carry those twin powers in proper suspension, deftly managing my influence, knowing that my presence could either lift or crush the aspirations of others.  These are formative moments.  We’re talking about fragile egos here.  I’ve been there.  And yet, ever since I bid farewell to competitive body-building, I’ve always known that at some point I would give back.  And now is my time.

Nice Jesus

I used to work for my father in our hardware store, and one day I made a service call to a farm home where the guy had a cougar for a pet.  The cat was staked outside on a large (gulp) link chain.  The owner must have said something about it being safe to pet the kitty, and as I've often done, I probably exercised poor judgment and went ahead and placed my hand on top of the cat's head.  I gave him a little rub, and his mouth did one of those opening and waving movements like Leo, the MGM Lion.  His head was a smooth melon, with tissue drawn taut and bulging up like two mounds lying alongside a furrow in a field.  He was all muscle and sinew and coil.  I returned my hand and my five digits to my side, and stepped back. 

It turns out the Humane Society thinks it's a bonehead move to keep a big cat.  A foolish wager that the animal can be comprehensively domesticated.  There's always that...  something...  that divides the wild from the tame.  And we dabble in gene-bending at our peril.

For years I've been searching for the domesticated Jesus.  My search continues.  You know, Jesus the nice guy.  A gentle smile, a tender touch, a sweet word, buying me a latte on his Starbucks app.  Always supportive and affirming, endorsing my position.  My buddy.  My pal.  My babe in a manger.  My friend upstairs.  That warm, inclusive, group-hug Jesus.  I'm still trying to locate him.  It’s been difficult.  Perhaps because he’s not there.  And yet, what's amazing is that I've never really wanted to find him.  Not like that.  Not like we've often imagined and assumed him to be.  The pious, mild-mannered, milquetoast Jesus.  What I encounter instead is a white-hot refiner’s fire.  A man whom the demons recognize when men do not.  A light that exposes all, and especially me.  And yet it’s an odd burn.  Strangely life-giving.  

I’ve also wondered what it would be like to have Jesus look at me.  And speak my name.  And God forbid that he do that now.  Why is that such a wonderful and terrifying prospect?  Just when we think we've collared him he makes some big cat move and eludes us, dealing in blood and water and redemption.  Hurting to heal.  Bad news before the good.  Even dying to give life.  Now I really have containment issues.

You’ve figured him out?              You hope.

Swing Thoughts

For me the box (not the one in my previous post) on the vertical would stand a little over seven feet.  Front-to-back it would push out to four feet plus.  And side-to-side the wingspan would touch nine feet or so.  Now, these measurements are with a middle-iron, so hand me a driver or a wedge and we'll adjust.  But the box would basically be seven feet by four feet by nine feet to contain me and my full golf swing, following the club head through its entire range of motion.

Ok, so that makes the volume of the box about 475,000 cubic inches.  If we're on a 175-yard par-3 that's maybe 50 yards wide (and allowing for a ball flight height of approximately 30 yards...) the box around the entire par-3 hole would come in at around 12,247,200,000 cubic inches.  So...   the box that I occupy represents about .0039% of the world of interest at that moment, and my swing (prone to biomechanical imprecision) within the box will endeavor to take the club head away from the ball and return it exactly and squarely to the same position and quarter-sized sweet spot on the club face after traveling via looping movements up from the turf, around and past my head, and back down again.  And, while aiming at a barely visible flagstick, I will attempt to hit the golf ball 175 yards onto the green (its own 5% of the two-dimensional world) in one stroke.  Don't laugh.

This is the golfer's plight.  And he loves it.  And yet, as soon as the ball leaves the club face, he can do nothing more about it.  He may have made allowance for wind and lie, but what goes on inside the box stays in the box and determines the outcome.  It's the only contribution he can make.  Life between the club face and the green is beyond his control.  He gives his full attention to what occurs within his assigned confines, and with these freedoms and restrictions he is content.  And this, I submit, is a good thing.


I've been thinking about coffins.  Wooden ones.  Probably pine because they used those in the westerns, and it all seemed pretty straight-forward.  Plug ‘em and plant ‘em.  And many monks are buried in them still.  I imagine monastics know much more of these things than we civilians.  They live on a particular trajectory toward death...  and life.  So when a monk speaks I generally listen closely.  I'm sure he could be as screwed-up as I am, but even so I dial-in what he's saying.  Especially when he speaks of last things.

I also like the feel of the pine dust as you move your hand across the surface of the lumber.  It lodges in the loops and whorls of the fingertips and has a traveling satisfaction about it, as perhaps something you’re meant to do and enjoy.  And then there’s that mild fragrance.  A transport to Colorado or Montana or Washington.

And maybe they'll add a little muslin inside the coffin to lay me out on.  That would be classy.  And the comfort level won't matter much at that point I don't suppose.  A pillow would be nice, but keep that tufted satin out of there or I might sit up.  That would be the talk of the luncheon.

I know that the monks of New Melleray Abbey in Iowa build coffins.  I also saw one of the brothers there wearing a seed corn hat in a video.  I liked him immediately.

There's also a guy on Vashon Island, WA who builds wooden coffins.  And after viewing this I would invest in one just because of him...