It has been a very long time since I dropped by

Aphids on Sunflower

Hi!  Surprised to see me?  I am sort of surprised to see you too.  I haven’t posted in well over a year in my musings.  I guess my last post was deep enough to free me to focus a little time on other parts of my journey.

Man, it is a cool one.

The journey that is… it is cool journey.  That is what I was referring to when I said “Man, it is a cool one”.

I celebrated by 30th anniversary to my wonderful wife this year.  30 years, hard to believe.  It goes by so fast, it goes by so slow.  But it definitely goes by.  There is no stopping that.

And changes, they are about as steady as time.  The one thing that is constant is change.  Been a lot of changes since my spirit last called me to write here.  Some of them seem good, some of them seem real bad.  I guess only time will tell.

But life goes on.  Until it doesn’t, and then it goes on for everyone else and we just don’t know what happens to you.  We know the physical part, but we don’t know the spirit part, no not at all. Some of us pretend like we know what is out there.  But shit!

We know nothing.  And yet we let the stories we have been told lead us to war, and hate and violence.  A lot of it in the name of religion.  The stories we are told to teach us how to think, religion.  The stories all tell us to love, but whenever I see hate out there, religion is right in there with it.  Maybe not always, but near enough to always to count it.

If it isn’t stories, then it is something else stupid that we draw out to separate ourselves out from someone else.  Color, nationality, what we do, or who we see.  Something to make me think of you as different, so I can justify hating on you and loving on me.

What ever happened to we?  What ever happened to you?  What ever happened to me?  What ever happened to we.

My spirit calls on me to write

I do not know why, but my spirit is calling on me to write.  I have had enough opportunities to have my spirit call to me that I trust it and bide its call.

I guess we are all on some type of journey our entire lives, whether we realize it or not.  In truth, we may each be on several journeys simultaneously.  The journey I am compelled to write about today is my spiritual journey.

Looking back, there are many moments and many people who have played a part in my spiritual journey.  But at this point there are a few that stand more prominently in the light of my vision.

The earliest spiritual experience I had, though I would have called it a religious experience at the time, was at a Catholic retreat in the Catholic High School gym in Flagstaff, Arizona.  I would have been in eight or ninth grade at the time.  It was the first time I had an opportunity to really explore and prod my own relationship with my spirituality.  That was a very long time ago, and I don’t remember the details, but I remember being deeply moved as I nudged my way into spiritual self-exploration.

When I was in college at SUNY Cortland, I had a number of experiences that primed me for spiritual self-exploration, but none of them were a true effort of exploring my spirituality.  One thing stands out during that time period that helped to pave the way for me to continue that spiritual journey, accidentally learning how to meditate.

I remember this very well.  I was sitting on the floor in Paul Fabozzi’s room in Randall Hall, up on the 3rd floor.  We were sitting there doing nothing but listening to music, probably at least a little bit high.  I was staring at a spot on a poster on his wall and focusing on a single tiny spot of brightness in an otherwise relatively dark poster.  I think it must have been a concert poster for some rock band, I don’t remember the poster, but I do remember that spot.  As I focused on that spot my breathing slowed and became deeper and rhythmic.  I let my mind wander into that spot of light and before I knew it, my conscious was outside my body.  I don’t know a better way of explaining it.  It was deeply soothing and my thoughts slowed to the point where I escaped from the bombardment of thoughts that were normally in my brain.  I guess it was the first time I escaped my own consciousness while I was awake and moved into what I feel was a sub-conscious state.  I think Ekhart Tolle would say I had escaped my ego.

A short while later, something, a sound or a movement, caught my attention and broke the trance and I came crashing back into my conscious.  But I was amazingly relaxed and at peace.  I wanted to find a way back to that place so I began a meditation practice.  I made a point of almost every day sitting down in my room and taught myself to meditate.  It was incredibly refreshing and I found that a half hour of meditation was as good as several hours of sleep for refreshing myself and clearing my mind to focus on one thing at a time.

I continued that practice for the remainder of the school year, I even created a video that was shown in a film festival about my experience with meditation, and what it was like in my mind when I was meditating.  But, my practice was broken when I moved out of the dorm in May 1986, and I have never made my way back to a regular meditation practice.  (I should do something about that).

It was a very long time after that before I came back to my spirituality in any way.  It was largely forgotten until my son, Brandt was born in 1992 and we as a family started going to church regularly at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Springfield, MO.  It was there that I became part of a community of believers, and developed extremely close ties with a fantastic group of people, especially the Men’s Club and their families.  We spent many years with this family of friends watching our families grow, and exploring our faith and belief systems together.  I am still very close friends with a few of them, even after 16 years of living away.

In 2001, very shortly after 911, my family moved to Rockhampton in Queensland, Australia on a work visa that wold also eventually lead to my PhD studies.  In Australia, our experience with religion, and with Catholicism began to change and the facade of religion started to remove itself from my spiritual beliefs, but not in a big way yet.  But one thing stands out in my mind from our time in Australia.

I was traveling down a road just out of Rockhampton with a colleague, Wal Taylor.  We came to an area and I got ah overwhelming feeling of dread or foreboding.  I told Wal, “there is something evil around here”. Wal told me that the location where we were at was a place where people used to go to “hunt” aborigines and that there had been a massacre nearby. The thought of hunting human beings is quite disturbing.   (Hunting of Aborigines by the “Native Police” around Rockhampton is referenced in the book “The Secret War: A True History of Queensland’s Native Police”, Jonathan Richards, 2008).

After we moved back to the United States, I ended up working at what was then the University of Missouri – Rolla, now called Missouri University of Science and Technology.  My son Jax was enrolled at the elementary school at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

On December 15, 2006 when I went to drop Jax off, there was a van full of military people parked in the school parking lot.  I asked Jax if something was going on, and he said there was a funeral for a soldier that had died in Iraq.  I dropped Jax off and was heading to work when for whatever reason my spirit told me that I needed to go to the funeral.  I listened to my spirit, and my life has never been the same.

I called my supervisor, Cheryl McKay.  I told her I didn’t know what exactly was going on but that I was being called to be at the funeral for this soldier and told her I would be late for work.  She said something to the affect of, “you have to go, tell me what happens when you get done.”

The soldier’s name was Captain Travis Patriquin (Obituary).

The details of the day are not important here, but I ended up sitting in the back pew with a person who was a cousin, or something to that affect, of Captain Patriquin.  We spoke and I told him that I didn’t know Captain Patriquin, I was a member of the church and when I learned of the funeral I felt compelled to pay my respects .  When he learned that the church did not take up a collection at a funeral, he took out his wallet and said “watch this”.  He took a couple of hundred dollar bills out of his wallet and handed them to me and said, “do something good with this.”

After the service had ended and everyone left, I returned to the church and sat, emotionally overwhelmed, sobbing in the back pew.  I knew the priest and when he saw me he asked if I was related to the family.  I told him no and we sat down and I told him the whole story.  I asked him what I should do with the money, and he said that it had come to me, it was my decision what do with it.  I asked him if he would hold the money, and he put it in an envelope in his desk and called it the “miracle money”.  Eventually, and it didn’t take long, we identified a good cause and it is my understanding that it helped a family through a difficult time.

But, I was changed forever.  The series of events that led up to me going to and serving witness at that funeral changed me, and lit a fire in me that has had me on a soul searching journey ever since.

It is now eleven years later.  I am no longer a member of the Catholic church and I do not practice any religion. My focus is spiritual.  There is seldom, if ever, a day that passes when I do not think about my place in the world and relationship to others, and I allow that to lead me through my day.  Some days it is easier than others.

I have learned to recognize and try to minimize the impact on myself of those things that are most divisive among humans: race, religion, creed, gender and politics.  I have come to recognize that human nature, within its ebbs and flows, is relatively consistent.  There will always be the seven sins and they will be countered by the seven virtues.  It is up to each and every person to decide in the form of many small decisions every day whether they will take the path of the virtues. It is never too late to choose a path of virtue, or to fall off of that path.  We can certainly influence others on their paths, but in the end you are the only one that can change your own heart.  You and only you can choose your path.

This is a daily struggle, but one which I am at peace in undertaking.

I think that takes care of getting out what my spirit thought I should write.  You now have access to a little glimpse of my spiritual journey and I share it with you willingly.

Allow me to talk about Mom

Mom and I

Let me tell you about my mom.  I’m not even sure where to start or where I will go with this, I am starting with no plan except to write about mom.

Mom and I
Mom and I the Thanksgiving before she got really sick.

If you think about mom today, you cannot help but land on the fact that she has Alzheimer’s.  It has become the defining element of this stage in her life.  A year ago we thought she was going to die at any time.

We went down last May because we were sure that she was going to die soon, or at least slip into oblivion and I wanted a chance to have that conversation that you don’t want to lose someone without having.  So we went down, and I had that conversation with Mom and with Dad.

Mom and Dad
Mom and Dad

In that conversation we spoke of love and life, and faith and after life. She said that she was prepared to die. I told my mom goodbye and said I would see her on the other side.  Then  I prayed that she would go quickly and with grace.  That is right, I prayed for my mom to die.  Without going into details, she was very sick and had no memory from moment to moment.  My mom was gone.

And then I went back home and I mourned my mom for a couple of months because to me she was already gone.  I could still talk to her, and I called often, but she couldn’t remember the conversation we had just had, never mind anything we had spoken of in recent times.

Then one day in July I was at an outdoor concert at the library and I got a call from my parents home phone number.  I never get calls from that number, so when I saw the number I prepared myself to hear the news that she had died.  But that was not what I got when I answered the phone.

When I answered the phone, it was Mom.  Not the same lady who had been occupying her mind for the previous year or so, but Mom.  It was a surprising conversation, and I could tell right away that something had changed.  After they had mostly cleaned out an infection she had developed in her spine that had almost killed her, they put her on a new experimental Alzheimer’s medicine.  The result was that she started making memories again.

Mom and Dad
Mom and Dad, the summer before the Alzheimer’s really took hold.

The way she explains it, she suddenly “awoke” from a haze and had no memories of the previous year and a half or so.  During her time “away”, my brother and his family had moved into the house to help take care of her and my father.  They had done some remodeling of the house and largely relocated Mom and Dad downstairs while James and his family had taken over the upstairs.

The reason my mom called was that she wanted to ask me questions about what had happened, and how things had transpired and she  trusted me for honest answers.  As you might imagine, it must be very confusing to go through this, and it must be even more so to wake up from it and see so many things had changed as if over night.

Group photo
A group of Old friends, summer 2013

So now, mom is in a post awakening state, she is creating new memories and for the first 6 months was doing a good job of remembering our conversations from call to call.  It is hard to tell, but from our conversations it seems that she is again slipping.  She will tell you, and is adamant with the family that she has been cured, but there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.  Even in this post awakening state, her personality is changed and she struggles to try to grab and maintain control in any way that she can.  It must be very scary.

That is the thing that I saw in mom a couple of years ago when she knew she had the disease and that she was going to slip.  I had never seen mom truly afraid, but I saw that in her the visit I had with her before she got so sick.  She knew the path she was on, though not exactly where it would go, and she was afraid of losing control, of slipping away, and of what that would do to Dad.

Now we are a couple years down that path.  Mom’s personality has predictably changed and she is in a daily struggle with my family to try to hold onto some level of control.  Things like meals, personal space, anything that can be a struggle for control can become one.  I don’t experience it first hand as my interaction is almost entirely through phone calls, but it has become part of the daily struggle.

When we think of who we are as humans, there are really three main elements of our being, mind, body, and spirit.  Mom’s body has been savaged by this disease.  Here mind has been gone, then miraculously came a long way back, but it continues to slip.  Her spirit is the same though it is hampered by the limitations of the body and the mind.

Have you ever come upon the shell of a really old house?  One of those old houses that was obviously once beautiful and vibrant, but which had come into disrepair.  The windows may be broken, perhaps there are still curtains hanging through broken pains of glass.  The paint is faded and pealing, the porch may be collapsed or the stairs broken.  But even through the ravage of time you can still see that the house was once a place of love and laughter, hope and happiness, fear and joy, faith and family.  The house was once the place.  The place was the house.  But the place isn’t what really matters, the place is not what made it a home.

As we go through our lives, it is the spirit that drives us forward.  It is the spirit that makes us who we are.  It is the spirit, and the way it uses the the mind and the body, that makes us who we are.  Just like the family that lives in a house is what makes it a home, the spirit that lives in our mind and body makes us the being we are.

Family Portrait
Family Portrait at Brandt’s Graduation

So, when I think about Mom, I don’t think about the mind and the body that she occupies today.  I think of the spirit inside.  The spirit that was patient and kind.  The one that taught us to care for others and place their needs above our own.  The one that loves us and wants us to love and be loved.  I can’t really share that part of Mom with you because each of us experiences a person’s spirit in a unique and individual way.  But I can tell you that she is special and she is still in there somewhere even if most of the time she can’t find the way to show it.

I love my Mom, and I know that she loves me too.  That is the Mom I will meet on the other side.  Happy Mother’s Day Mom!



Day 48