Blind Faith

Blind Faith

I write often of my family:  Steve, the kids, the grands, and even the four legged ones.  I don’t often write of the rest of my family, but today I’m going to write about my brother Al.

His name is actually Alexander, which is also my son’s name, and my father’s name.  For simplification, I’ll just refer to my brother as Al.

A few weeks ago, we received a lovely invitation to a celebration of his 65th birthday.  In true Al style, the invitation explained that this was a celebration of all of us, his family and friends, for giving him such a wonderful 65 years, so no gifts allowed!  When the big day arrived (yesterday, as a matter of fact), we headed to the celebration, bringing only a card to honor his request.

Of course he didn’t want gifts.  He never wants anything, at least not for himself.  He is a giver…. of time, of energy, of prayer, of commitment, of anything he has to give.  He was ordained into the priesthood 40 years ago, and has literally spent every day of his life focused on living up to the vows he took on that day.  Many times, my Mother recounted the story of Al’s premature birth, of the doctor who signed the death certificate and directed the nurse to fill in the actual time after baby Al passed away so that he wouldn’t have to wait around at the hospital.  Yet, he didn’t die.  He was tiny and weak, but he survived.  Then he thrived.  My Mother insisted that God saved him so that he could enter the priesthood.  When hearing my brother Mike reminisce last night about 7-year-old Al handing out Necco wafers and pretending they were Communion hosts, it’s not such a stretch to believe that God did just that.

It’s true, Al knew even before he was school age that he was to be a priest.  He never questioned it.  Never wavered.  Never took a sabbatical to go “find himself”, never struggled with doubts about whether or not he was making the right choice.  He just knew.  Life jugglers like myself, who really just try to get from one month to the next, are truly envious of that sort of calling.

He spoke last night of all the blessings he’s had in his life, and how wonderful it’s been up to this point.  He spoke of what every person in that room has meant to him, and his appreciation was both effusive and genuine.

I don’t know how he does it.  Called to his vocation or not, I’d be a little ticked off at God if He had tapped me for that job.  Al has gone where he was directed to go, and done whatever needed to be done.  He’s grown congregations, taught school children, learned how to manage construction budgets, tended to the sick,  counseled, inspired, advised, buried, married, and listened.  Priests don’t really get days off.  While he has eeked out a few vacations here and there, for the vast majority of his life, he’s on 24/7.  My other brother said it best in his toast to Al last night: “No matter what, he has never wavered in his faith.”

Now, at 65, he is looking back on that with gratitude, seeing only the joy of the relationships he’s built, the lives he influenced, and the happiness he’s experienced.  Retirement?  Not in his vocabulary, at least not as long as he is physically, mentally, and emotionally capable.

The truly amazing thing is that I have another brother and two sisters who are just like him.  The other brother came back from serving in Vietnam and joined the police force.  41 years after starting as a patrol cop, he retired (reluctantly, I might add) as a Lieutenant.  Cops don’t have days off either, not really.  Their shifts don’t end after 8 hours, and it’s not unusual for them to last more than 16 hours.  Court schedules don’t care about days off or schedule rotation; I can’t count the number of times he worked through the night, then napped for an hour before heading back to court to testify in a case.  He never complained.  It was his job, and for 41 years he did it with dedication, integrity, commitment, and pride.

My two sisters are both mothers, and both of them have raised amazing daughters.  One has been in nursing for more years than she’d want to admit, but forty wouldn’t be overstating it.  She completed her Master’s Degree in her 40’s, still works full time in the ER, teaches the next generation of nurses 2 days a week, and of course finds time to babysit her grandchildren and tend her garden.  Happily.  The other sister surrendered her career track to support her husband’s business aspirations.  She cheered his successes, and as the promotions lead to relocations, provided a stable home for all of them time after time.  Always making sure the spotlight is pointed at someone or something else.  She accommodates, coordinates, coaches, and volunteers.  All the while smiling and being grateful for her life.

These four people are the most selfless humans I know.  Today, though….today I will just focus on Al.  The others will each get their turn, but I can only gush so much in one post.

Al and I haven’t had a close relationship.  To start off with, there’s the age difference.  Since he pursued his vocation early in life, he was away in the Seminary when I was still quite young.  I think my teenage years were typical, and hanging out with my brother, the completely uncool priest, was not high on my list of priorities.  Soon I was married and moved away, and gradually moved away from my Catholic roots.  Getting a divorce didn’t help, but it didn’t really drive a wedge between us.  Remarrying outside of the Church didn’t help either, but by that time I think he had accepted that I was on a different path.  I don’t think he was happy about it, but he accepted it.  We didn’t have much in common.  Still, he is my brother, and we are far from strangers.  Our visits with one another are determined by the number of holidays that I make it home for annually, plus  the number of weddings, funerals, and other special get togethers that occur in the family.  It’s inconsistent, but we are glad to see one another, and catch up and laugh.

The other reason we’ve not had a close relationship (and Al may not know this, but fortunately he’s never on the internet so he won’t read it here) is that I just couldn’t live up to what I interpreted his standards to be.  I mean, the guy is in the business of spiritual guidance, and let’s just say that I’ve spent more than my share of time bungling those hard choices.  While I can confidently say my last 20 years have been my best, I had some serious failings in the 20 years prior to that.  I failed at marriage.  I made horrendous errors in child rearing (thank you, God and The Village that made my kids turn out to be fabulous anyway).  I failed at friendships.  I failed at religion.  I was so afraid of failing at being the person I knew I should be that I chose to not try.  I kind of sucked.

During his “thank you” speech last night, Al jokingly mentioned that he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to celebrate his friends and family at this milestone.  Since our parents passed at 51 and 62,  we all subconsciously view anything past 60 as “borrowed time”.  Creepy….morbid….and true.  It was a poignant moment, and hearing my two brothers choke up when speaking about one another brought me to tears.

After a lovely dinner, Al distributed the table decor (potted cottage tea roses) to each of the ladies in attendance, and then gave each couple a thank you basket for attending.  Yes, my brother gave people individual thank you gifts for attending a dinner in celebration of his birthday.   As we were heading out, Al handed me a basket with our name on it.  It had an “M” monogram, and was filled with a custom-made cutting board, personalized stationery, a carefully selected bottle of wine, a pound of whole hog sausage (does he know his sister, or what?!?), a box of gourmet chocolates, and an audio CD that he made with the Rosary prayers recorded.

Not a lot of commonality between the two paths Al and I took. Fortunately, I know now that there are many, many roads that lead to the same destination.   I’m where I should be.  I’m who I should be.   My path has not been as straight forward as his, but now I realize it was the one I had to take.   I wish Al and I had been able to travel our paths together more than we did, but I’ve no doubt benefited from watching his journey.  Even from a distance, seeing his route certainly helped me navigate around some of those dead end side roads.

Happy birthday, Al.  I’m grateful for you, too.

Gratitude

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, I Suck

Sometimes, I Suck

 

There are times when I do things that make me wholly ashamed of myself. Recently, I had one of those times.

We were at a local park with 3 of the grandkids, having them run off some energy before dinner. Steve and I were a team, one of us with Kyra at all times, the other one in charge of visual reconnaisance of the two boys. If you’ve ever had to simultaneously watch 2 young boys in different areas of a playground, you know it’s like watching a tennis match.

I had been pushing Kyra on the swing, and Steve came over to tag me out.

I joined the boys for about 5 minutes, until I realized that neither my upper arms nor those monkey bars were going to support me for long.

So I played the “supervision” card and was scanning left, right, left, right from a pavilion that gave me an unobstructed view. Only a couple of minutes passed before a young woman entered the pavilion with a wheelchair bound, obviously developmentally disabled child. I smiled briefly and went back to straining my neck.

The child did not speak, but made a series of almost coo-ing, gurgling noises. The young woman spoke calmly to the boy, about calming down, about Grandma coming soon. I ventured another glimpse, and watched her stroke the child’s hair while she spoke. Muscle rigidity seemed to be prevalent, with his toes pointed downward, wrists turned inward, and neck far to the right.

I am not a stranger to children or adults with unique conditions, whether they be physical, developmental, or mental. So, why am I uncomfortable?

Why am I feeling totally self conscious?

It’s because I’m treating this child and his mother differently due to his condition.  If this Mom had shown up pushing a stroller instead of a wheelchair, I would have spoken, talked to the child, complimented his smile or his eyes.  I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.   If the child had turned up in a cast, I wouldn’t have hesitated a moment to ask how the injury happened.  If the boy had a bald head and missing eyebrows, an obvious hint of chemotherapy, I still would have spoken, and asked about the shirt he was wearing or the toy he had with him.

Why was I reacting differently here?  Not because I was turned off or freaked out by the child; not in the slightest bit.  It’s because I didn’t know how to start a conversation that wouldn’t sound A) patronizing, B) too forward, or C) sympathetic.  The thought of the Mom feeling like I was paying attention to the child because I wanted a better look, or wanted an explanation on his condition, horrified me. I suddenly had ZERO confidence in my sensitivity skills.

Steve was still pushing Kyra on the swing, and I looked back at the other playground just in time to see Matthew sneaking off toward the creek.  That boy doesn’t miss a moment’s opportunity.  He must have felt my eyes on the back of his head, because he did a sudden about-face and darted back to the monkey bars.  I’ve got the Grandma- vision, and they know it.

The worst part is, when you don’t know how to start a conversation, and definitely don’t want to give off an awkward vibe, you have to be quite careful in not making eye contact. You know what happens when you deliberately avoid eye contact?

That’s right, boys and girls, you look like an idiot with a  flashing, neon “I’M AVOIDING EYE CONTACT” sign on your back. UGH.

Aban, flushed and sweaty, headed towards the pavilion for a well deserved drink.  He looked at the boy, walked right up to him, and said “Hi.”  No response.  Aban looked at the Mom and said, “Is he sick?”  She said, “No, he just has to stay in the chair because he doesn’t walk yet.”  Aban is perfectly content with that answer. “Oh.  OK.  Well, have fun, buddy!” Gulped his juice and took off again.

Well, there’s my segue!  Aban had broken the ice.  Just jump on in there.  Get chatty.  I turned towards the duo, and…… nothing.  Nothing came out of my mouth.  A weak smile kind of spilled across my face, but that’s it.  No words.

What I wish I could have said is “I’m so sorry you have the bad fortune to be stuck in this pavilion with me.  I don’t know why I’m behaving like a total moron at this moment, but I most certainly am.  I suck.  I’m not often an ignorant doofus, well…..not regularly, anyway.  I didn’t even know I had this level of doofus in me, but, yep, here it is.  I’m sorry.  You deserve a much better pavilion companion.”

I was continuing the speech in my head about what an imbecile I am when the promised Grandma walked up with hugs and kisses and greetings, and off the trio went on the walking path. I  kind of hope that the Mom ranted a little bit about me, but I imagine she’s so used to fools, my 15 minutes of doltishness didn’t even register on her radar. I watched them walk around the park, wondering if possibly they would come back to the pavilion on their way around, maybe give me another chance to act like a human.

Alas, it was not to be. I’m sure it didn’t matter an iota to that woman or her child. I’m fairly certain I thought about her and her son scads more than they thought about me. So let me just say this to that Mom out there, or any other Mom who has encountered a bumbling buffoon like me:

I would love to interact with you and your child. I imagine that raising a child with disabilities has a special set of challenges, and also some amazing rewards. I apologize for my awkwardness, and desperately hope you don’t interpret it as a negative reaction to your child. I’m often inept, and you saw that clearly today. I promise, my disappointment with myself is considerably greater than your disgust with me could conceivably be. Really, if I had some ashes and sackcloth, I’d be all over that option right now.

What I CAN tell you is that if anyone had sneered, pointed, or shown any ugliness towards your child, I would have been all over them like salmonella on unrefrigerated chicken. 

If there is a class, a book (maybe one of the “Dummies” series?), or an online list of tips on how I might avoid my social paralysis in the future, someone please let me know. Maybe Aban can teach me. For parents of children that have some sort of disability, please know that I can’t be the only one who bungles these interactions.  My behavior may have come across negatively, but the opposite is true.  My heart and my admiration go to you.

Sometimes, I suck.

 

Stupidity Exorcism

Stupidity Exorcism

 

I’m Hot & Crabby Dip

I’m Hot & Crabby Dip

A few weeks ago, Alex shared a recipe on Facebook with a comment about how nice it would be if someone made some for him.

Well, duh.  I’m the Momma.  I’m all over that!  So I made the recipe, and it wasn’t bad.  I decided to tweak it a little bit, and made a second  batch for my daughter.  It was amazing!  So, here it is!

I’m Hot & Crabby Dip

2 cups crab meat (imitation crab works just fine, but get the shreds if you can)…

16 oz. cream cheese (2 blocks)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

4 green onions, chopped

1 large jalapeno, diced and seeded

1/2 red or yellow or purple or orange bell pepper, diced

1 Tbsp dry mustard

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 Tbsp powdered sugar

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp lemon juice

**It goes without saying that adding crispy, crumbled bacon would only improve this, but you already know that you can always add bacon, right?

Directions:
1. First, soften the cream cheese in the microwave for about a minute.
2. Mix the cream cheese with the mayonnaise, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, powdered sugar, garlic, and lemon juice.
3.Chop green onions and peppers. Fold veggies and crab meat into the cream cheese mixture.
4. Bake in a pie pan or similar sized baking pan for 30 mins at 350 degrees. Serve hot with butter crackers or fried wonton skins.

I'm Hot & Crabby... and delicious!

I’m Hot & Crabby… and delicious!