Saturday, May 30, 2009

Stubborn as a Mule

One of my friends from Community Group (who I will call "Kevin") told me about a simple technique that he uses to better appreciate life and God's blessings. At the end of each day, sit down and try to come up with a listing of 3 things that you can count as blessings for the day. It doesn't matter whether this is done mentally, in a public blog, or in one's personal journal (what used to be called a diary in the old days). Kevin said that it is important to "write down some good things that happen each day as a reminder that even on seemingly bad days, life is good." I tried to do this for a while, but my efforts ebbed away. I tend to get bound up by the negatives, by the everyday, by the usual fatigue associated with too much input and not enough output. Even when I recognize the good that this brief contemplation brings, the recognition of God in my life and the world around me, I still cannot make myself carry out this simple exercise, this beneficial discipline. Sometimes I want to do something, but another part of me is as stubborn as a mule and will just not make a move, even when this can lead to self improvement. I still am amazed at how some things that I do in my life happen naturally, with no chicanery or effort, while others are just such a struggle, such a weight. I know that others battle with this type of thing as well. So for now, just a gentle reminder to revisit and to reconsider those disciplines that were set aside.

Friday, May 29, 2009


I hate personal conflicts. I don't handle them well. They affect me deeply and it typically takes me a significant amount of time to come back to equilibrium. Conflicts fills me with a level of anxiety, torment, uneasiness, and panic like nothing else. I lose focus and am overcome with total malaise. I have known people that can get into a real rip-snortin' argument and moments after it is over they are fully back to being themselves, at least it seems so. For me, the conflict enshrouds me. It covers me in darkness, even when I have done nothing wrong or did nothing to deserve the heated exchange. When these situations emerge, I do not know how to act. I don't like fighting with folks, I don't like having to explain myself or justify my words or communicate when tensions become elevated. The lack of communication on my part is normally not received well by the other person. Part of me is trying to shut down all systems to just let the time of conflict pass (the turtle in the shell approach). Part of me also is trying to hole up in my mind to form an argument with which to avert elevation of the conflict. I suspect that dealing with people in this type of situation is not a skill that I have or ever will (which is why I try to avoid conflict in the first place).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wacky Mascots

How does an athletic organization or school go about selecting their team
mascot? Sometimes they organize a drawing or a contest, sometimes they choose the name based on some local industry, sometimes it is chosen based on what a particular region is known for. There are names that just seem so fitting and dignified, like the Boston Celtics, the Miami Hurricanes, or the Durham Bulls. Others, it seems, clearly were not well thought out. The following are team names from actual teams, that as Dave Barry would say, I am not making up.
  • Minnesota Golden Gophers
  • Baltimore Skipjacks
  • Chinook Sugar Beeters
  • Moorehead Spuds
  • New Berlin Pretzels
  • Hooperton Area Cornjerkers
  • Tonopah Fighting Muckers
  • Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms
  • Teutopolis Wooden Shoes
  • Hickman Kewpies
Wow. I can smell the urine in the air from opposing teams soiling themselves in fear of the Hickman Kewpies. I have heard of an online contest to rename the team from Whoville as the Whoville Colberts. When will the madness end?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tear Down, Build Up

This is a topic, a personality flaw, that has been written about time and again. It doesn't matter whether you are from the Carl Jung or Sigmund Freud school of thought. It doesn't matter whether you know your id from your ego. Everyone agrees on the root cause of the problem. The issue is our ability to tear others down to build ourselves up. The root cause is insecurity in who we are and how we live. We move, subconsciously at times, down this path and it does not matter if we are with a group of people we know or all by ourselves. "I can't believe that she wore that dress", "He's the laziest person in our department", "Look at that piece of crap that she drives around in". How many of us can recognize ourselves in lines like these? Come on now, I should not be the only one with my hand up. This flaw is akin to the gossip, who distorts and repeats things heard in confidence. The gossip monger has as their goal to build themselves up by making others look bad and demonstrating their superior knowledge of the lives of others. A relevant word from scripture for those of us who suffer from this affliction comes from Proverbs 21:23, "Those who guard their mouths and tongues keep themselves from calamity."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pants Down Monkey Boy

The other day I was doing a little helping out at the offices of Waters Edge Church. Seated near me were two other volunteers working on their particular project. They happened to be women who were taking the opportunity to do a little man bashing amongst themselves to pass the time while they toiled. At one point I made a remark to let them know that I was indeed a man and I was sitting not more than 3 feet away. It seemed to me that if you are going to insult all men everywhere, you should at least take some simple precautions, such as ensuring that there are no men sitting 3 feet away from you who can clearly hear all that you are saying! Anyway, these two "hens" were going on and on about how men are so clueless, that they don't notice the most obvious things, how insensitive and simian they are in all that they say and all that they do. Well, needless to say, I was aghast. I was incredulous. I was, was, ..., well, convicted. They were right. Let me tell you a little shameful episode from my past.

I was an undergraduate in college at the time. One day I was hustling from one class to the next. I had ten minutes to get across campus and once I got where I had to be, I still had to go to the bathroom. I had to use the facilities quite urgently. As I rushed into the lecture hall building, I made my way to the men's room (which seemed to be completely empty), slung my backpack in the corner, and sprinted to the row of urinals. Just as I was unzipping, I noticed a cleaning lady coming out of one of the stalls. It never occurred to me to stop or alter my attitude or what I was doing in any way. In fact, I flushed, washed my hands, and gave her a quick "how ya doin'" as I grabbed my backpack and hustled off to class. Hold on here! Hit the rewind button. In case you missed what I just said, there was a cleaning LADY in the bathroom with me. The awkwardness of the situation for the poor lady never occurred to me at the time. I was simian and clueless. This episode has folks everywhere cringing for all the rules and sensibilities that I broke. I admit it, I deserve to go on an all-banana diet and straight to the monkey hall of fame.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Awkward, Awkward

Have you ever had to work closely with someone that you did not want to be near? Perhaps you had a falling out with the person. Perhaps you just didn't care for the other person from the standpoint of their morals, their appearance, their attitude, etc. Perhaps one of you had strong feelings of attraction to the other that weren't reciprocated. Each and every one of these circumstances can be palpably awkward. There can be overcompensation by one or both sides. In fact, the situation might not even be fully recognized by both people. One might be completely comfortable, and the other might be climbing the walls.

I recently was at a conference with someone that I am attracted to, but she does not feel the same way about me. It seemed that no matter where I was in the massive conference venue, that I kept stumbling across this person. Due to circumstances, we even had dinner together one evening. On the one hand I find it best to totally avoid this other person as it keeps my mind at peace and focussed on what it should be focussed on. On the other hand, the appearance of this person at the conference was totally unexpected to me. My mind kept grinding on and on. Was this a sign? An opportunity? Should I pursue this person further? Should my attitude be totally business like? Am I coming across as smart? Funny? Unaffected? Affected? I know that no matter what I tried to do, I just could not be myself. What tricks do you have that work in these situations?

Saturday, May 23, 2009


I am a negative person. A pessimist. The glass is half empty. I am always looking for the bad or the unexpected to ruin my day. I sometimes wonder where this developed in my attitude. I don't first process a given situation and then consciously decide to tear it down. My sour attitude happens immediately, as if it is somehow part of my DNA. One might think that this is really a learned behavior that bloody well can be unlearned. Try as I might, I can't seem to unring this bell. I once saw an episode of the classic cartoon Ren and Stimpy. The happy-go-lucky and simple-minded cat Stimpy was trying to help out the gruff and churlish chihuahua Ren. He helped him to set up an experiment to separate his good side from his bad side. However, it turned out he had no good side. What turned out instead in the personality separation was an evil Ren and a hideously evil Ren. I kind of feel like maybe, there is no positive person inside me, just a negative person and a hideously negative person. Some days really bring this out of me. I was recently at a conference in Denver and on the day of my return to Virginia, I was staring at a 10-hour journey of sitting on a shuttle, waiting in airports, flying in metal tubes that would be tight for sardines, and then the final drive home. How could I make something worthwhile come out of this? Try as I might, I just couldn't see the positive.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Grasping Balloons

I came across this poem online and it perfectly captured my mood and my situation. Thanks to the poet Angela Edgar, a poet from the UK.

A sky full of balloons waiting to be caught
Multi-colored delicate rubber
Varying in shape and size
Long billowing streamers
Trail behind them on the ground
Waiting for a hand to grab hold of
We run and chase after them
They bob and weave teasingly just out of reach
Like intangible thoughts
Like emotions laid bare
Eyes heaven-ward, we grasp and reach up
Stretching to our tippy toes
But the streamers trail through fingertips…
As we fail to hold onto them
We lose balance as they fly high, rise high
All we can do is weep and stare up
At loves long lost or missed opportunities
And thoughts disappeared behind a puff of cloud…
We’re left stranded, standing alone in our field of dreams
Eyes heaven-ward, defeated arms hang sadly by our sides
As we realize what we had hoped to hold dear
Are forever gone… All Gone…

Thursday, May 21, 2009

One Trick Pony

He's a one trick pony
He either fails or he succeeds
He gives his testimony
Then he relaxes in the weeds
He's got one trick to last a lifetime

Maybe not the greatest lyrics produced by Paul Simon, but I can fully relate to his sentiment. I am a one trick pony when it comes to relationships. I kind of think that I was the inspiration for the phrase "To the man with a hammer, everything problem looks like a nail." Over the years I have failed in so many relationships because I fail to learn from past mistakes. I can't seem to approach people with any new steps to my dance. Even if I am accepted by them initially, my one trick grows stale over time. I am constantly amazed by the relationships of some folks I know. They seem to find new ways to surprise and honor and love those close to them. Each day seems a new opportunity, a new adventure, a continued movement away from the routine and the usual. The great thing for me is to now have people like this in my life to talk to and learn from. I may be old, but not too old to learn, given the chance.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Familiar

There are times when the familiar, the usual, the everyday is so danged frustrating. When will things change? When will I get to experience something new and different and exciting? I sometimes get so sick and tired of the same old same old. I want a change, I need a change. When the routine becomes the routine, days, weeks, and months can fly past without anything to mark them as ever having occurred. Without something to keep them remembered or special or worthwhile. Recently, however, I was at a conference in Colorado, and after a day and a half living out of my suitcase in a hotel, I was clawing at the walls to get out of there. I so badly wanted to get back to my home, my life, my comfort zone. It's kind of amusing how fickle we are, how we quickly find out when tested that what we really want or really long for is what we already have.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Poop Polka Dots

The punch line to an old joke goes as follows, "You hold the bird and I'll poop on it". I really think this statement stands on its own, whether or not you even know what the joke is. Now, now, I can hear some of you clucking in the background, so I will at least tell you the joke is about two statues (a male and a female form) that are brought to life by a spirit and are told that they can do whatever they want for an hour. They spend that hour, not admiring each other's nude forms, but defecating on the birds out of hundreds of years of built up rage. Revenge! O.K. you say, Dan that is extremely mirthful and you are a genius, but why are you sharing this? Well, it is because I must have done something recently to upset the avian population because my car and the screens on my house have been used as so much target practice the last few weeks. My guess is that either a single bird with a horrible digestive tract problem or a flock of wayward albatrosses is responsible. There can be no other explanation. My car, normally dark blue in color, has been coated with poop polka dots (or poopa dots). I clean the car, and right before my eyes, it is covered with these markings again. If that is not bad enough, the screens in my house (and the windows right behind them) have been continually covered with bird "discharge" recently. The mess and ensuing toxic contamination are so bad, local property values are plummeting, and this has nothing to do with the current economy! I have been pondering what I could have done to upset the forlorn flying fowls (notice the clever use of alliteration here) in my neighborhood. Perhaps they saw me recently consuming a bucket of the Colonel's finest. I will have to be more careful next time.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I have been sitting in my pondering spot thinking about examples of things that were once I-N, in, but are now definitely O-U-T, out. My list includes the following items:
  • Singing to my daughter. Maddie used to love for me to sing to her to help her sleep or to comfort her or for her to have someone to harmonize with. Now I get "the look" from her if I commence to crooning. This might even be accompanied by an elbow in the ribs if I even think about singing in public.
  • Gorging on junk food. I used to love sitting in front of the T.V. for the big game or my favorite show and polishing off a big of my favorite snack food. Now the fats and greases immediately add to my girth and my tummy feels sickish if I have more than a couple of handfuls of yummies.
  • Working 100 hour weeks. For years on end I gave my life for my work and career. Although my schedule was full, my life was empty. No more.
  • No sleep. I used to get up at the crack of dawn and still be churning along all the way through the end of Letterman. Not the new Dave, but the old "Late Night" version.
  • Hanging out at the bar. During graduate school my friends and I loved going out for a few beers and requisite dart playing. Lots of rowdy times. My head, my stomach, and my innards can no longer handle any of this sort of activity and it holds no power over me.
  • Hair. I used to have thick luxurious hair. It grew so quickly that I had to go to the barber once a month. Now that pesky problem has been done away with.
  • Health. I used to be in good health and could count on my body to come through when I needed it. Now it seems like I have one wacky, random condition after another. If I had known I was going to live this long, ...
  • I am fine by myself. I used to live with the attitude that I didn't need help from anyone. I wanted to be alone as everyone just seemed to be working against me. Now I am so sick of alone that I want to scream.
The point is that we change. Folks around us change. Things that we thought were great today are nuisances or forgotten about tomorrow. Seen from the outside, we can all be viewed as kind of flaky. I think it is a wonderful comfort to remember what scripture tells us:

I the Lord do not change. Malachi 3:6.

We know what our path is supposed to be and we know that path won't ever change. Our God was the same yesterday, is the same today, and will be the same tomorrow. Now that is welcome news.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Inner Peace

There are times in my life, which seem to descend on me all too frequently, where my mind and my heart are completely overcome by turmoil. I am anxious, filled with anger, abandonment, and despair. Regardless of how many blessings I have to be thankful for, I tend to focus more on the losses in my life than the wins. I fully admit that I have a hard time gracefully navigating my way through my days of trouble and life at times feels like it is too much for me. I have spent a lot of time considering the following two Bible verses:

And God's peace which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Phillipians 4:7 (Amplified Bible).

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

In my darkest times, where I no longer wish to continue, I wonder where this peace is. I wonder why this peace just doesn't wash over me as I need. I wonder why I have been seemingly left alone. In these times, I wonder what God defines as my "strength" limit. Is just getting through the storm what He has in mind? Is getting through the storm but still looking to him with full conviction the goal? Part of my problem is that I too often don't have the patience to wait for his timing and I want my problems taken away on my time table. I put my wants and desires ahead of his plan. Realization of this fact only serves to make me feel worse. Kind of a negative feedback loop. Part of God's plan, I suspect, is to break me, like a wild stallion is broken, until my thoughts of control are removed and I learn to follow his direction without question.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sign O' the Times

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, cats and dogs. I may have just seen the stupidest thing ever. The crazy part of this whole thing is that nobody will be surprised. Sign O' the times. I was watching T.V. and along came a commercial for an antiperspirant. O.K., this doesn't sound that stupid or that unusual. The ad showed a person jump out of an airplane without a parachute holding onto a shopping cart. He then landed on a busy highway, intact, behind the shopping cart, kind of like a big ol' jet airliner landing on a runway at La Guardia. Shopping cart man then stood on the back of the cart and raised his arms out to his side and passed between two tractor trailers moving in the opposite direction. He ran his fingers along the side of each truck. This was the end of the commercial. O.K., I am not sure what this has to do with body odor or antiperspirant, but there it was. The stupidest thing I ever saw then happened. In small white letters on the bottom of the screen it read, "Do not attempt!". Really? I shouldn't jump out of an airplane without a parachute holding a grocery buggy or land it on a busy highway expecting not to be made into a bloody cowpie and then race the wrong way down that busy highway? Wow, I am glad this was pointed out to me. Thank goodness for the folks in legal or this company could have exposed themselves to countless lawsuits. Sign O' the times.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Nerds in Action

You might expect that when nerds do nerdly things, this would bring the nerd great joy and fulfillment, but alas, this is definitely not the case. Well now, I am clearly getting ahead of myself, so let me explain the situation a little more. One of the standard things that folks in my field (nuclear physics) do is go to conferences and workshops in all sorts of far-away locales. I have been all over the world, Austria, The Netherlands, Hawaii, Italy, Japan, Brazil. Even though I dislike traveling, I would admit that I have had some good meals and fun times on these different trips. However, the problem is the conferences and workshops themselves. Here physics types from universities and laboratories from the four corners all get together and sit through presentations of each other's work. The problem is that lots of professional scientists give really incomprehensible talks. There are many different sub-fields in nuclear physics, and we all don't speak the same language so to speak. So when folks give talks, they have an attitude that they are giving details to like experts. However, those of us in different subfields don't have a fat clue (™Rob Shepherd) what the heck they are blathering on about. The other problem is that scientists are typically nerds, and nerds are, oftentimes, uncomfortable coming out of their cubicles, and the audience and bright lights and laser pointers cause them to jitter and shake uncontrollably. The typical conference or workshop lasts anywhere from 3 to 5 days. However, after sitting through a day or two of talks that I am struggling to comprehend or struggling to not fall asleep in, I reach a condition known in the medical community as talkitis saturatus. It's like my brain has had enough and can take no more input. So, in case you were wondering, a nerd in a nerdly place does not necessarily lead to nerd euphoria.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Non-standard Meats

Several times in my life I have been accosted by people who try to push their non-standard meats on me. I have responded consistently with a message of "Just say no!" (thank you Nancy Reagan). I don't know where people were raised or what they were taught by their delinquent parental units, but the only allowable meats fit for human consumption are the following:
  • Cow meat;
  • Chicken meat;
  • Pork meat.
If you are confused, please go back and reread this list. These are your standard meats. Don't come at me with alligator flesh, deer steaks, fish products, or your "game" birds. These serve only to frighten and confuse the masses. The best thing that you can do to go on with your life is to take a week and go through all of the cookbooks in your house and remove all recipes that call for the use of meat products not on my list. You may use a red "Sharpie" marker if you have one on hand. In the long run, your life will be much more complete and flavorful. Maybe even, eventually, after many years of purity, God will come to forgive you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Trends in Eyewear

I tend to notice fashion trends over time, usually when my style is several cycles or years out of date. I mean, it was only last year that I retired my extensive collection of bell-bottom pants and polyester button shirts. What I remember from my youth in the early 1970s is that eye glass trends were a-changin'. Many people in this time period (called the "Iron Age") wore what were called "coke bottle" glasses. Over time, these gave way to a new style with metal frames. After a while, only real losers or communists were seen wearing "cokers". I mean, you were either an obvious bed wetter or a connoisseur of granola products if you had a pair of these frames. Ridicule of folks who wore this type of glasses continued through the ages, and eventually I even stopped noticing these folks with sketchy personal taste. Well, until recently. More and more I am coming across people who are trying to express their individuality by donning thick, some would say "dorky", eye glass frames. To me, they look even more silly than the old coke-bottle types. People always like to say that fashion trends, and trends in general, tend to come and go in cycles. But shouldn't bad ideas just stay dead once they are gone? If you happen to be one of the folks out their with bad taste in eye glass fashion, I am glad that I have had the opportunity to point out your major faux pas. Really, there is no need to thank me. Consider this my act of public service for the day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Grind My Gears II

People have been coming up to me all day and pestering me. They have been tugging at my sleeves, tapping me on the shoulder, and just making general, all-around nuisances of themselves. What they want to know is when I will be posting another edition of my award-winning gear-grinding series (see What Grinds My Gears I). Today's installment is actually being written from my sardine-like quarters at 38000 feet up in air on my US Air flight to Denver, Colorado. I was sitting in the world's most uncomfortable seat, clearly designed by Dr. Mengele. After struggling to drift to sleep for what seemed like 38 minutes (actually it was 38 minutes), I managed to finally drift off. It was at this very moment that some fudge bag who was wandering down the aisle with all the grace of a pregnant water buffalo grabbed my seat to steady himself. This 300 lb blob leaned with such force on my seat back that I was literally thrown from my chair upon his release. This really grinds my gears. Of course it may not be this sumo wrestlers fault that he had to lean on my chair. The aisles are all of 3.5 inches wide and are constantly being patrolled by wayward "beverage" carts of doom that are designed to run over your feet or jab you in the shins whenever they sense that you are managing the least bit well. Actually at this moment, I am going a bit off course as the whole airline industry really grinds my gears, but that is the subject of another post.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Spotting Celebrities

I am not one to get too excited about seeing a celebrity. I have come to find that the only useful aspect of spotting someone from television or the movies "on the street" is that you have something to talk to others about in social situations. Somehow the topic of spotting celebrities seems to come up often in my circles. Personally, I have not come across too many famous people. Those that I have appreciated seeing the most are the two physics Nobel prize winners that I have met along the way, George Charpak and Horst Störmer. However, I really would not classify these gentlemen as celebrities or really even all that famous. From the world of T.V. (and crappy baseball managers) I once saw Ted Turner walking around the streets of Newport, Rhode Island as I was on my way to work one day in 1976. More recently I was in the airport in Atlanta killing time when the host of a cable decorating show scurried by (but whose name or show escapes me), rushing to get to his connecting flight. I'll admit, these sightings are pretty neat, but not all that meaningful to me in the long run.

The subject matter for this blog came to me as I was listening to a couple of ladies that I know gabble on and on about how they made a rather long trip for the primary purpose of stalking some actor from a show that I had never heard of. Their plan was to drive to his house and wait outside until he showed up. I am not sure what they were going to do once this happened, but it probably amounted to criminal assault. These were two otherwise apparently normal people, driven to complete craziness over even the thought of seeing someone from television. I have heard lots of people who wag their fingers at the paparazzi for following celebrities and staking them out every minute of every day. But the truth is that folks eat this prattle up and swallow every bit and come back for more. However, we need to understand that celebrities are people just like us, trying to live their lives as best they can. Give them space and peace and respect, unless their initials are Paris Hilton, in which case you have my permission to have at them with a garrote.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Moment Please

I know folks who always seem to be celebrating some important moment in their lives. They deliberately set aside time to acknowledge graduations, promotions, major accomplishments, etc. However, in my life I have purposefully never made time to celebrate anything. Somehow I was always too busy, always moving toward the next challenge or goal. I had just completed my last final exam as an undergraduate, and within an hour, I was off to graduate school. By the next day I was already working on an experiment as a graduate student. When I passed my Ph.D. defense, I spent the next week preparing a publication based on this work. When I got my big university job offer, the news stirred no special activity. My tenure appointment received no notice at home, just more of the same. Sure there were always reasons not to make time, to make excuses, to let another moment in life slip by without celebration, without hoopla. In the moment, it did not seem like I was missing out on anything. However, as I get older, I look back with more than a little regret. Why did I not take the time to celebrate life and the big moments on the journey? As I was preparing to write this blog, I stumbled upon an obvious explanation that now makes a great deal of sense to me. I was afflicted with pride. I did not want anyone to think the big milestone moments in my life were viewed as any sort of big deal. Totally expected, totally in line with expectations. My big job offer was expected given how smart and bright and special I claimed to be. My promotion was a slam dunk. If I acted too excited, people might think that I was worried in some way about the outcome. This is pride pure and simple. I was trying to act calm and cool and unaffected, and I let all of the big moments slip by. Along the way I have missed out on celebration, on making memories, on living life. So, don't fall into this trap. Take a moment. Live, love, and celebrate with the special people in your life. Don't let regret have any opportunity to take root on this very brief journey.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


The low and haunting dirge sounds affect me. The numbers pile up. Soon the many will tragically become the few or the none. I cry out in the night and my screams continue to fall on deaf ears. I, however, must stifle an inner chuckle. This poor, pathetic, ingenious chap has managed to do himself in by peeing on the third (live) rail in the metro (i.e. the tube). He has been crispy fried. Clever chap. Despite my mirth, I must reiterate that these losses are needless and preventable, completely avoidable. You only need to send me large sums of money, this is the only way that I can think of for you to expunge your guilt and remove your deep, deep shame. And all the people said "Hallelujah, where's my checkbook?"

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Watching Maddie

My daughter and I have been monitoring the water temperature in our pool. We have been looking forward to the day when it would get warm enough to go swimming. We have talked about the fun that we will have, the games that we would play. We went over the problems that we had experienced the last couple of years at the pool at our apartment complex. Overcrowded. Rude and loud people. Dirty conditions. We knew that in this area, the pools opened up on Memorial Day. However, when the water temperature read over 80 degrees and the air temperature over 90, why should we care that May 31 was still over a month away? Originally we were just planning on dipping our toes in the water, a quick check of progress, and then going about our day. However, when I suggested that Maddie go put her bathing suit on, she looked at me with bulging, gleeful eyes. "Really Daddy? Can we?". She then began dancing and singing with delight as I gave her the O.K.. It was a magical and unexpected afternoon of splashing and playing and togetherness and joy and peace. If I ever question why, it is moments like these that I receive my answer. Watching Maddie live and love fills my heart and lets me know the reason for it all.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My Greek Marketplace

I have a condition that is commonly known as agoraphobia. I have been cursed with this affliction for my entire life. This phobia is associated with being in public, around crowds of strangers. It is amazing how debilitating this fear can be at times with me. I can be in a place with a large number of people and feel totally alone. Most often I am overcome with feelings of anxiety, of smallness, of unimportance. As the feelings set in, I need to get away, far away. The urgings that I sense are almost instinctual, from deep within my being, it is like some survival sense emerges.

Most recently I felt these pangs going through the airport. It was just the other day. I was waiting in line, going through the security checkpoint. I unpacked my laptop, took my jacket off, removed my keys and wallet, and stepped out of my shoes. There were a half dozen folks with TSA labels on their jackets pawing at me like a piece of meat. They eyed me with suspicion and distance. The smiles given were lifeless and cold. These people were obviously just doing their jobs, but I felt so small, so alone. I just wanted to run, to get away. Looking around, all of the other travelers were going through the standard routine. Some were very business minded, others were joking with each other, still others made small talk with the people next to them in line. I got through the short wait and quickly moved to a corner where I could collect myself, where I could be alone and gain back my composure. I find it funny that folks who know me don't know this condition of mine. When I tell them of my phobia, they look at me with disbelief. They think that I am joking given how loud and boisterous I can be at times. It's funny the traits and characteristics that define who we are. Some behaviors that we exhibit are easily understood and traceable to our younger days, to how we were raised or some particular moment or occurrence. Still others arise within us and their origin is never understood. A part of me wishes I could come to understand where my fear of people arose. It seems that if I could understand its origin that I might have a better chance to control it, to rationalize it, to do something about it. However, another part of me is afraid that if I turn over too many thoughts or explore too many corners of my mind, that I might uncover something far more painful.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Hypocrite

Let me have it. Please, I deserve your indignation, your disgust. Wag your finger at me and shoot me down with both barrels. I am a total hypocrite and it happened so easily, so seamlessly, so, so, organically. For the past month or so I have been complaining to myself quite bitterly against those drivers who race ahead of me in the passing lane so they can get through the traffic light sooner and then at the last minute they dive into my lane and cut me off so they can make the right-hand turn at the next intersection. I put up with myself and my complaining. However, the other day I found myself doing the same exact thing, all to potentially save a couple of minutes, one cycle of the light at the intersection. Then once I found that I could shave off a couple of minutes from my trip home, I kept doing it, all the while knowing full well that I was just railing against the inconsiderafia that had been doing it to me. It is times like this when I convict myself that cut me the deepest. Why is it so easy to be inconsiderate, rude, and me-first me-first me-first? At least now that I have recognized my hypocrisy I can cut it off at the root and do away with this particular weed. What do you do that you recognize good and well demonstrates hypocrisy? What are you going to do about it now?

Saturday, May 2, 2009


empathy - the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

For most of my life I have struggled with empathy, or more specifically, the strong absence of empathy. Upon just a moment of reflection, the reason is pretty obvious. I have tended to be so focussed on myself, my own world, and my own problems that I just didn't care all that much about the issues or problems or joys or successes or the lives of others. As hard as this is to admit, I would have to say in all honesty that my lack of empathy also carried over to those that I viewed as closest to me. As I have gotten older, my views and perspective have slowly begun to turn more and more outward. The turning point is when my daughter was born. I found out very quickly that I would give anything to keep her protected and away from pain. When she is hurting, I tend to be hurting more. But I strive to make my attitude project outward beyond my own family. My daily prayers include the request to help keep me ever mindful of the needs of others. Some days I am more receptive and sensitive to these needs than others. I seem to proceed in fits and starts. I am not nearly as consistent as I would like to be.

Recently a friend of mine who I care about deeply has been struggling as his father went through heart surgery and a stroke during his recovery time. He has been forced to witness the deterioration of his hero and his friend. I understand his struggle and I feel a sense of his pain. However, I don't have any words to help him or to truly encourage him. My attempts to reach out seem so feeble. I pray for him regularly, but I wish I could do more. I feel like an idiot for saying this, but the fact that I am pained so much for him is a sign of growth in my life, but I would trade my growth in a second if this would help heal him. I guess this is what empathy is all about.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ravages of Age

When I bend my knees I hear the popping sounds of a bowl of Rice Krispies on PEDs (i.e. performance-enhancing drugs). When I get up from the seated position, I grunt like a musk ox birthing a calf. When I go outside into the daylight for more than 34 seconds, I must worry about getting too much sun on my head. On cloudy days my joints hurt. When I exert myself in the slightest fashion or use any muscles that are not a standard part of my repertoire, I can be assured that I will feel the aches and pains the next day (and the day after and the day after that). Granted I am past my peak, but I did not expect such a rapid decline. I used to be unstoppable, vigorous, and invincible. Now I am stoppable, lethargic, and open for looting. What scares the heck out of me is where my health and body condition will be in 10 years, given the strong decay function from my 20s to my 30s to my 40s. I have already survived several bouts of cancer, severe heart problems, and my knees are nearly worthless. About the only conditions that I have not had in the past decade are the bubonic plague (a.k.a. the black death), Lou Gehrig disease (a.k.a. Mel Ott disease), lupus, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and mobile coronary rheumatoid urinary disease (or "creeping crud" for short). Perhaps though I have spoken too soon because I think my tongue is swelling up as we speak and I have a craving for pickles. But I digress. The point is, getting old is a thoroughly discouraging prospect, both physically and mentally. People who say that they don't mind getting old are either fooling themselves or psychotic.