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Archive for the ‘God’ Category

I am a man, just a man. I bear the burdens of all other men. I have the flaws of all other men. And yes, I even have some of the assets, skills, and intelligence of all other men. I have seen my grandparents die, and I loved them both. I have watched cancer kill my Dad, and I loved him. I loved my Mother, but we had quarreled over a period of time, and I was not there when she died. I watched my wife die at home of the same disease that killed my father. I loved my wife as only a spouse can over a fifty plus year period. I still speak to her every night as I’m quite certain other spouses speak to their own loved ones who are deceased. Love is love is love, and loss is loss is loss.

There is one loss that I have not experienced, nor do I believe I could ever survive. It’s the loss of a child. Yes, Joan and I lost three children before our first was born. However, these were miscarriages. We never knew our child or even its gender. Our first is now in her fifties and has three of her own. Our second is a year behind her, and he and his spouse have three of their own. Our youngest is also blessed with three. If any of these twelve people died, I know I would soon follow. The spouses? Yeah, they’re great, but they aren’t mine. My children are mine. My grandchildren, strange as it may sound, are mine…and I would die.

Where am I going with this? I’m going where, perhaps, I should have gone a long time ago. We see on television and in the newspapers that this 16-year old was killed walking on the railroad tracks, and we, or at least I, wonder, “What the hell was he doing walking on railroad tracks…oh, well.” And I think little more about it. Then my eldest calls and asks if I saw the news. “Oh, shit,” I think, and she goes on to explain that he was the only child of a young woman I knew very well when she was a student. She goes on to explain that the boy’s uncle and his wife were at dinner with my daughter just a couple of nights before. I knew the uncle, too, as a student. Then it dawns…what are these people going through? What could possibly be said to comfort them? The answer, of course, is nothing. There is nothing you can say to someone who has lost a child. There is no “closure,” oh God, how I hate that word. “Closure” implies to me that something good is going to come of what happened. A child is dead, not just that, but in this case, an only child, and I sincerely doubt there will be another for this family. What will they do? What can they do? How the hell will they get through the rest of their lives together? Will this make their bond stronger or will it turn into a blame game ending in divorce and two more lives destroyed? Pause for a moment and consider this…every time, this young couple sees a train while they’re out driving, every time they hear the mournful whistle of a train as they are going to bed or getting up in the morning, they will probably be reminded of their son’s untimely death. Not a particularly pleasant thought, is it, to have such an obvious reminder of this terrible tragedy.

If this is all too morbid for you taste, tune out now because I’m just getting started. Over 20 years ago, friends of this same eldest daughter lost their first born to SIDS. He was under a year old. I had held that child and then he was gone. I guess I was just trying to be a good Dad when I accompanied my children to the funeral. I remember thinking that I was going to have to be the ‘good’ one, the one who held my family tight as the funeral progressed. Pall bearers carried the tiny white casket to the front of the church. The Mass began. Everything was fine. My kids were weeping and I had my arms around their shoulders in comfort. “Stay strong,” I remember repeating to myself, even though I was fully aware of just how close I was to not staying very strong. Then a soprano in the balcony began to sing Michael Joncas’ On Eagles Wings. That was the end of my ‘stay strong’ period. It’s one of my favorite hymns, and, frankly, I fell apart. When the service ended, it was my kids propping me up as we made our way to the car.

Children who die before adulthood, think of what the parents have actually lost. There will be no pictures of high school or college graduations. There will be no pride of having a son or daughter join the military because it’s something they had always dreamed of doing. For Dads, there will be no walking her down the aisle or the joy of seeing him standing at an altar, watching his life partner walk toward him. There will be no grandchildren to love and to hold…and, of course, to spoil rotten. No, all of those things will be denied, and that means that the word, “closure,” is a nothing word. It connotes nothing to the parents who have lost everything.

Perhaps this is my way of saying that I will never, ever, take the loss of a child quite the same again. Whether it’s because the kid was speeding and he/she survived while others were killed, or because all were killed because the 17-year old had found someone to buy booze and was drunk at the wheel. It just doesn’t matter. It’s a child or children who are lost and cannot be reclaimed. The SIDS death mentioned above was, in its own way, favorable in that the couple went on to have two more kids who are now young adults, but that’s just not always the case. So whether it’s a child shot in a drive-by, or a teenager who overdoses on fentanyl, it’s still a child who is lost to this world, and that’s a burden that you or I never wish to shoulder. To every family who has ever lost a child, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that it took me so many years to understand the depth of your loss.” May the Good Lord find other ways to bring positive blessings into your lives.

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I don’t believe that anyone can ever know the feelings of true pain and agony until they have watched a loved one waste away to some horrible disease knowing full well that there is nothing they can do to stop or even slow down the horror of what is happening; I’m told that being kicked in the balls by a kangaroo might come in a close second, but I’m not from Australia and the only kangaroos I’ve ever seen have been on television. Therefore, it’s somewhat difficult to experience what the feeling might be like when it’s coming to you from a forty-two inch, high definition flat screen television set. There may be people with a better imagination than I who could double up and scream in pain upon seeing this, but they are, I’m quite certain few and far between.

Do I make light – or lite if one is a beer drinker – of watching a loved one die? Unless you’ve been there, don’t even think about criticizing me. One minute you think you’re doing all the right things to make them comfortable; the next minute you know that you’re just deluding yourself and you ask over and over again, “Why can’t I do more?” Another question that will pop up somewhere along the line, that is if you believe in a higher power, is, “Why are you punishing her this way, God? Why won’t you stop the pain?” All good questions, but you and I won’t learn the answers until we stand before whoever or whatever it is we will stand before in final judgment. I certainly hope it’s not a kangaroo.

I’m old. That means that I’m not only on the downhill side of the mountain; it means I’ve crossed the desert, forded the river, traveled the forest, walked the yellow brick road, and am well on my way to making that final turn into the homestretch and the checkered flag. It’s not the checkered flag that scares the daylights out of me, but that friggin’ homestretch. It may be long and painful or short and so quick that I’m gone before I even realize the pain…although I doubt that will be the case…just as long as it doesn’t consist of a mob, troop, or court of kangaroos doing their happy dance.

I have come to understand that it’s okay to joke about death…not to someone who is dying, of course – that would be rather crass – but I remember my late wife saying at one point, “You know, this really should be you laying here. It would be so much easier for me.” She still had a good sense of humor at that time. As many others, I believe, have wondered, “Why was it him or her? Why not me? He or she was such a good person. Why did it have to be…?” Maybe we learn the answers; maybe we don’t. Guess we just have to die to find out. Certainly, a kick in the balls from a kangaroo isn’t going to answer the question.

And don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against kangaroos…except…well…you know…oooh! Just thinking about it sort of freaks me out. I mean it’s not like camels; they’re just plain mean. They spit and bite and they smell. Ostriches can give you a hell of a kick, but not like a kangaroo…they take aim.

Is this supposed to be funny? Well, I’d have to think about that. On the one hand, yeah, yeah, it’s supposed to be a bit humorous, but on the other hand, there is very little humor in losing someone about whom you care deeply. It leaves a hole in your life; not in your heart necessarily…that’s the baloney that the poets push…but it leaves an emptiness in you that is always there. Sometimes, you can hide it; then, other times, it jumps up and punches you right in the gut. That’s the time when you just want to work things out by yourself…because I’m not gonna kid you, it hurts like a bitch. Somehow, you do manage to get through it…usually…but it’s like a tornado has passed by, sucking the air from you.

For those who haven’t reached the top of the mountain yet, don’t forget to stop and admire the view; it’s like nothing you will ever see again.  If you’re in the desert, fording the river, or going through the forest, slow down and look around. Absorb the beauty of all that surrounds you. Before you know it, you will have walked the yellow brick road and see that homestretch and the checkered flag. Before you reach it, soak up all of the good and beautiful you can…oh, yeah, and watch out for the kangaroos.

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The fact that there is a great deal of pissing and moaning over the remarks made by Phil Robertson in GQ Magazine is not necessarily a bad thing. In his comments to People Magazine, he is quoted as saying, “I will not give or back off from my path.” That sounds like a man with the courage of his convictions, and no matter what the Arts & Entertainment network might feel, courage and conviction are two things that this country has been sadly lacking for the past decade or so.

 

Robertson believes what he believes. The backlash toward A&E would appear to indicate that there are a helluva lot of people who might darn well feel the same way or, at the very least, believe that the man has the right to free speech under the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Obviously, yelling, “Fire” in a theatre is not free speech because it infringes on the rights of those in the theatre. If this ‘free speech’ liable or slanders another party, that is an infringement on their rights. In these and other cases, freedom steps aside and prosecution steps in to take control.

 

Whose rights did Robertson trample? I’m not so certain that he did anything except to express his own personal beliefs. This is how he views the world and he’s willing to stand by his views. There are so few people today who, if put into a situation such as he was, would answer so honestly and candidly. Take any member of the Congress of the United States. If anyone of them were to be asked, “Do you believe that homosexuality is a sin that will preclude those practicing it from getting in to Heaven,” they would hem and haw and you know you would never get a straight answer. If President Obama was asked, “Do you believe that the Affordable Care Act is the proper document for all Americans?” do you honestly believe you would get anything but gobbledygook? Of course not.

 

President Harry Truman was a straight talking person, often called a son-of-a-bitch because of his no nonsense honesty. The same could be said of General George Patton, as well as Osama bin Laden. “What, are you nuts?” you ask. No, bin Laden spent his life trying to destroy America; he made no bones about this; he was focused, and when he spoke out, his words were to the effect that he wanted to destroy America. He didn’t equivocate; he did not give long and convoluted speeches. He knew where he stood and he made damn certain that we knew where he stood. We finally realized that his continued efforts were not in the best interest of America and therefore, he was dispatched. Some say he was martyred. I prefer to think of it as eliminating a potential danger to the citizens of the United States. The unfortunate thing is that too many of his disciples are not committed in the same manner that Obama was. Too many of them are not jihadists but just out and out murders wearing the disguise of jihad.

 

Truthfully, I don’t watch Duck Dynasty. It’s just not a program in which I have an interest…until now. I may have to start watching it to get a genuine conservative view. Robertson’s comments to Bible study group recently were fascinating: “…over the last 2000 years, “the sins are the same” and “humans haven’t changed. We get high, we get drunk, we get laid, we steal and kill,” he stated. “Has this changed at all from the time God burnt up whole cities because their every thought was evil?” The man makes a damned good point. If there is one person out there who has not broken at least one of the Ten Commandments at some time in his or her life, I want to meet them. People lie, cheat, and steal. Others take the name of the Lord in vain; still others covet their neighbor’s wife, and sometimes commit adultery. Ask a 13 or 14 year old what he thinks of his parents and he or she will tell you their ‘dorks’ or something worse; seems to me that a commandment just went out the window on that one.

In church, we’re told to obey the commandments of God. We’re told to lead good lives; to love thy neighbor as thyself. All of the things we’re told will get us into heaven. How do we know that? How do the priests, ministers, rabbis, and imams know this? Have they been there? Have they talked to God? I don’t mean to be heretical here, but please, don’t be so hypocritical as to pretend to know the entrance into Heaven. Sure, I could be wrong…but what if I’m not. What if there is no right or wrong way to enter into Heaven? What if the sinner who did one good thing in his or her life is just as welcome as the person who lived just a mundane life of doing no good or no bad?

I believe Phil Robertson has opened a few eyes. I believe his honesty, while perhaps shocking, is also refreshing. He has said exactly what he believes, broken now laws by doing so, offended the hell out of a large group of people, but he sure didn’t beat around the bush!

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Let’s play a game. Well, it’s not so much of a game as it is I ask questions and you answer them, okay? Some people would say this is foolish, but what do they know? You and I both know that this could be a very interesting game. Of course, there is one slight problem. I am dependent on you being truthful in your answers and you are dependent on my not exposing your answers. This last is probably not so much of a problem since you aren’t going to tell me your answers anyway, right?

Before we begin the game, I’m going to make some unwarranted assumptions about you as a person. The first assumption I’m making is that you’re a reasonably good and honest person. The goodness part comes from the assumption that you haven’t killed anyone during this part of your lifetime – other lifetimes we won’t worry about right now, but for this one, you’re in good shape. The honest part, that’s entirely up to you. You have to make your decision regarding that. The second assumption that I will make is that you believe in some form of Deity. Call it God, Adonai, Allah, or whatever. I have no idea what the little boy on some faraway island, who worships that rock perched on a stone calls that rock, but he does believe; that’s all I’m asking.  My third assumption would be that you have a working knowledge and a feeling that there just might be something like a Heaven and a Hell…like your mother went to Heaven and Hitler went to hell type of thing…we still together on this stuff?

There are many more assumptions that I could make about your relationship with an all-knowing and all-powerful Being. Frankly, I’m a New Testament kind of guy, and therefore, I believe in a loving and merciful God. If not, I guess I’m up to my ass in alligators and I have no idea where the plug is to drain the swamp.

Ah, the game. Okay, let us begin. When you die, this shell you call a body is left behind for others to do with what they will. Question one; When does your ‘soul’ leave your body? Next, what happens to your soul after it leaves your body; part two of this; does it go somewhere on its own or is it escorted. Does your soul go straight to Heaven or Hell or is there a stopping off spot. Let me give you an example here: Picture a huge waiting room in a railroad station or airport…without all of the shops. If we assume that Heaven is above and Hell is below…a highly unwarranted assumption by the way…then you just know that people like Mother Teresa, several of the 20th Century Popes and a few others are a shoo-in for the Heaven express. On the other side are several Saudi Princes, Idi Amin, Genghis Khan, and others which you may feel free to consider. Think of it as their plane or train has no seats and they don’t get an in-flight movie or a free drink. Somewhere in the middle is where you and I remain. We don’t yet know whether we’re bound for Heaven or “The Other Place.” Is this place Purgatory? Who is to say? Let’s just call it a way station on our route to where Washington and Lincoln might reside or where Jack the Ripper and Bonnie and Clyde might have residence.

So, here you are…no, there’s really only one question left, but we’ll get to that. There is a large curtain at one end of the station and people move right along. Each person appears to have an escort on their right side. The escorts aren’t there; then they are. You notice that they are all, well most of them, very similar in appearance. The people who enter don’t come out, but just keep moving in. Only the escorts come out. You get in the line – not much else going on here so this must be the place. As you near the curtain, an escort appears at your right arm. He/She/It – it defies gender specification. The escort smiles but says nothing. As you enter, another escort – definitely a woman, a most attractive woman, asks your name. You politely tell her, and you are told to go to the left. It’s at this time that you first notice all of the others who have come through the curtain are male souls. You don’t know how you know this; you just do [if you are a female reader, reverse the gender; after all, I’m the male writer here]. You board what appears to be an airplane. There is no sound. You just know that the plane is moving; that you are in some kind of seat, and that all around you is peace. If asked to define what you mean, you know that words would fail you. It’s just…there.

Soon, you, too, are ‘there,’ wherever that happens to be. Now you find yourself in another station, this one smaller and more beautifully appointed. A different escort appears at your arm and indicates that you are to follow her; yeah, this, too, is an attractive woman. What you notice more than her beauty is her gentleness. There is a ‘goodness’ about her that makes you feel very much at ease. You sit for a while; then she guides you toward a door. With just a smile and a gesture, she bids you to enter and then she disappears. Inside the room is a chair facing out into nothingness. You sit…and you sit…and you sit. As you do so, the scene before you changes. It varies from day to night; from sunshine to stormy, dark skies. It changes from emptiness to children in a field, to young lovers walking hand in hand though autumn leaves; an elderly couple makes their way along a snowy path; a plane crash, and you try to scream a warning as a man shoots another. This is all more real than a movie. It’s beautiful and it becomes horrific and back to pleasant. A man walks toward you and sits down opposite…you never saw another chair…was it there before?

“You are a decent person,” the man says. “Why are you here?”

Oh, boy, there is the question of all time, ‘Why am I here?’

You have no idea where you are. You have no idea whether you are in a good place or a bad place. This calls into question every part of your life, and your life begins to play before your eyes…the times when you lied; the times when you gave blood for a friend; the times when you cheated on an exam; the time your child made you so mad that you slapped him; the time you lost your job and yes, the time when you received a promotion in your new job; the time you just knew that he/she was the one; the birth of your first child; the loss of your loved one. All of these images are indelibly imprinted on that space before you.

You respond “………………………………………………….”

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It’s no longer enjoyable to give or receive Christmas presents.

Like you, I think, I’m not crazy about Christmas promotions that begin sometime in late September. Also like you, I recognize that need for merchants to sell goods, make a profit, even create jobs to help keep the economy growing, but I truly believe pushing some of this crap that you never see advertised at any other time of year is just plain tacky, tacky, tacky. For example, when else do you find ‘Clapper’ ads being pushed so hard, or the plush animals with all of their pockets? Want to drink fizzy flavored water, buy the stream dream or whatever the hell they’re calling it this year? I must admit that Chia Pets don’t appear to be big this year, but energizer bunnies are getting another shot in the arm.

This year, Christmas ads are vying with health care promotions; thus, it would appear making it unnecessary for writers to develop scripts too complicated. While there may be rules and regulations regarding how many minutes of advertising can be crammed into an hour of programming, I get the gut feeling that those rules are suspended between Halloween and the Super Bowl.

The one market that has yet to be tapped by the advertising agencies or the manufacturers is the over 70 group. Since some are saying the, “Seventy is the new fifty,” there must be a Christmas market there somewhere.  You can’t really sell them a “year’s supply of…” anything because while you’re preaching youth to these folks, the fact of the matter is they could go anytime…and they know it. Since so many seniors are computer literate, selling board games (a) isn’t particularly profitable and (b) can easily be found as an “app” somewhere. Pushing a Nook or a Kindle also becomes a complex issue when dealing with seniors, most of whom will tell you they “…like the smell of paper and ink” that a book gives them, and what do you say in a thirty-second spot to counter that one. Gift cards are great but for how much? Is the degree of importance measured by the amount of a Walmart card? Not only is it a gift card – which shows just how little you think of me” – but to what store…”you know I never shop there” – which means you’re just going to regift the card anyway. Understand something very, very clearly: When you are searching for a gift for a senior citizen, there is a ninety-nine point nine percent chance that you will screw up!

I sort of came to an agreement with my three kids years ago, after they were married and had children of their own…I won’t give to them and they don’t give to me. I will give only to the grandchildren and because I have no idea what they like – our ages being as separated as they are – I give money. Obviously, it can never be enough but I figure that’s their problem, not mine. If I have a rough year, they have a rough Christmas…my answer to their downturned-little-mouths is a very silent, “tough shit; get over it!”  I say that the agreement to give or not with the children versus grandchildren only, because the kids will sometimes try, but then, they don’t know my tastes, nor do they know that I really don’t need anything. I’d rather they put what money they spend on me into reducing their mortgage or buying something extra, like a good steak, for their refrigerator…”I don’t friggin’ need anything.” That’s not to say I have everything I want. Sure, I’d love the winter home in Boca or the Grand Caymans. The jet to get me there and back would also be nice, but who the hell is kidding whom. At my age, I like my bed at home; I don’t like flying anymore; and Boca in the winter is just as bad as it is in the summer – it’s God’s waiting room and who wanted to be reminded?

When Joan was alive, I would give a gift in her name to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. It was her favorite charity. If you asked her why, she wouldn’t have been able to give you a good reason, but she loved what they were doing. She may have seen a story on television or something that impressed her. To me she would give a gift in my name to the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge to help benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center. I have lost so many friends and family to that insidious disease that anything that can be done to find a cure makes me happy.

Christmas is a great Holiday. It’s also a great Holy Day. Sure, scholars can prove six ways to Sunday that Christ was not born on December 25th. I don’t care; that’s the day we have chosen to celebrate the birth of Christian’s Lord and Savior. My rabbi next door and my Jewish friends at the gym all wish me a Merry Christmas and, tomorrow being the first day, I will wish them a Happy Chanukah. Our faiths may differ but I’d like to believe we all have faith. My prayers may be a bit longer around the Christmas Holiday, but that’s not to say that my faith is weaker throughout the rest of the year. It seems at Christmas I just like to spend a little more time talking to the Big Boss. Gifts don’t seem as important as prayers that He somehow help to unscrew this screwed up world.

My gift to myself is to watch White Christmas and a few other movies on that day. It’s a day when I cry some because Joan is no longer here to celebrate with me; and I cry some because I have a wonderful woman with whom to celebrate the holiday. I’m a pretty lucky guy when it comes right down to it. I pray that you feel lucky too.

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Would you believe that thirty-two percent of the seniors in your town’s high school have considered suicide? Would you believe that fifteen percent actually tried? These are shocking figures and yet that’s what we learned when we took a poll at one local high school in Massachusetts. This was not a suicide questionnaire but covered a much broader area of student concerns. To be brutally frank, it scared the crap out of the high school principal, health officials, and the school resource officer to name but a few.

Candidly, we don’t know what causes high school kids to kill themselves. Yes, there have been a number of highly visible cases where actual- as well as cyber-bullying has been considered to be the major factor, but that seems to be just a part of the story. Those of us who have never experienced teen suicide ‘up close and personal’ don’t have a bloody clue what goes through the mind of a teenager that permits them to believe that life is no longer worth living. As the third leading cause of death among adolescents, suicide is not something that we should hide as we did the subject of bullying for so many years.

Please don’t get me wrong; when our kids were growing up, I was so busy trying to make a living that I’m now convinced that I didn’t put the time in to truly help make a family life. Yeah, I coached Little League when our son wanted to play baseball…the girls weren’t interested. Yeah, the kids began competitive swimming when the youngest was only six, and we took them to practice and meets and learned how to officiate, but being more deeply involved in their lives was not something that we considered. We didn’t pry; we might ask how school was going, but we could see that on their report cards. Now that they are all adults, married, and have kids of their own, we’ve learned a few things that I for one am happy we never learned when they were young. Looking back, I’d have to say that we were pretty damned lucky compared to some other parents. Rarely did a week pass when Joan didn’t have one or more of the children’s friends in the kitchen without our own being present. She would inform me at some point if there was a problem she considered serious, and we’d attempt to decide whether or not the children’s parents should be notified. Most of the time it was concluded that the parents were probably better off being kept in the dark. One of Joan’s questions, however, was always, “They just want a friendly ear. How come they don’t have that at home?” It’s an interesting question.

There is no question that the pressures of today are far more severe than the pressures on me or even my children. Today’s teenagers are bombarded by emotional, social, and family issues that we didn’t have to face. Social media, television, having the newest, the brightest, the best of whatever can strain a child’s emotional well-being beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Recently, a high school classmate of mine – that’s Class of 1952 – recalled coming over to our house to watch television; he also remembered my mother’s brownies. I don’t remember any of this, but here it is, over 60 years later, and her still remembers. Pressures? Hell, we didn’t have a clue about social or emotional pressures. Family issues: What family issues? Every family we knew had a mom, a dad, and kids. There may well have been issues behind the closed doors, but we certainly never heard about them. Were there single parents? I never knew of any. Today, I hear nothing but stories of single parents, gay parents, dope-dealing parents, and yes, even a parent who has murdered. And we wonder why these kids commit suicide?

There are few if any teenagers who kill themselves who do not send out warning signals of some kind, directly to their parents; to their friends; to their teachers; or even to complete strangers. One of the problems is that everyone is too busy to take notice of them. When a child’s grades begin to fall inexplicably; when he or she loses interest in a social activity or sport that three weeks ago was their world; when things go missing from their room and the excuse is, “Oh, I was tired of that old thing and gave it to so-and-so,” there’s a problem brewing that needs to be discussed. Perhaps the child begins to abuse alcohol or drugs – not always the easiest thing to detect, but if you suspect it and work at it, you’ll find the signs; if they begin to act up or become bored with “just everything;” If they withdraw from family activities; change their eating or sleep habits, perhaps neglect personal hygiene, these are signs that there is a serious problem. You can find other signals and signs merely by going online and checking out various teen suicide sites…if you have the time…if you care about your kid…if you don’t want tragedy entering your life when you least expect it. No, I’m not really trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone. However, we brought them into this world. Along with the help of God, we created something more precious than anything we have ever owned. Don’t we deserve to see them reach adulthood…whether they want to or not?

There’s an old adage that goes, “A son is a son ‘til he takes him a wife; a daughter’s a daughter the rest of her life.” My personal philosophy is that their mother and I saw, interfered, and tried to influence their lives through high school. When they went to college, they entered an environment where they were to become semi-adult. Upon graduation, their life was their own. For us, it worked. Will it work for everyone? It most assuredly will not and once again we come back to the pressures of today being completely different from the pressures or the environment in which we raised our children. I don’t envy my kids or my grandkids. I cannot conceive of the pitfalls they will face.

Encourage openness and candor with your kids. You don’t have to get ‘into their face,’ but you do have to be aware of what is going on in their lives. I’ve searched through pages and pages of quotations with which to end this essay.  Since I can’t relate to Justin Timberlake, Snookie, or any of the other characters who seem to populate the teenagers quotes, I guess I’ll just have to settle for the late Erma Bombeck who said, “Never lend your car keys to anyone to whom you gave birth.”

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There was a time…many moons ago…when I was a commuter…a single passenger commuter. I would drive to and from work via back roads and never, in any part of my professional life, did I worry about traffic jams or, to be politically correct, commuter traffic.

Today, my trips in the car consist of a 4:30 am trip to the gym that generally gets me home before traffic begins to get heavy. If we’re doing our shopping, it’s in the middle of the day, ie, no traffic…until last Thursday and the entire bloody weekend; yes, Saturday and Sunday also!

If you wish to hear the rest of the story, gather round kids, ‘cause it’s a beaut!

Once upon a time…no, no, no, scratch that. We have had dogs in our house since 1961. Our first came four years after our marriage and about three months after we moved into our first house. What’s a house without a pet, right? From that time forward there has always been a pet – in our case,  dogs – in our homes. We’ve had as many as three at one time, and they have ranged from “Sooners” [sooner crap on the floor than outside] to “Americans“ [mother was a slut and dad was a horehound] to purebreds with championship lineage [I’m not allowed to brag here}. As you may have read in another piece, our last dog, a Cairn terrier, and she – Vikki – actually was the first to know that my late wife, Joan, was ill. In April 2013, Vikki went blind; two weeks later she suffered a stroke; and two days after that she was euthanized.

When your pet dies, you vow on a stack of Holy Bibles that you will never get another. Pets don’t live as long as human beings and the pain one feels at having to put the pet down is the equivalent to losing a child. Pets are as much a member of the family as any human. I don’t know this for a fact when it comes to cats or fish or even guinea pigs, but I certainly know what it’s like with dogs so they become my point of reference. Juli, my partner was with me in the vet’s office; she cried; I cried; the vet, who had cared for Vikki for over a decade, was crying as she administered Vikki’s final injection. And just like before, I swore that I would never own another dog. Let’s see now, that was last April. By September, both Juli and I were in what might be called “doggie depression.” The house was too quiet. We love each other, but there is a certain ambience that dogs emit; that fill the house with an essence that two humans, together yet alone, just cannot duplicate.

Sneakily and somewhat discreetly, I inquired of a breeder friend regarding the availability of another Cairn being available. Yes, we could have gone to an animal shelter, but my love for the last two dogs – both Cairns – was so great that I wanted a third member of the breed. “We have nothing,” Arlene said, “but we’re going to a show in a couple of weeks. I’ll ask around.” When she came back, I received an e-mail indicating that there might be a puppy available in Maryland. Contacting the breeder at tintopcairns, I learned that there was one puppy left. You now know why and how I have become familiar with commuter traffic.

We left for Leonardtown, Maryland on a Thursday. We consulted with AAA and received a ‘Triptik’ that indicated we would be traveling to the western tip of the state. When I say western tip, it means that Leonardtown is damn near the last town at the southern tip of the western tip. I mean, it is down there! In 2010, the population was almost 3,000 people…my graduating class from college were more than the entire population of this town! However, getting there was not half the fun. Some idiot once said something to the effect that it’s not the destination but the journey that’s important. I’d like to meet that person…so I could beat him to a pulp, reconstitute the pulp and beat him to a pulp again! Morning traffic moving along a freeway into and out of Hartford, Connecticut, going 75 miles per hour in the right lane, with less than a car length between you and the car in front of you and certainly not that much difference from the car behind you is…is…is…indescribable. I am not a Roman Catholic, but you never heard so many Hail Mary’s in a car in your life! If I had to do that each and every day, I would not be able to handle it. People in the left and center lanes were doing 80 mph and above…one handed…drinking coffee…talking on the phone. To draw a poor analogy, I was in the undergrad lane; the middle lane was reserved for those earning their master’s degree, and in the left lane were the Ph.D’s and above. One glitch would be enough; one glitch and every hospital in Hartford would fill up in an instant, at least for those who survived. I was tempted to take off my seat belt so that when the crash happened, I could fly out the windshield, arms extended, screaming as my last words, “Up, up, and away!”

As if heart attack Hartford wasn’t enough, the next day we repeated the exercise with traffic going into and out of Baltimore. To bypass the City of Baltimore, there is a thing called the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. I had driven through the tunnel on a regular basis when I was stationed at the Pentagon. I remembered the tunnel as a nice respite from the highways which had been narrow, cramped at crazy. That’s how I remembered the tunnel. Over the years, I can now safely say, some bureaucrats have shrunk the tunnel. It’s either that or cars are wider…or maybe both. The tunnel was dark, dreary, dank, and although the speed limit was 50 mph, we wound up doing our usual 75 just to keep up!

I kid a great deal about the traffic…but it’s not kidding. We Americans are in on hell of a hurry to get wherever it is we’re going. The speeds are frightening; the distance between cars is frightening; and you cannot help but become a part of it. I don’t mind being passed by another car most of the time, but when a Smart car and several Mini Coopers go by me like I’m standing still, that’s a bit discouraging.

Leonardtown is beautiful. Its small town America but the next town over, California, comes equipped with a three-mile stretch of every store, restaurant, and shop imaginable. All of them are set back and not crowding the main highway. It’s intelligently design, partially hidden by a frontage road and trees and bushes. Leonardtown is American history, with plaques and maps providing a wealth of education about early America, the War of 1812, and the town’s efforts for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Meeting with the breeder was another educational experience. We spent nearly four hours with her, learning things we never knew despite having owned Cairns in the past. We met ‘Widget’ who would become our new family member, although the streaking she did around the room in which we met her tempted me to call her ‘Red Blaze’ because that’s about the speed with which she ran around from end to end of the room…a born class clown if ever there was one.

Driving home on Sunday, I was hoping for a bit of peace and quiet. Between the church goers trying to get home for Sunday afternoon football – they do love their Washington Redskins down there – and the other crazies, we again prayed our way to the Motel in New Jersey where we would spend the night. I will not tell you about Monday morning except to say that we bypassed Hartford, but were forced to hit every other major city in Connecticut with the same results. We have been home now for the better part of two days. I still have the shakes and my nightmares all regard cars and traffic. As I said earlier, the State of Maryland is a beautiful place to visit. If you decide to make the trip, avoid every single highway that you can. Fly, if you will; take a train; hop a skateboard; take half a year to get there, but don’t drive 75. Oh, and don’t forget to bring back a puppy!

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