The Bar Room Bum

man-in-bar

I’m sitting in a bar feeling shitty about my life.  I have an average job.  I have an average looking wife and average kids.  I’m feeling shitty about myself as well.  I have accomplished nothing beyond average in my entire life.  I had once thought I was destined for greatness.  I dreamed that one day I would have the best-looking wife on the block and make more money than I could count.  None of my dreams have come to pass and I am now sitting here in this average bar nursing a cheap drink and wondering where I took the wrong turn.

Suddenly, the bar room door opens and in walks this seedy looking bum.  You know the type.  Long stringy hair, dirty clothes, smelly and unkempt.  He has probably not bathed in a month.  I hope he will not come and sit down next to me.  I know he will try to bum a drink.  If he does, I will tell him to go to hell.  I am not in the mood to shell out good money for some alcoholic bum.

Sure enough, he sits down next to me.  I give him the evil eye and he moves on down to the two guys sitting at the other end of the bar.   I watch some give and take between the bum and the other two drinkers.  They are shaking their heads and I assume telling him to get lost.  He walks back over to where I am sitting and takes a seat.

bum in bar

“Hey mister, can you buy me a drink.”  “Get lost”, I say, “I’m not a charity for bar bums.”  “How about some compassion for someone’s who’s down on their luck.” “You want compassion” I reply, “go visit a priest.”

“What if I could tell you a story that would profoundly change your life” says the bum. “Would that change your mind?”  “Tell you what” I say, “you tell me the story and if it profoundly changes my life, I’ll buy you a drink.”   I expect this will get rid of the bum but instead he agrees to my terms.  “Deal” he intones in a low soft voice.

“My name is Mike.  Twenty years ago, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in law.  I had the highest GPA average in my graduation class.  At least five major law firms in Boston attempted to recruit me.  I took the one that offered me the most money.  I received a high six-digit salary.

Happy man enjoying the rain of money

I bought five of the best suits I could find.  I purchased a Porsche Carrera GT and a penthouse with a view of the Boston harbor.

I was assigned easy cases at first.  We represented the big corporations in their lawsuits.  Most of these were by disgruntled employees, whistle blowers and private citizens.  I killed each of them.  I was assigned bigger and bigger cases.  The amounts contested often ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Many of the cases involved issues of sexual harassment, environmental degradation and fraud.  I never lost a case.  My corporate clients were ecstatic.  I was the go to guy for any high profile big buck lawsuit in the nation.

My life was a dream.  I made more and more money.  My salary was now in the seven digits with my bonuses and gratuities from my clients.   I was invited to celebrity parties and the super exclusive country clubs of the rich.

I was tall dark and handsome.  I worked out six days a week in the gym and I had a body that was the envy of any guy in the firm.  The woman all drooled when I walked by.  I bought a bigger penthouse and added a Ferrari 458 Spider to my car collection.  The car was given to me by a grateful client.

One day at the office, the firm’s owner and founder introduced me to his daughter Ashley.  She was a knockout.  She was a former Miss College USA.  She was tall blonde and statuesque.  She had the face of any angel.  Sadly, she did not have the brains to match her looks.

I was polite to her but made no obvious overtures to show that I was interested.  She did not really care as just about every other male and even some female lawyers were thinking about how to get in bed with her.  I decided to pretend to ignore her.

We had a Christmas party at the firm later that year.  It was held at the Boston Harbor Hotel.  I saw Ashley and she was surrounded by a bunch of our lawyers each trying to impress her.  I decided this was a good time to throw my hat in the ring.  I joined the conversation and soon showed how stupid most of my competition was.  Each one in turn drifted away so that only Ashley and I were left talking.  I went to the bar and returned with another drink for Ashley and myself.  We talked for another half hour or so and I made my move.

couple

I invited Ashley up to my penthouse for a night cap.  In no time at all, she was in my bed.  I am not bragging when I say that not only did we go at it all night, but I called in to cancel appointments the next day and we spent the entire next day in bed going at it like deprived bunny rabbits.

As I said before, she was not the brightest light bulb in the pack but I figured where I was going, it would be good to have a looker like her as my wife.  A few months later in what was one of the Boston social events of the year we were married.  We moved into a new house in Back Bay.

I eventually left the law firm and started my own firm.  Some of the old firm’s clients went with me and I was now making more money than ever.  I worked seven days and week.  I was busy many evenings and did not bother coming home.  I bought a penthouse near my new office in Boston and brought my mistresses up there whenever I had an overnight.  I had hired several very good-looking paralegals to work for me and some of them were more than happy to help keep me warm at night.

Ashley started talking about having children and how she wished I could do more things with her.  I had no intention of doing either.  Why spoil a good thing?

woman on top sexuallyA few more months went by and one day I decided to come home from work early.  As I entered my house, I heard screams coming from upstairs.  I went to a desk and grabbed a loaded Colt Commander 45 ACP that I kept ready for emergencies.  I feared that Ashley was being attacked by some unknown intruder.  I ran up the stairs and into our bedroom.  There on the bed was Ashley and one of the young lawyers from my old law firm.  They were both nude and she was on top of him riding him like a bucking bronco.  What I thought were screams of pain were screams of ecstasy.  I had never heard anything like that from Ashley during our entire marriage.

She turned to look at me but did not break a beat in her rhythm.  The only thing she said was “Get out.  I want a divorce.”  I vacillated between shooting one or both of them but decided that my better course of action was to leave.  On the way out, I heard her say very loudly “Take off that dam condom, I want you to come inside of me.”

I packed some stuff and moved into my penthouse apartment.  I really did not give a dam if she left me.  At the time, I assumed I would be out some alimony but that would-be pennies compared to what I was making.  A week or so later, I received a letter from my father in law.  He informed me that not only would my old law firm be suing me for spousal neglect but I would be sued 150 million dollars for violating the terms of my contract when I had left his law firm.  Somewhere in the fine print of my contract, it had specified that I could not work with any of the firm’s clients for a period of five years upon terminating my employment.

The court convened for my trial a few weeks later.  Ashley showed up for the trial.  She sat with her lover on the plaintiff’s side of the court and glared at me the entire trial.  I lost on all counts.  I was told that I would have to pay 5 million dollars in restitution and was disbarred from practicing law for ten years following the date of the trial.  I lost everything.  My house, my cars, my penthouse apartment, my jewelry and my career.  Between my ex-father-in-law and my ex-wife, I was broke.  The only friend I had left in the world was Johnny Walker Blue Label and I could not even afford that anymore.

I took up drinking cheap whiskey.  It has been five years now since the trial.  I have five more years to go before I can practice law again.  I know that I am an alcoholic bum but can you blame me?  I told you that there would be a life changing moral in this story for you but before I give it to you, I want my drink.”

Mike had concluded his story.  I wondered what the life changing moral would be.  I had some ideas and curiosity got the better of me.  I decided to buy him his drink and let him finish his tale of woe.

“Bartender” I called, “bring my friend here a shot of Johnny Walker Scotch.”  The Scotch was quickly downed by Mike with a look of joy and ecstasy on his face that would be hard to describe.

“Okay”, Mike began “I have had many years to reflect on my life and where it went wrong.  I also know that not a man alive would at some point in their life not have been envious of mine.  The sad part and I think the moral is that we all want things that we think will make us happy when the real happiness is what we have inside and what we bring to life, not what life brings to us.”  With these last words of wisdom, Mike got off his bar stool and went out the same way he came in.  I never saw him again.

I sat for an hour or so after he left thinking about what he had said.  Just a few minutes before he had entered the bar, I was bemoaning my sorry life and denigrating my family.  I decided to go home and hug my wife and kids.

Happy family in front of house

Many years have past since I met Mike.  My life is pretty much the same as it was before I met him, except that I have never been happier.  My wife is beautiful and my kids are beautiful.  I would not trade my life for all the money in the world.

Time for Questions:

Do you appreciate what you have?  What does it take to make us happy?  Is money an essential element of happiness?  What if you had no money, could you still be happy?  What is the most important person or thing in your life?  Why?

 

Life is just beginning.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” — Melody Beattie

The Window

wndow in nursing home

I’m sitting here looking out the window.  It has taken me nearly sixty-five years but now I understand.

New-Nurses-Survival-GuideI was only twenty-five when I met Irene.  It was my first job out of college.  I had just finished my RN program at Regina Nursing School.  It took me three years going to school days and working part-time evenings to complete my degree.  After finishing school, I applied at several nursing homes since I wanted to work with the elderly.  In three weeks, I was hired by the River Birch nursing home in New Prague Minnesota.

nurse-tutoringMy first day on the job was the high point and perhaps also the low point of my life.  It was the day I met Irene.  My supervisor Michelle started my job orientation by introducing me to the staff I would be working with.  She then gave me a brief summary of my work duties.  She explained that I would be assigned a wing of the nursing home and within that wing, I would be in charge of a specific number of residents.  We were not to call them patients.  Each day, my job would be to take care of the residents that I was assigned and to ensure that they received food, care and compassion.

nurse with patient

Michele then took me around to the twenty or so residents that I would responsible for.  One by one, she gave me a brief bio and medical review for each person.  The last one of my charges was Irene.  Michele said she had saved Irene for last because she would be my most difficult resident.

Irene had been taken into the home about two months prior to my arrival.  She appeared to have an advanced case of Alzheimers disease (which sixty-five years ago was not identified as such.)  She had been living with her only daughter for the past five years but her daughter had died in a car accident and Irene had no other surviving relatives.  Her mother, father and two sisters had died many years before her and no other family members could be located.  Social Services selected the River Birch nursing home due to its proximity to her previous home.

Elderly-woman-in-wheelchair-looking-out-of-window-with-blinds

Michele cautioned me that I should not spend too much time with Irene.  She did not speak much except to demand being taken in her wheel chair to the same window each day.  She would sit and look out the window and was not interested in eating, talking or socializing in any form.  Several of the other nurses had tried to form some type of communication with Irene, but all she would ever say was “window, window.”  Most thought she was simply unfriendly and had stopped spending any time with her.

I was young and naïve.  I thought I could surely reach out to Irene and form some type of bridge which would unite us as human beings.  Irene would be my project.  We would become friends.

Each day, I made a special point of taking Irene to her window and stopping by a few times of the day to simply chat.  I would bring her a cookie in the morning during the coffee break time and one after lunch during mid-afternoon coffee break.  Irene would never take the cookie or even bother to look at me.  She simply stared out the window.

windows-AOver time, I began to wonder what she was looking at.  After looking out the window myself, all I could see was a large grassy field surrounded by numerous oak, maple and birch trees. On any given day, there might some grackles or robins out in the field but very little else to view.  It was a pleasant enough scene but nothing that I thought could keep anyone’s attention for more than a few minutes never mind several hours of staring out the window

On the other side of the large sitting room, there was another picture window.  I noticed that it had a pretty view of a large lake and periodically several sail boats with brightly covered jibs and mains blowing in the wind would be traversing the lake.  I thought that perhaps Irene might like this view better. I walked over to where her sit was sitting in her wheel chair and told her I was going to show her recalcitrant patienta very pretty view that she could look out at.  I thought she would enjoy the variety and the change of scenery.  As I started to push Irene’s wheel chair away from her chosen window, she became very agitated and started pointing and in a raised voice saying “window, window.”  I moved her back to the old window and left her for the day.

Weeks went by and there was never any change in Irene.  Then one day, I went over to see how Irene was doing and I brought her a cookie just in case she changed her mind.  I never gave up on somehow connecting with Irene and I thought surely the cookie would be my entre.  Much to my surprise, she took the cookie from my hand and replied, “Thank you, they’re coming, they’re coming.”  I looked out the window but did not see anyone.  I asked, “Irene dear, who is coming?”  Irene answered, “Why mom and dad and my sisters.”  Poor thing I thought, she is delusional.

empty chairNext morning, I came to work and started my rounds.  I did not see Irene and I wondered where she was.  I checked her room but the bed was made up and there was no sign of Irene.  I went into see my supervisor and ask about her.  “I am sorry” Michele said “She passed away last night and was taken to the funeral home. There will be no services for her as she had no surviving relatives.”  I went home and cried for her passing.  I had never understood her or made a connection with her that I thought was the least bit meaningful.

little girl looking out the windowIt is sixty-five years later and I finally understand Irene.  I am sitting here looking out a window from the nursing home where I am now a resident.  Each day I look out the same window and I see a different event from my life.  I have been amazed at the events that I have witnessed.  I have seen my mother giving birth to me.  I saw the birth of each of my sisters and brothers.  I witnessed my first communion and my first day in school.  I watched my wedding and the birth of each of my children.  I was at my husband’s funeral again.  During the past few months, I have seen all the major events of my life one after the other in perfect chronological order.  I am almost at the end of my journey.  There is only one final event.  The last event will be when they come for me.  They are getting close.  My mom and dad are coming for me.  They are coming to take me home.  I must keep looking out the window or I will miss them.

Time for Questions:

How do we deal with the loss of a loved one when they are still alive?  What connections can we possibly make to bridge the sometimes-unbridgeable gaps that age has a way of creating? What if our loved ones are still with us even when we may think they are not?  How do we have compassion for people who no longer seem to know or care about us?

Life is just beginning.

“What would I have wanted to say if I had had the opportunity to see him one more time? I would like to think that I would have kept it simple and said, “I love you,” then just held his hand in silence, letting that thought linger in the space of the time we had left together.”
― Lisa J. ShultzA Chance to Say Goodbye: Reflections on Losing a Parent

 

 

 

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs:  Well, Not So Little!

pigs and wolf

This is the true story of the three little pigs.  Actually, they were not so little at all.  Each of the three pigs weighed at least 400 pounds but that is about average for a real pig.  Now we all know that pigs are very smart and these three were no exception.  Joanne, the youngest had a Ph.D. degree in physics.  Paul, the middle in age had a Ph.D. in world literature and Jayla, the oldest sibling had a Ph.D. degree in philosophy.

866_Three_Little-Pigs (2)

They lived in a beautiful neighborhood and each of them was smart enough not to build their houses with straw or wood.  All had sturdy brick houses that no wolf in the world would have been able to blow down.  Nevertheless, the mean old wolf who lived one block over was always plotting on how he could eat the three “not so little” pigs.

One day the wolf, whose name was Jack, was searching the internet for ways to trap pigs.  He was spending quite some time on Facebook and LinkedIn to search for personal information on Joanne, Paul and Jayla.  He believed that the more he learned about the personal habits of each pig, the more chance he would have to catch them.  The internet was very helpful in his efforts.  He noticed that each of the three pigs loved to play on-line puzzles and word games.  He found that they seldom lost a contest with any other on-line gamers.  They won so many games that they had become very conceited about their intellectual prowess.  This gave Jack an idea.

wolf

Jack thought he could create an intellectual challenge for each pig.  He would trap them when they lost the challenge.  First, he would need to create a fake internet persona and a fake game site.  He had just the idea that he thought would work.  He would call himself “Jack the king of online gaming pigs.”  This arrogance would be sure to annoy the conceited pigs.  He would then issue on on-line challenge but he would only accept the challenge from the three pigs.

He would bet each of them that they could not correctly answer three of his questions.  If they did get all three right, he would work for them for a week for free.  If they missed any one question, they would have to work for him for a week for free.  Of course, when they came to his house to work for him, he would grab each pig and eat them.

wolf eating the pig

A week later, Jack had set up his website and a picture of him that showed a large handsome looking male pig.  His banner had all sorts of pictures of gold coins, silver coins, jewels, exotic cars and exotic locations.  Right in the middle of the banner was the large words “Jack, King of On-Line Gaming Pigs.”  To the right side of the page was the picture of a large flashing gold treasure chest.   Inside the chest, were the words printed in bright colors: “I challenge you.  I know more than you do about anything.  Click on to accept my challenge.”

social networking pigs

Upon clicking on the treasure box, the description of the challenge and the rewards were printed.  It was stated very clearly that the challenger would have the right to select the subject matter.  Jack felt that this latter stipulation would insure that the bait would be taken since each pig would be sure to think that no one could be smarter than they were in their specialized area of expertise.  Jayla would no doubt select questions on philosophy while Paul would select questions on world literature and Joanne would select questions on physics.

Joanne was the first one of the three pigs to notice the online challenge.  “What”, she thought, “Who is this arrogant joker that thinks he is so smart.  I will show him.”  She sent back a message which said “I accept your challenge.  The subject is physics.  Send me your questions.”

Jack sent the following questions.  Each question had to be difficult so as not to arouse suspicion but not too difficult.  At least, until the third question.

First Question:  Do heavier objects fall more slowly than lighter objects?”

Joanne’s Answer:  No. If an object is heavier the force of gravity is greater, but since it has greater mass the acceleration is the same, so it moves at the same speed.

Second Question:  What is the difference between energy and power?

Joanne’s Answer:  Power is the rate of energy being generated or consumed.

“Well,” said Jack “you have been correct on the first two questions.”  Now thought Jack, I will give her the most difficult and impossible question to answer since my thought question is a paradox.

Third Question:  We place a living cat into a steel chamber, along with a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid. There is, in the chamber, a very small amount of hydrocyanic acid, a radioactive substance. If even a single atom of the substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip a hammer, which will, in turn, break the vial and kill the cat. Is the cat dead or alive?

Joanne’s Answer:  That’s not fair because it is a paradoxical question.  According to quantum theory, the cat is both alive and dead until I open the box and look.  You cannot know which state the cat is in without opening the box.

Jack’s Reply:  Well, you agreed to the questions and now you must work for me for a week.

Well, Joanne thought, he’s not such a bad looking pig so maybe it will be fun.

She went to the address that Jack gave and knocked on the door.  Just as soon as Jack opened the door he pounced on poor Joanne and in a few bites entirely gobbled her up.

Next to reply to Jack’s challenge was Paul.  Jack had changed the picture on his web site and now presented himself as a young very attractive looking female pig.  He changed his internet name to Jacqueline.  Paul saw the picture and even without the challenge was rather intrigued by the picture of Jacqueline.  Paul replied to Jacqueline’s challenge and requested world literature as the subject for his three questions.

First Question:  Who wrote the book “The Importance of Living”?

Paul’s Answer:  That’s easy.  It was Lin Yutang

Second Question:  How many lines does a Shakespearean sonnet have?

Paul’s Answer:  Another easy one.  It has 14 lines.

Now thought Jack for the paradox question.  Paul thinks he is so smart.  I can hardly wait to have more roast pork for dinner.

Third Question:  This sentence is not a paradox. – True or false

Paul’s Answer:  There is no way I can answer that question.  First, the sentence cannot be false. If it were false, then it would not be a paradox, since any sentence that is a paradox must be true.  But it says that it is not a paradox, so this would mean that what it says is the case, and hence it would be true.  This is a contradiction.

Jack’s Reply:  Well, you played the game and you could not answer all three questions.  So you lost.  When do you want to come over to my house and start working?

Paul thought, well Jacqueline looks pretty cute and I would like to meet her anyway and so he replied “How about I come over to your place tonight and we have dinner together.”

Jack replied “Great, I love the idea.  I will make a wonderful meal for us together.”

That was the last that anyone saw of Jack the pig with a Ph.D. in world literature.

Two more weeks went by and Jack changed his website back to a picture with a handsome young male pig with his own name of Jack.  He felt sure that with the challenge and the picture of a good-looking pig, he would soon entice Jayla to take up the challenge.

Now Jayla had not seen her siblings for the past four weeks.  She knew that they loved to play on-line games and she had not seen them around any of the usual game sites.  She surfed the web each day but could not find any games they were playing.  It appeared that the last game any of them played was at the site of some arrogant guy who billed himself as the King of On-line Gaming Pigs.  Her web skills showed her that both of her siblings had accepted his challenge.  She pondered the coincidence that since accepting the challenge, she had not seen either sibling again.  This raised some suspicions in her mind.  Nevertheless, she decided to accept the challenge but with a bit of caution.   She posted her acceptance on the website and stated her chosen subject field as philosophy.

SmartPIG

Jack was overjoyed.  He loved roast pig and was ready for his third pig of the year.  He would be very cautious and not try to tip his hand so he researched his three questions very carefully.  He was quite sure that the third one would be unanswerable.

First Question:  Do states have moral authority over their citizens?

Jayla’s Answer:  Only over those citizens who make an uncoerced decision to give that authority to their state, which I think is almost never

Jack Replies:  Ok, I will concede that one to you. 

Second Question:  Plato’s definition of knowledge was?

Jayla’s Answer:  Justified true belief.

Jayla had gotten the first two right but Jack was now ready to spring the paradoxical question on her.  There was no way she could get the right answer.

Suddenly, Jack noticed a text that appeared on his computer screen.  Jayla was requesting a short break before the next question.  Jack could not believe his eyes.  Jayla suggested that Jack come over to her house tomorrow night for dinner and bring the third question with him.  This was too good to be true.  He would get a free dinner before he ate his third pig.  He agreed and Jayla texted him her home address.

Now, if you know anything about philosophy, you know that it means the love of wisdom.  Jayla, was the wisest of the three pigs and she had prepared for the unexpected.  Jack the wolf came dressed up in a pig disguise but Jayla saw right through it.  She was not entirely surprised since she had long suspected some treachery was involved.  She invited Jack in.

“Jack,” said Jayla, “can I give you a drink before dinner?”

“Sure” replied Jack.  Jack thought he might as well eat a free meal before he ate Jayla.

Jayla, knowing full well that Jack was a wolf disguised as a pig prepared him a special martini mixed with some knock out drops.  Jack would not know what hit him.

Jack took the drink thinking all the time that this was too good to be true.  The next thing Jack knew he was waking up with a splitting headache.  As he tried to move his muscles, he found that he was tied by all four legs to a sturdy oak chair.  Jayla stood over him with a baseball bat.

We have now come to a tricky point in my story.  We have two dilemmas to solve before we can reach a conclusion.  The first problem is how do we bring Jayla’s two siblings back?  We know the wolf ate both but that is beside the point.  We can’t have a fairy tale where two siblings get eaten and do not return.  It’s just not done.

The second problem is what do we do with the big bad wolf?  Do we kill him, let him go, castrate him or what?  We need to have some type of fitting denouement for Jack the wolf.  Again, since this is a fairy tale, we probably need to rule out killing him or castration but I don’t think we can just let him go.  Not much drama in that anyway.  Well, let’s tackle first problems first.  We will start with getting Jayla’s two siblings back.

Jayla took the bat and whacked the big bad wolf right in the stomach.  Lo and behold, the wolf gave a big burp and out popped Paul.  One more smack to the stomach and out popped Joanne.  The siblings were all so happy to see each other and Jayla that they hugged and hugged for a mighty long time.

Ok, so they were eaten.  It’s a fairy tale and I can do anything as implausible as I desire.  I mean you did not complain when a wolf ate a 400-pound pig, so don’t start nitpicking now. 

Once pleasantries were over, the three pigs sat down to discuss the fate of Jack the big bad wolf.  Paul wanted to cut him into many pieces and scatter him all over the neighborhood.  Joanne wanted to skin him alive and use his fur for a rug.  Jayla cautioned restraint.  “Remember”, she said “This is a fairy tale and we can’t do any such gruesome things to the big bad wolf in a fairy tale.”  Jayla suggested that they all do an internet search and see what kinds of options for dealing with pig eating wolfs they might find.  They would each Google some strategies and then discuss ideas.

A few hours went by and both Paul and Joanne each came up with an idea.  Jayla was still undecided and had not found any that really thrilled her.  Paul suggested that they put Jack in a box and ship him to Antarctica.  Joanne thought that maybe through behavioral modification they could convince Jack that he did not want to eat a pig.  Jayla thought both ideas were not a fitting end to a good fairy tale.  She then had a brainstorm.  We will have a contest.  Here is Jayla’s idea.  Our readers will help us find a fitting conclusion to this story.

Everyone who reads this story is invited to suggest a conclusion.  We need you to take a few minutes to think of what the three pigs can do with Jack the big bad wolf so that we will have a fitting end to this tale.  Put your idea or ideas for an ending in the comments section.  The three “not so little” pigs will select their favorite reader suggested idea.  If your idea for an ending is selected you will win twenty-five US dollars.

If you submit an idea, be sure to include your name, address and/or PayPal box number.  We will send you a check or deposit the money in your PayPal account. 

We look forward to getting your ideas as to what we should do with Jack, the big bad wolf.  We cannot keep him tied up forever, so please write soon.

Time for Questions:

What will we do with the big bad wolf?  Do you remember how this story ended in the original version?  Do you like fairy tales?  Why or why not?  What is the point of a fairy tale?  Is there a point to this story?  What is it?

Life is just beginning.

“If you happen to read fairy tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other–the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition.  This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales.”  ― G.K. Chesterton

 

The Six Most Significant Events in My Life

This year marked my 34th retreat at the Demontreville Retreat House in Lake Elmo, Minnesota.  One of our assignments during the retreat this year was to list the six most life changing events in our lives.   I completed the assignment as directed. 

Three weeks later at my weekly writers’ class, I remarked on this retreat activity to our writing instructor.  Dr. Carolyn Wedin (our writing instructor) thought it would make a great writing exercise.  She suggested that we do a 50-word summary of each of the six most significant events in our lives and bring them to class. 

Following are my results for this assignment.  If you want to make any comments, I would love to hear what your “most life changing” events were.  Please feel free to share yours or any comments you may have about this activity.

Enlisted in the Military in 1964

You’re in the army now, you’re not behind the plow.  You will never get rich by digging a ditch, you’re in the army now.

Snuck out at 3 AM in the morning to go to the recruiting station.  Who has the best-looking uniforms?  USAF here I come.  Can I fly a jet?

Who’s that knocking on my barracks door?

Good friends steal softly in my barracks room at 1 AM.  “John, we are going to rob the BX and go to Mexico.  Come with us.  It will be a blast.”  Six months later, I am testifying at their court martial trial.  Jail and dishonorable discharge awaits.  Glad I did not go.

Only Child Born

Never thought I would be a father, but that is what happens to people ignorant of birth control.  On April 19, 1968, my daughter Christina was born.  Blond and blue eyed, she looked like her mother.  Have not heard from her for fifteen years now.  I still love her.

College Here I come

Trouble maker in high school.   No college wants me.  No money anyway.  Two years after my military service, I am accepted into a college thanks to a HS counselor who helpfully lost my school records.  I work nights and go to school days.  I later earn a Masters and Doctorate.

My Dream Job

Can’t believe they are paying me to do this.  I would gladly pay them.  Finished my Ph.D. and started work one week later at PMI.  The fit was perfect.  Training and consulting were my best skills and I loved every minute of the challenges they offered.

Marriage the Second Time Around

Did not notice her when we were introduced the first time.  Fell in love with her smile, but it took her perseverance to seal the deal.  Cannot imagine marrying anyone else now.  Second marriage is a winner.  We will grow old together, what could be better.

Time for Questions:

What are your six most life changing events?  How have they changed or impacted your life?  What if they had not happened?

Life is just beginning.

“That which causes us trials shall yield us triumph: and that which make our hearts ache shall fill us with gladness. The only true happiness is to learn, to advance, and to improve: which could not happen unless we had commenced with error, ignorance, and imperfection. We must pass through the darkness, to reach the light.” — Albert Pike

 

Tommy:  A Boy for all Seasons

This is a story about my best friend in high school.  His name was Thomas Donnelly.  This story took place over fifty years ago.  I still think of the influence that these events have had on my life.  Many of you will be repelled by the story that I narrate.  If you can suspend your morality, you might be able to accept that the culture I grew up in made these events very normal even if you do not consider them to be moral.

Street Corner Gang

It happened one hot Saturday afternoon in the summer.  I was hanging out on our Manton street corner.  As with all Italian teenagers, we hung out in a certain geographic area and this association led to our identity as the “Manton Gang.”  Manton was a suburb of Providence R.I. and a primarily Italian neighborhood.  My father was Italian and my mother was Irish.  It was just the reverse for my best friend Tommy.  His mother was Italian and his father was Irish.  Nevertheless, anyone with Irish or Italian blood was accepted into our street corner gang.

At fourteen to eighteen years of age, few of us were interested in anything except gambling and sex.  Gambling tended to be a regular event on the corner where we hung out but sex was much more episodic.  Good Italian girls in the sixties still did not have sex outside of marriage.  This left us to find those “bad girls” whose discrimination did not tend towards marriage or even long-term love affairs and who were much less choosy in terms of selecting “affairs of the heart.”

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Tommy and I were sitting on the corner discussing nothing important when a blue and white 56 Ford four door Fairlane pulled up to the curb and started honking.  At first, we did not recognize anyone in the car.  Two guys were in the front seat and no one was in the back seat.  We finally recognized Dave and Bob.  Dave was an infrequent corner member but Bob was a regular.  We sauntered over to the car.  It was always important to look cool and nonchalant when we were growing up.  As we approached the open window on Dave’s side, he yelled out.  “Hey, you guys want to get laid?”

“What’s up” I said.  Dave replied, “Get in and I will tell you on the way.”  Both Tommy and I jumped in the back seat.  Bob already had shot gun.  Dave gunned the accelerator and off we went.  “Okay, so where are we going” asked Tommy.  Bob said, “Well, there is this chick and she is hot to go with anyone who comes over to her house.”  “You mean she will take all of us?  What’s wrong with her?” I wanted to know.  Bob continued, “Who knows.  She is just really open to more than one guy.”  “Well, where are her parents,” I persisted.   “She lives with her dad who is a police chief” said Dave.  “What, are you crazy” both Tommy and I said in synchrony.  “Don’t worry” said Bob, “her dad will not be home.”

new england houseThe idea of sex in our minds easily overrode any caution or concern about getting caught by her father.  We arrived at her house.  She lived out of town somewhat in Scituate which was a more rural area of R.I. in the sixties.  When we arrived, Bob said “I will go in first and check things out.  If it is okay, you guys can come in.  Bob went inside the small average looking New England Colonial house with two upper dormer windows and came out a few minutes later.  “OK guys” Bob said, “She is willing.”  We all trotted inside the house to the first room which was a kitchen with a small table and four chairs.  Dave, Tommy and I sat on the chairs and Bob headed up a small staircase.  “I will go first” said Bob “and Dave is next.  You and Tommy can decide who goes after Dave.”  “Oh”, said Bob, “her name is Barbara and she likes to be called Barb.”  No one challenged this order of affairs as it was taken for granted that since Bob had set this up, he had first dibs.

Bob went up the stairs while Dave, Tommy and I just sat and kibitzed.  I wondered what was in store for me when I went up the stairs.  Bob came down about twenty minutes later looking quite proud and content.  “She likes to talk a little before” said Bob, “so you have to be a little patient.  But be persistent and she will get on with it.”   It was Dave’s turn next and he wasted no time going up the stair case.  Sometime later Dave came down, also looking very proud and content.

Tommy and I decided that I would go next.  Up the staircase I went and into a small bedroom where I found Barb half-dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed.  She was a very attractive young girl of sixteen or seventeen years of age.  She had long brown hair and a small frame that was nicely curved.  She had a very pretty face and could easily have been a cheerleader.  She was probably about five feet four inches in height but it was somewhat difficult to tell as she was sitting cross legged on her bed.

sad girl on bed

I introduced myself.  We started some small talk and I learned that her mother had left her father some time ago and that she now lived alone with her dad.  She had no other siblings.  Her dad was very strict and would not let her date.  She said that he scared most of her friends away and was very difficult to live with.  I sensed that her escapades today were a chance for her to rebel against her father’s strict sexual codes.  She was willing to go all out and did not care about any side effects.  No birth control or sexual disease prevention even came up as an issue.

We small talked for about a half hour or so and I sensed that I had better get on with the action or she would talk forever.  A real man talks less than he acts and I had talked longer than most real men would have.  I started to lay Barbara down on the bed.  She put up no resistance and meekly laid back against the sheets.  I placed my body down over hers but before starting to remove any of our clothes, I gazed into her eyes.  They were brown and sad.  I stopped to think.  This poor girl is looking for someone to love her and does not really know how to go about it.  I would just be taking advantageous of her.  I can’t do this.  I lifted her back up and quietly left the room.  She never said a word to me and I left without another word.

Feeling very guilty, I walked back down the staircase.  I did not say much when I met Tommy.  Both Dave and Bob had gone back out to the car and were now playing cards in the front seat.  Hi Low Jack was a popular game on the corner and we played it for money whatever chance we had.  I said to Tommy, “It’s your turn.”  Tommy went up the staircase and returned about thirty minutes later.  We silently left the house and went out the front door to the car.  I never saw Barb or that house again.

guys in car

We piled back in the car with Dave and Bob.  There was some minor discussion about Barbara and how hot she was on the way back to the corner but most of it took place between Dave and Bob.  Neither Tommy or I said I word.  Truth be told, I would never have admitted to either Dave or Bob that I did not have sex with Barb.  Tommy and I were dropped back at the Manton Street corner where our friends all hung out and Dave and Bob drove off together.

Tommy and I sat in silence for a while.  I finally broke the silence and asked Tommy “well how did it go?”  Tommy looked very pensive and replied, “I did not do a thing with Barb except to talk to her.”  I was somewhat stunned as I figured that I had wimped out but that Tommy (who was one of the best-looking guys on the corner) would have scored a home run in sixty seconds flat.  I asked Tom “why?”  I did not tell him that I had also struck out.  At the time, that is how I felt.  Like a batter who comes up to the plate, takes three swings and strikes out.

Tommy quietly replied “I did not want to take advantage of her.  She was lonely and scared and needy.  She needed a friend more than she needed getting laid.”  I had felt the same way but many years ago, pride and ego would not allow me to admit that I had also not gone all the way with Barb.  I persisted with Tom “Well, what are you going to tell the other guys.”  Tom then replied with a statement that I have remembered all the rest of my life.  Tommy said, “I don’t care what they think, I have to live with myself.” 

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Over the years, I have lost touch with Tommy.  We have traveled very different roads.  Tommy became a minister and works with the poor.  I became an educator and management consultant.  Many years and many different philosophies now separate us.  But I will never forget the lesson that I learned from Tommy that one hot summer afternoon about integrity and being who we are called to be and not who the world wants us to be.

Time for Questions:

Why do I call Tom a “boy for all seasons?”  What does it mean to have integrity?  How do we go about developing integrity?  How do we increase our empathy for other people?  What does it mean to be ourselves?  Are people naturally good or evil?

Life is just beginning.

“That’s what Jamie didn’t understand: it was never just sex.  Even the fastest, dirtiest, most impersonal screw was about more than sex.  It was about connection.  It was about looking at another human being and seeing your own loneliness and neediness reflected back.  It was recognizing that together you had the power to temporarily banish that sense of isolation.  It was about experiencing what it was to be human at the basest, most instinctive level.  How could that be described as just anything?”  — Emily MaguireTaming the Beast

Emily and Robert:  A love story

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Our story starts in a bathroom.   Emily is brushing her teeth and thinking about her beloved husband Robert.  Emily is 85 years old and Robert is 87 years old.  Emily and Robert have had a long life together.  Often happy, but often tumultuous with the stress of family, money and work disrupting the natural harmony of things.  Through all the ups and downs, their love for each other was the one constant of their lives.  Despite all the cliches about true love and being made for each other and all the other tropes one hears about lovers, no two people ever loved each other more than Emily and Robert.

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For the past ten years, Emily had been taking care of Robert.  After he had his second stroke, Robert needed help to dress and shower each morning.  He was no longer able to take care of his house hold chores and he needed help to do the many activities that he had once taken for granted.  Robert was a proud man but Emily was also very stubborn and she showed her love for Robert in her dedication to helping him.  Robert was appreciative and demonstrated it by doing all he could to minimize the burden for Emily.  He never complained and he never forget to say thank you to Emily no matter how many times she helped him.

An-older-couple-sitting-i-0072Emily and Robert had been married for nearly 65 years.  They were both in their early twenties when they met in college.  It was love at first sight.  Their parents wanted them to wait to finish college but after a brief whirlwind romance, they simply eloped.  They surprised everyone when they came back to school and finished their college degrees.  Robert became an engineer and Emily was a school teacher for many years.  The careers they chose suited their personalities.  They were known as hard faithful workers.  Not once in over forty years did any employer ever have a complaint or problem with either Robert or Emily.  After forty-five years, they both chose to retire so they could spend more time together after Robert’s first stroke.

old-asian-couple

The saddest part of their lives was their inability to have their own children.  However, they made up for this by becoming foster parents.  Over the course of their years together, they had helped to raise nearly twenty-five foster children.  The social service agency responsible for the placements always said that they could not have found two more loving parents.  As parents, they were strict with high expectations but they were always fair and compassionate.  They latino-couplewere loved by all their foster children who often returned home to visit or to simply stop by with a bit of news or something to eat.  Robert and Emily could not have loved any children of their own more than they loved their foster children.

 

Emily continued brushing her teeth and getting ready for bed.  The light was off in their bedroom and the bathroom adjoined the bedroom.  Emily kept up a running dialogue with Robert about her day and the trip she had taken to visit one of her sick foster children.  Robert never answered so Emily just assumed he was reading or perhaps had fallen asleep.  Even after all these years, they still slept together.  Robert always slept closest to the bathroom door and Emily slept on the other side closest to the window.

lady surprisedEmily finished brushing her teeth and then took her nightly pills.  She shut off the bathroom light and started out to the bedroom.  The light by Robert’s side of the bed was on and Emily started to say something to Robert when abruptly she stopped.  Her eyes fell upon an empty bed that was undisturbed.  The sheets and bed covers had not been moved.  Emily was surprised and shocked.  Where was bedroom at nightRobert?  Suddenly, Emily remembered.  Robert had died the previous week and had been buried two days before on Saturday.  Tears came to her eyes.  What would she do without her Robert?  She was all alone now.  No one to go to bed with.  No one to talk to at night.  No one who would regularly listen to her complaints and problems about the world.

Being the survivor of a pair of lovers is a terrible burden.  Most of us want to go first.  However, neither Emily or Robert had ever wanted to be the first to go for both knew how hard it would be for the other.  Sadly, someone must go first.  The survivor is left with a vacuum in their life and memories.  The vacuum can never be filled and the memories cannot be forgotten.  Events that happened many years ago seem like they just happened yesterday and events of a few days past seem like they happened eons ago.  Memories do not respect a correlation to physical time.

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Emily will die in five years.  In between today and her death, she will experience joy, sadness, pain and a certainty that life will once more resume for her and Robert.  She believes that somewhere in this vast universe, her atoms and Robert’s atoms will coalesce and the two of them will again be united.  As sure as you are reading this story, Robert and Emily will live joyfully ever after in a place where life and death can no longer challenge their happiness.

Time for Questions:

What is love?  Have you ever been in love?  How do you know?  Who was the greatest love of your life?  Why?  Is there anything more important than love?

Life is just beginning.

“The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It’s a choice you make – not just on your wedding day, but over and over again – and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife.” —  Barbara De Angelis
 

My Life:  The Story of a Penny

penny

It wasn’t always this way.  If you are old enough you may well remember.  Once upon a time, I was admired and looked up to.  I was put in the mouth of deceased humans to pay Charon the boat man for taking them to the afterlife.  People made a big deal out of receiving me.  I was avidly saved and respected.  Abraham Lincoln walked two miles to return me to a customer who had been overcharged.  Children were given penny banks when they were of age to appreciate my value.  Many youngsters found that with only five of me, they had enough money to buy a candy bar or go to a movie.  A very popular saying was “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

I was the first currency of any type authorized by the newly formed United States of America.  I was born (or minted at they call it) on April 21, 1787, when the Congress of the Confederation of the United States authorized a design for an official copper penny, later referred to as the Fugio cent.  Benjamin Franklin was my designer and on one side I had thirteen chain links interlocked with the words “We are one” representing the union of the first 13 American states.  On my other side, I had a picture of the sun and the sun dial with the words “Mind your business.”  Over the years, I have had many different designs printed on me.

old original penny

I was made legal tender by the Coinage Act of 1864.  I was so popular in my middle years that Abraham Lincoln’s visage was put on one side of me and on my other side was Lincoln’s tomb and the Latin words “E Pluribus Unum” meaning “out of many one.”  Honest Abe well knew the value of a penny.  For over two hundred years, I have represented the business and entrepreneurial spirit of America.  Those were my golden years.  There was no shame in saving a shiny new penny or even an old worn and scratched penny.

How the times and fortunes have changed my life!  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say how the Fortune 500 has changed my life.  Inflation and stock values have continued year after year to erode my value until I am now just a shell of what I once was.  There is even talk of doing away with me as not worth the metal it takes to mint me.  People leave me in little baskets at convenience stores and young children simply drop me or throw me down the street.  I get run over by cars, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians.  Hardly anybody will bother to pick me up off the sidewalk.  I am looked down upon and despised.

5.-Frugality-1024x524Those who say that I am not important or who ignore me are part of a new generation that values image over substance.  The word “frugal” is now associated with cheap and the word “thrifty” is associated with the idea of miserliness.  It seems the world of finance is dominated by short-sighted individuals who have forgotten the old values that made this country great.  Hard work and prudence were values that resonated among the early pioneers like so many notes in a great symphonic piece.

piggy bankWith hard work, you earned a penny.  With prudence, you saved your pennies until they became dollars.  In the old days, no one would ever have thrown me away or ignored me when laying in the street.  Too many people have forgotten the value that I represent.  From early times, there have been people who really understood my value.  Even before I was an official U.S. coin, the value of a penny was recognized by some.  I regard these people as paragons who really understood the meaning of money.  Let me tell you a few of their stories.

Back in the days of Jesus Christ, there was a poor widow who gave her last two cents.  The story is told by Mark 1:41-44 in the New Testament:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.  Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Both Jesus and the poor widow understood the value of money and that it was not how much money you had but what you did with it that mattered.

Then, there is the story of little Hattie May Wiat.  This was a young girl who lived in Blue Bell Pennsylvania around the end of the 19th Century.  She loved to go to a nearby church but it was often so crowded that she could not find a seat.  She decided to start saving her money to help build a bigger church.  Her parents were very poor and sadly she died about two years after she had started saving her pennies.

When they were preparing her body for burial, they found beside her a little purse with fifty-seven cents inside and a note scribbled in her handwriting which read, “This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School.”  This so inspired the minister of the church that he started a fund-raising campaign that turned Hattie’s initial pennies into nearly a quarter of a million dollars.  The church was expanded and many more people would eventually be able to come to church.

penniesHattie had faith in money.  Money requires faith but it is a faith that rests on the good that money can do and not simply how much money one can acquire.  Hattie had this kind of faith and it persisted beyond her death.

A more recent story is about John the runner.  John goes out jogging four or five times a week regardless of the weather.  Some days he feels great running and other days he is just anxious to get his run over with.  Nevertheless, no matter how long he has run or how tired he is from his daily run, if John sees me on the street, he will always stop to pick me up.

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John believes that if he becomes too proud to pick up a penny, where will it end?  When will he become too proud to pick up a nickel or a dime?  John brings me home in his fist and puts me in a large glass jar shaped like a coke bottle.  I am in good company there with quarters, half dollars and even some Susan B. Anthony dollars.  When John is ready to go on a vacation, he takes me down to the bank and converts me into cash for his trip.

John does not relish wealth or the mere accumulation of money.  It is not his greed that compels him to pick me up but his acknowledgement of the symbolism that I represent.  Whether it is a hundred-dollar bill or one penny laying on the ground, the meaning is the same.   Money should never be taken for granted.

There are hundreds of other stories I can tell to show you that many people throughout history have understood the idea that “if you watch your pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.”  This is still a very valuable lesson that needs to be taught in all finance and business classes.  From what I see, it is a lesson that too many people today have never learned.

dollar-sign-made-with-real-shiny-pennies-as-tile-sheets

So, the next time you see a penny on the street, think about my life and what it stands for.  Do not think I simply represent 1/100 of a dollar.  I represent far more than that.  I represent the start of a global business.  The start of a financial fortune.  Even more importantly, I represent the start of needed surgery for a poor child in a developing country.  The start of a fund to help protect the environment.  The start of a young girl’s education.

Time for Questions:

Do you stop to pick up a penny?  What does frugality mean to you?  What does thrifty mean to you?  Do you think being frugal is a vice or a virtue?  Do you save for a rainy day?  Do you think credit cards have made the idea of thrifty better or worse?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

The question is very understandable, but no one has found a satisfactory answer to it so far.  Yes, why do they make still more gigantic planes, still heavier bombs and, at the same time, prefabricated houses for reconstruction?  Why should millions be spent daily on the war and yet there’s not a penny available for medical services, artists, or for poor people?  Why do some people have to starve, while there are surpluses rotting in other parts of the world?  Oh, why are people so crazy?”  — Anne Frank

 

 

 

 

 

 

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