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Archive for the ‘Autobiographical’ Category

I’m Still Stoned

My Halloween costume this year is going to be a hospital johnny.  I don’t know why they call it a ‘johnny’; maybe because stevie and bobby were already taken?  Dunno.

If you read my previous entry you know that I was being chauffeured back and forth to the ER for problems with kidney stones.  All good fun.  Well, since that time I have had a few appointments and examinations by people with clip boards and high-tech, state-of-the-art machinery.  I had an ultrasound (don’t be fooled by the name, it was actually very quiet), but I asked that they not tell me the sex of the kidney stone — I want to be surprised.

The inaudible ultrasound revealed that, in addition to a kidney stone, I have an asteroid field full of bladder stones.  The urologist informed me that these weren’t going away by themselves, so he’d have to go all 21st-century on them with lasers and whatnot.  For the past couple of weeks, the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” has been looped and playing nonstop inside my hollow skull, and tomorrow I get my wish, as they are going to give me some anesthesia and then release an unmanned predator drone up into my southern territory… or something.

Though they call this procedure noninvasive, yours truly is truly a wuss, so who knows how long I’ll be away from the computer.  You won’t get these exciting, glorified status updates for a while; if for no other reason than to siphon as much sympathy as I can from the situation.  If, by the grace of God, all goes well (see how dramatic I can be?), I’ll be back to replace these elongated tweet-style personal posts with some profound, illuminating, brainstem-stimulating insights into the out-of-sight.

But maybe I’ll just come back to whine about how painkillers seem to back up one’s plumbing, or the agony of a catheter.  I’m sorry, I’d rather have a dentist’s drill up my nose than have some rubber-gloved guy shoving junk up my … junk.  After the insertion of a catheter everything goes down the tubes.  But I digress.

And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’
He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.'”  Luke 19:39-40

Oh, and Happy Halloween!

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“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” said John Lennon (when he was still alive).  Well, the best laid plans of mice and Dan have gone haywire the past couple of weeks, due to kidney stone henge.  Yeah, I’m apparently going to be one of those Internet people who tells strangers all about their personal life in a blog.  Really I’m just offering an explanation for my blog neglect, for anyone who might have noticed.  If I had an actual job writing, my employer would have given me my walking papers by now.  (Insert obligatory disabled person joke here.)

Don’t give up on me.  I’ll eventually get back to abnormal and actually write on a consistent basis.  (Knock on head.)  Kidney stones are a lot like the Rolling Stones in that you think they’re gone because they haven’t made any noise in a while, but then… if you start ’em up, if you start ’em up they’ll never stop.  And they do freaky little spastic Mick Jagger dances, too.

My initial visit to the ER happened a couple weeks ago.  I was in agony, and Keith Richards wanted some drugs bad!  I got there at around 11 PM and didn’t see a doctor until somewhere near 1:30 AM.  I went by ambulance, and still all that waiting.  Ambulance ambience doesn’t necessarily lead to hospital hospitality.  Don’t get me wrong: the nurses were great, and you feel bad for them, because they keep having to tell everybody that they’re next in line, but I felt like telling them Keith Richards doesn’t do lines.  Wait … well, you know what I mean.

After roughly a 3 1/2 hour wait, the doctor saw me when my kidneys were full-grown (groan) adultneys, kicking and bending it like Beckham.  I strongly disliked this guy for several seconds — and then was suddenly overcome by an intense bonding session that occurred when he uttered the words, “OK, let’s give you something that will make you more comfortable.”

Then they have to find a vein in which to stick an IV line.  It’s often a vain search.  My veins are so Whitey Bulger-elusive, I have literally had nurses I’ve had to console as they walk away crying, because they were unsuccessful after several stabs at it.  I’m used to it, but they keep apologizing.  This time I said, “Look, my abdomen feels like somebody’s pushing a white-hot poker into it, turning me into human shish kebab; this tiny little needle is the least of my concerns.”

And, THANK GOD, they hit pay dirt and I was instantly pain-free.  There’s no feeling quite like no feeling.  It’s great.

They asked me to stay a couple of days, because my personality was so infectious that I had an infection.  I shared a room with a 91-year-old man who had a broken hip and a broken hearing aid, so everybody had to yell to communicate with him.  I felt bad for the guy, but felt worse for his sweet wife, who took a lot of verbal abuse from Old Yeller, who was quite proficient with profanity.

Needles to say, I got very little sleep during my stay, between the cursing codger and the apologetic nurses, waking me up every half-hour to take my temperature, my blood pressure, and my blood.  They sent me home with an antibiotic, and life was good.  I couldn’t feel any pain for several days.  Then the antibiotic ran out.  There was still no pain, but, what I described as discomfort.  That and my urine looked like Heinz ketchup, which didn’t sit right with me.  So, here we go, another trip in the ambulance.

In the back of the ambulance, the EMT that’s not driving is busy helping you write your biography.  They ask you a bunch of questions that are going to be asked again several times by several different people once you get to the hospital.  (Note to self: take a tape recorder with you next time and record the Q&A, so you can play it back for anyone interested in asking the same questions.)

Hey, I should mention that I brought my rosary beads with me this time, wrapped around my right hand.  This is a big step for me; I’d never done anything like that before.  The nurse found a vein with no problem and no pain in the very first stab of said right hand.  Thanks, Mother Mary.

After being in the ER for a little while, they asked me for a urine sample.  I gave ’em one, and, wouldn’t you know, it was as clear as it had ever been; no more Heinz ketchup.  I have to admit, this was a little bit aggravating.  We race to the ER because my pee looks like a horror movie and then get there and my stream doesn’t back my story.  I look like a drama queen, the princess and the pee, if you will.

To make a long story less long: the Doc said everything came up roses this time.  I’ve still got the stone, but it’s trying to make its way to the exit, so he gave me some painkillers, which is all Keith Richards really wanted in the first place.  But if you don’t see me writing here, don’t give up on me, because I’m just catching up on some rest.  Trying to give birth to a reluctant rock.  Say a Hail Mary for me, would ya?  Thanks.

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I remember the day so clearly.  It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and we sat outside on the deck.  Jim Shaw looked very thin and his movement was labored, but his demeanor was as pleasant and laid-back as ever.  My father sat with us that day, which was very unlike him.  My dad was, at times, antisocial and awkward when we’d have company, but he was very fond of Jim.  Even though they were complete opposites, Jim made my father feel at ease.  We laughed and enjoyed each others’ company for a while, and though you could see that simply taking part in conversation was strenuous for Jim, he never acknowledged that there was anything different about this visit.  Although, I do recall him making a joke about not buying any green bananas, in reference to his life-expectancy, but that was a common joke he tossed around over our years together.  He eventually said goodbye, always maintaining that jovial grin.  I knew it would be the last time I would see him.

Jim did give me one more gift: that old, beat up, duct taped Bible with his writing in its margins — it’s one of my most valued possessions, even though I can’t physically manage to hold and read through pages in books anymore, I know it’s there.  Jim’s words mixed in with The Word.  The Word existed before time began, and it is absolute Goodness and absolute Truth.  There is no banality in morality; one either aligns themselves with it or stands outside of it, so there is a finality to morality.  Moral relativists reject that notion and insist that the only thing that is true for everyone is that nothing is true for everyone.  Personal morality is indeed an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or instant classic or a little pregnant or common sense and conventional wisdom.  Trust in The Good Book, not the Contradictionary.

‘Only the Good Die Young’ is a Billy Joel song that pokes fun at Catholics; and it was for this reason Jim held a grudge against the Piano Man, who is one of my favorites.  I remembered teasing him saying, “But if Billy is right, you and I will live forever, so — fingers crossed.”  Shaw was one of the finest men I’ve ever known, and he lived a full and nobble life in the noblest of professions.  Immortality in physical form wasn’t in the cards.  He spent the last few weeks of his life at his home with his wife and kids taking care of him.  By this time, I had a personal computer that I could use via voice-recognition software, so I was able to dictate a letter to my friend and mentor, in an attempt to tell him how important he was to me.  I told him that he was the best teacher I’d ever had, but he was also one of the best friends I could ever have.  In my mind and heart Jim Shaw did attain immortality.

The day I found out of his passing I was at a friend’s house and my mother drove by, coming from Jim and I’s favorite, The Italian Kitchen.  The mutual friend and owner of the restaurant gave her the news.  As much as I knew it was coming eventually, of course you can never really prepare yourself for it.

I was in a sort of surreal trance as I made my way back to the house.  It was strange, from then on I would be living in a world that didn’t have Jim Shaw.  Thoughts like that were going through my head.  When I got home my mother had a plate of spaghetti and meatballs prepared for lunch.  To go along with the meal was an ice cold glass of Coke.  It didn’t even dawn on me until I was about halfway through, as my mother and I sat there eating and talking about Jim, that this was the exact same meal that he brought to me on so many occasions.  This place was a somewhat rare treat, not something we had regularly.  I pointed out the coincidence to my mother and she said it hadn’t occurred to her either.  Jim would always come bearing gifts, and somehow in our conversations he gathered that I liked Coca-Cola, so, the next thing you know, he’s bringing cases of the stuff; the same with the spaghetti and meatballs from IK.  Maybe it was his way of saying goodbye, or letting me know that he was still with me.

Absence is to love as wind to fire; it extinguishes the small flame and it kindles the great.”  Roger de Bussy-Rabutin

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“Personal morality is an oxymoron,” he routinely insisted, this home tutor of mine.  (What do I know?  I’m just a regular moron.)  It was a dinosaur bone of contention, repeatedly being unearthed in our debates.  “There is no such thing as ‘personal morality’, because morality is inherently based on the good of all, so one person can’t decide what’s righteous, since that would be self-righteous.”  My argument was that personal morality is inevitable, since the individual ultimately chooses what is right in the end.  Say, for instance, you decided that Jesus’ way is the right and moral way.  Who decided that?  You did, i.e., personal morality.  I was in my late teens, he was in his late 60s, and we were both certain that our respective position was the correct one.  I have reconsidered after roughly eighteen years.

My high school days had become too much of a hassle: getting bundled up on winter mornings in New England, in time to meet the bus to go to a place I dreaded.  I would have liked school if it was the same for me as it was for able-bodied students, but it just wasn’t.  I had an aide going with me from class to class; which would’ve been fine, but this particular aide was — oh, how can I put this charitably? — past her prime; a somewhat slow old lady (God bless her), who was accustomed to working with the mentally challenged, and couldn’t quite make the adjustment to dealing with a physically disabled individual.  Always being talked down to like Barney the dinosaur talked to his TV audience tends to wear on you.  I made friends fairly easily when I was younger, but 16 and 17-year-olds tend to shy away from somebody who had a silver-haired chaperone following ’em around.

So, when my mother approached me with the idea of getting a home tutor it didn’t take much time to decide in favor of it.  Two days a week somebody would come to the house for a couple of hours and, presumably, teach me the same curriculum I would have been learning in regular high school classes.  This was great.  Right off the bat I was sleeping until 11 o’clock in the morning on weekdays, because the tutor wasn’t due to show up until noon.  Up all night, sleep all day.  Sweet deal!

Mr. Shaw showed up right on time that first day — something he always managed to do.  For some reason, I expected him to be wearing a suit and tie, but he dressed very casually in a sweatshirt, slacks and sneakers.  Whenever he entered the house, he always said, “Peace be with you”; which probably would’ve seemed strange coming from anybody else, but he made it charming.  I was oblivious, but my mother knew the traditional Catholic response was, “and also with you.”  I called him Mr. Shaw and he insisted that I call him by his first name, Jim.  I could tell Jim was as relieved as I was to be liberated from the shackles of the public school system.  And I was dead wrong for thinking that we’d be covering the same curriculum other high school kids were.  He liked my sense of humor and, after the feeling out process, Jim decided that sharpening my wit and honing my comedic timing would be one of our primary goals.

Seriously.

We’d start each session with a joke, and oftentimes it would be the same joke.  Which was weird, but Jim took his comedy seriously.  He’d bring books from old Irish comedians, so we could study their techniques.  It probably wouldn’t be permitted in the public schools nowadays, but, along with the meticulous joke-telling technique, Jim and I  talked a lot about politics and religion.

Politically, Jim was a right-winger.  I, on the other hand, was a wannabe-hippie, open-mindededed, give peace a chance, sexual-evolutionary, civil rights inactive activist looking to save the spotted owl or give it an abortion.  Jim was a staunch Catholic (though I didn’t make a distinction between Catholics and any other Christians at that time), and he came with his beat-up, duct taped, paperback Bible, ready to break it out at anytime and do the chapter and verse thang.

He had his own notes written in the margins.  I assumed, at the time, that this was his way of taking what was written and then interpreting it so that it would conform to his preconceived notions of morality; in other words, his own ‘personal morality’.  Had I not been such a smug, know-it-all punk, I might have called him out on this, and he would’ve explained to me that the Catholic Church has an unbroken Tradition of divinely-inspired, uber-intellectuals who literally did nothing else but eat, drink, meditate, ruminate, marinate in, and digest sacred Scriptures.  Interpreting the holy texts was all these great church doctors did, and, though they didn’t always reach the same exact conclusions, they came miraculously close.

Jim once told me that, when he would come to parts of the Bible that didn’t feel right — teachings that seemed to him unfair — he’d accept that he must be wrong and adjust accordingly.  This admission made me cringe.  I couldn’t respect that thought process at the time.  Surrendering your own reason to that of an outside point of view, based on nothing but an assumption of subordination (like this outside source was God or something).  And this coming from the man, Jim Shaw, who’d taught me better than anyone else about the practice of critical thinking and how I should be cautious in automatically yielding to conventional wisdom.

Although I was tentative at times about voicing my uncensored opinions on certain topics, Jim never really gave me any reason to be so.  He wasn’t at all intolerant or averse to hearing a dissenting view — to the contrary — Mr. Shaw wanted to be challenged, because he was a genuine seeker of the truth.  He was steadfast in his beliefs and convictions, so, back then I probably would have described him as stubborn, but that just wasn’t the case.  We practiced the Socratic Method, where ideas were simply bounced around in want of feedback and exploration, and possible correction.  There would have been no sense in taking part in these debates if neither of us was prepared to acknowledge flaws in our argument.  It would have been intellectually dishonest.  I want to at least be honest, if not intellectual.

Though sometimes a bitter pill to swallow, the Truth is the goal we all wish to attain, so we might as well cut to the chase.  Easier said than done, I know, since the genuine article is often a diamond in the rough.  You have to have something to be your guiding star, though.  For Jim Shaw this was Jesus and His teachings.  One can have an endless array of teachers, but I highly soberly recommend investing in only one doctrine from which you shouldn’t waver.  You ought to have a foundation on which to build.

A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never quite sure.” – Lee Segall

You’re on the right path if your intentions are pure.  Money is great, but money can’t buy me love.  Love is great, but loving somebody else without first having a source to draw from is impossible; like offering somebody the shirt off of your back when you yourself don’t own a shirt.  So as Jim and I explored, chipped away at the outer shell, I discovered that the only discovery worth discovering was self-discovery; whereas, Jim always knew that finding out who you are isn’t nearly as important as finding out Whose you are.

The Infinite, in His infinite wisdom, thought it important — nay, paramount — that YOU should be created.  Is it not worth the time to investigate His investment?  I think so.

I unofficially graduated from high school the year I was scheduled to; however, I continued my sessions with Jim Shaw until I was 22 years old.  I had a physical therapist come to my house twice a week, and the only way this could continue was if I stayed in the public school system, since they were footing the bill.  It was a surprise to me to find out that my insurance wouldn’t cover physical therapy, because, after being evaluated, the powers-that-be came to the conclusion that physical therapy was a luxury, not a necessity.  Furthermore, therapy wasn’t improving my condition, it was merely “maintenance.”  That’s the word they used.  It’s hard out here for a gimp.

Anyway, though I was not happy about this at the time, it ended up being beneficial having those extra four years — of tutoring and physical therapy.  (I had a crush on the therapist, but that’s a story for another time.)  So, sometimes serendipity gives you a subtle kiss on the cheek.  I don’t believe in fate, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

The things Jim Shaw taught me stuck, despite myself.  The older I get, the righter he was; especially with regard to politics.  As I said, he did a full tilt to the right.  Shaw was a Conservative, and the people and authors he followed almost always fell under this heading.  I hated Pat Buchanan and the like.  Abby Hoffman and dead civil rights activists were my heroes.  Heroes will never let you down, just as long as they’re dead.  I still admire civil rights activists from that era, but the rub is, current counterfeits in politics are hanging from the coattails of The Ghost of Kennedys’ Past, trying to tell you they’re selling the same product.  Stop snorting the party line!  “Republican” and “Democrat” are themselves corporate entities.  They are products.  However, conservativism and liberalism are adjectives.  Still, what’s considered conservativism now is far more liberal than it was 50 years ago.  I consider myself a libertarian-leaning conservative, high in moral fiber, low in preservatives.  Separation of church and state?  Somewhat.  Why?  Because — keep your filthy politics away from my beautiful religion!

Al Charlatan is not Martin Luther King.  Pat Rob-you-some is not Billy Graham.  The manipulative media — which itself is nothing more than a product — has them prepackaged for you in the same grocery aisle as if they are one and the same.  Whatever floats your vote.

Listen to them.  If you really care, don’t be one of those people who shrugs their shoulders and says, “They’re all corrupt anyway.”  If we operate under the assumption that all lawyers and politicians are, without exception, sinister bad guys, then what kind of students are going to aspire to be lawyers and politicians?  You reap what you sow.  By the way,  the word “sinister” is derived from the Latin for left-handed.  The left?  I’m just saying…

And don’t be one of the naïve people who think that you can ignore politics, because it’s boring or esoteric.  Politics touches every area of life and how we function in society.  The same group that would tell you that it is morally wrong for law enforcement to profile in order to save possibly thousands of human lives, only seconds later will turn to a different camera, for a different story, and tell you that their research shows that 85% of African Americans voted for this one candidate, but this other candidate is winning the Woman vote by almost 65%, and roughly 70% of the Senior Citizens.  There’s also this one candidate who’s doing particularly well with unemployed overweight Asian widowers with multiple tattoos and peanut allergies who go by the name Biff.

While you’re not paying attention to what strings the Puppet Masters are pulling, they’re polling and organizing focus groups in order to try to figure out how to manipulate you and your demographic into purchasing their product; and by ‘product’ I don’t mean their brand of bottled water, I’m talking about selling you a nondiscriminatory, all-access ideology.  Once this Trojan horse gets through, your opinions are obsolete and you’ll buy anything that their manufactured celebrity endorses.

When you are reduced to an archetype, a stereotype, a particularly shaped peg to fit within a similarly shaped hole, you are a more targetable mark.  What’s fascinating is that this status is much sought after in modern times.  People will readily trade their individuality, their status as remarkable, for their unremarkable status as part of some sub-group based solely on a shared attribute.  They become a targetable mark and a marketable target.  ‘Single black mothers from the inner-city, between the ages of 18 to 32 vote this way …’  Divide and conquer.  I myself, being a middle-class, white-bread, blue-collar, multicolored-underwear-wearing, environmentally-conscious, down-to-earth, Joe-average, everyday-Joe, living in a Hyphen-Nation, don’t like being put into a box.  I’m made from the ‘think-outside-of-the-box’ mold, and when they made me, they broke it; at least according to some trendy market jargon with a monopoly on the lexicon.

I’d like to be a part of the minority of the less than 1% who are called wealthy.  Though, I’m not one of these class warfare people who think that either the really rich or the really poor are immoral parasites on humanity.  I’ve known sour grape people who harbor such contempt for the affluent and their lifestyles — a lifestyle that they themselves one day hope to attain — that it gets really confusing at times.  Some of these people work harder in an argument to justify their predetermined role as one of life’s have-nots than they ever would to make an attempt to better themselves and their position.

Then there is another group, who do all the right things and play by the rules, but still never manage to attain financial breathing room.  Sadly, this is the majority of us.  It’s one of those majorities we’d like to remove ourselves from.  But there is another majority that is even more inescapable if you live long enough.  Technically it’s a minority, but it’s not one of those glamorous minorities that we would strive to be associated with so that we could wear it as a crown of thorns, since there is no long-term payoff in this one.  Because, in this one, there is no long term.

If you’re lucky, you’re going to get to be old someday.  The music you once enjoyed will accompany you between floors on an elevator ride.  You’ll say things like, “In my day we didn’t have electricity, so we had to watch TV by candlelight.”  Within all of us is an elderly person in utero, so it behooves us to apply the golden rule to those of us who are already in the golden years.  One of the reasons we are so afraid to get old is because we can observe how society treats its elderly.  We don’t want to be thought of as expendable.  We want our opinions to matter.  And you know that someday somebody who has seen and experienced a fraction of the things you have in your life is going to roll their eyes while you speak and discard your words, because they are coming from one who might be regarded as a feebleminded old person who’s stuck in the past.  (Or an aide for some wheelchair-bound punk in public school.)

When Jim Shaw saw me for the last time as his student, he was in his early 70s and still as sharp and mentally adroit as ever.  I was with him for about four and half years, since joining him partway through my sophomore year in high school until the end of my allowed stay in the public school system.  Before Jim, I was always pretty much a B student, but he gave me straight A’s every year I was with him.  To this day my mother teases me about this.  No doubt there was some generous grading going on there from my dear friend.  (If he graded me on a curve, it was a Dolly Parton-esque curve.)

He told me on occasion that I was his best student.  Carefully chosen words were his craft, so, coming from Jim, such a compliment made me feel good.  Upon his departure in an official capacity, he left me with tools of reasoning for which I’ll be eternally grateful.  The Jim Shaw Affect has resulted in my inclination toward conservative writers and speakers, although, it’s still not the singer but the song that resonates.  It’s the Truth we seek, not its mode of transport.

A couple years after Jim said goodbye as my teacher, I found out that he’d become ill.  Years before he became a teacher, Jim worked as some kind of laborer, and due to regular exposure to asbestos on the job site, his lungs had been contaminated and it’d taken all that time to grow into a noticeable problem.  If I remember correctly, he had surgery to try to remove some of the liquid that had built up in his lungs, making it difficult for him to breathe.  It was shortly after this surgery that Jim came to visit me at my house once again.

to be continued…

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A continuation from A Letter to Me, From Me

Are you still listening?  You had a short attention span ten years ago and, the bad news is …

Anyway, what was I saying?  Oh yeah, I was scaring the bejeebers out of you by informing you that you’re gonna be a zealous devotée of Jesus in a little less than a decade from now (then).  Look at it this way, the Bible says numerous times, (yes, we read at least four chapters a day) that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.  Of course, because you are currently a touchy-feely new age wonk, you reject the whole notion of fear having any association with God whatsoever.

However, a young child obeys their father because they fear the consequences, and desire his approval.  Dad might merely raise his voice when his son goes reaching for a boiling teapot, but he’s really going to feel dad’s wrath if he catches him running into oncoming traffic.  Authority has to be established early.  Conscience is formed and then the seeds of wisdom begin to take root.  (If it makes you feel better, just insert any euphemism in place of “fear” that soothes your tender sensibilities.)

But, while I’ve got my attention, I’d like to talk about a curious contaminant which is running rampant in the world today, and it’s prominently displayed in your current moral code.  You have a desire to be good, but you’re afraid to cross over into that nondescript place of sunshine, lollipops, rainbows and everything that has no edge to it.  You have an aversion to being — what? — too good?  There’s this Barney rebel proclivity toward heroes who are somewhat villains.

I don’t mean to pick on you, me, because it’s not just you, it’s like the entire world has forgotten how to grow up and we’re in a perpetual state of adolescence.  Back in the 60s, a popular saying was, “Don’t trust anybody older than thirty,” and it seems like the advice has finally been taken.  (For purposes of full disclosure, I’m thirty-five, so read at your own risk.)

Concupiscence is man’s natural inclination towards sin since the fall in the Garden.  (No, not the Celtics’ 87 Finals loss to the Lakers in the Boston Garden, I’m talking about Original Sin, the Garden of Eden.)  It’s in our blood to rage against the proliferation of the Light; to resist the divine nature and to persist in deviance.  (I know you’re not buying any of this, me, but hear me out.)  In my time, 2011, the Western world, and its leaders, seem to have adopted the “cool teacher” mentality.

You know, those teachers who wanted to be liked by their students more as a peer than as an instructor; so they preferred to be called by their first name, and they’d occasionally swear accidentally /on purpose in front of you (as a ploy to make you think, “Hey, he’s just like us!”), and they enforced little to no discipline, because they were just too cool to be such a drag.  Well, that pretty much describes every one in a position of authority now, in my time, but it seems to have started to get going in your time — about a decade ago — when the Internet had established her groove.

You might think I sound like a stick-in-the-mud raining on various and sun-dried parades, but there is a phenomenon occurring which has been an ever-growing cultural snowball.  Maybe it’s always been in us, but now we have a tool with which to inflict our anonymous animosity.

There is an endless onslaught of caustic humor available at all four corners of the tangled web and everywhere in between.  There’s no getting away from it.  I believe that this is the backlash from the Political Correctness movement, where everybody was essentially forced to be artificially polite.  The personal computer users hooked up to the net were the avant-garde counter to the other kind of PC movement, and for them, the more cruel and sadistic the content and commentary the better.

This mentality gathered momentum and eventually seeped into the mainstrean.  In 1992 the first Reality TV show made its way onto the airwaves of the pop culture litmus test for teens and twentysomethings: MTV (which used to stand for Music Television, but don’t ask me where the music went).  “The Real World” premiered and the opening narrative bragged:

This is the TRUE story of seven strangers picked to live in a house, work together, and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite… and start getting real….

As though the two are necessarily mutually exclusive.  So to be harsh and unsympathetic is to be real.

Let me say I’m still a strong supporter of the Internet and its freedoms of expression.  It is highly unlikely that this — the most powerful tool of the masses ever — will remain as it is, with almost no restrictions at all, and I think that’s a shame.  It’s inevitable that those in power will eventually put the clamps on the web and then turn around and exploit its limitless potential for Huxley-esque persuasion.

Government enforced restrictions are not what I’d call for.  What I would like to see, however, is some self-governing by individuals, in conjunction with God’s Law.  Personal responsibility in union with Christian ethics.  (Yes, I said it!)

Television followed the Internet’s lead and so did once-reputable publications.  Everything is being run by your average 13-year-old now.  Endless video variations of some guy getting whacked in his groin with a wiffleball bat and that kind of comedy is the common offering in this technological Lord of the Flies.  But that’s the more tame content.  Mostly we like to watch somebody be humiliated in some way.  Schadenfreude — Sigmund Freud’s older brother.

Am I freaking myself out, sounding like somebody’s grandmother, asking where all the adults have gone?  There’re countless adult websites, but all the adults have regressed into pubescent punks.

And speaking of grandmothers: let me ask you, me, how would you feel if, instead of being comforted by an elderly person’s wisdom and kindness, they too lost that sort of majestic maturity?  What if sweet and gentle grandma got a kick out of seeing some poor schmuck get kicked in the crotch; or if she swore like a truck driver — even in front of the little ones?  Sure, everybody knows an old person like that, but what if the other kind ceased to exist entirely?

And this is what YOU think you want.

You want a hybrid, streamlined religion that’s all-inclusive and not so restrictive with its rigid rules and dogma.  (You think “dogma” is a pejorative.)  Let me tell you, me, if it’s the thought that counts, you’re no mathematician.  The Church is like the grandmother.  She hasn’t changed in 2000 years, by orders and intercession of her founder, Jesus Christ.

Nowadays, you are much more disciplined, but with a ways to go still.  “Discipline”, derived from the Latin discipulus or disciple.  For a while there you veered off into Gnosticism, because you thought it was Christianity for cool people.  Cool is the fickle frost that hardens the soul and gives the whole world frostbite.  Save us some time and stop deviating from the yellow brick road, Dorothy.

The world wants to “push the envelope,” in terms of decency.  But the thing is, this package has no destination, it just keeps getting pushed.  Nobody really wants to open it because what’s inside is anti-everything good, but we’re willing to anti-up.  What happens when the antiestablishment is the establishment?  Again, this is what you thought you wanted.  Well, you’ve got it.  The class clowns are now teaching the class.  The inmates are running the asylum.  Tabloid voyeurs set up the pedestal people so that the satire assassins can knock ’em down.

Do we love our neighbor?  Well, in a desperate housewives sort of way, yeah.

You think the Church is prudish, because of its positions on sex (like you even know the Church’s positions on sex, outside of what the mainstream media tells you), but true Christianity teaches that sex is sacred, because it’s where God allows us to somewhat assist in the creation of life; whereas, secular progressives have achieved their longtime goal of making it no big deal, and just another marketable commodity.  The constant noise machine media mocks and attacks conservative values, while their side is running up the score and putting the “purse” in persecution.  (Um, kinda.)  We’re running out of prepubescent girls who don’t dress like common streetwalkers.  I know you’re thinking, “every generation says that”, but every generation couldn’t go into Wal-Mart and buy a thong for a five-year-old.

Pop culture aims to devalue human beings and then sell them on the clearance rack.  They want to chew all the flavor out of individuals and then stick them to the bottom of the desk and move to another piece.

Hey, me, a long time ago we stopped looking at porn — entirely.  Not only do we no longer seek out movies with strong sexual content and gratuitous nudity (that’s fun to say), but we actually avert our eyes during beer commercials with bikini-clad women, so’s not to tempt temptation.  (I’ll give you a couple seconds to throw up in your mouth.)

OK?  Shall we go on?

I know, you’d be ashamed to be seen with … you.  We don’t eat meat on Fridays, because it’s a modest sacrifice to honor the Great Sacrifice of Good Friday.  We pray the Rosary at least once a day.  (You don’t know what that is yet, but, trust me, you’ll grow to love it.)  We don’t give things up, we offer them up.

And I’m not patting myself on the back, yours or mine, because we have a long way to go in one lifetime.  I don’t believe in reincarnation, though I did in a past life.  I am an irredeemable sinner who has been redeemed; a maculate mud-man touched by grace; a walking contradiction who cannot walk.

And every stepless step of the way, in my heart I say: God’s will be done.

“Creed”
by Steve Turner

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin.
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before during
and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy’s OK
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything’s getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated.
You can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in horoscopes,
UFO’s and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha
Mohammed and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher although we think
his good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same,
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation sin heaven hell God and salvation.

We believe that after death comes The Nothing
because when you ask the dead what happens
they say Nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it’s compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan.

We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between
warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behaviour that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth
that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust. History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds.

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Dear Me circa 2001,

It’s me, you from the future.  Approximately 10 years from then, now.  Whatever …  Now shut up and listen to me.  I have seniority over you.  I’ve seen everything you’ve seen and more.  You have changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time.  Your heart was always in the right place, but your head was up the wrong place.  You have taste tested everything from the buffet line in terms of “spirituality”.  Spending most of your time dippin’ chips into the vague sages of New Wage guacamole, indulging in heaping helpings of moral relativism mumbo-jambalaya. You’ve even visited Buddha’s hotdog vendor and asked him to make you one with everything.  (That’s not my joke, but if we truly are all one, then there is no plagiarism, is there?)  Quantum Mechanics: The dreams stuff is made of, etc. etc.

What I have to tell you might make you a little uncomfortable, but, hey, I’m dealing with it just fine.  Are you sitting down?  OK.

We’ve become what some people might refer to as a “Jesus Freak”.  Hey, I know what you’re thinking; believe me, when some creepy individual comes up and asks, “Have you found JeSUSS?” we’d have been the first one to say something like: “Yeah, he was between the couch cushions, next to the TV remote.  It’s always the last place you look.”

And our friends can attest to the fact that we draw these people like flies, as a result of our disability.  Our kind are heavily represented in Sacred Scripture, after all. (Say it loud – I’m lame and I’m proud!)  Occasionally, some very well-meaning people would approach and want to lay hands on us.  This can be pretty awkward when you’re 15 years old, hanging outside of a convenience store with your friends.  Nevermind the burden of having to be miraculously healed, getting up from our wheelchair, and then doing a little tap dancing for their trouble.  (Sarcasm is still a chasm I frequently fall into.)

I know, I know, you’ve always been kinda fond of the Messiah, albeit in a totally oblivious sort of way.  The King of Kings has always been a reoccurring character, a common thread running throughout our patchwork path. You thought things like, “He’s extremely wise and profound,” and, “He’s a great teacher, like Buddha and Confuse-us (the fortune cookie guy).”  If it’s so that Jesus was a great teacher then aren’t we to conclude that the things He taught are reliable, trustworthy and true?  Especially his central claim, without which all the rest of His teachings unravel.

Soon, Past Me, you will be reading a lot of Christian apologists, (no, that doesn’t mean people apologizing for being Christian), and one of the apologists, i.e., defenders of the Faith, that will melt your cerebellum is C.S. Lewis.  Lewis has a simple but profound bit of thought-food with regard to Christ and His teachings.  A question he puts forth that can have only one of three answers goes as follows.  Which one of these things was Jesus of Nazareth?: Liar; Lunatic; or Lord?

Just for kicks, some nobody carpenter from an obscure little corner of the world with no fanfare thinks up and pulls off what turns out to be — far and away — the greatest hoax in the history of mankind.  Nobody ever even approaches the influence this little Jewish carpenter has had throughout the entire world.  Somehow he miraculously … no, can’t be miraculous, because that would point in the other direction.  Somehow he, by dumb luck, manages to fulfill ALL the prophecies foretold in Sacred Scripture, down to the tiniest details.  In this scenario, Christ would have to have been the Anti-Christ, since he would be sacrilegious to the enth degree with blasphemy whipped topping!

You see, dear me, He said, “I AM the way the truth and the life”; had he merely said “I HAVE the way, the truth and the life” instead, he’d have been like any other teacher from any other religion.

So, then was Jesus a Lunatic?  A few drips shy of a snow cone, was He?  Of course throughout history, insane asylums have been jampacked with people claiming to be God.  But how many of those guys are still being talked about today?  How many brilliant intellectuals and scholars are still, to this day, in awe of the words and parables spoken by this Jesus, this Son of Man, this Word made flesh — 2000 years later?  Sorry, the lunatic angle is even less believable than the Christ-as-liar scenario.

What we are left with is Jesus is Lord.  Should the Word be taken at His word?  God can neither deceive nor be deceived.  He came here as the son of God to be THE example; the perfect role model.  As such, were He to stretch the truth even a little bit, anything else He said or did would have been open to scrutiny and would be suspect.  You want reliable?  You want accountability?  Our American currency may have pictures of presidents on it, but, more importantly, it has the words “In God We Trust”.  That’s where the buck really stops.

Hey, Me, I know why you’re really reticent about the idea of being a holy roller, a God’s Will Ambassador.  When one puts their opinion about God out there it either gets completely ignored, for lack of anything new to say on the subject, vehemently opposed by the holier-than-thou blasphemy committee (who are outside the authority of the Church), or it gets shot down by a rabid bunch of agitated agnostics and vigilante atheists, some of whom are on a crusade to save the world from believing in a savior of the world.

You leave your popularity at the door.  Suddenly, you’re on the **it-list of some of the most bitter, hateful people with an ax to grind on the face of the earth.  (And you’re not allowed to say **it anymore.)  That’s right, in the eyes of most, you’re Ned Flanders.  And, guess what — you don’t care!

John 15: 18 – 21
18 If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, `A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know Him who sent me.

That was from the lips of no less than the God-Man himself, Jesus Christ.

And here is St. Augustine’s take on the issue:

People who change their way of life and begin to think about spiritual progress also begin to suffer from the tongues of detractors. Whoever has not yet suffered this trial has not yet made progress, and whoever is not ready to suffer it does not even endeavor to progress.

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I was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and, as a result, have been a quadriplegic for most of my thirty-five years.  My mother didn’t know prior to my birth that I would be afflicted with this illness.  I was diagnosed when I was two years old.  There’s no way of knowing if she would have decided to terminate the pregnancy had she known in advance that her child would be disabled; if she’d have been overwhelmed at the prospect of maintaining an extremely dependent individual with a severely compromised immune system and a questionable “quality of life.”

The thing about life is that it’s a zero-sum game.  In order for one’s quality of life to be examined and taken into consideration, one must first have a life.  My basic thesis here is that I’m glad that I do.  If I’d have been aborted it would’ve made this far more difficult to write.

So I’m writing this from the perspective of the unaborted fetus, a not at all disinterested third party in this third rail debate.  There are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue. And I admit, there was a time when I was reluctantly pro-choice, since I’m a proponent of states’ rights, as opposed to a collection of any-way-the-wind-blows politicians in Washington deciding what’s best for Joe Schmo in Idaho.

However, I’m just as opposed to some uninformed “it’s my body, it’s my life” able-bodied activist deciding for me and my ilk that my life, such as it is, is expendable and essentially not worth living.

“To be or not to be?” is my question, not yours.

Life is worth living.  When reduced to its simplest capabilities, when merely existing and drawing breath while being able to contemplate the sensation of that breath, life is worth the ride.  Give me liberty, but first give me breath.  And I’m not the smartest being to ever not walk the face of the earth, but having the ability to think at all allows me to appreciate the richness afforded me by the five senses.  I can watch the nightly news and marvel at the human condition and all its long winded shortcomings, ubiquitous brilliance, and interwoven storylines.  Despite my condition, the beauty is not lost on me.  The sights and sounds all around provide more than enough motivation to get me out of bed in the morning.  And even when I can no longer get out of bed, I’ll find a way to supply myself with word of the movers and shakers and what they’re moving and shaking.

If I am one day reduced to a coma, visit me in my subconscious Shangri-La with a bottle of something expensive, and we’ll raise a coma-toast.  If I’m alive, I’m not unconscious.  By the grace of God, my heart still knows where to pump the blood, my immune system still knows where to find the bacteria cafeteria.  Consciousness is precious beyond any words I could put here in support of it.  To say nothing of the visceral realm, which is sometimes background music, but sometimes makes the little hairs on the back of your neck stand in awe.  Maybe it’s a consciousness higher than consciousness.

You might be thinking that someone like me develops an exceptionally fortified wall of denial as a defense mechanism.  I don’t see it like that, though.  The game has merely been simplified for me by way of removing some of the extras, and appreciation of what is replaces focus from what is lacking.  It’s all relative.  Somebody that most people would agree has ideal circumstances in their life might be absolutely miserable because their focus is intensely on the few things that they lack.  So the opposite is often true of someone who might be perceived by the consensus as having less than ideal circumstances.  I’m not saying that I constantly see the world through the lenses of rose-colored glasses.  I visit the doldrums every now and then.  But there’s no shortage of people pounding the doldrums.  Misery loves company, so pity parties are all the rage.  There are human interest stories as far as the eyes can see, where the humans of interest have a tale of woe.  And the more morbid the tale, the more spectators.

It seems we are obsessed with constantly reaffirming that life is not fair.  I have a very profound response to this presumption:

Duh!

We hold this truth to be self-evident – and painfully obvious.  You’re perfectly entitled to your childish notions of entitlement, but reality has a funny way of shaking the plate tectonics of your paradigmbag.  How many times do we lab brats have to run into the electrified walls of “life’s-not-fair” and still be shocked and amazed by the maze?  From our perspective, life is absolutely unfair; but from the Absolute’s perspective, Justice just is.  Pearls of wisdom are produced the same way actual pearls are: via friction and time.

I have been pearl-lyzed, hallelujah!

It’s my belief that depression’s primary cause stems from the expectations and entitlement mentality running headlong into the Truth Train.  The brutality of reality gives its brand of tough love to the unsuspecting gamer.  We all have a predetermined timeline arranged in our minds as to where we’re supposed to be at a given point in the midst of this mortal coil.  Kind of a biological clock, but applicable to endless other rites of passage we presume to be part of the grand tour.

“I should have 2.3 kids by the time I’m 30 years old;” “I should be able to retire by the time I’m 65;” “I should have a house in the Hamptons with a gardener, chef, and personal masseuse who doubles as my doubles partner and caddie, and drives my Cadi while I’m in the back, swigging gin & Jack on the cell with my broker, who’s got me stalks of stocks socked away all by the time I’m sprouting grey hairs.”

Psalm 118: [116] Uphold me according to thy word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation.

You see, we have midlife crises, earlylife crises, and end-of-life issues.  But what we really have is a beautiful collection of priceless moments.  Moments are in the I of the beholder.

Two years following my diagnosis, my mother got pregnant again.  Strangely, some highly motivated organizations caught wind of this and swarmed down on her like vultures, offering advice and support in preventing such a horrible misfortune from reoccurring.  Because, you know, my sit-uation is genetic and there was a good chance that history would repeat itself repeat itself.  This time she knew the risks, and come hell or sick toddler, was perfectly willing to accept the results.  Baby brother Andrew came nine months later, happy and healthy.

No group elected or otherwise should have authority over another individual’s life or death, or in any way feel justified in evaluating that individual’s quality of life or value to the tribe.  Social engineering cannot be acceptable ever.  No matter how many pretty euphemisms you try to pin to it.

You might look at me and, compared to the rest, assess what you see as flawed.  Look closer you’ll find a soul and a mind.  I am a living expression of God.

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