Category Archives: Catholic Blog

When Good Friday Eclipses Easter

Regular readers to this page know that I have a condition known as degenerative disc disease.  This is sometimes called disc and joint disease or DJD.  It was precipitated by a genetically inherited “bad back” on my mom’s side of the family (her brothers have both suffered similar fates) and a traumatic injury to my back when I was four years-old.  The whole thing came to a head for the first time when I was 23 years-old and I had my first spinal fusion at the L5-S1 level.  Fun.  Thirteen years later I had another spinal fusion at L4-L5 (the adjacent level).

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This pic is tired, I know.  I’ve used it before but it shows the current state of my spine in case you didn’t know.

I had really hoped that I would be able to avoid another fusion (or at least the symptomatic back pain and debilitating sciatica for at least 5-10 years at the next level.  So far, I think I’m doing well in that regard.  I got more serious about my health than I ever have before.  Hell, I started eating vegetables and lots of them.  I took up running before realizing that it required one to run.  The thing I’m proudest of, however, is that I got serious about getting jacked.  I haven’t had the kind of success I had hope but I’ve done OK.  You see, it’s important for me that I build up ever single muscle in my body in order to safeguard my spine.  It’s not really a vanity thing – not really.  Still who wouldn’t love being almost 40 and looking like one of the Jersey Shore crew on summer vacation?  I won’t lie, that’s a cool prospect considering I looked far from that from the time I was about 15 until recently.  But I stepped it up and looked into things I had never done before, all the while remembering the lessons learned from surgeries and physical therapy.  In other words, I’ve been doing all of this safely.  Currently I’m doing a program called Body Beast designed to bulk up.  I figure the more muscle the better.

About a year ago I was at my standard weight, hovering around 200.  I have a medium sized frame so that’s not impressive.  But when I got serious-serious I dropped down to 173 with Insanity.  I felt great knowing that I could complete something most men (including many athletic men) attempt and give up because it’s hard.  I took heat for it, good natured I believed.  Then I decided it was time to build up.  I’m going back toward 200 but this time hard-core, solid muscle because I need it.  I’m up around 187 after two months and again, I feel great.  I’m enjoying seeing results (even if I’m the only one who sees them).

So why is God screwing with me?

Just when it seems I’m doing something good for myself, for my health, sacrificing time away from sleep or from my wife and kids to get in that workout I need to do I start to notice twinges of pain here and there.

About a year ago I began to experience what I knew was Restless Leg Syndrome or RLS.  It’s not painful just uncomfortable.  Fortunately it only hit me at night so my job and family life wasn’t affected.  I looked it up and it seemed to be a common side-effect of spinal fusions at L4-S1.  Then in the past few months (following around the time of my dad’s death) the symptoms morphed into painful leg cramps that strike in the middle of the night.

Time to see the surgeon.

I went for a visit to a man I trust with my life.  Hey, I’ve never let anyone cut me before nor even put his hands inside my body.  That’s how much I trust this guy.  He’s Mayo Clinic trained.

I love his response after looking at my X-rays.  “I can’t know what’s in the box until I open the box.  But before I cut you let’s run some tests.”

I had a nerve conduction study first.  This showed no nerve damage.  Praised be God.

Then it was time for the Myelogram CT.

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Me after my Myelogram.  See, it’s not that bad.  I’m smiling.

This past Thursday (Holy Thursday) I went to an imaging center and had a dye injected into my spinal column so images could be taken.  The procedure is painful in itself.  The after effects aren’t pleasant either.  I went home and went on bed rest for 48 hours.  My dear sister, an RN, came to town for an Easter visit and was put to work as my caretaker.  This consisted in lying on the couch watching 85 episodes or the 1980’s-90’s crime documentary Unsolved Mysteries while drifting in and out of sleep.

On Good Friday I had an opportunity to unite real physical pain with the crucifixion of Our Lord.  I was truly thankful.

Then came Holy Saturday.  And… unfortunately it still felt like Good Friday.  Throughout the day I tried to make myself believe that the pain was dissipating and I could do things like mow the lawn.  I had been told that by 48 hours I’d be golden.  On Saturday night my wife, kids, and I got dolled up and headed to the Easter vigil – a tradition for us.  Unfortunately I made it into the first of seven readings before the splitting headache got the best of me and we had to leave.  A consult with the surgeon’s office on a Saturday night uncovered that my puncture wound from the Myelogram hadn’t healed and I was leaking spinal fluid into my body, thus causing a spinal headache.  He called in an awesome script and after more rest I felt better.

Here’s the thing.  For the Christian the pain of loss and agony of death on Good Friday makes sense because of the promise of resurrection and joy of a new life and a glorious body on Easter Sunday.  Tomorrow I’m going in to have something called a blood patch performed.  They’ll take blood from my arm and inject it into the puncture wound to clot and stop the leaking of fluid.

I think I can take it that my Easter is coming a bit later?  That’s OK because I know myself and I know I deserve a bit of a longer Good Friday.

I’m writing all of this because I’ve received comments over the years from people who’s been faced with spinal problems and have apparently been helped by reading about someone else’s experience.  I’m also writing to ask prayers.  Pray the procedure goes well.  It’s not a big deal.  But also pray I can get back to my Body Beast.  LOL.  I’ve only got five more weeks until I look like Charles Atlas (in my mind) and I am pumped about that.  Of course, since it’s just me who’ll notice the difference I suppose I can convince myself I look that good now.  Yeah… that’s it!  It’s an Easter miracle!

Happy Easter to all of you reading this!  In the Catholic liturgical calendar, Easter lasts for seven weeks so enjoy every minute of it.  Remember the Lord is risen indeed.  This isn’t a spiritual resurrection.  He conquered death, destroyed that bastard.  He is all-powerful and lives and reigns forever and ever for you and me.

Amen.

Alleluia!

Musings from 35,000 Feet

Yes, I’m on a plane.

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‘Bout to get my flyin’ on…

Where am I headed? Well, let’s start with a quick recap. I started writing this blog for my kids. Everything I write here is because of them. Ultimately I want them to be able to read this and see how perfect a life they made for me. So even when it seems I’m writing a funny post with no bearing on their lives it all still comes back to them. I can laugh because they exist and they make me smile.

I’m headed to the Fatherland. Regular readers of this space (both of you) know that I’m referring to New Jersey. Technically I’m headed to LaGuardia – a “nifty” little airfield at the far reaches of Queens, NY. When you have to book a ticket with 24 hours notice you can’t be choosy.  When it first opened as Glenn Curtis Field in 1929 (work with me here, I’m trying to teach, you twat), Queens was a sleepy borough of about 50 residents and a handful of chickens.  By 1960, former New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s wish to be immortalized by a slower-than-molasses, aging, crumbling public works project would come to fruition with “LGA Phase 1”, alternately referred to as “the building of the Central Terminal Building”.  In fact, in the 1960’s this facility was seen as the airport of the future.  Unfortunately for the good people of Queens, the future held such things as the Jumbo Jet, airline deregulation, and not-asbestos.

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She (they) followed me onboard, honest.

I once had a friend – a makeup artist on a television show on which I worked – refer to Queens, his home borough, as, and please pardon the expression, “the most f*cked borough”.  “Where else could you have 69th St. intersect both 69th Pl. and 69th Rd. all at once?” he opined.

Where in the hell was I?  Ah yes…

I’m flying in to see my dad. He’s had a massive stroke. I think my mom said the doctor called it a “big” stroke. Apparently not calling it “massive” makes it sound less severe. But it’s serious enough that I got the ticket and here I am.  Dear readers, I’m handling this, as I always do, because the two people who gave me life taught me to do this, with humor.  Work with me.  And a few paragraphs back when I referred to you as a twat, I meant it as the British do.  Slipping back to my story…  Dad’s always been competitive and I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of teenage boy, bawdy joke hiding in the fact that he’d be pissed to not have it called a “massive stroke”.  For the record he had a massive stroke once before when I was 16 and he was 56.  Miraculously he recovered from that one almost immediately.  I don’t see that happening this time.

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If I understand, we’ll land and then the Sharks and Jets will go at it.

Kids, when you read this years from now I want you to know something. I love my father. Our relationship (his and mine) is not like yours and mine. We’ve bonded over bizarre things. I figured out how to make high-end cocktails for him. He gave me a copy of the book The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy for Christmas when I was in 7th grade. See? There you go. Children, he’s a good man and everything I know about how to be your father comes from him. I know I’m not perfect. I don’t think I can say that about him. And he taught me a sense of responsibility and of family and of just doing what needs to be done.

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Here’s my dad, my twin sister, and me during one of my first forays into an airport.  So it was HE who started this whole obsession!

And I read that book cover to cover several times so all of you who know me in real life and wonder how I know something about everything, well there’s a small glimpse at an answer.

That’s why I’m on a flight to LaGuardia on a Monday night. I have a row entirely to myself which is good because I don’t think I’d want seatmates seeing me like this. I really want a cigarette. Sorry. Steam of consciousness. I hate that style popularized by Stephen Crane. I can actually hear my dad telling me some fun fact about Crane and how he grew up in Newark like us and how Civil War vets would have sworn Crane was old enough to have fought in the war because his writing was so vivid.

Let’s divert a moment.

I’m watching a documentary on the plane about Anthony Weiner. Pig. Disgusting cretin. As Dad would say “the man will never get hemorrhoids. He’s a perfect asshole.” And yet… this film is so fascinating. It’s about New York more than Weiner. It’s about my home. It’s the nexus of the universe wherein I grew up. And I love New York so much. The people – though we’d probably disagree on 9 out of 10 things politically – are good people and I miss them sometimes. It’s nice to know that in an hour I’ll be flying in over the East River, over the greatest city on earth. I’ll see the Freedom Tower and Roosevelt Island and Queens. I just wish it wasn’t for this reason. I’m a little scared because I don’t know what condition he’s in.

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Watching Weiner.  If that was my face I’d probably want to showcase other parts of my anatomy too.  Couldn’t be any worse.

Man this Weiner is fascinating.

The flight attendant just gave me two drinks and only charged me for one. God bless him.  Unfortunately I think he wants something from me that ain’t never gonna’ happen.

There was a woman standing behind me at the gate back in Texas prattling on and on with someone on her phone.  Conversation went something like this.  “Then these two self-righteous jerks tried to tell me all passive-aggressive that the two of us shouldn’t have kids and then my husband was like ‘Well we can but they’ll never learn music.  I forbid it.’  And I was all ‘Who do you think you are?  I’m a musician and you suck.  I seriously wanted to cut her.'”  It was too perfect.  I had been hoping for something for paragraph 14 since I arrived at the terminal and here this lady was just spouting it forth for me.  I didn’t care if she could see me.  I put my coffee down, took out my phone, and started jotting down every word she said.  You’re welcome.

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The Big Apple at night, in January, from 9,000 feet, when your dad’s had a stroke.

This flight is bumpy. The captain came on before we took off and announced it was not going to be an easy flight.

My God this movie is incredible. It’s like a train wreck. I want to watch but I can’t. But I must.

My nephew is picking me up at the airport. He’s a rideshare driver too. He’s agreed not to charge me for the pick-up. I’m laughing at that prospect. He’d NEVER charge me.  Or I’d kick his ass.

What else could I tell you? I have some fun pictures to run through my flights entertainment options. They kind of describe my flight style these days.

But the reason I started writing this is to ask your prayers.

And now that I’ve done that I think I can get back to my Weiner. 

The Moon, The Passion, and You

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Remember that student of mine I wrote about a few months back; the one who “discovered” my blog?  Well, she’s under the weather right now.  Say a prayer for her (and for all my kids).  In the meantime, I thought I’d write a post she could really get a laugh out of because she emailed me that she now has a lot of time to catch up on my blog.

So today at work I began with a question.  It’s Monday of Holy Week.  Our focus is on the impending celebration of the Lord’s Passion.

“Kids, today I want to talk with about the moon.”

“The what, Mr. H.?” they replied (in unison).

“The moon.  The stupid yellow ball in the sky at night?  What are you missing?  In fact, I have two stories about the moon and the Paschal Mystery,” I said, holding up two stacks of paper.  “I’ll let you pick.”  They chose the one in my right hand.

I then went on to share an article with them about the New American translation of the Bible and how the translators used a very poor rendering in English for a passage in Luke’s Gospel.  The passage said something about how “darkness covered the land from noon until three because of an eclipse of the sun.”  Then I shared how this is actually impossible.

You see, Jesus was crucified around the Passover which always takes place around a full moon (being the mid-point of a lunar month).  Full moons simply do not contribute to solar eclipses.  New moons do.

It would be more appropriate to have translated the line (as most other English translations do) “darkness covered the land because the sun failed.

I could see the light bulbs slowly going on over their heads.

“So, Mr. H., what was the other moon story about?” they asked.

“OK, let’s read this selection from Mark’s account of the Passion together,” I said.

“Now a young man followed him [Jesus] wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.” – Mk. 14: 51-52

Long pause.

“Oooooh,” said one.  “Moon.  I get it.”

Honoring St. Joseph

Happy feast day of St. Joseph!

One thing I have learned from this holiest of men?

Let’s look at the most inspired things Joseph uttered in the Gospel.

”                             “

Oh that’s right.  He doesn’t have any lines.

Keep your mouth shut and do your job.

Good advice for any husband.

Our Crosses – A Lenten Reflection

My wife is watching a movie right now.  Near as I can tell it’s a bunch of old British women taking a break from their garden club to discuss whether they want to pose naked for a calendar.

I actually threw up a little while writing that last sentence.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of taking up one’s cross.  It is Lent after all.  I suppose what’s come to me lately is that it isn’t so much about seeking one’s cross but accepting it.  God offers each of us a cross in life.  How we carry it or whether we carry it is up to us.  I am sure He carries it right along with us.  But, we still have to shoulder some of the weight.  Perhaps He’s wondering if we’ll carry it like His Son did – opening not our mouths, like a lamb lead to slaughter.  Usually I carry mine by bitching about it to anyone who’ll listen.

So what’s my cross?  I think it has a lot to do with subjugating my pride on two fronts.  I’m a teacher.  I’ll never earn a lot of money.  I’ll never see the fruits of my labor even.  My kids are long gone by the time, 20 years from now, they remember that one thing I said that has an impact on the choices they’ll make.  I have two beautiful children I didn’t deserve.  I want more, always have.

The cross, I think, for me is needing to let go of the desire to be and have more than what I am and have.  The cross comes in letting go.  I won’t lie and say it doesn’t hurt.  I guess that’s the pain that comes from carrying a cross.  I want more and that pride is weighing me down.  I want to be great, to be known for something, respected in my field, able to provide for the many children I thought I’d have.

But I suspect Our Lord is saying “Not for you.  This isn’t what I want for you.”  And there’s a lot of letting go in just trying to accept that.  Not understanding His Will but wanting to live according to it is not easy.  It’s bizarre because He seems to be saying that what I’m doing is what I’m supposed to be doing.  I just don’t get it.

Or maybe the cross today is just the thought of those naked, old Brits.  Oh God, one of them is hiding her boobs behind two cupcakes.  The imagery is straight out of a crucifixion scene.

Weird Names

Today was the feast of St. Polycarp of Smyrna.

…The things you have to know to teach a Theology class.

Month’s Mind

Well, dear brother, it’s been a month since you left us.

Thing is, I know since you received that Apostolic Blessing on your deathbed that you went right in.  I’ve not had to wonder once who much time you’ll have in Purgatory.  That’s a relief.

Prie DieuxI’ve been voicing my prayers every day at mass.  The priest at our 5:30 daily allows the 75 or so of us gathered together to mention our own petitions.  I always jump in first and say “for the repose of the soul of my brother, Richard, we pray to the Lord…”  I know you don’t need it.  I just assume you’ll pass it on to someone who does.

There have been some very tough moments.  Every now and then it strikes me.  This is final.  It’s over.  As in, shit, Richard’s really dead.  I mean, I should know that.  I carried your heavy-ass casket up a flight of steps and I KNOW you were laughing at me for that.  One night I was writing a blog and I thought of you and I broke down.  My wife looked over and asked if I was OK.  I think I was so I dropped it.

The thought crosses my mind every now and then that we never really got to know each other the way I had hoped.  My baby girl, she loved you so much.  There’s no accounting for it.  She knew you even less than I did.  But she delighted in jumping in on our FaceTime calls in the last few months and I could see a calm come over your face when you talked to her.  It’s as if for those few moments the pain wasn’t the first thing on your mind.  She misses you.  She told me so.

Cancer, if I ever meet you face to face, you better run you little bitch.

I only told you this twice in my adult life that I’m aware of.  I love you.  I told you that the last time I saw you on New Year’s Eve and I told you that over FaceTime the night before you went home and both times you said it back to me and I know you meant it.

But now…

Now you know and see and behold Love with such clarity I couldn’t imagine it.  You are united with Love.

I’ve been talking to you.  Duh, you know that.  Asking you to help with this and that.  How strange will it be when we see each other again?  We’ll have all eternity to get to know each other.  I have to stop now.  I’m rambling.

I love you.  You’re at peace and I am comforted by that.

Please continue to pray for us, your family on earth.  We’ll have many more of these “month’s reminders” of your life.  But where you are, I believe it’s only like a blink of an eye until we meet again.

Peace, brother.