Category Archives: Prayer

Talking Up the Sisters

Earlier today I drove some Missionaries of Charity nuns to the airport. 
In the half-hour I was in the car on my way to pick them up I wondered where our conversation would take us. These nuns are talkers and I’ve always enjoyed our chats before. 

Well, I must have picked them up in the middle of a Saturday devotion. 

I made my first turn toward the highway and Sister Passenger whipped out her beads. In fairly decent but somewhat broken English she said:

“We pray rosary now.”

Five decades, a chaplet of Divine Mercy, and nine Memorare’s later I had safely returned the remaining nuns to the convent. 

Honestly I’m glad the happy talk took us to prayer. Truly just being in their presence I feel holy. Tack on a whole lotta prayers and, well, I stepped out of my car one foot closer to heaven

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!

Mr. Euclid

First, thank you to everyone who has continued to offer their prayers for my family following the death of my dad two months ago.  They mean so much more than you know and I pray for each of you daily.

I want to tell you all that Dad’s been quite active lately, at least in my mind.  Over the past month especially he’s been showing up in my dreams.  As I told me wife today, the dreams make absolutely no sense on one level and more sense than anything I can think of on another.

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Artist’s rendering of a shape

Last night I went to bed as normal.  At 4AM I awoke from the following dream.  My father and I were in a very ethereal setting.  I can actually still envision all of this.  It’s almost like we were on a cloud but it wasn’t that hokey.  We were looking at, really examining, an equilateral triangle that was simply floating in the air in front of us.  He was instructing me on the properties of the triangle.  His words made perfect sense to me and I never liked math.  Dad was an actuary with a savant’s knowledge of all things mathematical.  I distinctly remember him saying (in this dream) as he had many times when he tried teaching me geometry in high school “According to Mr. Euclid…” referencing the Greek father of geometry.  What are you getting at, Dad?  Triangles?  Really?  Is it the Trinity?  I already believe in the Blessed Trinity.  Remember?  You taught me the sign of the cross as a four year-old when you taught me my first prayers.  Were you trying to show me something else?  Are you popping into the dreams of other people too or is it just me?  This is so strange.

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Hairy but solid

Another thing that’s going on (and I really don’t think the dreams are related) is that my Restless Leg Syndrome has intensified.  It’s now gotten to where the muscles in both legs cramp up about halfway through the night.  I get out of bed and, like this morning, leg down to see that my toes are curled and I have to physically unbend them.  It’s painful.  But, I’m getting it looked into.  This morning I’m going for an EMG/nerve conduction test.  I’ve had several of these done before.  Read about one of my experiences with it here.  In the meantime, enjoy this picture of my leg.  It may be the cause of great pain right now but at least it still makes my trainer jealous as all get out.  “Your calves seem to eat everything in sight” he told me.  Trainer?  My offer still stands.  I’ll happily trade you my calves for everything above your waist.  Then again he could just be messing with me…

Two Months Later

It was two months ago today that my dad went home.

I thought of him a couple of nights ago.  My wife, kids, and I were gathered around our living room praying our nightly family rosary.  Dad was so incredibly devoted to the rosary.  I can still hear his voice as he would come to round us up each evening.  “Rosary time!”  It had a particular sing-song tonal quality to it.

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The astute observer will note the resemblance to the Garden State…  Dad would get the humor here.

And of course, today is St. Patrick’s Day.  My father was particularly fond of his Irish heritage.  I remember when I was growing up and he would go into the deli to get his morning papers after daily mass.  Seemed to me that each year on St. Patrick’s Day he’d emerge from the store with a green-colored carnation pinned to his lapel.

So on this day, in honor of Patrick, in honor of Dad, and in honor of the Blessed Mother I will ask that any of you who read this offer a rosary for the souls in Purgatory.  If you understood that sentence, you’ll know what to do.

Another Anniversary

Two days ago we celebrated the 35th anniversary of my twin sister’s passing.  I say we “celebrated” yet I did little more than treat myself to a few hundred extra calories.  But that’s part of a new bulking diet and I’ll write more on that in another post.  Those calories, by the way, came from sprouted grain wheat bread, natural peanut butter, and hard boiled eggs; not exactly a trip to the Dairy Queen.  In years past I actually celebrated the day with more festivity.  We’d go out to dinner at least.  But times are different and after shelling out quite a bit to cover travel expenses for Dad’s funeral, a low-key remembrance is fitting.

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Like father, like son. Harvey’s old man in the late 1950’s (age 21?) and Harvey in 2009 (aged 31) Dad switched to a pipe not long after.  I guess that’s one way to be more like him.

Today was the anniversary of my brother’s passing.  That would be my older brother Owen who was six when he died as a result of the same house fire that claimed my sister.  There’s one more in two days and I’ll cover him then.

Imagine, if you will, what that week was like for our family.  Put aside for the moment the absolute tragedy and shock of losing your home and all your worldly possessions in the middle of the night (not to mention the trauma of how it went down).  Now imagine you’re a relatively young couple with an enormous family.  My parents were in their early 40’s.  For Dad it must have been hell.  Before the fire’s even out your wife is lying critically injured from a jump out the second floor window, your children are being loaded into ambulances to be dispersed to multiple hospitals in the area, your house is gone, it’s cold, there’s snow on the ground, you’re in your boxers because that’s what you went to bed in.  And you’ve just realized that your four year-old daughter is dead.

If ever there was a case for daily mass, this moment proves to me where the man got his strength.

Two days later with your wife and many of your children still in hospitals being treated for broken bones from being tossed into the snow from the second floor porch and while you’re planning a funeral for your child, your six year-old son succumbs to the smoke inhalation.

As with my twin, I have no memories of my brother.  Years later I did use his middle name for my son (and to honor the pope).  Yet, he is the brother I always wished I’d gotten to spend more time with.  He was the next closest sibling to me in age (after my twin).  Thinking of all this three and a half decades later I’m completely in awe of my father.  When my kids get sick I freak out.  I can’t imagine losing either of them, let alone both.

Do you know what Dad did?

He planned a double funeral.

These are my first conscious memories.  Standing in the funeral home I remember the thousands of people who came, and to the church for the mass.  I remember it was Catholic Schools Week and the principal of the parish grade school halted whatever activities were scheduled.  Close to 700 children in perfect uniform in the church with us.  I remember a procession of priests that, to me, seemed to go on forever.  The Benedictine abbot from my father’s alma mater, I think, was there.  I’m sure one of my siblings will correct me if he wasn’t but I remember seeing a mitre.  Coincidentally, I think this is where my love of Catholic schools was truly formed and to this day it is my life’s work.  I remember things like the drive to the cemetery with a line of cars stretching well past where I could see.  And I remember feeling like this was huge, like my life was completely different now.  And I remember gray skies, light snow, and cold.  And from their grave I could see the Twin Towers and I was a twin and that was cool.

He never talked much about it.  It’s a wonder the stress of that week didn’t kill him outright.  The thing is that he was a man.  He was an honest to goodness, genuine man; without swagger, without false machismo – the kind of man we used to hear about and read about and see in Frank Capra films.  He wasn’t soulless, he wasn’t a robot.  He cried.  But he knew and lived his faith.  These two were safe and supremely happy.  The rest of us needed love, protection, and support.  Who had time to wallow, though that wallowing was more than deserved.  The fact that he lived another 35 years is a testament to his faith.

And I’ve realized I need to be more like him.  I need to return to mass every single day without exception.  I need to provide more for my family.  I need to show my children what true strength is.  From my dad I learned that it involves a healthy dose of having a lot of fun with your kids.

There’s a reason for that.  Dad used to say (especially in the last few years):

“Some men invest in their retirement plans.  I invested in children.”

Well, I started out talking about my brother’s anniversary and wound up talking about Dad.  Please forgive me for these posts of late.  I certainly don’t intend to be morbid or to depress anyone.  I walked into a friend’s classroom the other morning before school started and he was crying.  “Why’d you do that?” he asked, almost angrily.  Turns out he was reading my last post about my sister.  “Do you enjoy making me cry?”  Sidenote: if I told you he’s also the trainer-friend I’ve mentioned before then you can imagine it was a kind of payback for the tears I’ve shed that I’ll never be in his shape.  But I never want to make people cry.  “Some men can move heavy weights around,” I said.  “I guess I can move words?”

Truly I am celebrating the beautiful lives of the people in my family and I do rejoice for them.  I’m also realizing so much more now that he’s gone how very special a man my father is.  And I’m seeing now so acutely just how much I’ve wanted to be like him.  And for now I’ll stop writing.

The Other Half of Me

I couldn’t let this day go by without pausing to wish someone very close to me a happy anniversary.

35 years ago today, my twin sister went home to heaven.  Although I have no real memories of our short time on earth together, the bond between twins is very powerful and I know she has been with me in spirit all this time.

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One of the few pictures of me and Teresa.

Now she has a long-expected visitor with her.  I imagine the moment Dad breathed his last and his soul entered the heart of his Creator that the first thing he did was to behold the face of his little girl.  What joy that must have been for both of them!  She, along with my three brothers, have waited patiently for him in a place where there is no time nor space.  They welcomed him home as if no time had passed.  I imagine whatever the spiritual, body-less equivalent of a young, vigorous Daddy running toward his children and wrapping his arms around them is; he did it.  He had faith all these years on earth that he would be with them again.  It’s strange to me that all of these things happened around the same, dark, cold time of year.  The five of them now have anniversaries within weeks of each other.  That’s nice in a way.  We on earth can saunter through their remembrance of their lives all at once.

Thinking back on this particular day I remember the last time I saw Dad.   When I leaned in to give him a kiss and say good bye I whispered “Tell her I said hello.”

I know he did.  And I know that joyous reunion is going to go on in heaven for as long as eternity will allow.

And I am happy for them.

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.