Tag Archives: faith

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.

me dad smoking

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.

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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.

twins crib

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.

Prayers, Please

surgery

That’s Dad in the middle.

If you read this far, would you please, in your charity, stop and say a prayer for my dad?

He’s just had a pacemaker put in.  Not a big deal in itself.  However, he’s almost 80 and there was a complication.

Much love to all of you.

Thanks!

The Moon, The Passion, and You

moon effect

Luna

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.”

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.

Journey Home: Saying Good-bye to My Brother

Yesterday we set out.  The news yesterday morning was, though not unexpected, still a shock.  Although we had prepared our best it still took my wife and me most of the day to wash laundry, pack, rent a car, handle some banking transactions, and tell the kids that their uncle was dead.

I had gone to bed praying the ninth day of a novena to St. Joseph, patron of a happy death.

That part was tough.  My babies had been at school, ironically attending the funeral of a classmate’s grandfather.  When they came home I stopped them on the porch and broke the news.  “I’m sorry, kids, but your uncle died this morning.”  My daughter, in particular, took the news hard.  She looked up at me and shouted “Now I’ll never be able to give him these!” and she started crying as she said it.  It was then that I noticed she was holding a large card filled with many other, homemade cards.  It was a spiritual bouquet from her classmates for my brother.  They knew he was ill and had wanted to send their love — to help in a way that children can in these cases.  I walked inside and broke down.  This was all so moving and losing a man I had never gotten to know as well as I could have hit me very hard in that moment.  These children knew him well enough to know he needed prayers.

“It’s OK,” I said through my tears.  “We can either give them to Grandma or place them in his coffin.”

My children (lead by my son) came over to me and, not saying a word, put their arms around me.

Our drive was rather uneventful.  I hadn’t slept much in the previous nights.  An hour outside of home I started to fall asleep.  My wife took over the driving.  We were still in North Texas.  I dozed off.  When I woke up — thinking it had only been an hour at most — I asked my wife where we were.

“I don’t know, somewhere outside of St. Louis,” she said.

Damn, she’s good.

And I had totally missed the Oklahoma Turnpike system.  So, the toll roads in Oklahoma?  Well, they don’t trust motorists much.  I can’t say I blame them.  If I were a native to Oklahoma I don’t know how much trust I’d have in anyone or anything to do with the US dollar.  Anyway, they demand full payment up front.  If you exit the toll road before driving its full length they give you a refund for the difference.

Other than that fun fact, in the remainder of this leg of the journey I thanked God for my wife and her energy and then I burned up my data tracking the Blizzard of 2016 that was bearing down on the Northeast as we drove across Chickasaw Country.  We needed to make sure we would safely navigate around it and this would likely mean a detour through Buffalo of all places.

We checked into a hotel and bedded down for the night.  It was 3AM.  This was going to be a long trip.

Reason(s) to Believe

My niece’s husband was in town this evening.  He came through on an 18 hour business trip.  So we met up with him for dinner.  What a fun time!  It was nice to see him.  They’re expecting their first child.  In moments like this I appreciate sharing my voluminous knowledge of all things daddy-hood.  So when I had mentioned both of them to him we sat down to eat.

Tonight’s prompt is somewhat of a faith-inspired theme.  You all know I’m a man of faith so let’s dig in.

In Reason to Believe, Bruce Springsteen sings, “At the end of every hard-earned day / people find some reason to believe.” What’s your reason to believe?

I almost want to disqualify the prompt right off the bat on the grounds that I loathe Bruce Springsteen.  Being from New Jersey, most people assume I love Springsteen.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say I wasn’t born to run.

For me, there are many reasons to believe.  Let’s get the serious one’s out of the way first.  I believe because I have been given the gift of faith at baptism.  But in my daily life, there are so many little things that inspire me and strengthen my faith; they make me believe.

First there’s my wife.  I believe I’m not all that bad because a pretty awesome (and hot) woman wakes up next to me every morning.  She helps me believe in myself.

Then there are my kids.  I believe the world is not doomed because God created them to carry on another generation.  They help me believe in the future.

My students…  I believe in the human spirit because of their courage and joy (even when they don’t recognize it) when they face every single day of the most difficult, emotionally-challenging time of their lives learning about God’s creation with me.  They help me believe in the story of the human race.

music notes

Follow along…

But then there’s music.  Not Springsteen.  God I hate him…  I recently recommitted myself to one of my first loves – the piano.  My kids are playing now, taking lessons.  When I play, they take notice and it inspires them in their practice.  I decided a few months ago to tackle a few new pieces every three-five months.  These are performance pieces so they take a while to master.  Back in October I sat down and started tapping out a Mozart Sonata I had found in one of my old books.  Tonight I got through the first four pages without missing a note and without the book in front of me.  Only ten more pages to go (the thing plays out over 12 minutes).  But the piece itself…

When I hear music such as this, I believe that God loves His creation.  I believe He gifted certain men with the ability to see things a little deeper, to experience a little more of His divine mind for music – beautiful music – is of God.  I believe the He wants us to rest with Him for a brief moment in our busy lives every now and then and hear some of the symphony of heaven.  I believe.  I believe that He believes in us.

Please stop and say a prayer for my brother.  If you haven’t been following, he has pancreatic cancer and is not long for this world.  A Hail Mary, anything…  You are forever in my prayers and I am grateful always.