Thursday, July 04, 2019

On the Shore--The Glorious Debris


“Every one of us
 is called upon, probably many
 times, to start a new life.
A frightening diagnosis, a
marriage, a move, loss of a job…
And onward full tilt we go,
pitched and wrecked and absurdly
resolute, driven in spite of
everything to make good on a
new shore. To be hopeful, to
embrace one possibility after
another—that surely is the basic
instinct…..Crying out: High tide!
Time to move out into the
glorious debris. Time to take
this life for what it is.”

--Barbara Kingsolver, from High Tide in Tucson

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Father's Day Time

One of the central attractions in the city of Prague is the clock tower in the main square. There is a certain irony that vacationers, supposedly freed from clock watching, are drawn to this tower clock.

They arrive five minutes before each hour to stare upward at the moving hands and the parade of carved wooden puppets that mark each changing hour. Tours guides offer stern warnings that the area near the tower is notorious for petty crime. While tourists are transfixed by the clock and its puppets, pickpockets help themselves to money, passports and yes, watches.

The tradition of village clock towers evolved from the practice of having a man stand guard to keep watch and periodically ring a bell to mark the hour. The name of that profession is the origin of the watch we now wear on our wrist. 

Timepieces gradually moved from the public clocks of the middle ages, to clocks inside the home, to pocket watches, to ones now strapped on our arm, getting closer to us all the time. While convenience has advantages, we no longer enjoy the communal reminder of passing time.

Time is an important topic for Father’s Day. This week’s newspaper ads show this deep connection.

From Timex to Rolex, wristwatches are the number one gift for Dad. It may be the perfect gift too. Fatherhood is a short season and it flies by.

My father died when he was 56 and I was 18. His death was sudden and unexpected. It wasn’t until I crossed the 50 threshold that I understood that my father had died young. I knew, of course, that I was young when he died, but now I understand that he was young too.

Time was an important part of my father’s life. He was an industrial engineer, a “time and motion study man”. His work was about efficiency and calculation.  He carried a clipboard and wore an elegant gold Hamilton watch.  

Whether due to nature or nurture, I too have an overly developed sense of time. I multi-task, write daily to-do lists, and I lust after organizing systems. But I also resist being tethered to time. Maybe it’s because I watched my father save so much time, which he never got a chance to use, that I have a love/hate relationship with “time management”.

My own calendar shocks people. It’s an oversized month-at-a-glance book in which I track tasks by scribbling through the borders and across the lines intended to demarcate the days. Each month’s page becomes an abstract work of scribbles and swirls and then it’s torn away. I don’t look back.

Death isn’t the only way that dads go missing from their kid’s lives. Divorce or drinking can do it too, but most often it’s work. That’s not new. Fathers of the 1950’s didn’t come to school plays or Girl Scout ceremonies; Mom went to those things and told Dad about it at dinner.

Are today’s Dads wiser? It seems so. Last year fathers reported spending four hours a day with their kids, compared with just 2.7 hours in 1965. But I wonder, are those hours together real leisure and pleasure or are we multi-tasking the homework and the errands with the quality time?

It’s a cliché to say how fast childhood goes and how fast fatherhood disappears too, but it’s true.

With our lists and calendars-- and even our watches—we can pick our own pockets. In trying to better organize them our lives can be stolen away.

Next week summer begins. Will the livin’ be easy? Or will we tick it off and time it out? Fathers, keep watch. Just look at the time.

For more on families and recovery you'll want to read: 

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Are We Restless or Are We Just Human?

You will hear this sometimes at twelve-step meetings— “We are just restless and discontent.”  The basis of that idea comes from the Big Book and recovering people often turn that into a self-blaming statement and turn it on themselves and others.

Sometimes I hear this injunction against restlessness said with a suggestion that if one’s sobriety was better they’d not be restless anymore. 

Or sometimes, even more damming, if one worked the steps the “right” way then that the damned restlessness would slip away.

But that attitude and belief disregards what philosophers and great theologians have taught us about being human. We’ve learned from Epictetus and Aristotle and even Saint Augustine. Augustine was just one thinker who described restlessness as part of the human condition. He famously wrote, “God you made us as we are, and we are restless until we rest in you.” Augustine was not writing about addicts. He was describing the people that God created.

So, I wonder sometimes if it isn’t a bit arrogant to suggest that if we alcoholics just did our program right then our restlessness would disappear? But we forget to ask, if it left us then we’d be…what? —better than other human beings? Where’s the humility in that? 

And I also wonder if we attempt to chase the removal of restlessness like we used to try to chase away uncomfortable feelings-and we did that by using drugs, alcohol, food, work…. you know the list. That’s just addictive “fix me” thinking.

If restlessness is part of God’s creation for human beings, and if we are to be restless until we rest in God, then we might not want to suggest that we have a special path or that we are somehow smarter than God.

Perhaps the wiser, more humbler, and more faith-filled course is to note our restlessness as a sign that we are human and be very grateful for that.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

We Are Easter People

I have an Easter memory from years ago. I was living in Washington, DC, and that year was a low point in my life. My older sister had recently died, and both of my brothers were seriously ill; my best friend was leaving town, and on top of that I was questioning my work.

In my journal that April I wrote, “Am I depressed?” When I read those pages now I laugh and shake my head. “Depressed?” That I even had to ask. In that long year I thought I’d never laugh again, just as I thought I’d never again feel love, the joy of easy friendship, or the satisfaction of good work.

I went to church that Easter out of both habit and desperation. I had grown up in a church-going family. It was what we did. And so to honor the family that I was losing I went. I chose a big downtown church for Easter services—one with hundreds in the congregation--not daring to visit a smaller church where I might have to speak to people or be embarrassed by my own tears. I wanted the paradoxical safety and anonymity of being in a crowd.  

The minister that Easter Sunday said many things that I don’t remember but one sentence stood out. He said, "we live in a Good Friday world."   That I understood. A Good Friday world is a world full of suffering, questioning, unfairness, trouble, mistakes, hurts, losses and grief. That was certainly confirmation of my life that day. “But,” he continued, “We are Easter people.” Those words stopped me cold. I was stunned to be reminded that painful morning that there was something other than what I was feeling. 
has stayed with me all these years. He said, “We live in a Good Friday world…”

My life was not instantly transformed; his words did not change the course of my brothers’ illnesses; nor give me answers to my questions. But the idea of being “Easter people” gave me a pause in my grief and the teeniest hope that there really did exist something other than pain.

Today all of the things that hurt so much back then have changed. As my brothers died friends came forward to help. I began to write and publish. Months later I fell in love and moved to upstate New York where a new life began with new friends, new work and yes, of course, new problems. 

What strikes me now is that this believing in “Easter” in the midst of “Good Friday” is as much about being an American as it is about being Christian.  Americans are, by character, a people of reinvention. There is an extra layer of intention that we bring to “new life” that isn’t true even in other predominately Christian cultures.  As Americans we are future oriented, we look forward not back, and we are, for the most part, a culture of optimistic, hopeful people. 

The gift from that Easter service many years ago was the reminder that we are, by religion or culture, a people who believe in possibility. When our hearts are shattered we are sometimes shocked to discover that there is joy as well as pain inside.

Out of the ashes of our mistakes, from our defeats, and even our despair, we rise again in better lives.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Jackie Robinson Day--Lessons for All of Us

On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson ran onto Ebbets Field, taking his place at first base and in both baseball and civil rights history.  
Today, with our news filled with stories of injustice and discrimination, we can use this anniversary to find our own places to support social change.
We admire Jackie Robinson, as we should, he was the one on the field. 

But there were others who supported “baseball’s greatest experiment.” Those others can inspire us. So here are three examples from the Robinson story that can be our role models.
First, the man who brought Robinson to the majors: Branch Rickey was the President of The Brooklyn Dodgers. He had a longtime interest in racial integration, but he wasn’t a minister or a politician. 

Rickey was a baseball executive who made a wise business—and moral—decision by signing Robinson. 

Rickey had studied the Negro Leagues for years and he knew that he could fill a ballpark—and probably win a pennant --with players like Jackie. 

Like Rickey, some of us in leadership positions have opportunities to bring money and morality together. We can look for places to advance social justice in our organizations. 

But maybe you don’t own the company; maybe you’re a manager or you run a department. There’s an example in the Robinson story for you too.

Your role model is Bert Shotton. Shotton managed the Dodgers in 1947. He stepped in when the legendary Leo Durocher was banned from baseball.

The Dodgers lost Durocher right after Robinson arrived, and while the team was in an uproar about Rickey signing Robinson. Rickey needed someone in the dugout who could hold the team together while Jackie was on the field enduring physical and verbal assaults from other players and the fans. 

Rickey brought Shotton out of retirement to calm and soothe and knit the Dodgers together during that crucial first year.

Shotton wasn’t colorful or flashy, he just got the most stirred up team in history to settle down and play ball. Red Barber said, “The unsung hero of 1947 was manager Burt Shotton.” Shotton is an example of what many of us could do within our companies to help those who are struggling with change.

But maybe you’re not even a manager; you’re a coworker or a customer. Well, there’s a role model for you too.

Harold “Pee Wee” Reese was Jackie Robinson’s teammate. The most unlikely man to be of help, Reese grew up in the segregated south and even he was initially upset when he was told that Robinson would play. But Reese was an inherently just person. When one of his teammates circulated a petition saying they’d all quit if Rickey kept Robinson, Reese said no, and handed the petition back, causing the protest to fizzle. 

But Reese did something else. Early in 1947 at a game in which the hatred directed at Robinson was particularly ugly, Reese did the simplest --and most powerful-- thing. He left his shortstop position and walked over to Robinson at first base.

 He smiled at Robinson, made some small talk, and then, like any guy talking to a friend, Reese put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder. 

The fans fell silent. Reese had signaled that Jackie was his teammate. “That,” said sportswriter Roger Kahn, “was baseball’s finest moment.”

So today, as you recall Jackie running onto Ebbets Field, look behind him and give a nod to Rickey, Reese and Shotton. They offer examples of how each of us can support social justice and ensure that change will happen. 

Friday, April 05, 2019

Caregiving Has Risks of Addiction

One of the things that happens as we become long-term in recovery is....drum beat!...we get older.

It's true..years pass, we age and the people we love age too. If you stay in recovery a long time there is a very high probability that you'll do time as a caregiver--for a spouse/partner, for a parent, for a sibling.

One thing we are now learning about caregivers is there is a risk of addiction, so for us that becaomes a risk of relapse.

This month I wrote about this concern for Cancer Today Magazine..and here is the link to that story: This is one worth sharing far and wide--its a concern for folks in recovery--woman and men--and for other family and friends.

Have a read. Here's the link:

Spring is almost here!