I am reading with great joy Robert Benson’s new book, Dancing on the Head of Pen. It is a book every writer or aspiring writer needs to read. Benson offers so many powerful clues to practicing the writing life. It is a book where the Life of the Spirit meets the Life of Art. I loves his chapter on Hat Tricks. He wears a Beret when he is writing a book. When he rewrites and edits a book he wears a sun-faded, well-worn well-loved NY Yankees hat, and when the book is finished, he dons a brown. Fedora, so he looks like a man of action, an author who has written a best seller. His “hat trick,” got me thinking. I wear three baseballs hats, one for the past, one for the my present, and one for the future. The Phillies hat reminds me of my past; Since 1942 I was a Phillies fan, but their present collapse makes them a team of the past, a faint echo of former teams. I wear the Steelers .hat to represent my present. When I first arrived at western Pennsylvania, I wore an Eagles hat, until a local citizen reminded me, “Up here we are all Stillers fans.” I wore my Steelers hat ever since, as they marched to two Super Bowl championships and are reloaded to make a try at another one. I wear the old Cubs hat, from 1908, to represent the future, not the past. I saw a bumper sign in Chicago that read, “Jesus Don’t come Until the Cubs win the Series”It’s been 106 years since Wrigley realized a Series winner. But still that hat reminds me of a future hope that one day, they will. (not in my lifetime!) All this is to say, love the past, but don’t hold on to it; cherish the present as the moment to embrace; and never give up hope that one day your dreams will become realities!! Thank you Robert Benson! .
When my brothers visited me in April, they wanted to know more about the 1892 Homestead Strike. So we drove to the museum, and it was locked. No one seemed there.The museum seemed a ghost of the past. Last week my wife and I decided to make another stab at visiting the museum and I called to make sure it was open. Assured it was, we journeyed there only to find once again the door was locked. Just when we were about to leave I spied a man with a T-shirt, “Rivers of Steel,” and politely asked, “When is that museum ever open?”He gave me a knowing smile, took us to the front door, and pushed a buzzer that got us access. I really felt stupid. The guides were there all the time, and I didn’t know all I had to do to get in was to push the buzzer. Later, as I reflected about this incident, it made me realize a much deeper truth. At times God seems absent, nowhere to be found or available to hear our prayers. Sometimes it may be times of crisis, illness, or loss, when we pray the heavens seem as brass. Yet, in the words of James Russell Lowell, “Behind the dim unknown, standeth God amid the shadows, keeping watch over his own.” There is a presence in absence. Jacob realized it after his dream at Bethel, “Surely the Lord was in this place and I knew it not.” The “presence of absence” may describe God, but it also describes Alzheimer’s disease. a disease that leaves a person physically present, but mentally absent. Absence may well be the first form of knowing. so, a person with dementia may seen absent, but in reality, their soul is still present, just as God is present even when absent. One of my lifelong mantras came to mind: Called or Not Called, God is here. Even when dementia robs us of our memory, and we can no longer push the buzzer to find words, we are still there, and so is God.
Children laugh 400 times day; older adults 15 times a day; older people, seldom ever. So I got a kick out of the gossip going around this community about a 96 year old resident holding hands with a 98 yea old woman resident. “They were all over each other, ” one wag said. I thought it was great that that they found companionship and affection at such a ripe old day. Nothing sweeter than the romance of two nonagenarians. Actually they stood in a good Biblical tradition. Remember Abraham and Sarah in their late nineties being told by God they would have a child at their advanced age. i can hear them cracking up over their child being born in the geriatric ward of Canaan General and he delivery paid by Isracare. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The reason angels fly. is that they take themselves so lightly. Many times I have laughed at myself. I recall I slipped once on a wet floor in a nursing home and a nurse, thinking I was a resident said, “Pop, if you’re not more careful, we’ll put you in a wheelchair.”
LAUGH FOR THE DAY: Dial into my psychiatic hotline: If you’re obsessive compulsive, dial 1,1,1,1,. If you’re codependent get someone else to dial 2. If you have multiple personality, dial 3,4,5. f you are borderline, dial the wrong number and blame the operator. Will Rogers was right, “We’re only here for a spell; get all the laughs you can.”
One morning I was trying to read the box scores of last night’s games, (a favorite pastime) and it was just a blur! I blinked my eyes, hoping it was just a mistake, but still I couldn’t see the scores. I thought to my self, “Have I had a stroke? Am I going blind?” i gave up reading the scores and went to my computer and when I put on computer glasses, i could see! Then I glanced at my spectacles, and to my dismay, discovered one lens had fallen out! No wonder I couldn’t see. I felt like the blind man of Bethsaida, who at the first touch from Jesus, said, “I see men, but they look like trees walking!”My wife found the missing lens under my the bed, and a visit to the optician took care of the matter. This incident got me thinking. Even with good eyesight, we lack vision. We are like the way it was for me with one lens missing. I am sick and tired of the endless attacks on the Affordable Care Act, which has given nine million Americans insurance coverage.and is a boon to small businesses. Representatives have myopic vision to oppose this act. Another example of this myopic vision is the way some adult children refuse to see that their ageing parent has dementia, and dumps them in “independent living” facilities without giving them the kind of care they need, placing them in memory care facilities.. I could go on and on, . . . . .The ancient dictum still reads true,”When there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.”
On what may well be the last visit to my Alma Mater, Davidson College, we visited the Davidsoniana Room in the Library, where my books are on the shelves. It is an awesome thought that my books will survive me, and last as long as the college. This gives you an eerie feeling of immortality. Today was a quiet day, and I took the opportunity to do some cleaning of my library and files. I continue to give books away. No need to clutter my shelves with books I no longer read. However, there are books I cherish, which have stood the test of time, and which I continue to reread. Many of my books now focus on Alzheimer’s and dementia and End of Life issues. Among older books I still read are: Thomas Kelly’s Testament of Devotion, Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison and Cost of Discipleship, Arthur Frank’s At The Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness, Nouwen’s Wounded Healer. books by Frederick Buechner, and a new book, Nelson Mandela: In His Own Words. In this ever expanding world of virtual publishing, with my brothers and so many colleagues glued to their Kindles, I am still a holdout I like going to my shelves, selecting a BOOK, cradling it in my hands,and reading it! !
The list of notable persons who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease gets longer and longer every day. First it was Ronald Reagan, then Charlton Heston, then three coaches, Dean Smith , Pat Summit and Chuck Noll, then Glen Campbell, to name only a few. I just learned that one of my lifelong heroes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, may have suffered from Alzheimer’s near the end of his life. What an irony that of all people, he should lose his memory and would have to say at the end of his brilliant life “I can’t remember anybody’s name.” He even forgot his own name. In an interview with Edward Bok, Bok had to copy his name, so he could sign it. (Notice the extra “o” in Concord, a town he made famous! ) . Sad, indeed. Yet i remember Emerson for his incredible writing, like Memory and Nature, as he became the main driving force behind Transcendentalism. I have lived with two of his quotations most of my life: “What lies behind you, what lies in front of you, pales in comparison with which lies inside of you” and. “Our glory is not in falling, but in rising up every time we fall.’” The latter became my mantra: Always We Begin Again. How terribly sad that such a great soul lost his mental faculties at the end of his life. Although not diagnosed, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. Yet his soul was still there!!!
“What goes around, comes around.” For years I listened to life stories of the “greatest generation,” wrote them for their families. My major guide was a book I wrote in 2002, Remembering Your Story A Guide to Spiritual Autobiography. I have been sidetracked by a combination of events, some beyond my control, like a stay in the Hospital. But two sages have led me back to this life passion. One was Bill Denny, a resident WWII veteran, who is blind, and has an amazing story. He survived four major invasions of World War II, including Omaha Beach. When I asked him how he survived, he chuckled and replied, “I ducked!” For me it was a miracle. I wrote his story, and gave it to his son,and those precious memories are now preserved. Yesterday I had the privilege of listening to Dorothy Manzlak, born in 1920, and became a poet in her 70s. I sat spellbound as she recited from memory many of her poems, written by inspiration. Her first poem, “Your Holy Light” begins this way:”Oh my God, my Heavenly King,all day will I your praises sing.” She wrote, “I must become like a blank piece of paper and let the Lord write what He will on my heart and mind. ” Listening to Dorothy quote numerous poems from memory, and reading others convinced me that the Spirit has indeed inspired her. Many of her poems have been published by the Salesian Brothers. Bill and Dorothy remind me of the classic words of Albert Einstein, “There are two ways to live your life. One is not to see your life as a miracle, and the other is as if everything is.”Dorothy and Bill have lived their lives as if they were miracles!