Monday, June 17, 2019

Summertime Is Almost Here: It's About Time!!!!!

“Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.”       --Al Bernstein

First day of summer. 

There is something so sweet, so graceful, so wonderful about that phrase, that realty of the one day when we actually pass over from spring into summer. First day of summer is this week: as we finally move from the intensity and packed activities that so often mark the month of June. Teary and grateful graduations and antsy kids sitting at school desks daydreaming as they look out the windows at puffy clouds in a high blue sky.  Moving vans being packed up on the streets of the city as thousands of students go home or go away for a first job. Late June ends in a loud crescendo of activity and is quiet. Or at least quieter.

In the small town I call home it is as if someone throws a switch to "off" and suddenly the streets are less crowded with cars and the pews in church are less peopled with worshippers who now claim Sunday morning for golf or sleep or the paper or a hammock. True: some places get busier. The line out the door at the local ice cream shack often snakes out into the parking lot.  The line of cars going on Cape stretches back mile after mile, everyone anticipating going over the bridge and then taking a deep breath and knowing that summer has truly begun.

What's your summer cue? Your summer start, the one thing or event or demarcation that absolutely lets you know that your summer has truly and finally begun?

Nature has its cross over point of BS to FS--before summer to full summer.  So this Friday the 21st at 11:54 am, summer begins on the longest day of the year, clocking in at 15 hours, five minutes and thirty six seconds of daylight.  That day the sun will rise at 5:25 am for those of us in the Eastern Time Zone and it won't go down until 8:30 pm.  The next day we'll lose two seconds of light, as the earth begins to tilt away from the sun.

But let's not worry about that. Not yet.

My signals for summer? I've got so many! Hot and crispy onion rings from a beachside clam shack I've visited since childhood. The sounds of a Red Sox game on the radio as I zoom along in my car with the windows down. A late day bicycle ride on my favorite local stretch of road, grinding the gears up a long hill and then gliding at 25 miles per hour on the downhill, feeling so free in that journey.  Sitting on the backyard screened in porch and listening to the peepers on a warm July evening.

I've no doubt we'll all soon find ways to complain about summer. After all we New Englanders can be cranky Yankees. We can find just about anything to kvetch about.  So much too soon we'll be carping about how wicked hot it is or how it's raining too much or how we just wish the tourists would go back home or how we have to mow the lawn again or just how bad the Sox are playing.

But let's not go there. Instead let's go out to the garden and carefully pluck away the weeds so by mid-August we'll be biting into ripe and red tomatoes.  Let's go out to the front yard with our son or daughter and play catch as dusk settles in.  Let's lean back into the sultry heat of a July day and then listen as the hot bugs buzz away with their insistent call.  Let's just be grateful to the Creator for a time of year when rest is possible, when time is ours' for the taking, when memories are made and stored away, so we can unpack them next February as the snow falls.

It's almost summer, God's gift to creation, free and ready for the taking.  I for one cannot wait!  The water's fine. Jump right in. Last one in is a rotten egg.

So welcome back, summer. We missed you.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Secret to Running the Race of Human Life? Just Do It.

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."   --Henry David Thoreau

55,334 steps.

That's the number of strides it takes for a runner to complete a marathon, 26.2 miles from beginning to end, to compete in and then complete, this most ancient of athletic competitions. So in our own Boston Marathon, for example, that's all the way from the postcard perfect town green of suburban Hopkinton to the finish line under the shadow of the skyscraping Prudential Center in downtown Boston. A very long way to propel one's self using only your body. No Uber. No commuter train. No cruising along the Pike in your car. Nope. Just your muscles and your breath and your will to finish.

So what's the secret to competing in and completing such a herculean task? There must be a mysterious shortcut, maybe a hack that makes marathoning somehow easier, right? I've got friends who run marathons and when I ask them just how they do it, how they achieve the seemingly impossible, how they can actually run such a very long distance, their answer is both obvious and simple.

They just run.

They lace up their sneakers and begin with one step and then another step and another and another and another. They have the goal of being a marathoner and then they take that hope and translate it into action. Into running: when the weather is perfect and they've got a tailwind that makes them feel as if they are Mercury, the Greek god of fleet footedness.  They also run when it is cold and rainy at 6 am. They run after working a full day, even though all they really want to do is flop down on the couch with a beer. Instead, they get up and they go out and they run. 

They just run.

Told you the answer was a no brainer, so clear and yet so hard sometimes. To dream big dreams for ourselves in this life but then to also have the discipline and the courage to make them come true. To imagine a glorious victory but then do the hard work of getting to that finish line. In Thoreau's words, to build castles in the air and then also have the wisdom to build foundations under them.

Ask most humans if they've got some dream they've always wanted to achieve and guaranteed they will have at least one great hope.  One achievement they've always fantasized about realizing. To run a marathon. Write a book. Sing a solo on stage. Start a business. Stand for election to public office.  Build a house. 

What's your dream?

To dream big is to be human. To dream big is to listen to the divine voice within that dares us to become and not just to be. In this season of graduations, speakers stand before wide eyed and huge hearted graduates and seek to inspire those young people to soar, to take that degree and become who they are called to become in the world. Who their Creator made them to be. 


That's all good. Yet the best of intentions, even the greatest idea of all time: it cannot, it will not ever come true unless we as the dreamer finally make the commitment and begin the race. Sit down before the computer with its blank screen and then type the very first word.  Arise at 5 am to get into the office early before most folks have had their first cup of coffee. Pull on well worn running shoes and put one foot in front of the other and begin at mile marker one.

In the race called human life, we can all dream. That's a great beginning. But to finish? We must get to work. We must leave the easy life of day dreaming and then do the actual work of life building. We must run.

Ready? Set? GO!


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Living In the Middle In a World of Extremes

"A horse is dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle." 
--Ian Fleming, British author

Smack dab in the middle. An equal number of folks above me and below me. Not cutting edge but instead most often middling in my ways and opinions and tastes and politics. This is where I usually land in this life. Find myself. Claim as home.

Somewhere in the middle.

And so my class rank on graduating high school was something like 600th out of 1,200 students at West Springfield, Massachusetts High School, a school that by the way is today ranked number 178th out of 395 high schools in the state. Which put it in the middle. Then I attended the University of Massachusetts, considered a middle safe pick for middle class students like me back then. I wanted to go to my first pick for graduate school, Harvard University, the tops of the top, the pinnacle, but I instead went to the middle of my three picks, Boston University, having been rejected by that crimson school in Cambridge. 

The middle. I always seem to return there.

My tastes tend to middle brow. What better place is there for dinner than in a well worn Main Street diner, parked on some urban street or a lonely stretch of rural road? When my local Sears Department store went out of business this year, the retail mecca I'd faithfully shopped at for all of my life, the land of Craftsman tools and Kenmore appliances, where I'd gotten my first credit card, bought my first TV: I shed a tear the day they closed their doors. Middle America did too. That's where America shopped.

My favorite place to visit? The mid-west of course, Minnesota to be exact, a second home where I've made lots of friends, where I rediscover every time I go there, a more balanced pace of life, certainly not as fast or frantic as the east coast. A middle way of life. Minnesotans speak of an attitude of "Minnesota nice", and do so without a tinge of irony. Midway between the coasts? This "middle-ish" guy loves to call it his second home, in the middle of the country.     

Politics is where I get in real trouble. In the middle.

I am not an over the top lefty liberal, a cold brew coffee drinking, MSNBC addict who's crying out "IMPEACH NOW!" at the top of my lungs. Nor am I a far righty conservative, a Fox News watching acolyte who's convinced climate change is a hoax and that the current commander in chief can do absolutely no wrong. Being in the middle ideologically often brings derision, even contempt from both sides, proof that in this current time in history, politics has been pretty much hijacked by the extremes, the way out ends of the ideological spectrum. That's sad because the truth is that most Americans identify themselves as political moderates. That the answers to our current civic woes probably lie somewhere in the middle ground of compromise.

The middle. 

Even religion is caught these days in extremes of thought and practice. Some folks of faith would be more than happy to take their cherished beliefs about life and then impose them on the populace as a whole, even though we live in a religiously diverse land of many faiths and of no faith too.

Last week hundreds of conservative American religious leaders took out a full page ad in the national USA Today newspaper, asking America to pray for the President, a seemingly noble effort led by Franklin Graham, Billy's son. But of this, Graham said, "When the Mueller report came out, instead of moving on to something else, they’re continuing to attack the president. I’m just burdened for him and his family that God would somehow protect him and get him through this.”

Wait. Shouldn't all people of faith in fact be praying for all of our leaders, not just one select person? Pray for all of those office holders on the left wing and the right wing and the middle wing too? Does Graham actually believe that God plays favorites in politics, is of one narrow extreme ideological stripe?

Yup. No middle ground there.

Me? I'm taking my place and staking out my turf right here in the middle, unashamedly, because that is where most humans live most of the time. Because in order for there to be extremes, there needs to be a middle, to keep both sides in check, to keep things in balance, to save us from ourselves and our more extreme beliefs and ways.  

The middle. That's where I am. That's where I'll be.  And you?


Thursday, May 30, 2019

What Happens When You Turn Off The News? Life.

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.”
--Anne Lamott, author

The “off” button.

Lately I’ve been hitting this button a lot.  On my radio when the news gets much too depressing or crazy, especially when the voice of one particular office holding bully comes on. On my TV when the local news weather person tells me for the 15th time in the last half hour that a wicked storm is coming our way. Thanks for the update! On my laptop when I’ve scrolled through all my news sites and find nothing but bad news to read, as if that is the only news in our world. On my phone when I jump from story to story about the trade war and the impeachment crisis and the looming possible government shutdown and yes, the 2020 election. Really? ALREADY?!


And so, I hit the “off” button, click the remote, close out the web page, and mute the dinging notification sound on my smart phone. And guess what? It makes me happy. It calms my soul. It slows down the beating of my heart. It lowers my anxiety level about the state of this world, which if I believed everything I read and heard and saw—I might conclude we are all going to hell in a handbasket.

I’m not quite sure how I got to this point in my life, being so tethered, so addicted to the screens all around me. Not so sure how I fell down the rabbit’s hole of needing to see the absolute latest news and know the right now news and consume all the fast-breaking news 24/7.  At least I’m not alone in my addiction. According to the Nielsen Company that tracks media consumption, the average American now spends 11 hours and 21 minutes a day, every day, consuming media.  That’s more than half our waking hours.  And I know that at least for me the bulk of that media consumption is the news. The headlines. Reports about current events.

I once loved being a news junkie.  Reading two or three newspapers a day.  Listening to NPR morning and night.  Talking politics with family and friends. But no more.

Because what now passes for news? It’s not really the news. Flip through the biggest news channels and websites—Fox News, CNN, MSNBC—and you’ll quickly notice that most of what is being reported is not news but opinion.  Not news but commentary. Not news but gossip or talking heads yelling at each other or smug anchors telling us just what we are supposed to believe.  About the news. About the state of the world.

Time for that “off” button again.

I can’t take much more of our current dystopian journalism because relatively speaking, our world right now is what it has always been and always will be. Good and bad. Hopeful and hard. Beautiful and broken. The conceit of every generation is to imagine that their times are the worst of times, that now is so much worse than then. That we are suffering through unprecedented times. News flash.  In the 20th century alone our nation (and parents and grandparents) survived and overcame two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation, political assassinations, Watergate and Vietnam. And we are still here.

Have you found the “off” button yet?

An informed citizenry is an absolute necessity for a healthy democracy. That is not the challenge we face as news consumers in 2019. We’ve got more news and more information and more insight into the inner workings of our government and world than ever before in human history.  We just don’t know how to sift through the news and separate it from the noise and so we are tempted to just consume everything put in front of us.  Like the hungry diner who stands before an overflowing buffet table: we don’t know when to stop eating. But there is one surefire way of going on a healthy news diet.

Use the “off” button.

Here’s what you can expect if you take that radical action.  More time to watch a gorgeous God blessed sunrise as you walk the dog on a soft summer morning.  Time to pay attention at your kid’s little league baseball game as you munch on a tasty hot dog and talk balls and strikes with the person next to you in the stands.  Time to just take a deep breath and know you are alive! Or ride your bicycle or hug and kiss your spouse for no reason or just be grateful for all the gifts of God that you have in this life.  Freedom. Work. People to love and people who love you.  A universe that, while sometimes is cruel, is also an amazing and miraculous place.

The “off” button.  Find it. Use it.  The good news is that the news can wait.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Weddings Give Us This Hope: LOVE WINS!

“I ask you to affirm your willingness to enter the covenant of marriage and to share all the joys and sorrows of this new relationship, whatever the future may hold.”      --Traditional marriage vows

August 18th.

Last year that was the most popular day for weddings in the United States, a day when almost 30,000 couples said “I do”. Think June is the most popular time to get married? Nope. It’s now September. In 2018 more than 165,000 couples walked down the aisle in the ninth month, at an average cost of $33,391 dollars per wedding. What is the number of unusable, unwearable, unreturnable bridesmaid dresses leftover the day after all those weddings? Those fuchsia or sea foam or bright cotton candy pink fashion faux pas? Infinite. I know this. I’ve officiated at more than 300 weddings in almost 
thirty years of being an “I do” professional.

And yes, I still absolutely love doing a wedding. Being there. Seeing love.

As I stand at the front of a hushed sacred church sanctuary or in the middle of a green meadow or on the back porch of a golf country club with cries of “FORE!” in the distance or in a living room with just the couple and me. Weddings are beautiful and ancient and hopeful and angst filled events, amazing rites of passage and of promises made in this human life. Weddings remind us that love still wins, still tries, still strives, that love connects and love unites.

Weddings go on. Love goes on.

Not that in almost thirty years of helping folks tie the knot, I haven’t witnessed a few weird and wacky moments. Like a wedding where the groom and his Dad almost came to blows. Why Dad chose two minutes before the big event to tell his son how he really felt about his future daughter in law, I’ll never know. The time a Grandmother fainted, just toppled over in the pew and so the paramedics arrived in a huge red firetruck with sirens blaring and the organist played music while we all waited and prayed and…she was okay!! PHEW! I’ve seen a terror filled bride and groom hang on for dear life in a horse drawn carriage as an ornery equine bucked and kicked. One bride arrived 45 minutes late as her guests melted in an August inferno. My most touching memory? A woman dying of cancer marrying the love of her life, “’til death do us part.”

Weddings teach us that love stays.  Love stands. Human love survives in spite of whatever else is going on in this world, all the bad stuff, the cruel stuff, the mean stuff, all of our fears about the future. Perhaps that is what makes a wedding so miraculous.  One person says to another, “Whatever may come, I will be with you. Whatever the future holds, we will meet it all together, as a team, as partners, as one.”

That’s why folks still get married in war time, in hard times, days when things feel shaky. They still have hope for better days ahead. That’s why people tie the knot even though in the past they may have had their hearts broken wide open. They still believe that love is possible. They still desire the companionship of one special soul in spite of yesterday.

We need weddings and we need the love these witness to: in good times, in anxious times like these, in all times. Love shared by couples and love found in families and clans and communities and even nations: this covenant love binds us all together in sacred vows, in promises that commit us one to another. We all say “I do!” in a way and the world is a stronger and a better place for our declarations of fidelity. We care about another person and this life is more tender, gentler, and just more fun. 

So, God bless us all as we move into this season of weddings. God bless overcooked chicken and the Chicken Dance.  God bless teary fathers and proud mothers, remarried couples, same sex couples, couples that are so young and couples that are so old too. God bless high religious services in houses of worship and laid-back services in a meadow and quiet moments at City Hall with the clerk. 
It’s all good because it’s all love and it’s all a gift from God and it’s ours’ for the taking and ours’ for the witnessing, whatever the future may hold. 

Let tomorrow bring whatever it will. But today? We love.