Oniontown Pastoral: Going Visiting My career in visitation began over 50 years ago with Mrs. Gillespie, who lived across the backyard. Johnny’s perch was a red metal step stool beside the kitchen counter. His usual was strawberry Nesquik. Who knows, … Continue reading
Category Archives: Friendship
Farewell and Godspeed, Ray
Farewell and Godspeed, Ray If I know what something means to me, if I have already come to the end of it as an experience, I can’t write it because it seems a twice-told tale. (Arthur Miller) You may already know … Continue reading
A Deep Breath and I’m Good Again
A Deep Breath and I’m Good Again
“It’s hell being nuts, Pastor,” Ray said over coffee. “I never know who I’m going to wake up to.”
My friend’s mental illness has been lifelong and ferocious. Hardly a day passes without one of his demons exacting misery. As I’ve mentioned in previous reports, we talk on the phone daily, usually more than once. Our conversations skip like records. He craves tobacco. He’s paranoid. He’s confused. Pray for him.
Occasionally he comes out with a revelation. “I never know who I’m going to wake up to.” If anybody else said this, you’d think he was joking about boozy one-night stands, but not Ray. Every day at 8:53 or shortly thereafter, my cell phone rings—or, I should say, quacks. I’ve recently given Ray his own ringtone so that I don’t rush to answer, not out of insensitivity, but realism. He’ll call back in 20 minutes.
Just as he has no idea what his alarm clock will bring, neither can I predict the stability of the voice on the other end of the line.
“I really want to smoke bad this morning, Pastor.” That’s a common complaint.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” I think, “smoke already!” No, I don’t advocate bad habits, but obsessing might be as carcinogenic as tar and as addictive as nicotine. My annoyance doesn’t linger like it used to, though. A deep breath and I’m good again.
Friendship with Ray is an exercise in forbearance, but it comes with rewards, chief among them is that loving him precisely as he is nudges me into loving others as they are and, no kidding, accepting life as it is.
The latest beneficiary of John’s love fest is the Coleman’s foxhound Sherlock Holmes. The facts are these. Sherlock, as I have noted in the past, is loud. If you could hear him carry on when I get home from work, your guts would quiver. Hollering won’t change this. Ignoring him won’t change this. Filet mignon won’t change this.
Now, I can boil over, or I can remember what Ray taught me: You can’t—or, I insist, shouldn’t—train people or dogs to be something that they’re not. That’s pointless and unfair. Either track down what’s lovable or start kicking friends and pets out of your pack.
Obviously I’m not talking about, say, a woman staying with an abusive man because, oh bother, he can’t change. There are limits.
But if your foxhound goes nuts on the way to the dog park, sounding off with his head hanging out the window, you have choices. That is to say, I have choices. 1.) Stop taking Sherlock to the dog park. 2.) Roar shut up until a sore throat sets in. 3.) Bark along with him. Only one of these makes since. Once the spirit takes over, the chats I have with my sleuthhound are almost as instructive as the ones I have with Ray.
Sherlock’s vocabulary is stunted, but adequate. He’s got ruff, whoop and whimper as well as several variations. Wimper is phonetically impaired, but you get the idea. We drive by pedestrians, who grin or go slack jawed. Some must wonder, “Was that driver barking like the dog?” Why, yes, he was. The performance also includes an intimate exchange. “Rah, rah, roo,” Sherlock often says, undoubtedly meaning, “I love you.” So I respond, “Rah, rah, roo, roo.” “I love you, too.”
After dashing, frolicking and indiscreet sniffing, he hops in the backseat for the five minutes home. Tired into silence, he who sheds fiercely puts his paws on the console, thrusts his head beside mine and slobbers.
Nobody has ever accused me of being tidy, so my gearshift panel is a commotion of dog hair, dust and coffee stains. Thanks to Sherlock, this dry slurry is now cemented in place by K-9 shellac. The dog has a surplus of spit, especially after playtime, and when he pants, that paddle-shaped tongue flings the slime everywhere.
I could get grouchy, but what’s the use? Scolding will never subdue saliva glands. Neither will admonition make a troubled soul wait until 9:00 a.m. to call.
I have some experience with neuroses, so I can confide in you this blasphemy. Prayer won’t still Sherlock’s thrill of the chase or cure Ray’s ceaseless mind. It’s more blessed, if you ask me, to bay with the dog or answer the phone saying, “So who did you wake up to today? If he’s giving you trouble, let’s talk a while. Then I’ll bend God’s ear for you both.”
Oniontown Pastoral: I Mean to be Like Bill
Oniontown Pastoral: I Mean to be Like Bill
Have you ever moved out of a home you loved? Before closing the door, you walked through the empty rooms. Your footsteps echoed. You could hear yourself breathe. Floating from space to space, you knew that you would never leave. Part of you must abide under the ceiling you stared at before getting up each morning and beside the wall you slid down to sit on the floor, crying over terrible news.
You finally drove away, though the weeks were off kilter until new walls became home again.
I find myself on such a road right now. In fact, I’m not going anywhere. St. John’s in Oniontown will be my pastoral perch for years to come—God willing and the creek don’t rise. A small house in Erie will remain the Coleman’s nest.
No, I’m talking about change. Hemispheres of my world are like the hollow home I once stood in, letting all it held and witnessed work joy and sorrow in me by turns.
It’s impossible to explain why certain passings bring on tears while others drift by like wispy clouds. Maybe the best we can do is acknowledge this reality and listen to each other.
What I want to tell you first is trivial to the universe. The blonde horse I named Onslow is missing in action. For a few years he occupied a yard along Route 19 all by his lonesome. He shared space with a comrade named Sandy for a while, then suddenly was gone, along with eight or ten other horses in an adjoining pasture. Two horses still roam the field, but Onslow and the others belonged to a person who took them to another location.
The fenced-in half acre or so my friend haunted is forlorn, especially in March, when the landscape sleeps. I visited him once and couldn’t get him to come close. Will I ever run my hand between his eyes and down his nose? Probably not.
At the same time Onslow departed, a parishioner died, leaving a deserted room in many Oniontown hearts. His name was Bill, and he was my buddy. I’ve never met a man who had such a huge presence and yet expected so little attention or recognition. He liked my “Report from Oniontown” and even watched for Onslow when his travels took him down Route 19. He said Onslow out of the corner of his mouth, then busted out that great smile. His belly laugh, it was the best sauce ever.
But the last thing Bill would want me to do is pace the bare floors, my footfall a sad tick tock. He was about moving on in good time and taking hold of each day’s possibilities.
Bill’s wife Connie passed in 2017 after a long illness. He grieved as his St. John’s family expected, but kept active. “The evenings are tough,” he told me.
“Well, sure, Bill,” I said. The house was quiet.
Then one afternoon he showed up at church and told me that he had a lady friend. I was overjoyed. As anybody who has lost a beloved and found another knows, it wasn’t that Bill was forgetting about Connie. He just had more living to do.
“Her name is Tye,” he said, “and she’s a great lady.”
What a joy it was to watch St. John’s and Bill’s family welcome Tye into the fold.
Those two did everything together, but as I learned after Bill’s death, they were cleared eyed. He was 80 and had all kinds of systems breaking down.
“I was hoping for a year, but we got a year and a half,” Tye said with a smile. It wasn’t enough, though. It never is.
Early on, Bill told her, “I don’t know how long we have, but we’re gonna give ‘er hell.”
I trust God knew what he meant. What they got was 18 months of heaven.
When I go by Bill’s house on Mercer Road, I remember that he’ll never again show up at my office for some chin wagging.
He would tell me not to fuss, so I’ll move on. None of us knows what will happen tomorrow, especially given how the world is spinning today. Onslow sure didn’t receive notice of his relocation.
So I mean to be like Bill, to give ‘er hell until the last moment, to close the door of the empty house behind me and light out for a new one, my spirit of good cheer and heart ready for more portions of love.
Oniontown Pastoral: What Will Happen with Ray?
Oniontown Pastoral: What Will Happen with Ray?
My phone will ring. It will ring now in the middle of a sentence or during my siesta or when wife Kathy is telling me about her day. The name Ray will roll across my screen, and my chest will tighten with annoyance. I’m ashamed to say so. The deal is, if I’m occupied—and what I’ve just mentioned counts—then I don’t answer. Otherwise, I pick up.
Used to be Ray would ask for a ride to get tobacco or to borrow money. He always paid me back, but the loans messed with my cashflow. Other than an occasional fiver, the Pastor John Bank is closed.
I still take him here and there. He gives me a few bucks for gas and thanks me over and over. Occasionally he can’t help himself and calls me an hour after I drop him back off at home: “Pastor, I just wanted tell you how much I appreciate everything you do for me.”
Ray’s mental illness is chronic. If there’s a psychiatric condition, it has paid him a visit. I don’t know all his medications, but the man sags, drags and droops—same with his jeans, suspenders not withstanding. But he still gets sick. That’s what he calls his collective turmoil, whether it’s fretting about somebody breaking in and stealing his debit card or being scared that God is punishing him for smoking or some other trifle.
“Hey, Raymond, how the heck are you?” is my usual salutation.
“I’m really sick today, Pastor,” he’ll say first thing. “Please pray for me.” We talk for a minute, maybe two.
Sometimes he responds, “You know, I’m doing pretty good today, buddy,” and I get another feeling in my chest, a lightness. We chat, enjoying the nonchalant fact that he’s OK.
And so Ray goes. Tolerable days string together, then the old anvil falls. He checks himself into the hospital, where a doctor tweaks his meds. After a week he gets released, does OK for a while, then, here we go again.
Ray doesn’t have many interests to leaven his lonely hours folded up in a broken recliner. He once collected beer steins, record albums and even cigar humidors, but every diversion has a way of turning into an obsession that crushes all good sense.
To his credit, Ray has gotten better at holding binge behavior at bay, except with Starlight peppermints that constantly clack against his dentures. When the smoking habit reigns, his fingertips go rusty blonde.
As long as he’s feeling alright, my buddy is content. He reads chapters of the Bible over the phone with friends and is satisfied with a diet of plain boloney sandwiches and Cornflakes.
At 62, though, Ray is never free of legitimate worry about his future.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with me,” he said the other day from my passenger seat. “I’ll probably end up in Warren.”
Warren State Hospital, that is. When I was a kid in northwest Pennsylvania, “North Warren” meant “loony bin.” Sad, but that’s how it was.
But what I heard Ray saying was, “I expect to be forsaken.”
And I heard, “I’m going to completely lose my mind, and nobody will care one way or the other.”
A couple years ago, Ray almost made me lose my mind. His illness was particularly severe, and he would call me eight to ten times a day. When I brought the number to his attention, he had no idea.
“I’m sorry, Pastor,” he apologized. “I’m not playing with a full deck.”
“I know, Ray. I understand,” I assured him, swallowing frustration.
He is infinitely better now. So why is it that when Ray runs across my screen these days, I react inside like he had whacked my thumb with a hammer? Not every time, but often enough.
Other than a ride or a cup of Starbucks coffee, all Ray wants is a moment. He wants a friend to give him hope that once he runs out of cards entirely, his name will still mean something to somebody.
When Ray said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen with me,” it was as if God leaned in close and asked, “So, what will it be, John? Will my son be forsaken?”
If you ask me what faith is, I say it’s believing that when Ray falls asleep every night, God is nowhere more present than in his room. It’s dreaming that God looks at my friend’s face in the dark and sighs.
Faith is answering my phone.
Oniontown Pastoral: We Could Get Together for a While
Oniontown Pastoral: We Could Get Together for a While
Of everyone on my Christmas gift list, my father was the toughest. If he wanted something, he went out and bought it—not that he spent much. He wore Velcro sneakers, Navy-issue boxer shorts, and store brand polo shirts. What treasure do you wrap up for a consumer who rarely ventured beyond Kmart and whose favorite song was Morris Albert’s “Feelings”?
In the early 1990s, I proposed that a couple times each month we go out for lunch. “That’s a perfect gift!” he said. Ironically, Dad picked up the tab, but food was incidental. What we both needed was time.
During my current season of life I’m taking many backward glances and discovering not only that time was the best gift I ever gave Dad, but it always has been the one possession most worthy of sharing with anybody.
Actually, “time” is the wrong word. Where relationships are concerned, minutes and hours are the accepted way we measure our presence to each other, numerical values we assign to shooting the breeze or holding hands. What counts, though, is offering my very self to you and you responding in kind.
We’ve developed strategies to make being together appear less schmaltzy. We “do lunch” or “have coffee.” We go to painting and wine parties. Decades ago my mother would announce, “I’m having ‘club’ here tonight.” Pinochle, that is. The ladies kibitzed hours after the cards were put away.
I’m a fan of every conceivable excuse to be where two or three are gathered, but I’m also partial to truth telling, at least where conversations of one are concerned. By the time I’m finally ready to lay my burdens down, the life that passes before my eyes ought to be an edifying story with themes that never die.
And so when my 5th grade teacher Mr. Grignol took me golfing one Saturday morning in 1973, the hours were sacred. He gave me two sleeves of balls because the three in my bag might not be enough. I asked if his Chevy Impala, a drab-green behemoth with four-on-the-floor, had power steering. “Yeah,” he grunted, “man power!”
I now think to myself, “He didn’t have to spend a morning with a student going through a rough patch of childhood.” Right now, I’m standing beside Mr. Grignol again, watching to see if the drive he has just crushed will clear a pond. “If that one doesn’t make it,” he says, the ball soaring away, “I can’t do it.” Few of the wonders I’ve witnessed top waiting shoulder to shoulder with my teacher for a splash or a safe landing, his presence alone a grace he could not have reckoned.
My professors at Behrend College in the early 1980s gave of themselves richly and definitely without material reward. Their tenure and promotion didn’t ride on having winding discussions with undergraduates at the beach or in a bar, but I profited as much from those classrooms as the ones on campus.
Is it too much to claim that most human activities are window dressing for the sacrament of rubbing elbows and wagging chins? The Saturday Star Trek nights my old neighbors and I used to observe were a front for socializing. Often an hour or more passed before we got around to picking an episode to watch.
Or take church meetings. I no longer wonder why they tend to go on longer than necessary. “We could go walking through a windy park,” England Dan and John Ford Coley used to sing, “or take a drive along the beach or stay home and watch TV, you see it really doesn’t matter much to me.”
Day by day, the world over, the best reason for celebration and often the only prescription for heartache is an invitation: “We could get together for a while.”
Example: Jessica showed up at St. John’s last week and sat down across the desk from me with a stunned expression. Hours before she had held the family cat Riley, who had to be put down unexpectedly. What was there to do other than let disbelief hang in the air between us and lighten the sadness by each of us taking half?
Words aren’t much good when your young cat winds up with a tumor in the belly or your golf ball plunks into the drink, as Mr. Grignol’s did. More often than not, I keep my mouth shut about tears and bogeys. Best to hush as you and I stare at the horizon together, never knowing what will happen next.
Letter to a Kindred Spirit, Off to College
Letter to a Kindred Spirit, Off to College
Sorry for starting this sendoff with a cliché, but “time is flying” lately. Same with life, especially when fifty sneaks up on sixty. That’s me. Every once in a while I want to grab a day by the scruff to keep it from running away. That’s right now.
In a few weeks you’ll be off to Pittsburgh’s Chatham University, two hours south on I-79 from home in Erie. You’ll take leave, knowing that your tribe can and will hop behind the wheel as soon as you call and show up before tears of homesickness have time to dry.
You and I both know you’ll do some crying, right? I’m not trying to be a rain cloud here. You have—in case you haven’t noticed—family and friends who swoon over you with love and support. We’ve watched you overcome serious illnesses, distinguish yourself academically, hang onto your sweet self and take a full step into adulthood. Along the way, disappointment and grief have gotten up in your face, but you’ve stood your ground. Yes, ma’am, you’ve made us proud.
And you, on your part, hold a love for us that’s overwhelming at times, isn’t it? You find comfort in having family and friends in your house, even if you’re not in the same room. If we leave without saying goodbye, you’re a bit hurt. When Kathy, Micah and I moved from the house next door, you got choked up talking about it for months.
Such wondrous love as yours comes with a price. This is actually my reason for writing to you, other than to say what you already know: “I love you and am sad that for most of the year, you won’t be across town.” If only time would cooperate when we try to hold it still. If only those dear to us never disappeared over the horizon. You and I know better, right?
We’ll see each other often enough, but the move to college can be decisive. On August 22, 2018, you’re off to the Steel City. Four years later, who knows where circumstance and intuition will call you? Will we be able to reach you in a day’s drive? I guess we’ll all find out together.
Anyway, you’re smarter than I am, and don’t bother arguing with me on this point. There’s hardly anything I can say that you haven’t learned or already suspect. Studying and self-discipline have been folded up in your suitcase for many grades now. Those lumps from childhood have taught you not to get knocked out by upsets that might have your classmates on the ropes. And romance? Sure, you might get stung, but brains aren’t your only gift. You’ve got a strong, insightful heart. You’ll outmaneuver each Don Juan.
You’ll also make friends and crush exams and write amazing papers, no doubt in my mind. But I do have a vision of a moment that might come out of nowhere and leave you shaken.
You’ve just walked into your dorm room. Outside it’s dusk, inside the light is thin. The heavy knapsack slips from your shoulder onto your study desk. Strange, nobody is around, not your roommate, not other girls coming and going. The air is heavy and quiet. You check your smartphone. No text messages, no missed calls. It’s been a crummy day. A good friend has been acting like a jerk, for no reason you can think of. Or a guy you kind of like clearly isn’t interested in you (the fool). Or maybe you’ve just been out of sorts.
Whatever the case, it’s only you, your room, Chatham University and Pittsburgh. That’s it. Not even a test to study for. Being alone is normally OK with you. But now, standing in the gray silence, you want to be in Erie, bellied up to the kitchen counter and snacking on leftover Alfredo I sent home with you and telling your brother or sister to cut it out and hearing your mother call you “Abber Dabbers.”
You would give anything, when darkness comes, to lie down in your attic bedroom and stare at the familiar moonlight and shadows on your walls. More affection than you could ever need would be one flight of stairs away.
But you’re alone at school, listening to yourself sigh.
Trust me, Abbey, I’m not out to depress you. This letter is actually a gift to slip into a moving box and read again when you forget that you’re not only mighty, but mindful—which is why I’ve dared to send you off to college with this sad portrait.
4:30 p.m. on a December day like the one I’ve described will probably visit you. We’re “kindred spirits”—another cliché, sorry. The mere nuance of life can make us tear up or shove our faces into the dirt. So I know that your solitary dorm room on an overcast afternoon might fill your chest with a longing more insistent than you had thought possible.
If so, you listen to your forever neighbor Flanders*. This may be the only advice I have to offer you.
When you feel so alone that you want to climb out of your skin, stand still and keep listening to yourself breathe. Don’t run. Don’t busy yourself. In fact, do more than stand still. Lean into the loneliness. Taste it. Hold it gently by the scruff so it won’t get away. If you cry, cry like a big baby. And know this: When you let loneliness have its way with you for a little while, it will pass eventually without much of a fight.
By the time you feel more yourself, you will have passed an exam beyond book learning. A college freshman doesn’t have to be lonely very much, but when you do, Abbey, you’ll be able to handle it. For sure, call somebody who loves you. Call me, but if there’s no answer, you know what to do.
Being mighty has a summit: Standing alone with yourself and not trying to escape. You’ve got this!
*Flanders is my nickname with Abbey’s family.
I’ll Find You, Art, in the Sunset Dance
Art and I had a routine. He poked his head into my office doorway, checking to see if the coast was clear—a few times a week since Doris passed nine years ago.
“Thought I’d come in and bug you for a few minutes,” he said, then had a seat.
Half-hour by half-hour we picked through his life and pulled out stories as if from attic boxes: Korea, close enough to the action to hear the shells whistle; a garage-building crew in the old neighborhood and the keg they were bound to finish and the world spinning; Doris dying alone in the afternoon while he ran errands—he never quite forgave himself.
“Well,” Art said, standing up, “I’ll let you get back to work.”
“But, Art,” I always answered, “I have been working.”
He had to stop on the way home for something, maybe boloney. Samwiches every day for lunch get boring. After a while you forget to eat.
Art got to church first on Sunday mornings, unlocked the doors and set the bulletins out. But arthritis clamped down on his shoulders so badly that he gave in and got a crew cut. Combs and spoons weren’t his friends anymore. If I had a nickel for every time I fixed his collar or untwisted his suspenders . . . . Getting to worship became a project, weary and burdensome.
This past winter Erie, Pennsylvania, was cruel. Art’s car and many others at Niagara Village were snowbound, but the wind chills would have kept him inside anyway. He had time to dwell on the indignities of age: obstinate hearts, lungs, and bowels. And loneliness. He looked at Doris’ picture on the wall and told her, “Send me my ticket. I’m ready.” He lay in bed before dawn, anxious and hazy, and wondered if what he was feeling was death.
Kidney failure pushed him over the edge. I was there when a kind doctor leaned in close and with his manner as much as his words let Art know that forgoing dialysis was just fine. We prayed.
Oh, his poor arms, torn and purple.
Loved ones and nurses took in what was happening. Muffled tears. Compression devices off of his calves, the Velcro cackling. A tube or two removed. I don’t remember, exactly.
Art’s faithful son Mark went to make calls. Suddenly, Art and I were alone.
“What do you think Doris will say when you get there?” I said.
“Probably ‘What took you so long?’”
“Can I tell the [church] people what’s going on with you?”
“Yep, tell them I’m going home.”
I held his hand as he looked far off. Death wouldn’t arrive for a week or so, but he seemed to be peeking into another doorway, one where the coast is always clear—so I believe.
“Are you okay with this, Art?” I said. “Are you at peace?”
He was already on his way: “Yep, just help me through the door.”
Still holding his hand, I cried without him seeing.
The sanctuary filled up for Art. We gave him a good send off—big choir, his boys sharp in uniform, loving words and a salute from his eldest, “How Great Thou Art” sung by one of his beloved church-grandchildren. We ended with our beautiful old prayer poem: “Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant, Art. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.”
The next morning I gathered with family at the cemetery. We said more words—“earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”—and slid Art’s urn in next to Doris’. Some hugs later, I drove away through the deep, winding green of summer. I can’t recall what I did the rest of that day.
I sit now with coffee, keeping company with a few more tears that are still floating in my reservoir.
And I sit with an understanding: nothing can rush sadness through the door after a friend dies, especially one you’ve said to many times, “Here, let me fix your suspenders.” It was my privilege.
Last evening, knowing the best I can do is keep my own door open wide enough for grief to go in and out freely, I drove with wife Kathy to Presque Isle, to beaches that feel like home.
The Lake Erie sunset was on. Yes, a sunset, stunning cliché of the western sky, light everybody sails into eventually. Wind kept the landscape in motion, waves and light playing in the last few minutes of day.
Kathy and I stood at the water’s edge and held each other. The air moved over us—I want to say blew through us. As I breathed in and out, we seemed to be welcomed in by the sinking sun, the clouds mysteriously still, restless Lake Erie, and all the quick and the dead. We embraced each other, and creation embraced us.
It would be satisfying to say that I sensed Art’s presence, but that would be a slanted truth. Rather, resting my cheek against Kathy’s hair, receiving her cheek against my chest, my soul knew the hope of a gathering, a cosmic dance of sun, water, wind, sand, grass, and hearts. The song is of mercy.
Just after the sun set, a pale vault opened in its place, glowing in the memory of the great light. I felt as though I was looking into the dance, moving with it as much as anyone can without joining it entirely.
What does death feel like? Art wondered, and so do I. Now he knows. I pray that it’s like losing yourself in a dance, completely embraced, yet free, too amazed by color, light, and love to straighten your collar or imagine that anybody has ever died alone.
Blogging, Awards, and the Longest Acceptance Speech Ever
I’m a slow one, I am, but I catch on eventually. When I started A Napper’s Companion almost a year ago, it was a selfish endeavor. Editors were taking forever to get back to me about book submissions, and when they did, the answer was “Nope.” My morning writing discipline, nourishing as it was, occasionally felt like solitary confinement. So I stuck my neck out there with a blog, wanting mostly to get my stuff under somebody’s nose rather than letting it rot in my laptop’s guts.
As the months have passed, I’ve received several nominations for blogging awards. The first time it happened I tried to track down the source of the award. Dagnabbit! Every road led to another blog. “Ah ha,” I thought, “this is a blogging gimmick.” So I settled on a policy: say thanks, be polite, but don’t engage.
But then something completely unexpected happened. Part one: it dawned on me that it was selfish to expect other bloggers to read my work if I didn’t read theirs. So I read and came to regard reading not only as an ongoing pleasure, but a responsibility. I don’t schedule blocks of time for keeping up with blogs I follow, but a couple times a week it happens: Coleman sits with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and has great fun with my friends. Yes, I said it: friends. That’s part two: I never ever expected to find such a wealth of cool, funny, thoughtful friends in the WordPress community. I don’t suppose we’ll ever actually meet; hell, I don’t remember where most of them live. A few of them don’t pay much attention to my blog, but that’s okay. We’re comrades and considering the likes and comments some receive, they could spend several hours a day just following their followers and commenting thoughtfully. Not possible. Love them anyway.
Anyway, I’m accepting an award nomination today. I’ve known for decades that “writing is a quiet game”—can’t seem to track down who said so originally. What I’ve learned lately is that the blogging landscape is lovely, but, damn, is it crowded. WordPress stats say, “Over 409 million people view more than 13.1 billion pages each month.” Holy crap! But in the midst of all these voices, I’ve come to really connect with a little choir. In between reading posts, I think about my blogging mates (Australian lilt required). I hope they’re doing okay, and for some walking in the valley of the shadow, pray they’re still among the quick.
Among bloggers, awards are a way of patting each other on the back and extending genuine appreciation. Do we hope to increase our traffic a smidgen? I suppose so. But I’m accepting a nomination from blog bud nap time thoughts (I’ll do the same for another from kerry’s winding road in a separate post) for a human reason. She’s saying thanks, and I’m responding, “You’re welcome. And thanks back atcha!” I’m spreading and feeling the love.
I’m accepting a nomination for “the Quintet of Radiance Award,” which is actually a bundle of five awards. What the hey, why not go for a bundle? “Most Influential Blogger Award,” “Awesome Blog Content Award,” “Inner Peace Award” (by which my friend must mean “the Chunky Neurotic Dude Award”), “Sunshine Award,” and “The Versatile Blogger Award.”
My only obligation is to describe myself using the alphabet, but because I’m a sunshiny little pain in the arse, I’m going to use the letters to describe things I like. This may at times read like a shopping list:
A: Abiding Hope family (the church I serve as pastor), avocado, asparagus, artichoke hearts, anything Alfredo, art, America’s Test Kitchen, atheists and agnostics (see last item in this series), and agape (Greek for God’s unconditional love)
B: basil, books, blogging, cat Baby Crash, the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, the Buddha, Big Band, David Brooks (best right-of-center columnist), and Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”
C: (so-cute-you-just-want-to-poop-your-trousers-along-with-my-grandson) Cole, curry, cardamom, cilantro, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, Chipotle Mexican Restaurant, Julia Child, contemplation, and compassion
D: Desitin (should I join grandson in pooping), E. J. Dionne (best left-of-center columnist), dill weed, delete, dude, and dang
E: (wonder-daughter) Elena, eggplant (dredge in egg and flour, fry in grease, delete nutritional value), El Canelo Mexican Restaurant, and eros (Ew! This from a pastor? You bet. Gift from God!)
F: feta cheese, friends, Food ala Floyd, and fubsy (which means “short and somewhat squat”)
G: gravy (any denomination, salty and fatty, bitte), guacamole, Greek olives, and gentleness
H: the Harvard comma and Phil Harris
I: India pale ale and irregardless (which isn’t actually a word; it’s just regardless)
J: Jesus, Joe’s Cheese House (Marinette, Wisconsin; cheddar aged 16.5 years; eat or use to remove warts), and jogging (ten years ago I’d have said “running”; oh well)
K: Kathy (wifely; good Lord, how has she tolerated me for 33 years?), (“I’ve Got a Gal from) Kalamazoo, and Graham Kerr
L: lime, Louis CK (one is bright and refreshing, the other vulgar and hilarious), lasagna, Lutheranism, and love
M: Micah and Matt (son and son-in-law; proud as hell), meditation, monasteries, and music
N: nasty (a word I use for fart, as in “Oh, my dear chap, did you just emit a nasty?”; the actual item I can live without—really), “Nessun Dorma” (see T.), and napping
O: oregano, olive oil, the Oxford comma, and Mary Oliver
P: pesto, pinot noir, pizza, the Palmer (walk and wiggle your hips like one of those girls in Robert Palmer music videos), Louis Prima, Jacques Pepin, poetry, prayer, and peace
Q: query (wrote a ton of those dang letters)
R: Ricardo’s Restaurant (best filet mignon in Erie, Pennsylvania), roasted red peppers, Leon Redbone, and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto
S: Siestas, sleep, shalom, shamatha, cat Shadow, Starbucks, Star Trek (original television show), Star Wars, sour cream, salmon, the serial comma, Paul Simon, and Steely Dan
T: operatic tenors (opera not so much, just take me to the mountain top) and tomatoes
U: uvula (just a fun word for the phlegmy stalactite hanging from the back of your throat)
V: Victory Chimes (a schooner in Maine) and singing along with Viagra commercials (“Viva, viva, Viagraaaaa!)
W: dog Watson, white pepper, E. B. White, weenus (slang term for your loose elbow skin), wine, The Writer’s Almanac, and writing
X: X-rays (thank God; they eliminate exploratory drilling)
Y: yield signs (permission for rolling stop granted)
Z: Zen, Zoloft, and Brother John Zuber and his fellow monks at Gethsemani.
Okay, that was genuinely fun, but it’s time to move on. (I just know I’m leaving something really important out.)
I’m also supposed to nominate other bloggers for the “Quintet of Radiance Award.” I follow lots of blogs and am nominating only those I think might welcome such a nod. If I’m wrong, please forgive. Here goes, friends: