The House Is Quiet Again…

Today is our last day of having our beloved children here.  I use “beloved” in both a real and a slightly sarcastic sense.

We love them beyond measure and their visits, especially en masse, enliven our day-to-day routine with their youth, late-night stamina, ideas, opinions, and of course decibel level.

They also destroy our day-to-day routine and make the predictable completely unpredictable.  Meal times, arrival times, departure times, event participation times are all blown away subject of the vagaries of several adult individuals and 2 small children.
Our brood ranges in age from 28 to 36 and most are forming holiday traditions of their own, as they acquire significant others, spouses, and children.

It’s madness.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.  Well, perhaps the “decibel” part.

Right now, we’re in an “all-in, all-out” phase:  Everyone is here for either Thanksgiving or Christmas and no one is here for the other holiday.

We treasure these alternate-year mass gatherings because we know that, just as they’ve dwindled from being all together for both late-year family events, someday or some year it could change again to their being here for neither.

Or we might be together but not here, not at our home.

Happy as all of us are to be together, it’s disrupting them for them, too.  They’re away from home in another place they also call home, more restricted in their movements, splitting time with us for time with old friends and blended families as well as having less privacy and time for themselves.  They’re also having to live in someone else’s space, using borrowed transportation.

So, it’s stressful for all of us in different ways but stress that we welcome (as much as we can welcome stress) because that stress is the price of admission to family reunions and the the joy of being together.

We put up with the hassles because they are part of the package of family holidays.  Some must also undergo the additional stress of travel with its unpredictability and probable inconveniences.

We all deal with it in our own ways.  Some read or watch TV, others bury their attention in technology, escaping temporarily while being the in the same room.  Some retreat to a nap and others bustle around cleaning up or preparing for the next meal.

I’m the least social of anyone in the family so my habit is to physically remove myself to another part of the house for awhile.
And later today, when the last children depart for their homes, Laura and I will breathe a sigh of relief, revel in the peace and silence for a day or so before missing this noisy pack and looking forward to our next gathering.

We are so very blessed.

Silence, Please

Today is Thursday and it reminded me that two months ago today, I went on my annual retreat.  It’s  an annual escape where we meet, greet, eat, and retreat.  I mean RETREAT.   Silence, please.  We stop talking on Thursday night and don’t talk again until Sunday supper.  It’s kind of sensory deprivation and spiritual overload.

Demontreville Jesuit Retreat Center

The silence, as they say, can be deafening.  The idea is to be alone with God.  And 60 other guys doing the same thing.  But, that’s why he’s God.  He can listen to us individually and still pay attention to those other 60 guys.

Yeah, it’s a guy thing.  That is, it’s a thing that’s only for guys.  At least at this particular spot.  It’s run by the Jesuits and it’s a retreat center just east of the Twin Cities in Minnesota.  They do men’s retreats almost every weekend and mine is in mid-September.

It really is an exercise in introspection, retrospection, expectation. It’s time to retire, rethink, relive, remember, reorganize, rearrange, and be religious.  Now THAT’S a retreat.  As they say during orientation, retreat is a military term that doesn’t mean “turnaround and go the other way.”  It means to stop, rest, take a look around, assess and then decide what to do.  I don’t know if that’s the idea that Sun Tzu or General Patton really had in mind when THEY said “Retreat!”  But, it sounds good when they’re explaining the whole idea of making a retreat.

That’s right—making a retreat.  The priest that’s there for the weekend to lead the process isn’t going to give you a retreat; you’re going to make one.  It’s up to YOU.  Because God doesn’t like to shout through the distractions (who does?), they pull all the input plugs.  No radio, TV, newspaper, telephone, computers, internet, mp3 players, tablets, or smartphones.  Disconnect, disengage, and discover.

There are no distractions, no worries.  Just listen, think, contemplate, and pray.  Ask God to help you.  Consider those things in your life that you wouldn’t want to spray paint on an overpass and what you might like to do about them.  Don’t come programmed.  Don’t tell yourself “This time on my retreat, I’m going to think about my marriage.”  Or my kids, or my job, or my weight, or bad habits.  Just listen to what they have to say, think about what God might have to say, consider what you need to do, and get ready to do it.  Just wait and see what bubbles to the surface.  Something always does.

It’s amazing what a little quiet can do.  Actually, it’s a LOT of quiet.  A whole lot of quiet.  3 days of quiet.  If you can’t hear God talking to you under those circumstances, you’re not listening, my friend.  Because, every year, God does a little whispering in MY ear.  And every year, I wind up doing one of the things that they warn you about.  Don’t try to go out and change the world in a couple of days when you leave this wonderful womb. Because the rest of the world doesn’t know where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, or how profound you found the experience.  They want to know why they’ve been getting your voice mail since Thursday afternoon and why you haven’t answered the e-mails overflowing your Inbox.  Welcome back, Jack, to the real world where we don’t ring bells at assembly time or turn out the yard lights so you’ll get some sleep.  We may tell you how to think but it won’t be based on scripture.

So, you take the hard-won enlightenment that you worked out with God over the weekend and try to extend the serenity and live the lessons you learned.  It’s a fascinating, calming, and cleansing experience.

3 Habits For Deeper Love

Following the death of my first wife Diane in 2000, I knew that someday I would want to find love again.  The following year, quite by accident, I met Laura.  About  3 weeks from now, we will celebrate our 10th anniversary.

We have a terrific marriage and a very strong bond of love and respect.  And we haven’t had one fight, not even cross words.  We thought that this might be abnormal; didn’t every couple fight?   One of my best resources following Diane’s death was a psychologist at the cancer center in Fargo, named Ann Sandgren.  I asked her about this and she reassured me that some couples communicate at such a deep level that situations never escalate to the fighting stage.  Cool!

But I think we also practice some habits, I’ve counted 3 so far, with which any couple can experience deep love.

1:  No changing your spouse:  We were both  53 when we married and we figured that the chance of either of us changing drastically was about the same as having a July blizzard in Tucson.  So we accepted each other as we were and as we would probably stay.  We’ve only really had to compromise on the time at which we eat dinner.  If you love each other, you’re probably just fine the way you are.

2:  No snapping:  I admit that there have been several times when I’ve been ready to snap at Laura for one reason or another but something always held me back.  In thinking about that, I realized that she or what she was doing really had nothing to do with my temper flare; she just happened to be in the way.  I’m sure she’s done the same with me.  And every time I thought about it for a minute or two, I figured out what was causing my irritation.  It wasn’t her.  And since I’ve never liked apologizing, I guess it’s better if you don’t have anything that would make that necessary.

3:  No give-and-take:  The last habit is the best one.  It’s realizing that a good marriage, a deep love isn’t about give and take; it’s just giving.  It’s not a 50/50 proposition; it’s both of you giving 80/20 and the real magic is in the overlap.

That’s where we realize what a great blessing, what a great gift we’ve both been given.  Out of pain and loss has come love, happiness, trust, and joy at just being together.  Laura’s said several times how much she enjoys times like weekend mornings, sipping coffee in our living room chairs and hashing over something in the Sunday paper, talking about our plans for the day, or sharing something one of the kids has said to us on the phone or in an email.

Simple things. But I don’t think that love needs to be some complicated.

A Modest Proposal: TV Political Ad Blocker

        At the risk of pigeonholing this blog as political ranting (it’s not), I’ve got one more before the election and then I’ll stop.  I promise.

After my wife and I were leaving the polling place on Wednesday, participating in North Dakota’s early voting opportunity, we received stickers saying “I voted.  That gave Laura what I thought was a great idea.  Ready?  Here it is.

Instead of a little sticker, they should give us a bar code or QR code that we can then upload to a web site that’s connected to our TV or signal provider.  Doing so would then block ALL political advertising on our TVs at home until the election was over!  What a concept!

After all, we’ve already voted.  We can’t vote again so the advertising is useless to us, even if we wanted to change our minds.  And it would result in far more peaceful viewing of our favorite programs and avoid the cacophony (or caca-phony) of politicians and PACs who are determined to torture us with their blather.

Yeah, I know, it’ll never happen.  But a guy can dream.

Now That’s REALLY Scary….

Last night was Halloween when children (and sometimes adults) dress up as other people or fictional characters, sort of like ComicCon with candy corn.  But this year, the make-believe spooks and goblins have been vastly and loudly overshadowed by other people whose intentions aren’t so benign:  Politicians.  And while Halloween only last hours, these other creatures haunt us far longer.

I started thinking about the similarities between Halloween and elections.  Talk about spooky:

  1. Another word for politicianBoth children and politicians are pretending to be someone they’re not.
  2. they both show up with their hands out and their bags open.
  3. They’re both just using you to get what they want except that all the kids want is a little candy.
  4. It’s against the rules to buy your own treats; you have to take them from someone else.
  5. They’re both capable of playing tricks on you.
  6. Gearing up for the occasion starts earlier every time.

Of course, the big difference between Halloween and this election is that the kids in costumes are cute and the next day they’ll go back to being kids.  The day after the election, the politicians will still be irritating.  And that goes on forever.

I think I’d rather have my house egged.