The Night Call



“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.”
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

The phone rang as I was getting ready to go to sleep.

“I want you to know that I’m more vulnerable than I seem,” she said.  “I can be hurt easily and if you ever want to stop seeing each other, all I ask is that you tell me.  Don’t just stop calling.”  Wow.  That’ll wake you up.

Some people consider vulnerability a state or situation wherein one is able to be hurt and is therefore a weakness to be avoided.  I think a lot of divorced people find themselves there.  But vulnerability is better characterized as a choice we make to intentionally allow ourselves to be open and able to be hurt so that, as Dr. Brown asserts, we can taste life and love more richly.

My wife Laura made this choice while we were dating.  We were both in the aftermath of painful occurrences.  Mine was the death of my first wife the previous year.  Hers was a very unpleasant divorce following which she told herself that she would never again allow herself to be emotionally hurt by a man.

Fortunately for me—and us—she changed her mind and I received that phone call.  I was very touched by her openness, especially considering the pain of her divorce and told her so.  I also said that if it was OK with her, I’d be sticking around for a while.  So far, it’s been over 10 years and we still feel the magic.

Happy Together

Happy Together

Laura made a decision to forego her previous conviction of abandoning vulnerability.  She did not do so lightly.  We had connected emotionally and were allowing ourselves to feel love again with all the joy and potential pain that love involves.  Because tearing down the walls of inhibition and surrendering our shell means that we have chosen to be open and vulnerable to someone else.  Love is vulnerability and love is surrender to someone we have come to trust.  There’s really no other way to get there.

BTW, if you haven’t heard—or heard of—Dr. Brene Brown, you must watch her two TED talks on vulnerability, shame, and courage.  You can find them here andhere.  Best to view them in that order.  She’s also written two books:  The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.  You should read them.  You really should.


The Body Cries Out

Pain pressed in my chest, radiated down my arms; my breathing was shallow and rapid along with my pulse rate.

I knew I was having a heart attack.  Except that I wasn’t.

Too Much Pressure

Too Much Pressure

                                   Falling Apart

In the summer of 1976 and age 27, I had a series of “heart attacks” that I really never had.

Oh, I had the symptoms, classic symptoms.

But when they hooked up the EKG monitor, all the peaks and valleys were right where they were supposed to be.  On another occasion of chest pain, one of several, the doctor put me on a treadmill stress test.  My heart was strong.

So why was I disappointed?  Naturally, I didn’t want to have heart disease but if I didn’t, that meant that there was something wrong upstairs.  This was 1976 and the concepts of panic or anxiety attacks weren’t talked about much.   The closest we got to that was when some famous person checked into a hospital for what was termed “exhaustion.”

Yeah, let’s see some regular citizen try that:  Walk into a hospital and say “I’m exhausted.  Check me in.”  Hah!  They’d throw you out and charge you for changing the sheets on your gurney.

But I digress.

Stop Signs

I usually like to phrase ideas in affirmative terms, avoiding the negative.  But right now, I’m thinking of activities to stop because they’re not doing us any good.  They are, indeed, doing us ill because they interfere with achieving peace of mind.

Sign---Stop Sign

We unconsciously allow ourselves to be bombarded with baloney that is distracting, disturbing, and dismaying.

But, you query, what can we do?  What can someone, a person like myself, do to overcome this plethora of poop?

Humbly, I offer these suggestions:

  • Stop watching the news. It’s depressing.  Just skim over the basics of what you need to know on a local level.  Then, turn it off, especially if it involves the federal government.  Congress will just depress you.
  • Stop watching the market unless you’re a day-trader.  The up and down swings will drive you crazy and the market analysts on TV will only frustrate you.
  • Stop managing your own money:  We get too emotional about our money and that clouds our judgement.  Find a financial consultant, make sure they’re accredited and certified and all that meet with them regularly.  In between those meetings, forget about it.
  • Stop being plugged in all the time.  Anyone can do it for short periods of time. Really.  Just walk away from the computer for awhile.  Leave the tablet at home.  “Forget” to take your phone with you.  Yeah, it will feel funny the first few times but trust me, it’s really good for you.

Next time we’ll consider some ideas to start doing.

              What could you stop doing that would make your life better?

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.