Saturday, August 11, 2018

Hey Y'all, August is Still Summer!

Here's my annual "Rant"—which is comic really, because I know this is just the way it is, and we've been doing it every year, and I also did this routine for years as a teacher, so...πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‰

πŸŒ…...BUT STILL, it's 90-sumthin degrees in the early part ofπŸ’§πŸ’₯LANGUID DOG-DAY AUGUSTπŸ’₯πŸ’§and we're all running here and there getting ready for... SCHOOL?πŸπŸ“š✏

"Dear America, this is just... strange. Shorten the school year, or something. It's still Summer.πŸ„⛳πŸŠπŸ’€Is there anybody (students, teachers, admins, bureaucrats) who WOULD NOT WANT more vacation?🌻There's got to be a better way!"
Can't we all just take August off and go to the beach?🌴😎 #InMyDreams

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Abyss of These Days

        Silhouette of Christina Grimmie (1994-2016). Still frame from video for Stay With Me.

The Abyss of These Days

Another of these days has come.
Regular like moons they come
to mark the margin at the edge
where time plunges into a sudden gaping abyss.
It is the end, the unknown;
the implacable, all-consuming fire;
or something else,
beyond the abyss of these days.

All around me are sights and sounds,
glowing icons of life. They hold
eyes, breath, hanging hair,
swift fingers, a voice
all gathered to intense focus
by agile awareness of mind and heart, as if
a new world is about to be created.

All held in glowing visions.
Are they dreams or beginnings?

When these marked days dawn,
my ears awaken to ringing bells.
Such song as I have never known,
as though I could fly and soar on the drafts of its resonant air.

But then, a swift thunder cracks the whole sky open,
and in the oxygen-abandoned atmosphere a silence falls.
It carries me down,
and buries me in its dark soil...
a silence full of memory.
An aching silence of waiting.

And I am made deaf by stark silence boring holes through my head.
I am losing my mind in these days, these centuries,
these aeons of waiting in cold black earth without a sound.

These days are so long that I forget what I am waiting for.

But your face...I remember your face, your singular face.
I cannot forget the face that made me feel the shape of my own soul.
That face stirs a sweet fierce pain inside me,
a force deeper in me than my own life
that squeezes my heart inside my chest.

And I remember that I am only fragments of myself
waiting to be put together,
waiting for eyes that can see your face,
waiting to dance and sing in the bright fires
beyond the abyss of these days.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Edith Stein and the "Here-and-Now" of Salvation

On August 9 we remember Edith Stein, twentieth century philosopher who journeyed from her Jewish roots through atheism to the encounter with Jesus Christ in His Church that proved decisive for her life.

In the Carmelite monastery, as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, she became a theologian, a mystic, and above all a great lover of God.

In Auschwitz, on August 9, 1942, she became a martyr out of love for Jesus and in solidarity with her own people, and His.

For all her extraordinary heroism, Edith Stein knew that the fundamental transformation and renewal of life in Jesus Christ is a mystery inserted into our ordinary daily lives:

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Dolores O'Riordan and the Pope: A Striking Moment

Various YouTube channels devoted to The Cranberries have uploaded some fascinating and often previously unknown videos in recent months, as an ongoing tribute to Dolores O'Riordan, the late lead singer of the famous Irish music group who died at the beginning of this year.

I just watched a short clip of Dolores and her family meeting Pope John Paul II (from JPII's condition, I'd estimate this took place in the early 2000s). The video looks like it was originally broadcast on Irish television news. The picture above on the left is a screenshot I took from the video—a "still image" that vividly portrays the very brief but striking moment when they were face to face.

The glance they shared is scarcely noticeable in the continuous stream of the video. But as I see it here in the "paused half-second" of a picture, it moves me to pray more ardently for the eternal rest of her poor soul.

Dear Dolores! Whatever brought your troubled life to an end, I hope that in those last moments you remembered the love of the God who knows all your suffering, weakness, failures, mental disorders, addictions, whatever difficulty. I hope you found peace in the forgiving embrace of that Love.

The video, only 30 seconds long, can be found here: VIDEO

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Firm Foundation of Every Thing

The Collect prayer for the current liturgical week is especially rich.

It is an abundant source for meditation on our life in this world and its relation to the One who has made us for Himself.

The good things of this world pass away. They cannot fulfill us if we try to possess them and dominate them by our own power. But we can "use" these good things rightly as signs of the wisdom and love of God, as gifts from God that lead us to Him.

Every taste of goodness, every authentic value, every beauty has its source in Him and finds its enduring fulfillment in Him. Without Him nothing has firm foundation, and only in relation to Him do things communicate their real meaning. The truth of all things reminds us of our destiny.

O God, protector of those who hope in you,
without whom nothing has firm foundation,

nothing is holy,
bestow in abundance your mercy upon us
and grant that, with you as our ruler and guide,
we may use the good things that pass
in such a way as to hold fast even now
to those that ever endure.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Path of Conversion and Healing

The life of faith is a struggle, an ongoing task, an experience of learning to love in a true, Christian way.

It grows from a renewed encounter with Christ into a fuller and more thorough conversion away from the tendency of selfishness and toward the cultivated dispositions of sincere self-giving.

The Holy Spirit works within us to heal us (each according to our own history, circumstances, and unique personal vocation), to free us from ways of "loving" that are stunted by the ambivalence of our wounded humanity, by our selfish tendency to reduce other persons to mere "things," by our craving to amplify and impose on reality our distorted perceptions of self and others.

The Christian life is a path of conversion from an egocentric posture to an ever deepening habit of authentic charity--an attitude of mind and heart that truly loves God as He is in Himself, and that truly loves other persons for who they are in themselves, i.e. children of God and brothers and sisters redeemed by Jesus and called to share in His inheritance.

Our Christian vocation takes concrete shape in the Lord's call of love, addressed to us each day, which draws us into communion with Him in silence and prayer, in adoration, thanksgiving, and hope in His mercy. The same call of love permeates all aspects of our lives and human relationships: in our families, in work and social environments, in various responsibilities, in the joys of life, in play, in the beauty of things.

God shapes our lives in such a way as to draw us along the path of loving Him and loving others. Our sufferings, too, are permitted and find their "place" within this particular plan of healing and transforming love that our Father has for each of us as unique persons, embraced in His infinite wisdom.

In answering the call of the vocation to charity, we must have great trust in Jesus our Savior, for without Him we can do nothing. But He is with us, working in our lives and teaching us through His Spirit how to grow in genuine self-giving love.

We must not become discouraged by the apparent persistence of our imperfections, selfish tendencies, and fragility, but continue to work toward cooperating with God's grace and moving forward on the path of love that He opens in front of us.

Monday, July 30, 2018

How Much God Loved Humanity

In His unfathomable love for us, God reveals the mystery that He Himself is Love.

In the words of a great Father of the Church: "Anyone can grant favors, anyone can bestow gifts, any prosperous benefactor can love those who are deferential to him; but will he be comparable to Him who took the adversities of His own people onto Himself; who puts Himself forward to block dangers threatening His own; who hands Himself over to punishments for His own, who confronts death face-to-face in order to remove them from destruction and preserve them for life? Love is proved by adversities, the weight of affection is determined by the dangers endured, perfect charity is confirmed by death.... That dominion is true which commands by love, not by fear; which subjects both bodies and hearts to itself by means of affection; which by loving furnishes servants for itself who are not unwilling, but willing. [Jesus died because] He wanted it to be known how much God loved humanity, since He wanted to be loved rather than feared" (Saint Peter "Chrysologus" Archbishop of Ravenna [Fifth Century], feast day July 30th).

Sunday, July 29, 2018

"Bear With One Another Through Love..."

"Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all."

~Ephesians 4:1-6

Friday, July 27, 2018

Evanescence and Lindsey Stirling: A Synthesis of Music

"Abstract-painting stylizing" of a bad photo. Lindsey Stirling and Amy Lee "killing it"!
We had a splendid experience this week.

John Paul, Agnese, and I attended a big concert with about 20,000 other people in Northern Virginia on Tuesday night.

Though I love music, I don't get to many concerts these days, certainly not as many as I would like. Outside of the Appaloosa Festival, I hadn't been to a large venue in a long time.

The lineup for this show, however, was extraordinary. The incredibly creative Amy Lee with Evanescence was on the bill, with their rock-classical-music-fusion project called Synthesis that has been touring for almost a year in collaboration with local orchestras throughout the world.

Then there was Lindsey Stirling. I don't even need to tell you who she is, or why I would want to see this YouTube superstar's famous electronic violin-and-dance show. This time, she would also have the orchestra.

Two full shows, one after the other, with some music together as well. "I don't think I could make it through all that," I thought. Unfortunately, with my unreliable health, I have to look at things this way. If I'm not realistic, I'll have to pay the price, and sometimes its more than I or my family can bear.

This gives you an idea of the layout. We
weren't close but it didn't matter. We had
seats and we were dry. Famous cellist
Dave Eggar and drummer Chuck Palmer
were the "opener" and they were great too.
But the shaky fancam video clips people posted from the first combo shows at the beginning of July really impressed me. As the Virginia date drew near, I wondered, "Can I do this? But how?"

If I pace myself I can do big activities here and there... I knew this would take a lot out of me, but it wasn't impossible. Still, what clinched it for me was having these terrific adult children who wanted to bring me to this concert. All the driving-parking business taken care of, no worries for me.

So, we did it!

The best thing was that we had a great time together! Eileen and the other kids weren't really interested, and I don't know if they would have liked it. But for John Paul, Agnese, and me, it was perfect.

We had a blast. It was a memorable time together.

It was also one of the most outstanding concerts I have ever seen. It exceeded my expectations. It was stunning, beautiful, awesome, loud, three hours long... it was almost too much, but it didn't cross the line (it certainly didn't cross our line).

Lindsey Stirling's set was terrific, of course, but it was more than anything she's done before.

There were huge digital panels beaming a brilliant variety of coordinated video imagery, added to the choreography and the usual rivers of intensive music from Lindsey's plugged-in violin and the orchestral accompaniment. It was breathtaking. It's hard to believe that this tour is Lindsey's first time performing with an orchestra. There was an excellent interplay between the glowing bright riffs of her electronic violin and the classical richness of orchestral music. It all worked amazingly well. It was remarkable. Really, I have never seen anything quite like it on a stage before.

The whole evening was great. Words, pictures, or videos can't convey what happened. So much talent and hard work on so many levels came together in such an outstanding way.

Evanescence, Synthesis. I have meaning to write about this album and now I have to, after seeing it so powerfully presented. It's a larger sound, with more dramatic intensity as well as a whole spectrum of nuance. But it also still rocks.

I am so WIPED OUT, but for a good reason. Right now I'm trying to recuperate. I pushed myself on Tuesday night (and I'm glad I did). I'm exhausted, but it was a wonderful time. It was a great time with my kids. And the artist/musician/media-nerd in me was blown away. I have lots of reflections about the whole thing still in my head, and I am only beginning to ponder them. I can't write much about it yet.

(Of course, with me, everything gets "pondered." I share what I can, when I can, with anyone who might be interested.)

First, I just want to give a shout out to the extraordinary Amy Lee, who brought all these talented people together. She has come a long way from that spooky-looking kid on the cover of their first album in 2003. That kid had a lot of dreams. She has long been underestimated as an artist, a composer, a creative genius.

There were no doubts about any of that on Tuesday night. She nailed all of her own rich melodic songs, her evocative voice working beautifully with the orchestra, bringing out all those signature tones that only Amy Lee's voice can produce. And she played the piano beautifully, and basically just owned the stage. It was a command performance.

I didn't get any good pictures, but I have assembled a collage of a few poor ones (along with a screenshot at the bottom from a 2017 video where she first explained the project) in appreciation for the great lady behind this whole unique musical enterprise.

Amy Lee, you keep getting more amazing and more accomplished! I do believe the best is yet to come.✨

I hope that this is the first of many collaborations between these two Queens of Music. In the much better, official-ish pictures below (credit to the owners—Amy's pic is from the Evanescence website) it might look like their complementarity is as simple as a harmonious contrast between "somber" and "bright," or "melancholy" and "cheerful."

But that would be an over-simplification. Amy Lee's art has always been more like a light in the darkness. Precisely through her music she refuses to brood on sorrow, but endures and struggles to overcome it, and reaches out in hope of being rescued from it.

Lindsey Stirling's art is also a light in a different context: it is a light that shines bravely, that refuses to be snuffed out by the darkness that is always fighting against it.

Even here, I am over-simplifying it, but perhaps I'm moving a little closer to why these shows—even beyond their displays of musical virtuosity and high-tech "virtual fireworks"—have been such happy events.

These are two courageous women, who have persevered in their artistic vision against the trends (and against those in the "music business" who try to turn artists into slaves of perceived trends and dependable financial profits).

An orchestra plays surrounded by the light show.
These two women have succeeded in contemporary music without compromising their integrity. They have done it by staying focused, by patience, hard work, and finding collaborators who share their vision and who also contribute to it in countless ways. They also continue to grow and develop, to try new things, to take risks (the most recent of which is this huge 31 city tour, with a different orchestra in each city).

What I saw Tuesday night was the gathering together of vast resources, talents, energies, and technology with all its glitter and power and wildness and strangeness. All of this was dedicated to an effort to make something beautiful, and true, and good, from all the stuff and complexity of contemporary life.

They succeeded. But human arts never attain absolute perfection. A true artist remains "restless," and thereby continues to be creative.

I can't wait to hear (and see) what they'll do next.🎡😊

Monday, July 23, 2018

"I Will Give You Rest..."

Jesus said:
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."
(Matthew 11:28-30).

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Staying With Others in the Poverty of Our Own Hearts

Our commitment to loving one another and living in communion faces many challenges. We must learn that real love means staying with other persons before, above, and beyond our capacity to fix their problems, relieve their sufferings, or accomplish anything that seems "useful" for them.

The fundamental and ultimate reason for companionship with another person is the fact that every human person—simply by virtue of being a person—deserves to be loved. This love affirms the value of the person in his or her very existence.

Often we focus so much on "what we can do" that we tend (even if only subconsciously) to distance ourselves from people when we can't do anything to make them better or help them in some perceiveable way.

Why is it so hard to just stay with people and "suffer-with" them?

Perhaps part of it is the fact that suffering unveils something of the mystery of the essential, underlying need at the core of the person. All our necessary and worthwhile efforts to relieve suffering and improve people's lives eventually reach their limit. The life of this world, of time and space, is limited by its nature.

But the human person is not satisfied by these limits. This is why human suffering is ultimately so dramatic, inscrutable, and ... terrifying!

Human suffering is personal. For the person we accompany in solidarity, there is always that dimension of suffering that is a "cry" addressed to the Mystery, that expresses the aching of the need for the infinite that also burns within our own hearts.

In its utterly personal and particular depth, suffering reveals that we cannot satisfy or fulfill one another or ourselves by our own power. We cannot resolve our own mystery; indeed we experience ourselves as frustrated and incapacitated even as we continue to hope for something beyond ourselves, beyond the whole universe.

The irresolvable dimension of human suffering is both strange and familiar to us. We want to be present with the suffering person to the end. Yet it is only natural that we experience a very intense emotion of fear—a fear not only for those we accompany, but also for ourselves.

We are afraid of our own vulnerability and helplessness that is exposed when we live the awful solidarity with another person in their disability and pain, when we must be impacted and struck by it without any real or imagined defenses. We must not be overcome by this fear. We must not give in to discouragement.

They are helpless and all we can do is be helpless with them.

We can "cry out" together with them, from the poverty of our own hearts, for the answer to the mystery of our own being.

Apparently meaningless suffering cannot be the final word on life. How can it be possible for the unique human person—infinite in their desire and persistent in their search—to be crushed in the end?

How can "I" be crushed...?

If we accept being crushed, we deny our humanity. There has to be something more! Our most desperate cries in the greatest of our pains can still be cries for help to the One who made us, who sustains us in being, and who calls us to fulfillment in freedom and love, to happiness.

We have not been made for nothing! We have not been made to be negated by life. Even if we think we deserve it, we must not lose hope.

No matter where we are in life's journey, no matter how much we already know, we need to follow the Ultimate Mystery that calls us beyond our own limits, that helps us if we ask with trust even in the midst of all the strangeness of whatever we're going through.

Salvation never comes in exactly the way we "expect." It's like the arrival of someone we know well, but who we feel like we are meeting all over again "for the first time."

Salvation is always surprising, always entering in as a new reality, an unexpected encounter that convinces us that we are loved more that we can ever imagine.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Sharing in the Needs and Sufferings of Others

Here is a quotation from a great text that has challenged and encouraged me in so many ways:

"Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others [thus] becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift.

"This proper way of serving others also leads to humility. The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served, however miserable his situation at the moment may be. Christ took the lowest place in the world—the Cross—and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid.

"Those who are in a position to help others will realize that in doing so they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own. This duty is a grace. The more we do for others, the more we understand and can appropriate the words of Christ: 'We are useless servants' (Luke 17:10). We recognize that we are not acting on the basis of any superiority or greater personal efficiency, but because the Lord has graciously enabled us to do so.

"There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord's hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world.

"In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: 'The love of Christ urges us on' (2 Corinthians 5:14)."

~Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 34-35

Monday, July 16, 2018

Simple Things

I have tried to run this original freehand digital sketch through all kinds of filters. Nothing seems to improve it.

In fact, I'm satisfied with the way it is. It's a simple thing, hardly worth posting here. But I gave some time to it.

I need a lot of time to find the value of simple things.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Saint Benedict's Day

July 11th is the feast of Saint Benedict on the universal Roman Calendar. As the Rule reminds us: We must never despair of God's mercy.

"Let us, then, make it our aim to work for peace and to strengthen one another" (Romans 14:19).

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie: "More Than Life"

"Love never ends" (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Remembering Christina Grimmie (March 12, 1994–June 10, 2016) with sorrow, anguish, even incomprehension—but also (and above all) with a firm hope in the Love that is stronger than death.

She remains a sign of hope for all of us.πŸ’š

Monday, July 9, 2018

"Power Made Perfect in Weakness"—What Does This Mean?

It must be a painful ordeal to pass through the mystery indicated by the text cited below from the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinithians. I admit that I am afraid of it, and feel powerless to walk with others as they endure it.

How much do I really trust in the mercy and the goodness of God?

Still, "God is good." What else could he be? He is that goodness that creates, sustains, and draws to himself every person.

But why, then, the darkness? Why suffering?

Sin has brought suffering and death into the world. But why does God allow us to sin? Why does he allow sin to devastate the world? Of course, I know that love can only be embraced in freedom, and he allows us to reject him. He also empowers us to participate in his redeeming love.

Freedom is profound, but sometimes it seems so complicated, and even overwhelming. The little human being—the bodily person in the world of time and space, who spends a third of his or her life asleep and much of the rest of it eating, drinking, and "going to the bathroom"—the little human being gets beaten down, gets sick, gets old, or just gets exhausted.

Saint Paul doesn't tell us the concrete details of his "thorn in the flesh." But we know of the many hardships he endured, of his own fragility, of all his suffering. In 2Corinthians12, Paul says he begged the Lord to give him some relief.

God's child begs him for help. What is God's answer? How does God answer our begging, when we're just helpless and there doesn't seem to be a way out?

There is no discourse that can communicate this "answer." God's answer is that he comes to be with us, to seek out each one of us, and to stay with us. His "answer" is to love us, and draw us into the experience of the infinite mystery of his goodness, of communion with his very being, He who is Absolute Love.

He created us for this communion, and it corresponds to what our hearts truly seek. To accomplish this fulfillment, to bring us to himself forever, God comes to dwell with us in our weakness.

In limited, human terms, he says that "power is made perfect in weakness." I am very far from understanding what this really means for me, for my actions today, my motives, my hopes and aspirations for the future, my love for Eileen and the kids, for my brother, my family and friends, for my Dad and my Mom...

Still, Jesus is here.

Jesus is here with me in my confusion and anxiety. He is with every person on the unique path they travel. Jesus is with us in our weakness.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."

Here is the love of God expressed in relation to the suffering of each one of us. To the natural mind it sounds like an incomprehensible paradox, but faith grasps that it refers to the fact that Jesus has embraced all the suffering of each one of us on the Cross, carried it (and us) as his own, and thereby has revealed the infinite measure and depth of the love of God in his resurrection.

He begins to draw us into that Love by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and enables us to hope in that Love as the ultimate fulfillment, the true meaning of everything, of every moment—even the moments that seem impossible to endure.

Jesus wants to stay with us. He is with us, whether we suffer because of our own sins or are afflicted by others or even just constrained and hindered by the restrictions of the most banal circumstances of life.

In speaking of his own afflictions, Saint Paul told the Corinthians:

"Three times I begged the Lord about this,
that it might leave me,
but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.'
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong."

~2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

My Country is Still a Young Country

Happy Fourth of July! Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

My country is 242 years old today. As a nation we are still relatively young, even though we have had a very large impact on the world since the Twentieth Century.

Still, we are perhaps younger than we realize.

In Italy I lived in a building that was more than 242 years old, and it wasn't a historical landmark or a museum. It was just a building. Indeed, it was one of the "newer" buildings! In Europe it's not unusual to find ordinary people who have lived in the same town or region since the Middle Ages.

Of course, there is also a great deal of movement and change in ancient societies over the passing of the centuries, for many reasons. Some things are lost, others are gained. A place like Rome is a kind of living example of this peculiar and ongoing vitality over two and a half millennia.

Seen in this context, the U.S.A. is a young country, and Americans are an even younger "people," so many of whom (including me) are descended from immigrants who arrived long after this nation was founded. After three generations of my family being here, however, I have become very distinctively American (my time living in Italy certainly convinced me that I was far from being "Italian" in any real sense of Italy's contemporary national life).

I have not lost my connection to my Mediterranean ethnic and cultural roots. My heritage and the heritages of immigrants from all over the world are part of the fabric of the American people. We are a young people, a growing people. Even if our ancestors weren't here for the actual American founding, we celebrate today because this is our country.

My ancestors were grateful to become American citizens and I am grateful to be one. I am grateful too that my children are American citizens—and they are descended from not only Italian but also from Irish, Spanish, and Filipino immigrants!

I love my country, which does not mean that I excuse its historical errors or ignore its current flaws. I try to love my country with realism and hope, two factors that seem particularly essential to any kind of real love in this world.

My country is a beautiful country. I have seen much of it over the years. Perhaps I'm biased, but nothing is more beautiful to me than the (truly old) Appalachian Mountains where I have spent most of my life.

So what will we do today? It looks like I will be house-bound and in bed most of the day, but others in the family are (or will be) out attending various celebrations. 

People do many things to celebrate July Fourth: there are parades, parties, barbeques, and, of course, fireworks. And I think many Americans would agree that today is an especially good day to pray. That is one thing I can do with them.

What I have written below is not "polished" or proposed as any kind of formal prayer. It's just the thoughts that came to my mind earlier today. I originally posted them on social media, and I shall reproduce them here below:

Dear God, thank you,
thank you for everything you have given to us!
Continue to provide for all our needs,
and make us good stewards of this beautiful and abundant land
you have entrusted to our care.
Give us respect for the dignity of each and every human person
without exception,
whom you have created in your image.
Grant us the courage to treat with justice, love, and compassion
the most vulnerable persons in our midst,
and all who are suffering.
Grant us peace and solidarity
with the many other nations and peoples of the world,
working together with them responsibly and wisely
in these tumultuous times for the good of all.
Dear God, please bless the U.S.A., my sweet home;
Bless all peoples and nations who turn to you
with their many needs in this world.
And bring us all through this life's journey
to the joy of being with you forever.

Monday, July 2, 2018

You Should "Try Thai"!

Beer from Bangkok is just the beginning.
Let's start off July on a lighter note.

We have learned a few things from the experience of our younger, more free-wheeling days, when we could pop around the WashingtonDC /Virginia /Maryland metro area in search of interesting cuisine.

In those long ago days, kids could be carted along, or (even better) left in the hands of happy grandparents (on both coasts: we also did a fair amount of eating in the San Francisco Bay Area, when we visited Eileen's parents in California).

Here's one thing we learned: Don't judge a Thai Restaurant by its hokey name or by its "unlikely" location.

Eileen and I celebrated our anniversary at "Try Thai" Restaurant and Sushi Bar which, I am happy to say, is right on Main Street in our own little Front Royal, Virginia. It's all but a stone's throw away from our house. What a splendid addition to our town center, along with its craft shops, antique stores, and cafes, the park, the gazebo, and other promising new places such as the Front Royal Brewery and an art gallery. All of this is nestled in the Shenandoah Valley surrounded by the Blue Ridge mountains. It's pleasant just to walk there on an early summer evening.

On this evening, the weather was wet. But the Try Thai restaurant more than made up for that. The food we had was awesome! It compared well with any Thai food we've had in any Big City. I'm not a restaurant reviewer, so I'll just share a few pictures. You can learn more by visiting the website (click HERE). If you're a local, definitely check it out.

The first picture shows our delightful main course, the "Special of the Day"—a (whole) Red Snapper, cooked perfectly, which was accompanied by a sweet and sour sauce with plenty of fresh chunks of fruit and veggies. Yum!πŸ˜‹

This fish could fill the bellies of two very hungry people in one sitting. Order more than one and you'll have some magical leftovers to put in your fridge for your next meal.

We both loved the presentation, the arrangement of the cooked fish pieces in their "original package" including the head (which has some of the best meat if you do a little work to get it out, but you're not required to do that). The body of the fish was well prepared and easy to eat. Occasional bones were not surprising and simple to remove. I wish I had taken a picture of the generous bowl of sauce.

I didn't take many pictures. I was too busy eating.

So the Special was excellent, and we hope they'll offer it again frequently. We were also pleased by the appetizers. All the food we saw looked very fine, and the service was good and personable.

For me, what inevitably distinguishes the quality of a Thai Restaurant is how they prepare my personal favorite: chicken and coconut milk soup. The soup at Try Thai was just as it should be, and more. The hot spice was enough to keep my attention, but not overwhelming or overdone. It played well with the other flavors, and there was a generous portion of chicken.

I ordered the cup, and it is pictured below. A bowl of this wonderful stuff could serve as a meal all on its own. Delicious!πŸ˜‹

We had a lovely evening.

In conclusion, all I can say is that you really should "TRY THAI"!πŸ˜‰

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Mid-Year 2018: The State of My Mind in "Survival Mode"

Here we are, halfway through the year 2018.

On the one hand, time flies as usual in this period of my life. But, on the other hand....

A lot has happened.

Just six months ago, we spent the early part of New Year's Eve at my parents' condo in Arlington (which is ten minutes away from the Washington Monument).

They lived there together for nearly 30 years. Arlington had become home for them in later life, and the place where they became "Papa" and "Grandma" to their five grandchildren. The kids all have happy memories of many visits, weekends, and holidays in Arlington.

On New Year's Eve 2017 we had our "traditional three-way birthday cake" for Agnese (December 21), my Mom (December 29), and me (January 2). I remember noticing my Dad struggling a bit to eat his piece of cake, seeming lost and confused and unusually tired (for him). I knew he had been having some trouble, but this was the first time it really struck me, though I put aside the momentary flash of alarm that had gone through me.

We knew that my parents' long-settled life was changing with the fragility of their years. Be we didn't expect it to happen so suddenly.

So much has happened this year.

In the past six months, our son John Paul spent a semester in Rome, had a tremendous experience, visited other places in Europe, and is now back and getting ready for his Senior year in college.

Agnese successfully and very happily completed her Freshman year. Lucia graduated from High School and will begin college in the Fall. Teresa is co-directing four week-long horse riding camps this Summer, and is acting in a local community play.

The Washington Capitals WON THE STANLEY CUP!!! (I still gotta write a blog post on that whole thing.😊)

We still look basically the same as we did six months ago.
I have been reading, studying, forming ideas, writing about "technological ecology" (we need this), the philosophy of communications media, art and music, East Asian history (especially recent history of China, Indochina, Japan).

Not surprisingly, given the events of that history, I'm seeing in a new way the human capacity to live in "survival mode" in the face of enormous and persistent trauma, but also the long term psychological damage that it inflicts, that manifests itself later on.

I wonder how widespread the experience of trauma is in our tumultuous world. How many of us live much of our lives in various forms of "survival mode" with its streamlined priorities, strange acuity, and almost unnatural capacity for endurance? We stay focused on surviving, but with our humanity diminished in various ways. We are afflicted by all kinds of stress. It is a persistent affliction that breaks us again and again even as we find temporary bandages and cover our wounds with big scars.

So much has happened this year! Almost more than I can bear.

As he approached his 83rd birthday, my Dad's health collapsed. After a lifetime of strength and capability, he suddenly tumbled from what seemed to be mild forgetfulness and confusion last year into the advanced stages of dementia, a state of physical and mental incapacity and helplessness.

Our primary preoccupation in the past three months has been moving Dad to an Assisted Living Home. We were grateful to find a lovely place in Strasburg, Virginia, which is only a 20 minute drive from our house. At least we are nearby and able to be a regular part of his life in these new and difficult circumstances.

Arlington, Virginia: Bright lights, big city.
For the present, however, my Mom remains in Arlington. Though she is still able to move around the house, and can manage to care for herself, she is much too weak to make any kind of trip. Through various arrangements (and help from us and others) she gets the assistance she needs right now. But she can't visit my Dad. She can't really leave the house.

Dad is mostly incoherent, but not entirely. The capacity and focus he has left in his mind centers mostly on the sorrow of not being with his wife of 58 years. He has very little day-to-day memory, but he understands (sometimes, to some extent) that she is still in Arlington and she is getting the help she needs (from us, the neighbors in the condo, etc.) but that she's also home-bound.

She can't move in with him, because the Strasburg home is only for people with memory problems. Insurance would not cover her in that context. Every part of this life-changing process, in fact, is swamped with bureaucratic complexities.

We want my parents to be together, to be near each other at least. We want all of us to be near one another, as near as possible. But everything we do to move forward requires solving ten thousand puzzles and untying ten thousand knots. My brother has been an absolute hero in taking on so much of the nitty-gritty of this stuff.

Maybe living in the wonderful "First World" is not as easy and carefree as we have been led to believe....

So what about me? I'm a wreck. I'm barely holding on physically and psychologically. There's nothing terribly new about that, except that in certain ways it has gotten harder.

Part of the Assisted Living Home in Strasburg, Virginia.
But I am holding on.

My intellect is strong, thanks to what I call that-one-part-of-my-brain-that-always-keeps-working no matter what else is going on, no matter how sick I am in other ways.

As long as that part-of-my-brain keeps going, I will keep studying and learning and communicating. If nothing else, I'll study myself.

I'm inspired by people like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who began "writing" the immortal chronicle of The Gulag Archipelago in his mind and memory even as he labored through his days in the Soviet prison camp system that denied him the use of pen or paper.

I'm inspired by people like Dr. Takashi Nagai, the great scientist of Nagasaki who—after initially surviving the atomic holocaust of August 8, 1945—studied himself and wrote about the effects of radiation on himself when he was slowly dying from radiation poisoning.

I'm inspired by people like Haing Ngor and Dith Pran and Loung Ung and other Cambodians who have shown us their brokenness, who have told their stories and allowed us to see in themselves the pain of the past and the ongoing suffering that millions of their compatriots still carry to this day. Through them, the survivors, even with all their scars, we are given the chance to have compassion for millions of our fellow human beings who endured the imposition of monstrous, incomprehensible violence.

I want to write more about them too.

These people humble me. I have so very little to bear, and I don't have their honesty. I hope I can learn to be more humble and more transparent.

Suffering is personal, and yet there is a kinship in the common experience of helplessness, exhaustion, being overwhelmed and afraid, being wounded, and so many other human factors. That's why we have to tell our stories, share our sorrows, be patient with one another, with our weakness and frailty, be compassionate, try to accompany one another.

"Survival Mode" may seem like a kind of death, but like a seed sown deep in the earth it can also bring forth mysterious and abundant fruit.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Rose Study, Number 2

I got some roses for Eileen for our anniversary, and I worked with a photo of one of them as the foundation
for a piece of digital graphic art.
Here is Rose Study 2, June 2018.πŸ˜™

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Happy Saint John's Day!

"There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world"
(John 1:6-9).

Today is six months since Christmas Eve (and six months UNTIL Christmas Eve). Whoa, where did that time go?😜

But mainly, it's the Solemnity of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist. Happy Name Day, fellow Johnnys!πŸ˜‰

Zechariah said,
"You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins" (Luke 1:76-77).

Picture above: 15th Century Birth and Naming of the Baptist by Giovanni da Fiesole (a.k.a. "Fra Angelico").

Saturday, June 23, 2018

After 22 Years: Marriage is Life Together

So it's been 22 years, and here is what we look like now.

When Eileen and I got married in 1996 we certainly didn't know what these years were going to be like. The only way to know any vocation is to live it, because vocations are personal.

Obviously there are basic realities that define marriage as a state of life. But the whole experience is lived by two people in an very particular way, two people with two different personalities, with special joys and special challenges, and with so many circumstances that we have had to face together—things we never would have dreamed.

After all, this is not just "any" marriage; this is "our marriage."

We didn't know whether or not married life would conform to our expectations (we didn't even really know we had expectations).

Really, things are turning out to be continually surprising, different, and better than we could have known (note that I did not say easier).

It's a life together.

What did we know back then? We knew enough to commit ourselves irrevocably to each other and to going through together "whatever might come."

Now we have a family, which in one way is "not surprising"—and it is certainly something we wanted—but in another sense it is a continually unfolding surprise and challenge: these five human persons have been entrusted to us, and they have grown and changed, each one of them with their own unique personality.

The kids have changed so much since the book Never Give Up was published in 2010 and since I began this blog in 2011. Suddenly, they were teenagers. And now, "suddenly" they are adults (some of them) and even though we've all been through so much together, it can sometimes seem like it just went by so quickly.

Our two youngest are not grownups yet, and there are lots more adventures coming up with them.😜

We've also had the struggles with my illness, with loss of employment, change of employment, needing money, managing "stuff," being weak selfish sinful human beings, being forgetful, being exhausted, and now this new kind of experience of caring for our own aging parents (mine, for now—Eileen's are younger and doing well at present).

Marriage is life. It's life as a companionship. It's a gift, a journey, an adventure, a daily experience of the reality that we belong to something greater than ourselves, something... Someone, mysterious and good, leading us deeper toward the fulfillment for which we have been created, which is beyond our understanding...Someone who is worthy of our trust.

Marriage, like life, involves much suffering. This is mysterious too, and we are still learning to endure all kinds of sufferings with patience.

Marriage, like life, is a joy. There are many joyful surprises, but there is also that deep joy that remains at the foundation and still holds us even through desperation and the biggest challenges.

And so, we remember these things as we continue together.

We still don't know what's coming. Nor does any other married couple. There are new experiences and new challenges and new sufferings at every stage of a lifelong commitment (I have the example of my own parents, who are called to face new and hard things even now, after 58 years together).

We live committed to stay together, to love each other, to persevere in hope. What we learn more and more is how Jesus has consecrated this commitment with his love; the reality of marriage as a sacrament fills the whole living out of this vocation.

Christ crucified and risen has placed himself at the heart of our commitment to each other, and made it a superabundant source of grace so that we might grow together in his likeness. And his presence is a promise that we can make it through anything, that our commitment is not based on our weakness but on his faithfulness.

We continue together, with hope, with joy, because Jesus is here. He has come to dwell with us and has promised to remain with us. Trusting in him, we find the strength for each day.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Twenty Two Years on June 22nd!😊

Every year these "kids" look younger and younger...πŸ˜‰

Twenty two years ago we began the beautiful, crazy, happy adventure of marriage. I am more grateful than I can ever express in words.

Happy Anniversary, Eileen Janaro! I love you!πŸ’—

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mental Health and Technological Power

Recently, two American celebrities died by suicide in the same week. I have written numerous articles that address directly the tragedy of suicide, the frequent underlying struggles with mental illness, and my own experience with Depression.

I am also among those who have lost loved ones. For me, this is an intensely personal topic.

At this time, I find it too difficult to address directly. But I have observed the wider conversation, and it has prompted me to put a few thoughts together on mental health within the context of the peculiar circumstances we live in today.

The news, the blogosphere, and the social media world have chewed over various aspects of these recent suicides and what might have led to them, as well as broader mental health issues.

People are beginning to become more aware of mental illness, at least in general terms. The extent of the problem, however, has also begun to generate reflection about what it means to live a happy life. What do we need to be happy? Why are so many people unhappy? Are we "doing it wrong," somehow?

The frequency of tragic deaths among those who are regarded by our society as competent and successful is one of the circumstances that has prompted people to raise these larger questions. Is the increase in suicide today a sign of a fundamental dissatisfaction with a life rich in material prosperity but poor in personal values, community, and ultimate meaning?

Here we identify an important problem. We need to recognize our distorted and dangerous ideal of human achievement, and revise our isolated, individualistic paradigm of a self-sufficient, autonomous human existence focused on self-generated success.

In fact, living isolated in this society and being measured by its standards breaks people in many ways, including the ravaging of their mental health.

No doubt this is part of the problem. But mental health, like all human health, is subtle and comprised of many facets. We cannot forget that there are also neurobiological propensities that have a hereditary element (among other elements) and that can develop into pathological conditions that need health treatment. It shouldn't surprise us that we see more of this in the ferociously stressful and disoriented society we live in.

I find the need to emphasize the reality of mental illness because too many people still don't see it as a factor at all. That can be a dangerous mistake.

Mental illness is real. Psychiatric care is health care. It might be necessary. It is nothing to be ashamed of. We can ask questions about our understanding of what makes for a happy life and what diminishes happiness and also address the nature of mental illness as a medical problem. These are not mutually exclusive (or even competing) conversations.

At the same time, the problems in our society today require us to consider a new set of factors that we are also prone to overlook. We are living in the midst of an enormous, epoch-defining event—the ongoing, unpredictable technological revolution.

We hardly notice, it seems, that we live in conditions never known before in history. Insofar as we do think about this fact, we tend to consider it to be an unqualified improvement of life. In truth, it is more complicated and ambivalent than we know, and we have hardly begun to grapple with it.

In the "developed world," our ordinary ("normal") lifestyle is vastly extended by the environment of gigantic and
dizzying possibilities opened up by technological power. I am not speaking about some occasional remarkable augmentation of human activity, but rather the immense apparatus that we employ in the basic gestures of engaging with reality in our daily life.

Even a little reflection makes this clear. We start the day using the light switch and the water faucet, but these are just two examples of the whole complex technological infrastructure that shapes our homes and the way we live in them.

Outside the house, technology, its frameworks, and the environments they create shape so much of the way we do things and engage in relationships.

Examples abound. Cars and mass transportation have changed human interaction as much as anything in history. We move our bodies around the world with a speed and ease beyond the wildest dreams of our forebears. This affects the way we experience space and time, places and relationships. Clearly, this is having a profound psychological impact on us, and it will affect future generations in ways we don't even know.

Meanwhile, we turn to more technology to further the extension of power we have already achieved, but also to compensate for the impact of other technology on what we know to be the more stable elements and basic needs of our humanity. Transportation technology has extended the power of our bodies to travel great distances. Not surprisingly, we have sought to extend further and more fully our capacity to communicate over great distances with communications technology.

This represents another expansion of human possibilities at the expense of a certain remoteness and dislocation from basic reality.  Social media and smartphones in part represent the desperation of people trying to be connected while also being uprooted and constantly moving around.

There have been remarkable technological advances in health care too, of course. But the question needs to be asked: Is the whole impact of the ongoing technological revolution generating unprecedented kinds of stress and new (even as yet unknown) challenges to the fragility of human physical and mental health?

We could go on and on, analyzing and unpacking the implications of technology in every facet of life to a point we might find shocking. But we wouldn't remain shocked for very long. The technological environment has become like the air we breathe, in the sense that we easily integrate into our awareness and expectations techniques that enormously extend our sensory capacities and our physical power.

We are scarcely conscious of our "tools." Yet they change us even as we use them. They have stretched the potential of human temporal life and vastly expanded the choices available to us. Yet we lack a sense of direction and find it more difficult than ever to focus our freedom.

We may feel empowered, but we also feel bewildered. We are overwhelmed, overextended by what seems to be the excessive complexity of life, crushed by what we think is expected of us.

And what is the point of it all?

The multiplication of frustrations and the sheer stress engendered by this explosion of possibilities for involvement with the material world give a potentially monstrous scope to human life. This surely must be a factor in the rise of debilitating physical and mental illness in our time.

It can also deepen the lack of real relationships and community in people's lives. The illusion of human self-sufficiency is no longer just the luxury of philosophical speculation, the goal of revolutionary activism, or the opaque aspiration of people in general. Technology has democratized individualism, and taken it to a new level.

Today, the average ordinary individual has so much access to material power (utterly unprecedented access, like nothing in human history) that people easily put into practice the ideology that they can create their own identity and define the meaning of their own humanity. Mass technology has given power the "feel" of being spontaneously available; it seems natural to use it for whatever it can do, if we want it.

When it gets dark, it seems natural to turn on the light. But it can also seem natural to use technological power to produce facile resolutions of deeper problems, to escape from the difficult concrete responsibilities of family and community relationships, to demand extreme attention to work production, to increasingly invade one another's interior space, to allow the images and sensory involvement of television and the internet to replace critical thinking and reflection, to fill our lives with noise to escape the challenge of being with ourselves in silence.

Technology enhances our power dramatically, and we interiorize that enhancement so that the effective exercise of vast power becomes habitual in our daily life. Thus, when we face the more profound problems of life, the problems of being a human person, we easily become frustrated.

These problems do not reduce themselves to the logic of the power that has become so apparently natural to us. We are easily tempted to reduce our humanity to the measure of our power, to censure our real human nature, to reduce persons to "things" over which we have power, and to impose this power by violence—especially against those who are too poor or too weak to resist.

If someone has brittle bones to begin with, and then you compel them to run fast and jump high, they will soon have broken bones. It should not be surprising, then, that people with mental fragility are further injured in a power-dominant society, that mental illness is inflamed and aggravated in this society. As we have noted, the use of power seems natural because it has become the environment in which we live. But it is also used without reflection, and frequently becomes disorienting. And those who are weak often experience it turned against them in violence.

In truth, the use of technology is "natural" (it is an application of human practical reason) but it has to be subordinate to the human person, and the human person has to live in real relationship to God and other persons. If it is to be a constructive force in human life, technology must be integrated within this more fundamental human personal, interpersonal, and transcendent context.

I am convinced above all that without the foundational experience of belonging-to-something-else, to that Mystery that gives value to all of life including "myself," all our technological power just scatters our humanity and uproots us more and more. It makes it harder for us to experience authentic human encounter and relationship.

But we don't even perceive that there's a problem here, which points to the extent to which we have become alienated from ourselves. We are numb to our fundamental human needs because we have become drunk with power to manipulate the world and our own bodies. We forget the concrete reality and intimate aspirations of our personhood.

I do not condemn technology. I love being human, and I love the human vocation to use our personal presence, our reason and our freedom, to build up the world and make it a better place to live in. Technological development is one of the fruits of this human vocation, which is why I want to emphasize the need for balance in the titanic new environment it generates, the need for a "technological ecology" not only for the planet in general, but for us as human persons.

Otherwise, our life in this world will increasingly become collectively sociopathic. This will wreak havoc on what's left of normal human efforts to live reasonable, generous lives. It will suffocate physical vitality and, obviously, be disastrous for mental health. People who have neuro-based sensitivities to mental disorders are going to have these propensities exacerbated (others will suffer repeated traumas, that build up like so many "psychological concussions" until they become serious conditions).

Therefore, the urgent problem of mental health requires us to consider not just "neurobiological illness," nor can it be reduced to just "social problems." It involves both these factors and a lot more.

With all the amazing power we possess, we need a corresponding deepening of our humanity, a deeper awareness of the human person, a deeper solidarity, and a deeper sense of responsibility and compassion.