Image“There must be a time of day when the man who makes plans forgets his plans, and acts as if he had no plans at all. “There must be a time of day when the man who has to speak falls very silent. And his mind forms no more propositions, and he asks himself: Did they have a meaning? “There must be a time when the man of prayer goes to pray as if it were the first time in his life he had ever prayed; when the man of resolutions puts his resolutions aside as if they had all been broken, and he learns a different wisdom: distinguishing the sun from the moon, the stars from the darkness, the sea from dry land, and the night sky from the shoulder of a hill. —Thomas Merton from “No Man is An Island”

It has been sort of a distracted morning, but in a good sort of way. I was down stairs pretty early…4:30ish. I lit the fire, got my coffee and settled on the couch to read. Upon opening my bag I recognized the number of I-want-to-take-time-to-read-but-never-seem-to-get-around-to-it magazines accumulating there were more than a little telling. I was probably never going to get around to reading them.

I pulled out a week-old edition of the New York Times I had purchased at Starbucks to read while waiting on a car to be serviced. Instead of reading that at the dealer, I think I played “FLOW” on my iPad, a challenging little puzzle game but a game nonetheless, and truly a waste of perfectly good waiting room time. I pulled out two issues of the Economist, an issue of Motley Fool Stock Advisor, the December 2012 issue of The Atlantic and finally the Dec. 30th issue of the New York Times Magazine. That was the one that sort of derailed my intensions for the morning.

On the cover was a photograph of Adam Yauch (1/3 of the Beastie Boys) and the words, “The Lives They Lived.” It was a collection of obituaries of notable people who had died in 2012. I’ve never been one who reads obituaries, although [Mr.}Tony Kornheiser says “[the obits] are usually the best writing in the paper.” I think that’s probably true, as a rule. Rather than some words about a forgettable story rushed to the page to meet a deadline, an obit is an attempt to communicate a snap-shot of a life. The fame and/or notoriety of the famous persons in this particular issue of “the magazine” are merely context. The writers are trying to distill meaning from these lives that have ended. Sometimes there is a clear rendering of the protagonist. Other times, the obit seems to be as much a window into the psyche of the writer as it is about the person who died.

I thumbed through the pages of 2012’s obit collection stopping on: Teri Shields (mother of Brooke and quintessential “stage mom”); Maurice Sendak (author of the iconic children’s books “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Night Kitchen”…Brilliant piece done with 9 illustrations with bubble quotes from an NPR interview with the writer); Nora Ephron (journalist, screenwriter, playwright, best known popularly for “When Harry Met Sally”…a collage recreating “Meg Ryan’s soliloquy [from the diner] using letters cut from Ephron’s obituary in the New York Times.” (…yes…yes…oh God…”); Don Cornelius (creator and host of Soul Train pictured in full 70’s regalia of massive afro and equally massive silver silk tie. Interesting quote: “Long before the Huxtables…Vanessa Williams [1st black Miss America]…the Obamas…middle class white teenagers [were getting] their first glimpse of popular black culture…and…a peek at the future; by the 90s, black music and dance was the culture”); Adam Yauch (interesting take of his growth as an artist…but I could never get over the Beastie’s frat boy smirks and frat boy party/rap anthem from the 80s to take them very seriously).

My morning started with the Merton passage at the beginning of this post. It set the stage for my dip into the obits of 2012. On this morning, the obits provided a moment to put aside the plans, propositions and resolutions and do a little of that distinguishing work…”distinguishing the sun from the moon, the stars from the darkness, the sea from dry land, and the night sky from the shoulder of a hill”…life from death. It was by no means morbid. It was a pause that facilitated some much needed reflection. And while I do not aspire to a mention in the New York Times Magazine, I recognized the legacy that is my faith, my family, and my life’s work will ultimately be my obit. Even more than that, I was able to distinguish between “routine” and “extremely blessed” and give thanks for the blessing.

the gift of a power outage

ImageSummer’s going fast, nights growing colder
Children growing up, old friends growing older
Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each sensation a little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Experience slips away…
The innocence slips away

 —Rush, “Time Stand Still”

The family had gathered around the TV at my parent’s home to watch Brave.  The cousins were all laying in front of the rather old, small, and definitely non-HD screen in the living room.  The adults were mostly watching various screens…cell phones, iPads, Kindles…listening to the movie in the background and smiling at the attempts at Scottish accents coming from sprawl in front of the TV.

Just about the time we had all settled in for the evening, the power went out. Pitch black darkness was met with groans from the kids (all done with new found Scottish drawls.)  My dad quickly lit the “coal oil lamp” and  placed it on the mantel.  As the children began to move around, searching for their own personal screens (iPods, phones, etc.), my sister-in-law gave us all a wonderful gift.  She asked, “Uncle Mike, what was you and Aunt Susie’s first date?”  That question began an evening of story telling around the pale flickering light of an old coal oil lamp.  

We went around the circle telling first date stories which led to engagement stories.  The children joined in by telling “most embarrassing” stories. Then my parents began to tell stories about their childhood and their parents and grand parents.  Laughter came quickly and often.  Questions were asked.  Experiences were shared.  Deep “family” conversation made the time fly by.  Mom talked about how the flickering light of the lamp brought back memories of her and her brothers sitting around the same type of lamp as children listening to her mom and dad and an occasional visitor tell stories.  Memories came rushing back for me as a kid sitting on the screen porch in the evenings listening to my grandfather pick out a tune on his guitar and tell some of those very same stories.  

It was hard to believe that 2 hours had passed so quickly when the lights finally came back on.  “Normal” filled the room as quickly as the lights had and we all moved toward our beds, plugging our electronic devices into their respective chargers so they would be ready to do our bidding (or we their’s) the next morning. I’m restraining the sermon rising in my spirit.  We all know that sermon already. I will say this…in contrast to the many evenings spent on some forgettable TV program or surfing the internet, this was an evening I’ll remember for a long time.   It was truly wonderful and a very fitting end to a wonderful holiday season.

Peace!