Last Friday as I was leaving work, I ran into a former colleague, a large and powerful man, who was on the verge of retiring. At first, we chatted about the small stuff like who got voted off The Bachelor. But after we exhausted that subject, we ended up talking about a deeper topic: our families.
As I propped my back against the wall and turned sideways so I could see the Exit sign, we joked about how much easier it was to manage employees than it was raise kids, a feat akin to herding feral cats. That was the sad truth and neither of us could at that point feign otherwise. A truth, that I could tell, pained us equally. Raising kids is and will always remain one of life’s biggest mysteries.
And as long as Hoosier Hill remains the tallest point in Indiana, this is one area that science will never conquer. Even if scientists one day learn how to genetically-edit children in their basements. I, myself, am not so sure I am in favor of a race of 7-foot tall Einsteins who can dunk, but have no souls. How do you genetically engineer a soul that is so unique that there is never another one like among the billions and billions of people who have lived on this earth?
It does seem though that more and more, as we expand our knowledge about genes, that science has come to accept a broader view on the influence of environment in genetics. Scientist are discovering genetics is not a closed system. A fact that any parent from Kalamazoo to Timbuktu could have told them. Once you have kids you can toss out any mechanical views you have about life. Going through the parenting process over time makes you, whether you like or not, more philosophical.
Through parenting you discover that this imperfect world full of imperfect people is a messy one. There is an obvious fallenness to this world. Life no longer is the fantasy world of dragon’s teeth and giant’s bones that you once knew. Life, come to find out, is full of scarcity, conflict and suffering. And none of this can be successfully dealt with without faith, hope, forgiveness, mercy, work and last but not least unconditional love.
When you become a parent, you sign yourself up for a lifetime of caring, pain, and joy, with no guarantees. Congratulations! There is no more hiding in the shadow and there are no limits on how much pain you might have to go through, but again there are no limits on how much joy you might have.
As a parent, you find through sober calculation that virtue is neither old or new, but timeless. Just as your parents told you in the car while they were listening to John Denver and you had your Walkman on listening to the B-52’s. Your parents who in your younger days you thought were clueless now seem like geniuses. Overnight, they have become a regular pair of Stephen Hawkings for having successfully navigated what you are now wallowing in.
There is no sugar-coating it having kids exposes you and makes you vulnerable. Being exposed and vulnerable is not cool. You have now become as cool as Dick Haymes eatin’ a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair.
But the tradeoff for losing your coolness is that by having kids you begin to see life more deeply. Life is so much more complex and richer than what we can ever empirically observe. It’s hard to behold with our natural eyes those beautiful bonds that tie us to others— past, present and future.
By having children, you get wind of the fact that Homo sapiens aren’t an abstract problem to be solved, but a calling for each of us to care for each other. There are no government programs or systems that can make us problem-free. Because of our fallen state the phrase “problem solved” is only a temporary thing. Learning itself is a gradual process. At best, the process is one step backwards for every two steps forward. The fact that we are bad at learning and gaining wisdom; however, should not deter us from trying.
The reality is that on Earth we need humans and we need a lot of them. Without them the richness of life goes away, things lose their meaning and their proper order. In a world without kids, we lose hope. Life becomes just “meh”. The doggone truth is, despite all the times our kids play out in street, stay up late, eat with their hands, talk back, curse, and never answer their phones (even though they just responded to your text), we need our kids as much as they need us to get through this journey we call life.
Every night this week when I go to bed I get to thinking about the afterlife and then I can’t sleep. Sometimes I just lay there for hours until sleep overcomes me and then I don’t sleep well because I am troubled by weird dreams of powerless shame that I can scarcely remember the next day. Other times, I go downstairs, sit in my best thinking underwear, drink a large glass of thick milk, break into a forbidden bag of chocolate chips and get to pondering about whether there is a great beyond or if there is just one great abyss of nothing when this life is over.
When my light finally goes out do I just become a speck of floating cosmic dust traveling to and fro as part of a mostly empty universe with no floating purpose, hence no real hope? Or, when all my labors are done, when I finally stop moving and that last drop of sweat falls from the tip of my big ol’ nose and hits the ground for the final time am I going to have a rebirth and find my soul transmigrated into the body of a calico cat with feline dementia, or even worse a one of those cocky clams, as a just reward for the mediocre life I just lived?
Now I am not so sure about those visions of the afterlife. But, I can’t shake the feeling that there is something a little more to this life. A little more meaning. ‘Pears to me I’ve had somebody has been watching over my whole life despite all my tragic and sometimes comic failures, despite all my dark moods and my moments of insufferable jerkiness (there’s another word for that but I can’t cuss so I’ll leave it alone). There always seems to be an inner hope that things will get better and I know it’s got to be more than just a fool’s hope. Maybe I got me a guardian angel and if I got one of those then there has to be a Heaven ‘cuz that’s where angels live. Right?
And when I think of Heaven, I don’t think of Heaven as a place where Jimi Hendrix (not sure why everyone envisions Jimi Hendrix in heaven), John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, and Frank Sinatra, with a desert oasis and neon sign in the background , are all hanging out at bar alongside all the pets I’ve ever “owned” in this life (assuming I do make it, it would be great to be reunited with some of my pets Cuma? Pippin? And it would be cool if they could talk this time around… just saying).
Where Jimi Hendrix and those other sensitive artistic souls end up, I am guessing that is not my place to say and I wouldn’t dare pass judgment, at least that kind of more permanent-like judgment on anyone, dead or alive. You will hear no curses, oaths or damnations pass my lips. I need all the good karma I can get.
And about those 72 virgins, I am not so sure about that vision either. I mean billions and billions of people have passed by on this earth and I just can’t imagine there would be that many virgins in Heaven unless there is a virgin making machine. But even then why the number 72? And why virgins? I could be off base and I could have it all wrong, but for me I’d be happiest if me, my wife, the kids, parents, siblings and other relations are all able to make it up there.
Based on what brings us the most joy in this life, despite the mild dysfunction all families share, and what we know of families and successful communities, it makes a ton of sense that our family relations would extend into the afterlife. No offense to Jimi Hendrix. Kurt Cobain and the others, that makes the most sense to me as to what Heaven could be. Now I am sure there is more to Heaven than just family, more than what my weak reasoning and feeble faith can imagine. From what I hear God will be more just and merciful than we can ever imagine. For my sake I sure hope He is. Good night and God bless.
- More Than Love by Los Lonely Boys
- Train Song by Benjamin Gibbard and Feist
- Havana Moon by Chuck Berry
- The Rocky Road to Dublin by The High Kings
- Fireproof by Coleman Hell
“We only become perfect ‘in Christ’ not independently of Him. Simple diligence is required of us in order to obtain mercy in the day of judgment.”
“No matter who you are, your life will have storms; you will encounter discouragement, doubt, and defeat. The difficulties you will face will amaze and overwhelm you at times, but it is your very response to such trials that will build your character and determine your destiny.”-Michael Middleton
You always have to be a careful when you talk about your employment when on the Internet, so I will tread lightly here. But about a month ago I was asked to resign from my job and given six weeks to find a new job. Where I was once happy, now I was forlorn. This was a shock for sure. I have been working for over 30 years and have never once been asked to step down from a job. Usually, I am the one leaving the job moving onto bigger and better things so this came as a surprise to me. Even worse than this was now having to face the prospect of going home and telling my wife the “good news” about the possibility of not being able support the family. Strangely, though, as I drove home underneath soggy skies, I didn’t feel panicked or downhearted. I had worked hard, honestly and competently, I really had nothing to be ashamed of.
But regardless of how I felt about myself at the time, here I was essentially out of a job. As someone who has countlessly talked about adversity as being part of God’s plan, part of what we had signed up for before coming down to earth, I guess I would now have to live what I had preached from my behind my computer screen. It is painful to have to take your own medicine because then you learn how hard it is to swallow, or worse you learn just how bad your own advice is. I would typically classify mine under the heading of “ill-advised”.
“We always think of failure as the antithesis of success, but it isn’t. Success often lies just the other side of failure.”
Surprisingly, my wife took the news about as well as she could. I mean she didn’t carp, henpeck or browbeat me and that was a good thing, right? Pretty much she said “it is done” and immediately got on the computer and started to religiously redo all of her budgeting spreadsheets. Among the many potential difficulties this could have put us in was that this resignation was ill-timed (Is there really any good time to be let go?) because we had already committed to remodeling our kitchen and it was too late for us to back out. In fact, the remodel was to start the next week.
After I gave her the job loss briefing, I did what any respectable man would do and I went upstairs and uncontrollably cried into my big boy pants, wildly throwing punches in the air. When I was just about to break into my angry dance a la Kevin Bacon in Footloose, my wife who had just come up the stairs stopped me, saving us both from a lot of grief and some mild embarrassment.
To her credit, she didn’t mollycoddle me or feel sorry for me, but gently explained to me that big boy pants were for wearing and not crying into, then handed me a chocolate-colored pocket square so I could finish weeping. About an hour later after my tear stains had dried , I came bumbling downstairs in my big boy pants feeling a lot better about myself.
As someone famous once said, “when you don’t have a job, then your job is to find a job”. So that is what I did in earnest and took it as a challenge to change. Looking for a job is definitely a humbling experience. I can’t say I like it. I have a hard time selling myself. I have a hard time convincing myself that I should be hired. It takes a lot of convincing, but once I get past persuading myself I usually do okay in interviews.
I did have my parents help me prep for a Skpe interview. I have to admit I was unprepared for the questions they peppered me with. I am pretty sure I failed the mock interviews. It’s difficult to pass off all of that job flim-flam to the very people who brought you up, changed your diapers, taught you to eat, walk, read and write and more importantly taught you to never stretch the truth. Despite my struggles, my parents, as always, were positive and encouraging even though my performance was atrocious.
“Everyone’s life is different, but all of us experience hard times. Sometimes we may feel sad or lonely. Sometimes we may be sick or confused. But there is one thing we can always do to make life sweeter and more joyful. We can be grateful!”-Dieter Uchtdorf
Despite all of the agonizing and worry, I did end up finding a job. Mercy fell on me like a gentle rain from heaven. In hindsight, my plight ended up just being a tiny bump in the road of life, but it was a good test of the tiny faith I do have. However, not sure my faith wouldn’t have wavered if the job search had gone on any longer. It’s no easy task to find a job in six weeks. I was both lucky and blessed. A little bit of rough patch in life is not the worst thing. Many people would do away, in vain, with pain and suffering. A promise they can never keep. And I think it’s been proven time and time again that those who promise to take away pain and suffering only compound the existing the misery (See Venezuela as a most recent example) rather than make anything better. Trials and tribulations, while not wishing to take on more than have come my way in this life, are all good if in the end they make me a little kinder, make me more understanding of others, and make me a bit more cheery, and a tad braver.
I have to thank all the people who were praying for me. How can you ever dislike someone who’s praying for you when you’re going through a rough patch? I was genuinely surprised by all the people that cared. But now they can pray for people much more deserving of their prayers than me. My wife, my rock, took everything in stride. I think we celebrated by experimenting with crock pot mac n’ cheese because our kitchen is non-functioning. I’ll just say this about crock pot mac n’ cheese: straight-up gluten wrapped in melted cheese is an acquired taste. Not sure that recipe should be out on the world-wide web without out a warning of what it’ll do to your insides. But that’s okay, I’ll eat more salads because I still need to be able to fit into my big boy pants, which I have been wearing a lot more as of late.
But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.—Leviticus 19:34
“Parenthood is simply not another experience that you purchase, like a vacation and children are not—not yet—products to be built to your specification. A model of parenthood dominated by the mandate to satisfy the parents’ needs rather than those of the children will be forever defective.”-Kevin Williamson
Chucklehead strikes again. In the hustle and bustle of last week, I overbooked our Saturday and created one big bottleneck of happenstance. In the excitement of finally learning to tie down the kayaks on to the roof of our car last week, I invited some friends to go kayaking with us on Saturday forgetting Bailey and Carly we’re coming to visit for my birthday on Saturday. Also, earlier in the week, we had promised to take care of my wife’s grandkids. All of these commitments were made sincerely and were not idly made this time, which is my typical MO being the respectable cur that I am. It turns out fortune would smile down on me…again.
When our friends texted that they were excited to go kayaking, I had to put on my big boy pants (a phrase I have trouble using now because I have a co-worker who lately has taken to overusing that phrase, which I gotta say if you feel like you have little boy pants on it’s not other people’s duty to put on your pair of big boy pants for you. There, I said what everyone else has been thinking at work). It was time to face the hard truth and shamelessly have my wife text back about what a fool I am. We did, however, earnestly make a date for kayaking later on this month.
It turns out Bailey and Carly woke up late and left Grass Valley even later than had been planned So that meant changing plans. Changing them to what? I did not know. I would be winging it once more. Even though I have refused to acknowledge it in the past, I too have faults, and it was becoming apparent yesterday that planning is not my strong suit, which is funny because I have a Mother who lives for planning and is famous for the magic powers of her planning hands, but that and my subsequent psychological damage from excessive planning is for another day, another blog entry. (Just kidding, Mom).
The girls arrived at about 3pm. We hugged, laughed, cried (mostly on the inside) and decided to go up to Lake Tahoe. With that settled, I was onto the serious task of putting the kayaks on the roof again. I have to say I was incredibly efficient getting those kayaks on the Toyota’s roof. I think I am ready for my own prime time how-to video. With the kayaks all secured, we rushed everyone into the car and were off like a bat out of hell to Lake Tahoe and Sand Harbor, praying all the while that the kayaks would not fly off during any part of our drive. Thank goodness, nothing did go wrong. We arrived at Sand Harbor but right away, in my excitement to take charge, I took the turn that leads out of the park. So once again we had to enter the park, but wisely this time I choose not to take the road out of the park but correctly choose the road to the loading/unloading area.
As we were trying to find a spot on the beach that was both close to the water and the beach according to my wife’s orders, I heard a “Hello Hansens”. And you’ll never guess who it was, our friends who we had to cancel on earlier. Well, I say now, wasn’t that a good stroke of luck. Friends and family at the same beach. A twofer!
Tammy and the girls and I all took turns kayaking around the Sand Harbor area. And then as that lucky ol’ sun was about to set we went out with our friends and enjoyed the incredible view of Tahoe, the mountains, the curious cloud formations and the sunset. As if it was all orchestrated just for me, chucklehead extraordinaire, I could hear nature’s silent anthem to the free, feeling a little redemption for my past errors.
If that wasn’t good enough, unbeknownst to me, I had unintentionally fulfilled a wish of my wife’s of being out on the Lake when the sun is setting. Talk about luck, all in the same day I was a good friend, Dad, and husband. Rarely to do the stars align like that. My cup runneth over. I guess everything is blessed in some way, or at least I hope that is true because I am 100% certain I have more stuff to mess up.
I am writing from my high tower today. I’m so high I can nearly touch the sky. The tower is built on shifting sands, but don’t you worry none there’s plenty of sand if this sand should wash away. Presently, you’d be proud of me, I am all grown up and am ready to go it alone. I have no doubts and I am equipped with data, popular opinion and the backing of the most popular actors and celebrities, people who pretend for a living. Imagine that.
Faith, truth, and reason don’t mean much anymore. It’s all about emotions, perceptions and the lonely autonomous individual’s will and the need to recklessly impose it on every other human being. This is my new brave world, Father. Because, you know, if you feel it, it must be a right, and it must become a right, God be damned…
My new found faith can be best summed up by the empty and airy phrase “Just Believe”-thank you Disney. A blind belief without purpose or direction, to be defended at all costs, despite it’s depressing end. Or in the words of the overly ambitious MacBeth, “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I know it sounds confusing, but trust me I know what I am doing. I’m very earnest and full of vim and good intentions.
Before we say our final goodbyes, I don’t want you to think me a philistine, I am thankful for all that you’ve done for me up until this point. I want to first thank you for the universe and the countless galaxies, planets (and Pluto), asteroids, and other endless creations. I want to thank you for all the laws we’ve discovered that rule the motions and properties of these celestial bodies.
I want to thank you for time. Time that devours all things, the “birds, beasts, trees, flowers and gnaws iron, bites steel; grinds hard stones to meal, slays kings, ruins town, and beat mountains down.”
Time given to us to live, love, and grow and become a better person every day. I want to thank you for the seasons, I want to thank you for Spring, Summer, Winter, and Fall. Thanks for orbiting the earth around the sun and making that happen. And thanks for rotating the earth on its own axis and separating the day from the night. I don’t even know how one does that. Great idea, though.
I want to thank you for mountains, plains, swamps, bogs, forest, lilies of the field and others flowers, shrubs, grasses, and even the tundra. Thanks for the oceans, seas, rivers, streams, lakes and of course waterfalls. I want to thank you for the birds, fishes and the beasts. Dinosaurs, saber-tooth tigers, horned beavers and mammoths were cool. Sharks, snakes and spiders are okay.
Thank you for Humans. Messy and complicated, life would never be the same without Humans. Thank you for families, thank you for Moms and Dads, thank you for brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, relatives, kin, and friends. Thank you for creating men, but most of all thank you for creating women. Nailed it! Thank you for creating relationships that allow us to get a glimpse of what heavens is and allow us to get to know Thee. Thanks for the Truth. Thanks for all truths, spiritual and scientific. Thanks for giving purpose to our learning and living. Thanks for all truths that make us better and increase our joy in this life even when things go bad. Thanks for Freedom. Thanks for the freedom to seek and apply truths imperfectly, the freedom to fail and then get back up again and try again. Thanks for the freedom to experiment and gain wisdom along the way.
Having said all of that- I am sure I missed something- I think I am ready to go my own way now and create my own moral universe. I am ready to turn everything upside down, turn everything from fair to foul and redefine right and wrong. Discount truth and own up to no lie. It’s time to say goodbye to prayer, faith, obedience and repentance to an unknown God (or at least we could pretend that we never met. Remember this is my fiction, my fantasy world.)
Having read your “good” books, I don’t think you really mean what you say when you handed out your list of do’s and don’ts. Not to say you don’t know what you’re doing. I mean thou shalt not kill is a good one. But good God, taking your name in vain, lying, envying, stealing, idol worshipping and coveting seem a little harsh as absolutes. They are more like a will-o’-the wisp more than anything else. It was said of old that we should also learn to avoid lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Especially pride because it precedes the fall, whatever that means. But, those virtues hurt my sensitive modern ears, seem outdated and threaten to repress all of my passions, appetites, and desires that have be expressed for me to be my extraordinarily mundane self (Sorry self, its true.)
In my brave new world, I prefer to replace those virtues with an updated list that have very little to do with improving a person’s soul. The following are my new virtues, my new powder and pills:
- Freedom (do what you want);
- Convenience (experience no bad consequences for one’s actions and take no responsibility for anything bad);
- Progress (change for the sake of change);
- Equality (equality of results, despite apparent differences)
- Authenticity (I want to be different just like everyone else);
- Health (Body Worship);
- Nonjudgmentalism (Do not think for yourself or think apart from the crowd; never question someone else’s feelings and never question their choices or behavior).
Of course, to be consistently relative, these virtues are not absolute and are subject to changes in whim and power to ensure constant confusion and more importantly to unintentionally crush the weak and poor. Because in our secular societies one thing is for sure good folk must pay at the hands of the unwise.
So Father this is it, I am off to “eat, drink, and be merry”. Time for me to start my new religion, purge my body and humor my mind. See you on the other side where all “shall be well with us” and we’ll play our harps in that rockin’ angel band.