PENNIES FOR MY THOUGHTS

penny

(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

“A PENNY for my thoughts?”

WELL, today it might cost you several pennies. My thoughts have been all over the place! I am still experiencing that emotional “floating” experience, sometimes drifting randomly like a feather on a summer afternoon, sometimes ricocheting between reality and denial like a steel ball glancing off of bumpers in a pinball machine.

I AM on bereavement leave from work until Monday. That adds to the randomness of my thoughts. At least at work I can concentrate on my projects and tame the wildness of my mind somewhat. I can be around friends who don’t share my grief and take shelter in the “life as usual” atmosphere. (Please don’t take me wrong. Some at work have been very consoling. Here I mean only that they don’t share my grief in the sense that they are not experiencing it first hand as I am.)

IN THE MIDST of the sadness caused by Gram’s death, there are also the demands of life that come with such unconcern. Laundry still needs to be done. I did this today. T needed me to go to the middle school and fight a battle for him. I did that yesterday. T, S and J argued as normal teenagers last night. The dishes (the most indifferent group of all) needed to be washed. I did half of them yesterday. S did the rest today.

But I have found that these seemingly uncaring chores carried hidden blessings with them. There is a certain sense of accomplishment when six dryers’ worth of clothing has been folded. Plus T went with me and we had fun hanging out together. Speaking my mind on T’s behalf to someone at the school felt great! There is nothing like putting a school secretary in her place first thing on a Tuesday morning! When I’m wearing a tie and walking with that certain “I-rule-the-world” kind of stride, you don’t want to be getting in my way! Dealing with these things helped to focus my thoughts for brief periods of time. So maybe they weren’t such heartless demands after all.

HERE IS a stray thought! While doing the laundry, I kept finding pine needles from the Christmas tree all through our clothes. It reminded me how certain annoying things in life just never seem to go away. They just keep poking you and irritating you. (If you read between the lines here you will probably see X.1 and X.2 as examples of what I am saying. But that is just between the lines. I didn’t really say it!)

The persistent pine needles musings then reminded me of a guy I used to work with at “The Dairy.” This particular guy was a good guy with a great sense of humor, but he was also a maniac when it came to personal safety. He was insane when it came to dirt bikes and the like! One time he crashed his 4-wheeler while blazing along the railroad tracks. He was so wrecked from that accident! He had countless stitches. The pine needles reminded me of him because, for months after he recovered from the accident, he was picking little pieces of black railroad gravel out of his scalp. It was like they steadily rose to the surface. I won’t try to find any moral in his gravelly scalp condition. I just thought I’d mention him.

IN A FEW hours we have to attend the family viewing for Gram. I don’t think that anyone in the family is looking forward to this. Making funeral arrangements yesterday was not a pleasant experience. We had to go down into the basement of the funeral home where the paneling has been hanging since the 1960s, all dark and morose, and the plumbing ran clinging along the ceiling painted brown. We looked at caskets. All the while the thought lurked in my mind that Gram was in this house somewhere. My mind insisted on thinking of her enjoying her coffee and laughing as I told her a joke. I certainly wish that that were what I will be viewing in a few hours.

I WILL BE a different man by the end of this day. Perhaps that is what my thoughts keep shying from. Maybe it is the fear of facing life without Gram in it that is causing such disorder in my thoughts. I am sure that that is one thing that I fear. How can I not? She is such a foundational aspect of who I am. Her warmth and her encouragement were always there. She gave the best back rubs in all the world! I remember sitting on the floor in front of the couch while she rubbed my back with her nails in a magical way. I cannot remember her ever raising her voice. I am sure she did. With a mischievous grandson like me, she must have raised her voice at least once! I just cannot hear it now. I don’t want to think of her as “gone” or “passed” or any other word for her present condition. I do not want to change and face the world without Gram. Just let me sit this one out. Call in a substitute and let me sit on the sidelines for a while.

If it were really possible to avoid the reality of Gram’s passing, what kind of grandson would I be if I followed that easy path? What kind of man would I be? What kind of human would I be?

It is time to get dressed to go.

FLOWERS FOR MY GRANDMOTHER

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(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

THIS ENTRY is a tribute to my grandmother who passed away yesterday morning. This is a poem that I wrote for her in February of 1988, nearly 13 full years ago. I gave it to her on lined notebook paper. She framed it just as it was.

These roses grew in front of my house last summer. I wish I could give one to my grandmother right now.

FLOWERS FOR MY GRANDMOTHER

I wanted to bring you a rose, so red
Because I see beauty in you
I wanted to give you a daisy of joy
For you helped to make my life happy

I wanted to give you a violet, so bright
To reflect the light of your eyes
Or maybe a lily of delicate grace
Befitting a lady like you

I offer thankfulness and love
Which ever blossom within
My heart as never ending beds of color
And boquettes of deep appreciation.

In loving memory of Anna Durnin, June 4, 1912 – January 9, 2001

MY GRANDMOTHER’S PASSING

snowtracks

(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

THE MOON rose full this evening. Venus watched from the southwest. The sky was clear. The air was cold. It is January. But the world just isn’t quite the same now. My grandmother passed away this morning.

The undesired call came at 7:50 this morning. Sister C informed me that Gram had passed around 7:30. Her words entered my ears and were effective only in the sense that they gave a factual knowledge of the event to my brain. It was a sterile knowledge. It had no influence on my emotions. What did I feel? What did I experience? I was blank. I wasn’t shocked, nor was I numb. Floating was more like it. I spent the day floating, bouncing between the stark reality of Gram’s death on the one hand and the narcotic safety of the remembrance of her sweetness on the other hand. I tried to stay in the middle, equidistant from these two extremes.

CRYING did not happen today, except for a few brief moments when my eyes filled to the brims but did not spill over. At those points I tried to turn my attention back to the things that would produce average emotions: talking to friends at work, checking my email, hunting for coffee when it had run out in our area, checking my email again, nearly gorging myself on pizza and scungili at lunch, etc.

When people asked me about the details of Gram’s passing, I spoke of her sickness and her leaving as if I was talking about someone else’s grandmother. I think I even felt a certain type of sympathy as if I had truly convinced myself of this and was concerned for this poor one who had lost someone dear to him. It just wasn’t happening to me. If I were to tell you what I really believed, I would have told you that I knew that when I walked into Mom’s later, Gram would be sitting up in bed with her tray across her lap, lifting her coffee cup to her lips. Even as I type these words it feels like it is someone else’s story, not mine.

THOSE OF US who were able gathered at Mom’s yesterday to be near Gram and one another. Mom, Aunt M, Sister C and I were there for most of the day. Later we brought our children. A few of my cousins were able to be there. It was good to see Cousin A P and Cousin C, whom I hadn’t seen in quite a while.

Cousin P came and for me it was like he brought fresh strength with him. When someone said that he had arrived, I jumped to my feet. It felt so good to shake his hand and to see his face.

COUSIN P and I spent a lot of time together while we were growing up. We are only two years apart in age, he being the elder. Many of our childhood days were spent at Gram’s house. What summers we had! What adventures! There was the tree house so high up that I only had courage to climb all the way up to it but one time, and that only to poke my head in for a look and then right back down I went! There was the “Indian Trail.” I was convinced that Indians truly made it in times of old. One of our passions was stock car racing. We drove the “Dune Buggy” around the field for hours pretending that we were Whip Mulligan, Stan Polaski, Frankie Schneider or the “Double Zero” Buzzy Rudemin. We would ride our mini bikes until the palms of our hands were red and itched like mad from the vibrations. In the winter we had the snowmobile. We would put our sisters into the sleigh and cruise across the field at top speed while they held on for dear life. And who could count the number of hours we spent around the pool table?

One very common interest that Cousin P and I had as teenagers was the music and weirdness of Alice Cooper. I guess I can take the credit/blame (depending on how you look at it) for getting us into that. My very first album was Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” I let Cousin P hear it and he was hooked! The two of us were some of the biggest Cooper fans going back then!

Last night we started talking about Alice. I brought it up. Over the past few months I had such “hankerings” for Alice’s music that I was on Ebay searching for Alice Cooper CDs every day. I now have most of the early ones that we used to listen to as kids. As we talked about Alice, I realized that beneath the conversation there was something deeper being said. I can say that, on my part, I was saying, “Hey! I miss you! I remember you! I remember a time when we were closer and the hardships of life hadn’t yet cut so deeply.” Why couldn’t I just come out with those words? Why were they disguised in the image of Alice Cooper?

Our common musical interest is only a reminder of the fact that we share the same life. Greater than the influence of our music is the influence of those that loved us and cared for us, of whom Gram was one of the dearest. Quieter than the decibels of our rock-n-roll was the steady love of our grandmother. Calmer than our often-reckless adventures was the unfailing attention that she gave to us. As the two of us stood speechless at her side last night, Cousin P caressing Gram’s hand, I realized this in a significant way. With great clarity I understood that, despite whatever differences Cousin P and I may have had over the years, our lives are extensions of a common life, like two branches growing out of the same tree, and we are family.

IN TIMES of bereavement, I have always felt that my interaction with those who are still living was crucial. I often regret that I haven’t done more or spoken more at those times. Just as the tears refused to fall from my eyes today, so the words often hang in my throat in refuse to come out when I most need to speak. I just hope that somehow those around me sense my appreciation for them. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, I hope that my eyes will convey my heart when my lips refuse to carry my words. The passing of a loved one is an event that seems to strip us of much that is frivolous and shallow, revealing the deeper areas of our hearts. I just hope that I can take advantage of this during this time of grief for the benefit of my family. Perhaps I can boost someone’s spirits, or make someone feel a little less alone, spread some warmth and, perhaps, promote some healing. I know that this is how Gram would want me to act. This is how I will honor her.

PONDER ANEW

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(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

I MANAGED to make it to church this morning. Over the last few years, attending church has become harder for me to accomplish for several and various reasons – none of which I wish to discuss in this entry. These reasons range from the very practical issues, such as not having decent clothes to wear because the laundry wasn’t done earlier in the week due to some unexpected crisis, to the deeply theological issues whose immensity and complexities sometimes befuddle my little brain. However, today I was able to put all of that aside and go to worship.

I am glad that I was there. It was good to sing and to hear other human voices singing. It was good to hear the Bible read. It was good to have a time of peace. It is always good to see Pastor B and to be reminded of his involvement in my life. The whole experience helped to organize my thoughts for this entry.

THE THEME of today’s entry started to take shape in my mind one day this past week as I was driving to work. It was one of those rare occasions when I tuned in my radio to a Christian station. I do not listen to those stations very much – for reasons which also will not be discussed in this entry. While listening this particular morning, I heard a contemporary version of an old hymn. It was not contemporary in the “pop” sense of contemporary. I am referring to the sense of “newness” or “currency” in the word contemporary. The song caught my attention. I found myself singing along. The whole song became centered on these lines in the third verse:

Ponder anew what the Almighty will do,
If with His love He befriend thee.
My thoughts began to radiate from this central theme.

WHEN I STOP to think about it, I can think of no topic so sublime to give one’s self up to in pondering than the love of God! The immediate Bible verse that comes to mind is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Many of us have most likely heard that verse countless times. Many have had it memorized from Sunday school classes early in their life. Many can quote it without blinking. For some of us, it proceeds from our mouths with as much ease as the next breath we are about to exhale.

Does a good understanding of the “meaning” of that verse come to us as easily? We all recognize its packaging easy enough. But do we take the time to unwrap it, examine it, taste it, bite into it and nourish ourselves on the depth of its meaning? Would our characters be “healthier” and our lives more stable and vibrant if we did?

“PONDER ANEW” the meaning of the love of God. Maybe it’s been some time since some of us have thought much about God or His love. It’s the beginning of a new year and a new millenium. Maybe it’s the most appropriate time for some of us to ponder the love of God.

In the above-mentioned Bible verse, the love of God is not described or explained. It is declared to be the purpose behind God’s involvement in this world in the act of giving His Son Jesus Christ. The full story is that God gave His Son in order that He might save the world from their sins. Jesus accomplished this by giving His own body up to a torturous death on a cross in the place of those who were guilty and worthy of death themselves. He once suffered for sins, “the just for the unjust,” the righteous for the guilty, the pure for the unholy, God for man, Jesus Christ for Sam Snyder.

There is an infinite world of contemplation to be had when pondering the love of God in such a personal way! Why in the world would God give His Son to die for me?? Think of Jesus Christ. Go beyond thinking about people you know who say that they are Christians. Don’t look at them right now. Look at Jesus Christ. Think of all the good that He did. Think of His reputation as a kind and compassionate man, a worker of miracles, a healer of the sick, a liberator of the possessed, a real man, yet much more than a man. Think of how He had been with His Father for all of eternity past. Think of His purity.

NOW THINK honestly about yourself. If you are not able to do that, think honestly about Sam Snyder. After all, this is his online journal that he has so blatantly unveiled before the whole world. Let him step forward and be examined. What is his character really like? Who is he when no one else is looking? What kind of sordid thoughts fancy his imagination? How many half-truths have come from his mouth? What is the real depth of his sincerity? Does he have any sincerity at all?

Let’s compare him to Jesus Christ! Has Sam Snyder ever created a world so complex and marvelous as Jesus Christ has? Has Sam Snyder ever raised the dead, or touched a leper to heal him, or fed 5,000 people from just a few loaves? Has Sam Snyder been entirely without even the slightest sin for all of his life? Has Sam Snyder loved not only his friends, but even his enemies to the point of willingly dying for them?

Looks like Sam Snyder falls far short of measuring up.

“PONDER ANEW” what it means to be “befriended” by Almighty God. Wow! The possibilities are infinite because the love of God is infinite. Indeed, as the Bible simply states, “God IS love.” It is His very nature. He is loving in all that He is and does. Think of having a friend who loves you so much that he is willing to give up his dearest possessions for your well being. Now think of this friend as one who has proven his love for you over and over and over again. Not only that, think of this friend as having all the resources necessary to provide for your well being. Think of a king who has the riches and authority to take up a pauper and make him a prince, allowing him to live in his castle as one of his own sons. Think of a physician who is not only wise enough to diagnose your disease, but also able to provide the cure you need – free of charge! Ponder these ideas and others like them. Multiply them by infinity. Then you will just begin to realize what it means to be befriended by God.

SO these have been some of my deeper ponderings of late. There are many, many things concerning God and religion that I cannot explain, many questions that I currently have no answers for, many knots that I cannot untangle (some which I refuse to try to untangle anymore). But one thing that I can say for sure is that God, the Father of Jesus Christ, is loving and generous. For many years now, He has not failed to somehow communicate to me that He loves me. In all of the hardships that I have endured, it is God and His love that has picked me back up off the floor, stood me back upon my feet, and helped me to take another step forward. It is not my sense of humor or my own raw will power that has sustained me. Rather, it is something in my heart that says, “There is more to this life than what you see. There are bigger purposes, designs and plans, which you cannot comprehend right now. Your pains are not the ‘ends’ but only the ‘means’ of bringing you to something larger, something more substantial, something permanent.” Therein is the essence of the continuum in my life. There are forces and influences, which are much larger than I am. There are plans, which are immensely broader than my narrow life, plans, which have their beginning in eternity. Yet, because God is love, because He has befriended me, because He is almighty, I have faith that these plans are His plans, designed with infinite and personal love. I have faith that His plans have included me and that my well being was not forgotten when He held His counsel and designed this world. I have faith that even my feeble life is being used for his purposes in this world, perhaps even in the writing of this entry today, perhaps as part of someone else’s continuum.

I’m glad I went to church today. I hope you are now as well.

THE BATTLE OF SNYDERSBURG

jcannon

(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

ON NEW YEARS DAY I did what Friend J refers to as “driving home.” This time it was a longer drive home than usual. Basically “driving home” refers to traveling out past Harrisburg, PA to pick up H and M. I normally do this on a Friday night after work, going straight to Harrisburg, tossing the girls into the car, and driving straight back home. Then, at the end of their visit, I “drive home” again, this time tossing the girls out of the car. (Fear not! Children are resilient!) This particular “drive home” was longer than usual because X.2 asked me to meet her in Frederick, MD. Being the nice guy that I am, I agreed to drive farther this time to give her a break. Besides, Frederick is close to Gettysburg, and I thought I could do a little site seeing on the way back.

So the story begins…

I AWOKE with plenty of time to get on the net for a bit, have my tea and then shower. I was determined that I would be ready to leave the house with time to spare this time. All was progressing according to plan until just after the shower. At that point the “Battle of Snydersburg” began with a bang.

Just as I was finishing my shower, one of the little ones knocked on the door and said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” I replied, “I’m getting out now. Just let me dry off.” “Ok, Daddy.” I dried off, put my shorts on, opened the door and beheld the aforementioned little one peering up at me through a pained look.

“Daddy… I couldn’t help it!! The **euphemism** just started coming out!!”

At that point I looked a little lower to see that this little one had no pants on and the **euphemism** was still “coming out!” She tried to take a step and I said, “NO!!! Don’t walk!! Stop the **euphemism**!!”

I panicked my way into the kitchen for paper towels. And sure enough… There were only three sheets left and it was the last roll. Typical. Bowels never burst forth when you have a warehouse full of cleaning supplies!! No, they wait to catch you off guard and then “BLAM!!” Well… As the saying goes, “**Euphemism** Happens!”

So I cleaned the child and the floor with napkins as best I could. I survived the “enemy’s” first onslaught, but the second attack was only moments away…

HAVE YOU EVER ever tried to wake up a 16 year old son after he stayed up to watch the ball drop on New Years Eve and tell him that he had to get ready to go on a 6 hour “drive home” with you? Yes, that is just asking for a battle! And a battle we had! It was loud! It was heated! It was life or death! I will spare you the agony of reading the gory details. I’ll just say that I was able to subdue the rebel and drag him along for the trip as my hostage. By the end of the day, he had had a great time. But I can still hear the shots ringing from this early morning encounter.

BY THE TIME we finally got on our way it was 11:30 – one hour behind schedule. Plus we still had to stop for lunch and **euphemism** medicine. We didn’t leave our hometown until 12:30. We were pretty late then. I don’t know which I worried about more: the hassles with X.2 when I showed up late or my own disappointment if I couldn’t make it back to Gettysburg before it got too dark to take pictures.

More than half of our trip went without event. But a little past Harrisburg, I heard a young voice from the back seat say, “Daddy, I think I have to use the bathroom.” I turned to see that pained look grimacing back and we jumped off at the next exit. We spotted a Burger King straight ahead. I drove 90 mph and straight into the ladies’ room! I waited outside the door while my little one answered “nature’s scream”. (Thank God for restaurants with bathrooms!) After several minutes, the door to the ladies’ room opened. There stood my little one saying, “Daddy… the **euphemism**…” with her undies hanging from her pinched fingers.

“Throw it away! Throw it away!! THROW IT AWAY!!!”

We had to make one more emergency pit stop along the way. We finally made it to Frederick, late but without hassle. X.2 was late herself.

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J AND I made it to Gettysburg around 4:30. The sky was cloudy and there was an icy wind blowing across the battlefield. The whole place felt haunted. It felt like we were trespassing. We had enough daylight to drive around the southern end of the battlefield, through the Round Tops, past the Pennsylvania Monument, the Angle and Bryant’s Farm.

Once you reach Bryant’s Farm you are on the edge of the town of Gettysburg. The cemetery is near that point. I parked the car and ventured into the cemetery alone. J was too cold and hungry. He waited in the car. There was hardly any daylight then. Dusk was waning and the night was yawning over the place. I ran through the cemetery in order to stand where Abraham Lincoln stood when he delivered the Gettysburg Address. Nearby, there was a row of graves classified as “Unknown.” I stood for a while, staring at one of the markers, wondering who was beneath me, wondering where he was from. Did he have a wife? Children? Where on this battlefield did his blood seep into the ground? My thoughts were getting icy like the wind. If I believed in ghosts I would have sworn that you could sense restlessness rising from those graves. It was time to retreat to the car.

Before we left Gettysburg, we stopped at the only gift shop that was opened. It is called An Early Elegance. We were greeted by the owner, a very pleasant woman named Mary. J picked out a “souvenir” to which my only comment was, “You came all the way to Gettysburg, this historical place, and that was what you chose for a souvenir??” He was happy nonetheless. (Click HERE to see J’s souvenir.) I picked out a book. (I can always rationalize my need to buy a book at any given time.) Mary packed our items and also gave us a big bag of celery and carrots, a nice bag of pretzels and assorted chocolates for our journey home. Her kindness is much appreciated! When you get to Gettysburg, give her my regards.

SO… after 360 miles, 7 1/2 hours, 3 public restrooms, and a spent tank of gas, I had literally gone full circle and was finally home. But the day was not over. I still had to drive another 20 miles to pick up S and T…

“Tighten the ranks, fellas! A soldier’s duty never really ends!”