Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes

I heard noises coming from my kitchen this morning, or at least I thought I did. They were not the kind of noises from someone breaking in, or stealing, because I know my otherwise worthless dogs would have barked up a storm, and they were not making any noise at all. It was not my wife, because she was sleeping next to me. It seemed more like the sound of someone moving about and getting ready for their day—the sound of small dishes clinking together, a radio coming on softly. I looked at my bedside clock and it was 0330 exactly (shortly before I normally get up).

I got out of bed and wandered down the hall in my boxers, because why not? I immediately saw a light on in the kitchen, and when I came around the corner, my mother was there in a bathrobe, frying something in a skillet. She turned to look at me and said my name, “Tommy.”

I haven’t been Tommy in a number of years, but this morning I was. I started to respond, but then I realized my bladder was really full, and I rolled over and looked at my clock, and it was exactly 0330.

Although I realized it was a dream right away, it also occurred to me that I hadn’t seen my mother since 1987, and the last time she’d been in a morphine coma. She looked pretty good today, all things considered.

So I sat on the couch, and I read a little. I had a couple microwave pancakes. I was restless, and I couldn’t concentrate, so I pulled up an episode of Hawaii Five-0 on Netflix. Kono was lost at sea on a catamaran trip she began in honor of her mother. There were a lot of flashbacks with Kono and her mom, where the mom would relay this…homespun Hawaiian wisdom to her that helped her survive. “For crying out loud,” I thought. What on earth kind of morning was this going to be?

I guess I was supposed to think about my mother. Which I do almost every day, anyway. So that is what I’ve been doing.

I don’t have a lot of stories of mom passing along wisdom—I don’t remember her that well, honestly.

But I remember she loved old-school country music. In San Diego, the station was called KSON. I don’t know if it still is.

I know she liked to dance—I remember seeing her cut a rug with her brothers when I was very small. We have a couple home movies as well.

I remember rainy picnics on the kitchen floor. Sitting cross-legged on the floor and eating PB & J as my mom sang “rain, rain, go away.”

Other times she taught me this snippet of a George MacDonald poem called Baby. “Where did you come from, baby dear?”

To which my response was “out of everywhere into here.” My sister tells me she had this old book, and it came from there.

I do have one of her old books, though, and I really treasure it. It’s an old and falling-apart Living Bible, featuring marks she made with a fading felt-tip. It was given to her by my aunt Cathy back in 1979. I don’t know how much she read it then—I don’t remember seeing her with it until the months before her death.

There was one psalm she underlined in several places, and I just found that a couple of weeks ago. 31 years after she died. Amazing. And very comforting. Here is Psalm 116, which she underlined in purple, at some point before the end.

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice  and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen,     I will pray as long as I have breath! Death wrapped its ropes around me;     the terrors of the grave[a] overtook me.     I saw only trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord:     “Please, Lord, save me!” How kind the Lord is! How good he is!     So merciful, this God of ours! The Lord protects those of childlike faith;     I was facing death, and he saved me. Let my soul be at rest again,     for the Lord has been good to me. He has saved me from death,     my eyes from tears,     my feet from stumbling. And so I walk in the Lord’s presence     as I live here on earth! 10 I believed in you, so I said,     “I am deeply troubled, Lord.” 11 In my anxiety I cried out to you,     “These people are all liars!” 12 What can I offer the Lord     for all he has done for me? 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation     and praise the Lord’s name for saving me. 14 I will keep my promises to the Lord     in the presence of all his people.

15 The Lord cares deeply     when his loved ones die. 16 O Lord, I am your servant;     yes, I am your servant, born into your household;     you have freed me from my chains. 17 I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving     and call on the name of the Lord. 18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord     in the presence of all his people— 19 in the house of the Lord  in the heart of Jerusalem.”

So today I will remember my mom all I can. I will thank the Lord for the time I did have—18 years. Not all good, but good enough. There were struggles, but there were also a great many blessings. I’m grateful for them. If anyone I know reads this, I’ll show you that old bible next time you’re at the house. It’s awesome.

I just remembered my mom used to talk to people on a CB radio my dad put in the kitchen. Her handle was “Ol’ Blue Eyes” to my dad.

That’s awesome, too.

Not trying to be sad, or make anyone tear up. Just remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes.

A good thing to do.

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On Extremism, and Starting a Conversation

Not everyone dressed like this is a terrorist, or (according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation) radicalized Muslims. A hijab and a taqiya are just articles of clothing.

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These people were, however, and did carry out their plan, although probably not to the degree they wished, thanks to a hail of bullets and a tactical vehicle.

For some reason—although they were known to the FBI very soon after their deed was done—it was determined by someone not to release information regarding their identities right away. I can actually imagine why without straining my brain too hard. The powers-that-be did not want to create anti-Islamic paranoia while blood was still hot over what had been done, which was, of course, murder motivated by terrorism and perpetrated by people taken captive by a hateful ideology.

No, I am not talking about the GOP. In spite of what many of our liberal friends might think.

(I am not planning to address Donald Trump’s remarks here. That’s for another post)

Personally, I do not know any practitioners of the Muslim faith. No, I do not believe they all want to kill me. I would say, of course, that some do. It would be foolish to deny that.

But certainly not all, and nowhere near a majority.

That said, what do we do? Do we round them up? Kick them out of the country? I don’t know. It makes me think of Japanese internment during WWII to an extent, and that was wrong. It feels the same way here.

BUT.

Radicalized Japanese people were not coming to the U.S. under a peaceful guise and murdering people at office Christmas parties.

Also, I understand how left-leaning purveyors of social justice might be worried about citizens getting all exclusion-y and prejudiced regarding Islamic people in the U.S. I get that—and they probably should worry, to an extent. Many people do and say stupid things, especially when people have been murdered.

I don’t know what the answer to that is. I don’t know how to keep people from feeling like they are the arbiters of justice, social or otherwise.

I think this is a dialogue the country needs to (and hopefully will) have.

But I also think it is liberal-minded folly to behave as if NO Islamic extremism has occurred in the U.S. since 9/11.

Sure, the U.S. can be held captive by ideology, too. It isn’t just GOP, though. Extremism exists in every country, every faith, and it is beyond dangerous.

I’m just trying to recall the last time folks from the U.S. got dressed up in their cowboy hats and baseball caps and took their game to Islamic countries….nope, I got nothing.

We just need to stop denying what’s going on. And we need to have a reasoned conversation, and not a blame party. Are we honestly supposed to believe San Bernardino was because of the NRA? Come on, folks. Pretending there is no danger domestically, doesn’t mean there is not. It just means it isn’t only ostriches who bury their heads in the sand.

Let’s put our respective agendas aside, and figure this nightmare out.

Blue Collar Love

Lately, when I have a moment or two, I’ve been thinking about love.

Not in the way you might think—this is not one of those gooshy, “I love my wife sooo much” posts (although I do).

Rather, I have been thinking that there really is a pretty big difference between the sort-of star-struck love you feel while dating, even leading up to your wedding and the real, deeper, blue-collar love you feel after you’ve been married a while, and the work of marriage begins.

Star-struck love gets you to the altar; blue-collar love keeps you together, and growing closer.

It isn’t that the romance ends when you tie the knot, because it doesn’t. It actually gets better.

Personally, I don’t think a soulmate is someone you slow-dance with your entire marriage, and say things like “you complete me” to at every opportunity, while staring into each other’s eyes and sighing.

That crap is for the movies, and it isn’t real marriage—it isn’t blue collar love.

I think a soulmate (if there is such a thing) is the person you can come home to and say “my day was crap,” and then they sit on the couch with you, drinking a beer and not talking about it, while the kids destroy the rest of the house.

A “soulmate” is the person you can just be with sometimes, and that is enough. It doesn’t have to be a Bruno Mars song all the time.

A “soulmate” is someone who can see you in all your morning magnificence and still give you a kiss, then tell you your breath smells like ass.

Blue-collar love is not perfectly arranged, candlelit dates at fancy restaurants. It’s driving to Dairy Queen barefoot at 10pm for a blizzard because nothing else will do.

It’s making your whiny, complaining husband a pie that everyone else in the free world hates, because his mom made it for him, and when he has it he remembers her.

Blue-collar love is not running off when things get tough, or when you have an argument or disagreement. It’s rolling up your sleeves and working that stuff out.

Blue-collar love is being able to say to your spouse “I don’t have it right now. Everything feels wrong. Can I just…talk a little? I need someone to listen.”

Or sleeping sitting up in a Hospital chair while your spouse gets emergency surgery on Valentine’s day.

It’s having common goals; the same things are important to each person. It’s hitting your knees and doing the work of real prayer when it needs to be done. Battling together for your kids and your marriage.

Sometimes blue collar love is cleaning up messes you didn’t make so they don’t have to.

Or calling them out when they fart worse than you.

Or knowing when to offer input or just listen, even when your day was just as bad as theirs sounds.

Blue collar love is ugly-crying and not being embarrassed, because you know they will probably tease you after you get it out, and that is awesome.

Blue collar love is goofing around in the kitchen until you almost fall, then falling anyway, grabbing onto each other the whole way while screaming with laughter (and then groaning like you took a hit from Warren Sapp afterward).

But blue collar love can also be work, and that makes it even better. Marriage is not for the faint of heart.

If neither I nor my wife was willing to work at things, life would be wretched.

But I also think if everything was easy all the time, life would be crappy, too.

It isn’t until we face adversity of some kind that we learn what we are capable of, and how strong we are as individuals and as a couple.

I may not be the most romantic man in the world, certainly not the most observant. I forget things. I’m bad at planning things for my wife-who is conversely the bees knees with all that stuff.

My wife knows this well, and let’s me slide with sucking at it.

Individually, we probably have issues. Everyone does. But they aren’t deal-breakers, and they do not lessen what we have together, which isn’t a perfect marriage.

But it’s a great one. We love God, and love each other. We put in the OT when it’s needed (which is always), and always extend the extra Grace.

Because without a little work every once in a while, the rewards aren’t as sweet.

My wife is the only person I have truly loved, in the way people usually mean it. She is, to me, proof that God loves me. She is—literally—an answer to prayer, and will be my pretty girl until I look like this:

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And even when I come home from work or anywhere smelling like a herd of rabid buffalo, she gives me a kiss…then tells me to go wash up, because I smell like trash, or whatever I happened to be into that particular day.

Or for my part, I can come into the bedroom while she’s using the w.c. and prance around the bathroom door in my Superman chonies. Or take a picture of my rear with her phone and make it wallpaper. It’s all good. She just laughs at me, and that’s a good thing.

You want to know my secret to staying happy? Be willing to sacrifice your dignity for a laugh every once in a while.

Come to think, we laugh a lot. Seriously, a LOT. That woman is funny, and I am more than willing to embarrass myself, especially in front of the kids. I want to teach them how to one day love their wives.

That’s the least I can do.

We have a blue collar love, and we are happy. Even when it’s hard, and life is being lame.

And, before I forget, I might add that it’s fun to freak out the kids every chance we get, too. If you don’t know what I mean, try giving your spouse a kiss in the presence of your children. You will usually get the wedge, or told to never dance again (I’m never gonna dance again…guilty feet have got no rhythm).

That’s another thing my wife has to put up with–constant and random 80’s song references…

It’s work, man. But it’s the most satisfying you will ever do.home

Kaleidoscope

I read someone else’s blog recently about parenting, and I thought it was both funny and carried a lot of truth. It’s tough to be a parent–the toughest thing in the world. Parents are usually not thanked for their efforts, at least not until our kids are grown and have a family of their own.

Kids are individuals, just as we are, and Lord, do they sometimes have their moments. So what do we do as parents?

We try to take what we’ve learned and use it, all the while filtering out the nonsense that our parents got from their parents, and we got from them, and so on.

Sometimes there’s a whole lot to filter. Sometimes not.

My parents were not the worst ever, though they had plenty of shortcomings like everyone else does, too.

I guess I kind of think of my own experience as a parent as something ever-evolving. Ever-changing. It’s not all good, and is sometimes really challenging, especially when they are being little toolbags. It isn’t all bad, either, because a lot of the time we get it right. I guess for me, it’s a lot like looking into a kaleidoscope, and seeing all those reflections of little pieces of broken glass or plastic or whatever it is. Triangles of bright glass multiplied by mirrors. Sometimes they combine in such a way as to make a beautiful mosaic. That’s what it’s like when I feel like I get things right as a parent, and do good deeds. When I give my kids stuff they can use.

Other times, the glass combines to make something straight up ugly–like mirrors and something gross. I somehow dredge up some of the less-than-good parenting habits of my folks. I crap the bed as a parent, like some of my Marine friends might say.

But you know what? Another thing I’ve discovered is when that happens, you can shake the kaleidoscope a few times and move on. The picture looks different.

Sure, parenting is hard. Everything good is, at least for me.

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The Falling Man

Of all the 9/11 images readily available, the ones that twist my guts the most are not the extremely graphic ones, though there are many of those available with the click of a mouse.

It would be fair to describe it as one of the worst days in American history, if not the worst.

There are two photos of Father Mychal Judge that are very powerful. In one, he is praying over (maybe administering last rites) a firefighter killed by a falling body. In another–after being killed by either another body or falling debris–the Father’s dead body is seen as he is carried out of the building by a group of firefighters.

He did his job, fulfilled his calling.

And he died.

The worst for me, though, are the images of people jumping from the upper levels of the World Trade Center. From the Windows on the World restaurant. From Cantor Fitzgerald. In fact, there is one well-known image of a large group of Cantor Fitzgerald employees standing in the broken windows of their workplace, and it’s almost as if they were looking over a cliff. I guess they were, in a sense.

They didn’t jump in sequence, but there was a rhythm to it just the same. Some of them held hands. Some tried to parachute, until the wind from their fall ripped whatever they held from their hands.

Then there was the image of a person who came to be known as the “Falling Man.”

We’ve all seen it. He’s wearing a white coat–like a restaurant employee–and he’s head down. His leg is drawn up, knee neatly folded. He looks almost peaceful.

Of course, the image is one of a series, and the rest reveal the chaos of his descent. But for that one frame, he looks at peace with things.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 file picture, a person falls headfirst from the north tower of New York's World Trade Center. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
FILE – In this Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 file picture, a person falls headfirst from the north tower of New York’s World Trade Center. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

There was nothing peaceful about it.

And when I think of 9/11, I think of that picture, and I agree with the “never again” statement.

And I remember.

The Esquire Magazine article “The Falling Man” surmises the Falling Man may have been food worker Jonathan Briley, though no one knows for sure. The article then says this:

“Is Jonathan Briley the Falling Man? He might be. But maybe he didn’t jump from the window as a betrayal of love or because he lost hope. Maybe he jumped to fulfill the terms of a miracle. Maybe he jumped to come home to his family. Maybe he didn’t jump at all, because no one can jump into the arms of God.

Oh, no. You have to fall.”

The Song You Sing

Over the past week or two, I’ve written, rewritten, and ultimately discarded a post that’s been sticking in my craw like county fair taffy. In the end, I think I only need a few syllables. 17, to be exact:

All lives are the same
Created in His beauty
All matter to God

I think about life, and then Thoreau speaks quiet words into my ear:

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

I don’t want to listen to him, because I got a “B” on my Civil Disobedience paper, and his sideburns are ridiculous.

Am I quietly desperate? I don’t know. I don’t want to be.

That doesn’t make his words any less true.

Do you really want to live the rest of your life with the song still in you? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Sing.

At my best, my voice is…not good. But in my own way, I carry a tune (even if it is in a bucket).

I just decided that it’s OK if people don’t like my melody—or don’t think I’m musical.

Maybe my music consists of letters instead of notes; bouquets of words, and sentences, and imagery.

I’m good with that.

All I want to say to you, whoever you are, is find your music.

It’s different for everyone.

It’s probably something else for you. Your music will sound different than anyone else’s.

It should–you weren’t designed the same as they were. You don’t have the same purpose, but be assured, you have one.

For my wife, it’s singing and pouring out her amazing heart for children.

Find your own song, and belt that thing like Andrea Bocelli.

Let me finish with these words from Psalm 51–about the most appropriate I can think of, given what I’m talking about:

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise
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Certainly not my words, but they fit.

Dysfunction, with a W

Today I read an article online about the TV show Six Feet Under. It was pretty much just a quick oral history of how the show came to be, but there was a small part of it where the actor Peter Krause, I think, was talking about how the Fisher family was dysfunctional on the show, but that cast as a family was very functional.

It got me thinking about my own family growing up. Not that we were terribly dysfunctional, really. I think we were like lots of families during that time period. My brother and sisters grew up in the 60’s and 70’s (I came along in 1968), and it was just a different time then.

My siblings dealt with the same things lots of people did during that time period—Viet Nam, drug issues (not necessarily their own), probably some politics, meeting (or not meeting) societal and parental expectation, and simply finding their own way.

And they had this baby brother come along, and they were really more like parents to me than anything else.

My mom dealt with health and alcoholism issues as long as I can remember. Then it was cancer issues, and it took her a really long and painful decade to succumb to them.

I got along with my sisters much better than my brother. They showed me the love and support my parents couldn’t, for whatever their reasons. My brother, not so much. If I had to name an individual responsible for most of my woundings and scars, it would be him. Both literally, and figuratively.

He single-handedly formed the self-image that almost completely undid me.

I didn’t get it before—not for years—but I think I understand why things played out like that a little better now.

He was a little different as a kid, from what I have been made to understand. Perhaps there could have been some mental or chemical issues, I don’t know. He wasn’t always easy to love. Still, the girls did what they could.

Then I come along, and for whatever the reason, I was treated and loved well by my sisters and was a total mama’s boy. I don’t think there was anything special about me, but the love I was shown shaped my personality as much as my brother’s hate did, I think. And I get that it upset him and probably caused a lot of his issues with me.

Plainly put, this new brother did not help his issues at all, and certainly stole a lot of the time that he used to get. It felt like he hated me for being more loved than he was. I don’t know if that’s true.

I suppose that is a dysfunction.

Yet there were also moments of kindness. He would give me things of his I wanted that he didn’t use or play with anymore. He would take me for rides on his motorcycle. One time I got sick in the middle of the night and puked all over the place. He cleaned me up and put me back to bed, and then cleaned up the mess all by himself without waking anyone else up.

Lots of things like that.

My dad seemed a little aloof, but I think that was a generational thing. Men of his time (the greatest generation) were not always the touchy-feely uber-dads you see so often these days (I try to be that kind of dad myself).

I think he did the best he could considering what he had to deal with himself. There were periods of unemployment, my mom’s alcoholism and cancer. Probably hopes and dreams he had of his own that never happened. I don’t ever remember him striking me or anything like that. But I also don’t remember encouragement coming from his direction. I don’t remember much in the way of physical affection, though I suppose he did love me after his own fashion.

He died when I was 16.

Still, I had my friends, and I had my mom and sisters. My brother was thankfully not home much that I remember, and that was good. He only seemed to come around when something bad happened, and he wanted me to feel like it was my fault.

Like when my friend shot himself about ½ mile from my house.

Like when my high school girlfriend broke up with me shortly after graduation.

Like when my mom died in 1987.

That was when my downward spiral started, and didn’t end for a really long time. There weren’t really drugs, unless you count binge-drinking. There was lots of that. There were also several empty relationships, the last of which ended in the early 2000’s. There was a short foray into occultism. Pornography. Despair.

More dysfunction, I guess. During most of those years, I was not a good brother, or probably friend. I preferred shadows, and I would walk in them.

Then God started to introduce people of faith into my life—slowly, so I didn’t notice it was happening.

And for the first time I can remember, I also had accountability.

I met a guy in college who introduced me to a Jesus I hadn’t heard much about, and he called me on it when I was doing dumb stuff. My self-image began to change. Slowly, and I didn’t notice it was happening. The Jesus he told me about loved people as they were—even in their imperfection and sin. He forgave. He changed them from the inside out.

He changed me, in the fullness of time, with many missteps along the way.

I think about all the dysfunction, and I think about the many valleys I’ve been through in my life. Lots of pain. Lots of bad things.

I would not change any of it, and I know how that sounds.

But had I not experienced that stuff, I would not be here today, literally.

There’s a line in the Pat Conroy (one of my very favorite authors) book, The Prince of Tides where the narrator says something like “There are lots of families who go their whole lives with nothing of interest happening to them—not a single thing. I’ve always envied those families.”

I like the book a lot, and used to feel that way myself.

Not anymore.

My family is interesting, and has overcome a lot. Everything I have and more.

I love them.

We are weird, and we have phobias, and predilections, and strange habits.

But strange and dysfunctional as we are, we are a family.

Wilkins in various forms, ideologies, shapes, and colors.

I have been shaped by my life experiences, and by the love I have been shown over my life. Not by the hate. Nothing good is.

I am not the person some of those experiences led me to think for so many years.

God showed me that.

So here I am today.

Arizona.

I work for the Army (indirectly), doing a job I like very much.

I have my own family, and though we might not be Wilkins-level dysfunctional, we try our best. We are loud, and crazy, and we fight, but not as much as we love.

My wife is literally the most extraordinary woman I have ever known, and I will love her until I look like this:

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All that dysfunction was for a reason. It got me here, by the Grace of Jesus, my abba.

The Wilkins family is here to stay. We’ve got branches all over the country, though my main concern is the San Diego Chapter.

I am grateful beyond measure.

I love show tunes, and I love metal, the language of my people.

My wife has introduced me to country, and I like that, too.

I like mince pie, even though I seem to be the only person in Arizona who does.

I love books, and my kids, and carne asada tacos.

Life is pretty good.