Monthly Archives: September 2014

Your Number’s Up

75. It’s the perfect age to die, according to of the creators of Obamacare. He’s actually thought this through, and figures 75 is the time we all start our final decline, start feeling bad more often than good, start to lose control of our faculties, etc.
He’s apparently never met Leon.
I met Leon last Saturday morning, standing in line at a supermarket pharmacy, waiting for a refill on one of those countless prescriptions I take for one of my countless health issues.
Leon thought that he and I should break open the box of donuts I was holding while we were waiting. Instead, he lightheartedly complained about drug store stuff. Then he told me about his service in World War II, and how afterward he worked at “190 feet” on the launch pads at Cape Canaveral, no doubt where he obtained his dark, leathery tan.
Leon didn’t have the greatest set of teeth I’d ever seen, but he was the most vibrant, alive person I had met in a while. He is certainly in better health than I am. He just turned 97.
People like Leon are national treasures. They are walking history – people who have been there, done that, and can tell us exactly how it all went down. And judging from the news, there are more and more people living longer all the time, which should be giving us more and more practical knowledge of the past than we’ve ever had.
I worry about influential people in national healthcare talking about “the optimal age to die.” Society’s lack of respect for the older ones among us is problematic to begin with. Am I to take such statements as an indication that we’ll be denying healthcare to seniors at some point because it won’t be “cost-effective” to provide? Will I watch my own parents suffer until they die at some time in the future? For that matter, I’m a diabetic. Will I eventually be left to deteriorate and pass because the government would rather spend its money on something more important than my insignificant life?
It sounds like a science fiction novel, like that Ethan Hawk movie Gattaka. Do we really want government deciding who’s life has value and who’s does not? The last time I checked, the choice between life and death was in God’s purview, not ours. Tragic suicide aside, we die when God is ready for us to join His Kingdom. Not when a bureaucrat decides caring for you no longer offers the optimal return on investment.
I’d hate to see the world lose Leon before his time comes, just as I fear for the many people over the age of 75 who still have great things to offer the world. (How about Clint Eastwood, former President Geo. H.W. Bush, Betty White, William Shatner, Bill Cosby? Your parents or grandparents?)
Life is sacred in whatever form it comes, young, old, beautiful, ugly, healthy, sick, rich, poor, and so on. We all have something to offer no matter the circumstances of our life. Sometimes, it’s those more unfortunate circumstances that allow us to make a difference. The life given anyone by God cannot be devalued because sustaining it is expensive, or because numerous lives put a strain on the environment, or because life requires us to reexamine our own ways.
God, and only God should be making the decisions on when we die. All life has value in His plan.

I Don’t Know Everything

I’m what people would call a cradle Catholic. I was baptized as an infant, and attended Catholic school first grade through graduate school. I go to Mass regularly and am raising my children Catholic.
As an adult, like many other Catholics I know, I’ve had my beliefs challenged and discredited. I’ve gone through periods where I doubted God, and others where I decided to be angry with Him. But each time, I’ve come back to my faith stronger than before.
I once had a friend, who I would have to describe as an atheist, ask me point blank why I went to church and believed in Jesus Christ, especially as a Catholic. This was at a time when many priests were being outed as pedophiles.
I couldn’t answer the question immediately. Afterall, I just believe. But that wasn’t going to do it for him.
He was wondering particularly if my belief was more cultural than religious. (Was I just Catholic because my parents were?) He himself saw Catholicism as a collection of “fairy tales.” He was a science mind, someone who thinks modern science has answered the question of “Does God exist?” He found me to be an intelligent, thoughtful person, and could not understand my insistence on believing in make-believe.
I admitted that in my case there was likely some cultural pull involved – as I grew up, I thought most people were Catholic. Religion was an important part of my family life. And my religious instruction was definitely more comprehensive than that most people have received.
But the question made me realize two things. First, many people don’t have a true understanding or use of the word “faith.” Second, most people base their belief or disbelief in God on human factors.
The answer to my friend’s question IS “faith.”
I think of what Jesus said to St. Thomas. “You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen but still believe.”
I do not pretend to understand everything nor do I think there are other people who understand the entire universe. I believe a force greater than people, God, exists. I believe what people see as inconsistencies and breaks in the Jesus/religion story are things people may not comprehend. I see arrogance in how humans, with all of their faults, can believe they are all knowing of the universe.
“I don’t know” is a hard thing for us these days. We’re so accustomed to being duped, conned or taken, that we have trouble trusting almost anyone or anything. We think there’s an explanation for everything. We’re nobody’s fool. Not even God’s.
Yet if we look and listen more carefully, we see things happen that we don’t understand. We miraculously emerge from accidents unscathed. We escape disaster by minutes and seconds. Diseases with no cures heal themselves. Miracles happen everyday. We’ve seen prayer truly save. If you have not had an experience that is inexplicable, you are probably not alive.
Like many others, I find the world, the universe, to be beautiful and amazing. I cannot believe its wonders are “accidents” of evolution. Considering all humans can do, I can’t believe people are just what happens when cells adapt and keep dividing. I think the real answers to these kinds of questions are beyond us. I respect, understand and actually believe in science, yet I have faith that God is still involved, slowly revealing a puzzle, untangling a knot, before our very eyes.
Many who will tell you they don’t believe in God, actually don’t believe in religion. There’s a difference. Because we are all human, including clergy, we mess things up. We act like people, not God. So if people tell you they don’t believe in God because of the Catholic abuse scandal, or the Crusades or the Inquisition, or the Borgias, that’s kind of a cop out. God didn’t abuse, kill, or manipulate anyone. Humans did. Don’t pray anymore because your pastor or congregation is corrupt? Also not God’s fault.
You cannot blame the bad actions of others for a personal lack of faith in God. You also can’t blame God if you don’t believe in Him. That’s all on you. Do you know all there is to know about the universe? No one does, and likely won’t anytime soon (sorry scientific know-it-alls). So how does God get ruled out?
Having “faith” allows people to let go — to relieve ourselves of the stress of feeling we need to know and understand everything.
It’s hard. Doubt works it’s way among even the most faithful among us. We would not be human beings if we did not doubt. If we were not flawed. It’s unsettling to not have an answer. But it’s also freeing.
Faith is not something to laugh at or ridicule. Faithful people are not stupid. Faith is the ability to see mystery in life, and to accept the fact that we may never know everything. For those of us who have it, “faith” is a gift that makes humans of all kinds easier to live with, even if we don’t understand them.

Ok, bring on the comments. I’m sure to hear about this one. Be gentle.

And the Last Shall be First

A few months ago, my daughters started running cross country for their school.
I convinced them to give it a try for a few reasons. One needed to find something to engage herself in that she could call her own. The other needed a bit more physical fitness in her life. And I didn’t want either of them to become an adult like me who hates exercise.
While I was busy focusing on how they could benefit, I never stopped to think the pursuit -and my girls- would end up teaching me the real lessons.
One of my daughters it turns out has a real knack for this running thing. She improves all the time. The other…maybe not so much.
Today, they ran one of the more challenging courses they’ve been dealt so far. I knew one would finish near the end. The other I expected in the middle of the pack. Earlier, I had watch them set out with something of a wince. My one daughter, as expected, was dead last, and continued to fall behind as the pack moved out of sight.
As I waited near the finish line, kids were coming in one after another. But not either of mine. The field was thinning. Earlier finishers were heading home. And I saw one of my girls come into view. She had to be near the end of the heap, yet she didn’t look particularly spent or tired. Odd.
A few moments later, I saw her sister, the one who struggles more with her performance and technique. She was obviously exhausted. Pushing ahead in what seemed to be agony, she was also gathering the support of the parents watching, her teammates and competitors from other schools. They were running with her. Cheering her on.
Tears were clouding my eyes under my sunglasses. I hurt for her, physically and emotionally. All parents surely understand. It’s painful to watch your child struggle so publicly.
I hugged the daughter who had finished and handed her water as I turned back to the course. The other’s coach was now running at her side, encouraging her gently but firmly. Other runners from the home team came to run with her. Cheers were growing louder. I couldn’t help but wonder if the support – all genuine – lifted her or embarrassed her. But as she crossed the finish in a crowd of people, there was no frown.
She walked into my arms, and when she saw my tears, she cried herself. I turned her beautiful face, covered in sweat and wet hair, up to mine and kissed her forehead. I had never been more proud of her, my heart felt fuller than I thought it could.
Her perseverance was inspiring. And I told her so. That I would think of that moment every time I wanted to give up, take the easy way out. Take a nap instead of doing something that needed doing. And she smiled a beautiful smile, and said, “I love you mom.”
We gathered our stuff, and people came by, still cheering her on. “Great job, honey.” “Great way to hang in there, kid.” I was proud to be her mom.
As we were walking to the car, her sister, the more talented runner, took my hand. Another coach had been encouraging her to take on more in her training, greatly impressed with how far she’d come so fast. I wondered how that would progress now that she had finished second to last.
“She finished it, mom.” She said and smiled. I looked down at her and finally understood why she finished so far back. Just a moment before, I thought I couldn’t be more proud. But I was. I realized she had stayed behind on the course with her sister to support her effort just to finish, instead of pursuing her own interest in a stronger time.
My kids have done more than learn to run and stay healthy as I had planned. One has re-energized me to fight on when the days get hard. The other showed me that not all winners cross the finish first. Some do it last.