Some weeks are ordinary.
This is not one of them.
The daily rhythm of life can, at times, pull us away from that which we most desire on this earth – connection, family, and the glimpse of a dream. All of that stuff is happening to me this week, and it dwarfs whatever daily gripes or complaints I may have had during this past year.
It all started as my first year of teaching theatre finished in Saudi Arabia, and so we headed “home” to the USA for a blissful summer of family, friends, and functions.
The festivities started when we arrived in New York and were whisked away to see my first grandson for the first time ever. Wow doesn’t begin to describe it. I shall, at another time, write more fully about what becoming a grandfather means to me, in addition to what it means to time–I’m not as young as I once was. But the joy that a four-month-old brings a family is palpable by the minute. Joy oozes from the cries, the coos, the laughter, and the smiles. Those smiles. Wow. Those smiles. I was overcome with joy and so proud to be a grandfather.
I also made it home in time to witness the baptism of my grandson with the child’s other grandfather, from Korea, able to officiate over the ceremony with all of the family from both sides of the world present. It was a precious moment, good enough for mounting on a greeting card. I hadn’t seen any of my children in six months due to the nature of my work, so it was special to all be together to say the least.
Now, my first week back in New York will end on a far more insignificant note: I, for the first time, get to see one of my plays produced in New York City.
While it may pale in comparison to holding my grandson, it will, nonetheless, be a remarkable moment to sit in the audience at the Gallery Players’ Theatre in Brooklyn to watch the world premiere of my short play: “The Birth of Technicolor.”
Yes, I feel blessed.
Love is not an exhaustible commodity.
We know this because when a new person enters our lives, and we love them, we don’t have to release love’s pressure valve and let out a little love from our opposite end to compensate.
Love is more akin to the expanding universe. It finds new voids and new spaces which weren’t there, and it doesn’t spread thinner and thinner like a tsunami eventually drying up on land. No. Love is as deep at its origin as it is at its point of expansion.
That’s a marvelous thought, isn’t it?
This topic has been on my mind, mainly because today I became a grandfather. My grandson, whom I will not be able to meet for a few more months, is a new and immediate object of my love. He hasn’t done anything to earn my love. He just has it by the virtue of being born to my daughter.
Love is automatic. It’s not coerced. It’s not purchased. It’s there. Just like that, the number of people in the world that I love has expanded by one.
And this got me thinking.
What would the world look like if we all understood this truth about love and acted on love’s expanding principles? What downcast soul would be brightened? What violent act would be stopped? How many broken hearts would be mended?
What would happen if we each expanded our reach of love by one more person outside of our regular sphere of influence?
We would all be richer for it.
This is my first lesson of being a grandfather.
My mother-in-law, a beautiful human being, passed on from this life today. It’s been a difficult day for the family, and as my wife boards a flight to head home to be with loved ones during this time, I was reminded of one simple word: Hope. It’s a word I strongly believe in. And as I processed the day with that word in mind, here’s what I wrote:
Hope is not a homeless cast-off, living in squalid conditions on the edge of the sunset’s shadows.
Though you will find it there.
Hope is not a forgotten word, buried under scientific jargon, dying an abandoned existence in a dusty appendix.
Though surely you can scan the final pages with your index finger and find it there too.
Hope is not an empty, opiate-filled wish, meant to pacify the cravings of a desolate heart.
Though hope is comfortable in emptiness, tucking neatly in an upside-down crevice of a turned-out pocket.
Hope is the undefinable assurance, proved to the heart by a million micro-steps of life, that joy can never be fully extinguished.
Hope is as high as a thousand-mile mountain peak, yet as thin as an inch-thick stream spreading out indefinitely in all directions.
Hope casts off doubt and lingers until despair yields to its indomitable message.
When the world doesn’t choose hope, hope merely grows stronger, encouraged in the throes of life’s storms, emboldened on the faces of the faithful, ensured that the weary will find their way, that the righteous will find their reward, that a simple seed planted long ago will find its way home.
Recently, Star Wars celebrated its 40th year anniversary of its original theatrical release in 1977. I remember it well.
I was nine years old and had seen an extremely low number of movies in my lifetime up to that point. Maybe two. One for sure. My family didn’t go to movies. We were not the entertainment type. We were the sit on the front porch and watch the neighbors type. I do remember seeing The Hiding Place in 1976, which we undoubtedly saw because of its Christian foundation. I enjoyed that movie tremendously, and re-watched it two years ago before visiting the Corrie Ten Boon house in Haarlem, Netherlands. Star Wars, however, was different.
My sister, Melanie, who was seven years older than me with a drivers license, had bought into the media hype surrounding the big release and wanted to take me and my brother, who was 15. Of course the movie had never before seen special effects! It was all as mesmerizing as it could have been by word of mouth or by a small black and white ad on the next to the last page of the daily Butler Eagle. Melanie arranged a time when the car would be available and we went, most assuredly, on a Saturday afternoon of early May 1977.
I remember three things about that day. The first was my brother’s doubts about the film. He downplayed its potential because “he didn’t like science fiction” films. He was such the skeptic that I wondered why he went, but I didn’t care. We were standing in line at the Penn Theater in downtown Butler with my brother’s doom and doubt sitting on our shoulders, and it was wonderful. There was excitement in the air–an opportunity to go out on the town, six miles from home without any parents, an amazingly rare treat for us back then. It turned out that Star Wars was just the beginning of an unforgettable year for me. Just one month after the opening of Star Wars, our family would have our yearly end-of-school celebration where we would go to Winky’s and eat a hamburger. That was our yearly ration of restaurant fare. Later that summer, I would attend my very first Pirates game. I still remember that they lost 4-1 with Dave Parker scoring the only run, to which I commented “Of course, he’s the only one who ever does anything.” I wouldn’t mind having that lineup back.
1977 sat large on my mind that day and would forevermore since it would also be the last year we would have with our sister Melanie, as she passed on in February of the following year.
So that line, on that day, in my memory today, holds a special moment. A frozen link to my childhood that I’ll never forget. We went in and watched the film. The second thing I remember is how I was mesmerized from start to finish. It must have felt like a second in a wonderland, a million miles away from the slow-paced country life I was used to. A dreamworld where anything could come true and a small boy of nine could realize his potential in profound and unforgettable ways.
The third memory is when my brother ate crow. His face shone wide-eyed and his expressions exaggerated as he blurted out the most contrarian line he could think of as we emerged onto Main Street: “That was the best movie I’ve ever seen!”
Yes, it was. And it’s still one of my best memories.
Look closely at this photo. What do you see?
I see memories which will last a lifetime. Not for me, no, but for that family of aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews, mothers and fathers.
if you look closely on the center left, you’ll see two children playing in the sand at the edge of the ocean’s waves. On the right is picnic-central, complete with thermoses, snacks, extra clothing, blankets, mother, father, and daughter. The kids will run back and forth from the water while the parents will chat in the cool of the shade, enjoying the holiday, Malaysia Day 2016.
I took this photo from my usual writing spot, and the scene struck me so vividly that I had to take a photo of it through the trees. It was a lovely scene, the kind my family had when our kids were small. It’s a nostalgic scene, the kind that the Malaysian Normal Rockwell, if he exists, would happily paint and immortalize.
I can imagine what these kids will think in thirty years. Remember when Mom and Dad would pack the car and we would travel over the bridge to Penang Island, weave through the bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic, making the 45 minute ride to Batu Ferringhi where we would picnic by the sea for the entire afternoon, coming home exhausted by midnight? Remember?
Everyone, of course, will remember. And when these young kids have kids of their own, they too will come to Batu in search of the idyllic family day.
It’s moments like these that we all have to hold on to. It’s moments like these that make me glad that I’m a writer.
When was the last time you spent a few hours with some elderly folks whom were not related to you?
Honestly, it had been a long time for myself until this past week. We were invited to talk about our life in Malaysia with a small group of elderly at a retirement home. After the wonderful talk and interesting dialogues that we had, we were invited up to one of the couple’s apartment and then they treated us to dinner in the retirement home’s dining hall.
It was truly a wonderful afternoon. I’m sure they appreciated us coming out and talking with them, but I walked away from it appreciative for their long and dedicated lives for making the world a better place. The wife of the elderly couple is 97 years old and still as sharp as a tack. Her husband, the doctor, is her younger by a couple years or so.
I noticed a couple of things during our visit. First of all, as a writer, I studied the couple to better understand how an elderly couple walks, talks, communicates with each other, and goes about living in their tenth decade of life and seventh decade of marriage. Wow!
But please don’t think I was looking at merely specimen for study and research in order to make my writing more authentic. Not at all. I was humbled to learn of their sacrifices and their passion for serving others. I was thrilled to hear their stories – how the young doctor was studying his profession during the war years (1943) at the Cathedral of Learning in the University of Pittsburgh – how he was sent to post-war Okinawa to practice his profession – how when he returned he was introduced to a beautiful young woman at church – how he asked her to marry him but how she had to go home and pray it over before committing – and how they eventually settled into the Congo and then Cambodia and then the Congo once again, making memories, healing the sick, starting a family, and making an incredible difference around the world.
I was blessed and challenged by this amazing couple. And it got me thinking. How many other amazing elderly couples or singles are sitting right in this retirement home? How many stories have yet to be told and might be gone forever if no one ever sits down to listen? How many stories throughout the country (throughout the world) sit idle because of the busy pace of our modern lives?
We all need to make an effort to learn and listen from the generations which have gone before us. How much better would our world be if we turned off the reality TV and tuned into some real-life drama by real-life people?
This is a challenge for all of us before it is too late.
My Dad celebrated his 83rd birthday this week. He showed me some of his old military photos. He was stationed in Germany, fighting the Cold War in 1953-1954. Look at this cool photo. I couldn’t help but share:
Who are all those people? From left to right:
3 Star general McAuliffe, Commanding General 7th Army Germany
John Sleyak, Under Secretary of Army
Corporal Charles R. Sasse, “Dad,” 4th m.p. Company 4th infantry division
4 Star General William M. Hoge, Allied Commander in Chief of the United States Army Europe
My Dad thinks this was a photo taken for Stars and Stripes and later given to him by the publication. If you zoom in, you can see “Sasse” on his jacket.
Last weekend when I was at the PNC Park enjoying the Pirates game, my dad called after he discovered that 61 years ago that day, on July 4, 1954, he was on the Rhine River in Germany taking in the sights and sounds of the Rhine River Valley. Just weeks ago, I got to do the same thing with my family. It was awesome to see a little of what my Dad experienced in Germany back in the 50s.
(I have another really amazing photo of my Dad holding a bazooka, of which he never fired. I’ll save it for another day.)
A week or two ago I saw this headline: These Celebrities Changed our Lives Forever.
If that’s true, shame on us. But please let this be hyperbole.
I glanced through the “A” list of Hollywood big shots who wouldn’t have even made the “C” list of people who have changed my life forever.
Media has the biggest ego of them all. It’s as if they exist for the people can be happy. It’s as if they speak and we, in a collective gasp, can awaken from our effortless slumber to once again feel alive again.
Well here’s the shocking truth about celebrity: they, those A-listers, need us. We don’t need them.
Some of the masses might act as if their life means nothing unless they are sitting in front of the TV or reading the latest gossip blog, but everyone knows the secret – celebrity is a hollow shell, propped up by an endless cycle of ads and media conventions which tell us all how terrible our lives our. If only we could own the car that celebrity A has! If only we could live in the house that celebrity B has. If only we could have the problems of celebrity C.
So let’s be very clear here. Some celebrities may have moved us, but they haven’t changed us. Some actors are remarkably talented, and they have the means to, for an hour or two, delve deep into our hearts and make us think about the larger issues of humanity. But they don’t change us. Two dimensional celebrity figures do not have the power to change us.
But three-dimensional humans do have the capacity to change others.
My wife changed me.
The birth of each of my kids changed me.
My parents changed me.
My pastor changed me.
My friends have changed me.
These are the true celebrities in our lives, not worthy of worship, but worthy of a hearty “thanks” for what they have done for us. How they have molded us, moved us, and forced us to challenge everything we know about ourselves.
So, sorry Hollywood promotion blah-blah blog, I won’t fall for your trap. But I will turn off the TV and spend some more time with the people in my life.
Here’s hoping others follow suit.
My second daughter turns eighteen today. What are all the realizations that a parent has when this happens? Disbelief? Where did the years go? How did I get so old? How could my little pumpkin suddenly be an adult? All of these realizations and much more are what I’m dealing with tonight – mixed with a few tears – knowing that in a few short months she’ll be off to college and no longer living at home with us. (Okay, I’m tearing up a little bit right now as I write this. I’m that way. I’m a sentimental kind of guy, and it’s how I try to write my stories too.)
I remember in the late 90s we were in the house of some friends who had, at that time, three teens. We had two children at the time age 5 and a new born. I still remember what my friends said that night – time goes so fast – the teenage years are the best – but they are gone in a second – enjoy every moment. At that point, some days I couldn’t wait for the teen years to arrive fast enough.
Well, they did, and now that newborn is 18 and ready to see what the world has to offer. I’m not sure that I’m ready to see what the world has to offer without her at home, but that’s the lot of a parent – love, prepare, teach, learn, and kiss them goodbye.
It’s been so fun having her int he same school where I teach. What a privilege, actually. She has all the same interests as myself. She played on the softball team for four years. The team that I coach. She loves theatre, and has been part of my drama group – The RLT Players – all four years of its existence. She auditioned and got one of the lead roles in the musical I’m producing this semester. She’s a talented actress who has grown SO much over these past four years.
I’m so proud of her. So on this 18th birthday of hers, I’m happy to wish her all the best and all my love as she gets ready to experience all world has to offer.
Gracie, this post is for you! I love you.