Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Odds and Ends

I noticed a Facebook status this week that got me thinking.  It was a Dr. Seuss quote which I will try to quote from memory:
"There is something that is truer than true, that there is no one that is youer than you."
I am very grateful to Dr. Seuss.  How else will I remember the sound that the letter "F" makes, except by knowing that there are four fluffy feathers on a Fiffer-Feffer-Feff?  Anyway, being the ever-so-egocentric person that I am, the above quote (which I undoubtedly butchered, but you get the idea) got me thinking about those things that make me unlike any other person who has ever lived before in all of history.  Here are a few of the oddities that make up who I am.

ODDS
  1. I have never been in a Dollar General.
  2. I have never eaten at White Castle.
  3. I have been investigated by the Secret Service for threats made on the life of the President.
  4. I consider myself an expert on James Bond movies, Hardy Boys books and the making of the perfect turkey sandwich.
  5. I don't drink coffee, milk or wine.
  6. I have one wife and one dog.
  7. I have two sons, two daughters, two cats and two cars.
  8. I have three dollars in my wallet.
  9. I am a lawyer, but you would never know it from the car that I drive.
  10. When I was in law school, I proposed to a girl who had just graduated from high school.  We were married five months later (and no, she wasn't pregnant).
  11. I once stood in line for over an hour just to get into a McDonald's.  Once I got inside, I was so hungry I ordered two Quarter Pounders, two large fries and a strawberry shake.  I wolfed it all down and thought it was one of the best meals I'd ever had.
  12. I am especially obsessive-compulsive when it comes to sports.  When I was in high school, I would shoot 200 free throws every day.  When I was in college, I would spend 2 hours a week working on my snow skiing technique...in my living room.  Next was table tennis (you really don't want to know about this one, trust me).  And then I started running.  I have run six marathons (26.2 mile races) and on May 23, 2008, my good friend Mike Acock and I ran 36 miles together to celebrate our 36th birthdays.
  13. I hate McDonald's.
  14. I was born in Michigan but have not stepped foot in that state in 38 years.
  15. I love music but am a lousy musician.  I've taken piano lessons, guitar lessons and saxophone lessons and am not especially good at any of them.
ENDS

I am a huge fan of the Seinfeld show.  Just this past week, I had a new experience which was right out of a Seinfeld episode (the Pez Dispenser episode for you Seinfeld freaks).  I was in Joplin for my daughter's high school state soccer tournament.  While driving down I-44, I noticed a few things.  First of all, are there any armadillos left in the world or were they all hit by cars in between Lebanon and Springfield last week?  (Seriously, I had no idea there were so many armadillos in Missouri.  And my oh my do they make a mess when they get hit on the highway.)  Secondly, there were a number of classy looking billboards for casinos that caught my eye.  I live right off of I-70 in Columbia and drive by a casino billboard every single day and I can honestly say it has never once got me wanting to go visit the Isle of Capri in Boonville.  (Never been there, but hear that the regulars who go there refer to it as the "Pile of Debris."  How nice.)  But while driving to Joplin, I was captivated by one of the billboards and thought "I've got to go check this place out."

But in order to get the full sense of the story, I have to provide a little background.  One of my best friends growing up has told me stories about going to casinos and dog tracks in his home state of Wisconsin.  Before the days of legal gambling on the "boats," I tried to explain to my friend that I didn't think he had really been to a casino in Wisconsin since Nevada was the only place in the country at that time where casinos were legal.  I will never forget his response: "Oh but this was on an Indian reservation.  They can do whatever they want there."  When I first heard this explanation as a 12-year old, all sorts of images filled my mind of my friend at a casino on an Indian reservation where they can do whatever they want there.

Lo and behold, the casino being advertised on a billboard along I-44 was a casino just across the border in Oklahoma...on an Indian Reservation.  It was seven minutes away from my hotel in Joplin.  I have been to Las Vegas and walked through the ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding casinos of the Bellagio, Treasure Island, Mirage, Paris, Caesar's Palace, Flamingo Hilton, Venetian, but I had never been to a casino anywhere else.  Imagine my surprise when I walked into the casino in Oklahoma and Tonto was not there to greet me at the door.  Pocohontas was not serving drinks and I didn't see a single freakin' headress or anything that looked Indian anywhere in that casino.  What kind of Rez is this?  Where are the teepees?  Where are the buffalo being hunted and the red men?  I was shocked.  I had these images so seared into my brain of what a casino on an Indian reservation looked like that I was having trouble believing my eyes.

So how was this like a Seinfeld episode?  Well, the Pez Dispenser episode has some great dialogue where George admits that he has never understood why anyone would go to a flea market....because he just assumed that there were fleas there.  (I think this is hilarious because I've never wanted to go to a flea market for that exact reason!)  Anyway, I had similar misconceptions about what a present-day Indian reservation was like.  I'm not sure why I thought I would just cross the border into Oklahoma and all of a sudden be swept into the Wild West with Indians on horseback directing me to the blackjack teepees where Chief Silver Scowl would be dealing out of an eight-deck shoe.

Well...now I know.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mid-Life Musings: Beginnings and Endings

Two-months ago I crossed a barrier.  I was a young and vibrant 39-year old who then had a birthday that pushed me into the mid-life frontier.  Now here I am, a youthful personality trapped in an aging body as the unmerciful clock keeps ticking no matter how hard I try to pretend otherwise.  As I look around to gather my bearings in this unknown world that is mid-life, I first notice that I'm no wiser than I was yesterday.

What gives?  I thought that was the trade-off...the magical exchange...as the body ages, the mind fills up with wisdom.  Instead, I'm taking what feels like my first baby-steps in what is now my fifth decade not knowing where I am going and why I am even going anywhere in the first place.  So here are my mixed-up musings as I transition into truly becoming an adult.

• I like to begin new projects and I like to end them.  I hate everything in between (you know, where you actually have to be constructive and put in the work).  It is easy to remember the beginnings and ends, the highs and lows, but almost all of our life is lived in the middle.  We like to think we are living a glamorous life, yet we spend so much time putting stuff in our mouths, sitting on toilets, sleeping (or trying to sleep), mindlessly flipping through channels on the TV, driving from one place to another and planning the short interludes that we do when we're not in a car or on a toilet or hypnotized by the TV or sleeping or eating.

• Now about these projects I like to start, I have begun writing four different novels.  I have outlined basic plot structures and begun work on the opening sequences on each of these stories.  Then I get bored or realize how worthless these stories really are and the reality is that I will never get a book published.  So why do I have this urge to keep this hope alive that I will come up with something fresh that people would actually like to read and pay money to do so?  I guess I have this itch that I like to have the option of scratching whenever the mood suits me which makes me think I do have some hidden artistic skills that will at any moment blossom into a beautiful thing.  Any moment now...just wait...any...moment...now...

• I have this strange faith in God which has gotten all jumbled up of late.  One of my best friends in the world knows how jumbled up I am about God so he suggested I read a book that he himself had never even read.  So I read it and it makes all sorts of sense to me but doesn't really unjumble my mess.  So now I'm even more jumbled up than ever.  But now I'm okay with it.  If you want to talk about God and are okay with being messy about it...I'm your man.

• I have four young children.  Four kids is a lot and tending to their every need and want can be overwhelming most of the time.  When they are all around and chirping, they drive me crazy.  When even one is gone for more than hour, I miss him/her and feel like something is just not right in the world.  Surely there is a balance where sanity can actually exist and I can feel like a parent that is in partial control of his family.  (By the way, four kids is a lot these days!  Did I already mention that?)

• Beginning a new thing is usually pretty easy.  Ending it is even easier.  It's sticking with it during the good and bad where the true challenge lies.  Whether it's marriage, raising kids, a job, school or a New Year's resolution, this cat won't be impressed unless there's truly that middle...that's where life really is.  I have learned a lot by reading about other people's experiences, but muddling through the mud puddles in the middle is where wisdom resides.  There are no short cuts.  Trust me, I keep trying to take them and they never get me to where I want to go.

• And the world keeps moving, while some pass on...Our family suffered a loss in January when our cat Nemo was run over by a car.  Nemo was a good cat and was loved by all.  He was more than just a family pet.  He represented something abstract -- a touch of grace at a time when it was desperately needed.  His sudden death seems harsh and cruelly unnoticed by all of humanity except for the few who knew him during his two years of living.  We have all suffered loss in various forms and I don't pretend that the death of a cat can even compare to the loss of a loved one.  Yet for my kids, this was their first taste of the death of something that they loved.  My heart was broken for them as they grieved.  What surprised me though, was how my heart seemed to enlarge as I held them while their little bodies were convulsed by sobs.  I did not think it was possible to love them any more than I did, but there it was -- a newly discovered compassion that was triggered by a horrible event.  I hated their pain, but loved them more for seeing how brutally they loved and how brutally they experienced loss.

• College basketball is dead to me.

• Life is a paradox.  We often utter clich├ęs to express this fact, such as "the more you know, the more you know you don't know."  Wisdom is a thing to be grasped, yet when you do grasp it in those random fleeting moments, it's nothing like you thought it would be.  As I age and mature, my wealth of knowledge has been exposed for what it really is -- a single drop in a vast ocean of all that there is to know.  Unlike the connect-the-dot puzzles I did as a child, I have been connecting dots all of my life and the pattern that is emerging is more mysterious than ever.

As you can see, there really are mud puddles in my mind.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 6, 2012

To Exist

I believe in God.  More precisely, I believe in the God described in the Bible.

I had a thought which hit me while I was in church this past Sunday which has been rumbling around in my mind ever since.  It has become a mud puddle.

When someone asked God who he was, his answer seemed a bit strange: "I AM."  Just in case that wasn't entirely clear, God was kind enough to clarify: "I AM who I AM."  (Ah...now we are getting somewhere!)

Okay, God, you are wanting to tell us that you are...that you exist.  And not only that, that your very name implies that YOU ARE.  Nothing more than that really; but nothing less either (which is a lot).

Before I ever came into existence, God existed.  While I exist, he still exists.  Once I stop existing, the dude will still abide.

I've never done drugs before, but I've always thought that when one gets high there is this fleeting moment of clarity when things come together and you get a glimpse of ultimate truth and you remind yourself to not forget this one important thing when you come back to reality.  Well, I experienced something akin to that when I was in church and I thought about God naming himself I AM.  (Most of us don't get to name ourselves, but God was not so unlucky.)  If I may be so bold to paraphrase God's own description of himself, he chose to name himself EXISTENCE.  He exists.  And because he exists, we exist and everything that has ever existed has existed.

One of the more popular philosophies of the day is atheism.  People like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (RIP) are celebrities who have become famous by denying that God exists.  I have friends who have embraced this ideology and thrown off what they consider to be the crippling yoke of religion/faith.

But I do believe that EXISTENCE exists.  I believe there is a purpose in the randomness.  I believe that everything that exists points to EXISTENCE.  As I type these words, I am reminding myself that He is.  I so easily forget and spend so much of my time (existence?) as if he isn't.  But he is.  It's his name.  Why did he name himself that?  He does't want us to forget.  I guess I was reminded again on Sunday.  He is.

"And that has made all the difference."  (Final line of Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken)