I’m on a plane. I paid for the WiFi. I’m taking advantage of it and writing another installment. I think we left off with a priest showing up through a priest hole in my closet, like Narnia but in reverse. And without the goat-man.
We emerged into the dining room to find a folding table set up against the front window of the house. Our house faces north of that means anything. I never did tell you Fr.‘s name. And I cannot remember it now. We’ll call him Fr. Chad. Upon Fr.’s request my wife produced alter linens ala table cloths. But linens alone do not an altar make. “Fr.,” I asked, “I’m no expert but I sort of am but don’t you need like a chalice or some other things for mass?” At this moment Sister walked past me with a crate of “mass supplies”, set them down, and silently returned to a chair at the back of the room.
“I gotch-u, baby,” said Fr. with all the air and confidence of a 1970’s street pimp.
Yes, it was at this precise moment that I gave up and decided simply to go along with all that almighty God had planned for me. Clearly I have no clue.
“Introibo ad altare Dei.” *”I will go unto the altar of God.”
With these words, Fr. began the holy sacrifice of the mass. As he continued on through the Confiteor, I glanced beyond him and out the large picture window over the “altar”. The snow was now coming down heavily. It really was a beautiful sight. Reminded me so much of my childhood growing up in New Jersey. the only difference here is that elm and split leaf maples are swapped with crepe myrtles. But the fresh-fallen powder on the barren branches is still magnificent.I
I have always loved the snow. I think it has something to do with the peacefulness of it all. Even the noises of the atmosphere are dampened by a blanket of snow. Everything is almost silent when it falls. People can’t venture far past their streets. Families “huddle” together. And then there’s the child-like sense of wonder in me. As a kid, I loved seeing something fall from the sky that was so beautiful. As a man, I can’t help but think back to my boyhood and the true happiness I felt when we’d get a significant snowfall. Imagine if you will the combination of a picturesque scene out the window and the eternal, super-beautiful reality taking place just below it.
“Ite, missa est.” *”Go, the mass is over.”
We prayed the Leonine prayers, took a few moments to offer our thanks to God, and headed to the kitchen for lunch. Even Sister looked pious while kneeling to pray.
By now (after our meal) it was getting to be later in the afternoon. I stepped onto the porch to see how much had fallen. It was 12 degrees. I know this is Texas and the weather is schizophrenic but this is truly crazy. I noticed about six inches on the ground. The little kid in me got real giddy. I can’t help it. I’ve been in Texas almost a decade. We never see this. I went back inside to find that Fr. had vanished. I asked him to use the door but I think he went back through the priest hole. In fact I know he did due to the presence of a draft in my house. The re-pointing of hose bricks won’t be cheap. But Sister was at least still with us. And she had set up a board game at our kitchen counter.
We rounded out our afternoon in the typical fashion. We played Yahtzee and I shotgunned a gin and tonic. Sister played the oboe (did I neglect that detail?) and the children danced. It was “Flight of the Bumblebees”. Stupendous.
We all drifted off to sleep this peaceful night with no clue of what lie/lay/lain ahead of us. Yeah, I couldn’t figure the correct form. Whatevs, shuge.
In our next installment we enter the darkness. Hope you’re ready.
I received a message today from a friend who informed me that her mother was “on the edge of her seat” awaiting the next installment. I will take that as high praise from a reader and offer to you now the fourth installment. NB: These “parts” might cover more than one day at a time as we go forward.
Thursday February 11, 2021
Sister came out of her room this morning and poured her morning coffee. Mercifully for her, the convent had not taken that simple ritual away from her. She lifted the mug to her lips, took a long draw, and then slammed the coffee cup onto the counter. “Hooooly Mutha! That’s some damn good java,” she said. I believe Sister had found her voice. Sister then picked up her small, black copy of the 1962 Roman Missal and stepped out onto the front porch to pray her morning prayers. I mean, I do have heat in my house but whatever. Meanwhile I mulled over our options for the day. I needed to be back at the homestead by 9 PM to pick up my sister from the airport. “Perhaps,” I thought, “I can one day make a movie and I’ll call it When Sister Meets Sister.” I had gotten as far as making them detectives and pairing them with a quadriplegic man servant (comedy gold right there) when I remembered that Sister had wanted to travel to Waco. If you thought she had a JFK obsession, you should ask her about the Branch Davidians.
Sadly for Sister, neither a trip to the Branch nor to Magnolia nor to the Dr. Pepper Museum (a very real place in Waco) were in the cards today. You see, an ominous weather event had swept through overnight. No, it’s not the fabled blizzard you tuned in to read all about. Patience. Rather this was that blizzard’s harbinger. And what a tragedy this brought with it. I started to look at news on my phone and was stunned at what I was seeing. Apparently every school district in North Texas had closed for the day due to weather. I looked out my window assuming that Sister might have gotten buried in a drift. Instead of a blanket of white I saw a white woman in a white habit under a literal blanket of white. Sister had grabbed a fleece on her way out the door. But not a flake in sight. I went back to my phone. Turns out this system had produced patches of lethal black ice. Here I must state with love that Texas drivers are not good drivers in decent weather. Also, the local governments lack the equipment to treat the roads as they would have been treated where I grew up. Rather, towns will send out police in squad cars to park at the bottom of highway entrance ramps in a blocking fashion. This does not work, though, when someone is already on the road when it gets closed. Sadly, that morning 135 vehicles were involved in one of the worst mass accidents ever just to our west in Fort Worth. Several people died. Please say a pray for them.
Sister and I drove to mass at a local oratory that had been kind enough to host us all week. Normally we would have gone to our parish but Sister knew some of the members of this particular community. I noticed that the roads were indeed slick but I wasn’t too concerned. I wasn’t getting on any highways. We arrived and went in for mass. In the quiet of the chapel I attempted to meditate on the Passion. The door swung open. The door slammed into a crucifix on the wall. That crucifix fell and hit me on the head. Meditation complete. Our Lord ALWAYS hears our prayers. The door had been flung open by the children of a mutual friend to Sister and me. The family had come to join us for mass. Afterward we all went out to lunch at a local Mexican restaurant. Sitting at the table I asked Sister if she wanted a drink. It was lunchtime and we were at a place known for their margaritas. Sister locked eyes with the waiter and spewed something at him in flawless Spanish. I picked up something about a drink, a chimichanga, the Argentine Dirty War of the 1970’s, and bull castration. My Spanish is a little non-existent. Juan, our waiter, turned pale. He fumbled with his pad and pen. In his eyes, a glaze of sheer terror. Sister lifted her head back up (for she had dipped her eyes back to the menu) and said calmly, “¡Andale!… or should I say… Raus?” Juan backed away swiftly from the table, never turning his back to Sister, and then ducked into the kitchen. I had no idea she was a polyglot! What fun! Before I could say burrito Juan had returned to our table. He was now dressed in finery. Deep red velvet bolero jacket with tassels. Golden embroidered sombrero. His hair was now white so there was that. He was attended by three similarly dressed servers carrying trays of the finest selections of chips and queso. I honestly thought it all came from a food services truck. Each of the servers had hair blonder than mine and the bluest eyes. The last of Juan’s assistants handed Sister an envelope. “Third Secret of Fatima,” she said. “Can’t reveal until the year 2000”, as she tucked the envelope into her sock clearly having buried the Millennium in her subconscious.
I think something happened to Sister when she put that new hat on yesterday. I think it unlocked something of her youth. I think it tripped something within her personality as if her brain suddenly said, “Sister, it’s OK. You don’t have to be scared anymore. You can come out and play. You do you!” Or maybe it was the Yankee Candles.
I returned home to get my daughter ready for choir practice. Sister remained with friends a while. She may have had Juan arrested for some old Nazi war crime. Perhaps she just got more queso. Some things are better left unthought. Unfortunately for my daughter, choir practice was canceled due to ice that had already melted away. She and I had our own choir practice at the piano. A few scales for warm up and then we rehearsed the song “Dance Ten, Looks Three” from A Chorus Line. I don’t know if it will ever make it into the Latin mass rotation but it sure is fun to play on the keyboard. Don’t worry, I had her hum over any “colorful” lyrics.
I looked around my house and noticed it didn’t like quite as “fresh” as it had a few days ago. Should I call Alma again? No, not enough time. Instead I went around and swept, mopped, cleaned toilets, etc. It’s kind of what I do. I gravitate to my own kind. That’s why I spend time cleaning toilets and taking out the trash. Because I am garbage. After I finished I put together another gift basket to place in one of the bedrooms. This one was very special to me. It was a basket of Texas goodies and other treats for a very special person who was coming to Texas for the first time. In fact, if it weren’t for her I wouldn’t be in Texas to make this gift basket. Truth be told, I wouldn’t be anywhere but in the ground. When I was a young boy of 4, my older sister saved my life by tossing me from the second floor of a burning building. This part is 1000% true in case you were wondering. I’ve always been close with this sister and I was so happy she could make the trip to see us. Sadly, her husband died a few short months ago. He was one of the absolute best human beings you would ever want to know and we have all been saddened by his loss. I hoped that in bringing my sister for a visit, she might be able to see that there is fun in life still and share some of that fun with us.
I headed out to the airport and waited at baggage claim with a sign that said “Welcome back from rehab!” She slapped the back of my head when we met. We drove home. Out came the cheeseboard, crackers, and bar cart. We were celebrating life. Sister asked my sister if she wanted a Yankee Candle. I explained that whole mess to her. She stuck to her rum and coke. After a while my sister began to regale us with a tale of her children who are champion Irish dancers. They frequently attend competitions that take place in hotel ballrooms and the like. “Sister,” said my sister, “You don’t know what this shitshow is like. You got these older, I don’t know what you’d call ’em, ‘dance moms’, right, Sister? These ladies use these dance things as their night out on the town, ya’ know, Sis? Know what I’m sayin’?” Sister was intrigued. I could see her attempting to formulate into hand symbols my sister’s flawless Jersey. Then came the phrase that pays. “Sister, nah, Sister… listen to me. We’re talkin’ hoes on heels here.” Sister couldn’t find the right symbols for that one.
And then we all went to bed.
In tomorrow’s installment we’ll get my sister’s take on JFK and we’ll venture into a genuine Texas bingo hall. B-I-N-G-O, friends, Bingo was his name-o.
In our last installment, we took Sister, an ex-nun from an order I have not mentioned because I’m not sure it ever existed on a tour of Fort Worth, Texas, the Gateway to the West. We recalled the famous beef industry commercial, I cowboy-ed myself to the nines, and we drank a few more Yankee Candles. Ready for your next sip, fella’?
Wednesday February 10, 2021
Sister is a delicate flower. She is wounded. She is scared. She has been scarred by her experience. The girl can drink all of us under the table. Amazing. Delicate? Yes. Years of living under a canonical vow of obedience to a Mother Superior, all the while not being able to communicate using her words and then being “asked to leave”… Tough times but who hasn’t been there? If you’re nodding your head and saying, “Yeah, man, I totally get that”, then find another blog. Now.
Today it was time to take Sister to the place the city of Dallas is best known for – the assassination of the 35th President of the United States. I may have just inadvertently placed myself on some kind of government watch list. Before her time planting and tending to vines that were already dead, hoping for some kind of Cascian miracle, Sister was a huge history buff. In her dorm room in college, she proudly displayed a 1″:1′ scale model of Dealey Plaza complete with strings marking the trajectories of Oswald’s shots. Keep in mind such a model would have taken up three-quarters of a standard dorm room. And she had a roommate. Her thesis was titled “JFK, Blown Away. What else do YOU Have to Say?”
But here’s the thing. Dallas isn’t exactly proud of that moment. For years after President Bush (41) retired to Houston the running joke was “Houston: Where Presidents come to live.” The mood around the rest of the country from that fateful day in November 1963 and for many years following was that Dallas was a lawless city, filled with backwoods thugs who would kill any Northeasterner they could find. And then I moved here and all that changed. I seem to have a way with these people. In reality, and hard as it may seem to believe, it was the TV show Dallas (premiered in 1978) that finally turned around that image. But for 15 years Dallas was hated. And Dealey Plaza, an art deco masterpiece of a civic monument, was at the center of that hatred. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that the city finally found the municipal will to take over the sixth floor of the old Texas School Book Depository building and dedicate a museum to the events of that day. I, too, am a history buff. Having lived in this area for almost a decade, I have visited the Sixth Floor Museum (real original, huh?) dozens of times. It really is a very well curated museum. I thought our history loving ex-nun would love the self-guided tour.
We set out around noon. On our way I noted two things. First, Sister is also a fan of fast food. “Whataburger?” she said making a “W” with her thumbs and index fingers as we backed out of my driveway. “Sister, we had that the other night. How about something different?” A quick stop at the Jack in the Box and we were on our way. The second thing I noticed was that the forecasters on the radio were telling of an impending winter storm while I scanned the dial. “Sounds ominous,” I said to Sister. Sister said nothing. Forgetting that she was now permitted to speak for a moment, she began gesticulating wildly with her fingers making a motion of snow falling from the sky. Forgetting that I shouldn’t speak the quiet part out loud I said, “What the fu*k?” We laughed and laughed. Then we verbalized our feelings and shared our thoughts in a productive way. I assured her that her flight on the upcoming Monday would indeed take off. And then I laughed. “You’re going to be stuck with us a while, Sister,” I said. “I’m from New Jersey and I can attest these folks don’t know what to do with a half-inch of snow, let alone the six they’re calling for.” “It will be OK,” said Sister, smiling. “But to be sure, do you have enough liquor at home?” She had a point and I made a mental note to hit up Wine Totalé on our way home.
Within 20 minutes we were coming out from under the famed Triple Overpass, the same one a bleeding JFK was raced through on his way to Parkland. “Oh my! It’s splendiferous!” said Sister. Splendiferous? I guess one has ample time to memorize the thesaurus in a cloister. We parked, entered, and quickly ascended to the sixth floor. We walked through a timeline of the life and times of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The museum does a good job of refraining from political comment and all the exhibits are laid out in a matter-of-fact way. No matter what your thoughts about Kennedy, one cannot help but feel a sense of emotion, especially as you approach the sniper’s perch in the corner window. We looked over Elm Street where the open-top limousine made that hairpin turn. We could see the “X’s” painted on the road surface where bullets had felled our leader. The sky was gray and dank. There was a chill in the air. As I wiped away a slight trace of a tear from my cheek, I noticed Sister raising her arms ever so slowly. She, too, must be feeling the terrible weight of that day, the anguish on Jackie’s face climbing over the back of the limo, the distress of the crowds jumping to the ground, the, wait a minute, what’s she doing? Oh dear God, Sister was raising her arms to clasp her hands together in the manner of a .45 caliber handgun and pointing them toward the road surface below. Have I mentioned yet that she still wears a full pre-Vatican II habit? “I suppose Oswald could have pulled it off but not from this window,” she said. And then she returned her finger gun to an imaginary holster next to her four foot wooden rosaries hanging from her belt, and skipped to the next window bay only to draw and line up her next shot. Although I’m sure it’s not the strangest thing the docents here have seen, I have personally never witnessed this and I’ve seen a helluva lot. Four windows later and I remembered that Sister was also a ballistics expert from her time in the Marines. Why shouldn’t she draw on her favorite interests in this place? I hid in the interpretive theater and may have wet myself either from fear or laughter.
Surprised not to have been asked to leave, we exited after our timed tour and met up with another friend of Sister’s who lives nearby. We found a nifty little restaurant and had a drink. The weather was turning now. I’ve been here long enough to know a tornado sky from a snow sky and this was definitely the latter but it was struggling to burst onto the scene. “Still a few days off,” I said to Sister as we sipped our cocktails. “Great,” she said. “There’s a western wear store right next door. She slipped inside and emerged a few minuets later with that hat she had wanted. Placing it over her wimple, she glanced around the skyline of Dallas. “Which one is the Ewing Oil Building?” she asked. “JR needs a picture.”
I could tell you about the rest of this day but other than dinner at one of our favorite barbecue spots, it ended exactly as you should have known it would.
Yankee candles around the fire.
That snow was coming but we still had a few more days of calm before the flakes would fall. Oh, and my nephew was still in town. He and the college girls had gone to a local bar. When they returned home they recounted how they had been offered coke by another bar patron, and not the fizzy kind. They didn’t accept (thank God). He looked at me slightly puzzled when I asked what set of circumstances would have prompted this. “You know, it’s like you’re in a bar and someone offers you coke, right?” Again, I’ve seen a helluva lot but that’s one I’m filing under a big, fat NO.
Where was my wife this whole time? I know you’re asking… She was working. See, friends, as a homeschool dad and all around man of many interests, not to mention a great conversationalist because I’ve seen just about everything and I have a knack for making everyone around me feel comfortable, I am the designated tour-guide in the family. That’s right. The Jersey Boy can tell you all about Texas because it’s now what I do. And in our next installment I will tell you all about when Jersey’s sister, that is, my actual sister, arrives. Oh yes, this party is just getting started.
Tonight my wife and I head out for our first date night of the new decade. We’re going to see a movie called A Hidden Life about the anti-Nazi martyr Blessed Franz Jagerstatter. If you’re wondering who that is you clearly don’t remember when yours truly dressed as Bl. Franz for a Halloween party five years ago…
I have far too much respect for the men and women of our armed forces to make this post comical (too much). Instead, I’ll keep it short and to the point.
At the school where I work we have an army of sorts. You may have heard the term “prayer warrior”. It seems to me I hear that term quite often, especially here in Texas where every cashier at every convenience store finishes your sale by wishing you a “blessed day”. Basically a prayer warrior is one who is frequently called upon (usually as part of a larger group of such warriors) to pray for the specific needs of others in the group. Even my parish – a Catholic church that only offers the traditional Latin mass – routinely sends texts to my phone beginning with the phrase “Prayer Warriors, please pray for…” I myself have used the phrase in other places on this blog when requesting specific prayers from you my readers. Note how I did not say “both of you” at the end of that sentence.
This school-based army of which I speak is committed to one thing, namely praying for the success of our school. We call it the “Memorare Army” because we ask that each “soldier” pray three Memorares daily for one year with this intention in mind. My mother taught me this beautiful prayer when I was young. As I got older – by the way, I noticed I’m not keeping this short – as I got older and went through some particularly trying times; she asked me to pray the Memorare every day. “The Blessed Mother will protect you,” she told me, “if you honor her daily.” I have kept that promise. In fact, I’ve added to it. A few years ago I had occasion to be in the presence of a group of Missionaries of Charity. Apparently not interested in my stellar conversation skills, they began to pray. “Sister, did you hear about that new express lane they’re building on 183?” Sister (looking at me with a stare somewhere between wishing death upon me and mild befuddlement): “We pray now. Remember O Most Gracious Virgin Mary…” This prayer they repeated for a total of ten times. I am told Mother Teresa herself taught them to pray ten Memorares whenever they had free time. Nine of these are in petition (like a novena) and the tenth is in thanksgiving. Mother was always certain that God would grant her requests.
So I started praying ten Memorares.
Then my boss asked if I would join the Memorare Army. So I tacked on three more. I reached out to family and friends to ask them to join as well.
My enterprising youngest sister – a homeschooling mom of six – agreed to my three (for a total of 24 daily Memorares from her, her husband, and the kids) with a catch.
“You will, of course, prayer FOUR Memorares daily for my school.”
So yours truly is up to seventeen Memorares daily.
I don’t write all of this to proudly proclaim my prayer habits. That would be the opposite of humility which, as we know, is something I must work on (see yesterday’s post). I write this to tell you that 1) it’s pretty easy to find short periods of time throughout your day to pray, 2) it’s never a bad idea to honor the Blessed Mother, 3) my sister is a conniving trickster, and 4) I want you, as J. M. Flagg’s famous poster proclaims, to join us. I’ll even go one further and throw in three more for the intentions of all my readers. Seventeen is such a boring number anyway. Why not make it twenty?
So friends, you’ve got your marching orders. The enemy is legion (literally). We can surely rely on the prayers of each of our brothers in arms. My sister will always get what she wants.
Happy New Year, dear friends and followers (both of you)!
Once again the calendar has turned over and I find myself taking stock, making new plans, and thanking God for this wonderful life. One year ago I wrote a post explaining the new turn I was taking with this blog. It was 9 years ago – January 1, 2011 – when I began writing this blog under its current form. I still feel that the best is yet to come. Let’s take a look at an excerpt from my post on that day…
“I will begin by relaying a story about my son. He’s recently taken to watching a BBC claymation series called Shaun the Sheep. I know BBC and “kids’ programming” don’t normally seem like a natural partnership. Just go with it. Tonight he was being such an angel that I allowed him to watch just one more episode before bed. Sidenote: must figure out BBC claymation control lock on Netflix. When Shaun went over I informed him it was time for bed. Up the stairs we went. Lest you think he’s only a couch potato he loves to have stories read to him at night. He also now likes to hold his own book and “pretend” to read. I haven’t the heart to tell him that every word in The Cat in the Hat is NOT “cat” so again, we simply go with it. Tonight’s selection? “Daddy? Sheep book?” Oh that’s right. There’s a book on his shelf called Good Night Sheep or Bedtime Sheep or Go to Bed You Damn Sheep or something and he rather likes the pictures of all the animals in it. Figuring on how tired he must have been — it was getting late for him — I pulled a fast one. I flipped the light off and, laying him down on the bed, said: “It’s OK, son, Daddy can read in the dark.” How hard could it be. Here’s what transpired next. “The stars are out. It’s bedtime. Night night, sheep. The stars are out. It’s bedtime. Night night, lion. The stars are out…” “ZZZZZ” It worked. I made up a half-decent kids’ story on the spot and my son was out like a light. Brilliant. What? You doubt the brilliance of my children’s book? See if I care! My kids’ book is better than any kids’ book you’ve ever written. Ha! Oh, I see… YOU’VE NEVER WRITTEN A KIDS’ BOOK! So there! I win!!!”
Not bad for a first go-round… What’s truly funny is that I can actually remember that night vividly. You know who else “remembers” that night? My son. Somewhere in the middle of 2019 he discovered that his old man had been keeping this strange journal of our life together for just about as long as he’s been alive. Intrigued, he asked me to read him some selections. I haven’t read to him every night but on the nights I have, I’ve read multiple posts. Believe it or not, we haven’t nearly covered all of it. Prolific much? I’ll say. The best part is that he is spellbound. It would seem I write better posts than children’s books.
That brings us to my traditional New Years Day post. For the past few years I have made a solid effort to post something meaningful every year on this day. It sort of started way back with that first post in 2011. At that time the good folks at WordPress were running a feature called “Postaday”. It was a challenge. I like challenges. The goal was to post every day of the year. The eventual outcome and my success or lack thereof is not that important. What is significant is that it got me posting something every January 1st, hence this very post. Last year I used the New Years post as an opportunity to completely re-tool my blog. I changed the header image, changed my focus almost entirely toward writing thankful posts about my life with the kids, and archived over 1500 posts – making them private except to me. You could say I turned a new leaf. I also purchased my domain name finally.
My first post of 2019 was a story about the virtue rocks. On December 31, 2017 my wife passed a bag of gardening stones around the table and invited the kids, me, and our guests to take one. On the rocks were painted the names of virtues. This stemmed from an unfulfilled project I had been working on at a job I had just quit. It was a virtues-training program for our school children. My wife had simply re-purposed these rocks and put them to better use. The virtue painted on the rock that each participant took would be the virtue he would focus on improving in his life in the upcoming year. Mine was gratitude. That was tough. I wasn’t happy with where my career had gone and found it hard to be grateful for too many things. But as I said, I love a challenge. I focused on practicing gratitude in thought, word, and deed for the next 12 months and I think I actually got quite good at it. More importantly, I came to recognize the joy in my life again.
Last year I pulled “generosity”. I’d like to think this wasn’t a virtue I’d have a hard time with. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m the guy who gets up at 4:30 to drive you to the airport without hesitation. As anyone who knows me will also tell you, that’s because I’m obsessed with airports. OK, so there’s always room for improvement.
This year I reached into the virtue rock bag and pulled… HUMILITY. Looking at the shiny potato stone in my hand I pondered a moment before saying, “Honey? How in the hell am I supposed to practice humility when I’m so damned perfect?!” I wish I could have pulled something useful like “shredded” or “published”. And then I remembered that I am far from perfect. And that’s the point of this exercise – to grow by the daily practice of virtue. Ben Franklin once engaged in a similar project. He (incorrectly) identified something like ten virtues that were most helpful in living a good life. He further figured he could “master” each virtue in a week. He kept a journal of his progress. If I were to do the same it might read like a comical collection of stories written by a demented dad about his kids and their strange life together.
This year should be fun. By this time next year I’m sure to be the most humble person you’ve ever met!
And if I fail? I can probably throw the rock at someone.
My life has been so chock full of the bizarre lately I’m truly grateful to have found ten minutes on a Friday night to write about it. Trust me, it’s that good.
It all started late last week when the local health department notified our school of a confirmed case of pertussis. What’s pertussis, you ask? Whooping cough (pronounced hoop-ing). “But I thought no one got that anymore because… vaccines and stuff.” Well yes and no. It doesn’t spread like wildfire like it used to and it’s usually not as severe as it could have been. But, as I found out this week, even the vaccinated can get it (albeit usually in milder form) and apparently booster shots are recommended and quite often for the inoculated. One learns something new every day.
In a small school such as the one where I am vice principal (I still like saying that) a highly infectious disease can certainly make the rounds rapidly. To make a long story short… We’ve had a few more confirmed cases since the first. I haven’t heard of serious complications. I think we’ve helped maintain a sense of calm. We closed the school early on Thursday. I have personally been in close proximity to every single student and in every single classroom as have numerous faculty. Everything will be OK.
And… we’re taking precautions. My daughter had developed a cough over the past two weeks that is probably NOT pertussis but after all of this one cannot be too cautious. Today I brought her into her doctor along with my son who was also coughing. To make matters murkier there are also strains of strep and influenza going around our larger community. We haven’t seen the actual doctor in a number of years; it’s only ever his physicians assistant. I don’t mind. Although, she is always pushing flu tests on us even absent any symptoms. Today I walked in, told her the whole story, and then said, “The good news is you’ll get to do one of those swabby tests you seem to love so much.” I didn’t think of those words in terms of a “shot fired”. But I should have. The PA stared at me with a wry smile and declared, “Actually, I think the kids are probably fine in terms of whooping cough based on what you’re telling me. It’s you I’m worried about. I mean, you’re standing here obviously tired, haggard, you know. I can tell you’re run down.”
Before we’d left the office the kids had been tested for every airborne illness known to man. Yours truly? I dragged my “tired and haggard” parts out of there with my head hung low. On my way to the car I passed a raccoon digging through a dumpster. I took a good look to see if the dark circles under his eyes looked better than mine before Googling whether my insurance would cover botox injections.
I came home and returned to my lovely and unexpected Friday off. Lately I’ve been watching a few things here and there. There are the Youtube videos about aviation, engineering, and all the many JFK conspiracies. And then there’s Netflix. I decided to do a one-month trial in order to watch the third season of The Crown. I can’t help it. If it’s about the Royals I’ll probably watch. If it’s written well I’ll definitely watch. Maybe it’s my British ancestry coming through and manifesting itself in my TV viewing habits; but I simply cannot turn away from the train wreck that is the House of Hanover Windsor.
In particular I have have been fascinated to learn more about the life of the late Princess Margaret, the only sibling of Queen Elizabeth. Brilliantly portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter, Margaret is a troubled figure. Denied the opportunity to marry her first love, Peter Townsend, she ultimately found solace in photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. For the moment, overlook the fact that Townsend was already married. Oops, forgot that detail while trying to make her a sympathetic character. Never mind the fact that she admits she thought Armstrong-Jones was gay when she first met him. Never mind the fact that she forgot about her own vows when cavorting around the world with a man half her age. I mean, come on you pesky moralist… The point is that HRH Princess Margaret was a chain-smoking gin fiend. And in this I can relate.
It is not just Netflix and Youtube that have captured my interest lately, though. Tonight my wife asked if I would accompany her to the movies. I’m not usually big on the big screen (the commercials and previews are cumbersome to me) but I do enjoy spending time with my wife. Tonight our kids rounded out the group. The flick? We saw the new Tom Hanks feature about the life of the legendary Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers is, undoubtedly, an American icon. I must admit that as a kid I didn’t care much for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I found it kind of slow and boring and Rogers’ hyper-gentle personality to be a drag. In fact, the only times I enjoyed watching his show was when he left his studio and went on location. I still remember vividly the time he went to the Crayola factory. Then again, those episodes played out more like a Youtube video on engineering.
But as I grew I came to understand the value in what he was doing, even if it wasn’t quite my speed. As a teacher I can appreciate his work with children. As I came to learn more about his personal life I really came to sense that he was a genuine man who loved what he did and, more importantly, he was a man of prayer. The movie we saw tonight brought into focus the fact that he was a man who worked every day on trying to do what he saw as God’s work, laboring – sometimes with great difficulty – on the virtues of patience, humility, and gentleness. In many ways I can relate. In my own life and career as a teacher and vice principal I try to exemplify these same virtues. It seems odd sometimes. One tends to think of the vice principal of a school as the stern disciplinarian, something I definitely am not. Forgetting the fact that “vice” is right in the title, I see my job as someone called to help young men and women find and then stay on the path of virtue. If that comes in the form of reminding them of our dress code or making sure they are in class then I need to do that without personal animosity. Look, I will be me. I will let God work His discipline through the personality He gave me. I’ve never been an ogre and I’m not going to start now. Learning from Mr. Rogers I will focus more on prayer for specific people every day and continue to help my students in kindness and humility.
Lately I have been contemplating who I am. I don’t mean in the “existential crisis” sort of way. But I’ll be turning older soon. It’s only natural to take stock of one’s life when one reaches 30. Having done that many years ago I decided to take stock once again. God has bestowed many blessings on me. Whether I realize it or not; whether I like it or not, He made me who I am. I am soft-spoken and somehow I command the attention of dozens of teenagers. I get no sleep and yet somehow I’ve remained immune to most diseases. I doubt myself all the time and yet somehow I’ve been able to help my students find confidence in God’s Will for them.
As we came home from the theater my children fought with each other, almost coming to blows over some silly squabble. Calmly and with the gentlest tone I diffused the tension. I saw them off to bed, poured myself a gin and tonic, stepped out onto my porch and lit a Marlboro. I listened to the sounds of my kids coughing themselves to sleep. I yawned. And I thought of how wonderful God is and how wonderfully He made me…
…a cross between Princess Margaret, Fred Rogers, and a raccoon.
Folks, I got off all that social media nonsense a while ago. Sorry but I'm not on Twitbook, Facepalm, YouHu, WingWang or any of the others. Maybe an event will happen to make me change my mind like Peter and Paul coming down with flaming swords and commanding it be so. Until then, read the blog and if you feel a comment is in order or you feel like sharing a tip or suggestion for a topic, email me at email@example.com.
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