Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sic transit gloria mundi

Sic transit gloria mundi, according to Wikipedia, is a Latin phrase that means "Thus passes the glory of the world". It has been interpreted as "Worldly things are fleeting."

Today starts the beginning of the end - and the beginning of yet another new beginning - for my sister, my brother-in-law and I. They were approved for a rather nicely sized apartment/duplex in a nearby Toledo suburb - and so the process of paring down, selling, tossing away and packing up begins again. Target is the end of September to be out of this place - although the mortgage-holder won't take over for months yet. They may still be able to sell - although at a fantastic loss. But who knows? All I know is that this beautiful dream turned nightmare is ending.

According to USPS.com, Chris's application for his dream job has been delivered. Now starts the toe-tapping part of the process. He's done everything he can do. Now it's fully in the hands of God, and we can only wait.

And a long-time friend of Bill's - McKinley (Mac) F. from the Early Bird Group died late last week. The memorial will be 10 AM Friday, and I will be there - work be damned. Mac was a prominent feature in my early days of sobriety at Early Bird; like me, he could get more than a little long-winded, and like me, his journey "in the bonus round" has not always been on the sunshine side of the ledger. But thanks be to God, he died sober, and surrounded by people who loved him. When my time comes, may I do as well, dear God...

So much change. So much unwilling change, in amidst that I would choose to change. It's probably not any wonder the topic of the meeting last night was on the Serenity Prayer, and especially on accepting the things I cannot change.

At that meeting, I talked about what we don't often talk about is how much it can just hurt to accept change; how damn humbling it can be. It's no wonder people go out, rather than admit to how much we are like children, who just can't accept what we can't have (or are getting what we don't want!).

We lie and say "the phone weighs five hundred pounds, at times." The truth is the phone weighs just ounces; but it's that monstrous pride sitting on top of it - the part that doesn't want to admit to being childish, to being embarrassed, to not want to see our families or loved ones hurt, to just not wanting to have to cry any more, some times.

It still hurts. But the alternative is still way too scary. So I keep on trusting that God is with us, whether His presence seems a little thin on the ground at times, and keep moving forward. And giving thanks - every minute is a moment to give thanks, for goals met, for challenges walked-through, and for love of the people with whom God has gifted me.

Including each of you, gentle companions. Thank you, for coming back here, and reading. I confess I'm self-centered enough that your words, your comments, your emails mean an awful lot to me. Each of you are part of that great circle that will never be unbroken, by and by.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat

Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport...the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat...the human drama of athletic competition...

Anyone who knows me knows - I have no use for most sporting events. My one hat-tip to sporting events was to buy a Kansas City Chiefs "starter" jacket (because KC had just lost in the playoffs, and everything was on sale!), and I have taken merciless ribbing about it for years. Even in Toledo, Ohio, if I wore it out, some guy would give me a grin, and yell, "Hey, buddy, how 'bout dem Chiefs?"

(After years of staring vacantly at these folks, I finally figured out that the safe answer was, "Y'know, you just never know about that team...", and then the person would fill in their own half of the conversation, never knowing that I neither knew or cared - it was just a warm and inexpensive coat.)

But there is something different about the Olympics. In Summer, swimming, diving, gymnastics., biking. In Winter, skiing, ski jumping, bobsled, luge, figure skating, ice dancing. And for years, the voice of Jim McKay over all...

So many people become nationalist morons at times like this. Basketball especially, but not limited to that by any means. The only appreciation they have is for the score, and the chance to mindlessly shriek, "USA! USA! USA!" until they are hoarse.

I have no use for that, or them.

I can marvel at the stunning form of the Chinese gymnasts; share in the glee of the USA men's team as they struggled to achieve their bronze medal; see beyond the medal-tally to the humanity (and humility) of an American swimmer who almost seems superhuman, and the incredible work he must perform to make it seem so easy. I can cheer for the man from Poland who took the gold in shot-put; clap for the woman from Zimbabwe who took gold in women's butterfly swimming. It is, as Jim McKay would say every Saturday afternoon for years, "...the human drama of athletic competition."

Since Chris works until 11 each night, our Olympic viewing has been pretty limited, but has seen some of the classic moments from Beijing. The infectious grin of Jonathan Horton (can you believe that guy is only 5' 1" tall? Heck, his SMILE was that wide...), the almost helicopter-like performance of Alexander Artimev on the pommel horse, and the absolutely amazing come-from-behind performance of Jason Lezak in the men's 4-x-100-meter relay team.

(Some of you may say, "OK, this is STEVE here, talking sports stuff? Who ARE you, you impostor, and what have you done with Steve F? Tell us!" Nope, this is the real deal, folks...)

Part of it is sheer envy. I have never been athletic; I have always envied those who were. But most of it is sheer admiration for the ultimate athletic prowess, and even more for those who gave their best despite never making it (like the legendary Jamaican bobsled team!). But beyond that, for those who performed with class and grace. The men and women who were memory makers.

Like in Sarajevo, 1984. Winter Olympics. Ice dancing.

I don't know if I had ever even SEEN ice-dancing before 1984. I know that I had never followed it, and I knew nothing about who was good and who was not. Until, that is, I saw a couple from Britain who simply set the ice on fire.

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnole. A little less than four minutes of visually captivating, stylistically arresting performance that won them the gold medal. I don't know what it was that embedded their performance forever in my mind - but that 4 minutes came to epitomize the best of the Olympics. Performance, beauty, strength, skill, flair - pushing the boundaries of what was possible in search of new levels of excellence. And to this day, I cannot hear Capriccio Espagnole without thinking of Torvill and Dean.

There is much that is not good about the Olympics, and Olympic competition in general. It saddens me every time someone must cheat (whether it be drugs or performance enhancing chemicals, using under-age athletes, or clearly predatory judging) to achieve some nationalistic goal. It is tragic how the spectacle of Olympic competition draws attention away from Darfur, Georgia, even the rest of China - not to mention the tragedies going on right down the street from each of us.

But for me, these Olympic dramas are a gentle drug that (along with my loving partner) help take the edge off days of frustration and uncertainty. These are moments of beauty in otherwise ugly times - and I give thanks for that. So here's to those talented men and women - with a tribute from Olympic past...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A simple meme, for a simple man

I have been overwhelmed - work, the challenges of finding a new home for my sister and brother-in-law, a potential move, and financial challenges have had me bottled up for a while. But I needed a way to break the spiritual blogjam, and this challenge seemed the perfect entry. The instructions over at Black Pete (formerly Poor Mad Peter)'s Red Wine and Garlic were simple: share seven things about oneself that are relatively inconsequential. So here goes...

1) I have two sisters who are fraternal twins; as kids, we hardly looked like we belonged to the same family, but the resemblance is getting better.

2) I have a fascination with glass - blown, cut, colored but almost never painted. Emerald green, ruby red, cobalt blue, and clear cut crystal are my favorites; either rich deep color or the absence, I guess. Two of my favorite places in the world are the Corning Glass Museum in Corning, NY, and the Toledo Museum of Art's Glass Pavilion.

(The Glass Pavilion alone is worth a trip to Toledo, although you'd really miss out if you didn't go across the street to the Museum proper, or downtown for a Tony Packo's hotdog...)

3) I am fascinated with the work of Elbert Hubbard and the Roycrofters. My AA sponsor gave me a copy of A Message to Garcia (which I later gave back, like a fool) and Elbert Hubbard's Scrapbook, which is one of my more prized book possessions. I wish I could fully adopt the creed of the Roycrofters: A belief in working with the head, hand and heart and mixing enough play with the work so that every task is pleasurable and makes for health and happiness.

4) I never knew that I was given to jeremiads, but thanks to Black Pete, who made me look it up, I know I'm pretty good at 'em. Jeremiad (noun) - a prolonged lamentation or mournful complaint. [Origin: 1770–80; Jeremi(ah) + -ad, in reference to Jeremiah's Lamentations] (Thanks to Dictionary.com)

5) I also share a trait with Black Pete - I both very much enjoy cats, and am very much allergic to them. One gift given to me by my friend Ted (and a very lovely apple-headed Siamese of his) was overcoming my childhood fear of cats. One night Ted and I sat in blue armchairs in his living room, with a fire burning, just talking (as we are both wont to do). That Siamese just bounded into my lap, and with a blatant disregard for my discomfort, snuggled down between the chair's arm and my leg and began purring loudly. I never looked back. (It was preparation, I'm sure, for the procession of furry friends that my former wife brought into my life.)

6) Being a virtual employee (working from home, over the Internet) means that I have as many coworkers from Mumbai and Chennai (India) as I do in Lincolnshire and Chicago (Illinois). My most unusual location for a work day (at this job, anyway) was on December 28, 2007, when I spent 9 hours working in a coffee shop in Springfield, MO called The Mud House - a converted pottery studio. (I have been thinking I should do that at least every other week, just as a change of pace.)

7) I have seen one storyteller's performance that I have not heard. I wish I could remember the fellow's name, but he was a storyteller who was deaf, and who performed all his stories in American Sign Language (ASL). I saw him at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN back twenty-some years ago. If I remember right, his "interpreter for the ASL-impaired" was John Basinger. It took some forceful reminders to look at the storyteller, and not at his "speaking" interpreter - but it was a fascinating experience. (That was also the year that I was first introduced to the stories and songs of John McCutcheon, if I remember rightly.)

More thoughts that are mulling...
- the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in Beijing
- bellwether changes
- how many books do you need - really?
- revisiting a Labor Day tradition, after 20 years

I'll try not to make it a month till the next post....