Thursday, August 31, 2017

From Away....

One week from today. Seven days, a half a fortnight. That's how long before Pam and I will depart Short Pump for three weeks on Quantabacook Lake in Searsmont, Maine. The closer we get to the 7th of September, the less I am able to concentrate on anything else. It's like there is a gigantic black hole with a powerful gravitational pull on that day on the calendar, impossible to resist.

Each day I'm crossing more things off my to do list. Most of those things have revolved around preparing my business to function effectively without me. However, the fact that I will not be there to screw anything up is a big plus, making the planning much easier! 

Ominously, the ten day forecast for Searsmont has suddenly turned cooler, with high temperatures dropping out of the 70's. There is a chance that we will be, once again, making the drive up in the rain. Although the accuracy of weather forecasts a week out are spotty, ultimately the weather falls into a category of things that I can do absolutely nothing about, and as such, I will give it no more thought.

As long as I will be living in this place for three weeks, the weather is very much a secondary concern. At this point, the only guests we have scheduled are my inlaws who will be coming up for a week, and some friends of ours from Maine who will be coming to visit at some point yet to be determined. The rest of the time it will be Pam and I and our manic, mentally disturbed Golden Retriever, Lucy. We will sit on that deck in the mornings drinking our coffee. The edge of the lake is less than twenty-five feet from our bedroom, those French doors to the right. If it's not too chilly, maybe we will have our breakfast at that table to the left. We will walk out on the dock and read a book. We will launch out on the lake in the kayaks which will be delivered to us by Dan the Man from Ducktrap Kayaks in Lincolnville. At night, we will build a fire in the fire pit down next to the small beach on the property. 

Some days we will drive into Belfast and Camden to nose around in the shops. Our favorite store in the entire world, The Smiling Cow, will get several visits. They will know us and greet us as long lost friends. We will eat several meals at restaurants next to the ocean. We will have blueberry pancakes at the Camden Deli, lobster rolls at Hazel's, and ice cream at River Ducks. We will take a ride on a lobster boat called the Lively Lady. We will hike up to the top of Mount Battie, then walk the Oceanside trails of the Camden Hills State Park directly across the street from the mountain, one of the geographical oddities about this place that enchants us every year.

But mostly, we will just be there. It's very hard to explain the feeling that comes over me just being there. When I'm at home, there are many things that compete for my attention, that pull me out of the present. I have a business and responsibilities. Everything that causes me stress is essentially within two miles of this house. That's not a knock against my home. I love my home, love Short Pump. It's more like a simple fact of life. But, when I'm in Maine, I'm truly and totally...away. Mainers actually have a term for people like us, those worn out souls who come there for relief...they refer to us as people from away. It's true. For me, every place that isn't Maine is....away.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Heartbreak of Houston

Houston has turned out to be a giant heartbreak. When a 500 year flood comes calling, it's what happens. I watch the videos and stare at the pictures, amazed and horrified at the devastation that over 40 inches of rain has brought to this slice of our modern, technologically advanced world. Build your gleaming cities, trust in your towering machines...then cling to a sapling when the rains come.

We have friends in Houston. They are in harm's way, they've been relocated, and have endured the unimaginable trauma of being separated from infant children. But they tell us that there are so many suffering far worse. They actually feel lucky. 

I see the photograph of the small child found shivering, clinging to the dead body of her mother. My heart breaks for them both.

I see the image of the cowboy-tough Texas redneck carrying an Asian woman and her baby through waist deep water to safety and I think...there is a real man.

I see another picture of a black man wearing a slick yellow pancho carrying two white toddlers in his arms through rising water and think...this is an image worth making into a statue for a town square.

I watch a video of a reporter approaching two men, one white, one black who are preparing their fishing boats for battle. He asks them what they are doing. The black man says, we're going to try to save some people today.

I remember the thing my Dad used to say about how a life crisis doesn't build character, it simply reveals it. Once again, Dad was right.

I get momentarily sidetracked by reading about some professor who earned his fifteen minutes of fame by suggesting that the people of Texas deserve this because they voted for Trump, and I marvel at the hardness of the human heart, the inability of some to set aside politics. But when I hear how this professor was denounced by both sides I take small comfort.

But, through all of this I discover that there is something wrong with me. For, although I am moved by all of the human suffering, nothing moves me like the sight of an abandoned dog on a rooftop of a car. I see pictures of terrified dogs in cages, wet and wild eyed and I have to look away. I just can't take it. I literally walk away from the computer and leave the room. Why? Why am I so quickly moved to tears by the suffering of family pets?

It's because they don't understand. We can't sit them down and explain what is happening. They trust us for everything. They never doubt us. They have cast their lot with their humans without reservation. And now, they have been abandoned in the midst of a 500 year flood. The images are too much for me.

But, they are there and I am here, safe and dry. I can only pray for all the people of Texas. I can donate to the Red Cross. 

I remind myself that this is Texas we're talking about. Those people are tough as shoe leather. They will recover. They won't sit around waiting for someone else to save their fellow Texans. They will fill up the Evinrude with gas and do it themselves.

God bless them...everyone.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Scaramucci To Speak at Liberty Convocation

Liberty University has announced that Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci will speak during convocation. Something called the Office of Spiritual Formation booked the former hedge fund manager and political gadfly to speak to the mandatory gathering of 10,000 plus students at the Christian school in Lynchburg, despite the fact that Scaramucci has previously had no known connection to anything vaguely associated with Christianity. Scaramucci, best known for his expletive-laden interview which appeared in The NewYorker, served as President Trump's Communications Director for eleven days. Complaints about selecting someone of Scaramucci's dubious character and paper thin list of accomplishments were directed at Liberty President, Jerry Falwell Jr. who vigorously denied any involvement with the choice, noting that the selection of convocation speakers was the responsibility of the Office of Spiritual Formation. A spokesman for that office pointed out the invitation to Scaramucci was made prior to his stormy tenure at the Trump White House and his profane rant in the New Yorker. This "explanation" is quite odd since, if true, begs the question...what had Mr. Scaramucci done prior to his stint at the White House that would have suggested him as an appropriate speaker for Liberty University students?

He ran hedge funds. He wrote three books, all three of which celebrated his ability to make lots of money. Along the way he managed to have five kids with two women, both of whom he ended up divorcing, the last one while she was eight months pregnant with his child. At various times over the past ten years he had been involved in supporting the Presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Scott Walker, and JEB Bush. What aspects of spirituality are the leadership at Liberty trying to form here?

Listen, it's none of my business what Liberty University does. They are a private university and can invite anyone they want to speak on their campus. All sorts of really bad people get invited to speak at colleges all the time. But for a school like Liberty, dedicated as they are to producing "champions for Christ," it seems an extraordinarily odd choice. Yes, I know that simply by inviting someone to speak does not equal approval of the message. Liberty has had many speakers over the years that fall outside their wheelhouse...Ted Kennedy and Bernie Sanders come to mind. But, Anthony Scaramucci??

Jerry Falwell Jr. has transformed himself in the minds of many into the chief apologist for Donald Trump, at least among evangelicals. Again, that's his choice and his business. But, when he does so, like it or not, he also represents his university. It should not surprise him that many of his current and former students are appalled by the strident support that he offers a man who has lived a life antithetical to the Gospel of Christ. In an interview with Fox News after Trump's hamfisted remarks about Charlottesville, Falwell, with not an ounce of self awareness offered up this insight...

Trump doesn't say what's politically correct, he says what's in his heart.

Yes, Jerry. He does say what's in his heart. And, isn't that the problem?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Seven Essentials

Don't worry, I'm done with church talk for a good while. However, there was one aspect of this past weekend's class that I found fascinating, and I'm wondering if there might be a secular version we could rally around as a nation. On matters of theology, the Christian faith is a cauldron of factions and denominations. Hope did not trivialize those tensions, but rather boiled them down to their essence with their Seven Essentials of our Faith. I will not list them here since that is not what this post is about. The larger point made by Hope is that, as a church body, they allow disagreement on a great many things about doctrine...but not with respect to the seven essentials. There is, after all, no point in organizing a church around no guiding theological principles. Anarchy is not a workable doctrine. Chaos is not the foundation of a functioning church, or anything else.

This seven essentials business has launched me into thinking about my country. We are at a point in our history where all of the things that divide us seem overwhelming, a way forward seems elusive. If we were so inclined, what would the seven essentials of American citizenship be? For years I would have thought that it would have been the Bill of Rights. But, with each passing day, I hear more voices claiming that freedom of speech needs a few tweaks. Once that iconic freedom falls, how many others are safe?

So, if you could construct a seven essentials for American citizenship, what would it contain? I suppose I'm not committed to the number seven, there's nothing sacred about that, but, I think the fewer, the better. More importantly, are there a set of rules that free citizens must agree upon in order to live together in peace and stability? I'm not asking how everyone should be forced to live their life. I'm not asking you to impose your personal political ideology on the rest of the public. Rather, in the spirit of compromise and accommodation, what are the principles that are vital to living together in peace, principles that all human beings could coalesce around?


Sunday, August 27, 2017

This just in...I'm an idiot.

This morning I had a major cognitive breakdown, a new low in the inexorable decline of mental acuity for those of a certain age. It is embarrassing to admit that it has come to this...

I woke at the usual time after an uneventful night's sleep. My morning routine was virtually unchanged except for the latest contest of wills with Lucy, the psycho dog. Suddenly, she has decided that going down the stairs is beyond the pale. In her disturbed mind, our staircase is now the gauntlet of death. At first, she would only go down them if we walked along side her. Then, it became walk beside her with the leash securely attached to her collar. Now it's, I ain't going down those stairs for love nor money!! I have been forced twice this weekend to carry my 65 pound dog down the stairs of my house. But...I digress.

After this absurd encounter with Lunatic Lucy, I began laying out my clothes for the day, before  jumping in the shower. Pam made the odd remark, Wow, that's a fancy shirt. Nothing. Then I went to take my daily medication and noticed that I had failed to take yesterday's allotment. Still...nothing. Then I hopped into my car and started driving confidently to my destination, wondering why I couldn't get Sport's Phone with Big Al on the radio. Again...nothing, zip, nada...

It was only when I got to the corner of Pump Road and Three Chopt that I got the strange sensation that something was not right. Where was all the traffic? I picked up my cell phone and looked at the lovely picture of Pam and me on a boat in the Caymen Islands taken back in a time when I had not yet been turned into a blithering idiot by the ravages of time. Clear as day in white, block lettering came the announcement that today was, in fact, SUNDAY, AUGUST 27...not Monday, and if I continued on my present course, my clients in Mechanicsville are going to be shocked by my appearance on their doorstep before they had even had a chance to eat their bran flakes. 

I made an embarrassed u-turn then sheepishly drove back home where I promptly confessed to my concerned wife that her husband had indeed lost his mind.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Church.

I am a 59 year old man, and for all of that time, I have been in church, the first 20 years by conscription, the last 39 by choice. I was born into Kingsland Baptist Church in Chesterfield County. While my Dad was in seminary, I was a member of the church he pastored on the weekends, Nicholsville Baptist Church in Nicholsville, Alabama. But, I don't remember much about either of these places. The two churches where I spent the majority of my life were Winns Baptist Church in Elmont, Virginia, and Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond.

All of this is on my mind today because Pam and I have spent the last two days in a prospective new members class at Hope Church. There are several unique things about this. First, it's only the second time we have actually joined a church as a new member in 33 years of marriage, second, Hope is a Presbyterian church, and third, Hope is the only church I've ever attended which requires people to go through two days of meetings in order to join, and even then it's very much a take it or leave it proposition. It's like they're saying, Sure, we're really glad you're interested in Hope, but let's not run off half-cocked and do something stupid without knowing what you're getting yourself into, ok? I'll have more to say about Hope a little later on, but right now, I want to write about what my church life, for lack of a better term, has been like. Some of you will identify and relate with what follows. Others may be bewildered by it. But, for better or for worse, being in church all of my life has shaped me. It has been an enormous force for good in my life, while simultaneously being a force of anger and frustration. It's been a complicated relationship, between me and this institution, one that I feel compelled at this stage of my life to write about. For me, it all began when my dad was hired to be the senior pastor at Winns Baptist Church. I was ten years old.

Winns Baptist Church

When you're a preacher's kid, you're not really a member of a church. It's more like you are part of the package, a collateral accoutrement that had to be tolerated. At age ten I got the distinct impression that first Sunday at Winns that I was expected to be seen, often, as in--every single time the church doors were opened, and heard from, never. In addition, they would greatly appreciate it if I was never seen swinging from the chandeliers. My Dad was the pastor at Winns for sixteen years. There were good times and bad times. Some of the sweetest, kindest people I've ever met were there. I had my first kiss there, met and eventually fell in love with my wife there. It was at Winns where I actually came to a personal faith in Christ myself.  But, it was also at Winns where I learned that not everyone claiming faith in Christ was a nice person. In fact, some of those who cried, "Lord, lord!" the loudest were more like the spawn of Satan.

 I experienced my first church fight at Winns, complete with several knock down, drag out business meetings, and anonymous letter writing campaigns, (back before the Internet and social media, character assassination was very much a retail business). When the source of a church fight is the question of whether or not your Dad is competent enough to justify his continued employment, things tend to get personal. At age 16, enduring a church fight did a great job of feeding the growing cynicism already running wild in me and most other 16 year olds I knew. I responded to it by writing a play which was performed by the youth group one Youth Week Sunday. It was a send up of a raucous church business meeting where I put very little effort into hiding the real world identities of most of the characters. It was not well received by it's intended targets, and I was thrilled by their anger. The last service I ever attended at Winns was my wedding. Soon afterwards Dad moved on to a Church in Charlottesville. So, for the first time in my life, I was tasked with finding and joining a church in which My father was not the pastor.

Grove Avenue Baptist Church

The first couple of years of married life saw Pam and I not trying very hard to find a church. We discovered that we very much enjoyed two day weekends, and not having to wake up so early on Sundays. But, once Pam was pregnant with Kaitlin, we began the search in earnest. Since my two sisters had both landed at Grove, post-Winns, we decided to visit one Sunday. Vander Warner was the pastor and I throughly enjoyed his sermon, but hated the church for two was too big, and it was broadcast live on television. The presence of TV cameras up and down the aisles was a huge turnoff. But, we were going to soon be parents and thought that we needed to settle on a church home sooner rather than later. A few Sundays later we found an amazing Sunday school class taught by a young architect, filled with other couples our age who were also expecting. The next week we joined. This being a Baptist Church in the mid-80's, joining consisted of us walking down the aisle during the alter call, shaking a minister's hand and then being swept off into a room which was decorated like a funeral home, where some guy asked us ten minutes of questions. That was it. We were in! It's called moving your letter, a process by which the new church contacts your old church to verify your membership there, then presto, the paperwork gets done, you get a fresh box of offering envelopes and it's all good. The procedure is spelled out somewhere in Malachi, I'm told.

Pam and I both grew to love Grove. We raised both of our children there with the invaluable help of countless people who poured their time and talents into our children. My wife began a 13 year run working and teaching in children's church, while some idiot thought I would make a great chairman of the Finance Committee since I was in the "financial business." It was a disaster. My leadership style is way to heavy on sarcasm and highjinks to make the necessary adjustments to church finance....

Random ministry leader making his pitch to my committee for funds: So, we need a 20% increase in our funding for this year because of all of these great ministry plans we have for the new year.

Me: You're kidding, right? Dude, you didn't even spend the money we allocated you last year. What do we look like, Central Fidelity Bank??

Yeah, so that didn't go well. It didn't take long for the church leadership team to realize that my skill set needed a different outlet for expression. An amazingly humble, godly ex-marine named Gary Stewart soon asked me to consider becoming the Sunday School teacher for a group of ninth grade boys who had scared off three teachers in three months. For reasons that remain a mystery, I said yes. Thus began a ten year run as a leader and volunteer in the youth ministry at Grove. It was easily, the best ten years I've ever had in church. Spent a fortune. Gave up weekends. Quadrupled the wear and tear on my house since nearly every weekend, the place got overrun with a couple dozen hormone-crazed kids. Spent a week every summer with over 200 teenagers at summer camp. But, as crazy and as difficult and demanding as it was, I loved it, primarily because I was making a difference. In all of that time, I was oblivious to what was going on in the rest of the church. I'm sure there were fights and disagreements going on throughout the church at the time, but I never noticed any of it, because I was busy with the kids. It was beautiful.

Then came a three year stint teaching college students. Also fun and satisfying. But after three years there, my time had passed. Then, for the first time in thirteen years I reverted back to just being a regular member, one of those guys who comes every Sunday morning, sits in the same pew, and slowly, quietly starts getting annoyed by church. It's the disease that afflicts most people in church who aren't involved in some sort of ministry. People in church, left at leisure, become critics. That sermon was lame. Could those sopranos possibly be any flatter on that song? Reading the announcements to us right out of the bulletin. Seriously? Who does he think we are, a bunch of illiterate morons?

So, after a few years of this spiritual whining, you look at yourself in the mirror and realize that you need to make a change. It's not the preacher, it's you. Then it occurs to you that you've been at the same church for 30 years. Somewhere during the last few years, you've stopped listening, you are no longer hearing the voices there. You need a new voice, a new season of growth, a time for renewal. 

Hope Church

A year later, you find yourself at a two day prospective member class event at Hope Church. There will be no moving your letter nonsense with this group. These guys are Presbyterians, and if you want to join this church, much will be expected of you. There are slick handouts on glossy paper spelling out what it means to be an owner/operator. One speaker after another tells us, here are the seven essentials of the faith that we believe. This is our mission statement. Here are our plans for the future. Here are the areas of service that you will be expected to move into at some point. If you want to be a member of something, go join Hermitage Country Club, or the YMCA. We don't want members, we want spiritual entrepreneurs who are ready to work, ready to lead and ready to sacrifice for the mission of the Gospel. Oh, and when you give, we take cash, checks, EFT debits, PayPal, and coming by text!

There was something invigorating about such an unvarnished airing of expectations. It's good to know that we will not be allowed to sit around being a critic, that something will be required of us. We will be expected to make the church a better place than how we found it. This will not be some cheap, resume stuffing title, Member, Hope Church. Rather, it will be a call to action.

I think, we just might be ready.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Hefty, Hefty, HEFTY!!!

Hurricane Harvey is set to pound the coast of Texas with 100 mph winds and upwards of 35 inches of rain. Early reports indicate that the citizens of Corpus Christi have suddenly lost all interest in the raging Confederate statue controversy. Funny how the prospect of eminent death focuses the mind.

I'm not suggesting that the statue uproar isn't a legitimate thing. It surely is. I mean, when suddenly the sight of them has become so heinous, so provocative that the city of Charlottesville has taken to wrapping giant black trash bags around them to hide them from public view, it most definitely is a thing.

I'm told that under this giant tarp is a statue of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson astride a horse. The Charlottesville city government, after a tumultuous town council meeting where they were loudly jeered, mocked and cursed by an angry assembly of concerned citizens, made the decision to shroud the offending statues. The move was met with varied reactions. Some called it a good first step, while others considered it a desecration, while still others lamented, Seriously, Charlottesville?? A black tarp?? No orange and blue?

Apparently, the city fathers opted for the black tarp only after they received a price quote on surrounding the statue in giant mirrors, which was too costly. Although the mirrors had the added advantage of encouraging citizens to examine our souls, and gaze upon ourselves for inspiration instead of venerating our troubled past, the cost was prohibitive.

Still, the tarp play was seen by most observers as only a stop gap measure and carries with it a new set of problems. Prior to "The Covering" as it has quickly become known, local police only had to concern themselves with protecting the statues from vandals on the left who might descend upon it in a mob and tear it down Raleigh-style. Now, they must protect the tarp from pocket knife wielding hooligans from the right. 

As a good capitalist, I smell a huge opportunity here for the folks over at Glad, the trash bag company. If I were them I would be all over this picture with the greatest virtue signaling add campaign of all time...Glad...taking out history's trash, one rebel at a time. Or maybe the guys over at Hefty can beat them to it with...Don't risk sanitizing your public square with some whimpy bag. Go with HEFTY, HEFTY, HEFTY!!

I suspect that the Charlottesville city council is in for a rude awakening if they think covering Confederate statues in platstic bags is going to calm the crowds that so reviled them at their last meeting. The next one might be even worse, since now angry citizens can make the case that by covering Jackson and Lee with bags, the city has actually protected the statues by muting the spray-painting graffiti free speech rights of urban artists. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and some compromise can be struck. Either way, the next meeting for the Charlottesville town council will be must-see TV.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

1500? Hard to Believe.

Every now and then, with longevity, comes the inevitable milestone event. As milestones go, this wasn't that big a deal, nevertheless deserves some mention, so I will...

Yesterday, I wrote the 1500th blogpost in the nearly seven year history of The Tempest. 

As fate would have it, number 1500 was fairly typical. Something stupid happened in the world, and I wrote about it. I usually do this writing between the hours of 6:00 and 8:00 in the morning, make of that what you will. Honestly, this blog is the easiest thing I've even done in my life. It's like, see ball, hit ball. Easy. I inherited, mostly from my mother's side of the family, strongly held opinions. The ability to write them down came from Lord only knows. The first thing I ever remember writing was in elementary school, when I "wrote" a comic strip that featured an Indian during the days of the Wild West getting caught stealing a rifle from a cowboy and immediately starts resighting the pledge of allegiance. I was probably 8 or 9 at the time. The teacher thought it was "odd and clever" but gave me a side eye glance that I will never forget, like she was thinking, Where did that come from, and who is this kid??

Included in these 1500 posts have been lots of stories of family life, since that is the most important thing I've had going these past seven years. I've bragged on my accomplished kids, and doted on my amazing wife, which I'm sure has annoyed some of you. That's ok. Nobody's holding a gun to your head, so... I've written about the loss of both of my parents, and writing about it helped me get through it. I've written about my dog Lucy, and of what it was like to lose Molly. I've written about my daughter's wedding, the planning, expense and joy of that event. 

But, I've also written, a lot, about politics. It was never my intention to do so. Ordinarily, politics is boring, plodding stuff. But with Obama and now Trump, not so much. It is in the arena of politics where I have had to do the most thinking. Looking back over some of the things I've written these past seven years, some of it wasn't always well reasoned. Sometimes, I have gone with my gut instinct on things, and then regretted it a few months or years later. But other times, I have had open debates here...with myself...on hot button issues that have flared up. As the readership of this blog has grown I have felt a greater obligation to be more careful when slinging my opinions around. Some issues which I find insufferably moronic, others hold dear, so I've learned to tread carefully when dealing with the strong feelings of others. This careful treading has had mixed results. Sometimes I've been better at it than other times. Sometimes there's just no way around he fact that I'm  going to annoy someone. Whenever that someone is my usually gets edited out!

Luckily, I don't write this blog for a living. Since virtually none of you ever click on the adds that are featured on this blog, The Tempest is essentially a public service. The fact that so many of you read what I have to say is astonishing to me.

So, post 1501 is almost in the can. That's over 850,000 words written in seven years, hopefully in some discernible, mildly understandable order. It has been great fun. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Morons. We are surrounded by morons...

The University of Virginia, desperate to return to the days of being totally ignored, is set to begin their football season on September 2nd against William and Mary. For reasons that defy all logic, ESPN has planned to broadcast this game on television. And now, the very real and legitimate concerns raised by the Confederate statue controversy have been opened up to ridicule and public mockery by...ESPN.

Apparently, and trust me...I have triple checked this story to make absolutely sure I wasn't being punked by the of the announcers who ESPN had scheduled to call the game is an Asian man named Robert Lee. This unhappy coincidence was too much for the morons who run the network:

" We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name. In that moment it felt right to all parties. It's a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls the play by play of a football game has become an issue."

The past couple of years has proven to me that when it comes to insanity, anything is possible in America. However, perhaps nothing I have read during this period of insanity can surpass the above ESPN statement for simple, basic sand-pounding idiocy. So, as a public service to ESPN and thinking people everywhere, I will now rewrite this statement, adding crucial information left out in the original draft.

We collectively made the decision... (The gutless management team here at ESPN which consists of trembling lunatics terrified that sports fans would mistake an Asian man for a white supremacist).

with Robert...(despite Robert's incredulous howls of laughter and repeated phrase, "You've got to be sh***ing me, right? 

to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name...( yep, and for no other reason..just that, the freaking coincidence of this Asian man's name. That alone is what made us all think that this was a smart, sane thing to do. Can you believe it???)

In that moment, it felt right to all parties...( and we here at ESPN are all about what feels right, rather than what is right)

It's a shame that this is even a topic of conversation...( and it is a topic of conversation only because the morons at ESPN have made it one!!!)

and we regret that who calls play by play for a football game has become an issue... ( again, it has become an issue only because of the dim bulbs who run ESPN)

Ok, just so no one gets even more confused, Mr. Lee is the gentleman on the right, not the bald headed dude. Which begs the question, why didn't ESPN recognize how problematic it would have been to allow someone who might possibly have been associated with the skinheads broadcast a UVA football game so soon after the Charlottesville racist violence? Had they been more woke perhaps that would have felt right as well. 

So, thanks ESPN. Thanks for turning a transformational moment in race relations in America into the punch line of yet another politically correct joke.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Different President, Same Afghanistan

Back during the presidential campaign of 2016, Donald Trump actually said a few things that I liked, particularly when it came to our misadventures abroad. It wasn't enough to entice me to vote for the guy, but it sure sounded nice coming out of his mouth. Things like this:

" When will we stop wasting money rebuilding Afghanistan? We must rebuild our country first!"

" Why continue to train Afghanis who shoot our soldiers in the back? A total waste. Time to come home."

" We have wasted enormous amounts of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let's get out."

Whenever I would hear him say things like this it would almost make me forget what a dogless ignoramus he was. So, last night, after six months in office, it was time for Trump to reveal his official policy towards Afghanistan. He, like Obama before him, came into office deeply skeptical about Afghanistan and having pledged repeatedly during the campaign to change course in that God forsaken hellhole. But there he was behind the podium in Fort Myer, Virginia announcing a renewed commitment to eh, to eh...well, let me let the first dog free President since William McKinley tell you himself:

" We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge."

"A core pillar in our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions."

" The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable."

" I share the American people's frustration."

Okie dokey.

Melania is often accused of plagarizing former First Lady, Michelle Obama. Well, this speech seems like the President's attempt to follow in his wife's footsteps. This "new" policy towards Afghanistan is strikingly similar to Obama's strategy towards Afghanistan, which bore an amazing resemblance to George Bush's Afghanistan policy which I will summarize as follows:

" Ok, that bastard Bin Laden blew up the World Trade Center, and we think he's hiding in some cave in Afghanistan. So, we need to go in there and get him. SQUIRREL!!!! Wait, their government is a mess, and the Taliban are bad guys, and since we couldn't find Bin Laden, and while we're over here, we might as well try to defeat the Taliban. Besides, if we don't, Afghanistan might be converted to a safe haven for terrorist to plan more evil deeds against America. And, sure, the government in Kabul are basically a bunch of kleptomaniacs, but they've got to be better than the Taliban, right? I'm sure we can get this job done in no time, but if we don't we will just keep getting dragged into this festering abyss for as many years as we can convince the American people that to pull out would lead to consequences that are both predictable and unacceptable. In the future if a President suggests getting OUT of Afghanitsan, the entire military establishment will accuse him of being a defeatist ( if he's Republican ), or a weakling ( if he's a Democrat ). That way, no matter how long it takes or how victory gets defined, we will always be here, slugging it out with a bunch of sheep herding poppie growers forever!!"

I'm sure that when Trump got back to the White House after the speech and was not greeted by a faithful dog, even a guy like Trump must have had a moment of self reflection as to how he possibly could have been hornswoggled so badly by his generals. Or maybe he called up Obama to commiserate..."What the heck Barack? Why can't we quit Afghanistan??"

Monday, August 21, 2017

All About the Eclipse

So, this afternoon we're having the solar eclipse thing. In ancient times this would be the occasion of great terror complete with the rending of garments, the splitting open of animals and terrified calls to repentance. Today hundreds of small towns will be overrun with herds of dorks craning their necks skyward, geeked out with protective eye ware the serious minded had ordered from NASA, while the last minute eclipse partiers picked up from the discount bin at Bob's Diner and Thrift Shop. The entire thing is supposed to be over with in a little over three hours, kind of like Lawrence of Arabia, or any movie by Peter Jackson.

I'm not even sure what I plan to do during all of this eclipsing. I didn't get any of those cool glasses. Of course, I could make one of those makeshift cereal box things that allow me to see the shadow of the thing reflected off the inside bottom of the box. But that seems like a lot of trouble. I can't just go about my day and ignore the whole thing, can I? I mean, isn't this one of those once in a lifetime things that one just has to participate with in order to be fully alive? Seriously, how lame would it be to spend the afternoon of the great solar eclipse preparing spreadsheets of account balances for a client? No, I will do my part to join in with the rest of American humanity and participate in the experience.

Maybe I'll go outside and stand in the semi-darkness, back to the sun, and wait for the temperature to drop. Part of me wants to hustle around town looking for a pair of those glasses, but another part of me is wary of buying solar eclipse glasses at the last minute. No telling what you'll get. My son had toyed with the idea about a month ago of buying a bunch of  NASA issued glasses in bulk for a dollar a piece and then selling them for $10 each the day of to his unprepared co-workers. This would have been a raging success since it would have taken brilliant advantage of free enterprise and the human tendency towards procrastination. Knowing my son, he probably dropped the idea out of either misguided guilt over the vulture capitalist overtones of such an endeavor, or he got distracted by Neo-Nazis marching around his beautiful home state, or his beautiful girlfriend, or a new video game. He hesitated, and now the opportunity has passed.

Meanwhile, closer to ground zero down in Columbia, South Carolina, my daughter's  National Park Ranger husband is in science geek heaven about now. He will be guiding visitors to Congaree National Park through the afternoon's event with wild enthusiasm and erudition. No observer under his care will suffer any retina damage. The same cannot be said for the rest of the country. Large areas of the country are inhabited by Americans who often preface poorly thought out plans with the phrase, "Hold my beer!"

We can only hope that large percentages of the Neo-Nazi, white supremacist and KKK population fall into this category.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why Doesn't Trump Have a Dog?

I'm having a hard time getting over the fact that Trump doesn't have a dog. 

Yes, I know that there are far more important and weighty things to be concerned about..but the man not only doesn't have a dog, according to informed sources he has no known pets. This makes him an outlier among Presidents. He is the first President not to have a dog since William McKinley over 116 years ago( making his assassination a cautionary tale). Trump is also only the second President in history not to have any pets whatsoever, joining James K. Polk for that dubious honor. 

The following is a partial list of some of our more famous Presidents and their pets. Make of it what you will.

George Washington. The father of our country had eight dogs, three staghounds, four Black and Tans and one greyhound which he wittingly named, Cornwallis.

Thomas Jefferson had two bird dogs, one named Buzzy, and the other who went mysteriously unnamed.( Probably from the Hemings side of the family).

Andrew Jackson is the president often sited by historians trying to find an antecedent to Trump. Ironically, Jackson also had no dogs. He had a parrot which he taught to swear and two fighting cocks. Coincidence? I think not!

Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, had two dogs, two cats, one turkey and one rabbit. One of his cats he playfully named "Dixie" and he often said of her that she was smarter than his entire cabinet put together!

Theodore Roosevelt, besides being a President thought worthy enough to be placed on Rushmore, was also basically a zookeeper. This crazy man had five guinea pigs, two ponies, ten dogs, two cats, a hen, a lizard, a garter snake, a small bear, a rat, badger, pig, rabbit, hyena, barn owl, and a one legged rooster.

FDR had seven dogs varied in breed from a Scottish Terrier to a bull mastiff.

JFK. Ten dogs.

LBJ. Six dogs.

Nixon. Four dogs, including Checkers, made famous by the Checkers Speech.

Ronald Reagan had six dogs, including the White House' first ever Golden Retriever.

Bill Clinton. Buddy, the chocolate lab.

George W. Bush. Four dogs.

Barack Obama. Two dogs, Bo and Sunny.

The love of pets, especially dogs seems to be clearly a bipartisan phenomenon. No matter their political affiliations, our presidents have been nearly unanimous in their affections for pets. Which brings me back to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 
What are we to make of this petless man? Certainly there is nothing intrinsically wrong with not having pets. I get it, not everyone likes animals. But this is the President of the United States we're talking about here. After a long, insane day of leading the free world, I would like to think that my President at least enjoys the quiet, unconditional love of a fine 
dog or even the pseudo affections of an oblivious cat. If Trump were to get a dog, what breed do you think he might settle on? Probably not a Chihuahua.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Thank God it's Friday

It's Friday, people. This is a very good thing. It has been a brutal week for our Republic. Racism, domestic terrorism, debates about the removal of Confederate statues, and an outbreak of vandalism among those unwilling to enter those debates. All the while, the President of the United States can't decide which side of any of these debates he's on. His vacillation back and forth betweeen sympathy and condemnation with regards to Charlottesville has isolated him to a degree that I haven't seen an American President isolated since Richard Nixon in 1974. Quick, name a president in our history who has managed a public rebuke from the top generals of every branch of the military services? This is unchartered territory.

It is hard for me to imagine Mr. Trump surviving his term. Who can he count on in Congress for support if impeachment should come? Who are his stalwart allies? For obvious reasons the Democrats hate him. At least half of the Republicans hate him, and he is doing everything in his power to isolate himself from the other half. He does have a rock solid core of support among roughly 35% of the American people, but even that is not a winning number. 

When it comes to race relations, I don't make moral equivalence arguments between antifa and the Klan. But in politics, I do. It is my firm conviction that both extremes of political thought in this country have horrible instincts. On the far right, those horrible instincts result in racist, nativist, totalitarian impulses. On the far left, those horrible instincts result in collectivist, communist, authoritarian state worship. It is my opinion that most people on the left of center in this country are not authoritarian state worshippers, and most people on the right of center do are not racist totalitarians. Unfortunately, at this point in our history, the extremes of our politics are making the most noise. Meanwhile, as white supremacist groups are emboldened to hold public rallies wielding shields, tiki torches and baseball helmets, the antifa will feel obligated to pick up their baseball bats and join the fray. Instant polarization, instant violence. The rest of us will look on in wide eyed horror wondering how we ever arrived at this dark place.
If the United States can survive three and a half more years of the Trump Presidency without imploding in on itself, we will have proven to the world that we are indestructible, and if that happens, the American people should be awarded the Noble Peace Prize.

One more thing...Trump doesn't have a dog. As such he is the first president in over one hundred years to be dogless. It is no exaggeration to say that this fact tells you everything you need to know about the man.

In closing, I read something that a good friend of mine wrote this week about the Charlottesville madness. He was casting about for a solution to the deep divisions in our society and the racial strife ripping us apart. Sometimes the solutions seem impossible to find, the divisions too deep. But then he said this, I'm going to mind what I do by trying to respect every person that comes into my life. The simple truth is that you and I only have control over how we live our lives. All of us have to resolve to be better people...and that starts by treating everyone who comes into our lives with love and respect. 

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

We Can Do Better

Yesterday, something really cool and increasingly rare happened on Facebook. Nineteen people gathered in one spot to discuss/debate a very hot button social issue. These nineteen people brought with them a rather wide spectrum of views on the subject at hand. How wide? Here is a brief demographic breakdown of the participants:

A widely respected attorney from Bon Air, who once served as a groomsman at my wedding.

A newly minted young attorney who was once one of many knuckleheads in the youth group of my former church.

Some random friend of the Bon Air attorney.

My son, the shockingly opinionated young musician from Nashville.

My daughter, the gifted educator from South Carolina.

Some random friend of my son.

Another knucklehead from the youth group, who played college football.

Yet another youth group knucklehead, this one an architect, and brand spanking New father.

A CFO of a big hospital in Atlanta.

A new friend from church, wife and mother of two girls.

Hard working, African-American single dad who should have his own show on ESPN.

Some random friend of hard working African-American dad.

A Unitarian, Universalist minister and gifted composer/musician from Nashville.

My daughter's first college roommate, a hard working spitfire of a single mom raising an adorable daughter in Florida.

Yet another knucklehead from the old youth group(an inexhaustible supply), this one an unashamed Indians fan.

Young entrepreneur and accomplished businessman and former student of mine who is still primarily a knucklehead.

A financial software rep who claims to root for the Tenneesse Vols and eats barbecue like it's his job.

Recent college graduate and and adorable former neighbor of mine.

We went back and forth on the hot button subject of what to do about confederate statues in the United States. It went on and on for most of the day. We didn't agree. We came to no conclusions. Although I personally did hear some interesting ideas, I'm not sure any of us changed anyone's mind. So, what was so "cool and rare" about it? I'll tell you what was so cool and rare. The entire debate was carried off with no name calling, no insults, and large doses of respect. In America in 2017, this is no small accomplishment.

I look around at my country and I see a great unraveling, a vanishing civility. In our public discourse, we start from an assumption of bad faith, then everything becomes an accusation competition, and swiftly descends into dark places. I start these conversations on Facebook because I believe now, more than ever, that we can and we must do better than that. At one point in the discussion yesterday, a couple or three participants went from hearty disagreement to jokingly debating the merits of tacos vs. burritos without missing a beat. It was awesome.

So, it can be done. Every disagreement doesn't have to collapse under the weight of suspicion and anger. We can listen to someone on the other side of an issue respectfully, really listen, with our whole hearts. If nothing else we come away with a better understanding of their arguments.

At a time in our country's history when we seem to be governed by a middle schooler, it is critical that the rest of us learn how to engage each other like fully formed adults, even and especially when we disagree.

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Heritage Argument

A brief follow up to yesterday's post about statues...

One argument I hear a lot from staunch supporters of the "statue status quo" is the notion that the Civil War and its rememberance is about honoring heritage.  It's about heritage, not hate, the slogan goes. This idea has some appeal for me. If the notion of heritage refers to the traditions, achievements and beliefs which are part of the history of a nation, then yes, I am all for holding my heritage in high regard. My own family's heritage is a perfect example of a history that I want to make sure gets immortalized for future generations of Dunnevant's yet unborn. There is much to be proud of in my family's name.

But the idea of heritage doesn't just highlight the best moments of history, it refers to all of the qualities, traditions and features of life from our past. This is where , I think, the heritage argument goes off the rails. Viewing the legacy of the Civil War only as honoring the gallentry and skill of accomplished generals personified by statues is an incomplete picture. A more healthy attitude about our heritage as a nation would also examine the mistakes of our past, the bad ideas, the low moments. The past is, above all else, a teacher. Yes, we look back to the past for inspiration, but we also look back at the past to learn from our mistakes. It doesn't make us weak to admit and examine error. A more faithful retelling of our history would honor our ancestors by telling the whole truth, not just the more romantic slices of that truth.

Further, some of the loudest defenders of the hands off our statues crowd I know are Christians. This is a mystery to me. My faith teaches me that my past isn't something to worship. In fact, often, the past is something that must be overcome. The baggage of the old ways, the old ideas are what holds us back from living in the grace and truth of the gospel. Our greatest loyalties aren't to our earthly heritage, no matter how glorious we might think it is. Our allegiances are to Christ, and to living a life of purpose and character in the here and now with eyes towards the future.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What About The Statues?

My assistant is well known for her blunt, direct assessments. Last Thursday, upon seeing me for the first time after my incident, blurted out, You don't look good! This morning, after a full week's recovery, she once again greeted me with, You don't look good! Some would be put off by such tactless honesty. Not me. Besides, if you dish it out, you've got to be able to take it. She's right though. I look tired, because I am. But, today has been a turning point. I have had no headache, for one thing, which always helps.

Having something scary happen to your health takes an emotional toll every bit as damaging as the physical one. You get reminded of your mortality, and for a few weeks every flutter of the heart, every dropped word churns your stomach in a knot. Before long you have become entirely self-obsessed. It is this self-obsession which is so exhausting. I know it will soon pass. It will dawn on me that not every symptom that I imagine is actually real. I will soon realize that every flutter is not the angel of death. Then, I will feel like myself again, and life can proceed on its way. 

Looking back on the events of the weekend, Charlottesville could not possibly have happened at a worse time for me personally. No one does their best thinking when they don't feel well. So, a very bad, shameful situation in Charlottesville seemed even worse to me, post stroke. I look back on some of the things I wrote and they seem, upon greater reflection, a bit overwrought. I was already wound tight, edgy and nervous from the trauma and new medications. Then I see a bunch of freaking Nazi flags flapping in the breeze up in C-ville, and I went a little crazy. Probably shouldn't have posted the picture of the redneck woman with the 20 gauge slung over her shoulder, along with the snide put down. Maybe I should have backed away from the poorly timed joke at the expense of UVA's football program. After news came of three associated deaths, a clearer head probably wouldn't have posted the First, they came for the Mosquitoes meme.

But, I haven't taken them down. They were mistakes in judgement, but they were honestly made, and I have no desire to whitewash my own history any more than I want to whitewash my country's history. Having said that, I believe there exists lots of room for compromise when it comes to historical statues. I'm for expanding the number of statues that tell a more expanded version of our shared history. Maybe some statues would be more appropriately displayed in a museum, than on a public street. Maybe additional statues should be erected along side Civil War generals, that testify to what that war meant to African-Americans who were in bondage at the outset of that conflict and newly freed after Appomattox. There are ways to address this issue that don't include lawless mobs tearing them down, as if their anger justified the destruction of public property. 

When it comes to this entire statues controversy, I am not an absolutist. Each generation should have some say in how they interpret history. Although I happen to believe that the Monument Avenue statues are astonishingly beautiful works of art, and think that they are a valid record of the fact that our city was, in fact, the former capital of the Confederacy, I also understand how they might be viewed differently by a rather large segment of the city's population. The legacy of the Antebellum south was one of human bondage, the buying and selling of human beings. This is a fact of history that for many Americans is something that can't and shouldn't be celebrated.

 I am conflicted even as I write this. For over my shoulder on the wall behind me is two portraits hung in my library, one of Robert E. Lee and the other of Thomas Stonewall Jackson. I studied each of these men extensively in college and found them to both be fascinating men, complex, and tortured, whose lives were shot through with great tension and contradictions. Jackson, perhaps the finest  tactician in the history of this country, also nearly was kicked out of his Lexington Presbyterian church for teaching a class full of slave children how to read. The ironies were overwhelming. But, I came away from all of that study with a profound respect for each man's character. So their portraits hang in my library. For some of you reading this, you might be nodding in agreement. Others might be scratching your heads. I get it. I understand the tension, and the disagreements that flow from different readings of history.

But, here's the thing. What would I do if I knew that a family of African Americans were coming over for dinner? And suppose that this particular family had just lost a child at the hands of a white supremicist mob. What would I do with the portraits? You know what? I think I would remove them before they showed up. Not because I no longer cared about Lee or Jackson, but because I care much more about the tender feelings of my friends than I could ever care about a couple of dead generals. This is the essence of my position on statues. Let's all be a little less entrenched in our own positions, and more in tune with the point of view of people who might view them in a different light.

Come, let us reason together.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What I Want To Hear From The Pulpit Today

Yesterday will not go into the scrapbook as a red letter day. First, we said goodbye to a couple of thirty-plus year friends who have retired and moved away, then that debacle of racist evil in Charlottesville, and finally Bryce Harper blows out his knee. And this morning, I still have a headache.

So, today I will go to church. While ordinarily I don't like any sort of political opinionating from the pulpit, today I want to hear a word about Charlottesville. For one thing, what happened there yesterday wasn't politics. It wasn't even protest, correctly defined. It was a violent outburst of hatred, of enmity one for another. Those who paraded the grounds of Thomas Jefferson's University carrying Nazi flags weren't making a political statement, they weren't airing legitimate grievances. They were attempting to start a race war. They used the fig leaf of a statue removal as the barest of coverings to gather together and celebrate their hatred. The man who plowed his car into that crowd was not attempting to persuade anyone, he was bent on murder.

So, I want to hear a strong voice from the pulpit this morning calling this assault against my country exactly what it is, and calling us to repentance for our apathy. I don't want to hear any mealy mouth temporizing, no moral equivalence claptrap. The entire sermon doesn't need to be about Charlottesville. The transcendent is more important to me than the temporal. But I'm not interested in having this swept under the rug either. Yes, there is hatred and violence coming from both sides in America. But not yesterday. Not in Charlottesville, Virginia, less than an hour away from my home.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Maybe it's the fact that I've now had a headache for two consecutive days. Maybe it's because I'm still trying to recover from an upsetting physical setback from earlier in the week. Maybe it's because I'm a proud Virginian and can't bare to have this state's reputation dragged through the mud on nationwide television. As I watched it unfold, my first reaction was to make wisecracks on Facebook. It's my default reaction to repulsive ugliness...attempts at humor. But as the day has worn on, humor isn't working and no longer seems appropriate, even for me.

No, the sort of thing that's happening in Charlottesville is something for which I have lost all patience. What follows isn't a fair and balanced accounting of root causes. I'll leave that to more knowledgeable voices. No, this is just me getting a few things off my chest. 

For starters, the instigators of this protest seem to be a conglomeration of aggrieved groups which include white nationalists, KKK members, neo-nazis, white supremacists and others comprising the movement referred to as the alt-right. This is quite a target rich environment for my particular brand of snark, so I will pick one sub-set in this Petri dish of extremism for discussion...the white supremacists.

Full disclosure: I am white, so I feel fairly qualified to opine on the relative merits of my race, although in all honesty, I don't tend to view myself as primarily a person who has a race. If I were trying to describe myself to someone, the modifier white would be way down the list of words that would leap to mind. It would probably wind up like number 16, just before opinionated and right after handsome. But, if someone were to ask me to name some notable contributions made to civilization by my race, I suppose I could come up with a rather impressive list. Shakespeare leaps to mind. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, the guy who cured polio, he was white, I believe. Henry Ford. Thomas Edison. Thomas Jefferson. Galileo. Michelangelo. The Beatles. So, if I were the kind of person who draws their sense of self worth from their racial identity, these examples might give me great pride. I could think...I'm white, so was Michelangelo. That must mean we're like related or something! The only problem with this sort of thinking is that once you start going down the path of race identity, you must confront some uncomfortable truths. Jeffrey Dahmer was white. So was Joseph Stalin. Jack the Ripper? White. Paris Hilton? White. Justin Bieber? About as white as you can get. This race thing turns out to be an extraordinarily mixed bag.

So, if you decide to think that whites are superior as a race, then you have to also think that other races are inferior, which is fine if you spend all day looking at film footage of riots in Baltimore...look at those terrible thugs stealing cans of Pringles while they burn down their own neighborhoods!! But, then you hear Magic by Count Basie. You watch Denzel Washington on the big screen. You read Alexandre Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo, and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. What's a white supremacist to do upon being confronted with such greatness? Of course, the obvious answer is that no self-respecting white supremacist would be caught dead at a Denzel Washington movie, nor would they ever be caught dead reading any book without pictures, and be honest, if you're a white supremacist who happens to be reading this, admit that you're probably right now Googling the name Alexandre Dumas because you had no clue he was black! Don't you feel ashamed of yourself for loving that book??

Seriously now. In 2017, after ten freaking years of Keeping Up With the Kardashians there are still people out there trying to sell white supremacy? 

I've just had it with people who show up at a political rally wearing cheap baseball helmets, dressed in army fatigues, carrying homemade fiberglass shields with shotguns slung over their shoulders claiming to be part of come master race. As far as Charlottesville goes, something tells me I wouldn't be writing this and you wouldn't even have heard about this alleged protest if the counter protesters had just stayed home and ignored them. All these alt-right people want is violence and attention. All the better to feed their persecution complex and paranoia. If nobody showed up at Emancipation Park but them, they wouldn't have had anyone to be violent with...end of story.

But, it is true that we have a long and storied history in this country of putting Nazis in their place, so it's hard to blame those who came out to stand against them. I've just had it. I don't care about turning any of this into a political pissing contest...Did McAuliffe do the right thing? Was Trump harsh enough in his condemnation? That sort of political bean counting is for losers. All I care about if finding the cretin responsible for plowing that car into a crowd of protesters, and locking him up for the rest of his miserable life.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Verbal Errors

Last night, the small group I'm a part of at Hope met at our house. The Bible study was from the 3rd chapter of the book of James, all about the destructive power of the tongue, how the words we speak carry with them great potential for both good and evil. Since earlier this week I had temporarily lost all ability in this area, the topic was especially relevant. It produced a memory from probably twenty years ago...

I was in Atlanta at a Million Dollar Round Table meeting listening to a very wise man give a motivational talk. Among many profound truths he dispensed was this bit about verbal errors, which I will attempt to paraphrase here:

How you say things is often just as important as what you say. Suppose you're talking to your spouse and what you meant to say was, "what's troubling you?"...but what you actually said was, "what's wrong with you?" That's a verbal error that might be tolerable for a newlywed, but ten years into a marriage is inexcusable.

It's interesting that twenty years later, of all the things that this great man said, this paragraph is still etched into my memory. The reason for this is because, as someone who is well known for his hair-trigger wisecracks and speak first, apologize later style, this thoughtful truth resonated. What's troubling you sounds like a question that comes from a place of empathy and concern. What's wrong with you sounds like an accusation. Later the man said that whenever he was about to have any delicate conversation with his wife, he made a habit of rehearsing every sentence in his head before allowing it to come out of his mouth. I would like to say that I have always put this into practice over the last twenty years. Sadly, not true. But it has never been far from my heart. After all, the last thing anyone wants to do is say something hurtful to those we love.

It is a great mystery to me why some things come flying out of my mouth when they do. It's like, sometimes I'll say something and then think, where did that come from? Sometimes it's something really smart and insightful, which is always a shock. But more often than not, it's some ill-chosen phrase with the potential for great harm to its listener. My Dad had a theory about such verbal errors which used to give me pause...What's down in the well, eventually comes up in the bucket! If that's always the case, then my well needs some work. I think it's more a case of just being too anxious to be heard and less willing to listen. If we would just give our thoughts a minute to organize themselves first, we could avoid a world of grief.

So, each of us has a thousand opportunities each day to speak both blessings and curses. Each of us are in a position to make someone's day or ruin it with a word. This is the power of the tongue. Use it wisely.

Good grief! Reading back over this, it sounds an awful lot like a sermon. My apologies. Probably just post-stroke stress disorder or something!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Clam Chowder, Delayed

As the perky African-American girl wheeled my gurney down a long, narrow, largely deserted hallway, I watched the fluorescent lights pass overhead, wondering how I had gotten here. She left me directly under one of the lights, locked the wheel with a foot brake and tapped me on the shoulder...You're up next, honey. The light above had an inlaid cover picture of palm tree leaves against a Carribean blue sky. I remember thinking how the guy who came up with the idea of putting pictures in fluorescent light fixtures was an evil genius...genius for the idea, but evil for making it pictures that made the patient wonder whether he would ever see something so beautiful again. 

This was the fifth of eight tests I was to be administered in a bizarre 24 hours. The sign on the door said, vascular lab 2. Across the hall there was an echo lab 2. I was getting both. Another cheerful nurse joked, Mr. Dunnevant here is getting a twofer today! It has been my experience that medical professionals make the world's worst comedians, but their attempts are so endearing, it doesn't matter. A third woman in a steel blue uniform and a thick accent of unknown origin yanked me into vascular lab 2 unceremoniously. I will be administering this test, Mr. Dunnevant. Have you ever had this procedure before? She was all business. No, I answered. Don't worry, it is entirely painless. Good to hear. 

Quickly, without fanfare, she slapped a cold, slimy probe against the carotid artery of my neck. For what seemed like the hundredth time I got asked the question, So, what brings you to us today, Mr. Dunnevant? I began my well rehearsed answer...Well, about 5:30 yesterday afternoon I got home from a workout at the gym, suddenly for about five minutes I was unable to speak. I knew what I was trying to say, but just couldn't say the words...not garbled words or nonsense words, rather, no words at all. After five minutes, I was fine. My wife freaked out and probably overreacted by insisting on taking me to the ER last night...and now, here I am.

My coldly efficient medical professional, clearly in the early stages of developing her bedside manner, was having none of it. You're wife did not freak out, she made very wise decision. Sounds like you had a stroke.

No, no, the ER doctor said it was probably just a TIA, not a real stroke.

Did he now? 

Then it was on to echo lab 2 with its own slimy probe. I was growing weary of listening to the static sound of my own heartbeat and was releaved to be wheeled back to my room through the labyrinth of cold hallways and clunky elevators which is Henrico Doctor's Hospital. The results of each battery of tests were negative, making me more and more annoyed that I had allowed my wife to win the argument about coming to get checked out. In my mind I was calculating how much all of this modern medical technological advancement was going to cost me. By the time these eight tests were done, I was going to be presented with one of those insane bills that infuriate ordinary people. One baby aspirin, 81 mg...$28.

I was having a hard time processing the idea that it was even possible that I might have had a stroke. Strokes are things that happen to old people. Sick people. And yet, if true, I was about to add stroke to open heart surgery at the top of the list of medical conditions I've experienced prior to my 60th birthday. This is the sort of thing that might strip a person of their self confident optimism, if they're not careful. This is what I get for watching my weight and working out four times a week for most of my life? Not possible.

I had convinced myself shortly after my five minute "incident" that it was just one of those senior moments that everyone over the age of say 50 gets from time to time. We stumble around for words sometimes, that's all. Like when you suddenly, momentarily can't recall your child's name, or you can't remember the name of the place you had dinner a couple of nights ago, or what you had for breakfast this morning. The medical term is brain fart, I believe. And now, with each test result coming in negative, my diagnosis seemed correct. So I privately started to steam at all of the bother, fuss and expense.

The last test of the day would be the MRI of my brain, whereby I would be slid inside a giant tube, instructed to lay perfectly still for twenty minutes and almost immediately be attacked by a phalanx of killer attack ants laying waste to the inside of my nose. All the while these ants were busy brushing my nasal hair with tiny peacock feathers, another army of construction workers began pounding on the side of my head with a thousand jackhammers. As I lay there I recalled seeing the name Siemens emblazoned across the entrance of the machine. I thought, leave it to the Germans to have manufactured such a contraption. Then I thought of clam chowder. Pam was to have made homemade clam chowder last night for dinner. But I had to lapse into my Harpo Marx impersonation, and now I'm having an MRI. Funny how quickly things can change.

As they wheeled me back upstairs, I thought of Pam, alone in my room, and what she must have been thinking. My wife, generally speaking, is a glass half full sort of gal, so maybe she was searching for the silver lining. Of all of the bodily functions that her husband might lose to a stroke, speech clearly had an upside. She must have been dreaming about what it might be like not to have a husband who might at any moment blurt out something entirely inappropriate. What would it be like not to have to worry about your husband embarrassing you by saying something that, while perhaps being true, still should never be said out loud? What a relief it would be not to have to listen to another baseball story, political diatribe or horrible pun! Always look on the bright side, that's my wife.

When the results of the MRI came in, the news was delivered by a white-coated Neurologist, complete with the obligatory stethoscope dangling from his neck...So, the MRI confirms several acute infarctions in the front left lobe of the brain, all in a limited area and all recent indicating a stroke.

After this sentence pierced the air, he was all encouragement, citing all of my positive risk factors, talking about starting me on a couple of medicines that would fix me right up. But all I heard was stroke.

Within a couple of hours of the good doctor's pronouncements, I was back nothing ever happened. I finally got my clam chowder. It was delicious.

Soon enough, I will get over this. By the time I'm in Maine, this will all be a distant memory. But for now, it's still fresh. Every time I have struggled over a word the past couple of days, my heart has skipped a beat, but this too will pass. We human beings have a remarkable ability to cast out bad memories, to blot out scary things. I will with this. In a week I can resume my gym workouts, and I will with a vengeance. Before you know it, there will be no more thoughts about strokes, no more obsessing over dropped words or mangled phrases. 

But, for'll have to give me a few days to get over a weird 24 hours.