Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Adding Up

They say it’s my birthday. Well, happy birthday to me.

Gee-wiz, I gotta admit: the last few birthdays have been let downs. I’m starting to see why large parties on your fiftieth birthday might feel like a horrible exercise in social graces and personal hells. The luster and novelty of the whole birthday thing has worn off – partly because I can’t find any toy or experience to make this day stand out from the rest of the year. Use to be, I’d get all fired up and excited about the prospect of scoring some great new video game or dinner out. Unfortunately, by this time in my life I’ve had enough birthdays to realize they’re just one of many … nothing to get too hurried and bothered about. Besides, I’ve also moved beyond any of the birthdays that have any social value or benefits such as driving, gambling, being drafted or getting lower rates on insurance. I guess the next one to shoot for is AARP.

Part of the thrill of childhood birthdays is all your friends and family are there on your big day. Everybody has the chance to gather with you and see you blow out the candles and open gifts. Well, quite frankly, when you grow up that just isn’t a reality anymore. All those friends and family get going in their own paths, and so birthdays have this incredible power to remind you of community and your growing separation from the nostalgia that was. Call it the Wonder Years affect; I can almost hear some narrator in my head lamenting my fifteenth birthday as the kids filed out of my house and into the dark suburban night. He is saying something like, “I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last birthday where we were all together. That next year, my sister would go off to college, my stepfather would lose his life, and friends I had since elementary would start running with different crowds. From that point on, it was more like blowing candles out one by one, and each year it took a little more breath to get through the next.”

Anna asked me what I hoped I would get for my birthday, and I deadpanned back, “something I’ve probably already lost like ignorance.” Thankfully, though, she had the sense to get me something I like. She got me an IU sweatshirt so come November I can efficiently eliminate the hospitality and care this community has shown me. I’ve danced delicately around a few inquiries about my basketball partisanship, but I think it will be too difficult to hide when the associate pastor is seen wearing Cream and Crimson come hardwood time.

Anna also got me the latest cd in Paul Simon’s varied and rich music career. Over time, I’ve all but accumulated his life’s work. I like him because he’s a storyteller, not just a musician, but whereas he use to do works representing whole lands or cultures (like Rhythm of the Saints or Graceland) he now seems to be focusing on domestic affairs and personal/existential struggles. His last cd was something of a mid-life, over-the-hill-and-looking-back compilation. Consequently, his lyrics have lost some of their beauty or luster – being replaced by frankness. He seems to me a poet trying to hit the mark of life’s beauty even in the mundane and ordinary, but he’s also started to embrace the absurd as part of his art – like Marlon Brando walking around in The Godfather with an orange in his mouth just before he dies as if to say sometimes life is silly or unexplainable …

Or maybe Brando and Simon tried to show that sometimes the most complicated of things exists in unison with the most simple. If that’s the case, then that makes me feel better about my birthday because it seems that isn’t so much about big days and little days anymore, nor about good days and bad days. When life gathers enough history, days are days – not much worse than others and not much better either. That’s something Paul Simon has likely sung about, and, in fact, I can hear in my mind one of his recent ballads …

“Man, you’re old … getting old … getting old.” So it goes. Well, happy birthday to me.


Thursday, July 20, 2006


Wyatt is incredibly adorable. That is certain. Especially now that he’s begun laughing a whole body laugh – eyes squint, limbs tremble, mouth opens and out comes crackles and the sounds a happy asthmatic might make. Plus, whenever something new grabs his attention or a new face enters his periphery, he still raises his eyebrows somewhere past his forehead and his eyes seem to be witnessing the second coming of Christ (as demonstrated in the picture above). I can’t stress enough how cute he is, and how much joy there is every new day resulting from his presence.

Yet (and I know this will probably need to be stricken from Wyatt’s psychological makeup as soon as I say it), I can’t help but think he is starting to look like Darth Vader did when Luke took off his helmet at the end of “The Return of the Jedi.” Stick with me here.

First of all, Wyatt’s hair is beginning to fall out, and although we can’t find any large clumps at the bottom of his crib we wouldn’t be surprised if some hair fairy were descending upon Wyatt in his sleep and extracting handfuls. Secondly, his head now appears quite large (like Vader’s) in relation to his overall body. And when you look at him from certain angles he appears to be 95% cheeks and forehead and 5% eyes, nose, mouth and chin, which is about how I remember Vader looking. Finally, he has delivered his first self-inflicted wound to his face via his fingernails. Although his last disfiguration is certainly to be blamed on poor parenting I plead ignorance. Whoever knew babies’ fingernails grew so fast! I have horrible visions of Wyatt ending up in some Guiness Book of World Records with his nails curling like seasoned French fries from his fingertips.

There, I’ve said it. I’m a terrible, awful, downright insensitive father. But, again, and I cannot stress this enough: Wyatt is incredibly adorable.

He – the little stinker – had a darn good time during his first church service at First Presbyterian Church of Owensboro. It began during the call to worship when he proceeded to empty his bowels and proclaim with his own toots and horns that the Lord’s Day was upon us. I didn’t hear it since I was up front as the liturgist, but Anna (who was holding Wyatt in the back pew) said many heads turned in shock and awe. He then followed his triumphant blast by speaking in tongues (and shrieks) during the sermon, which forced Anna out into the narthex of the church much to her dismay and our shared embarrassment.

Nonetheless, the church was more than glad to welcome and receive Anna, Wyatt and I, and we enjoyed a reception in our honor after the service this past Sunday. As Anna said later that day, it feels tremendous to be a part of a church family again, even if it has taken us a while to find ourselves located. For the past two weeks, members of the church have been bringing us dinner every evening, which has been a huge demonstration of their care for us. It has also provided a great opportunity to sample fourteen different varieties of green beans as that is the vegetable of choice come summer in Kentucky.

I began working at the church this past week – mostly setting up my office and conversing with the head pastor where the church has been and where it is going. A lot of my energy has been spent learning all the activities of the congregation while trying to remember names and programs and properly locate them on my mental map. It is surprisingly exhausting and difficult – especially since Sunday is really the only day to see the whole congregation in action. I keep telling myself to maintain a steady pace. It will come.

As evidenced by the lapse in blogs, our family life is just now returning to places where we can breathe again. I have found myself bouncing an image or reflection around in my mind that is appropriate for these last few months. I will share it as a way to briefly sum up many things: our move, learning to live with Wyatt, starting a new job.

The image derives itself from my time on lakes growing up. At some point I recall being out on a lake, swimming by the side of a boat. As a dare or as an act of stupidity, I was challenged to take a deep breath, submerge myself into the dark lake water, and swim under the boat - from one side to the other. (It is similar to the scene from “The Abyss” where Ed Harris is forced to travel from air pocket to air pocket to save a life.) Submersing myself beneath the boat was an act full of desperation – desperation fueled by the cost and risk. And while those above the water could not see me struggle or strain, the pressures and terror were very real. The journey from one “breathable” region to another was brief yet seemingly forever, and the angst produced from what could go wrong was what also led to such great relief at finally making it to the other side, which I thankfully always did.

In many ways, these last couple months have felt like “plunge” experiences - leaving comfortable, hospitable confines only to disappear beneath the surface of relationships and communities and then appear anew on the other side.

Thankfully, we’ve made it to the other side … or at least are well on our way to making it to the other side. The more we emerge, the more we shall breathe and exult over our safety in travels. And, hopefully, the more we shall blog …