Blood on the Carpet

September 9th, 2022

I got up at 3:00 AM. I couldn’t sleep. I got up and went to the kitchen to make a warm bottle of oat milk for our little grandson, Asher, in case he woke up hungry. I turned on a light and I saw one of our dogs lying on the living room carpet. Sara stirred, and then she staggered around the room in confusion. She looked rough, and she moved haltingly.

Sara is eighteen years old. She is a terrier/dachshund mix. We got her at the Humane Society ages ago. Our daughter, Hannah, picked her out. While we were getting the paperwork completed to adopt Sara, Hannah stood in front of her cage to keep other visitors from looking at the dog. Hannah took care of Sara, well, most of the time. Sara was wound tight when she was young. She had that little dog edginess. She was a beautiful animal, jet black in color.

When Sara got up from the floor this morning, I noticed dark markings on the carpet. I looked closer. They were blood stains. I thought to myself,

“Now, what the fuck?”

Sara had been having some difficulties recently. The years were taking their toll. A couple days ago, my wife noted that Sara’s doggy bed stank. It did. Karin bought a new bed for Sara, and I threw away the old one. When I picked it up off the floor, I found that it was soaked with urine (as was the carpet). Sara hadn’t been getting up to pee. She wasn’t hardly eating anything either. Sara was struggling to move around, and she was obviously blind. I don’t think she could hear very well anymore either. Her black fur had changed color over time. Sara’s face was almost completely white.

Sara irritated me at times. Because of her disabilities, she was often underfoot. More than once, she almost tripped me. I remember losing my temper, and yelling,

“Goddamn stupid fucking dog!”, as I shoved her out of the way. I felt bad as soon as I said that, but the damage was done. She was scared of me.

It took me a while, but I finally noticed that Sara had blood on her face just below her right eye. The wound was oozing slightly, and Sara was occasionally rubbing her muzzle on the floor to wipe off the blood. I kept an eye on her, and I waited until Karin and Asher woke up before I attempted to take Sara to the vet.

I tried to go to our regular veterinarian, but I was told to call the ER at a local animal hospital. I did, and the lady at the ER told me to bring Sara to them. Karin planned on going to spend time with her knitting group, so I took Asher along with Sara and me to the hospital. I figured that Asher could look at the other pets while Sara was examined.

It was the usual kind of ER visit. Fill out forms and wait, and wait, and wait.

Eventually, Asher and I were taken into a small room to consult with the vet. The veterinarian was a sturdy-looking woman with a soft voice and a no-nonsense manner. She explained to me that Sara, probably due to her blindness, had bumped into something and cut her lower eyelid, making her right eye bloody. The vet mentioned that Sara had a full cataract on that eye. Then she asked me,

“Did you notice the blood inside of her left eye?”

“No.”

She went on, “Sara has blood inside of that eye. That could be from high blood pressure or cancer. The left eye also protrudes somewhat, and that could indicate a mass behind the eye that is pushing it forward.”

We talked about Sara’s current struggles to do much of anything on her own. The doctor asked me,

“Are you primarily concerned about her quality of life?”

I did not answer that directly. I told the doctor that Sara was old, very old.

She asked me the question again, and I babbled a bit more.

The doctor asked me a third time, “Are you concerned about Sara’s quality of life?”

“Yes.”

She talked about euthanasia without ever once using the word. She finally told me,

“We could do her a kindness by ending her suffering. This is something I can do for my patients that regular doctors cannot do for theirs.”

I asked her, “And how do we go about providing this kindness?’

The vet described the procedure. It was really quite simple. I guess killing can be that way. She emphasized that the death would be quick and painless.

I told her that I had to call my wife first. She told me to take my time.

I called Karin. She concurred with the decision to put Sara down. I told the vet.

Asher and I sat in a little room especially designed for euthanasia. Asher, being a toddler, wanted to look at everything. A lady came in to take care of the billing. She also wanted to know if I wanted to take home the remains. I told her “No”. As Asher and I waited, I quietly cried.

Eventually, the vet came in with Sara. She asked me,

“Have ever witnessed a euthanasia before?”

“No, but there is first time for everything.”

“Would like some more time with Sara?”

“No, do it.”

I remembered another dog we had years ago. He was part beagle. He was named Francis. Francis was a strong dog, but dumb as a bag of hammers. He ran into the street one day and got hit by a truck. I watched the light go out of his eyes as he died.

Sara was on a gurney. She was calm. I had Asher pet Sara. Then I placed my hand on Sara’s neck and silently asked her to forgive me. The doctor gave Sara and intravenous sedative. Sara visibly relaxed. Then the vet injected her with the poison. I noticed no difference with Sara. The doctor checked the dog for a heartbeat. Then she nodded and quietly said,

“She’s gone.”

“Okay.”

How quickly a soul departs.

The vet asked again, “Do want more time with her?”

“No, I need to take this little boy back home.”

“Please drive safely.”

“I will.”

I thanked the doctor for doing good work.

Asher and I are home again.

There are still traces of blood on the carpet.

Autumn

September 8th, 2022

The sun is just coming up. It’s cool outside. It will get hot as the morning progresses, but right now it’s sweatshirt weather. Maybe I shouldn’t use the term “hot”. It’s “hot” in Texas and California. Here it will be more like “unseasonably warm”. People will be wearing t-shirts and shorts by noon. Some of them will probably still be wearing those come November. Residents of Wisconsin are not easily affected by the cold.

Because it is warm now does not mean that we will have a mild winter. Climate change pushes conditions to extremes. In a few months the jet stream will dip south, and a polar vortex will land on our part of the country. Climate change equals hot summers and bitterly cold winters. The brief period of fall weather we experience will probably announce another taste of the Ice Age around here.

Despite the warm temperatures, I can discern the warning signs of autumn. There is a silver maple down the street that already has flashes of red in its leaves. The locust that towers over everything in our backyard has some yellow leaves. The linden has shed many of its leaves, and they litter the ground beneath it. It has been dry, and the trees are stressed from lack of water. They will all be changing color soon.

The golden rod is in full bloom, covered with tiny yellow blossoms. Golden rod is the last hurrah for flowers here. The branches of the apple tree bend almost to ground burdened with their fruit. The bees are busy flitting from one plant to the next, seeking blossoms while there are some to be had. Karin’s hummingbird feeder is desolate. The little birds have all left. Dragonflies zoom through the air like tiny jet fighters. They are in a hurry to do something, what I don’t know.

The sun rises later and sets earlier. The darkness is slowly gathering. It creeps up on me. A few weeks ago, I would get up at 5:00 to prepare breakfast for our little grandson, Asher. I could do it without turning on any lights. No more. The stars are out now when I drag myself out of bed, and that depresses me.

There is a sense of fatigue in the world around me. It is melancholy in a way. Nature is in a frenzy to prepare for the coming cold, and it will end the season exhausted.

I feel tired too.

You Pay for It Somehow

August 31st, 2022

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” -Milton Friedman

Several years ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with my oldest son, Hans. He was having a lively conversation about college tuition with a man from Austin, Texas. The man was adamant that the government should pay for students to attend universities and other schools. Hans looked at the guy, and said,

“You know, there already is a government program to pay for a young person’s college tuition.”

The man asked Hans, “Really, what is it?”

Hans smiled and replied, “It’s called: ‘Join the Army’. “

Hans is a combat vet. He was deployed to Iraq in 2011. Hans earned government-funded education benefits. So far, he has not used those benefits, but he could go to a tech school or a college and have the feds pay for it. One of the reasons that he joined the military back in 2009 was to have the opportunity to get a higher education. That was part of the deal.

If Hans ever does go to school again, he will have no debt.

I went to West Point. I graduated in 1980. To go there, I sold my soul to the Army for five years. Actually, I rented my soul to the military, but you know what I mean. When I was a cadet, we used to joke that we were getting a $100,000 education shoved up our ass a nickel at a time. I look at it this way: going to USMA was like attending an Ivy League college and doing time simultaneously. It was not an entirely pleasant experience, but I got my degree.

I had no college debt.

There are all sorts of conflicting opinions now about President Biden forgiving student loan debt to millions of people at the cost of probably half a trillion dollars. Is it a smart idea to cut these people a break? Is it fair to the folks who did not go to college? Is it good for the economy to have so many graduates start their adult lives deep in debt?

I don’t have answers to those questions. All I know is that there are people who found other ways to become educated, and gainfully employed.

Our youngest son, Stefan, went to a tech school to study welding. He got a certification and was accepted as an apprentice in the Ironworkers Union. After five years of doing grunt work and getting trained on the job, he became a journeyman in the union, and he got a bachelor’s degree out of the bargain. Stefan has excellent benefits. He makes more than $40 an hour straight time. He bitches about his work (it’s very physically demanding), but he would never do anything else. Stefan figures that he can retire comfortably by the time he is in his fifties. He is set.

Stefan has no college debt. None. Zero.

The trades are starving for young people. This country desperately needs ironworkers, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians. These are highly skilled jobs. However, we keep telling young people to go to college, take out loans, and rack up debt.

Why?

My wife grew up in Germany. The Germans pay for students to go to college. At least they did that when my wife was young. Karin was trained as a teacher. The German government paid for her education. The catch was that the German government selected who went to a university. The government determined early on which students had the aptitude for a higher education. Only young people with high grades went on to be teachers, lawyers, and other professionals. Some of the students with lower grades wound up in the trades, and some went to work in factories.

If the government, any government, pays for something, they will decide who gets the benefit. We could have the U.S. government pay for all higher education, but then the government would control all of it.

You pay for it, one way or another.

Scars and Tattoos

August 28th, 2022

Our son, Stefan, is getting another tattoo today. I don’t why. I don’t really understand his interest in tattoos. Perhaps it is a generational thing. My wife and I don’t have any tattoos, but all of our kids do.

I suppose it a means of self-expression, of a rather permanent sort. A person with a tattoo shows the outer world part of their inner world. Stefan likes tattoos of animals. Once again, I’m not sure why. There is something inside of him that finds an outlet with a tattoo. It may be something that he can’t even explain in words. Somehow the tattoos tell a story.

Is a tattoo necessary for a person to be recognized as a unique individual? Can others tell who we are without a picture or without words?

I have a friend who is a photographer. She does excellent work, but she is still trying to perfect her skills. She explained to me that she would be soon enrolling in a class on portrait photography, and that she wanted to take a picture of me for her portfolio. I immediately asked her,

“Why?”

She replied, “You have an interesting story, and your face tells that story.”

Can a face tell a story?

The mathematician, Jacob Bronowski, discussed how humans perceive reality in his PBS series, “The Ascent of Man”. In one episode, he said this:

“I am listening to a blind woman as she runs her fingertips over the face of a man she senses for the first time, thinking aloud. ‘I would say that he is elderly. I think, obviously, that he is not English. He has a rounder face than most English people. And I should say that he is probably Continental, if not Eastern-Continental. The lines in his face would be lines of possible agony. I thought at first, they were scars. It is not a happy face.’ “

The old man described by the woman was named Stephan Borgrajewicz. He was born in Poland, like Bronowski was. The man had been a prisoner in a concentration camp during WWII. The blind woman perceived him more clearly and in greater detail than most seeing persons could.

Bronowski’s comments also made me think about scars. Thirteen years ago, my right leg was crushed by a forklift at work. All the bones in my foot and ankle were shattered. The surgeon took two and a half hours to put the jigsaw puzzle back together. I have numerous scars on my leg. They are a constant reminder of that accident, and they also remind me of how lucky I am to be walking again. The scars tell a story.

Several years ago, I went to sweat lodge in Montana with a group of Native Americans. One of them, Chief Kindness, like me, was from Wisconsin. He took off his shirt and I could the rough, ragged scars on his back and chest. They were from his participation in the sun dance. It made me wince to even look at his scars. However, they told me something about the man. They told me that he had courage, fortitude, and a deep spirituality. They told a story.

My wife and I care for our grandson, Asher. Asher’s name means “Happy” in Hebrew. After Asher’s birth, his mother wanted to get a tattoo of his name on her arm. I asked my rabbi about it. He told me about the exact spelling in Hebrew, and the young woman got the tattoo. The people I know at the synagogue had conflicting feelings about the tattoo. On one hand, they thought it was a sign of the mother’s love for her child. On the other hand, it was a reminder to some of them of the Holocaust and how Jews were forcibly tattooed in the camps.

The tattoo tells a story, maybe more than one.

Asher…

Up and Down and Up and Down

August 22nd, 2022

Karin was sick yesterday. She isn’t sick often, but when she is, it means that I need to take care of our grandson, Asher, until she is well again. Asher is a wonderful little boy, but he’s a toddler and a toddler requires constant supervision. Karin and I are Asher’s legal guardians, so we have him 24/7. Usually, Karin and I split up the time needed to watch over the boy. However, when one of us is ailing, then the other has to take up the slack. That’s what I did for most of the weekend.

Karin had hoped to be well enough yesterday to go to church with me. That didn’t happen. She asked me if I could take Asher with me when I went to Mass, so she could rest. I told her that I would care for him.

Yesterday was my turn to serve as lector at the Mass. For those who don’t know, a lector is a person who proclaims the Scripture readings to the congregation during a Catholic service. The lector stands at the ambo near the altar and reads the Scripture passages out loud. The ambo is a Catholic name for a podium. Generally, when I serve as lector, Karin is at Mass with me, and she can handle Asher while I do my job. Yesterday I needed to both read the Scriptures and keep an eye on the lad.

I have been in this situation before. Several months ago, Karin was not with me, and I had to simultaneously watch Asher and perform my religious duties. I took Asher with me up to the ambo and proclaimed the readings to the assembly. It worked out pretty well. I think that people paid more attention when I had the boy in my arms.

When I took Asher to church, I also took along his diaper bag. The term “diaper bag” is a bit of a misnomer. There is a lot more than just diapers in the bag. I had it packed full of diapers, baby wipes, ointment, toys, food, and an extra set of clothes. If you have ever raised children, you understand what I mean. If you have not dealt with the needs of little kids, then be aware that, when a child goes some place, the adult caregiver has to bring along everything that little person might possibly need. Be ready for anything.

When we got to the church, Asher and I scoped out the lectionary on the podium to make sure I had the pages turned to the correct readings. The ambo and the altar are set on a raised platform. A person needs to walk up two steps to get to the top of the platform. Asher loves to walk up and down steps. That is currently his passion. Asher demanded that I help him to navigate the stairs. He went up and down and up and down and up and down. Jessica, the choir director chatted with me while Asher did his aerobics. Jessica loves Asher. She is always so pleased when we bring him to church.

Mass started with a procession from the back of the church up to the altar. The two young altar servers led the way as they carried lit candles. Then the lector, me, walked behind them holding up the Book of the Gospels. Bringing up the rear was the priest, Father Michael. My task was complicated by the fact that, besides carrying the Gospels, I had to carry Asher. I had Asher in my right arm and the book in my left. Asher was significantly bigger and heavier since the last time I had to do this. We managed to make it up to the altar, and back to our pew, but I was tired when we got there.

The first reading was from the Prophet Isaiah. I carried Asher with me to the ambo. He gazed out at the crowd. They were happy to see him up there. The population attending Mass was old. At least half of the folks in church were over sixty. That’s pretty standard. They were thrilled to see a child at the liturgy. It gave them hope that the Church won’t die along with them.

Asher and I took a break after I read from Isaiah. Jessica and the choir chanted the psalms. Asher snacked on some blueberries and Cheerios. He likes to eat in church. Actually, he likes to eat anywhere, but somehow, he always gets hungry when we are at Mass. We try to be ready for that.

A baptism also took place during the Mass. That is a relatively rare event. There are more funerals than baptisms these days. Asher is not baptized, not yet anyway. Karin and I would be within our rights to have the boy christened, but we want his mom to be on board with the idea. Some people look at a christening as festive family tradition. It can be that. We see it in a more serious sense. If a boy or girl is to be baptized, then somebody needs to nurture the spiritual development of the child. Somebody needs to commit to raising the child in the faith. It’s hard to find people willing to take on that responsibility.

Asher and I returned to the ambo for the second reading. It was a short passage from the Letter to the Hebrews. Asher got squirrelly as I read to the congregation. He became very interested in the lectionary. I had to read from the book while keeping Asher at bay.

I read, “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord…”

At the same time in a whisper, “Asher, don’t turn the page.”

Then, more loudly, “For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline?”

With urgency, “Asher, leave the book alone!”

We got through it. I finished reading before Asher grabbed at the mike.

The priest read the Gospel passage, and then gave his homily (sermon). Asher and I rested in the pew. Once Father Michael completed the baptismal rite, then we would have to go back up to the ambo to read the Prayers of the Faithful, the petitions of the entire community. Asher was restless in my arms.

I picked up the boy and we once again took our place in front of the congregation. I started reading,

“Let us pray for the Church, that it may…”

Asher started squirming in my right arm. He wanted to get down and he was relentless.

I can’t focus on two things at once. Perhaps other people can. I had to put Asher down to concentrate on the saying the prayers. Asher decided that it was the proper time to go up and down the steps. Go for it.

Jessica got up from her seat at the piano and went to Asher as I spoke to the assembly. She gently helped Asher go up and down and up and down. I finished the petitions and turned toward Father Michael. He was red in the face and laughing. I was okay with that.

Asher and I returned to our pew. I sighed. Then I smelled something foul. I checked the back of Asher’s diaper. Yep, he was packing a load in there.

They were getting ready to pray the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy). I grabbed the diaper bag and the boy. We went to the restroom. I laid him down. Asher was not loving it. He was a bit of a mess. As I cleaned him up, an usher came to take a piss. He looked and said,

“I see you got your hands full.”

“Uh, yeah”, I replied without looking up from my work.

“Are you training him to be a future lector?”

“That’s not my choice. At least, he’s in church.”

“Amen to that.”

Asher and I got back to the sanctuary in time to line up for communion. I had a pyx with me to bring back the Eucharist for Karin. The minister gave me the host, and she blessed Asher.

After Mass, we packed up. Asher and I were both tired. He slept in the car on the way home. I waited until we arrived.

Taking Another’s Place

August 17th, 2022

I’ve been thinking about my paternal grandfather. I am trying to remember what he was like. He died in October of 1971 at the age of sixty-seven. I was thirteen when he passed away. After all these years, it is nearly impossible to recall events from our time together. Maybe those specific moments aren’t so important. Maybe the overall impressions are what matter.

What I mostly remember is a collage of images and feelings. These memories are disjointed and seemingly random. They flash into my mind and then they disappear again. I don’t even try to make sense of them. They just are.

My grandparents lived within walking distance of our house. We would visit with them at least once a week. My dad’s folks lived in a small bungalow, a house they had bult back in 1928. They had no garage, mostly because my grandpa never owned a car. He either took the bus or walked everywhere he went.

I remember, when we would visit my grandpa in the evening, that he would often be sitting in his armchair, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt (the old “wife-beater” style). He almost always had an open beer and a lit cigar next to him. The beer came in a brown bottle that was part of case he had bought. Back in those days, all beer bottles were returnable. When a person purchased a case of beer, they just swapped out the twenty-four empty bottles for full ones. He smoked in the house. In those days everyone did that. There was kind of a bluish fog around him. I still remember the scent of the cigar smoke and the smell of the beer. He had an ashtray on a stand, and that is where the smoldering cigar rested when he wasn’t puffing on it. He usually only smoked one while we were there. He made them last.

My grandfather was an immigrant and the child of immigrants. He was born in Slovenia (then part of Austria-Hungary). He had only a minimal amount of formal education. His parents were poor, and he spent his whole life as part of the working class. He raised his own family during the Great Depression, and he was usually either laid off or on strike. He struggled. They all struggled.

My grandfather worked in a foundry. His work was physically demanding, and he was exhausted after his shift. I’ve been in foundries. They are without exception hot, dirty, and dangerous. Foundries were and are places that devour the lives of men. Those who work there, if they survive, leave battered and broken. That’s how my grandfather left when he retired. He only lived for two years after he stopped working.

My grandpa liked to joke. He played with me and my younger brothers when he wasn’t too tired. He liked to watch boxing on his black and white TV. He would get excited during the matches. We would get excited with him.

I remember one occasion. When I was a small boy, my parents took us tobogganing on a bitterly cold night. Afterward, we visited my grandparents. I was half-frozen. I was shivering and I couldn’t feel my toes. My grandpa put me next to the hear duct and took off my boots and socks. He held me in his arms and rubbed my feet to get the circulation back. His hands were rough, but warm. He was gentle with me. He held me close. I felt safe with him, and I was sleepy. I felt like I could have stayed with him all night, but we went home after that.

Grandpa’s gone, and now I take his place in the scheme of things. My wife and I are raising our little grandson, Asher. He is with us all the time. I am the boy’s grandpa, and I am also his surrogate father. I fill a role that my grandfather never needed to play. I don’t mind doing it. I just wonder what Asher will remember years from now. I wonder what impact I am making on his life.

We have other little grandchildren, Weston and Maddy. They live far away from us, down in Texas. I see them rarely, maybe once or twice a year. I am a stranger to them, and they to me. I wish that I could be a bigger part of their lives, but I don’t know how to do that. It grieves me.

Thirty-eight Years

August 16th, 2022

Last Thursday was our thirty-eighth wedding anniversary. Karin and I didn’t do anything very exciting. We went out for lunch (with Asher). Asher, our toddler grandson, devoured a pile of fries drowning in ketchup. He seemed happy. Karin and I both had beers with our meals. I had a Belgian ale and Karin had a pilsner. We toasted each other’s health. Asher raised in sippy cup in solidarity.

Thirty-eight years feels like a long time. That’s because it is a long time. It raises the question of how Karin and I got this far. The honest answer to that is:

“I don’t know.”

I don’t believe that there is magical way to keep a marriage together. Everybody has a theory about how to do it. Many devout Christians advise couples to pray together, read the Bible together, attend church services together. The idea is that if the two people keep Jesus in their marriage, it will all work out fine. Karin and I participated in a Bible study group for almost a decade. Most everyone in the group was a hardcore Evangelical who held fast to Scripture-based family values. Damn near all of them were divorced. Go figure.

I think one reason that marriages fail is that the parties involved never expect things to get rough. Karin and I had no illusions about that. In fact, at our wedding in her home village of Edelfingen, the old German priest spent his entire sermon talking about the trials and tribulations we would face. He was right.

We have had rough patches. They were mostly my fault. A while ago, Karin casually mentioned that, during one ugly period in our marriage, she seriously considered beating me to death with a frying pan. That doesn’t surprise me.

We had a good friend, Joe, who grew up in a traditional Sicilian family. After his father passed away, Joe’s mother told him,

“I never once considered divorcing your father! Divorce, never! Murder, yes! At least once a week!”

Who say that romance is dead?

Joe also told us a story about his dad. Joe’s parents had a huge celebration for their fortieth wedding anniversary. during the party, Joe’s father raised his glass and proposed a toast. He said,

“I want to thank my darling wife for the best twenty-seven years of my life.”

She caught on.

A couple can work through the hard times. The point is that the two people have to actually do the work. That requires self-sacrifice. That requires loving and forgiving the other person each and every day. It’s difficult.

People change. I suspect that some folks fall in love with a person, and they somehow expect the person to remain the same. Nothing remains the same. Staying in love with a partner is like shooting at a moving target. The two people grow together, or they grow apart. That’s just how it works.

I asked Karin once why she married me. She replied,

“I fell in love with your soul. Your body wasn’t bad either. “

Karin is not the same woman as she was back in 1984. I’m not the same man. Perhaps, we are in a continuous process of becoming who we are meant to be. It helps me to see that growth in Karin. It helps me if I can see her the way that God sees her. Sometimes I can do that.

I hope that she can see it in me too.

Outrage

August 11th, 2022

I have a reputation as an angry bastard, deservedly so. For most of my life I have been the kind of guy who yells and throws things during an argument. Especially at work, I was known for having a short fuse. I’ve been retired for six years, and people at my former place of employment still tell stories about my outbursts (e.g., I shattered the glass of a copier with the palm of my hand when I was enraged). I am sort of legendary in that way.

I have changed somewhat. I don’t lose my temper nearly as much. I don’t know why I calmed down. Maybe it is partly due to practicing Zen meditation. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Over the years, I have been confronted with a number of stressful situations, and I’ve found that getting upset doesn’t usually help matters. Things that would have made me furious years ago no longer have that effect on me. Getting cut off in traffic? Meh. A loved one in jail? Oh well. Me in jail? Been there, done that. At this point in my life, it takes a lot to get me angry and keep me angry.

So, I find it hard to get irate about political matters. I have been very involved in politics at certain times of my life, and I am still interested in what goes on. However, I can’t really get worked up about it anymore. I used to be active with organizations that were always outraged about something. These groups were constantly having rallies or demonstrating or bitching at their elected representatives. I grew weary of that. Every issue was important with a capital “I”. If everything is important, then nothing really is. There has to be some set of priorities.

As I read the news this week, I saw that the search of Trump’s residence by the FBI is the latest event that was “Important”. Trump lovers see that action purely as a form of political persecution. Those who despise Trump wonder why it took so long for Garland and the DOJ to go after the former president. I yawn.

Politicians and some members of the media thrive on hate and discontent. They want to evoke an intense emotional response. Conflict sells. Any topic that gets people riled up will increase the number of viewers or readers. With any luck, a really controversial situation will even make some money. Hence, the laser-like focus on the Feds invading Mar-a-Lago. It’s all about getting somebody’s attention and then cashing in on it.

I look at it this way: Is there anything I could do or say that could possibly affect the situation with Trump? The answer to that is “no”. Whatever happens next is in the hands of the DOJ and probably the courts. All I can do is watch how things play out.

I will save my moral indignation for the injustices that I might actually be able to change. There aren’t many of them.

After Ten Years

August 6th, 2022

Yesterday I went to the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek to pray. I hadn’t been there for quite a while. I used to sit in the temple and meditate regularly. That doesn’t happen much anymore. Since COVID, and especially since my wife and I became the full-time caregivers for our toddler grandson, Asher, I find it difficult to get away from home and sit in the hall of the gurdwara. I don’t remember exactly when I started praying in the temple, but I know it was more than a decade ago.

I walked into the temple around noontime. There were not many people there. I prefer it like that. I had thought that the gurdwara might be crowded, since yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the shooting that occurred there. I remember what a shock the massacre was for me at the time, but now this sort of mindless killing seems commonplace. Before the white supremacist barged into the temple and blew away six Sikhs, the temple was open to anyone any time. I used to just walk straight into the worship space and have a seat on the floor. I can’t do that anymore.

I knew one of the people who were murdered, Satwant Singh. I didn’t know him well. I only met him once or twice. He was a friendly, outgoing man who welcomed me warmly into the temple. He told me to call him “Sammy”, since nobody seemed to be able to remember “Satwant”. When I heard about the killings that happened at the temple, it wasn’t news of some far-off tragedy. It was close and personal for me.

When I entered the temple yesterday, one of the priests smiled and welcomed me. He’s an old man with a flowing grey beard and dark, friendly eyes. His English is minimal. and my Punjabi is nonexistent. We have known each other for years, but we really don’t know hardly anything about each other. I assume that he must be from Punjab, since most everybody there is. He always makes sure that I get a handful of prashad, the food that is offered to each guest who prays in the temple. I can never leave there without the man ensuring that I eat something.

Shoeless and with my head covered, I sat on the floor in the worship area with my back to the wall. The altar covering was bright orange. The Sikhs use a variety of coverings, each of them in vibrant colors. A woman was reading from their holy book. She had started the recitation of the Arhand Path, something that lasts for 48 hours. The reading sounded like chanting, and I didn’t understand a word of it. No matter. The recitation was soothing, and it helped me to pray. I felt at peace.

I left after half an hour. As I left the meditation hall, I saw a young man who obviously was a visitor. He didn’t look Indian. He was tall and fair, with curly blond hair. He had piercing blue eyes.

He was taking off his sandles and putting on a headscarf. I greeted him. He said hi to me. He asked me why I was there. I told him that I used to come to the temple a lot, but now I couldn’t do that very often. I told him that the temple was a very peaceful place.

The young man was edgy. I could see that in his eyes and hear it in his voice. He said to me,

“Yeah, it’s a peaceful place. It’s a holy place. It’s probably the most holy place in Milwaukee.”

Then he asked me, “Are you going to the vigil tonight?”

“No, I don’t go anywhere in the evening. I help care for my little grandson.”

He asked me, “Did you know any of the people who got killed?”

“I knew one of them, but not very well.”

“What do you think the killer was thinking?”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t there when it happened.”

The man shifted gears and said angrily, “I think that the Bible is all bullshit, you know? My whole family is Lutheran. I think that this Christianity stuff is just something the Roman Empire forced on everybody.”

Then he said, “I’m Scandinavian. Why should I care about the God of Israel?”

I considered telling the young man that I go to a synagogue frequently but thought better of it. It wouldn’t help to tell him I was Catholic either.

He went on, “You know what I like about the Sikhs? The don’t promise anything. They don’t know what happens when you die, so they don’t act like they know.”

I felt like the conversation was going in a bad direction, so I wished the man well. He left me standing near the front door.

I hope that he found peace in the sanctuary. I think that maybe he needs it even more than I do.

Rev. James Cleveland

August 2nd, 2022

We were driving south along I-57, and we were getting close to Cairo and the bridge over the Mississippi River into Missouri. Karin was sitting in back of the car with Asher. Asher was strapped into his child seat and Karin was trying to entertain the boy. I was behind the wheel, listening to some hard-core Gospel music. In particular, I driving to raucous sounds of Reverend James Cleveland and his choir. Good stuff.

I didn’t grow up listening to Black Gospel songs. Far from it. I was raised in a white Catholic family that went to Mass every Sunday at a Croatian church in a working-class neighborhood near Milwaukee. We sang hymns like “Immaculate Mary” and “Hail! Holy Queen Enthroned Above”. I never set foot in a Black church until I was in my forties. I was exposed to Gospel music around that time. It’s an acquired taste.

As I drove through the hills of southern Illinois, I listened to James Cleveland sing about Jesus. He started his songs slow and quiet, and then built up the energy and the volume. By the end of each hymn, the reverend was shouting at the top of his lungs, his voice hoarse and ragged from praising God. I thought about the man who gave me the music recording all those years ago. His name was Mike. I remembered him and I smiled.

Mike worked with me at the trucking company. I was a supervisor. Mike was a driver and a dockworker. Mike was a Black man from Alabama. He was a devout Baptist and a good family man. He put his son through college. We didn’t hit off well at first. Mike thought that I didn’t like him. At that point in my life, I didn’t like anybody, so I wasn’t really picking on him. He saw it as a racial thing.

I remember asking somebody to find Mike so that I could talk to him about a shipment. The guy found Mike. He was in the break room having a coffee. He told the guy I sent to find him,

“Tell Mr. Caucasian I will be right up to talk with him.”

Mike’s religious faith permeated everything he did. He would come back from driving, and we could hear him singing Gospel hymns on his way to the office. He had a good voice. Some people found him annoying, but that never made him turn down the volume.

Mike worked on the loading dock for me during winter. Winters in Wisconsin are brutal, especially for a man from the south. Whatever the weather was outside was what we experienced on the slab. We were often shorthanded, so I had to keep workers on overtime. Nobody wanted to stay on the dock in the freezing cold. I didn’t and Mike sure as hell didn’t.

One particularly frigid morning I let the guys on the shift know that they would have to stick around for a while to load freight. Mike stood a short distance from me and stared for a moment. Then he cried out to me,

“Hey Pharoah! PHAROAH! Set your people free!”

I cut him loose.

Mike could be loud and obnoxious, and he often was. However, he was an intelligent man who asked thoughtful questions. He and I talked about religion. Mike was genuinely interested in my tradition, and I was interested in his. One time he asked,

“Frank, what is with you Catholics and Mary? Why do you pray to Mary? She’s just a woman. Why don’t you pray to God?”

Some questions are difficult to answer. I replied,

“Mike, sometimes, when you are in bad trouble, you want to talk to Mama before you talk to your dad.”

Mike shook his head and laughed.

We eventually got to know each other. I remember one cold January morning. The sun glistened on the snow outside, and the north wind whistled across the dock. Mike and I were standing at the west end talking. I told him about me going to West Point and then becoming an Army helicopter pilot.

Mike looked at me and asked,

“So, why are you here?”

That was a perceptive question. I had often asked myself the same thing.

I shrugged and told him,

“Because God wants us to have this conversation.”

Mike smiled.