29 Jun

Sunflower

A neighbor gave us a sunflower. Not watering it, it quickly died. The weeds surrounding it seemed not to mind the lack of water. Rather, they seemed to flourish.

Man is born with weeds inside him. Such is the price of free will; such is the need for grace. Without a daily dose of grace, the weeds quickly overcome the soul.

10 Jun

Must See TV?

“Without TV, time to spare” in the Philadelphia Inquirer (June 10, 2005).

I’m willing to bet you’ve said it in the last week. Perhaps even this morning. I know I have. And together we’ll say it again next week, telling others – and ourselves – the same sad excuse: “There’s just not enough time.”

The refrain seems to be life’s answer to everything from why we haven’t started that exercise program to why we lost touch with a friend to why we can’t possibly accomplish that dream goal. There’s just not enough time.

Like me, though, you’ve probably discovered a bit more time in your life in the last few weeks. Now that Desperate Housewives, the various renditions of Law & Order, and the rest of the television jetsam have gone on their summer sabbaticals, hours have been put back into our lives. For some, that may be only an hour a week. For others, an hour a night. Sadly, for most, probably much more.

Now that network finale time has come and gone, a void enters the day. It brings with it that feeling deep in all of us that there is something missing – something that needs to be fed, filled, nourished. As reruns begin to enter our living rooms, that void creeps into our lives because so many of us have chosen to fill it in front of the television. We begin to realize that television’s nourishment is only fast food for the soul, and the only living our living rooms have seen has come from reality programming.

Prodded by this respite from “Must See TV,” perhaps now is the time to do some real living. Most of those New Year’s resolutions fell by the wayside months ago. Now is the time to pick them back up and affect some behavioral changes.

Call that distant friend and bring the relationship back to life.

Trade in the e-mail for a pen and drop a loved one a letter.

Contact your elected officials and let them know what’s on your mind.

Learn Spanish.

Pick up that dusty guitar.

Research something that’s always interested you.

Read to your kids. Better yet, write to your kids!

Get involved in the local community.

Learn about different faiths.

Take time to pray or reflect on your life.

Go for a run. Or take a stroll.

These activities open up our hearts and minds, broaden our horizons, and force us to connect with people on a more intimate level. Suddenly there is time to listen, learn and live!

On that evening stroll, perhaps you’ll stumble upon a neighbor doing the very same thing and a friendship will develop. Perhaps that letter to a spouse or parent will remind them how much they mean to you. And so on.

We need to seize the opportunity to make the most of this perceived “bonus” time in our lives. Begin to live by creating new habits. Through repetition, those habits can become rituals, changing our lives and the lives of others in ways immeasurable.

Then again, it is difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. Once that dog is comfortable in front of the television, he doesn’t want to leave. He finds it much easier to follow the drama created on the screen, going outside to do his business only when there is a commercial break.

A challenge, then. Add up the number of shows that you watched faithfully this season and total the hours you spent improving their Neilsen ratings. On the lower average, perhaps that included three dramas, two sitcoms, and one reality show – five hours a week. For most, the number will be much higher. Now that you’ve tabulated how much time you’ve just opened up in your life, do something with it. And whatever that something is, do it consistently. Moreover, do it as if your life depended on it – because it does!

Then, when Bree, Edie, Lynette, Gabrielle and Susan come back on the scene this fall, maybe we’ll be less interested in their desperate lives and more interested in our own.

10 Jun

Starrise

“Starting Point” in the National Catholic Reporter (May 25, 2007).

Sunrises and sunsets get all the attention. And not that they shouldn’t – the burning sky deserves attention. Tonight, however, I glimpsed a “star-rise.”

It was approaching dusk and the sun had disappeared over the horizon. Light still filled the sky, though it became a shade darker with each passing minute.

My daughter climbed up on a bench, then onto the picnic table in the backyard. Then she laid down on her back, her eyes gazing skyward. I joined her, and there we laid on the hard wooden table, taking inventory of the sky.

Bats flew overhead on their nightly insect feast. Light winds blew leaves at the top of the trees. A late bird racing back home before dark.

But not a cloud in the sky. Blue as far as the eye could see. As minutes passed, the blue grew deeper and deeper.

Slowly we began to see faint specs of light at the “end” of the sky. Ever so slowly, like a sunrise in a distant galaxy, the lights grew the slightest bit stronger. It was as if God had a dimmer switch, and turned on the stars with the most patient turn of the knob. Minute by minute the lights brightened. It was as if this mysterious veil of the sky was being lifted, only to reveal a magnificent star field. In fact, the stars have been there all along, watching down but overshadowed by the sun.

It’s reassuring to know that the heavens are always there, if but we take the time to welcome them into our lives.

01 Jun

When the barber is your father

“Locks of Love” in Main Line Today (June 2005).

Perhaps it’s a bit odd, but my brothers and I only ever had one barber: our father. Businessman by day, barber by night, Dad cut the hair of his seven sons like only a father can. Snipping here, shaving there, he played the role of barber with the same ambition behind his role as father – to make his sons look great.

The father of so many children first picked up the clippers in the most unlikely of places – the seminary. As an Augustinian seminarian at Villanova University, he was handed a pair of shears and thus practiced the art of the 1950s crew cut on his classmates. For seven years he shaved those celibate heads, until he decided his real calling in life belonged to a classmate’s sister – my mother. Seven sons later, and he has yet to put down the shears. That’s some 1500 haircuts and counting.

My father’s barbershop was mobile. From kitchen to driveway and from basement to the deck of a rented vacation home at the beach – they all collected their share of clumps of brown and blonde hair. More recently, my father’s barbershop has set up semi-permanent camp in the basement – complete with a vintage barber’s chair he received from a retiring barber in the neighborhood.

Unlike the neighborhood barber, these trips to my father’s chair provided much more than local gossip and the occasional political debate. Rather, they provided special moments in time when a son could spend some one-on-one time with his father. A family of nine makes for a crowded household, and that barbershop afforded anyone who sat in it the benefit of time spent with a truly wonderful human being.

An introvert by nature, and private by family genetics, perhaps I didn’t always make the best use of this time with my father. Even in these silences, though, we grew closer.

And we grew closer in those times when one of us dared to break the silence. Those haircuts gave me the opportunity to hear my father reminisce about his youth, about his friends, his parents, his siblings. In that chair I got to know my father when he wasn’t a father, when he himself was a son, a brother, a student.

Likewise, that chair afforded my father the chance to catch up with his sons. From school to sports, from friends to work, he always prodded ever so gently with his questions. They were questions of concern, though with a careful measure of respect of privacy thrown in as well. Perhaps this led to some awkward moments on the chair – especially during those times when you were due for a haircut just after a major screw-up. Schoolyard fight. Underage drinking. Detention at school. It was at these times that the barber’s chair was especially quiet. Dad would break the silence, though, not with lectures expressing his disappointment. Rather, he shared his concern, prodded a little less gently, and expressed his love.

A trip to the barber may get you a shave and a haircut, but when that barber is your father, the time shared is almost sacramental.

Which is why I dread the day I have to visit a real barbershop. I’ve done it once, when my father was recovering from heart bypass surgery, and I can’t comprehend doing it again.

My trip to that barbershop – at the age of 25 – was sadly comical. I sat there in silence, not knowing what to say. And this stranger cutting my hair, he said nothing either. He simply didn’t know the right questions to ask.

“How’s work going?”

“Any progress with that novel yet?”

“Have any trips coming up?”

He was a complete stranger. I sat there in silence, feeling the part of Benedict Arnold for this act of betrayal. I walked out of that barbershop feeling dirty and down, not clean, refreshed and renewed.

It was a sad reminder of the inevitable. Someday I’ll have to visit a barbershop again – I pray for not some time. When that time arrives, though, I know I’ll find myself in a lonely and mournful chair.

It’s not every day one finds love in the clippings.