Tag Archives: relationships

All by Myself

18380808_1524829434235903_6230348940479299584_n(1)“Language . . . has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” – Paul Tillich

Our kids are grown, and my wife was out of town for the past week.  You do the math.  The house sure was empty.  I read a lot and for some diagnosable reason made the bed each morning and carried on with life’s responsibilities, but since television isn’t my thing and I rarely listen to music, other than the weird times when I carried on a conversation with myself, it sure was quiet around the house.  As they say, too quiet.

I think everyone would agree that loneliness is a terrible thing, but as Tillich noted, the English language makes room for an optimistic approach to time alone and calls it solitude.

Wendell Berry described solitude as the place where “we lose loneliness,” which is just a delightful thought.  He claims it a space where your “inner voices become audible” (tell me about it) and you sense “the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.”  It is a time and place where you reconnect with the inner you.

I don’t always like the inner me, but he deserves notice from time to time, and given the noisiness of this party called life it takes a little work to find the space.  Or your kids grow up and your wife takes a business trip.

When my dad died in 1994, I worried that my mom would be lost every day.  Turned out I was wrong.  When I spoke with her about it, she said, “I’ll be sad from time to time, but I’m not going to let myself be sad all the time.”  And for the eighteen years she had left on this planet, she was right.

Berry concluded that one emerges from solitude more useful to others: “The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.”¹

In solitude, I reflected on solitude and concluded that it deserves incorporation into the rhythm of life.  But I’m sure happy to have my wife home again.

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¹ Wendell Berry, “What Are People For?: Essays” 11 (Counterpoint, 1990).

 

Sisters and Brother

Sisters and Brother

“I, who have no sisters or brothers, look with some degree of innocent envy on those who may be said to be born to friends.” — James Boswell

I grew up in a house with two older sisters.  Well, that’s partly true.  Given our age differences, I guess I grew up about halfway in a house with two older sisters.  They flew the coop before I hit the grand old age of eleven.

Both were so good to me.  I remember sitting on Sandy’s lap and reading my first little book, which totally freaked her out because no one had taught me to read.  (“Mom!!!  Al read a book!!!”). I remember riding in Jacki’s yellow Volkswagen Beetle  and getting to shift gears on our way to the nursing home to visit Miss Martha and Miss Jessie.  The words “sibling rivalry” meant and mean nothing to me from personal experience.  All I have ever known are sisters who love me.  As Boswell jealously observed, I was born to friends.

Sandy and most of her family came to visit this week, and it has been great fun to have them here.  It almost surprised me to notice how much I looked forward to their visit.  It is always great to have people we love come visit, but there must be something extra special about those words brother and sister, at least in our case.

Our parents have been gone for years now, leaving the three of us at the top of separate family trees with both sisters now at the grandmother stage.  It is hard to pinpoint exactly what happened with time, but I think a quote attributed to Clara Ortega says it best: “To the outside world, we all grow old.  But not to brothers and sisters.  We know each other as we always were.  We know each other’s hearts.  We share private family jokes.  We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys.  We live outside the touch of time.”  

That’s it: We live outside the touch of time.  We don’t spend much time together anymore, and as special as it is when we do, time does nothing to or for the relationship.  Our relationship is inviolate.

Me & Pepperdine Law

 

DCF 1.0

Me as a 1L (August 2008)

In October 2007, in the midst of what now seems like a mid-life crisis my wife and I concluded that I would apply to law school, so I went to Barnes & Noble to purchase an LSAT study book and signed up for the December administration and secretly began to imagine where we might end up.

Initially, there were two schools on the list.  Ole Miss was a strong choice for a Mississippi resident, but I also had dreams of Pepperdine two thousand miles away.  I had visited the breathtaking campus once for the Pepperdine Bible Lectures and spent time with my good friend, Mikey, who taught English there, and the idea of law school at Pepperdine was how I imagined it would feel to win the lottery.

Here I am, over nine years later, and I am pretty sure that I won the lottery.

My wildest dreams did include law school at Pepperdine, but nowhere in those wildest dreams did I think it would be my home for nine consecutive years.  Well, during my first semester of law school, I did think that it might take nine years to learn enough to graduate (if ever) but once I survived that first semester it never occurred to me that I might have the honor to work in this special place for six years after law school.

Tomorrow, I hear there is some sort of farewell party as I transition into a new role as the preaching minister for the University Church of Christ here on campus.  This is directly backwards.  I should be throwing a party for the law school out of sheer gratitude for these past nine years.

I learned so much from the faculty, many of whom became close friends.  I was a proud member of the staff and developed deep relationships as we worked together.  But the students…well, I don’t even know how to begin to describe how special the students have been to me.  From being a student to serving them, spending time with students has been my deepest honor.

Meetings with prospective students.  Move-in days at the George Page apartments.  Launch Weeks.  Freak-out moments.  Personal tragedies.  “Is-law-school-right-for-me-after-all” conversations.  Academic successes.  Academic challenges.  Final exams.  A zillion emails.  Facebook groups.  Administrative announcements.  Just for 1Ls/2Ls/3Ls.  APIL auctions.  Santa Anita horse races.  Orange books.  Dodgeball tournaments.  Quiet gyms.  Saturday morning runs in Santa Monica.  Law school dinners.  Student organization events.  Open conversations.  Global village days.  Sack lunch Saturdays.  Interfaith evenings.  Sunday morning Bible studies.  Wednesday nights at the Gashes.  Thanksgiving dinners.  Job searches.  Moral character applications.  Graduation celebrations.  The dark days of bar summers.  Bar lunches.  Swearing-in ceremonies.  Even officiating twelve weddings!

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It is all too much to capture in words right now.  I can just say that it has been a deep honor to walk alongside impressive human beings on an arduous journey.

We law school folks say that law school is a marathon, not a sprint.  Mine took nine years.  And it was awesome.

Peace on Earth

img_4126Thanks to our friend, John, and the Pacifica Institute, we recently hosted Muslim families for a Christmas dinner at our house.  That’s right, Muslim families for a Christmas dinner.  It was wonderful.  The stated purpose of the dinner was to build bridges of respect, understanding, and friendship between Muslims and Christians—and it sure worked.  We instantly have new friends and were honored to accept a return offer to visit their homes in the new year.

All of our guests came to the United States from Turkey, and as we talked over dinner it was sobering to sense the sadness in their hearts when they spoke of conditions related to terrorism in their home country.  And it was even more sobering to sense the fears they live with in this country when the actions of religious extremists lead others to associate such terrible violence with the religion they practice and love.

Possibly my favorite moment of the evening came when one of our guests slipped money to our youngest daughter when she shared about her work in Kenya last summer with street kids from Nairobi slums.  It seems that our guest has a soft spot in his heart for poor African children, and he couldn’t help but give money to support the Christian organization when he heard about the good work it is doing.

I shared with our guests the story from Kenya at this time last year when the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, commandeered a bus that held Christian and Muslim passengers.  The terrorists demanded that the passengers separate by religion so they could execute the Christians, and the Muslim passengers, mostly women, led the refusal to answer by saying that if they would execute one they would have to execute all.  They were neighbors after all.  Miraculously, no one was killed.

Our guests had not heard the story and were visibly encouraged by it.  One of our new friends said that such reactions should be the standard response.

I sense that many are wary of the concept of interfaith dialogue, thinking that it means a dilution of religious conviction—a sort of “I’m-okay-you’re okay” approach to religious belief.  If you spend much time with any religious belief system you’ll realize that would be sort of silly.  Instead, I have to wonder what is terribly wrong with moving toward a world where we have “join us for dinner” relationships across all sorts of lines that purport to divide us.

Sharing dinner in our homes with new friends would sure go a long way toward a world where the scene that occurred on that Kenyan bus will be the standard response to those who deal in violence.  Not uniformity or watered-down beliefs, but neighborliness and solidarity for peace on earth and good will toward all.  I am a Christian, and at this time of year we remember an angelic proclamation to a group of shepherds about such things.  This particular dinner sure felt like a step in that direction.

Reality Check

vr

Virtual reality is all the rage, and an interesting phenomenon for sure, but reality itself is weird enough for me.  Last week’s business trip provided plenty of proof.

For instance, while watching baseball in a New York City hotel I saw a commercial hawking Chia Clinton and Chia Trump for twenty bucks a pop (Trump is winning that race 79% to 21% at present).  This was immediately followed by a commercial promoting an online dating service just for overweight people.  I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but the point is that people do.  A few days earlier, I visited the president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, which is crazy enough, but also had the chance to hold Brett Favre’s Hall of Fame ring before it was presented to him at Lambeau Field yesterday.  Who needs virtual reality?

But the best part of the crazy business trip was connecting with Jon Wood, an old college roommate, who seems a little unreal in the one-of-a-kind sense but appears to have us all beat on what it actually means to be real.

Jon never meets a stranger.  No, you have no idea, Jon never meets a stranger.  He talks to anyone.  And everyone.  I’m sorry, but I can tell that you don’t get it.  He talks to EV-ER-Y-ONE.  No exceptions.  In the less than twenty-four hours I spent with Jon last week, I met multiple members of a country club, the entire staff at Diamond Deli, work colleagues at Bridgestone Americas, his elderly barber (no haircut, just stopped in to say hello), a friend that staffs a parking lot in downtown Cleveland, the bartender where we stopped for dinner, and every staff member at a Cleveland Cavaliers preseason game (who got a fist bump from Jon whether they wanted it or not).  Half of the people met Jon for the first time, while the other half met him with a massive smile as if he was their very best friend.  I know Jon, so none of this surprised me, but each time I am fascinated by his approach to this precious life we all get a chance to play.

Jon is a successful attorney with a wonderful family and much to admire from any vantage point, but what I admire the most is that to Jon every human being he encounters is someone with boundless dignity and worth getting to know regardless of appearance, age, income, race, education, or any other category that normal folks use to decide whether someone is worthy of interaction.

Who knows, I might end up the biggest fan of virtual reality, but as I sit here today and see pictures of people wearing goofy googles the size of car batteries reaching out for something that isn’t there, I vote for Jon’s approach of experiencing reality by actually seeing everyone he meets with eyes (and heart) wide open.

An Opinion That Matters

68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Show

LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 18: Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus accepts Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for ‘Veep’ onstage during the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

We watched the Emmy Awards last Sunday evening only later to learn that it experienced the worst ratings ever for the show.  This demonstrates my personal sense of timing.  Watching the star-studded event also confirmed my complete ignorance of popular television shows.  For instance, I didn’t know that O.J. Simpson had a new reality show that pits everyone against him, and apparently there is a popular game show all about thrones.  I have a lot of catching up to do.

At the Emmys, Jimmy Kimmel was funny what with his peanut butter and jelly sandwich distribution shtick, and Henry Winkler did a fine job hosting the touching annual tradition of the in memoriam video.  But to me, the most poignant moment of the evening came when Julia Louis-Dreyfus accepted the award for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series (for Veep—it turns out that is a television show, too).

The legendary actress’s speech was funny and to be honest pretty typical until the very end when she broke down in tears and said, “I’d like to dedicate this to my father, William Louis-Dreyfus, who passed away on Friday.  I’m so glad he liked Veep because his opinion was the one that really mattered.”

Louis-Dreyfus’s speech apparently struck a chord with an awful lot of people despite the record-low number of viewers.  Her speech led many to tweet expressions of sadness to famed actor, Richard Dreyfuss, wrongly assuming that he was Julia’s father, which is actually sort of funny.  Almost as funny as tweeting someone you think died two days earlier.

But her sweet statement begs a sincere question: Whose opinion really matters to you?  I suspect that the true answer to that question involves a really small number of folks, but I also suspect that we live as if that number is massive.  We are more than a little screwy.

If I can be so bold, I suggest taking some time to consider the real answer to that question—and live accordingly.

Reflections from a Matatu

In Kenya

[Photo credit: Lee Morgan]

Hip hop music blasted from the Kenwood and Pioneer speakers aimed at the passengers’ faces on the matatu (bus) ride from tiny Kamulu to the big city of Nairobi.  Including the three members of my family, there were exactly three mzungus (white people) on the bus, and if we weren’t conspicuous enough, I fell into a lady’s lap as I boarded when the matatu unexpectedly (to me) lurched forward.  It turns out that my ability to make an impression transcends national borders.

Jackton, our friend and guide, warned us that it would be noisy, but I was still unprepared.  As DJ Simple Simon dropped the beats featuring the best in East African hip hop, an even louder horn consistently announced our presence to potential passengers.  Either that, or there was a Kenyan soccer fan on the roof with a turbo-powered vuvuzela, which would not have surprised me.

I learned that the young man dangling off the side of the matatu was the “conductor” who was responsible for picking up and dropping off passengers by yelling and banging on the side of the bus with his free hand.  Our conductor wore black Nike flights, a navy blue trench coat, and a brown flat-billed cap with a bright yellow sticker on the bill.  In California, I would have guessed he was from South Central, but we were most definitely in Kenya.

The matatu was named “The Inspector,” and as the kids like to say, it was dope.  The interior walls surrounding the aforementioned speakers were decorated with PR shots of the popular artists, and the ceiling was royal blue with white stars and had colorful Converse sneakers glued to the ceiling upside down.  The best feature, however, was the countless numbers of passengers that came and went all along the route.  After my graceful entrance, we had seats for the hour or so journey, but at times there were so many people on board that I made it to second base with multiple Kenyans without having to move a muscle.

It was quite a ride.

At one point my wife noticed that DJ Simple Simon offered a remix of a Taylor Swift song, a jarringly strange occurrence, and when we heard that Mr. Simon would appear in a Labor Day showdown at a club in Pomona, California, I no longer knew which planet I was on.  While my first matatu ride powerfully engaged every one of my senses, I particularly sensed that the world is a fascinating place, at times vast beyond imagination, and at times so tiny that our connections are undeniable.

Two of the three mzungus on The Inspector that day are now back in California, but the third, our youngest daughter, remains in Kenya for a summer internship.  Tomorrow is her birthday, and she seems so far away right now.  But I know that in certain and important ways she isn’t far away at all— and that she is with Kenyan friends she considers members of her family.  I hope she has the best birthday ever.

Look Up, Down, and Into

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My wife and I fill out a one-sentence couples’ journal each day. This makes us sound either cheesy or wonderful, but the reality is that I once was desperate for a gift when I stumbled across it at Barnes & Noble. And yet we love it. The journal provides a daily prompt, and we simply jot down a brief answer each day. In time, the journal will be a three-year time capsule of “us.”

One of this week’s prompts simply had to be shared on a blog with a name like this one. It asked, What does the sky look like today?

I’m not sure how often I fail to notice, but it would be embarrassing to know.

It might not be a terrible idea to ask three questions at the end of each day:
1. What did I see in the sky today?
2. What did I see in the earth today?
3. And, what did I see in the eyes of a fellow human being?

Hot Topic Fireworks and the Fourth of July

“It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.” – Mark Twain

That Mark Twain is such a goof.

I have enjoyed the unique opportunity to spend time with a leadership coach over the past few months thanks to a fellowship through Pepperdine University, but our time together is coming to an end. During our penultimate phone conversation, my coach asked if there was anything else that I would like to discuss, and I had to confess that I am now the best leader in world history and have nothing left to learn.

Why the sudden laughter?

You can picture it, I’m sure: a long, deep, fascinating conversation with a wise friend. You are tired and sleepy and have to get up early the next morning, when suddenly an entirely new and wonderful conversation topic emerges and… Well, you just have to call it a night. As much as you would like to go down that conversation road, you simply don’t have the time or energy to invest and have to cut it off before it gets started. Reluctantly.

That is what I offered my coach. Sure, there is much to discuss, but we have neither the time nor the energy to invest and we must simply call it a night. Reluctantly.

This is how I feel in general this Fourth of July. We celebrate the United States of America this holiday weekend, and I am simply unable to imagine opening the door on any of the spectacularly important and touchy conversations that stand before us. Not because I do not care. Not because I do not have thoughts. Not even because I am exhausted by the very prospect, although I am.

Here is why: It takes so much time to love and listen and build the relationship with a single person to simply begin to understand the other well enough to just get started on any of the topics. It is three in the morning, and we have talked all night, and I have to be up at six, and I just have to exercise a teeny bit of self-control.

(This isn’t very inspirational, is it?)

Okay, let me at it this way: Be kind to everyone. Invest in deep relationships with a few. Listen a lot. Speak slowly and carefully with patience and grace. And get some rest because this is going to take some serious time.

And have a great holiday weekend.