Winter Morning Prayer

December 8, 2013

12-08-2013

Winter Morning Prayer

by Rob Grogan

It is my kind of winter morning except the snow could be heavier.  But, we are in Virginia where I’ve come to appreciate even the dustings that come few and far between.  I have prayed for snow and nothing could fill my heart with more joy than a bona fide White Christmas, where the snow begins during the day of the 24th and continues throughout the night and well into the morning of the 25th.

Stepping up to a full-length window in the radiant-heat room, a cold draft makes me shiver.  The breeze outside sways the bamboo and howls through the mail slot of the old English cottage door.  These symbols of good fortune do not go unnoticed by me — my feet and body warm to the radiant heat rising from the floor; the view of the raw outdoors instills in me a feeling of freedom, well-being, and a duty to make use of my comfort to contribute some good.

Pondering that, I begin a winter morning prayer for the homeless — those bodies, minds, and souls adrift in the great outdoors, unencumbered by societal expectations but void of the happiness that accompanies a balanced dose of society’s values; people just like you and me, but whose lives broke or changed by a twist of fate in a life’s passage, or by some mean traumatic event — real, or imagined by a sickly brain that altered their perception.

They talk and walk alone, in fear of loneliness or in wanting to be alone to figure it all out  – what went wrong?, they ask themselves – or, after a sufficient chunk of memory-fading time has elapsed, they don’t bother to ask because it no longer matters and they can’t even recall what went wrong, when, or what it was like before then.  They are now present-and-accounted-for homeless… on a winter morning, the kind that I like so well.

The clouds buffer the light of day as the snow falls, the wind screams, and the temperature dives.  I pray for these people while I am warm and fed and they are cold and hungry – why?  and what can be done?  I ask, and I pray for you, my homeless friends, that life takes another twist – this time on your behalf, not your detriment.  I can’t complain of my illness because I have care and support and hope.  But you, you have ache and despair and a lost way, a shoddy path that you live on this winter morning – the kind that I like so well and is not to your liking.

I will pray for you and a change of weather.

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The Mick

December 4, 2013

 

 

 

 

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The Mick

By Rob Grogan

Watching one of those sports documentaries where fans tell tales of their childhood sports heroes, the name and face of Mickey Mantle jump from the recesses of my mind to the lead sports page in my head.  “The Mick” was my guy.  The Oklahoman played a career with injury after injury and most often in pain, yet he led the game’s best team for so many seasons, set records, and won World Series titles and individual awards that rival any other player’s achievements.  Mickey Mantle was flawed, much of it his reaction to all of the pain he suffered, but a young boy – me – could see only his greatness and character.

Even the stories of his misconducts and personal issues — his alcoholism is the one most identified — that I learned of and began to understand much later in my life, and long after his life had ended from cancer; none of that diminishes my admiration for Mickey Mantle and the awe he infused in me about what an athlete could mean to a kid.  Two stories about him — two very contrasting stories with a common result — head my list in my imagined documentary of The Mick. 

The first is one I read about later, years after the fact.  Mickey had missed several weeks of the season after tearing up his leg beneath a Cyclone fence in center field somewhere — I think Baltimore.  One night at the end of his stint on the disabled list, Mickey went out after the game he had just sat and watched from the dugout on the road, and tied one on — a habit he was habitually good at, I would later learn.  The following day at the ballpark, the Yankees’ manager could still smell the beer on Mickey and decided to call on him to pinch hit in that day’s game.

Mickey came to bat late in the game – staggered to the batter’s box might be a more accurate description – and hit a mammoth home run over the same fence that had torn him up weeks earlier.  Little did I know then his explanation of his fete, which went something like, “I did not expect to play.  I was still seeing double from the night before.  When the pitch came in, I saw two baseballs.  I swung at the bigger one.”

Reports like that did not make the evening sports news, and Sports Center did not exist at the time, so that story surfaced much later to the public and I now wonder what other juicy narratives about him were concealed by dutiful sports journalists trying to protect our hero and the game he and they so loved so well.

The other story is one I witnessed myself.  You can fact check this one — I may have ball-parked some of the details, be off by a year or a fact here or there, but the essence of the story is true, as are most of the facts of what I had witnessed.  It came in Mickey’s final year of his legendary baseball career, in what would become known as his “last great day.”  The year was 1968 or ’69 maybe — I was a late teen — on a hot August or September Sunday.  The site was Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York, 161st Street and River Avenue, where the A-Train from Manhattan dropped me and my buddies off on several Sunday’s each summer.  That Sunday, that game, made quite an impression on this hero worshiper who made the 40-mile trip from Red Bank, NJ to New York City after worshiping God at St. James Catholic Church’s 10:00 mass.  From Jesus Christ to The Mick in about an hour by rail.

It was a warm sunny Sunday in the Bronx for a doubleheader between the New York Yankees and their American League rival Baltimore Orioles.  The crowd was probably in the 50,000 range.  We — Joe and Bobby Pignataro, Ron Manley, and possibly Eugene Stoye — sat among them in the lower right field stands not far from the short-porch foul pole and fence, a perfect spot from which to watch a left-handed power hitter.  Mickey batted from both sides of the plate — though not at once, and he probably could have with some proficiency by swinging at both balls as the pitch came in.  If I remember well, he came to bat lefty in two of his five at-bats in game one of the twin bill.

In his first two at-bats, Mickey hit home runs over and past us.  Next, he hit two doubles.  His final at-bat that day produced a solid single.  Five for five, at least three RBI’s and runs scored. A perfect and last great day as he sat out the second game to rest his aching knees.

If I were a boy today, my all-time sports hero would be Mariano Rivera, who retired after the 2013 season as the Greatest Closer of All-Time.  Back then, it was “The Mick”  — unrivaled, imperfect, and more as I became than Mr. Rivera — although I’d like to think I have some of the traits of both men.  “RG1” is what my sports-loving friends call me, or “Papa G”:   Bats right, throws right, and remembers The Mick like he played yesterday.

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Living In the Moment — the art of aging

October 10, 2013

The art of aging paints with favorable, random, brush strokes. As I’ve aged I’ve slowed down at almost everything I do. I ache and tire. Sleep is disjointed. Cancer fights me (but I am winning). I paint my life moment-to-moment as best as I can, often missing the lines, even the entire canvas sometimes. But I paint on living.

More favorably, I live in the moment, appreciate more deeply, and find great pleasure in baseball, birding, and eating. I read more; I savor my Scotch neat, sip by sip, as though it will be my last.

Lyrical music resonates with me. Poets speak my language.

The heart and its foundation – the soul – is my moment-to-moment flowing river of energy, love, and compassion. I block negative thoughts. I dwell on good. I love and weep with joy.

Last night, my wife of 25 years, and I, fell asleep in bed around 10 pm. We left the TV on low. We held hands. We fell asleep holding hands. My relaxed jaw gave into my smile. I awoke two hours later still holding hands, now sweaty and cramping, and I slowly disengaged them. A commercial about “Low T” promised I could get my testosterone level back to that of a raging bull.

I giggled, muffling my sound not to awaken her. I told the TV pitchman to keep his libido to himself. “I, mister, sleep holding hands,” I proudly informed him. “No drug,” I schooled him, “can give you that.” I took the remote and clicked on the Food Network. Virginia slept while I pondered what our Sunday breakfast might be eight or nine hours from then.

I had aged lovingly in three very human hours.

Peace

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Boston Weak

August 26, 2013

Ryan Dumpster is a “looser.”   That is how a Fenway fan’s handmade sign spelled the word in reference to A-Rod when the Yankees played in Beantown last weekend and took the series after Dumpster awoke the sleeping giant.

I am not an A-Rod fan but if he’s in pinstripes, then I want him to produce, and he is.  He did that night, knocking a monster home run off of Dumpster in his third at-bat.

Dumpster showed no character, and his manager showed even less in his silence.  Only Yankee manager Joe Girardi and the Yankee players — led by A-Rod — kept their dignity and did the right thing.  Even the ump was a weak chump.

This all happened just a month and a half after the nation united with Boston and became “Boston Strong” against the terror attack.   I even took a photo in a Red Sox cap in the bay city’s honor after the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon.  But, no.  The Fenway fans ripped it off of my head in a disgusting manner.  I looked on, on TV, as dads among the Fenway Faithful dealt with their young boys booing A-Rod and cheering his plunking by Dumpster.  My dad would have told me to stand down and be a gentleman, that the game was not meant to be sullied by A-Rod or by the sophomoric response of the players he hurt — one is as bad as the other, and fans should remain above the fray.

So now I’ve returned to the days of Aaron Boone and Bucky Dent, the only two players in MLB history to share the same middle name.  And speaking of names, I hardly think we will remember Eric Dumpster within a few more seasons of our National Pastime.  And “Boston Strong”?   No. That’s a misnomer.  It’s back to being Boston Weak.  Just like old times.

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Loosen Your Grip

August 6, 2013

On The Porch

 

Loosen Your Grip

Collette and David Caprara were listening to a CD by Bob Sima, called Thin Little Veil, and wrote in a note card that whenever they listen to it, they think of me, that singer/songwriter Sima is so uplifting, and that our mutual friend Mari Kelly agreed that this CD is for me.

So, gratefully, I slid it into my computer, and I listened.  And I listened.  And I welled up with tears but held back the flood… as long as I could, which was up until the song “The Looser The Grip” came on… And then I let go.  I loosened my grip on the rest of my day; it floated to me like a cork on a wave – unsinkable, inertia of motion – forward and inspired as August 16’s surgery approaches to fix my lymphatic system problem.

“The Looser The Grip” made me think of Arch Di Peppe, who is out of action for a few months after surgery to remove his inflamed gall bladder.  Arch always tells me to “let the day come your way”; don’t force it.  When it snows and the driveway is impassable, he reminds me that it’s “God’s way of telling you to take a day off” and enjoy His wonders of nature.

It made me think of singer/songwriter Ken Caffrey, who toils passionately at his craft while working a full-time job and raising a family in Fredericksburg.  It’s his choice to continue to tour regional gigs whenever he can, despite his heavy load.  He simply loves to play music.  So, he loosens his grip and let’s the opportunities present themselves whenever they can.

“The looser the grip, the lighter the load,” writes Sima in this lyric.  “When you lay down your head, you want to sleep at night, but you’re wide-eyed and worrying heavy on the state of your life.  Just let go let go let go.  Leave it by the side of the pillow because the looser the grip, the lighter the load.”

“Shine” opens the Thin Little Veil CD, telling us, “If you let your guard down long enough you might just like what lets itself on in.  If you open the door just a crack or two, you’ll get a flash of what you’ve been missing… So let it shine, shine…”

The entire CD is this way, lyrically, vocally, and musically.  Bob Sima shines through as yet another talented, so very human and gentle soul from our community.  How not to be inspired!   And how honored to be mentioned in the same breath.  Thank you, Collette, David, and Mari.

“’Cause there are hands to be held and stories to tell and hearts that ache to be freed.  Love to share from within, peace to begin.  If not YOU and ME, then who, where or when?”  — Bob Sima, “Be The Change.” (bobsima.com)

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Cleansing

June 10, 2013

Rain and rest work wonders. I slept intermittently til after 7 a.m. today, a rare sleep-in for me. Overnight rains and a clap of thunder scored my semi-drama with a sound track performed as a lullaby to this exhausted character in my oddly-scripted play.

It worked. It cleared my head and restored my peace of mind, shutting off the busy brain chatter that serves no good purpose but recycles small worries and clutters the head with nuisance. My sleep restored me.

Virginia did not have it so well, tossing and turning, awake in the middle of the night to tweak a faulty TPN pump as it sent nutrition through a portal into my body all night long and into this morning, a 12-hour process each day. The storm had jarred her awake, the pump alarm alerted her senses, the opportunist dog stole her bed spot after she had awakened to close a window and manage her impromptu graveyard shift punch list of unexpected to-do’s.

Alexis came in the room at 7:45 to check on me since I am usually up and writing hours before that. She had already brewed a pot of coffee, and I sip that hot nectar now as though I am receiving life blood itself. I managed a brief time in the studio to transfer my draft files to the manuscript zip file, ready to resume in earnest my book, to which I am totally committed after all this time. It’s never too late unless it becomes too late, and that clock never struck 12, to my good fortune. I am all-in now and the timing is in alignment with the life I have known for the past 25 years and, most recently, as it has unfolded since last June’s first symptoms of cancer.

These are exciting and challenging, and also fulfilling times for my family and me. Our foundation is our passion, our infrastructure the community. It is people as diverse as a rainbow’s colorful spectrum; it is quirky and different, odd, and good; it is love-based and character-built thanks to the lessons of our parents, mentors and closest friends.

The wee hours are my allies, the day light stands at my side as well; and, the moon is my night light, the stars winks of approval, as I accept that my life continue to unfold, forwardly, fondly, to a more enlightened state as I age and learn, as I write and experience more of life’s meaning and its message that ‘goodness’ is what matters most.

Today is a refresh of my heart and soul’s cache page, a cleansing, another new beginning for the next chapter. I pledge to make the most of it. I owe that to myself, my loved ones, my community, my planet, and to life itself.

We all do. We all could use a cleansing, and today is a fine day to get it going. May you feel it and enjoy the peace it brings you.

Peace.

Rob

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A Non-Stop Day

June 4, 2013

A non-stop day

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Early to rise — that theme holds true for me as I love to begin when the songbirds cue up, even though that means wearing down early as the day unfolds. There is something hopeful about the early hours and the promise of the new day ahead. I putz in the kitchen, feed the animals, open the windows and turn on the fans; it’s “me” time with a purpose, as I get the day going with a fresh perk of joe and Coffeehouse on XM radio.

I check facebook, email, Rob’s Army, ball scores, the FPf web site, and my Google inbox; If I’m in the mood for news, I turn to Morning Joe. And I always go outside for a breath of fresh new-day air, where I gaze around heaven and earth in wonder and awe of our beautiful environment.

Early to bed, I calm my chatty mind so sleep will come and pass the night quickly, until the promise of the next new day comes around, and I begin again, a happy guy.

June is my month — Father’s Day, and my 61st birthday that same day, June 16th. I have everything I could want, except maybe a pair of khakis that fit my shrunken frame; but I have the spirit to fill the gaps in those trousers, and the will to regain my healthier form.

Thanks to my friend David Kerr, who knows cancer up close and personal, I have learned to swagger and defy it, to break some rules and not let it trap me. A grilled bratwurst does not scare me, it invites me. A Scotch entices and relaxes and celebrates me. And an hour on the patio with a friend, even at the end of a tiresome day, is everything I could wish for.

My young nephew Adam and his sisters Kendall and Makenna sent me hand-crafted get well cards. They made my day — another non-stop day never to be forgotten.

Peace.

Rob

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With Honor

May 27, 2013

With Honor

What can an individual do to honor our brave today and everyday as a routine way of life?

If you think about the qualities that comprise a warrior, a peacemaker, or a first responder, you can get a sense of the answer…

Character counts in everything we do…

Courage enables us to step up, whether it be to act in the face of danger or to face up to an injustice…

Integrity defines how we handle responsibility, civility, and our interactions with other people, as well as how we manage life’s challenges and consistently face the man in the mirror, with whom change begins and the buck always stops…

Humanism explains a unique quality within our species that guides us toward compassion, fellowship, soft power or, sometimes, conflict. Wisdom tells us which response is appropriate…

Faith in something greater than oneself paints our souls with grace and conscience; humility reminds us that we are but specks among giant stars in a vast expanding universe we can barely begin to explain…

The people we honor today and those we admire daily are either born with these qualities or are nurtured to develop them. They are taught, mentored, coached, parented, lead, liberated, and encouraged.

Many become warriors; others grow into teachers, care givers, peace professionals, volunteers, or simply good citizens and neighbors. Collectively, they are the keystones of community, the greater good, the first to be there in celebration and in need.

You need not win a medal or an election, make the news, acquire or create great wealth, or become a household name to be one to epitomize these qualities (which are sadly often missing among those kinds of achievers), or to honor those unique people we pause in memory of today.

It is within each of us, and we see it all the time in large and small examples, in major events and fleeting moments, with fanfare or in anonymity.

Whether we call it being human, bearing an old soul, or just “getting it,” it matters that we manifest this coded good, which nature has infused within us.

It is worthy of our conscience celebration in all of us; it is especially a requisite that we honor those who died on battlefields so that we may live to carry on those qualities that make us great as a people and as a nation. We will honor them again today…

.. and we will exercise our own inherent goodness in everyday life, in service to our communities, neighborhoods, circles of friends and colleagues, and, of course, our families. What greater legacy can we offer? And the good news is we are all capable.
We are capable of always acting with class — of never demeaning someone cast beneath us by society in some trivial pecking order that values the glib over the good and the haves over the have-nots; of treating every person with respect; of remaining positive; of maintaining a healthy and humble perspective; of loving and giving at every possible turn in the long winding road of our life journey; of getting back up one time more than we fall. With honor.

Peace.

Rob

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I had a good cry…

May 11, 2013

I had a good cry this morning, and that’s OK.  It was around 8 a.m.  I sat at the kitchen table alone. XM’s Coffee House played acoustic covers.  I was exhausted and short of breath, even light-headed a bit.  My bones ached.  My food tasted bland.  I put my hands to my forehead, leaned forward and cried.  Really wept.  134 pounds this morning and still waiting to begin IV nourishment and continue cancer treatment.  They keep setting me up but so far no fix.  They keep billing me as though I am rich.  Insurance plays its games, and my sweet wife endures the stress of the financials in all of this.

So I cried hard.  I prayed.  I let it all out.  My nose ran.  Frisbee empathized; he lay at my feet.  The sun and rain competed for my view.  Birds sang.  Breezes blew.  

Then I stopped weeping and moved on.  That is what you do — you move on.

I did dishes and put my kitchen sink homemade vegetarian chili on in the crock pot slow cooker.  I wrote.  I did emails and checked ball scores.  I facebooked.

I took my meds and vitas.  I took a call from the nurse who will train us on my pick line IV today.  I wrapped a Mother’s Day gift for my wife.  

Now I am ready to nap.  But I’m smiling, not crying.

Peace.

Rob

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Commercials

April 28, 2013

While I’m fighting for my quality of life against cancer, TV commercials offer a fascinating juxtaposition of one man’s isolated life versus the broad spectrum of American life and values.
I’m wide awake, uncomfortable, at 3 a.m. I turn on the TV, where they’re telling me how to whiten my teeth. I click channels and see that I am not buff enough (and 40 pounds under weight battling malnutrition) but this amazing new exercise regime will fix that.

Another cable channel promises me intimate conversation if I dial a 900 number and have my credit card ready. Still another wants me to keep up with the upper-class Joneses and buy the right car. Then there is the plethora of pharmaceutical “ask your doctor about…” commercials that promise relief for everything troubling the human mind and body, with a caveat for some devastating side effects, and the provocation for you to Google and self-diagnose, and then call the doctor and ask for the RX by name!

TV commercials are a microcosm of society that paint a picture of who we are as a people, what we need, what we value, and how we spend our money. It must work or the price of a TV spot would not be what it is. What it is to me is sad.

The vulnerable among us, educated or not, wealthy or not, are easily targeted. One TV commercial that strikes me as a ploy and appeal to the vanity of the upwardly mobile, is a Lowes commercial. In it, the home improvement center has beautiful answers to your gardening needs. A youngish couple in their first home, goes all-in to quickly make their yard look like an arboretum, and with great success thanks to a well-conceived landscaping plan by the good people at a local Lowes, all the right supplies for the project, the flora and the fauna, and the couple’s own sweat equity.

Then comes the vanity, the Jones effect: the wife snaps a photo of the new look and the husband instantly reminds her to “post it”. “I already did,” she says, facebook-loaded for the world to envy and admire, and for “friends” to start making their own shopping lists.

Cynical? Perhaps. But at 3 a.m. with cancer, you tend to think more about your family’s future security than your garden; about your struggle not to feel helpless to do menial tasks (like get dressed, bathe, or takeout the trash) rather than about six-pack abs; and about your mental attitude rather than the shade of your teeth.

Cancer isolates you (if only for a moment until you glance at your spouse asleep at your side, as totally vested in your journey as you are, or you think of your routine first-light coffee with your daughter). And it creates strange juxtapositions. You think about things you never really thought about before.

And you fight, never never never, as Churchill said, giving up. If you or a loved one should find yourself inside my world outside the world of TV commercials, and you need some moral support, please don’t ask your doctor; just ask me. I’ll try to help you through this blog.

Peace.
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