Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

A Father’s Day Reflection

June 19, 2013

This post is a bit tardy. Father’s Day was a day of being more conscious of my own fatherhood rather than that of my father.

My father passed away in 1991. Shortly following his death, I had two very brief, clear, distinct dreams.

The first dream was at some sort of beach, or seaside. Dad was in the water up to his waist with his back to the shore. He was standing exactly where the sun was hitting the water, and the brilliant glitter reflected off the small waves blinded me to the point of his being nearly invisible. Fifty yards, or so, separated us.

I called out to him, and he turned his head slightly to the right seemingly having heard something. My voice, for some reason, wasn’t audible to me, as though calling out in a wind storm. That was the extent of that dream.

In the second dream I was walking down some unrecognizable hallway. As I walked past an open door, I saw my father sitting in a straight chair by a window. Wearing a white shirt, no tie, sleeves rolled up a couple of turns, and khaki slacks, he appeared to be in his early 30s with black hair and a mustache. He had his legs crossed. A cigarette hung from his fingers as he looked toward the door.

“Are you okay?” I asked. “Yes,” was his reply.

And that was that dream. I am sure Dad has been somewhere in hundreds of dreams over the past 22 years, but only these two survived into the daylight and my memory.

It is more than a bit interesting that the second dream found my father free from his paralyzing disease and massive stroke that rendered him speechless the last six months of his life. Gone were the ravages of career disappointments, shattered hopes and dreams, the end of flying airplanes, the debilitating effects of alcohol.

He was restored to a state of being that I would have seen at the age of three or four. An amazing and easily recallable image. In that dream, all had been erased back to Dad’s young fatherhood and the beginning of his career.

A Willingness To Be Present

June 17, 2013


The threshold
Of the future
Is pulled forward
Slowly and surely
Second by second
Or stands still
As the past
Slips away
Retreating fitfully
But never completely
Our yesterdays linger
Directly behind
Or back around a dim corner
Barely accessible
If warm and pleasant
Abruptly intrusive
If unhappy or filled with regrets
But what of our tomorrows?
Filled with hopes and dreams
Or other times with dread
Days and years
Lying ahead
Our dwelling place
To be
Fleetingly or longer
Yet, they are
Waiting to be filled
By us or circumstance
Health, family
Resources, friends
A spiritual foundation
A sense
Of the Other
All shape
A life to come
But, really, isn’t it now,
The present,
That will ultimately decide?
Our sense of self
Our willing to be
Our gratitude – now
Isn’t that what shapes us,
Now, and in the years to come?
How we view the past
Our acceptance of self and others
A willingness to be present

 © 2013 Thomas W. Cummins

A Train Slowly Passing

June 1, 2013


“Since 1941”
Proclaims the logo
On the paper cup
Torké Coffee Roasting Company
I sip the coffee
A train lumbering by
Filled with grain
A mournful early-morning whistle
Announced earlier
1941: my natal year
But now
A train slowly passing
Evokes a childhood memory
My maternal grandfather
A locomotive engineer
Time collapses
Looking out the window
Many years
Overflowing with joyful memories
Others (few, but too many)
Tinged with sadness
What brings
This reflection
This day
In front of this window?
A convergence – “Since 1941” and …
A train slowly passing

 © 2013 Thomas W. Cummins

At 71, A Reflection on Luke 13:6-9

March 7, 2013


No fruit
After three years
No figs on the tree
Give it another year
A fourth quarter
Another period to express its being
Life’s fourth quarter
For many, a final period
Something is being asked
More is required, expected
But three and a half quarters
Have already passed
Fatigue is present
Yet must be ignored
Fruitless time is over
Unrecognized, but over
Something is being asked
More is required
Not more activity,
Better results
Enough is being done,
Just needs to be better
More rewarding, more loving
Something is being asked
More is required

© 2013 Thomas W. Cummins

It wasn’t all bad

October 16, 2011

When Christmas rolls around, there will be some long faces in the St. Louis area, i.e., those wishing for a white Christmas. That’s what happens when one buys a snow blower, a guarantee of a season or two with little to no snow.

Got it assembled and running when I returned home from Mass. Now it sits in the corner of the garage emitting an incredible force field upon the climate of the northern hemisphere.

Speaking of Mass, I went alone this morning and decided to sit in the back of the church. There was a clear expectation of some quiet and solitude. No. Not to be.

First, a family of – who knows how many – descended on me from the aisle at the other end of the pew. I had moved in so that late-comers could see a welcoming, empty space. However, with the onslaught of baby carrier car seats, a raft of kids, two parents, I was soon back to the point where I first sat down.

I looked, hopefully, for some acknowledgement of my having been abruptly brushed aside. A smile and a nod perhaps? A sneer? A glower? Actually, no eye contact whatsoever and an obvious sense of entitlement.

Across the way, another family went into that pew while setting a baby carrier in the aisle. One of the narrow aisles in our worship space. People walked around that little guy the entire Mass. Here was a mixture of a sense of entitlement and reckless behavior.

So, we’re off! Mass begins.

What followed didn’t resemble being at Mass. Maybe not the infield at Indy, but still pretty far from being a prayerful environment. Having said that,  I did avoid the sign of peace with the guy who sneezed into his hand. So it wasn’t all bad.

It’s going to be warm this weekend

July 2, 2010

July 2, 2010

Our first weekend in Saint Louis was the weekend of July 4th. We had been married a week … a new life in a newly adopted city … and everything was fun, new, fresh, and filled with excitement and anticipation.

Saint Louis gave us a warm welcome. In fact, every 4th of July in Saint Louis is either hot and muggy or hot, muggy and rainy. Quite a shock, actually, for two people from the land of the people with “blond hair and blue ears,” (a comment made by Lou Holtz when he left Arkansas in 1984 to coach at Minnesota).

The 4th was on a Saturday in 1964, and the go-to fireworks display in those days was at Francis Field on the campus of Washington University, one of the venues for the 1904 Olympics. Riverfront displays would have to wait until after the Arch was completed in October of the following year.

That first year for us was also the bi-centennial celebration for the City of Saint Louis, and a special flag was flying from poles everywhere.

In addition to a new life and a new city, the Monday following that first weekend was to be my first day at work and the start of my professional career. Lots of change at one time: the two of us had graduated from college, gotten married, and moved away from home (the first time for both of us) over a period of a little more than 3 weeks. And then the need to get to work to earn a living. An adventure? You bet!

So, here I sit many years later, on the other side of both of our careers, and well into our retirement years. And it’s going to be warm this weekend … very warm.

I’ve been reading the writings of Thomas Merton off and on over the past few years. James Finley’s book, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, has been a useful guide, and I just finished my second reading.

There is a quote from Merton on page 144 of Finley’s book that spoke to me this morning:

There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.

“My existence, my peace, my happiness,” I get that. All the living and loving since that 4th of July weekend many years ago has been the beginning of molding and drawing forth a self I was not seeking, nor could I have imagined.

Career ups and downs, family joys and sorrows, reading , learning, exploring, engaging, have helped me understand the importance of others and the seeming insignificance of what Finley calls the ego-self.

He says, with a quote from Merton, that the ego-self’s “existence has meaning in so far as it does not become fixated or centered upon itself as ultimate, learns to function not as its own center but ‘from God’ and ‘for others.’”

I’m not so sure I would understand what that means if I had stayed within my comfort zone over the last 20 years. Encountering people in areas outside of my comfort zone has exposed me to many circumstances of great deprivation, discouragement, loneliness, poverty, psychological dysfunction, addiction, obsession, feelings of abandonment and despair. What can one do in such situations but grow in awareness and sensitivity of the lives of others?

There are times when my only reaction, my only response, has been to simply listen. I am either employing good pastoral technique, or I am struck dumb in the face of such hopeless situations. It is difficult to discern which in any given moment.

Retirement presents, to me, a clear choice between simply keeping busy and having something to do, something that can contribute to continued growth in myself as well as in those whom I encounter.

I am grateful I am able to choose the latter. It seems to me that making that retirement choice, or even realizing that there is a choice to be made, is the work of God’s grace … allowing the Other to help me see things differently.

Being comfortable and playing in leisure when so many are truly suffering all day and everyday doesn’t mesh with my understanding of what we are called to do in this life. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy fishing, a good book or movie, stretching out and listening to music, going for an early morning run, enjoying a meal out with friends. But keeping things in perspective and maintaining a balance are important to me.

That’s what I’m thinking about as we enter this weekend of celebration and remembrance. I just put our flag out by the front door where it is blowing in today’s warm Saint Louis breeze. The red, white, and blue against the trees and sky is a thing of beauty and hope.