Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

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.

Late night campfires under the stars

July 1, 2010

In the back of our garage is a small enclosed utility trailer which has been sitting there for 25 years following 4 additional years of sitting in another city. The tires have been flat for at least half of those years. Perhaps it’s time to drag it out, clean it up, and sell it to someone who can make use of it.

When I opened it up a couple of days ago, a flood of warm memories washed over me. Inside is a box of our camping supplies: nested cooking set, silverware, cups, a small metal percolator. There is a laundry bag with towels, dish cloths, ponchos. Our Coleman lantern and stove, some canvas cots. The smell of the contents is as it always was and triggered  the memories.

We camped many, many times each spring, summer, and fall for at least 15 years. Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana were among the states in which we pitched our tent. Our 10X14 cabin tent had plenty of room for four cots and a lawn chair or two. The tent is still good and is nearly 40 years old. We use it for overflow guests when on vacation.

Many work and church friends enjoyed camping as much as we did; we seldom went camping alone. Late night campfires under the stars as the little ones slept in our circle of tents … what more can be said.

I hope some family can make use of our trailer. It was such an improvement over our car-top carrier for holding all the gear plus sleeping bags. There are new tires, and I shall get the bearings repacked before I list it.

We’ll see what happens.

Nothing that a little neglect can’t cure

May 9, 2010

A peaceful Sunday, Mother’s Day, afternoon. The Cardinals are on TV and are winning at this moment. The resident mother is enjoying an afternoon nap.

Earlier today, our outdoor sprinklers and timers were set up. All is ready now for some fresh plantings, clawing, mulching.

I don’t know where the moles went. They could be in sleeper mode with an insurgent push scheduled for when I’m distracted with other activities.

A trip to the roof yesterday enabled the completion of a short “to-do” list: checked and tightened antenna cable connections; blew leaves, seeds and other debris out of every nook and cranny … especially the crannies ; cleaned gutter screens, and polished up the skylight. Only one plugged downspout. Now the rains can come once more.

The yard is looking pretty good, but nothing that a little neglect can’t cure.

Tomorrow will be a better day …

May 5, 2010

Things are looking up. Heading to the store for some fresh fruit: pineapple and strawberries.

Our entertainment for the past few days has been some major excavation work at the house across the street. It seems their lateral sewer connection failed. The pile of dirt is immense; a large pink dogwood was lost, end of their driveway and two sidewalks demolished.

I know the guy operating the backhoe, but have talked with him very little during the job, not feeling up to snuff and all. He probably doesn’t miss my engineering assistance.

Everyone in our village  pays $28 per year into a community fund to help with such failures. If pooled funds are sufficient, 90% of the cost can be covered (provided proper bidding processes are followed). Ours went a few years ago with the repair at $4,000. Ninety percent helped! The job across the street is running around $12,000.

We are missing lots of beautiful weather in an attempt to avoid the tree pollen. Windows shut and the A/C on when they normally would not be.

Tomorrow will be a better day …