An Unexpected (and very pleasant) Surprise

It’s been a while, eh? Yup. Sure has.

This story is worthy (at least I think it is) of a return to the blog. So, well, here goes.

Here we are in early February, and, well, surprisingly I didn’t write anything January 30 — the 12th anniversary of my Dad’s passing. It’s been sort of a tradition here at I Got Nothin’ that I’d write my annual letter to him — usually complaining about how much I missed him and how his death has affected me and all that. And, for the record, I do miss him. And, well, yeah, it affected me. Maybe just a bit.

But, none of that this year.

No visiting the cemetery on his ‘anniversary’ either. First time in a while that I haven’t done that. I’ve been recently, though, so it’s not like I’ve abandoned that practice.

I made the choice to not write the letter. I made the choice to not go to the cemetery. One little Facebook status was all I did that day. And that’s a good thing. I promised myself that I wouldn’t force the anniversary of his death on you — and, more importantly, on me.

I remember him a lot. Did I need to have the specific day to ‘publicize’ him to my friends (or, even, myself)? Because, if I ever have to do that again, strangle me. I’m not saying I’ll never post another letter that I write to him. What I’m saying is that I was in a decided pattern of behavior around his death (as well as Tim’s). That’s a pattern that I wasn’t growing very fond of. It was the all-consuming pattern. Not so much a fan of those.

Besides, my going in the opposite direction, by not forcing the memory, by just letting things be as they are, well, I discovered that good things do happen.

Just like they did today. Honestly, this is one of the most touching moments that I’ve had about my Dad since his passing. It might not seem that way to you. Or, maybe it does. I don’t know. And, it’s one of those ‘it doesn’t really matter’ moments. It affected me. And for that I’m grateful.

Here’s the story…and I’m already apologizing to you for the length of this. It’s not a short story.

So Aidan is a second grader at Sacred Heart, the Catholic elementary school within our parish. Erin goes there, too. It’s a great place for them. And, after spending my entire elementary schooling in a Catholic school, I’m pretty happy they are in one now.

We are just wrapping up an annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week. It’s primary goal is awareness. But it also does some fun stuff for kids and families to get involved. One of those things is what made today special.

The local Catholic high school, St. Bernard’s, hosts an annual art show during Catholic Schools Week. Each year, they solicit art projects from area Catholic elementary schools and they are then displayed in  a true exhibit space within the school. It was very cool to see. And part of the reason for that is because Aidan had one of his projects selected for display.

Because the show is in the school, I had called ahead to check on whether or not it was possible to come by late in the afternoon. The art teacher called me back and said he would be there late, so no problem at all coming toward the end of the day.

A student led us down to the gallery room and, after a bit of searching, we found Aidan’s picture — a really cool snowman image. I’m not sure where he gets the talent from, but it certainly looked good to me. While we were in the room, the teacher walked in and welcomed us and asked if I was the one who had called earlier in the day. Nothing fancy in the conversation. At least not yet.

He was just telling us about the show, how he enjoys getting the elementary schools involved with the high school. That sort of thing. Then he told Aidan that he went to Aidan’s school as a kid, so that was neat. And that he still lives right across from Aidan’s school. So very slowly a connection was being made here — at least unbeknownst to me.

At one point in the conversation, the art teacher, who is clearly still passionate about what he does, stated that this was, in fact, his 40th year at the school Forty! And that’s where it clicked.

Not because this man has been doing this for 40 years (but, um, wow!), but because I wondered if he might possibly have known my Dad.

How would he have known him? Well, some of you probably don’t know that my Dad was, first and foremost, an educator. He taught elementary school and then moved into administration and, for a time, he served as assistant superintendent of schools in the Norwich diocese where St. Bernard’s is located. In fact, he was very involved with St. Bernard’s early on and had worked closely on a variety of projects there.

I wasn’t sure if I should bring that up, though. I mean, this guy has been teaching 40 years. Imagine the people he’s met over the years. And, well, Dad left that job in the mid 1980s. I didn’t want to ask and be told no. Nor did I want to ask and get a tepid response and think he was just being polite. So, I didn’t say anything.

As it was time to leave, the teacher said he’d walk us back to the front lobby of the school. I didn’t think anything of it, because it was quite a walk with some twists and turns. Besides, we were still chatting about a variety of things.

As we went down one hallway, there was a huge portrait of a former bishop in the diocese — a bishop that I had known because of my Dad. Ah, I said, I know him. I met him a long time ago when my father worked for the diocese.

And that’s when I could tell the teacher did know my Dad. “I thought so,” the teacher said. “And that’s why I wanted to walk you out. I recognized your name when we spoke on the phone and I wondered if maybe you were the same family.”

“That’s us,” I said.

The teacher told me that he remembered my Dad. And then he did the coolest thing. On our walk, he took us to the chapel within the school.

He went on to explain how two statues in the chapel were only there because of my Dad. That these statues had been in another school and somehow ended up at the administration office where he worked. And at one point, in discussing needs for the chapel, my Dad mentioned these two statues to the teacher and, well, that was that. So now, as you go in the chapel, the statues are still there.

Even though he said he had known my Dad, I wasn’t quite sure what to say or how to react — until I heard this story. He definitely remembered him. He definitely remembered this story. It wasn’t like he was just being polite.

He also knew my Dad had passed and made reference to that a couple of times. I thanked him for sharing the story, that it really meant a lot to me to hear something like that — particularly something so unexpected.

And then he said something that really got me — that really made this an emotional homerun for me.

“Because of those statues,” he said, “your Dad has left a lasting impression that is with us every day.”

He sure has.

For me, this was huge. It helped me understand that, yeah, you don’t have to force memories. They will come. And it’s not just me that has them. Other people remember my Dad, too. I lose sight of that sometimes. Make that a lot of times.

But, seriously. I didn’t sign up for this today.

No, we were just going to an art show.

We were just going to find a picture of a snowman.

Turns out we found a whole lot more.

And I’m really glad we did.

 

 


One Proud Parent

There are times, let’s just say, when this parenting thing is hard. Very hard.

Then there are times, let’s just say, when this parenting thing is cool. Very cool.

This post is about one of the cool times. It’s about a five-year-old who did something so cool (at least to me) that I’m not even sure he understands just how cool of a thing he did.

Aidan has always been fascinated by cemeteries — not really sure why. He just has. Knowing that his Uncle Tim and his Papa O are in a cemetery has no doubt given him a better understanding of the entire death ‘process.’ And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.

He came with me to the cemetery on my father’s anniversary. It was freezing cold, so he stayed in the car while I went out and said a quick prayer. I didn’t want to bring him, but he asked some great questions and it was a way for us to connect. So I’m glad I did.

One of the things he asked was who else I knew in the cemetery. I told him I knew a lot of people. He pressed for more information. I told him that the next time we were over at Mimi’s house and it was warm enough, that I’d take him back up and walk through with him and point out the families that I did know.

Sunday, we were over in that area and as we were driving away, he said, “Dad, is it warm enough for the cemetery today?”

Not really wanting to go at that moment, I said, “It’s not that warm, buddy. Why don’t we go another day?”

“But, Dad,” he said, “I want to go now.”

And here’s where he got me.

“I want to meet all the people you know.”

Gulp.

So, to the cemetery we went.

We spent an hour there. He knows my dad and brother’s stones. But I showed him my grandparents’ stone. I showed him the resting spot of a childhood friend who died at age 20. I showed him stones that were ready for the people who haven’t died yet, including my aunt and uncle.

I showed him stones of neighborhood families that I’ve known for more than 30 years.

And then he showed me something. He showed me how much he understands. He showed me how much he gets it. He showed me how much he understands this stuff — even at age five.

How?

Well, even though it was the last day of February, there were still quite a few Christmas baskets out adorning a number of graves. Because of the wind, many had blown over or been blown away from the stones.

Aidan went around the cemetery and fixed more than 50 of these baskets. He made it his mission to make sure each basket was placed properly — and with respect — in front of its respective grave.

I couldn’t believe it as he went from stone to stone, row to row — literally spending 30 minutes fixing these baskets.

I was completely touched watching him do this with such interest and — more importantly — such care and respect.

“Aidan,” I asked, “why do you think people put these baskets here?”

“To remember their friends?”, he asked.

It was good enough for me.

So later in the day when he was running like mad all over the house and pushing his sister around and testing our patience with every word out of his mouth, it was hard to believe that he was the same kid who did something so respectful, so special and so appropriate just a few hours ago.

But, he was. And during that moment in the cemetery, I was, well, incredibly proud.

Making dad proud.


Another Aidanism

So there was a parade in our house tonight — one complete with two drummers making circles through the living room, dining room and hallway.

One of the drummers was simply wearing her drum — and nothing else (well, except shoes).

The other drummer pondered this for a minute and said:

“Erin, if you were in a real parade and you were naked nobody would smile at you.”

Oh, he’ll learn.


Don’t Block the Light

So yesterday had the makings of a really great day.

I know, listen to me! But it’s true.

Remember the crying at work episode? Well, while you don’t know the whole story, isn’t that enough? The good news is that the people that were upset with me had a meeting with my bosses. Things were smoothed over. Enough to the point that they called me immediately after that meeting and invited me to lunch to “mend fences and clear the air.”

I was nervous. But it went well. Very well. So much that the relationship is still alive and has a chance to grow. The keys? Honesty and humility. And no defensiveness. That last part is the trickiest for me.

And, someone I work with actually commented that I seemed to be in a much better mood lately. Wow. That was both a good thing and a bad thing. I guess I have been showing some signs…but I guess I also have started to turn it around.

I feel like I have. I feel like looking through that long, dark tunnel that there’s a speck of light there that I haven’t seen in a long time.

At least until last night. And this morning.

Had the worst night sleep I’ve had in a really long time. Why? Not totally sure, but it had something to do with an absolutely ridiculous dream that actually made me get up and go check something in our basement (don’t ask).

Then, Aidan was off the wall this morning — making our hour together a complete and utter challenge. When you’re in the midst of that, it’s hard to focus on that he’s probably tired, still fighting some sick stuff and probably nervous about school today. It’s easy to think about after the fact, but not always during the process.

And, have a meeting in just a bit with someone that I have a very hard time communicating with — and that’s something I need to work on. Thankfully, have a colleague in the meeting with me who can read me and will give a sign if I’m heading down a wrong path. Good to have a battle buddy with you.

A little nervous about later today. Appointment with a different counselor (easier to say this time!). Remember the new therapy thing I mentioned last time? Well, first session today to see if it’s going to be a good option — and I believe it is. I want it to be.

And tonight, well, I step back to 1876 to do something I absolutely love. It’s a time for a 100 percent escape from modern day and focus on some simpler things.

Sounds like a great concept, doesn’t it?


Another Aidanism

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.

And it’s been a while since I’ve had one of these.

So we’re driving to school this morning. We get there, and while we’re parking, I ask Aidan if the boy at the door waiting to get in is either Geno or Vinnie — because I can never remember.

His response, and this is a direct quote:

“Dad, that’s Vinnie. Geno’s bangs are much different than Vinnie’s.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah, Dad.”

Good to know.


Finding Faith Isn’t Easy — The Church Edition

So I’ve written abou this before. But in that case, it wasn’t so much about religion as much as it was about cancer.

This time, it’s about religion.

Why?

It’s not just that we didn’t go to church Sunday (while it’s tough with kids, we are somewhat regular). It’s more that I didn’t miss going to church this Sunday. Or any other Sunday.

At all.

This is part of my self-diagnosed mid-life crisis. (Yup, I’m having one, by the way.)

I should miss it — shouldn’t I? Or, it’s not even so much that I miss it. It’s that when we do go, the only time I seem to walk out of mass with interest is when I know the Knights of Columbus are holding a pancake breakfast in the hall.

Something is missing.

I mean, I’ve told you this before. I was an altar boy. I’ve been a lector forever. A Eucharistic minster, too. Heck, I even ran the parish council for a few years. Throw in eight years of Catholic elementary school and I’m destined for saint hood. Or not.

I’ve told  you what I like about the Catholic church — the tradition and the mystery. I love the concept of the mass and how it’s structured. However, recently, I’m just not getting enough out of it — if anything.

And that bothers me.

Of course, take a look at a couple of the church’s big issues — capital punishment and abortion. Yup, I’m all for the death penalty. And, ladies, it’s your body. As far as I’m concerned, you get to choose what to do with it.

It’s not like those are some minor issues that I’m disagreeing with. Throw in my support for gay marriage and, well, send me to hell right now.

Because of my beliefs, some would say I have no business being in the church.

Can’t lie and say I’ve never thought of that. But the question that always comes up in my head — if not the Catholic church, where?

The other question is — why am I thinking about this now?

Well, can’t lie. Death (and cancer) certainly have a lot to do with this.

I’ve had enough happen in my life alone to question my faith — let alone what others I know have had to deal with.

And, I should say, questioning faith doesn’t mean I don’ t have any. I do. Or at least I want to  have it.

It’s a quest to find some sort of spiritual comfort. Where does it come from? How do I get it? And, then, if I do get it, what the hell do I do with it?

I believe in a higher power/authority. Ok, yeah, I believe in God.

Is God a he? A she? A what? Doesn’t matter. I believe that there is one — regardless of who or what it really is.

Where I have the problem is figuring out why God wants to mess with not just me, but with others.

OK, if there’s a lesson I’m supposed to learn because of Dad and Tim, could I just know it now? Hasn’t it been long enough? Yeah. It has.

The kids are baptized. Aidan goes to a Catholic school. Sure, my experience was a great one. But, honestly, one of the main reasons he goes is because they provide after-school care. Of course, part of my hope is that Aidan going to a parochial school will help his behavior and attention in church. We’ll see how that goes.

I say prayers with the kids every night. And, I also say my own prayers every day. Not always at the same time. Not always in the same place. But, bottom line is they get said.

Heck, I’m a godfather — three times! I do take that responsibility seriously. I mean, being selected by key friends and family — well, it’s simply an honor.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m without question — because I’m not.

And, yes, I’ve read The Shack. An amazing work. Read it if you haven’t. Did it change the way I think or look at things? Not really. But it has inspired conversation. And conversation is always good.

I have a lot of questions. A lot of issues.

To some extent, I don’t want to wait any more for the answers. I know I have to. I know I can’t get the answers to some of the questions now — and maybe not ever. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want them. Because I do.

I also, to some extent, believe in the power of prayer. Not so much that it can heal the sick, per se. But more so that it draws people closer — in a different way. And in that sense, it provides comfort.

When Dad and Tim died, I know people were praying for them — and for me. Did that do anything to help them? No. But it certainly did something to help me.

When Mom had her bypass in January, people were praying then, too. Did it help her physically? Maybe it helped her get through the surgery, but the complications persisted for quite some time, so hard to accept that.

But, again, what it did was bring comfort — to mom, my sister, my brother and me — at a very difficult time.

Again, it takes people with a shared experience/interest and brings them closer. I don’t care if it’s prayer or something else, any time that happens, it’s a good thing.

So where does this leave me?

Beats me.

Will I start getting more out of mass? Was I really ever getting anything out of mass? Honestly, I think the answer to both of those questions is I don’t know.

I love to argue — er, debate — religion. Always have. My Dad and I were famous for our ‘conversations.’

I would often take the opposite side of an issue just so I could disagree with him and argue points against him. It was that much fun. Kind of our thing.

I always promoted the notion of doing good things, of being a good neighbor, of going to church on a regular basis.

Dad was never for that. Nope. “Michael, always be careful with this one,” he’d say.

“Why’s that, Dad?” I’d respond.

“Because, Michael, no matter what you believe and what you think, one thing is very clear — religion is a very personal thing.”

I realize now, more than ever, how true that is.


What a Difference a (School) Year Makes

Here’s Aidan on the first day of school.

Ledyard Center Nursery School, September 2008.

Ledyard Center Nursery School, September 2008.

 

Here’s Aidan on the last day of school.

Ledyard Center Nursery School, May 2009.

Ledyard Center Nursery School, May 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Think he’s growing? This place did wonders for him.

Kindergarten (gulp!) here he comes.