Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, June 22, 2018



            Significant and debilitating pain in my left thigh that arose for no obvious or observable reason, lasted for 24 hours and gradually decreased over the next 48 hours until it was gone.

            Helen Googled the symptoms and learned that it might be a mononeuropathic episode. Such a delightful word-mononeuropathy-and I prefer to have maladies with great names, so I decided that’s what it was. Besides, I have an arthritic spine, and surely a mononeuropathy could emanate from that, so there.
However, when the medical diagnosticians in North Carolina [a retired English teacher and retired geologist] learned of this episode in an email [not from me], they consulted their physical therapist daughter, who suggested I might have encountered a TIA. When the Russian historian/novelist/LPN daughter in Iowa heard this, she demanded an immediate appointment for me with the doctor. [“Say ‘Hello’ to her for me, TOMORROW morning!”]

On T evening, June 12, I began to have twinges in my left quadriceps. Not pain. More of a tightness. A tendency of my leg to buckle when I put weight on it. I could not think of any trauma or incident that would cause it so assumed it was just an overworked muscle from walking.
Wednesday morning, June 13, I figured I could “walk it off.” It was stiff, but I walked 35 of my usual 65 minutes, after which it seemed normal. By noon, though, it had become not just tight but painful, and each time I put weight on it, it hurt and buckled. Soon I could get around the house only with a cane in one hand and whatever piece of furniture I could grab in the other. It hurt even when I was just sitting and tried to adjust its position. Helen even had to put the garbage out on the curb and get the mail from our rural box, which is located several miles from our condo door, which made me feel like a really bad invalidish husband.
Thursday morning, June 14, it wasn’t too bad. I could hobble around the house without the cane. It gradually got better on Thursday and Friday, until back to my normal old-man gait.

The only things I did to dismiss the pain and tightness was take one Aleve on Wednesday morning and try to sit with better posture, and give up all my other bad habits, just in case God was punishing me for one of them, such as stomping on an ant with my left leg when I was four years old. [God has a long memory, which is why God and elephants get along so well together.]

THE NOTORIOUS RIV [Raluca Ioana Vucescu] and the TMI
            Having little recourse, on M morning at 8:30 I called the office of my physician/gerontologist, The Notorious RIV, and asked to speak with Nurse Willis, [who is the main character in The Fireman, the post-apocalyptic novel—long enough to be apocalyptic all by itself--by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, or maybe that’s a different nurse Willis] assistant to Dr. V, thinking that would satisfy Katie and Helen when Megan said, “It’s just because you’re “older than Springstein” [taking off on one of my favorite Alan Sherman comedy songs—“Younger than Springstein, am I….]
“Laura of the Office” asked me what my concern was. “I might have had a TMI,” I told her. There was a long silence. I was surprised. “She works in a medical office. She ought to know what a TMI is.”
            “What do you mean when you say TMI?” she asked.
            “Well, you know, a mini-stroke.” “Duh.”
            “Do you mean a TIA?”
            Oh, good grief, Now they’ll think I had one for sure.
            That seemed to be the case. Laura said they’d call back. They did. Immediately. “Come on down. The doctor will see you now.”
            She did. She saw Helen, too, since she wanted to go along for the ride, so if things went long, we could leave directly to go to meet Glenn and Allyson for lunch at Crazy Horse, at which site Helen always orders anything that has bacon jam on it. She also wanted to see what Dr. V would do.
            She saw a lot. Dr. V did about everything but have me dance the merengue. She’s noted for being especially thorough, although I questioned whether a mononeuropathy might have emanated into my left thigh from my prostate.
            “Well,” she said, “whatever it was, it’s gone. You’re cured.”

BEWARE THE DOLLAR TREE [Or maybe it’s not really The Tree’s fault.]
            As we told Allyson and Glenn about our morning, I remembered that a couple of months ago, I bought foam inserts for my running shoes at Dollar Tree. But having paid no attention when I pulled them off the rack, I got one that was double-thick. I put it into my right shoe and the single-thick insert into my left, for no particular reason. Maybe walking lop-sided all this time… I walk 3.5 miles per day… could that have caused…

John Robert McFarland

No, I’m not really writing again, but Katie gave me David Sedaris’ Calypso for Father’s Day. As I read it, I thought, Oh, I write like that. You just need to have strange stuff happen to you, and anything is strange if you tell the story right.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018



A follow-up to my song of yesterday, “Pray It Down.”

These days, I am reluctant to suggest that we pray about the evil that stalks the earth in the disguise of politics, for too long Christians have used prayer as a substitute for action, praying that the will of God be done instead of doing the will of god, offering only “thoughts and prayers” as response to unspeakable violence and immorality.

Marcus Borg, the Jesus scholar—gone from this world too soon--was as passionate an advocate for social justice as I have ever known. But he was just as passionate about the need to be centered spiritually in order to do the will of God in the world, to “…live in the heart of God in order to work in the Kingdom of God.”

Or as John Wesley put it, “personal holiness” is useless if it does not lead to “social holiness,” and “social holiness” cannot exist without “personal holiness.”


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

PRAY IT DOWN-A song [T, 6-19-18]

PRAY IT DOWN-A song [T, 6-19-18]

Michael Palencia, the world’s leading authority on Gabriel Garcia Gomez [My nurse, Megan Willis, who assists my gerontologist, The Notorious RIV [Raluca Iona Vucescu] says she liked One Hundred Years of Solitude more than Love in the Time of Cholera—Bloomington is the kind of place where nurses talk that way as they take your temperature.] and his wife, Elaine Fowler Palencia, the poet and short-story writer [I think I still like Small Caucasian Woman best from among her books.] came by to see us recently. We took them to The Tudor Room at the IU Union for lunch, because everyone should get to experience The Tudor Room at least once. As we chatted about the state of the world, and our own nation in particular, Michael said, “I wake up angry every morning.” I said, “Oh, so do I, and I don’t want to be that kind of person.”

So I wrote this song, “Pray It Down.” You can do it to your own tune, but I warn you, it does not work to either “Bill Grogan’s Goat” or “Have You Seen the Ghost of Tom?”

I went to God with my lament
Said my life is almost spent
The world and all its sorrow makes me frown

I am tired and I am worn
Last days should be praise, not be forlorn
Help me, please, help me lay this burden down
I want to lay this burden down

God said, It’s the burden of the spirit
You can’t ever lay it down
Still there’s no need to fear it
You can’t lay it but you can pray it
Pray it down, my brother, pray it down
[Just pray it down]

Pray it down, my brother, pray it down
When you face the world and all its wrong
Face it with a prayer, face it with a song
Pray it down, my sister, pray it down

You can’t lay it, you can’t slay it,
You can’t even just delay it
But you can pray it, brother
Pray it down
[Pray that burden down]

The problem with praying it down is that you become even more aware of how you must rise up after prayer and proclaim, “We shall overcome…” Now I wake up less angry, and more determined.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

FEELING SAFE [Fathers Day, Sunday, 6-17-18]

6-17-18 [su] I think about and pray for all the churches of which I have been a part each Sunday morning. This morning I stopped at Forsythe. Too much to remember and pray about to go on.
            I started wondering why it was that I blossomed, came into my own, at Oakland City, and realized it was because I felt safe there, for the first time.
            In Indpls, I did not feel safe, at home, at school, in the neighborhood. I did feel safe at East Park Church, but that was a small amount of Indpls time, over all.
            This morning I recalled one of my fist times at Forsythe. We had just moved to the farm. I was ten. A really big tree had to be cut down on the southeast corner of the church bldg. and the cemetery. Mr. Heathman—nearest neighbor and church trustee--took Daddy and me, to meet some other men there one evening, to cut it down.
            There were no power saws then, of course, in 1947, so they cut it down with a cross-cut saw. Took a long time. For the first time, I saw my father interacting with other men in a friendly fashion. They seemed aware of his handicap, but also realized that he was strong, and you didn’t need much eyesight to work a crosscut.
            I didn’t think of it that way then, of course, but cutting down that tree together outside the building was as much church as the worship we did inside the building.
            When I was a cancer patient and advocate, and reading a lot about medical settings and procedures, and listening to patients and survivors tell their stories, I learned that the basic thing any patient asks in a medical setting is, “Am I safe here?”
            Safety is a strange thing. Obviously, if you are a patient, you aren’t safe, either from the disease that threatens you or the procedures designed to heal you. Yet as a patient, you know if you are safe, spiritually, even if all kinds of bad things are happening to you, physically.
            In many ways, life on a primitive farm was less safe than life in Indianapolis was, and certainly cutting down a big tree with a crosscut saw is not a safe activity, but the farm, the neighbors, my classmates, and especially Forsythe Church—there, for the first time, I felt safe.
            Now, having intended this just for my journal, trying in my last years to understand my first years, as usual I’m not satisfied with not sharing it, so I think I’ll post it in CIW, even though “officially” I have stopped writing CIW.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Through the years, one final gift I could give to my friends was to use my writing ability to eulogize them. They keep dying faster than I am, though, and it has occurred to me that there will be no one—no one who has really known me through the years—to eulogize me. So I have begun to write for them what they would say if they had outlived me. This one is the nameless hobo I was called on to bury along about 1970…  


We never met each other, and he didn’t know my name. I didn’t know his, either. But I’m glad he was there.

I didn’t even know it was Bloomington, the one in Illinois, where I died. Didn’t make any difference. Never made any difference where I lived, either. I never got any more respect in life than I did in death.

They had to bury me, though, so the sheriff and the undertaker got the out-cast preacher to read the words for the out-cast nameless hobo. I guess they figured we deserved each other.

They just stood beside the hearse, talking, the sheriff and the undertaker, didn’t pay the preacher any more respect than they did me, just let him follow his nose to my pine box. They didn’t even bother to walk over to hear him say the words.

So he got out his book and gave me the whole treatment—every prayer and every scripture in the whole funeral part of that book, just like that first funeral he did, when he didn’t know better. He even said a little sermon, told a couple of stories. Nobody there to hear. That was really funny.

Yeah, part of it was to make the sheriff and the funeral director have to wait, but I was great with that. Mostly, though, I liked it just because I finally got some respect. Yeah, that preacher and me, we deserved each other.

Friday, June 1, 2018



Ernie always liked me best. He went crazy whenever I showed up, danced in circles around me, wouldn’t let me out of his sight, sat beside me on the sofa with his paw on my leg to keep me in place, sat on my lap at family meals [even though other people forbade us]. Until the last time.

That was when I knew I had reached the pinnacle of irrelevancy.

I have been in the process of becoming irrelevant for some time now. That’s the way of old age. Don’t misunderstand, please; irrelevancy doesn’t mean that we are not liked or appreciated or loved. It just means we aren’t needed for anything, except being liked and loved and appreciated. No one needs us for the practical stuff, like preaching or writing or playing third base or providing ideas and advice. There are younger, more with-it people for that.

But I knew I would never be irrelevant to Ernie. He would cry at the front door when I left. He would sit there for two days hoping I would return. Until the last time.

He was four years old when our daughter, Katie Kennedy, the famous YA author, and her family got him from the shelter. His first people had been an older couple, with the man doing almost all of his care. Finally it became too much for the old man, and they gave him to the shelter, to find a new home for him. Just after grandson Joe, then ten years old, had told his mother, “I don’t just want a dog; I need a dog.”

Naturally, when Ernie met me, he assumed I would be at his beck and call, be his faithful and constant servant, just as the former old man. He was right.

Three years later we moved 650 miles away. We saw Ernie only twice or three times a year. Nothing changed. I was still his favorite person, the one he went crazy about each time I showed up. Until the last time.

Last Sunday, grandson Joe graduated from high school. When Helen and I came in the door on Saturday, Ernie didn’t even notice. He paid no attention to me the whole weekend. Just because Katie now provides his care the 362 days of the year that I am not there, she is now the one he cries for at the front door when she leaves.

I had reached the pinnacle of irrelevance, unneeded even by the dog.

The graduation trip required a respite from writing CIW. Now, through Ernie’s prescience, I have come to realize what he already knew: I am irrelevant. I have nothing to say, nothing that is worth your time to read.

Thank you for being a faithful reader. Writing CIW has kept me sane. It has also allowed me to put off realizing how irrelevant I am. Now the time is here to do what old men do best—be irrelevant. I’m sure I’ll do that well, because I have already reached the pinnacle.

Grace and peace,

Thursday, May 24, 2018

But What If It IS Your Monkey? [R, 5-24-18

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life in the Years of Winter…  But What If It Is Your Monkey?   [R, 5-24-18

One of the few good things about daughter Mary Beth’s recent chemotherapy and surgery and recovery, her third bout with cancer, is that we got to spend much more time with her than usual.

We shared many stories from her past, including her high school graduation. I was very proud of her, for the obvious reasons. She had been an outstanding student. But more so because she chose to march in with the boy nobody else wanted to walk beside.

Speaking of undesirable boys, another of the boys in her class did not march in with the class at all. He was sitting up real high in the bleachers, where apparently he was hoping that his parents would not see him. They were sitting down low, with the other parents, because they fully expected to see him graduate. I have forgotten now what he did or did not do that knocked him out of graduation, but I do remember his parents--who were my church members--with quizzical looks on their faces, sitting there looking at the grads sitting on the stage and wondering where their son was.

I understand his reluctance to tell his parents that he was not graduating, to explain to them what he had done or not done. But what in the world did he think was going to happen? Didn’t he realize they were going to find out? Didn’t he have the good sense to know it would be worse if he let them come to graduation expecting to see him in a cap and gown on stage instead of a t-shirt and jeans in the top row?

A whole lot of people can’t think, or can’t feel emotionally, beyond what feels best, easiest, least bothersome, at the moment. That gives other people problems. I know, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” but it if is your child or your neighbor or your fellow, voting citizen, it IS your circus, and they are your monkeys, and you can’t avoid dealing with them.


I guess I’m thinking about boys and high school graduations because grandson Joe graduates from high school this weekend. I’ll be taking a few days off from CIW so I can concentrate on celebrating Joe, who was diagnosed with cancer at 15 months of age and died three times before he was two years old. Now he’s a tall, quiet, smart tennis letterman and tenor saxophonist, who starts college next fall at the University of Iowa, where he was a patient in Children’s Hospital throughout most of his second year of life. He’ll be a pre-med student.