Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, September 24, 2017

AFTERLIFE BUCKET LIST [Su, 9-24-17]


A young man approached me in the waiting room of the medical clinic.
            “Are you Dr. Burke?” he asked.
            “No.”
            “You look a lot like him. He’s a Notre Dame fan. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1937.”

I was born in 1937, but I didn’t tell him that. I just whopped him upside the head with my walker. Well, no. I didn’t hit him with my walker, mainly because I don’t have a walker. Maybe in a few years I’ll get one, just so I’ll have something to use to whop on people who think I’m Dr. Burke.

Obviously there is something wrong with that young man, primarily his eyesight, because I look very young, not at all like Dr. Burke, whom I have never seen but who is 22 years older than I and surely must look it. Oh, sure, my head is bald and my beard is white and my face is wrinkled and my hands are spotted, but those are minor because I move in such a youthful manner.

I stand straight and walk fast. That’s because my back won’t bend and I’m always hurrying to get to the bathroom, but the guy who thought I was Dr. Burke doesn’t know that. I still play softball, and I am definitely not the slowest player on the team, certainly not since Nancy got the cast on her ankle. I hit the ball with Authority, which is the name of my Louisville Slugger, sometimes clear over the outfield fence, or over the pitcher’s head, whichever comes first.

The worst thing is that he thought I looked like a Notre Dame grad! I’m not even Catholic!

Well, maybe that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is that I can remember how I looked at old people with a combination of disdain and pity when I was young. Where is memory loss when you really need it?

When I was about twelve, I overheard my parents talking about a man in our neighborhood who had died. They thought it was tragic, because he was only thirty-five. I can vividly remember saying to myself, But he had already had enough time to do everything anyone can possibly do in life; what more did he have to live for?

Through the years, I revised the age-of-worthlessness upward, but I kept the attitude. Forty-five? Fifty-five? Sixty-five? Seventy-five? Eighty-five? What more is there to live for after that?

I came face-to-face with that in a very realistic way on my fifty-third birthday, when my first oncologist told me I’d be dead “in a year or two.” There was a lot more yet to live for! That, however, was the same thing my Grandma Mac said when she was ninety-six: “I’m not afraid of dying, but I still have so much I want to do.”

I think maybe that’s why we think there is an “afterlife.” There’s just too much to do for one life. Perhaps I should make a bucket list for the next life instead of this one.

JRMcF

I stopped writing this column for a while, for several reasons. It wasn’t until I had quit, though, that I knew this reason: I did not want to be responsible for wasting your time. If I write for others, I have to think about whether it’s worthwhile for you to read. If I write only for myself, it’s caveat emptor. If you choose to read something I have written, but I have not advertised it, not asked you to read it, and it’s poorly constructed navel-gazing drivel, well, it’s your own fault. Still, I apologize if you have to ask yourself, “Why did I waste time reading this?”

My book, NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them, is published by AndrewsMcMeel. It is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. in hardback, paperback, audio, Japanese, and Czech.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

RIVER ROAD, a poem [Sa 9-23-17]


There is a road that runs along the river
It is not straight but is long and narrow
And close enough to see and hear
There is a super highway
Broad and level
Where engineers cut trees and razed the hills
When you are on that river road
With lupine and queen’s lace and clover
Close enough to reach and brush and smell
You look beyond the low place
At that wide highway
And see a cut through field and fence
And know you could merge into that fast flow
When you are ready that way to go
Don’t

JRMcF

johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Friday, September 22, 2017

FRIENDS IN WINTER [F, 9-22-17]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

Ida Belle Paterson called last night. She had finished reading “your book, and it had your telephone number in it, so I just decided to call.” She didn’t say which book, and I don’t recall that my phone number is in any of them, but that doesn’t matter. We had talked by phone several times after George died, but then… you keep forgetting to call…

Helen and I used to meet George and Ida Belle at the Ambassador Inn in Wisconsin Dells, less frequently than we would have liked. It was a convenient meeting spot, half-way between Iowa City, Iowa, where they lived, and Iron Mountain, MI, where we lived.

The Dells is a tourist spot—water parks and duck boats and all that. We didn’t “do” anything there, though. We just talked and looked at photos, got caught up on families and insights.

As we get deeper into winter, the friends of spring and summer become all the more important. They share our memories. They are chapters in our biographies.

There is a poignant episode of M*A*S*H where Col. Potter tells a reporter that he loves and respects the bright young surgeons and nurses with whom he works, but he is lonely. He is the only one of his generation. No one else in his unit shares his memories.

George and Ida Belle shared our memories.

George spent most of his career in Iowa City, first as the Director of The Wesley Foundation campus ministry at the Univ. of Iowa, then as Chaplain of University Hospital, as a Supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education, and as a professor in the School of Religion. Ida Belle raised their four children and worked in a doctor’s office. They befriended us when we lived in Iowa City while I did graduate work at the university.

After we moved back to Illinois, we didn’t see each other for around 20 years. But when we followed the grandchildren to Mason City, IA, we took up our friendship again. We had just gotten started on getting caught up with one another when grandson Joe was diagnosed with liver cancer, at 15 months of age. He and Katie spent most of the next year at Children’s Hospital, part of University Hospital in Iowa City, while Patrick worked in Mason City and Helen and I took care of four-year-old Brigid there.

Without hesitation, George and Ida Belle became surrogate parents to Katie and Patrick and surrogate grandparents for Joe. They often kept me in their home when I was at the hospital, too. They helped us all through some very difficult times with the grace of hospitality and presence.

Little Joey knew immediately that these were his friends. One day early in his hospital year, when they came to support Patrick and Katie through the difficult days of diagnoses and treatment plans, he became quite agitated. He could barely talk, but he finally communicated to his mother that he wanted his pants. He was just in a diaper. His friends had come to visit. He knew he should wear pants for such an occasion.

I struggle now with how to conclude. We no longer meet friends at The Dells. George is dead. So what’s the unifying theme for these thoughts on friendship? I’ll turn to grandchildren, the source of most of my unifying themes.

One morning when we lived in Mason City, IA, I took Brigid to kindergarten. It was extremely cold. That didn’t matter to the school officials. They did not let children into the building until the bell unless the temperature was twenty below. Otherwise they were to stand in line outside at the appropriate door. “In line” meant their placed their backpacks in a line to hold their place while they ran around on the playground. I told Brigid I would keep the heater running in the car and when we saw the other children starting into the building, then she could go join them.

“Oh, no, Grandpa. I need to be with my friends.”

“But it’s cold out there. What will you do?”

“We’ll chase each other.”

So, in conclusion, two lessons from grandchildren: 1] A good host wears pants. 2] At any age, no matter how cold it is, it’s important to chase around with your friends.

JRMcF

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] Having met and married while at IU in Bloomington, IN, we became Bloomarangs in May of 2015, moving back to where we started, closing the circle. We no longer live in the land of winter, but I am in the winter of my years, and so I am still trying to understand Christ in winter.

I tweet as yooper1721.

Joe’s mother, Katie Kennedy, is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, etc.

Speaking of writing, my most recent book, VETS, about four homeless and handicapped Iraqistan veterans, is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BOKO, Powell’s, etc. It’s published by Black Opal Books. Helen thinks that’s the one Ida Belle read.

My book, NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them is published by AndrewsMcmeel. It is available in paperback, ebook, audio, Czech, and Japanese.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

BATHROOM INSIGHTS-a poem [R, 9-21-17]



Bathrooms have often been the site of insight.
Martin Luther learned there, famously,
about letting go
to accept God’s grace,
a movement that begat
a movement
that changed the world.
I suspect that room is the setting,
or perhaps sitting,
of more insights than we hear about,
for it is surely unseemly
to mention that source,
even in an end note,
when celebrating some new thought
in story or song,
unless you are trying
to reform a religion.
But consider the pose
of Rodin’s famous statue
of “The Thinker,”
and ask yourself,
“Where did the sculptor
flush out that idea?”

JRMCF


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

MONUMENTS AND MYTHS [W, 9-20-17]



“Removing a monument doesn’t remove the history. It removes the myth.”

That was the last phrase on the last slide as John Bodnar concluded his remarks at “Monuments, Memory, and Meaning after Charlottesville.”

Bodnar was one of four IU historians who spoke [7] and discussed at the Monroe County Library Monday evening, Sept. 19. The other three were Maria Bucur [4], Michelle Moyd [5], and Edward Lilenthal.

Here is what I learned:

There are three phases in the life of a statue [landscape monument] or other monument/memorial.

The first is mourning. The suffering of the war or event is new and real. This is the time when statues of suffering rather than heroism are raised. [1] Most Confederate memorials in the early years after The Civil War were driven by white women who had lost sons and husbands and were grieving. [2] This is the “lest we forget” phase. We are in that now with 9/11 memorials.

The second phase is forgetting. “Lest we forget” is replaced with “Let’s forget.” Nobody wants to be responsible for all the deaths and misery. Who can white Southerners blame for 200,000 white deaths? So the myth begins, symbolized by the monuments. These were heroic figures, fighting an heroic battle. The point is not slavery or other social issues but heroism in the face of the foe. Nobody is responsible. It just sort of happened and we reacted with courage. [6]

Finally, the myth is complete. It was a noble but lost cause. It’s just history, something to cherish. [3] Also, since it was a noble but lost cause, it is a myth we can use to revive old passions.

Monuments are not primarily historical; they are primarily mythical.

JRMcF

Yes, I know, the footnotes are out of order… or are they?

1] There are statues that depict not the heroism of war but its suffering. They are raised in the early  mourning period. Bodnar showed a slide from a New Mexico town. Because a New Mexico National Guard unit was sent to the Philippines in WWII, many New Mexico towns have statues depicting American soldiers in great agony on the Bataan death march. Those were their boys, and that is what they want to remember.

2] For blacks, however, the main memorials at this time were celebrations of emancipation, even though there were black deaths to mourn, too.

3] Not everyone gets caught up in the nobility of lost causes, though. My author friend, Elaine Palencia, went to Oxford, MS to tour the William Faulkner sites. She was looking at the Confederate monument statue when an old guy came up to her and said, “You know what that is?” He spat and said, “It’s a prize for second place.”

4] Bucur focused primarily on how Romania dealt with the statues of WWII dictator, Ion Antonescu.

5] Moye focused on the controversy about the statue of a black soldier [Askari] in service of the British in colonial times, in Dar es Salaam.

6] Even well-intentioned memorials participate in this. Bodnor noted that Tom Brokaw depicts “the greatest generation” in a war in which nobody died.

7] Although Helen is no historian, she was glad we went. She’s quite interested in the topic. But she was discouraged by the speaking competence. “I had no idea that four faculty members at IU would not be able to speak any better than that.” She knows that content is more important than delivery, and she liked the content, what she could get of it. But all four, Bodnor the least, did their content a disservice by inadequate volume and enunciation, stumbling reading of their own material, and far too many “ums,” [I began to think we were in a monastery.] The problem for Helen may be that she hears the excellent Jimmy Moore speak every Sunday and unconsciously her bar has been raised higher than most.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

ONE, a poem [T, 9-19-17]


I made one great joke
It was not enough for a set

I wrote one great line
It was not enough for a poem

I hummed one great melody
It was not enough for a song

I had one great idea
It was not enough for an app

I drew one great picture
It was not enough for an exhibit

I built one great chair
It was not enough for a house

I planted one great tree
It was not enough for a forest

I told one great story
It was not enough for a book

I lost my heart for one great love
It was enough for a life

JRMcF

johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Monday, September 18, 2017

WHAT DID NOT END [M, 9-18-17]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

One of the neat things about Bloomington is that world-renowned musicians of every genre live, and perform, here. There’s John Mellenkamp in rock, and Sylvia McNair in Opera and Broadway [and watch for Katherine Jolly], and Dominic Spera and Pat Harbison in jazz [and, before their deaths, David Baker and Al Cobine], and Carrie Newcomer in folk. There are many others, just as good but not as well known. I guess it all started with Hoagy Carmichael.

Saturday night we went to hear Carrie, something we do every year or so. She always sells out, of course. She has that rich full deep voice that she uses so well, and that Quaker activist manner, sweet and insouciant at the same time. More than most singer-songwriters of her genre, she is a good poet.

She introduced one of her songs by saying: “When my husband and I moved here, it was just for one year. That was thirty years ago. I fell in love…with the hills and the trees, with the geodes you can pick up in the creek beds, with the funny looking court house, with the strings of lights downtown at Christmas, with the wonderful farmer’s market, with the tomatoes and sweet corn, with the friendly faces. None of those ended last November.”

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] Having met and married while at IU in Bloomington, IN, we became Bloomarangs in May of 2015, moving back to where we started, closing the circle. We no longer live in the land of winter, but I am in the winter of my years, and so I am still trying to understand Christ in winter.

I tweet as yooper1721.

Another thing that did not end in November, good writing: Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, etc.