Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, October 20, 2017

I WAS SO MUCH OLDER THEN [F, 10-20-17]

I loved the early Bob Dylan. “Blowin’ in the Wind.” “Don’t Think Twice.” Those sorts of songs.

I don’t understand most of his later lyrics, especially “My Back Pages.’ There is one line, however, in that song that I love: “But I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”

Maybe I’ll have them put that on my grave stone.

JRMcF

Thursday, October 19, 2017

NOTES TO A GRANDDAUGHTER-poem [R 10-19-17]


That time you cried before you even knew
The world existed
And that you were part of it

That was the time I prayed for you.

When you ran screeching through the sprinkler
The first time you saw the words and knew their meaning
When you were so frightened because your brother was so sick

That was the time I prayed for you.

When you went off to school with a smile and a hope
When the teacher didn’t understand
When the other girls shut you out

That was the time I prayed for you.

When you tried to make the team and didn’t
When you lost the spelling bee
When you cried because you held a tiny death in your hand

That was the time I prayed for you.

When you saw that boy and he walked away
When you didn’t even want to go
But they chose you queen at the prom

That was the time I prayed for you.

When those in power lied
And sneered at you in arrogance
When the world teetered on destruction
When injustice seemed so overwhelming

That was the time I prayed for you.


When you laughed out loud at nothing
When you saw the stars at night, and felt so small,
When you felt the presence of God in every angle of your soul

That was the time I prayed for you

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

FLOPPY EARS [W, 10-18-17]

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

My Grandma Mac-Henrietta Ann Smith McFarland, who was Retta to her friends-made me a stuffed dog. I called it Floppy Ears.

I was three years old, and Grandma’s favorite grandson. That’s what she always called me, up to when I was ten. Then she stopped calling me that. It was years before I realized she had stopped calling me that when her second grandson was born.

It was the time of The Great Depression. We lived with Grandma and Grandpa-Arthur Harrison McFarland, who went by Harry-in a big old house at the edge of Oxford, Ohio that my mother dubbed Cedar Crest because of the big trees in the front yard. Sometimes there were just nine of us, Grandma and Grandpa, my parents and my sister and I, and my father’s three late teen/early twenties bachelor brothers who could not marry because they could not get jobs. Occasionally there would be twelve or fourteen of us, if Uncle Harvey or Uncle Glen lost a job and they had to move in, too, with their wives and daughters.

Grandma was no more than five feet tall and weighed maybe 90 pounds. She had seven children, at home, and raised along with her own seven the daughter of a brother, from the age of four until Genevieve graduated high school. She was never in a hospital until the day she died, at age 96.

Grandma worked full-time, at Western College for Women, now a part of Miami University, first as a maid, then as a salad cook. She had a house full of people, and a purse full of nothing, but she found the time to make me a stuffed dog.

Grandma wasn’t a great crafter. Floppy Ears wasn’t intricate. He was just a profile dog, about two inches across, one leg in front and one in back. His sides were in a black and white pattern, and his legs and middle were red. But he had two eyes, and those great floppy ears, on the outside the same black and white material as his body, red on the inside.

I loved Floppy Ears, and yet he didn’t last long. I forgot about him when my father got a job in Indianapolis and we moved away from Cedar Crest and I started school. When I was about twelve I came across him in a box in the attic. I was a little embarrassed at twelve to be so happy to rediscover a little stuffed dog. I put him back in the box.

I don’t know what happened to that box. It disappeared when my parents moved while I was in graduate school. But as I listen now to a Billy Vaughn CD with a recitation of Little Boy Blue, that starts with “The little toy dog is covered with dust…” I remember Floppy Ears, and a woman who covered the world with kindness, and I am happy.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Spoiler Alert: If you have read this column in the last 3 months, all that follows is old news:

I started this blog several years ago, when we followed the grandchildren to the “place of winter,” Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP]. I put that in the sub-title, Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] The grandchildren, though, are grown up, so in May, 2015 we moved “home,” to Bloomington, IN, where we met and married, and where we are known as “Bloomarangs.” It’s not a “place of winter,” but we are still in winter years of the life cycle, so I am still trying to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter…

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

SCONE THINKING [T, 10-17-17]


This is a story about an old man sitting in the doctor’s waiting room thinking about scones. I know this story well.

There were 30 empty seats plus mine in that room. I felt slightly lonely. I wondered if someone else would come in. If they did, I figured said newcomer would ask me what I was thinking about, because I don’t like that, since I never have an interesting thought, at least not one I’m willing to admit to.

But this time, I was ready, for I knew when I got home Helen would have coffee and scones ready, so I would answer the inquisitive stranger: “I am thinking about whether I prefer cinnamon or oatmeal scones. There really is no question. I like oatmeal best, but my wife prefers cinnamon, so I maintain the myth that I like them equally, since I want to keep her happy, since she is the one who bakes the scones, and equal liking is only a venial lie, for I do like them both. In fact, it is fair to say that while I do have regrets, none of them involves cinnamon scones.”

Then a total of five people came and checked in and spread out onto the empty seats and not a one of them asked me what I was thinking, which was rude of them and disappointing to me.

Do not ask for whom the phlebotomist came, for she came for me. I asked her what she intended to do to me, for I tend to get phlebotomists and lobotomists confused, one with another, and I wanted to be sure which she was, which I explained to her, in lieu of the scones soliloquy which by that time I had memorized. When I left, I thanked her for not giving me a lobotomy, to which she replied, “Or perhaps I did and you don’t remember it.” [As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.]

This is a story about an old man sitting in the doctor’s waiting room thinking about scones. I know this story well. At least I thought I did. Now, though, I wonder if the botomist replaced my memory with that of someone else in that waiting room. But I think this cinnamon scone I am eating might be a clue…

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com


Monday, October 16, 2017

BEING THE MUSIC [Monday, October 16, 2017]

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

I chatted with legendary US Congressman Lee Hamilton yesterday afternoon. During his 34 years representing Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, he was probably the most universally respected member of the US Congress, especially for his level-headed approach and his expertise on international affairs and national security. Now retired, he continues to serve as an advisor to many government agencies, and as the Director of The Indiana Center on Representative Government at Indiana University.

I ran into Lee after the “Sylvia and Friends” concert to raise money for the Shalom Center, which serves Bloomington’s homeless community. Sylvia is another IU icon, recently retired from the Jacobs School of Music, following a spectacular performing and recording career in opera and Broadway musicals. This was her 10th year doing the concert, which always includes Charles Webb, the retired dean of the Jacobs School, who has been the organist at First United Methodist Church, where the concert was held, for an astounding 58 years, and another 7 or 8 musical friends, at all stages of their professional careers, some retired, some just starting.

That list of pianists and guitarists and singers includes Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, Lee’s nephew. The play list was mostly Leonard Bernstein, who was a long-time friend of Charles Webb and IU’s school of music, but, naturally, the mayor was requested to sing Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.” Lee laughed when I noted that Bloomington is the kind of place where even the mayor sings. [Quite professionally, by the way]

No one sings like Sylvia, though. A consummate performer. And human being. She has retired early to spend full-time in service to others, ministering directly and via agencies to the homeless and abused among us. We won’t lose her musical voice entirely, of course, but we shall be better because of her advocacy voice on behalf of those who most need a song in the dark.

What appeals to me most about Sylvia, though, is that we are both cancer survivors who say, along with many others, that cancer is the best thing that ever happened to us. Cancer gave us a new view of life, and a new song to sing. So I sit here this morning, humming my life songs as I go, ready to face a new day with a new song.

An event like yesterday afternoon works as a reset for me, because it contains all the elements that make life worthwhile—an attempt to help those who need it, real human beings who make the world better by their service and their presence, and music.

Being in the presence of Lee and Sylvia and the mayor and all the other folks there, in that beautiful church, with the music of Hoagy and Lennie, raising money for the homeless… all that is great. But it’s not necessary. All each of us has to do is be a real human who tries to make the world a better place, while singing a song.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet once in a great while as yooper1721.

Spoiler Alert: If you have read this column in the last 3 months, all that follows is old news:

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.

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?”

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 new book, What Goes Up, came out July 18. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available from B&N, Amazon, Powell’s, 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.

I started this blog several years ago, when we followed the grandchildren to the “place of winter,” Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP]. I put that in the sub-title, Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] The grandchildren, though, are grown up, so in May, 2015 we moved “home,” to Bloomington, IN, where we met and married. It’s not a “place of winter,” but we are still in winter years of the life cycle, so I am still trying to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter…

Sunday, October 8, 2017

WHY I AM GOING TO HEAVEN [Su 10-8-17]


Old people often have mortality dreams. Mine are usually preparation dreams, or, more clearly, non-preparation drams, in that I am not ready to die. I have to take a test in a course I did not even know I was enrolled, or I have to go on stage and I haven’t learned my lines. It’s never a musical dream, like I have to sing a solo when I’m not prepared, because I’m always ready to sing a solo, as long as it’s “Bill Grogan’s Goat.” But, clearly, the message is: You are not prepared to die.

Last night, though, I had a different sort of mortality dream. I was walking in my brown jersey gloves, which I always stick into my pocket on nippy mornings, just in case. But in my dream, they were not enough. My hands were cold. “I should have worn my leather gloves,” I thought.

Now, it’s possible to think of this as another non-prepared dream, but I think this means I am going to heaven, for surely there would be no need of warmer gloves in hell.

JRMcF

Johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Friday, October 6, 2017

WE DON’T SAY NO TO DONNA [F, 10-16-17, A repeat, mostly]


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

I got the news last night that Donna had died. Donna Huff now. Donna Miller when we were school classmates. Everything went wrong for Donna, right up to the end. She was hit broadside by a pickup truck and spent three weeks in the hospital, not in a coma but unresponsive. I often said that in her last thirty years, she made a life out of nothing. That wasn’t exactly true. She made a life by being a host for every soul that needed a smile or a hug. The CIW below, repeated from four years ago explains more about Donna. May she find in death the peace that she was so often denied in life.

WE DON’T SAY NO TO DONNA

The package contained ELEVEN tubes of toothpaste. With a note that said, “Donna will call you and explain.”

There were supposed to be only FIVE. And that was only because we overpaid last time. I am old. I don’t even buy green bananas. How am I doing to use up eleven tubes of toothpaste before I die? [1]

Donna was my high school classmate. She is a distributor for Forever Bright™ toothpaste. We buy from her because a long time ago she asked us to. We don’t say “no” to Donna.

She did call to explain. She owed us five tubes from our previous overpayment and tried to get the company to send them directly to us. She doesn’t have much time for boxing up out-of-town orders. Her mother is well over a hundred years and in a nursing home. Donna slept on a mattress on the floor of her room until her back got so bad she had to have surgery. Now she sleeps at home but spends most of her daytime hours at the nursing home. So why not get headquarters to send directly to us? But apparently eleven is the minimum to mail to a separate address. Who knows why? If 13 is a baker’s dozen, perhaps 11 is a dentist’s dozen.

I knew Donna in school, of course, but not well. We had a class of only 62, and I was class president for 3 years. But we didn’t run in the same social circles. I was high in the work circle of the class and school—class president, Student Council officer, newspaper editor, orchestra bassoonist—but I was not high in the power structure, which was based mostly on money and family, or the social structure, which was based mostly on looks and clothes. [1] Donna was high in the social structure; she was Homecoming Queen.

We expected a high society life for her after school, of course. It didn’t turn out that way. Her first husband divorced her, her second committed suicide. Her two sons died in their twenties, one of cancer and the other in a motorcycle accident. Her only grandchild, Jada, either committed suicide or was murdered in Donna’s house, at the age of 19. Her only family now is her mother and two sisters, one deep into Alzheimer’s, and the other living in a different state and unable to walk. Donna takes care of her mother and sells toothpaste. [10-6-17: Her mother and one sister are now dead.]

Except, Donna makes a life out of nothing. She knows everybody and she knows their stories. Helen says one of the best times she ever had was when we went to lunch with Donna when we were back in Oakland City for our 55 year reunion. She introduced us to everyone in the restaurant, including the pig farmer who was, thankfully, getting take-out and whose clothes were splattered with what Helen devoutly hoped was mud. Young or old or in-between, Donna knew them all, and later she explained why each one needed her special attention, although she didn’t put it that way, because of the difficulties of their lives. We’ve been with her several times through the years at nursing homes. She goes in like a swarm of laughing bees on a summer day, landing on every worker and every patient with a hug and a smile and a “How are you, Sweetie?” And besides, who can’t love a woman in her 70s who is a backup dancer/singer for an Elvis impersonator?
 
She’s still in the social circle, but she’s in the work circle now, too. She was telling us about how some sorority she belongs to was doing a benefit for some burned-out family or good cause or… I’m not quite sure because it’s hard to stay up with Donna. They were trying to get 25 people to sponsor it at $100 each so they could pay the band and then all the money they raised would go to the good cause. Turns out sponsors got 4 free tickets. Donna found some young married folks who wanted to go but couldn’t afford it and told them, “Pick up tickets at the window. Just tell them you are named McFarland.” We don’t say “no” to Donna.

We decided a long time ago to stop going back for class reunions. 700 miles is just too far away. But through the years we’ve become a talisman for Donna. When it came time for our 50 year reunion, she called and asked us to come. “Everyone will tell about how long they’ve been married, and about their children and grandchildren, and I won’t have anything to say. But I think I can make it through if I can sit between you and Helen.” When it was 55 years, she called and said, “I’ve got to have back surgery the Monday after. I think I can make it through if I can see you first.” We don’t say “no” to Donna.

Helen wrote the following on Jan. 13: So last night I was lying awake in bed, and this morning when I first awoke, I was feeling kind of sorry for myself. Nothing specific—just mid-winter blahs. Seemed like there are so many wrong with the world, and in the lives of people I care about, and in my own diminishing abilities to think and work and affect my world. Just feeling kind of down. I prayed about it, asking God for guidance and direction And what does God do?? Before I finished breakfast, God tapped Donna on the shoulder and said, “Call McFarlands—and be sure you talk to Helen, not just John.” {After Donna and I had talked, she said, “Does Helen have anything she wants to say to me?} Donna!! Of all the people I’ve ever known, Donna is probably the one who makes the most of what she’s been given, stays upbeat when her world is falling apart [which it has several times] and does the most good for the most people. God could have sent any number of reasonably cheerful people into my life today and it would have helped me on my way, but NO—He has to call out Donna—the BIG GUN! After we had talked and I was cheered and inspired as I always am by her, I smiled and said, “God, you really know how to send a message.”

So, we don’t say “no” to Donna, but… do you need some toothpaste?

JRMcF

1] I guess I could put the toothpaste in my will. Daughter Katie looked up McFarland wills in the county courthouse in Xenia, OH. One of my ancestors, Greene Clay McFarland, I think it was, had willed a three-legged stool to the daughter “with a bad eye,” and “the bucket without the hole” to another, etc. Eleven tubes of toothpaste might look pretty good.

2] I experienced the difference of work, power, and social circles primarily in the church, but most groups of humans, and primates generally, are like high school. {Shudder!} There is some overlap between the circles, but also some clear distinctions.


The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

SPIRIT OF GENTLENESS [R, 10-5-17]


On YouTube there are several versions of Jim Manley’s great hymn, “Spirit of Gentleness.” Most mornings I listen to one or another of them on my iPad, with my coffee, sound turned low since I’m up early.

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness,
blow through the wilderness, calling and free.
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness
Stir me from placidness,
Wind, Wind on the sea.

It’s a hymn, in many hymnals, not that anybody uses hymnals anymore, since someone discovered that a screen can be mounted on a wall, but it can be used as a choral number, too. One year the St. Olaf College Choir used it in their Christmas concert, one of those lovely specials you see on PBS.

You moved on the waters, you called to the deep.
then you coaxed up the mountains from the valleys of sleep,
and over the eons, you called to each thing:
Awake from your slumbers and rise on your wings.

Back in the 1960s, when I was minister at The Wesley Foundation [Methodist campus ministry] at Illinois State University, I came across an LP [high tech in those days] of Jim’s first album, ”Raggedy Band.” I was grabbed by his voice, his lyrics, his theology. I especially loved the song, “You’re Gonna Hear From Him Again.” I thought one of the best things I could do as a minister to my students was get Jim to our campus so that they could meet him and hear him.

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness,
blow through the wilderness, calling and free.
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness
Stir me from placidness,
Wind, Wind on the sea.

So I wrote to him through the record company that put out “Raggedy Band” and asked him to come to Normal, Illinois to do a concert. He wrote back and said he’d be glad to come. The reply was from his home, in Hawaii! I had no idea that his day job was as chaplain in a home for troubled children out in the middle of the Pacific. Getting him to Normal was going to cost a bit more than I had in mind. Fortunately, we had a small fund that a family had given as a memorial for their daughter who died while she was a student at ISU. It was for special events. I knew Jim would be special.

You swept through the desert, you stung with the sand,
And you goaded your people with a law and a land,
And when they were blinded by their idols and lies
Then you spoke through your prophets to open their eyes

Since Jim lived in Hawaii and his brother was in Kansas City, they rarely got to see each other. Jim thought it would be great if his brother could come see him while he was back on the mainland. So DeVerne Dalluge, chemistry professor and Wesley Foundation treasurer, and his wife, Shirley, said they would host Jim’s brother and his wife in their house.

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness,
blow through the wilderness, calling and free.
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness
Stir me from placidness,
Wind, Wind on the sea.

Jim’s brother was better off than Jim. We housed Jim in the new room my brother and I had finished in the basement. We didn’t know that our cat, Princess, went down to sleep with him. We didn’t know Jim was allergic to cats. His concert was a huge success, not just because of his lyrics, but because of his new voice, that sounded like it came right out of a concrete mixer! It fit his lyrics so nicely.

You sang in a stable, you cried from a hill
You whispered in silence when the whole world was still
And down in the city you called once again
When you blew through your people on the rush of the wind

Twenty-five years later, I was pastoring in a small town in Illinois—Arcola. I had just published my book for cancer patents, and was receiving a lot of invitations to speak at cancer gatherings. We got home from the one at MD Anderson in Houston, and our grad school house-sitting daughter said, “Oh, you won’t believe who stopped by while you were here. It was Jim Manley. He was in town to visit his aunt.”

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness,
blow through the wilderness, calling and free.
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness
Stir me from placidness,
Wind, Wind on the sea.

“Jim Manley has an aunt in Arcola?” “Yes, Mary Nay.” Well, Mary Nay was one of my favorite church members, and Jim Manley was her favorite nephew, but we had no idea we had that connection. Actually, Jim had so many Aunt Marys that he called Mary Nay, at her request, “Uncle Mary.” That was the kind of woman she was.

You call from tomorrow, you break ancient schemes
From the bondage of sorrow the captives dream dreams
Our women see visions, our men clear their eyes
With bold new decisions your people arise

Mary was elderly, and good health can leave quickly when we are old, especially after a fall and a broken hip. So it was not long before Jim came back to sing at her funeral. It was a completion of the family circle for him, and a completing of the friendship circle for the two of us to work together in worship again.

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness,
blow through the wilderness, calling and free.
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness
Stir me from placidness,
Wind, Wind on the sea.

JRMcF


Yes, I have referenced this great hymn before, most notably in the Oct. 15, 2015 CIW column. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

DO NOT ASK AN OLD MAN-a poem [W, 10-4-17]

Do not ask
an old man
We do not know

Why the water is running
in the bathroom
How our glasses
got into the refrigerator
Where the check book
is currently residing
What the doctor said
about whatever it was
Who called on the phone
and left the unreadable message

Our brains are busy
with weightier matters

Why babies giggle
when you pull their toes
How dust motes dance
in the light of memory
Where dragonflies go
when the snow is deep
What will happen
on the eighth day
Who will hold my hand
at the end

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

THOSE BLAMED SANDWICHES [T, 10-3-17]

I make coffee twice a day in our “percolator,” which is actually a drip-through, but I like to say “percolator.”

The first coffee is immediate, as soon as I get out of bed. It is only for me, since Helen gets up later and prefers tea for breakfast, anyway. So I fill the water to “my” line, the first line. I always put the water in first so that I don’t forget it. Turning on the coffee pot without water is definitely not a good thing. I know. Then I empty out the grounds from last time and rinse out the basket. Following that comes a scoop of pinon and one of chocolate. Then I push the button and finish up doing the dishes from last night.

The second coffee is mid-morning, when we have done the morning things old people do—walk, email, water aerobics, newspaper [which is not paper but electronic], read morning books, authors like Marcus Borg and Bill Bryson and Anne Lamott. I fill the water to the second line, “our” line. I empty out the grounds and put in one scoop of chocolate and two of decaf pinon, because Helen’s heart can’t do caffeine. It goes very well with one of Helen’s homemade scones or muffins.

I did the first coffee this morning while still half-asleep, dark outside, 5:30, then did the dishes and toasted half a slice of Helen’s “squaw” bread. Half-asleep is not good. For when I lifted the pot to pour into my morning mug, the one old friend Gary Bass made in his potting shed, I immediately knew something was not right. It had the weight of the mid-morning coffee, not the daybreak coffee. It immediately made me think of… a story, for everything makes me think of a story.

Two construction workers opened their lunch boxes. The first one looked in and said, “Durn! Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again!” The second worker said, “Well, why don’t you tell your wife to make something else,” to which the first replied, “Hey, I make those sandwiches.”

I got to the first part of that story with my coffee this morning. I could tell just by the weight of that pot that I would have to drink weak coffee. I looked around for someone else to blame. I was the only one there. So I had to go to the second part of the sandwich story: I made that.

We make most of our mistakes on our own. Nobody else to blame. We blame them anyway. “Look what you made me do,” as my mother used to say whenever she did something wrong. We live in community, but the way we do so successfully is if each of us acknowledges our own mistakes instead of blaming others. It makes it a lot easier for others to forgive us our mistake and help us to make better coffee and sandwiches next time.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Spoiler Alert: If you have read this column in the last 3 months, all that follows is old news:

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.

Monday, October 2, 2017

CAN I MAKE IT THROUGH THE WINTER? [M, 10-2-17]

Can I make it through the winter? When we get to a certain age, that is what we ask. If we think we can’t, if it’s too much trouble to try, we die in October. Funeral directors and ministers know this. October is the most popular dying month.

If we have started into winter, though, we really want to hang on. We don’t want to die in winter. So we wait until spring to die. That is why May is the second-biggest dying month.

So often we lose the joy of autumn by dreading the advent of winter. But autumn should be a joy in itself, not just a prelude to winter.

But, you know, it’s also a joy that winter is coming, because winter is a privilege. Not everyone gets to winter. I am glad when I make it to winter.

I hope you make it to winter, and I hope it is a joy.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Spoiler Alert: If you have read this column in the last 3 months, all that follows is old news:

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 new book, What Goes Up, comes out July 18. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available for pre-order even now, from B&N, Amazon, Powell’s, etc.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

FOR JOSEPH [Su 10-1-17]

 Last night your grandmother
made a slow descent
down into the ravine
through falling leaves
behind the inn
at Spring Mill Park

Her knees protested
but she insisted
her eyes moist in dusk
fierce in focus

She told me it was there
in that ravine
when you were so sick
she used to take you in her heart
and hold you close

as she sat on a big rock
and watched
the yellow leaves
of autumn
fall

JRMcF


Written 10-1-8


Saturday, September 30, 2017

AFTER THE GAME IS OVER [Sa 9-30-17] A repeat from 2011

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from A Place Of Winter For the Years of Winter…

            For most baseball fans, the season is over. No “post-season.” So I’m reposting this “poem” from the same date in 2011. The Cubs and their fans have gone on to much better times since I wrote this.
            I know this is doggerel instead of poetry, but good poetry is not the point.
There were other folks involved, of course, but since baseball poetry traditionally deals with male intergenerational bonding…


It was the major leagues, almost
The Pirates and the Cubs
But names that fit them best at most
Were the 1.75rates and the Flubs [1]

Hot dogs were twenty smackers
Ice cream was even more
When they saw the price of young Jack’s Crackers
Every chin dropped to the floor.

Each player made a million each
For working half a day
But every ball was out of reach
No one dared to shout “Say hey!” [2]

Every bat let out a sigh
When they saw who came to hit
None of their kind would have to die
Since every pitch was missed

Every pitch was wild as sin
The managers prayed for rain
Home plate doesn’t have to take you in [3]
There was no Spahn or Sain  [4]

But for a boy up in the bleachers
With a grandpa old as Never
Watching on the field those wretched creatures
It was the best day in Forever.

JRMcF

1] 1.75 is half of pi, if we accept pi as 3.14 without the “to infinity,” making half-rate Pirates 1.75rates. You can say “half-rates” in that line if the meter offends you.

2] The signature exultation of Willie Mays, for whom no ball was ever out of reach.

3] Poet Robert Frost said that “home is where they have to take you in.” Home plate is where they try to keep you out.

4] The battle cry of the 1948 National League Boston Braves, who became the Milwaukee Braves and later, and currently, the Atlanta Braves, was “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,” reflecting the abilities of Hall of Fame lefthander Warren Spahn and his pitching rotation partner, Johnny Sain, compared to the rest of the rotation, who pitched best if rained out. Based on a poem by Boston Post sports editor Gerald Hern: “First we’ll use Spahn, and then we’ll use Sain, then an off day, followed by rain. Back will come Spahn, followed by Sain, and followed we hope by two days of rain.”

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [And where it is 34 degrees F this morning.] We lived there 2007-2015, to be near the grandchildren and do things like take them to ball games.

Friday, September 29, 2017

HOW TO AVOID TMI [F, 9-29-17]

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

 I am reading a book on health for older people. It’s a good book. I’m learning from it. But the author likes trees, and he has learned a great deal about them, sometimes traveling great distances to do so. He cannot resist putting into this book all the tree knowledge he has learned. In writing, it’s called “an information dump.”

There is no logical place in this book to talk about trees. They have nothing to do with the health concerns of older people, but that has not stopped the author. He has put in everything he knows about trees and tried to justify it by saying, at the end of several pages, that just as the weather-beaten look of old trees indicates wisdom, there is nothing wrong with old people looking old.

Writers and old folks are similar that way. Some writers cannot resist showing you everything they have learned in their research, whether it fits or not. Some old people cannot resist telling you everything they have learned in their many years, whether you are interested or not. For short, we call it TMI: Too Much Information.

We geezers should know better than to engage in, and indulge in, TMI. We are old enough to remember TV’s Sgt. Joe Friday, who always intoned, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Perhaps we old people are so voluble because we don’t have many occasions to talk to real people.

When we were working, when the kids lived at home and we attended their games and concerts and teacher conferences, when there were parties and neighborhood gatherings, we had plenty of chances to chat. We didn’t have to say at one time everything we know.

Now, especially if we live alone, how often do we talk to someone? Our friends and family send us emails. Even the banks and car companies that want our business and the politicians who want our vote use robots to call us on the phone. If we call some business, an automated voice tells us to press different numbers so we can be ignored in the appropriate way. We don’t go to work, but the neighbors do, so even walking down the street, we aren’t likely to see someone to talk to.

It’s no surprise, then, that when the cashier at the grocery or the library lady says “Good morning,” we think she is asking about our grandchildren and wants to know what we thought about the snow storm of 1963. We readily supply TMI.

Some old people solve this dilemma by seeking out other old people to talk to. After all, they have plenty of time to listen. That’s a poor solution, though, because other old people don’t want to listen; they want to talk. And they can be so borrring, telling us way more than we need to know.

I think the obvious answer is a time-honored tradition of old people–talking to ourselves. Who better to listen to? Who could possibly listen to us with more eagerness? Anything we say is never TMI; it’s always just the right amount.


JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet as yooper1721.

I have often extolled my old friend, Walt Wagener, as one who is expert at “blooming where he’s planted.” Once when I did so, Helen said, “I want to bloom BEFORE I’m planted.” So I started writing a book of meditations for old people, sort of like my book for cancer patients. I called it BLOOM BEFORE YOU’RE PLANTED. I was never able to get an agent or publisher to be interested in the idea, though, so I’m now using some of the “chapters” for that book in this blog.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

TOMATO PICKING TIME [R, 9-28-17]


When I was growing up, our farm was surrounded on two sides by Mr. Thiemann’s fields. My father did not like Mr. Thiemann much, so relationships were sometimes strained, especially when Old Jersey, our cow, would jump the fence to enjoy Mr. Thiemann’s corn. More than once I had to go out in high and wet corn early in the morning to get Old Jerz back onto our land before Mr. Thiemann discovered her. It wasn’t easy, because she refused to jump the fence again, to come back home, so I had to figure out ways to get her around the fences and out of the forbidden field without being seen.

We were saved one year, though, because Old Jersey didn’t care for tomatoes, and Mr. Thiemann decided that would be his crop. I’m not sure if it is still true, but at that time Indiana was the second-largest producer of tomatoes, behind only California. Corn prices were low. Mr. T decided to get in on the tomato boom. My father thought he was stupid for doing so, because he thought everything Mr. T did was stupid.

I was pleased, though, when picking time came, because tomatoes require a lot of stoop labor. Enter Mexican migrants, who definitely were not taking the jobs anyone wanted, since there were not that many white boys in Gibson County who wanted to work that hard. The tomato picking was left to Mexicans, and a couple of middle-aged white “welfare queens” who had no teeth and no clothes so could not could not get other jobs but were willing to work at anything if given the chance, and me.

Jobs are hard to come by when you’re fourteen and your family has no money. But tomatoes had to be picked when they were ready. They spoiled quickly. Mr. T did not like my father or our cow much, but he would take anybody who could stoop over and put a tomato in a basket. All I had to do was walk up the gravel road from our house to the gate to Mr. T’s tomato fields and I was employed. I got there early every day and worked ‘til dark. It was not quite as miserable as detasseling corn but close.

Like the farmer in the story Jesus told, Mr. T kept going to town in his old Studebaker pickup truck to see if he could find more pickers. A few boys I knew came late and didn’t stay long. They just wanted enough money to buy some cigarettes and beer.

In a story Jesus told about tomato pickers--or maybe it was grape pickers but it sounded the same to me when I was fourteen--the farmer paid the same amount to the guys who came late just to get cigarette money as he did to the ones who worked all day. When those long-day workers complained, the farmer reminded them that he paid them what they had agreed on before they started. Since it was his money, he could do with it as he pleased, and he pleased to be sure that everyone had enough to buy his daily bread, even if he had not worked very long for it. [Matthew 20:1-16] It’s a story of God’s mercy, available to all at any time. Jesus ends his telling by saying, “So the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

If Mr. T had decided to pay the guys who came late the same as he paid me, I would have been outraged. I’ve always had a keen eye for injustice, especially if I’m the one getting treated unfairly. Mr. T and I were spared that problem, because we pickers were paid by the basket, not by the hour or day.

“The first shall be last and the last shall be first” isn’t about time or mathematics or the reversal of fortunes. It’s about equality. In the Kingdom of God, there is no first or last. There is no lining up, with some folks at the front of the line and some at the end. Everyone there gets the same pay, because it’s not pay at all, it’s love.

JRMcF


I’m in the fifth month of a year-long “professional Christian” fast, eschewing all things preacherly, to see if I can learn to be a real Christian instead of a professional Christian, one who thinks by looking at anything and asking, “How can I use this in ministry?” rather than “How can I use this in growing as a Christian?” which is the same thing as saying “How can I use this to grow into a decent human being instead of telling others how to be decent human beings?” As you can see, it’s not going very well. [Also, my sentences are getting even longer and more confusing.]

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

THIS SPECIAL PLACE, a poem [W, 9-27-17]



Today the air on our patio
is so soft it makes me feel
like I am sitting in the rose garden
of the American Sisters
in Assissi
and I wonder, in awe, o God
at the greatness of this vast
universe You have created
and not even the infernal
buzzing around my head
of the horse fly
which would be much more
acceptable if it actually looked like
a horse
Or the tar smell and routine curses
of the road crew in the street
Or the incessant bleating
of the car alarm next door
Or the yapping of the little black dog
from across the smelly street
Not even those can deter or detour
me from my imaginary trip
to the rose garden
where suddenly it smells like tar
and flies are buzzing
and dogs are yapping
and horns are blaring
I simply sit in wonder
that in the whole vastness
of your universe
You have chosen this
very spot for me

JRMcF

johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

IN PRAISE OF PAIN [T, 9-26-17]

My friend, Paul Baker, wrote recently in appreciation of pain. Even though it had been fifty-seven years since his appendectomy, scar tissue from it had completely closed off his small intestine. “If it had not been for the pain,” he says, “I would have died. Thank God for pain.”

Many older people have to endure pain. It’s not just older folks, of course, but pain seems to be a more regular companion as we age. We fall and break bones and tear tendons. Years of wear on joints and nerves bring on arthritis and sciatica.

Most of us have one part or system of the body that is our vulnerable spot–lungs or heart or knees or stomach or skin. That is where our bodies are likely to break down and cause pain first. My shoulders are my vulnerable spot. I am typing this reflection with only one hand because the pain in my left shoulder is intense today. No one has been able to diagnose the reason for this pain yet, although this is the shoulder that had rotator cuff surgery a year and a half ago, so maybe that has something to do with it. I can’t take aspirin because another medicine I once took gave me ulcers, so I take an occasional Tylenol for the shoulder pain. I don’t want to overdo that, though, for fear too much use will eventually make them ineffective.

One way I deal with the pain is to think about something else, like writing this reflection. However, writing about pain, and being constantly reminded by the frustration of typing one-handed is probably not the best way to do this. Trying to combat pain becomes very complicated, doesn’t it?

Frankly, I would be very happy not to have to deal with pain at all. Pain, however, is the body’s way of telling us that we are out of kilter, that, in the old mechanics’ term, we need to be “justified,” made to run right, get all our parts to work together in harmony. If we had no pain, we would let things run wrong until there could be no correction. We would be permanently lop-sided.

This is true emotionally as well as physically. I think one reason my shoulders are my vulnerable spot is that, subconsciously, I have felt that I had to carry the weight of the world my whole life. Take a look at your vulnerable body spot or system and you may well find a similar connection. Intestinal problems? Maybe there is something in your life that is hard to digest, that you “just can’t stomach.” Skin problems? Maybe your relationships, or other things “out there” are wearing on you.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying “it’s all in your head.” It is in your body, too. But that real pain is telling us something.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I have often extolled my old friend, Walt Wagener, as one who is expert at “blooming where he’s planted.” Once when I did so, Helen said, “I want to bloom BEFORE I’m planted.” So I started writing a book of meditations for old people, sort of like my book for cancer patients. I called it BLOOM BEFORE YOU’RE PLANTED. I was never able to get an agent or publisher to be interested in the idea, though, so I’m now using some of the “chapters” for that book in this blog.

Monday, September 25, 2017

TIME AFTER TIME AFTER TIME [M, 9-25-17]


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


“He doesn’t have to act that way.” That’s what Greg Gooch, a defensive end on IU’s football team, said about first year Head Coach Tom Allen at the Coach’s Radio Show last week. Greg smiled when he said it. He has a great smile.

It was after Don Fischer, the show’s host, asked Greg what he wants to do after college, Greg looked a bit abashed. “Coach,” he said. “Did you want to coach before Coach Allen came?” Fischer asked. “No,” Gooch admitted. “But now… well, he doesn’t have to act that way.”

He was talking about the obvious energy and enthusiasm Allen brings to the job. Allen is 47 years old. He’s getting a little past the prime years for jumping around and cheering and clapping like a teenaged cheerleader. But he does it. Time after time after time.

That’s his mantra: time after time after time. He tells his players, “You need to make the right decision, in football, in the classroom, in life, every time, time after time after time.”

That last “after time” makes the difference. If it were just “time after time,” it wouldn’t be enough to make Greg Gooch want to coach. It has to be full in.

When Don Fischer asked the senior from Florida about his own philosophy of life, he said, “Make the right decision, time after time after time.” He has learned his lesson well.

It’s tempting in old age to get sloppy, mentally as well as physically. It’s easy enough to make the right decision one time. Maybe two times. Time after time after time is a lot of work. We’re tired. We’ve worked at making the right decisions for a long time. Shouldn’t we get a break?

Think, though, about where you put your glasses. If you’re sloppy and put them down just anyplace, it takes all day to locate them. But if you put them down in the same place time after time after time, you know where to find them.

Life is really easier if we make the right decision time after time after time.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I started this blog several years ago, when we followed the grandchildren to the “place of winter,” Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP]. I put that in the sub-title, Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] The grandchildren, though, are grown up, so in May, 2015 we moved “home,” to Bloomington, IN, where we met and married. It’s not a “place of winter,” but we are still in winter years of the life cycle, so I am still trying to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter…

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.