Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dispatch from Pennsylvania

Traveling from the hotel today...last night is still warm as we amble over to breakfast at Hank's Place on US Route One in Chadds Ford. Ah, last night: a spirited high school basketball game where Greg, our godson, was 'versing' (Robert's word) the team from Chester, the reigning state champs.

'We' lost by one point. I got to see Carl and Syd, my cousin and his wife, their youngest, Mike (accompanied by two of his friends), and Ashley and Lindsey (or is that Lindsay?). Short time in the parking lot passing the Christmas goodies that Sheila baked for them in the parking lot then Lee, his girls Grace and Rachel drove back here to Chadds Ford with Ashley and Esther, Robert, Sheila, and I drove back to Lee's with Lindsey, getting the lowdown on her time away at Hampshire College in Massachusetts.

Robert played a game of chess with Rae, and won! I got to talk to Ashley. Oh, and before I forget, I got to spend time with Lee's girls too. Grace, continuing a long family tradition, told me that the middle of my remaining hair line is catching up to the sides in the race to my neck! (Lovey girl, her, and even lovelier tradition, huh?) Lindsey played with Esther, Sheila rested and watched the whole affair pleased to be with the Robbins/Cuyjet clan youngsters.

Lee and I did the proud papa and brother/cousins bit.

We hung out until I pooped out and declared that anybody going back to the hotel with me better pony up and come with me.

We had a major throwdown at Hank's for breakfast, I was reminded of what real scrapple tastes like and Esther reminded us again that her eyes are definitely bigger than her stomach. But here's what strikes me now as I reflect on Christmas break.

I love my cousins Carl and Lee like they were (are?) my brothers. I grew up admiring Lee and competing with Carl in a brotherly way. Lee helped give me the opportunity to pitch in this year with Habitat for Humanity there in Chester County. The Robbins boys' children are my children in a way. So's their sister's kid, Aaron. They helped me over the years of their growing up prepare for raising my own kids. Being with them was great. We missed Aaron this holiday but spent time with him and Cecily over Thanksgiving. Next time we plan on spending more time with Carl and his crew. It was a great trip...more after we get home

Monday, December 19, 2005

Have a Little Faith

Okay, today I got caught up in the whole shopping thing. The urge to forage, to find that dopamine rush wrapped up in the perfect thing to buy for...who? For me, for a friend, a family member, somebody to impress with my thoughtfulness?

It's about my patriotic duty to keep the economy afloat and strong isn't it. Pandered to by Madison and Pennsylvania avenues I am compelled to go out and be the 21st century version of the hunter-gatherer. My weapons: my keenly shaped sense of what's hip, cool, and appropriate, along with the various versions of plastic in my wallet.

Sarcasism aside, I really do like to acknowledge my loved ones and my friends (hmmm, aren't they one and the same?) with gifts. But, grinching aside as well, do I really need to go out and buy a buncha stuff to show my love and appreciation?

Okay, alla you guys that just said "Yes!" anywhere in your heart of hearts think about that for a moment. Really? Do you really feel that if I haven't gotten you a present that I either don't care or that Christmas (and you) means less to me?

Well, today I ended up buying something for Sheila and ink jet printer cartriges and then sprinting outta the store before I got a buncha stuff that would have made some people happy but would have been a real drain on my budget.

I was thinking how sad it was that some folks wouldn't have a brightly wrapped 'something' under their tree that said "From Chuck".

Well I got over it! I thought of some of my favorite Christmas memories. The top ten didn't include a single gift, either received or given. Number one was a bus ride to a Gothic chapel where the choir I was in sang for some senior folks who so warmly greeted us that even after decades I can still feel their heart felt thanks.

I'm thinking that warmth we gave to those strangers was sortta representative of the ultimate gift: God's love for alla us! So, regardless of the brand of religion you might sport around as a part of your personal relationship to a greater power I say Merry Christmas to you.

And when you next find yourself weighed down, like I was today, by worrying about what to buy for whom, just have a little faith.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I have a great friend who has brain metastases, breast cancer that has spread to her brain. She is having a good day today according to her own report this morning. She said that she can see clearly. I was struck during our talk that many supposedly healthy folks do not. Certainly I know I do not always and feel very fortunate that I have friends like her who help ground me, help me see clearly.

Without going into detail (most of you know that I am not a detail oriented person, right?) I can tell you that she has had various forms of the disease. Courage escapes me to write about it but, I can write about what I feel about it and about her.

I have an immense sadness but it’s not for her. Actually it’s not for me either although I have to confess it does stem from a selfish impulse. I’m sad for the world, for the countless folks who may never come to know her wisdom and her joy in living. Her joy permeates each of us that have gotten to know her. I want her to survive and flourish as she walks in joy.

Even those who haven’t met her personally have felt the force of her happy way of being. She is a member of a support network and told me of comments she received in an email from a woman who praised her positive outlook.

I can tell you that there have been times just the thought of this woman in my life has given me immense satisfaction. If someone like her chooses to know me, to befriend me than I must be something and someone worthwhile.

No, it is not at all about my gratification or self image here but it is about how life presents us with gifts of example, of courage, of character. It’s just hard for me to express the level of gratitude I feel appropriate for her presence in my life. Sheila holds me and tells me how lucky I am as I cry. This woman told me that tears are cleansing but too many of them cause headaches.

This friend is teaching me again what my friend Lenny taught me years ago. Friends can suffer, some of them die but love lives on. Each day is precious and should be seen that way. I’m reading Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” to see if I should recommend it to a client. My friend is an exemplar of the truth contained therein that we can choose our attitude in the face of any circumstance.

She chooses to remain herself, to continue as always, joyful in her being and in her faith in God. She chooses to celebrate her life, each and every moment. She is a warrior of light, a standard bearer of love.

Her presence on this planet is a tribute to her dedication to her faith in God’s love and she is a gift of God to all who circle in her orbit or who brush past her in their life’s journey.

I can’t think of a better tribute to my friend than to live fully and love wholly and without reservation. She does so each and every moment.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Thank You 1955

The passing of Rosa Parks inspires a glance back to 1955. I was eight in July that year and until I understood what was really happening in Alabama I alternated between fear and joy in my own little corner of the world, fear of being black in a white world, joy in discovering things about myself, others, and baseball heroes.

1955 was a year of awakening for me. It was a year that helped define what being a baby-boomer was, of what being a growing child meant. And, in a very important way, it helped me understand how to survive.

Emmett Til was lynched that summer; I remember he died a bit later during summer break from school. I had moved from a relatively calm, middle class, integrated neighborhood into what became one of the country’s most notorious public housing projects. I met a white kid who is still a great friend to this day. I saw many baseball games at Connie Mack Stadium, my father’s way of softening the blow of losing our house and my group of long time friends in North Philly.

I saw the wonder of Roberto Clemente, El Magnifico, on the field of my dreams and lost the attachment every young black kid had for, first Jackie Robinson, then Willie Mays.

When school started I saw that the ugliness that black folks faced in the south was present here in the north too. It was rooted deeply in the hearts of my Catholic brothers and sisters. But there were those, like the Mouse, who stood up for me, stood by me and shielded me from the fists and hatred aimed at me.

Some may read this and pass it along as just a bit of history, something an old guy writes about a time existing long before their own births. That’s okay. There may be a time they look back and can say a year helped define them as that year helped define me. I hope they keep open to life and its wonders. Lessons come hard and are contained in painful moments as well as joyous ones.

The balance between the pictures of Til’s abused body and my first glimpse of Clemente running the bases is tenuous but completely self contained in my mind’s eye. The dignity of a seamstress in segregated Montgomery bolstered my young psyche against the taunts of Irish and Italian children as I entered their school and helps inform me as we guide our son and daughter as they enter new chapters of their lives.

Before this fiftieth anniversary year passes I want to offer my thanks to 1955 for helping me become the man I am today.