Category Archives: marriage and relationships

31 Years of Marriage: Thoughts of an Inept Romantic

 

meandjudy

“A toast before we go into battle. True love. In whatever shape or form it may come. May we all in our dotage be proud to say, “I was adored once too.” – Gareth Four Weddings and a Funeral

“I love you. You annoy me more than I ever thought possible, but… I want to spend every irritating minute with you.” Scrubs 

Today Judy and I celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary. So I won’t be writing much except to say that I am an incredibly lucky man. I have the day off and this morning we will take our oldest dog Molly to the vet for a follow up visit about her eyes, then Lord knows what we will do. I will try to do something special for her, I am sure we will go out to dinner but I don’t know what else yet. I found out this afternoon that  what I ordered for an anniversary gift won’t get here for two months so plan worked out well.

I am a very inept romantic. Though I am very good with the English language I am not very good in how I express myself, which means that I find movies that deal with this pointedly funny.

One of my favorite movies about marriage is the classic Four Weddings and a Funeral. There are a could of great sequences in the film that kind of hit home to me. One is where Charles (Hugh Grant) is stumbling all over himself when talking to Carrie (Andie McDowell). It almost reminds me of the first time that I asked Judy out in college. I was stumbling over my words so badly that she thought I was about to ask her to marry her on the spot. I do happen to be terribly shy and back then just asking a girl to go out with me was a major adventure in fear.

Charles: Ehm, look. Sorry, sorry. I just, ehm, well, this is a very stupid question and… , particularly in view of our recent shopping excursion, but I just wondered, by any chance, ehm, eh, I mean obviously not because I guess I’ve only slept with 9 people, but-but I-I just wondered… ehh. I really feel, ehh, in short, to recap it slightly in a clearer version, eh, the words of David Cassidy in fact, eh, while he was still with the Partridge family, eh, “I think I love you,” and eh, I-I just wondered by any chance you wouldn’t like to… Eh… Eh… No, no, no of course not… I’m an idiot, he’s not… Excellent, excellent, fantastic, eh, I was gonna say lovely to see you, sorry to disturb… Better get on…

Carrie: That was very romantic.

Charles: Well, I thought it over a lot, you know, I wanted to get it just right.

The fact that Judy’s ring tone for me is the song “I think I love you” by the Partridge Family is somewhat ironic in light of both my inept attempt at romance and that scene in the movie. There is another scene in the movie that amuses me, one again because of my shyness, and I wonder if there is some truth in it.

Gareth: I’ve got a new theory about marriage. Two people are in love, they live together, and then suddenly one day, they run out of conversation.

Charles: Uh-huh.

Gareth: Totally. I mean they can’t think of a single thing to say to each other. That’s it: panic! Then suddenly it-it occurs to the chap that there is a way out of the deadlock.

Charles: Which is?

Gareth: He’ll ask her to marry him.

Charles: Brilliant! Brilliant!

Gareth: Suddenly they’ve got something to talk about for the rest of their lives.

Charles: Basically you’re saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation.

Gareth: The definitive icebreaker.

We dated for nearly five years before we got married, and got married just six days after I was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant. Now 31 years later I am a Navy Commander and we are still married, which is kind of a miracle when you consider some of the things we have been through together and all the years that we have spent apart due to military assignments. I think since 1996 we have spent about ten years apart. Thankfully, since we are married we still have things we can talk about to get around that awkward pause.

But then seriously I have to agree with Agent Dana Scully in the X-Files when she said something that I totally agree with and which is true about us:

“It seems to me that the best relationships, the ones that last, are frequently the ones that are rooted in friendship. You know, one day you look at the person and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere. And the person who was just a friend is… suddenly the only person you can ever imagine yourself with.”

Truthfully, I cannot imagine being with someone else. So here’s to us, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, in peace and war, may we continue to live, love and laugh together.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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From the Heart: Padre Steve’s Favorite Songs of Love and Life for Valentine’s Day

young loves

I have spent many Valentine’s Days away from my wife Judy over the course of my military career. Tonight though, for the first time in a number of years I will be with her. Last year I was stationed away from her and holding the duty pager for the hospital where I served as the Director of Pastoral Care.

In all of these times I have loved music. I remember dating Judy and every week bring in new LP albums or pop 45 singles on vinyl back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most of the songs were popular on the radio and I would hear them on American Top 40.

I find that music expresses love in ways that I find difficult to do on my own. Perhaps this is because of the fact that I am a historian and not a poet or artist. Here are 25 of my favorites of all time. They are songs that express the emotions of love, love embraced and love requited the joy of love and the agony of losing it.

These are songs that men and women express the feelings of those who have loved, lost and longed for love. They are songs of men and women who sometimes are geographically far away but still close and others that can be sitting next to each other but be as far from each other emotionally and even spiritually as Earth is from the furthest star system in the galaxy.

I think that in my life that many speak to the relationship that I have with the woman that I have loved since the day that I met her back in the late summer of 1978.

It is interested because a number of years later Barry Manilow wrote a song called The Summer of 78 which expresses much of what I felt and still feel about her.

It was one of those summer’s
lasting forever
making the winter wait
a summer of music and passion
the summer of ’78
you appeared like the summer
sudden and perfect
and not a day too late
I swear there was music when I found you
that summer of ’78
it seem we floated through the days

and nights were always filled with stars
and it seemed every song they played on the radio
was ours
it was one of those summer’s
only for lovers
touched by the hand of faith
and now when the winter’s are long
I remember the summer of ’78

barry-manilow

I think any compilation of love songs has to begin with Barry Manilow’s“Weekend in New England” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olApnMheBW8  I think for me, as a career military man who has spent many years away from my wife, sometimes in harm’s way the questions asked in the song resonate. “When will our eyes meet?” “When can I touch you?” “When will this long journey end and when will I hold you again?” have particular meaning and they are part of the longing that I have.

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The Carpenter’s breakthrough hit “Close to You” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6inwzOooXRU written by Burt Bacharach is a song that is fitting for the love that many young lovers feel when they first meet. I remember when we first started dating I could hardly stand to be away from Judy. The song is more one of infatuation than actual love, but I think unless we first have that infatuation that love often remains dormant.

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Bread’s classic mellow ballad “If” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzgBULcFaLw is a song that expresses an almost eternal nature to love.

Jim Croce’s hit “I’ll Just Have to Say I Love You in a Song” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EN1nMpmC0n4 is one that expresses how badly the words often come out when we try to communicate with the one that we love. There are so many times the words that I have said have not come across how I meant them. So much of a relationship that is based on how we communicate that care and love for each other, the lament that “every time I’d try to tell you, the words just came out wrong” can be true for many of us.

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England Dan (Dan Seals and John Ford Coley) “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxdsk-cFX-k Sometimes when we love someone we somehow lose contact, or maybe have grown apart emotionally. The song begins with small talk on a phone call and is the words of someone who wants very badly to be together again with the one that he misses.

In a similar vein to “I’d really love to See You Tonight” but perhaps even more heart wrenching is Paul Davis’ “I Go Crazy” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_L886mjb0O8 because the woman that he loves is now with someone else and he sings “when I look in your eyes I still go crazy. That old flame comes alive, it starts burning inside…”

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All couples sometimes have arguments and sometimes those arguments lead to complete silence and even the break up of a relationship. Sir Cliff Richard’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htZir_Taizg is one of those songs where one partner blames the other for the breakup and boldly states that he isn’t losing sleep over the end of the relationship. Not a very good way to go, but a very real feeling for many people in the Lonely Heart’s Club.

Olivia Newton John and Cliff Richard’s duet “Suddenly” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GxxhjFcngM is a song that is a 180 out from We Don’t Talk Anymore. This song is one that speaks of a deep love and admiration for each of the two people in the relationship that they are willing to do anything and go anywhere to be with one another.

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The Dr Hook hit “Years from Now” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfsPeVVL8zE is one that always manages to bring a tear to my eye. It came out about a year after Judy and I started dating and even though it is now well over 30 years since I first heard it I imagined the future, now we are deep into it and I feel the same way. One verse says “I know this world that we live in can be hard, Now and then and it will be again, Many times we’ve been down,Still love has kept us together the flame never dies, When I look in your eyes the future I see.” Since we have gone through many difficult times it is a song that is intensely personal and one that I almost feel that I could have written the lyrics.

David Soul riding high on his success in Starsky and Hutch released “Don’t Give up on Us Baby” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YY8APrYU2Gs in 1977. It hit number one in both the US and UK and was his one big hit. It is a song of a man trying to convince a woman that they have a relationship that is more than just one night. “Don’t give up on us, baby, We’re still worth one more try, I know we put a last one by, Just for a rainy evening, When maybe stars are few, Don’t give up on us, I know, We can still come through.”

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Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xnyHG96vY8 is a song that means a great deal to both Judy and I. The words are somehow haunting and healing. One verse and the chorus really get to me. “Romance and all its strategy leaves me battlin’ with my pride, But through the insecurity some tenderness survives, I’m just another writer, still trapped within my truth, A hesitant prize fighter, still trapped within my youth. And sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much, And I have to close my eyes and hide, I wanna hold you till I die, till we both break down and cry, I wanna hold you till the fear in me subsides.”

Van Morrison wrote “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ4NAZPi2js in 1989. Recorded and released by Rod Stewart in 1993 it is a song that originally was written as a prayer by Morrison. It is sung at many weddings and it a song that I will stop and listen to whenever I hear it.

san fernando 1980

The Australian duo Air Supply is known for their mellow love songs and one of them“Two Less Lonely People in the World” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RidVsFXE2Y0 is one that I like. Sometimes I think that had I not met Judy that I never would have married. I am quite the introvert and often a loner that prefers the adventure of being independent and adventurous and does not like to be tied down. When my father retired from the Navy in 1974 I thought that my life was over, because we were going to remain in one place. Judy had spent most of her life in one city but I took her away from that because throughout my life I have been afflicted with this wanderlust and spirit of adventure. That being said the fact that we are together means that even though we are often apart that there are still “two less lonely people in the world tonight.”

Meat Loaf’s “I Would do Anything for Love” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOikQWAL8qc from his 1993 Bat Out of Hell Album is one of the big world wide rock power ballads of the past two decades. The focus is probably more on the physical relationship that some of the other songs in this list but it has a resonance because the physical is also a big part of why we fall in love with each other. “As long as the planets are turning, As long as the stars are burning, As long dreams are coming true, You’d better believe it, that I would do, Anything for love, And I’l be there until the final act, I would do anything for love, and I’ll take a vow and seal a pact…”

Elton John’s “Your Song” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTa8U0Wa0q8 is a tender ballad of a musician who has little to give his love except a song.

lionel richie and diana ross endless love

One of the tenderest duets for Valentine’s Day comes from Lionel Richie and Diana Ross, the hit Endless Love http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MP7m5VqQ6f8 was written for the movie of the same name.

The Bee Gee’s How Deep is Your Love http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpqqjU7u5Yc is another tender song of devotion to a love.

Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEwNcnklcsk is a song that hits hard at a situation that many couples that love each other find themselves. That is when for whatever reason they find that they need to be away from each other, but the key is that they find their way back.

REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight this Feeling” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqJK29zsO44 is actually quite good because it is a song that sees a relationship go from a friendship to something more, something that sometimes scares the people involved because somehow we often think that we don’t want to “ruin the friendship.” I really think that any relationship that is meant to be has to begin with friendship and the words in the song “What started out as friendship, Has grown stronger. I only wish I had the strength to let it show” is a reality for so many people.

a couple once and young

Anne Murray release a song called Daydream Believer  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gN37gEKDrM that had been recorded years before by the Monkees http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nU615FaODCg , but in 1980 it became one of my favorites as my relationship with Judy began to really develop

Bonnie Tyler’s “It’s a Heartache” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8VGQTtENSs has been recorded and been a hit for Juice Newton and Rod Stewart as well as Tyler. It is a song that speaks of the pain of a broken relationship when one of the people involved is more dependent on the other person than that person is committed to them.

Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xGkscrvMjE is a song that describes the breakup of what may be an illicit love affair. Since a lot of people become involved in such relationships it is a powerful reminder of the pain associated with the end of those relationships.

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A similar theme is part of Laura Branigan’s “How am I Supposed to Live Without You” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MN6JBTGcr68 though it seems that this song is not about an illicit relationship but the betrayal felt by a person who finds that the one that they love is leaving them. Her son Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSDvFUy4ayk tells the story of a woman wondering if her love will still love her.

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I find a lot of commonality with Journey’s power ballad “Faithfully” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMD8hBsA-RI. Written about the love of a couple, one of whom spends his life on the road as a musician and rediscovers his love for his bride. I think that it is a song that any man or woman in the military, or for that matter any other profession that spends much time away from home can relate.

bethkiss

The tender ballad by Kiss “Beth” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbtO_Ayjw0M is a song that I think expresses how many people deal with the tension between what they love and who they love. The song is about a man who promises to come home as soon as he is done playing music with his band and keeps calling back until finally he admits that he will not be coming home that night.

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Blondie’s Heart of Glass http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGU_4-5RaxU is another song that talks about misplaced love and how many relationships appear to be real but then end with at least one partner hurting and wondering what happened. The Tide is High http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bv_mQIZHeHs is Judy’s ringtone on my iPhone, it is about a girl who won’t give up on her love and Dreaming http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU3-lS_Gryk  is another song of dreams of love.

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The Swedish super group Abba had numerous songs dealing love, hope, love lost and love found.  “One of Us” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIKAe8Wi0S0 is song about a relationship where one partner thinks that they can do better only to find out that they were wrong. The chorus “One of us is crying, One of us is lying, In her lonely bed, Staring at the ceiling, Wishing she was somewhere else instead, One of us is lonely, One of us is only, Waiting for a call, Sorry for herself, feeling stupid feeling small, Wishing she had never left at all….” finds an echo in many of the people that I meet. Their lesser known song, Our Last Summer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6YqC3D0GMo tells the story of a woman remembering her last summer in Paris with a former lover. Knowing Me Knowing You http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUrzicaiRLU  tells the story of a breakup as does The Winner Takes it All http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUrzicaiRLU

kissing

In the ;late 1970s and early 1980s Kenny Rogers released a number of songs suitable for the Valentine’s Day. She Believes in Me http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSPvv2EUdCA  is wonderful because it talks of an experience that many young lovers know that of having someone who believes in them and their dreams, even when they wonder. You Decorated My Life http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uY-CKe4lvwY talks about the difference a love makes in life, while Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOU4TWGSxZM a duet he sang with singer songwriter Kim Carnes talks about the hazards of falling in love with a dreamer.

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Finally there is a song that from the first time I heard it has been a song that speaks to me about my love for Judy. It is a song that like Dr Hook’s Years from Now, is a reminder of how far we have come and how much we have been through; that song is Kenny Rogers’ “Through the Years” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzEwadgcZnQ which was released in 1982, a year before we were married.

chickweed-lane-val-day

So to all of my readers, enjoy the music and have a happy Valentine’s Day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Just for fun, marriage and relationships, music

To Iraq and Back: A Last Night Together and a Kiss Goodbye

295_27076787058_8676_nJudy and I on the German Sail Training Ship Gorch Fock at the Norfolk Harbor Fest a couple of weeks before deployment

This is another of my “To Iraq and Back” articles about my deployment to Iraq in 2007 and 2008 with RP1 Nelson Lebron. 

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time Let me kiss you
And close your eyes and I’ll be on my way
Dream about the days to come, When I won’t have to leave alone
About the times, That I won’t have to say

Oh, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause Im leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

From “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLBKOcUbHR0

The night before leaving on deployment and the actual day of departure are some of the hardest that any military couples or families experience. In time of war it is even more difficult. Judy and I have done this too many times in peace and war.

As I went through all of my preparations to go to Iraq in some was it was a replay of past pre-deployment situations. However, this time I was not merely deploying on a peacetime assignment or supporting a peace making operation, or even deploying on a ship and being part of a boarding team after the 9-11-2001 attacks. In that last instance  Judy did not know that I was part of the boarding team until about halfway through the deployment.

But this time going boots on ground into the most bitterly of Iraq’s contested provinces, Al Anbar. That lent at certain dark pallor to the occasion.

Our last night together was rather somber to put it mildly. Judy and I went out to dinner on Friday night. Since I knew that I would not be having a good beer for quite some time we went to the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach. For us Gordon Biersch is generally a good time kind of place, it has become over the years our version of Cheers a place where everyone knows our name.

That last Friday before the deployment to Iraq it was not a festive occasion, it was almost a wake. Judy and I were both quite subdued. In between the silence Judy talked about her fears about the deployment while I tried to reassure her that everything would be fine. I am a man who is somewhat Vulcan in my use of logic. I figured that even though things were bad in Iraq that my chances of returning were quite high, even of something happened to me. I tried to be calm and reassuring and no matter what I tried it didn’t work, human emotions are quite intense at times.

I also reasoned that since I had taken out the extra life insurance that I would be okay.  For me such logic makes sense. I kind of believe that if I don’t get it I will need it and if I do get it I won’t. It’s kind of like Yogi Berra’s logic when he said “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

After dinner and several half liter glasses of Gordon Biersch Märzen amber lager we went back home. Judy watched quietly while I finalized my packing. I ensured that all my field gear, uniforms and clothing were packed and rechecked my EOD issue protective gear.

I then packed my Mass kit, Bible, Prayer Book and my Marine Pattern camouflage reversible desert/woodland stole. The stole was special as Judy had made me a few years back from woodland and desert pattern shirts which were way too big for me. They are one of a kind items. I have seen similar, but what Judy made were far better than any others that I have seen. I still use that stole even when I am not deployed. It is simple but quite exquisite, adorned with an embroidered Maltese Cross in tan on the desert side and black on the woodland side it is unique and I treasure it.

The last items I packed were my books on counterinsurgency, a few DVD movies, music CDs and my hygiene items. It is funny to think that now all of this would be stored on my iPad which if I ever make such a deployment again will significantly simplify my life.

I wrestled the big bags down the stairs and put them in the back of my Honda CR-V so I wouldn’t have to fight them in the morning. That accomplished Judy and I just sat together, she was feeling pretty low, the look one of despair.

On the other hand I was a mix of conflicting emotions. I was excited by knowing that I was going to get to do what I had trained all of my life to do. However I was very cognizant of the reality that it would be tough on Judy and that it was a dangerous deployment.

My last couple of deployments had been very tough on her. When I deployed to support the Bosnia mission as a mobilized Army Reservist and newly ordained Priest three of my relatives in Huntington West Virginia where we were living died. One was my maternal grandmother “Ma Maw” who Judy had become very close to over the past couple of years. They had become buddies and Ma Maw had taken Judy in not as my wife, but as “her” granddaughter.

Ma Maw’s death hit Judy very hard and my mom and uncle in the midst of their grief over the loss of their mom they did not understood the depth of the relationship between Judy and Ma Maw. As a result, I was absent and there was much tension, misunderstanding and hurt feelings between them. In the week before Ma Maw’s death Judy tried repeatedly to get her to go to the doctor only to be ignored. The morning Ma Maw died Judy called me in Germany. She was frantic that I call Ma Maw and insist that she go to the doctor. I made the call and insisted that she go to the Emergency Room but she refused and said she would call her doctor. That night she died. I had lost my grandmother and could not go back to help and Judy had lost a woman who had become closer to her than her own grandmothers ever had been.

In 2001 during my deployment with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea we lost our 16 ½ year old Wire Haired Dachshund Frieda. Judy did her nest to keep Frieda alive for me, but there was nothing that could be done and finally with Judy being worn down to nothing herself, she was persuaded to have Frieda put down. The interesting thing is that after Frieda died she visited me in Okinawa and Judy about the same time in dreams. Frieda was always a weird animal and even in death has continued to find ways to remind us of her presence.

My 2002 deployment on USS HUE CITY to the Middle East and Horn of Africa came less than six months after my return from my deployment with 3/8. That deployment, coming on the heels of the 9-11-2001 attacks was also very difficult on her. In the space of 6 years we had been apart almost 4 1/2 years. Much of the time following that last deployment was spent on the road as I travelled to visit Marine Security Force and Navy EOD Mobile Units in the Middle East, Europe, the Far East and the Continental United States. In a four year period I averaged 1-3 weeks a month away from home.

With all of this in the background we spent our last night together. That night neither of us slept very well. When we got up I had a light breakfast and then accompanied by a friend from Judy’s Church choir we drove to the base.

Saturday morning traffic is generally not too bad so our trip was uneventful, but tense.  You could cut the tension between us by now with a knife.  It was about the time that we were nearing the base Judy said something about our relationship that I took really wrong. I sarcastically snapped back “Well I’ll just get blown up by an IED then.”

That sarcastic comment really hit her hard and I knew immediately that I had blown myself up with it. The words were harsh and devastating. I should have known better and should have kept my moth shut. After all I’d deployed a lot and taught pre-deployment classes talking about the emotional cycle of deployments. I was supposed to be an expert at this sort of thing, but instead my comment was very cruel.

To be sure the stress on both of us the preceding weeks had taken its toll and both of us were on edge.  For two months we had each in our own way imagined the deployment, me as a great adventure and her as a threat to our mutual existence. I wondered just what I would face when I got to Iraq and those were unanswerable questions. Judy’s great fear that something might happen to me and that she would be alone, not just for the time of the deployment but for the rest of her life.

That is one of the tensions in a military marriage that many people who have not lived it fail to understand. It is not just the wartime deployments it is the cumulative effects of multiple short and long term separations on the health of a relationship.

We got to the base pretty quick, maybe 15-20 minutes but the tension made me feel that the trip was three times as long. As we pulled up in a parking spot near the baggage drop off area we sat there for a few minutes. I got out of the car as did Judy.  I asked if she wanted to wait a while with me and with tears in her eyes said that she couldn’t handle the wait.

I unloaded my gear with the help of Nelson. He looked at Judy and said, “Don’t you worry ma’am we’ll do good and I’ll keep him safe.” Judy gave a soft “thanks” and gave him a hug.

With my gear unloaded I went back to Judy.  We looked at each other, embraced and kissed each other, each of us wondering if it was possibly the last time. We parted our embrace, and she the turned and walked back to the car, handed her friend the keys and they drove off.  It was a moment that I will not forget as long as I live. As she left I said a prayer under my breath and asked God to keep her safe while I was gone.  Then I turned to Nelson and said, “Okay partner, let’s get this done.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, marriage and relationships, Military, to iraq and back, Tour in Iraq

DOMA Struck Down: The Day After our 30th Wedding Anniversary

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Our 30th Wedding Anniversary Celebration 

Last night Judy and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with close to 40 friends at Gordon Biersch. What we love about our friends is that they span the spectrum of what is the United States. They include people from all races, religions and political views and even sexual preference, and when together they get along. It really is a wonderful thing to see. And we enjoyed our time with them last night and thank the management of of Virginia Beach Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant for helping make it such a wonderful time.

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Our First Wedding Anniversary Neubrucke Germany 1984

This brings me to today’s Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. It was a historic day, celebrated by many and vilified by some conservative Christians who have opposed equal rights for gays for as long as as possible. I am happy for my Gay and Lesbian friends and cheer this decision.

Of course most of the opponents reasons for opposing this are religious and the way that they interpret both scripture and history. I have no argument with them believing that. I am a Christian as well but do not hold the beliefs of the more conservative part of Christianity regarding gays, especially in regard to their rights under the civil laws of the country. I figure that the members of any religion have the right to define what they believe and even the behaviors of people who are willing members of their faith and that the government has no right to judge or legislate what they believe in regard to how they run their churches or places of worship. Thus if the Roman Catholics refuse to ordain women or with few exception married men, or if Evangelical pastors refuse to marry gays or a certain denomination refuses to acknowledge the validity of another religious group within the confines of their faith they have every right to do so. Such is the protection built into the Constitution. I may not agree with those views but I will oppose any government efforts to silence them.

Barry Goldwater said: “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” November, 1994, in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.

That being said in our country they do not have the right to impose their beliefs on others that do not share them. That is the side of the constitutional coin. The United States is not the Holy Roman Empire or the nations that descended from it, nor is it Calvin’s Geneva or Elizabethan England where the religion of the sovereign, or in the case of Geneva the council members who shared the faith of John Calvin. In those cases the religion of the sovereign was used to legislate against and punish dissenters, often using prison or the death penalty. Thus I will resist all attempts by religious groups to impose their beliefs through civil law on the society as a whole.

Chris Kluwe, the outspoken and very thoughtful punter of the Oakland Raiders put it well yesterday: “We preach tolerance and legislate hate. We love our neighbor, unless our neighbor happens to be “different.” We elect politicians, year in and year out, on a platform of oppression and prejudice that merely changes its name to fit in with the times.” 

That was a big consideration to the men that drafted our Constitution but one that the descendants of the religions denominations most likely to be discriminated against by State Churches and punished for their beliefs seem to have forgotten. I have written about this a number of times and who can read them at the links below:

The Toxic Faith of “Americananity” and its Antidote  

Bishop Jenky’s Obama and Hitler, Stalin, Bismarck and Clemenceau Comparison: Bad History, Bad Theology and Bad Politics  

The Double Edged Sword of Denying Religious Rights  

Religious Freedom and Religious Hypocrisy the New Improved 2012 Model  

The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It  

Surrendering Religious Liberty to the State for Money: The Example of Florida I n 2011  

Religious Freedom…Do We Really Want or Believe in It?  

Glenn Beck Attacks the Churches and Threatens Religious Liberty  

A Christian Defense of the Rights of Moslems and Others in a Democracy (or Constitutional Republic)  

Star Trek God and Me: Ecclesiastical Tyranny Today, the Drumhead Revisited  

Gordon Klingenschmitt and his Followers- The Klingenfraud and the Klingenban  

Bringing Faith to the Faithless and Doubt to the Faithful  

Things Haven’t Changed That Much: Jackie Robinson Goes to the 1964 GOP Convention and the Freedom Summer  

The Great Evangelical Disaster: Selling the Birthright….and not Even a Bowl of Soup to Show for It  

Start by Prosecuting Me: A Challenge to the Drumhead Justice of World Net Daily’s Erik Rush and Joseph Farrah  

Be Careful of What you Vote Against: A Warning from History  

The Pejorative use of the term Cult by people that should know Better: Reverend Robert Jeffress and Mitt Romney  

Will we Stand? The Moral Responsibility of Christians in our Time

The Radical Influence of the Christian Dominionism on American Politics: It’s All Jimmy carter’s Fault….Not Really but it is a Catchy Headline  

The Clear and Present Danger of Unrepentant Ideologues  

Taking the Wrong Train  

Darkness into Light: Turning Systematized Hatred in the Name of God into Reconciliation  

The Unchristian Christianity of Modern America  

The Road to Totalitarianism is paved with Good Intentions  

How to Make an Incredibly Difficult War Unwinnable: The Crass Hatred of “Pastor” Terry Jones for Moslems Endangers Americans  

The Fruit of Glenn Beck’s Spirit   

Revisiting the Political Captivity of the Church 

Since I have written about the subject of religious rights and civil rights so many times I will not go into details here, if you want you can peruse any or all of the above articles to get where I am coming from. But I do want to quote two famous Baptists from our history. George Truett who was a professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary long before I attended there wrote about the danger of the Church alliance with the sate advocated by so many leaders of the religious right, who even now are threatening to urge their people to disobey any Supreme Court ruling regarding marriage equity that they do not approve:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.” 

The second is John Leland, leader of the Virginia Baptists in the fight for the separation of church and state. Persecuted by Anglicans the Baptists persuaded James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to ensure that the guarantee of religious liberty was enshrined in the Bill of Rights wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another.  The liberty I contend for is more than toleration.  The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

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As far as today’s ruling I am very glad for my friends in the Gay community to have their marriages recognized by the Federal government. It is a long time coming. I think the watershed moment for me in this debate came in late 1993 when I was in my Clinical Pastoral Education residency program and I had to deal with those dying from complications from AIDS.

I remember two incidents. One was a young successful architect who was in our ICU having taken a dramatic turn for the worse. His partner and friends were barred from the room by his family who prior to this had condemned him and ostracized him. They had their pastor with them who though the man was unconscious, heavily sedated and dying was preaching to him to repent. The man’s own pastor from another denomination was excluded by the family and eventually left. This left me with the man’s partner and close friends in a waiting area away from the man that they loved. It was heartbreaking and I wondered what it would be like if Judy was forbidden from being at my side as I died because someone disapproved of her or our marriage. But what happened to the young man and his friends was legal because the family had the final say and the partner had no rights.

The second was a young man from West Texas who was dying on our general medical ward. His partner and parents were both there. The parents, dad in a plaid shirt and cowboy hat and boots, a rancher and his wife stood with the partner. All were crying, the family shared their faith with me, Southern Baptists who believed in the grace and love of God. As their son passed away and the partner asked, “what will I do now?” they embraced him and said “you are part of our family now and you can live with us.” It was a moment of grace and God’s love that was so absent in the other situation.

Over the years I have know, been friends with and worked with many gays and lesbians. I have felt terrible that for the most part they had to hide their love for one another either in the military or in their churches. I have had friends ostracized by their faith community or turned out of the military for admitting their sexual orientation.

Today is a good day for them and our country. Yes I know that some will not agree with me for mainly religious reasons and that is okay because they have that right. That being said I rejoice for all the men and women that I know who are gay or lesbian who will finally have the chance to openly enjoy what Judy and I have known and celebrated the past 30 years of marriage.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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30 Years of Marriage: Marriage the Definitive Icebreaker in an Ever Changing World

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. Little does Luke know that the GALACTIC EMPIRE has begun construction on a new armored space station even more powerful than the first dreaded Death Star. When completed, this ultimate weapon will spell certain doom for the small band of rebels struggling to restore freedom to the galaxy…

Cut! Wrong galaxy…

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The year was 1983 and a newly commissioned Army Second Lieutenant was marrying the love of his life in an old Presbyterian Church in Stockton California. The wedding was done on a shoestring but was quite nice, you would never have known that on that warm but not too hot day in Stockton California, only 89 degrees at game time with almost no humidity. Since the groom’s 1975 Chevy Monza didn’t have air conditioning that was a good thing.

Other things were going on in the world that day and that year.

Yasir Arafat was expelled from Syria after his accusations that President Hafez al-Assad was behind the anti-Arafat rebellion among Palestine Liberation Organization troops in Lebanon.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana had just had their first son, William.

Evita closed on Broadway after 1568 performances.

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Flashdance…What A Feeling by Irene Cara was the Billboard top single.

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Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video became the biggest video hit of all time and he would die on our 26th wedding anniversary in 2009.

In sports an Indian team led by the legendary Kapil Dev overcame the mighty, two-time champion West Indies at Lord’s to win the Prudential World Cup.

The Orioles lost to the Tigers 9-3, the Giants lost to the Padres 3-2 and the A’s lost to the Rangers 8-3. The O’s would go on to win the World Series.

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Superman III was the top box office draw but would be de-throned by Star Wars VI, Return of the Jedi on the 26th. The top ten box office hits for 1983 were: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Terms of Endearment, Flashdance, Trading Places, WarGames, Octopussy, Sudden Impact, Staying Alive, Mr. Mom and Risky Business.

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M*A*S*H had ended its epic run as one of the favorite television shows in the United States.

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The Car and Driver Magazine Top Ten Best list included the 1983 Pontiac 6000STE, 1983 Porsche 944, 1983 Toyota Celica Supra, 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI, 1983 AMC/Renault Alliance, 1983 Chevrolet Caprice Classic, 1983 Ford Mustang GT 5.0, 1983 Honda Accord, 1983 Mazda RX-7 and the 1983 Mercedes-Benz 380SEL. Pontiac and AMC are no more and we now own a 2013 Mustang.

Ronald Reagan was President and Yuri Andropov the Soviet Premier as the Cold War began to reach its crescendo even as both countries were enmeshed in wars or attempts to subvert each other’s allies, the US in Nicaragua and the Soviets in Afghanistan even as Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative or Star Wars program.

The Polish Pope, John Paul II was making waves in Poland as the Solidarity movement continued to confound local Communist authorities and the Soviet Union, helping to set the stage for the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in then a repressive and racist apartheid South Africa.

Iran and Iraq were locked in a bloody struggle, Israel had invaded Lebanon and become  involved in a quagmire and Saddam Hussein was considered to be our friend. Osama Bin Laden was supported by the United States in Afghanistan.

The Space Shuttle Challenger returned to earth after a historic mission with Sally Ride the first woman to go into space.

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It is hard to believe that all of that was going on. In fact since there was no internet yet and even cable news was still in its infancy most of us lived in a world that was not so complicated. In light of the current concerns regarding privacy which make Orwell’s 1984 seem all too real, that novel was merely interesting.

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Who would have thought then that the world would be where we are today. Likewise who would believe that Judy and I are still married after all these years? Sure I think that most people enter into marriage with the intent of it lasting the rest of their lives but tragically so many don’t. In light of all the failed marriages out there I almost wonder if 30 is the new 50 as far as anniversaries are concerned. I guess that we are rather fortunate. We have done the whole sickness and in health, for richer or poorer deal a number of times already, seen our shares of joys and heartaches and since I have been in some type of military service our whole marriage endured many separations.  So far we still love each other.

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One of my favorite movies about marriage is the classic Four Weddings and a Funeral. There is a great sequence in the film which sometimes I wonder might just be true:

Gareth: I’ve got a new theory about marriage. Two people are in love, they live together, and then suddenly one day, they run out of conversation.

Charles: Uh-huh.

Gareth: Totally. I mean they can’t think of a single thing to say to each other. That’s it: panic! Then suddenly it-it occurs to the chap that there is a way out of the deadlock.

Charles: Which is?

Gareth: He’ll ask her to marry him.

Charles: Brilliant! Brilliant!

Gareth: Suddenly they’ve got something to talk about for the rest of their lives.

Charles: Basically you’re saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation.

Gareth: The definitive icebreaker.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Long Strange Trip Home from Iraq: A Five Year Trek to Healing

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“Sometimes the lights all shinin’ on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip its been.” 

The Grateful Dead “Truckin’” 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pafY6sZt0FE

Just over 5 years ago I returned from Iraq a changed man. But the change was not complete, it was the fact that the man that I was before Iraq was shattered. I returned vainly hoping to return to what used to be “normal.” But that was not possible. I returned to a place where I felt that I felt abandoned at at times betrayed. I thought that I would be able to get through what I was feeling by working harder, praying more and pushing myself beyond my limits. Within months of my return I was in a state of emotional, spiritual and physical collapse.

Insomnia, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, acute sensory sensitivity to sight, smell and sounds that reminded me of Iraq, rage, depression, emotional distance from those that I loved. I drank more than I should have and self medicated because of chronic pain. Driving became an adventure, my hyper-vigilance made me drive like a Jedi Knight, the “force” was with me. Slow traffic, objects that resembled items that might hide IEDs alongside the road and aggressive or threatening drivers caused outright panic and anxiety.  This led to some unsafe driving practices on my part and thankfully a lawyer got my speeding tickets on US 17 in North Carolina reduced to mechanical violations.

I had deep anger at the politicians and leaders that took us to war and the media that lied about it. I had a spiritual crisis that left me for all intents and purposes an agnostic praying that God still existed. There were few clergy that I even trusted at all because most didn’t seem to either care or understand what I was going through. The only thing that kept me going was a hope that things might get better and only my sense of call as a Priest and Chaplain allowed me to continue in spite of my crisis. During that early period of 2009 I began this site and the article God in the Empty Places…Padre Steve Remembers the Beginnings of Padre Steve’s World helps recount those early days.

At first when things began I could not label what I was going through. But by the middle of June I was falling apart and during a seminar that I was coordinating involving the author of On Killing and On Combat, Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman I was in such bad shape that the Medical Officer of EOD Group Two asked me “Are you okay Chaplain?” I told him “no” and after he was sure that I was not a danger to myself he set up an appointment for the next morning. Following his evaluation and subsequent evaluations at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Virginia I was diagnosed with chronic and severe PTSD, anxiety and depression.

The road back has been long and often difficult. I mentioned that I was going through a spiritual crisis that left me for all intents and purposes an agnostic. It took nearly two years but in the act of conducting what are often called the “Last Rites” for a retired Navy doctor faith returned. It was what I call my “Christmas Miracle” though it actually occurred during Advent (see:  Padre Steve’s Christmas Miracle )

After that things still were difficult. Faith had returned but it was different, less doctrinaire and more accepting of others different than me. I still struggled with depression, anxiety and insomnia. I struggled in my marriage and it seemed that the only place that I could find peace was at a baseball park. The management of the local AAA International League team, the Norfolk Tides allowed me to come and visit the stadium and walk the concourses and be at the field during the off season as well.

In June 2010 I found out that I had been selected for promotion to Commander, the next day my father died and a week later I found that I was being transferred to my current assignment. Just before my transfer I was told by a former Archbishop of my old church that I was “too liberal” and needed to find a new church home. I did with some help and it has been for the better, I still have many friends in that church including other leaders in it and the former Archbishop himself was removed for attempting to remove the military chaplains from that church to another. Change continued as did my struggles but some things were getting better. In spite of my own struggles I was determined to make sure that others like me were cared for and the new assignment at Camp LeJeune gave me plenty of opportunity.

I wrote an article on this site entitled Raw Edges: Are there other Chaplains out there Like Me? That article led to me being contacted by a reporter from our local newspaper, the Jacksonville Daily News they published an article about my struggle and recover in April 2011. Shortly thereafter I was contacted by the DOD Real Warriors Campaign who did a feature on me. That site did a feature on me http://www.realwarriors.net/multimedia/profiles/dundas.php that helped others connect to me and be able in some cases to tell their stories, or those of family members sometimes for the first time.

I was getting better but still struggling, especially with sleep and nightmares. Due to her medical issues my wife remained in Virginia when I went to LeJeune. Last December my dog Molly decided that she was going to stay with me and that was a big help. Her cheerful unflappable personality helped me begin to engage life again. Instead of going home to an empty apartment I was greeted by a dog that welcomed me cheerfully and made me get out of my shell. We ended up a couple of months later getting a new puppy for Judy, a puppy who has added a new dimension to all of our lives.

Finally last year I began some more therapy that was extremely helpful and about a month ago I stopped doing sleeping pills that did not help me sleep and left me feeling almost hung-over every morning, making it hard to function and even to get out of bed. Over the course of nearly 5 years I had been on a number of different medications and all had the same effect, even those designed to not leave the patient that way. My therapist suggested trying Melatonin on duty nights when I needed to be able to drive to work if there was an emergency at the hospital. I noticed a difference. My sleep was no worse and when I got up in the morning I actually felt somewhat rested.

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For the first time since I returned from Iraq I feel that I am functioning like a normal human being. Hope has returned and people that know me can tell the difference. Judy says that I am the man that she fell in love with again. In ministry I have found that what I went through assists me in caring for those going through great difficulties, any do to PTSD, TBI or Combat Stress, but others that are struggling with their place in life in the military institution, particularly caregivers including chaplains and medical personnel. At work I have more energy and connection to people than in years and I have developed more relationships with people on the island as well.

Do I still have days that I struggle? Yes. Is my sleep perfect? No. Do I still have nightmares and strange dreams? Yes. All that being said I know that for the first time in years I approach the Lenten Season feeling good, not just hoping things get better.

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It has been as Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead once sang “a long strange trip” but it continues to get better. If you know someone struggling from the effects of PTSD or other combat trauma there are a lot of resources, sometimes they are hard to find and in some places due to the numbers of personnel suffering they are in short supply, but they are still can be found. My encouragement to others is not to give up, not to lose hope and to keep seeking help. It took me five years to get back to what is my “new normal.” I can’t go back to what I used to be and I don’t want to, my definition of what is “normal” has changed and that is okay.

My views on life, faith, politics, ministry and social issues have changed over the years, I think for the better. Some might disagree, but that is okay, I have been called a lot of things by people that do not understand over the past few years, but I would rather have that than be where I was before Iraq. Iraq changed me in ways I did not expect. When I left for Iraq in 2007 I thought that I was immune to PTSD because of my experience in dealing with trauma and death both in the military and the civilian world. I was wrong, but despite what I have gone through I am glad for the experience.

There is still one constant in my life, besides my wife Judy who has suffered much during my ordeal, and that is baseball. I can only echo the words of James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Well Golly! Gomer Pyle Gets Married and A-Rod Gets Outed Again

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Surprise, surprise, surprise! 

What a day. America’s favorite funny fictional Marine Gomer Pyle, officially came out of the closet and married his battle buddy of the past 38 years. The marriage occurred in the newly gay state of Washington. The marriage came just five years after he received an honorary promotion to the rank of Corporal from Marine Lieutenant General John F Goodman and about a year and a half after the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell rule was ended.

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Now, Pyle’s decision to marry doesn’t offend me at all because it has nothing to do with baseball and something happened today in baseball that did offend me. Alex Rodriguez, sometimes in better days known as “A-Rod” and after his initial admission of using Performance Enhancing Drugs, or PEDs as “A-Roid” and by his HGH and other PED dealer Anthony Bosch as “Cacique” appears to have have been outed by the Miami New Times. The evidence appears damning.

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No A-Rod wasn’t outed as a homosexual, but rather for using PEDs after he told God and everybody that he wasn’t the old “young and dumb” A-Roid of 2001-2003 but the older smarter and cleaner A-Rod. He told Jeff Passan in response to Passan’s question “have you used performance enhancing drugs since 2003?” “I have not. I would not.”

But the allegations and suspicions dragged on as Rodriguez battled injuries and saw his on field performance plummet. Today’s bombshell tore apart the web of lies that he surrounded himself with during the interregnum of 2003 and today. It was a period that he signed a monster 10 year 275 million dollar deal with the Yankees. Now, mid-way through that contract, with A-Rod still due 114 dollars the Yankees, are scrambling to figure out a way to unload him and his contract.

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I don’t feel sorry for them. They made the deal with Rodriguez knowing of past allegations and had to deal with the fallout when he admitted using them in 2009. The Yankee method of getting greedy to obtain the best ballplayers that they could afford blew up in their faces. Now they have to deal with it, which since I am an Orioles fan I say, good on them.

I hope that Jim Nabors does well. He has always been a decent and caring person who I have admired. Heck I remember hearing allegations that he was gay back in the 1970s and it was like so what.

A-Rod on the other hand was probably one of the most talented players of his generation. He was a high school phenom that the scouts could not say enough about. He could hit for power and average, he was graceful in the infield and was fast. A few years ago when he reached the 600 home run plateau people were predicting that he would break the all-time home run record set by fellow accused PED user Barry Bonds. But for whatever reason that was not enough. He had to jump into the boat of scandal and cheating a second time, knowing that baseball, after years of turning a blind eye to it was scrutinizing everyone and that the media was watching. And to compound his problems he went to a man already known for dispensing PEDs for his fix. That wasn’t smart. Even less smart was issuing a statement denying it again because no one believes him anyway.

I don’t know why he had to go back to the well again after telling everyone that he was clean. Perhaps is was the desperation that he felt from his decreasing performance and injuries compounded by the hubris that he would not be caught, then… Shazam!

What more can be said?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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