Category Archives: Loose thoughts and musings

Transfer into the Twilight

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past couple of days have been pretty hectic as I transfer from the Staff College to be the base chaplain at another base in the local area. I’ll still remain as an adjunct at the Staff College to do the Gettysburg Staff Ride which is a good thing. Now truthfully, I did everything I could think of to get a different assignment. I wanted to do something in the Joint world or at least semi-operationally. My qualifications are many, so being assigned to a base chapel makes me feel like I’m being bumped back to the minor leagues, not because caring for people is not important, but because for promotion it’s not highly valued. Of course since I was passed over for promotion last year it is what I get. In today’s military once you are passed over you’re pretty much done, so I’m still lucky to get to do what I have loved doing for decades. Not many people get that chance, so I am lucky, Like Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham, I still get to keep going to the ballpark and getting paid for it.

I spent the last couple of days signing out of all the places that I need to, getting my medical records transferred, taking and passing my latest body composition assessment and physical readiness test, and taking care of last minute things needed to transfer. Then yesterday morning I donned my Service Dress Blues to officially sign in at the new command.

It is interesting because unless something unusual and unexpected happens this will be my last ride and the three or four years I spend in the job will take me to retirement with somewhere between 39 and 40 years of cumulative service in the Army and the Navy. I’ll have a good staff and my goal at this point in my career is to take care of them, and help them to succeed while caring for those committed to our care. I’m an old guy now, there aren’t that many people in the military who have served as long as I have, and most of them are admirals or generals.

I’m kind of reminded of the scene in Bull Durham where Kevin Costner’s character, Crash Davis gets sent from AAA down to single A Durham to help mentor a young pitcher. In frustration he tells the manager:  I’m too old for this shit. Why the hell am I back in A ball?

Joe Reardon: ‘Cause of Ebby Calvin LaLoosh. Big club’s got a hundred grand in him.

Larry: He’s got a million dollar arm, and a five cent head.

Joe Reardon: Had a gun on him tonight. The last five pitched he threw were faster that the first five, He has the best young arm I’ve seen in 30 years. You’ve been around. You’re smart, professional. We want you to mature the kid. We want you to room with him on the road, stay on his case all year. He could go all the way.

Crash Davis: Where can I go?

Joe Reardon: You can keep going to the ballpark, and keep getting paid to do it. Beats the hell out of working at Sears.

Larry: Sears sucks, Crash. Boy, I worked there once. Sold Lady Kenmores. Nasty, whoa, nasty.

So anyway, there are a lot worse alternatives. Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Books and Dogs, Key Ingredients for a Happy and Less Stressful Life

Reading can be Difficult 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I spent much of last week moving my books from my office at the Staff College to my new one across town. Mind you, these are not my only books, just the ones I have in my office because I have no room for them at home. But as I moved them I was again reminded just how important that they are to me.

No matter where I am I live my life surrounded by books. I prefer real books, I love turning pages, marking my place, and picking up where I left off. Of course I also use my Kindle app on my iPad mini and I have quite a few books on it. It’s handy for when I travel and sometimes the prices cannot be beat for hard to find or out of print books.


I usually am reading three to six books any given time, usually with one or more of my Papillon puppies, usually Izzy, but sometimes Minnie or our youngest, Pierre, at my side. Groucho Marx one remarked “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” I am sure that is a true statement but having never attempted to read a book inside a dog I can only base my knowledge on the observation of Vetrinarian science and Groucho Marx, but That being said there are some times when the pups can make trying to read a challenge, but I digress…

Honestly I cannot imagine life without books or my dogs, both have been a source of solace to me. I find that books allow my imagination to grow independent of the needless urgency of cable news and the mindlessness of much of what we call entertainment. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.” 

This is important as books do more for us, our culture, and our knowledge than any number of films, television shows, or news specials. A good author can paint the pictures of people, places, and events so well that when you actually go there, as if by a sixth sense you know where you are going and you can see the events transpire before your eyes. I hope that what I write may be so well written that no pictures are necessary to convey images that I present. There are those that say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I would say that sometimes a well written sentence or paragraph is worth more than a million pictures. 

Back in 1996 I led a number of history tours to Wittenberg, Mainz, Worms, and Heidelberg to study Martin Luther and the Reformation in Germany. This was before there was much on the internet and before most people had reliable access to it, so all there were were books. As we walked through Wittenberg it came alive, and as I described the events at each place I had a number of people ask how many times I had been there. My comment to each was that though it was my first time there I had read so much that I could see the events and the places in my mind’s eye long before I ever walked the narrow street from the Schlosskirche to the Luther Oak. I had the same kind of experience at Marburg Castle where Luther held his futile discussions with Swiss Reformation leader Ullrich Zwingli, as well as many other historical sites, including Gettysburg with which I am so familiar. The work of so many historians to paint portraits with their words makes it so easy to visualize people, places, and events by just closing ones eyes and opening ones imagination. I think that sometimes our nearly limitless amounts of pictures and videos serves to limit our imagination. 

Judy and I have been watching Ken Burns Civil War this weekend, of course with Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre all about us; but what has struck me were the descriptions of the conflict by those who witnessed it. The written descriptions of leaders, soldiers, slaves, battles, and what were then technological marvels by those who were there are more than amazing, especially since photography was in infancy during the war and film or video not yet imagined. 

So for now I will say have a good day, and if you can please take the time to turn off the television, stop surfing the internet, and pick up a good book. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Deaths, Funerals, Baseball, Tornadoes, and an Izzy Emergency


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Baseball great Leo Durocher once said, “You don’t save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it might rain.” Those are words that can apply to almost anything in life as I was reminded of last week. Friday and Saturday were pretty hectic in my World and I have been moving fast and flying low.

My original plan, before my friend and coworker Mike passed away, was to continue moving things from my current office to my office at the base that I transfer to this month, and then meet a friend for the exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Norfolk Tides Friday afternoon. 


That of course changed. Friday morning began with a visit to the wife and son of Mike as the area was being inundated with torrential rain. As I said the other day I felt like I knew them just from what Mike had shared with me at work. To have to meet them for the first time in this situation was sobering. They are such nice people, as they told me of his last minutes alive I was reminded of what a good man he was and how much I will indeed miss him. Later in the day the funeral home called me and said that Mike’s widow asked if I would conduct his funeral. I am honored to be asked. 

I drove back to work after the visit as the rain continued without let up. When I got what I could do there done I drove back through the rain to meet my friend at the light rail station in order to go to the ballpark. When I got there the rain was still pouring down and I was really wondering if the game would be rained out. As I sat in my car waiting I looked at the local weather radar and saw that the worst was then passing through and that there was a break in the system. 

By the time we got to Harbor Park the weather was clearing, bit when I looked at the field there was standing water in the outfield and the warning track and foul corners looked like lakes. The ground crew was already working to dewater the field and remarkably they had the field in good shape and the game began just a few minutes after the scheduled first pitch. It turned out to be gorgeous baseball weath, as if the God of Baseball was smiling on us, and the game was good. We left it a bit early in the bottom of the 6th inning thinking that it was a 7 inning exhibition and as we left the ballpark the clouds were building up and the local EMS and news were broadcasting that the area was under tornado watch. 

Judy was planning to have a girl’s night out with a friend so I drove over Gordon Biersch and took my place at the bar. Shortly after I got there the National Weather Serice issued a tornado warning for Suffolk, which then was extended to Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. As I sat at the bar with my fellow Northern California friend Rick, the storm hit, the rain was crazy and mixed with a lot of hail. Judy ended up canceling her night out and it was good she did. The area she was going to had an EF-2 tornado touch down. When it was safe I went home, my personal weather station recorded almost 5″ of rain for the day. 

Things calmed down overnight and on Saturday morning we took our youngest Papillon, Pierre to get his bandages off his leg from his knee surgery as well as getting Izzy her first couple of her annual vaccinations. When we got home I went out and did our grocery shopping and looked for a present for a another friend’s birthday. By the time I got home and we had dinner I was just hoping to relax a bit before working on my taxes. About 9:00 PM Izzy came up to me snorting and coughing. I looked at her and saw that her face was swollen twice its normal size. I immediately scooped her up and was out the door on the way the the emergency veterinary hospital in under a minute; nothing like having worked in emergency rooms a good part of your career to understand that such hints are abnormal and potentially life threatening to motivate you to move fast. They took her back and it turned out to be an allergic reaction to her leptospirosis vaccine. She was given an injection of Benadryl and a steroid and came through everything fine, but it was scary. Izzy has been my therapy puppy since we got her. We have nicknamed her “Nurse Izzy” because of how sensitive she is to us and other people who are sick or depressed. She is a gem and I cannot imagine not having Nurse Izzy with me. For those who don’t have dogs this may sound strange, but she has been a lifesaver for us. 

It was almost 11:00 PM by the time I got home with Izzy. Upon arriving she ran into the house and started playing with Minnie and Pierre and doing what we and other Papillon parents call the “zoomies.” 

Sunday was a day for chilling out, breakfast with Judy and friends followed by some time with my friend who was having the birthday. This week will be busy, Mike’s funeral, my taxes, and a number of other things that got pushed back amid all the craziness last week. Even so, all things considered things could be worse, it could be raining. 

Have a great start to your week. Love those around you and hug a furry friend if you have one. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Last Top of the Morning to You…. Remembering a Friend

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short note today to share something that is probably more important than most things that I write because it deals with loving people, remembering friends, and appreciating those people who we are blessed to have in our lives.

We lost a member of our Staff College family yesterday, Mike LeBarge. Mike was a devoted husband and father, a dear friend to many, a beloved co-worker, and a huge New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox fan. Mike was a man who brought much joy to everyone who knew him. Over the past three and a half years I had come to love and appreciate him. He would greet me with “Top of the morning to you!” and the reply of course would be “and the rest of the day to you!” If I saw him first it would be reversed. He was that way with everyone. I always appreciated his visits to me in my office or just running into him in the building. We were almost the same age, he was just a little bit older than me, but you wouldn’t have known it to look at him. Last week he told me that I was going to have him around for a long time as he had just been given a clean bill of health. I felt like I knew vicariously knew his son and family through the photo albums he would bring to show them off. We talked sports, politics, religion, and life. He always had a joke, some about the clergy and the church, which if you know me at all, you know that I appreciate more than almost anything as all too often the clergy and the church are a joke.

Mike was our locksmith at the Staff College. He was a career civil servant, a man who like many career Civil Servants loved his job and was committed to excellence. He could have retired a number of years ago but he loved his job.

I had just talked to him Wednesday afternoon, our usual banter, as well as him getting a big cart to help me move my vast number of books from my office. I had just moved the first four containers of books to my car on it yesterday afternoon, passing his office. I got the message of his death when I was on the way to drop them off at my new office where I will transfer in about 20 days. I turned from that mission to get back to the college and begin to work with our staff to take care of them, and his family. I’ll be doing more of that this morning.

I know that I am kind of rambling, but what I want to say to all of my here is I appreciate you, and please tell those around you that you love and appreciate them. Life is too short not to.

Have a good weekend,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Lenten Mendoza Line and a Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It looks like we’re about halfway through the season of Lent, my least favorite season of the liturgical year and I am doing pretty. Good. I’m going to celebrate my 57th birthday a day early and that causes me to reflect on life. Thankfully I am doing much better than I was this time last year when I was off my anti-depressants for 9 days and dealing with the deaths of two friends and a rainy Easter birthday. I was in a nasty funk, all my PTSD stuff, reflections on my own mortality and upset about the loss of friends. I never want to experience an Easter, or a birthday like that ever again.

This year I am happy. I seem to be doing life a bit above the Mendoza Line over the past year and that is good. For those that don’t know what the Mendoza Line is, it is named after Mario Mendoza who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit for a career batting average of .215 and the Mendoza Line is considered to be a .200 average which is the line below which players can pretty much be assured that they will not remain in the Major Leagues.

But anyway, as I was thinking about perspective this year with all the craziness in the world and the antics of our President which scare the Bejeezus out of me, I am reminded of the words of former pitcher Bill “Spaceman Lee” to put things in perspective. Lee noted:

“I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.” 

Anyway, that’s just a thought that oddly comforts me when I don’t well as I should in life or anything else. Let’s face it, in spite of everything we have to be able to put things in perspective and appreciate what life we have no matter how bad things get. Hopefully, we get to wait a few million years for the cosmic snowball to do its thing without the President or anyone else in the world blowing it up.

That being said I have so much to be thankful for in life, my wonderful wife, my family back in California, my three great Papillon dogs, my friends, my readers here, and getting to do what I love doing. Hopefully, this year is good for me, as well as all of you. Thanks so much for being a part of my life.

So, have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Son of Erin

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Like any American whose family on both the paternal and maternal sides has been in this country since well before the American Revolution, I am kind of a genetic mutt. However, it seems that most of my DNA is Irish, the rest being from Scotland, England, Wales, and the Iberian Peninsula, so basically, I’m Celtic. Most of my Irish seems to come from my mom’s side of the family with Travis’s who came from the Old Country and eventually settled in Illinois. My favorite uncle when I was a kid was my uncle Ted. He was as Irish as they come, and according to my mom uncle Ted help begin my great love of beer when I was just a babe.

I have come rather belatedly to the conclusion that I am a son of Erin. In addition to my love of a good beer, when I look at my temperament I see the Irish come through in my readiness to fight, my love of laughter, and my occasional melancholy. I love Irish songs like The Minstrel Boy and Garryowen as well as songs that were made famous by Irish soldiers like It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.

 

On my dad’s side I descend from Scottish nobility, not that it matters in this country. But when I was younger I found it a source of pride, especially the military tradition that came with it, and for that matter I still am, but I have become more cognizant of my Irish heritage. This is a heritage that I plan on doing research on in the near future.

As much as the Irish are a part of the rich tapestry that make up America, and the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day has become a fest that most Americans revel in, the Irish were not welcomed with open arms. They were poor, Roman Catholic immigrants, fleeing persecution and famine in the Old Country. The tradition Irish song, The Wearing of the Green includes this verse:

I’ve heard a whisper of a country
That lies beyond the sea,
Where rich and poor stand equal
In the light of freedom’s day.

When they arrived in the United States the found themselves at the bottom of the white man’s world, despised and often violently persecuted by Americans of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic “Know Nothing” movement. They were accused of being agents of the Pope, and wanting to overthrow Protestant America. As such they had to work hard, and they also stayed together in predominant Irish neighborhoods, and in time they became a political constituency that even non-Irish politicians could not ignore. In a time when other groups of immigrants are discriminated against and demonized, often for their religious beliefs I think that we cannot forget the Irish immigrants, and those who are of Irish descent, those whose ancestors were persecuted in the Old Country as well in this country need to think twice before doing the same to people who are fleeing political and religious persecution as well as war and famine. My Irish heritage has made me feel a closer bond with immigrants than almost anything.

As a historian I want to do that because I wonder if any of my Irish-American ancestors fought with any of the Civil War Irish regiments. I have always been particularly fond of the Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac and many times I fly the flag of the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry, also known as the 1st Regiment of the Irish Brigade alongside my 34 Star Circle Union Flag outside my house, especially this time of year. The motto of the regiment,  Faugh A Ballagh  (pronounced “Fah-g Ahn BAY-Lick”) means “Clear the way!”

Approximately 150,000 Irish immigrants fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, many hoping that their display of loyalty would put a stop to anti-Irish discrimination, but despite their gallantry and sacrifice on the battlefield it did not. With casualties mounting and the institution of the draft which hit poor people and immigrants the hardest, many Irish staged draft riots in 1863. Eventually the Irish would be accepted, but what happened to them has happened to almost every other group ethnic and religious immigrants who have come to America to be free.

Whenever I go to Gettysburg I stop at the Irish Brigade memorial near the edge of the bloody Wheat Field and speak of its service during the war and the absolution granted to it by its chaplain, Father Corby before it went into battle that hot summer afternoon of July 2nd 1863. Likewise I tell the story of the young Colonel Paddy O’Rorke, the first Irish Catholic to graduate from West Point who died leading his regiment at Little Round Top, not far from where his kinsmen were fighting at the Wheat Field.

So I wish you a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day even as I reflect more on my Irish heritage and raise a pint or two; after all a bird never flew on one wing. Sláinte.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Reflections on a Sanity Day


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am just going to share some reflections of a restful day off regarding friendship, family, and being deliberate rather than reactive in the way I get information. 

I was able to take a comp day for my trip to Gettysburg yesterday. I am coming to enjoy taking a day once in a while to do little but hang out with Judy, each on of us with at least one dog on our lap while I take time to read and reflect. There is nothing more relaxing, comforting, and therapeutic than having a content and happy dog on my lap as I read or write, or just think and muse about various topics. Doing this helps me put priorities back in order and keep me from obsessing about the craziness of the world. 

I spent some time with an old friend Tuesday night. He and I attended the Army ROTC program and were commissioned together at UCLA in 1983. His path took him into academia well before mine, he is a history professor and published author who like me enjoys good craft beer. Though we hadn’t seen each other since my wedding, where he was a part of the wedding party, we have stayed in contact and we picked up where we left off talking about friends, our families, careers, and interests, not to mention our political and social views which are quite similar. Maybe part of that’s because we are both Californians who have lived most of our adult lives outside the state and long for the day when we retire and go back to the Golden State. 

I think days like yesterday and visits like the one with my friend are necessary to keep ones balance and sanity. I know for me that is the case, especially when it comes to disconnecting a bit from social media.  I find that the vast amount of information of all kinds on social media can seam almost overwhelming at times, and attempting to sort truth from fiction can be more than a full time job. The fact is we are not designed to be continually bombarded by information, especially that which is presented as urgent but which is designed by those who put it out to manipulate us and our emotional response to it. It was nice yesterday morning to wake up and not immediately reach for my iPhone, iPad, or e-mail, but simply to enjoy the quiet, laying in bed with Judy and three adorably sweet Papillons. 

When I did get up I first read the comics, then I read through the online editions of major U.S. And European newspapers and periodicals. I leisurely took my time to read articles on a number of different topics from news, politics, sports, arts and literature, and even food. It was a deliberate yet relaxing effort because the news wasn’t cascading against my screen faster than I could digest it. I did share some of those articles on my social media feeds, but I was very deliberate and careful in what I shared. When I finally went to my Facebook page I was taking the time to see what was happening in the lives of my friends. That too was rewarding. 

So anyway, I wish you a good day, tomorrow I’ll be posting an article which is kind of a follow up to my review of Timothy Snyder’s new book On Tyranny that I posted yesterday. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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