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Last Night at Rucker Johns: The Place Where Everyone Knows My Name

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Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7U3lo80YrQ

Yesterday I did my final check out at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune and today the movers came. It was too hot and humid. with the door open to allow their access while doing cleaning I felt sick by the time that they left. After resting a while I went to the bar at Rucker Johns restaurant. It has become over the past year and a half my local version of “Cheers.” A place that everyone knows my name.

Cheers

I have written about leaving my duties at the hospital recently and I will miss the people there. I will stay in contact with quite a few. They are friends and colleagues, some who have walked through difficult times with me and I with them.

That being said for many years my life has been centered on work, and quite often when done with work I would withdraw to be alone. This was the case more often after Iraq, especially when I took up my assignment at Camp LeJeune. I would go to work and then go home. The only time that didn’t happen is when I would drive the 50 mile one way trip to Kinston to see the Kinston Indians baseball team. I met wonderful friends there, a number of whom have remained in contact, and one couple, Jerry and Toni Brophy have become like family.

Sometimes you want to go, Where everybody knows your name,

and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.

Having a place where people know you and care about you matters.

Apart from that the isolation for the first year and a half was at times maddening and even dehabilitating. When I did see Judy it was as if we were miles away from each other. By the summer of 2011 both of us wondered if our marriage would survive.

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In December of 2011 Judy and I spend a month together after she had surgery on her Achilles Tendon. It forced us together and when she went back to Virginia our dog Molly decided that she wanted to live with me. In that month and over a couple of other visits Molly had discovered the joys of chasing deer and going to the beach and like any kid she decided that she wanted to be where it was really interesting.

Molly brought me back to humanity and in the process I began to seek contact with actual humans again. Since Judy and I have a place like the bar in the television show “Cheers” in Virginia Beach I sought something similar here. I found it at the Rucker Johns bar. There I met some wonderful people, Mike, New York Mike, Eddie, Dave (Ito), Wild Bill, Bill the future mayor, Lisa, Hancock, Felicia, Brian, Ron, Terry, and the bartenders, Billy, Christi, Tara, Caitlin, Grace, Michelle and Lexi and managers, Mark, Chris, Jeff, Wallace and Mark. There were others as well. They all welcomed me. We bought drinks for each other and this week I don’t think that I paid for a meal or a drink.

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What I loved about this group, especially the core “4 O’Clock Club” was that they were real. In fact it was funny for the first couple of months they didn’t know that I was a Navy Chaplain or Priest. I find that advertising such things often puts a distance in relationships. especially in light of how many clergy treat people that don’t go to their churches or those that hang out at bars. Sad because Jesus seemed to hang out with the very people that many clergy have treat shamefully.

So initially the folks at Rucker Johns got to me as “Steve” the guy who wears Baltimore Orioles hats, jerseys, jackets and t-shirts every day. I think I can were something different every day for a month without breaking my Orioles habit. Soon I was going every day that I was in town, I found that I wanted to be around them, they were real, refreshing and fun.

They found out inadvertently that I was a Chaplain because New York Mike knew the secretary of our Legal Officer. She broke the news to him that I was not only a Chaplain and Priest but a Commander too. My cover was blown. Soon some began to call me Father Steve, Padre Steve or still just Steve. But our relationships grew. I was in the various NASCAR and Football pools, threw my money in on the Powerball lottery and played cards with them.

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Tonight they gave me a t-shirt signed by all of them. The picture speaks more about it than I can write. I have received many going away gifts in my career, but this is something specially, because it had nothing to do with my position in the military. It was about friendship and still is. I plan of framing it.

Almost everyone I knew was there tonight. It was a wonderful time. I will miss these people and this place, a place were everybody knows my name.

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It is so much like Cheers and I will miss it. The theme song to that show speaks to me in so many ways. The last verse of the song, which did not air on television said:

Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

I found that with the 4 O’Clock Club at Rucker Johns. In the morning I pack my car and drive home to be with Judy and my friends in Virginia Beach. But I will miss my friends here and I do plan on coming back whenever I can to this place, where everybody knows my name.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, remembering friends

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

Muddling Through PTSD Recovery: A Chaplain’s Story of Return from War

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“Captain, you do need time. You cannot achieve complete recovery so quickly. And it’s perfectly normal after what you’ve been through, to spend a great deal of time trying to find yourself again” Counselor Troi to Captain Picard in Star Trek the Next Generation after his encounter with the Borg.

Coming home from war can be harder than going. At least it was for me. I have always been a hard charger. When I was at war in Iraq I was at the top of my game but when I came back I was broken. I experienced things there that changed me forever and it has taken a long time to find myself again.

I came home with chronic, severe PTSD, anxiety and depression. I suffer severe Tinnitus and pathetic speech comprehension. The ringing in my ears is non-stop and in any kind of group setting or conference I struggle to understand what is going on even though my hearing loss measured in decibels is minimal. The loss is neurological and when tested I measured in the third percentile of people, meaning that 97% of people understand speech better than me.

I still suffer from chronic insomnia, vivid nightmares and night terrors. I still struggle with agoraphobia, hyper-vigilance and occasional road rage. Thankfully none of them are as bad as they used to be but they are ever present. I have had my ups and downs with prescription medications that were used by my doctors to manage my PTSD symptoms and sleep disorders.  For a while drank too much just to help me make it through the nights. I am told that this is common for many who return from war.

When I came home I felt abandoned, especially by church leaders and many chaplains, many who I had thought were my friends. That is understandable as I was radioactive.  My faith had collapsed and for two years I was an agnostic desperately hoping to find God. As such I have a certain bond with those that struggle with God or even those that do not believe. This makes a lot of religious people uncomfortable, especially ministers. I think the reason for this is that is scares the hell out of people to think that they too might have a crisis of faith because they too have doubts. 

The first person who asked me about how I was doing spiritually was not anyone from my church or a chaplain, but rather my first shrink, Elmer Maggard. When faith returned around Christmas 2009 it was different and so was I. I tried to express it and began to write about it. For my openness I got in trouble with my old denomination and asked to leave because I was “too liberal.” Thankfully a bishop from the Episcopal Church who knew me recommend that I seek out Bishop Diana Dale of the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church. Thanks to that I have a loving new denomination and since we do not have a local parish of the ACOC I have found  St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth Virginia as a place of refuge. It is the historically African American parish in the area and I love the people there. They helped me when I was in my deepest times of struggle. 

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My struggle was really hard on my wife Judy. Before I deployed I was the strong one. Afterward my contribution to our marriage was minimal and I was often a complete ass. I was in survival mode and and barely making it. I couldn’t reach out to her, I was collapsing on myself and she felt it as rejection. Our marriage suffered terribly and both of us thought that it might not survive. But over the past 18 months or so it has been getting better. I can share with her again and she has become a source of added strength. We enjoy being together again and we recently celebrated our 30th anniversary with many of the friends who helped us make it through the hard times. 

In time I gathered a support network. There are some Chaplains that I can be absolutely honest with, as well as my Command Master Chief, Ed Moreno. Likewise I have friends outside the military, including people I have known for years who still, despite all my flaws care for me. I have found other places of refuge where I have relationships with people, one is Harbor Park, home of the Norfolk Tides Baseball team, another was Grainger Stadium, former home of the Kinston Indians. I have a couple of places as well that are like my real life version of the TV show Cheers

Baseball brings me a great deal of peace, especially when I can go to the ballpark. When I was in dire straits the management of the Tides allowed me to go wander Harbor Park during the off season, just to take it in.  Running on the beach is something that I have come to cherish here in North Carolina, I will miss the easy access that I have here when I return home to Virginia in two weeks. 

Writing on my blog has been good therapy. As an introvert I process information by taking things in. Being constantly around people wears me out. I am good at what I do but it takes a great deal of effort to do it. 

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My unflappable little dog Molly has been a life saver, she insisted on coming to stay with me about halfway through my tour. She helped me recover my humanity and her presence gave me something outside of me to care for and because of that I ended up seeking out people again instead of holing up in my apartment.

My spiritual life still has its ups and downs and I discovered that I am far from perfect, and I hate that sometimes. However, that being said I do feel more connected with God, people and at peace despite my ongoing struggles.

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Picard breaking down

It has not been an easy road, but it has been worth it. I find it interesting that the Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager series help me process many of my feelings, thoughts and emotions. I quoted part of a Next Generation episode at the beginning of this article, one where Captain Picard is recovering from the trauma of being abducted by the Borg. I find the episode compelling on many levels. Part of that episode deals with Picard trying to figure out his life again. After a tumultuous visit with his family he and his older brother engage in a fight, during which he breaks down. Picard’s brother realizing the importance of what was happening said to him “So – my brother is a human being after all. This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it…”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

Thinking About Community: A Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Cheers

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

Some years ago the theme song of the television show “Cheers!” struck a chord with people, because it expressed the desire of many people. I have talked about it before and the song is a favorite of mine.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. 
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

We live in an increasingly disconnected world despite the proliferation of devices designed to make communication easier. Our dependence on these devices often serves to disconnect us from community because we use them to accomplish things without any human contact.  I mean really, what percentage of our Facebook “friends” really know us and how many can we go to when the chips are down.

We shop in massive stores, attend mega-churches, exist on fast food bought at a drive through and we don’t know our neighbors. To most organizations we are not real life human beings but statistics whose only value is in profit and market share.  And we wonder why so many people are depressed, lonely and even despair of life.

Sometimes you want to go, Where everybody knows your name,

and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.

Having a place where people know you and care about you matters.

In a time where many people feel alone and disconnected community really matters because as Americans we are all in this together. Today, as they have for the past few years large numbers of American cities and towns are enduring great hardship, and this disconnect between people, evidenced by the fact that we often don’t even know our neighbors has created a social isolation that only breeds hatred and discontent.  With this true lack of community we should be surprised with increasing crime, violence, discrimination and prejudice.

The sad thing to me as a religious leader, a Navy Chaplain is that for many people that I encounter the Church is not a place of love, safety, community or acceptance. Many have suffered greatly at the hands of religious people and institutions and some though raised in devoutly Christian homes across the denominational spectrum have not only left the church, for some other church but no longer believe.

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Community doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes illusion of perpetual prosperity only serves to drive us apart.  However, sometimes communities are reborn when facing crisis, people begin to look out for one another again and the welcome sign means that you really are welcome.

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I have found that in a number of places, in Virginia I have my friends that the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant,  Harbor Park in Norfolk and St James Episcopal Church inPortsmouth. In North Carolina I have found that community at Rucker John’s in Emerald Isle and with my friends from Kinston, from when that town still had a Minor League team. Those friends have remained and I am grateful, especially because of how broken I was when I returned from Iraq. I don’t think that until one experiences that kind of brokenness that one really appreciates a place where people care for you, accept you and make you feel like you belong.

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But, what has been neat for me and what is true for others is when we do find that special place for ourselves it is a beautiful thing. Likewise, when we can provide that kind of home to others we can really understand the last stanza of the song from Cheers which never aired on television.

Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,

People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Favorite Popular Television Theme Songs

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Well it is time for something less serious tonight and since there is plenty of seriousness to go around on the internet I felt like going back to music. For a while now I have been thinking back, thanks to the Sirius Satellite Radio Seventies on Seven channel about popular songs from television shows that became hits on the Billboard charts.

I don’t know about you, but some of these songs bring back great memories, even of I wasn’t a regular viewer of the shows. Part of this is because a number were always on the radio, particularly on American Top 40 when I was doing the dough rolling and food preparation duties when I worked at the Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in Stockton California.

Of course very few of them were recorded then, but the fact that I was hooked on the AM Pop radio of the 1970s and 1980s meant that I picked up some songs simply because they were on the air as well as on television.

We don’t see many themes from television programs being big hits anymore. I am not sure for the reason but I think that a lot has to do with the proliferation of “reality TV” shows that rely more on people’s intense voyeuristic needs for entertainment than did the sitcoms and dramas of earlier days. As such most of these show do little or nothing for theme songs.

Most of my favorites come from the 1970s and 1980s, of course those were years where I followed more television shows than I do now. Some come from earlier and one,  I’ll be There for You was from the 1990s.

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I have always loved Joey Scarbury’s Theme to Greatest American Hero “Believe it or Not” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4JCehDOy54 or live on Solid Gold countdown http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUEFHZFLAyM . Since I am also a Seinfeld devotee I remember George Costanza (Jason Alexander) making up his own version of the song as his answering machine song.

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Finding it too funny I did the same for our answering machine at one time http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yg-TqEFYcfM. Maybe I need to do it for my I-Phone now.

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John Sebastian recorded Welcome Back the theme to Welcome Back Kotter, a song and television show that was very popular when I was in high school. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6o0Cah5kQU

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The Theme from Happy Days was very popular during the 1950s’ nostalgia that gripped the country when I was in junior high school. Recorded by Pratt and McClain it remained part of American life through the early 1980s as Ron Howard and Henry Winkler made the fiction 50s come alive during the turbulent 1970s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Tqc4FKNzWU

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Cindy Grecco recorded Making our Dreams Come True for the show LaVerne and Shirley which was a spin off from the popular Happy Days. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JijyXS6Sb30. I had pretty much forgotten about the song until I heard it on the Sirius 70s channel.

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Other songs that were Billboard hits from sitcoms included Waylon Jennings song Good Old Boys for the series The Dukes of Hazard. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIVMSnPVXfI and Steve Carlisle theme to WKRP in Cincinnati http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jRXt2Bt1Sc .

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One hit from a comedy that was not an upbeat song was by Johnny Mandel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gO7uemm6Yo who sang the haunting theme from the movie M*A*S*H, Suicide is Painless.  It was a Billboard hit when the movie came out, but when it remained as the theme for the television show  it was done as an instrumental introduction. One can understand why, but the song was popular after the release of the movie and became the official song of the Army Medical Department in the 1980s.

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One tie in that I have to the series is when as a young enlisted man http://search.peopleschoice.com/v/26948942/and-the-9th-annual-favorite-television-comedy-series-is-m-a-s-h.htm . I am somewhere on in the group of soldiers to the left of the cast at the end of the video. I think I can find me, but my screen isn’t big enough to honestly say if the person I think is me is me.

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The theme from SWAT by Rhythm Heritage http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHnx-z0I7SM was one of several instrumental hits for police or detective shows. Other instrumental favorites included several by Mike Post who arranged the instrumental theme to Magnum PI starring Tom Selleck. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIi9iTsbhtg, the theme to Hill Street Blues http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSOeRqNtQtM both of which made the top 40 as did his theme for the Rockford Files staring James Garner http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXtpoO_DlDM

Another police drama song, the them to Miami Vice was recorded by Jam Hammer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQDU-2qMre0

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The Rembrandts recorded their hit I’ll be There for You for the hit sitcom Friends. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUSXZAtCaRQ

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David Naughton recorded Makin’ It http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91D58RuHyVU was recorded for a show called Makin’ It which was far shorter lived than the popularity of the theme song.

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Some earlier themes included Dragnet by Ray Anthony from the 1950s http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChE5GHKsgHU Henry Mancini did the theme for Peter Gunn in the 1950s and 1960s http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dechpnavTyA which was reintroduced to people like me through the Blues Brothers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CHjYHwNzx0.

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Hawaii Five-0 which was very popular in the 1970s them made it high on the Billboard Hot 100 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASvQ-bNURn4 and has been re-done for the new rendition of that show http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwhvByj8YG8

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One of my favorites, and possibly my favorite of all times is the them from Cheers Where Everybody Knows Your Name by Gary Portnoy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-mi0r0LpXo

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These songs are like old friends. When I hear them it is like I am in place where “everybody knows my name.” So anyway, thanks for allowing me the diversion tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Where Everybody Knows Your Name: The Importance of Community for Military Families

Some years ago the theme song of the television show “Cheers!” struck a chord with people, because it expressed the desire of many people.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

We live in an increasingly disconnected world despite the proliferation of devices designed to make communication easier. Our dependence on these devices often serves to disconnect us from community because we use them to accomplish things without any human contact.  I mean really, what percentage of our Facebook “friends” really know us and how many can we go to when the chips are down.

We shop in massive stores, attend mega-churches, exist on fast food bought at a drive through and we don’t know our neighbors. To most organizations we are not real life human beings but statistics whose only value is in profit and market share.  And we wonder why so many people are depressed, lonely and even despair of life.

Sometimes you want to go, Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.

Having a place where people know you and care about you matters. It is important to us as individuals and it is important to the people that come to us for their medical care. Cheers was a neighborhood bar where people from all walks of life knew and cared for each other. We miss that a lot and we often suffer because of it, especially those that go to war and their families.

You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

In our military communities be they Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force we have shared hardships and culture but even with that it is a difficult life. The military does its best to provide a multitude of support services including unit based Family Support Groups, family service centers as well as centers and associations for single servicemen and women.

But even still those support structures often are insufficient due to the transitory nature of military life, changing and sometimes uneven leadership of these organizations. Add to this the unrelenting demands of the wars and deployments and the wounds of war brought home which affect even the most resilient families.  PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, traumatic amputations, substance abuse, domestic violence, high divorce rates and suicide are everyday parts of the military family and community life.

One of the other aspects not directly attributable to the wars is how the communities around the bases treat the military.  In some major metropolitan areas the military simply blends in to the civilian community, even where there are large bases such as in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.  In such places there may be a large military footprint but it is easy to blend in.  In other areas where the military installations are the sole reason that the areas have large populations such as Killeen Texas, the home of Fort Hood, Jacksonville North Carolina the home of Camp LeJeune and Fayetteville the home of Fort Bragg the military presence is loved and loathed. There are many retired military in these areas as well as many veterans and often they are supportive. However in each of these cities there exists a large contingent of individuals and businesses who take advantage of military personnel and their families and some of these are former military personnel. Sometimes people in these communities despite their outward show of support for the troops do all they can to make the military personnel unwelcome.  Now this is not helped by the bad behavior of some military personnel and their family members which is then used to discriminate against good and law abiding military personnel.

But there are good people, organizations and businesses which do their best to help make these “strangers in a strange land” welcome.  For me that welcome has been often linked to people that I know at minor league ballparks such as Harbor Park in Norfolk and Grainger Stadium in Kinston. There is a special church, Saint James Episcopal in Portsmouth Virginia that I enjoy on the rare times that I have to visit it is a place I can call home and my friends at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach.

Community really matters because as Americans we are all in this together.  While I have focused on military communities large numbers of American cities and towns are enduring great hardship, and this disconnect between people, evidenced by the fact that we often don’t even know our neighbors has created a social isolation that only breeds hatred and discontent.  With this true lack of community we should be surprised with increasing crime, violence, discrimination and prejudice.

Community doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes illusion of perpetual prosperity only serves to drive us apart.  However, sometimes communities are reborn when facing crisis, people begin to look out for one another again and the welcome sign means that you really are.

But, what is neat is when we do find that special place for ourselves and when we can provide that kind of home to others we can really understand the last stanza of the song from Cheers which never aired on television.

Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy

Sometimes You Wanna go Where Everybody Knows Your Name

The hit long running comedy Cheers set in Boston Bar is something that I have grown to appreciate more and more throughout the years.  It comes from the community of disparate people who find refuge in that bar each with their own lives and stories which all intersect at Cheers.  The lyrics to the theme song from the show sum up where I sometimes find myself in life, especially coming back from Iraq.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows
your name.

The last verse to the song “Where Everybody knows Your Name” never aired on the show and continue….

Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

The need for community is something that I didn’t think that I really needed for most of my life.  It took a huge amount of time isolated in the military as well as coming back from Iraq with a nice case of PTSD to realize that I could not exist without some kind of local connection.  This is something that when I returned from Iraq I knew that I did not have.  For a good amount of time this didn’t matter because I was always on the road or deployed.  It is easy to cover up the need for local relationships and community when you aren’t around.

For me this isolation really began when we moved to the Hampton Roads area back in 2003.  I was assigned to a command where I was on the road a lot.  However I sought to make build relationships with the local mission of my church in our area as well as other local clergy.  After a clash with the local idiot masquerading as a priest I was forbidden by the bishop to have any contact with any of his priests or parishes.  I guess since that bishop didn’t get my tithe that I didn’t matter. A couple of years later both the bishop and the idiot priest had left our church for happier hunting grounds.  So when I came back from Iraq in 2008 I was isolated.  I had transferred in October 2006 from a Marine Command where I felt absolutely comfortable to a different command where I was new and about everyone else was going about 95 different directions.   The command chaplain who I had come on board under in the larger command had transferred during my deployment, while the one officer that I had developed a relationship with at my new command was deployed a couple of months after me.  When I returned from Iraq even my office had been packed up and I had no-where to work from for over a month.  My belongings, including many military mementos and awards were crammed into a trailer and it took almost a year to find the majority of them.  A couple of items were not recovered.  So on the military side I was pretty isolated and feeling pretty down.   As I said I had no church ties from my denomination anywhere near me and had not, due to my own pathology and hectic travel and deployment schedule did not establish a relationship with another church until this year.   Other friends had transferred over the years and I had one other chaplain in the area that I can call a friend.  We have known each other since 1999 and our wives are best friends.  Apart from that I was about as isolated and alone as I could get.  It was then with my PTSD kicking my ass that I knew after all these years that I needed to be in community and in relationships with people locally.  It was no longer good enough to simply check in with guys that I had known for years but who lived far away.

It took a while to get from knowing that I needed something until I was able to get established in a number of places and begin to build my local ties.  The first two places were Harbor Park where I see the Norfolk Tides play and the local Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant.  Harbor Park was something that I went to before Iraq as I love baseball.  I was no stranger there, I’ve been around long enough to get to know staff, vendors and ushers and have met the General Manager Dave Rosenfield on a good number of occasions as he walks the concourse among the Harbor Park faithful.  However something happened when I came back from Iraq.  In most places I could not handle crowds, even going to church at the fairly large Catholic Church where I occasionally attend with Judy who is a member there.  It is large and rather busy and since I only know a few people there I get a bit anxious, even though I love the Pastor, Deacons and the few people that I know.  However every time I would step onto the concourse at Harbor Park and the lush green field came into view I could feel stress and anxiety leaving my body.  Somehow almost magically I am at peace when at a ball game.  I felt the same thing even in crowded Major League Parks at San Diego and San Francisco when I made trips to the west coast.  When the season ended last year it was terribly difficult as the PTSD and Anxiety, nightmares and chronic pain were still raging.  When this season came around and with Harbor Park now on my way home from work I knew that I needed to get a season ticket.  I cleared with Judy and for the first time in my life I had a season ticket.  Since the season began in April the Park has become more of a place of refuge and place of fellowship with some great people.  Seeing Elliott the Usher, Ray and John the Vietnam Vets at the Beer Stand behind the plate, Kenny the Pretzel Guy, Skip the Usher in the section above me, Mandy up in the Tides Store my next seat over neighbor Barry, Barry’s daughter Julie, Tina and her husband, the Judge and others has given me a sense of community that is like a comfortable pub.

The same has been true at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant has become another place where I feel at home.  I think this began with Kira, the choir child from Judy’s Church as well as guys like Mike, John and girls like Kai Ly who been incedible.  We began by being frequenters of the dining room but have over the past several months moved to the bar as it is a bit more laid back and we get to know more people.  Now the noise can occasionally be a bit much, but the kids who work there are really great to be around.  I was just recently inducted into the Stein Club.  Both Harbor Park and Biersch were important because even though the people that I met were those in the intersection they were places and people that began to get me back in touch with community.

Another really key part of building community for me is my work at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. Somehow I am at home in the surreal environment of the ICU and PICU and the great folks who work on those floors. On call I am beginning to feel the same way about our NICU.    The relationships formed in these areas as well as with my fellow chaplains have become especially important.  My boss and some of our other chaplains have really helped me through some really rough times since I got here as I have dealt with the PTSD and other issues from Iraq. As I have made the adjustment to being back in the hospital setting I realized just how much I enjoyed the challenge of Critical Care chaplaincy, the care for patients, families and especially the staff and residents.  I am at home here.

The final piece fell into place a few months ago, that was beginning to worship at St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth.  I had met the Rector (Pastor) of the Parish, Fr John at the hospital as he visited two of his parishioners who were patients in my ICU.  We not only met but we became friends and he invited me to St James.  Now Fr John is from Nigeria and the parish is predominantly African American, West Indies or Nigerian.  The church reminds me a lot of East Side Presbyterian Church in Stockton CA which I attended with Judy.  The liturgy while Episcopal is punctuated with familiar hymns and Old Negro Spirituals.  The Church itself was founded in the 1890s as a place for African American Episcopalians to worship, Jim Crow being quite strong in those days.  When I first went there I wondered about the wisdom of it but I knew that I needed a place to worship outside my little guestroom altar.  I didn’t know what to expect, but the folks at St James love worship, music and have enfolded me, a Priest from a different communion into their community and for the first time since I came in the Navy, and certainly since I came back from Iraq I feel a sense of connection with a local parish.  One thing that I believe is quite significant is that prior to the Civil War my familyowned slaves in what was then the western part of Virginia.  I even met a man from Liberia who has my last name. His family went from the United States, to Canada, back to the UK and then on to Liberia before his family came back to the United States.   His brother even serves in the US Navy.  I’m sure at one point Cecil Dundas’s ancestors once were owned by some part of my family in Virginia.  But we are both of the Dundas family and I think that is pretty cool.  Small world.

I don’t necessarily think that I am alone in the search for community.  I think for a lot of people they would want to find such a community in church, but from what I am seeing across the denominational spectrum and the move to large churches or mega-churches I am seeing more lonely people who attend church regularly but never feel a sense of family or community.  Some of the things I hear from these lonely and disconnected Christians remind me of the lyrics to Abba’s hit Super Trouper:

Facing twenty thousand of your friends
How can anyone be so lonely
Part of a success that never ends
Still I’m thinking about you only

Part of this I think is that many churches have places more value on “Church growth” and programs than they have on people.  There has been a shift, especially in larger churches to proliferate programs which take up a lot of time, but don’t foster relationships.  Often the senior pastor is unreachable and untouchable in large churches.  Someone may get contact with a staff pastor, but often this is even driven down to minimally trained small group or home group leaders.  The churches themselves are so large it takes a long time for a new person to get to know anyone.  Now large church can do a lot of good, but I do think what they lack is intimacy.  Some home groups have this but others are train wrecks full of pretty bad juju.  So I wonder if this is a part of the isolation and disconnection of people.  Just a thought….

It has take me about five years to get connected in this area.  The cool thing now is that there are a number of places where I can go where just about everybody knows my name.  Slowly but surely I’m getting better as I get more connected.  I now have the beginnings of a community which is rich and diverse, military and civilian and have the blessing of friendship with so many people that that make up the communities of which I have become part. The Deity has a wry sense of humor to take this introverted rugged individualist to put me into community with such a great bunch of people.  She had to about throw me under the bus to do it, but I am glad that she did.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under philosophy, PTSD, Religion