Tag Archives: death

Unexpected Death, Friends, and Conditions Requiring me to Probably Postpone Retirement

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are so many things I could Write about today, but late this afternoon I found that one of our friends from Gordon Biersch passed away yesterday. The cause is still undetermined bit we were with him here Monday. Mitch and his wife Barb have been friends for years.

I am reminded of the words of Marcus Aurelius: “Do not act as if you had ten thousand years to throw away. Death stands at your elbow. Be good for something while you live and it is in your power.”

I am shocked. Just a couple of weeks ago I lost another friend, younger than me. Confronting mortality is difficult. From the first time I had a gun held to my head during a robbery to the last time I was under fire in combat I have imagined what it would be like to die. I’m not obsessive about it, but when a friend suddenly passes away, it makes me think. T.E. Lawrence wrote words with which I can heartily agree:

“Immorality, I know. Immortality, I cannot judge.”

Most of the times Mitch came here he came here to read and socialize. You couldn’t say anything negative against him. He was quiet, polite, friendly, and interested in other people. He was also intelligent, and while he primarily read fiction, was quite well versed in other subjects. I really feel bad for Barb, she lost a great husband. Word of his passing reverberated throughout the bar and restaurant. One of our bartenders was on the verge of tears when he found out. Most of us were just in shock.

As for me, he was about my age, which is another reminder of my mortality, and another reason to be thankful about my life and the blessings I have.

I also found out today that if I need surgery on my right knee that since I am within six months of my approved voluntary retirement date that I may have to cancel my planned retirement and go with a retirement date based on my statuary retirement when I am 60. That would mean a retirement date of April 1st of 2020. It won’t make people happy but according to the head of the retirement branch since I was approved for voluntary retirement I could cancel that request in order to serve out the rest of my statuary retirement time. Since I have a chaplain coming in to replace me in October it shouldn’t even a problem. The details will probably be a pain in the ass, but if I can get my knee fixed while still on active duty it will be worth it. I don’t want to be pushed into the VA system when my injury might preclude employment. I don’t mind the VA system if I am able to work, but I don’t want to be unemployable immediately after I retire because I need surgery and a recovery period, so maybe I need to cancel my current retirement plans and settle for April 1st, 2020. Not that I wasn’t looking forward to getting the heck out of Dodge when I could. There are a lot of things I see coming in the Military, the Navy, and the Chaplain Corps that I have great concerns about, and if I had the choice I would retire tomorrow. However, when I submitted my retirement papers last July I never expected the injuries I incurred the following month, the delays in treatment, and the non-response of my right knee to all treatments so far.

Honestly, by now I expected to be able to walk and jog again with a minimum of discomfort. Instead, both knees try to go out on me and hurt like the devil. My surgeon tells me that my left knee is as good as it will get and will likely require a replacement in a few years. I am okay with that, so long as my right knee gets fixed or replaced before I retire. It hurts a lot worse than the left knee, which was the case before I got hurt. This requires actions that I would not have considered until now.

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Few Thoughts about Life on My 59th Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was my 59th Birthday and I plan on sharing a few bits of wisdom among the events of the day. The great Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.”

I think that is a good birthday thought. I came across it last nigh before bed and I think that it describes the way that I want to live my life.

My day began with a visit to my doctor to see what is going on with my left hip. On Sunday night when in a deep sleep and not having any of my violent dreams my left hip exploded in pain. I had been previously diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both knees, but I had never been bothered by pain in the left hip. Yesterday I had an appointment scheduled with a doctor different than my primary care manager who called in sick, so I saw my own PCM today, got new x-rays to compare to the last ones, and some medications. They said it would take a couple of days for radiology to read the reports so I won’t know what is going on for a few days. I wonder if the osteoarthritis has gotten worse. It hurts like hell trying to get up and down and walking, stairs are a bitch, even laying down hurts. At least the pharmacy wasn’t crowded and not too stressful. For that I am thankful because usually that pharmacy is so crowed, cramped and slow that I leave with a severe anxiety attack, and yes this particular reaction goes back to a particular incident in Iraq.

Even with that today has been a good day. After the medical appointment I went out with Judy to breakfast, and then did a little shopping with her. Then we went home and hung out with out Papillon babies. I got a call from my mom and brother, those were both nice, and today, in spite of all the turmoil in the country and around the world my soul is at peace. Since being told by my Commanding Officer and Regional Chaplain to take care of all my medical issues and prepare for retirement my blood pressure has gone back down to my normal, 114/68, instead of spiking to 160/100 as was the case just a few weeks ago.

I have received hundreds of well wishes and greetings for my birthday on Facebook, and so far I have made a personal response to each one, though I know that I have more to answer. I’ve had them from the United States and Canada, the U.K., The Netherlands and Germany, Australia and South Korea. I have known some of the people for 50 years or more. Honestly, I think that is the only reason that I stay on Facebook. Every one of them means something to me that is special, and some of us cannot agree on anything anymore in the current political environment but I cannot help but to remember each one with love and appreciation. You see, I don’t have to agree with someone’s politics, ideology, or religious beliefs to still love and appreciate them. At times I haven’t done well in this, but honestly it is my baseline. Some of the most meaningful exchanges today were with friends who we have had it out and disagreed in a most uncourteous manner to each other. That is when you know you have a friend.

I guess that the late Bob Marley was right“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” Likewise when it comes to friendship I cannot help but to remember the quote of General William Tecumseh Sherman about Ulysses Grant. “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.” That’s my kind of friend.

Later in the evening we went out and did our usual things. Since Judy will be getting her left knee replaced on April 12th she went to her group of friends to work on her ceramic projects and she dropped me off at Gordon Biersch, where I continued to answer all the well wishes from friends, had some dinner, talked Baseball with the early crowed, soccer with a couple of young guys later, and then spent some time with an active duty service member from a local base who I have started getting to know over the past couple of weeks. He was in Iraq before me and was there during some of the worst of the action. He saw a lot worse than I did and both of us struggle with PTSD and sleep issues. Judy came and got me and we hung out until closing, talking with friends and each other.

It was a good day. We’ll find a time to actually celebrate my birthday in the next week or too, no rush.

But when you start pushing 60 years old memories of the past, worries about the future and visions of mortality begin to intrude on life, that is why I think that what I quoted from Marcus Aurelius is so spot on. The same is true of the German Lutheran theologian Jürgen Moltmann who observed:

“As time goes on we become old, the future contracts, the past expands…But by future we don’t just mean the years ahead; we always mean as well the plenitude of possibilities which challenge our creativity…In confrontation with the future we can become young if we accept the future’s challenges.”

We went to bed late, spent some good time with our three Papillons and then passed out. We spent most of the morning getting our cars serviced and the afternoon with her doing some artwork as I perused the news. We continue to work hard to prepare for her surgery and dealing with what the sports medicine doctor will recommend next week for my right knee. I am doing my best to keep up the physical therapy to at the minimum strengthen myself.

I found out this afternoon that one of my high school friends passed away last week. I just noticed the obituary. He was a good man, a father, pastor, and football coach. I had the opportunity to serve with one of his nephews on the USS HUE CITY. He made a difference in a lot of lives.

It kind of put a damper on the day but then I remembered a quote from the film Star Trek Generations, in which Captain Picard tells Commander Riker:

“Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe than time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.” 

Today is a new day and the future still awaits, By this time next year, Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise, I will be retired from the Navy and hopefully teaching college history, and humanities in the civilian world, hopefully I’ll be sporting the beard I practiced growing on our last Germany trip.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Remember Thou Art Mortal”the Death Of a Friend and a Cold Look at My Own Mortality

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I had retired Navy friend die over the weekend. He was a Chief Warrant Officer with about 30 years of service when he retired not long before their marriage. None of us knew it then but he probably had the stage four Brain Cancer that was diagnosed not long after their marriage. He stayed active and when he retired he was still in peak physical shape. He did a lot of sea time, mainly on cruisers and destroyers, and deployed with Naval Special Warfare Teams to various combat zones.

He was younger than me and in May of 2017 I had the honor of performing the marriage of Dan and his wife in the presence of their children at their home. He passed away Saturday and I found out last night. I didn’t sleep well, it is hard to believe that Dan Trevino is dead.

His death reminded me of my mortality, that and an extensive pre-retirement physical form on which I have to list everything that is wrong with me now or I have ever been treated for over the course of my career. I have to explain any yes answers and since there is not enough room on the form I am having to type it out on Microsoft Word and attach it. I think that I am about seventy to seventy-five percent complete, but I found today will waiting in the hospital pharmacy that I do need my foot high 2000 or so page medical record. I also have to dig up my old Army Medical records, and am waiting for more from the Navy and a civilian doctor that the Navy sent me out to in Camp LeJeune. There is nothing like having a friend that you admired who was younger and in better shape die and going through all of these forms, and I haven’t yet started with the Veterans Administration, but once I am done with this, that is my next priority.

I spent most of today at the Naval Medical Center. I had a follow up appointment from my left knee, which I had arthroscopic surgery on about six weeks ago. It is progressing, it still hurts some and though much stronger than it was, it still occasionally catches, but it is doing better than the right knee which I will have my follow up for after failed Platelet Rich Plasma treatments and injections of a gel into the knee, which I have completed but don’t seem to be working. I also had to see the dermatologist who treated me for a pre-cancerous condition on my face. That is gone, but in it’s place I now have some kind of bacterial infection that has caused a rash on my face and will require three months of creams and antibiotics to treat, as well as a telephone consult with my sleep doctor. This is a pain but it beats the heck out of being dead.

So back to work tomorrow, more physical therapy, and more medical appointments on the docket, and more digging through the records to complete this part of my medical requirements. All this even as I start the job search for after the Navy.

But also in thinking about this I am deciding to make this time an opportunity for growth. Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it.”

I am going to use my days open up the windows of my soul to the sun, and in the process hopefully grow wiser and more loving. As the great Roman soldier-philosopher said:

“Life is short. Do not forget about the most important things in our life, living for other people and doing good for them.”

We should do well to remember our fallen friends like Dan and while remembering our mortality, also remember that no matter what our infirmities, and how long our past, we still have a future. As a Christian, in spite of my many doubts I believe this. The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“As time goes on we become old, the future contracts, the past expands…But by future we don’t just mean the years ahead; we always mean as well the plenitude of possibilities which challenge our creativity…In confrontation with the future we can become young if we accept the future’s challenges.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Happy Yet Sad Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I wrote late Monday night and early Tuesday morning about some of my thoughts on turning 58 years old. When I went to bed the article was about halfway completed. I was tired but I was troubled. I had a hard time getting to sleep, so I got up and finished the article a bit after 2:30 AM amid a sense of foreboding. about the coming day. I posted it about 3:00 AM and tried to get to sleep but I couldn’t. So I read. Finally about 4:30 was startled when my iPad fell to the floor by out bed. It woke me up and I put on my C-Pap and really tried to get to sleep.

Even so my sleep was troubled with strange and disturbing dreams and I was awakened by our oldest dog Minnie before my alarm rang complaining about something; she is quite vocal and talks much like Scooby-Doo. So I just laid awake in bed until my phone rang. It was then that I found out that our Army Deputy Base Commander, a friend who I had just worked with on Saturday had died of a massive heart-attack. He was just six months away from retirement.

I spent most of the day at his quarters with his daughters, neighbors, and my Commanding Officer trying to help care for his family and coordinate care for them between the Army, Navy, and our support agencies as NCIS and Army CID did their investigations. One thing they asked was for an Orthodox Priest to come and do the prayers that are an important part of their faith when someone had died and before their body is removed from their home.

My friend and colleague was a Greek Orthodox Christian but there were no military chaplains of that faith closer than Washington D.C. or Fort Bragg North Carolina; too far to be of assistance. So I reached out to a local Greek Orthodox Church and although their priest was out of town they scoured the area to see if they could find one who could support us. They did find one and had him call me but his schedule was such that he could not come to the quarters until long after my colleague’s body was transported to a local military medical center for autopsy. Knowing that it was important to the family to ensure that the prayers were done before his body was removed I asked the priest if it was permissible for me to conduct the prayers. Knowing that I was I priest he told me that it was permissible and so when it the mortuary personnel arrived I went with his oldest daughter to pray the Trisagion liturgy at his body.

It was hard to see my friend laying in his bed as if asleep. The cardiac event had obviously been so sudden and severe that he never awoke. I wished him goodbye and told him that I would miss him and then did the prayers. I am fortunate to have a number of Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Byzantine Catholic priest friends. As such I have been with them as they have celebrated various liturgies. For those of Evangelical, other Protestant, or Roman Catholic traditions the Orthodox prayers and liturgies are long and repetitive, but there is a difference in the way Eastern and Western Christians understand faith.

We in the West regardless of whether we are Catholic or Protestant tend to be more concerned about time than our Eastern brothers and sisters. Likewise we tend towards a certain amount of expediency and concreteness in what we believe. we just want “the facts” and by doing this deprive ourselves of the sacred mystery that is at the heart of the Christian faith. In the eastern liturgies the repetition in threes of phrases like “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” coupled with the “Our Father,” and “Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen” are actually much closer to the way the ancient Hebrews worshipped in the Temple than most Western liturgies, and certainly more so than the reductionistic faith of most Protestants, especially Evangelicals, but I digress. What is more important was that my friend and colleague lived his faith in an authentic manner and tonight I am sure that he is part of that timeless heavenly liturgy depicted in the book of Revelation that is reflected so well in the Eastern Rites of Christianity.

When I finally returned to my office I spent time with my staff who had taken the time to get and sign a birthday card for me as well as get me a nice box of Lindt chocolates. Then I busied myself to take care of the other pressing matters of the day before finally leaving the office to meet Judy and quite a few of my friends at Gordon Biersch. Our executive chef, Mamadou Diallo prepared a wonderful cake which I meant more as a gift to friends and the staff more than for us. I had a light dinner and a small piece of cake and did not have to pay for any of my beers. When we got home I had some day and puppy time with Izzy and Pierre which was also helpful.

Today was spent preparing for Good Friday and making final preparations for the funeral of a retired Navy Chief which I conducted this afternoon. Hopefully tomorrow will be uneventful and I will be able to finish preparing for Good Friday and for the Easter Sunrise service, and begin to plan the memorial service for our Deputy Commander, maybe get in a seven to eight mile run and catch up on some administrative tasks.

So until tomorrow, pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Life Gives Meaning to Death: Remembering Lives Lost in 2016

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As 2016 comes to an end I am remembering so many people who passed away this year. Death does seem to touch all of us, and I am pretty sure that most of us have probably had a relative, friend, coworker, or classmate pass away this year. Some might have been expected, others unexpected. Likewise some may have lived long and full lives and others lives seemingly cut too short. Henry David Thoreau wrote: “On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.”

Of course we read abut or see stories of people dying all the time. The media and especially social media assures us that we know about the deaths of famous people, or the deaths of large numbers of people in natural disasters, accidents, murders, wars, and terrorism. The former we tend to magnify because of our celebrity and media culture. Actors, musicians,. sports figures, and famous people become part of our lives, and when they die it seems that some part of us dies as well, even if we never met them. The one celebrity that actually I met and with who I chatted occasionally with on Facebook and Twitter was Patty Duke. Her death came as an absolute shock. But, even so among those I had never met there were so many who through their lives touched me. I was looking through the New York Times which has a gallery of notable deaths and was reminded of the stories, events, songs, sporting events, plays, films, inventions, and decisions that impacted my life. I was really amazed with who we lost and what so many had contributed to my life as I know it. The link is here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/notable-deaths/2016

But the latter, people whose lives end in large groups tend to just become numbers to us, and that is something we cannot allow. We must try the best we can to remember them as individual lives. That struck me last week when I read about the Russian aircraft that crashed with the Red Army Chorale aboard. I remember going the victims through name by name, as I did with the victims of the various terror attacks, and mass killings this year.

Then there were the stories of military personnel, or first-responders, killed in the line of duty. Those were important for me to read, and sense the common humanity.

But it gets harder when we see the mass killings and disasters around the world and the numbers become overwhelming. The temptation is to allow the dead to become mere statistics rather than people who had lives. Instead of thinking about a mass number of people which generally ends in a round number, let us remember individuals, like Army reserve Captain Antonio Davon Brown whose was killed at thee Pulse Nightclub, or Justin and Stephanie Shults who were killed in the Brussels terror attack, Sean and Brodie Copeland, killed in the Nice terror attack. Dr. Liza Glinka, the Russian humanitarian who died along with the Red Army Chorale.

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Sean and Brodie Copeland 

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Antonio Brown

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Dr. Liza Glinka

Of course there are so many more many whose names will never be known in the west, and because of the ravages of war and ethnic cleansing in the Middle East will have their lives erased from memory. So it is important to us to ensure that those lives, those individual lives multiplied a million times are not forgotten.

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Dave

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Cara

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Tony

This year lost a number of friends and relatives. “New York” Mike Ferry and Cara Beruk Hartwell were people who helped hold me together when I was stationed at Camp LeJuene and struggling just to survive as I went through very dark times struggling with PTSD, TBI, terrible anxiety, depression, and times when I was considering suicide. My friend from Gordon Biersch Dave Shaw, a retired Navy Chief Hospital Corpsman planning to retire from his civilian career and travel around the country; my co-worker Bert Trembley whose sudden death coupled with a few other events kicked me into a tailspin at the end of March. My great-aunt Betty Dundas who loved to sing in the church choir; my former neighbor Tim Nestor who suffered for years with heart problems finally received a transplant but had complications which killed him; Bishop Randy Adler of my former church who was always so kind to me, and finally my high school friends, Stephanie Leon and Tony Martin. Tony took the time in his last month to spend time with me chatting via Facebook messenger as he was in the final stages of his battle with cancer.

In a world where death is always present it is important to remember the lives of people, not just their deaths. To quote Timothy Snyder death “must not, above all, supply the rounding rhetorical flourish that brings a story to a defined end.” Life gives meaning to death, rather than the other way around, so it is important that we remember the lives, not just the deaths if we are to retain any sense of humanity.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Friendship Matters more than Anything 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today just a short reflection on friendship following the unexpected death of yet another friend. Today some of us gathered at our favorite watering hole who remember him, and to console each other. There were hugs, tears, and many shared memories, but there was also silence because all too often the words failed us, and all we hand was the silence, and the embrace of friends. 

I value true friendship more than most anything and I am loathe to give up friends for any reason. Sadly, all too many people are willing to toss friendship aside for extreme politics or religion. I hate to say it but I have had to separate myself from people that I presumed were friends whose extreme right or left wing ideology, or religious beliefs were so toxic and seemingly uncaring about my friendship to for them that I had to withdraw. 

Ulysses S. Grant who is one of my heroes with feet of clay remarked, “The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.” Grant’s ever mindful friend and subordinate William Tecumseh Sherman noted, “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, I stood by him when he was drunk. Now we stand together.”  

Having endured gloom, having been what some would call crazy, and having been drunk, I understand this. One cannot put a price on true friendship, be it the steadfast friends of many years, or newer friends who maybe do not have the benefit of th  years, but certainly have bonded with me and become my brothers or sisters. William Shakespeare wrote that Henry V said “We, we happy few, we band of brothers…” That is friendship. Maybe that is why as a career military man I find that friendship, especially the friendship borne of adversity matters more than anything. I can handle disagreement over politics or religion so long as I believe that the person still values and cares about me as much as I do them, and as long as that is the case I will do everything I can for them, in good times and bad. 

Tonight I again watched the movie Gettysburg. In it there is a scenes where the late Richard Jordan, playing Confederate General Lewis Armistead talked of his friendship with other officers just before they went their separate ways prior to the beginning of the Civil War. He recalled a song of friendship, love, and loss called Kathleen Mouvereen. The words to that Irish song are haunting, 

Mavoureen, mavoureen, my sad tears are falling, to think that from Erin and thee I must depart. It may be for years, it may be forever, then why art thou silent, thou voice of my heart… 

Those words are haunting to anyone who truly loves friends in times of loss and adversity, I know that they are for me. Maybe it is just the Irish in my DNA, maybe it is also being a career military man, for truly I know little different, for being both a military officer, a priest, and a historian is what I was meant to be, honestly I cannot imagine anything else. Thus, my views and values of friendship reflect that reality. 

There are many quotes and sayings about friendship and believe me I read a lot of them today, but I always return to Grant, Sherman, and my own band of brothers. 

So have a good night. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Unexpected Loss in the Wake of a Storm


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was a sad day as we unexpectedly lost a friend due to a heart attack or pulmonary embolism. Our friend Dave Shaw had just returned from a business trip and we actually saw him last night before Tropical Storm Hermine hit our area. When I saw him leaving the bar he did not seem to be well, but I assumed that it was simply being tired from his flight home, but I was wrong. 

I found out about Dave’s passing from my friend John as I was cleaning up the mess left by the storm. A mess that was only that as well suffered no real property damage, though we are going to have to find out why water is entering our house from our back yard. That is why we have insurance, but I digress. Had all we had to deal with was the post storm hassle today would have been easy, but we lost Dave, something far greater than our temporary inconvenience. 

Dave was really a good guy, and a friend to many people. He was a retired Navy Chief Hospital Corpsman and was only 61 years old. Dave had friends who were much closer to him than me and I am sure that our mutual friends Randy and Dave are grieving more than I could ever grieve his loss as they were both much closer to him than I ever was. We were able to go with him, Jeri, and a number of other friends to the Oktoberfest in Munich just two years ago. While we were ther Dave donned a Burger King Crown and a German nicknamed him the King of Virginia, a nickname that he relished, and with good reason. 

It was sad for so many reasons, but especially because Dave and his wife Jeri were happy. They were married less than a year ago, but from the time that they met a few years ago I had never seen Dave so happy. They had just purchased a motor home so they could travel and create new adventures when he planned on retiring from his civilian job in the spring. 

I went an visited Jeri this evening, and we will do what we can to help her over the days ahead, as will many other dear friends. 

When you lose a friend unexpectedly it is most difficult, but that being said it would be worse never having to know them or have missed out on the simple joy of friendship. I would have rather that Dave had been able to live out another twenty or thirty years with his beloved Jeri traveling around the country and also enjoying his time with so many of his other friends, here, and around the world. 

As word of his passing spread I saw many wonderful comments and expressions of love and loss. Dave will be missed by so many people. Today the folks at Gordon Biersch leaned the barstool where he sat against the bar and placed a full stein of his favorite beer in front of it. It was a gesture of love and respect for a friend who though gone from us in the flesh will remain part of all of us forever. 


So until tomorrow, please take the time to love and care for your friends, and if you will, please lift a stein or pint in memory of Dave, the King of Virginia. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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