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New Year 2014: Resolutions, Coffee and Donuts, The Mendoza Line and the Unknown Possibilities of Existence

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“New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” Mark Twain

New Year’s Day is typically one of the laziest days that I observe during the year and this year was no different. The reason for this is because I figure that there are another 364 days left in the year and I need to pace myself.

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Last night we were up a couple of hours after the ball fell in Times Square and thankfully our dogs Molly and Minnie let me sleep until eight-thirty. After I let them go out, take their morning constitutional and feed them breakfast I went back to bed and stayed there until after noon when Minnie told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to be up and that she needed another constitutional.

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After that it was time for a shower followed by a cup of coffee, and this morning in a fit of wild abandon I discovered that Krispy Kreme Chocolate Mini Donuts are great when dipped in coffee. It is amazing the chances I will take in a New Year, as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.” But I digress.

Like I said yesterday I don’t do New Year resolutions. I find that I don’t do well with them and my reality is more in line with Mark Twain who so rightly observed:

“Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever.”

That doesn’t mean that I will not seek to improve myself or do better. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions I am not a “Hall of Famer” in the game of life, I am a “Mendoza Line” guy when it comes to doing life. For those unfamiliar with the Mendoza Line it is named after Mario Mendoza a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates and other teams who was competent at defense but a marginal hitter, his batting average being just enough not to be sent to the minor leagues. The Mendoza Line is considered to be a batting average of .200 though Mendoza’s actual lifetime average was .215. Thus for me life is something that I manage to muddle through and if I do well I might muddle through a bit better than I have before.

That being said I do have some goals this year. I want to become a great teacher of Ethics and Military History and get started on a Ph.D. so that whenever I retire from the Navy I can be competitive in teaching at the college and university level. I want to get started on a book this year and maybe even find a publisher and I hope that a major media or commentary site will start publishing some of my blog articles.  So if you know someone that can help in that last category please give me a shout out.

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Other things I want to do apart from work and education. I want to make a trip to England, Ireland and Scotland with Judy this year. I want to go to a lot of Norfolk Tides baseball games at Harbor Park, see a Orioles game at Camden Yards, and maybe if possible see a game at Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.

On a personal level I want to see more improvement in my PTSD recovery, to sleep better without nightmares and night terrors, to not be as anxious in crowded places or in bad traffic and to develop some better spiritual disciplines. Those are all things I have struggled with since coming back from Iraq and though I am have been doing better over the past year I want to see some more marked improvements in each area this year.

Likewise I want to be better at caring for those in my life, family, friends and those that I work with and those that I will teach and those who read this website.

Of course none of us know what the future brings, but thankful to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln “the future only comes one day at a time” so we should be good.

So a New Year is a hand, 364 more days in it and lots of possibilities. The past is now past, and though the past may still be with us and influence the present it does not have to bind us in its icy grip.

The new year presents me, and maybe all of us the chance to look at possibilities that we never imagined, to accept the past and all that is part of it without being trapped by it. It is as the entity Q told Captain Jean Luc Picard in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Tapestry:

Captain Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here. 

Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did. 

Captain Picard: When I realized the paradox. 

Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence. 

Our trials will not end in the coming year. However, if we open ourselves to new possibilities and to options that we never before considered we just might find that at the end of 2014 things might go better. Even more important we might be different, better or changed. As T.S. Elliott wrote: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, christian life, dogs, Just for fun, philosophy, PTSD

A New Start…Life off the Fat Boy Program

Back in Standards 

“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” Bob Feller

One of the biggest effects of my post-Iraq PTSD crash was how I tried to cope with this multi-faceted beast. Of course psychologically and spiritually I was in the toilet so much so that I was in the midst of a spiritual crisis so great that I was for all practical purposes an agnostic.  I struggled to hold myself together during 2008 and early 2009 trying to believe again and keep in shape. To compensate for my lack of belief, depression and the other nasty effects of PTSD such as night terrors, insomnia, hyper-vigilance, flashbacks I threw myself totally into work on the critical care units of the hospital I was serving. I finished my Masters Degree program and worked hard to better our hospital’s Clinical Pastoral Education Program and served on various committees including the Ethics Committee.  It was too much and the collapse deepened so I sought other coping mechanisms. I turned to comfort food and drink as a way to cope, especially food that was bad for me and way too much very good beer.

After my physical fitness test and weigh in during April of 2009 I lost all control of the latter two. While I had been drinking more since my return from Iraq than before the deployment in the spring of 2009 it became a problem.  I would leave work and on days when the Norfolk Tides were in town I would take to my season ticket seat in Section 102 Row B Seat 2 and seek refuge from my problems.  The ballpark and baseball helped bring some peace to my soul, but it would only last for 3 hours.  At the ballpark I would drink two to three beers with a chili dog and fries and maybe a pretzel, peanuts or ice cream.  After the game I would swing by the Krispy Crème Donut shop on the way home and pick up a dozen hot and fresh glazed donuts. I would then get on my computer and write on this site. While writing I would down three to six of the donuts with another two to four beers and repeat the cycle the next day for the rest of the home stand. On other nights I would go over to get donuts and drink more beer with them often after eating a heavy meal with very good beer at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Town Center.  By November I weighed 194 pounds and though I passed the PT test with a very good score for someone my age I was way over my weight and body fat limits. Thereafter it was a struggle to get below 180 pounds. I failed my next body composition assessment by a percentage point and though scoring well enough to qualify for the DOD waiver which would have taken me off of the program it was not approved.  I weighed in weekly and continued to improve my physical condition to the point that I was within the body fat standard by the time I left that duty assignment I transferred before the next official physical fitness assessment and got to my new assignment after the period was over.  Thus I remained on the program.

To those that have never experienced life in any military branch Fat Boy or Girl program it is humiliating, at least if you are a military professional.  There is a stigma to being fat because the military is run by tall skinny people.  Those of us of the under tall variety understand this stigma very well even when we are within standards.  I know a good number of good Soldiers, Sailors and Marines put out of the military because they did not meet their service body fat and weight standards.  Many like me are those suffering the effects of war and just trying to cope with life.  Others are men and women who are suffering the effects of time with shrinking bodies due to spinal disc compression and other injuries, illnesses and the slowing of metabolism which conspire against them. The military is a young person’s game and 51 year old 30 year veteran relics like me are in the minority.  For me the physical requirements are little different than when I first went on active duty in 1983. Back then I thought that when you got older you would catch a few breaks. Well in the age of budget cutting and a shrinking military force those standards continue to tighten and few breaks are to be found.

Bursting at the seams in my Summer Whites in 2009, this was not a comfortable uniform at the time, now it is very loose

While I had lost weight and body fat I was still over my weight limit.  The body fat measurement in the Navy is the measuring tape around the neck and the fattest part of the belly.  It is a terribly subjective and according to many scientific studies inaccurate test.  Nonetheless if you are over the weight limit you must be taped.  I didn’t want to go through that again so I decided that I was going to start really eating healthy and diversifying my exercise regimen.  When I arrived at my new assignment I weighed 184 pounds and during the winter added a few more pounds. At the beginning of January I bought a digital scale and began to weigh myself several times a week. I stopped the comfort foods except for an occasional hamburger or piece of pizza.  Even if I ate a hamburger I omitted the fries and held the cheese and mayo. I began to look at the nutritional information on everything that I ate even looking up restaurant data to ensure that I had the healthiest food that I also liked, it does no good to eat healthy if you hate what you are eating because you don’t stick with it.  I cut back on my drinking a lot, even going to Yuengling Light Beer at home.  I counted every calorie and measured calories burned. If I went over on one thing I compensated rather than continuing as if I had not.

As winter became spring I noticed a difference, I was weighing less and all of my clothes continued to get loose to the point that things that I could not get into during the fall were baggy and some nearly falling off.  As the date approached my scales had me near the limit for a half inch below my real height just in case I got a bad measurement on my height, five pounds is five pounds.  I felt a lot of stress over the week and could feel every muscle in my back completely tense to the point that I was in pain. I weighed in Friday at 169 pounds and was six pounds below my weight limit and one pound below the lower height limit.  I have lost all 25 pounds that I gained during that horrible period of my life. On Monday I will take the physical fitness test something that I never have a problem doing well on.  When I do that I will be officially off the program.

Last night I was invited to do the invocation at the Navy Nurse Corps Birthday Ball at Camp LeJeune. I eased into my Mess Dress Blue uniform which last May I could barely squeeze my body into and in which I looked terrible.  The uniform was loose and fit very well. I went to the ball and had a wonderful time with my colleagues from the Naval Hospital and their guests.  I made sure that I had a friend take the picture which accompanies this post.

For me this is a comeback. I still have my struggles with PTSD but on the whole on the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of life I am doing much better. Yes I still struggle at times and experience some of the manifestations of PTSD and of my spiritual crisis but I am not collapsing when something shakes me like I was between 2008 and even into 2010.

Had I failed the body composition assessment I could have been separated from the Navy and while I probably would have been able to retire it would have been a most humiliating way to leave the service.  Instead as long as I am alive and haven’t done anything incredibly stupid I will be promoted to Commander on September 1st and continue to be able to serve God’s people in the Navy for years to come. Of course I cannot fail a physical fitness assessment for the next two years but now that I have my diet stabilized and composed of things that I like and live in a place at the Island Hermitage where I love to run, walk and bike I do not expect to ever fail that again. My goal is to get back to the weight that I was when I was commissioned as an Army Officer in 1983, 158 pounds and keep it there. Thus my task is still incomplete.  I have succeeded in my first goal and now it is time to complete the deal and live healthy from here on out.

Today is a new opportunity and I am putting past failures behind.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, healthcare, Military, PTSD, US Navy

Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11: A Baseball Fantasy

Since Baseball season is upon us, at least spring training is here I have decided to re-post a series of articles that I started last summer. They are kind of a spiritual fantasy involving faith and baseball with Jesus and his “team” intervening in my life. It’s kind of like my personal Field of Dreams story. The first few have been posted before but I am doing a bit of editing to each and plan to continue the story throughout the spring and summer.


One of my customs on my way to work is to stop by my local 7-11 for a cup of French Vanilla Coffee with 3 French Vanilla coffee creamers, course brown sugar and a packet of Splenda when I pick up my garden salad which I consume for lunch at work.  It is always a nice break for me on the way to work to smell the fresh coffee and take the time to prepare my cup of coffee exactly the way that I like it, which by the way before Iraq was not like this.  Back before Iraq I always drank it black with no cream or sugar but alas all good things…right?  Anyway as I was saying on this particular day I went to my neighborhood 7-11 to get my coffee and my salad the usual blue collar crowd was getting their coffee as I walked in with my orange and black trimmed retro-Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken Junior jersey and home black and orange billed cap with the traditional Oriole on the front.  I am a stickler for tradition and though every major league team have caps that little resemble the on the field caps in various colors and designs I refuse to wear any but the authentic head gear, preferably a New Era Wool 59/50 fitted cap or the 39/30 batting practice cap.  This kind of sets me apart from most customers who if they wear baseball gear wear the non-regulation stuff of winning teams like the Yankees or Red Sox but I digress.

On this particular morning there was a man that walked in as I was preparing my cup of coffee a man walked up beside me.  He was about 5’ 8” and looked like that he was from Lebanon or somewhere else in to Middle East.  I say Lebanon because I have known many Lebanese my mind went that way.  I noticed that his hands were rough hewn and had some very nasty looking scars in them and he wore a pair of sports sandals much like the kind that I wear from which I could see some scars on either foot.  He was wearing what appeared to be a retro “Cooperstown Classic” California Angels “CA” cap with the red bill and halo as well as a late 1960s or early 1970s Angel’s jersey which appeared to be game worn with the number “7” sewn on the back.

As I put my first creamer into my coffee he turned and looked at me and asked “Orioles fan?” Now I frequently get comments about whatever baseball apparel that I wear, especially the Orioles and the comments general reflect a certain pity due to the sad state of the franchise and especially the performance this year.  I said “Yes sir, one of the faithful.”

He chuckled and said, “Someone has to remain faithful to the Orioles, God love ‘em, they have been a great franchise and all of great teams the Hall of Famers that they have produced.” He shook his head “You just keep being faithful, they’re just going through some pretty hard times right now….by the way, I’m a baseball fan too, would you guess an Angels’ fan?”

“We’ll sir that goes without saying; I don’t think that I have seen a game worn 1970s Angels’ jersey since my dad used to take us to the “Big A” to see them as kids.  We went to games down there all the time; it’s where I really came to love the game of baseball.”

“Yes my friend there is something special about baseball, it’s really good when dads get their kids involved in the game.” He paused.  “Oh the jersey, this jersey does date me a little; I’ve always been an Angels’ fan, even before they were in Anaheim.”

“So you were a Los Angeles Angels fan too?”

“We’ll yeah, in a way, but even before that considering that I created them.”

I was tearing the foil top off of the third creamer when he said that and I kind of lost control of the container and spilled in on the stainless steel counter.  As I stood there feeling quite inept he said, “Sorry man, my fault I’ll get that” and as my wondering eyes stared in disbelief he waved his rough hewn and scarred hand gently about a foot off of the counter and to my amazement the white creamer disappeared from the countertop revealing a perfectly clean and shiny surface as the little blue cup that it was in sailed into the trash receptacle’s round hole in the top of the counter.

He continued to talk as he poured a cup of 7-11 “Heavenly Blend” coffee into a 24 ounce cup, and another 24 ounce cup and yet another 24 ounce cup handing them to other customers as he did so and miraculously the coffee pot remained full as he kept pouring until all the customers and counter staff each had a cup of coffee. “So anyway like I was saying back when I created the Angels baseball was different, no steroids, players stayed with a team forever unless perhaps it wasn’t God’s will.  If it wasn’t then you never knew what might happen.”

I stood by dumbly looking at this diminutive man with the scarred hands and feet pouring out cup after cup of coffee from the bottomless pot of coffee and I was I was quite impressed with his performance and said: “Sir that is impressive I’ve never seen the pot remain full like that before though being poured out into many cups, 24 ounce cups at that.”

He chuckled and said “Steve, I tell you what it’s all in the wrist, all in the wrist.” His eyes sparkled in amusement at my dismay as I stammered “But how did you know my name?”

“But I should since you know me.”

“I know you?” I asked. “Have we served together in the military?”

“No not that, kind of like Church work, you kind of work for me even though you’re in the Navy.”

“How did you know I was in the Navy?”

“Well duh… Steve, this is Norfolk, what else is here?” Looking at me with a amused but slightly more serious glance he said “Hey, I helped get you in the Navy when the Army told you to pound sand about going onto active duty.”

“You weren’t my recruiter, or the Chaplain that interviewed me and you are way too short to be my old bishop.”

“Think higher and bigger Steve, let your mind open up a little bit.” He paused “Like you did notice my hands and feet didn’t you?”

“Well yeah…but I really haven’t woken up until I get that first cup of coffee in me and well a lot of people have scars on their hands….” And then it hit me.  “Oh, my God, you’re Jesus.”

“Of course I am and yes I am your God, so you’re right there too…it took you a little bit now you’re cooking with gas.”

“But this is like 7-11?”

“Yeah I know, I like the coffee and the people are pretty down to earth, they tend to appreciate when someone does something nice for them, even if it is God.”

“We’ll I come here for the same reasons.”

“Well at least you’ve learned something.” He paused, put his hand on my shoulder and said “Finish foo-fooling your coffee and come with me; I want you to meet some of my friends.”  He turned and said to May the Filipina behind the counter “May, how much do I owe you for everything?”

“Mr. Jesus sir that is $84.35 with tax” said the short and slightly heavy set lady at the cash register.

“May, put it on the card” said the Lord.

“You got it Mr. Jesus” said the cheery Filipina at the register and without any transaction that my failing eyes could see the cashier rang up Jesus and miraculously the bill was paid in full. Since this Padre Steve believes in miracles but is not necessarily seeing them at 7-11 in as many varied forms as the rather unbiblical, or shall I say rather earthy and dare I say contemporary looking Lord was performing in my humble neighborhood 7-11.

“You know her?”

“Of course I do Steve, I know my people and I love them, didn’t you read that in your Bible somewhere?”

Well…uh…yes I think I have….somewhere in the Gospels, I am never good at quoting chapter and verse.”

“Unless it is the latest Tides box score, right?” The look got me, it was like the look when I would say the same thing to Judy. Crap.

“Jesus, that’s really not fair, you do that too I’m sure.”

“Yeah, but you can’t get away from it and you’re a Priest; or do I have to remind you?”

“I guess.”

“That’s better, thank you, let’s meet my friends.”

I walked out the door and a number of guys who also looked a tad on the Lebanese or Arabic side of the house were gathered around an extended Chevy suburban.  I looked at the vehicle and asked Jesus “this belongs to you?”

The Lord drew the brim of his cap back revealing a bit of his forehead shook his head and said “Steve, Steve, I own everything, but this belongs to Peter over there, he has a thing for them.” A burley man with a pony-tail, curly flowing beard a tattoo of a fish on his forearm and a New York Yankees cap waved at me and said “Dude, where does Jesus know you from, you and that loser Orioles gear that you have on.” A number of others in Yankee caps laughed and slapped the big man on the back.

“Peter, remember the first shall be last, one day what comes around goes around, don’t forget the CBS years in New York.”

“Oh, don’t remind me of that boss, that sucked, we didn’t win anything back then.”  The men around in Yankees caps also stopped laughing and looked down.

“Anyway, Steve, meet the boys, you’ve already met Peter, but this is James and his brother John” both wore Oakland Athletics caps and matching Kelly green T-shirts, “they call them the sons of thunder because of their hitting ability, some call them the Bash brothers but don’t tell Canseco and McGuire, I think they have a patent on that.”

I extended my hand “nice to meet you” and the brothers greeted me in a cheery manner.

“Over here is Old James, some people call him the elder and he’s not got much left in the legs but is a good DH.” He paused and looked across the way where on the other side of the hood of the suburban two other guys stood, one had a Red Sox hat, another a Reds cap and one a Nationals hat.  “Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, this is Steve, he’s a brother.”

One of the young men a bit on the thin side wearing the Nationals hat called out “Brother! Jesus how can you say that? Can anything good come out of Baltimore?”

“Nat, knock it off until Strasburg and Storen win you a pennant you ain’t got room to talk.” He looked to the front of the store where a number of others talked among themselves eating breakfast burritos and drinking coffee.  “Hey guys come and introduce you to Steve; he’s a Navy Chaplain and a Priest.”

“Priest huh? I doubt that he’s got an Orioles jersey on” called out a smallish man in a Cubs hat.

“Steve forgive him, he doubts everyone.” Looking at the Cubs fan he said “Thomas must you, haven’t we had this talk already?” He then introduced the others.  One was a man without a ball cap that was wearing a sports jacket and had a briefcase. “This is Matthew, our tax attorney, used to work for the IRS, glad to have him in the front office, not everyone needs to be on the field do they buddy?” Jesus pointed at another one of the men and said “this over here is Simon the Zealot.” Simon wore a Tigers cap and Jesus looked at me and said “he’s pretty fanatical plays hard every day, a lot like Ty Cobb.”  Another was beside these men, a man in a Cardinals cap, rather quiet and reserved looked up and said hello to me. Jesus said “that’s Thaddeus, he’s a Rays fan, forgot his cap today.”

I looked at Jesus and said “don’t you have twelve guys on the road squad?”

Jesus wiped his brow as the sun began to heat up the porch of the 7-11 and said “oh yeah, let me show you some pictures they aren’t here today.  He pulled out his wallet and showed me a picture of a shifty looking man wearing a Dodgers’ cap and matching jersey, game worn.  “This is Judas, he used to handle the money on road trips, got us into a bunch of trouble and wouldn’t you know it took money to double cross the boss. I really loved him but knew that he would try something, in fact last spring we were out here and had a light breakfast over at Krispy Kreme.”

“The one on Virginia Beach Boulevard?” I asked.

“Jesus replied “that’s the one partner, love them when they have the hot original glazed don’t you?”

I replied in the affirmative and Jesus continued. “You see I trusted Judas with a lot but the guy was greedy. He tried to say that I was doin’ ‘roids to get on the good side of some the worldly management type in the Jerusalem Lions organization, he wanted to get a good job and turned me in to do it.  It wasn’t right, didn’t do nothing but you know about the plans of the Big Guy.”

“God the Father.”

“Well, yeh who do you think that I listen too?” Anyway before he took the 30 grand for his effort he dunked his donut in my coffee and took off when he knew that I knew. Of course they arrested me and didn’t even put the case to a real judge but a bunch of legislators, lawyers and preachers.  Well, the poor guy felt badly when they convicted me and hanged his self from the Ebbets Field foul pole when they wouldn’t take the money back or let me go.  It was sad my friend, just sad.”

“But you did get a draft pick for him didn’t you?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, Matthias was one of the picks, he actually made the starting team, the guys liked him and choose him while I was away and of course there’s the other player that I picked up, took him right off the other team like the Yankees did Johnny Damon a few years back.”

“Is that Paul?” I asked as I looked at the picture of an elegant looking man in a Padres’ uniform.

“Sure the heck is buddy, and that guy was a find, not much of a sense of humor but a trooper on the road sometimes hard to work with but one of the best eyes for a pitch, especially after the scales came off that you could imagine, great judge of talent even though Barnabas, another All-Star mind you had a falling out with him.  Heck he even wrote a lot of the rule book. He calls him as he sees them; he even called Peter on the carpet at a big shindig. Didn’t he Pete?”

Peter mumbled something under his breath and looked away.

“You gotta love guys like Pete, heck I even gave him a set of keys, he’s not perfect but I trust him” Jesus said as he looked me in the eye.

“So with all of these all stars why do you want someone like me?”

“Steve, come on how long have you known me now? Most of your life isn’t it?”

I looked down and said, “Yeah Lord, it’s been a long time.”

“Have I given up on you partner?”

“No.”

“When you were going through all those hard times and wondered where I was when you came back from Iraq and got all agnostic. Did I give up on you?”

“No Lord.”

“Stop with the Lord stuff, I get that all the time back at the ranch, since you say that God speaks to you through baseball, you can consider this a little encouragement and you can call me ‘Skip’ if you want but lay off the Lord thing once in a while, I’m pretty secure in who I am.”

“Okay Skip.” I looked up at him and like a good manager talking to a no name journeyman he put his hand on my shoulder and said “don’t forget just who you are playing for, do well but know that you belong on my team. I have some plans for you.”

I’ve been a Priest and chaplain for what seems like forever but I felt like a rookie pitcher on the mound getting the talk from the manager to make sure that I had my stuff together. Maybe I needed it. I looked at my watch.

“Oh Lord, I mean Skip I’ve got to get to work, I’m going to be late as it is.”

Jesus smiled at me, waved his hand and the sun went back a little way to the east and I looked at my watch and the time was nearly a hour earlier than it was just a few seconds before.

“Thanks Skip, that really helps.”  I stuttered in true thanksgiving as I knew that no one would believe this story in a million years.

“Steve you take care, do good, I’ll keep checking on you. Keep your eye on the ball, keep your butt down on the grounders and stay in front of the ball. Take care of the rookies and make sure that the veterans in their declining years get the recognition that they deserve and don’t forget their families, they matter too.  Keep spreading the good news too, so much bad news around the earth even I had to turn off all the Cable News channels, even the one that says that they are fair and balanced, so much negativity it makes your head swim.”

I began to walk to my car and Jesus said, your coffee is probably cold by now so go get a refill on me and don’t worry about the time I just opened the HOV to all traffic, the Downtown tunnel is clear and there’s a glitch in the State Troopers radar systems.

I offered my profuse thanks, especially for the help in the traffic and as I took off the lid to my refill mug I noticed that it was full of fresh hot coffee just the way I liked it.  Jesus and the boys got into the extra large Suburban with Peter behind the wheel Thomas loaded a couple of equipment bags in the back of the truck and as they pulled out I shouted out “just where are you guys going now?” Jesus rolled down his window and said “Dyersville Iowa, I hear they have a special baseball field there and some great players too.”

“Skip, I think that you’ll like it there, I’ve played catch there with Judy.”

“Thanks Steve and take care, I’ll get you a T-Shirt.” With that Peter put the truck in gear and they exited the parking lot onto the street leading to I-264 and as they rolled down the road the Suburban disappeared in a vapor trail and they were gone.

I got into my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V put the coffee in the cup holder and closed the door. I said a quick prayer of thanks and turned the key.  “What a deal, it’s not every day that you meet Jesus in 7-11.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, christian life, faith, Religion

Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11

One of my customs on my way to work is to stop by my local 7-11 for a cup of French Vanilla Coffee with 3 French Vanilla coffee creamers, course brown sugar and a packet of Splenda when I pick up my garden salad which I consume for lunch at work.  It is always a nice break for me on the way to work to smell the fresh coffee and take the time to prepare my cup of coffee exactly the way that I like it, which by the way before Iraq was not like this.  Back before Iraq I always drank it black with no cream or sugar but alas all good things…right?  Anyway as I was saying on this particular day I went to my neighborhood 7-11 to get my coffee and my salad the usual blue collar crowd was getting their coffee as I walked in with my orange and black trimmed retro-Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken Junior jersey and home black and orange billed cap with the traditional Oriole on the front.  I am a stickler for tradition and though every major league team have caps that little resemble the on the field caps in various colors and designs I refuse to wear any but the authentic head gear, preferably a New Era Wool 59/50 fitted cap or the 39/30 batting practice cap.  This kind of sets me apart from most customers who if they wear baseball gear wear the non-regulation stuff of winning teams like the Yankees or Red Sox but I digress.

On this particular morning there was a man that walked in as I was preparing my cup of coffee a man walked up beside me.  He was about 5’ 8” and looked like that he was from Lebanon or somewhere else in to Middle East.  I say Lebanon because I have known many Lebanese my mind went that way.  I noticed that his hands were rough hewn and had some very nasty looking scars in them and he wore a pair of sports sandals much like the kind that I wear from which I could see some scars on either foot.  He was wearing what appeared to be a retro “Cooperstown Classic” California Angels “CA” cap with the red bill and halo as well as a late 1960s or early 1970s Angel’s jersey which appeared to be game worn with the number “7” sewn on the back.

As I put my first creamer into my coffee he turned and looked at me and asked “Orioles fan?” Now I frequently get comments about whatever baseball apparel that I wear, especially the Orioles and the comments general reflect a certain pity due to the sad state of the franchise and especially the performance this year.  I said “Yes sir, one of the faithful.”

He chuckled and said, “Someone has to remain faithful to the Orioles, God love ‘em, they have been a great franchise and all of great teams the Hall of Famers that they have produced.” He shook his head “You just keep being faithful, they’re just going through some pretty hard times right now….by the way, I’m a baseball fan too, would you guess an Angels’ fan?”

“We’ll sir that goes without saying; I don’t think that I have seen a game worn 1970s Angels’ jersey since my dad used to take us to the “Big A” to see them as kids.  We went to games down there all the time; it’s where I really came to love the game of baseball.”

“Yes my friend there is something special about baseball, it’s really good when dads get their kids involved in the game.” He paused.  “Oh the jersey, this jersey does date me a little; I’ve always been an Angels’ fan, even before they were in Anaheim.”

“So you were a Los Angeles Angels fan too?”

“We’ll yeah, in a way, but even before that considering that I created them.”

I was tearing the foil top off of the third creamer when he said that and I kind of lost control of the container and spilled in on the stainless steel counter.  As I stood there feeling quite inept he said, “Sorry man, my fault I’ll get that” and as my wondering eyes stared in disbelief he waved his rough hewn and scarred hand gently about a foot off of the counter and to my amazement the white creamer disappeared from the countertop revealing a perfectly clean and shiny surface as the little blue cup that it was in sailed into the trash receptacle’s round hole in the top of the counter.

He continued to talk as he poured a cup of 7-11 “Heavenly Blend” coffee into a 24 ounce cup, and another 24 ounce cup and yet another 24 ounce cup handing them to other customers as he did so and miraculously the coffee pot remained full as he kept pouring until all the customers and counter staff each had a cup of coffee. “So anyway like I was saying back when I created the Angels baseball was different, no steroids, players stayed with a team forever unless perhaps it wasn’t God’s will.  If it wasn’t then you never knew what might happen.”

I stood by dumbly looking at this diminutive man with the scarred hands and feet pouring out cup after cup of coffee from the bottomless pot of coffee and I was I was quite impressed with his performance and said: “Sir that is impressive I’ve never seen the pot remain full like that before though being poured out into many cups, 24 ounce cups at that.”

He chuckled and said “Steve, I tell you what it’s all in the wrist, all in the wrist.” His eyes sparkled in amusement at my dismay as I stammered “But how did you know my name?”

“But I should since you know me.”

“I know you?” I asked. “Have we served together in the military?”

“No not that, kind of like Church work, you kind of work for me even though you’re in the Navy.”

“How did you know I was in the Navy?”

“Well duh… Steve, this is Norfolk, what else is here?” Looking at me with a amused but slightly more serious glance he said “Hey, I helped get you in the Navy when the Army told you to pound sand about going onto active duty.”

“You weren’t my recruiter, or the Chaplain that interviewed me and you are way too short to be Bishop Doug.”

“Think higher and bigger Steve, let your mind open up a little bit.” He paused “Like you did notice my hands and feet didn’t you?”

“Well yeah…but I really haven’t woken up until I get that first cup of coffee in me and well a lot of people have scars on their hands….” And then it hit me.  “Oh, my God, you’re Jesus.”

“Of course I am and yes I am your God, so you’re right there too…it took you a little bit now you’re cooking with gas.”

“But this is like 7-11?”

“Yeah I know, I like the coffee and the people are pretty down to earth, they tend to appreciate when someone does something nice for them, even if it is God.”

“We’ll I come here for the same reasons.”

“Well at least you’ve learned something.” He paused, put his hand on my shoulder and said “Finish foo-fooing your coffee and come with me; I want you to meet some of my friends.”  He turned and said to May the Filipina behind the counter “May, how much do I owe you for everything?”

“Mr. Jesus sir that is $84.35 with tax” said the short and slightly heavy set lady at the cash register.

“May, put it on the card” said the Lord.

“You got it Mr. Jesus” said the cheery Filipina at the register and without any transaction that my failing eyes could see the cashier rang up Jesus and miraculously the bill was paid in full. Since this Padre Steve believes in miracles but is not necessarily seeing them at 7-11 in as many varied forms as the rather unbiblical, or shall I say rather earthy and dare I say contemporary looking Lord was performing in my humble neighborhood 7-11.

“You know her?”

“Of course I do Steve, I know my people and I love them, didn’t you read that in your Bible somewhere?”

Well…uh…yes I think I have….somewhere in the Gospels, I am never good at quoting chapter and verse.”

“Unless it is the latest Tides box score, right?”

“Jesus, that’s really not fair, you do that too I’m sure.”

“Yeah, but can’t get away from it and you a Priest or do I have to remind you?”

“I guess.”

“That’s better, thank you, let’s meet my friends.”

I walked out the door and a number of guys who also looked a tad on the Lebanese or Arabic side of the house were gathered around a extended Chevy suburban.  I looked at the vehicle and asked Jesus “this belongs to you?”

The Lord drew the brim of his cap back revealing a bit of his forehead shook his head and said “Steve, Steve, I own everything, but this belongs to Peter over there, he has a thing for them.” A burley man with a pony-tail, curly flowing beard a tattoo of a fish on his forearm and a New York Yankees cap waved at me and said “Dude, where does Jesus know you from, you and that loser Orioles gear that you have on.” A number of others in Yankee caps laughed and slapped the big man on the back.

“Peter, remember the first shall be last, one day what comes around goes around, don’t forget the CBS years in New York.”

“Oh, don’t remind me of that boss, that sucked, we didn’t win anything back then.”  The men around in Yankees caps also stopped laughing and looked down.

“Anyway, Steve, meet the boys, you’ve already met Peter, but this is James and his brother John” both wore Oakland Athletics caps and matching Kelly green T-shirts, “they call them the sons of thunder because of their hitting ability, some call them the Bash brothers but don’t tell Canseco and McGuire, I think they have a patent on that.”

I extended my hand “nice to meet you” and the brothers greeted me in a cheery manner.

“Over here is Old James, some people call him the elder and he’s not got much left in the legs but is a good DH.” He paused and looked across the way where on the other side of the hood of the suburban two other guys stood, one had a Red Sox hat, another a Reds cap and one a Nationals hat.  “Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, this is Steve, he’s a brother.”

One of the young men a bit on the thin side wearing the Nationals hat called out “Brother! Jesus how can you say that? Can anything good come out of Baltimore?”

“Nat, knock it off until Strasburg and Storen win you a pennant you ain’t got room to talk.” He looked to the front of the store where a number of others talked among themselves eating breakfast burritos and drinking coffee.  “Hey guys come and introduce you to Steve; he’s a Navy Chaplain and a Priest.”

“Priest huh? I doubt that he’s got an Orioles jersey on” called out a smallish man in a Cubs hat.

“Steve forgive him, he doubts everyone.” Looking at the Cubs fan he said “Thomas must you, haven’t we had this talk already?” He then introduced the others.  One was a man without a ball cap that was wearing a sports jacket and had a briefcase. “This is Matthew, our tax attorney, used to work for the IRS, glad to have him in the front office, not everyone needs to be on the field do they buddy?” Jesus pointed at another one of the men and said “this over here is Simon the Zealot.” Simon wore a Tigers cap and Jesus looked at me and said “he’s pretty fanatical plays hard every day, a lot like Ty Cobb.”  Another was beside these men, a man in a Cardinals cap, rather quiet and reserved looked up and said hello to me. Jesus said “that’s Thaddeus, he’s a Rays fan, forgot his cap today.”

I looked at Jesus and said “don’t you have twelve guys on the road squad?”

Jesus wiped his brow as the sun began to heat up the porch of the 7-11 and said “oh yeah, let me show you some pictures they aren’t here today.  He pulled out his wallet and showed me a picture of a shifty looking man wearing a Dodgers’ cap and matching jersey, game worn.  “This is Judas, he used to handle the money on road trips, got us into a bunch of trouble and wouldn’t you know it took money to double cross the boss. I really loved him but knew that he would try something, in fact last spring we were out here and had a light breakfast over at Krispy Kreme.”

“The one on Virginia Beach Boulevard?” I asked.

“Jesus replied “that’s the one partner, love them when they have the hot original glazed don’t you?”

I replied in the affirmative and Jesus continued. “You see I trusted Judas with a lot but the guy was greedy, tried to say that I was doin’ ‘roids to get my powers wanting to take their jobs and turned me in, it wasn’t .  Before he took the 30 grand for his effort he dunked his donut in my coffee and took off when he knew that I knew. Of course they arrested me and didn’t even put the case to a real judge but a bunch of legislators, lawyers and preachers.  Well, the poor guy felt badly when they convicted me and hanged his self from the Ebbetts field foul pole when they wouldn’t take the money back or let me go.  It was sad my friend, just sad.”

“But you did get a draft pick for him didn’t you?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, Matthias was one of the picks, he actually made the starting team, the guys liked him and choose him while I was away and of course there’s the player that I picked up, took him right off the other team like the Yankees did Johnny Damon a few years back.”

“Is that Paul?” I asked as I looked at the picture of an elegant looking man in a Padres’ uniform.

“Sure the heck is buddy, and that guy was a find, not much of a sense of humor but a trooper on the road sometimes hard to work with but one of the best eyes for a pitch, especially after the scales came off that you could imagine, great judge of talent even though Barnabas, another All-Star mind you had a falling out with him.  Heck he even wrote a lot of the rule book. He calls him as he sees them; he even called Peter on the carpet at a big shindig. Didn’t he Pete?” Peter mumbled something under his breath and looked away.

“You gotta love guys like Pete, heck I even gave him a set of keys, he’s not perfect but I trust him” Jesus said as he looked me in the eye.

“So with all of these all stars why do you want someone like me?”

“Steve, come on how long have you known me now? Most of your life isn’t it?”

I looked down and said, “yeah Lord, it’s been a long time.”

“Have I given up on you partner?”

“No.”

“When you were going through all those hard times and wondered where I was when you came back from Iraq did I give up on you?”

“No Lord.”

“Stop with the Lord stuff, I get that all the time back at the home office. By the way since you insist that God speaks to you through baseball you might as well know that he does. So you can consider this a little encouragement and you can call me ‘Skip’ if you want but lay off the Lord thing once in a while, everybody does it and the people who punctuate every little prayer with “Lord” eighteen times during the prayer really get pretty annoying after a while, not that I stop listening or caring but I know my name, besides I’m pretty secure in who I am.”

“Okay Skip.” I looked up at him and and smiled.  As I did this he put his hand on my shoulder like a good manager talking to a no name journeyman said “don’t forget just who you are playing for, do well but know that you belong on my team. I have some plans for you.”

“Thanks Skip, that’s pretty encouraging coming from you.”

“No prob friend, no problem whasoever.”

I’ve been a Priest and chaplain for what seems like forever but I felt like a rookie pitcher on the mound getting the talk from the manager to make sure that I had my stuff together. Maybe I needed it. I looked at my watch.

“Oh Lord, I mean Skip I’ve got to get to work, I’m going to be late as it is and with all the times that I had trouble sleeping and not waking up I don’t need to be late, the boss would never believe this one.”

Jesus smiled at me, waved his hand and the sun went back a little way to the east and I looked at my watch and the time was nearly a hour earlier than it was just a few seconds before.

“How’s that?”

“Thanks Skip, that really helps.”  I stuttered in true thanksgiving as I knew that no one would believe this story in a million years.

“Steve you take care, do good, I’ll keep checking on you. Keep your eye on the ball, keep your butt down on the grounders and stay in front of the ball. Take care of the rookies and make sure that the veterans in their declining years get the recognition that they deserve and don’t forget their families, they matter too.  Keep spreading the good news too, so much bad news around the earth even I had to turn off all the Cable News channels, even the one that says that they are fair and balanced, so much negativity it makes your head swim.”

I began to walk to my car and Jesus said, your coffee is probably cold by now so go get a refill on me and don’t worry about the time I just opened the HOV to all traffic, the Downtown tunnel is clear and there’s a glitch in the State Troopers radar systems.

I offered my profuse thanks, especially for the help in the traffic and as I took off the lid to my refill mug I noticed that it was full of fresh hot coffee just the way I liked it.  Jesus and the boys got into the extra large Suburban with Peter behind the wheel Thomas loaded a couple of equipment bags in the back of the truck and as they pulled out I shouted out “just where are you guys going now?” Jesus rolled down his window and said “Dyersville Iowa, I hear they have a special baseball field there and some great players too.”

“Skip, I think that you’ll like it there.”

“Thanks Steve and take care, keep up the faith down at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish and don’t lose faith in the O’s” and with that Peter put the truck in gear and pointed at his Yankee hat as he backed the truck out of the parking space. they exited the parking lot onto the street leading to I-264 and as they rolled down the road the Suburban disappeared in a vapor trail and they were gone.

I got into my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V put the coffee in the cup holder and closed the door. I said a quick prayer of thanks and turned the key.  “What a deal, it’s not every day that you meet Jesus in 7-11.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, christian life, purely humorous, Religion

Waiting on Results and Planning

I completed my comprehensive exam today and I am full of joy.  I used 6 hours and 12 minutes and maybe a bit of change of the 6 hours and 15 minutes allotted. I think I did okay, certainly well enough to pass.  I want to “pass with distinction” but I did not time myself as well as I could have and my last answer was not as well developed as I would have liked.  Oh well, 4 questions, any of which could have been developed into a thesis or book in 6 hours 15 minutes…I guess I should be satisfied.

So now that the exam is done I wait on results.  Presuming that I am right and that I passed it I will officially graduate on February 15th in Washington DC.

My biggest challenge now is to kick myself back into shape and lose the wait that I picked up over the summer thanks to my friends at Krispy Kreme.  Nothing like 3-5 hot and fresh glazed washed down with a beer or two before bed to pick up some wait.  Tastes great…really filling.  I am pleased that my PT is coming along, especially now that I have time to do it.  This week I have decided to vary what I do and went to a class on body shaping, those girls who lead that shit will kick your ass.  I kept up but it was work.  Today I went to a spinning class.  That too when you do it right takes a lot of effort. However I will kick this in thee ass and be off of the fat boy program as fast as I can.

Next on my agenda is to keep working to recover from Iraq and deal with my PTSD related issues.  I am getting”top cover” from my boss to do this and I am grateful.

Next comes my board certification as a Clinical Chaplain in the hospital setting, with luck that will be done by the spring sometime.  I have a few other certification  type things that I am working on and all should be good when I get them done too.

Finally I am looking at writing two baseball books one on the Negro Leagues.  Over the summer I met Sam Allen, one of the remaining Negro League players who lives in the local area.  I also want to do one on the minor leagues.

I guess that’s enough to put on the table for now. Tonight we watched Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bedazzled and since I don’t want to wake up like Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral by oversleeping my alarm and saying a certain four letter word in a variety of ways as I dash in to work I should get ready for bed.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Highs and Lows: Baseball versus Alzheimer’s and Mass Murder at Fort Hood

field_of_dreamsField of Dreams

This has been a weird week.  There was some great baseball in the World Series and I even nailed the prediction for it.  Just take a look back if you don’t believe me.  I have never gone public with a World Series prediction and I am pretty pleased that my predictions were pretty good considering that I am neither the Prophet nor the Son of the Prophet.  Neither am I infallible like the Pope being that I am just a miscreant Priest and member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish where I have my season ticket in Section 102, Row B, Seat 2.

The Series was good for me, I really didn’t care who won, except that I predicted the Yankees in six based on match ups, statistics and numbers.  I’m a Giants, A’s and Orioles fan and as I sit here in my O’s hat and sweatshirt I can honestly say that I didn’t have a dog in the fight.  However to be right in analyzing the playoffs and World Series is pretty cool.  Maybe someday I will be a real sportswriter or broadcaster and get to sit opposite Jay Mariotti and Woody Paige on Around the Horn.

However, the series helped distract me in some ways for my trip home to see what I can do to help my brother with my parents.  I don’t look forward to the trip; the airports get to me now.  Thankfully I’m not going through Atlanta or Washington Dulles.  At least O’Hare has decent food and beer.  I guess the thing that gets me the most about going home this time is that my mom wants me to help go through possessions, not paperwork.  I’m thinking about years of memories that she has kept; family heirlooms and the just plain shit in some cases.  The stuff really doesn’t matter to me but it will be taxing.  Likewise the thought of seeing my dad again in his decrepit state, shrunken and mostly demented from Alzheimer’s disease is painful to think about.

johnlithgow

Yesterday morning after my on call shift I went up for my weigh in.  I gained 25 pounds since the spring, I knew that going in, I knew that I would not make the weight.  Most of the weigh came from stopping by Krispy Kreme on the way home from Harbor Park, picking up a dozen hot and fresh glazed and downing 3-4 or more with a beer before going to bed.  Of course the reason I did this was because I was emotionally spent, couldn’t sleep and couldn’t pull myself away from work.  Add stress, anxiety, no sleep, overwork, bad diet and little exercise  together and you get fat…well I get fat, I don’t know about you.  This is the first time in 28 years in the military that I have been officially fat.  I’ve always been close to the limit because the Deity Herself did not endue me with a couple of additional inches of height to help me as the military is run by the tall skinny mafia and the standards reflect that.   Until yesterday I had always made it sometimes by the skin of my teeth, but always made it.  When I was in better shape I would crush the physical fitness part of the assessment even if I was close to the weight limit.  Today after sleeping through my alarm and barely making it in to work I did the Physical Readiness Test and despite having only done 3 sessions of PT since the end of April I did better than a lot of young people, I passed, not to my usually standard of near perfection, but passing.  My diet has already been adjusted; my work schedule and duties have been rearranged to help me recover from Iraq and my return.  I’m doing more supervisory and administrative work vice the heavy clinical work in ICU.  This will give me the time that I need to do what I have not done since my return from Iraq that is to take care of me.  So I do have a sense of humor about this, I’m not going to stay fat and I am going to get my physical edge back.  I’m old but not done.  After the weigh in I thought about the episode of Third Rock from the Sun where Dick Solomon, played by John Lithglow gets fat and joins a weight loss organization called the Fat Losers. I have included the links to the episode on You Tube here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgP2h1x2EZc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-x0kzALQPU4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2tYkwhqqxs

I will keep you abreast of my journey to take this off and turn myself into a bald version of Arnold.  If anyone wants to take that journey with me let me know.  We’ll be the real “Fat Losers” and kick some ass.

fort hood shootingsGrieving Soldiers at Fort Hood

The shooting at Fort Hood yesterday shook me and the Abbess pretty bad.  For me it hit my sense of safety and security was rocked as a Moslem Army Major brutally attacked and killed 12 soldiers and an Army civilian and wounded 30 more soldiers.  I’ve mentioned in my Fort Hood updates more about how it hit me so I won’t rehash that here except that I started emotionally melting down a bit as I watched the coverage which I could not let go of.  I thought of friends that I know there and my times about Fort Hood when I was in the Army, and the thought that an officer who swore the same oath that I have committed such an atrocity in the name of his religion really got me.  If he had been an enlisted man I think my reaction would have been different, somehow when I learned that it was an officer, a psychiatrist and a Moslem floored me.  Frankly in my world officers don’t do this.  Today I was able to get with Elmer the Shrink and talk. That helped. My boss and our deputy helped take care of me today and yesterday.  On the way home I stopped by Harbor Park to take in the view of the field and relax.  Thankfully the good folks in the office allow me to do this.  It helped a lot.

harbor park opening dayMy Field of Dreams: Harbor Park

After a nice dinner with the Abbess at Gordon Biersch I did what I almost always do after such a couple of days and retreated into the world of magic that is baseball.  I put on For the Love of the Game and Field of Dreams.  Somehow those help me.  The lead character played by Kevin Costner, Billy Chapel pitches a perfect game and reminisces about his life and career.  It reminds me of possibilities even for me and Field of Dreams reminds me of all that is good, even in spite of all the evil that the world.  The baseball season may be over, but the game reaches me when nothing else can.  I looked at the diamond surrounded by the cornfields and remember when I drove to Iowa and made the trip to Dyersville just to play catch on the Field of Dreams.  I hope that when I go home that somehow I can help ease my dad’s pain in some way, and maybe just maybe have him back for a few minutes.

Me and last last picMy last Visit with Dad in May

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement.  Please keep praying for the victims and all those affected at Fort Hood.  Pray that the violent and senseless act of Major Hasan will not beget more violence.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under alzheimer's disease, Baseball, PTSD, traumatic national events

My Brotherhood of War

Dynamic DuoRP2 Nelson Lebron and Me- The RST-2 “Desert Rats”

Back in the mid 80s shortly after I was commissioned as an Army Officer there was a series of historical novels by W.E.B. Griffin called the Brotherhood of War. The series traced the paths of several Army officers as well as family and friends beginning in World War II. I am not much of a reader of fiction, but this series, as well as Anton Meyer’s Once an Eagle well captured the unique culture of the career professional soldier through both war and peace.  They treated their subject respectfully while also dealing with the effect of this lifestyle on families as well as the soldiers, reading Once and Eagle I feel that connection with the fictional Sam Damon, the hero of the story and revulsion for the character of the self serving careerist Courtney Massengale.

I’ve been a military officer in both the Army and Navy now for almost 26 years with nearly 28 years total service. It is part of my heart, soul and being.  I was born for this, just as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Ted Williams were born to be baseball players.  I grew up in a Navy family as a Navy “Brat” living up and down the West Coast and the Philippines and all I can remember from the earliest age wanted to be in the Navy Officer and later Navy Chaplain.  My dreams came true.  The first 17 ½ years of my service was in the Army, something that that initially my retired Navy Chief Dad had problems with, however he made his peace with it and was proud that I served and proud of the fact that I had made Major.  However, in 1999 in order to return to active duty I resigned my Army Reserve commission as a Major and entered the Navy Chaplain Corps as a Lieutenant with no time in grade.  Outside of marrying my wife Judy, who somehow did not kill me when I did this, going in the Navy was the best thing that ever happened to me.

134LtCol David Kuehn and Me

Part of my time in the Army and Navy has been my time in the Chaplain Corps of each service.  I have been a chaplain for 17 years come September.  My best friends in the military are other chaplains, some from my own church and some from other communions.  The ones that I have the most connectedness to are those who have served in combat, especially those who served in Iraq, or ships in the war zone conducting various combat and maritime operations even when we were in different places.  In Iraq I was blessed to have Fr Jose Bautista-Rojas and Chaplain Pat McLaughlin supporting me at my base of operations.  There were others besides these men and many who were not chaplains. In Baghdad I had the staff of the Iraq Assistance Group Chief of Staff Colonel David Abramowitz and Chaplain Peter Dissmore and Captain Mike Langston at II MEF Forward.  Likewise I had Colonel Scott Cottrell and Colonel John Broadmeadow at 7th Iraqi Division Military Training Team, my friend LtCol David Kuehn at 3rd Brigade 1st Iraqi Division Military Training Team, LtCol Stephen Bien with the 2nd Border Brigade and a host of others about Al Anbar Province. As important if not more was my assistant RP2 Nelson Lebron, a true hero and friend.

chaplains and rp2 lebron at TQNelson, Fr Jose Bautista-Rojas, CDR Pat MCLaughlin and Me at TQ

Back in March of this year I was with a number of chaplains from my church gathered for our annual conference.  Some of these men I have now known for at least 10 years, some more.  I’ve seen the young guys start to age and others retired from the service.  We have grown together; we at least in most cases have come to love each other as brothers and friends.   What has made this conference different from past gatherings is that all of us have had one or more combat deployments or are getting ready to go for the first time or back for another tour.

nelson and me flight homeNelson and Me in the Air Everywhere

We have shared our stories but now they are the stories of men who have all seen war.  In our careers we have all experienced success, as well as heartache.  Due to our duty we have been often isolated from the church and each other.  We all came back from the war changed in some way.   Some of this is due to health related issues stemming from our service and for others things that we have seen or experienced.  Of course each of us has had different types of experience in country, but nonetheless our experienced changed all of us in some way or another.  For me the events have been trying to make sense of the torrent of emotional, physical and spiritual distress that I have had to deal with.  While I have made a lot of progress in some areas, there are a lot of places where I’m still sorting through things as are a number of my friends.  I can say that I often feel alienated from my own church.  When I read things that some of our bishops write or say I know that I do not belong.   Based on my service in combat and to my country for almost 28 years  and 13 years as a faithful priest I have tried.  The fact that with the exception of some of my fellow military priests I have no relationships with anyone in my church,   I was at one time banned from publishing by a former bishop.  I was forbidden to have contact with the priests of a my old diocese when I was stationed in it by the same man.  The civilian diocese that I transferred  to has had nothing to do with me for the most part since I was transferred to Virginia and since I moved here no one has bothered to say a thing to me.   None of this was because I didn’t try and the thing is I don’t care anymore.  I just plan on caring for God’s people where I’m at and building relationships with people who bother to invest in my life here. I haven’t the spiritual or emotional energy to keep trying to make something happen with people who obviously don’t care about me and haven’t for years.

This year our gathering was marked by a lot less light heartedness.  There was a lot less bravado than years past, more reflection, less intense discussion of the theological issues that have divided the Christian Church for centuries.  I know for myself I don’t have the energy to spend battling people over things that the rest of Christendom hasn’t been able to settle on.  For me I’m okay with the Canon of Scripture, the Creeds and the first 7 Ecumenical Councils, though I have a great love of the Second Vatican Council.  If people want to fight the other fights they can go ahead without me how many pins you can stick in the head of an Angel.

As far as health concerns I know that at least two of us have confirmed real live PTSD, and one with a case of TBI.  Based on the way others act I’m sure that almost all have at least a combat stress injury, and maybe a couple more have PTSD.  One young Army Chaplain has an Iraq acquired constrictive bronchiolitis, or bronchiolitis obliterans which has no cure. This young man has won two Bronze Stars and now has the lung capacity of a 70 year old man.  At best he can hope that his lungs will not worsen and only age at a normal pace, which means in 10 years he has 80 year old lungs.  This young man is a Priest who I have mentored, coached and been a friend and colleague of since before he was ordained.  He is looking at something that will kill him; it is just a matter of when.  He is going through all of his medical boards now at Fort Hood and expects that in six to eight months that he will be medically retired.  It seems to me that a hero is being kicked to the curb by the Green Machine after laying himself on the line for his country.  He was treated by many people in the Army Medical system with suspicion and made to prove that he was sick at almost every point until a high ranking medical officer found out about his case and sent him to civilian specialist for evaluation.

While I was at our conference I had a major PTSD meltdown where I basically hid in my room of a day and a half, sneaking out at night to gather with just a couple of my friends by the pool for beer and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.  Unfortunately we could only get the store bought ones because the hot and fresh glazed go great with a good pilsner or lager.

We have several Chaplains who have won Bronze Stars for their service in combat. I was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for what I did in Iraq.  I treasure that award because it cost me something to get, I still have a lot of Iraq with me and I always will.  Some day when all is said and done I want to see some of my Iraq military friends again and visit the country as part of a journey of discovering the ancient.

Some of my friends and I have experienced the indifference of the medical and administrative parts of the DOD and VA systems, including sometimes people in our own military service.  When I returned I found my personal and professional belongings crammed into a trailer with those of my assistant because the office space was needed and we were deployed.  There are things which I considered important that are still missing and likely never to be found.  I know that it was not intended to hurt because the space was needed because of major unit re-stationing. If I was the Commanding Officer I would have probably done the same thing and since I have had command I know that mission comes first. You try to take care of people but some things fall through the crack. That is simply part of life.

On the other hand some of my friends have had experiences where they felt the cold indifference of bureaucratic systems often staffed by personnel, military, DOD Civilians or contractors who act if the returning or injured vet is there so they can have a job. To be sure there are a lot of very caring people in our organizations, but these coldly indifferent people seem to show up all too frequently. This unlike what happened at my unit is intolerable.

What touched me about my unit was once it became clear that I was a PTSD casualty they did everything to try to get me help.  My first Commodore, now Rear Admiral Frank Morneau pulled me into his office to make sure that I was alright and that I was getting the help that I needed.  The man who replaced him Commodore Tom Sitsch asked me a question that was totally legitimate.  “Where does a Chaplain go for help?”  When I went to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center I was strongly supported by both my department head and his deputy.  I wish that everyone who came back like I did had the support of both line officers and Chaplains in their immediate chain of command.  It makes all the difference in the world.

The chaplains that I have served with in Iraq are part of my brotherhood, be they from my church or not. I believe that most of us who have gone to war have by and large matured. We saw death and destruction and were exposed to danger from enemies that could strike in the most unexpected moments in the most unexpected ways.  We have experienced sometimes difficult adjustments to life back home, a knowledge that we are different and that we are even more cognizant of our own obligation to care for God’s people.  Our brotherhood has deepened as a result of war, of that I am sure.  We are truly brothers.

Peace, Steve+

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