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A Day to Disconnect: Friends, Family History, and a Walk up a Mountain and Through the Forest

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I kind of disconnected from most American media today to spend time with our German friends in the countryside of Hessen; to visit the county seat, Weilburg, that my wife’s father’s family left in the 1700s to go to the Volga region of Russia at the invitation of Catherine the Great before coming to the United States after the failed 1905 revolution as the Russian Government had continually reneged on its promises to the German settlers, who had been basically sold a bill of good by unscrupulous agents acting in the name of the Russian government.

I pride myself on being informed and trying the best I can to write about life, history, faith, religion and politics, with a keen eye. But there are times for one’s sanity that we have to take a break. The world and its problems will more than likely be here tomorrow, and to paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we were not here at the beginning of creation, we won’t be here when it ends, we live in the uncomfortable middle.

With that in mind is important to take a break once in a while.

Following breakfast and our visit to Weilburg we had lunch with our friend Gottfried before visiting a Kloster just down the road. We got home about 2:30 PM or so and after a while I decided to make my annual pilgrimage up the highest mountain in the area and visit to old Jewish Cemetery which has been preserved with care by the town following the Holocaust. There is a memorial on the city hall to the Jews of the town who were sent East, at least one survived and she was invited to dedicate the memorial on the city hall in 1991. The gravestones at the cemetery date to the 1800s and early 1900s.

I ended up doing a power walk up, down, and around the mountain before ending up back at our friends after a two hour walk of just over eight miles, for a day long total of about ten and a half miles.

Then we went out with Gottfried’s wife Hannelore to an Italian Restaurant, and upon our return Gottfried to me to to meet some of his friends in the next town over. On our return we talked and watched TV together before heading up to bed, where I am writing this. Tomorrow will be a full day. We will take a two hour train ride to Fulda, visit there for a few hours then return home. That should be an interesting trip. I have been to Fulda a number of times, Judy never has. It was a key city in Cold War planning, and the old city and Cathedral are magnificent. My first trip there was a tour of the old inter-German Border between West and East Germany in 1984. I made a couple of other trips related to our potential mission to fight the Soviets if they attacked, and then after the Wall fell I visited the old city and Cathedral in late 1996. The fact that we are taking the train and not having to drive is very nice, since we will be driving Sunday to see friends near Karlsruhe on the Rhein River.

It is interesting that although I have kept myself apprised of the latest events in the United States I have disconnected enough to keep my sanity, even when occasionally checking my Twitter feed and Facebook page. The walk up the mountain and through the forest was good for me, it was not only a good workout but put me in touch with nature and history. John Muir said, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” 

That happened to me today.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Perchance to Dream: A Sleep Study and the Paths Not Chosen


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After about a week of writing about politics, history, and the very disturbing presidency of Donald Trump, I need to take a break, not that there isn’t a lot of politics, foreign policy, and other serious subjects I could write about. But honestly I need to take a break from that, at least for tonight because I am already hooked up and waiting for my official bedtime in the Sleep Lab at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.

I will be hooked up to a CPAP because I am already diagnosed with pretty severe sleep apnea, but tonight it different, they are going to observe my REM sleep disorder, where in my dreams, nightmares, and night terrors my body acts out those dreams. This condition has sent me to the ER or the medical clinic on more than one occasion and I have a concussion in 2014 and a broken nose in 2016 to show for it. Things get a bit sporting in my hi-definition nightmares and night terrors. My dreams have still been pretty vivid as of late but a combination of medicines seem to have lessened the physical acting out in them, according to my wife Judy. However, tonight, in a strange bed and with none of the medicines I get to try to sleep. It should be interesting. I cannot even take my customary shot of single malt Scotch or Irish Whiskey for my knee pain.

So today I write something a bit more introspective, which I think is a good question for all of us who seek the truth and take the time to examine our lives in light of all that happens to us. Since I am stuck here this is as good of time as any to do so.

In the series the X-Files, Agent Dana Scully played by Gillian Anderson made this observation: 

“Time passes in moments… moments which, rushing past, define the path of a life, just as surely as they lead towards its end. How rarely do we stop to examine that path, to see the reasons why all things happen, to consider whether the path we take in life is our own making, or simply one into which we drift with eyes closed. But what if we could stop, pause to take stock of each precious moment before it passes? Might we then see the endless forks in the road that have shaped a life? And, seeing those choices, choose another path?”

I actually think that it is a very good question and truthfully I wonder. I wonder what my life might have been had I, or others made different decisions. How would my life be different? Or would it? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t really care.

One thing I do know is that whatever my alternate paths might have taken that I am happy. I have been able to fulfill many dreams and I do take the time to ponder all the forks in the road that have shaped my life. When I do I realize that the alternative possibilities are almost endless. Then when I think of the possibilities of alternate universes I wonder, not that there is anything wrong with that. But even so, I don’t think I would want to be on any other path, for since I was a child all that I could imagine ever being happy doing in life was serving my country in the military.  In early 1861, Ellen Boyle Ewing Sherman, the wife of William Tecumseh Sherman told Sherman “You will never be happy in this world unless you go in the army again.”  Ellen had never approved of Sherman’s previous service and in fact hated ever moment of it, but after six years of seeing her husband in civilian life, she knew that he had to return to the army. 

Twenty years ago I made a decision to volunteer to serve as a mobilized Army reservist during the Bosnia crisis. It was a decision that changed my life. I had left active duty in 1988 to attend seminary while remaining in the National Guard and the Reserves, and when I was mobilized I lost my civilian employment, and two and a half years later when I was offered the chance to go on active duty in the Navy, even though it meant a reduction in rank, I did it. 

When I think of all the things that transpired to get me when I am today I really am astounded, and for the life of me I don’t see how I could have chosen another path. It has been twenty years since I volunteered to support the Bosnia operation, and almost thirty-five years since I first enlisted in the army, and like Sherman, I cannot have imagined doing anything different. As for my wife Judy, she, like Ellen Sherman was with her husband has been long suffering in staying with me all these years, and I wouldn’t trade her for anyone. April 1 of 2020 I will be retiring from the Navy, unless the President gets us into a war and the military declares a “stop loss.” One never knows these days, I have known people in 1990 and again in 2001 and 2003 who got caught in such events, or were extended after their mandatory retirements.

But, when I look at my life in total, there are many things that I might have wanted to change or do differently, but if I had, or for that matter,mad someone else made a different decision concerning my life, the tapestry that has been my life would be very different and I might not even recognize me if any of those paths had been chosen, by me, or by others. 

Agent Scully’s words got me thinking and pondering, and that my friends is a good thing. 

So until the next fork in the road….

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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Back in the USA

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After 18 days of traveling in Germany and the Alsace Region of Eastern France we returned to the United States today.

We have a very good time visiting friends, seeing many historical sites, and getting a chance to clear our heads and refresh ourselves as we go into what promises to be a very busy and stressful time as I go back to work while preparing to retire from the Navy next year. For me that will include managing a religious program while losing most of my enlisted support staff without replacements. That will make things difficult and hard choices may have to be made in terms of what we can support. In such a situation I have to keep my head in the game in order not to let people who depend on my leadership down.

I will also be doing all of the things that have to be done in order to retire, the biggest of which are the medical requirements, making sure that everything is ready for my assessment regarding my VA disability rating which should be pretty high, my GI Bill education benefits, and the beginning of a job search that enables me to make up any difference between what I make on active duty and my retirement/disability income.

In addition within the next couple of months Judy should be having the first of two knee replacement surgeries even as we try to finish up the work we have been doing in our house which we will have to squeeze into whatever time we have.

Over the next week or so I am going to publish articles about our trip and that I haven’t had time to do just yet, some are even in draft form already.

By the way, I have to shave the beard off Wednesday morning before I go to work, but this will be my post retirement look and I will have more time than 18 days to grow it out. Fear the beard.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Capstone of a Life: John McCain’s Parting Words

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I didn’t get to sleep until about 4 A.M. I had been up until 1 A.M. working in the house and today I spent about 10 hours ripping out carpet, moving furniture, and working to lay new flooring in our house. My friend who has been doing the really hard stuff that requires skill to make it look good is coming back tomorrow to help finish the job. I I’d the furniture moving and carpet removal. Why anyone would put carpet in a house is beyond me. It is amazing, even with vacuuming and shampooing just how much dirt and crap is in and under the carpet. All I can say is yuck, which coincidentally is the mildest thing that I can say or think about President Trump.

However, that term does not apply to the late Senator John McCain’s message as he decided not to go on a ventilator to try to prolong his life. He knew his time had come and he released this message in which he quoted John Hemingway. McCain’s words were that of a thankful man who knew the ups and downs of life, it’s success and failure, but left life thankful and content.

In life he taught us much in positive and negative examples. He owned his failures but was happy that he had some influence in the life of this nation and the world at this time in history. I think that it is important that Senator McCain was the kind of person who did not reject people if they differed in opinion with him. His selection of President Barack Obama to do a eulogy at his funeral symbolizes that far too scarce ability to be friends with political or ideological adversaries. That used to be a pretty normal state of affairs in our country, but it is almost extinct today.

His words about the end of his life are remarkable and should be read by all. But before I share them I have to note that his last Tweet on Twitter was extending his sympathy to an Army officer and pilot killed in Iraq on his ninth deployment in 16 years of service. I cannot imagine something similar to be President Trump’s final tweet.

However, what I cannot say that there was anything in Senator McCain’s final note that could be described as “yuck.” Instead is was a very personal letter of someone schooled in life who never stopped reading or learning. The Senator from Arizona wrote:

“The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it … I hate to leave it. But I don’t have a complaint. Not one. It’s been quite a ride. I’ve known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in a war, and helped make a peace. I’ve lived very well and I’ve been deprived of all comforts. I’ve been as lonely as a person can be and I‘ve enjoyed the company of heroes. I’ve suffered the deepest despair and experienced the highest exultation. I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times. What an ingrate I would be to curse the fate that concludes the blessed life I’ve led. I prefer to give thanks for those blessings, and my love to the people who blessed me with theirs. The bell tolls for me. I knew it would. So I tried, as best I could, to stay a ‘part of the main.‘ I hope those who mourn my passing, and even those who don’t, will celebrate as I celebrate a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals, whose continued service is the hope of the world. And I wish all of you great adventures, good company, and lives as lucky as mine.” —John McCain

Rest In Peace Senator McCain, for I know that you will.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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All Good Things: My Decision to Retiree from the Military

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the Star Trek Film Generations Captain Jean Luc Picard told Commander William 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 was like any other Saturday for me except that I made the decision to put in my retirement papers from the Navy. Lord willing about this time next year I will be “piped ashore” in a retirement ceremony.

When that day comes it will be the end of a thirty-eight year military career in which I have served as an enlisted man, then an officer. I have served in the active duty Army, the Army Reserve, and California, Texas, and Virginia Army National Guard. Then in February of 1999 after 17 1/2 years in the Army I declared free agency so to speak and joined the Navy.  On February 8th I was a Major in the Army Reserve and on the 9th I was taking the oath of office as a Navy Lieutenant. My wife and my paternal grandmother were there when I took the oath in a humble, and now abandoned Naval Reserve Center in Huntington West Virginia.

So now, some 19 years and 8 months later I have made the decision to put in my retirement papers. For me it is a time for reflecting and realizing that it is the right time to do this. The last number of months in my assignment have been difficult and brought me little joy. I have sought to serve my congregations and to mentor, help, and protect the personnel assigned to me.

I have grown weary of the frustrations of dealing with a moribund bureaucracy, decaying facilities with no money to fix them, the prospect of losing most of my experienced enlisted personnel with no experienced personnel coming in, and dealing with Protestant and Catholic congregations that try my very soul. When one of my Protestant parishioners attempted to have me tried by court martial because he disagreed with my sermon content and then wrote a lying letter to my commander forcing an investigation in which I had to spend money on a lawyer to defend myself I crossed the Rubicon. I knew that I was going to retire at the end of my current tour.

Then this week I hit the culminating point when the faith group leader of my Catholic congregation and my new contract Priest raised such a ruckus and problems for my enlisted personnel and one of my Chaplains that I had to intervene despite being on leave and in the middle of massive work on my house. I spent Friday evening texting that lay leader and it only made me more upset. I realized that no matter what I did that had done to keep them going in the absence of a priest and how I fought for them that they had no loyalty of concern for me or my personnel. Gratefulness to others is not a virtue for most American Christians today, I knew that but learned it again.

This morning I read a Navy Message announcing a Selective Early Retirement Board for Captains and Commanders. I am in the zone and if chosen to be retired I would have little lead time to plan my retirement and do all the things that I would need to do medically, administratively, and personally to retire and have a decent chance of landing on me feet. Honestly, I would have rather spent the last year in a combat zone in Iraq like I did in 2007 and 2008 than deal with the bullshit that I have been dealing with lately.

I know that did the best that I could and I can say that the team of chaplains and Religious Program Specialists whose work I help direct and support are some of the finest people I have ever served with. Their honesty and likewise their care for me has been about the only thing that got me through. Honestly, I am so grateful for them and I treasure them all, just as I have so many of my other soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and civilians employed by the military for the last thirty-seven years.

I am at peace, and I am going to spent the time leading up to my retirement to cherish every moment. Now I know that my situation at work is not going to change but I am going to cherish the moments with the people that I care for and do my best to serve without getting to stressed out because I know now that I my future is only beginning. “Second star to the right and straight on till morning.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Celebrating 35 Years of Marriage to the Kindest, Sweetest, Prettiest Person I’ve Ever Met In My Life…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Thirty-five years ago today I married the love of my life and despite many stupid and thoughtless actions we are still married and probably happier than we have ever been. We have been spending the weekend with dear friends and the combined 12 Papillon dogs we have. It has been very nice, relaxing and fun.

It has also been a time for me to recharge my batteries because when we return home tomorrow I will have much to do at work as well as at home as we start to repair and renovate our home after the flooding event we experienced. By then we should hopefully have the insurance settlement to allow us to do what we need after the initial contractor provided by the insurance company wanted thousands of dollars more than the estimate they provided to do what we asked. Today we will go to dinner and celebrate at a restaurant that I like in D.C., but I digress…

We got married just six days after I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Three of the men I was commissioned with were in the wedding and I am still in contact with a number of others. We had met almost five years before at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California. I fell in love with her that night.

Our marriage has been a long strange trip, not that there is anything wrong with that. Military life, separations due to deployments and war have been part of our life. Judy has had to endure more than I can imagine to stay with me all these years. She is simply the best. She is creative, talented, kind, resourceful, considerate, and amazingly patient. I have seen her go out of her way to be kind and giving to people just because that’s who she is.

Honestly I fell in love with her the day that we met. When I first asked her on a date a few months later I was so nervous that she thought I was going to ask her to marry me. I loved her and wanted to marry her but I could barely stammer out “would you like to go to a movie?” Thankfully she said yes, otherwise I would have never gotten to the whole marriage thing.

When I think of her I think of what Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, said to Andie McDowell in that movie:

I think you’re the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve never seen anyone that’s nicer to people than you are. The first time I saw you… something happened to me. I never told you but… I knew that I wanted to hold you as hard as I could. I don’t deserve someone like you. But if I ever could, I swear I would love you for the rest of my life.

I still do. So to the most amazing and talented woman in the world, I love you, even more than I did that night we first met.

So to all,of our friends, and to all thank you for being a part of our lives.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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