Moving During Christmas

When I left Tucson six months and one week ago (5/25/20), it never occurred to me that I would remain in Oklahoma past August. And yet, one half-year later, here I am.

In that time, I’ve lived out of a suitcase for the bulk of it. I’ve transitioned my work from a laptop to an iPad. I’ve done the entirety of my job at a small wooden desk in my childhood bedroom. I feel a bit transient but none the worse for wear. This weekend, I’ll return to Tucson to pack up my belongings and make the move to what once was home.

There’s certainly no complaint on my part. Tucson rents were going up. So were the COVID-19 cases. With no end in sight to the pandemic, my apartment effectively became an expensive storage unit. My employer granted a provisional approval to work remotely, at least for the duration of the pandemic. Moving seems prudent. I leave for Arizona on Saturday to begin packing with the move to Oklahoma to follow.

No Place Like Home?

Aside from the move itself, I can’t say that I really know what the next chapter will hold – except that for the next several months it will surely be lived here. Despite my penchant for planning, I’m not even sure that having a plan matters very much anymore. If I’ve learned anything from this year, it’s that plans can be upended as quickly as they can be made. It’s fair to say that 2020 brought with it unexpected change for nearly everyone. We adapt when we can. We muddle along when we can’t. We humans are nothing if not resilient.

Still…

Perhaps I’m getting sentimental in my old age, but I can’t help thinking about how odd it is to move during the holidays. Normally, Christmas is the time to stay grounded, to enjoy time with family, and even to reminisce about Christmases long past – those halcyon memories that get etched in the mind and seem more vibrant somehow than the memories we are in the midst of making.

When considering the past, it’s always tempting to believe that it was brighter than it actually was. I think part of this temptation stems from the fact that there are realities about the present that we wish were different. For my part, with the move looming, I’m forced to reconsider what home is. When I think of past Christmases, I tend to think about the family home place. My Grandpa in his recliner. An ancient music box blaring Christmas carols while the tree lights blink in merry colors of the season.

But this is almost literally looking at home through rose-colored lenses. Yule-colored lenses might be more appropriate. The fact is, the memory above is long gone, and it does no one any good to live in the past. The present reality is that, until this extended stay, I haven’t lived in Oklahoma in roughly twenty years. True, I’ve gotten reacquainted with the people in our small town, and there’s no question that I have enjoyed being with my family. But I do wonder if I can fairly say that this is still my home.

Embracing Uncertainty

I suppose I won’t really know the answer to this question until some time has passed. Predicting the future is a fools errand. And even while the mind is hardwired to predict the future, actually living in so aware a manner proves to be much more difficult. When 2020 began, I had wished a new decade would usher in positive changes and the hope for a better year than the personal hell that was 2019. For many, I think 2020 was probably worse than any single year in the past ten. The mind may try to predict what will happen in a given situation and respond accordingly, but it’s exactly the inability to predict (or plan) that causes anguish for so many. To state matters briefly, even the best plans can fall apart.

So, maybe a plan isn’t the way to go for this next chapter of life. For all I know, the pandemic could end this spring and I may be back in Tucson just in time for school to start in August. Planning also has a limiting factor: we tend to ignore other possibilities when we are focused on a particular course of action. I don’t think this is intentional. It’s just a reality that we can only entertain so many ideas and outcomes at once. The lesson I take from this season of life is that our ability to tangle with uncertainty is the key to finding contentment.

In truth, there never are any certainties. Never were. We just live with a set of assumptions and hope for the best.

New Year’s Reflections 2019: For Auld Lang Syne

 

I haven’t written much in the past few months. Each time that I’ve tried to sit down to write, I found myself at a loss for words. Mostly, I’ve lacked inspiration. This year easily ranks among the most difficult in my life. It caps off a roller coaster decade filled with ups and downs.

Suffice it to say, when the clock strikes midnight, there will be no love lost for 2019.

In no particular order, here’s a short summary of the past ten years: I’ve welcomed my son into the world and two nephews to boot, completed law school, earned an advanced doctorate in law, moved to and lived in a foreign country, traveled the world multiple times, adopted a dog, moved home, moved to Wyoming, moved to Arizona, got married (8/15/09 but close enough), got divorced, saw my career develop, stopped attending church, saw my physical and mental health decline, gained weight, lost sleep, and saw the decade cap off with my Grandpa’s passing on August 2, 2019.

Along the way, I’ve also met scores of people from all over the world. Some are like family. All of them are good people. Folks that are passionate about their work. Some passionate about their faith. Others passionate about their families. To a person, these people have affected my life in positive ways and have inspired me to try and be a better person even when that didn’t seem possible.

While I cannot say that the decade has been a total bust, I think it’s objectively fair to say that it was a difficult one. Highs and lows. Not just little dips: soaring highs and shattering lows. It’s a small miracle that I’ve made it through. In retrospect, it’s easiest for me to think of the 2010s as a hurricane battering the little ship that I call life. Now, as I come into port for 2020, I’m a threadbare schooner, wood split in places with a broken mast. A new year, a new decade are most welcome for my money.

Still, a friend made me think about today and about the importance that I’m placing on a year that reads 2020 rather than 2019. According to her, “it’s just another night and a new year.” No big deal.

So why is a new year so important? To me? To us? To the majority of the world that’s celebrating as I type? My friend is right on some level. Just another day/night. There’s nothing magical about the date January 1. Nothing substantively will change in my situation from Dec. 31, 2019 to Jan 1, 2020. But I think the importance of a new year is less about the date on the calendar and more about the chance to hit reset.

A new year brings an opportunity to set in motion all of the goals a person can set for the year. It allows us to assess where we are as people over the next 365 days. It’s not the date that matters. What matters is the mindset we carry forward into a new year, and by extension the fact that it matters how we approach life as a new year kicks off. As a bit of caution, it seems pretty obvious to me from the past ten years that negative thoughts begat negative outcomes. Pessimism becomes the enemy of progress because it is self-sabotage from the outset. Nothing guarantees a bad year quite like making up the mind that it’s going to be a bad year.

It’s also unnecessary.

If I’ve learned anything from my tumultuous 2019, it’s that hope is the critical element of being happy in life (aside from God himself). When we lack hope, we lack that piece of us that makes us look forward to tomorrow. Hope is our internal motivation. It’s the reason we endure the troubles of a decade, fall asleep, and awake with the expectation that a new year will be better than the year and decade that has passed. (And while we are on the topic – how in the world did ten years fly by so quickly?)

So, in response to my friend, I think a new year is important because it reminds us to hope. Hope is important because it’s the means by which we wake up and do it all again no matter what life deals our way. And the motivation we have through hope is what keeps us living life rather than merely waiting around to die.

With that, here’s to 2020, friends. May the best of your 2019 be the worst of your 2020.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

Courtesy of CNN.com

When Heroes Fall

My Grandfather passed away this past Friday. The morning he took ill was unremarkable. It seemed like any other morning. Grandpa was out and about with a friend from church, having some lights installed on a camper. There was no urgency to the project, but it was something he wanted to get done – like a million other projects that he had prioritized over the course of his life.

Somewhere along the way, my son and I got around and went to Lawton to pick up his Mother from the airport. They had planned to spend a couple of days here on the farm before catching a flight back to Indiana. We didn’t get very far along on our way back to Walters when I got a call saying that Papa wasn’t feeling well and that he was going to the doctor – like he had so many times before. At the age of 88, Papa had had his health battles. But they nearly always went away. A day or so in the hospital max. A dose of antibiotics. He was usually good to go.

The Fall

So, I didn’t think much of the situation when he was first admitted. My Mom decided to spend the night with him. We prayed and went home with a promise to relieve Mom in the morning. But something odd happened during that first night. While he was alert and talking when we left, his blood pressure started to drop during the night. His breathing grew more difficult. The doctors threw around the word sepsis. Quite unlike the many times before, Papa wasn’t getting better. I started to get concerned. A nagging worry that maybe something was different this time. A quiet unease growing at the back of my mind.

Tuesday bled into Wednesday. We were back at the hospital as soon as we could. Before we got there, he was moved to ICU. My nagging unease transformed into a mountain of worry as a hive of nurses flitted about with concerned looks. Papa was still talking and alert but he wasn’t allowed food or water. There was talk of a potential procedure but no concrete plans. Food and water were restricted in hopes that they could operate. Nutrients and antibiotics alike were administered through an IV.

Most of the family was exhausted by the time evening rolled around. I offered to stay with my Mother at the hospital for another night to help her get some rest. Everyone went home to rest and to pray. For me, it was a sleepless night spent walking the corridors of the hospital between nursing rounds. When I was in the room, Papa shifted often and wanted to adjust his position in the bed to be more comfortable. I moved him. When the nurses weren’t badgering him for blood draws and vital checks, I talked to him about football and Thunder basketball and gave him water when the nurses weren’t looking. Just little sips to wet his mouth and to quench his thirst. As the night wore on, he talked less and less. I didn’t realize it at the time but those conversations with me would be his last words. I wish I had asked him questions that were more profound. I wish I had talked to him about things that were more consequential.

By Thursday morning, he had finally fallen asleep but his breathing had gotten worse. The doctor recommended a ventilator. We agreed. After a few hours on the machine, his condition stabilized enough that the doctors could run the emergency procedure that they had been planning – a procedure to hopefully address a blood clot resulting from the sepsis. The thought was that the clot was causing some of the problems with his breathing. By now, the prognosis was grim and the surgery odds were a even 50-50 given that he would need to be sedated. We waited and prayed. As the afternoon sun faded into night, in characteristic fashion, Grandpa pulled through. Our spirits lifted with hope that his blood pressure might rise once the sedative wore off. Eventually, his blood pressure did become more stable for some time in fact. But he didn’t wake up. As advised by his care team, we all chalked it up to him needing to get more rest. So, we went home to do the same.

I woke early Friday morning to a phone call. In a situation like this, phone calls early in the morning are never good.

His nursing team had kept watch during the night while his condition deteriorated. The ephemeral “they” ran another emergency scan and found a new rupture internally. He was losing blood. Fading fast. There was nothing they could do. We raced to the hospital. I hoped for a miracle that was not to be. By the time we arrived, loved ones had started to gather. The only option presented was to remove the machines. Before the vitals went flat, we all had time to say our brief goodbyes. There wasn’t nearly enough time. Never is.

Once the ventilator was removed, Papa slipped away quickly. The warmth in his hands – hands that had held mine hundreds of times before – gradually grew cold. In a matter of minutes, he was gone.

A Hero’s Life Remembered

The days after are a blur. Funeral arrangements. Video tributes. Visits from loved ones and friends. At one point, we participated in an all night wake with him. The details of those days are fuzzy. At some point, the task of writing Papa’s eulogy fell to me. Any one of us could have done it. When you live a good life, it’s easy to say good things. But how do you summarize the life of a giant? Someone, who in life, always seemed larger than life itself? The effort was a fool’s errand. There were numerous stories to tell. Countless acts of kindness to note. Innumerable lessons learned at his table over coffee. Hours spent fishing at the ponds, soaking up his wisdom – all in blissful ignorance of the reality that it would one day end. Even the obituary that was put together, which accurately and thoroughly stated the bare facts of Papa’s life, seemed inadequate. His parents, wife, and survivors were all mentioned. A handful of his accomplishments graced the pages of the local newspaper. But neither the eulogy nor the obituary even remotely approached the totality of the man he was.

As a family we planned Grandpa’s funeral. It was a service that was quintessentially him. The historic country church that our family calls our spiritual home is not necessarily one that has embraced the digital age. There are no projectors and screens adorning the stage. There are no cameras. The dark wood paneling of the sanctuary harkens back to an understated elegance that seemed to permeate rural construction at the turn of the 19th century. Yet, the congregation agreed to have the internet installed so that we could livestream Grandpa’s prayer service and funeral for his many friends and family from across the Nation. I think that Grandpa would have gotten a kick out of this bit of logistical planning, and the fact that his funeral was the first to bring the Church, as we call it, into our modern, technological era.

We were careful to call the prayer service and funeral “celebrations” of his life. The use of the word celebration is really just an exercise in semantics but we wanted people to reflect upon Grandpa’s life and celebrate the work of a faithful servant of God and of a life lived well, as opposed to treating the occasion as than an opportunity to mourn his passing. In truth, it was a mix of both. Still, it was a service that befit the person Grandpa was, and it involved many of the people that he cared about and that cared about him. If the goal of such a celebration is to honor the memory of the loved one who has passed, then I think we succeeded.

But to me it still didn’t seem adequate for a giant. For a hero.

A Hero’s Farewell

It wasn’t until the funeral procession to his grave that I began to feel like Grandpa was recognized for the hero that he was. It’s true that Grandpa was a proud veteran of the Korean War. He served his country bravely as a combat engineer, and instilled a similar sense of service in each of his grandchildren. My oldest younger sister is a foster care worker who has devoted her life to protecting children. My youngest sister will soon be a teacher. He never said it in so many words, but the message from our Grandfather was always clear: serve a cause greater than yourself.

But beyond this, he was our rock. There was no situation in life that I couldn’t bring to him for wise counsel. There was nothing he couldn’t fix. No problem a bit of his common sense couldn’t solve. He mentored me without the need to call it mentoring. He encourage me. He pushed me to do things that were well beyond my comfort zone, the lot of which have made me a better person as a result. He didn’t fight villains at night. But he knew how to fight the enemies of self-doubt, insecurity, and intolerance. Like a true hero, he conquered all of these with a sword of love.

Our family buried Papa with full military honors. As we made the descent from the church, down the hillside to the cemetery, located about five miles away, we were escorted by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. The trooper’s lights flashed as cars pulled over to acknowledge the passing of a great man: a man whose greatness can be attributed simply to the fact that he loved God and loved others. As we pulled into the cemetery, American flags waved proudly long the cemetery’s fence line. Their vibrant hues of red, white, and blue provided a stark but fitting contrast to the solemnity of the day.

Far too soon, the officer’s car came to a stop blocking both lanes of traffic along the country highway leading into town. As we passed, the officer stood at parade rest, his head bowed while the procession made its way through the gates. Gradually, the hearse would wind its way along the narrow lane of the cemetery, and I saw a lone bugler standing off in the distance. There would be no faux recording of taps at this funeral. When we arrived at Grandpa’s grave, the military color guard stood a short distance away, at the ready to pay one final tribute to a fallen warrior.

We removed Grandpa’s flag-draped coffin from the hearse and carried it to its resting place while the color guard stood in salute. At the exact moment the interment ceremony began, quite by happenstance, an Air Force jet flew low and overhead. Our family likes to think that we have a number of friends, but we certainly don’t have the military connections to secure an Air Force flyby. We had a good laugh later when folks asked how we managed to do it.

Although it was not planned, I viewed the flyover as a special nod from God, and perhaps from Papa himself, and made my peace. If anyone could talk the Lord into sending a jet over for his service, it would be him. It may seem like a cheeky ask of God during Papa’s first few days in heaven, but I wouldn’t put it past him to find a way to comfort a broken-hearted grandson like yours truly.

When the guns blazed in salute and as taps played in the distance, I internalized the fact that Papa was gone. As we lowered him into the ground, there were still plenty of tears. Even from me. But when the final spade was turned and his body buried, I couldn’t help but smile a bit wistfully.

Papa had gotten a hero’s farewell after all.

 

On Tragedy: Coming to Terms with Terms

Clark  062018

My son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder earlier this week.

While the diagnosis was not a complete surprise, to say that the news was personally devastating would be an understatement. After five years of explaining away the symptoms, after five years of hoping and anticipating that Clark would simply “outgrow” some of his peculiar behaviors, an expert from the University of Indiana’s Riley Children’s Hospital summarily crushed those hopes with the click of a mouse, and the stroke of a pen. 

Naturally, I was crushed. 

I can’t speak to how other, better parents would have responded to such news. For my part, my mind went into a spiral with a massive, neon “NO CURE” sign flashing before my eyes while I tried to sleep. Mostly, though, I thought about the horror stories of autism that I had read: 

  • Incidents of trigger happy cops murdering autistic men of color for simply having a blank stare. (Seems like a double whammy since Clark is both American Indian and autistic).
  • And even the latest news out of Miami-Dade County that would see Clark enlist in a “voluntary registry” with the police as a child ‘suffering’ from mental illness. (No way in hell). 
  • Would he even live to be as old as his mother, and reach the ripe old age of 36?

I didn’t sleep much on Monday night. 

The following day, I spent much of it trying to process the news, and how to sort out my own response going forward. Worrying certainly wasn’t helping.

Rather than worry, I tried to think about the language I would use when describing Clark’s diagnosis in my day-to-day interactions. It seemed wise to use the proper terms – both for my own edification, and given the fact that our society is fraught with offense. These days, people tend to get pissed off by nearly anything that rustles their jimmies. I certainly didn’t (and don’t) want to offend other parents of special needs kids unintentionally. Better to save a good offense for when you mean it.

In coming to terms with the terms of Clark’s diagnosis, the word that wanted glibly to sneak into my vernacular was the word tragedy. The Cambridge University dictionary defines tragedy as follows:

Tragedy Defined

I think the first definition is plainly eliminated. Clark isn’t dying anymore than we are all dying. And if the photo above is any indication, he isn’t really suffering either. His mischievous laugh, and megawatt smile certainly speak to the contrary. The third definition is also eliminated – at least until Clark decides to become an english major during college. 

So really, the only way to classify autism as a tragedy is if one buys the second definition, and the narrative that autism is a situation or result that is ‘bad.’ And I’m not really convinced of this either.

It’s very difficult to talk about the results and outcome of a life and call them bad when Clark hasn’t really begun to live. Sure, as life milestones go he was born. He learned to walk. He has mastered potty-training (thank God). He’s even developing speech and language skills. But the rest of the broad canvass that is his life is wonderfully, beautifully blank. 

Now, it could be that his diagnosis will enable him to make a positive impact on the lives of many. I suppose it could be the opposite. After all, no one wants to think of raising the next dictator, but somewhere in the world there’s a couple or a parent who is doing exactly that. Regardless, it seems misguided to use a term like ‘tragedy’ to define a life that has not yet truly begun. Clark is five years old. His concerns this summer are when he will go swimming, and whether he can have only two Go-Gurts or perhaps sneak a third during breakfast. It’s a bit dramatic to say that his condition is a tragedy.

Having reached that conclusion I calmed down a bit. I did some more investigating. I was intrigued to see that there are scores of parents and autistic folks who agree that tragedy is NOT how they would describe their lives, or their kids. From one parent, I learned that I’ve basically been doing everything wrong since Clark was born. From another, I was inspired to see that maybe I’m actually doing alright, and that perhaps triumph is a better ‘t’ word to describe Clark.

Given the disparate reactions, I was relieved to confirm a lingering suspicion: no one has cornered the market on how to respond to adversity – particularly when it relates to medical conditions affecting loved ones. And especially situations that no one can control. 

In all, I can’t say that I have any more answers than I did almost a week ago Monday evening.

But I can say that I love my son. And that as long as I draw breath, I will strive to given him every advantage that I can, and meet every need that he has. Despite the seriousness of the news, it’s a comfort to see that, in some ways, nothing has changed at all.

Children at Play

We took Clark to the park today. The playground equipment had all the usual trappings of a large park in the center of town, including scores of parents, kids, and pooches out for their afternoon walk. 
 
Amid the chaos, we discovered the slides fairly quickly. Clark and Gwyn spent most of the time going up, and down the slide head first. No worry given to broken necks, or petrified father watching from the side. Only the occasional mischievous glance, and the squeal of joy at landing in the wood chips beneath the slide. 

 
It’s a remarkable thing to see a child at play. Engrossed in the moment. Utterly fascinated by whatever it is that captures the attention, and imagination of a young mind. 
 
But what I envy most is Clark’s ability just to be. To enjoy. To play. Some nights when my mind races with things to do, with the things that I didn’t get done, with the typical cares of life that keep one awake late into the night, I wish I had his young heart, and innocence – things forever etched on the face of a child at play. 
 
I suppose that’s something I can’t get back. And yet, I can’t help but pray it’s something he never loses. 

Christmas Follies


Clark pitched a fit this evening. Being somewhat of an expert in fits, I can say with some certainty that this was, in fact, a royal fit – complete with waterworks, wailing, kicking, and clawing down the aisle.

All of the above wouldn’t have been so bad, had it not been right during the middle of the Christmas Eve service at church.

My wife Gwyn was set to play the piano for the annual Christmas Eve Service at Brown American Indian Baptist Church. Or as we call it in our family, simply “The Church” – as if any there were any other.

Assuming the best, we didn’t account for Clark’s…malcontent when separated from his Mother. Much to our chagrin, screaming could well be an understatement to describe what he did in that small, wooden chapel.

Being the lone parent without obligations in the annual Christmas program (spare the duet I had lately agreed to sing with my sister), defeated, I loaded him into the car and drove home. After he calmed down a bit, I was fortunate to have distracted him with Veggie Tales for the remainder of the evening.

I was inclined to be upset, but I snapped a shot of the scene above and the frustration I felt melted away.

It occurred to me, even Jesus was a toddler at one point. And as parenting goes, I’m sure Mary and Joseph had their share of embarrassing evenings with young Jesus too. It’s just sort of what toddlers do. Even Divine ones.

And so, I fired up Clark’s favorite Veggie Tales and proceeded to get some of the food ready for our family’s gift exchange tonight. Better to productive than mope at what I missed.

All told, I think things worked out for the best.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Kids and Accidents


There’s no more frustrating place for a parent than the emergency room of a hospital.

While participating in the ‘hanging of the greens’ this morning (a fanciful phrase for decorating the church for Christmas), Clark hit his head on one of the speakers.

Not being the festive sort, I wasn’t there. But my wife called in a panic and mentioned that Clark had fallen down some steps, and clipped his forehead on the corner of a speaker, leaving him a bloody, wailing mess. She also mentioned the need for stitches, and I was out the door within the moment.

I arrived at the ‘urgent care’ not long after she did to the sight above. His wound didn’t bleed much. But he had a deep gash and seemed, understandably, crankier than usual.

The waiting room was filled with people. Some with coughs. Others with aches. None seemed to have the obvious urgency that Clark’s cut had. And yet we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

A full hour.

In retrospect, I realize this wasn’t very long. But I couldn’t help feeling my blood boil for every able-bodied person that walked past my son’s bleeding forehead.

In the end, he only needed a couple of stitches. As of this afternoon he’s back to his old, mischievous self.


But still. There’s no more frustrating place for a parent than the emergency room. And it’s not that other patients were there. Or the wait. Or the skill of the doctors and nurses, who were all top-notch, and wonderful to a person.

It’s the feeling of helplessness that you have when there’s nothing you can do to make it all better.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Change and Childhood Treasures

The window of my office here in Ross Hall overlooks the main quad of the University of Wyoming Campus. Outside, I can see students and faculty alike, bundled up in winter coats, gingerly making their way along the paths slick with snow. The campus is quiet and calm.

I don’t know when the seasons changed here in Wyoming. But somewhere between July and now, we passed from summer to fall, and from fall to winter – all with a graceful, imperceptible ease. Even as the seasons have passed with a steady resilience, it seems somewhere in the past eight weeks or so, my own life has transitioned from that of a part-time consultant, to a full-time professor with roster of nearly 100 students.

It’s a strange thing to see how much life can change in so small a span of time.

On the home front, our son Clark turned two on October 15th. In his two years on the Earth, he’s lived in three states and two countries. And while he won’t remember it, he has traveled more in his two years of life, than I have in the first thirty of mine. All of which reinforces the fact that we live in a very different age than the one I grew up in.

I marvel at this far more than I should. Growing up, I can remember digging holes in the yard at my Grandparents’ house, and pretending that my G.I. Joes were engaged in an intense guerrilla conflict. Clark is more interested in his iPad and Netflix options than in actually playing with the toys he has. And yet, when we take him to the park, as in the photo above, his eyes come alive with the magic of falling leaves, and small branches that are ripe for the picking. Every child has his treasures.

I wonder too about the kind of world he will inherit. Election Day is tomorrow and our Nation is on the cusp of making a significant change in direction. The Washington Post puts the Republicans chances of taking the Senate at 96%, while Rachel Maddow warns voters to ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid’ of this possibility. All of this, of course, ignores the simple reality of our system of checks and balances, and the fact that our government will remain divided regardless of which party controls Congress.

Even so, I wonder what policy changes are on the horizon and the practical implications they have for my son’s life as he continues to grow in knowledge, strength and maturity. I can live with the Government making mistakes that can effect me. That’s the cost of living and doing business in the world’s leading democracy. But when it comes to governmental mistakes that can effect my son, I find myself much less forgiving.

Still, like the seasons here, change is coming, and I hope this new generation of leaders is equal to the task. I don’t know that America can weather another election cycle of malaise. Hope seems like such a quaint notion these days. Perhaps change will be the better course.

In sum, I suppose our lives here are very much like those of Americans all over. We are in the midst of change and transition with a guarded optimism for things to come. ‘Trust but verify,’ as Reagan used to say.

I have a lot more to add about my work, book reviews, and parenting, but these will have to wait for another day. For now, I hope it’s sufficient to know that the “Pax” is back – at least once per week.

Silence, God, and Fish

Flowers Beside the Lake
The other day, I read about King Saul and his efforts to consolidate power once he was named the King of Israel. He was a man who ruled with ruthless abandon, harassing his enemies at every turn, driving them out of the lands and territories that the King had claimed for his own. And yet, for all of his struggles, warmongering, and folly, King Saul sought God often. As it happens, however, God did not often answer him back (I Samuel 14.37).

Saturday, I took a break from preparing for classes and ventured into the Snowy Mountains in Medicine Bow National Forest. The past week had found me feverishly reading Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. It’s one of the assigned texts for my classes, because it vividly outlines the plight of American Indian tribal nations during the systematic destruction of their governing institutions. Much like King Saul, the young American Nation consolidated power over American Indian tribes with ruthless abandon, harassing them at every turn, and driving them out of the lands and territories that the budding Nation would claim for its own. As the story goes, the tribes were driven further and further westward, until they were summarily rounded up, and placed on increasingly smaller reserves of land. Or as we call them today, reservations.

I suspect for anyone, the book might make for a bit of a dour read – particularly the early chapters prior to the Government’s major shift in Federal Indian policy. Tale after tale of lost lands, disease, and poverty had left me quite nearly moribund myself, so when the invite from a friend came to head for the hills (literally), I was more than happy to leave my work behind.

Now, when I fish, it’s normally my habit to focus intently on the fishing. I tend to analyze each cast, and ponder over bait options, all in hopes of snagging a big fish. But on this trip my approach was different. When we first arrived, no one was at the lake. The sounds of the waves lapping against the rocks, and the rustle of the wind were all I heard. Every so often, I could glance and see a bald eagle soaring high overhead, looking for an opportunity to demonstrate who the true fisherman was. It was serene, and I allowed the quiet of the mountains to consume my morning.

I asked no questions of God in that quiet sanctuary of nature. Even if I had let my mind wander and permitted myself to conjure up all of the academic questions posed by my textbook, or considered the dilemmas that consume my own existence, I suspect my answers from God would have been the same as those given to Saul: complete, utter silence. I say this not on account of my own warmongerings, but because sanctuaries are fundamentally places for worship and contemplation. The sanctuary of nature I visited, set against the craggy face of the Snowy Mountains was no different. Words would have been an injustice in so beautiful a place.

And so I was silent. And God was silent. And the fish never stirred.

It has taken a while, but gradually I’m learning that the silence of God can be just as tremendous as the voice of God. Silence leaves the questions and matters that beset us wholly open to interpretation. This space provides opportunities for us to create our own solutions to existential quandaries – as opposed to having a determinist God prescribe our every waking moment and then some.

Given this, I think what our collective lot needs is more of what philosopher/theologian Paul Tillich famously described as The Courage to Be – mustering within ourselves a courage to confront life’s ordeals, as much as a courage that allows us simply to be at peace with ourselves. In other words, only when we embrace the silence of our existence, can we find peace amid the chaos of life – a peace that allows us to simply “be.”

An Ode to the Rising Sun

 
It’s a drop past 4pm here at Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. As the canard goes, it’s not lost on me how ironic it is to name a state citadel of aviation after a man who died in a plane crash. 
 
Airborne
 
A few hours ago, I said goodbye to Gwyn, Clark and Fan after a bittersweet farewell in Walters with Dad, Mom, Papa, Andrea, Jacob, Garrett, Seth, Chelsey, and our sister Randi Lynn and her son Drey. I made this latest trip home to see exactly this set of people. If there’s anything one can count on at all in matters of Comanche culture, it’s the opportunity to see family when one comes home. 
 
And so it is at the Comanche Homecoming Celebration, going strong some 63 years after its first incarnation welcoming home veterans following their service in the Korean War. 
 
Last night, sitting at our camp, with a canopy of stars under the dark Oklahoma sky, I was able to sporadically reconnect with friends and family alike – some of whom I had not seen since the last time I attended the Comanche Homecoming Celebration in 2005. Soaking up the moment, I was pleased to chat with long-time family friend, Tom Kavanaugh, a former Anthropologist and Curator of Collections at the University of Indiana’s Mather Museum. Tom is nothing if not friendly and blessed with a keen sense of storytelling, wrought from forty-odd years of accumulating insights into the history and culture of the Comanche People. His knowledge and enthusiasm is infectious. 
 
After listening a good while, I asked what someone with his experience would miss the most about the old days of the celebration and the old ways of doing things. True to form, Tom answered without hesitation, “I miss the people. They Keewainais (keh-why-nighs) who are no longer here but should be.”
 
I didn’t have much of a reply. It’s sometimes hardest to respond when a person is so strikingly correct. 
 
Later that night over cigars with my brother Lucas Davis of Houston, TX (a distinctly Comanche brother who shares neither my tribal identity nor even my ethnicity), I thought about the event and its ability to pull together so many people, from so many places, and allow them to be a family. 
 
While I watched the crowds of people milling about the dusty creek bottom, I found that I couldn’t escape my conversation with Tom. A small place in my heart pinched at the thought of families and friends forever seared into my heart and mind – the ghosts of celebrations past who are forever sitting around the arena in Sultan Park. 
 
My son Clark received a Comanche name earlier in the day, one of the principal reasons hastening my return home. Such events are rare in life, watching one’s firstborn and his ascent into the ranks of warriors past. Fortunately, Clark was well-served in his naming by family friend/relative and my personal mentor Bernard Kahrahrah – a former Chairman of the Comanche Tribe. After much prayer, Bernard gave Clark the name Thaiori (Thy-oh-rē), which translates to the sun is rising.
 
Denver
 
I didn’t realize this at the time, but Clark’s name gives me a great deal of solace as I struggle to make sense of life, and all of the changes and opportunities that lie ahead. I think that even when one becomes melancholic for the ghosts of the arena, perhaps it’s wise to follow their example and pray for the generations that are to come, rising like the sun in the east, calling us to embrace the future of a new day.  
 
It’s always a good thing to come home – no matter how difficult it is to leave.