I am a man of principle. Sometimes the principle is: Turn the other cheek. Sometimes the principle is: An eye for an eye. I use the first principle when I am counseling others. Generally I follow the latter principle for myself. In a period of self loathing, I find it easy to love my neighbor as my self. But some days I simply honor the solemn words: Do not love the world or anything in the world. The more I learn, the more confused I become. I try to compartmentalize to keep my head from exploding. I know I am supposed “to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” but he has not come around to claim any of his salads. I toss them out from time to time but I am willing to give him all my wife’s teaching and art supplies as reparation. God only wants me to render my soul so I am hiding from Him until I can get it cleaned up and aged. I have not fully formed all my principles yet because I miss many teachings at Sunday Mass. I show up last, maximizing the principle that “the last shall be first.” I get so many dirty looks when I also leave Church first. But since the first shall be last, I am actually making a humble gesture to put myself last.
My maternal grandmother died in October 1953 at what I thought was age 61 because her tombstone records 1892 as her birth date. My Mother once confided that her mother was actually born in 1891 but I found ancestry records listing 1890. Eventually Philbin relatives provided Birth Certificate and Census documents establishing September 1889 as her true birth month. So Nana continues to age in death. I keep expecting to find something with 1888 on it. Several of my female ancestors shed age between census years. Ten childhood years go by but the girl only gains eight or nine years. Since the practice seemed premeditated, I wondered why years were not erased closer to birth. But if your daughter was born in September 1889 and you are holding her when the census taker knocks on your door in early 1890, you cannot very well claim she is -2 or -3. My grandmother was a couple of years older than her husband and they married when she was thirty (1919), partly because he was away during World War I. Age was an understandably sensitive topic, considering the unflattering terms “spinster” and “old maid.” When my grandmother died at age 64, her husband was still employed as General Counsel at Union Carbide. They had a large circle of business and social friends as confirmed by the contents of a box of materials containing condolences, obituaries, and other paperwork related to her well commemorated death. My grandfather died more than 22 years later. I did the first reading at the sparsely attended Mass. Not much fanfare accompanied his departure. I still would very much prefer making it to his age of 84 and miss any extra attention I could get for leaving this party early!
As the eldest of seven children, I was in charge of preparing my Dad for Judgment Day. He was always over prepared for everything and left little to chance. Like a taxi squad athlete who impersonates an upcoming star opponent in practice, my job was conducting debate prep for Dad in anticipation of his entry into the hereafter. I attacked him with his faults and shortcomings. I attempted to demolish his defenses which were formidable. Like a friendly sparring partner stung one time too many, I could occasionally cross a line that was not taped down well enough. But we were both impressed with our stamina. Dad delayed his death as long as possible to gain every extra moment of debate practice before facing the Trinity Tribunal in the after world. He was wealthy enough to worry about squeezing more than a camel through the eye of a needle. I cautioned him against giving away his assets to charitable causes too quickly as his heirs could do that for him later. Then I helped him balance on the narrow beam between persuasive advocacy and humble apology. The preparation process was so exhausting that I absolved my eldest from performing the same service for me. After all, I am far less wealthy than Dad and my lesser accomplishments and qualities make my pride merely amusing. My plan is to crawl under the radar into The Good Place while the politicians are being interrogated. But my own sons still care enough to uphold the family soul saving tradition. If we make too much noise, I hope Dad is somewhere he can hide me until the heat is off.
A YouTube video is circulating with the title: “Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same.” Dozens of actual commercials are spliced together in sound bites of a few seconds or so. They play similar somber music and do indeed follow the same script. The videos feature companies, products, and especially people and families. The Company has been serving you “since 1926” or “for over a hundred years.” They are all about the people and family, especially now more than ever in these troubled, uncertain, and unprecedented times. Doors may be closed but we stay closely connected to each other without leaving the safety of home. A thank you for health and front line workers is a common thread. We are here with you. You can count on us. We will get through this together. Apart but together. The script does not work as well when a luxury car maker implies that a vehicle purchase is the answer to your problems. Established commercial campaigns that rely on humor and irreverence still continue, offering the same reassurance as comfort food. But certain subjects are so delicate that they demand universal scripting. My maternal grandmother died in 1953 when I was six years old. I recently found a box of all the hand written sympathy cards and was struck by how they all followed the exact same script. They were short which avoided most pitfalls of saying the wrong thing. A very close friend or relative might add one positive personal reference. Mostly they let flowers and Mass Cards do the talking for them.
Leaning in kept causing me to fall, so I turned to Qigong for health, spirituality, and life energy. I do not yet understand much of it but I am up to the part about slapping my hips while I walk. Or maybe my thighs and my butt. I am not too coordinated and I never took an anatomy class. People seem amazed at my Qigong mastery because they keep staring at me from afar. My neighbors kept their distance from me long before I discovered Coronavirus was not the half brother of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. I tend to talk and sing loudly when I am anywhere by myself because my thoughts overwhelm me with memories of my mistakes and cringe-worthy moments. I try to drown out embarrassing remembrances with noise like an “I can’t hear you” chant. I usually restrain myself when anyone is within earshot. If I am caught by surprise, I wrap my hand around an imaginary cellphone and pretend to be laughing and joking with someone on the phone. I worry that others can tell I am talking to an imaginary electronic device. That becomes a new embarrassment to blot out in the future. Recently I was passed on a walk while singing nonsense words that rhyme with blue, e.g., “he was new blue, a hue for you too.” I not only drowned out my memories but the stranger’s footfalls behind me. He passed with nary a glance my way. I kept singing (a little softer) just to prove I was not caught doing something stupid.
President Trump has introduced a new cool aid program where you mix disinfectant with Kool-Aid before ingesting it. He is relying on the medical advice of the Director of Wealthy Americans for Coronavirus Knock Out (WACKO). In a follow-up tweet, The Donald spelled “ingesting” with a “j” which would bolster his claims of sarcasm but he will never admit to a misspelling. Too bad he was not elected Late Night Comic because with or without sarcasm, his pandemic pronouncements are misleading and dangerous when issued as President. In his defense, he can invoke a consistency precedent since he sarcastically thumbs his nose at the people, values, and institutions of our country every day. Rumors are spreading that Trump will fire the WACKO Director for telling him that drinking disinfectant was a good idea. The Director was probably just being sarcastic and likely already in trouble for not praising Trump enough. The President did confirm that he will NOT be drinking the Kool-Aid himself because he is the healthiest person to ever live on this planet. But nominations for potential Kool-Aid recipients are still flooding the system. Unfortunately we have no shortage of Kool-Aid.
Mauricio I. Perez is a Biblical scholar. He recently encouraged us all to emulate Veronica who, according to Church tradition, offered her veil so Jesus could wipe His forehead while carrying the Cross. Perez correctly characterizes her as brave because she could have suffered at the hands of those tormenting Jesus. Perez contrasts her strong faith and righteous instinct with that of Simon of Cyrene who was famously enlisted to help Jesus carry the Cross when He faltered. Some have suggested that Simon was chosen because he showed some sympathy for Jesus but Perez takes the position that Simon was reluctant and acted merely because he was compelled to by the Roman guards. Perez exhorts us to be like Veronica and not like Simon. I unsuccessfully tried to contact Perez through his website to tell him I enjoyed his writings but that I thought he did not have to denigrate Simon to make his valid point about Veronica. After all, little hard evidence exists to make so many assumptions. Even Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed and Jesus made him Pope. I could not avoid the filters on the Perez website which apparently screens out nuts and bots. Most Biblical scholars follow my Blog, so I presume Perez will get my feedback when he reads this posting. I admit to identifying with the worst version of Simon. So I am petitioning Heaven for admission under the rare Simon Cyrene Exception. I will also be appealing my first death, citing Lazurus v. Unbelievers.
Too bad we got rid of Drive-In Movies awhile back. They would come in handy in a social distancing economy. A century ago during the Spanish Flu, people would not touch you with a ten foot pole. Now we think we can enforce social distancing with a six foot pole. Our lifestyles are in transition. The six foot pole manufacturers are making money. Meanwhile, I lick only my own plate now that the Coronavirus is striking people who share food. My wife gets really mad when I write things like that. She thinks I should be embarrassed that I am licking any plates at all. But of course I am only exaggerating for effect because it makes me a funnier person. Just like alcohol does. So, yeah, alcohol causes some of the confusion. On staycations, day drinking creeps into the lifestyle. When my head is face planted on my plate, it gives the impression that I am licking it. Actually I am just passed out on the plate. The funnier I get, the more annoyed my wife becomes. So I should clarify that she never licks her plate. She does not even use a plate. Except when she throws one at me.
Some big moments change your life in an instant. A marriage proposal or death of a loved one permanently imprints the memory. You also remember where you were and what you were doing when a big global or national tragedy changes the world landscape in an eye blink. Each person has a different angle on the collective memory of 911, President Kennedy’s assassination or Pearl Harbor but the event is a constant point of reference. People old enough will tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news of those events. Coronavirus is another type of major event, the kind that percolates until the collective consciousness recognizes the scope of the disaster. Everyone will have distinct memories of this pandemic but not from a fixed point of time. The indelible memory may be when someone you know tests positive. Or maybe when the NBA cancels the professional basketball season. Or maybe when you get laid off. Or maybe when you realize you are overly tired with a fever and dry cough. The Great Depression evolved as a tragedy in the same way. The stock market crash in the Fall of 1929 was a notable event like the Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan but the enormity of the disaster unfolded little by little as individual families experienced the aftershocks on a personal level. The unpredictable is often so much clearer when viewed in hindsight. When you are in the middle of a pandemic, you have no time to worry about the looming climate change disaster.
My wife and I negotiated a policy of not exchanging gifts with each other this past Christmas. We are struggling to purge possessions, not collect more (especially during a chaotic holiday season). I violated some previous negotiations because Mollie has historically given more than 50% to our relationship and giving her a present could help me balance the scales. But it just makes her madder. A true 50-50 marriage is rare, statistically difficult to accomplish even if you wanted to, considering the complexity of factors involved. Some people hit 50-50 by accident when they both feel they are giving 60%. Often one of the partners is more in love than the other. This can reverse over time and someone can come out even in the long run by erasing an early deficit with a later surplus. Too bad we cannot definitively measure this ratio like height and weight. Couples could proclaim their 53-47 split to friends. Friends surprised that the couple was not at least 56-44 could debate the heretofore hidden reasons. What fun! Equations could change at each annual measurement as low numbers could incentivize some to make positive changes. The bigger the discrepancy, the more likely a divorce but anomalies would always exist. Our own arrangement went well at Christmas and Easter (although two grandchildren wondered why the two of us were without Easter baskets). I also implemented the deal on my wife’s birthday. I did not get her a gift and she did not get me one. She did not seem happy. I will never make it to 50-50 because her moods vary from one day to the next.