Friday, April 17, 2015

P: Proofreaders and Editors


As I stood in the long, slowly moving line at Seattle University waiting to have Brian Doyle sign my book, a woman behind me expressed her impatience at the time passing. Another woman wanted to redirect where the line meandered. I tried to be Zen about all this as Doyle took a few minutes to connect and listen to each individual who approached him.

And I scanned through the Book of Uncommon Prayer while waiting, I found this one. When I finally got up to the front of the line, I outed myself as a writer and editor and we fist bumped. Only an editor truly understands what it's like to be an editor (or proofreader).

Prayer for Proofreaders (and Editors*)

For your eyesight and your patience, that neither runs out in this lifetime, even though you have to correct the word hopefully used at the opening of a sentence for the one-thousandth time, but who's bitter?

For your meticulous care, that it not turn into mania, and leave you mumbling and gibbering as you walk along the street correcting the names on people's mailboxes and correcting the typos in the newspaper in the office break room and going over old love letters from your wife and making suggested changes in red ink in the margins and then offering them to her for possible updating.

For attentiveness to clarity that does not entail wholesale slashing and cutting of entire sections and passages of manuscripts because they do not rise to the level of Robert Louis Stevenson's prose, because who could?

For a bemused amusement rather than apoplectic fury when writers do not use the serial comma, or refer to their own experience as ostensible proof and evidence for a thesis, or write nothing but self-absorbed muck, or fawning essays about their satanic cats, or endless lunatic screeds proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus was Australian.

We pray that they never forget that their work finally is for clarity between writer and reader, and that clarity is a blessing, as it brings us closer each to each; which is another aspect of the endless word that is Your love. And so: amen.

Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

O: Osama Bin Laden Yes Even Him the Stupid Murderous Slime


Yes, even a prayer for the man who engineered the horrible, tragic, beyond-words terror attack that caused the catastrophe that prompted the leap.

When Osama bin Laden was killed, my feelings were complicated. Because of the way I am made, I find it difficult to rejoice in other people's deaths, even if they have turned into evil. I did not feel sadness about his death, but I did feel sickened by the way people celebrated it so loudly and triumphantly.
Reading of the victims' names at the 9/11 memorial

This morning I read that the parents of Martin Richard, the Boston Marathon bomber's youngest victim, are arguing for a life sentence without parole in lieu of the death penalty. The reason is to "end the anguish of a continuing trial" and years of appeals, but perhaps they also have decided that revenge is fruitless.

As Brian Doyle writes, "But there must have been a shard of holiness in that man, at least originally; there must have been a small shriveled soul once..." Doyle beautifully captures the complexity of terror and evil, and the difficulty in retaining any shred of humanity if we cannot find some capacity in ourselves for forgiveness and redemption.

Prayer for Osama bin Laden Yes Even Him the Stupid Murderous Slime

Because if I cannot pray grudgingly ragingly reluctantly furiously confusedly complicatedly for his shattered soul, what is the point of praying at all?

Yes, even him, the man who murdered thousands of innocents, among them Christine Hanson, age three, and Dana Falkenberg, age three, and David Brandhorst, age three, and Julia McCourt, age four.

Among them Dana's sister Zoe, who I am absolutely sure was huddling her little sister in her arms as the plane exploded. Even him, the man who cackled in his cave when he heard of the success of his plans. Who cackled at the roasting of small children.

But there must have been a shard of holiness in that man, at least originally; there must have been a small shriveled soul once; maybe there was some small shivering moment much later, as he sat wrapped in his robes in Abbottabad watching himself on an endless video loop, the narcissistic ass, when he felt a flicker of shame at what he had done, at how he had wasted his life, at how he had endangered the very faith he so adamantly insisted he was defending. I hope so. I pray.

I pray that somehow somewhere sometime he wept at his copious sins. I pray that his dark energy was dissolved by the Mercy and cleaned by love and sent to redeem itself as the engines of insects and birds and tiny fish in clear pools.

I pray that I am right and there is a Forgiveness bigger than any slime and that somehow in ways I do understand but believe in with awe and not a little fear that You have found a chamber in Your heart for even him. Even him.

And so: amen.

Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

N: Awed Thanks for Nurses


Nurses cared for me during my childhood and teenage hospital stays, when I was recovering from painful surgeries. (The tired phrase "threw up in my mouth a little" bothers me, because that actually happened to me one time...when my jaw was wired shut.) My mom commented the other day that I never seemed scared about going into the hospital for more surgeries. I don't have many memories of those early surgeries, but I think my lack of fear must mean I was cared for well by nurses.

With two of my favorite nurses and Zacary's mom Laurie
They cared for me after each of my four c-sections and during and after my three ear surgeries and one brain surgery. And several of my close friends are nurses...they got me through my furious frustration before my brain surgery in December 2012.

But most of my gratitude comes from our four months in the NICU and early days of preemie parenthood...and the way you continue to care for NICU parents beyond that stage. Of course, I was not fond of ALL the nurses (read more here, in another tribute to nurses), but nearly all of them!

Oh nurses, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!
Another favorite nurse

  1. You cared for Mike during my emergency c-section when he feared for my life, as well as the life of our baby (Saint Annette).
  2. You cared not just for our tiny fragile preemie, who stayed in the NICU for 117 days and almost died several times, but also for his terrified, obsessed-with-his-care-and-reading-his-medical-chart-daily, and fraught parents.
  3. You made sure that the NICU, one of the most frightening places in this world, was a humane and loving place.
  4. You swore at or advocated for us with doctors when they were dismissive or condescending, wouldn't let our baby root to breastfeed, called Chris "the baby," or freaked us out with their dire predictions.
  5. You created a wonderful first-bathtime ritual for us after one of your own decided she would be the first one to bathe our child, without us present.
  6. You dressed him up in his first clothes to surprise us in the morning, and you gave us books, beanie babies, piggy banks, knitted booties, and rocks along the way.
  7. You reassured me, when Chris faced his first of four surgeries, that you'd never seen a baby die before after having that particular heart surgery. No guarantees, but reassuring honesty.
  8. You held our hands and sat with us as we cried, when doctors told us that Chris' brain was irreparably damaged and we would have to make a decision about quality of life.
  9. You trained us on Chris' multiple medications, how to run his oxygen tank and the laptop he was connected to for a medical study, and helped prepare us for...gulp! Going home.
  10. You found a way for nervous Nellie parents to come in the back door at the pediatrician's office so we wouldn't have to wait in the germ-laden waiting room.
  11. When Chris was readmitted to the hospital at 1 year old, you told us how lucky we were it was the first time we had returned to the hospital. (Okay, so maybe I was not feeling so grateful about that!)
  12. You came to Chris' baptism and read at his wonderful celebration of life...and to this day, you continue to cheer for him on Facebook.

Three of Chris' nurses after his baptism
Chris and Zac, friends forever
And finally, on the night that NICU parent friends lost their precious Zacary and they had no one else to be with them, you called us at 3:00 a.m. to be with them because you knew they needed love and support from people who got it.

Okay, tears rolling down my cheeks...this was my long intro to Brian Doyle's prayer for nurses. In a wonderful celebration of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary, Zacary's amazing cardiologist, Dave McIrvin, was the doctor who saved Brian Doyle's son's life. And probably, the nurses who cared for him might have been some of the same ones who cared for our beloved Zacary.

Prayer of Awed Thanks for Nurses

Witnesses, attendants, bringers of peace; brilliant technical machinists; selfless cleaners of all liquids no matter how horrifying; deft finders of veins when no veins seem available; soothers and calmers and amusers; tireless and patient and tender souls;

brisk and efficient when those are the tools to keep despair at bay; those with prayers in their mouths as their patients slide gently through the mysterious gate, never to return in a form like the shriveled still one in the bed; feeders and teasers, mercies and singers;

they who miss nothing with their eyes and ears and fingers and hearts; they who are not saluted and celebrated and worshipped as they ought to be; they who are the true administrators of hospitals and clinics, for it is they who have their holy hands on the brows and bruises of the broken and frightened;

they who carry the new infants to their sobbing exhausted thrilled mothers; they who must carry the news of damage and death to the family in the waiting room; they whom You know, each and every one, glorious and lovely in their greens and blues and rainbow clothing;

they who are You in every tender touch and quiet friendly gentle murmured remark; they who are the best of us; bless them always and always, Mercy;

for they are the clan of calm and the tribe of tender, and I bow in thanks for them. And so: amen.

Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

M: Moist Thanks for Steady Winter Rain


Yes, it rains a lot in Portland. It actually rains a lot less here than it does in many other cities, as I discovered last year when I blogged about Portland during April. I do not love the rain, but I do love the green we have in Oregon. And when I think about all the people in the world who lack water, I realize I need to be grateful.

Prayer of Reluctant Grumpy Disgruntled Moist Thanks for Steady Winter Rain

Listen, I know I would be crowing with delight if I were a farmer or a vineyard owner, and I would be beaming with pleasure if I ran a ski shop, because of course up in the mountains this is all snow, and all the water-resource professionals are gibbering with joy because we are filling reservoirs and stashing summer rives as winter snowpacks, but I am just a guy down in the valley and it has been raining steadily since Lincoln was president, and I am wet and weary and weary of wet.

My shoes are soggy, my jacket is moist, my cap has shrunk a size from all the soaking and then steaming dry by the fire, my pants have permanent jagged marks from a thousand splashes, the dog will never be fully dry ever again...

but I know this is clean free glorious generous water falling from the sky, and clean water is the story
of the future of the world, and I love this world, and love that this water will fill children with the best food of all, and I know we are mostly water, and that in the end this is the sweetest gift of the physical world, along with miraculous air and the seethe of soil beneath our feet;

so I curtail the moaning, and shuffle along trying to avoid the larger seas in the pavement, and thank You;

but tonight yes I will go through my photographs from last summer, yearning a little, okay? No disrespect. And so: amen.

Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

Monday, April 13, 2015

L: Leap


I'm veering from The Book of Uncommon Prayer* again to share another moving essay by Brian Doyle, "Leap," which he wrote in honor of the 200+ people who jumped to their deaths on the morning of 9/11. The fall lasted 10 seconds, and according to USA Today, and "they struck the ground at just less than 150 miles per hour — not fast enough to cause unconsciousness while falling, but fast enough to ensure instant death on impact. People jumped from all four sides of the north tower. They jumped alone, in pairs and in groups."

Doyle lost three friends in 9/11, and he still gets emotional when he talks about it or reads this gorgeous, moving piece.


 Leap, by Brian Doyle
 
A couple leaped from the south tower, hand in hand. They reached for each other and their hands met and they jumped.

Jennifer Brickhouse saw them falling, hand in hand.

Many people jumped. Perhaps hundreds. No one knows. They struck the pavement with such force that there was a pink mist in the air. The mayor reported the mist.

A kindergarten boy who saw people falling in flames told his teacher that the birds were on fire. She ran with him on her shoulders out of the ashes.

Tiffany Keeling saw fireballs falling that she later realized were people. Jennifer Griffin saw people falling and wept as she told the story. Niko Winstral saw people free-falling backwards with their hands out, like they were parachuting. Joe Duncan on his roof on Duane Street looked up and saw people jumping. Henry Weintraub saw people "leaping as they flew out." John Carson saw six people fall, "falling over themselves, falling, they were somersaulting." Steve Miller saw people jumping from a thousand feet in the air. Kirk Kjeldsen saw people flailing on the way down, people lining up and jumping, "too many people falling." Jane Tedder saw people leaping and the sight haunts her at night. Steve Tamas counted fourteen people jumping and then he stopped counting. Stuart DeHann saw one woman's dress billowing as she fell, and he saw a shirtless man falling end over end, and he too saw the couple leaping hand in hand.

Several pedestrians were killed by people falling from the sky. A fireman was killed by a body falling from the sky.

But he reached for her hand and she reached for his hand and they leaped out the window holding hands.

I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead and the harrowed families of the dead and the screaming souls of the murderers but I keep coming back to his hand and her hand nestled in each other with such extraordinary ordinary succinct ancient naked stunning perfect simple ferocious love.

Their hands reaching and joining are the most powerful prayer I can imagine, the most eloquent, the most graceful. It is everything that we are capable of against horror and loss and death.

It is what makes me believe that we are not craven fools and charlatans to believe in God, to believe that human beings have greatness and holiness within them like seeds that open only under great fires, to believe that some unimaginable essence of who we are persists past the dissolution of what we were, to believe against such evil hourly evidence that love is why we are here.

No one knows who they were: husband and wife, lovers, dear friends, colleagues, strangers thrown together at the window there at the lip of hell.

Maybe they didn't even reach for each other consciously, maybe it was instinctive, a reflex, as they both decided at the same time to take two running steps and jump out the shattered window, but they did reach for each other, and they held on tight, and leaped, and fell endlessly into the smoking canyon, at two hundred miles an hour, falling so far and so fast that they would have blacked out before they hit the pavement near Liberty Street so hard that there was a pink mist in the air.

Jennifer Brickhouse saw them holding hands, and Stuart DeHann saw them holding hands, and I hold onto that.
Artwork by Kathleen Borkowski
*Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

K: Kindergarten Boy Who Asked Me, How Do You Manage to Get So Many Words on a Single Page of Your Book, Mister?


Here's to the honesty, logic, and sheer wonder of children!

Prayer for the Kindergarten Boy Who Asked Me, How Do You Manage to Get So Many Words on a Single Page of Your Book, Mister?

First of all I thought my head was going to fly off with joy, and then I had to resist the urge to bend down and hug this kid so hard his eyes would gog out, and then I had to explain to him and his classmates how I write books, which is that I write really big sentences and then a tiny lady inside my computer converts them to little lines that will fit on the pages of printed books, and then I had to explain that I was just kidding,

and then my hour in their classroom drew to a close, and they signed autographs for me, and I signed one child's hand, to general merriment,
My youngest in kindergarten, 2012

and then we took a class picture and I got them to pretend to pick their noses just before the teacher took our photograph, which we all thought was funny but she didn't, and I drove home.

But on the way home I thought for the one-millionth time that I am the luckiest man ever because the Breath Who Dreamed Everything into Being gave me three children of my own, and many thousands of children of my own who came from people other than my lovely bride, and not for the first time and not for the last I concluded that little kids are the coolest things in the whole world, even better than beer and sneakers and osprey. And so: amen.

Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

Friday, April 10, 2015

J: Jorge Mario Bergoglio



In other words, Pope Francis. At the same book festival where I heard Brian Doyle speak, journalist Paul Vallely gave the keynote address. Vallely wrote the first in-depth book on Jorge Mario Bergoglio, called Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, after traveling to Argentina to interview those who knew him well. I learned that Pope Francis experienced a transformation as a young man: he began as an arrogant, dictatorial leader who was also extremely conservative. I'm interested in reading the book.

He's far from perfect--he's still a Catholic priest with a huge woman problem--but he's a vast improvement over Pope Benedict, and he's also taken the Catholic church further in the past two years than in my entire lifetime!

So here's to Pope Francis, gradually trying to turn the great behemoth that is the Catholic church around...I wish him luck!

Prayer of Intercession for Jorge Mario Bergoglio

Lord, thanks first of all for the humility of the guy. Any guy who says who am I to judge? is a guy with his head on straight, a guy who gets it that whatever you are absolutely arrogantly sure of you ought not to be, and that You are the only One who is absolutely sure about things; the rest of us muddle along, dimly shuffling toward the light, mostly.

And a guy who is suspicious of power and wealth and its trappings and prisons--that's a good guy. A guy who when asked who he is says first I am a sinner--that's a guy with his ego in proportion to his confidence.

A guy who quietly turns the ship back toward its original destination, dealing with the broken Christ in every single one of us, rather than continuing along with power and pronouncements--that's a good guy.

A prayer for the peace and health of the man, that slimeballs addicted to power and money don't drag him down. A prayer for him that he continues to foment a quiet revolution against wealth and power and arrogance and lies. A prayer that he remembers it's all about kids and the Church ought to be ashamed to its bones for the rest of its life on earth for kids being raped in its house and men lying about it for years afterward.

A prayer that he never gets cocky and always remembers we are a cult of countercultural revolutionaries, agents for life, agents for crazy hope, agents for resurrections in this life, in our hearts and marriages and families and friendships.

A prayer that he steers us ever away from being a huge corporation and ever back to the motley community of believers in the defiantly unreasonable and illogical and nonsensical. Keep Your hand on this guy, please Lord?

Protect him from his enemies, and help him quietly gather us back together in work that matters, not in silly arguments. And so: amen.

Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

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