Wednesday, March 20, 2013

In a Better Place
That’s where people go when they die. At least that’s what most people say about someone who has passed on, “they’re in a better place.” From my Christian perspective, I know it’s true but that doesn’t make me feel any better. Does it for anyone? It doesn’t relieve the reality that my loved one is gone from life on this earth. However many years that I have left here, I will never see that person again. Never hear that distinct voice. Never again see old eyes crinkled shut in laughter with tears of mirth trickling at the corners.
My mother died this past Saturday. Though she had been in a nursing home for several years and appeared to have no clue that I was even in this world, I knew where she was and that she was still drawing breath. She was alive and there was still the faintest possibility that she might surface from that haze brought on by Alzheimer’s. In my mind, there was that minute hope that she might open her eyes and recognize me and in that hope that I might have one last opportunity to say I love you. I tried to get to her before that last moment. My brother had called me to say the care staff wasn’t giving her much longer but that she would be with us a few more days. As I made the seven hour trip to be with her, he called again to say that she wouldn’t make it through the day. The rest of that trip I drove at speeds that would have ended in arrest had I been caught. I wanted so much to be there with her at the end, holding her hand as she passed from this life to the next. Closure to a long illness, I suppose. Maybe, if she had any awareness, that she might take comfort knowing her son, who loved her so much, was with her at the end. Maybe in my subconscious, there was some selfish part of me that wanted see if there was a brief glimpse of heaven in that physical connection as she moved on. I hope she saw light. I hope there was an angel there to take her by the hand and lead her to it. I guess that I’ll never know. I was about an hour too late.
I got to see my mother when she was at the funeral home. After we had taken care of the business of death, they dressed her and put her in the casket. It seemed odd that the woman who raised me, cared for me and loved me didn’t much resemble the person lying in that box. Her physical structure had deteriorated quite a bit while in the nursing home and it was obvious how frail she had become. I guess it was the makeup they put on her at the end. There were no wrinkles, no age spots, and no marks of time that the joys and sorrows of life leave on a person. It was almost as if they had placed a store mannequin that looked a little bit like my mother, in that box. I will say that she appeared to be at peace. Almost as if, she was just sleeping.
The service at her long time church was nice. Pastor Caldwell preached words designed to lift us up and give us hope in the eternal peace that is my mother’s rest. A man sang How Great Thou Art with power and feeling. In all, I felt good about her passing. She was old and tired and ready, of that I am sure. I shed no tears through all of this until I witnessed the hearse rolling slowly into the cemetery. It occurred to me that this was mother’s last ride and tears welled up in my eyes. The physical reality that she would be in the cold earth, never again to be seen in this world.
I have brothers and sisters. I have family. I do not discount the love and comfort we can take in each other. I am not alone in this world. Even still, I cannot seem to shake the feeling that I am an orphan. The loss of my mother seems great to me. I don’t know why it should but it does none the less. The range of emotions that I have felt in the last week seems odd to me. At first there was sadness. Then, resignation and joy for my mother in her passing, she is in a better place. I went back to work and pressed on but I notice that I’m still sad and a little angry. The sadness I understand but not the anger. I’m just ill with people now. I want to be alone now more than ever. I guess these things pass in time. I suppose mourning isn’t something that just comes and goes in a few days.
Honestly, I’m not so sure that any of us will ever be quite the same again. How can we be when a part of who we are has died? I feel changed in some way. I just hope that I have the strength and courage to make that change into something positive during the rest of my time, here on earth.
Rest in peace Mother.
We all love you.

Monday, August 29, 2011

57 Channels

As time goes by and I find myself watching more TV than ever before, that old song from 1992 starts buzzing in my brain. I think Bruce Springsteen had more in mind than just television but it’s there and for me, it’s just as relevant almost 20 years later. 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On). I’ve got over 200 channels I guess and it strikes me that just like then, there’s nothin’ on. The same movies over and over, reruns of old shows that include sitcoms, westerns, dramas, cooking, traveling and shows that want me to discover something or learn the history of something. To be fair there are some programs that are new to me. I’d wager that you have seen them though and once I’ve taken it all in, well, I’ve seen it too. While pointing a finger at the rest of the world, I’m also pointing at myself when I say that in my considered estimation, television entertainment makes for a shallow view of life. Really, have you seen some of those reality shows? While I admit I’ve enjoyed watching those men catch crab in the Bering Sea and guys into survival how about nasty tempered housewives and odd folk from the Jersey coast? Of what personal, human value is there in watching people bicker, scheme, connive and back stab each other over who can make the best food the fastest, for example? Are we such simple minded, consistent voyeurs that by our very action we stimulate the networks to bring more and more of that type drivel into our hearts and minds? I’m not a big sports fan but that actually seems somewhat real to me and the players at least treat each other with some reasonable degree of respect. You know, I can’t help but believe that television has played a major part in the dumbing down of the world’s population.

Today, in my job, I found myself in a building with a library. After all of my work was completed, I took part of my lunch hour to just walk around in there a bit. I used to visit the library often. In fact, up until just a few years ago, I always had at least one book going and often times 2 or 3. I’ve always thought it so amazing that a person had enough imagination to create a work of fiction. The complexity of the characters, the interaction of persons and events, the total absorption of my entire self in the plot is a far cry from whether it’s raining in Philadelphia or the supposed humor of 2 and a half other people. Of course, not all stories are good ones or ones that hold our interest but given a chance, most have something of value to say at some point. Take for instance The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. The story line was interesting but for the life of me I couldn’t get past a couple hundred pages. On the other hand, nearly everything I’ve read by James Michener held me captivated until the end. I have loved J.R.R. Tolkien and Clive Cussler. In my opinion, everyone should read The Eight by Katherine Neville and in this economically perilous time, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. These and many others help us grow and develop character. Most set the bar for a higher standard of what is morally and ethically right as human beings. How thoughtful, reflective, introspective were the authors that wrote these books.

As I browsed around in the stacks of books, it occurred to me how nice it was to be in a quiet place. Unlike television, the noisy blast that assaults you from start to finish with its constant interruptions of thin plot by 5 to 15 commercial advertisements, I had time to think. The heart, thoughts and life experience of all those authors surrounded me. The books don’t really call out to me. They just sit there quietly on their shelves, offering something that perhaps I don’t have. It could be insight or love or hope or some great expectation. An invitation to retreat from this hectic rat race of a world we live in, a chance to be at peace for a time.

I asked the librarian if she had a book I’ve been interested in reading, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Henry Miller. She looked in her computer but couldn’t find it. Though I know pretty much all library catalogs are in a computer data base now, I kind of had a nostalgic twinge for an old card catalog. I remember when the librarian in my small grade school first showed me how to use the Dewey Decimal System and introduced me to the card catalog. What a marvelous thing it was to me, how to keep track of so many books. Nonetheless, the lady today was very nice and very helpful. It made me wonder what kind of stuff such a person is made of, to devote their careers to such a thing. I guess she was a good example of one who has a vocation that is also their avocation.

As I was leaving, walking slowly toward the entrance, I thought of all those books and what they might have to say to me and to mankind as a whole. Another song came to mind that I thought was appropriate for the library, Kashmir by Led Zeppelin.

“Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face, stars fill my dreams,
I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been,
To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen,
They talk of days for which they sit and wait, all will be revealed”.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Prayer and The Patch

All of my adult life I’ve been a smoker. That is, until recently. I suppose no one really knows what single thing brings them to the place where they want to give up that comforting habit. All of us know that it’s bad for our health. We all realize that it makes our breath, clothes, cars and homes stink and if we are honest with ourselves, have to admit that it is a hassle. Especially in this day and age, relegated to very inconvenient smoking areas and the ever increasing financial price one has to pay to feed that addiction. The last month or so before I actually decided that I’d had enough I really became aware of how it made my chest hurt when I inhaled the smoke. At night when I turned off the light and settled to sleep, I had to cough a bit before I could drift off, just to clear things out so I could breath. In the past I had, like most people, tried to quit numerous times but never seemed to make it more than a day or so. When I made the decision to quit this year, I knew that I wanted to but I had this distinct sense of fear that I would fail yet again. Fear seems like an odd thing to experience, looking back at it. I guess it may stem from a self awareness that I don’t personally have the strength of will to give up a habit that I have nurtured for close to forty years. Truth be told, I didn’t have much faith in myself that I would follow through with the decision. Somewhere in that jumble of thoughts and doubts I was having in the week prior to my quit day I did seem to have some moments of clarity that brought me to a place where I could take those first few steps.

More than anything else I had the distinct sensation that God was speaking to me softly and quietly, telling me that He would give me strength. That still, small voice urging me to trust Him and lean on Him. It is as if He knows how weak I really am and that He is encouraging me to believe that I can and will quit smoking because He is there holding me up. I remembered that my oldest brother quit smoking after so many years. I asked him how he did it and his answer was that he asked God to take that taste away from him and that God did so. Others have told me the same thing when I asked them how they quit. Exactly the same answer. I do not believe that God loves me any less than those people. Despite my continual faithlessness, I have been trusting Him to help me with overcoming this addiction and as in all things, He is faithful to me. I wonder if He becomes weary with hearing the same prayers, day in and day out, “please give me the strength of will to not smoke any more”? It’s almost like a chant. Every day I’ve had to ask for help in resisting the temptation. The odd thing is that somewhere in my heart I seem to have this quiet assurance that He does not weary of it. He is happy because I do realize that I am too weak to do it on my own, that I do need His help and power to get past this thing that is bad for me. The Bible says that the body is the temple of His spirit. Maybe He is joyous that I have, at long last, matured enough to understand this simple fact. In that case maybe the repetitive, nearly incessant prayers asking for strength are a sort of praise and not so much a burden to Him.

You know, I’ve had lots of people in my life try to encourage me to quit smoking. My former spouse tried for all the time we were married to convince me to quit. One of my friends from long ago quit smoking after he started coughing up blood and tried to get me to follow his lead. My lady friend now has been talking to me about it for almost four years. None of that really meant anything to me. I have in the past thought to myself that I should quit for my kid’s sake. Possibly for the sake of grand children that might someday come. One thing I came to realize though is that you can’t quit for another person. You can only quit for yourself, whatever the motivation might be. I just know that I don’t want it anymore. I just know that I want my heavenly Father to be proud of me. I’ve just come to understand that this biological shell that my spirit dwells within is a gift from God and that I need to be a better steward of it. There is one person that said something to me a while back though that did have an impact on how I started to think about my smoking habit. I get a physical every year in the month of May. This past visit my doctor asked me if I had quit smoking yet. When I told him no, he just nonchalantly said “well, don’t worry about it, you’ll quit when you get that triple bypass”, and moved on to other topics regarding my health. He didn’t chide me, nag me or berate me; he just made that simple comment, like it was a footnote of my life. It’s funny (odd) how notes in the margin of a story can have such an impact on the depth of that story. The truth is that most of us don’t take the time or expend the energy to notice that small detail.

One thing I was kind of worried about when I decided, in earnest, to give up cigarettes was the impact I would inevitably have on the people around me in my daily existence. You see, my job has me working in the public venue where people are the customers of the company I work for. I knew in advance that I would be “difficult” to deal with without the steady infusion of the chemicals my body was accustomed to receiving from the cigarettes. A quick search on the internet will reveal that there are over 4000 chemicals in that form of tobacco and at least 50 are known carcinogens that can cause cancer. Nicotine is the one substance that is addictive though and therefore the one that I knew that I’d have to deal with. That’s where the patch came into play for me. I’ve tried using them in past attempts to quit but during those times my mind and, more importantly, my heart were not in the right place with regard to my addiction. Though I believe God will give me the strength to not smoke, the truth of the matter is that I have been a smoker by choice nearly all of my life and there are consequences to the choices we make. In this case, it’s one of withdrawal from an addictive substance, something that I’ve just had to deal with in a physical sense. Nicotine patches are not the cure for smoking. I have been using them from day one and though they will take the edge off one’s irritability itch, I’ve still had to pray and control myself. I’ve had to be responsible for the consequences of a lifelong bad decision. As time has passed my little addiction rages have become less and less. Yes, there were days in the beginning when I’d be in an angry, out of sorts state for hours at a time, usually in the afternoon. My days would start out ok but as the stress of the work day accumulated I seemed to reach a breaking point at about 2pm. I did notice a shift after a few weeks though and now I don’t have the “little spells” anymore. Mostly it’s just psychological now. Some movement or activity that my mind recollects as an opportune time to light up comes to me out of nowhere. It passes though, in a moment. I have to remind myself that “I don’t smoke anymore”.

In the end I’d like to ask that if you can, be patient with that friend or loved one that is addicted to smoking. That person has to come to terms with it in their own way. That person most probably knows how bad it is for them. That person very likely wants to quit but quite possible fears failure, as I did. It’s hard having to face the withdrawal and deal with it. Tell them what little story of someone’s success that you can. Love them and encourage them but please don’t nag or berate them. In my mind there is no better recipe for success than realizing that we are weak creatures and that we can call on our heavenly Father for strength and that He will listen and hold us up. If using the nicotine patch or nicotine gum or nicotine lozenges helps take the edge of the withdrawal then by all means use them. They’re cheaper than cigarettes anyway and you’ll only have to use them for a season.

In the end of this, I cannot describe to you how good it feels to no longer be a slave to tobacco. I just wish that I had come to this place sooner. Better late than never I suppose.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Simple Pleasures

It’s amazing what our world offers us these days. If you think about it for a few moments and compare the lives we live in 2011 to those of the 1700’s, just 300 years, the difference is like night and day. The odd thing is, the more we have the less satisfied we seem to be. Look around you and see all of the conveniences in your life. Is there not enough? Maybe we have all become pawns of Madison Avenue, being told on a continual basis that what we have is not good enough, fast enough or shiny enough. Have we been brainwashed by the advertising agencies of manufactures hoping to make a bigger profit than last quarter? Is it the void that all people feel, looking for things to fill it? Lost souls that refuse the grace of God believing that the acquisition of stuff will make them whole? Sometimes I wonder how far we can go in life, with this prevailing attitude of our society, before it crashes in around us. Does being dissatisfied with the material things in our lives lead to dissatisfaction with marriages, relationships, good jobs and the like? Bad decisions brought on by influences that we don’t really understand. I have looked at the grass across the fence and thought it beautiful. The sad truth is though, once there, I found roots rotted and merely a fa├žade of green. Most of the time one looks back with regret and notices that the original patch of ground held its own beauty and comfort. Surely we can step back across the fence and rejoin a simpler yet more wholesome existence. In the movie Lonesome Dove, Gus tells the girl Lorie “the only healthy way to live life is to learn to like all the little everyday things, like a sip of good whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, a glass of buttermilk or a feisty old gentleman like myself”. I believe old Gus was on to something there. It’s like a book that I used to read to my children, Simple Pictures Are Best. I think simple pleasures are best too.

I suppose that I came to this notion recently while taking a shower. Do you ever think about the shower? How wonderful that thing is. When I have worked outside in the sweltering heat, it washes away the sweat and grime of the day. It cools my body and makes me feel whole. For a time, the cares of this world wash away down the drain. When its cold out, the hot water and steam bring such comfort that it is hard to describe. Pulling the curtain closed, surrounded by that warmth it’s almost as if I’ve reentered the womb, comfortable and secure. In my mind, there’s not a thing in the world that can top a good shower. I certainly wouldn’t replace it with money, prestige or power. Can you imagine what someone from the 1700’s would have thought of this modern convenience? I suppose many people went weeks and possibly months without the opportunity to get themselves really clean. Ever hear of that old adage, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”? To top it all off, we get to dry ourselves with thick, rough towels that stimulate the skin, possibly warm, just out of the dryer. This all goes without really speaking much of toothbrushes, floss and deodorant. The honest truth is that in this fast paced world, we take such things for granted, not giving them a second thought. I would venture to say that our ancestors would scorn us to shame for the irreverence we display at such a simple yet marvelous advent in human living. Some days I just know that I can’t go out there and do it. That is until I take that shower. The world, and my life, seems to be a little brighter afterward and I find myself heading out the door.

When I was a child I lived next door to my grandfather. His house was actually an old mess hall for Confederate officers, Civil War era. The house had electricity but did not have any indoor plumbing. There was a well outside that we drew water from. This was used for drinking, cooking, bathing and washing clothes. Have you ever used a ringer washer? It was a pretty amazing contraption for its time. It was however, kind of labor intensive to use. Compare that to what we use today. Put in the soap, put in the clothes, turn the knob and voila! Clean clothes. I wonder how many people that are adults, in this world today, have had to hang out clothes on a line to dry as a matter of necessity? My grandfather had a chamber pot in his bedroom. He called it a slop jar but I can imagine how nice it must have been when faced with the prospect of putting one’s clothes on in the middle of the night to trudge out to the outhouse. We wake in the middle of the night and feel our way down the hall to the bathroom, do our business and flush. We don’t have to be concerned with “throwing out the slop” in the morning. We do this in a temperature controlled environment in our bare feet and undies and are not concerned about the possibility of snakes or spiders. If we need the light, we flip the switch. We don’t have to search for the flashlight or light an oil lamp. Talk about convenience. I’d bet Colonial Americans would have thought it pretty cool.

You know there are other things in life that that could, in truth, bring us great joy and peace. When you get into your car and drive down the road are you not constantly amazed at the miracle of the automobile? I suspect that most of the people on this planet take a conveyance like the car, truck, motorcycle, whatever for granted as well. Think for a minute of how long it would have taken someone in the 1700’s to travel 70 miles. It takes us one hour and that seems an inconvenience to us. Aside from the lust for “more”, the problem I see is that we are moving so fast with so many things on our minds and so many distractions that we fail to notice or appreciate these things. Driving to work one morning last week, I was taken by how aggressive and determined most of the drivers really are. In that morning commute, people are trying to get ahead at all costs even if it means reckless behavior at 75mph. It’s as if there is an unwritten rule that cutting your neighbor off is ok if it lands you in front. Is this a consequence of the desire to acquire more stuff? Is this attitude of our society the reason we don’t or can’t appreciate the simple pleasures in our lives? Maybe it stems from the perspective that “it’s all about me”. I don’t see how anyone can appreciate something simple and pleasurable that potentially does good for all when they are so wrapped up in themselves.

Yesterday, I was pushing a cart through a local big box store when a man turns the corner and pushes his cart toward me. In his cart sat a little girl who, in a sudden burst of energy, enthusiasm and excitement says “daddy, daddy, stop right here, there it is!”. I was amazed at her open expression of innocent exuberance. It made me laugh out loud. The dad looked at me and he laughed as well. It was a beautiful, simple thing that lifted my spirit. It reinforced my understanding that simple pleasures are best. That experience was, in a word, priceless. You couldn’t buy that. You couldn’t coerce, manipulate or abuse someone to get it. It was openly and freely there and I noticed and it made me happy. Really there are many things that we take for granted but if we will take the time to appreciate them for the wonderful things they are in our lives, we can become better people for it. More balanced. Happier.

A kind word. A smile. Understanding. Compassion. Love. A warm bed. A hot meal. Rain. Sunshine. Good health. A good friend. A good book. A good movie.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Child Care

When I was sixteen years old I knew what I wanted to do in life, in a general sense. Fundamentally, I wanted to be a husband and father. Looking back on that time, it seems odd that a young man should want such a thing. That was me though. I have no idea what motivated my desire for this, I just seemed to know as if that one thing was the strongest, most consistent chord in my being. As if, that was to be my purpose in life. I even remember praying to God about it one day when I was about nineteen. Though I had been raised in a somewhat Christian home, I didn’t really live my life that way. I was out on my own and basically living wild but that longing just never seemed to subside. I felt that if I presented this to God, he would hear me and it would come to pass. Within weeks I met the girl that became my wife and though she did not want to have children at first, by the time our marriage ended we had lots of kids, much more than most other couples. So, in the end, it all came to pass. I had become a husband and father.

Many of you have children and know what joy it can be to nurture and raise them. Sometimes it is sweet and sometimes bitter sweet. It helps us to grow personally and lets us see that there are some things larger and more important than ourselves. You sacrifice your own desires in anticipation of seeing your child’s hopes and dreams realized. You teach them the best that you know how and hope that some of it sticks. As they get older, you watch in sadness as they grow away from you. It seems that no matter how often you write letters to them, call them on the phone or send them e-mail, that effort to communicate is merely entering the void. Sometimes, it seems as if you don’t even exist to them anymore. It makes me wonder how consistent I was in communicating with my parents at that age.

Regardless of how they may feel about their parents once they’ve grown, I have noticed one consistent thing about my kids as they have become adults. They are more than willing to communicate when they need help with something. From comfort to money, a roof over their heads, co-signing for a loan or rescue from a bad situation brought on by a poor decision. Though they may have friends to call on, the truth in most cases is that the friends are as ill equipped to solve the problem as they are. The answer is almost invariably dad or mom. I don’t mean to deride the children for this. I am actually quite thankful for the opportunity to help them. If helping them in a situation that they have lost control of is the only way I’m likely to have any kind of meaningful relationship with them, I welcome it. As an added benefit, it allows me to continue that education/learning process, even if it is abbreviated and even if there isn’t much time.

Recently, I had an opportunity with my oldest daughter. She lives in another state and called me the Monday before Thanksgiving with tears in her voice. Her only vehicle was broken and she had nowhere else to turn but me. I had two days off that week and told her not to worry, that I would be there on Wednesday morning. Now, I have a good job that pays well but to be honest, there is never much discretionary income in my life. Since I know a good deal about cars and what it takes to keep them running, I knew this was going to be expensive. It didn’t matter to me though. All part of that “sacrificing your own desires” sort of thing. If you’ve made up your mind that you would die for your children then nothing material could ever present a real problem in helping one of them. To be truthful, I was looking forward to seeing her, helping her and in my innermost heart, being a hero to my little girl again. As an aging parent with grown children, I don’t know if there is any other way to reestablish that bond that I still feel but suspect that they do not even think about anymore.

I did get to her and helped her work out an acceptable solution to the car problem. If you have ever done any auto type work then you’ll understand that what seems straight forward on the face of something can sometimes turn into a nightmare of extra expense, labor and time. Since I had limited time and finances, I was praying that all would go smoothly and efficiently. The morning I arrived was cold and I didn’t have any thermals to wear so instead of buying parts and getting started at the outset, I went to a local store to get some warmer clothes. Just as I pulled back into the lot where she broke down, I got a call from her. A friend had an old Toyota truck that she would be willing to give my daughter if we could get it started. Well, it did start and with a few minor parts runs like a dream. The emergency car repair of Thanksgiving 2010 had gone in a direction that none of us expected. I like to think that God does answer prayers and it seems that he does move in mysterious ways. Her main vehicle still needs to be repaired but I think that it can wait for a bit now. I’ll head back up there one day soon and get that straight for her.

When everything was said and done my reward was the genuine hug I got from one of my children. Her face buried in my chest telling me softly “I love you dad. Thank you for coming to help me”. The tension I felt in her when I first got there was gone. Her shoulders felt relaxed and relieved, the immediate burden lifted. I’ll take that any day. As I got into my vehicle for the long drive back to here she was already planning her day’s activities and moving on with her life. I guess that’s just the way it is. Until next time.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Road Trip

It was that time of year again. I had been waiting for twelve long months. Suffering through the heat of what seemed like an endless summer and numerous reasons why I should take off from work. It takes a certain amount of discipline to be faithful to your plan, for a good vacation. Sometimes, it felt as if I were gritting my teeth against the burden of work and the world, pushing on through a storm of adverse things toward a light in the distance. Often I had to stop and remind myself to be patient. Thinking about what it would be like in October, I could see myself doing the things that made me feel a little free. The mornings would be crisper and cooler. The air would smell cleaner and would be filled with the scent of changed leaves. Autumn signals such a significant turn for me. The rush is over. It’s a time to breathe a sigh of relief and reflect on life. A prelude to the stillness and quietness of winter. God only knows what that says about my character and personality. In all truth, I long for autumn (and winter) and mourn its departure. To me, it feels like love and peace and happiness. It’s as if I am being folded back into the arms of protection and grace. The fullness of life pushed into a few months time.

The day finally came. We packed, slept and then hit the road. I think that any long drive is worth the time when you know what waits for you at the end. The mountains of North Carolina are only seven hours from where I live. I was on my way home. Though I’m sure that I appeared to be the same old guy in the process of travel, in my heart I was happy. Just the thought of being at a higher altitude, surrounded by the hills and trees makes my soul feel lighter. Last year I was sick with a cold but this time I felt right as rain. The weather was supposed to be nice and like a child, I could barely wait to be outside in it. I’d been planning a different hiking route than I took the past year and was looking forward to the challenge and change of perspective on the mountain. Funny how, after so many years of not hiking, that this renewed interest still brings me such joy. I can’t help but to say though that while hitting a trail with a friend is great, sometimes it’s so much more pleasant to keep your own company up there.

One of the great things about the folks we visit is that they have what’s called an outdoor room. To me, it’s beautifully made and has a very nice fireplace. Since the elevation there is about four thousand feet, it’s very cool in the mornings. What a treat to sit in front of a roaring fire and drink coffee as day breaks. It’s not terribly uncommon to see deer and turkey walk past and if there is no such excitement, the wind in the trees and the falling leaves are good enough. I honestly believe that I could live in that environment for the rest of my life. Sometimes I think what a shame it is that working at a job has to get in the way of such things. I believe that we are all better off being productive with our hands but somehow I’ve got this notion that I could find things to keep myself busy that would meld better with that environment.

I did get to go on my hike. Six miles that was, at times, a fairly rough go. There were places where it was nearly vertical and really, hand over hand. The mountain has in-place ladders in spots that some brave soul hauled the lumber up there for and built on site. There are also steel cables in places where I had to traverse and one would be unwise to ignore using them for support. Didn’t get to see the Peregrine Falcons that are nesting in the area but the NC park service advises not to disturb them so I didn’t pry. I will say however that the view from the top was really quite awe inspiring. Miles and miles of unobstructed view of the Blue Ridge, like waves in a great ocean caught still in time. Elevation at that point was over a mile high and the air was noticeably thinner. By the time I got to the top, I had started to sweat in my layers and considered peeling some of the clothes off. It’s when I came over the last rock crest that I caught the chill wind blowing, about twenty miles per hour up that north face. A quick change of heart had me considering the jacket inside the pack. Judging by the dwarf, stunted trees all growing with the wind, I suppose it blows like that most of the year up there. I didn’t really think that I would see anyone else on the trail that morning. Surprisingly, I did meet some very nice folks while eating my lunch. A father and daughter. A young man and his girl. A pastor and one of his church members. I spoke with them all and took away some small part of their lives with me down the trail. What wonderful interactions they were. All in all it was about seven hours of hiking time and for me, time well spent. Though I enjoyed the entire trip on the trail, I always feel a little bit of loss when in the exit mode. I think it’s just because I don’t want to come down. Somehow, I think God’s creation must know if we appreciate what we have in it. As I rested on the tailgate of my truck at the end of a wonderful day, a beautiful butterfly landed on my pants leg and just rested there for a long time. Maybe he was just moseying around looking for something edible but I didn’t want to see it that way. I wanted to think he felt connected to me in some way. We are all God’s creatures on this earth together.

Another benefit of my trip this year is that my oldest daughter now lives in the mountains of North Carolina. She moved there about a year ago and has been asking when I could come up to see her. For the last five years my family has been fractured. I don’t really get to see my kids often. Now that the children are getting older, some have moved off to other places. It was fortunate for me that my oldest daughter lives near where I was staying. I had not seen her in quite some time and it gave me such joy to hold her in my arms and say I love you and say that I have missed you. She is quite the girl, that one. Beautiful, strong and independent would a good description. Fragile in some ways though, considering all of our family circumstances. She led us on a little four wheeling expedition and that was fun. Helping her move to a new place and just spending time together was one of the most heart lifting things I’ve done in a long time.

Now that I’m back in my day to day world it makes me sigh. Sort of an empty longing for things I can’t have yet. It makes working and living here hard some days. When you know what life can be, living with what you have right now seems to lack the luster of what you hope for. I don’t mean to say that my life here in this place does not have promise and hope, it does. It just requires an adjustment to one’s perspective to see the joy that can be. I shouldn’t complain, I have a pretty good life by comparison to some. The Lord takes care of and is good to me. I’m carrying that hope though. The one that takes me home to the mountains and my daughter.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Computer Woes

I’m an electronics technician by vocation. That’s what I was trained to be, by the US Navy. I worked in that field for the best part of my adult life and have experience in a fairly broad area of applications. I did not however, have a natural aptitude for it and had to work at learning basic and advance concepts and how to apply them to my world. As the years rolled by and I grew into some maturity, I actually began to feel quite comfortable working in the ether of electronics theory. Once the mystery of how the physics worked was resolved in my mind and how to use the myriad pieces of test equipment to analyze something that was broken, I did feel rather comfortable with the medium. We harness the power of the atom in vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes, resistors, capacitors, boiling them all down into integrated circuits and controlling it all with various voltage levels. Amazing stuff that the casual user takes for granted. Most people don’t understand how it all works and couldn’t care less as long as the thing comes on and does what we want when the power button is pressed. When it breaks, especially in this consumer driven “want it to work right now” world that we live in, most folks will just buy a new one. For me though, I can’t bring myself to discard something that probably just needs a little help. It was apparent to me that I needed to apply some of the training I’d been blessed with and the natural tendency to fix things I’d been born with to bring my computer back to life.

Along the way, during my electronics education, I did receive instruction in computer operation and maintenance. Most of what I learned though was archaic by today’s standards and had entirely different purposes than what the average pc is used for today. None the less, I felt more than equipped to deal with a dead pc when mine bit the dust recently. I mean let’s face it; it’s just a little box that sits on your desk and does not appear very intimidating. I’ve repaired and made functional radios, tactical air navigation devices, control panels, radar, electronic countermeasures systems, etc. I can handle this, even without test equipment. Since any documentation for a computer that you buy off the shelf these days has virtually zero information on repair I realized that I’d have to search the web for some lead that would set me off in the right direction. I plugged in my problem to search engines and did find some useful info here and there but without fail, every thread that would have led me to a solution just stopped at some point without an answer. Others with pc troubles that queried those threads evidently resolved their issue at some point and left the discussion without revealing what their problem was and how they solved it.

I had by this point opened the case and looked for the blatant blown something or other but there was nothing obvious. The best I could determine with a volt/ohm meter, the operating voltages seemed to be there. Nothing smelled or looked fried. Even when I thought about what had actually happened the day it died there didn’t seem to be any reason for it to stop working. The only thing I could think of that may have contributed to this predicament was that my house air conditioner had been on the fritz for a couple of weeks. Heat can definitely cause problems like this. Considering what might be the fastest way to get computing again, the quick answer was to start swapping parts until something changed. That may sound good initially but I did not have spare parts and trying to live life within my means, throwing money at it just wasn’t an option. I knew that I’d have to replace something but that little voice in my head kept repeating, in an ancient Chinese accent “choose wisely grasshopper”. I suppose that some machines have lots of stuff in the case but once I’d had a gander inside mine I realized there really isn’t much in there. Since my computer wouldn’t power on at all, I figured the drives were probably ok and that my trouble was with one of three things, the power supply, the motherboard or the microprocessor which sits on the motherboard. The processor fan did come on every time I pushed the power switch but nothing else would run. That motherboard is the conduit for all things that go on in a computer. I decided that would be my first move. That’s when I started to visit some of the web sites that sell all things pc.

A couple of major players in the build it yourself or buy your own parts to repair are newegg and tigerdirect. If you’ve never visited these people you would be amazed at the overwhelming array of choices they offer. I looked for days at all manner of motherboards and when I did finally choose one I can honestly say that it wasn’t because I knew that this particular device would be best suited for me. I did, by this time, have a fundamental understanding of what I was looking at and what it would do but in the end based my decision on two things, price and consumer ratings. When you’re faced with how many ram slots, ddr2 or ddr3, various i/o configurations, pci, pci16, form factors and the like it starts to become a maze and you’re left wondering and wavering in your decision. When it came to my home I was pretty excited and very expectant that I’d be up and surfing again in short order. Wrong. I still had the exact same problem. I talked to my best friend about it. She said “I think it’s the power supply”. Once I had made the decision to try that, I had this dawning realization that I was probably going to end up spending about as much to fix this thing as I would to just buy another low end pc like the one I had. The thing is though that another off the shelf, inexpensive computer could easily present the same problems that I have now, a year from now. Besides, there’s all that trashy software that manufactures load on those things that are just memory hogs and annoying at best. That’s when I rationalized a new case. Better cooling for sure and if the microprocessor was still ok then it would definitely need better cooling so a little cooling tower for the big chip would be in order. Going to need a couple of tools and I’m going to need a wireless mouse. Once you get going…….. So, the power supply comes along with the other items. Again I’m excited and spend an evening putting it all together. Does it work at last? No. That leaves me with one last option. I don’t really want to replace the processor but I start studying them feeling that it will probably be inevitable. I think what convinced me that it couldn’t be anything but that is a web site I stumbled upon that was obviously put together by the coolest computer geek that I’ve ever met. This guy laid out so much information in such a clear and concise manner that I immediately understood what had happened and why my computer was behaving the way it was. Wonderful. When I started looking for a replacement brain chip I was again overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities and ultimately called the manufacturer of my motherboard for advice. Nice guy that gave me a little advice on suitable replacement and some info on the board bios. I got the part, put it in the machine and voila! My hard drive booted, the monitor lit up and after some tweaking with drivers, all was well. I’m still amazed every time I push that power switch on my new Cooler Master case.

Really, it was a pretty interesting experience. I learned a lot about how these things we so readily take for granted work and what can be done to resolve problems that arise when they don’t. Though I’ve always had a passing interest in the mechanics of how a pc works, I’ve never had a real need to actually get in there and deal with it on this level. To tell you the truth, I enjoyed it very much. I’ve even started to read e-zines and magazines on hardware and software. When the cash is available, I may just rebuild the old machine that I had and give it to one of my kids. Hummmmm……..maybe a gaming computer?