Convalescence Coalescence

FREEDOM!!!

Disclaimer: Some readers may find today’s post slightly insensitive and/or politically incorrect. Please consult your doctor before reading if you are pregnant, nursing, take heart medication, or in general just have a weak countenance.

When I was in high school, my youth group occasionally served with a convalescent ministry. Basically, we would visit assisted living facilities and meet with the residents. We might sing songs or help serve lunch or something, but mostly, we were there to bring the warmth and kindness of genuine human interaction to those that many in society are comfortable to ignore because they’re kept away in forgotten places.

Believe it or not, these visits were always events of hijinks and hilarity; mischief and mayhem; shenanigans and silliness. Something interesting was always bound to happen.

On one such particular occasion, a friend and I were walking down one of the hallways to find someone to visit with when we heard a call from one of the rooms. A crispy voice implored us to come inside. We turned and looked inside a room with the door wide open to find a petite, elderly woman sitting in a chair. She reached out one feeble hand and with one wrinkled index finger curling in and out, she beckoned us to come inside.

As she was summoning us, she said with a soft, crackled tone, “Come here young man. Come closer. Closer.”

We obeyed. “Yes ma’am, how are you today? Can we help you with anything?”

With sharp, piercing eyes and firm, raspy voice, “Do either of you boys have a pocketknife to cut me out of this chair? I gotta use the bathroom.”

It was then that we realized that she was harnessed into the chair with straps across her lap and torso. I stuttered a reply, “Umm, no ma’am, I’m sorry, but I don’t have a pocketknife. Would you like me to go get a nurse to help…?”

“No!” she exclaimed, quickly cutting me off. “No, no, no. No need for that. Just come here closer. Closer. See if you can loosen these straps for me.”

I cannot justly describe this scenario in words. But the combination of her calculated mannerisms, her menacing tone, and her unblinking stare of death had us terrified. The entire time she smacked her lips as if she was about to savor more than just the sweet taste of freedom from her shackles. Was this a Hansel and Gretel situation? Which was I—Hansel or Gretel?

I can still hear those smacking lips. In my nightmares.

As we spoke, we inched our way methodically backwards. “Sorry ma’am. I think we should get some help…” As soon as we were out of the doorway, we sped down the corridor to find a staff person. When we recounted our encounter with a nurse she coolly stated, “Oh yes, her, don’t worry about her. She’s always trying to escape.”

As odd and as frightening as this incident was, I’ve also found myself inspired by this woman who’s name I never caught. She lived in the moment. She lived with purpose and intention. She had a plan and goal. Many of us are content to live in our self-made prisons and self-locked chains. We’re okay to just let life happen to us and never take charge. We let circumstances define us, sitting in the cuckoo’s nest and never taking a chance to fly. We’re spoon-fed the soylent green of the media. We’re too consumed by our past and too preoccupied with our future that we never truly live in the present. Be thankful for your life. Be thankful for today and the time you have on this cherished earth.

As this elderly woman’s words have lingered over—haunted me—I am motivated to strive to live everyday full and free. Also, if I ever need to live in a nursing home, I’ll be sure to stow away a pocketknife just in case.

“All good things are wild and free.” – Henry David Thoreau

Shirt Tags Are—Just the Worst

Once a week, I sit down at my home desk and contemplate the cosmos. I make odd observations about life, our world, and society. Usually, these musings turn into me just complaining about random nonsense as I shout into the empty, dark void of the Internet. Anyone unfortunate enough to be exposed to my various virtual ventilations has unbeknownst to them become a small part of my self-medicated, self-therapy sessions.

Do you remember how shirts used to have these really annoying and itchy tags in the back of the collar until someone realized that they could just print the same information directly into the fabric? Yeah, those were awful. But do you know what’s worse than having a hideous tag scratching the back of your neck all day? Having an infuriating tag cutting into the side of your abdomen all day.

Seriously, who thinks that these terrible torso tags are any better than the collar tags of lore? At least before, the aggravation was symmetrical. Now my burden to bear is isolated to one side. It makes me think of what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he bemoaned his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Are these thorns in the side some corporate conspiracy to make consumers constantly anxious and agitated so we’ll waste more money on buying their stuff?

Do you have a prickly, tickly life-tag in your side that just won’t go away? Sometimes we can cut them out without doing any harm. Other times, we just have to carry on and let it make us stronger. Either way, my hope is that we can all find contentment in whatever cotton-picking, irritating circumstances we find ourselves in.

But for real, why do we even need the tags sewn into the shirts? Are they really necessary? A shirt tag, regardless of its size, shape, structure, location, affinity, denomination, etc., would still be a horrible shirt tag. Let’s just get rid of those dreadful things.

For the 2020 presidential election, I’ll be running on the sole campaign platform of abolishing shirt tags. Let the people be free. Let the shirts be tagless! See you at the polls: Finanigans 2020.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. – Viktor E. Frankl

Row-Row-Row Your Boat (as retold by Dr. Fin)

Yo, look at me Jack! I’m on top of the world y’all!

Once upon a time…

Some pushy, bossy coxswain ordered me to “Row, row, row your boat! Row it now, but gently down this stream!”

And I was like, “I don’t even have a boat… How am I supposed to row gently and joyfully and peacefully, when you’re barking out orders like I’m training for Brown University’s rowing team? And what stream, you bald mongoose posing as a ship captain?”

I was so confused on so many levels.

And then, merrily,-merrily-merrily, I realized it was all just a dream.

If today you feel life is too demanding—like some inescapably irritating middle-schooler taunting and droning like a broken record-player, “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you. I know you are but what am I?”—then simply say, “Row your own dirty boat!” When life gives you lemons… take those lemons and squirt that acidic juice right into life’s corneas, and say “Get out of here! No one asked for these disgusting, sour citrus balls! What’s with this sassy, lost child?

Know your limits. Learn to say no. It’s ok, you don’t have to do everything. Not even Superman can prevent tax season. You can’t throw a life preserver out to someone in the ocean if you’re also out in the water drowning. [Insert other pithy axioms here.]

Also, why would someone row anyways? We’ve got speed boats with engines. Better yet, I’ll just drive across the bridge. No need to risk getting wet. I feel much better now. Sometimes you just need to vent a little bit. What a therapeutic exercise this was!

Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life. – Brian Andreas

The Grrreat Tiger Theory

I recently saw a trailer for the upcoming Mister Rogers movie starring Tom Hanks. So. Super. Stoked. That man was and still is a national treasure. God bless Mister Rogers, his soft-spoken, stoic, cerebrally strange puppets and all those sweaters.

If you haven’t kept up with the man’s legacy, then you’re missing out. In our home, we watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Ya can keep your over-produced, premium-subscription, serialized dramas. Give me big-eyed, silly, anthropomorphized animals in wool cardigans anytime.

And look, here’s the thing: Daniel Tiger is a veritable genius. Throughout history, humanity is gifted these truly remarkable people that change the course of society. Leonardo da Vinci… Galileo Galilei… Isaac Newton… Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart… Albert Einstein… Daniel Tiger (I apologize for only listing white Western men… and one oversized kitty). It’s like the great man (person) theory that proposes most of history can be understood and explained by the significant impact of highly influential individuals—great people.

Not that I give a tremendous amount of credence to that theory but let me just share some tiger wisdom with you today. Allow me to drop some truth bombs into your brain cavity. Keep in mind that these are all meant to be sung with a little jingle:

“Keep trying, you’ll get better! Try, try, try!”

“It’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Little by little, you’ll feel better again!”

“When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath—and count to four. One, two, three, four.”

And of course:

“When you have to go potty STOP, and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way!”

There’s a little song solution for every life situation. All throughout the day, my family is singing these little melodies to help us get through the grind and struggles.

So, when you’re facing today’s trials and attempting to navigate the winding labyrinth and corridors of life: take a moment, take a breath, and sing a little ditty. It’s not if these things happen; it’s when. Take a lesson from our furry feline friend Daniel Tiger. Keep trying, never quit. Believe in yourself. Learn to regulate your emotions. Don’t poop in your pants—that one’s especially important. And please, would we, could we all just be neighbors?

“Ugga Mugga. – Daniel Tiger”

Finley Walker

For Whom the Belt Tolls

I hate belts. If you know me, if you really know me, then you know this about me. I only wear belts if it’s absolutely necessary. Why do we do this to ourselves? In the name of fashion? It’s a noose for your hips; a tourniquet on your waist restricting the blood flow to the lower extremities. When I’m forced to wear a belt, I feel like my body has been sentenced to death by prolonged hanging and strangulation.

On that note, I hate buttons and fasteners and zippers too—anything that makes my pants a fixed, stagnant size. I am, after all, still a growing boy. I may be done growing vertically, but I’m certainly still growing horizontally, especially in parenthood, and so, I need some extra growing room. In fact, there are many days when a pair of pants may fit me in the morning but become too small after the spontaneous buffet luncheon. To my wife’s chagrin, I am often secretly not even wearing my trousers buttoned. I just allow the organic tension and traction of my gut to secure the pants to my bum. And when we’re at home… forget about it, all bets are off—belts are off.

This is why I was so excited when elastic waistbands came back into fashion. Elastic hasn’t been in style since I was about five-years-old. But they’re so much better, literally. The only thing that could be better than elastic waistbands is no waistbands. Bring back long tunics and casual cassocks for the common people. Way more practical and efficient.

Seriously, it doesn’t make any sense. The force of gravity is constantly trying to pull your pants down, and what do we do? We try to unnaturally fabricate a futile denim infrastructure to rebel against the laws of physics. Let’s just design better clothes. If it were socially acceptable, I would simply cut out a head hole in the middle of my bedsheet and wear that as a kind of minimalist poncho. It’s super economical. Plus, I’d be ready to take a nap anywhere. It’s like a Snuggie, but better.

So, I say, if life’s got you in a stranglehold, if you feel like the breath is being choked out of you by seemingly random and arbitrary circumstances and social norms, then I say, release those bonds! Let every chain be broken. Cast off all that hinders, entangles, and ensnares. Like a Greek athlete of antiquity who competed completely butt-naked, lay aside every weight and encumbrance, and run with endurance the race set before you (Hebrew 12:1)!

Well… Maybe keep some clothes on. I’m not a nudist, just prejudice against the pant patriarchy.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friends’ were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

Falling with Style

The first time I went skiing was also my last. It was a youth group ski trip. Cliché, I know. And yes, this is another story of me nearly dying in (West Virginia). I’ve never been very adept at those balance and coordination-type activities. Also, who came up with skiing in the first place? Oh, I know, here’s a great idea: why don’t we lock and strangle our ankles to these impractically large planks and then zoom down these snow-covered deathtrap hills while holding treacherous pointy spears?

I didn’t even own any snow gear, so I had to borrow a hodgepodge of items from several people. My outfit included the brightest-luminescent-yellow-green snow pants you’ve ever seen. I looked like some kind of road hazard sign out on the slopes. People actively avoided me—I assume because they thought I was letting visitors know which parts of the ski slope were closed for maintenance. Do they have slope maintenance? Do janitors mop hilltops?

One of my friends, who was far more experienced in this sadistic sport, graciously took me under his wing. He tried to teach me the ropes. Then he just left me to hang myself with the rope. Clearly, I was a lost cause. I guess they call it the bunny slope because a cluster of bunnies had all gathered around to watch in curiosity and delight at the giant lime puff flailing about in the snow. After practicing my face plants a few hundred times (my nose felt like the forgotten popsicle left in the back of the freezer after last summer’s cookout) we decided it was time for me to try skiing, or belly-sliding, down one of the actual slopes.

We navigated our way onto the lift, and then my friend told me where to descend. He explained that I was getting off on the easy, beginner slope, while he was going to go to a more advanced one. “Here Finley, this is a green circle slope so you should be fine.” I’m sure you can guess where this is going. It wasn’t a green circle. It was a black diamond. I must have gone down the wrong side or something. I don’t know why they put those mountains so close to each other. And I thought going down was supposed to be the easy part.

I quickly realized that this whole skiing thing wasn’t going to work. I wouldn’t survive. So I changed techniques and just allowed myself to roll down the mountainside like a neon cream puff which was discarded into the garbage after melting at the church potluck picnic. I felt the embarrassment of a snow owl turn its bulbous eyes away in shame at the sight as I bounced and thrashed and floundered my way to the bottom.

I was a cold, lonely tumbleweed blowing in the wind.

Later, my friend confessed that he realized his mistake and was genuinely worried about me. He thought I died and was asking everyone if they had seen a guy who looked like an intoxicated Elton John impersonator hanging off a cliff.

Sometimes, life can be unexpectedly challenging. Perhaps you too have found yourself standing on the precipice of a black diamond slope and staring into the belly of the beast. You didn’t choose these circumstances, but here you are, and now you must decide: do I take a leap of faith and venture out into the abyss, or do I plop down on my bum and make snow angels until I die of exposure to the elements?

Choices. All you can do is choose how to respond to life. If you can’t ski down the mountain, then slide. If you can’t slide, then stroll. If you can’t stroll, then roll and tumble. Just keep going. You’ll make it, and you’ll be better for it.

As for me, next time I’m going tubing. Sounds more my speed since I can sit the whole time. I have this life dream of eating a donut while sitting in a rubber donut tube and being pulled around by a snowmobile doing donuts. Dream big.

If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward. – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Noodle Polish

We tried out a new Japanese restaurant this past week. Perhaps I should say faux American-Japanese because we all know it’s not really what they eat in Japan. In fact, one time when we had a foreign exchange student from Japan visiting he really wanted to go to an American-Japanese restaurant because he couldn’t get that kind of food back home. But that’s another story.

This story. This story is about the creative depths of a toddler that transcend all logic and known knowledge about the universe and reality.

As we finished our teriyaki chicken and soba noodles, our pint-sized person was displaying some particularly peculiar behavior. She selected a pristine and perfect noodle of choice, and she delicately dipped the noddle into teriyaki sauce. Then she methodically and artfully began to paint her nails with the gluten string and black goo. And I thought I had years before I had to worry about my rebellious teenage daughter with her black nail polish, gothic “nobody-understands-me” phase.

Yes, after completing her meal, our toddler had decided to treat herself to a little spa day right there in her highchair. I was equally bewildered by her creativity, mesmerized by her skill, and proud of her proclivity to repurpose and recycle. Reduce that carbon footprint y’all.

I was also curious as to whether we could start a business and market this new product. They make edible arrangements and even edible underwear. So why not edible nail polish? Especially for young kids—they always be chewing on their germ-infested fingers anyways.

So, as you get ready for the day, ready to face the world and its judgments, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Express yourself girlfriend! Boyfriends too! Let your imagination empower you to stand against challenges with courage and creativity. You do you because what the world needs is more people who are actual real people and not the fabricated façades that we manufacture in response to social media, pop culture, and peer pressure. In other words, don’t pretend to be Japanese chicken when you’re really from Salisbury, Maryland. Is the chicken local? How local? Can I get some basic background information and family history? Were they a graduate of Purdue Perdue U?

This world is but a canvas to our imagination. – Henry David Thoreau