Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy 8th



To my son Tommy,

Happy birthday, my son! Eight years old. When I look at you I can simultaneously see the child that came before and the man to come, wrapped in the body of an eight year old who is so excited to get older and just happy to be alive and with the ones he loves.

At age eight, your heart is your number one asset. Sure you have your intelligence, and an eagerness to keep learning, and you have your looks (must be from Mommy), and a good sense of humor, and you still have that youthful innocence and a tenacious loyalty to your friends, and you have some crazy dance moves to go with some vocal chops, basically you have the total package that will someday make you quite the catch...but your heart is by far the biggest and best thing that you have. You love deeply. You care sincerely. You cry hard. You laugh loud. You hug tightly. You snuggle softly. Your love, and the love we feel for you, is what helps your mom and I get through each and every day!

With a big heart, comes heartbreak. Even today, on a joyful occasion, you were in tears because you did not know that Sunday's birthday celebration was just planned for family. Your heart broke that all the friends you told could not come. Even though Mommy planned on Red Robin tonight for just us, and perhaps some time with a friend or two tomorrow if it works out, and the Sunday Frazier side small birthday, you were still hurt. It happens.

In the future, hopefully well into the future as you grow, things are going to happen to make your heart hurt even more. Family will pass on. Friends will move on. Promises will be broken. Lovers (well into the future) will leave. You will feel heart broken and curse this big heart of yours for the amount of pain it allows you to feel. You will feel like your biggest asset is your worst weakness. But don't stop loving. It is what makes you, you. Love is the only thing that can mend a heart that was broken with love. But that is in the future. Today, we celebrate and feel the love! So enjoy your cupcakes, however you like!

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

P.S. The dream of having the Red Robin staff sing their birthday song to you, quickly erased any sadness and put an amazingly huge smile on your face!




Saturday, December 31, 2016

That Which Does Not Kill Me



To my son Tommy,

Nietzsche says, "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger." The year 2016 says, "That which did not kill you this year, may have exhausted you enough for the next year to take you out easily!" For it seemed this year did it's darndest to break us. Still as I read back throughout the years on my New Year's eve reflections, it seems many of the years tried their darndest. Still here we are. By the grace of God, here we are, with another year under our belt. And for yet another year, we try to focus less on the struggle but more on those small precious moments that make our heart feel alive. It is difficult to live in what seems a constant state of struggle and still be appreciative of the gifts given. But still we try. And with dubious hope for a smoother year, we find ourselves stepping into the year 2017 with more of a whimper than a declaration saying, "We made it." From the dust of 2016, we hear that one lone weak voice of a friend also saying, "We made it, too. And we are together!" and another and another, loved one and friend, with dry cracking voice from a most trying year, saying "We made it, We're with you." Till hundreds of voices join and amplify this phrase from a whisper to a trumpet blast that defies the struggles of the past. If we think we have to go it alone for the next year with the bruises and wounds of the past, we may not make it. But luckily, we never fight alone.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Miracles

To my son Tommy,

Of course everyone knows the true Christmas miracle that we celebrate, the birth of Christ. Nothing is more personal and nothing can top that, but occasionally during the Christmas season, we receive gifts of precious little miracles that touch our hearts and warm our insides. We received a couple of these extras this year.

Grandpa Leo was not supposed to be home for Christmas. He was supposed to be in a nursing home rehabilitation center after his last seizure on the 15th. For some reason, perhaps through divine providence, he got to the point that he could get himself up and walk enough that we could bring him home and attempt to take care of him here. So we did, and on the 22nd we took him home. So far, so good, though honestly I pray on an hourly schedule for everything to go well with our decision. Strength, endurance, dedication, devotion, compassion, and sweet time... all gifts given to us to keep him here this Christmas season.

On Christmas Day, we received another amazing gift! Your mother woke with no pain in her hip! We have no idea why, we had no idea how long it would last (though this morning her pain has come back), we simply just were so excited for the short lived break. An amazing respite to hopefully energize our faith and hope that this extreme pain that she feels daily, this too shall pass.

And finally, the Friday before Christmas was the last day we saw your eyeglasses. I spent the past few days searching and searching for these lost glasses. I dug down, deep, and I mean really deep, into my soul and summoned the self control and patience and forgiveness needed to keep calm. I remembered back to the first time I lost my glasses for any significant period of time. The fear of God was put into me along with all those unhealthy emotions of despair, and anger, and hopelessness, and sorrow and disappointment for letting my parents down. Of course the first time I lost my glasses was not around Christmas, and with your mother's help and guidance, I did not lose my temper and ruin Christmas for all. But I did keep looking, in nearly every moment of spare time in the house, almost obsessively.  Finally, this morning, it paid off and there, on the blankets on the chest at the foot of your Nana Jeanne's bed, I found your glasses. Surprisingly, as you put them back on your head, you tolerated the staples I used to make sure they would never be lost again. There wasn't as much blood as I thought there would be. I kid. I kid.

So these are a couple of the Christmas miracles we experienced. To many, these are just everyday goings on. They don't see the miraculous. They are those who demand to be awed and treat God as a magician whose job it is to convince them of his power and existence by doing what is not humanly possible. They want to be wowed and expect their rewards to be grandiose beyond their dreams, as if from Aladdin's lamp. Yet I see the awesome every day; I see these miracles every day! They exists in the smallest of actions, the smallest of gifts, the smallest of reprieves, the smallest little touch, and in the smallest gesture of love. I do not need a d jinn to grant me my wildest wish, I need to humble myself and reawaken to all the gifts already given. I realize that I, and my actions, guided by God's hand, might even be an integral part of any miracle for myself or for others.

Appreciate the miraculous every day of your life, my son, and you will realize how blessed of a life you are already living, even when you have lost your glasses and cannot see.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

RollerCoaster of Life



To my son Tommy,

Life, once again, is filled to the brim with comings and goings and joyous events and tragedies. It sure keeps me on my toes. Let's start with some of the bad news.

Thursday the 15th, nearly a week ago, at dinner around 6:30, your Grandpa Leo had a pretty bad seizure. After our initial attempts to break the seizure did not work, we called 911. The EMTs were unsuccessful in breaking the seizure and the hospital finally got him out of it around 9pm. He is still at NorthWest hospital (room 350) though he hasn't had anymore seizures or episodes. Right now, the left side of his body (remember his brain cancer is in the right side of the brain which controls the left side) is still too weak to come home. The CT scan confirmed it wasn't a stroke, but the seizure and the brain tumor progression basically had a similar effect. Right now, we are looking to get him either transferred down to a room in Johns Hopkins (where his insurance covers everything and all his doctors practice) or, if that can't happen, to a rehab center for a week or two to work on regaining strength. Just need him to be able to get up on his own and get to the potty and back in bed. Also, he was supposed to start his home chemo on the 16th but now we are late on that which kind of becomes a catch 22. He needs to get to rehab to get stronger and come home so he can do his chemo, but without the chemo the tumor is actively making him weaker. Hopefully we can work it out.

Now for the joyous occasions. You received the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You were so excited. You were selected (actually volunteered by your mom but that is just semantics) to give the welcome at the podium and nailed it. Such a rock star! You did forget to shut the door to the confessional room before starting your confession, but as proven many times, we Downeys aren't as private as we should be. I also asked if you told the priest that you had missed Mass, to which you replied, "Whoops." I chuckled and reminded you that if you honestly forget to confess a sin or two, they are forgiven as well. You did proudly proclaim, "Now I can go with you to confession every Saturday, dad!" Um, yeah, okay, every Saturday, or every other Saturday, or once a month, or whatever. No, we will try for every Saturday and we won't let your father's lax Catholic ways become an issue for you!

There are so many many more issues and incidents, both good and bad, that are filling our lives. Sometimes it seems we have more of the bad on our plate, but that just means we have to savor the good even more so. That is what life is like right now, anything but boring with an extra side of difficulty balanced by faith. To be honest, I could use some boring and mundane and stable and predictable and non-urgent in our lives right now, but life often finds a way of shaking it up whenever it gets too comfortable. Or perhaps we do it to ourselves. Who knows? But as we approach yet another holiday season, that include the traditional events (Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas day parties) and some not so traditional events like extra visits to a hospital or medical facility, we embrace the bittersweet as we ride the ups and downs on this rollercoaster of an existence. Just remember to love, and see through any pain and tears to the beauty of this gift we call life.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Sabotage By Nature



To my son Tommy,

Vendors that work with my company often take this time of year to send platters of food and desserts as a little thank you for our business. The office and shop flock to the kitchen for the free grub and most everyone is happy. That is all well and good ... unless you were recently diagnosed with diabetes like your old man was. I am currently down to 271.8 lbs (which is only .8 down from last week as I start to plateua) and struggling! More importantly, I still have that sweet tooth and those cookies look so good and my sugars have been averaging 150 but that is usually before meals!

As I sit there mustering my will power as I stared wantingly at the office kitchen table, I pondered the question as to why the human body sabotages itself. In my youth, I was told to work with nature instead of against it. I took that as a steady hard truth to plan every action. Work with nature, ALWAYS! It is easier to roll a rock down the hill than carry it up, right? It took me many years to realize that nature is neutral and you have to pick and choose when to work with it and when to work against it. It took me many years to realize that if you always work with nature, all your rocks are down at the bottom of the hill.

In my predicament today, nature is devastating! Nature, my body, instinct is saying, "GO AHEAD! SUGAR! YEAH SUGAR! EAT! EAT!" It is like the natural order of my biological system is to stock up sugar for the next great depression. My arteries have become a sort of biological prepper-like sugar silo! My own body and mind has revolted against me and I must dig deep down into my soul to resist.

This kind of sabotage extends throughout the human experience. We, as humans, crave what is bad for us. Many will gravitate to a sedentary life. Not good for the body. Many will flock to the most entertaining, but often least challenging, forms of entertainment, Not good for the mind. Many will take personal gain over doing what is right. Not good for the soul. And all this is, at least as I understand it, human nature. Human nature is actually really shallow and hedonistic. Only by holding ourselves above these natural base instincts, can we hope to survive and thrive. Take a walk. Read a book. Do what is right even if it is hard.

So, as you grow and when I inevitably repeat the trite and tell you how it is easier to work with nature than against it, simply ask me, "What if nature is trying to kill you?" then prove your support for the natural way and stop working on whatever project we started, go lay on the couch, and throw on some youtube of pratfalls or something. That will teach me for blindly passing on a cliché like some people repost fake news on social media.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Justice and Fairness Vs Forgiveness and Charity



To my son Tommy,

We have a dilemma. You see, somewhere in your genetic code, deep down in your core values, we have a strong sense of justice and fairness, which seems to stem from your Grandma Roro's blood line. This not necessarily a bad thing except this sense is hampered by self righteous indignation and the willingness to obsess and hold a grudge and a smug certainty of being right that can hinder forgiveness. All this also from Roro's side, but that means it comes to you from me. Which brings us to our current dilemma

The past week at St Agnes, you had a Santa's Workshop. It is an opportunity to buy your own small gifts  for the special people in your life from some (often crafted) items that were donated to the school fundraiser. The gifts range from $1 to $5 each. Not sure how profitable it is for the school, but it really is a great little idea that promotes so much more than profit. Last year I got the little stocking pictured above. Hey it is the thought that counts!

We sent you in with sixty bucks and a list of twelve people to buy for. You were thrifty and spent $33 on gifts and $1 buck on a raffle for yourself. You came home with your gifts and your sealed change envelope and hid them in your room demanding that we don't look. Today, you went through the gifts and wanted to show me what you had gotten your Godmother Aunt Joanna, a gift you are especially proud of. In the interim, you were also proud of your thrift and pulled out your change envelope. You did the math before you opened it and said, I should have $26 change.

Well you opened it and you were ten bucks short. They only gave you $16 change. I just shrugged. This really bothered you and was a direct affront to the aforementioned sense of justice and fairness. I asked if you checked your change, but you quickly pointed out that you weren't allowed to check your change at school, and this was your first chance. You were/are starting to obsess, You were short changed and someone was going to pay and everyone you talk to from now until then will know about it. That is that other stuff I mentioned before kicking in.

Thankfully, from your Grandpa Leo's side, I have learned to temper my need for immediate restitution that requires the wrong doers to publicly shame themselves with a formal allocution of all their errors and how I am right. I have learned to forgive without pointing out how I was wronged. I have learned to think of the bigger picture, like motivations and final effects. I personally still struggle with this as it seems to be contrary to my deep seeded character flaw of needing to be right, but I keep trying. I fail often, but I do recognize and keep trying.

So this is my opportunity to teach you and it is going to be a difficult lesson. I need to teach you that a mistake was made and it was just that, a mistake, nothing malicious or personal like you probably feel right now. I need to teach you that to make a big deal of this would be petty at best. I need to teach you that occasionally you can let people go on a mistake and there isn't a need to correct everyone, even if you were the one short changed. I need to teach you that the lost $10 is going to the exact place that you were supporting with the other $34 and that everything still works out. I need to teach you that a charitable act can extend well past money. I am not sure I will be able to reach you and we may have to compromise on a simple humble note to your teacher pointing out the error but an agreement to forgive and consider the ten bucks as an extra donation.

Learn and practice forgiveness and charity. Allow those traits to trump your sense of justice and fairness often throughout your life. Silently offer up those times in your life where you end up with the short end of the stick. Offer mercy and forgiveness to those who wrong you, even if you question if they deserve it. Give it to them anyway. For there will come an ultimate day in everyone's life where we stand before Him and ask for His great mercy and His great charity. We are not worthy. But He will give it anyway.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo




Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Priorities

To my son Tommy,

By most accounts, at least in the 1st world, our family still has a lot on its plate. From Grandpa Leo's brain cancer, to Grandma Roro's MS and diabetes and heart trouble, to Mommy's bone cancer and crohn's disease and (among other things) a revisit of the hip pain that started the bone surgeries, to my own newly diagnosed diabetes, to your asthma, to selling the old house, and even to Nana Jeanne's age and past medical history, we have plenty to worry about. Life is more about treading water than an Olympic butterfly sprint.

We have gotten fairly good at treading water. Some times we get good enough to have the appearance that everything is hunkie dorie. Sure it was easier when either of your great uncles were around to help, but they have families and responsibilities to them and can't stay with us forever. Plus Grandpa Leo isn't doing chemo and radiation anymore so the transportation burden is definitely been lessened. So I think we are doing okay.

Still, some days are better than others. This was a tough day. The whole downstairs family (you, me, mommy) have gotten ill. You're home from school until Thursday or until your oxygen level in your blood starts naturally saturating at at least 95% because your sinus infection fell down into your chest. You are on some steroids and neb treatments as well as some azithromycin. I am home from work because this sinus cold that I got from you has me wiped out. The doctor gave me a z-pac but basically said going to take a day or two before things get better. The only reason Mommy isn't snuggled up with us right now, she had previous doctor appointments made. She just had an MRI of her hip/pelvis and sure enough she had a reaction to the contrast they used in the MRI. Never had it before but just her luck that she got it today, which delayed her coming home in between her other appointments and made you and I have to run chores together,

So we ran chores, and the first chore was for Daddy to vote. Even as bad as today has been going, there are more important things. Voting is one of them. It would have been easy to skip. I don't think many would have faulted me. Still I had to vote today, it was a moral imperative. I wish I was as smart as your Mommy and voted during the early voting period, but I didn't. So on the way to my doctor, we stopped by and voted. You were all worried because I have been explaining the election process and the voting system and the age requirements, and of course you were not 18 when you accompanied me to the voting table. You even hid the sticker they gave me and I handed to you, worried that you were rigging the election in some way.

Remember, no matter how bad life gets, there are things you still must do. Voting is one of the major players in our civic duty, but there are even more important things still that happen each and every week as opposed to an occasional event that happens once or twice every two years or so. Going to church, telling your mom you love her, doing your best, getting an education, being honest, and being kind are just a couple things that come to mind as the most important things to do no matter what your current lot in life is, even beyond voting though voting goes hand in hand . This, this cold, this horrible election... this too shall pass...and then we will be left with how well we lived, what we did when the chips were stacked against us.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo