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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Permanently Changed

To my son Tommy,

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the stillborn birth of your brother Sal. We are also a couple days away from your mom's second surgery for bone cancer (or as we say to you 'bugs in the bones' because we don't want to use the "C" word with you) and hope this one is the fix. The nexus of these two has made for a little perfect storm of dread, and sadness, and depression, and anxiousness in both me and your mother. You, except for a couple out of the blue comments about baby Sal, are somewhat blissfully unaware.

They say time will make it better. I am not too sure of that. The sadness might change with my perspective as I get older, but the sadness is deep and complete. What I am sure is that baby Sal permanently changed me and your mom. A little piece of our heart is always with our littlest angel. He visits in our minds at the most unexpected times, sometimes consuming our thoughts and dreams. He has brought me tears just standing in a grocery line or staring at a computer screen at work.

Daily drama and small setbacks don't even come close to compare. What was once "tragic" before seems almost trivial now that we have experienced personal tragedy in a truer sense. I look in the mirror with disdain if I say "Why does something always happen to us? Can't anything go right!" and curse my self pity for some minor event.

To those who say to move on, I say I will always be his daddy. Your mom will always be his mommy. You will always be his big brother. Nothing changes that, not even moving on. I can't forget it and I can't ignore it and I choose not to hide it. But what works for me may not work for those others who have felt the unwelcomed comradery of this certain type of grief.

So as we deal with the real concerns of life, the sadness from our loss and the anxious concerns for your mom and her pending surgery, we use the only tools we have in our limited arsenal. We use hugs and prayers and love and faith, no matter how shaken it has become.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Just Keep Swimming



To my son Tommy,

Though I have not been inspired to write, or perhaps been too tired and beat down by this world of ours, time continues to march on. You continue to grow so fast. Be it by your newly found swimming confidence, or your new responsibility as a key owning resident of our house, or just your ability to understand the world in your own unique way, I am proud and amazed as how you are growing. The voices in my head just keep whispering, "Don't blink, you may miss it"

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tricks

To my son Tommy,

When you are seven, every new skill is a "trick". Recently, you have taken to reading nursery rhymes aloud for our entertainment. You have a book of about two hundred rhymes, even though there are less than a half dozen you focus on. Any reading is good reading in my humble opinion, so you could read the same rhyme over and over again to me and I'll still manage to smile. The other day, as you were reading to your mom, you got frustrated because you couldn't find one of your favorite rhymes.

Me: "Use the table of contents trick,"
You: "Oh yeah! Here it is! Humpty Dumpty on page 252"

Using the table of contents is more of a learned skill rather than a trick, but when you are seven everything is magic and new. 

Your old man and mom are learning new tricks as we settle into the new norm that we will have to deal with for the next two months of recovery. We got the medication timing down using containers and an ice cube tray for overflow. We got alarms galore set as reminders. We even got through a shower last night using plastic bags for cover and a shower chair and a ton of tricky maneuvers and shower head hand offs. Still, these are all in the realm of tricks until we become more adept at their execution.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Time



To my son Tommy,

They say time heals all. Well I hope time works quickly with your mom home from her bone cancer surgery. As for you, you spent your time today, with Bwama watching over your mom, making new Lego ships. Whatever helps pass the time quickly.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Hand On Your Shoulder



To my son Tommy,

I come from a long family history with its fair share of anger, violence, stubborn righteousness, and grudge holding. 

There are newspaper stories in our ancestry files of a triple great (or there abouts) grandmother shooting a cop with a shotgun and being found not guilty because she was pregnant and Irish and the cop deserved it. 

Your Grandpa Leo believes that many people in this world deserve a good set of knuckles to the nose, or a swift kick to the nuts, or at least a good piddle on their shoes... and that is on the tame side. If he really has his ire up, your grandpa reverts back to his military training and starts suggesting sniper rifles and mortar fire.

To this day, if the family buys something from Sears, we have to hide the bags and destroy the receipt. You see they screwed over your Grandma Roro back in 1977 or so when she ordered something from their catalog when the family was stationed at an army base in Germany (not sure if it was Butzbach or Hanau). That is a grudge held for almost a half a century now.

And you have already noticed your old man's temper, I am sure. So when you grow up you will hear stories about yours truly and how certain bar customers upset him during his bar tending days. Occasionally, I was unable to fight the family genetic code as I escorted these gentlemen to the door and asked them to never come back again, with my fist.

Even on the X side of the chromosome, there are these tendencies. We can't buy Chic-fil-A because of their politics, unless you dare risk the wrath of your mother. No thank you, she makes Grandpa Leo's mortar fire seem like a less painful alternative! I kid, I kid. Often she is the voice of reason when it comes to conflict and has had a very calming influence to the Downey side.

These are the same traits and tempers that run through your blood. It is a constant challenge to feel God's hand on your shoulder holding you back, from doing something rash and wrong and vengeful but that feels oh so right, and listen to His voice in your head saying, "Yes. I know that guy is a dumbass and deserves everything you are thinking, but he is My dumbass the same as your are mine, and we must show kindness and forgiveness." It is harder than it sounds...especially this week.

You see, after your mother's extremely painful biopsy on Wednesday, where the University of Maryland hospital made us question their competence, we await the results. After hearing the entire story from your mother, which thankfully she was unable to fully relay at the hospital or I would most likely be in jail, they actually did something right and got the biopsy results the next day. I think it was rushed as an olive branch for what they did wrong, but whatever. It should be a good thing to have the biopsy results the next day around 1pm,  right?

Well, unfortunately the orthopedic oncologist and/or his staff didn't react to having the results right away. Instead they started their four day vacation weekend early and perhaps worked only a half day on Thursday. Now we can't even make an appointment to get the results till this upcoming Tuesday. So that puts it Wednesday as the most likely appointment date. At least it is better be Wednesday! I have had the holiday weekend to stew about it. Throw in a trip to the ER for a seizure for your Grandpaon Friday night and a fall he had on Saturday. Let's just say everyone here is on edge; I am on edge. I might miss that hand of God on my shoulder and thus might do something a little more drastic than piddle on their shoes.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo