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Friday, May 30, 2014

Burning Down the House, Well Almost...

It was you!...
One of the issues that my wife and I are finding very challenging in raising our children, in recent months (maybe years), is instilling in them a sense of responsibility for their actions. 

Whether its failing to flush the toilet (which is one of my pet peeves!), or leaving a glass of water or open bag of chips on the living room coffee table or making a category 5 hurricane mess in their room (usually my son), they're like, "It wasn't me!" and point the finger at each other like Donald Sutherland in the last scene of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  (Dating myself, again, I know)

Maybe, it's the culture we live in; nobody wants to take responsibility!  We exist in a society where politicians are busier blaming the opposing party than trying to solve societal problems, where more babies are born out of wedlock than ever before, where couples are getting divorced instead to trying to work through their problems, even when children are involved (In fact, some even going into marriages thinking that if it doesn't work out, they can get divorced!), and where kids are watching their divorced or never-married parents live, as if they are teenagers themselves; dating and partying as they did in high school and college.  It's like we're living in The Hangover generation.

In any case, to get off the soap box and continue with the task of dating myself, in the Talking Heads' 1983 hit, "Burning Down the House," singer/song writer David Byrne said he basically threw a mishmash of phrases that fit the music together and came away with the lyrics for the song.

Well, I felt like I was searching for the true meaning behind those irrelevant lyrics on Sunday, as I tried to figure out from my "I-don't-know" "It-wasn't-me" finger-pointing children, how our kitchen garbage can burst into flames and almost burned our house down! 

It was like pulling teeth, which ironically our oldest daughter is still recovering from having her four wisdom teeth pulled last Friday!

So, this is what happened; it was a beautiful afternoon in South Florida, the sun was shining, birds were singing and squirrels were running up and down our backyard avocado tree.  You couldn't have asked for better weather on a Memorial Day Weekend, marking the unofficial start of summer. 

The Mrs. and I were using the lazy afternoon to paint our detached garage, which used to be my dark green man's cave when we first got married, before it became the salmon-colored kids' playroom and now we are transforming it into an elegant blue-grey family living and hang-out area. 

All of a sudden, as we were finishing up the final details, our firstborn, who had been relegated to couch and bed rest all weekend after having the surgical procedure and looking like Alvin of Alvin and the Chipmonks, rushed into the room yelling, "Come quickly!  There is smoke coming from the garbage."

I turned into Wile E. Coyote with an Acme rocket under his butt and ran down our patio deck, jumped up the steps leading to the back door, and, as I entered the kitchen, immediately saw the large flames shooting over the granite counter top and out of the lower garbage can cabinet, which was ajar.

My daughter and wife ran past me, as I yelled at them to get out of the house and call 9-1-1. 

Not having much time to think but just react, I noticed a flower vase next to the sink, quickly filled it with water and started pouring it on the flames, which were overwhelming at first.

While my family ran out the front door, I felt the chemicals of the burning plastic and intense heat penetrate my lungs, as I gasped for air, and the fire on my skin, even as I tried to keep my distance.

It was a frantic several minutes.  I knew that if I didn't quench it quickly, it would spread through our wooden cabinets and possibly grow out of control.  So, I kept filling the vase and pouring water. (No, we don't have a fire extinguisher!)

Fortunately, after about five or six vases full of water, I was able to extinguish it.  I continued throwing water in and around the cabinet to make sure that all the hot spots were out as well.  It was a mess.

I then went outside to join my family and again asked my kids what they had thrown in the garbage (figuring the little ones were making popcorn in the microwave or something they weren't supposed to and something went awry).  They each went into a public denial with the conviction of Lance Armstrong, even after years of circulating rumors of illegal doping, as the fire fighters, inspectors and police arrived.

According to our 13-year-old daughter, she was in the bathroom when she smelled the smoke, went to the kitchen and noticed it was coming from the garbage.  Our 9-year-old daughter said she was in our bedroom watching TV and our 6-year-old son was in his room playing with his knights.  I knew someone knew what had happened but no one wanted to take responsibility.

I turned my attention to the police and firemen and led them inside the house and into our kitchen.  They made sure the fire was completely out, dismantled the burned plastic garbage can, pulled out the silverware drawer above it, which had collapsed, cleaned up the water all over the floor and told us there was no electrical damage and that it had to have been started by something thrown into the garbage can.  One of the men said, "I'll leave it to you to investigate."

Oh, great, I thought, I'll have to deal with the Hatfields and McCoys waiting outside to get to the bottom of this; not exactly the most forthcoming bunch!

After the emergency team left, nobody wanted to talk.  They stuck by their guns, despite my wife and I insisting that someone had to have thrown something in the garbage.  Like the unflushed toilet or the empty beer bottle on the living room table (oh wait, that was me!), no one did anything or knew what happened.  It was like they all turned into Colonel Schultz of Hogan's Heroes, who would say, "I know nothing.  I see nothing.  I hear nothing.  I was not even here..." 

When we went to dinner that night, I called a grace period and said no one was going to get in trouble or punished if they told us what had happened and we would forgive them on the spot.  We just wanted to know what happened.

It was then that my oldest daughter finally said that "the only thing" she did was to try to heat "one" chicken nugget in the microwave.  One chicken nugget?  Really?  Not even she believed what she  said.  Realizing her gaff, she quickly changed it to a hand towel that she was trying to heat to apply on her swelling. 

She said when she took the towel out, it had a hole in it so she discarded it but insisted she didn't know what happened, was in the bathroom when the fire started and therefore, obviously, refused to own up or show any remorse whatsoever.

It was like Adam and Eve when caught by God after eating from the Tree of Good and Evil but blamed each other and the serpent for their disobedience, instead of taking responsibility, repenting and asking for forgiveness.  I guess it's been part of human nature ever since! 

Needless to say, my wife and I got very upset.  Not because of what happened, or what could have happened, but because there was no sense of blame, no mea culpa!  Therefore, instead of kicking her out of the Garden of Eden (and that's not to say, our home is paradise; far from it!), we took her phone, which, at this point in her life, is probably as monumental!

However, several days later, after talking to a co-worker, who had a similar incident with a towel and her microwave which burned a huge hole on a patio chair, I realized there may have been truth in what my daughter claimed after all.

We thought she had just freaked out when the towel caught fire, threw it in the garbage can and was afraid to admit what she did.  But, maybe, she did see the hole in the towel, she threw it out (not noticing it was was still hot) and left the kitchen.  Several minutes later she smelled the smoke, saw it was coming from the garbage and ran outside to get us.

Obviously, as parents, we forgave.  Hopefully, the incident served a purpose in teaching our kids the dangers of fire and, with a little maturity, they will eventually also learn about humility and the importance of taking responsibility for their actions.

Actually, it's a lesson we could all learn to do a little better.  Thanks God for Confession!...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Did Somebody Say Zumba?...

Looks like fun but I don't have baggy dance pants...
A friend of mine once told me that I had a funny perspective on life and I told him that, it wasn't that I had such a funny perspective, it was that I lived a funny life.

Case in point was several months ago when our modest Coral Gables Old Spanish style house went from an average young Cuban-American household, with lots of love, faith, joy, food and yelling (did I mention we were Cuban?) to a private dance studio with dancers (aka my wife, younger daughter and sometimes even my son, yikes!) gyrating hips and shoulders, leg kicks and stretches, funky baggy pants and Pitbull and company on speakers in the background!   

As some of you may know, my wife is a bit of an overachiever.  She not only works full-time as a personal assistance to a lawyer, runs marathons and competes in Super Spartan races, but she is a part-time realtor, operates her own translation company, sells Avon on the side, chairs our kids' school's yearly fund-raising gala and is a wife and mom.  And, if that wasn't enough, she decided to become a Zumba instructor on a whim! (Kind of makes you wonder why she gets so upset when I'm sitting on the couch doing nothing, right?)   

Well, as it turns out, our daughters' dance teacher was looking for someone to teach a Zumba class and my wife volunteered; despite never having taught one before!  She's started several days later.

So, as I sat there on a Saturday afternoon, trying to meditate and getting mentally prepared to lector at a Vigil Mass (I'm like an old Luke Skywalker that needs deep focus to find "The Force"), she was in our living room with the my younger daughter dancing, selecting music and choreographing steps for her first class. (Our older daughter, like me, wants nothing to do with it!)

Since then, life has never been the same.  She got licensed and certified, has been teaching several times per week, including private classes with some of the school moms, and our living room, dining room and kitchen are where the cumbia, salsa, merengue and reggaeton magic happen, as she prepares. (It's like living with my personal fly-girl, "Yani from the Block") 

So, it's not that I'm trying to be funny when I tell my friends stories or write blogs about my life, it's that life at the Espinosas can be quite amusing at times!...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Mayor, Morality and Pontius Pilate...

Pontius Pilate...
“The refusal to take sides on great moral issues is itself a decision. It is a silent acquiescence to evil. The tragedy of our time is that those who still believe in honesty lack fire and conviction, while those who believe in dishonesty are full of passionate conviction.” -- Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

Somebody should have told Pontius Pilate!

As some of you know, in my day job (which my wife would argue is my only job, since I spend too much time on the couch when I'm home!),  I work as a news editorial manager at a local television station, where, among other things, I help shape the content of our newscasts. 

For the past several months, we have invited different "newsmakers" to our newsroom to meet the staff and talk about relevant issues that they deal with in their respective fields.

We recently had a local mayor at our station, who shared his perspectives on what it's like to govern a large and complex government body and some of the challenges he faces in doing so.

At one point, the mayor was asked about the moral and legal dichotomy of dealing with entities and businesses, who may be circumventing the law through shady operations but are legally allowed to bid and attain government contracts.

The mayor thought for a minute and then made a curious statement.  He said, "What is moral is subject to debate but what is legal is not." 

I noticed an awestruck reaction by a couple of our staffers, including one who asked him to repeat it so he could write it down.

I too wrote it down but it was for a different reason.  There was something innately wrong with his claim but I couldn't quite place it right away.  I spent the remainder of the meeting wrestling with the answer.

It soon came to me.  It was laced with a sense of moral relativism that has become all too familiar in the mindset of many in our society.

Pope Benedict once wrote, "We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate standard consists solely of one's own ego and desire."

I'm not suggesting the mayor was being egocentric but his answer seems to indicate the prevailing influence of the culture, which promotes that one man's truth is equal to that of another when it comes to morality and everyone decides on that morality, according to their personal perspective on life.   

These really tick me off...
It's like the old "coexist" bumper stickers you see on cars, which basically says there is no absolute truth and each person's religion is the same as any other.

Now, if morality is debatable then so is right and wrong, good and evil, and fair and unfair.

Moreover, as I told a co-worker who agreed with the mayor, if morality is open to debate, and trumped by the rule of law, then the Nazis rounding up the Jews in Hitler's Germany and putting them to death in concentration camps was totally acceptable, since it was legal, as would be the capture, imprisonment and trade of black males, rounded up in Africa and sold as slaves in the U.S.

Or how about starvation of millions for the "common good," as Stalin did in Russia, or rape, murder and torture; are these also moraly debatable?

Most of us would agree, no matter what side of the political spectrum we call home or faith background, that there are definite truths that transcend personal opinion.

Pilate himself wrestled with this moral dilemma when he asked, "What is truth?," as he considered the fate of an innocent man, whose enemies wanted crucified.

Furthermore, even if morality were debatable, there would have to be a definite moral standard or truth that we could all agree on, or what would be the purpose of debating in the first place?

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Quarreling (aka debating) means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong.  And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football."

Therefore, despite the mayor's catchy quote, which captured the imagination of many in the room, morality is not debatable and trying to justify one's actions by it's legal implications or pressure being applied is like Pontius Pilate washing his hands and letting the innocent man die because of the unruly crowd. 

Fulton Sheen said it best, "Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong. Right is right, even if nobody is right."...

Saturday, May 3, 2014

If Good Men Do Nothing...

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." 

--Edmund Burke, statesman, author, philosopher, orator and political theorist, who served in the House of Commons in England and was an influential political figure and thinker in the latter part of the 18th Century.  Although, officially an Anglican, the Irish-born Burke was raised in a religiously divided home; his father, an Anglican, and his mother and sister, Roman Catholics.  Having later married a Roman Catholic, some questioned whether his leanings were partial to Rome, at a time when Catholics could not attend certain schools that he attended, practice law, as his father did, or serve in the British Parliament.  In any case, he was distinguished for his support of the American Revolution and his later opposition to the French Revolution.  While praised by both liberals and conservatives, he is often viewed the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.