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Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: Tears, Terror and the Times of Our Lives...

What a year...
For better or worse, depending on your perspective, 2016 was one of the most remarkable years, at least, in recent memory.

It was the year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series after a 108-year drought.

The year that Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro finally died (at the age of ninety, mind you!), in probably the most anticipated deaths in history, especially among Miami's Cuban exiles community, which I am a part of.  It took fifty-seven years for it to happen!

And, it was the year, the least-likely presidential candidate, Donald Trump, a man with no political experience ever, was elected President of the United States; after polls showed him trailing by double figures as late as a month before the election. No presidential candidate had ever overcome that type of deficit in U.S. history.  And, that was all in November!

As a TV news professional, for me, it was an exhausting month; long hours at work, lots of logistical and special coverage planning, continuous live coverage and far too many meals in the newsroom. In fact, the elections, its fallout and death of Castro, which carried us into December felt like a real-life version of Pulp Fiction, only we didn't have Harvey Keitel to clean up the mess!

Aside from President Obama's visit to Cuba in March, which was a big deal for all the local stations, especially mine, which caters to a Spanish-speaking and mostly Cuban-American audience, and this marked the first time an American President set foot on the island nation since 1928, the latter half of the year was when it really got busy.

It started with the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando in June, followed by shocking death of Marlins baseball star Jose Fernandez in a boating accident in September, then Hurricane Matthew threatened South Florida.  Finally, there was November, which, while the Cubs were not something we covered extensively, Castro's death and Trump's win were.

By the time mid-December came around, we were running on fumes.

Winston in black.  Dante in gold...
On a personal level, we had a banner year at the Espinosa home-front.  We made an addition to the family in March; adopting an energetic terrier mix, who we named Dante, fitting for this high strung ball of fur that drove me crazy during his first several months with us.  He couldn't control his bowels and bladder.  But, he grew into probably the most lovable and affectionate member of our family.

We also took several trips this year; our annual family vacation to Sanibel Island in July, which has been an ongoing week-long getaway for my wife's family for the past forty years, give or take a few, and includes extended family and lifelong friends.

My wife and I also took the kids to New Orleans to celebrate our younger daughter's twelfth birthday in September.  We had taken our oldest daughter to New York City in 2013. Now, our nine-year-old son wants to go to San Francisco or Honolulu for his 12th!  We're going to need to start saving for that one!

We also traveled to Orlando for the girls' national dance competition in July, which after years of succeeding, took a turn for the worse this time, after several of the studio's top dancers broke off to start their own studio.  Let's just say, I lived the Dance Moms drama with my wife and daughters every night in the flesh!

Another highlight, albeit a bit melancholy, was our oldest daughter singing the National Anthem with her school choir at a Miami Marlins v. New York Mets game in September.  The New Yorkers are her, my son and my favorite team.  However, it happened to fall on the same night the Marlins were playing their first game after the Fernandez tragedy!  The girls were visibly shaken after singing by the emotionally charged pre-game ceremony.

Still, some lows included the deaths of a good friend due to cancer, which consumed him in three short months, and of our station's longtime anchorman (over thirty-five years to be exact), who was a beloved and respected figure by most of the staff, and I had the privilege of working with for eighteen years.  He was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis just months after retiring in late 2015 and died in November.

Yet, amidst the sorrows, joy, loss and celebrations, 2016 without a doubt will be a memorable year for me; a year much like Green Day's song, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life); replete with contradiction.

"Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road.  Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go.  So make the best of this test, and don't ask why.  It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time. It's something unpredictable but in the end it's right.  I hope you had the time of your life."

As another year goes by, our kids grow older and the memories we made soon begin to fade, I realize that we have to enjoy the moment for these are the times of our lives.

May 2017 be as memorable...





[photo credit: AP Photo/ Matt Slocum]

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Finding Purpose and Setting the World on Fire...

Setting the world on fire...
St. Catherine of Siena once said, "If you are who God meant you to be, you will set the world on fire."

It was the quote used by the Bishop of London during his sermon at Prince William and Catherine's royal wedding.

For many of us, trying to figure out who we are meant to be can take a lifetime; a lifelong search for purpose.

I remember a time in the early stages of my life, when I thought my purpose was to be a cowboy, before the Ed Bruce song advised moms against it, and after thinking I wanted to be a trapeze artist, inspired by Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis in the movie, Trapeze. Somewhere between cowboy and my illusions of grandeur on a high wire, I also considered the priesthood.  Talk about confusion!

Then, later in my childhood, I thought my purpose was to play professional baseball, only to realize, when I got to high school, that I wasn't going to be setting the world on fire in that role, which coincided with my short endeavor into acting in Mrs. Jones' drama class (which by the way, inspired my younger brother to become an actor, which became what he was meant to be.  He's been acting professionally since 1995!).

Playing Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple, was a revelation.  The attention and undeserved accolades I got in the hallways was like the hypnotizing visible smell of cheese that got Jerry into trouble with Tom in the TV show I would put on in the background, as I napped, after getting home from school before baseball games.  It was only reaffirmed with my roles as Bert Jefferson in The Man Who Came to Dinner, the Chief in Get Smart, Jonathan Harker in Dracula and Earthquake McGoon in Li'l Abner, our end-of-year musical.

So, I decided to combine the best of both worlds (my love of baseball and love for the attention of acting) and become a sportscaster! It changed to newscaster by the time I got to college, fearing that, as a sportscaster, I would get labeled as an ex-jock who failed at making it as a player (which was true but why admit it?).

Thus started my career as a news reporter, with hopes of becoming a network news anchor someday. It soon evolved into newsroom editorial management and I have been working in various editorial roles in television news ever since.

Yet, I realize, as my priorities changed with time, that my true vocation and who I am meant to be is beyond whatever I can ever achieve professionally.

Some people identify themselves by what they do in life or what they want to be and, if they stop doing it, or their goals are frustrated, sometimes due to circumstances beyond their control, they feel empty, depressed, resentful or, even, worthless.

Thomas Merton once wrote, "We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being.  As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have - for their usefulness."

It's the reason some men, and lately more and more women, have midlife crisis.  They reach a point in their life when they haven't accomplished what they set out to do and so, they try to fill the void in their souls with material things or by having intimate relationships outside of marriage.

Some even try to go back in time by having their hair dyed, wearing an earring (men) or getting a tattoo.  It never works.  Aside from looking as ridiculous, and met with as much enthusiasm from friends and loved ones, as Frank Ricard (Will Ferrell's character) streaking down the middle of town in Old School, the emptiness continues; the hole doesn't diminish.

Moreover, what we are is often not who we are or are meant to be.  I remember a friend once telling me that he had achieved everything he wanted in life; he had a very successful career, a beautiful wife, healthy kids, a waterfront property with an infinity pool and 35-foot boat on a dock in the back. Yet, one evening, as he sat in his backyard smoking a cigar and drinking a scotch, overlooking the pool, lake and boat, as the sun was setting, he asked himself, "Is this all there is?"

You see, despite popular opinion, our purpose is never what we do, how many toys we have in the end, how much power, vainglory or sexual partners we have had.  As the old saying goes, we came into this world naked and naked we will leave it!

Finding true joy, fulfillment and peace surpasses all the empty promises.  It comes down to love; feeling loved and loving others; getting outside ourselves, and the never-ending search for happiness in our heads, and serving others.

St. Teresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Teresa) once said, "The fruit of silence is prayer.  The fruit of prayer is faith.  The fruit of faith is love.  The fruit of love is service.  The fruit of service is peace."

It's like the first line of Rick Warren's best selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, which states, "It's not about you."

Of course, in the self-absorbed culture we live in today, where selfies have become a validation of the happy and fulfilled lives people want us to see, and where we are constantly told to look-out-for-number-one and that we control our own destiny, if we think right, eat right, live right and look right, Warren's line may sound as foreign to some as the second line of Manfred Mann's Blinded by the Light.  (I've had this ongoing argument with my family.  Doesn't he say, "wrapped up like a douche in the middle of the night?")

In any case, I am not defined by what I do but who I am, as St. Catherine stated.  And, who I am is not the cowboy, trapeze artist, baseball player or TV star that I wanted to be or my profession as a television news managing editor, but a child of God. We are all children of God.  And, if children, as St. Paul points out, then heirs.

As heirs, therefore, our purpose is to lift up the Kingdom of God by serving others; reflecting Christ's love in this world and, in our own small way, setting a spark that spreads into raging flames and draws people to the consuming fire of God's love, which is the only place anyone can find real happiness.

Then we can say, as Jesus once did, "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12:49)...


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas, Santa and a Boy's Dying Wish...

Eric Schmitt-Matzen, aka Santa Claus... 
I'll admit it.  I'm a sucker for Christmas stories.  Every year, there's a heartwarming story or song that really touches my heart (to the point where I find myself quietly sobbing and people coming up to me to see if I'm alright).  The Christmas Shoes by NewSong comes to mind.

This year, it was the story of a dying boy and Santa, Eric Schmitt-Matzen, the bigger-than-life Kris Kringle impersonator from Knoxville, Tennessee (he's six-feet tall but weighs in at 310 lbs), who made the boy's wish come true; to make it to Christmas before he died.

Although, God called the five-year-old home before the day we celebrate the birth of Christ, he did make it to Christmas, thanks, in part, to the handlebar mustached Santa, a caring hospital nurse and his family.  In fact, not only did the boy live to see Christmas, he died in Santa's arms.

By now, you may have heard the story.  It has been reported in various media outlets.

Schmitt-Matzen received a call from a nurse at a local hospital to tell him that he needed to get there as soon as possible because a boy was not going to make it past that night and his biggest concern was missing Christmas this year.  So, Schmitt-Matzen, who had just gotten home from a day of playing Santa for other kids, immediately sprang into action and scurried over.  

When he arrived, he found a distressing scene and asked the boy's family to leave the room if they were going to cry, because his job was "to make sure he got Christmas," and he didn't didn't want their tears to make him cry as well.

As they left, the boy's mother handed Schmitt-Matzen a gift to give the boy; toys from the animated series PAW Patrol, that he really wanted.  The family went outside and watched tearfully through an Intensive Care window.    

Schmitt-Matzen, who was born on St. Nicholas' Day and has dedicated his life to bringing Christmas cheer to children, says the boy was weak and appeared to be falling asleep.  But, he approached him with the joy of Christmas, as he had done countless times.  His exchange with the boy brings a knot in my throat as I write it:

"What's this I hear you're going to be missing Christmas this year?" he said.

The boy answered meekly, "They say I'm going to die."

"Well, you're not going to miss Christmas!  The elves already had your present.  We knew you wanted this for a long time."

"Really?"

"Sure!" Santa said, as he handed the boy the present.  The boy was so frail that the man had to help him open it.

When the boy saw what it was, Santa saw him smile.

"When you get up to those pearly gates, you just tell them you're Santa's number one elf."

"I am?" the boy asked, as he perked up.

"You sure are.  I'm sure they'll let you right in."

The boy looked at the man, gave him a big hug and said, "Santa, can you help me?" And, then he died.

I can't imagine how difficult this must have been for Schmitt-Matzen but he says he cried all the way home and even considered giving up playing Santa anymore.  It took several weeks before he was able to muster the strength and courage to put on the red suit again.

Some people say that parents shouldn't let their kids believe in Santa Claus because they claim it is perpetuating a lie and giving children false hope in a fantasy that is sure to disappoint.    

I disagree.  Maybe, these people had frustrating experiences growing up but I was raised believing in jolly old St. Nick and he never let me down.

I recall fondly the anticipation of Christmas starting to build after Thanksgiving, the family reunions and Noche Buena parties, as the big day drew near, then the difficulty of falling asleep on Christmas Eve, as I heard rustling noises in the house (I always heard noises!), and knowing that if I peaked, I wouldn't get any presents (that's what my parents told us and I was terrified to even open my eyes!).

As a matter of fact, one Christmas, I think I dreamt I had seen the large bearded figure placing presents under our tree (but, even in my sleep, I only glanced at him briefly, before shutting my eyes immediately and hoping he hadn't noticed me!).  I think it happened the same night that an older cousin, who was visiting from Chicago and sleeping in my bed, wet the bed!

I wholeheartedly believed in Santa Claus.  In fact, I didn't want to listen to any friend that doubted his existence.  I was convinced the red coated man with the white beard was real.  A trip my family took to Chicago when I was about eight or nine convinced me of that.

When we left our home in Port Chester, NY, there were no presents anywhere in sight.  But, when we got back, the gifts were under the tree!  (Later, I learned that my parents pretended to have forgotten something in the house when we were all in the car getting ready to leave and they ran inside and placed all the presents under the tree before we left!)

It took a mean-spirited fifth grade teacher to spoil the fantasy for me, and, even then, I didn't want to believe her.

That fateful night, after the devastating blow at school, I told my mom that a teacher said there was no such thing as Santa Claus, hoping she would set the record straight.  Instead, I guess, she thought I was old enough to know and asked me not to tell my younger brother!  I thought, "Say what?  You mean, he's not real?  How about when we went to Chicago?"

It was then that she told me how my dad and her had pulled it off years before.  When she finished, I pretended it wasn't a big deal, even thought it was.  I'm sure she noticed my disappointment. However, it wasn't to the point, where I was scarred for life or to make me think that I would never make my kids go through it.

I loved the fantasy while it lasted and have passed it on to my children.  But, I digress.

For a terminally ill boy, who was still too young to have reached the age of reason, and who wanted, more than anything, to meet Santa and celebrate Christmas this year, that fantasy, that illusion of Father Christmas may have been the best gift his parents could have given him.

For on that day; the day the boy was meeting God, Schmitt-Matzen brought him the true meaning of Christmas; a taste faith, love and hope, when the boy most needed it.  And, the greatest of these, as St. Paul writes, is love.

It makes me want to believe in Santa Claus again...



Friday, December 2, 2016

Chesterton on Why We Need the Church...


"I don't need a church to tell me I'm wrong where I already know I'm wrong; I need a church to tell me I'm wrong where I think I'm right." 

-- Gilbert Keith Chesterton (better known as GK) is considered one of the most prolific and influential writers of the twentieth century.  Called "The Apostle of Common Sense," the bigger than life English author (standing 6'4" and weighing over 300 lbs.), poet, philosopher, historian, political satirist and journalist, is well known for his popular Father Brown series and was highly regarded by fellow authors Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Orson Welles and T.S. Eliot, among others, for his humor and provocative style.  A brilliant Christian apologist, he has influenced and still influences faithful and seekers alike, including his once atheist countryman, C.S. Lewis...


Monday, November 28, 2016

Sympathy for the Devil and to Next Year in Cuba...

Was evil the nature of his game?...
On Christmas Eve 1978, as my great grandfather was in his final stage of life, we were gathered at my cousin's house in Chicago. Most of the family was there, at least those of us living in exile.  I remember because that was the winter the great blizzard hit the Windy City shortly after we left.

As we were about to sit for our traditional, Noche Buena dinner, my great grandfather, who was ill and frail, came down from his room to the basement, where a ping pong table, other tables and chairs had been set up, to join us for what turned out to be our last Christmas Eve together.

As the patriarch of the family, he said a prayer, some words of wisdom and then made a toast.  While, I won't pretend to remember what he said, I do recall the many end-of-year family toasts which culminated with, "May our toast next year be in Cuba."  I think it was a universal toast in most Cuban exile households.

Well, next year in Cuba never came.  My great grandfather died and it never happened.  My great grandmother died and it never happened.  Both of my grandparents, most of my great uncles and great aunts died and it never happened (they were ten siblings and only a few remain!).  Even several cousins died and it never happened.

Like my family, hundreds of thousands of Cubans, who came on Freedom Flights, many who left thinking it was a temporary sojourn, leaving family, friends, their livelihoods, their culture, their language and everything they knew and loved behind, and almost fifty-eight long years later, are still waiting for that next year to come.  

For most, one man was responsible for their displacement; Fidel Castro.

And, there was plenty of reasons for the resentment.  When Castro took power in January 1959, he promised hope for the future.  He promised a Democratic government that would hold free elections and put the power in the hands of the people.  He promised to stop the corruption and brutality of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship.

Before the firing squad...
Instead, he quickly turned even more corrupt, repressive and tyrannical.  He started executing all his opponents. He turned to Communism and confiscated property, including my great grandfather's business that he spent a lifetime building since arriving in Cuba from Spain. Castro also persecuted gays, banned the free press and ousted thousand of Catholic priests, nuns and clergymen of other faiths, in an attempt to eradicate religion.  All forms of free expression against the government were outlawed.

Soon the hope and optimism Cubans felt early on gave way to a living version of George Orwell's Animal Farm, where the few in leadership got the spoils and everyone else was left to starve.

Many Cubans, including some in my family, who supported the Revolution at first, felt betrayed, prompting a massive exodus of the middle class.  Fourteen thousand kids were sent on their own to the United States, ahead of their parents, as part of the Catholic Church's Operation Peter Pan, and, when Castro stopped the floodgates of those allowed to leave legally, countless others died and are still dying trying to flee.

Families were separated for decades at a time, tens of thousands who opposed the regime were tortured and physically and psychologically abused in concentration camps and jails, tens of thousands more were murdered, many in public executions, including some who had fought alongside Castro in the Revolution, while others disappeared and were never heard of again.

For the people who fled, said to be over two million over the years, and many who were forced to stay unwillingly, Castro became evil personified and he loved to stoke the flames; calling those who left traitors and worms.  Hate would not be too strong a word to use for how they felt.

Needless to say, Castro's death, was as long awaited as that elusive toast in Cuba.

It was like the souls of the slain in the Book of Revelation, crying out, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"

And then, it happened.

On Friday night, after years of deteriorating health and countless of premature reports of his demise, Fidel Castro finally died at the age of 90.

A poignant message...
As could be expected, the reactions were immediate.

Despite the news breaking shortly after midnight, people started hitting the streets of Miami with pots, pans, musical instruments and Cuban flags in hand.  They blocked traffic, cheered and danced, as motorists blew their car horns and celebrated the end of an era into the wee hours of the morning.  It was a historic moment that had long been coming but never seemed to come.

"At long last.  The son of a b*#@ is dead," my brother texted me from Oregon at about 1:30 (Miami time) in the morning.

"I have never been so happy to be called back to work after going home for the day," a co-worker admitted as she gave me a hug with a huge grin on her face later that day.

"My only regret is that Mom and Dad are not here to see this," my mother said to me on the phone, as her voice began to crack.

A friend posted a photo on Facebook of a scotch bottle with a typed note pasted on the front that stated, "My days and those of Fidel Castro are counted," dated December 24, 1963.  It was written by my friend's uncle who said he would drink the bottle when Fidel Castro died.  Sadly, he never lived to drink it but his son opened the bottle on Saturday.  

Such is the dichotomy of the Cuban people.

My wife captured the moment well.  She posted, "Today was a bittersweet day.  Ever since I can remember, we've been waiting for this day. The day when Castro would die. My mother was a Peter Pan child. My dad, who had to flee Cuba with his mother as a young teen, trained in Central Park to go to the Bay of Pigs (fortunately, they were left behind.  He was 16 years old)... I grew up listening to stories of what they had been forced to leave behind. My father never forgot. He never put it behind him. And it was his dream to see a free Cuba. Yes, I know Cuba is not free yet, but I'd like to think we are one step closer...I just wish my dad was here to share it with me."

Still, as evil as Fidel Castro was and the wrath of pain, suffering, death and destruction he left behind, there's something about celebrating another man's death that doesn't quite sit well with me.  Although, I can understand those that do, especially the families victimized by his brutality, and those that are not necessarily celebrating his death but what it represents.

Repentance?... 
We will never know what is in another man's heart and Castro had plenty of time to repent over the last several years, especially as he grew more ill and frail, as my great grandfather did in 1978.  The man who would become the longest ruling dictator in history did attend Catholic school in his youth and he met privately with Pope Benedict, as his health deteriorated.  Only God knows.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.  There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.  When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."

As the Rollings Stones' lyrics in Sympathy for the Devil say, "Just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints."

I think the fact that he died now and not thirty or forty years ago, has given time for people to rebuild and heal.

In any case, may God judge him accordingly.  And, moreover, may his death, mean Cubans are one day closer to that toast in Cuba next year...


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ronan the Accuser and the End of Thanksgiving?...

In 1863, as the nation endured the darkest and most painful period in its history, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving.  It was to be a day to be set aside for thanking God for all our blessings, gathering with family and reaching out to those in need. 

Norman Rockwell's Saying Grace...
In his proclamation, the President wrote, "I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverance and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged..."

It was a custom that had been around since the time of the pilgrims but was formalized into a national holiday at that time.  For generations since, Thanksgiving became traditionally known for family reunions, feasting like King Henry VIII (and those people at Disney World) on a turkey leg and gathering around the dinner table to give thanks to God. 

Everything shut down. Everyone was off from work to be with their families.  It was sacred; dare I say, holy.   

I recall many Thanksgiving days growing up at my grandparents' house, where we lived for many years, with my mom and grandmother cooking, my dad and grandfather setting up the tables and chairs, including our old ping pong table, and running last-minute errands, while some of the other of the adults sat around talking, telling jokes, drinking scotch ("palitos"), eating ham, cheese, saltine crackers and olives ("salaitos") and playing Benny More on the record player, as the us kids ran around playing or watching football.  

It was a day everyone looked forward to.  In fact, I remember everyone in our neighborhood having their own family reunions and celebration, as well.   

This would be a good place for Fiddler on the Roof's Tevye to interject, "Traditiooon! Tradition!"

That appears to be changing.

Let the games begin...
In the last few years, Black Friday, which was the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season, has crept into Thanksgiving.  

First, it started with stores opening at midnight, where every year some poor bloke would get trampled by overzealous shoppers wanting to be the first to get a great deal. Then, stores began to open after dinner to get a jump on the midnight shoppers and now, it has overlapped Thanksgiving altogether.

This year, several big box stores, including Walmart and Target, and large department stores are opening in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day and some malls are opening from early in the morning until midnight; just another day of shopping!

The day of family and prayer that Lincoln proclaimed has been replaced by a day of commercialization and consumerism.  The sacred has given way to the mundane.  

I don't know about you but, to me, it seems that, as a culture, we've taken our eyes off the ball, as Ronan the Accuser did when Star-Lord started challenging him to a dance-off at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy.

And, it's sad (not that Ronan got distracted, that was a good thing, but that we as a nation are distracted from what is really important!).  

It's sad to see the slow deterioration of our holidays, especially those with deep-seated religious roots, like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It's sad that some kids will never grow up with the same anticipation and reverence for Thanksgiving that we did as kids.  And, while my children will hopefully continue the traditions that my wife and I have established and pass it on to their own families, it's sad that some of their friends, especially those growing up without faith, will be less inclined to uphold the customs set forth by Lincoln.   

Unfortunately, it may be a consequence of the decay of the American family, where nearly half of all first marriages end in divorce (second and third fare even worse) and children grow up without a traditional mom and dad and extended family at the dinner table.  

Furthermore, it's sad that every year, the commercialization of Christmas starts earlier and earlier, to the point where Halloween (All Saints and All Souls Days) and Thanksgiving have blended into a muddled soup of end-of-the-year lead-in to the Big Event, relegating them to inconsequential status on their own.
     
It's all about making money and, for retailers, Christmas is the golden egg, regardless of the impact on Thanksgiving and family unity.

Nevertheless, although, there is no Civil War today as in the time of Lincoln, considering that we have just had the most divisive and toxic election season on record, which has left half the country upset and many protesting in the streets, it would seem proper that we, as a nation, would be more disposed to spending a little more time praying with family and friends, "thanking and praising our beneficent Father," and less time on 
materialism, consumption and dissipation.  One can only hope...  

  

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Chesterton on Swimming Against the Tide...


"A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

-- Gilbert Keith Chesterton (better known as GK) is considered one of the most prolific and influential writers of the twentieth century.  Called "The Apostle of Common Sense," the bigger than life English author (standing 6'4" and weighing over 300 lbs.), poet, philosopher, historian, political satirist and journalist, is well known for his popular Father Brown series and was highly regarded by fellow authors Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Orson Welles and T.S. Eliot, among others, for his humor and provocative style.  A brilliant Christian apologist, he has influenced and still influences faithful and seekers alike, including his once atheist countryman, C.S. Lewis...

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Between a Rock and a Hard Place...

Whatever it takes...
"Yeah, 220, 221.  Whatever it takes."

It seems the 2016 Presidential Campaign is a lot like the statement by Jack Butler, aka Michael Keaton, when asked by his wife's boss, Mr. Richardson, about the electrical wiring he was planning in the home addition he was working on, after getting laid off from work, in Mr. Mom.

Both candidates will pretty much do and say whatever it takes to get elected.

As the Rolling Stones would say, we're "Stuck between a rock and a hard place," and, to be honest, I'm done.

I can't wait for this thing to be over.  I'm done with all the political propaganda by friends on Facebook and social media.  I'm done with the insults and degrading attack ads on both sides.  I'm done with the subjective media reporting and pundits' analysis. I'm done with the polls (which appear to be tightening up just in time for the election night ratings frenzy!).  I'm done with the scandals and corruption, investigations, emails and hot-mic videos. I'm done with the Saturday Night Live skits. And, I'm done with the frustrating and fruitless political bickering with friends and co-workers.

Look, I know what's at stake.  This is a monumental election year; the economy, unemployment, immigration, the war on terror, the Supreme Court and direction of our society for the next thirty years or so (which is among my top two or three issues), Obamacare, education, nuclear threat from rogue nations, poverty, the division within our country, a deterioration in support for law enforcement, gun violence, the environment, and much more.

However, as a practicing Catholic, which is my identity; I am an American Catholic, not a Catholic American, there's only one choice.

Unfortunately, three of the four candidates running for President are pro-abortion, so I can't and won't ever consider them, no matter how much good anyone says they can do.

I agree with St. Teresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Teresa), who once said, "I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.  By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems....  Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.  This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion."

Although, we can't be single-issue voters, in their document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop state, "If a candidate's position on a single issue promotes an intrinsic evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate."

Yet, the one candidate standing was not my first choice. He wasn't even my second or third choice either.  In fact, he may not have cracked my top ten.  He was probably at the University of Miami in the AP Poll rankings level!  (Then again, another Stones song he acutely plays at the end of his rallies says it all, "You can't always get what you want.")

As I told my oldest daughter, "He may be an idiot, degrading, foul-mouth and a blowhard at times but, she is not a good person!  Unfortunately, as Catholics, we don't have a choice!" (And I mean those of us trying to live our faith with honesty and integrity)

Only one candidate is claiming to be pro-life.  Only one candidate is saying he will protect religious liberty, unlike the current administration that forced Catholic and Christian organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who help the elderly, and business owners to provide artificial birth control to employees, as part of the Health and Human Services mandate of Obamacare, including abortifacients (morning after pill), despite violating their freedom of conscience and tenets of their faith.  And, only one candidate has already offered a list of possible Supreme Court justice nominees.

Not to mention, the other major candidate believes in late-term abortion, including, as she said in the last debate, up until the day the baby is born (which, is the most heinous and violent assault on the life of a child imaginable) and wants tax payers to pay for it!  She supports Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion (and baby body parts) provider in the U.S., and she has publicly said, in a speech at the Sixth Annual Women in the World Summit last year that, "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed."

Dirty diaper...
And, let's not even bring up the Wikileaks emails by her campaign operatives which call Catholicism an "amazing bastardization of the faith" and their plans to set up groups to undermine Catholic Church teachings from within, calling for a "Catholic Spring," like the "Arab Spring" that brought revolution in the Middle East; "There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic Church."

A Facebook friend recently argued that if I believed everything that my last-resort-candidate said he was going to do was what he would do, that he had some property in the Everglades to sell me.

True.  Maybe, he will go against what he promised and "evolve" his opinion, as President Obama did on same-sex marriage, but one thing is guessing what a candidate may do and another is knowing what a candidate will do.

In any case, our parish pastor said it well during a recent homily, "I don't vote for a candidate because of their personality, since we are all flawed human beings and personalities will surely let us down.  I don't vote for any politician or political party that tries to thwart or undermine what we stand for as people of faith; like religious freedom and respecting and protecting human life from conception to natural death.  My job is difficult enough as it is!  And, I don't vote or put my faith on any one politician.  I put my faith in Christ... America can't get us to heaven but Christ can."

He also challenged us, "Are we listening to the media or are we listening to the Pope? Are we listening to the culture or are we listening to the teachings of the Catholic Church?"

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that we are in this world but not of it and that may never be more evident than this election season.

This is a historically nasty and divisive campaign and win or lose, half of the nation will be dissatisfied.  It's going to take a herculean effort to bring our country together again.  And, as we all know, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

All we can do is do our part as citizens and try to change the world in our own circle of influence.  As Archbishop Charles Chaput writes in his book, Render Unto Caesar, Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, "We are citizens of heaven first.  But just as God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so the glory and the irony of the Christian life is this: The more truly we love God, the more truly we serve the world."

Hopefully, on the Wednesday after Election Day, Americans will not get left holding the soiled diapers, like Mr. Mom...


Monday, October 31, 2016

Take a Side...


"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."

-- Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, priest, author and one of the first and greatest televangelists in U.S. history.  Sheen hosted a prime time television show called, Life is Worth Living in the 1950's and The Fulton Sheen Program in the 1960's.  His cause for canonization was officially opened in 2002 and, earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI recognized him as "Venerable Servant of God," for a life of heroic virtue... 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Time Was Up for Fernandez and Friends...

Fatal collision...  
"Trust me.  It's not my time."

Those were the fateful words Eduardo "Eddy" Rivero texted to a friend, just hours before the boat he was in with Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and another friend, Emilio Macias, came to a violent collision against a jetty of rocks near the Port of Miami. The impact, in the early morning hours, was so loud that it was reportedly heard miles away.

All three were killed, possibly instantly, as they were thrown under water in a jumbled heap of fiberglass, rock, steel, aluminum and rubber.

And, just like that, as the waves cascaded against the wreckage and the light of the crescent moon shone above, a rising baseball star and his young friends, including Macias, who had met Fernandez earlier that day, were gone.

They were in the prime of their lives and full of dreams, hopes and ambitions.  Instead, a yet-to-be-born baby will never know her father, a young mother will have to raise a daughter on her own and three families, their co-workers and friends are left to mourn, lament and try to make sense of a senseless tragedy.

Rivero (left), Fernandez (middle) and Macias (right)...
It's sobering how quickly life can change.  One minute you are having drinks and fun with friends at a trendy bar, the next, you're cruising on a boat off the shores of South Beach and suddenly you are being tossed around like a rag doll against the hull of the vessel and your life is over.

I can't imagine what goes through someone's mind, if there was even time to think, in that split second it took from the impact of power boat with the edge of the jagged rocks to when it flipped over and landed upside down on the jetty.

The tragic accident reminded me of the many times, in my 20's, when I could have easily been where Fernandez, Rivero and Macias were that night. Only, it wasn't my time.  Maybe, it was my guardian angel.

Of course, as the haunting Rivero text shows, we never know when it's our time.  I can go for a jog, like an old high school friend did a couple of years ago, have a heart attack and die.  It can happen that fast; with no previous warnings or signals (The same thing happened to my father-in-law, while gardening at the age of fifty-three).  

Shakespeare once wrote, "We are time's subjects, and time bids be gone."

Hall-of-Fame talent...
Death is part of life.  In fact, from the time we are born, our bodies are on a slow but certain trajectory towards death.  Yet, we prefer not to think about it.  We are too busy living to think about dying.  Although, we should.  We never know when we exit our front door if it's the last time we are leaving our loved ones.  Time waits for no one.

Unfortunately, in the fast-paced life we live today, we never have time for anything.  We're in such a constant haste; to work, to school, to pickup the kids, to drop off the kids, to run errands, to meet deadlines, to pay bills, to answer emails, to family, school and church commitments, and more, that we never have time to stop, breathe and contemplate our inevitable demise.

St. Thomas Merton once wrote, "We are so obsessed in doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being.  As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do..."

Our parish priest said recently, "We're all on an exterior journey; physically, as we grow older, intellectually, as we learn and study at school, in our careers, planning and going on vacations; always moving, always traveling.  But, we sometimes make the mistake to presume that those things on the outside are our only journey."

We need to make time to grow in our relationship with God, love our family and friends and consider our own mortality.

As St. Paul's writes in his first letter to the Thessalonians, "Now, as to the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need of anything to be written to you.  For you know that the day of the Lord (the day of judgement) will come like a thief in the night.  While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape." (1 Th 5:1-3)

Apparently, it was Rivero's time, as well as Fernandez's and Macia's and they could not escape it, ready or not...






Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Brad and Angelina's Divorce by the Numbers....

Doomed from the start?...
Unless you're living under a rock, by now you know that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, one of Hollywood's most celebrated and scrutinized romances, are calling it quits after a fourteen year relationship, which included a two-year marriage.

On Tuesday, Jolie, 41, filed for divorce, citing "irreconcilable differences," the ever popular legal grounds for ending a matrimony in our no-fault-divorce culture.

Now, it's easy to make fun and dismiss it, as another example of the Hollywood lifestyle run amok, as the talk show circuit has already started doing and, in a subliminal way, others use to vindicate their own failures.  Yet, despite their fame, status and fortune, as a married man of eighteen years and a father myself, it's really quite sad.

At the end of the day, it's as Julia Roberts' character says in Notting Hill, "I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her."  These are two people who fell in love and couldn't make their relationship work, regardless of how it started or why it is ending.

As most married couples know, marriage is not easy.  But, it takes more than feelings.  It takes true love, which means commitment, selflessness and perseverance.  Feelings come and go but true love never fails.  In fact, it "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things," as St. Paul writes. 

In any case, having been involved in the Marriage Covenant group at my parish for several years, and seeing many struggling marriages make it and others fail, I wanted to share some observations and stats about the Pitt/Jolie divorce:
  • Living together before marriage is an almost surefire recipe for divorce.  According to the U.S. Census, while first time marriages have an almost 40% chance of divorce, those that lived together before tying the knot have an almost 30% higher rate of divorce than those that waited.  Pitt and Jolie lived together for twelve years before getting married.
  • Second marriages (Pitt was married to Jennifer Aniston) have a 60% chance of getting divorced.
  • Third marriages (Jolie was married to Johnny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton) have a 73% chance of getting divorced.
  • Getting married doesn't fix a relationship.  I'm not sure if this is the case, but their struggles have been rumored for years.
  • A leopard doesn't change his spots, unless he/she has to and wants to, and even then, it takes great effort; or as a female friend put it on Facebook, "If he cheated WITH you, he'll cheat ON you."  Pitt and Jolie started their relationship as an affair while co-starring in Mr. & Mrs. Smith.  Since then, there have been rumors about his infidelity, including the most recent one with a co-star, Marion Cotillard, who happens to be married herself!  Somewhere by now, Aniston is smiling.
  • For the most part, men and women can't be close friends (unless one is gay or has a hump like Quasimodo).  Sorry to burst the Friends TV Show bubble but, as Marriage Counselor/Author, Dr. Willard Harley, writes in his book, His Needs Her Needs, Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, which I am currently reading and we are discussing as part of our Marriage Covenant group, "An affair begins with friendship... Conversation draws you together... As your friendship deepens, you start giving each other mutual support and encouragement...  Life is difficult. Many people become disillusioned about the way their lives are turning out.  When they find someone encouraging and supportive, the attraction toward that person acts as a powerful magnet." The next thing you know, when someone allows another person to fulfill their innermost needs, that should be exclusively reserved for their spouse, whether wanting to or not, an affair begins.  (See the previous point!)
  • In today's throwaway society, where the preference is to replace rather than fix, if God is not at the center of a marriage, the chances for success are as hopeless as my attempts to keep up with the modifier, Tania, never mind Shaun T, in the Beach Body Focus T-25 workouts I do with my wife every morning.  Couples that share a faith in God, pray regularly and attend church weekly, are at least 30% less likely to get divorced or higher, depending on religious affiliation, than those that don't.  While Jolie professed having a belief in God, spurned by her role in the 2013 movie, Unbroken, Pitt was openly agnostic at best.
In other words, the numbers were stacked against them.  They were destined for futility before they even started.

On the surface, they were the poster children for modern day nuptials; beautiful, glamorous, active in causes and charities, parenting three children of their own and adopting others from Ethiopia, Vietnam and another from Cambodia, which she adopted during a previous marriage.  Jolie was a good-will ambassador to the UN, which included missions to countries around the world and became an icon for the women's health issues movement by choosing a preventative double mastectomy and removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes.  Pitt has been cited as one of the most influential and powerful people in the entertainment industry.  But, it appears, behind the scenes, despite all the success and accolades, the couple was struggling.

In a press statement, Brad Pitt, 52, stated, "I am very saddened by this, but what matters most now is the well-being of our kids.  I kindly ask the press to give them the space they deserve during this challenging time."

The well-being of their children may already be off to a rocky start.  Six kids, including three that were adopted, will have to grow up in a broken home; either without their father or bouncing around from house to house, which we may try to sugar coat in saying that it's not a big deal but many children of divorced parents develop anger, trust, depression and other psychological issues growing up.

If that wasn’t bad enough, children of divorced parents are 40% more likely to get divorced themselves, and, if their parents get remarried, it increases to 91% .  It’s a vicious cycle!

Meanwhile, millions of young fans and kids around the world see the public breakup as another example of how adults resolve difficult marriages...






[photo credit: Getty Images]

Monday, September 19, 2016

Death, Friendship and the Hand of God...

From the outside looking in, I couldn't help control the tears welling up in my eyes and involuntarily running down my face.

To see the visibly shaken woman and her daughters (about the same age as my own), hugging and comforting each other in their anguish, was a bit overwhelming.  I wept uncontrollably and many of those around me, did too.

As I sat several pews behind them at a special Mass, offered for their ailing husband and father, what struck me most were the hands of the mother; caressing, embracing and soothing her daughters.  They were like the hands of God the Father, comforting and loving His children, and so they were.

In his classic spiritual work, The Return of The Prodigal Son; A Story of Homecoming, Fr. Henri Nouwen describes those hands.  He wrote, "Gradually over the years, I have come to know those hands.  They have held me from the hour of my conception, they welcomed me at my birth, held me close to my mother's breast, fed me, and kept me warm.  They have protected me in times of danger and consoled me in times of grief.  They have waved me good-bye and always welcomed me back.  Those hands are God's hands.  They are also the hands of my parents, teachers, friends, healers, and all those whom God has given me to remind me how safely I am held."

The emotionally charged liturgy, like the hundreds of daily prayers, visits from family and friends and continuous messages of encouragement and support via text, email or social media, was but a respite in an otherwise draining and painful period of their lives.

A great friend; a better husband, father and son...
The woman's husband, named Pepe, a beloved man by most who knew him, was battling an aggressive form of cancer, which had consumed him in just two short months.  His condition had worsened, to the point where he wasn't eating and, with his body deteriorated by the deadly disease, the end appeared inevitable, despite the prayers, best intentions and desperate clings to hope.

A summer that began with great anticipation, joy and laughter, quickly spiraled downward into one of tears, pain and loss.

His daughter wrote on Facebook, "During the summer, on one of our family trips to the Florida Keys, Pepe had excruciating pains running through his leg, chest and lower back.  Once we returned home, Pepe went to visit many doctors who all said that he had severely pinched nerves.  What we thought was severely pinched nerves, turned out to be lung cancer metastasized in the bones.  It was a big slap in the face to all of us."

Shortly after the emotional Mass, about six hours later to be exact, Pepe succumbed to the cancer.

It's rattling how life can change so abruptly.

Aside from the effects on the family, for those of us, who are Pepe's contemporaries and friends, it is also difficult because it brings us face to face with our own mortality.

There's a Latin phrase that I like reminding myself of, momento mori, which means remember death. It's a prompt that we should live our lives knowing that we are here for just a brief time and every decision, word and action we take, should reflect that.       

If there is one thing that I will remember about Pepe is that he always lived life for the moment. Charismatic, charming and warm, I think what struck most people about him was his smile.  The man wore a constant smile on his face, no matter what personal issue he may have been going through.

He was a devoted husband, father and son, who had been caring for his elderly mom for many years, and, as the parish priest said at his funeral Mass, "He was a man who gave and gave.  He would give right out of his pocket, if he saw anyone in need, even if he was going through difficulties himself."

What Pepe most enjoyed was spending time with his family, antique cars, boating, traveling and living life, as if he understood it was fleeting.

He was also a man of great faith, who respected his Catholic beliefs so much that he abstained from receiving the Eucharist for many years because he didn't feel worthy (Then again, are any of us, worthy?).

Pepe attended the first men's retreat I led in November 2011, but, even before then, he was already a devout Catholic man.

He was a great friend to all.  I remember when I was going through a particularly difficult time at work a few years ago, and things looked bleak that Pepe came up to me one night and told me to persevere, keep doing my job and trust in God.  He told me he had gone through a similar experience but that things eventually get better and they did.

Still, like all of us, he had his share of pain and regrets.  There were issues, circumstances and relationships that bedeviled him.

I remember talking to him one night and encouraging him to put the past aside and to reconcile with God and the Church for the good of his wife and daughters.  He told me that he would.

God has a way of bringing back His lost sheep.

I'm not suggesting that he got sick for a purpose but, since God brings good out of evil, it did bring him back to the Eucharist. He was able to receive the sacraments of Anointing, Reconciliation and the Eucharist, leading up to his passing; the Viaticom, as our parish priest stated; God's food for the journey.

In fact the priest stated, "I have never seen a man know and love the Eucharist, as much as Pepe."

The prodigal son returned home to the Father, as the gospel reading at the emotional Mass for his recovery, stated.

There's a poignant line at the end of the movie, Meet Joe Black, that always resonates with me. It's when Bill Parish (Anthony Hopkins) turns to Joe Black (The Grimm Reaper played by Brad Pitt), as a celebration of Bill's birthday was underway, a band was playing, fireworks were going off and both men knew their time to leave had come, and says, "It's hard to let go isn't it?  Well, that's life.  What can I tell you?"

Knowing Pepe's zest for life, I'm sure, it must have been hard to let go.  But, this is a man who helped build a multi-million dollar company on nothing more than pure will, leadership, charisma and fearlessness.  So, I can almost say with certainty, that when the time came, he faced it with courage, grace and faith, or, to borrow a line from Blue Oyster Cult, he didn't fear the reaper and he took His hand...  


Thursday, September 15, 2016

St. Francis de Sales: Be Yourself Perfectly...

Another gem from St. Francis de Sales...

Norman Rockwell's Freedom of Speech...
"Do not wish to be anything but what you are and try to be that perfectly."

We are made in the image and likeness of God and so are made for perfection.  If we truly live our lives as God made us to be, we would be ourselves perfectly.

Jesus says, "Be perfect, as the Heavenly Father is perfect" and that can only be achieved through grace with faith and the Sacraments...

 -- St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622),  17th Century Bishop of Geneva, and Doctor of the Church, who as a priest was known for his patience and gentle approach to quell religious division after the Protestant Reformation.  He was a lawyer by trade and, after convincing his father to allow him to enter the priesthood, he was just as successful in sharing the Catholic faith and converting Calvinists in Geneva.  He would preach to them and hand out pamphlets that he would write himself.  St. Francis is said to have returned tens of thousands back into the Catholic fold.  The "brilliant apologist," as some have described, was known for practicing his axiom, "A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar."  Well recognized for his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, which is hailed by Catholics and many Prostestants alike, he also wrote, A Treatise on the Love of God, and hundreds of pamphlets, which were later assembled as, The Catholic Controversy, and letters addressed to the laity.  Along with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.  He was canonized in 1665 by Pope Pius IX 43 years after his death.  His feast day is celebrated by the Church on January 24th...   

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hoping to Avoid Lola with my Family in NOLA...

The Crying Game...
"Well, I'm not dumb but I can't understand why she walk like a woman and talk like a man, Oh my Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola..."

Believe it or not, when the Kinks released their hit song, Lola, in 1970, it was quite controversial.

For those unfamiliar, it's about a guy who gets drunk at a bar, spends all night dancing with a woman, who turns out to be a man; kind of like of like the Danny Bunaduce experience in lyrics! (Or The Crying Game, sans the conspiracy plot, kidnapping, someone dying, falling in love or being sent to prison.)

In any case, despite the song's release in the backdrop of the sexual revolution, where "free love," "make love not war" and, "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" became emblematic, some radio stations would fade out Lola before the big reveal.

Apparently, they felt it was too strong for kids in the audience, regardless of being a time, as the song lyrics stated, "Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls.  It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world..." 

Well, the song and its subsequent controversy hit home for me recently, after my family booked a 4-day Labor Day weekend trip to New Orleans to celebrate our middle child's twelfth birthday, as we had done with our oldest daughter to New York for her twelfth several years ago.

After reading a book about a New Orleans ghost tour, our second girl picked the destination on her own and, having been there twice, including one time with my wife, five weeks after our first daughter was born, I thought it would be a great trip for the entire family (albeit different than the first two); Breakfast at Brennan's, the French Quarter, Cafe du Monde, the Garden District, Camellia Grill, street cars, the Mississippi River, cemetery and ghost tours, the plantations, maybe even passing by Preservation Hall.  Even without the boozing, there's still a lot to do.  

Yes, I know that the town is known for partying, bachelor and bachelorette parties, colorful and shady characters alike and occasional unruliness, but it's also a great place to teach kids about U.S. history (the National World War II Museum is there) and the wrath of Hurricane Katrina that destroyed The Big Easy in 2005.  I got excited.

As always, the first thing I do when we go on trips, aside from looking up the nearest Catholic Church to attend Mass, is getting a Frommer's or Fodor's Guide to plan the excursion.  In this case, I handed the Frommer's to the birthday girl to study and prioritize what she wanted to do.

A couple of days later, as she was compiling a list of things to do and my wife had booked the airfare and accommodations, I'm going through a New Orleans web site and see a tab that said "festivals."  Out of curiosity, I click it and find; Southern Decadence, August 31st to September 5th (the time we will be there!), which stated, "Dubbed the 'Gay Mardi Gras,' this celebration of LGBT culture features elaborate costumes and high fashion" and "now draws over 160,000 participants from all over the world."

It's going to be a madhouse...
Now, you have to understand, we're not much for crowds.  We avoid the Calle Ocho Festival, which is called Mardi Gras South, in Miami like the plague.  I think that the last time I went was 25 years ago! We've never taken the kids to Santa's Enchanted Forest, which can get a bit shady, or the county fair and we certainly wouldn't expose them to the over-the-top insanity at Mardi Gras at this point in their lives!  (Heck, I have never been to Mardi Gras myself or the Columbus Day Regatta in Miami for that matter, which may be worse!) The most we do is take them to their school fair and to Disney!

So talk about culture shock, instead, we're going to be faced with Lola in NOLA; a hundred and sixty thousand strong! Oh, noooo! (I felt like Mr. Bill getting rolled over by a bulldozer or, maybe, like my mom felt when, as a teenager, I told her after watching the Richard Gere film, that I wanted to grow up to be a gigolo!)

We already booked the flight.  We already booked the hotel.  We made reservations at Brennan's and Emeril's!  Why didn't anybody tell us?  (I guess, in retrospect, the airline and hotel are not going to say, "Are you sure you want to go?  It's going to be chaos, man, absolute chaos!")

And, worse, whether I want to or not, whether I'm ready for it or not, I will be forced to explain to my kids about this "mixed up, muddled up, shook up world" we live in.  I can't wait!  Parenting is definitely not easy! Hopefully, this can serve as an invaluable life lesson (if I do it right!).

In the Gospel, St. John writes that "We are in this world but not of it."  That will never be more evident for my family than the Southern Decadence Festival next weekend.

I may not be able to fade to black, like the DJ's did before the big reveal in 1970 but, for the most part, I'm hoping to avoid the craziness on Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.  Although, I'm sure we can't avoid it all.

May the Lord give me the wisdom and perspective to guide my family through it.

At the end of the day, it's like the song says, "Well I'm not the world's most masculine man, but I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man, and so is Lola... Lo lo lo lo Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola..."

Or, as my wife may sing, "Layla, la la la la Layla, la la la la Layla...."