Recommendation.

You know how I get when I find a new band that I love. Well, this band has been a bit of obsession ever since seeing them open for Over the Rhine (two days before the video below was recorded). After all, they’ve already warranted an entire “The 5” post, here.

Here’s a great chance to see them perform an entire opening set, if you’re interested in this sort of thing. Mad talent, funny guys, good stuff.

If you enjoy their music (and let’s be honest, you should), go to their website and be sure to download their free (!) albums, which are available here. Then, be sure to support them. Go see a show, buy a t-shirt, or order some old school vinyl.

You’re welcome.

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Skin.

When you hear a story about someone dealing with a cancer diagnosis, there is often the inevitable (and somewhat cliché) mention of the importance of “catching it early.” I’m here to tell you that certain things become a cliché for a reason.

This past summer, my wife was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in a small area in the center of her chest. She’d long been obsessively vigilant about watching, tracking, and cataloging the perceived imperfections of her skin — a fair-skinned byproduct of freckles, moles, and a love for the sun — which would end up being the very thing that would save her.

It would have been easy for her to postpone the appointment to get a certain shape-shifting mole checked by a dermatologist. We’d been having a pretty medically-intensive summer already, as I was in the process of recovering from somewhat less-than-routine gall bladder surgery and a barrage of follow-up testing. I remember having the conversation about whether she should just call and reschedule her appointment. She could wait a few more weeks, maybe when things calm down, and then taking an afternoon to visit the dermatologist wouldn’t seem like such an incredible imposition. Thankfully, she didn’t do that.

When the pathology came back on the offending mole, it was determined that not only was it malignant melanoma, but a very fast-spreading sort. Just another couple weeks, according to the surgeon, could have made an unfathomable difference when it came to the prescribed course of treatment. As it stood, she caught it on the cusp of Stage One, so surgery to remove “clear margins” around the area was all that she would have to do for now, followed by what the surgeon jokingly described as “hopefully a long and boring relationship” between the two of them.

I’m happy to report that my wife is fine now. The cancer was removed and the four or five inch scar from her surgery has already faded considerably. As promised, she has embarked on this long and boring relationship with her surgeon, a process of six-month checkups and continued vigilance.

Many people, though, aren’t so lucky.

Around the time of my wife’s surgery, I came across the video below, sponsored by the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund, a Canadian organization tasked with raising awareness of the disease. Please take a moment and watch it, share it with a few friends, and help spread the word to our tanning bed culture.

[I’ve posted the YouTube video below on my Facebook page a couple times over the last several months, but I thought it warranted a mention here, as well. It’s that important.]


For more information or tools for melanoma detection, visit here.

42.

When I was just a kid, we had a burnt-orange colored corduroy sofa in the living room. The sofa was part of our good furniture in a room that was only used on those rare “special” occasions, yet somehow the room is a fixture in most of my distinct childhood memories, of which there are few. It was the room where I remember meeting my mother’s estranged father when he came for a visit (I sat at his feet and drew cars for him, child-like renditions of a Porsche 911, I’m sure), the room where I first held my newborn sister (who may or may not have been named after my favorite character on the early 70s show, The Mod Squad) after my parents brought her home from the hospital, and the room where I sat and cried when my parents told me that my beloved great-grandmother had gone to be with Jesus.

When I was six or seven, maybe eight, I can remember on the eve of a particular birthday, measuring myself from end-to-end on the corduroy. I don’t know why, exactly, I thought there might be the possibility of a spontaneous growth spurt in the course of a few hours of sleep, but it seemed like a scientific experiment worth pursuing. The irony is that while I vividly remember the pre-birthday measuring episode — seventh cord on the third cushion, I’m thinking, or something of that nature — I have no real recollection of the follow-up measurement check on the next day. I’m not even sure if there was one. Maybe there was, perhaps it was a disappointment. I can’t say for sure. Apparently, I’d make a shitty scientist.

I’m still a bit obsessed, all these years later, with taking a sort of personal growth inventory on the occasion of a birthday. By now, I’ve given up hopes of getting any taller (I always wanted to be 6’2″, but I’ve accepted the fact that I won’t be realizing that dream) and I certainly don’t need to grow any wider, so the focus now is on some sort of personal inner growth. What have I learned, what have I conquered, or what have I changed? In what way am I different, better, or stronger than I was when standing on the precipice of my last birthday, or the one before that?

I turned 42 today, which seems like an odd thing when I say it out loud, mostly because the mental picture I have of what “42” should look like doesn’t seem to match the image I see in my mind’s mirror. I feel like I should have accomplished more by now, maybe written a book, cured a disease, or changed the world in some small measure. But I don’t even recycle and my use of low energy light bulbs doesn’t seem to rise to the occasion that my quickly approaching mid-40s somehow demand.

Perhaps the mistake here is this notion that we can and should measure our growth only by those easily recognizable outer “accomplishments.” Maybe if we were to make it less about a book or a cure and more about those times when we quietly conquer an inner demon, forgive a transgression, or mend a portion of a heart that was broken. For these things, I may win no award or sign no autograph, but I also know that they are things that have helped to change me more fundamentally than if I had finally learned to play the guitar.

I’m not sure what the coming year will bring, but I hope that when I am knocking on the door of 43, I will be able to look back with the clear knowledge that I’ve again grown in a way that an orange corduroy couch could have never detected.

Gift.

When I started this blog a few months ago, I had no idea what to expect. Having no expectations and no real agenda was a blessing, I’m discovering, because anything gained as a result has been the most pleasant surprise.

Those of you who have taken the time to participate in this blogging experience with me — whether you’ve just casually read a couple of my posts, subscribed to its updates, shared a comment or two, offered kind words of encouragement, recommended a song or a band after reading a few of my own recommendations, or written to me about your own stories of dealing with a loved one’s addiction and recovery — have been a part of this most incredible gift that I simply didn’t anticipate.

Thank you for that.

Like many people, I tend to get reflective around the holidays. There’s a certain nostalgia that’s inevitable as a result of closing out a year and starting anew, turning yet another year older, and spending time with loved ones I simply don’t see often enough during the non-holiday seasons. That nostalgia often — when we’re lucky — gives way to gratitude, then the gratitude to hope. And so, the holidays are here and I find myself thankful, appreciative, and hopeful about tomorrow’s tomorrow.

My wish for you and yours this holiday season is that same nostalgia, that same gratitude, and that same hope.

Merry Christmas.

War.

There is no “war on Christmas.”

Let’s just get that out of the way, right up front.

And while we’re on the subject, there should be nothing offensive about being on the giving or the receiving end of a heart-felt Happy Holidays. I mean, honestly.

We hardly have our Thanksgiving turkey digested each year before we start to hear rumblings (thanks for that, FOX News) of this terrible “war” that’s threatening to ruin Christmas for us all. Clearly, it’s all some calculated plot on the part of the godless liberals among us. Or at least that’s what a few of the talking heads on certain cable “news” programs — who just happen to be peddling books on the subject, it should be mentioned — might have you believe.

Now you can even access lists on the internet of the “naughty” stores who choose to say “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” to their customers instead of “Merry Christmas.” (No, I’m not providing the link.) Boycott them and vote with your dollars, we’re told. Let’s force them to acknowledge the real “reason for the season,” right?

It would all seem completely silly if people weren’t so serious about it. And it is silly.

We used to hear protestations about the “commercialization” of Christmas. People — I think, often very accurately — bemoaned the way the holiday season had been relegated to obscene spending, tireless shopping, and the quest to find the perfect gift for everyone on your Christmas list. Now, it seems, the “war” has shifted to a haughty demand that retail centers (those same retail centers that are the very embodiment of the “commercialization” we were complaining about just yesteryear) adequately use the word “Christmas” in their advertisements and store displays when we do our (hardly Christ-honoring) Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping. Consider the logic of it all for a moment. We’re willing to stand in line at 4 AM at the local Kohl’s on the night after we presumably gave thanks to the Lord above for all that we have, with our coupons in hand for everything we need need need to buy, just hoping to not get trampled in the midst of the rush for the 50% off flat screens. But the store had better honor the “true spirit of the season” by mentioning Christ in their signs and advertisements. Really, friends?

There is, of course, the semantic argument, as well. With so many of our fellow citizens fighting for their lives (and ours) in actual wars, it seems more than a little bit of bad taste to use that same word to describe the banner over Santa’s head at the local K-Mart. Some wisely eschew the word “war” in favor of rants about “political correctness,” but the sentiment is the same.

Mostly, I’m left to wonder about those who do feel threatened or hurt by more inclusive holiday greetings. What is it that’s being lost if someone gleefully wishes a warm Season’s Greetings when you’re paying for your milk and bread? What has been the damage, exactly? I can’t believe that anyone’s faith is really diminished as a result. And if it is? Well, that would say something about the aforementioned faith, wouldn’t it? If one were to feel slighted or somehow marginalized by a non-specific Happy Holidays, what does that say about our feelings and intent toward the millions of people who celebrate holidays of faiths other than our own, while rarely ever seeing banners, sales flyers, or Hallmark cards trumpeting the moments they hold dear. Marginalization is fine when it’s them, but just not us?

One of my dear friends is Jewish. Every year she is one of the very first people to go out of her way to not just wish me a Merry Christmas or a Happy Easter and the like, but she asks about my plans for the holidays, inquiring about how my family might celebrate or recognize those moments, always making sure to send her good wishes. I’m sure she does this to others, as well — she’s unfailingly thoughtful that way — but I’m always curious about how many of her non-Jewish friends take the time to ask her about her plans for the coming Hanukkah or Passover. How many have ever thought to wish her a blessed Rosh Hashanah? How many times have I forgotten?

I do believe in a true spirit of the season, but I don’t think it’s defined by rote greetings or store displays or songs sung at an elementary school. Instead, I prefer to think it’s about good will, caring for others, and recognizing the importance of love and grace in each of our lives.

So, with that, I wish you — each and every one of you — the warmest season’s greetings.

Happy holidays, one and all.

Nineteen.

There was a freak ice storm on the day of our wedding — in just a couple days, it will be nineteen years since — that practically paralyzed Tulsa, the city where we’d planned to carve out a life together. Although I was worried about people safely making it to the festivities (most notably, our family and friends who were traveling some distance), there was a feeling of stillneess in the weather-crippled city that was somehow perfect for the occasion, a calm marked by iced-over glistening trees and the subtle twinkling of a few errant snowflakes.

I felt that same calmness on the inside, too, as I had never been more sure of a step — leap — about to be taken. I was as surprised as anyone by my (now in retrospect, a little alarming) serenity, in part because my Type A personality didn’t often lend itself to placid moments, but more because of my fairly well-known pontifications detailing a complete disinterest in the institution of marriage. I didn’t have a problem with married people, you see, it was just that I couldn’t imagine being one. In truth, I wasn’t sure I had it in me. However, when the day came for our own vows to be exchanged, I couldn’t recall ever feeling so confident about anything.

In an effort to appease tradition (and perhaps, to please a certain rather traditional mother-of-the-bride), we hadn’t seen each other that day until the moment when the church doors opened and I caught a glimpse of my bride and her father, ready to walk the aisle to meet me. Although in my mind, I know that it didn’t happen exactly this way, my memory is that the church fell completely silent and, if only for a moment, time stopped. I’m not an overly sentimental person by nature, but that singular moment — filled with equal measures of joy, anticipation, love, and hope — would later become a memory that would preserve me in those times when I would find myself looking for sustenance.

As people do, we’ve learned a lot about each other, and maybe even more about ourselves, in the almost two decades that have passed since that day. I’m reminded of a passage from a love letter written by Rainer Maria Rilke for his wife, Clara Westhoff. It reads:

To love is good, too: love being difficult.

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it.

With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and so loving, for a long while ahead and far on into life, is solitude, intensified and deepened loneliness for him who loves.

Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over, and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate–?), it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.

As I’ve detailed on this very blog, our lives have unfolded in ways that I would have never imagined on that day when our greatest problem in the world was a few boxes of forgotten wedding programs. And yet, it’s been this journey — this living manifestation of “in good times and in bad” — that has allowed us to, as Rilke said, learn love.

This history we’ve shared is a commodity more precious to me than most anything and it has, indeed, been that high inducement to ripen and to become something in ourselves for the sake of another. I look forward — now with learned measures of joy, anticipation, love, and hope — to the vast things ahead.

[I love you, honey. Happy anniversary.]