Too Brief an Orbit

Orbits … the events we use to mark time and passages. The second hand of a watch makes an orbit and we call it a minute. The hour hand makes a circle around the face of a clock and an hour is marked. Our planet spins on its axis, one full circle and the day is done. The earth makes a full orbit around the sun and another year is added to our age.

We humans also move in orbits, not in the literal sense like planets or heavenly bodies but our lives weave and loop, our trajectories intersect with thousands of fellow travelers, and every crossing of paths provides the opportunity for a positive or negative impact. The briefest encounter with an ill-tempered person can bring you down, a sincere smile from a total stranger can brighten your day.  We also orbit in parallel paths with people for stretches that can last months, years and decades. Those longer circuits have the same potential for a detrimental or favorable influence on our journeys.

The orbit of Halley’s comet brings it close to Earth once every 75-76 years. This comet is the only known short-period comet that is visible to the naked eye. If you are born at the right time, you might have a chance to see this comet twice in a lifetime. Like a viewing of Halley’s comet, if you are paying attention during your pilgrimage, there will be a few times, rare moments where an intersection with another journeyer will alter your path for the good, giving you a fresh perspective, making you a better person for having known them. Such was the case with my intersection with Aaron David Borchelt.

Aaron came to work at Concordia Publishing House taking over the role of a retiring long-time employee. He was a quick study and mastered the position faster than anyone expected.  His can-do attitude and quick wit made him a favorite with his co-workers. Our job functions brought us together, but we bonded over baseball. Aaron had worked as an usher for the baseball Cardinals since he was 17 and had amassed a wealth of knowledge about the game. We would meet to discuss budgets and schedules for the projects we were involved with but found plenty of time to second-guess calls made by the umps and the decisions of the manager from recent games. I had orbited the sun 28 times more than Aaron. I shared stories of my favorite players who were active before Aaron was born, he regaled me with tales of the current crop of Cardinals.

When Aaron came to work at Concordia Publishing House, he was on crutches, laboring to walk with a yet-to-be diagnosed illness. His condition deteriorated, but his positive attitude only seemed to get stronger. It wasn’t long until he had to use a wheelchair, then a motorized wheelchair. I clearly remember the meeting where he announced to the rest of the team that he was going to the Mayo Clinic. You could tell he was pumped at the prospect of finally getting an accurate diagnosis of his condition and possible cure. He came back two days earlier than expected. I went into his cubicle to welcome him back, he was as close to being down as I had ever seen him, he confided that the doctors were certain it was ALS. I can’t remember how I responded, I’m sure it wasn’t eloquent or comforting. He never mentioned ALS again in my presence. I believe he didn’t want to dignify the illness by naming it.

His mental acuity and memory allowed him to do his job, even as his body failed him. I could walk into his cubicle, say the title of a current project and he would recite the project number and most times any information I needed concerning the budget or schedule without referring to his computer. One of the projects we were working on was a book on mentoring, the working title was, Walk with Me. One day I went to where he was seated in his wheelchair and just said, “walk with me.”

He laughed and replied, “I wish I could,” then proceded to reel off the information I needed about that job. He loved to interject humor into every aspect of his vocation. We looked forward to his meeting invite emails because he would invariably take the words from the subject to be discussed or the book title we were planning and twist them into a groaner of a pun or some wordplay.

I rode up the elevator with him one morning. At this point, he could no longer lift his arms to press the floor selector buttons. I was carrying an antique tube radio I had purchased. I talked about its design and function, and concluding by saying, “Of course it’s only AM.”

He laughed and said, “So, it only works in the morning?”

He was that quick and that smart!

Aaron would matter of factly ask for help when he needed it, but not tolerate anything that even came close to pity. I tried to express to him once my respect and admiration for the way he handled himself given what he had to deal with. He froze me with a steely stare from his baby-blues, and I quickly changed the subject. Aaron did not pity himself and he sure as heck wasn’t going to allow anyone else to pity him.

Aaron’s life acted as a mirror, reflecting God’s love and goodness onto anyone he came in contact with. His servant attitude combined with his strength of character, unflinching positive attitude, and limitless humor created a gravitational pull that altered the orbit of anyone whose path he crossed.

Aaron made his last orbit on December 3rd, 2019. He rounded 3rd and headed for home plate, deftly sliding in ahead of the throw. The call came quickly, it was obvious to all that were watching, there was no need for a review, he was safe. Aaron David Borchelt was safe, nothing could touch him now, he was safe, safe at home  … rejoice!

Poppy

The Dog Days of Summer, from a Cat’s Perspective

8 o’clock on September 16 and it’s 86 degrees. Summer’s last blast, I suppose. I’m taking the week off in a mad dash to get our house listed to sell. Today was the day to seal the driveway.

I failed.

Tomorrow is another day.

The little TV in the kitchen is tuned to the Cardinal’s game. It’s the bottom of the seventh and we just took a 4 to 2 lead.

Tomorrow is trash day. I walked out the back porch with the last of the refuse. Mrs. G is sprawled out on one of the chairs. She is a cat that likes her comfort and has little tolerance for heat or rain.

It may be September, but summer is still in force. The symphony of crickets, katydids and tree frogs serenade me as I wheel the trash bins out to the curb.

It is a season of chapter turnings. I must resign myself to that. Today my grandson turned 13. The dreaded teen-aged years. He is now as tall as me and when we called to wish him a happy birthday, the voice that greeted us was deeper than I expected. Fortunately, his character and kindness are undiminished with his new status.

In a few weeks, my oldest daughter will be married. Another chapter turning. I couldn’t be happier for her and my soon to be son-in-law.

10:00 o’clock, I make the circuit to turn off the lights and lock the doors. Mrs. G hasn’t moved. I step onto the front porch. The warm air embraces me and I try to store that feeling for the coming winter. I stare across the street, aware of the pages and chapters that turn before me. It is the essence of life, drifting, moving, changing. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good, but never without hope.

I step inside, Mimsy is waiting for me to escort her for the last stroll of the night.

Poppy must walk the dog, peace.

 

Power-Wash Therapy, the next big thing!

I love my job … but there are days, and this was one of those days.

What I felt like doing when I got home was playing some mindless video game or something equally nonproductive, but we are getting our house ready to sell. I have discovered over the years that inanimate objects do not heal themselves. Leaky pipes do not seal themselves, chipped paint does not restore its self, dirt and grime don’t reform and become clean. This realization was a big disappointment to me.

Apparently in 1890, when our house was built, you could not have too many porches. Ours has “only” four, the least used of them is the one off the dining room at the back of the house. Why is there a porch and door from the dining room? In spite of what my grandkids might think, I was not around in 1890 … you will have to ask the builder. What I do know is that over the years it has acquired a protective layer of dirt and grime.

I gave it a light scrubbing with a detergent and bleach mixture, then hauled out the “big guns,” my Ryobi, Honda engine powered, power washer. I donned my safety goggles, then fired that mother up. The engine was roaring, I was getting splattered, the dirt and grime were being blown away by a force they never expected and I felt my tension melting away.

Then it dawned on me; forget psychotherapy, forget laying down on some couch and talking about how you were not respected, put some goggles on, prepare to get wet and blast away dirt, grime, and peeling paint!

At least for most guys, power washing checks a lot of boxes:
noisy? check … gasoline powered? check … creates fumes? check … messy? … check … instant gratification? check. (disclaimer; I can only speak for guys, in spite of being married 40 something years and having two daughters, women are still a mystery to me, though I do love a good mystery).

Feeling stressed? The stock market got you worried? Your boss riding you? Politics driving you nuts? Stop on by, I’ve got projects and therapy that will cure your ills. For the nominal rate of only $100 an hour, I will set you up with a clearly defined task, a noisy, messy, fume-producing, power washer and you will feel like a new man (or woman).

Poppy

The Lady in Front of Me

Having several hours with nothing to do and no responsibilities sounds heavenly … until it happens to you.

Hour one:

I’m in Jury Assembly Room S52 in the St. Louis County Circuit Court building. I’ve been here only an hour, at least that’s what the clock on the wall tells me. My internal “Boredom Meter,” tells me it’s been much longer. The notice on the wall states that the maximum occupancy for this room is 259. The room is pretty full, that’s a lot of bored people.

Hour two:

There is a magazine rack in the far left corner. It’s not getting much traffic, at least not two hours into the process. Once everyone’s cell phones start to go dead, there may be a run for 8-month-old copies of Sports Illustrated and People magazines.

I’m situated about three-fourths of the way back on the left side of the room. I was hoping for better people watching, but it’s a pretty nondescript group of humans, at least from my perspective, observing a collection of the back of people’s heads.

I’m bored out of my gourd, and since misery loves company, I will do my best to bore you too by attempting to describe the lady directly in front of me.

Occasionally she will look left or right, giving me just a glimpse of her face. She is not wearing any makeup. A collection of faint age spots are sprinkled across her cheeks just below the tiny crinkles that extend from the corners of her eyes. Her hair is a pretty shade of auburn, clean and shiny, straight with no hint of curls. I can’t determine the length, but it’s long enough to drape over the front of her left shoulder. Periodically her left arm raises, reaches behind her head and pulls back into submission any strands that are attempting to stray.

A pair of small, simple, silver hoop earrings and a tiny silver chain necklace are the only jewelry visible to me.

Her cap sleeve t-shirt, a soft salmon-pink, compliments the texture of the fabric, softened through many laundry cycles.

Her head bobs ever so slightly in the manner of someone whose legs are crossed and foot is wagging. Other than that she sits erect, almost motioness compared to my fidgeting.

She pulls a paperback out of an unseen bag and for a moment raises ir high enough for me to see the print, but I can’t make out the title in the running head.

It’s human nature to make snap judgements about people based on their appearance, wardrobe, manner of speaking, etc. After sitting behind someone for a couple of hours, I wouldn’t call this a snap judgement but I’m pretty sure she …

Oops, the bailiff just called my name, gotta go!

(FYI, Got selected and I’m sitting in a jury for the rest of the week)

Where Does the Love of God End?

It has been a week of shock and revulsion. It has been a week of “how did we get to this place as a civilized country.” It has been a week of weeping for the most innocent and helpless among us. It has been a week for Psalms 139.

Even the most hardened of atheists would not deny the beauty of the poetry found in this Psalm. For those of faith, its beauty extends beyond the poetic.

It begins with the acknowledgement of God’s unconditional love through every part of our lives from our mother’s womb, For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made… to If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there,  If I rise on the wings of the morning, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.”

The Psalm ends with the writer’s struggle in dealing with evildoers, If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!” (sentiments I can relate too)

It is a Psalm written thousands of years ago, it is a Psalm written for today.

It is also a Psalm of intimacy, a Psalm of a one-on-one relationship between us and God, a Psalm of “You” and “I”, . (You know when I sit and when I rise).

Even more intimate than, “I love you,” are the words, “I understand.”

The King James translation says it like this, “thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.”

Sanctity of life extends beyond the unborn, newly born, impaired or aged to all of us. It is God saying, “I understand” through every trial and difficulty life throws at us. As Christians the same love and compassion we wish to bestow on the unborn must also encompass their mothers and all people. To the best of our abilities, we must mirror Christ’s love to everyone.

To answer the question at the beginning of this post, the love of God has no limits.

 You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the morning,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Peace, Poppy

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (with apologies to Billy Joel)

The years and life experiences had softened and rounded both her figure and personality …

St. Louis is thick with Italian restaurants, ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. Within that range, on a scale from 1 to 10, I would have given this establishment a 7. Family owned, most of their menu selections created within the restaurant, you didn’t get the feeling that everything served there was loaded off a Sysco truck. It was situated along the service road of I-270, in an unpretentious strip mall, in a slowly declining part of town.

My first meal at that restaurant occurred decades ago. My office at the time was on that same service road. I had gone out for lunch with some co-workers and remember ordering the Chicken Spiedini. This is fairly remarkable since it’s a struggle to tell you what I had for lunch two days ago. Fast forward years later, Mrs. Poppy and myself now live just two miles from that same restaurant. It became part of our regular dining rotation when I wasn’t cooking. Most of the time I would get take-out after work, bringing it home for a relaxed dinner with Mrs. Poppy.

The hostess was a middle-aged woman, her given name was Karen, if I ever knew her surname it is long forgotten. She was nondescript in almost every way. The years and life experiences had softened and rounded both her figure and personality, but her eyes were bright, smiles offered generously, her laugh infectious. We had plenty of time to chat as my orders were prepared. She moved back to St. Louis from Florida to live with her mother after a divorce and a serious stroke left her unable to keep her job in the construction industry. She had connections with the family that owned the restaurant and her sister worked there as a bartender. A hostess job seemed the perfect solution to re-entering the workforce after her illness.

Cavatelli Primavera, Tortellini Alfredo, Cannelloni Bianco, Beef Sotto, and of course Chicken Spiedini were all alternately ordered then boxed for the journey home by Karen. We continued to chat during this process and along the way discovered a common interest … books and literature. She rattled off the names of some prominent and prolific authors, laughed and told me she read a lot of their works after her stroke, not because she was a big fan of theirs, but because the plots were so predictable she felt it helped her brain synapses reconnect. Over the years we debated the merits of various authors and traded paperbacks as my orders were prepared.

More often than not, when I returned home and unboxed the take-out, there would be a bonus package; a serving of cannoli or cheesecake, courtesy of Karen. I was particularly happy when it was cheesecake, because Mrs. Poppy is not fond of cheesecake, alleviating any guilt associated with eating the entire portion by myself.

I entered the restaurant after having been away for two or three weeks. Karen was not at her station. I didn’t think much about it and started to walk over to the bar to place my order when the owner hurried over and pressed a generous glass of wine in my hand. He told me that Karen had another stroke and this time it was fatal. It was a somber meal that night.

I continued to go to the restaurant and place my take-out orders at the bar. They had a dependable group of regulars. Conversation was never lacking. Discussions on weather and politics could be counted on. The state of Cardinal’s baseball was a staple of debate … but no one talked about books.

A few months ago, I returned to the restaurant only to find the lights out, the doors locked and a for sale sign in the window. I was not prepared for the emotions and memories that came over me as I drove away from that shuttered restaurant, and it had nothing to do with Chicken Spiedini.


As I mature get older, I am learning about the things that positively effect my quality of life. It’s not about the make of my car or the brand of my clothes. At least for me it is all about relationships.

I am blessed beyond measure to be part of a strong, loving and caring family, my wife, my daughters, my grandchildren. They are my foundation, the bedrock of my life.

I am privileged each week to do meaningful work alongside talented and dedicated co-workers. They and our vocations enrich my life in ways I’m sure I don’t truly understand or appreciate.

I am also learning the value of micro-relationships. The brief interactions with the check-out guy at the grocery store, when he notices my t-shirt and a 15 second conversation ensues about a shared interest.
And of course talking books with the hostess at an Italian restaurant.

Peace, Poppy

Thanks Billy for the title and a great song!

 

 

Sandy and the Accidental Cat

Sandy and I weren’t next door neighbors, at least not in the traditional sense. His property adjoins the rear of my lot at a ninety degree angle. If I walk to the back half of my yard, I can see his house. My first encounter with Sandy occurred not long after we moved in. A tree in my back yard yielded to gravity and fell across the lawn. I was doing my best to cut it into manageable sized pieces with the tools I had on hand, when Sandy strolled over with a chainsaw and an antique logging tool I had only seen in photos.

He stood about 5′ 8″, thin and wiry, bowed legs protruding from a pair baggy shorts. From beneath a Cardinal’s baseball cap, escaping tufts of hair gave a clue has to how he had acquired his nickname.

“Hey, neighbor,” he called out with an accent associated with the Northeast, “Want a hand?”

“Great,” I thought to myself, “Just what I need.” But it didn’t take long to figure out Sandy knew a lot more about cutting up trees than I did, and despite the large gap in our ages, I’m pretty sure he could have worked me into the ground. After our logging labors were over, we retreated to the small deck at the back of his house for conversation and a few congratulatory beers.

Turns out Sandy had been a navigator in the Air Force, flying bombing missions during WWII and later the Korean conflict. He regaled me with stories of his adventures both wartime and peacetime; like the time his crew decided a flight departing from Alaska would be the perfect opportunity to test the bomb bays capabilities for keeping  a load of King Crab legs frozen until they arrived at their home base in Texas … maybe not illegal, but certainly not regulation. Imagine the scene when the bomb bay doors were opened after landing and hundreds of King Crab legs spilled out onto the hot Texas tarmac. There were a lot of happy (and surfeited) airmen that day.

Turns out Sandy also had a fondness for cats. There were no less than 8 to 10 cats sauntering about his property. Sandy was not sentimental enough to give the cats names, he just referred to them based on their coloring and markings. “That calico over there, she just had kittens, I think that orange one is hers and maybe the white one with back feet.”

Sandy’s clowder of cats (yes, I had had to look that up), grew over the years and they started migrating north to our back porch, among them a nondescript grey tabby, that had recently given birth to a litter of kittens.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we are a family of softies. Mrs. Poppy is well known for her habit of escorting insects out of the house rather than squish them. The exceptions being mosquitos, roaches and brown recluse spiders (God have mercy on their little buggy souls).

However “soft” our family might be, that didn’t mean we wanted a crew of feral cats camping out in our backyard. We had to figure out a solution and taking them to an agency where they might be euthanized was not an option.

A little research yielded what seemed to be the perfect solution. St. Louis County had a free (with the help of my tax dollars)  service where they would lend you a live-trap and when you caught the feral cats and brought them in, any kittens or cats they deemed adoptable would be put up for adoption. Older cats would be neutered and returned to you or placed with farmers or someone who might have need of a mouser. Sign me up!

They gave me more details as I filled out the government paperwork. Adult cats who were neutered, while they were under anesthesia would have the top of one of their ears cut off as a means of identification in the future. I answered a series of questions, the last one being … “Any adult cats that we neuter, do you want us to return them to your property or place them elsewhere?”

“Somewhere else,” I quickly replied.

It took several trips to catch and deliver all the cats. I turned the trap in with the last load of felines and returned home feeling smug and smart.


“There’s a cat on the back porch that looks like that grey cat except it’s missing part of one ear, ” Mrs. Poppy tells me three weeks later.

Kismet … there are times when you just have to give in to fate. Through typical government inefficiency, we now have a cat. We could no longer keep calling her, “that grey cat,” so she became “Mrs. G.”

Her ribs are no longer showing and she now has a heated cat-house during the winter months. Mrs. G is a fierce hunter, she is not big but is incredibly fast, her grey coat allows her to become almost invisible in the dusk. To show her appreciation for food and housing, we are regularly gifted with her kills on the front or back door mat. Mice, voles, birds, even small squirrels. To these creatures she must appear as the T-Rex of Elizabeth Avenue.


Sandy is gone.

I am not one to dig up past mistakes, there are so many of them, I’m content to let sleeping mistakes be. I don’t need zombie mistakes shuffling and drooling behind me, besides I have new mistakes to make tomorrow.

But I am not without regrets. Most of those regrets are relational. Times where I could have been more patient, times where I chose to stir things up, rather than be a peacemaker. Times where I could have taken 10 minutes out of my “busy” schedule to spend with someone who needed some company.

Sandy could not cook, he lived off of frozen dinners and prepared foods. I knew that. After major holidays, I would take him some of our leftovers … but only occasionally.

Sandy appeared on his deck as I mowed the back yard. I would occasionally walk over after mowing and talk baseball and politics … but only occasionally, most of the time I was too “busy.”


The chain on the back porch screen door pulls shut with a sound unique to old houses and old screen doors, Mrs. G hears the sound and comes running. I settle on the top step of the stairs leading down to the driveway. She rubs up against my ankles and I reach down and scratch behind her ears.
It is time well spent.