Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sun and Moon, Bless the Lord. . .

Fall is my favorite time of the year - the crisp, cool air, and the multi-colored trees (like Nature's own tie-dye, eh Lime?) just quicken my steps and bring a joyful smile to my face. When I'm out on my bike on days like that, I simply can't keep myself from grinning as I pedal, just from the sheer joy of being alive in such a world. And I think of how, at the end of each Day of Creation, "God saw that it was good."

It calls to my mind our vacation this past summer, when Molly and I and our four youngest kids stayed for a week in a cabin Up North. A few times during the week, we visited the nearby Cross In the Woods, a Catholic shrine a few miles from where we were staying. The shrine is run by the Franciscan order, which organizes its life around the teachings and ideals of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is a very interesting man, eccentric and holy in the way that is almost unique to certain canonized saints of the Roman Catholic Church.

At the Cross In the Woods, there is a lovely little nature walk (and if you know anything about St. Francis, a nature walk is right up his alley, so to speak), with little stations along the way, each displaying a verse from St. Francis' Canticle of the Sun, a nature hymn which Francis wrote shortly before he died. I had generally ignored the Canticle, figuring that, as popular as it was among certain Catholics of an 'enviro-leftist' persuasion, especially back in the 60s/70s, that it might be somewhat dubiously 'orthodox'.

But, you know, I've grown in some ways, in the last 30 years, and I've come to appreciate many things of which my younger self was dubious. And I've always enjoyed walking in the woods. So, on our recent vacation, I happily set out to enjoy the shrine's nature walk, and the thought and spirit of St. Francis. And I found the Canticle, at least as rendered into English on the walk, to be utterly delightful. And so, I offer it here for the enjoyment of my friends:


Canticle of the Sun (St. Francis of Assisi; ca. 1225)

Most High, All-Powerful, All-Good Lord!
All praise, and honor and glory are Yours, and all blessing.
They are Yours alone, Most High,
And no one is worthy to mention Your Name.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through all that You have made,
Especially Brother Sun, who brings the day and the light.
How beautiful is he, and how radiant;
He bears Your likeness.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon, and the stars.
In Heaven You made them, bright and precious and fair.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
And through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather
By which You cherish all that You have made.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious and pure.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust and strong.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us in her sovereignty,
And produces various fruits and colored flowers and herbs.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through those who grant pardon for love of You,
And those who endure sickness and tribulation.
Happy are those who endure in peace;
By You, Most High, they will be crowned.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through our sister, Bodily Death,
From whom no one can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
But happy are those whom she finds doing Your holy will;
The second death can do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord,
And give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.


St. Francis here is much more than a 13th-century proto-enviro-greenie. He rejoices in the Creation, and offers his gratitude to the Creator who shows His love to us, His creatures, in and through the goodness of the world He created for us to live in.

There are echoes here of the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, especially Psalm 148 and the deutero-canonical Canticle of the Three Young Men (in Catholic/Orthodox bibles, it is placed in the Book of Daniel between verses 23 and 24 of chapter 3), which was sung by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from within the fiery furnace. Also the hymn All Creatures of Our God and King, which was a favorite of our minister in the church in which I grew up (and which, it turns out, was specifically intended as a musical rendition of St. Francis' Canticle).

God is good, and worthy of thanks and praise, for He made the world good, and gave it to us to live in. . .


(edit 25Oct) - I got out on my bike yesterday; the 27 miles I got in put me over 1200 for the year (for the third consecutive year). It was a damp, dank, dungy gray day, but these are the peak-color days around here; for mile after mile, even though it was gray and overcast and occasionally spitting rain, I was riding through brilliantly yellow, orange and red trees, mixed with the last remaining bits of green. And today, the sun is out and the colors are just luminous.

Did I mention that fall is my favorite season? . . .

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Night Lights, Desmond-Style. . .

I have not spent much space in this blog on regaling you with tales of my athletic prowess of bygone days, and for two good reasons. First, I am all-too-aware of how pathetic it can be to listen to some middle-aged (or older) guy trying to recapture the glory of his younger days, and I don't want to inflict that pain on you, who might still count me as your friend. And second, I just don't have all that much in the way of Stories of Bygone Athletic Prowess. I suppose, in order to tell Stories of Bygone Athletic Prowess, it helps to have actually had some Athletic Prowess, once upon a time. . .

And yet, this time of year, I am always reminded of one particular football game from my high school days; you all would be very kind to indulge me. . .


In Michigan, for purposes of athletic competition, high schools are divided into four classes, according to enrollment. Class A schools are the largest, and Class D are the smallest. In the northern two-thirds of the state, which includes the town I grew up in, there were only five Class A schools, in my high-school days (there are a few more now), and my school was one of them. Which presented us with a bit of a challenge, when it came to competing against similar-sized schools. Typically, we wound up playing the other four northern Class A schools, maybe a Class B school or two, and then travelling 'downstate' for the rest of our games.

Another thing which we did, to save some travel costs, was to have our JV team play against the varsity squad of a few of the Class C/D schools, of which there were several, within an hour's drive or less of us. On this particular night, I was on the JV squad, and we were playing the varsity of a Class D school about a half-hour up the road.

I was the center for our team (that's the guy who initially lines up over the ball, and 'hikes' it to the quarterback to begin the play). Over the course of the season, the center and the quarterback develop an intimate, close relationship; I'll just say that Molly, and whoever changed my diapers when I was a baby, are the only other people in my life whose hands have spent so much time on that part of my body.

Anyway, before the game, our coaches were reviewing with us what to expect from our opponent that night, and how we were intending to deal with it. Speaking to our defense, the coach said, "Basically, their offense consists of one guy, and his name is Godfrey; they've only got three plays - Godfrey left, Godfrey right, and Godfrey up the middle." So apparently this Godfrey guy was quite a horse.

My best buddy (who was also my backup center) and I, being conscientious fellows, raised our hands, and asked, "This Godfrey - does he play on defense for them?"

The coach paused for a second or two, before saying, "I think he's their noseman, but I'm not sure."

Well, now, the news that Godfrey, who was already morphing in my brain into something out of a bad horror movie - more like Godzilla than Godfrey - might be the noseman - the defensive player who plays across from the center, and who I'd thus stand to spend virtually the entire game trying to block - might be the noseman, but my coach - my coach, who was charged, among other things, with assuring that I be safely returned to my parents after the game - wasn't sure. . . Well, this news suddenly became a matter of grave concern for my young life. Bearing in mind that I was a 14-year-old sophomore, and Godzilla was a senior. He might've been the only decent player on his whole team (as it turns out, he was a Class D all-stater), but he was gonna be my problem for the next 2-3 hours. . .

Our team won the coin-toss, and received the opening kickoff, and then our offense, including me as the center, took the field. And sure enough, there he was. I broke the huddle, turned and trotted up to my position over the ball. And there was this. . . this huge THING there, waiting for me, his malevolent breath panting over my ball. Red glowing eyes stared evilly out at me from inside his helmet, and a three-day stubble adorned his chin. "Senior, hell!" I thought to myself. This guy's a freakin' Vietnam vet, who's been beheading communists with piano wire, up until last week.

"What's your name, kid?" he grunted at me.

Figuring that he was trying to intimidate me, I gave what I thought would be a suitably 'tough' response - "What do you care?"

"I need to know what to put on your gravestone."

I wanted to congratulate him on his wit; you know, "Touche! Good one!" or somesuch, but before I could get the words out, he charged out of his stance and drilled me, sending me ass-over-teakettle about five yards into the backfield, taking out my quarterback as I flew past. The referees blew their whistles and threw their yellow hankies, and duly marched off fifteen yards against Godzilla and his teammates for the Unsportsmanlike Conduct of kicking my ass before they told him it was OK to do so. But the message had been sent, and, you can be sure, received. I was in for the ass-kicking of my life that night; my young manhood was about to receive its sternest test to date.

And, continuing from my first snap, it proceded apace. Godzilla, who outweighed me by something like 50 pounds, and out-meaned me by a much greater margin, whipped me up one side of the field and down the other. I became intimately acquainted with his right forearm, which smashed across the bridge of my nose on every play, within milliseconds of the ball smacking into my quarterback's hands (I should mention here that this was also our first game of the season, and we hadn't yet received all of the best equipment that was on order; so my facemask, instead of being a 'lineman's mask' with a vertical bar protecting my nose, was a simple 'two-bar' facemask, which afforded a space slightly larger than the width of Godzilla's forearm between the edge of the helmet, and the top bar of the facemask. So Godzilla's forearm, which I think was made of weapons-grade steel, or maybe depleted uranium, hammered the bridge of my nose on each and every play, the entire game long; by the end of the game, my nose was approximately triple its normal width).

After the first few plays, I was past the point of trying to block him. On a couple of occasions, Godzilla, who also had the reflexes of a nervous jaguar, was past me, into the backfield, almost before the ball. I only tried to get myself between him and where the play was going, hoping to slow him down a little in the process of steamrolling me. It very quickly devolved into a Rocky-esque scenario of just taking my beating, and staying determined to do what I could, and not quit until the game was over.

And that's pretty much what I did. By the third quarter or so, I was pretty much shell-shocked, and my coach took pity on me and sent my buddy, the backup center, in for a series. But my buddy was 50 pounds lighter than I was (which had something to do with why I was the starter), and Godzilla treated him like a chew-toy. But at least I got a few minutes' respite from the hailstorm, before I had to go back out into it.


Now, it really was true that Godzilla was virtually the only decent player on that team - I don't think they had a single other player bigger than 175 pounds, much less 200, and these weren't wiry-athletic skinny guys, either. Godzilla was pretty much playing us 1-on-11, and I was designated to absorb the full brunt of his fury.

One of his teammates, the defensive tackle who played the next position up the defensive line from him, was a tall, skinny guy - maybe 6-1 and 145 pounds or so - and as nearly as I could tell, his role on the defense was something like the Heckler. He had a whiny, nasal, high-pitched voice, and every play, as I once again assumed my position and steeled myself for yet another onslaught of Godzilla's rage, he would commence with the performance of his duties. "Center!" he'd yell, in his sing-song, nasal whine, "center, you're gonna get killed, man! He's gonna kick your ass, man! You're gonna get killed!" And he repeated that same song before every snap. Which, in a perverse way, motivated me to keep going. If this skinny dork wanted me to quit, he was having the exact opposite effect on my psyche. And pissing me off, besides - HE wasn't the one kicking my ass, but he was the one crowing about it, and I just wanted to say, "Bring it, Stick-Boy! Let's see how bad you are when it's you and me!"

And so it came to pass that lo and behold, for one play, late in the third quarter (and alas, it was the only such play the entire game), just as I was beginning to question my own sanity for continuing to submit to the every-30-seconds beatings, the clouds parted, and a light shone down from the heavens. We broke the huddle, and I trotted up to the ball, and lo! Godzilla was not there! Oh, Hallelujah! They were in a different defense, and Godzilla was playing a middle linebacker position, a couple yards off the line. And my skinny Yakker was across from me! At that point, I completely forgot what the play was that we were running, or what my blocking assignment was. For one play, my eyes flashed red and glowed. My voice dropped in pitch by at least an octave (even though I said nothing; strange how that worked), as I glared across the line. I snapped the ball and fired out, right through the chest of my erstwhile tormentor. I knocked him on his back, and ran up his chest, on my way downfield to find someone else (preferably, someone not named Godzilla) to block.

The next play, Godzilla was back across the line from me. But the Heckler was quiet for the rest of the game.


We actually won that game, narrowly - Godzilla couldn't whip our whole team all by himself, but he sure wreaked a lot of havoc by the time he was done. I was able to join my teammates in rejoicing over our victory, even while I absorbed some good-natured teasing over the ass-kicking I'd taken (not unmixed with a sense of relief on their part, that it hadn't been them). Even just by willingly taking my whipping every play, I'd made my contribution to our victory, and my teammates, and my coaches, were duly appreciative.

And, within a week, my nose was even pretty much back to normal. And I got my lineman's facemask. . .

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thanks for Noticing

At one of our recent prayer meetings, Molly was wearing a sleeveless top, and the effects of her newly-rigorous workout program were showing on her lean, tanned arms and shoulders. One of the college guys stopped her for a second after the meeting.

"Mrs. Jones!" he exclaimed, "You're buff!"

That's right, kid, she is. And she's all mine. . .

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


So, my Tigers will be sitting out the playoffs, after having led their division since the middle of May (OK, so it was a lousy division; so what?), having had a 7-game lead with 21 to play, and a three-game lead with four to play. It ain't quite the '64 Phillies, or the '87 Blue Jays, but it'll join the list of egregious late-season chokes, for sure. Take nothing away from the Twins, though - they were relentless, and finishing 17-4 in their last 21 games is simply astonishing.

But, aside from being a Tiger fan, that was an amazing 12-inning game last night, with Never-Say-Die heroics on both sides, from the 7th inning through to the end. But come on, guys - twice, you had a runner on third with less than two out, and didn't score (and Curtis Granderson, what were you thinking, getting doubled off first base on a one-out liner in the 9th, when the lead run was on third in front of you? That was horrible. . .). But Rick Porcello pitched like a veteran, not a 20-year-old rookie (and since when are major-league ballplayers younger than my own sons, anyway?); and Ryan Rayburn throwing out the winning run at the plate in the 10th. . . that was take-your-breath-away dramatic.

(*sigh*) Maybe next year. . .

But hey, at least my Spartans beat the hated Wolverines last weekend (and you can trust me when I say that the Wolverines are hated in these parts); so we've finally beaten them in consecutive years for the first time since I was eleven years old. . .

And Molly left a monkey in my lunch today. . .

Friday, October 2, 2009

What's In a Name?

A short (OK, maybe not so short) follow-up to the previous post on my reunion with my birth-mother. . .

I am now the same age my birth-mother was when we first met (since she was, for all intents and purposes, 20 when I was born). It is hard for me to describe what it has meant for me to have had her in my life these past 20 years. Just knowing where I came from, and that I didn't fall out of the sky (or, as my friend Lime is wont to say, that I wasn't hatched from an alien egg) counts for a lot. But having the kind of 'intrinsic' connection that flows from shared DNA has been a unique delight, all its own. Besides which, I really like her; she's a neat lady, and I'm glad I can know her.


One of the things that is on my mind as I ponder this anniversary is names. We all have one (heck, most of us these days have three of 'em, or more), and, in whatever odd and mysterious way, it identifies us uniquely. Parents give a lot of thought to naming their children, and the vast majority of those children accept the name their parents gave them as somehow intrinsic to their own identity. Having a name - being given a name - seems to signify our personhood (or somesuch hi-falutin' stuff).

In my life, I have had three names. Or maybe I should say, I've had three sets of names. The first was the name I was born with. A first name, a middle name, and a last name. Oddly enough, my first name has been one of the very few constants, that have inhered to my life over the full extent of it; there's a story connected with that, but I don't want to get ahead of myself. My birth-mother says that she gave me that name because it seemed a strong name to her (the 'Names' section in the back of our dictionary makes associations with mountains and rocks; FWIW), but beyond that, it had no particular significance; it wasn't a family name, or anything like that. Just a strong-sounding one, at least to her young ears at the time. My middle-birth-name was the same as her brother's (my uncle's) middle name. And my birth-surname was the same as hers. Which fact would come in very handy when I undertook to search for her.

When I was a child, I came across a baby book that one of my foster mothers kept for me (quite an unusual thing for an adopted child to have). In it, I was identified by my first and middle birth names, which was a little confusing to me, since, at the time I was seeing it, that wasn't my name. The first name was familiar, but I didn't know what to make of the other one. For many years, I thought that it was my birth-surname (it was one of those names that could have been either a first/middle, or a surname).

My adoption wasn't final until sometime after my first birthday, as attested by the date on the adoption order. I think my birth-mother was a little reluctant to once-and-for-all sign the papers relinquishing her rights to me. My adoptive parents may have had me as their foster son for a short time before the adoption was final, but that was when it all became official. Since I was a year old, they reasoned that they should leave me with my original first name, since I was, by that time, well used to being called by it (and all the moreso, if, as I believe, they had already had me in their home for a while, and had called me by that name themselves).

They gave me a new middle name, after a famous Supreme Court Justice (why my parents were so enamored of that particular Supreme Court Justice, I have no idea). I never particularly liked my middle name (and, in the fullness of time, once I learned a little about him, I wasn't terribly happy to be named after that particular Supreme Court Justice, either). Although I did get some amusement from people trying to guess my middle name from knowing the initial (no one ever did). And of course, I got a new surname. A new family name, signifying the new family that I was being brought into.

And the family identity that was signified by that name has come to be precious to me. 'Jones' (of course, that's not really my name, but for our purposes here, pretend that it is, OK?) is associated, in my mind, and in my psyche more broadly, with a whole set of 'family' things - my dad, most especially; his dad, my grandfather; my grandpa's farm, where we went for all the holidays when I was a kid, and which had my grandpa's name prominently displayed on the front of the barn; my brothers and sisters, and my cousins from my dad's two brothers, and the fact that everyone knew we were connected to each other because we all shared the same last name; and so on, etc, etc. Even when I went away to college, I went (almost in spite of myself) to the same school my dad had gone to (and his brother, my uncle), and I was well aware that I was not the first person named 'Jones' to have walked those hallowed halls.

And such was my name, through all of my living memory, and I had no reason, nor desire, to think that it would ever be otherwise. . .

Until I met my birth-mother. When I was first starting to think about searching for her, I spoke with my parents, to try to get a 'read' on where they'd be at if I decided to do such a thing. And, in the course of the conversation, my mom (my 'stepmother', though I've never called her that) produced a torn scrap of paper with three names on it. The first two, I recognized from the baby book. The third, the last name, was completely new to me. She went on to tell me that, when she'd married my dad, she'd come across the papers pertaining to my brother's and my adoptions, and had written down our 'original names', just in case, and then hidden that scrap of paper behind a picture that hung on their wall for years. And, as it turned out, within the first year that she and dad were married, our basement flooded, and all of those records were destroyed. So, for more than 20 years, that scrap of paper, hidden behind that picture, was virtually my only connection to my origins.

Anyway, when I asked my dad how he'd be disposed to my searching for my birth-parents, he was fine with it. "If you think it's something you need to do, then by all means, go ahead." And then he added, "Just don't change your name." And I assured him that I had no intention of doing anything like that.

While I was searching for my birth-mother, I made some use of the fact that my dad had a great-grandmother with the same surname as I had been born with (he and my birth-mother turn out to be something like 8th-cousins); I could credibly (and truthfully, if not quite 'the-whole-truth-fully') say that I was researching the family whose name happened to be theirs. I also spoke with a few of her friends and relations (none of whom, by the way, figured out my true intentions), and they duly recounted their conversations with me, when next they spoke to her. And she was extremely intrigued, when she heard the name of this young man who was asking about her - the first name was the same one she'd given her son, years ago (and 'Desmond' - again, not my real name, but we can pretend - is not the most common name in the English-speaking world). Which was most curious, since she assumed that, whoever her son was, his adoptive parents would have given him a different name. Even so, she had inklings that something significant was afoot.

Once we were well and properly reunited, and I had gone to visit her at her house, and it was well-established that we were going to have a long and happy relationship, I came to lament the 'broken connection' between us, and all the years we'd spent apart, and I wanted to have some tangible expression of our connection to each other. My dad having admonished me not to change my name, planted a seed for a possible resolution to my difficulty. I was pretty sure that the 'name' my dad was referring to was our family name. And, since my first name was the same, no matter what, I thought, I could change my middle name to coincide with my birth-surname, which was also my birth-mother's maiden name. That would 'complete the circle', capturing in my name all of my birth and familial connections (and would also shed me of a middle name that I had never liked). (And besides, I've always thought those 'mother's-maiden-name' middle names sounded classy).

When I checked my hunch with my dad, he agreed that it was the family name he was concerned about, and he didn't attach all that much significance to the middle name he'd assigned me, either (beyond the fact that he had, in point of fact, assigned it to me; but he didn't regard that particular assignation as binding). And so, in 1990, just before my 34th birthday (and just before my birth-mother's first visit to our house), I went to court and legally changed my name, so that now, my birth-family-name is my middle name, to go between the only first name I've ever had, and the name of the family I was raised in, and nurtured, the family whose name I've borne for longer than I can remember.

And it all just seems to fit. My whole life, and all of my circumstances, are accounted for in my name. And it seems very good.