Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thought for Food

Bumper sticker: Chocolate is Cheaper than Therapy and You Don't Need an Appointment.

What's up with our obsession with food? Years ago I walked into a Hometown Buffet (one of those restaurants you could eat all the macaroni and canned crap you want for $3.99.) Half the diners looked like they'd eaten their hometown. Yeh, yeh--I know that a number of people have metabolic issues, thyroid difficulties, and pathology which is organic in nature, all of which cause weight gain. But ALL of us? I have to believe that some of us are just choosing to become knuckle-dragging, fat slobs. I am en route if I'm not careful. I waddle up to the scale and suck my gut in, hoping to see the numbers. Nice try. So my wife reads them to me. "981 lbs." "You're reading them upside down, Honey." But why wasn't that obvious to her?

Food often is my comfort. It soothes my "nervous stomach." I eat to calm my anxiety. It can be a long and stressful day of work and rather than releasing I find myself inhaling--food.

Food is often a habit. It's noon; I must eat lunch. It's 5:30 p.m.; I must eat dinner. If I haven't eaten and it's 5:32 p.m. I become light-headed and disoriented. Yeh, right. Often it's not hunger that's prompting me to eat; it's habit. I was at Taco Bell today (only the best for me) and ordered my $.89 Five-layered Beef Burrito and a small Coke which I refill with each bite. Did you just notice I referred to the burrito as mine. It's no longer a Taco Bell selection. It's mine, Baby! Anyway, a couple months ago I would order and inhale two of my $.89 Five-layered Beef Burritos. Recently I began a new medication. It accelerates the rapid growth of nose and ear hair, which upon reaching a length of one inch, I will have a hair follicist transplant on top of my head. I'm delusional and I digress. It is true that the new medication has curbed my appetite. Today, I finished off one of my $.89 Five-layered Beef Burritos, and was full. But this internal battle was waged.
"I ALWAYS get two."
"But you're not hungry."
"I know, but it just doesn't feel right to only have one."
"You're a beef-eating pig."
I oinked at one and left.

The Bible contains some harsh words about our over-eating. In the book of Proverbs it is written," "When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive." (23:1-3) Let's not get literal here. I think the passage is suggesting that we take strong measures in general to address our gluttony. And I wonder if it isn't only a ruler's food that is deceptive. ALL food can be deceptive. We trust food for more than it can deliver. If I eat enough Happy Meals they'll make me fat, not happy. Happiness is to be sought and will be found elsewhere.

I will continue to fight for a healthier relationship with food. In the meantime, three more hours and it's 5:30!!

What's YOUR relationship with food? Lemme know.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Homeless can be Heartless

We got burnt. As some of you know, our church serves the homeless a fantastic breakfast out of our tiny church office downtown. (See a prior blog, Jan.10, The Clueless Serving the Homeless.)
It's tiny, cramped quarters and at 7:00a.m. we open the doors and 70+ men and women come pouring in. Last week, one of them began making a scene and wouldn't de-escalate so I approached him and told him he had two options: calm down or he'd have to leave. He responded, "Oh, so you want to play hard-ball!" Time passed and one of our team-members saw him on his cellphone and 10 minutes later the fire marshal showed up, saying someone had complained about so many people being in a small space. This past week the fire marshal met with our pastor and determined that occupancy is 49. Our teams average about 10 people, so to be safe we now have to let 35 in while the others stand outside in the cold.

Yeh, it could just be a coincidence; maybe he was calling his mother to wish her Happy Valentine's Day. I confronted him privately, and, of course, he denied everything. He didn't acknowledge he had called the fire marshal; but neither did he claim he called his mother.

Why would you do that to people who week in and week out have provided you food and clothing? Why would you jeopardize your fellow-homeless peers by taking an action that could have potentially shout down the entire operation? I'll never know.

This I know. We will continue to serve him. Though he made a terribly misguided decision, he, nonetheless, still needs food and clothing. We began this outreach and will continue to serve not because of the warm, appreciative response or outcome but because (1) Christ has called us to do so (2) these individuals have a desperate need which we can meet.

At this point, I do not FEEL warmly toward him or loving of him. I want to shove him against the wall and scream, "What the hell are you doin', you ungrateul slob!?!") (Again, see my prior blog which will explain a lot.)

I have had this stark "awakening": my attitude of and desire for revenge is no different than his. My desire to take matters into my own hands is no less misguided than the decision he made. My anger is no less toxic than his.
So I back off and,instead, I DO loving things for him in spite of, at the moment, having loathing feelings.

Sometimes, those serving the homeless can be heartless, too.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Some Apologies Are Sorry

(If you could care less about Tiger, breathe deep--this isn't about Tiger.)

Everybody has their opinion about Tiger and many are giving him advice. Former basketball star Magic Johnson advised, "All he has to say is 'I'm sorry; I'm human.'" WRONG!! Never follow an "I'm sorry" with any verbiage which will merely discount/minimize or void the apology. "I'm sorry" begins to take owndership of what I have done; "I'm human" (as if to say "I'm only human") now robs my apology of any sense of transgression. "Hey, I'm human" means 1. everbody else does it, so what's the problem in me doing it? 2. it happens to everybody else so why are you so upset about what I did to you?

That's a very sorry "I'm sorry."

The other sorry apology is "I'm sorry, but. . . " Get your "but" out of any apology you offer. As soon as I utter "but" I'm no longer taking responsibility for what I've done and am now blaming it or attributing it to someone else. "I'm sorry, but if you hadn't. . . I wouldn't have . . ." is also a very sorry "I'm sorry."

Most of us hate being wrong and we hate admitting when we've wronged another. Nonetheless, when apologizing we must own, we must take total responsibility for what we've said or done. We must acknowledge how it has hurt or offended the other person. We must ask for their forgiveness (I'm gritting my teeth as I type this sentence) and commit to them that we will do all in our power not to hurt them in that manner again.

If my wife reads this post she will surely be thinking, "Steve, you look good on paper; what's up with your sorry apologies through the years?" I will tell her, "I'm sorry; I'm human, and if you hadn't. . . "

I apologize for the delay between this post and the next. I'll be recovering. Sorry.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger, Keep Your Paws to Yourself

Ok. I'm not a golfer. Mark Twain described golf as "a good way to ruin a long walk." I agree. However, I am fascinated with pop culture, our heroes, and our god Sportacus. Tiger has intrigued me with his skills and his empire. I was terribly disappointed and angered when his Nov. 27, 2009, debacle hit the fan-- and his fans.

I'm angry at him. Tiger, I thought you were one of my heroes. Are there any heroes left? Heroes with not only skills or athletic prowess or feats accomplished, but also with integrity? Don't build us up only to let us down. Bogey, man.

I realize anger or disgust can't be the only response. When anyone is willing to forsake their reputation, their marriage, their family, multi-million dollar endorsements --all for some pleasure outside the Tiger den--there is a serious problem. One of the hallmarks of addiction is the willingness to pursue and engage in high-risk behavior in spite of the likelihood of extensive loss. In my sane moments my heart goes out to him, a man in the throes of addiction.

Unfortunately, his speech today did not warm my heart further, and I doubt the public is oozing newly-birthed compassion. Yes, the speech was scripted, but we were informed of that a couple days ago. No surprise. However, the absence of any emotion? Big surprise. Come on--his canned speech was canned. He had all the right words today, all the therapeutic recovery jargon. I would bet my Nike endorsement that several recovery therapists crafted his speech and then ran it by a public relations guy for final editing, after which he was told, "Now go out there and read it." He took ownership ("It's all my fault. . . I alone am responsible." ) He confessed a sense of entitlement ("I felt I had worked hard my entire life; and I felt entitled. . . ") He made amends to his family and the public. All the right words, but I detected no emotion whatsoever. His emotional pulse was flat-line; flat-line until he displayed anger at the media for hounding him and his family. Now would not be the time to rip on the media, Tiger. Retract the fangs. The only emotion shown was anger at the media following the most public and famous athlete in the history of the world. Where was the remorse, the sadness, the contrition, the grief? Yes, there were words of remorse and sadness, but I saw no feelings accompanying the words. He could have, at least, acted sorry. Couldn't an acting coach have scripted a pregnant pause, a change in inflection, an index finger occasionally dabbing an emerging tear. His speech contained all the emotion of a first grade class reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Double bogey.

And what took so long? It's taken over two and a half months to, if nothing else, utter three unscripted words--"I am sorry." With feeling. Triple bogey.

I will suspend further opinion. As I sit here and look at these words on the screen I am having an uncomfortable realization: my sense of moral superiority and self-righteousness in my filleting of and railing against him may be as scandalous in God's eyes as Tiger's swinging and flinging.

Enough said.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Silence is Golden; Duct Tape is Silver

One of the spiritual disciplines, so I am told by those who are spiritually disciplined, is silence. So I will now produce profuse verbiage about silence. (Is there a contradiction contained therein?)

Last night our church held an Ash Wednesday service in the Apollo Theater. As my great luck would have it I showed up about 30 minutes early. Upon entering, I was handed a card informing us that we would engage in the discipline of silence and instructing us to be silent upon entering and throughout the service. Why can't I show up early and they announce we're having a donut eating contest, first come first served?

I embrace silence like I embrace a snot-nosed, whining, hacking 6 year old. So, our pastor hands me the card, I quickly read it, go into a full-blown panic attack, and tell him I just realized I didn't iron my socks and have to run back home and correct the wardrobe faux pas (all right--so I'm not particularly quick-thinking in a panic.) He puts his index finger to his lips and motions me upstairs to the seating. Each slow step up the stairs I inhale deeply and pray, "God, I receive your peace" and then I deeply exhale, praying, "God, get me out of this NOW or I swear I'll make a door where there is none!" After 37 steps of my own version of The Serenity Prayer I find a seat. Actually, there were ALL available due to my eagerness (now turned to dread) to get there. It's silent. No background music. No previews of coming movies. Just me and God. Where's a great distraction or an escaping addiction when you need one?

I crawl into my fetal position and attempt to pray, to quiet my mind. I attempt to calm the inner clamor. I realize how "full" I am--full of myself, full of avoidance, full of anxiety, full of my own agenda. So full that there is little room for God. So full of inner noise that it is no wonder I have difficulty hearing God.

As I sit there, my mouth motionless but my mind running at a breath-taking pace, I hear a few others entering. It sounds like a couple whispering to each other and then she starts giggling as they continue to violate the vow of silence. I become irritated at them and question their sincerity and want to go over and ask them if they mistakenly thought this was a Jimmy Buffett concert. It hit me--I'm also full of judgment. I had turned this opportunity to quiet myself and position myself to more readily encounter God into a scathing condemnation of my brother and sister who are probably uncomfortable with the silence, also, and just deal with it differently than me.

Finally, my wife, who had to work later than me, showed up and sat beside me. With intensity I whispered to her, "SAY SOMETHING!!! TALK TO ME!!!" She just patted my hand and handed me my "blankie," and bowed her head in tranquil silence. I resumed my fetal position, after her prompting me to get off the floor and into my seat.

Not a word was spoken the entire service. Some instrumental music, some inspirational words and periodic instructions on the screen. No dialogue. Quiet. Stillness. And there were moments where I experienced not only auditory silence, but soul silence.

Moments where it wasn't about ME. Moments where there was a sense of being drawn to God. A beckoning to empty myself of Preoccupation in order to be filled with Presence.

The service ended and I bolted. I ran home, grabbed the remote, and again became preoccupied. I filled myself and darted between American Idol, the Olympics, a Middle rerun. I filled myself and snacked, though not hungry. And I listened to "Margaritaville." At least I have the spiritual discernment and maturity to do so after, not during, an Ash Wednesday service. Jeez.

As you can see, my experience of silence is a two-edged sword. It makes me anxious. Anxious to avoid, anxious for more.

I'd like to hear how YOU do silence. What's your experience?
(I've tried to make it easier to comment and less hoops to jump through. Let me know. Thanks.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Clinging to Hope

It's hard to be hopeful these days. Between that which is simply stupid and that which is evil, hope is a scarce commodity.

There's enough stupidity out there to cause me to relinquish any hope for mankind. The Darwin Awards are given each year to recognize "those who improve our gene pool. . . by removing themselves from it." Ya gotta know that any story that begins with, "Well, uh, I was building a pipe bomb," can never end well. Sam liked to build things. One Sunday he got bored watching the football game and decided to go down to his basement workshop and create a pipe bomb. You understand. He welded a pipe closed on one end, and taking precautions he let the metal cool before he put the gunpowder in the pipe. When he was done packing the powder, he realized that he had run out of welding rod. And so he set the half-finished pipe bomb on the scrap metal pile for later. A lot later. He forgot about it. Fast forward 6 months. A few days before hunting season, Sam is loading his hunting gear into his pride-and-joy Ford Bronco, when he notices that a shaft is cracked. Being an expert welder, Sam knows he can fix the cracked pipe himself. He reaches into his scrap metal pile, pulls out a pipe, pulls down his welding hood, and strikes an arc. He remembers a loud bang and not much else. Shrapnel embedded itself up to the rafters of the third floor of his house. Another piece of shrapnel blew through Sam's welding hood, missing his empty skull by half an inch.

As if the stupidity of mankind isn't enough to threaten hope, add to that the evil choices and acts perpetrated daily and any ray of hope becomes dim. You don't need me to cite you examples; all you have do is watch the 10:00 p.m. news, or go for a walk around the block.

Nonetheless, I possess hope. Not because I am some head-in-the-sand idealist. Not because I am an eternal optimist (if you have read a sampling of my blogs you will know I'm not.) Not because I believe in the inherent goodness of man; I think we've had quite enough time to evolve morally if we were truly and steadily becoming "bigger and better" people.

I am a man of hope because I believe in God who is both immanent and transcendent. God is immanent, i.e. within the material, created world, but he is not merely contained within nor confined by it. God is also transcendent, i.e. outside and beyond our material world and ultimately not restricted by it. If God is only immanent then there is no hope for significant change; we will tragically remain on our cultural and cosmic collision course. If God is only transcendent then he is Aristotle's prime mover, a non-material being outside our world, completely aloof and disengaged. A biblical view of God asserts that God is both immanent and transcendent.

If God is transcendent then there is always --always--hope. That means that God is always greater than my individual circumstances or our collective sitz im leben. Regardless of how bleak or impossible this season of life might feel, God is not confined by the circumstance; he transcends it and his hands are not tied by it. I came across this quote that gets at this: "Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have isn't permanent." That's because the feeling you have does not and will not have the final word--God does and will.

I do not have hope in our finite technology. I do not have confidence in our governmental systems and infrastructures to resolve the difficulties which assail us. I do place hope in the infinite God who transcends all this and can break in from the outside and intervene. Martin Luther King, Jr. seemed to have found perspective: "We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope." Therein is the tension and balance we navigate throughout our life.

That does not mean that everything is gong to turn out just the way I hope because I pray to God and he is now obligated to answer my prayer accordingly. As our pastor commented recently, "God is not a vending machine." I put in this request, push the lever, and Bingo! out shoots the answer or solution I was hoping for. It does mean that God will somehow intervene and usher in and bestow upon you meaning and purpose in the midst of your undesired predicament. Vaclav Havel, a Czech playwright, essayist, and first President of the Czech Republic (1993-2003) put it this way, "Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something will make sense regardless of how it turns out." It may turn out well; it will have meaning and "presence" for you because God is both in it and beyond its entangling tentacles.

It does mean that God is within the absolute darkness of your despair; God walks with you in the chaos which blinds you to any perceivable way out. God is with you when those haunting fears threaten to immobilize you. God is immanent.

But God is also not on an equal footing with the darkness, the bleakness, the fear. It's not an equal playing field. God will have the final say. God will make the ultimate move on your behalf. God is not contained by the present circumstance you face. There is hope because God transcends the circumstance.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

he finally needs MY help

Jack Bauer is in trouble again. Again or still? I have idly sat by for years. Eyes bulging and neck veins pulsating, I have been glued to each episode. I sit spellbound and in an excruciatingly high state of anxiety I inhale an entire bag of microwave popcorn without chewing a single bite. Every Monday night from 8:00-9:00 p.m. I consistently prove a person can hold his breath for an hour. But all of this has been in the capacity of a mere spectator.

I can sit and observe no longer. This last episode of 24 has catapulted me into action. Jack Bauer needs my help! I am presently deliberating whether to attempt to make contact via CTU (Central Terrorist Unit, for the uninitiated), or whether to make direct contact. There are still some remaining slimeballs within CTU who are compromising our national security and I don't know if I can slip under their radar if I go through CTU. Putting those concerns on paper just now made the decison for me. I have to contact Jack directly. This is too important to entrust to mere mortals.

Jack, I'm coming! You won't have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders any longer. I will be there for you and with you, man.

To my friends and colleagues and readers, I am informing you now because any minute, any day now I may have to drop what I'm doing and leave immediately. It will have been Jack calling me and in that raspy, cool voice saying, "Steve. . . meet me at Taco Bell. . . we need to talk."

Or it could be Renee Walker calling me. As long as I know she's not packin' I'll do anything, go anywhere for her, too.

(Just kidding, Honey. No, really. Renee, Schmenee. This is all about Jack and me saving the world, of which Renee Schmenee is just one infinitesimal minute speck on the planet.)

No, really.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Today I Laughed

"There is a time for everything. . . a time to weep, a time to laugh. . . " (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4)

Today has been a time to laugh. Our 7 y.o. granddaughter and her 5 y.o brother are with us for an overnight and will return home early in the morning. We've run, we've played. We built a scrawny snowman that, per her assessment, "looks like an alien." We played snowball tag this morning. We're eating whatever they want and whatever quantity of it they desire. We hid in the dark basement from Nana. We played Uno. We made popcorn and watched Princess Diaries 2 due to her pleading and in spite of his dismay. Judging by the look on his face you'd have thought we were watching Princess Diarrhea 2. I found myself watching the kids about as much as I watched the movie. Their expressions, their spontaneous reactions are funnier than any movie.

I laugh at their explanations of body reactions. e.g., "Mommy knows how to burp; she just swallows her spit." I laugh at the names they've given to certain body parts; dual appendages of the male anatomy are referred to, in hushed tones, as "donkers."

We make faces; we belch as loud as we can. We get it all out of our system--for tomorrow they will have to resume behaving. For the time being, it's like the UFC in that there are no holds barred. It's a free-for-all. The difference is we engage no fists, just fits--fits of laughter and joy.

Today is a time to laugh. And I am.

Yesterday I Cried

I was reading an article in a Christian Encounter Ministries newsletter about the history of the organization and its founder. Years ago, I was an integral part of that organization and in close relationship with their founder. Recent years found me out of the loop. There was a postscript at the end, "Paul Cecil went home to be with the Lord on December 27, 2009. . ." You see, years ago this man --the founder and director--and C.E.M. saved my life, my sanity, my faith.

It was the 70's and I was living in San Diego in one of its little communities, Ocean Beach. Back in the day, if you were in your 20's and lived in San Diego you were either: 1. in the military 2. a student at San Diego State 3. a strung-out dopehead/hippie/freak. Suffice it to say, I wasn't saying, "Yessir!!" nor did my evening hours consist of reading a sociology textbook.

Several years prior I had gone through a crisis of faith and the crisis overrode and demolished my faith. I was blind in my rage and in my pain. Having rejected my faith, and hurt to the core, I couldn't bear the excruciating angst of soul. My brother had moved in with me and first turned me on to weed. What a relaxing escape it became. I went from sampling it to savoring it to selling it. I inhaled more pot than oxygen. I sampled the rest of the available chemical and herbal and pharmaceutical delights at my disposal. Dope replaced hope. Eventually, I spiraled downward very quickly. Breakfast consisted of snorting a line or two of pharmaceutical speed and washing it down with orange juice. (Vitamin C is essential to a healthy body and mind.) The rest of the day I maintained by constantly smoking pot and occasional trips--not to CVS, but LSD.

I must admit there were certainly some moments of pleasure, but my life was absolutely devoid of purpose. No meaning whatsoever. I had rejected and categorically pitched my faith. Massive mistake. I now wish I had pitched certain tenets of my belief system. I wish I had discarded my picture of God, not God. If only I had revamped my view of God, rather than removing God. But I didn't and the consequent abyss of meaningless now had reached unbearable proportions. I feared if I stayed on course I'd end up a corpse soon. I desperately needed help, but I didn't know where to turn. I had no use for or trust of the institutional church, and much of the church across the country had no use for or trust of hippies. Thank you, Church.

I had a friend who was a pastor, and he was one of several churched people on the planet whom I I still trusted. I called him and told him I needed help, I needed to get out of the lifestyle. He knew my disdain for the church and told me about a guy who lived up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Grass Valley, CA. Go figure.

He was a misfit pastor who didn't do well in the institutional church and he had a heart for all the hippies "on the road." He knew that the vast majority of flower children wouldn't set foot in a church and, unfortunately, many churches didn't want hippies setting foot in their squeaky clean edifices. So, Paul Cecil had a vision of outreach. He packed his wife and young children and moved to the foothills. They literally pitched camp. An Army tent and a gasoline generator for survival. Word spread that there was someone in the foothills who truly cared about long-haired freaks, who would help, who would do what he could do to get you cleaned out. The churches got behind the idea for both good and gory reasons. It was a creative, viable outreach; the churches didn't have to get dirty.

Churches began providing him financial support. By the time my tired soul arrived on the scene, little cabins had been constructed for us freaks to stay in, a lodge was constructed for communal meals, and he had a small staff to assist. I showed up, I believe, on Christmas Eve. Didn't know a soul. Didn't know what to expect. I had a woolly beard and unkempt hair that grew out, not down. I knocked on his office door, he says, "Come in," and I do, and here's this guy in an Army fatigue jacket, butch haircut, and I'm thinking, "Dude! Not farout at all! What have I just gotten myself into and wouldn't a joint be really, really good right now but would also get crammed down my throat by Sarge here."

Thus began a relationship and a journey. Paul was as unorthodox and unpredictable as they come. He respected you and demanded you respect him and each other. Did I say he was unorthodox? A fellow-freak was foul-mouth and disrespectful and refused to contain his language. After ample warning, one day F-bomb freak let out with a barrage of expletives and Paul grabbed him and a garden hose and proceeded to "clean his mouth out." F-bomb freak had 2 options: shutup or drown. He chose the former. I don't recall seeing that type of intervention in the American Psychological Association ethical guidelines nor in the Bible, but it served as a turning point for F-bomb freak. Paul Cecil, an enigma. Yelling and screaming one minute, and comforting you the next. Intolerant of your crap and headgames, yet a heart of gold. At times, abrasive and in your face; other times, a gentle man consoling your hurt. He may have had as many enemies as friends. There were times I hated him, there were times I would die for him. I do know this: he was a man of faith who instilled and inspired faith.

My time with Paul Cecil and Encounter Ranch saved my life. I got all the chemicals out of my system via unorthodox detox with no protocols other than prayer and care. In time, I re-established faith in God. Actually, God wooed me back. A mending of mind and healing of heart took place, thanks to Paul.

While there, I met a young woman who had come out to the Ranch to serve in a summer internship. We fell in love and she prolonged her internship. The summer internship has become a 34 year marriage. Paul mentored us and wedded us.

Yes, he should have and could have. . . He made a lot of mistakes. He burnt a lot of bridges while, paradoxically, building many lives. He lost some of his own family in his attempt to save the world. He was a flawed and fallen man, but a faithful man.

Today, I am saddened by his death and thankful for his life.

I owe a lot to Paul Cecil.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Come Hell or Salt Water, I Gotta Get Out of Here

I can't decide where I want to go. Hell--or--the white sands of the Riviera Maya? Do quandaries such as this keep you up at night, too?

Let me explain. I hate winter. Yeh, yeh, I'm sure some of you aren't "particularly fond" of cold weather, either. That's like saying, "I don't feel a particular bond with large, hairy spiders big enough to carry off a newborn infant." I realize that "hate" is a strong word. I HATE cold weather (and tarantulas.) I would rather be digging a trench in 90 degree heat/90% humidity than have to walk 10 feet from the house to my car in 35 degree temperature. First of all, in Illinois, it's never just 35. There is always wind; consequently, a 2 mph wind on a 35 degree day really feels like 35 degrees below zero. Imagine a four mph wind. Did I indicate I HATE cold weather?

By now you may be thinking,"Jeez, do ya think you could quit whining?" I admit I'm feeling like a frail Woody Allen who commented on his weakly and frail reflexes, " Once I was run over by a car being pushed by two guys." I suppose a real man would suck it up. I can't. I curl it up, as in my body in a fetal position. Even though functioning outwardly, my internal landscape looks very infantile. For example, during the eternal span of time between October and March, a person might engage me in conversation. I speak, I nod as if I understand, I make expressive gestures with my hands. But, inside my psyche, I am on our living room leather couch (the leather having a surface temperature of 35 below), curled up in my fetal position, hoody on and blanket over me, sipping one of those 96 oz. Casey's hot chocolates.

At this juncture, we're six months into winter, and six to go, and I'm going berserk. I went into a full tailspin last week on my drive to work. It was a bitterly cold, gray (Illinois' state color) morning, and as I'm driving I have this fleeting vision of despair. I picture myself pulling off the Interstate and getting out of my car. I strip off all my clothing and walk off into a woods to freeze to death. Just get it over with NOW; why nearly, but not quite, freeze to death nearly every day from now til March? I don't view that vision as sick--just desperate. It would certainly give new meaning to "being exposed to the cold."

I understand Jimmy Buffett when he says, "This mornin' I shot six holes in my freezer; I think I got cabin fever--somebody sound the alarm."" As Mr. Buffett goes on to sing, "Lately, newspaper mentioned cheap air fare, I gotta fly to St. Somewhere--I'm close to bodily harm."

I'm close. I gotta get out of here, gotta fly to St. Somewhere. My dilemma is "where?" I'm faced with two choices: I can go to Hell--or--St. Somewhere.

Part of me desperately longs for the latter. I want to go to the Caribbean, lay out, read, snorkel, and make sure I stay hydrated with pina coladas. I want to escape. I want to shut off the thinking and caring, and simply relax in the sun. I need refreshment.

Another part of me wants to go to Hell, i.e. Haiti, and do what I can to help them. They need refreshment. They dwell in Hell with no chance of escape. A part of me feels compelled to provide some measure of relief, to comfort, to assure them by my words and actions that they are not forgotten. I will survive winter; there is no assurance they will survive Hell.

We all deal with this existential tension between "I" and "They," "Us" and "Them." The other tension exists between going for "Pleasure" and going for "Purpose." Sometimes they coincide, but often they don't. This time they don't.