Monday, April 16, 2012

"No Dad... The Other Fries!!"

I'm raising a very challenging 15-year old. I know that's not unusual, since all 15-year olds throughout the history of the world (with the rare exception of this author) have been a challenge. But mine is a bit different than most, because we're raising a child with autism who doesn't speak and gets frustrated very easily. Again, the polar opposite of his father.

Anyway, I was driving him home after school today and we were having our usual one-sided conversation. "How was school today, Zachary? Did you learn anything? Did you go for a walk? Were you good for your teachers? Did you make any friends?" Silence.

"You know what? Daddy loves you very much." At this, he made the "please" sign by rubbing his hand on his chest. I'm not exactly sure what the sign for "please" is, but that's what he's learned. For him, it's come to symbolize not only "please," but also "yes" and "will you give me what I want?" Of course, I took it to heart. He was saying "I love you back" in the only way he knows how. That did it. I decided to take him out for french fries.

He and I hadn't been out together for a fast food break in ages. He loves fries. So I pulled into a fast food restaurant, but he was eying his favorite restaurant across the street. "Is this okay?" I asked him. He didn't seem happy. "Do you want to go to (insert name of restaurant which must not be mentioned)?" He took my hand and placed it gently on the gearshift. I took the hint, and we went across the street. I pulled in his favorite place and asked, "Is this okay?" I got the "please" sign again.

Okay, it's a little thing. I had my chicken wraps and Coca-Cola, while he had his usual two milks and large fries which he spread out all over the table. The fries that is, not the milk. He managed not to slop any moo juice. We had a good time together, and came home.

It's not often we make a connection like that. In fact, it's pretty darn rare. But I'll take them when I can get them, and treasure each one.

Maybe next time he'll let me pick the fast food joint.

"No Dad... the other fries!!"

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Century of Questions

My Grandmother was still alive when the 1997 blockbuster, "Titanic" hit the big screen. Through tears, she told me why she couldn't bring herself to see the movie. It seems that her mother, my Great-Grandma Brothwell was an acquaintance of one of the band members who played as the ship went down 100 years ago today. For Grandma, even the thought that her mother knew someone on board was too much to bear. It's a bit of a stretch to claim that I have any ties at all to the Titanic, but... there you go.

My Grandfather even teared up (as he was prone to do over just about anything, including episodes of Charlie's Angels) as he recalled how the Titanic was supposed to be "unsinkable." He claimed they unveiled a banner over the side that said God could not sink the ship. I suppose that's probably an urban legend, but the stories persist to this day that the claim was made.

It truly saddened me to read a comment online today from someone who said he was so sick of hearing about the Titanic that he wishes it would sink all over again. How sad it is that we easily dismiss the horrific way that hundreds of people died in those icy waters. What is even worse is the fact that it could have - should have been prevented. But for the sake of first-class passengers and their precious view of the ocean, the White Star Line chose to use a minimum of lifeboats... not nearly enough for the amount of passengers Titanic carried.

There are a lot of questions that will never be answered in this lifetime. What song was the band really playing when the ship went down? Most who heard it agree that it was a lively tune, and most certainly not, "Nearer My God to Thee." Why weren't more passengers from steerage saved, especially the children? Less than 50 percent of 2nd and 3rd class children were rescued, while 100 percent of the first class boys and girls survived. Something's just not right. Just how did my Great-grandmother know the band member? Grandma was from Scotland, so it seems entirely logical. But I've reviewed the passenger list a dozen times. There's wasn't a name on board that I can trace back to my family's lineage. It's another story lost.

I suppose Titanic holds my interest because of the power of story. The heroism of that day, the calmness of some passengers as they waved goodbye to loved ones, and how a different generation accepted in many ways what happened as God's divine providence. I love to hear first-hand accounts of our history. I want to know where I came from. In an odd way, it helps me to determine where I'm going. I think of all the World War Two veterans that we're losing every day. All that history... gone. All those memories wasted if we don't take the time to grab hold of, and cherish every word.

How do we honor the legacy of those who showed such bravery on April 15, 1912? There are no survivors left, no one to pray for; only memories to try to keep alive for another generation. The best we can do is draw on what we have. Talk to Grandpa and Grandma. Drink deeply from their fountain of history. Write it down, record it, preserve it. It's precious!

An observation has often been made about the women who passed up ice cream for desert on the night the ship sank, because they wanted to watch their figures. Again, probably an old urban legend, but it does remind us to live life to the fullest, and enjoy what God has blessed us with.

You never know when or even if your ship will make it to port.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Miserable Obsession

Okay, I'm ready to come clean and admit it. I have an obsession. I know what you're thinking. "Well duh... we already know you're obsessed with pancakes. What else is new?"

Not even close. In fact, if it came right down to it, I would never eat another pancake until Jesus returns if it meant I couldn't hear the music of Les Miserables', the longest-running stage musical in modern history. One of my most cherished memories is seeing it onstage with my Dad at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit shortly before he passed away. Pam and I saw it again at the Fisher a few years later.

I saved up for months to buy myself a Christmas present that I'll finally get to enjoy on Tuesday: a front row ticket for Les Mis at the Wharton Center on the campus of MSU. (Pam doesn't share my obsession, so only one ticket was needed this time around. She's seen it once, and she's fine with that. Poor misguided young lady.) I feel like an 8-year old on Christmas morning! Rarely do I splurge on anything anymore. We hardly go out to eat, to the movies, or even on road trips because money is tight. In fact, Pam and I have a date night about once a year. We're okay with that. Bills have to be paid. But there's something about the music and story of Les Mis that has captured my heart, and I can't stay away.

I think it's because I see so much Biblical truth in the story's main character, Jean Valjean. He had a rough start... spending 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family, and for trying to escape. Yet a kindly Bishop showed him forgiveness, and that one simple act of love turned his life around. He went on to become a wonderful father to an orphaned girl, and heroically saved the life of her fiance' during a bloody student-led revolt against a corrupt government. In short, because his life had been changed, he put the needs of others ahead of his own.

The apostle Paul wrote in Acts 20:24, "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace." Intentional or not, I think that's the message of Les Miserables'... that's certainly what it means to me. It's the way I want to live my life.

The finale'.... oh, the finale'! If they don't play it at my funeral, I just may find a way to come back and haunt someone. Jean Valjean sings the line I want inscribed someday on my tombstone: "To love another person is to see the face of God."

Yeah. I can be obsessed with that.