Gratitude List (#7)

31. Jaws: This is one of my three favorite movies and certainly one of the greatest movies of all time. The chemistry between Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss is magnificent, genuine, and electrifying. Shaw’s improvised retelling of the demise of the USS Indianapolis is nothing short of brilliant. And the psychological depth of the script never fails to draw me right in. I’m not a horror buff and I never will be, but somehow this movie transcends the genre and is more about a character profile of these three men and how they must work together to overcome the obstacle that is the shark. I was terrified of this film when I was a child, but now I watch it often. Thank you, Steven Spielberg.

32. My Ipod: Thank God for this. Technology has never been my friend; certainly not in the last 10 to 15 years. But I make many long trips and I recall with great dismay many of them being made searching for radio stations, and ultimately listening to a lot of music and talk radio that had no value whatsoever, or interest to me beyond noise. Thanks to my iPod I can download podcasts, music, and audio books that I want to listen to again and often. It was a revolutionary idea inventing it, and whoever did it, thank you so much for changing my life for the positive.

33. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama: There is no single person alive today on this planet that I admire more. Forced to flee his home and his possessions, the Dalai Lama took up residence in India and has proceeded to change the world through peace, goodwill, and a jovial spirit. I am beyond excited about the fact that I will be in his presence in less than a month in Washington D.C. He radiates an energy that is so far beyond the norm of the average person on this planet that I have no idea how I won’t cry just to be in the presence of his gentle greatness and wisdom. If God does incarnate from time to time certainly he could not have chosen a better emissary in which to inhabit. Namaste.

34. Dusti Lewars: My oldest and at times dearest friend. Dusti and I have shared a lot together, have been on the outs, and have rekindled our friendship more times than I care to recall. No single friend of mine has had a greater impact on my life than her, because no single friend of mine has had as much courage to be an original as she does. Whether it’s exploring her spirituality, her dark side, her sexuality, or her myriad of artistic gifts, Dusti is without question a true original. Though she is currently on the outs with my other very old and dear friend, Carolyn, I keep praying for the day when these two people will put their minor differences behind them and repair a very worthwhile friendship. Thank you, friend, for 30+ years of tutelage and wisdom. Here’s to thirty more.

35: Riverside Center Dinner Theatre: When Nancy and I moved to Virginia there was no guarantee of employment. Indeed, I spent the first two months here dipping into the last of my Summer Stage salary. Since hiring me in October 2010, Ron and Patrick have been an absolute lifeline to me and to my family. Giving me constant work, opportunities, friendship, and a shoulder to cry on when necessary, these two men have made the transition from Pennsylvania to Virginia bearable and possible and I cannot say what a debt of gratitude I owe the two of them. Though they don’t always see eye to eye, the fact that they mutually allow me to work there, as well as Nancy, endears them both to me in profound and deep ways. Thank you, Riverside, thank you, Ron, thank you, Patrick, for making my new life possible.

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Gratitude List (#6)

26. Buffalo wings: When I was at Susquehanna University, Buffalo wings were a sign of fraternity, of community, of shared experiences and lasting friendships. I don’t know how many times my friends and I shared plates of wings, cups of cheddar cheese soup, and Sprites at Front Street Station, but it was often and they were some of the best nights of my whole college experience. I miss those days. The simplicity and innocence of being in one’s 20s will never come again to me. There’s just too much experience and water over the bridge. But when I think back to all those plates of wings it reminds me how much fun life could be and was, and I’m very grateful for every chicken that died so that I might laugh.

27. The Thomas Jefferson Hour: This is a recent addition to my favorite things but I can honestly say that it has drastically opened my mind and changed my perception about all things American. Clay Jenkinson and his regular guest host, David Swenson, are a joy to listen to on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. I have learned so much about American history, politics, Jefferson, Adams, the Enlightenment, contemporary history, and so much more that it goes without saying that I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to this program. It is awesome, Clay is awesome, and I eagerly look forward to each new program. Bravo.

28. Queenie and Lady: My two little girl beagle puppies, sisters, and lifelong friends. These two babies, rescued by my mother and I when they were at the age of two years old, were the delight of my family for as long as they lived. Queenie was athletic, long lived, affectionate, and a touch dim. Lady was intelligent, wary, and wounded; she never quite got over being bred in her first heat at the age of six months. I am so proud that as sisters they got to live out their lives together, with Lady going first after a series of seizures that left her circling our backyard in a mostly brain-dead state. I was in Ventnor, New Jersey when Queen passed away and neither Nancy nor I will ever forget the sadness of that day. To date I have had no dogs since, though I’m desperate for some. As a result their memories live very close to the surface of my heart. May they both rest in eternal and beautiful peace.

29. Gardening: My mother taught me how to garden when I was very young. It was one of many things that bonded her and me together and produced bounteous and wonderful results. Now that Nancy and I are together it is a skill that I can pass along both to she and to my family to be. I believe in self-sufficiency and I believe in the earth. My mother is taking a lot of heat lately for who she has become late in life, but gardening is a constant reminder of the wonderful experiences that we shared together and that though people change and sometimes not for the better that does not mean that all of the things that they have done for you and with you in your life are without value.

30. Susquehanna University: Perhaps it’s true that your earliest experiences really do form the backbone of your life. When I left Susquehanna in 1993, I was a frustrated and very disillusioned twenty-three-year-old. Dean Henry Diers had been manipulative, Cy had hidden information from me that would’ve benefited my education, Laura had cheated on me, and on and on and on. My life was scarred, I felt a profound loss of innocence, and I went home to Berks County full of anger and simultaneously with my tail bristling between my legs. But that said, I look back in comparison to the challenges that I’ve faced in the almost 20 years since I graduated and it now seems like some of the best times of my life. I was as close to people as I would ever be, opportunities for creativity were rampant, both of my parents were alive and supportive of me (and at a distance,) and I could eat anything I wanted and still look good. If it’s true time heals wounds, than I suppose this wound has long since closed. Thank you, Susquehanna University, for both the good and bad times. I miss you.

Gratitude list (#5)

21. John Adams: Although I only really learned of the brilliance of this man in the last few years, mostly thanks to David McCullough’s biography of him and the HBO special of the same name, I am overwhelmed by how prescient he was and by how much he and I are alike. He was a man who struggled to be liked and listened to. He was a man that was nearly always correct. He was a man that was almost constantly being overshadowed by more charismatic individuals. I am in awe of the similarities between us and have found profound respect for this man who did so much for the American Revolution and has languished in the shadows for generations because of a handful of mistakes. I say ye, John Adams!

22. Shirley Maclaine: No single actress or actor has had as much impact upon my personal life as this single, courageous woman who has been willing to stand up for her beliefs, and her politics for nearly the entirety of my life. Without her example I don’t know if I would believe in reincarnation, or half the other beliefs I hold. She has been too often maligned, and to her credit has taken most of it in stride. I believe she is talented as well, but my admiration for her comes from her ability to speak her mind.

23. Mame: This musical is still one of my favorites and has one of the best books ever written for a musical and one of the most admirable characters. Mame is down a lot but out never. Her motto, “open a new window,” was regularly reinforced in my house by my father, and is a song that I carry in my heart to this day. If we could all be like her we would all be tolerant and possess a lust for life that so few achieve on either front. As characters go she is My Best Girl.

24. Axel Kleinsorg: While I was at Susquehanna I had the great pleasure of befriending an elderly man who took me under his wing and treated me like a member of his family. Axel was a treasure in every way; gentle yet firm, kind yet highly opinionated, talented yet somewhat out of touch with contemporary trends in his field. He was a treasure trove of all things past and I spent many afternoons in an armchair at his home with his two Siamese cats listening to stories from theatrical days long past. In every way he was my crazy uncle at Susquehanna and I love him still and miss him every day that we cannot communicate directly.

25. New England Clam Chowder: I have had this tasty soup so many places it defies description, but it is always my first favorite whenever I get to a restaurant. Oh, I do have other soups that I tend to like a little more, but this is my utility favorite and I will get it whenever it’s on the menu and as often as possible.

The Thomas Jefferson Hour: Jefferson and Jesus

The following is a list of notes culled from a listening of the Thomas Jefferson Hour by Clay Jenkinson. It is my hope to make these notes a series on my blog in which I distill all the relevant information that Mr. Jenkinson provides into a studyable format.

 Notes from Episode 831

1. Jefferson’s daily routine:

                A. Get up before the Light.

                B. Bathe his feet in cool water.

                C. Write 3 to 5 Letters.

                D. Take a Stroll before Breakfast.

                E. Read.

                F. Take a horseback riding survey of his land.

                G. Get his hands in the soil.

                H. Garden in the evening.

                I. Spend time with his daughter Martha.

2. Much of this episode is devoted to a discussion of an article that appeared on www.ethicsdaily.com entitled ”Who Do We Follow, Jesus or Jefferson?”

3. Jefferson was not a Christian in the classical sense.

4. Jesus was a man according to the historian Josephus.

5. Jesus was a profound ethicist.

6. Jesus moved culture away from tribalism and towards individualism.

7. Jefferson believed that if we followed the Sermon on the Mount we would all be better off.

8. What Jefferson would call the beliefs of the cult of Jesus bears little resemblance to the   historical man.

9. Jesus would have opposed unbridled capitalism.

10. Jesus was a political revolutionary.

11. According to Jefferson’s reading of Jesus teachings, saved are the victims of capitalism.

12. The Book of Acts supports that Jesus was a communitarian.

13. Question: How do practicing Americans reconcile democracy with Jesus teaching?

14. From 350 A.D. onward Jesus teachings became corrupted.

15. The Christian church does not represent the views of Jesus.

16. The Gospels do not harmonize.

17. Jefferson was a Jesusite.

18. Jesus’ ethics were perfect.

19. We do not follow the code of Jesus.

20. The goal of good government is to treat us all as equal even if we’re not.

21. Jefferson does not believe in heaven, hell, grace, or sin.

22. Jefferson believes in: civility, the citizenship of farmers, and a blind system.

23. He believes in a minimalist government which acts as a referee.

24. America is a nation with a secular government that allows for religious freedom.

25. “We are a nation of Christians, but we are not a Christian nation.” – Clay Jenkinson

26. The word “subjects” in the Declaration of Independence was changed to “citizens.”

27. Alexander Hamilton spoke for five hours at the 1787 Constitutional convention and called for both the president and senators to serve for life.

28. The validity of a hereditary monarchy for the presidency, an argument put forth by Alexander Hamilton, was challenged by Jefferson by suggesting that we first tested theory by having a hereditary chair of mathematics at a university.

29. George Washington died in 1799.

30. There were no term limits on the presidency until after FDR.

31. Jefferson was not a Pauline Christian.

32. Approximately 300,000,000 Americans are Christians.

33. God is never mentioned in the Constitution.

34. 1786: The Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty is enacted.

35. The Book of Acts was written by Luke.

36. Alexander de Tocqueville said that Americans were the most religious people alive.

37. Thomas Jefferson was born at the height of the Enlightenment.

38. Jefferson thought that within fifty years of his life time all Americans would be Unitarian.

Gratitude List (#4)

16. Ivan: My Russian blue cat, my son, my dear boy, lived off and on with me for twenty years. He loved me dearly and I him. On December 17, 2010 he passed away from kidney failure. He was playful and kind, handsome and majestic, devoted and noble as he aged towards his end. I miss him every day and look forward to seeing him at some point in the future. I am so grateful we had our twenty years of fun together.

17. Max: In the late 1970s/early 1980s for 3 ½ years we had a beautiful Harlequin Great Dane named Max. He was my best friend and sometimes I think he might be the best friend I’ll ever have. Protective and smart, and as handsome as they come, Max looked after me, slept by my bedside, walked me when I needed it, and taught me the ways of a gentleman. There is never a day that I don’t miss him, his protection and his gentle guidance. He and I had far too few years together and I hope that we are someday reunited.

18. Cyril Stretansky: As Director of Choral Activities at Susquehanna University, Cyril Stretansky took me under his wing and never abandoned me despite being at times harsh taskmaster. An inscrutable man, artist, politician, uncle to be, and at times tyrant, Cy taught me what being an artist and what being a man of passion was all about. Like his instructor, Robert Page before him, Cy took no prisoners where it came to his art. He was always in charge and you never doubted his authority even when he was flat-out wrong about something, but he could also be incredibly kind, gracious, and encouraging when things were not at their best. He is and remains the single greatest professor I’ve ever had and I love him like a very distant uncle.

19. As a Man Thinketh: I came across a little volume of James Allen’s classic some ten or eleven years ago and I think it’s perhaps one of the most important books ever written. What hundreds of other self-help writers take volumes to say Allen says in just a few short pages. His distillation of self-help thought was both prescient and brilliant and I read his book again and again and often. If anyone reading this does not own As a Man Thinketh you should immediately go get yourself a copy. It will change your life.

20. My Health: I have been very blessed with good health despite my very nature which is opposed to exercise and healthy eating. I’m trying to change that but at forty years old it is hard to change old habits. Still I live without any health insurance, do eat anything that I want, and other than some excessive weight tending me towards obesity I have no immediate problems. Health deserves to be much higher on my list than now but it is something that we take for granted on an almost daily basis. So roundig out my top twenty I wanted to make sure that I expressed gratitude for forty years of relatively excellent health.

Gratitude List (3)

11. Pepperoni: This is another fun excess that amounts to a fatty comfort food that I love. It tastes so good on everything that I can’t help but wanting just a little bit at the end of every day. Whether or not its on pizza, in sandwiches, or roasted over an open fire in camp, pepperoni is without question one of my all-time favorite foods.

12. Lactaid: when I was twenty-five years old I was rushed to the hospital twice before anyone realized that I had become lactose intolerant. I was faced with giving up all milk and cheese products in my life. It was going to be a terrible existence. Thanks to Lactaid I’ve been able to have pizza and ice cream and every other manner of tasty treat without really limiting myself. Becoming lactose intolerant had the potential to be life-changing. Lactaid changed it back and I’m very thankful for that.

13. Blueberries: There are currently two blueberry bushes on the side of our home in full bloom. And every so often Nancy lets me have one of the handful of berries that she is so excited to pick. They are fun to look at and fun to eat and they make Nancy extraordinarily happy. What could possibly be more worthy of my gratitude then they are?

14. The Buddha: It would seem that no axial sage got the message of enlightenment completely right, but where Jesus’ message is becoming ever more continuously corrupted, the Buddha’s message seems to evolve and adapt more faithfully to his original intent. I can’t say that I grew up in a Buddhist household but I’m certainly glad that I have become acquainted with the life of the Buddha and Buddhism in general since I have become an adult. Without his philosophy of nonattachment I’m just not sure where I’d be. Praise to Buddha.

15. Star Trek: No single thing taught me ethics and morals more than Star Trek. Perhaps it’s sad to say that a television show had more to do with the formation of my character than my parents did, but I believe that Gene Roddenberry’s original vision of the evolution of humanity was an idealistic one and one that I’m very lucky to have become acquainted with at a very young age. Whether or not it was race relations, or gender relations, war, addiction, leadership, or the value of the single life, Star Trek had the answers and was willing to share in a positive and entertaining way. And I was lucky enough to be listening at my most impressionable stages of development. Thanks, Gene, you are missed.

Gratitude List (second installment)

6. Fried Chicken: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like fried chicken. It was my meal of choice from little on up. Whether or not we’re talking about KFC, Chicken Supreme, The Ranch House, Shells, or any of the hundreds of other places that I’ve eaten, fried chicken always brings a smile to my face. Old Country Buffet’s chicken is way up there and just thinking about it makes my mouth water. I just can’t be down while eating this tasty treat. Hooray for food!

7. My Father (Pop): Whether or not I realized it I really looked up to my father for the twenty-nine years we had together. He was a very difficult man to live with, given to cigar smoking, hoarding his money rather than paying bills, and living what it seemed at times was a secret lifestyle that none of us ever truly made sense of. That aside, he was a master musician and quintessential teacher and, above all, he loved me very much. Our time together on this earth was much too short and the years following his death have pretty much been defined for me by his absence and in discovering what ways I would choose to be who I am without him. For better and worse I honor him and his place in my life, and I’m grateful that we had the time that we did.

8. Bacon: This is another comfort food to be sure, but it’s just so damn fun to appreciate. Bacon goes well with anything and makes everything better. Whether or not it’s crispy or undercooked, honey or maple cured, smoked hard or light, it is fatty excess at its best and it makes every breakfast, lunch, and dinner just a little bit happier. How about a hand for the hog!

9. Dr. Wayne Dyer: In the years following my father’s death I was cast psychologically and spiritually adrift. I had moved to Philadelphia and had taken work at La Salle College High School, alone, isolated, and against the world. I discovered Wayne’s work one Sunday afternoon on PBS and he changed my life. I absolutely believe that without his teachings I would most likely have committed suicide somewhere in my early 30s. His teachings gave me the strength to move on, to grieve but grow, and to leave love back in my life again. My debt to Wayne and his work is one I can never repay and he will surely never know how much he has changed my life, but for all the above and so much more I am grateful to have him and his good work in my life. Namaste, Wayne!

10. Hyacinths: This simple, adorable, purple, fragrant flower always reminds me that nice weather is on its way, and the Great Outdoors is about to reawaken into all of Spring’s finery. I love its smell, and it’s terribly awkward appearance, its delicate nature, and its vibrancy of color. It is a God joke to be sure, but it is one that we can all appreciate.

Gratitude List (first installment)

In an effort to blog a little more frequently I am going to begin to compose a list of persons, places, things, ideas, and/or other that I am most grateful for. I will attempt to enumerate five things each time I write and give a brief explanation of why they have made my list.

1. Nancy: My fiancee, my love. For more than seven years Nancy and I have shared one another’s company, life, highs, lows, and almost everything in between. I cannot imagine her not being in my life and look forward to a life with and for her. She is quite simply my rock that I both lean against and break upon and I love her more than anything.

2. My Mother: No single person has been through it all with me like my mother. She gave me life, inspired me, pushed me, and always supported me when I needed it most. Though she is down and sickly at present she continues to teach me lessons in patience, tolerance, and the value of other people’s opinions no matter how old they might be. I love her terribly though at times she makes it difficult, and am as always very proud to be her son.

3. Scoutie: For seventeen years my little classic tabby and I have been bonded and braving it all. She was a beautiful little kitten and it breaks my heart to see her slowly succumbing to bone cancer of the jaw. Though she remains loving, she is given to periodic fits of lashing out, peeing on furniture, and generally being a naughty, ailing, kitty cat. Still, the lesson is tolerance, especially towards those you cannot reason with. I love her dearly despite her decline and that love is not going to change.

4. The Nix: My assless bright spot. My four-year-old kitten brings more joy, more unexpected smiles, more purring, and more love than one could possibly imagine. Though I had to fight for her to keep her as a member of my family, it was a fight I would gladly wage again. Without her there would be a lot less love in my home. She is and always will be a Nix first class.

5. Saki: There are some people or pets that no matter how much you do for them they will never fully care for you or love you. Such is Nancy’s cat. I love her but she only periodically loves me when the mood strikes her. The lesson learned is she daily teaches me that no matter how much you may do for some it may never make them really like you. It’s a difficult lesson, but it is a truly necessary one for all of us to learn, and for that I appreciate her presence in my life.

So that’s my first list. The five most important women in my life. I love them all and don’t know how to live without any of them. Namaste.