JUST ONE DAY AT A TIME

BLOG #15, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
JUST ONE DAY AT A TIME
April 9, 2014

Next to me in an office supply store line was a young woman in her mid to late 30s. She was working so hard to get just right a lamination of a long sheet of quotations that everyone in the waiting line got interested in her. Turns out that it wasn’t even for her, but for a dear friend. When I mentioned to her that her friend was lucky to have such a caring friend, she remarked in a very soft voice to me that creating this gift for her friend took her mind off her own troubles.

Conversationally, almost as an aside, I said, “Hopefully, your troubles aren’t too bad.”

When she puddled up, I realized I was in too deep to back out without further dialogue, and, well, one question led to another and before I knew it we’d moved away from the counter so she could speak confidentially. It helped that she’d purchased some of my books in recent years and trusted me.

It was far far worse than I had imagined: her husband had recently died from cancer. . . . Her teenage son had got in with the wrong crowd, overdosed on drugs, and died. . . . Without her husband’s income, she’d lost their home. . . . And the final straw: she’d lost her job too. She was homeless and destitute and didn’t know where in the world to turn.

She summed it all up with these poignant words: “God is my last resort, and I struggle to make sense of it all one day at a time.”

“One day at a time.”

* * * * *

Which reminds me of another encounter I had in a hospital break room a few years ago. I incorporated it into my story, “The Clock of Life.” in Christmas in My Heart 18 almost five years ago.

I’d been operated on for an obstruction in my bile duct that had resulted in my skin turning yellow with jaundice. My hospitalist had told me that if I made it to dawn without the most excruciating pain I’d ever experienced, that would mean I’d escaped pancreatitis. So I walked the hospital corridors hour after hour, stopping once in a while in the break room. Once, there was a woman sitting there who was the spouse of another patient in the ward. Turned out that her husband had a rare virulent form of leukemia. When I asked how severe it was, she answered almost matter of factly, “He can’t even turn over without my help.”

I followed up by asking, “And how long has he had this condition?”

There was a very long pause before, in a soft but strained voice, she answered, “Twenty-five years!”“

I was so stunned, I was almost unable to speak. Finally, I said, “Twenty-five years?

She nodded. “Yes. And in all that time I’ve never left him–not even for a day.”

I could only stammer, “My dear woman, how do you do it?”

Never will I forget her response: “God gives me strength for one day at a time.”

* * * * *

I was on the phone for over an hour one night recently. On the other end of the line was a friend I’d worked with in a university some years before. His voice was so soft I hardly recognized it. He’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was so weak he couldn’t even get out of his chair without his wife’s help. He was undergoing 28-day cycles of radiation, each of which did all but kill him. The prognosis looked anything but good.

In situations like this one is almost incapable of speech. What do you say to a dear one who knows for a certainty that, unless a miracle takes place, he is living his last hours in life?

I told him I’d been praying for him. He told me that many others were praying for him too. . . and added, “It’s not too hard: we all know we’re going to die, so it’s not an “if,” only a “when.” And clearly he was getting his house in order: family and close friends visited him or phoned him often.

And he now lived “one day at a time.”

Before I signed of, he thanked me again for taking the time to call, saying, “You’re part of what means most to me: true friends who stay by me to the end.”

* * * * *

One day at a time. . . . God gives us strength for one day at a time.

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I HAVE SEEN TOMORROW!

BLOG #31, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
I HAVE SEEN TOMORROW!
Part One
August 1, 2012

Yes, it’s true! Six days ago, Terry Bolinger and I were privileged to experience tomorrow’s publishing world before it actually arrived. The venue was one of the oldest and largest publishing conglomerates in the world, and we were graciously given a two-hour VIP tour.

As we threaded our way through room after room of machinery, we experienced first a world I felt supremely comfortable in: the world of traditional print, that began during the decade of 1440 – 1450, with the German goldsmith, Johannes Gutenberg leading the way with his 42-line Bible in 1456, 556 years ago. That Golden Age of Print reached its zenith during the century beginning in 1880 and ending in 1980 (roughly speaking). I am personally a product of its last half.

Occasionally, during my blogs and published writing, I have referred to the tides of life: periodically, both collectively and individually, we experience ebb-tides and incoming-tides. They are God-given because nothing in all creation is static, for change is constant. But both ebb-tides and incoming-tides dramatically alter our lives, for better or for worse.

Perhaps some of the most poignant and pertinent lines in all literature were penned by the American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson in “The Mill,” which contains in its muffled understated lines two work-related suicides:

“The miller’s wife had waited long,
The tea was cold, the fire was dead;
And there might yet be nothing wrong
In how he went and what he said:
‘There are no millers any more,’
Was all that she had heard him say;
And he had lingered at the door
So long that it seemed yesterday.”

The second stanza contains his suicide by hanging, and the third concludes with her drowning.

Back then, every self-respecting hamlet and town boasted a mill, where farmers brought the product of their land to be ground into food for themselves and their livestock. But suddenly, due to the pace of technological change, the miller realized with a shudder that since “There are no millers anymore,” his place in the world had been eradicated; the only career he knew was, without preamble or advance warning, no more. The mill itself, in which he and his ancestors from time immemorial had invested their life savings, was now all but worthless. Facing absolute financial ruin, he concluded that suicide offered the only viable alternative to starvation and bankruptcy; and she, facing a world which demeaned women and offered them terribly few career options, was so overwhelmed by the hopelessness of her situation, that she quietly slipped into the mill-pond, feeling it offered the least messy departure from life.

There is an equally powerful short story written by the English author John Galsworthy. Simply titled “Quality,” it tells the story of a London shoemaker who prides himself on making the best and longest lasting shoes and boots it was possible to make. His customers knew their footware would be custom-made to their own foot contours. Of course they took time to make for each was a one-of-a-kind work of art. But technological change made possible mass market footware at lower prices and instant availability. And Galsworthy’s protagonist ends up starving himself to death rather than compromise on the issue of quality. Whenever I have read this story out loud to my students, there has been absolute silence in the classroom, the ultimate tribute to a life-changing story.

So what Terry and I saw and experienced six days ago represents both an ebb-tide to a vanishing way of life and an incoming-tide whose long-range impact can only be guessed at. One reality is, however, inescapable: life as we know it, and have known it, will never be again.

* * *
We will pick up where I left off (beginning the publishing house tour) next Wednesday.

IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER

BLOG #10, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER

March 7, 2012

 

 

            What a difference a year or two makes!  Four years ago, Colorado towns such as Aspen and Vail appeared to have it all: multimillion dollar homes perched on the hillsides, the middle class and the poor driven far away because the norm for buying a house in those glitzy resort towns had skyrocketed into the tens of millions.  Most owners were absentee (only residing in these palaces for a few weeks out of the year); in other words, these were generally trophy homes, scattered around the world.  The owners, being rarely in town to vote or attend schoolboard meetings or support a church or give to those who struggled just to survive, made little impact on the towns where they supposedly lived.

 

            Nearer to Denver, there are entire hillsides of vacant multilmillion dollar mansions which never got purchased at all.  And the fortunes of those who built them (developers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, home decorators, landscapers, etc.) are today still reeling.  Many of the homes have had to be discounted 30 – 60%.

 

            Though things are not as bad in Colorado as in states such as California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, etc., and conditions continue to slowly improve, the reality is that an era of affluence is over, replaced by stark reality.  Those who flourished by “flipping” one property after another are most likely bankrupt.  And today over 40% of all American “homeowners” are said to owe more for their homes than they can sell them for.

 

            This staggering collapse is no respecter of persons for it has affected billionaires along with minimum wage earners.  A whole generation of college graduates are remaining home with their parents, unable to find good enough jobs to enable them to pay for separate lodging or pay off their school loans.

 

            Next Wednesday, I’ll share with you the story of what happened to the richest man in the world–a king who had it all–a long time ago.

 

HAD

 

            His story has reverberated down through history ever since, but its retelling has never been more timely than now.

A Trembling World – Part 5

A TREMBLING WORLD
Part Five

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

For four weeks we have spelled out a litany of woes and bad news; now it’s time to search for both silver-linings and solutions, for doom and gloom alone will merely lead to paralysis and despair.  So it’s time for us to approach the issue from a different perspective.

For three-quarters of a century, we have been born into, lived, and died, within the parameters of the Great Society template.  In short: the promise of cradle-to-the-grave care promised and delivered by generation after generation of politicians.  Now we are discovering that those old assumptions that worked so well for so long are no longer valid.

Let’s quickly look at what we lost during that 75-year period: First, the very backbone of a great civilization—a moral code by which that society lives and acts.  In our case, before the so-called “Great Society,” Americans by and large believed in God and the biblical injunctions about good and evil, right and wrong. For close to a century, our almost universal sources of allusions were three: The Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, and the McGuffy Readers (or counterparts).  We as a society firmly believed in two things: God and country.  When we swore by the Bible that something was unquestionably true, or declared on the witness stand that our testimony would be true, “So help me God,” it meant something.  It was the bedrock of our entire civilization. Today, both religion and patriotism have been under unrelenting attack by a predominantly unchurched and amoral media that seeks to so undermine and discredit the values Christians live by that they will crumble and cease to matter.  Christians have, by and large, supinely accepted such characterizations as perhaps true, and impossible to refute.  In short, in this respect, we have all but lost the battle.  But now, as the Great Society cracks at its seams, we are all given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reaffirm these values.

Second, we have all but lost the home, family—the very bedrock of a great civilization; when it has crumbled, historians tell us that it will only be a matter of time before the civilization itself collapses as well.  When America was assaulted by the Great Depression of the 1930s, America’s families were strong enough to together (intergenerationally, with all three generations circling their wagons) somehow muddle through to the light (paradoxically World War II, fifteen years after the Crash of 1929).  Today; with single-parent households being the norm for the first time in our history, with out-of-wedlock births skyrocketing from one-third towards half (close to 80% in Black families), there is no such familial safety net to fall back on.  If the government can no longer afford to take care of us, and if the family (What family?  What with the discrediting of marriage, ubiquitous live-ins, multiple sex-partners, divorce after divorce, with children tossed back and forth as human frisbees) —where are the children (the adult children too) going to find a life-line?

Recently, a dear friend of mine (an erstwhile millionaire) lost everything: his six-figure position, his wife’s executive job, his home (appraised for a million and a quarter that several  years later dropped so far below its original “value” that it was foreclosed on for a little over $400,000 .  By that time, my friend had been forced into bankruptcy.  Poignantly, he told me, “Because my credit is in such shambles, I couldn’t even buy a junker of a car.  I can only purchase things (including food) with what cash we have.  Belatedly, I have come to realize that in this life, we can count on only three things: God, family (one that still loves and respects us), and health.  With these three, we can make it.”  So it is that now, in an economy that appears unable to find any kind of bedrock, perhaps again we Americans may rediscover the value of marriage, commitment, and family.

Third, 75 years ago, we once had a work ethic that was the envy of the world.  Because the Great Society taught us that we no longer had to give an honest day’s effort for an honest day’s pay (indeed that we were entitled to pay even when we were out of work, providing few incentives to return to work for all too many who abuse the system), there has been an increasing reluctance to work at all.  We refuse, by and large, to accept “menial” work.  We no longer teach industrial arts in our schools and colleges or honor those who keep the machinery of our society in working order.  Work that our text-messaging media-junkies could be doing is now being down by untold thousands—indeed millions—of migrant workers who are delighted to have a job at all.  In offices across the land, rather than contributing to the firm’s bottom line by conscientious work, it is said that untold thousands dither through their days, playing word games with each other, watching Internet porn, text-messaging their friends—and then they wonder why their companies fold!  There appears to be a real disconnect with what it takes to produce enough product to warrant steady pay-checks.  No small thanks to these rampant abuses, pundits are telling us that offices as we know them will, sooner than we think, begin to disappear.  Contract-work (far easier to monitor) will replace nine-to-five jobs in glass and steel boxes.  And that may not be such a bad thing.

Next Wednesday we will continue to search for solutions.