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A Day in a Life. Journal entry 5.14.17

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“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”

 ~Allen Saunders (but often inaccurately attributed to John Lennon)

Sunday.

I wake before the alarm goes off,

and I lay there for a few minutes.

Thinking.

When I go downstairs I turn on the coffee maker.

The dogs scurry about.

They act as if they haven’t seen me in 8 years instead of 8 hours.

I feed them.

Franklin, the finicky one, just looks at me.

I have to feed him a couple pieces of food by hand to get him started.

Coffee ready and dogs in the backyard,

I check emails, the NY Times, and scroll Facebook.

Looking at the clock I realize I’m running late for church,

and I’m scheduled as head usher.

Showered, I wheel one of the bikes down the plank on the porch,

and when I do I notice a tulip in a neighbor’s yard.

It’s withered.

Just yesterday it was in full bloom.

Nothing is permanent, I think to myself.

I snap it’s photo.

As I pedal to church the air feels good.

It’s chilly but the sun is out.

It’s Mother’s Day, and during worship the pastor speaks of mothers.

I think of my mother, who left us too soon.

I think of a specific time and tears well in my eyes.

I hold back tears as I ready myself for collection.

So many years later and I still feel.

I am grateful.

On my way home I stop at a coffee shop,

to read and write.

But it’s crowded and I can’t focus,

so I leave.

I have an egg sandwich for lunch and feed the dogs pieces of the crust.

I lay down and am surprised that I fall asleep for just a few minutes.

After a few stretches I sit on a cushion in front of the small altar,

which is off to the side of the room.

I pray, asking mostly for guidance.

Then I meditate for a few minutes.

I have to pick up photos from a show that came down last week.

But it’s raining, so I make coffee and scroll Facebook,

and wait.

I use my large bike, and a trailer, to retrieve the photos.

The gallery is about two miles away, and I push hard into a strong headwind.

I huff and puff but know that the wind will be at my back on return.

The reward.

Pushing the bike up the plank I notice the tulip again.

Now is all we have.

I switch bikes,

To a shorter one,

then head to the JCC for a steam and swim.

I love riding this particular bike,

but there is an incessant click in the crank,

and it’s gotten louder.

The street is slow and crowded,

I keep pace with traffic,

but I pull over to the side to inspect the sound.

When I do the person behind me beeps

and yells an obscenity out their window.

I make eye contact as they pass and say nothing.

I feel sorry for them.

Angry and saddled to their car.

When I swim it feels good.

In the buoyancy of the water nothing aches.

The steam room feels even better.

I have leftovers for dinner.

Rice-and-beans with roast vegetables.

My dogs stare at me while I eat.

I don’t give them any; they’ve had their meal.

It’s still early so I decide to stop out for a couple beers.

As I pass my neighbor’s I notice the tulip again.

It’s beautiful, even in its weathered and wilted state.

A snapshot of life, I suppose.

Real life.

I walk to the tavern.

It’s still light outside but dark inside.

The first sip of beer tastes good.

If fizzes across my tongue.

When I return home my dogs greet me as if I’ve been gone for two days.

I sit on the floor and let them crawl all over me.

This is now, I think.

Now.

Tomorrow is tomorrow.

Another day in a life.

But now is now.

And it’s beautiful.

But sometimes I need reminders.

To remember.

To return to now.

And that’s okay.

“Every moment and every event of every person’s life on earth plants something in their soul.”

~Fr. Thomas Merton

La Cuisine et le Chef…

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Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

~Albert Einstein

Recently while scrolling through files for a photo I came across the above one. The photo was taken only 18 months ago but seems so much longer. It’s the kitchen of my previous job where I spent 14` years of my life. I remember the morning I took it. I was the first in the kitchen, which was not unusual, and my favorite time…to be alone in the large kitchen.

When I opened the photo I was surprised at the emotions it stirred. It sort of stopped me in my tracks. When I resigned from my position some were surprised but it was not a rash decision on my part. And most, I think, believe that I simply left that job for my current one. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes, of course, I left one ob for another, but the more accurate truth is that I left a chef’s position to take a cook’s position. And there is a difference.

Many people refer to themselves and others as a chef simply because they work in a professional kitchen. And while this may be true in many instances in others it is not. The chef is the one in charge of all that happens in the kitchen. The word, chef, translates from the French as “boss.” Thus, if you work as a cook in a kitchen but are not in charge you are a cook. And there is nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, working as a cook is an incredibly important and honorable job. I in no way intend to sound self-righteous or to lecture, this is simply a fact.

At 55 years young I first faced a stove 39 years ago. I was hired as cook at the ripe age of 16 and accepted my first chef’s position at 27. Thus I have been in charge of kitchens for he past 28 years. And again, I am not trying to sound self-important, the reason I mention this is that I never thought it would be so difficult, such a drastic change. This is what was stirred inn me when I saw this photo.

In my current position I work in the kitchen of a grocery store, albeit a fancy one, but nonetheless still a grocery store. In my current role I am low-level management (very low) and my title is not as cook or chef, it is “coordinator.” Though I still spend a large portion of my day cooking.

As aforementioned, making this job change was not a rash one, and I am in fact glad to have done it. I thought about it and I prayed about it for months prior. I needed the change for too many reasons to mention here. I consciously chose a job where I would not be the one in charge (downwardly mobile, to quote Henri Nouwen). This has enabled me to do things that I had intended by making this/these change(s). I have pursued my photography successfully, and I am back in school working towards finishing a degree (which after two prior attempts was unable to do in the past because of working “chef hours”). But the biggest benefit of this change is that I am a lot less stressed.

So now I have many layers of management above me. Some of my current bosses are young enough to be my children. But that’s not the part that is really difficult. The part that I struggle with the most, I think, is that I am not in charge…but the irony is that I don’t want to be in charge. After so many years being the chef is part of me. This is something I am still coming to terms with. And this is also something that was stirred in me when I saw this photo.

Now as the year ends and a new one is about to begin I look backwards in remembrance but also forward with hope and anticipation. But mostly I am trying to stay in the present and take each day—and each moment—as they come. While I have no financial stash to speak of (no, seriously) I am wealthy in so many other ways. I have been fortunate enough to have done and accomplished so much and am truly grateful. Life is a journey. It’s not always an easy one, but it is—I believe—one lesson after another. I can only imaging where the rest of the journey will lead, thank you for being part of it.

Words, titles, and sounds…

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Oh no, I’ve said too much.

I haven’t said enough.”

~Michael Stipe

Losing My Religion

So these writings (ramblings) began sort of as notes to myself…a way to record, aknowledge, and even monitor myself as I attempt to simplify my life. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I should share what I do…if my sometimes seemingly aimless and meandering words will be of interest or even any meaning to anyone but me. But still I do it, and I’m not sure why. Sometimes it just has to come out. Anyhow, here’s another story, and a rather personal one.

One year ago today I was standing in front of an altar and in front of about 1500 people, along with 60 of my classmates, at Riverside Church in NYC. We were graduating from a two year seminary program from One Spirit Learning Alliance. The director of the program announced each one of us to the public, and when she said my name it gave me goosebumps; it was the first time I heard someone say, the Reverend Joe George. I can still feel the moment deeply when I recall it.

I recall the moment so deeply not because of the title. I’ve always found titles a bit silly, and have in fact recently taken a job where for the first time in 26 years my job title is cook, not chef (but more on that later). The reason I was so moved at that very moment is that I was so proud of myself and my classmates for having completed the program. Many of the students lived in the NYC area, some attended class part-time and via webinar, and others—like myself—commuted to the city for one weekend each month.

Mostly I entered seminary for personal reasons and being an ordained minister was not the main reason. I was so proud of myself because I had managed to do this while working full-time as a chef. I almost didn’t enroll and flip-flopped about it for a couple years before actually doing so. And I can still remember the day when I sat in meditation questioning it and was told (not through a voice but intuition…an inner voice) that if I really wanted to do this I could, that doors would be opened. And they were.

And so, as I stood in the front of that incredibly awe-inspiring church one year ago today I was both exhilarated and exhausted. Twenty-two trips to NYC (mostly by train) in twenty-four months had depleted me financially and exhausted me emotionally and spiritually. The inner work that was required of us had quite literally turned me inside out. I was raw. And while standing there hearing the director announce each one of us, and as she came closer down the row of people towards me, I glanced around at my classmates and some had tears trickling down their cheeks but we were all beaming; we were glowing.

I’m not sure what I expected after graduation. I was already middle-aged and three-decades into a culinary career when I entered the program. Did I want or expect to work as a minister in the traditional sense? No, of course not, I knew that. But I wanted this to change me and open me to new possibilities. And in many ways it has. As I’ve gotten older my priorities have changes, but I suppose this is common with a lot of people. Still though, this past year has been difficult financially, spiritually, and emotionally. But the one thing I have learned is that most things will work themselves out and that everything really will be ok, even if it doesn’t seem it at times. I’ve also come to realize that “things” mean less and less to me, but experience and relationship means more (and more and more). But now I’m rambling so I’ll try to tie this together with some relevance to the above note.

The day we stood in front of everyone at the church was our graduation, but we were ordained in a private ceremony at a retreat center upstate along the Hudson two nights prior. One of our ordination requirements was to write our own vow which we would take and say aloud. We were asked to make them brief. I wanted to make it as personal as I could and my initial one was about three or four sentences, then we were asked to condense and distill them down to one sentence, two at the most. I found this to be more difficult than writing the original version. But I digress.

Two days ago I was having a rough day…nothing major, just “one of those days.” Everyone has them now-and-again, I suppose. I had gone up to my room to do a few basic asanas, which I do as a spiritual practice but mostly to relieve lower back pain. It was warm outside and I had the windows open and a fan on to create a cross-breeze. And as I was preparing for my stretches the breeze blew a piece of paper across the floor directly in front of me. I’m not sue where I came from exactly (probably from on top of one of my messy dressers) but I am convinced it was something I needed to see.

At the retreat center we were required to stand in front of everyone and speak our vows aloud to the class, our deans, and into the universe. We had to speak into a microphone, which always makes me nervous. So I wrote out my vow on a little scrap of paper so I wouldn’t forget the words out of stage fright. Words, I’ve come to think, carry so much weight when spoke aloud. The most obvious Christian example of this comes from the Gospel of John…”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and Word was God. In Hinduism the word (sound) Om is considered the original vibration sent forth as the beginning of creation. But again I digress.

So on this recent day, as the scrap of paper rolled in front of me I picked it up and threw it in a small trash basket nearby. But as I did I noticed my own handwriting on it, so I retrieved it to see what it said. When I opened it I shivered. To my surprise it was the very note that held the words that I spoke aloud to the universe on that very day one year prior. Was this just a coincidence or a Jungian synchronicity? Who knows, but it certainly was something I was meant to (re)see. This scrap of paper likely sat on a dresser for a year. I’ve had the windows open and fan on many times since then, but it was at this time that it was redelivered to me. I spoke those words aloud and one year later they came back as a reminder. A reminder of so many things. But mostly, I think it was meant to remind me that things do work themselves out and that everything is okay and that I (and you and all of us) are in the very spot that we are meant to be, even if we don’t realize it or if it doesn’t feel “”right.” I’ve also come to think of life as a sort of journey—sort of like one lesson stacked on top of another—and today, just like tomorrow and the day after and the day before, are all part of that journey.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

~Philippians 4:8

Mad at the Universe

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The person of faith who has never experience doubt is not a person of faith.”

~Thomas Merton

I’ve been in small group meetings where as an introduction or an ice-breaker we would go around the circle and say what the weather was like in our world, metaphorically… “slightly cloudy with a bit of sun,” someone might say. Or, “sort of stormy.” Well the weather that is happening in the real world outside my doors as I type these words is fitting for me today… unseasonably cold, gray, and almost constant rain. It has been raining all day. Today, you see, I woke up mad at the Universe. Pissed off is more like it. And by Universe I mean God (or whatever name you choose to call It). This has happened before, but not in quite a while. Though I’m jumping ahead as I often do.

A child died yesterday. A toddler. He was three years young. And his sister is critically injured; she’s five. Both of them right in front of their mother. The day was unlike today; it was warm and sunny. The young family was walking in a park when a car traveling more than 50 mph jumped a short grassy median and mowed them down. It was lunchtime on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a beautiful city park. How could this possibly happen? How can this even be real?

As of right now no one is saying why the driver did this, but apparently impairment is being ruled out. Some speculate he was texting. It was a young male, and witnesses say he could be seen kneeling and weeping beside the stopped car before police took him away.

This happened in a crowded city park in broad daylight. Walking also close by at the time (but separately) was an emergency room doctor and a nurse. They both rushed to the family’s aid but they could not revive the child. The doctor said that she probably only worked on the toddler for a few minutes before other help arrived but she lost track of time; she couldn’t really tell how long it had been because time had stopped.

Time had stopped.

A witness described seeing the children rolling out from under the moving car and then hearing the mother’s scream. A scream she will never forget. She (the witness) fell to the ground herself.

How could this have possibly happened? This happened yesterday, and that is the question I asked when I woke this morning, and it is the question I ask now. And it’s a question I didn’t arbitrarily ask myself aloud (as I sometimes do), this is something I asked God. Aloud. What kind of God are you that would allow this to happen?

Now I certainly do not believe our higher power to be an old man sitting on a cloud watching over us, but more of a presence. We—I truly believe—live in It and It is in us. It is all there is. But of course I really don’t know because it is incomprehensible; the minute I try to put it into words or thoughts it seems and sounds trite. But I also believe It (God, for the sake of terminology) is all good. And if this is true then how can such a horrific event take place.

I of course do not think that a giant ghostly hand should have come down from the sky and swooped the children out of harms way like superman. But why did it have to happen that the lives of this family and the driver of that car had to converge at that very second. The mother told the media that she had stopped for a moment to let her children change places as they walked. Why couldn’t they have stopped ten feet sooner. Or why couldn’t one of her sweet children have seen a butterfly or a cat or a bird or something else and ran after it. And if the driver was texting, why at that very minute. Why didn’t he get stopped at a traffic signal for just a few seconds longer. Why didn’t one of them get delayed by just a few seconds to throw this convergence off kilter. Why did all this happen at that very second in time. What are the mathematical odds of these four lives coming together in that very spot in that very second in time? These are the questions that I asked God today. I’m still waiting for a response.

Earlier today while doing a few basic yogic asanas and other stretches to relive pain from my lower back I listened to Ram Dass. The way he chanted Hare Krishna made me think that’s what it must of sounded like when the old testament prophets and psalmists would chant and call out to Yahweh; cry out to God. And that’s what I found myself doing as I sat for meditation unable to concentrate, albiet in a more modern and undignified way; almost accusatory…“What the fuck kind of God are you that would allow this to happen,” I questioned aloud. Still no response.

And now on Facebook and elsewhere it has turned into an internet argument. People on one side calling to remove or alter the stretch of highway that runs so close to a popular park, and on the other some are concerned about traffic flow. Meanwhile this mother’s toddler son lies in a morgue and her young daughter is in a hospital bed.

Without going into too much detail I’ll say that I have heard God speak before. And by this I don’t mean a voice in my head, but through people and things and experiences. But right now He/She/It is silent. Maybe I need to open myself/my heart up to Her. But right now I cannot. I am just so pissed at Him.

I mourn not just for the family but also the family’s family. I also mourn for the driver of the car and his family. All of their lives are forever changed. And also I mourn for us as a society, where such a tragic loss can be turned into an internet argument. But mostly I mourn for the poor mother, I literally cannot fathom what she is going through.

And for me, right now, I am still waiting for answers.

“Speak, for your servant is listening.
~ 1 Samuel 3:10