Baby sister no more, and yet always

I remem­ber the first day of Decem­ber, eigh­teen years ago. It was a soft, snowy morn­ing on our farm on the west­ern edge of Min­neso­ta, and my two sis­ters and I had fin­ished feed­ing the goats and chick­ens, and had some­how wan­dered down to the end of our short dri­ve­way, where we were engaged in a play­ful fight with quick-packed balls of the wet, heavy new-fall­en snow. We were osten­si­bly watch­ing for the arrival of our chi­ro­prac­tor, delayed by the weath­er, but we had most­ly for­got­ten about that after a few min­utes of joy­ful squeals.

Then dad’s voice rang out across the silent yard.

If you want to see this baby born, you bet­ter get in here now!”

Oh, things were hap­pen­ing fast! We wal­lowed across the snowy yard, tum­bled into the house, and—no doubt leav­ing our win­ter clothes is a tan­gle heap in the porch—we qui­et­ly piled into Mom and Dad’s tiny bed­room which was today the birth room. And it was not long at all before a tiny new sis­ter slid into the morn­ing light and into our lives.

We had a spe­cial bond (I think) all the years I was still home. There are a great many pic­tures of the grin­ning teenage Me with an equal­ly-grin­ning wee sis­ter in my arms: “My two ends” our moth­er always called us fond­ly. I walked her to sleep for her naps, often to the sound­track of the bois­ter­ous Russ­ian clas­si­cal music I was so fond of in those days, or the jaun­ty Bea­t­les songs I was just then dis­cov­er­ing (or The King’s Singers’ cov­ers there­of). One of her first words was “Help!” to request the song of the same name.

And then off I went to col­lege, and I nev­er came back. Not to stay, any­way. She has grown up a great deal since then. Her expe­ri­ence of being a home­schooled teenag­er has been very dif­fer­ent from mine, prob­a­bly inevitably. She is a very tal­ent­ed musi­cian and dancer, although I have almost no first­hand knowl­edge of her impres­sive per­for­ma­tive vir­tu­os­i­ty, since my adult life has kept me large­ly far away in recent years from the excit­ing events back at my fam­i­ly seat. I have missed out.

And now she is eigh­teen, get­ting ready to leave the house her­self very soon, just as I did back when she was just mas­ter­ing the abil­i­ty to form whole sen­tences. Dance through life with con­fi­dence, Lit­tlest Sis. You will be awe­some.

All Things Must End (Even This Year)

And so anoth­er year comes to a close, and with it the first decade of this much-vaunt­ed third mil­len­ni­um.

A lot has hap­pened in these ten years. Some build­ings got knocked down by hijacked air­planes in 2001: that was quite a dire start to the decade. As a result — or using that trag­ic event as a thin excuse, if you pre­fer — the coun­try of my birth has been at war in far-away lands ever since, as well as hap­haz­ard­ly slap­ping togeth­er an end­less and impo­tent cul­ture of fear in our own part of the world.

The end of that year saw the end of a long but future­less per­son­al rela­tion­ship for me, but I entered the new year full of hope, and in Jan­u­ary of 2002 I found the love of my life. In 2003 I got mar­ried to her, and after a brief year of lov­ing cou­ple­hood we became par­ents togeth­er, and then three years lat­er it hap­pened again, and now, three years lat­er, it is hap­pen­ing yet again. (I’m real­ly not sure how this keeps hap­pen­ing.) Mar­ried life, fam­i­ly life, has been a lot of things, but most­ly it has been real, and that is good.

My pro­fes­sion­al life, too, has cov­ered a lot of ground in these ten years. At the start of the decade I was just becom­ing a low-lev­el man­ag­er at a Barnes & Noble store. Four years lat­er I made the leap, neces­si­tat­ed by the recent birth of my first son, to a soul­less cubi­cle job shuf­fling through thou­sands upon thou­sands of mort­gage files and prepar­ing them for archiv­ing in a vast gray ware­house. That near­ly destroyed my soul, but for­tu­nate­ly I was res­cued, thrown a life­line, and I escaped to the tiny data­base sup­port team in the same build­ing, where I was able to learn a whole set of skills I had no idea I would ever encounter, and far more impor­tant­ly I was able to work with a group of peo­ple who real­ly cared about each oth­er, and made work­ing togeth­er some­thing joy­ful. I will always miss that aspect of that time.

But the voice of voca­tion was not silent in my life, despite years of neglect on my part, and in 2009, with the sup­port of my wife, I final­ly set foot upon a path I had been pulled toward for quite some time: the study of canon law, prepara­to­ry to a life work­ing as an expert in the inter­nal law of the Catholic Church. I am now in the midst of my first year of grad­u­ate stud­ies in this area, hav­ing left all my gain­ful employ­ment behind and thrown myself on my local church for the sup­port of myself and my grow­ing fam­i­ly; I can hard­ly say how grate­ful I am that they have been so will­ing to catch me and hold me (so to speak). It has been an excru­ci­at­ing­ly chal­leng­ing time for my fam­i­ly, but the light is start­ing to shine bright­ly through the clouds once more, and there is much to hope for in the years ahead.

And now the decade is over, and in the morn­ing a new one will dawn. What will the next year, and the next ten, hold for me? I cer­tain­ly could have pre­dict­ed very, very lit­tle of what tran­spired over these past three thou­sand six hun­dred fifty-two days, so I won’t even pre­tend I have a clue what to expect from the com­ing three thou­sand six hun­dred fifty-three turns of the globe. But I am sure hop­ing that I can make a sim­i­lar­ly san­guine report to each of you at the oth­er end of this decade, too.

Hap­py New Year, every­one. Don’t stick beans up your noses.

Thirty years and counting

Thir­ty years ago this day, in the town of Wells, in the state of Min­neso­ta, a child was born. The first­born to his par­ents, indeed the first of his gen­er­a­tion, his nativ­i­ty was wel­comed with great joy, and he was giv­en a name not like unto oth­er names, to set him apart from the crowd all the days of his life.

I am thir­ty now. For some rea­son I am real­ly feel­ing the mile­stoni­ness of this birth­day; not just because I am no longer to be trust­ed, but because I think I am actu­al­ly grow­ing up. Oh, I have been grow­ing up in a hap­haz­ard fash­ion for years now, fits and spurts of nar­row matu­ri­ty sprout­ing up in the face of life events. But this feels dif­fer­ent; this feels like I am actu­al­ly work­ing at grow­ing up, choos­ing to become a per­son of con­scious respon­si­bil­i­ty. That’s new ground for me, so it is tak­ing some get­ting used to.

And if I look at it from a dif­fer­ent angle — if I think of all the indi­vid­ual years that I have lived, feel­ing my way back along the thread of my life in my mind’s eye — then I real­ly start to feel woo­gly. There is a fair amount of water under the bridge already, so to speak. But still miles to go before we sleep…


Here’s an ersatz epiphany if ever there was one: I haven’t been writ­ing much for quite a while. Sto­ry of my life…

I have made so many of these re-starts after long droughts over the years that I feel that I have pret­ty well explored the avail­able range of tone for such com­mu­niques. Since none of these approach­es has ever pre­vent­ed my sub­se­quent relapse into uncer­e­mo­ni­ous silence, I think that this time I am going to dis­pense with the navel gaz­ing, the self-recrim­i­na­tion, the blithe plat­i­tudes, and the pluck­i­ly-opti­mistic plans for the next four­teen thou­sand words com­ing down the pipe. This time, just for a change if for no oth­er rea­son, I am just going to pick up my pen and start writ­ing again.

Anoth­er new year has rolled around, and as usu­al it has not found me any stronger, smarter, braver, more reli­able, more dili­gent, more spe­cialer, or oth­er­wise improved in any reportable or per­cep­ti­ble man­ner. I will turn thir­ty (30) this year, which seems like it should be sig­nif­i­cant, though I am still unclear why. I am try­ing to avoid forc­ing any sig­nif­i­cance upon this occa­sion, hop­ing that what­ev­er actu­al sig­nif­i­cance there may be will just reveal itself at the appro­pri­ate time. I will keep you post­ed on any devel­op­ments on that front.

I feel that this needs must be a year in which a great many thing hap­pen. That’s about as spe­cif­ic as I care to be at this point, but 2008, from this end, looks to be a fiery cru­cible of change, and whether I come out at the far end a much bet­ter man or a bro­ken one is large­ly up to me and the choic­es I choose to make, the ener­gy I put into these choic­es, and how hard I am will­ing and able to work at mak­ing things hap­pen. (Wow! Anoth­er epiphany! I threw that one in for free, just because I’m such a swell guy.) I know that I am tired of not feel­ing proud to be myself, so the rem­e­dy has long seemed to me pret­ty obvi­ous: I need to become some­one I can be proud to be. Huh. Wish me luck on that.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Anoth­er year in the amaz­ing life that is mine. I love it.

As my broth­er told me last night, as we wound up a long broth­er­ly talk short­ly after mid­night, “In anoth­er fifty years, we’ll be sit­tin’ around talk­ing like this on your 78th birth­day.” Yeah, that’s com­ing right up, bro.

This birth­day is made sig­nif­i­cant by the fact that I now share it: my sis­ter gave birth to her first child, a son, this morn­ing. So I am an uncle now, with a lit­tle Gem­i­ni to spoil. A good start to a fine day.