Saturday, December 29, 2012

Looking Back Over 2012 and Ahead to 2013

Yesterday, I was looking over credit card receipts for the year and found something surprising.  It is now taken care of.

So, today, while 3/5 of my family is skiing and I've completed taken a first stab at a health economics second course syllabus, I thought it would be a good time for my annual aspirations blog.  I'll call them aspirations rather than resolutions.  At least according to, a resolution is "a resolve or determination" whereas an aspiration is a "goal or objective desired" or an "aim; ambition". I think that what I look forward to in the next year fits more in the second category of "big picture" stuff rather than specific determinations.  And I think that with a few exceptions the same could have been said last year.

Looking back, then?  Here is what I wrote last December 31:

(10) Continue to implement a plan for well-being that includes financial well-being.
Sort of.  We've built some assets.  Paid down some debt.  Some still hangs on.  And it has been difficult to anticipate what 2013 will bring.

(9) Run a sub-20 minute 5K and qualify for the Boston marathon. 
These were definitely in the resolution rather than aspiration category and I met both.

(8) Continue my involvement with Back on My Feet.
I did.  I stayed a team coach as long as I could, but something had to give way.  I still run with the Team at least once a week if at all possible and also run with a bunch of BoMF Baltimore teammates at track workouts that I somehow have been the nominal organizer of for a while now.

(7) While this could go under the well-being heading of #10, I want to integrate pieces of “the arts” into what I do including more reading (because one way to write better is to read more), continue blogging, continue other writing, and perhaps even get back to writing a bit of music.
On this one, I continued to blog, I started a second writing project, and while I never wrote a full song this year, I did finalize a poem for two friends who got married and they really liked it.  It was about what made a first impression about each of them as I met them--their smiles.

(6) Better balance of responsibilities at work.
I have mostly continued to learn what can "give way".  The new year may bring new opportunities here.

(5) Hang out with friends more in situations other than running.
There is precious little time for this.  Although we did make it to a few nice gatherings at the end of the year.  And while my oldest son's girlfriend was not someone I had thought of when I wrote this a year ago, we have welcomed her to hang out with us (and running is not involved) a lot more this year than last.

(4) Help my children become all that they can be.
We continue to find ways to provide opportunities for our three sons to try out and to get better at all sorts of interesting things.  I think that Sherry and I have done a good job at this.

(3) Take the serenity prayer ever more seriously. 
I definitely still take the first part very seriously.  It is interesting that I will simply speak--sometimes not even yell--a snarky comment about another driver and let it go at that.  My oldest son's girlfriend asked if it was my form of "road rage".  What it really reflects is my effort to let out a little frustration while otherwise letting go of whatever might cause road rage as I cannot change it and more or less have to accept what other drivers do.  There are still some things that go unacted on.  I strive to change that.

(2) Continue to share my cooking. Enough said.
And done. Mostly through having my son's girlfriend over for dinner more.  She even had a chance to help us make Christmas Eve dinner.  But I have also cooked for family on this vacation and have brought snacks for friends post-running on numerous occasions.

(1) Enjoy the second half of my 20th year of marriage and the first half of year 21. It has been an incredible nearly 20 years. I hope we share 20 more.

Year wasn't perfect, but we had some new experiences that served us well including going on our first cruise.  And we are still together.

Looking ahead...

(10) Keep running in the right place in my life--it should promote physical, mental, and social well being--the gold old health triangle we learned in high school health ed class.  It should also promote spiritual well-being. If it ever interferes with those re-assess.

(9) While keeping it in the right place in my life, don't forget that there are some real goals.  Mile on the track under 5:40.  2-mile on the track under 12:00.  5K--wherever--under 19:30.  Complete Boston--and if the weather permits aim for 3:10.  Half marathon closer to 1:30.  10 miler closer to 1:10.

(8) Continue to be creative.  Maybe art.  Maybe words.  I'd say 10-15 minutes per day.  Could be a little verse.  Could be a little progress in my ongoing attempts to write longer stuff.  Could be a blog entry.  Could even just be some project like the silk tie I did earlier this week.  Just to keep that part of my brain in high gear.

(7) Think about next career steps.  Who knows what they may be?  The key is that even as a full professor, there are things to think about.  Even if I stay a full professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for the remainder of my career, the job will change.  And there may be opportunities within JHU (or someday in the future outside JHU) that would bring about even more changes and hopefully changes that would challenge me and engage me in new ways.  And while my well-being now is about stability, my well-being once the kids are out of high school and college will depend on what I see as my next steps.  So, I might as well start thinking now.

(6) Continue to grow spiritually.  I have stopped writing about every single bib number and race time.  That was fun.  But I have found many new inspirations for my spirituality including the tattoo that is now nearly finished.  That turned out to be an interesting part of my art experience last years as it really has become much like a piece of commissioned artwork that I always have with me and really participated in a two-person (me and the artist) effort to bring about a vision of symbolism that I had.

(5) Continue to play an active role at St. Pius X.  I don't see that changing for any reason--but it is just worth putting out there.  No matter what other pressures may come and go, the stability of my involvement in Sunday school and the worship band--each with its own set of ups and downs--is definitely like a rock for my to stand on in my faith and in my life.

(4) Continue to mentor.  The experience or mentoring has been a gift to me as much as anything from me over the past several years.  I have a new student to mentor in the Penn State Schreyer Honors College and there are other opportunities for mentorship as well.

(3) Help my two oldest on the path to figuring out where they will go to college and high school respectively.  While the process will not be completely finished one year from today, it will be well on its way.

(2) Remember that I would not be where I am without the help of others.  This is part of what I reflected in my artistic vision last year and what I hope to continue to reflect this year.  This is part of my spirituality.  It is part of my professional mentoring.  It is part of my family relationships.  It is part of being a good neighbor.  I am ultimately responsible for me.  But I am not responsible for just me.  And in the same way, I know that I have truly benefitted from having so many around me who are not only interested in benefitting themselves but who are interested in lifting up others.  When I am taking credit, I must give credit where credit is due. And when I am deciding how to act, I should remember to act with others in mind.

(1) Be the best family member I can be.  Husband, father, son, brother, and so many more rolls.  All important.  All provide ways to lift others up.  All provide ways to reflect on what others have done to lift me up.  And all provide ways to show God's greatness in blessing me and my family with abundance.

It should be an exciting year ahead.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

This blog will be continued...

This blog will be continued at Connecting the Dots & Nourishing Souls: 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Catholic Readings Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

So, I have been back at my house after the trip to Armenia for about 28 hours.  In the first 18 hours after my return I had made two yeast-based dough recipes (two pizzas--of which three of us ate 1 1/4 for dinner and then the rest for lunch the next day) and some rolls/baguettes that we ended up using for dinner that included some steak sandwich meat, some pepper from the CSA, some tomatoes from the CSA, some garlic grown by my son, and some cheese from Hawthorne Valley.  That was an awesome way to begin my time back in the US.  

At exactly 18 hours after my return to my house, I was st church practicing with the worship band at St. Pius X.  That is another thing that I really enjoy and even though I don't play very much during the week, I'd been working on a melody before I left and I missed playing anything at all during the week I was in Armenia.  Heard lots of music and brought home a zurna for my 16 year old (who has already begun to figure it out), but I digress.  The main thing is to comment on how the baking of 2 yeast breads (and buying 5 packets of yeast when I went to the grocery store this morning) relates to my spiritual well-being.

Well, it relates in a couple of ways.  The very first is that I decided not to run this morning.  There are a lot of reasons that I didn't run this morning.  But one was to make sure that I baked my first non-pizza bread on day one back in the US.  Baking bread is central to my life.

Then, when I heard the first reading from 2 Kings, I honestly don't recall ever hearing it before.  It is about a man bringing 20 loaves of barley bread to Elisha to feed a group of 100.  The symbolism of feeding a crowd that is perceived to be too large with a relatively small amount of resources made me immediately think of a number of New Testament stories.  And, sure enough John 6:1-15 is the story of Jesus feeding thousands with the five loaves and too fishes.

I think I'll spend a number of days commenting on it as I noted lots of points about the readings when we were done at church.

But let me begin with one thing--God always seems to find a way to communicate with me just when I need it.  I was away from easy access to my spirituality for a week (although I did blog a little, speak with my colleague Byron at length about religion, and made a strong impression about my interest in religion on at least some of the students I taught).  But then I get home and am hungry for a message. Yes, it is just coincidence in some ways that the day after my return happened to be the seventeenth Sunday in ordinary time in which all Catholic churches around the world read these two readings (along with a piece of the letter from Paul to the Ephesians which is also interesting).  The messages I'll talk about later.  But the chance to play and hear a homily built around a story that is linked to a topic that is so central to my day to day existence when I am home (and I enjoyed multiple types of bread while in Armenia including an olive roll, lavash, numerous pastries, and others), made it easy for me for the messages to come today.

Praise be to God.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

More Reflections on Noah

Yesterday I mentioned the story of Noah briefly in the context of being within site of Mt Ararat.  In the time since, at the end of a very long day yesterday, when I was back at the hotel after a roundabout walk after a late dinner of goat cheese salad (goat cheese encrusted with pistachio, greens, and grapefruit) and musaka, I went back and reread the story of Noah.  Really read it.  A few things made an impression on me to ponder.

First, in the Bible it is shown as a typical paragraph-by-paragraph story.  However, when I read it carefully it was clear that like many traditional stories it had a nearly lyrical quality.  Not when it was talking about the wickedness of man, but when it talked about who Noah was supposed to bring with him.  Repeated references to animals, birds, and creeping things is one great example.  There are other places where there is some sort of repetition.  It gives the story a feel for how it would be easy to share in an oral form, which at some point before it was written down it surely was.

Second, while the first reference to animals talks about taking them two-by-two and the last reference to animals talks about taking them two-by-two,  chapter 7 verse 2 actually talks about seven pairs of all clean animals and a pair of animals that are not clean.  It is almost as if when the seventh chapter was written or translated there was something different in mind than when the sixth chapter was written or translated.  But even later in the seventh chapter it was back to two-by-two.  So, I see this as an interesting mystery of why there was a different expression.

It is also interesting to see how the Lord shut Noah in.  My image had always been Noah and his sons shutting the “door” to the ark.  But the Lord shutting Noah in gives a sense of finality and security to the whole thing that might not be there if Noah and his sons had been responsible for themselves. 

Two final thoughts.  First, there are many numbers. Numbers of animals.  Numbers of years Noah is old.  Number of days till the flood and of the flood.  The month and day of certain events.  It gives a sense of precision that is interesting and I find it interesting given that for a time every creative writing I did began with a date.

Second, in the process of reaching reading about the covenant that God made with Noah and his sons, there is something lyrical about part of the promise.  “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”  It reads sort of like Ecclesiastes where we read about a time for this and a time for that.  Full of contrasts.  A sign that the world is supposed to be full of contrasts and that contrasts are part of the natural rhythm of life.

Even in my time in Yerevan I have experienced the contrasts of hot and cold, not many people being up when I run in the morning at 7 AM and many people at 10:30 PM, the heat of the day and the cooler evenings.  The pressures of work and the amazing experience of learning about my colleagues.  The many, many blessings that I have received. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Some Random Reflections on July 25

It has been a while since I’ve written a personal blog entry.  Why?  I have been busy.  Busy at work.  Busy at home.  Busy getting ready to travel and then traveling.  And, now, on Wednesday 25 July 2012, I am writing from Yerevan, Armenia where I am lecturing for the week at the American University of Armenia.  Where from the window of the office I’m using when I’m not lecturing I can see Mount Ararat.  Where I haven’t learned much Armenian yet, but I have learned a few important customs and I have begun to learn my way around.

The first day or two I posted about how interesting the music in the Republic Square was—In the Mood at 11 PM with lots of people (including some young kids) dancing.  Then I posted about my first meal.

Since then, I’ve had a wonderful first dinner including multiple types of local cheeses and other traditional Armenian food.  On the second day I managed to get myself from my hotel to the office all alone.  Quite a walk and a lot of uphill.  My colleagues tell me we are at 900m altitude, so that affects things a little too.

Then yesterday we went to the park for lunch.  So far, I’ve paid no more than $4 for lunch and had an excellent salad and an olive roll the one day and a chicken sandwich on a lavash and a mango juice the second day.  For dinner the second day, I ate alone at an Italian café, and had a caprese with mozzarella that was so soft and tasty it was amazing and had incredibly flavorful tomatoes.  Then a hot sandwich with a somewhat spicy salami and “Dutch cheese” alone with what I could only describe as a cole slaw with a primarily vinegar liquid.  Also a pepsi and a ricotta cake (although I would have called it a ricotta pie).  All of that or under $15 with tip.  Amazing.  Although the waitress liked to correct each time she thought I mispronounced something.  Then, I managed to shop for water in a grocery store to restock my hotel room with bottled water.  12 half liter bottles for about $3. 

While there, it was 9:45 PM (I ate late since I lecture from 5-8 PM and then spent some time catching up on emails before going to dinner).  I was again surprised by the presence of young kids, although my colleagues tell me that life in the evening starts late.  Anyway, in this Italian café I heard a “muzak” version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”.  Seemed a bit out of place, but interesting.

This morning I got in my first run.  I went from the hotel to a point a bit past the American University of Armenia and then came back running on Muskovian St and whatever it turns into going around the outside of the downtown area of the city.  A nice 5 miles that after three days with no running and a lot of sitting felt really nice.  Took my legs a bit of time to really feel “good” but in the end it was a very nice run.

Then, I drank water like I usually do.  Having drunk only 1 liter of water in my hotel room the entire time since I arrived Sunday night before this morning, I’ve put down 2 liters today. 

While at the café last night I was also thinking about what I would do if I ever got a second tattoo.  It would be on the other calf to be “symmetric” (although not the same drawing).  But I have to save up for that one and my ideas may continue to evolve.

Finally, with the view of Ararat, I turned to the Bible.  Genesis 8:4 tells us that “…in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the moth, the ark came to rest upon the Mountains of Ar’arat.”  Then eventually the tops of the mountains were seen.  Today, Mt Ararat is a lovely snow-topped  mountain.  It must have been quite a site.  To think about being so close to a point that is described in the Bible is quite amazing.  Stunning actually.  It makes me stop and think about the importance of each bit of history in the Old Testament leading to the arrival of Jesus, the realization of all the prophecies, and the foundation of the new covenant.  Makes me think about wanting to visit the Holy Land at some point but that would come much later on. 

Well, time to get some work done for today.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Something Primal

I have never hunted.  I don't necessarily see myself as ever wanting to hunt.  But, this morning, while I was running the thought crossed my mind.

I had been running nearly 4 miles (which is the distance at which I ended as I ran past my house upon my return home).  I was back in my neighborhood and just tracing a round-about oath to get my full four miles.  As I was running up the street two over from my own, I saw the neighborhood fox.  I had clearly startled it into action and I watched it run up one street and turn a corner.  When I turned the same corner (still a bit behind it), I saw it turning into a neighbor's yard.

What passed through my mind?  Well, on a very non-hunting note, "What time is it Mr Fox?"  A classic children's game.

What else passed through my mind?  First, if I had another person with me, we could surround it and drive it to a place where we could hunt it down.  Not that fox would be all that big game or yield that much meat, but this is a direct thought from the book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall.  It occurred to me that what I read in all parts of my life (not just in church) affects what I think.  I started thinking about the description in the book of persistence hunting and tried to imagine myself in the wilderness.  Not an easy image to conjure up but an interesting one. Maybe running without a shirt at the track has also contributed to my thinking along these lines.

What else passed through my mind?  Have seen the move and now read the book, The Hunger Games, I thought about Katniss.  While in many ways the themes of the book and the movie are very disturbing, the main character would not have survived were she not a good hunter. I thought about how not quiet I am as a runner sometimes (although sometimes I do startle people when I run quietly up behind them).  And I thought about what it would take to combine my running with other skills to survive.

When I realized that I'd spent about a minute thinking about hunting a fox, I just thought to myself, "That is very primal."  I don't often think things that I consider completely primal.  Things that are aimed only (or at least primarily) at survival.  I don't know that I'd be much of a survivalist.

But to bring it all back to a spiritual side (other than thinking of how much my mind was off in a different direction than it usually goes that didn't feel very spiritual at all), I did do a search to find something about hunting in the Bible.  In the spirit of my recent read of The Hunger Games, I actually found something about Hagar's and Abraham's son Ishmael.  It brings me to Genesis 21:20:

"God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert bowman."

This verse mentions an important person in thd Old Testament becoming an expert bowman.  Expert bowman were what the Roman emperor tried to use to kill St. Sebastian.  An expert bow-person was the main character in the hunger games.  And, if Abraham's one son was an expert bowman, then hunting must be okay with God.  A reminder that the interpretation of the commandment about killing really only goes as far as people.  (Which isn't to say that being vegetarian or vegan is a bad thing.  Just that it isn't Biblically necessary).  It is also interesting because he lived alone out in the wilderness.  Who was with him?  God.  And when I run, even when I am in an urban area, sometimes it feels I'm so far from home that I might as well be in the wilderness.  And sometimes I am with friends and acquaintances.  And sometimes not.  But I am never along--God is always with me, wherever I am.

So, just the hunt for a verse to go along with an issue that I thought about after seeing a fox at about 5:10 this morning was enough to get me thinking and wondering and providing me with an important reminder that God is always there to lead me.  On my path of (as I mentioned yesterday) trying to be Jesus for the least ones, trying to make sure that my worship is more than just a song, and (as I mentioned earlier this week), trying to make sure take I take my role as prophet as seriously as I take other roles I have.   

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My iPhone know me too well

This morning I heard a song on the radio that included the following lyrics:

"Was I Jesus to the least of those 
Was my worship more than just a song"

I had heard the song before.  I recognized the melody.  I wondered who sang it as the voices and music didn't sound like any of the bands/artists more commonly heard on Shine 95.1 FM in the Baltimore area.  So, I waited till the end of the song hoping that they would announce the artist.  They did.  The group was The Sidewalk Prophets.  The song was Live That Way.  

I wanted to get some clarification of the lyrics and typed Sidewalk on my phone.  What came up as an option to click on before I typed anything else?  Not "Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein.  Not sidewalk chalk that my kids might use to draw.  But Sidewalk Prophets.  It would not be the most obvious thing, except for the amount of time I spend searching for song lyrics and religious references in general.  My iPhone knows me too well.

Why did I find the song so moving?  Well, those two lines, and the rest of the song are really about what I wrote about two days ago in some ways.  What does it mean to be a prophet? How can I brighten people's lives.  A good friend (a true smiler) told me today that I had been a positive influence on the group I run with in Back on My Feet and that whenever I'm ready to pull back a little it is okay.  So, maybe I do brighten people's lives, even if I'm not the biggest smiler.

But those two lines--was I Jesus to the least of those?  I try to be like Jesus.  I don't always do a great job. 

Is my worship more than a song?  Well, playing music is an important part of my worship experience.  And my songs will never be what Sidewalk Prophets or any other artist's on the radio songs are.  But I also think that my worship is more than a song.  The key question is--for whom.  For the kids I teach in Sunday school?  Sure. But is there anyone else for whom my worship is more than a song?  Can people tell how much I think that my God means to me?  And how do I share?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Smiles and Not Much of a Smiler

As I think back to yesterday's post and consider how one might turn another away from having a hard face or an obstinate heart, I think of one thing.  This one thing occurred to me yesterday during mass when Fr. Ray was making his comments about having a hard face and an obstinate heart.  What is it?  A smile.

Some people I know are all smiles.  Not "cheery and overly optimistic" smiles.  Just warm smiles.  Smiles that show they are glad to be alive.  Smiles that show they appreciate the love of their friends and family.  Smiles that show how much they are enjoying themselves.

I am not much of a smiler.  I don't know why.  I have been told many times that I am way too serious.  Perhaps I am.  There are sometimes when I can be warm and generous.  Happy and optimistic.  I have no problems sharing my thoughts.  I have not problems being a listener.  I have no problems commenting on whatever another person amy need a comment on.  What I have difficulty with sometimes is the ability to show the emotion of happiness for someone else.  Or that I am happy.

It is interesting to ponder why.  I don't have any good answers.  What I know is that maybe if I could do it more, I could help to make others happier too.  I share my happiness most times just by doing.  What makes me happy is doing.  Doing what is right.  Doing what is productive.  Perhaps that is how I am supposed to share my happiness and the importance and security that I get with the presence of God in my life.

Always pondering...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ez 2:2-5

Today is the fourteenth Sunday in ordinary time in the Catholic church.  The first reading was from the book of Ezekiel.  It was so short that if you were not paying attention you could easily have missed it.  It was just four verses.  Chapter 2. Verses 2-5.  Here is is from the NABRE:

As the LORD spoke to me, the spirit entered into me
and set me on my feet,
and I heard the one who was speaking say to me:
Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites,
rebels who have rebelled against me;
they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.
Hard of face and obstinate of heart
are they to whom I am sending you.
But you shall say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD!
And whether they heed or resist--for they are a rebellious house--
they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

Can I relate the 2:2-5 to much of anything in my life? Perhaps the time I hope to run in the 20 mile race this Labor Day weekend, as long as the weather is cool and crisp and not the dreadfully hot weather we have had the past couple days. But whether the 2:2-5 means anything to me or not, the words of Father Ray really caught my attention.

FIrst, he pointed out the number of problems in the world that arise form people being hard of face and obstinate of heart. It is interesting because the more common expression is "harden not your heart" not "harden not your face". And I had to think about what obstinate exactly meant. But Father Ray put it quite simply--people who refuse to acknowledge or problem or refuse to let themselves feel compassion. No matter what a person's political persuasion, the first step in solving any problem (whether one's own or the world's) is to acknowledge that there is one and to acknowledge that there might be a solution. We can debate the solution, of course. But recognizing the problem and allowing for compassion will often go a long way.

Even more hitting home for me was how Father Ray directed us to think of the last line.  It was not just aimed at Ezekiel.  It was not just a foretelling of Jesus Christ.  It is aimed at each of us.  Each of us has the role of being a prophet and spreading God's word.  

It is with verses like this that I struggle.  What does that mean?  Is helping others to share God's word as a musician enough?  Is teaching Sunday school enough?  Is conversing with people who want to talk religion enough?  Is this blog enough?  Or is there more?  And what could it be?  

I don't know.  But I do know how important it is to me to explore the word of God, to try to comprehend the word of God, and to share the word of God.  Even if it does all come in small steps.  And today's homily was a good reminder.  

Seven Random Thoughts

I have been busy this week, so I have not had a chance to write much.  Here are a few random thoughts.

(1) My family really missed home cooking.  We have enjoyed it very much ever since geting our power back.  We really take it for granted.

(2) Running really far in the heat takes a lot out of a person--at least me.  I'm not sure I'm made for distances in the heat.

(3) I enjoyed going to the movies with Sherry on a whim on Friday night.  She thought the auto service center at Sears was open later than it was.  As a result, we ended up near a movie theater with nothing to do. Just sitting in the AC for a while was fun.

(4) I was surprised by the movie we saw.  3D technology has come a long way since the red/green glasses of the 1980's.

(5) The movie was about Katy Perry.  It was actually an interesting story.  I saw a tattoo on her arm that I could not figure out.  It was easy to find information on the web.

(6) A lot of people notice my tattoo.  My wife commented on why a relatively shy person would draw so much attention to themselves.  The tattoo is not about drawing attention.  It is about meaning.  The attention is an unintended consequence I am willing to deal with.

(7) Even around Lake Montebello yesterday (I ran 4 laps around the 1.35 mile path) there was a lot less talking about people who were walking than I normally observe.

They say this week the extreme heat will let up.  Let us hope. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

So Many Things

More than a week since my last entry.  Big reason why--there were five days when I could not access the internet at home.  Why?  Power outage that lasted from late Friday night until yesterday (Wednesday) evening.  One storm that was not anticipated to be as large as it was caused a major inconvenience in many people's lives.

Yesterday morning when at Back on My Feet after reciting the Serenity Prayer, a friend said, "I bet you have been reciting that a lot in the past week."  To a degree, the answer was yes as we tried to just accept what life had brought us.  To a degree however, I had completely failed to "accept what I cannot change."  Sometimes it was very hard.  Especially because in this case, unlike last fall after hurricane Irene, we really didn't know where the cause of our neighborhood's issues was and the weather was so much hotter.

In any case, we can now look ahead.

A few other things...

Nice day with family yesterday.  My kids and my sister's kids had not seen each other since last year.  It was great.  My older nephew said "See you at Thanksgiving."  I hope it is sooner.

Starting from last Saturday morning, this is morning #6.  I've only run on two.  That is a definite advantage of not training for a fall marathon.  I feel only vaguely guilty.  I could have run this morning but given a choice between a little more sleep in my own bed in an air-conditioned room for the first time in nearly a week or a few miles out on the road with the temp being 80 degrees before 5 AM, I chose the extra rest.  Starting tomorrow, things have to get back into a pattern, but I decided to give my body one more day.  I don't think it is a bad decision, but I'm sure it is not a decision I would have made a year ago or if I was training for a fall marathon.

Back to cooking.backing at home today.

Life is good.

And, I am thankful to God for my blessings--a couple kids  died at a campground when a tree fell on their tent during the storm.  The State of Maryland has had several heat related deaths.  A neighbor still has a tree on her porch roof.  While we have spent way more money than I ever would have hoped on food out in the past several days, my family is safe and sound with a house no worse for the wear.  Praise God!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Running choices

A running friend made a comment by email today that was flattering and a very pleasant surprise.  And even if it was just something that any polite person would have said (which some might claim), I still think it was a very nice thing to say.  What did my friend say? After asking if I would be training with Charm City Run this summer and seeing my answer ("no"), my friend said it just wouldn't be the same without me.

That got me thinking?  Am I the same without the Charm City Run training group?  That is an interesting question.  And even beyond the fact that I am not fundraising through distance running this summer, I really am not the same without Charm City Run. It is worth thinking about the choices.

I have found a subset of the old Charm City Run training group with whom I have been running on Saturdays for a while.  Most Saturdays it is a group of four of us--sometimes three and occasionally two.  And last Saturday I ran alone--it is actually a nice thing to do every once in a while.  If we were with the Charm City Run group we would be near (but not necessarily always in) the lead.  I like the fact that the group with whom I run most often now meets at 6 AM rather than 7 AM.  But some weeks it might be nice to be able to choose to run a different pace.  I didn't do that all that often when I ran with Charm City Run for three training seasons, but it was nice to have the option. Instead I have made a choice to focus entirely on making sure that I am challenged to go fast and run hard each week.  Pros and cons to each choice.  But by not signing up for Charm City Run this summer, I have made one particular choice.

As for track workouts, we had an incredible eleven people for our 5:30 workout on a high school track near the Johns Hopkins Hospital this morning.  It is nice as we have a partial view of the buildings in my tattoo.  Again, I have made a choice to train with a group that is forever challenging and in many different ways on different days.  Sometimes it is one other runner.  Sometimes it is the workout.  We are always running really hard.  Once agin, if I ever let up I'll be trailing way behind.  I am flattered that so many people come to run with me.  We are a group that mostly gets down to business and runs our hard workouts.  Again, my experience would be something different if I were to run in the evenings with Charm City Run.  I would not, for example, have every night at home with as much of my family as is home every night.  But if I were to return to running with Charm City Run at some point, I'd have more choices about how hard to run and a wider variety of people to chat with.

There is nothing wrong with the choices I have made for this summer.  They are in contrast to what I have done the past two summers during which I focused on the group as much as on myself.  The group was large.  The group was diverse.

The choices I have made are the right choices for right now.  Still a bit of a group focus, but the group is smaller.  The group is more concentrated. And the group is about focused training to make us all better because we are all seeking to be "near the top" rather than just to finish.  It is more than just finishing.  Even more than just improving. It is about being as close to the top as we can manage. Again, right thing for right now.

But after I finish with Boston next spring and I look ahead to my next year of running, I may rethink what meets my needs. One of the beauties of actually thinking about this is that I can make a conscious (or to use the last entry's term, willful) choice about what is best at a particular point in time.

Leading a conscious life is a great way to lead life.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Willful Choice

At mass at 9:30 at St Pius X in Towson today, we got to hear a homily from Fr. Ray Chase--once he got his microphone turned on for the homily.  Fr. Ray always gives nice concise homilies.  Today we were talking about things related to the celebration of the birth of John the Baptist.  One thing he shared with the congregation was what he called the most frustrating part of being a priest.  I'll paraphrase: that no matter how much he prayed with us, consecrated the Eucharist before us, or preached homilies to us, he couldn't make us do anything.  No matter how much he knows what might be right from the point of view of following the path of what God would want, it is ultimately up to each one of us to take a willful action to make things happen.

I can see where this would be frustrating.  We are often called upon to ask "What would Jesus do?"  Well, I believe that most clergy (I won't say all given the continuing news about some small fraction of clergy in the Catholic Church) have a better idea of what Jesus would do than the rest of us.  They want to offer what they know.  They have spent a long time thinking about things.  They want to help.

It is not so different from public health experts.  They know more about many things for our health than the average person.  They have spent a long time thinking about things.  They want to help.

So, I can relate to what he is saying when I think about it professionally.

I can also relate personally and I think that this is pushing me one step closer to changing the blog to "Connecting the Dots--Nourishing the Soul".  If we think about a "dot to dot" it may just seem like a random series of dots if you look at the dots before connecting them.  No matter how much you stare at it.  If I think back to string art I did as a child (dating myself there, perhaps...) I think of the pattern of nails in the board looking somewhat random before the string was wrapped to make it a coherent pattern.  A meaningful pattern.  A pretty pattern.

In both the case of the dot to dot and the string art--it takes a conscious and willful effort.  A choice.  A choice to make the effort rather than simply to stare and wonder.

My tattoo is similar.  As a few people in church who had not seen it before this morning asked me about it, I gave the medium to long answer.  My sixteen year old asked me how many times I had explained it.  The answer is--a lot.  But now I have a short answer--a modern reinterpretation of the art around St. Sebastian, the parton saint of athletes.  And I have a much longer answer that goes into detail about the symbolism.  If people want to hear (and I want to share) the deeper meaning that requires a conscious effort on two people's parts.

As I think about whether I would ever get another tattoo, I think "only if I find a story as compelling that I want to tell."  In other words, I don't see any small tattoos. If I am going to get any they will be big and bold like the first and tell a whole story.  About what?  Maybe my music or my cooking or my writing or my teaching.  There are many other themes.  I could work in other patron saints or my confirmation name.  Who knows?  The one thing I do know is that it will be a long thought out willful choice.

Willful choices guided by God have the potential to take me far in my life.  I try to live up to what I am taught by priests like Fr Ray.  It's not always easy.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012


I've been pondering renaming the blog.  When I started my blog (other than a health economics blog for my teaching), I called it physical and spiritual running. That was the most appropriate title as I was trying to figure out what running meant and what a death from cancer meant.  Running had begun to evolve for me from just a personal physical activity to something much more social and much deeper.

Then, after my first marathon I closed the book on that first topic and then called the blog what it is now and has been for a year and a half--Physical and Spiritual Well-Being.  The blog is about all types of well being and I talk about my running as well as other things that I ponder.

I'm now thinking of calling it "Connecting the Dots and Nourishing the Soul".  Why?  Well, everything that I write nourishes my soul.  Maybe it helps others to nourish their souls. It gets a reasonable number of hits.  And my sixteen year old pointed out that there is a sight that picks up my feed (  And everything I write is part of how I process things.  How I work with things.  How I try to grasp things in my life.  Connecting the dots?  Well, just look at how much my writing cuts across different areas.  Even the tattoo I got connects different themes.  When I write about it I connect the themes.  I connect my running and bible verses.  I connect cooking. I connect my kids.  I connect my life.  Connecting the dots in the right order takes a seemingly random array of spots and turns it into something that is a coherent whole.  So, I am trying to combine the dots in my life in the right order to find a coherent whole to nourish my soul.

I'll ponder a bit more before changing.  If it works. I'll probably make the change over the July 4 holiday.  It is a pretty cool concept but I want to ponder it a bit more first.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Turning Myself Over

When I got my tattoo--I let go of all control, relaxed my body, and turned myself over to the tattoo artist because I wanted the best outcome.

When I get a therapeutic massage, I let go of all control, relax my body, and turn myself over to the massage therapist.  I want to get the most out of the massage and let the therapist do what she needs to do.

When I give blood, I let go of all control, relax my arm, and turn myself over to the phlebotomist.  I want to make the experience as efficient and as uneventful as possible.

When I go to the dentist, I turn my mouth over to the hygienist or dentist.  I mostly just want to be done, but I know that cooperating helps to minimize the time required.

Why are all these examples, I am turning myself over to optimize the outcome.  What does God want me to do?  As far as I can tell--turn my whole self (body, arm, bood, teeth, etc.) over to God.

Why?  To follow in His ways and achieve the best outcome.

Why is that so hard?  While I know that I could not replace the tattoo artist, the massage therapist, the phlebotomist; and the dentist/hygienist.  Each of them is dealing with a physical part of my body for a relatively short time.

When I am dealing with handing my being over to God, it is my whole self.  it is a mystery to whom I am turning myself over.  And, when all is said and done, while I know I don't have the skills of any of the four types of individuals, I may think that my judgment can replace Gods.  God doesn't undertand people today.  God doesn't have to deal with the repercussions if things get ugly and I'm still trusting in God.  It is not too hard to think that we have a better judgment than God does.

Moving forward, I only see myself trying to make sure that I turn myself over to God or God's representatives here on earth in the same way that I turn myself over to certain service providers.  The goal will be to maximize the positive experiences in my life.  I simply have to trust that good will come when I walk in the ways of the Lord.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

John 20:4-7 from 5K and Life Numbers

On Sunday, I ran the 5K.  The numbers for me and my three sons stretched from 204 to 207.  My time was 20:56 (so, the 20 and the two numbers in between the 4 and 7).  When my mother read some of the biographical information that she could find on St Sebastian (related to my tattoo) she found that his feast day is January 20.  Again, the number 20.  So, while walking my dog this evening around 9, I used my iPhone to search for a verse that might be relevant to my life right now and I came up with John 20:4-7.  From the New American Bible Revised Edition:

"They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place."

Let's see.  A direct mention of my confirmation name in verse 20:4 (I was number 204).  A direct mention of running in verse 20:4.  I think this was meant to be pondered.  And certainly beyond the two interesting but otherwise inconsequential coincidences of chapter 20 verse 4.

Why did this capture my attention?  Well, I have written about a verse similar to this before as it is an Easter verse.  However, right now here is what it makes me think of.  First, mystery.  While I am 42, I still find life a mystery.  I still find my efforts to get my commitments in life under control a mystery that I have difficult solving.  And I know that I should place my trust in God--as John did more quickly in the verses that followed Peter's initial discovery.

Second, this is about the Resurrection of Jesus.  It led to a second chance for humanity.  We all need second chances sometimes.  (And third and fourth...)  As a professional, I am trying to reduce the number of times I need to ask for second chances after committing to too many things.  But it is nice to know that we have them.  We don't always get them with colleagues.  We don't always get them with those we love or those with whom we are friends.  But God gave humanity a second chance at life in God's presence forever that we can always access if we are truly contrite about transgressions and we make every effort to walk in the way of the Lord.

So, this set of verses which makes me think of mysteries and second chances seems just about right for pondering as I continue to think about the meaning of the many choices I have made in my life.  And the improvements I continue to hope to make so that I can continue in my success and have fewer disappointments along the way--no matter how much those disappointments can teach important lessons. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Great Running Weekend and Kids Growing up

So, this weekend I ran the same sequence I did last Father's Day weekend--a 10 mile race on Saturday and a 5K race on Sunday.  Last year I ran 1:13:09 and 21:22 placing second in my age group in the 5K.  This year I ran 1:11:30 and 20:56.  On person I run with sometimes thought I would be a bit faster than that in the 5K--maybe on fresh legs.  I took first in my age group this year.  And, I'd consider the weekend an incredible success overall even if I still have not hit the 7 minute mile average I hope to for the 10 mile race or broken 20 minutes in a 5K yet. Was it all improvement or was some due to nicer weather and friendlier courses?  I'll never know. I'll just enjoy

But I didn't just enjoy my own experience.  I enjoyed watching my kids come home yesterday from their garden club with vegetables and my 12 year old helping me with turnips au gratin yesterday.

I enjoyed seeing both the 7 year old and 12 year old run their best 5K times when running alone today.  For my 7 year old this was only his second and he improved by about 7 minutes over his first.  This time, his 16 year old brother was supposed to stay with him but he ran 5 minutes ahead of his brother who walked most of the distance.  The 12 year old broken 30 minutes when not running with me for the first time ever.  Great for them.

And the take home quote from my 7 year old this weekend as we heard that 1970's tune "Rock the Boat" on the radio--"Why would anyone want to do that?  You'd get sea sick.  Maybe they mean a rock band."

The younger two were encouraged by my friend at the race to think of when they might beat me.  I look forward to the day.  My 7 year old passed Denise Koch from channel 13 today within the last quarter mile.  She is the local TV newsperson/celebrity who supports the 5K race each year.  And both may beat their pediatrician some day.  None will necessarily beat me for a while.  And neither will necessarily be just like me. That is fine.

What I do hope for both of them (and my 16 year old) is that they come into their own.  Today (and this weekend in general) was a time to see that better than I had for a while.  It is a wonderful thing.   

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tattoo as Story Telling

So the other day I compared the way I try to manage my body and my heartbeat during the tattoo process and during a therapeutic massage.

Today, I will comare tattoos to something else--story telling.  When I was running with a resident member of Team Christopher's Place Back on My Feet on Sunday, we were talking about tattoos.  I described the story behind my tattoo.  The story is now with me all the time.  A constant reminder of the themes that were important.  And, as a talking point, the way to share those points with others.

My friend mentioned that the story was a good one.  And that each tattoo is there for a reason.  Something we needed to remember.  Something we needed to be reminded of.  Some big event in our lives.  He had a rather philosophical view of tattoos and I was quite impressed.

So as people now ask me whether I think I will ever get another--I answer--first, when I have enough money, and second when I have another story that is so important for me to tell.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Getting a Tattoo, Getting a Massage, Giving Blood--Things Where the Serenity Prayer Helps

Today, I got my first tattoo.  Color  will be added in September.  It turned out to be more than I could ever have imagined.  The artist was incredible and the process was not something I'd want to do every day but really not so bad.

I commented to Emily (the artist) while she was working that I was glad I had chosen to get it in a place that I really couldn't easily see while she was working.  She found this curious and told me that whenever she got a new one she would do everything she could to contort herself to see.  She talked about being a type A personality.

At the time, I said that I saw an analogy with getting a full body massage.  And since then I have also thought of an analogy with the process of giving blood.  The last of these is highly ironic given the wait to donate after getting a tattoo in at least some places.

What is the analogy.  Well, I relate it back to the Serenity prayer--where i ask for the courage to change things I can and the serenity to accept those I can't.  Before I decide to donate blood, to get a massage, or to get a tattoo I have the power to make the choice.  To choose to do it.  Doesn't take much courage to get a therapeutic massage but getting a tattoo and giving blood require at least a bit of gumption--if not courage.  But once I have started, in any of the three settings (tattooing, massaging, or blood donation), I simply let go.  There is nothing more I can do.  All I can do is have the experience.  That sets me free.  My leg muscles tightened a little, but I did not break a sweat and I did not have my heart rate go up.  I just relaxed.

Sometimes, we have to figure out that we can change things we don't want to.  But the ability to accept those things that we truly cannot change is an amazing release.  It is almost empowering to let go.     

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Fourth Day

When I came upon my old journals, one thing that I stumbled on was my description of the fact that I went on a retreat called Search.  It was a three day retreat.  It was my first real introspection in a religious setting as an adult, albeit a very young adult at the time.  The retreat was Fri-Sun (or three days).  At the end we were asked what we would do on our Fourth Day.  The Fourth Day was essentially--the rest of our lives.  Not literally one day.  

Viewed that way, I've written many things about my Fourth Day.  Most of them up.  Occasionally down.  In the near future there may be one or tow things that are down because I let things go much too long.  Even at age 42 there are lessons to learn.

I don't know that when I was 18 I ever really appreciated just how long the "Fourth Day" would go on and the fact that I would still be learning, still be struggling to prioritize, still be trying to make sense of things, and still be trying to figure out how it all fit together as part of God's plan for me 24 years later.

But now I know that even in 2 times 24 more years (if I make it to age 90), I'll still be learning, I'll still be struggling to prioritize, I'll still be trying to make sense of things, and I'll still by trying to figure out how it all fits together as part of God's plan for me.  It is a never ending process with just one goal--always try to keep God's way as my way as I go along.  The closer I model my life after God's way, the more sense it makes.  Things get messy and murkier the more I stray.  Things seem to get clearer the more I stay close to God's way.  Sometimes, I wonder how Jesus prioritized when there were multiple ways that he could have worked to demonstrate the glory of God.  In some ways, a simple "what would Jesus do" type of question.  But in other ways, a much more subtle one--how would Jesus prioritize?  How would Jesus allocate his time on the days when he felt "there are only 24 hours in a day?"  

Perhaps as a religious economist who struggles to do good in all things I should ask myself "how would Jesus allocate his resources" rather than "what would Jesus do"?  Perhaps it is not quite as catchy.  But it really does capture why I sometimes feel like I am struggling (while still being very satisfied with my overall progress, accomplishments, and quality of life) in my Fourth Day.   

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It All Comes Together

My friend Marcus came out for a morning track workout with the crew that has been working out at the Dunbar track with workouts that I organize.  He commented at the end that he would definitely be back, particularly because the first week of the Charm City Run training program was always a two mile time trial, and he didn't think he would learn anything he didn't already know by participating in that next week.  It was interesting to me that he made that comment as the two mile time trial is what started me on a path toward being the organizer of this crew.  It was yet another reminder of how things just tend to come together in my life and how God creates opportunities that we can take or ignore and how his plan is for something wonderful if we just follow.

So, when I tell stories about history of my running, sometimes I begin in high school.  But, I recognize that those are mostly Glory Days kind of stories (thinking of the old song by Bruce Springstein) at this point.  And, while they are interesting to reflect on they are rarely relevant.  I separately myself from them for the same reason that I decided not to get a tattoo of the old symbol on my high school varsity letter pins--there is so much of life since then and so much more that is relevant to me.

Sometimes when I tell running stories, I start back on January 1, 2006.  When I decided to return to regular exercise.  However, I don't worry about a return to exercise any more.  In fact, the tattoo I am getting will feature the patron saint of athletes.  So, I don't go back to that point as often any more.

I also have gone back to July 2010 on some occasions.  That is when my running took a social turn and I started running for a charity rather than just for myself.   It was after a parent at my kids school was taken too early by cancer that running became not just a physical thing but a social thing and an expressive thing in my life.  And sometimes I got back to March 2012 when I first ran with Back on My Feet.  At that point, I found an organization that I could make a constant part of my running.  Back on My Feet also has an interesting relation to the tattoo.  The artist found a picture of the Baltimore city skyline (looking head on at City Hall and the buildings in the background in the 1930's.  That part of the tattoo is actually similar to the buildings in the picture at right, except for the one brick building with the very narrow top.  That is a more recent building.

Today, though, the story goes back to September 13, 2011.  On that day, the Charm City Run training group was scheduled to do a two mile time trial that I could not attend, but I really wanted to know where I was.  So, I asked two students/friends to come out and run with me.  They did and I ran the fastest two miles I'd run in a very long time.  Immediately after the Baltimore marathon, we continued running together and I continued to run with at least one of them through most of the winter.  Then, very recently the group expanded and now we have as many as 14 people on our list an that list is about to grow.  I never would have thought that one random ask to help pace me would lead to me being the organizer of a group that runs together once a week and includes people I know from work, from just running, and from Back on My Feet, all together to be supportive of one another and to make ourselves better, stronger runners.

God is great.  His gifts are amazing.  And I must never forget that.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

What Made Me Happy This Weekend?

This morning, on our local Christian Rock (or "positive hits" as they now call it) station (95.1 Shine FM), they asked for comments on what made us happy over the weekend.

I could have mentioned any number of things.  Comments on my blog, actually on the site--in addition to on FB which happens more often.   Seeing my oldest son happy with his audition for Peabody Youth Orchestra and his recording opportunity at All About Music.  A very busy and people filled Sunday.  Two great runs.  Happy dog.  Many things.

But if I had to choose one thing that stands out as different from most weekends that made me happy, it would be this: I got a friend of mine from Back on My Feet to come listen to 40 More Days play at St. Pius X.  My friend is Catholic, so it was not unusual for her to go to mass.  My friend was a cantor at one point--so it was not different for her to appreciate music at mass.  It was just one of the first times she had heard a worship band (including an electric bass) at a Catholic mass.

Afterwards she commented that she thought it was cool.  I was glad.  I thought about why it makes a difference to me that a running friend would come to mass. Or, why do I enjoy sharing my 40 More Days worship band experience?  I enjoy it most because it shows that I am not unidimensional.

Maybe most of my friends would not think that these days.  Having commented over the weekend on finding my old high school and college journals, it was certainly something that I worried about back then.  The worry at that time was that people might think I cared only about academics. Now, I could worry that people in each my circles might think that I take that circle so seriously that I could be unidimensional in that circle--my academics, my running, my participation in church.  But having a person from one aspect of my life come experience a different aspect reminds me and my friends that I'm not just about one thing.

Instead, I"m about figuring out how to make it all fit and all work together.  That is what I love.  The challenge.  The thrill.

Including my students in running--one way to demonstrate multiple dimension.  Inviting my running friends to mass--a second way.  Inviting my students/colleagues to mass--yet one more way.

I'm sure my close friends would like me even if I were pretty much unidimensional.  However, it is just nice to be able to explore and share more than one dimension and to try to make clear how much I enjoy having multiple dimensions and sharing each dimension with those about whom I care.  And then, inviting those I care about so much to make sure that their lives are not unidimensional either.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Overly Analytical--Or Not?

In yesterday's blog entry I commented on how I had been overly analytical even 20-some years ago.  I had another example of being overly analytic today.  When playing electric bass as part of the 40 More Days worship band at St. Pius X church in Towson, MD, I was listening to the homily. The bishop read from one of the candidate's letters and she referred to herself as a confirmandi.  My brain got lost thinking about what the appropriate feminine singular version would be.  It turns out that confirmand is the singular for both sexes.  I found that out at a reception afterwards.

When I get overly analytical, I don't play well and I noticed a tension in my playing for the first few songs after the homily.  Then, as I approached the final song, I just loosened up.  The last song was "Go Out in the World".  That is one of the few songs that I am often called upon to sing, and to sing harmony for.  When we play this song as part of our ministry, I just let go.  I just try to "Let it be" and take it all in.  I love the song as it both provides me a chance to sing a relatively high bass part and I do something a little different with my bass in that song--just in terms of the style I play.

That song is a blessing for me.  It is also interesting as the idea of being a person asked to "Go Out in the World" and tell everyone the good news is sort of what this blog does.  I like to share my good news.  And hope that others feel their own good news and to share that in turn with me.  There is much good news in the world--despite what we constantly hear in the news.  And I try to never forget that.   

Saturday, June 2, 2012

My Own Personal Time Machine

My family is on a bit of a quest to try to get our house in order.  Will we ever succeed?  Hard to tell.  Am I one of the biggest culprits in terms of non-neatness of the house?  You bet.  Why?  I love to hang on to things.  One thing that had been buried deep in a closet that is now being cleaned out--my high school and college journals.

What I'm finding now is that I am finally ready to part with them.  But not before one final read.  One final read that will give me an opportunity to look back more than 2 decades (in some cases almost 2 1/2 decades) to see what I was thinking and to think aout how it led me to where I am today.  Just in skimming a bit I have reached a few conclusions.

(1) My search for meaning in life is nothing new.  I over-analyzed everything even when I was not yet 20.  Different sets of questions. Different sets of concerns.  But a lot about how people around me related to me, related to each other, and viewed the world.  And how I viewed he world.  And, at the end of the day, I'm still writing about such things.

(2) My fascination with numbers is nothing new.  I picked up a journal that spanned much but not all of my sophomore year at Penn State.  I was counting how many days in a row I'd written.  I recorded the ages of many friends.  I noted my parents 20th anniversary.  I didn't try to find meanings in those numbers as I do with bib numbers and race times now, but the numbers were a critical part of what I wrote.

(3) An entry from January 3, 1989 is quite telling.  That was between semesters and I was home with my sister who apparently had been running a fever the night before.  With both parents working and with the convenience of having me around, I could take care of her.  In the entry, I noted that a close friend at Penn State had characterized my journal as "containing my world". I had talked quite a bit about it.  I wrote that my world was "extended" by "telling people aout it and not trying to hide things."  My personal blogs allow me to do just that in so many ways. It is essentially my journal of things that I am willing to share and of things that I hope others might ponder and comment on.

(4) Even back then, I was thinking about family, friends, religion, music, and running.  Do themes in life ever change?

I don't know if I am the only one who finds it fascinating to think about and ask, "Have I really changed that much or is it just a change in scenery with all the same questions and issues when all is said and done?"  If nothing else, I hope that while my life may be centered around similar issues I have at least learned enough not to repeat similar mistakes.

After taking a trip in "my own personal time machine" by reviewing my journals before I chuck stuff, I will be better able to answer the question of whether I have learned any life lessons or just a lot of facts in the past two decades and some.

I won't bore you with entries of "who liked who and what were they thinking?" but if I come across any particularly insightful entries as I review before chucking, I may comment on the theme I see from my old work.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

My Hometown and Violence in Baltimore

These days, I consider Baltimore to be my adopted hometown sufficiently that a tattoo I'm planning to get should have a bit of Baltimore's skyline--although I have not seen the artist's final pre-drawing yet.  But, where I grew up was just outside Philadelphia, and I have commented recently on the argument against cutting too many of the classes like arts, gym, and library as a result of a budget that must be cut.

Recently, there has been what seems like an inordinate amount of violence in Baltimore--from shootings, to stabbings, to robberies and assaults.  At least some of it has been linked to groups of youth.

I think I may see a connection.  Not a causal connection between the two.  But a common theme that is reflected in both discussions.

There are many reasons that a local school district in tough economic times has to make budget cuts which may result in entire programs being cut.  It is unfortunate.  But it is a reality.  The cuts are made should be determined rationally.  The cuts that are made hopefully reflect the preferences of the local community when it comes to where they are willing to accept less public investment in their children.  The cuts can be countered (in part) by more investment (and it will most likely involve time and money) in the children by parents and others in the local community.

It is the idea of the investment in children by parents and others in the local community that brings me back to Baltimore.  Why do youth feel that they have nothing better to do than rob and assault?  It may be, at least in part, due to a lack of investment.  That lack of investment may be from their own parents, it may be from others in their neighborhood, or it may be from their school district.  Most likely it is some combination of two or three of those listed above.

How willing are individuals in our society to invest in others?  I don't know what any scientific data will tell us.  But it is a fundamental political question for this year.  What is the role of government when parents or the local community don't have much to invest?

And what does each community invest in safety?  How can communities keep themselves safe?  At the end of the day--more investment.  Things like citizens on patrol.  But those only work if the investment is made consistently.  If they are only a response after negative events begin to occur, then they may help stop what is occurring but are unlikely to prevent things from starting.

I think we are at a point where communities need to focus on answering three questions.  First, are they willing to maintain a constant vigilance?  Why constant--because any problem that is arising should be nipped in the bud and not allowed to get out of hand while there is a lot of talking and hand wringing.  In other words, how action oriented are communities able to be?

Second, how much of our own time and money are we willing to invest in helping our communities.  Are we just in it for ourselves?  Each person or family making sure that they are safe and well?  Or are we all in this together and trying to keep our neighborhoods and our communities safe and strong?

Finally, how much time and money are we willing to invest in our own children and others' children?  Why should we be willing to invest at least something in others' children?  I think that not investing in children sufficiently can lead to a need for more investment in community safety and greater vigilance.  Maybe that is okay.  But we, as a society, amy want to shift some resources to more investment in children so that we would have to invest less later on.

I don't have any illusion that answering these questions is simple.  I am just trying to point out how the root causes of some of the problems that one suburban community outside Philadelphia faces are not so different from root causes of some of the problems in Baltimore City at the moment.  And I believe that many communities in America will have to struggle with answering the questions I have posed about themselves in the coming years.  The answers to those questions will define how we as a country will define ourselves in the future.

May our consciences, guided by whatever religious or other moral compass each of us uses, guide us to the best decisions for our communities.