The Plague of Weight Loss

He reached the last hole on his belt five homemade notches ago.  The curves of his face have become angular and the brightness of his eyes has yellowed.  He once stood six feet tall, even with the weight of the world on his shoulders.  He was industrious and willing, and still desires to be.

His time has been marked by the pounds he has shed.

He was blessed with good genes and a drive to keep busy.  Delighting in well-prepared food was his reward for a day’s work and he cleaned his plate without prompting.  Over time he earned a subtle roundness—a roundness only procured by 30 plus years of family dinners.  His body’s density made him durable and, to all appearances, unbreakable. 

His time has been marked by unfinished meals.

He has never outgrown clothing. His sweatshirts always fit, even if both midriff and wrist are on display. Lederhosen from his years in the Army, suit coats from his newly-wedded life, and swimming trunks with a three inch inseam allowed no room for an expanding waistline, yet they maintained control of his closet.

His time has now been marked by inches of extra fabric.

He lost weight and continues to lose more.  There is no accomplishment to speak of. There wasn’t a miracle pill or an exercise plan.  In fact, there are no health benefits.  He is living in a body that feeds the disease first and the man second.  He has only sacrificed one thing for a more slender figure: his life.

My Stint on the Railway

6Ms Hamels and the Demiens. Conquering the rails.

Confident there would be no trains on that set of tracks.

A Cannistra/Wienkes wedding isn't complete without a caboose.

Just me, my friend JJ, and a MOW (Maintenance-of-Way) car. 

Our Heroes or Our Villains?

Case Twenty-seven

Subject is a single, white male in his thirties. Subject is a business owner from an upper-class household in a metropolitan area.  His family, as well as the subject himself, has no mental health history and no historical issues with alcohol or other drug dependencies.  When subject was eight years old, he witnessed the brutal murder of both his parents. He spent the remainder of his childhood within kinship care; he has no siblings. Subject has inconsistent relationships with women. As a means to cope with past trauma, the subject uses physical exercise and academic studies as an outlet, often putting in obsessive hours.  Subject has no stated goals, but has claimed he is determined to avenge his parents’ deaths.
Subject appears composed and communicates well. He seems to understand the importance of his social status.  Subject has demonstrated incredible pain tolerance and frequently tests his physical limitations.  Subject experiences flashbacks to his parents’ murders, which is often followed by feelings of paralysis and then hostility. The greatest symptomatology is observed when subject is under stress or feels threatened. During such instances, subject has described delusions involving resisting telepathy and receiving “biofeedback” treatments.  Though this subject abstains from alcohol, he reports his alter-ego is a borderline alcoholic.  Subject uses intense intimidation techniques with individuals he perceives as enemies and admits to using manipulation techniques as well. In the most severe examples, the subject has used violence against perceived threats including physical beatings, the use of knives, and hanging individuals from chains for a short time. When asked how he justifies his behaviors, the subject stated,   "Fear is an excellent motivator." 

Subject marks diagnostic criteria for several mental disorders including: Delusional Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder.  Additional case review, however, is needed prior to official diagnosis.  Alternative diagnostic results: subject is Bruce Wayne aka Batman.

In make-believe they’re the heroes. In reality they’re perceived as the villains.

A Birthday, a Funeral, and a 21 Gun Salute

In the frantic bustle of hurried packing the man turned to me, weeping, and said, “My dad’s dying.” Knowing there was nothing that could sufficiently comfort him in that moment, I simply acknowledged his words by whispering, “I know.”  We were supposed to celebrate his father’s 92nd birthday that afternoon.

We arrived as quickly as was manageable without risking a speeding violation.  The house was filled with family.  Children and grandchildren and great grandchildren were scattered, quietly waiting for the inevitable.  Birthday cupcakes sat on the counter, covering the surface in irony. As we filtered in the room we were warned of the mood upon entrance: sadness.
Breathing was labored and his father was unresponsive.  With assistance the man wheeled his chair to his father’s bedside and grabbed his hand. That morning’s revelation was filled with truth, his dad was dying. Without control, mourning swept through the room and the newcomers were teeming with new tears.  Everyone understood the significance of a tired son reaching out to his departing father.   
The afternoon had matured and grief was interrupted by prayers of peace and assurance.  Scripture was read and people spoke of a restored body, healed of all ailments. The man’s father was surrounded by all his children and many of his grandchildren in those final minutes; he was encouraged to join his bride in heaven.  On the day of his birthday party, the man’s father died an earthly death and was born into an eternal life. The symmetry was hard to ignore.   
Several days later, we gathered together once more to celebrate the patriarch’s life.  Grief had subsided and the family was renewed with certainty- they too would meet their Father in heaven one day.  Memories were shared and we sang songs of gladly bearing burdens and singing souls.
At the end of the service the pallbearers paused before reaching the doorway of the church.  Two sailors in uniform stood before them at attention.  We watched and listened as the man’s father was honored by a 21 gun salute and taps.  The flag, folded with precision and care, was presented to the man.  As one of the sailors knelt down to pay tribute, the man sat up in his wheelchair with dignity and accepted their gifts.
In the ensuing hours, tears dried and the church was emptied.  The man’s father was remembered with the breaking of bread and the fellowship that naturally followed.  The feelings that night were uncomplicated.  In the midst of a world in chaos, the family could rest knowing they belonged to a line of faithful, honorable, and loving men and women.  They were left with one charge…to continue the legacy.

In memory of Peter Cornelius Hamel, aka Grandpa Cor.            

A Tribute to True Love

When he said “I do” he didn’t know she would save every card he ever gave her.  He didn’t know about the career changes or the layoff.  He didn’t know about the stress that followed.  He didn’t know they would settle in a small town apart from friends and family.  He didn’t know something as simple as toothpaste would fuel a fight, and he didn’t know about the roses he would buy to help heal the hurt afterwards.  He didn’t know she would slowly begin to forget; small details at first and then larger.  He didn’t know the full extent of his vow “in sickness and in health.”       

When she said “I do” she didn’t know he would be away for days, and even weeks, because of his promise to provide.  She didn’t know about their four children, or that two would happen to come at the same time.  She didn’t know in moments of frustration she would walk away, only to return again after the moment passed.   She didn’t know that for twenty plus years they would own the same furniture or that for thirty plus years they would own the same house.  She didn’t know he would battle a disease that was actively trying to claim his life, and she didn’t know how the promise “until death do us part” would feel.

When they said “I do” they didn’t know when she communicated sentiment he would communicate humor.  They didn’t know her preference for a simple palate would inspire his desire for more flavor.  They didn’t know of the warmth and acceptance their families would offer.  They didn’t know about the death of loved ones. They didn’t know that she preferred more blankets when he preferred fewer.  They didn’t know about the trips they would take and the adventures they’d have with their children in tow.  They didn’t know about the sacrifice, the mistakes, the tragedy, the fear, the confusion, the forgiveness, the accommodation, the privilege, the joy, the romance, the laughter, the gratification, the grace, the passion, the commitment, and the entirety of their love.  They didn’t know about these things, yet they chose to say
“I do” every day for 38 years.  

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!  I hope one day to understand love the way you do.

Harvesting Memories

At 25 I rebelled against my parents’ years of gardening instruction and removed my shoes, walking barefooted along the rows of budding vegetables.  My toes curled around the clumps of dried dirt.  The broken soil held on tightly to the rooted weeds I so desperately tried to pull from the bedded earth.  I was stilled by the familiarity of this garden.

Growing up my siblings and I were guaranteed several days of fierce gardening each summer.  The long mornings, and even longer afternoons, of those precious childhood Saturdays spent in the garden were branded by the dusty film that coated our skin.  The chorus of complaints was ignored.  We came to understand that protesting did little to change the fact that by day’s end we would have a perfectly weeded and pruned garden to show for our efforts.

My mom would leave for the kitchen and return with six equally sized rootbeer floats.  This signaled the official end to our work.  Finding a sturdy stick from the yard, we’d scrape the bottoms of our shoes, mining every last bit of compacted mud and dirt from our soles.  Occasionally my brother would pinch together pieces of the remaining dirt between his fingers and throw them in my sisters’ and my general direction.  This warranted a warning from my dad.   

Years after our last family garden party I’ve discovered we all seem to have slightly different translations of the same story.  Regardless, my siblings look back fondly and in some form or another have continued their own versions of the same tradition.  So at 25 I rebelled against the tradition as I remember it.  Instead of grudgingly agreeing to help, I voluntarily tilled the ground and weeded the rows.  Instead of wearing sensible work shoes, I wore none.  I look back with nothing but fondness.  

The Icky “C” Word

You get the phone call from your dad. Remembering he had a slew of tests and scans scheduled, you wait anxiously on the line for his summary of the results. Cancer… and it’s spreading. Your stomach sinks and your throat tightens. Cancer has infected just about every household, yet that fact isn’t much consolation for a father in the throes of the disease. With each diagnosis it becomes less shocking and each prognosis numbs you a little more.

The world talks about cancer. They talk about the chemicals that might cause it or the foods that might prevent it. They talk about state of the art treatments and billion dollar drugs. They talk about quality of life or the lack there of. They talk about the brave fighters and the mighty battles. What they don’t talk about are the details that make the disease so debilitating.

For a man who loves to eat, losing his taste is more traumatizing than losing his hair. His good days are no longer defined by accomplishments but by the severity of his nausea and whether or not he will enjoy his dinner. His portion sizes shrink along with his waistline.

For a vibrant woman, being called a warrior is motivating and frustrating all at once. She’s said to be an inspiration to friends and family, but their actions contradict those heartfelt words. They put her on a shelf and label her with a sign that reads, “Breakable. Don’t touch.”

For a married couple, sitting in the back of the church after 30+ years up front is hindering. The congregation understands the marriage veterans want to avoid causing a distraction if, by chance, discomfort and pain set in before the service is over. Even with that understanding, both man and wife feel sentenced to that back pew.   

For the school-aged child, temporarily drawing some extra attention from his classmates is tolerable and somewhat exciting. Turning into a show-and-tell topic, the teachers tip-toe around the subject and warn students not to get too close. Their germs might make him sick. He tolerates this new kind of isolation.

With all the admirable fundraising and social awareness events out there, much of the stigma attached to cancer has disappeared. The world is no longer afraid to talk about cancer. The problem is the conversations minimize the individual's experience. It makes us uncomfortable to think about cancer beyond the statistics, miracle drugs, and bald heads, so we stick to the standards. We recite lofty quotes about their battle intentionally forgetting the blood, sweat, and tears. We mask our uncomfortable feelings instead of candidly facing reality. Cancer changes people and it changes families.

Soul Music

A group of fifteen were gathered on a Wednesday night in the basement of a golden brick church; their singing was accompanied by a keyboard, a string base, and a worn guitar.  In front of me sat four women, living on the edge of middle and old age, bellowing with great volume while struggling to follow the song leader.

To my right a young grandmother held her young granddaughter.  She rocked the girl back and forth as she breathed life into each word of each melody.  She understood written words, based in scripture, weren't just real; they were sacred and specially designed. 

Across the aisle sat an older gentleman.  I couldn't help but watch him.  He was forced to take hold of his own hand in order to control the ticks and tremors. The rough, unpracticed music seemed to calm him. 

To my left sat my parents.  They requested my attendance at this informal worship service.  I initially protested.  My mom and dad sang and read aloud, held hands, and hugged each other.  I couldn't help but feel a bit invisible, like my presence was unnoticed.

It's not that I was unwelcome.  The intimacy of that half-hour removed any exclusion; the intimacy removed personal identity. We were all there independent of one another but invested in the same God.  It was hard to understand why I was being moved by such an uncontemporary version of contemporary worship, but as the last song was played the small crowd rose to their feet.   Everyone was tapping their toes and clapping their hands, soulfully and joyfully off-beat.   I scanned the group and found perfection radiating from their smiles.  I would argue with anyone who called them simple, yet these people renewed their faith, and my own, by the "simplicity" of their worship.  Humble? Maybe.  Beautiful?  Undoubtedly so.

Written September 27, 2008

Study of Human Mating Rituals

The following is a scientific journal excerpt, written by Dr. Les Ismorr (1791), describes observational findings and researched facts about the mating habits of people, specifically man-folk:   

The human male has learned to expel great amounts of time and energy in order to attract a mate. Due to generational preferences, we see a wide variety of courtship rituals among this population of humans.  Though it is in the youngest generation of matured males we observe the most elaborate behaviors.

One courtship behavior documented in a small percentage of males is the practice of expressing approval of a female by yelling, honking, whistling, barking, and/or gesturing from an automobile. (For more information on the automobile, see Appendix A.)  Often validated by other male companions, or playmates, the human male indubitably interprets such courtship behaviors as fruitful.  Unaware of the detrimental effect this conduct has on their attempts at finding a suitable female, males quickly develop a false sense of confidence.  This brash assurance later causes this group of males to make increasingly impulsive decisions in regards to finding a female, frequently yielding no reward. 

Ismorr, L, Dr. (1791, Septembruary). Animal Behavior: Mating Rituals of 
the Immature Human Male.  Journal of Completely 
Legitimate Observations, 44(55), 22-33. 

It's the Quiet Ones You Have to Worry About

It was a normal day at work.  As I was emailing in the office I could hear clients chattering in the background and music playing (at a slightly louder than acceptable volume, I might add).  The security cameras were down, so a technician had arrived to remedy our situation.  For the first hour or so he worked quietly, occasionally mumbling a word or two out of frustration.  Finally, after stewing in the awkward reality that we were both sharing the same small space and yet not saying a word to each other, I decided to inquire about his progress.  (To be completely honest, I didn’t care about the progress, but I asked out of social obligation.)  What I didn’t realize was that my simple question would fuel a rant lasting more than a half hour.
You see, this technician had a very important agenda once I opened that can of worms.  For the next 30 minutes it was his duty to educate me about the security threats the World Wide Web so richly cultivates.  This technician described countless examples of how each computer owning citizen on this globe is being tracked.  Our information is being harvested and hijacked in order to promote and feed governmental agencies as well as internet companies and the entertainment industry.  Yes.  This is true.  The internet is used to gather information about its users, no matter how ethical or unethical it is, but this gentleman was one Julia Roberts short of starring in his own version of Conspiracy Theory. 
I learned about his family in that half hour.  I learned that he was networking computers throughout his house, even his children’s rooms, before broadband existed.  I learned that he purposely sabotages certain standard computer programs to dissolve any unwanted barnacle-like programs that might encrust themselves on his hard drive.   He was candid about the precautions he takes.  He was almost proud to share his tips and techniques.  He was also very fond of his homemade recipe of software he had cooked up to save him from “Big Brothers” always watchful eye. 
In all reality, there are a lot of sketchy practices when it comes to the internet.  The internet has great power in today’s culture, meaning it also has a great responsibility to protect its users and not take advantage of them.  The problem is there is a lack of accountability for the big wigs sitting pretty in their cyber mansions.  So…here’s to you, Big Brother; I know you're reading this.