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First Cause?

When Sebastian entered the phase of asking Why? I was thrilled, as a philosopher.  And I told a friend that I was prepared to answer Sebastian's questions back to the First Cause and Unmoved Mover if need be. Well . . .

Last night I was changing him into his pajamas. He noted that it was getting darker outside and then asked, "Why?"
I explained that the earth is rotating on its axis and we were now pointing away from the sun.
I explained that this was the way the Solar System is constructed.
A brief explanation about gravity.
Why?  And now my excitement is building. We are getting close.
Then I told him about the Big Bang. He charmingly added sound effects. I went on to mention laws of nature, primary forces, and fundamental particles.
Then I waited, looking forward to the final question in the series. And . . .
. . . no question was forthcoming.
So I asked if the answer about the Big Bang was satisfactory, and he said 



Every year for Halloween in Omaha we go to friends in Field Club, were around a thousand kids will descend upon a few blocks for trick-or-treating.  A handful of church members live within a few blocks, and we often see other friends out-and-about.

Last year Sebastian could not yet crawl, but dressed as the Great Pumpkin, we carried him around to a few houses.  The rest of the evening he played on the Fortina's living room floor, attempting to crawl, which mesmerized the assembled adults.

This year he likes to run, of course.  So we wondered what he would make of his first real Halloween.  I wondered if he's be overwhelmed by all the kids, confused by being out in the dark, scared by costumes, or grabbing handfuls of candy impolitely.  But, none of those occurred.

We set out walking down the block and by the second house Sebastian seemed to figure out the routine--walk along the sidewalk, then up the walk to the front steps, get candy, and then come back down the sidewalk.  Before too long, he seemed to act as if he didn't need his fathers walking along trying to help.  

He walked slowly, often stopping to look at the kids and the costumes, but never seeming confused or startled.  More like a reserved, "Well, this is different" attitude.


When he finally indicated that he was done and ready for some dinner, we returned to the Fortinas and set up his booster seat on the front porch so he could eat and watch the parade of kids.  He devoured his chili and was mesmerized by all the activity, kicking his feet back and forth--a sure sign of excitement.

When he was done eating he wanted to assist with handing out the candy.  He sat in Katie Lewis' lap and as each kid came up, Sebastian would look them directly in the eye and then hand them their candy. 


It was after 8:30 and well past normal bedtime when we finally headed for home, and he was quite upset with us for bringing his fun to an end.

Ted Cich

Michael’s grandpa Ted Cich died last weekend.  He was 91 years old.  He could still bicycle ten miles.  He died at home in his own bed during his sleep.  In other words, the way most of us would like to die.  He was a good man who lived a good life.

Ted and Marion raised a family of six rambunctious kids in the Minneapolis suburb of New Brighton.  They were hard working and devout Roman Catholics.  Two of their sons attended seminary, though neither ultimately became a priest.  They owned property on Blue Lake where, over many years, they built a cabin that was the site of many family vacations and to which they retired and lived until Marion’s illnesses drew them back to the city.

I met Ted and Marion in May 2009 one month before I married Michael.  They were gracious in their welcome of me into the family.  Their welcome stood in stark contrast to my own grandfather who reacted poorly to my coming out and even more poorly to my relationship with Michael.  Though my grandfather ultimately improved, with the Ciches there was no need for improvement; they were fully welcoming from the moment they met me.

Ted attended our wedding (Marion was unable to make the trip from Minneapolis to Oklahoma City, though she was always disappointed and little angry about that).  Not only did he attend, he insisted that every one of his children were to be present so that there could be no question where the Cich family stood.  My grandfather made a point of not attending and most of my extended family was not present.

Last year Ted came to Omaha for Sebastian’s baptism, hopefully some of you met him.  In May we traveled to Minneapolis to visit him and Michael’s extended family there.  Ted delighted in Sebastian, and we are grateful for the time they had together and the pictures we can share with Sebastian of him with his great-grandpa.

Ted and Marion Cich are evidence that being welcoming and inclusive are not generational traits.  They are traits of good people.



With or Without You

As we drove up the Missouri River valley last night, U2's "With or Without You" came on the radio.  I, of course, began singing along.  Then I realized that Sebastian was singing as well.  Singing U2 with our son was a great way to end our long, hot family vacation, which Michael had dubbed the "Show Off Sebastian Tour."

Garden walk

After our time in Arkansas, we visited my Mom, the extreme heat limiting our ability to enjoy the outdoors, but we still toured Lindenwood Gardens and played at the local splash pad.  Sebastian loves gardens, particularly hunting for rocks.  Everywhere we go he now collects one or two rocks. 

A quick excursion to Miami one evening allowed us to see dear friends, and we stopped in Claremore to visit my step-dad who delights in his new grandson.


In Oklahoma City we attended Cathedral of Hope, the church I pastored from 2005-2010.  Sebastian ventured up and down the aisles greeting people, many of whom were so delighted to meet our son.


While seeing family and some friends (and struggling to survive the extreme heat) we took Sebastian to some places that meant a lot to us--the parks and streets of our old neighborhood, the spot where we were married, the restaurant where we had our first dinner and date.  Our final evening he played in the pool with his cousins.


He seemed to grow up a lot during this trip.  He now gives high fives and has learned to shake hands, even venturing around restaurants to shake hands with strangers.  He gets out of bed on his own, even when they were a little too high for that.  He can slide without being held the whole way down.  And he understands more and more words.  Plus, he sings along to U2, which is really cool.

This Week in Sabbatical News

I've obviously not had much to blog about this week.  I've continued my reading of Bulgakov and have done some writing this week.  But otherwise I've been focused on domestic projects.  I've repaired plaster in our basement stairwell ahead of painting that space at some point in the future.  And this week the materials were delivered for our back patio--a project long in the planning and finally arriving at execution.  The stairwell will lead to the new patio.  The last couple of days I've been digging out the ground where the patio will go and hopefully Michael and I can get it mostly installed during this holiday weekend.  I very much look forward to the landscaping and decorating of the backyard after the patio, though much of that will probably wait till spring 2017.


Last Sunday Michael was doing some work on the carriage doors that will enclose the bottom of our back stoop (yes, that's never been 100 % finished), so since I was in charge childcare I decided Sebastian and I would have a fun day together.  We first went to Fontanelle Forest where he enjoyed playing in the woods.  He particularly likes picking up rocks and there were so many rocks.  We then went to the Florence Mill to see chickens and ducks and buy some fresh produce at their Farmer's Market.



This morning I read an interesting article on how the Battle of the Somme, which began 100 years ago today, influenced Tolkein's great epic.  I think I'll sit on my porch a while and read some Owen and Sassoon to mark this day.


I intend to spend some time today working on my Creighton philosophy class for this autumn. I am teaching Philosophical Ideas: Foundations of Science for the first time and need to start creating my syllabus and setting up the web portal, all of which I'll be working on the next few weeks.

Memorial Weekend

Sebastian's eyes sparkled with delight as he was swinging on the shore of Minneapolis' Lake Calhoun.  


We took the Memorial Weekend to travel north to see some of Michael's family--the Minnesota Ciches.  Saturday was spent with a handful of the family as Sebastian enjoyed being the center of attention and Michael sat for a good, long conversation with his grandfather.  


Sunday we slept in and then took a morning walk at the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden where we crossed paths with a large turkey.  Then lunch with Aunt Mary at the tiki bar Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge.  


Sunday afternoon we then strolled along Lake Calhoun where Sebastian enjoyed the toddler-sized playground (and his protective father didn't have to worry about him getting run over by older kids).  Sunday evening we dined with friends the Saylors.  And Monday we traveled home, taking our time with a long, leisurely stop in Clear Lake, Iowa for a walk around the Central Gardens of North Iowa and lunch on the town square overlooking the lake.  


We dined in the Danish town of Elk Horn, Iowa, after giving Sebastian time to play in the playground at the Little Mermaid Garden in Kimballton, Iowa.  A double rainbow greeted us as we neared Council Bluffs Monday evening.  

The Face in the Mirror


One of the unexpected experiences of adulthood has been looking in the mirror and seeing the face of my father looking back. What was initially surprising has grown familiar. I turn 42 tomorrow, an age that Dad did not reach. I will have to become familiar with a new experience--seeing what Dad would have looked like.

Note: this earlier post of how 41 didn't turn out to be the weird year I expected.

A Milestone Passed

My father died when he was 41 years old.  Since I was sixteen I've said that 41 would be my "weird year."  A few years ago I got a complete cardiac workup and the cardiologist said that though he could give no guarantees, my heart was fine and I would most likely live past 41.  That day, as we drove away from the cardiologist's office, I began to cry and Michael said, "I don't understand.  You received good news."  I answered, "Knowing I will live longer than Dad is a good thing, but it also makes me sad."

But 41 has ended up being the best year--the year of our son's birth.  I've never been happier or more content.

Yesterday afternoon I realized that last Wednesday was the day I lived longer than my father did.  Yes, I cried when I realized that.  Earlier in the day we visited Dad's grave.  I know Dad isn't there and that I've talked to him (or, at least the idea of him) about Sebastian since my son was born, but I still wanted to "introduce" Sebastian to Dad.  The moment was tender.  Sebastian was craning his neck, like usual, wanting to take everything in around him, but when we stepped to Dad's grave, Sebastian turned around and calmly looked down, his gaze lingering.

I've missed Dad and cried more about his death this year than the last fifteen years combined.  But the grief is not because I'm forty-one.  I wish I could share this moment of being a father with him.

Didion on Grief

This paragraph from Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking called for being shared:

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.  We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death.  We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks.  We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock.  We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind.  We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss.  We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes.  In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be "healing."  A certain forward movement will prevail.  The worst days will be the earliest days.  We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place.  When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to "get through it," rise to the occasion, exhibit the "strength" that invariably get mentioned as the correct response to death.  We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day?  We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion.  Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence of what follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.