Friday, December 30, 2011

lame coal.

Someone gave us four bags of coal for Christmas. Which is dumb, because I've been good all year. I even filed taxes -- which for a college student is admirably laudable.
The bags of "coal" turned out to be chocolate. But not the good chocolate either. The cheaper, knock-off brand of Nestle's chocolate that has rice krispies in them and tastes delicious.
That's right.
Fake crunch bars. When you eat them they get all hot in your mouth and super sugary -- far more so than normal chocolate -- and you don't feel like eating tons and tons of it.
These little bags of undeserved coal-turned-lame-wannabe-delicious-snacks truly served no purpose in our lives. My wife and I went on to have a cheery, joy-filled Christmas with family and a snack-sized portion of traveling to boot. I got an iPad, she a full-sized keyboard, but mostly we laughed, played games with random groups of people and sipped at copious amounts of bottomless coffee.
December 29th we trundled in the front door laden with bags, groceries to restock our nearly-bare fridge, and we were content.
It has been an amazing, albeit challenging season of newly-married life.

And then my wife spotted the four little bags of darkness.
"YOU'RE A BOY JAMES!" She yelled. This is both true and a fact.
With that, she began hurling coal after fake, decidedly un-tasty coal at me.
Four bags.
She emptied both barrels at once and lit her husband up, who defended himself at the last second possible with a seat-cushion. Relentlessly she fired on him, laughing, yelling, and paying no heed to the fact that I was scooping up handfuls of the grounded munitions and attempting a fruitless recourse on her aggressive actions.

People of the world who deliver cheap, lame coal to our door intending us to act docile and place it carefully in our stockings, be warned.
We may just throw it right back at you and start a war.
That's how we roll around here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

towel thing.

It's a strange bird, being married.
I haven't had to establish the importance of keeping my towel mine very own in a long, long time. Yes, when I was fourteen muchly yelling would take place over the ownership of such colored things as towels, but then again, I was fourteen. There was muchly yelling over everything.
"Yes you did. I know because it's wetter than when I was done using it this morning. I checked just now."
"Why are you checking your towel? YOU'RE SO WEIRD!"
"I'm checking it because I have to. YOU WON'T STOP USING IT. STOP USING IT RIGHT NOW!"
"I'm not using it right now, OBVIOUSLY."
"You know what I mean."
"Go away, I'm doing school."

Now, any husband in his right mind knows this is no way to interact with his lovely wifey. Thankfully, I'm not left-minded, so I knew this conversational type was completely out of bounds. It now sounds more like this:
"Lovey, did you use my towel?"
"Why? There are so many other towels in the basket. How come you couldn't just use one of those and hang it right up beside mine instead of using mine."
"I don't like your tone of voice, please take the edge out of it. How did you know I used it anyway? DID YOU CHECK JUST NOW?!"
"No, of course -- yes. Yes I did."
"WHY WOULD YOU GO INTO THE BATHROOM TO CHECK YOUR TOWEL?! Should we name it? We should probably name your towel, that would be a good, healthy thing to do. Let's name it. Why did you check to see if I'd used your towel?"
"It's just a thing I've had since I don't know... the second I was born. I didn't want anyone else to use my towel, ever. No other babies have been born on the towel my Mom first held me in. I made sure of that. Hospital incinerator. It wasn't tough to do when your legs have relatively no muscle structure and you're only 21" tall, but it was worth it. Please don't use my towel."

That's what surprised me maybe the most about marriage. I never knew I had so many "things". And one way to truly show someone you love them is to take what matters a lot to you and dropkick it in the tushy. I'm slowly, ever so slowly learning this difficult, complex and delicate concept.
"No, you can't use my toothbrush."
"Please close the door when you pee. I'm making dinner and the pee sound makes it taste worse."
"No, let's just sit and talk right now, we don't ALWAYS have to be cleaning EVERYTHING FOREVER."
"In this house, we're Patriots fans. That's all. Please trust me and love me on this one and never question that and be a huge fan voluntarily. I said please."
"Whenever you turn the music down you do it way too much and then it sounds like Alicia Keys is whispering. I don't like that."
"You make way too much food every time you cook. There's only two of us, and you cook for like seven."
And so on and so forth.

Love isn't necessarily purchasing someone a candle you hate the smell of but know they'll love. That can be love, but true love -- I'm just now realizing more and more each day -- is setting aside yourself for the other person.
The word sacrifice has gained a sort of greatness I think the Christian culture has projected on to it. Jesus was the greatest man that ever lived; both man and God, he was the epitome of sacrifice. But sacrifice does not always mean "do big things." Jesus lived a life full of serving and sacrifice, doing many seemingly small things that proved to be great in God's kingdom.
Often, sacrifice is realizing someone likes to pee while watching an awesome part in a movie, and hence, doesn't close the door all the way. Or even a little. Greatness can be allowing someone to vent safely, not taking everything to heart and allowing them to verbally process their day.
And love?
I'm still at an absolute loss as to what true love looks like in a marriage most of the time. But isn't that where grace and patience come in, unannounced and stand firmly in the way of selfishness? That's the idea anyway. Often discontentment and conflict muscle their way around goodness, loudly state their demands and wait to be served. But there's a reason love is the greatest.
It completely OWNS.
Marriage is a lot of work, most anyone will tell you that. But hopefully they'll also tell you that it's pretty awesome, a hell of a lot of fun, and incredibly affirming. Especially when you come home to the other person bouncing up and down saying "I'M SO GLAD YOU'RE HOME! I MISSED YOU!"
Makes the towel thing seem pretty unimportant.

back off.

I came in outside from the blowing snow, stomping in a decidedly un-professional manner. The small clumps of frozen water stuck to the bottom of my boots had almost nothing to do with my actions -- I was frustrated. It'd been that type of week. My wife had traveled home after thanksgiving and I'd stayed behind to work Thursday through Sunday for the military, and I was exhausted. And angry.
An accumulation of the last few weeks' small disagreements, some pretty rough extended family relationship struggles and a few sleepless nights from not feeling well had all piled on during my cold walk to the office.
The cheery greeting by "Happy" as we all called her was harshly ignored and I moved quickly down the hallway.
Now was not the time.
I like to think I can play poker, that I can paste on an expressionless face, but in all reality... not so much. Today like most other days, my countenance yelled status updates about how I was feeling at everyone who looked up and saw me. As I slammed my bag down and took out my ID to put in the computer and wait for it to turn on, one of the officers I work with stepped quietly in to my cubicle and stood, waiting.
I watched as of course, the friggin computer wouldn't turn on. Three times I hit the power button and waited patiently with no response. An odd number of times. There was absolutely no reason it shouldn't have turned on, even if it was just suspended -- whatever. I sat down, turned around and noticed her for the first time.
"Good morning."
"Everything alright?" The mother of four, she was a sea of calm and concern.
"The damn computer won't turn on. We're the Department of Defense and here I am sitting at a PC that uses XP and takes eight minutes to boot up."
She ignored my outburst and said simply "I wasn't asking about the computer. Are you alright? Do you want to talk about it?"
It was startlingly direct, caring and shone a bright light on my insanely unprofessional and inappropriate attitude for work.
I felt my fingers, nose, cheeks and heart begin to defrost a little.
"I guess. It's just been one of those weeks you know. I've been apart from my wife over a month in days already and we've only been married six months. It seems like that won't ever change and I always, always feel like my duty weekend comes at the worst time. Always."
The computer screen blinked blue, then presented me with an option to log on. I chose to.
Captain Miazga waited until I had finished and swung my chair back around to face her again.
"I've been married for a long time, and I've been in the military for 13 years now. That won't ever change. You'll get through it, just hang in there."
The last of the frozen snow on the side of my boot fell off, and I heard people around the office talking on their phones and with each other. Someone stepped in, excused themselves, and pulled a stack of sheets from the printer I hadn't even heard working next to me.
"Thank you Captain, I appreciate you making sure I was fine."
"No problem, many people have done the same for me."
She stood and left me to go back to setting up the nurse's schedule for the weekend, and I opened up my email.
Outside, the wind was howling and swirling as much as before. A cold front had descended from Canada earlier that morning and brought with it the cool air from the adjacent Rockies. But inside what little snow there was left had just finished melting into the carpet.

Proverbs 15:1 "A soft answer turns away wrath"
James 3:17 "The wisdom from above is first pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere."

Friday, November 11, 2011

embrace the uncomfortable.

It's unavoidable.
Any time I travel in uniform, most of the time when I go out to eat in uniform, and definitely if I'm shopping in uniform for some reason, it's as if I send a flare up to whatever ceiling I'm under that says "come talk to me, veterans." Vets are not known for their timing or social graces. Their most common stereotype is "incessant story tellers" or "emotionally unstable." This is true. Some of the most relentless people I've ever met were the retired military folk that populate airports, restaurants and are sparsely scattered throughout wherever I'm living at the time. That and realtors -- maybe it's the commission, or maybe the entrance battery exam to sell homes is a test of how much love you can force on every person you know. 
Like any small child, a human that demands your undivided attention can be exhausting. I get that. But what is the redeeming grace that allows you to more than just "tolerate" a child hungry for your eye contact and heedfulness? Love. Love, and you realize that they need you.
That is what your veteran needs. 
For you to love them and realize that they need you. They need your appreciation, your attention, your listening heart and your eye contact, like any small child. I do not imply that they're small children, however. In fact if anything, guaranteed those veterans that would approach you, a total stranger, and want to create from scratch an informal relationship, has had a sizable portion of his childhood taken away from him.

From 17-22 much of our nation spends it's time creating positive memories. 
Whether or not you go to college or stay home and drive too fast, drink too much, date the wrong people, spend too much or take a dangerously unintelligent vacation for five days at the last minute to a ludicrously far away place -- at those ages we were making positive memories. Albeit, not necessarily intelligent ones. 
Many, many veterans at that age were serving overseas in a war taking place on foreign soil. There are few alones like being apart from your family on a holiday, and many vets know that first-hand all too well. 
Those that fought in WWII or Korea have mostly passed on, those that haven't are more than likely not out and about very much. Many if not most though, saw things that cannot be shown on even HBO or Showtime, and never will be, they're that horrific. Those were violent, personal wars.
Those vets that were in Vietnam were very likely to have been invited to attend against their will. Coming home from being overseas for a year or more, they returned home to protests, being spat on and outright assaulted. So they traveled in civillian clothes. 

How much would you trade the last few years of your childhood for? Most vets traded theirs for less-than good pay. The moment they stepped off the plane in whatever foreign nation we were fighting in, they lost the remaining years of joy and traded it in for experiencing things you probably never will. 
Not all vets, but many, many of them. And chances are, if you're socially uncomfortable with the veteran talking to you, he was one of those.
Instead of dismissing a dirty old man wearing far too many accessories and articles of clothing that broadcast he served in the military at one time or another, what if you thank them?
If you're a daring, adventurous, rebellious soul with blatant disregard for social safety, ask the vet a question that says sincerely "I care about you" or "I don't know you, but you seem interesting and I'd at least like to meet you." 
Look at a badge and ask where or how he got it. 
"What was the 34th Artillery?"
Ask him how long it's been since he was in. He'll laugh, but it will get the conversation rolling.

I promise you, whatever you show up to a little bit late for today or in the future, if you smile and quietly explain yourself by saying "I'm sorry, I got caught up talking to a Mr. (insert name), who wanted to tell me about his 4 years serving in (insert place). Did you know that he (insert fact about the person)?" you'll be just fine. 
Sincerely caring about someone you've never met before can be unsettling, but to truly listen and be interested someone who gave some of the most exciting years of their life away in exchange for serving our nation is one of the best way to truly love them.

Ephesians 4:2 "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bear with one another in love."
1 John 3:18 "Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in action and in truth."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

nothing crazy or out of the ordinary.

Called my brother.



"The Patriots game today is on Fox. I don't get Fox with my stupid bunny ears. Can I watch tv at your house?"

"Yeah. I just need a 50 foot cable. Let me pick one up, I'm at Walmart."

I love that guy.

Two days ago he came over with his girlfriend, Haley, to watch the next episode of Terra Nova with my wife and I. After popcorn chicken had all been devoured and the episode concluded, he and I adjourned to my room for some standard catch-up conversation.

The girls sat in the living room talking about whatever it is womenfolk find important, and we largely paid them no mind.

"Check this out. (the trailer plays) Doesn't that look sick?"

"Yeah. It'll probably be really good."

"Oh, I've got to show you what I got on the ol' iPad."

"What is it?"


"Sweeeeeet! How is it?"

"Playable. The UI (user interface, or how the game "looks" over all) is a little bit convoluted, but I think on a long road trip it will be fun."

"Or a plane flight. That's what the iPad is for. Yeah, I really like this."

"I know."

"Know what I miss?"

He looked at me, patiently expressionless as only my brother can be. "What."

"Throwing a football. Last week after the Pats lost I threw one to myself for like half an hour outside."

"Straight up? Nice."


"Well come over sometime. Give me a call and if I'm not busy, we'll throw a football around outside or on the quad."


"Sure. James. I love my new espresso machine. Robert picked it up for like ten bucks, and we use it all the time. It's like five cups of coffee in one cup, and delicious."

"We just do coffee every morning and sometimes at night."

"Lame. That is so 2011."

"You idiot, that's what year we're in."

"Robert and I live in the future."

"How fun is that for you two, living in the future?"

"Fun James. Very, very fun."

Our conversations fly by quicker than when we talk with almost anyone else, but that's alright, we can do that.

We're brothers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

first respiratory movements

I read a simple descriptive paragraph today in my book "Atlas of the Anatomy" that painted a beautiful picture. The italicized words are from the text, the un-italicized words are the imagery married to to science.
"Simple Cuboidal Epithelial Tissue" covers all the tubular cavities that divide the lungs of a fetus.
An unborn infant.

The cells are tightly aligned with each other and have a cube-like shape. At birth, with the first respiratory movements, the cavities begin to dilate
Baby's first breath. The empty spaces in the tiny him or her begin to shrink, they are no longer needed. Life pours in, relentless, filling every area of the small, quivering body.
As arms lurch and legs stab at the air below tightly squinted shut eyes, the lungs continue to change.

the connective tissue that separates the epithelial layers shrinks, and the cuboidal epithelium transforms into a simple pavement epithelial tissue.
It is finished. There is no going back. The lungs have changed and are no longer content to live in murky, weightless darkness. They will forever need. Need air, a heart, blood flow.

Life is paved in the lungs, literally knit together in the womb and irreversibly born into the world.

John 3: 4-5: "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

Friday, October 28, 2011

kinetic learning

Out of the just over 900 students that lived in "Challenger Hall", or the "medical squadron" as it was more commonly referred to as, I was probably the only one who didn't want to go to Las Vegas.
21, single, and very happy with the decidedly upward turn my life had taken -- the last thing I wanted was to be stationed for six weeks in what I saw at the time as the "Sodom & Gomorrah of the U.S."
When the day came for our nursing instructor to read us the results of our "Phase II" lottery, Major Allen had no issue piping up to his students "now calm down. As usual no talking, as usual no one gets to trade, and as usual I'll read yours last Airman Eldridge." Beyond unfair, I voiced my opinion of said injustice. And as usual Major Allen stated my opinions were what got me where I was in the first place. Last.
The names flew by. The class either lauded or protested where they'd end up next to continue their career training, but until your name was heard and you knew what group you were with, it didn't matter.
More names. Good, Vegas came and went and my name wasn't attached to the location.
"And for Keesler Air Force Base we have Barnett, Rodriques, Singletary and Eldridge -- is at Vegas with Shook, Anthony, Dantes and Chavez-Vallero."
A week later we took a taxi from the base to the airport, flew, and took a taxi from the airport to our next base. Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada. Not interested in going out every weekend for six weeks in a row drinking and gambling with my "of age" peer group, I worked out a lot, ate dinner at the base food court to take a break from the meals at the dining facility, and played a lot of pool.
Within a few days of playing pool in one of the local dormitory common areas I had made several friends.  Kinley was a quiet, very small individual who wanted very much to be appreciated and feel like he was accepted. Hardly over 5 feet tall, he was surprisingly strong and spent much of his time staring up at you while you talked to him. Military folk are quite adept at new relationships however shallow, so soon we were talking. His parents were divorced, all his friends back home somewhere in the nameless south were nothings, and he was now a something. An aircraft mechanic, he had PCS'd (permanent change of station) to Nellis six months prior.

It was a Thursday night and the common area downstairs was full. Someone had the bright idea to put the couches on top of the tables to make arena-style seating, and there was big fight on tv.
The alcohol flowed freely, as did the military-typical yelling, arguing and toasting. Young military males do not hang out in groups at parties, they group around the girls that are always outnumbered. Tonight was no exception, there were three girls and six to eight guys gathered around each competing for their attention.
"C'mon, just have one drink, just stick around for a little bit." Kinley was drunk.
"No, I'm going to work out and wanted to come by and see who was yelling."
"Most of these guys are legal, don't sweat it man! Just do one shot with me." The alcohol culture in the military is so prevalent and potent it leaves in it's wake a plethora of underage drinkers.
"You know I don't care. I don't know any of these people and I don't even know who's fighting tonight."
"What the hell man? How do you not know Fedor?"
I smiled, shrugged, put in my headphones and walked out.

The next morning I caught the 6am bus to the hospital, walked through the quiet whoosh of the E.R. double-paned sliding glass doors, and put my backpack down in the break room.
"Eldridge, don't change into scrubs. You're wearing the radio today, here." Driving the ambulance. Sweet.
"I don't know the base streets."
"I'll be with you up front and you'll know your way back here."

The first call came at around 9am. My building.
Someone had called 911 because there was a person passed out in a recliner.
When we picked Kinley up he was pale and starting to turn a pastel-tinted hue of blue. He had drunk 3/4 of a bottle of vodka, passed out, and then was left alone. During the night he vomited, and because no one was there to turn him on his side, he aspirated into his lungs and was had choked. At some point he turned over on his own and coughed some of it out, but his pulse was weak and he was completely unresponsive.
Fifteen minutes later he was in the Emergency Department, lying in a bed. He'd been intubated and his stats were rising.

Halfway through my shift I was walking by his room with a stack of sheets to put on one of the beds next to his when he started moving, attempting to sit up. Doubtless his mind was still foggy; his eyes were still closed as his hands gripped the side of the bed.
"Kenny, I need you to lie back down." Patients -- anyone, really -- are most responsive to their first name. When he realized he was intubated it startled him and only half-conscious, he grasped at it, gurgling.
"No, don't -- I NEED A NURSE NOW!"
I barely made it across the room and leapt on top of him, trying in vain to pin his incredibly strong arms to the bed. It was too late. Within seconds he reacted violently to the severe discomfort of the tube in his throat that had saved his life and in one massive movement he bent forward, tearing it completely out. A moment later medical personnel flooded into his room. One doctor put both palms on either side of his head pinning him to the bed, a nurse put both forearms on his chest and a second physician said "Ativan and restraints."

Later that day I returned from another ambulance run to pick up an elderly man with chest pains to find Kinley had been moved upstairs to the ICU.
I never found out what finally happened to Kenny Kinley.
Not everything delivers the satisfaction of a conclusive ending.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

against the sea.

"We need more. Get more, quick!"
The urgent command barked by my older sister sliced through the air, relentlessly pushing us to move faster and more efficiently. Obedient we turned up the heat and sped back to the water, diving our hands under the surface and bringing them up, cupped together and full to overflowing, our little fingers containing just ounces of salt water. 
"Hurry up with that bucket Ricky!" 
Time was of the essence. We ran to and from, back and forth, each time bringing tiny, insignificant amounts of the ocean back with us to dump at her side. That was for the "concrete" or wet sand we'd use to finish the castle walls, "The tide" was coming soon and in our rapidly developing minds, the immediate need to support the role of the wall-maker was most important.


I'm 23 now and I'm startled, disappointed and saddened that it's been more than four months since I've built a sand castle. It didn't quite have the same magic either -- somehow between building a small water pit by myself on our honeymoon as my wife tanned on the "dry sand area" and the moments that occurred eleven years ago, I've lost that sense of urgency.
As a child I lived wholly in the moments as they came. Day by day the greatest agonies, tragedies, humors and experiences came with the ebb and flow of a sea I had almost completely no control over. Now that I'm old I look at an Almanac, plan for the best time to build my castle, assemble a crew of able and experienced workers and we calmly construct with more than enough time to spare. That's what I find myself striving for.
I catch big visions, make plans, and though I live day by day still it's become so much more safe. So much more controlled with so fewer unknowns. And it's good.
Someday though you may catch me on a beach and if you see me running back and forth with water in my hands to make "wet mud" do not interrupt me. Before I was too small and had to run around people that got in my way. Now that I'm older I can't promise that when I resurrect said urgency -- the imagination can create such vivid, potent actions -- what maturity I have will be able to stand it's ground.


"Dianne, go stall Mom. We need to finish this wall. Help her pick up the towels or get the foster baby's stuff or whatever. We'll take care of things down here."
"No, I don't want to."
"Dianne, we NEED you too."
Time for an argumentative booster shot. "Dianne, I'll give you my bag of chips in the van."
Suspicious eyes. "What kind do you have, Ricky? Are they the good kind?"
"Cheetos." Score.
"Okay, fine."

The wall would be built.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

oh yeah.

I tend to be someone who values length in writing -- I get caught up in the size of a delivery and somehow attribute strength in the ability to produce longer lengths of work.

From my friend Abram Lueders this week: 

"This isn’t a screed against hipsters, or so-called 'hipster Christianity.' Many of the people that get branded as hipsters aren’t trying to put on a phony identity. Some people (including Christians) have a passion for art, listen to obscure bands because they genuinely enjoy them, and wear retro glasses because they have bad eyesight, and thought they just looked good, dangit! That’s okay. But it isn’t a sin to wear dad shorts and listen to Casting Crowns. The chronically un-hip aren’t second-class citizens in the kingdom of God."

From my younger sister Dianne who works as a CNA at an "old folk's home."

There's a resident who cannot talk cognitively and rarely opens his eyes.
I have to be extra careful to make him comfy because I never know if he is or not.
Often he spits his dinner out and is completely limp when I transfer him.

At 4 o'clock this morning, I was turning him over and tucking the sheets around him.
Imagine my surprise when suddenly he mumbled, "Good Morning."
I jumped, "Good Morning to you!"
In 6 months of routinely caring for him, this was a first.
Second-guessing my ears, I stared and said, "How are you feeling?"
He opened his eyes, looked at me then turned to the football game on the tv, "Mgoodm."
It was amazing to hear his voice, I wanted him to keep talking.
For once I knew that he was ok.
He was not "out of it".
He was not in a void, mindless coma.
He could hear me.
And he could reply.
"Do you like this show?"
I really grinned now, but I had to finish my rounds.
"Ok, well, have a good morning!"

He closed his eyes, "Ok, you too."

Dancing down the hall, I tried to make sense of his shocking change in conscienceness.
Was it a miracle?
An incorrect dosage?
A wierd before-death experience?

When I got to the nurse's station, I pulled his chart and read, "..."
Well, I can't really say what I read.
You know.
HIPAA and all that.
Let's just say, my curiousity was satisfied.

My dear resident was ok.
He told me himself.

Both were excellent reminders that in order to be heard, their words didn't have to be a page and-a-half long.

Monday, October 3, 2011

no small resemblance

The plethora of NFL games competed for attention on the myriad of screens that hung above the bar, each boasting waves of highlights, statistics and high definition re-plays of the most important or fascinating moment of the sport.
I walked past the bartender who smiled congenially and welcomed me. Exhausted from my last three weeks of non-stop travel and work with only one day off in the middle, I set my shoulder-bag down and walked to the counter. In one of those stool-chairs that only seem to appear in public and never in the dining room or kitchens of the home sat another person in uniform almost identical to mine. The picture on his collar indicated he was an officer and the figure of the bird notated that he was Colonel. Stitched on the left side of the chest was the label U.S. Air Force and above it were wings. "Ah, a flier" I thought to myself as I greeted him.
"Good afternoon sir." Proper courtesy rendered, he responded with the appropriate respect, nodding, and returning the phrase.
"Good afternoon." We were professionals. Our training was ingrained deeply in our personality. I glanced at the shelf behind the bar and chose a Stella Artois. Light, somewhat hoppy and non-commital, it was my favorite served ice-cold alone and unaccompanied by another at the end of the day.
I reached behind to my back pocket, pulled out my wallet and flipped to the I.D. carrier. I've long since abandoned the need to wait and be asked for proof of my age. I look too young to drink and have nothing to prove any more by inconveniencing those serving me. It isn't cool anymore to rib them for doing their job.
"You can show hand him your I.D. so he can see how old you are, but go ahead and put your credit card away" the Colonel looked at the bartender as he finished his sentence "I'll get his."
I glanced up, surprised. After a brief moment of inward discussion with myself I realized was pointless -- there was only a small chance the Colonel had less than three hundred people under him. He would not give in to a simple argument on the matter.
"Thank you sir."
He waved off the words with his left hand supported in the air by an elbow relaxed on the bar as he sat slightly forward in his seat. "No problem. How are you?"
The bartender glanced at the identification and handed it back to me.
For several minutes we exchanged formal pleasantries that also came from, ironically, training. There was a way to and not to speak with someone of certain rank. We abided by those rules easily, both of us comfortable to interact with one another at the appropriate level. Everything was as it should be.
A minute or two in, he responded to the posed query "no, I'll be here for a while. My flight isn't boarding until 4:05." The same time as mine, only he would fly to Denver on his way home to Las Vegas while mine left for Dallas so I could change planes to one bound for my home in Northwest Arkansas.

The Commander of a squadron that flew A-10's, he had been in the Air Force for 33 years: 10 active duty and the rest Reserves.

An hour and a half before we parted company.
For the next 90 minutes, the Colonel (as the rank was nicknamed) poured as much wisdom and perspective into my life as he could.
"When I was 24 I thought of myself as a failure. I was a Captain in the United States Air Force with a daughter and a divorce, and because I wasn't where I thought I should be, I felt worthless. In most people's eyes I was a huge success. But not in mine. You need to be careful that you don't do that. Don't let yourself do that. Continue to pursue what you're passionate about."
"What would the people that work under me say are my priorities? Well I have 600 people that work under me, and I think they would say the prevailing lead tier of my priorities is education. If you have the desire to pursue more education and better yourself, we will do anything we can to help you. We as an Air Force should do that."
"If there is someone else who can do your job so that you can do something else to better yourself, whether it's training or education, we need to help you do that."
"I'll be honest. I've been married three times. It will always be a battle between what you want and what she wants, now if you can figure that out, great. But it's always about selfishness and the desire to put what you want ahead of her. That's where the problem lies the majority of the time. So never stop fighting that."
"I am very blessed. I have four grown daughters; three with degrees and another one who's just finishing up beauty school."

When our time was up and we'd concluded our conversation so we could make our flights, we again rendered proper courtesies. This time however it was sincere, as only a meaningful, deep conversation could give value.
We talked about a wide variety of topics and covered a huge amount of conversational ground quickly as only two extremely intense personalities can.
What made the experience unique is each time we moved on to a new topic the Colonel found a new way to either affirm or challenge who I was. He relentlessly encouraged me in all manners of ways, daring me to become the height of my potential.
Thank you, Herman Brunke, Sir. Colonel, Commander, and pilot of a group of planes that were my favorite growing up, you gave me an incredible picture of who a leader is, even if only for a moment.

Commander Brunke reminded me so much of my Dad in the way that he so intentionally built into someone he didn't even know.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

what're we doing today?

We sat and stared at each other, unblinking, knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder, shifting our blank looks occasionally to see who would fold first. Who was weak. Who would think this take-off was exciting.
A Master Sergeant looked up at the ceiling and held on, white-knuckled, to her cargo belt that crossed at her chest. One by one we noticed her desperate stare and smiled. The ice was broken. Someone found the plane ride terrifying.
The webbed straps we sat on shook as the aircraft shuddered and banked steeply. There's nothing like a few officers with a sense of humor, a couple steering columns and a plane load of military personnel to show off to.

Two hours and change later we did a sharp version of the opposite and landed, the same Sergeant just as nervous as before -- if not more -- looking longingly at the ceiling and gritting her teeth. Maybe just a little bit bleary-eyed too; it's not as if dozing off in such a setting could lend itself to any relief whatsoever, regardless of how exhausted one was.
We landed, unbuckled, and sat tight.
We weren't tasked (told) with dismounting the sky-cow yet.
Someone with some kind of authority boarded the stairwell quickly and yelled confidently.

"Listen up! You're here now. There are people all lined up waiting to greet you so you need to ensure you're at a 100% as of RIGHT NOW. 
You will need your Airman's manual in your right pocket, not your left. 
Your gas mask needs to have it's fit test in the pocket WHERE IT GOES. 
Wear your helmet and flak jacket and earplugs at ALL TIMES while on the flightline. 
Do you understand? You're here now. You're ours for the next five days and you'll be representing the Wing, so GET IT TOGETHER."

There was a pause as she allowed it all to sink in for a moment before saying simply:

"Now get off my plane."

Sergeant Enlightened Loud Voice disappeared just as quickly as she appeared entirely ignoring the flurry of activity that ensued.
Everyone's pulses raced at least just a little as our training flooded back and hearts pushed against the bulletproof vests that sat on our chests like sleeping german shepards.
None of us joined for the Form 55's, DNIF paperwork or computer-based training. We joined for the money, the war, the games, and it was game time.

Check yourself. 
Check again.
Check your buddy.
Does anyone not have a buddy that's standing close enough to check? 
Check them too.

It had begun.
That evening as the eighty people from my unit sat around in the fourth of six briefings trying to stay awake, we were handed a small pamphlet with Volk Field's insignia emblazoned loudly across the front.
I flipped to the middle page and read for the sake of occupying my starved mind.
Barely able to contain my laughter, I surreptitiously elbow-bumped Sgt. Mitchell who sat next to me.
"Look, look at this" I whispered. "Read that!"
Snorking audibly, Chris found the humor in it the moment he saw the center day of our schedule for the week.

0400-0630 - Breakfast
0700-1800 - War
1800-1930 - Dinner

Thursday, September 15, 2011

the challenge.

"This is Calvin, he's 91 years old and called us after he fell while getting out of his vehicle this evening." The paramedic stood with clipboard in hand and watched us work while he gave "report" to the male nurse who was busy undoing the straps that held the frail old man to the plastic board that kept his fragile frame coldly rigid.
"Calvin reports that he may have hit his head when he fell out from the vehicle, although he's not quite sure. He said he has some neck, lower thoracic, left and right lower quadrant pain, pelvic pain, and when we hooked him up to our 3-lead we noticed an irregular heart rhythm, somewhat V-fib."
The nurse bent over the top of the bed and spoke directly, loudly.
"Calvin. Calvin, can you hear me?"
"Yep." The reply had only a hint of quavering.
"Calvin, how are you doing?"
"Oh, I'm alright." The old man's startlingly bright blue eyes glimmered tiredly as he responded.
"Do you know where you are?"
"Oh, I'm in the hospital I suppose."
"Good. Now Calvin we're going to take real good care of you, okay? Just sit tight and while we take you off this board I don't want you to move at all. You just let us do all the work."
"Okay." His eyes closed and the loose skin on his jutting chest slid gently back and forth as his ribs shot upwards and dropped back down often.
Six bodies worked in unison as only a healthcare team can. Hands, elbows and arms all bumped relentlessly as they glided over his elderly body. Feet stepped on each other, shoulders moved back and forth, and progress sped along quickly, propelled by a symphony of performances.

Straps on the left side undone.
Shoes off.
Straps on the right side undone.
The IV in his left AC was flushed and re-opened, checked to make sure it was good, and ready for more fluids or medications if need be.
Do you want me to cut his clothes off?
No, not yet. Let's not do that unless we have to.
Behind you with the EKG.
Hand me the BP cuff. 
Untwist the pulse ox.
Go ahead and draw labs for me, a rainbow (all standard-colored labs).
Glance up at the vitals monitor and notice the patient's oxygen level is at 99%, a very good sign. 
Gown placed over the patient's now exposed waist. 
Step around two people to reach the monitor, tweak the settings and hit "every two minutes" in the settings for how often the patient's blood pressure would be taken.

Words were very rarely spoken unless in the form of the question, answered each time by the nurse, who was in command of the room until the doctor arrived. It was only a few minutes.
"Calvin, this is Dr. --------. He'll be taking care of you."
"Hi Calvin, how are you?"
"Oh, I'm good."
"I bet you are."
The nurse looked at the paramedic.
Work continued.
"Do you want me to give report or do you?"
"I will, you can head out" the nurse answered, and the paramedics stepped out through the curtain, pulling it closed behind them.
"First, let's go ahead and take this board out from underneath him."
The nurse took over.
"Both of you reach here and here. Then we'll roll him up on his left side. James, you'll take the board out from under him and then I want you two to keep holding him so Dr. -------- can do his exam."
The two medics reached where they were told, and I held the edge of the board loosely.
The nurse stood over the head of the bed and looked at Calvin's eyes as he spoke loudly and clearly.
"We're going to move you and the doctor's going to take a look at you, okay?"
No one moved.
We waited, a synchronized pause.
The nurse looked up, then said "1, 2, 3 roll."
Lectures, notes, practices, tests, final exams, grades, on the job training, it was all so cold and clear in our minds as we moved, standing room only, around a hurting person.
We had all progressed to this. Work was a synchronized performance of triage; we all acted, communicated and moved in descending order of what was most important to the preservation of life.

A few minutes later after there was a lull and the immediate needs of the patient had all but subsided, I walked over towards the nurse's station to grab my Pepsi and heard a nurse call a medic over. "You have to see this. Check this out, watch how he falls."
Youtube flashed and glowed as it replayed the clip for what would be almost the three-millionth time.
"Watch what happens, this guy is going to go halfway down the stairs on his skateboard."
"No, no he isn't. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Oh my God, that sucks so bad. Did you see his head, how it hit the railing? He's out cold. Damn, he's out."
"Eldridge, can you wheel "Charlie" (Bed C) to x-ray?"
"Sure." I set my drink down on the desk and greeted Calvin. "We're going to take some pictures now, there's some people who want to see how your bones look."
He smiled and nodded ever so slightly.

Unlock the bed.
Lift the monitor onto his mattress, the vitals come with.

As we moved down through the dark hallway the silence hung in the air stagnant and reluctant. Calvin was awake, aware, and waiting to find out how badly he'd been hurt.
"Calvin, I think you lied to me. Were you really just getting out from your car when you fell? Or were you trying to impress some young ladies with your skateboarding skills? Because I when I took your shoes off I thought your calves looked pretty athletic."
Calvin's mouth moved slowly upwards as he thought for a moment before answering slowly.

"If you have a skateboard with you we could find some ladies and figure that out right now."

Monday, September 5, 2011

labor day.

"Everyone outside and help carry groceries."
The loud, bellowing voice carried through the living room, into the school room, and out the sliding glass door onto the back porch. As if the command wasn't strong enough in and of itself, names would promptly follow accompanied by orders for the specific tasks forces present.
"Michael, Grace, open up the front passenger-side door and bring in all the cereal."
"Richard, James, in the back of the truck is a man-door and table saw -- I want those set in the garage. Then I want you the two 25 lb bags of rice that are in the back seat and bring them inside and refill the tupperware containers in the pantry with one of those bags."
Man-door was a very descriptive term essential to notating the specific difference between a door with a lock on it a human would walk through and a "door" used as a loose term to often refer to a "garage door", something you would drive through and close behind you with a button on your car's visor.
Had Dad said "in the back of the truck is a door and table-saw -- I want those in the garage" there would have been an immediate uproar and indignant outcry from the small barefooted natives he beckoned.

Mom was very present. 
"James, Rick, that means now. Dad gave you very specific instructions and I want you to get and go do them please. Smiles on your faces!"
For some reason when Mom requested smiles it was always impossible to maintain scowls.
"But what about Bethany? She needs to help! She's in her room."
Bethany was very not-present.
"No, Bethany's reading for school in her room. Leave her alone." Being responsible made you so hatefully immune sometimes. Responsibility was something that, looking back on how we saw it at that point in our lives, I would most likely pair with today's equivalent of a new theory from Stephen Hawking. 
My younger brother and I definitely never understood the phenomenon of how being responsible could get you out of what we saw as unavoidable hard manual labor.

Out the front door, along the brick porch into the garage and out the front to the driveway where a the Nissan Titan awaited our load-relief services, the two brothers interacted as only siblings can.
"I wish we had a fork lift, this would be so much easier you know."
"No it wouldn't. That's stupid. It wouldn't even fit in the garage."
"So? We'd get to drive it."
"That's true." The logic did make sense. 
"Doesn't Dad let you drive the fork lift at work sometimes?"
"Only like three times. Here, help me."
Our backs strained, arm muscles flexed, and we grunted appropriately as men should when conquering a beast. The tailgate opened and we saw it.
The man-door. 
"One of us has to hop up in there and grab the other end."
"No, we can just grab either side."
"It's too heavy."
"Well I don't want to get up in there though."
"You have to."
"No I don't."
"Yes, you do." Somehow this worked, and the younger brother reluctantly conceded. I think in middle-school student disagreements the purest logic is repeated insistence or demanding.
Soon with much pulling, pushing, lifting, twisting, yelling, arguing, and slamming, we successfully maneuvered the monster into it's new dwelling.

"I bet we're going to have to put this in today."
"What? No. Dad has a meeting with the salesmen I think."
"That's what he just got back from. It was this morning. It's always in the morning."
We bear-hugged the massive bags of rice and stomped heavily into the house, the hardwood floor soaking up our dramatic pattering thuds. 

A younger sister trotted by on her way back to play with the neighbor girl again. "Rachel, you're so lucky your Dad doesn't shop at Costco. Ours ONLY shops there and we have to bring all the stuff in."
Rachel was not content to be outdone.
"Yes, but my Dad brings groceries home and we have to go up like a hundred stairs to my house."
"You don't have a hundred stairs."
"I know, but it feels like a hundred."
"Eldridge childrennnnnnn! Family meeting!" Mom's voice could not be ignored when those words were hollered. It meant there was more work ahead, unavoidably. But when a family meeting was called -- as opposed to simply finding the victims and announcing their future personally one-by-one -- it was exponentially better. It meant there was also an exciting reward ahead. Something that could change the entire day. 
We sat in the living room sprawled out on different articles of furniture, belly-down on the floor with feet kicking in the air and elbows on the carpet with our chins in our hands, and we waited. 
"Here's the scoop." Mom liked starting out that way. "We have a lot of things that need to be done today, some of you still have chores from yesterday that you didn't do, so you'll have to finish those too. But what we'd like to do since it's labor day is work for a few hours and then...." 
Mom's pausing for dramatic effect was always flawless. We shrieked indignantly and garnered smiles from both parental units.
"Mom, don't do that!"
"Tell us Mom!"
Even Bethany got in on picketing against the evils of suspense. 
"Please Mother, don't do that. Just tell us."
Mom smiled and shushed us, then cleared her throat. Silence was king for a brief moment, the lull before the storm of excitement.
"If you do that, if you finish your chores and the few things Dad has for us to do today, then..."
Then she spoke and the dark clouds over our heads opened up. Lightning crashed, thunderous happiness pounded our chests and joy reigned from above like only a late-afternoon drive to the cousin's house at the beach could.
"We'll go to the Abbeys for a potluck this afternoon!"
Powerball lottery winners had nothing on us. A forty-five minute drive to the North Shore to have dinner at the Abbeys, jump on their trampoline, walk across the highway to the beach and have one of Uncle Chris' legendary bonfires was Christmas in September.
The rest of the afternoon sped by in a blur. The roar of the table saw blended in with the engine sounds of the fifteen-passenger maroon-colored Chevy van headed North to the cousin's. The smell of Windex and salty beach air became indistinguishable. Trotting across the yard with the mower and the pumping of legs to stay afloat in the water blurred together. 

"I need three hours of work from each one of you. Your Mom has a list of jobs you can pick from, but if you get done with yours and it's done well enough to pass inspection, then she'll have other options for you to pick from. But I want to be on the road, everyone in bathing suits ready to go at two o'clock. Understand?" 
Labor day may have meant several hours of work that we'd hoped to avoid, but that night the kids who weren't lifted into the van already asleep for the ride home were out cold before the road curved inland from it's path parallel to the coast. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

game play.

Mom was a firm believer that children needed to have lots of time outdoors. When it came to things like schoolwork, meals, devotions and chores, she was more than understanding. More often than not, however, if there was any volume of conflict between siblings, any furniture jumping or even too much feet-kicking, it would immediately be "outside! Let's go. Everyone."
"Even Michael? Does Michael have to go outside? He's taking a nap."
"No, let your little brother sleep. I don't want you playing outside his window either."
This statement caused much chagrine and bemoaning amongst my two sisters, as the front porch from behind the railing to the front wall all along the whole front of our house was "their zone." Mutually agreed upon, us older brothers didn't often foray of our own volition into their territory. It was both fiercely protected and cluttered just enough with girl toys that there would be no justifiable reason to want to go there anyway. The few occasions when we were asked to clean up that section of the front yard was  responded to dramatically and on strong enough grounds ("it wasn't our mess Mom! The little girls played with all that stuff and left it out in the rain the other day") that usually the offending parties were given official (verbal) summons and made to appear before judge and self-appointed jury of sibling-peers.
"Outside!" was the command, and we slunk, slouched, dragged and argued our way outdoors.

It was by no stretch of the imagination cruel or unusual punishment -- in fact it was by stretching our imagination that it was no punishment at all.
"Okay, from speed bump to speed bump is limit."
"No way, that's too big of a field! Besides it's pavement and it'll hurt if you fall on it."
"I never fall."
"But I do!"
"No you don't. I've never seen you fall."
"Yes I do, I fall all the time. I fell last time."
"You did?"
"Yes, see? He did fall last time." The defense attorney lifted up the shorts-leg of the defendant and displayed confidently exhibit A: a small, pink mark where the scar tissue was healing.
"Oh, I didn't know that. Well let's play in Grandma Mattie's yard then."
"But Grandma Mattie said no more football in her yard, she doesn't like us getting hurt."
"Two things. Grandma Mattie is gone to the Philippines this week and we're not going to hurt."
"How do you know she's gone?"
"Her car isn't there." A smug finger pointed to the empty carport across the street, void of it's seemingly ever-present gold-colored Ford Taurus. If the car wasn't there then she had to be in the Philippines.
"Okay, fine."
A conciliatory win was just as good, if not better than a win on the "football field."

Why on the pavement or in Grandma Mattie's yard?
Our grass wasn't the kind of grass that looked or felt like real football grass. Besides. We had bricks in our yard. Bricks and fence posts. There was no way, no way we'd ever play football in a yard that had a sidewalk and a fence. It wouldn't work. We'd rather play basketball than football in our yard.

And so we played.
Five or twenty-five minutes into the game one of us older siblings would call "quarter" or "half" at the top of our lungs. Whichever we felt like. Inevitably this would be followed by much arguing as to how we were able to discern that our timing was appropriate, and like every pass, run and play, it entailed much arguing. Each game the number of timeouts was firmly agreed upon with much promising and threats of what would happen if they were taken advantage of or exceeded in usage, but always they ended up for all intents and purposes, limitless.
The score was always what everyone concurred it was. Between counting by sevens for touchdowns, adding four for each "field goal" which was next to impossible to ever achieve (how many ten year-olds do you know that can kick a football straight?), and losing track of what play we were on, it was almost unavoidable. The game would end each time with "next point wins" which definitely doesn't work in football where a team starts with possession of the ball and touchdowns are always scored in under five downs.

We broke every rule, lost track of time and spent our days playing as aggressively as we could until someone got hurt. Then we would erect new rules against such behaviors as could cause another person pain and use them as coercion tactics to convince the victims of the sports violence to rejoin the league.
The afternoon would get dusky, and sometimes, every once in a long while, if Mom didn't call us in for dinner because we had a babysitter (we're allowed to play outside as long as we want, our Mom says!) we would play until the sun fell deep enough behind the top of our valley that we couldn't see the ball as it flew haphazardly towards our faces.
Then one of the older kids on the winning team would "call the game" and the opposite team would negotiate a tie. We'd all shake hands, come inside and rampage through the kitchen as only a horde of small boys can, and see how many hours of "computer" time we could get in before we were evicted and relocated to our rooms.

"Are Dad and Mom at a business dinner?" we'd ask, chips and salsa overflowing on plates. The answer determined how late they would be out, and directly coincided with how much we could be able to get away with.
"You should go next door and get one of those big Pepsi's from your house" we'd suggest to the neighbor kids who sat next to us on the massive bench at our 8-foot long kitchen table.
"No, I might get in trouble." This didn't matter. We never had soda at our house because it wasn't good for us, but if someone else brought it, it was fine.
"Well you're eating our chips and salsa for dinner. You should go get your soda and bring it here."
"This isn't even my dinner. I'm going to go home and eat something after I leave here."
"But I thought you were going to stay and play Age of Empires with us?"
"Oh yeah, can I?"
"If you want to. Mom and Dad are at a business dinner. That means they'll be out late."
"Oh, then HECK yeah!"
"So then go over and get soda from your house and I'll let you play our game."

With our glasses full of ice cubes and dark carbonated beverage, we'd play. The two youngest boys would share a chair and the two older boys each got their own as we sat around the computer for as many hours as we thought we could get away with. There was no way to make four chairs fit, so it fell to seniority or who's turn it was to play. Those that weren't playing got up on their knees, put their elbows on the computer table and pointed and told the one who was playing exactly where he should go and what he should do in the game. He who was playing was free to disagree and do as he pleased, such was the triumph of having the mouse and keyboard in your hands.

"More sheep. Go over to the right and gather more sheep."
"I don't need them, I'm already getting berries."
"Okay then, your enemies will get them."
"I don't care."

"Build a Barracks, you don't have one."
"Yes I do, I built one over there --"
"No, that's an archery range, idiot."
"Hey, you're not allowed to say that to me."
"Yeah, don't say that to my brother. You're not allowed to say "idiot" at our house."
"I'm not? I thought I was."
"No, you're not."
"But it's not even a bad word!"
"In our house it is. Don't say idiot to anyone or else we get to punch you."
"Your Mom doesn't punch you if you say that though!"
"I know, but she's not here. So we have to take care of it because we can't talk like that no matter who's  here. So that includes me. And you're not my kid, so I can't spank you or make you wash your mouth out with soap, so I'll just have to punch you."
"It makes sense, but if you punched me I'd punch you back. Harder."
"Watch out, that's your enemy's scout!"
"No it's not, that's my ally's."
"What does ally mean?"
"It means friend, not enemy. The other team that's the good guys. You can trade with them and stuff."

An hour or so into our game play we'd be informed by our sweet, naive babysitter that "your parents called and they're on their way home."
Instantly all arguing and activity would cease, save for one of us who dove towards the keyboard to hit "Escape" and pause the game.
"Where did they say they were at?"
"They said they were just leaving downtown Honolulu, and they'd be home in about forty-five minutes.
Someone would save the game, someone else would jump up to clean the living room and our neighbors would escort themselves out the front door.
We'd brush our teeth, hop into bed and dim the lights just enough to keep reading and fake sleeping if necessary. The door would be left open a crack and all ears would listen raptly as parental units asked "how the night went."

"Oh, it went really well. They were well behaved. They played outside then came in and had dinner (whew, safe) and spent most of the night on the computer."
"Idiot!" an older sibling would whisper from the top bunk.
"You're not allowed to say that" came the whisper from below.

no particular Saturday

It's Saturday afternoon and my stomach is full of grilled cheese sandwiches, salsa, and Grandma's homemade peach iced tea. It tastes so much more fresh, so much colder and noticeably clearer than the beverage made from store-bought powder. I tried complimenting her on it but is it is with most comments she brushed it off.
"Oh, it's nothing. I just don't like that stuff that comes in packages."
"I know. But yours is really, really good! I love it."
"Pshaw, so now James. How's your schooling coming along?"

After lunch had been cleared away, the paper plates tossed in the trash and the leftover cookies thrown in a Ziploc bag (oh yeah, there were cookies. There's always cookies) I graduated to the living room with Grandpa to wake board behind his channel changing as we catch updates and several plays from college football games all across the States. Arms crossed, slouching slightly so as to take the pressure off the small of his back, Papaw sits a mere two yards from his massive 46" television and makes definitive statements as to the coach's and player's decisions alike.  My lemonade sitting on the coffee table beside me, I occasionally reply with a few directive comments of my own, just to ensure I'm keeping up with him.
Every once in awhile the right or leg stretches out, seemingly of it's own accord. Old knees are flexing, stretching and not getting too stiff.
"Auburn just got beat. There's four minutes left. They're down by ten."

The Cinematic Orchestra plays in my second internet tab I have open, mournful violin strains and the gentle cooing of a carefully tempered voice filling my headphones with piano-laced swelling melodies.
I read, and outside the day gets a little warmer.

"A small boy, perched on an open catwalk in a candy factory, falls to his death. No, it is not a macabre moment out of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." It is a true story told by social reformer Jane Addams, who founded Chicago's Hull House in 1889.
Addams also described little girls who refused sweets as Christmas gifts that year. "They could not bear the sight of it," Addams wrote. "We discovered that that they had worked from 7 in the morning until 9 at night, and they were exhausted."These Dickensian scenes lasted in America from the late 19th century until 1938, when child labor was outlawed under the Fair Labor Standards Act. They are a sobering reminder of why the nation marks Labor Day."

It is not only sobering, but enlightening. With a pulse. Past lives, past pain, past human beings shouted, protested, starved, worked malnourished and died for what I so rarely appreciate today. Who doesn't like a three-day weekend? It's more than just that, it's rights built on a rich, albeit violent and even depressing history.

I continue reading. A hobby of mine, I'm fascinated with phones and the growing pressure inside the bubble that is the smartphone industry.

Google has just released the latest set of Android version numbers, and the overall trend of legacy version numbers dropping continues.  There's no drastic changes, but a quick look at the chart above lets us see that numbers for Donut and Cupcake are now in the "also ran" category with each under two percent, and Eclair is steadily dropping compared to last month.  Froyo (Android 2.2) still leads the pack with over 50 percent of all devices using the Android Market running it, but we see a nice boost in the number of phones running gingerbread, with numbers for Android 2.3 climbing over six percentage points.  With Gingerbread updates rolling out or in the works for the Dinc, Droid 2, Droid X, and more, we expect another significant increase next month.

I take a sip of lemonade, uncross my legs, and glance outside. 
There's a tropical storm threatening to smack New Orleans with 65mph winds and 8 - 10 inches of rain. "Too bad" I think. "We could use that here. And in Texas -- Texas could DEFINITELY use a bunch of rain right now."

"Home is behind the world ahead
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadow, to the edge of night
Until the stars are all aligned
Mist and shadow, cloud and shade
Home shall fade, home shall fade."

The Steward of Gondor now played quietly as I caught paused from reading to catch the last few seconds of the game.

"Wow. 41. Auburn came back and goin' win here in the last 30 seconds of the game." 
Excited, Papaw left his seat and trotted upstairs to go find Grandma and tell her the news.

Monday, August 22, 2011

In the entirety of my senior-year high school yearbook there are only two pictures where I'm not staring sullen and angry at the camera.
I am acting in one and asleep in the other.

High school seems light-years away.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

hello words.

Epiphany is a strong word, and one of my favorites comes from the author James Joyce at the conclusion  of his story The Dead.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world which these dead had at one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, falling softly into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
Beautifully penned, Joyce captures as only he can the epiphany of Gabriel's character that he had truly loved a woman.
While not as perfectly captured or deftly worded, (we mortals are afforded generous allowances James Joyce had no need of) one of my favorite cousins introduced me to an epiphany the other day when I least expected it.

"So Kenny, you like this punk-rock music, huh?" It was a more than fair question I posed to my cousin. Weird Al's music blared from his small phone voraciously, but Kenny paid it little heed as he smiled and seamlessly shot down my cynically-posed observation.
"No. No, I--I just like songs that parody already lame music.
I laughed, and we turned right onto Holly Street. It was time to pick the wife up from work.
"So you just like the words, that they make fun of all regular "lame" songs?"
"Pretty much."

The town we live in isn't by any means large, and soon we were all at home. Seated around the table again, back right where we left off at our game.
"Oh, music." I hopped out of my recliner-turned-dining room-seat (our living room is pieced together as only newly weds can) and hit the spacebar. Immediately our living room was filled with the crisp melody of Metric, an indie-style music selection that is great for ambient background sound.
The minutes passed by as us cousins dove back into the card game spread liberally across our table.
"No, the Moneylender doesn't do that. You have to pick up the other card. Next to it. That one."
"Can you hand me a Cellar? Thank you."
"I just playedit's your turn."
"Everyone check your hand. See, it's a Militia. Discard down to three cards in your hand unless you have a Moat."

Then in the midst of the excited hubbub my introspective cousin voiced his opinion to no one in particular.
"Did that--did that song just--just. Did--that song just say "they're gonna eat me alive?" Because that's stupider than all Weird Al's songs. He's not being serious. They are."
I paused. Yes, that was the line to the song. But it was indie music. By definition they are classified as eclectic and original. Most of their lyrics are abstract and don't make sense. But to my cousin who takes many, many things at face value and very literally, this was not overlooked. The line they had chosen to write was strange, foreign and out of place. 

A senior in high school and one of the most socially practical individuals I've ever met in my life, Kenny's introspect reminded me of something I can honestly say I've missed in the last multiple thousands of hours of my music listening.
Words matter.
Whether they're acknowledged or not. Paid attention to or ignored. True tale telling or made up story to entertain. Vicious or light-hearted. Poetic or not, they always matter.
My music library includes just over 36 days of music.
I am not a "purist" and do not believe that Christians should listen to "only Christian music."
Included in my collection that I've built over the last ten years is 12 hours of classical music, 5 hours of Disney songs,  6 days of film soundtracks, 17 days of rock/metal music, 2 days of worship songs, and my most listened to artist is by no surprise of the imagination Sigur Ros, an Icelandic band I've discovered to be appropriate for almost every occasion.

Not take the idea of words and music in my teeth and dive for the bottom of the swamp, but in all of my appreciation for music itself I'd almost forgotten there were words involved.
Thanks brother-cousin Ken, for helping me see that for the first time again.

From Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man.

"A day of dappled seaborne clouds.
The phrase and the day and the scene harmonised in a chord. Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the grey fringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language many coloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?" 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

recognizing change

Shock can best be defined as a condition in which tissue perfusion is inadequate to deliver oxygen and nutrients to support vital organs and cellular function (Hameed, Aird, & Cohn, 2003). 
Without treatment, inadequate blood flow to the tissues results in poor delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells, cellular starvation, cell death, organ dysfunction progressing to organ failure, and eventual death.

Shock affects all body systems. It may develop rapidly or slowly, depending on the underlying cause. During shock, the body struggles to survive, calling on all it's homeostatic mechanisms to restore blood flow. Any insult to the body can create a cascade of events resulting in poor tissue perfusion. Therefore, almost any patient with any disease state may be at risk for developing shock.
Nursing care of patients with shock requires ongoing systematic assessment.

My Dad has told me many times that during change of any significance in a person's life it is important to acknowledge and grieve the loss that occurs there. This allows you can move forward towards the positive aspects of that change.
In the past few years I have come to really appreciate the truth in that statement and grown to realize how important it is for me to do that. I am someone who is built to take on conflict, issues, change, all of it, head on. More often than not I barrel forward in life paying little/no attention to where I'm at and focusing entirely on what's ahead. What I need to conquer. What problem needs to be solved. What change needs to happen that I can make happen. How I/we can get there as quickly and smoothly as possible.
When I read the above excerpts from my Textbook of Medical/Surgical Nursing it was astonishing to me how much shock (as it's defined in the medical field) can parallel shock as it relates to what can happen when someone experiences a crisis, a tragedy, or even just a major change in their life.

The paragraph I copied from the text concludes with a simple one-sentence summary of the nurse's care role for a patient who is in shock.
Ongoing systematic assessment. Both during and after the period in which a patient is in shock it is important to understand as closely as possible what stage they're in so that the nurse and the entire care team can best know how to help them at any given moment. While that is by no means all that a nurse does when a patient goes into shock, regardless of the type of shock (hypovolemic, cardiogenic, septic, neurogenic or anaphylactic) a patient enters into the text highlights that the main role of the nurse in that situation is to continually assess their condition.
Looking forward I see the value in checking in with others and myself often during times of important change, whatever it may be, to best know how I can serve or be served as processing through the change happens.

Hebrews 10:24 "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works"

Monday, August 8, 2011

our friend gravity.

Looking back on my childhood depending on what I'm remembering, I smile. Other times I drop the iPod and think to myself "how on earth were we allowed to do THAT?"
When I was 11, my older sister was 13 and rapidly losing interest in such things, and my younger brother was almost 9, my Dad took us out to the garage (where there was an abundant supply of dead fowl, namely chinese and mourning doves to be found, a la cat) opened up the garage door, and said "let's make a gravity cart.
Accurately named as it had no motor and consequently no "Go" to it, we were homeschooled. We called things as we saw them, as they should be, and never referred to them as culture had so arbitrarily. And so we were never "teenagers" we were "young adults." We said "yes Mother" and "yes Father" not "yeah" "okay" or "whatever." Well, sometimes we said those too. 
Instead of rebellion taking on the form of illicit and underage consumption of shadily acquired alcohol, sneaking out of bedroom windows, or driving prior to licensing (well, maybe one or all of the above did in fact occur) it was more centered around the answering of the phone in varying ways other than the instructed "Hello the Eldridges, this is (child's name), may I ask who's calling please?"
You might think it counter-intuitive to teach a child that greeting when they were too young to understand the sentence itself. More than once it led the caller directly into a decidedly one-way conversation with a very small, blank-faced individual wearing only a diaper and barely able to reach up and touch the counter on which the phone. We uttered that greeting many times a day regardless of our age and most of the world loved it.
Save for Mrs. Lueders, who everytime she called would laugh and ignore the out-of-place formality. "Can I talk to your Mom?"
"Yes, one moment please."
What began as acquiescing to parental requests and therefore easily excusing ourselves from disobedience and a loving correctional spank rapidly became habit, and soon it was carried out into our teen and tween years when we were far, far above the threat of any seat-based path adjustment and just how we answered the phone.

Out of earshot from the "house phone" and not necessarily far away from the "walkaround phone" as no one really ever knew where it was -- just who had it last -- we had rapidly changed into pre-paint-stained shirts and shorts and were now Outside Working With Dad.
That phrase is capitalized because it does not belong with any other phrase. When you were working with Dad you were not thinking about what you'd be doing Sunday after church. You weren't sitting around watching someone else work, and you definitely were not in the house on the computer. You were working with Dad, and until the job was done that was where you were. Hustling, asking for something to do if what you'd done was in fact, done, wearing safety glasses far to big for your young face, and hustling some more.
"Grab the other end of that board over there."
"Hand me that nail."
"Here, you finish that post base." 
Occasionally through small text snuck in the last moment of pre-work bartering one might arrange a devious way of scooting out early on the tasks to be completed. Among approved excuses were:
"I have soccer practice"
"I have to help Mom make dinner"
"I'm going over to the Smythes to babysit"
"I still have math homework from yesterday"
"I'm a neighbor kid and I have to go home now." While this one worked on others more often than not, no matter how many times I tried I always had to fall back on "I still have math homework from yesterday" which rarely netted me any better results. I always had leftover math homework. I'm going to be 24 this year and I guarantee you somewhere in my Mom's Microsoft Works '97 documents folder is a piece of yet-to-be-printed paper that requires me to do 35 more lessons.
But this was different than all that; this was a Saturday-afternoon project with imminent joy awaiting us.
There was a tangible excitement in the air -- something you could taste, feel and salivate over. I think it was the future and in it was a vehicle for us to ride, crash and drive again all on our very own. Wherever we liked. At speeds of our choosing. 
And that scares me to remember, because we did. 

Several hours, banged fingers and brake-adjustments later ("the paper doesn't have it right, we need to change the system around, that wouldn't stop you") there it was. 
Dad was under no false impressions as to how this four-wheeled miniature horse would be treated. He had built the seat on the gravity cart so that three children could sit in it comfortably together, not uncomfortably. But he knew that it would be minutes before the goal would be for any and all interested parties to ride together with an "older" kid steering.
And so we rode. 
The helmets stayed on while Mom and Dad were within eyeshot, then were chucked into the neighbor's 700' tall hedge where they would remain until dusk when we knew every minute was a gamble as it got closer and closer to "dark" or "curfew." When Mom stepped outside to yell "ELDRIDGE CHILDREN" at the top of her lungs, we had only a minute or two to make it to the house, there was no reason to take longer. We spent all summer afternoon running around at top speed, why slow then? There was dinner and tall, cold glasses of ice water waiting.
The hills we rode on were on either side of our valley at the end of our street.
One was affectionately named "Witch Hill" and the other "Suicide Hill."
Strangely enough, the hill we went up the most often was "Suicide Hill." We did so because it was "better" and you could definitely go faster. At the bottom of the incredibly steep "Witch Hill" the road below ran perpendicular, making it impossible to turn and continue joy-riding without either running into   the creek (which lay at the bottom of a ditch with boulders on either side) or flipping over the (bike, gravity cart, roller blades, skateboard, wagon...). 
When I look back and remember how much fun it was to ride the gravity cart, how awesome the neighbor kids with Xboxes and cable tv thought we were, and how many times we would continue riding after scraping up toes, knees, shins, elbows, faces and arms, I am astonished that neither witch nor suicide hill claimed our little danger-vaccinated lives.
Especially when ideas like:
"Let's try five kids at a time!"
"Gravity cart ramp!"
"Now let's see who can do it with no brakes for the longest!"
"Put a chair on the seat so you can sit up higher!"
"We don't need anyone at the bottom to yell car this time, just hop on" nearly killed us. It wasn't any of the three singularly, but a combination of the last three when the gravity cart hit a neighbor's SUV while they were driving up the hill that nearly ended my risk-riddled life.
Mom and Dad never found out because, as we explained to each other as we walked the gravity cart shakily back that waning dusk, "those are the neighbors that don't talk to anyone. They just watch tv all day and won't even wave back even though we wave every time. They probably don't even know where we live so there's no way we'll get in trouble."
Thank God they didn't, because we didn't. But we did use the brake at least a little bit from then on, it wasn't THAT uncool anymore.

Our second model that came out several years after.