Friday, October 28, 2011

A Very Special World Series

The St. Louis Cardinals are the 2011 Baseball Champions of the world!  And this baseball crazy town will revel in this amazing series for years to come.  And why not?  Back at the end of August, no one, and I mean no one, expected this team to be anywhere but on the golf course or off fishing somewhere right about now.  But the team, thankfully, didn't listen to all the "experts."

This victory means a great deal to the City of St. Louis and the surrounding area.  It goes far beyond baseball.  Unemployment continues to be high.  Crime in certain parts of the city runs rampant.  Prospects of future economic prosperity seem uncertain at this point.  But this team gave everyone here a bread in all the depressing news of the day.

All of us watched, with skepticism at first, as the Cardinals began to pull things together at the end of August.  Still, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who thought at that point that the Cardinals would make it to the post season.  Yet, the team kept pounding away steadily at its opponents, winning one series after another and the gap between them and the Atlanta Braves began to shrink.  The Cardinals had to catch Atlanta if they were to enter the playoffs as a wild card.  Even half way through the month that seemed an impossibility.

Yet, as the month progressed, so did the Cardinals until, finally, on a night late in September, the home team beat the Houston Astros and waited to see how the Braves would fare in Atlanta.  If Atlanta won, the Cardinals would head home to clean out their lockers and make plans for a long winter.  If, however, Atlanta lost, the Cardinals would clinch the wild card spot and would continue to play.  With the team and Cardinal Nation on pins and needles, Atlanta extended the game into extra innings, exaggerating the tension even more.  Finally, late that night, Atlanta lost and the Redbirds headed to the post season where, by the way, no one expected them to do anything!  The rest, as they say, is history.

What this team did in the waning days of summer and early days of autumn lifted the spirits of all who followed them.  They helped us to momentarily forget our woes.  Their exploits on the field captivated millions as they boldly marched through the Fall Classic.  Sure, unemployment and crime remained, but at least for a few brief hours of an evening, those things were momentarily pushed into the background.

There was an excitement in the air that you could feel everywhere you went.  Much of the talk was about how they were doing.  Yet, no one dared think that the St. Louis Cardinals, who barely made it into the playoffs, could possibly do the impossible--win the World Series.  But somehow they did and in doing so they have endeared themselves to a hurting community in a very special way.

This is what sports is all about.  Both teams put their best on the field and competed to the best of their ability.  There was no chest thumping on either side, no sniping, no personal affronts to stir up the team and engage the media.  No, this was pure competition and we loved it.

As the year fades and the holidays come upon us, the memories of this year's version of the St. Louis Cardinals will burn brightly during the dreary winter days ahead.  Through sports and the competitive spirit of the 2011 World Series, this community came together for a common purpose.  The Cardinals became ambassadors of a sort, who united groups into one huge cheering section and reveled in a world championship.  This is the stuff of heroes, the ability to bring together widely diverse elements of a community for a common purpose and we thank them for the ride.

Congratulations St. Louis Cardinals.  You have done much more than win a World Series!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October. The Month of Splendor

All months have their special and unique aspects.  Even July and August with their stifling heat and humidity have something unique to contribute to our lives.  But there is something about the month of October that makes this 31 day stretch more special than any other comparable time.

October is the month of transition.  The declining number of hours of sunset now has nature hastily preparing for the cold and desolate months of winter that lie only weeks ahead.  Sit back and look out your window and you will see birds eating more and more in preparation either for flight south or the dreary days with little food to be found.  Squirrels scamper about the yard, often carrying in their jaws a walnut that has just dropped out of a nearby tree.  Even the trees get in on the act as the chlorophyll begins to retreat in the leaves uncovering the spectacular colors of the season most of us wait for with eager anticipation.

It is a time in which we humans begin to convert our lives from mainly outdoor activities to ones spent indoors in the warm glow of the family home.  The exception to that is the Friday night ritual called football.  All across the land, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends, and the media gather in mostly small stadiums to watch their high school athletes play at America's passion.  Marching bands at halftime and stadium blankets are all a part of the ritual as the chill of the October evening descends.

October is a month of magic.  It is a month that we all seem to come alive in some fashion, refreshed by the cool breezes from the north.  It is the doorway to the holidays and suddenly, a day like Thanksgiving doesn't seem so far off.  It is a month when people actually notice nature in all its splendor, when the family jumps into the car to do nothing else but look at the colorful leaves.  At no other time does the family just simply take a ride into the countryside for no reason other than to be there!

October's promise is the promise of life fulfilled.  After the heat of a long growing season, farmers flock to their fields, gathering in the literal fruits of their labors.  Take a ride down a country highway in the Midwest on any given October day and you will see the tell tale columns of dust hanging lazily over the fields that are being harvested.  Each dry day now is not a day to be dreaded as they are in the spring as planting gets underway.  Rather, a day without rain is a day to be cherished and thankful for during the great harvest.  Clear blue skies mean uninterrupted hours of harvesting and that ensures countless livelihoods.

October is the month of life.  yes, nature is preparing for her great hibernation, but it is not death.  The colors of the trees remind us of just how alive and spectacular nature is.  The creatures of the forest gather stores of food not because they fear death, but because they embrace life and instinctively know that the rebirth of spring awaits them.  We, too, prepare for the cold months ahead by gathering friends and family together for the day set aside to celebrate life and all it has to offer.  We call it Thanksgiving and, for most, it is truly a day of rest, companionship with those we love, and a deep-seeded gratitude for what he have.

Celebrate October.  Don't miss one day of it.  Absorb it like a sponge because there are no two Octobers alike.  This one will come and go and we'll have our memories and photographs to mark the days of this unique one, but know that God will once again grace us with this month of splendor.  This magnificent October!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Birthday Blessing

I have led a blessed life!  It has been a life full of its troubles not unlike anyone else's life.  But it has had its great blessings as well.  I have had the opportunity to meet and work with some very interesting people whom society considers to be important.  I have had the opportunity to travel to fascinating places and experience historical events where they actually took place.  I have worked in many different areas.  I have seen many things and have been blessed with an education that has opened up the world of learning to me that still happens to this very day.  But above all, I have been particularly blessed by one woman of extraordinary character:  my wife.

Joan is the strongest person I know in so many ways.  We have seen each other through some very harrowing times, growing stronger because of them.  The most momentous of these was the battle against breast cancer which threatened her life.  It was "our" disease and there wasn't a moment throughout the journey that we were ever without each other.

We have witnessed the advent of grandchildren in our lives.  These little gems have brought a joy that only a grandparent can know.  These powerhouses of life and love light up tired eyes and weary hearts in ways that are beyond the ability of any author to fully capture.  Grandchildren remind you that there is hope in the world, accompanied by smiles and laughter just because you have come to see them.

Companionship is but one element of my relationship with Joan that I cherish.  She has always encouraged me to go and do what my heart desires even though it may mean that she has to sacrifice things in order for this to happen.  She has encouraged my writing, my continuing education, and my evolution as a human being ins such a selfless way, that I am sometimes overwhelmed.  She puts up with my shortcomings and understands me in ways that others cannot possibly even fathom.

She has taught me the meaning of courage.  Through the battle with cancer, as the toxic medications employed to combat this dread disease coursed through her veins, she never uttered a word of discouragement or hopelessness.  Through the grueling thirty-six rounds of intense radiation therapy, as her skin burned to a point where it literally peeled away from her body exposing raw tissue below, she never once complained about the unbelievable pain, even though she had every right to do so.  We experienced a miracle of unknown proportions when we learned that the tumor and all its remnants had died.  And this summer, we humbly thanked God for her sixth year without cancer.  Joan is just as courageous as the soldier going into battle.

There are so many other things that I could tell you about her, but the one final thing I'll mention, is the fact that she is the love of my life.  Yes, we have our troubles, just like any other couple might have.  Yes, there have been times when the both of us must have wondered what we got ourselves into.  But there has never been a doubt in my mind that my love for her is undying and continues to grow day by day.

Joan is a remarkable woman,  She is my companion and I look forward to sharing many more years with her as we slip into the older time of life.  She is my support, encouraging me to become the best person I possibly could become.  Most of all, however, she is my friend through thick and thin.

Yes, God has blessed me greatly all these years and as I turn 58 I realize that the greatest blessing bestowed upon me has been at my side for many wonderful years.  I can't remember a time without her.  May we never take each other for granted and continue to see in each other the blessing that God has made each of us to one another.

I am blessed this birthday to have the greatest gift of all, the unconditional love of my wonderful Joan!