Friday, April 30, 2010

Too busy to blog??

Let's see, now.  How does that little ditty go? "Thirty days has September; APRIL, June and whatever..."  Yeah.  O.K.  Got it! So tomorrow is May Day.  That date seemed like it was so far away when we first decided to start the process of moving to Hyderabad. Now it's almost here.  With a vengeance, too.  Well, it didn't exactly sneak up on us, because we've actually been able to get a ton of preparation out of the way.  It's just hard to contemplate the time remaining until you actually see the month of May on a calendar.  Amy wants me to add something to today's "Honey-do List" - I need to go to Staple's and buy us one of those big planning desk-calendars so we can write down the dozens of things (both little and big ones!) that still need to get done as next month begins to wind-down.  I think we are "ahead of the wave", so-to-speak.  The second of two moving-companies comes today at 4:00 P.M. to do a "survey" of the stuff we are shipping to Hyderabad ... and the remaining stuff that will be going into storage. 

There's actually not much left in the house, to be honest.  We got rid of so much stuff already - - most of the furniture that we owned (and that we are sure we didn't want to come home to anyway)....all went off to The Huntington Collection - a consignment furniture shop here in town that benefits Huntington Memorial Hospital.  Honestly...I'm surprised they didn't recognize the furniture when they came with a truck to take it away to sell...most of our stuff came from there originally anyway!! 

A ton of stuff (probably not an exaggeration!) went over to Out of the Closet, the charity which benefits AIDS Project Los Angeles and the AIDS Health Care Foundation.  With every donation, I remember Louie Vasquez, my parishioner and friend who died from that horrible disease.

On a much lighter note...Amy Suzzanne had a funny experience yesterday.  She took yet another load of our "treasures" over to Out of the Closet on her way to work.  They were just opening for the day, and when she walked in with the first load... she found one of the guys who works there, sitting with his feet up in a comfy recliner, reading a People Magazine (one that Amy brought to them the day before) - and watching our old Zenith T.V.!!  Aims said that it still didn't have a price-tag on's now probably an in-house favorite.  It always did have a great picture!

Speaking of T.V.'s - I cancelled our DirectTV subscription this morning.  Gasp!!  We really are moving, aren't we?!?  As it turns out, our satellite boxes are so out of date that they don't want them back!!  I wonder what kind of satellite T.V. we will have in Hyderabad??  That will have to remain one of the great mysteries of life until we arrive.  I wonder what kind of 3D-HD stuff will be available when we get back?? 

We got some more of our last vaccinations yesterday.  I got two....Amy only got one.  They didn't have any lollipops, so I went to Luck Baldwin's for a beer aftarwards.  I was feeling a lttle bit depressed because my Highland Tinker's group is having their 17th Annual Triathlon (Golf, Pool and Poker) in Austin, TX beginning today...and I couldn't see going with all we have going on here with the move.  I needed to make a few "I love you, man!" calls....and Lucky's seemed like the perfect place to call from.  Amy and I have to go back to the clinic in two-weeks to get our final shots.  Oh, yeah...lest we forget...Beloved needs her shots, too...and an examination for her International Health Certificate for travel. 

Today, after I go to the gym, I'm going to tackle the attic-space upstairs and next to my office.  I've got books to organize and put in boxes...some belong to the Diocese, so I need to keep them separate.  I'm going to take a couple of boxes full over to St. Mary's for safe-keeping.

That's it for today.  One-day-at-a-time we're getting there!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Long distance house-hunting...

An exciting new chapter has opened.  We are now officially "looking for a house" in Hyderabad.  This whole "putting Beloved in a kennel" thing (yeah, right!) got us to thinking - perhaps we don't want to live in a hotel for the first month...maybe we will try to get some leads on the local housing situation and do some of our "looking" from here. 

Yesterday I drove downtown to Amy's office.  It was Beloved's Third Birthday - and she (Amy) was having a particularly stressful day.  A little dog-love always calms us down (we call it "the best part of every day!") and sets all things right with the world.  The three of us sat down and started a little family-meeting there in the courtyard at Cal Plaza, right by the Starbucks.  We bought some coffee and looked at the current situation.  Since the "Beloved Problem" has come up... maybe we need a change in plans.  We've been saying all along that flexability is going to be the key to our sucess in India.  Perhaps we need to start now.  We thought out-loud: "Just maybe something will come about if we simply put the word "out there" that we are looking for a place .... and we'll see what happens." sure didn't take long.  We found out that of Amy's collegues will be leaving India soon to come home...and he has been living for the last two years in what everybody says is a super nice house near Banjara Hills!!  AND....  It's going to be available (are you ready? God is really watching out for us!) "in the middle of May"!!

Here are some pics that were sent to us by the owner.  It seems that "everybody" is right about this place...what an incredible looking home!!  It's supposed to be near shopping and great places to eat...but traffic is something that you always need to consider when talking about Hyderabad! (Hey!! ...we're from L.A. - we invented traffic jams!!) 

Somehow seeing pictures makes all of this seem so much more real.  It sometimes leaves me shaking my head in disbelief.  Is this really happening??  This is really a huge move for us, leaving family, friends, horses, neighbors, church ... and it seems that every single day there is something new to plan or think about. 

I'm sure glad that we are a Team of Three!! certainly looks as if we're going to have at least one guest bedroom....who is going to be the first to come and visit us?? 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Excuse me? But, do you know ANYTHING about my wife??"

Good morning!  I should start calling 6:00 A.M. "The Blogging Hour".  My thoughts have always been most clear first thing in the morning - ever since I was a kid.  I think that may be why I liked subjects like "English" and "Creative Writing" so much.  From the very beginning of grammar school, I seem to have always had teachers who taught two of the "Three "R's" first thing in the morning.... saving 'Rithmatic for the afternoon.  You know:  "after lunch".  With "no nap".  No wonder I hated math!  No wonder I had to marry a CPA to get my checkbook balanced!!

Last night was not nearly as restless as the night before...mainly because we think we may have decided as a family to put off my looming shoulder surgery until later in the year...there seems to be far-too-many more negatives to having it prior to leaving.  The truth is, I need to have both arms for this move to India.  Period. 

Of course, "Murphy's Law" is pretty constant.  There can never be a period of time with NO PROBLEMS during a move such as ours.  It seems that some sort of "daily drama" is an absolute prerequisite when there are so many "balls-in-the-air" ... in an attempt to smoothly get the three of us ready for a move to the other side of the globe.

But I must say, even by "Murphy's Law standards" ...Last night's "little problem" is a doozie. 

Evidently, a short e-mail that Amy Suzzanne had written to Geetha, (the "in-country" ex-pat coordinator for Deloitte and our main contact for getting things done on the ground in Hyderabad! She seems very sweet!) had "fallen between the cracks".  When Geetha e-mailed me back with answers to my questions about medical facilities in her area...I thanked her and then re-asked Amy's important question:  "Any word on Suzzanne's question about finding us a "dog-friendly hotel" for the beginning of our stay?"

Her answer came back fairly quickly.  You need to remember that "India-time" is 12-and-a-half hours our "midnight" is Geetha's "early afternoon".

I'm glad that I was sitting (actually laying) down when the two response e-mails came in!!

Geetha's response was a little disheartening:

"Hotels do not allow dogs. But we have a place where dogs are taken care. It is just like a hotel for them. I shall ask my colleague Vineel to send you more details on this".

Oh, great.  I guess it's not time (yet) to wake Amy up.  But still....I'm positive that I saw dog-friendly hotels in Hyderabad on several websites I had Googled.  How hard did she look?  Does she not know who Beloved the Lhasa Apso is??

Geetha's colleague Vineel's e-mail turned out to be a real for the ages.  Here is what he said, verbatim:

"Hi, Scott:

Unfortunately there are no quality hotels in Hyderabad with a dog-friendly policy. I have checked with most popular hotels and all of them do not allow pets into the hotels.

Like Geetha mentioned, there is a place where they can take care of your dog. “Laxmi Kennels” is a place owned by Mr. Sujeeth, his mobile number is (number withheld). Your dog will be fed the "Pedigree" brand of dog food, which is the best dog food available in India. He will be charging you around Rs. 200 for each day that the dog is with him."

My immediate reaction?  "Are you %$#$%!& kidding me???"

Do you know my wife???  Do you know that her Confirmation Name is "Francis" (the patron saint of animals!!)  For Amy, "fursons" are more important than "persons"!!  Do you know how much she loves her dogs??  Do you know how much she loves Beloved???  You'll be putting HER in a cage before she'd allow Beloved to be put in one!! 

You need to know that when we were planning to make the two-week "look-see" trip to Hyderabad, we were actually going to put Beloved (this is a link to her Facebook page!) into a fancy "Pet Resort" here in town.  To get The Bee accepted as a resident - we had to fill out a long application and she had to pass an "interview".  The cage-free boarding at Paradise Ranch Dog Resort  (you have got to see this website - the place is AMAZING!) means that she would have her own room with her own bed.  It's like a bed-and-breakfast for dogs!!  This is the ONLY WAY that Amy would agree to leave Beloved behind - they have video/web-cams in every room so she could watch her baby-girl at all hours!  There were private walks, supervised play-time, custom meals, Shiatsu (or is it Shih Tzu??) massage is available.  Amy was even willing to pay extra for a nightly "bed buddy" - someone who would sleep with Beloved in the bed every night!!  The cost (worth every penny for Amy's peace of mind!) would be $65.00 per night, not including food (which is made-to-order) and the "bed buddy" program.  200 rupees per day?  That's $4.51 !!

So NOW do you see how ridiculous this whole thing is?? 

Sorry, there Mr. Sujeeth of Laxmi Kennels!!  I'm sure you are a swell guy, that your kennel in Jubilee Hills is quite lovely.... and we salute your devotion to God's furry creatures.  But you will get Amy's "Beloved" when they pry her out of her cold, dead fingers!!  Amy would rather stay in a Turkish prison than allow you to have Beloved for even a nanosecond!!  That is simply not going to happen....ever!!  You had better plan to clear out the Taj Mahal to put Beloved in first! 

I'm sure we'll have an update on this situation soon as Amy gets up and checks her e-mail!! 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tough decisions...

It's 6:00 in the morning.  I had a rough night.  Despite my normal nightly routine of "ice and Advil" ... my shoulder was hurting...not any more than it has been lately - - but everything seemed amplified because my mind was racing all night long and I was worrying myself into a frenzy.  Why?  Well....last Thursday afternoon I met with my orthopedic surgeon to go over my MRI films and get a diagnosis of my "little problem".  At my initial examination, Dr. Kharrazi had been afraid of my having a torn rotator-cuff, as all of my symptoms (lack of ability to raise my left arm being the worst...constant pain being the other...) pointed to that more-than-likely conclusion.

A quick glance at the ghostly-looking black-and-white transparencies hanging on the light box on his examining-room wall told him all he needed to know.  The diagnosis:  "The subject (that's me!) has a 10 mm. full-thickness supraspinatus tendon tear, requiring arthroscopic surgery for repair."

In layman's (and much less poetic) terms....I have a torn rotator cuff.

At first, the doctor's diagnosis was quite a relief.  Actually knowing what is wrong with my shoulder was much better than the fear and anticipation of not knowing.  We discussed the options...and they were (unfortunately) extremely limited.  He told me that this type of full-thickness tear (that means through-and-through - the tendon is completely torn away from the bone) does not heal without surgery...and that if I didn't have it repaired, at 53-years-old, I would be running the risk of "not being able to hold a coffee-cup in my left hand by the time I'm 60."

With the weakness I'm experiencing now, I have no doubt that he is right!

We immediately began looking at the calendar for possible dates.  Dr. Kharrazi's "surgery day" is Friday...and it would take a bit of work on behalf of his staff to get us an operating room quickly.  As it turned out, the earliest date would be May 7th.  Without much thought (that wouldn't occur until this weekend, and in the middle-of-the-night...) - I agreed to begin the process.  I would need to answer a huge questionnaire (mostly about anesthesia) - get a pre-op examination my my regular physician (now scheduled for tomorrow morning)...the surgeon's office would be responsible for contacting the insurance company for approval (this was done and approval granted by Friday morning).  If there was a cancellation (very doubtful!) - they would bump me up to Friday, April 30th.

I had a busy weekend...I was the Deacon of the Mass and preacher at Bill Zuck's Requiem Mass on Saturday....and I repeated those same roles at St. Mary of the Angels on Sunday.  After Mass, Amy Suzzanne and I had to escape the final Open House that our Realtor was holding in a last-ditch effort to try and sell our house before we leave for Hyderabad (there's a whole different level of stress about all of that...for another blog-posting!)

I finally had time to sit and analyze the situation, the calendar, the prospect of surgery, the recovery process and all of the accompanying hassles that go along with having your left arm in a giant abductive pillow sling for three-weeks.  I was going to need to go buy a recliner-chair to sleep in (recommended by every web-site I read!)...get some giant-sized shirts (not the pull-over kind...this will be impossible to wear for at least two-months), some slip-on shoes or the kind with Velcro, some elastic-waistband pants (I won't be able to operate buttons or zippers for over a month)....

Along with just dealing with a "normal" recovery without mind started racing about the travel to India.  I can't imagine that the 24-hour flight will be much fun in my condition... not to mention my complete lack of being able to do anything to help with carrying baggage and getting Beloved the Lhasa Apso squared away and taken care of during the journey.  Then what about when we arrive to start our new lives in Hyderabad?  My responsibilities were supposed to include helping us find a house and get us settled.  Oh, yeah...this is gonna be a $#%&%& hoot, isn't it?  Of course, I'm picturing myself being a complete invalid and totally worthless tub-of-goo at a time when my family needs me the most.

Basically, I think it is safe to say....this is going to suck! 

So....right around bedtime (of course!), Amy and I began a very emotional (but very good!) discussion about all of our possible options.  The scenarios we talked about ran the gamut from: a) My not having the surgery at all, to b) Having the surgery on the schedule we've already set ... praying all the while for no complications and just plowing ahead, despite my anticipated completely worthless condition...or... c) Somehow postponing the surgery to a time after we are settled in Hyderabad, coming back to L.A. when Amy has to be in Las Vegas in September for a Partner/Director meeting, getting the surgery done and doing the recovery and physical therapy here...and returning after I can travel with relative ease.

The questions that arose from any of the above scenarios (and the 20+ other sub-plots that we were thinking about!) were making my head swim!!  Should I get a second opinion?  Was there time?  We  have to buy a recliner ASAP...I'd take care of that...but what about all of the pre-moving prep we still have to do?  What about all of the arrangements for home-care in case Amy has to go on to Hyderabad without me for the first month (an option that, quite frankly, scares me more than the prospect of having the surgery!)

Then came the all-nighter of Internet research, and searching the post-op shoulder surgery videos on YouTube (check out this guy HERE - - oh - doesn't this look fun??) .... I'll spare you a link to some of the videos of the actual shoulder surgeries on YouTube - - you can search those out if you want!  WARNING: Some of the videos you will find are not for the squeamish!!

By midnight, I'm completely freaked-out, of course.  When the light of morning finally came (this is when I do my best thinking) - - I decided that there were two things that will be absolutely necessary to get done today.  I need to talk to Dr. Kharrazi's assistant and get a long list of questions answered about post-op care (and probably a pep-talk!!)  And I need to write an e-mail to Deloitte's ex-pat coordinator in Hyderabad (her name is Geetha) and get some feedback and answers about the availability of quality post-operative orthopedic care over there... and - most importantly (so I have read on the Internet!) - quality physical therapy clinics for the 3-4 times a week I'll need to be doing that!

I just logged-on to Yahoo! and wrote the e-mail to Geetha.  Here it is:

Hello, Geetha...

Suzzanne and I have some serious healthcare choices to make, and they need to be made quite soon, if you could get back to us as soon as possible, it would help us greatly!

I have a recent shoulder injury that will require surgery...and it's looking like I will end up having the surgery here in Los Angeles....and I will then attempt to make the trip as planned and begin the recovery process for the necessary 6-12 weeks in Hyderabad.

An extremely important part of this post-operative rehabilitation process will be regular physical therapy on the shoulder. In addition, regular post-operative examinations will be required by a qualified orthopedic doctor.

I'm sure there are several such clinics nearby, but I do not want to rely on Internet websites for such an important decision.

Our decision on whether to have the surgery now or wait (something I would rather not do) is dependent on knowing whether or not we can find a medical facility where I can get proper shoulder rehabilitation care and physical therapy right there in Hyderabad. Hopefully all at one clinic!

Geetha, would you kindly check into getting us some answers to these important questions. I'm sure there are wonderful clinics around the Hyderabad area....obviously something close to the hotel where we will be staying at first would be the best... And please get back to us as soon as you can.

Thank you so much....

Scott Kingsbury

Now I guess we'll just have to be patient and wait for the answers.

In case you hadn't already guessed.... patience is not typically my "long-suit"!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Happy Sunday! Today is the Feast of St. Mark!

In this morning’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus Himself tells us: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Christ is Risen! Don’t forget - it’s still Eastertide! The Feast of St. Mark almost always falls within Eastertide…except on the rare occasion that Easter Sunday itself falls on April 25th…which last happened in 1943 - and won’t happen again until the year 2038!!

After college and before I came back to the Anglican Church, some of you may know that I was doing some of my studies with the Antiochian Orthodox Church. From the first moment I walked into an Orthodox sanctuary, I was always fascinated by the iconography. It’s really quite stunning, visually…and if you have ever had your senses assaulted by attending any Liturgy in an Orthodox church, you know what I mean! At the Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Los Angeles, which happens to be directly across the street from St. Vincent’s Hospital where I was born, they have an enormous icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary - - of course, they call Her the “Theotokos - the God Bearer” - and she is perhaps ten-times life-size - written on the curved apse of the Sanctuary. For your edification, in the Orthodox tradition, Icons are “written” - they are not “painted”. So, far from being merely imaginative creations of the iconographer, icons are more like scribal copies of the Bible than paintings.

As I would come to learn, most Orthodox Churches also have icons of the four Evangelists…Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John…prominently placed somewhere in the church. If you have never been, do yourself a favor and see the inside of St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church right over here at Pico and Normandie. St. Sophia’s has probably has the most beautiful examples of these icons of the Evangelists. And…in case you have never noticed, right here in the Sanctuary of St. Mary of the Angels, there are four stained-glass windows dedicated to the images of the Four Evangelists….(Point them out)

From what I can tell, there is a definite continuity in the icons that depict St. Mark, the great Evangelist whom we celebrate today. He is usually depicted as a younger man, with curly brown hair and a beard. There is a certain familiarity in the facial features in all of the St. Mark icons I have seen…leaving me to believe that in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition - going back to the very beginning, there was somebody who had an accurate description of what the Evangelist actually looked like. I think that the artist who captured St. Mark in the stained-glass window here in our Sanctuary must have been picturing a middle-aged Mark - - here he is shown as old and bald - probably to give the clergy sitting on the sedilla here some comfort in their old age.

In many of the iconic depictions of Mark, we see a lion. The Lion of St. Mark is a winged lion, the emblem of the evangelist. If you want to see the most famous depiction of the winged lion, look for the bronze statue surmounting a granite column in the Piazzetta at Venice, where the winged lion is holding in its fore paws an open book representing St. Mark's Gospel. The winged lion is also prominent in the stained glass window we have here today…if you have not noticed it, come forward after Mass and look for yourself!

Besides having these traditional “snapshots“, if you will, of St. Mark, what is it that we know about him? We know that he was not numbered among the Twelve Apostles.

There is nothing about the life of St. Mark which connects him particularly to April 25. Putting his feast day on April 25 appears to be another example of how the church in its early years took over pagan festivals that existed already and put a Christian spin on them -- setting Christmas on December 25 is the prime example.

In the ancient world, April 25 was the day on which farming people paraded around their fields and prayed to the pagan god who was in charge of protecting crops from mildew. Over time the church introduced the custom of singing Christian litanies in procession on this day, and later extended the commemoration to include St. Mark. So his day is the relic of a sort of springtime festival whose roots are not unconnected to those of Arbor Day and (dare I mention it) Earth Day (Ugh.)

In any event, the most significant fact about St. Mark himself is that he wrote the second New Testament Gospel. Unlike St. Matthew and St. John, he does not claim to have been an eyewitness to the events he writes about, but, as we can clearly see from reading Scripture, he is a character that plays no minor role later on in the New Testament.

We know that his mother's house is where the believers pray for St. Peter's release from jail in the Book of Acts; Mark goes with St. Paul and St. Barnabas on their missionary journey; and he is an associate of both St. Peter and St. Paul later on in Rome. He is believed to have been the founder of the church in North Africa, and the popes of the Coptic Church of Egypt call themselves "successors to St. Mark". As I mentioned before, the center of his cult in the west is at Venice, where his bones are thought to have been brought in the eighth or ninth century.  St. Mark is claimed by Venice as their Patron Saint.  He is also the Patron Saint of notaries

St. Mark's Gospel is the shortest one of the Four Gospels… and in some ways the most direct. In his account of Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, he writes, "A certain young man, dressed only in a linen cloth, was following Jesus. They tried to arrest him, but he ran away naked, leaving the cloth behind." Some scholars have speculated that that young man may well be St. Mark putting himself into the story -- as sort of a Maundy Thursday "streaker".

St. Mark, the Saint who’s Feast we celebrate today, is given the lofty title: “Evangelist” by the Church. Only himself and Sts. Matthew, Luke and John are given this title. There is unfortunately much confusion about this word today - perpetuated by the media that loves to give labels to people they are too lazy to describe. What does it mean to be an “evangelist”. The word evangelist comes from the Koine Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (transliterated as "e-van-gelion") via the Latin "Evangelium”, and is found only three times in the New Testament. The word has the same root as the word translated 'gospel' or 'good news.' Thus, an evangelist is 'one who tells good news' or 'a proclaimer of the gospel.' Simply speaking, an evangelist is one who publicly proclaims the gospel.

There is unfortunately much made today of the so-called “differences” between so-called “Evangelicals” and “Catholics”. I don’t think there could be any worse differentiation made. I believe that we are all called to be “Evangelists”!

I have been a victim of this purported difference between Catholics and so-called “Evangelicals” (Tell story of the girl at Best Buy - see future blog for a recounting of this painful story!!)

The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that we say that we believe in, is, by nature and by Jesus’ own command, “Evangelical”. Quite frankly, “evangelism“ - the spreading of the Good New is our job…it’s spelled out clearly for us in the Second Office of Instruction, on page 291 in the Book of Common Prayer.

Question. What is your bounden duty as a member of the Church?

Answer. My bounden duty is to follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom.

This is the root of Evangelism…we are bound by our Baptismal vows to “work and pray and give for the spread of God’s Kingdom". The Apostles, and we, by virtue of Apostolic Succession, are given our “marching orders” by none-other-than Jesus Christ Himself, in what has been called The Great Commission. St Matthew records Our Lord’s words in this way, and - I hope these sound familiar:

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” St. Mark’s Gospel records Christ’s words as: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

So…unless you happen to have a note excusing you from this Command, signed by Our Lord Himself….THIS MEANS YOU!!

The Prayer Book's collect for today prays that we will allow ourselves to be instructed by St. Mark's teaching. Allowing ourselves to be come “Evangelists”. The best way to do that is, quite obviously, to study his Gospel. If we are rooted in his teaching we will not be, to quote the collect, "Like children carried away with every blast of vain doctrine."

That imagery is taken from today's epistle, where St. Paul talks about how Jesus parcels out gifts in the church. After we are baptized, we all have gifts. We are supposed to use our gifts not to call attention to ourselves but to help build up the body of the church.

As we work to build up the body, we mature ourselves. St. Paul says we grow up into the image of Jesus -- the Holy Ghost makes us more into what Jesus is in his nature - what St. Paul calls "a perfect man ... the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."

As we grow into Christ, we become more stabilized in what we believe and in what we do. We are no longer so much like children who cannot make up their minds or focus upon any one thing for very long -- who are susceptible to any attractive new idea and any sort of deceptive trickery someone might use to try to get us off the right path.

Flightiness in beliefs and actions and susceptibility to anything new are the prevailing sins of our period of history -- especially in the church. The antidote for that sort of instability is to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” such things as St. Mark's Gospel.

Today's Gospel is taken from what St. John writes about Jesus' long speech at the Last Supper. In it he uses another image for the church -- one that is especially appropriate if we are thinking about growing plants. The Old Testament says repeatedly that the people of God are like a vineyard. God plants it, he tends it and takes care of it, and he tries to make it fruitful, but careless vinedressers tend to let the vineyard go to seed, and wild boars run through it and root up the vines.

Jesus says, "I am the true vine, my father is the pruning gardener, and you my followers are the branches." Since we are merely branches -- offshoots of the vine -- the only way we can bear fruit and stay alive is to remain rooted in the main trunk of the vine. That means we have to stick with Jesus as he reveals himself to us in such places as St. Mark's Gospel. If we get separated from him, we wither away and die just as a branch does if it gets cut off from its trunk.

To push this metaphor a bit farther, the sap of the vine which runs from the trunk into the branches is like the Holy Ghost who connects us to Jesus and gives us his life. We will most certainly experience hardship and trouble in our lives, but that is not a mistake.

Sending us hardships to test us is the way God disciplines us and helps us grow up - just as a gardener will cut branches back so they can, in the end, bear even more fruit.

So we give thanks to God today for the work and the writings of St. Mark the Evangelist. In this Easter season he stands out for us as a steadfast witness to the resurrection of Jesus. "Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept."

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Christ is Risen!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dinner with Natasha

I had dinner with Natasha last night.  Actually, Amy Suzzanne and I had dinner with Natasha and her parents, Vance and Wendy...all three dear friends of ours.  How God brought theses wonderful people into our lives (and we into theirs) is a wonderful story of God's grace and healing power. might be asking yourself, "Who is Natasha?"  Anybody who has known me for any length of time has heard me tell "Natasha's Story".  It was the first true miracle I was ever a part of - and a tale worth telling again and again....

So now you get to hear it, too!!

Natasha’s Story:

According to the certificate that hangs on my office wall, I was Ordained to the Sacred Priesthood on “the 30th day of May, being the Feast of St. Joan of Arc, Virgin, and the Vigil of Pentecost, in the Year of Our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety eight”.

I always figured that, between the “flames of Martyrdom of St. Joan of Arc”, and the “tongues of fire” of the First Pentecost, I was destined to “burn out for Jesus”.

Twelve years later, that fire still burns just as brightly in my heart.

The day after my Ordination, of course, was Whitsunday (Pentecost). I was blessed by the opportunity to be the Deacon of the Mass for our Bishop’s visitation and celebration of Solemn High Mass. My own First Mass as a Priest would not come until the following Tuesday in Whitsun Week. But that first Mass after my Ordination was very special indeed. The Christian fellowship afterwards was warm and wonderful, and both the nave and undercroft at St. Mary of the Angels were packed with worshippers who came from all over the Diocese to offer congratulations and to greet our Bishop.

After Mass, I drove home to my home in Santa Clarita. Needless to say, I was pretty whipped after all of the excitement of the last two days. I was still glowing, but I was exhausted.

I walked in the door and called my future wife, Amy Suzzanne, who had just returned to her home in Pasadena from a local horse show she had been to. I could tell from her voice that there was something wrong.

I asked her what was going on.

She informed me that there had been "a horrific accident at the horse show". That a young thirteen-year-old girl had her horse rear-up in the parking lot of the show-grounds – and she had hit her head, knocked unconscious, and needed to be taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.

“It was just awful,” she told me, adding: “It does not look good.”

I then heard that “still small voice” that I have since learned not to ignore.

“Well, My New Priest – it’s time to go to work.”

I asked Amy what the girl’s name was. She said that she didn’t know the girl all that well, but she knew who her trainer was and what horse “barn” she rode out of.

Amy called me back with Natasha's trainer David's cell-phone number – and I called him immediately. I got him on the first try, and introduced myself. I knew that he was a Jewish fellow, but he seemed genuinely glad that I had called to offer my prayers and support. It was obvious to me that he was still quite in shock himself, as he told me the girl’s name, he was near tears. His voice quivered:

“Her name is Natasha.  She’s been taken to Children’s Hospital.”

And, echoing my fiancé Amy’s comment: “It doesn’t look good”.

I said my Evening Prayer Office….and I especially remembered “Natasha” and all who care for her in my bedtime prayers, and got in between the sheets for some much-needed sleep.

The next morning, on Monday, I found my handwritten scribbles on a scrap piece of paper from the night before. “Natasha – Children’s Hospital - Intensive Care".

I poured a big morning cup of coffee and called the hospital. Of all of the hospitals I had visited as a parish Deacon, “Children’s” (although it’s just a stones-throw from St. Mary of the Angels in Hollywood) was not one of them. The switchboard sent me up to the intensive care ward and they told me that Natasha was still there, and I asked them for the address.

I said some silent prayers as I put on my cassock and collar. It felt very much like putting on football pads and a helmet for the Big Game. Little did I know how much of a Big Game I was going into!! I got in the car, and prayed all the way from Santa Clarita to Children’s Hospital.

I arrived, parked my car in a "Clergy Only" spot (something I had done many times as a parish Deacon) and went up the elevator to the floor where they had Natasha. In the lobby of the intensive care facility, I saw a group of people, standing in a tight circle. Were they praying? Should I interrupt? There was an older couple standing there, another, younger couple, a few teenaged girls that I recognized from the horse shows. Some had definite signs of recent tears marking their young faces.

A man walked out of the circle to greet me.

I introduced myself. It sounded strange to my newly-Ordained ears:

“Hi. I’m Father Kingsbury, Amy Brubaker is my fiancé …I heard about Natasha…and I’ve come to pray and to anoint her with Holy Unction.”

“Thank you for coming, Father. I’m Vance. I’m Natasha’s dad.”

We shook hands. At that moment, I had no idea how much this man and his daughter would come to be such a big part of my life.

I met the rest of the people in “the circle”. The older couple turned out to be Natasha’s grandparents. I met Wendy, Natasha’s mom…and the few of her barn-friends as well.

Vance took me in to see Natasha for the first time.

As I write this, I find it difficult to fight back my own tears as the memory comes flooding back.

There she was. Poor Natasha. She’s lying there, slightly propped-up in a typical intensive care hospital bed. My God, she’s so tiny! The standard IV-drip bottles stood at her bedside…and various medical monitors did their “beeping and booping”. Natasha’s poor little head was all wrapped up, mummy-style, tightly sheathed in gauze and other white wrappings. There were all kinds of wires coming out from the inside of the bandages, too. I could trace the individual wires and could see that they also were hooked-up to another kind of monitor…I guessed that it was some sort of an EEG machine. I could not bring myself to look at the green, glowing lines that appeared on the screen…not that I could interpret anything that I saw…I just had to trust that God was in control of the situation.

We stood there for a minute. Vance told me that when Natasha’s horse (who's name was "Tucker")  reared-up and his metal-shoes slipped on the asphalt and came over on top of her, she had hit her head on one of those telephone poles that are laid lengthwise on the ground used in parking lots as tire-stops. The tie had caught her right below and behind her ear….knocking her unconscious. There was much swelling of the brain and the prognosis was “still too early to tell”. Vance was strong in his faith.

He and his wife Wendy (and Natasha, too...) were members of a large, local Presbyterian Church. As a father, he was being as strong as he could, but – I could tell that it had been a long night of waiting and praying.

He asked if I wanted to be left alone with Natasha. To this day I do not remember answering Vance's question. But all-of-a-sudden I found myself alone in the complete stillness of the hospital room with this young, severely injured child, whom I did not know from any other horse-kid I knew – doing the that God commands us to do:

In his Epistle, Saint James says, "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (Jas. 5:14–15).

But… how? In seminary-training and as a Deacon, I had been trained to do this... and had been present at the anointing of literally dozens of people. And then it hit me: “How on earth do you anoint the forehead of someone whose head is wrapped up like a mummy?” One more thing to add to the list of questions to ask! I was a little scared, to be honest. I didn’t want to touch her poor head. The words Vance had told me were echoing in my head: “She’s got severe swelling of the brain”. What am I supposed to do? I’m brand new at this!! Do I need the doctor’s approval?

I did what I knew I should do: I said the proper Psalms from the Prayer Book Office of Unction of the Sick. Then I took the top off of my shiny new oil-stock with the Oil of the Sick inside of it – freshly poured over a fresh cotton-ball, just the way I was taught. I held my breath for a split second….

“Natasha, (I smeared a little of the Holy Oil on my right thumb, and ever-so-lightly traced the sign of the Cross on her gauze-covered forehead)…I anoint you with this Holy Oil, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; beseeching the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that all thy sickness and suffering of body and spirit being put to flight, the joy of thy health shall be restored unto thee, through the same Christ, our Lord.”

I grabbed her tiny little hands in mine…and gave them a squeeze. The same hands that my Bishop had anointed “for the work of a Priest in God’s Holy Catholic Church” just two days earlier. Feeling completely helpless, but at the same time knowing that God was now fully and Sacramentally working in the situation, I said a few more silent prayers and walked out of the room.

I chatted with the family about medical stuff and prognosis. Wendy was the strong one.  Vance was the quiet, introspective type.  Tohether they make quite a team.  There were hugs all around. I left the hospital, shaken from the whole experience, and made the short drive over to St. Mary’s.

For the next week and a half, I went to Children’s Hospital virtually every day to sit in Natasha’s room and pray for her. I talked to her, too. I knew that somehow, on some level, she could hear me. I told her that “she had many people praying for her. That Amy Brubaker said to say “hi”. That everybody missed her at the horse shows”. Whatever I could think of, I said. I always took her hand, too… and held it and squeezed. I still reflect on the vision of her in that bed – she was such a small, dear little angel. Covered all in white. Her head was still wrapped-up tightly in bandages….the machines flickered and beeped along, keeping their noisy vigil even after I had walked out of the hospital and gone for the day. Several times I thought the unthinkable: “Would Natasha ever walk out these doors?” The thought of her not making it was too horrible of contemplate!

Most days I saw Vance and Wendy at the hospital, too. And Natasha’s grandparents were usually there as well. Most of the time, it was just Natasha’s dad and me. I got to know Vance quite well, sitting in the upstairs waiting area and talking about God, horses, his business, Wendy’s business, Natasha, of course (their only child), and his favorite pastime – a game sort of like Bocce called “Petanque”. Vance was a man of great faith…but – beneath it all, I knew that he was scared. We all were. A few weeks went by, and dear, sweet Natasha was still in what was being described to me as "a deep coma".

One Sunday, our Rector preached a sermon. I sat on the sedilla as the Deacon of the Mass, listening to every word. In the homily, Father said that “the Holy Eucharist (the Mass) is what the Church does. It is what she does when she celebrates, it’s what she does when she is in mourning; when she is joyous, or when she is in profound sadness…we are called to “DO THIS”…”

The still-small-voice returned again:

“Well, "Father" - "Mister Priest" – what are YOU gonna DO?”

Of course, I knew exactly what was meant by the question.

Unfortunately, I had not thought of this until that very moment! "What in the world was wrong with you?? How come you have not done a Healing Mass for Natasha??"

"Some Priest YOU turned out to be!!" (That was the enemy talking!)

The next day, I got to work. I made up some special flyers on purple paper: “Healing Mass for Natasha  – Wednesday at 12:00 Noon – St. Mary of the Angels Anglican Church”. I put on the flyer the church address and my cell-phone number.

I printed up a few dozen of them and went out about town, putting the flyers up at all of the local horse-barns and spreading the word as best I could on such short-notice. I had hoped to take up a collection and give the money to the the family to help with Natasha’s medical costs.

“How many people would come? Hundreds? Thousands? Would the church be packed? Would we collect multiple thousands of dollars to help pay the bills?”

Wednesday Noon came. As usual, I arrived at St. Mary’s early…I had only been a Priest for a little less than a month or so…so I needed the extra time to properly mark the Altar Missal for the “Mass for Healing”, and to make sure there were plenty of people’s Hosts, wine and water in the cruets, and all of the other things I would need to make sure all went well.

In the Sacristy, I vested for the Mass in my amice, alb and cincture, and laid out for myself the old purple Low Mass vestments – the one with the big white Cross on the back of the chasuble. My mind wandered back to recall all of the holy men of God who had worn that same chasuble, stole and maniple…and all of the uncountable Mass intentions that had been remembered at the Altar of God here in this holy sanctuary.

Just before beginning the Mass, I silently read the calligraphy sign that had been given to me by my Bishop on the day of my Ordination (which we had framed and placed just outside of the Sanctuary hallway door):

“Priest of God,
Say this Mass
As if it was your First Mass…
as if it was your Last Mass…
as if it was your Only Mass.”

I rounded the doorway, rang the bell, glanced into the Nave…and I was clearly disappointed.

The “thousands of people” that I had envisioned in my mind’s-eye had not yet arrived. Sitting in the pews were Wendy, Vance….also both of Natasha’s grandparents, my fiancé Amy … and a few of Natasha’s horse-friends.

But, as I was taught in Sacramental Theology 101, Our Lord is Truly Present at the Eucharist whether there are two people… or two-thousand people!

I began praying the Mass. The Epistle Lesson was from St. James – the passage about Holy Unction and the anointing of the sick. The Gospel Lesson was from St. Matthew – the story of Jesus and the Roman Centurion….including the Centurion’s words: “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.”

The time came for the Offertory Prayers. I made one last glance at the nave, and made a quick count for the number of Hosts I would need for the Holy Communion. It didn’t take me very long….

“One, two, three…” There were seven, maybe eight, people in attendance. I forget.

I placed the Hosts on my still-shiny silver paten (which matches my Chalice given to me as an Ordination present – the one I still use at every Mass!) and made the first Offering prayer:

“Receive, Holy Father, Almighty and everlasting God, this spotless Host…which I, thine unworthy servant do offer unto Thee….”

Then….it happened. I still don’t know how to describe it…but I’ll tell you what I saw. It was a vision. As clear as a digital photograph. A virtual picture in my mind’s-eye. A “spiritual snap-shot”, if you will.

Now, you have to remember, that I had never seen Natasha anywhere but lying, completely still, in her hospital bed. The only times I had seen her – she was laying flat on her back, in a hospital-gown under the covers. Because of the thick head-bandages she had been wearing since I first saw her on that first Monday, I had no idea what color hair she even had!!

The vision I had was this: There was a slender girl….a very pretty one, too, with a huge smile. She’s wearing a long, formal dress…sort of like what a girl would wear to the prom or to a wedding. She was standing, with long, brown, slightly curly hair cascading down over her shoulders. And she’s standing there…actually, right here…in the Narthex of St. Mary of the Angels Church.

When I turned around to offer my Mass intentions to the congregation, I half-expected to see this girl standing there in the back of the church. It dawned on me….that the girl in my vision was Natasha!!

I told everybody that “the Mass is what we are called to do at times like this”. I echoed our Rector’s sermon, verbatim… “This is what the Church does…” I told them that I believed in the efficacy of this Holy Sacrament…and that “I know, in my heart, that Natasha will be O.K.” I cherished the special vision throughout the rest of the Mass…I prayed hard…really hard, for her complete healing. I knew that she was still laying in a coma, less that a mile away…but still I knew that God was in control!

When we finished the Mass, I prayerfully took off my vestments in the sacristy… and walked out to visit with the people who stayed around.

There was Vance, Wendy, my Amy, Natasha's grandma and grandpa…

We all hugged, as we always did…they all thanked me. We collected a whole twenty-three dollars in the plate that I had put out on the Communion rail. As Natasha’s stay at Children’s Hospital was probably running (no doubt) in the multiple-thousands of dollars per day, I doubted if this meager amount would even buy a single plastic IV tube!

Wendy had to get back to work and left after one more hug (she’s an excellent “hugger”!) Vance then asked me “if I was going over to the hospital?” I told him that I was sorry, but Amy and I were going to take the rare opportunity to go out and have lunch together. I’d be sure to come by “tomorrow afternoon”, as usual – and that I’d see him there.

Amy and I drove to a local eatery and had our lunch. Despite my obvious disappointment, she gave me encouragement about even the small number of people who ended up coming to the Healing Mass. Leave it to my future-wife and better-half, (who will admit to being no profound theologian by any stretch of the imagination!) to remind me that “the Mass was the thing.” Amen!

When I arrived at home later that afternoon, there was a message waiting for me on my answering-machine at home. (These were the days before I carried a Blackberry everywhere I went!)

I dialed the code…and listened (I can still hear these words as if it just happened!):

“You have one message…First new message:

“Father Scott!! …it’s Vance!! NATASHA IS AWAKE!! I walked into the intensive care area and the nurses were all smiling at me. I walked into her room and her eyes opened…and she whispered “HI, DADDY!”

Vance’s voice was understandably cracking. I can barely keep the lump from forming in my throat as I remember the moment …. and even still as I write this memoir today, twelve years later!! I called him right back!

“Oh, Vance!! Praise God!” I said… “When did she wake up?”

I should have known the answer, silly me!

“Right about Noon.”

Yeah. “Right about Noon”, indeed.

The next day, I straight-away drove down to Children’s Hospital to see the miracle for myself. Natasha was awake…although understandably a little groggy when I came in….she squinted her eyes and asked me who I was. I told her I was “Father Scott – Amy Brubaker’s fiancé”. The first several weeks after her miracle – Natasha’s brain-functions were not quite normal. She made the cutest, funniest little face as the little wheels in her head were turning. I think it registered – that I was a Priest…and who “Amy” was.

I visited her quite often in the coming weeks…we had great visits. We talked quite a bit. She even asked me once about married Priests and about my sex-life. I laughed out loud at her question and told her that “it was none of her business!” Then I saw that smile. That famous Natasha smile I’ve come to expect when I see her! She was on her way back!! Her head was still bandaged….but she was most certainly healed!!

After many more months of cognitive therapy, Natasha’s miracle was complete. She finished high school, and graduated from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California. She has a great job in public relations and is just a joy to behold! I thank God often for her healing and for allowing me some small part in the process of her miracle.

The story does not end there. The “Post Script”?  I cannot forget that. This part is very important.

On October 17th 1998, almost five months from the date of my Ordination and Natasha’s accident, Amy Francis Brubaker (her Confirmation name, from “St. Francis” – and for Amy’s love of all furry creatures, both great and small!) and I were joined in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. I took off my cassock and put on a tuxedo for the occasion…and stood in the same Sanctuary where I had been made a Deacon, proposed to Amy, Ordained a Priest, and celebrated the “Mass for the Sick” for Natasha. A very special place, indeed. There my best friend became my wife.

Before the Nuptial Mass began….I was nervously greeting some of our guests in the Church. I glanced toward the Narthex.

There, standing in the very same place I had seen in my vision, surrounded by the afternoon sunlight coming though the Narthex door….and wearing a long, formal dress…and with all this long, curly brown hair pouring over her shoulders….was Natasha!!

The vision I had experienced from the Altar was now complete. I told Natasha not to move. I grabbed the photographer and had him take our picture.

You would not believe how much both of us were smiling!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thursday Spiritual Musings...

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad

"Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One"  The Old Testament - Deuteronomy Chapter 6 Verse 4

ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥

Ik­oaʼnkār saṯ nām karṯā purakẖ nirbẖa­o nirvair akāl mūraṯ ajūnī saibẖaʼn gur parsāḏ.

"One Universal Creator God. The Name Is Truth. Creative Being Personified. No Fear. No Hatred. Image Of The Undying, Beyond Birth, Self-Existent. By Guru's Grace"  The Mool Mantra - the first words of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Scripture)

ἀπεκρίθη ὁ Ἰησοὺς ὅτι πρώτη ἐστιν· ἄκουε, Ἰσραήλ, κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν,

"And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord..." Gospel of St. Mark Chapter 12 Verse 29. 

Πιστεύω είς ενα Θεόν, Πατέρα, παντοκράτορα, ποιητήν ουρανού καί γής, ορατών τε πάντων καί αοράτων.

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.

"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible."  The Nicene Creed - 325 A.D.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Talkin' them guitar blues...

To be perfectly honest...I have never been much of a musician.  Not in the true sense of the word.  I guess that kind of talent must skip a generation every so often.  My great-grandfather (Col. Elmer J. Kingsbury) played the coronet (which is sort of a small trumpet used in marching and other bands...he actually had his own band up in Skagway, Alaska back in the early 1900's - - when Skagway was still a part of something called the "Yukon Territory") 

I know that The Colonel also played the mandolin...I know this because I had his old Gibson round-back restrung when I was in college.  The wood must have been pretty old and dry becuse it sort of de-laminated and exploded in my lap while I was sitting and playing the only three mandolin chords I ever knew!! 

My Grandpa, (Orval Harley Kingsbury) ... well...he played the tenor banjo.  Not the "pickin' kind" ...the "strummin' kind"   Both of them were true music lovers...both of them were true musicians!

My father...???  Well.... not so much!!  When I was just a little nipper, I clearly remember Dad wanting to learn how to play the bagpipes.  This was all quite acceptable when he was just beginning to learn how to blow and finger the "chanter".  But when he got the whole set of bagpipes?  Let's just say that ol' Mom put a stop to his career as a piper!!  Mom was actually a fan of the bagpipes. For her Requiem Mass, I even had Eric Rigler play the processional dirge and "Amazing Grace" at the end.  This is a story all in itself, but I digress.  She said that dad's playing sounded like "somebody had stepped on a cat"!!

That reminds me of the old joke:

 Q. What's the definition of a gentleman?

A. Someone who knows how to play the bagpipes ... and doesn't!

As for me...except for the time I spent playing in a "home-church praise-band" during the 1980's (and the 3-4 times actually took the "stage" with the Sunday Worship Team at a church I attended for a time!) - - I could never exactly call myself a "guitar player".  Oh - - I'm sure thay my Amy Suzzanne still thinks I can play the guitar.  When we were first going-out, I used to impress her by writing and playing little songs about her horses.  One night, just fooling around with my guitar, I actually put one of her poems ("She Rides Wild Horses") to a simple set of chords.... and it made her cry.  My greatest work?? (which probably sealed-the-deal and got her to marry me!!)...  I re-wrote her favorite folk song, "Puff the Magic Dragon".  She had always thought that the original version was "just too sad" .  So, just for Amy, I added a final verse - one that had Puff going to night-school, graduating from USC and going on to teach kindergartners to read and write!

Why am I thinking about these things today?

I sold my guitar on Craigslist!

Yep.  Actually.... I sold my old Appalacian dulcimer on Craigslist.  But when this young (and quite destitute) musician came over to buy it...I felt moved to sell him my guitar, too.  He was beyond happy (it was a Yamaha D-250 that just needed strings!)...and I had one-less-thing to worry about packing!!

I've always loved thinking that I could actually play the guitar.  I may have not been able to play a lick (oh, sure...I knew the 5-to-7 chords one needed to play some basic Bob Dylan songs .... and those terribly repetitive "praise and worship" songs so popular with our Protestant brethren...although I could never properly master the F-chord!) - but I have always loved music.  Looking back over my life, there has always been a soundtrack to the different phases of my life.

To quote Joan Jett... "I love Rock n' Roll!"  (That song is pretty dated, isn't it??  ...since when can you get a jukebox to play a song for a dime!!??)  Grand Funk, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, The Who, Alice Cooper, T. Rex (my second concert ever...with Mary Ann Knox!  Hi, Mary Ann!), David Bowie, Humble Pie, Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople...if you can name 'em, I saw 'em!  The 1970's were rich...and a wonderful time to grow up and go to concerts!

My brain has been flooded with these musical memories lately  So, today...I was out doing my errands in a rental car that has Sirrius Satillite Radio.  I've never had satillite radio before.  On the "dial" I found a station dedicated 100% to The Grateful Dead!!   Far out, man!!  While I was driving into West Hollywood from Pasadena... I heard a live version of Jerry Garcia's "Sugaree" .  A twenty-minute live, rambling version of "Bird Song" .  And one of my favorite Dead tunes: "Maybe It Was The Roses"  Songs like these made up the soundtrack for much of my formative years, thanks to a real brother and good friend, Steven John Wolff, (may he rest in peace!)

I don't want to sound like some sort of a burned-out Deadhead here - - but - man...Jerry Garcia was just freaking amazing!!  He was beyond incredible!!  It is true what they always say: "There is NOTHING like a Grateful Dead Concert!"  The way Jerry played always gave me visions of water casually running down-stream...smooth... bubbling...effortless - counting on the force of gravity to just..."flow".  Steven used to say that Garcia would sometimes actually miss a note... "...but Jerry always found a way to put one in that sounded even better !!"

He was a REAL guitar player!!  I'm glad we'll have this rental car until we leave...I may start wearing tie-dye again!

The soundtrack for my "preparing for India" mode has been as eclectic as my musical tastes have always been.  A little Ravi Shankar (he turned 90 this month, old do you feel now?), a little of his daughter, Anoushka Shankar , some Gregorian Chant, The Allman Brothers' Eat a Peach album...

And, lately - and probably most of all - some hauntingly beautiful Sikh kirtan (chanting) by Snatam Kaur .  What can I say about Snatam, except that I think she may just be an angel, in the truest sense of the word... "a messenger sent from God"  Her grace, her peaceful countenance, her devotion to God and her music... all just seem to glow from off of her face and flow from her voice!  I have virtually all of her CD's (now conveniently loaded onto my very first iPod for travel to India!)

In the latter weeks of Lent this year...I attended one of her concerts.  On a Sunday...after Mass!  It was in a perfect theater venue in Westwood.  I had a great seat... right near the front.  Accompanying her was another REAL guitar player named GuruGanesha Singh - a true heir to the playing styles of Jerry Garcia himself.  I could actually see the same flowing water in my mind's eye when he played... I think that GuruGanesha may even have effortlessly slipped in a few notes better than he intended, too!!  He's amazing, and his playing perfectly compliments Snatam's devotional chants!  There was a tabla player/percussionist with them...I didn't catch his name, but his playing was tight!!

This Friday...I hope to be able to attend a house-concert featuring a dear friend (and another REAL guitar player!) Willow Hale .  I've been her fan as well as her friend for many, many years.

I'd love to thank all of the people who have added to this soundtrack of my life....but I've rambled on far too long.  But you all know who you are!

Monday, April 19, 2010

This was hard for her to write....

I had to help with the text.  This was very emotional for Amy Suzzanne.  But it's perfect.

The text says:

It is with the heaviest of hearts that we say goodbye. My husband, Scott, our baby girl, Beloved and I embark on the next chapter of our lives in Hyderabad, India. We will miss you and look forward to seeing you down the road.

So very many to thank:

Each person who shared an encouraging word.

Each member of show management who made accommodations.

Each coach who believed in me.

Each owner who shared a horse with me.

But most of all, thank you to each precious horse. Our time together may have been short, but so very treasured.

Thank you all. It has been such a wonderful ride. was sooooo scary!

The way I have it figured, if you're going to have a might as well use it as a place to be completely honest.  It has always seemed to me that we wear many masks in the course of our lives...some we create, some that are given to us...some that we wear comfortably, and some that are forced on us, like Hannibal Lechter's. 

Shakespeare said "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players." In the most direct manner, this famous line from "As You Like It" simply means that we are all actors...we all have different roles that we play throughout the course of our lives. Of course, we like to think we are independent, and that we actually choose how we act, but in reality, we are acting according to scripted roles. As much as we may hate to admit it (and I know that I don't like it one bit!) - this practice makes us all...yes, hypocrites.  As a matter of fact, the word for "actor" is "hypocrite" in the Greek language. It means ‘the person who wears a mask’ (or, "a cover on his face"). In the orginal Greek plays, actors pretended to be someone else by putting on a mask.  Wearing a mask is what it meant to "be a hypocrite". Well... literally it meant “one who speaks from under a mask.” Greek actors wore masks to portray a character.

We all do's part of being human.  We may not like it, but often we are hypocrites.  As a Christian, I think that I probably bristle at the term because Jesus used the same word to describe the dreaded Pharisees (the ultimate "black hats" throughout the Gospel narrative.

Perhaps, at various time in our lives, the playing of roles is not necessarily a bad thing.  It sometimes is necessary, depending on the situation.  Examples:  To some people, I am their Priest, to others, I am their friend, to others I'm a teacher, to Amy, I'm her husband.  Sometimes the lines between these roles gets blurred. I honestly attempt to keep the Priest and the Friends catagory somewhat seperate, because, when someone finds themselves in a life or death situation and I'm called to the hospital in the middle of the night...I'm going to be in my cassock and collar, with Sacraments in hand... with a job to do.  At that moment, when the chips are dowm...the people in my cure need their "Priest"...not their "buddy" or their "pal"!

I think the most obvious "role" that I have been called to is as "a man".  The male of the species.  Most of this, of course, is due to genetics and hormonal (that old "Y" chromosone, too!) since before birth...and, although I believe that I was born with a certain amount  more sensitivity than some of my more "Alpha Male" counterparts...I have been conditioned to play the "man" role.

You've all heard it:  "Real men don't cry".  "Real men don't get scared".

Which is why I need to come clean about my "open" MRI the other afternoon.  My long-time friend and someone who I always call "my second-favorite Amy" - Amy Pease Scarpa - talked at length about this on Sunday morning (on an overseas call from Venice, Italy, where she lives!)  She has had a similar thing happen, and - - you can only truly understand if this kind of thing has ever happened to you.

You see, both Amy Scarpa and I are claustrophobic.  Properly defined, claustrophobia (from Latin claustrum "a shut in place" and Greek φόβος, phóbos, "fear") is the fear of having no escape and being closed in.  It's hard to admit your fears.  Amy told me that it took her over a year to even talk about her MRI experience.

It's very hard to describe, this malady...except to say that it's instantaneous and uncontrolable.  When the feeling of panic starts, there is just no stopping it.  It's extremely emotional and very frustrating, because it's one of the few things I have ever experienced in my life that I have absolutely no control over!

Per my own most vocal request to my doctor...I went to the so-called "open" MRI place here in Pasadena...and - - to look at their sure didn't look like it was going to cause me a problem.  I was indeed, "open" - - at least compared to the old "tunnel" type.  The technician had to put in the thinner pads, because the "ceiling" of the unit was right down on my chest.

I got up on the table....the very nice lady made sure that I was comfortable, propped my bad shoulder up with some foam and a rolled-up towel for my wrist... and then she placed this heavy metal "donut" on my shoulder... She calmly announced: "Ready??"

I said "Yeah...sure..."  She smoothly slid the table apparatus under the big magnet-filled ceiling...and - - then it happened.  I could see that the ceiling of the thing was right above my nose, and my whole upper-body was trapped.  I heard this loud "click" (or was it more of a "clunk"?) as the table locked into place.  I said, "Wait a minute, hold on..." I reached up and out to the right and grasped the outside of the machine above me...and I tried to pull myself out.  No dice.  The table was locked and I could not move.

This is where the "uncontrolable" and "panic" parts begin.  I said, very loudly:  "NO, NO, NO!!  Get me!!  She was right there and very reassuring...  "OK, hang on, I got ya!"  She unlocked the mechanism and slid me back out...and I sat up and just began to sob, completely out of control!  I couldn't catch my breath (part of the "phobia" in "claustrophobia" is the fear of not being able to breathe!)  I sobbed "I'm so sorry...I can't control just happens so quickly...I don't think I can do this..."

She offered to call my doctor and see if I could get some sedatives and come back.  I looked back at the machine and tried to breath slowly.

Then...she asked the $64,000.00 question:  "Do you think a blindfold would help?"

Obviously, this is something that they have tried before with some success.  I said I would be willing to try, just one more time.

On went the blindfold, and back in I went!  There can be no doubt...I still knew where I was...but - because I could not actually SEE where I was...I could be anywhere I wanted to be in my mind's eye!  I definitely heard the click...and perhaps my heart skipped a beat when I heard it...but we began the test.

I told the technician to move the step-ladder we used to get me up on the table right next to me...I just needed to grab onto something "on the outside".  I used the fingers on my right hand, gripping the rail on the ladder, to keep my place as I said the Rosary in my head.  I also pictured my Amy (my first-favorite one!), our Beloved, scenes in the mountains, pine trees, granite snow-capped Sierra mountains and gentle streams...

It was just like being on a nature hike.  Well....maybe a "nature hike" with a jack-hammer being used right next to my head!!  One thing that hasn't changed is that the MRI machines are still really LOUD!!

I hiked, I threw Beloved the ball...I made-believe that the step-ladder handle was Amy's hand...and I prayed the Rosary all the way through (it takes me about 20-minutes, I guess the whole test took about a half-an-hour.)

When it was all over, I left the blindfold in place until I was all the way out...and sat up.  I thanked the technician for her patiance, her kindness and her understanding (afterwards, she told me that she is claustrophobic, too - - and really understands!!)

I got my films immediately to show to my doctor on Thursday.  I have no clue how to read these magnetic pictures...but I'll know a lot more about potential arthroscopic surgery when I see him in a few days.  And if he determines that I will need to have my rotator-cuff repaired, well...we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Just don't make me go back in that bloody machine!!!

Friday, April 16, 2010

M.R.I. today...

Well...I have seen the doctor.  And - to borrow a great line from Sir John Gielgud as Hobson the Butler in "Arthur"..."And he has seen me."

My appointment was actually yesterday afternoon...and I really like my new orthopedist.  Nice guy...younger than I am (what doctors aren't nowadays?  I always end up seeing some guy that looks like "Doogie Howser" when I go to the Urgent Care here in Pasadena!)....Harvard-trained and California Board Certified in orthopedics and surgery....

I knew more than he did on one subject, however.  He had never heard of Hyderabad!!  After my exam, I stood over his shoulder as I had him Googling "Hyderabad" and "Golconda Fort" and "Nizam Hospital"...he was amazed!!  He also searched for information on the use of arthroscopic surgery technigues in the Hyderabad area.

Back to the exam.  I told him that it had been exactly one week since I fell and hurt my shoulder.  I told him that I was much-improved and that, with some pain, I was at least able to lift my left arm...albeit with a bit of difficulty.  He had me move my arm for him in several contorted ways.  One that was a little bothersome was putting my left hand flat on top of my head.  I think my noticible wince was what cause him to go "Hmmmmm." 

I was anxious to show him how I could lift my arm forward and to the side.  Little did I know what was coming next.

He said, "Hold your arm out straight for me...yes...just like that."  He then proceeded to push DOWN on my outstretched arm and said, "Now....fight against me..."

OWWWWWW!  #%$#%&$#er - that hurt!!!!

"Yes, you see...that was what I was afraid of.  I'm afraid that you may have torn your rotator-cuff."

He said there was only one way to see and be sure...and that was for me to get an M.R.I. as soon as possible.  I told him that it would indeed have to be soon...because we are scheduled to leave for India in just eleven days!!

He then explained to me the procedure if the M.R.I. did, in fact, show that my rotator-cuff was torn.  He said that it was done arthroscopically and the tear would be sewed up.  I asked about recovery time (4-6 weeks!!)...and - - thinking ahead, we decided that if it was necessary, I would have the surgery when we get BACK from our two-week "look-see" trip to Hyderabad.

I then asked him what would be the danger if I DIDN'T have the procedure and the cuff was indeed torn.

He said that at the age of 53, if it could actually heal, (yes, that would be a possibility) might not heal correctly...and then at the age of 60, "You wouldn't be able to lift a coffee cup!"  Shoulders are evidently nothing to mess around with. about four-hours 1:45 P.M. today...I'll be getting the second M.R.I. of my life.  Being claustrophobic caused me to abort that first procedure after about 30-seconds, when I screamed "Get me out of this &%$#%$@ thing - - NOW!!"....  I thought they were going to have to hire an an anesthesiologist for that one!!  They gave me two yellow 10 mg. Valium tablets to take, and told me then to come back in a couple of hours and we'd try it again.  When I got back, I was pretty relaxed....SO relaxed, in fact, that they could have told me that they were putting me into a wood-chipper, I would have said "Okee Dokie!!"

I guess that M.R.I.'s are a little different nowadays.  I'm getting an "open" one - - and it's at a place right here in Pasadena.  I hope the results are negative for a tear.  I'd really rather not start our new lives in India recovering from shoulder surgery, no matter how minor of a procedure it is.

If I was to make a wager, I'd say that I really don't think it is torn!  I am so much better than I was a week ago!!!  But it is what it is and what it will be. come I keep seeing Tommy John warming up in the bullpen snd grabbing his glove to come into the game for a save!?!?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"The Ides of April are upon us..."

The "Ides of March" (March 15th) is historically and traditionally the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated by his friend, Marcus Junius Brutus ... Oh...and at least 23 of the 60 co-conspiritors that sought to murder him. 

From 1918-on, our "Tax Day" was also on March the yearly "Ides of March" a doubly-ominous meaning.  The day that our U.S. Income Taxes are due was officially changed to April 15th in 1955 - - before I was even born.  Everybody knows what happens on April 15th now...both old and young alike.  Most of the people that I know dread this day of "necessary evil".

But nobody actually calls today "The Ides of April" (except me, maybe).  In addition, unlike "most Americans", I do not dread April 15th.  Not in the least.  I actually look forward to it.  Around here, and at our house, today has a much more profound meaning.  Here I like to call it: "The Day I Get My Wife Back"!!

Counting the year we were dating, this is the thirteenth "Busy Season" I've been through with Amy.  The first year (1997)... I was actually shocked at the amount of time that was necessary for her to put in at the office to get her job done.  I remember thinking that she must have some sort of super-human level of strength that mortal men do not possess.  This is actually somewhat true.  I still say that my wife - God bless her, just like the old Army commercial - can "Do more before 9:00 in the morning than most people do all day!"  Seriously...I've witnessed it for over a decade...when she puts her mind to it, she can get more done in one average hour than I can complete in ten. takes me an hour to even get organized enough to tackle some of the things she manages to do!!

For the first several years of our marriage, I used to think "Oh, come ON!!  Nobody stays at the office until 3:00 A.M.!!"  But anybody who actually knows a CPA with a tax-practice, has seen first-hand that there's not a whole lot of time for family or recreation after April Fools Day!

I'm not sure what it is with me...perhaps it's some sort of "male-pattern amnesia" - - but every year I forget how unbelievably BUSY "Busy Season" actually is.  And, perhaps it's because I miss her so much while she's in the middle of it, but, every year I swear it gets worse!!  Without fail, when "we" get to the end of it...every single year I say that "THIS was the worst one ever!!"

Honestly, A. Suzzanne does not say that.  Ever.  Maybe it's superstition, like not changing your socks when you're on a winning-streak in baseball - or like not stepping on the base-line when you're going out to pitch. Or, not mentioning a no-hitter in progress until after the seventh-inning stretch. She just shrugs her shoulders, smiles and shakes her head, knowing that next year (and the year after) will bring more of the same.  Every Busy Season is brutal for people in her line of work.  I will say that the usual "3:00 A.M." quitting-time became closer to "4:00 A.M." in 2010.  And this year added a new twist....(don't tell her I posted this!)...she actually fell asleep under her desk last night...caught herself a quick cat-nap - she woke-up when I called her to check up on her...finished all she could - and got home a little after 5:00 A.M.

"Finishing all she could" also meant the "Annual Ritual of Polishing Her Desk".  She probably hadn't seen the top of her desk since The Ides of March.

I'm letting her sleep-in right now.  She looks sort of peaceful, lying there.

But, hey...I imagine Julius Caesar must have looked about the same when ol' Brutus was finished with him, too!

With apologies to my Jewish friends for borrowing the last line from their Passover Seder:

"Next Hyderabad!!"