What John Built

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June 5, 2021- The man in full sat in a lawn chair, next to his wife of 46 years, and enjoyed being surrounded by their seven children and twenty-three grandchildren. This was the type of family gathering to which he, and the other forty-seven of his maternal grandmother’s “babies”, had grown accustomed.

He grew into manhood by becoming a diver in the United States Army, which included service in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. One sultry afternoon, he paid a call on one of his cousins, who was also stationed in Vietnam, showing that there were still means for soldiers and family members to find one another-even in a war zone.

In civilian life, he distinguished himself by earning his degree in Business Administration, and using it in a variety of ways- serving as a civic administrator in six communities, across his adopted state of Maine and building his own contracting business, all of which kept home and hearth in good stead, as his seven children grew into adulthood.

He was the second born of seven, and kept his siblings close, especially in the dark days of 2006, when four family members passed on, within months of one another. He kept some of his cousins close, too, even as our lives diverged. When I was tossed out of my apartment, under what turned out to be false pretenses, in February, 1977, I had a place to sleep for a few days, until the next more permanent residence presented itself. He and his wife kept my excess possessions for a year, when it was time for me to move, of a sudden, from Maine to Arizona.

That was who John Edward Madigan, Jr., one of my closest paternal cousins, was. He built a solid family, alongside his darling Mary; built much of the house in which they raised their family; built trust and confidence, even among those with whom he disagreed, socially and politically; built a successful contracting business, from scratch. He even began to build a place for himself in the Maine State Legislature, before cancer and COVID-19 muddied the political waters.

The greatest thing John built, though, was his heart. He seldom, if ever, missed a child’s or grandchild’s special event, whether religious, athletic, scholastic or any of the once-in-a-lifetime keepsakes. There is no life he touched that wasn’t the better for his having been there. When, on June 2, 2021, he went to be with his Lord, and to rejoin his parents, brother, sister-in-law and nephew who preceded him in death, John would surely have entered their presence with his shining eyes and mischievous grin.

John built a palace of love.

No Stones Unturned

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April 24, 2020-

“To whom much is given, much is expected.”  I have heard this since childhood, and know that it has applied to me, more often than not.  It has given rise to two key aspects of my personality:  Owning my mistakes and never walking away from a fight.

The first has led me to admit, readily, when I’m wrong, even if it has meant the loss of a job.  That admission has then propelled me to look into WHERE I went wrong and to investigate further into the issue at hand.  When called out, I have to recognize where the critic is correct, but also not take either the information that is being challenged or the critic’s position at face value.  It has quite often ended up with the silver lining of the truth being uncovered.  As ‘Abdu’l-Baha once wrote:  “The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.”

Standing up to someone who is more aggressive has been ingrained in me, since childhood.  I did walk away, once, from a beat down, when I was in VietNam. That was a matter of not walking into something that would have been detrimental to both me and the individual who was seeking the confrontation.  I would have suffered possible head injuries and he, being on thin ice with the military brass, would have looked at a long stretch in Leavenworth.  He eventually realized that, after a period of harping on my refusal to engage in a bare-knuckled fist fight.

That was an anomaly.  What was consistent is that I didn’t run away crying.  I never have.  Back in Saugus, that would only have brought more trouble down on my head.  Life since then has been much the same.  I’ve had a lot of positive experiences in life, because of  being willing to stand up to aggression. In the process, also, many innocents have been spared-especially when helping abused children speak truth to power.

I think about these tonight, in working to get to the bottom of  some rather deep controversies being sparked by the words of our president-and of some of his critics.  Both sides are tossing brickbats.  I will get hit by some of those, but have no choice other than to go about finding the truth.

How Far?

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March 2, 2020-

Chris Matthews retired as host of the news show, “Hardball”, with this evening’s broadcast. He’s not someone I have watched very much, if at all.  Talking over one’s guests isn’t something that would have gone over well, when I was growing up.

He comes to mind for a different reason, though. One of the things he is reported to have said this evening, is that he was sorry for constantly telling the women on his program that they were beautiful.

It took  many years, but a former student of mine pointed out, a bit sarcastically, that this is not the first thing a woman, or a girl for that matter, wants to hear about herself, first.  I began, at that point, to think more of the actual skills the person has, and of how to compliment those.  Beauty is not a skill, so however attractive I might find someone, the sensible thing is to focus on what can keep her in the loop, can help her grow.

We might think, in this month that celebrates Women’s History, of just how far we have come, as a species, in the area of gender relations.  My grandparents’ generation would have been mortified, had women gone out on the street in slacks, less-than-full length skirts or, God-forbid, shorts.  Women rarely drove cars.

My parents’ generation saw women exercising more options, when it came to dress, and certainly most women drove cars.  Working outside the home was one area on which progress was a bit lacking-other than teachers, secretaries, cashiers and nurses.

There was a lot of  “break-out”, both socially and vocationally, with my generation.  The Women’s Liberation Movement took me aback, when I got home from Vietnam, in 1971, though it might not have. Young Vietnamese girls were telling us that they heard “Mi “(American) girls were thinking more for themselves, and therefore they, the Vietnamese, expected to do the same. There was an incident where a girl told me I was not her type.  The other guys at the table about fell out of their seats.  I left her alone; then again, I did that routinely in the States, so it was nothing new, for me. For a girl in southeast Asia, though, it was a big step forward.

When women started opening doors for men, letting us board buses first and talking fiercely about not wanting to be on a pedestal, it began to sink in that this Movement was resulting in lasting change, however maudlin it appeared.  It was the beginning of the end for “Prince Charming”, who actually ended up being a villain in one of the more contemporary Disney films.

That has suited me just fine.  I was married to a woman who eclipsed me, intellectually, and, since her passing, have preferred the company of women friends who have clear goals, and make no excuses for their dreams and their drive-in fact, who make no excuses for anything in their lives.

While there is much to be done, as yet, I would answer the question, “How far have we come, in the area of gender relations?”, by saying how proud I am to be in the company of so many who are sure of themselves and can be persistent, with no fear of being pushed back into the corner.

 

Valentine

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February 14, 2018, Prescott- 

While there were many Roman Catholic holy men named Valentine (from the Latin valens (worthy, strong, powerful), the one most commonly associated with this day of celebrating romance, and. more recently, other forms of love was a Roman priest of the Third Century, who gave his life in witness to the Faith of Jesus the Christ.

It’s said that the most powerful love is indeed that which is given in sacrifice.  We all know of parents and grandparents who sacrifice their all, for the welfare of the children they love.  Countless spouses put all they have, and more, into their marriages.  Siblings go the extra mile for one another.  Service professionals, in the military, first responders, educators, health care professionals, social workers, more often than some believe go way beyond their job descriptions- even if it means ignoring said documents, in ensuring the welfare of their charges.

I have known many such people, among them one Augustine “Gus” Belmonte, a police officer in my home town of Saugus, MA, who was killed in the line of duty, on February 16, 1969, whilst responding to an armed robbery, at a local restaurant.  I knew Gus as the consummate neighbourhood patrolman, usually on duty in Monument Square ( “the Center”), in the afternoons and evenings, when many of us would congregate near Sanborn’s News or McCarrier’s.  He was strict with us, but never rough.

Later that same year, on a jungle path in VietNam, Private First Class Stanley Egan was walking point guard for his squad.  He was mortally wounded, in an exchange with the Viet Cong, and died several days later, in hospital.  Stan was a year my senior, and was ever both the life of any party and putting the welfare of others ahead of his own.

In August, 1984, a humble Indian Health Service dentist named Gordon Tong was attempting to get his truck out of the mud, on a back road in the central Navajo Nation.  In the back of his vehicle were three of his four children and two elderly Navajo women.  I had been riding with Gordon, and had been helping him get the vehicle unstuck, when his oldest son decided to run off and “go get help”.  I left in pursuit of the child, and a short time later was met by a vehicle, driven by another friend, who had the boy with him, and informed me that Gordon had passed away, at the scene of the mishap.  He had suffered a heart attack.  This was the final sacrifice of a man who, with his wife, had given countless hours of his time and energy, in service to the Navajo and Hopi people, in the name of his Faith.

There are many others I know, who have given their all, while short of giving their lives.  “Living sacrifice” is as meritorious as death, in a good many of their cases, as the lives they impact in a positive manner are ever stronger and happier.

So, in the name of a love that is far more basic than any romance, have a blessed Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Signal Moments

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January 4, 2018, Prescott-

I have returned to Home Base. Everything was as I left it, two weeks ago.  My ex-neighbour’s junk is still in the carport.  Since he’s dissed the landlord, I will start to haul it off myself, as after 30 days, property is regarded as abandoned.

Now, on to the prime purpose of this post.  Another blogger referred to life-changing moments.   Here are those that have cast my life, in the direction it’s taken and to the place where I am now.

June, 1954- The Lynnhurst woods, around my first real house, were a place of wonder.  I walked off by myself, towards Grama’s house.  Little did I suspect that dad would take the hairbrush to my backside, as soon as I got home.  That first walk alone, though, set me on the course of exploration that has been in my blood ever since.

July, 1959- I can’t say which rock fight led to my life-long inability to keep from flinching, when a baseball, or other such item, is making its way towards me.  Overcoming coordination issues has been a problem since that long-ago summer.

November 22, 1963- I began to get over an innate conservatism, the day that the powers that be decided to get rid of John F. Kennedy.  I will never buy the Single Bullet Theory.

April, 1969- I decided that six years of commitment to the US Army was too long, and opted to enlist for a three-year stint, instead of remaining in the Reserves.

November 23, 1969- One of my high school friends was killed in VietNam.  I was in Fort Myer, VA, at the time.  It took me a year of quiet anger, but that event was the impetus for my own going over to the war zone, in March, 1971.

November 28, 1975- I was let go from a part-time job, on my 25th birthday, because one of the other workers had a son who needed a job, and I was “too ambitious”.  The anger expressed by my co-workers, at this adverse action, was gratifying.   Yet, a young woman, for whom I had feelings, put it in perspective:  “Who has it worse, you, losing a crap job or me, just getting done with a divorce?”  That has led me to tread carefully, when facing what seems like a personal disaster.

December 6, 1980- I met Penny.  Enough said.

June 6, 1982- We were married, and though a fairy-tale wedding was not followed by an idyllic marriage, there were 29 years of love and mutual personal growth.  The proof is serving his country, in South Korea.

August 20, 1986- We arrived in South Korea, and began a 5.5 year love affair with a culture far different from all either of us had experienced, up to then.  I am still greatly drawn to the sensibilities of “the East”.

April 20, 2003- Penny’s second accident in two weeks set us to a commitment fiercer than any I have had, before or since.  I was her caretaker for nearly eight years afterward.

November, 2009- Several financial disasters under our belt, we decided to endure Chapter 11.  I have survived that, and by the grace of Dave Ramsey and Robert Kiyosaki, my attitude towards money has forever changed,

March 5, 2011- I was once again on my own, and the challenge was now to not go adrift.  The next five months did find the ropes fraying at the moorings, though.

August 4, 2011- Someone I love dearly threw down a heavy gauntlet.  I was accused of things which would not stick to any wall.  I see where his suspicions originated, but that was not me, and never will be.  His comments, though, served to make me determined to rely on no one.  I would long be maintaining that distance.

September, 2013- On the heels of an unsettled summer’s journey, I answered a call to help a single mother move.  That two-day effort of service led me to do Terra Essential Oils, a commitment to more active community service, and to one of the finest friendships I’ve ever known.

There are sure to be other life-changing events ahead.  I know that my spiritual bonds will see me through them all.  We never stop growing.