The Breaking of Waves


There are times when the feebleness of prose fails; when clarity of language and reasoned arguments cannot do justice to the cries of the heart. In the depths of our souls there are emotions, experiences, pain, joy which defy the pathetic limitations of mere words; whose depths and complexities, whose heights and depths, defeat the poor tools of the spoken or written word. It is at such times, perhaps, that the poets take over; where language becomes a tool of another part of the soul, of the spirit. It is a time when the sound and the image of language — for language is the only tool our soul possesses to reach outward — comes to the fore, where images and emotions trump simple structure, where sentences fail but evocative words must bear the unspeakable pain or unsurpassable joy which the soul knows, but the mind cannot grasp.

It was at such a moment that I wrote a poem — where images formed and fleeting could not be expressed by any other means, where deep pain and lifelong experience, where emptiness and hope, joy and agony, swirled together in a violent whirlpool seeking voice which could be found no other way. Such was the purpose, I now understand, for ancient icons painted in gold and the faded red of blood spilled and eyes swollen by tears, of hope and heartache hand in hand, which line the ancient walls of Eastern churches and the fading art of ages past.

Someone very dear to me — my own flesh and blood — is going through a very dark valley. No words can express the joy and satisfaction which a child brings into your life. It is a deep thing of the heart — inexpressible through words, better expressed through the countless deeds of shepherding them through their early years; investing your life, often inadequately, often distracted by false priorities and our foul selfishness so profoundly shortsighted. There comes a time, after years of joy and agony, frustration and fear, when you finally set them free — like some young child learning to ride a bike, watching them swerve and struggle for balance, wandering left and right, falling and getting up again, fearing for their safety and flinching at their pain, knowing and praying that the balance will be found and their road thereby made straight.

Yet once on their road, a large part of your soul rides with them. Lost is the ability to easily check and correct their wrong turns — to even know if every turn which seems wrong may instead be a new road toward greater purpose and joy, or a downward path to pain and destruction. To lose such control over something so dear — a control we truly never have had, but which in our delusions of parental power we had believed — can be an unbearable agony, for it shows us the fragility of life and how foolish are our pretensions of manipulating our own journeys, much less those of another.

The veneer of life may be smooth or turbulent, rolling or roiled, and our eye sees only its very surface, placid or violent. Yet forces far vaster drive its movement, tides and tempests, currents and continents. The very violence of a hard wave breaking upon jagged rocks, transforming its placid swells into a fine and fleeting misting foam which arcs high and falls again to the sea, is but a the final act of a unimaginably complex play, whose actors and plots are unseen and unknown. Yet the culmination of these forces transform while they transfix: the wave is shaped by the rocks as the rocks are sculpted by the wave.

It is a small thing to speak of grace, of prayer, of transcendent power transformational, of wisdom and foolishness, in the words smooth and rhythmic belying the power of the forces thus described. It is in the violence of the wave crashing on the rocks that such deep forces rise to the surface, testing the mettle of the soul, bringing forth fear and apprehension from the depths of our being which belie and challenge the trust in something greater and higher than ourselves. We may at such times turn in many directions, as the surf and mist may fall slowly back to sea or lie stagnant in pools of desiccated brine. Such times demand wisdom which we do not possess; such times demand strength which we utterly lack; such times demand peace when only fear and confusion seem possible.

Such times are, for this poor fool, seasons of much prayer — as if every moment of our life should not be — but a merciful God still listens and touches the heart though his treasured child has wandered afar. It is at such times that one sees how frail is faith, how cheap are words, how empty are our souls though our lives be filled with hollow riches unimaginable.

If you are among those who pray, and are given a few moments’ grace to do so, your prayers will be cherished and valued beyond measure by myself and my family. I cannot say at this time how the events of the next few days will play out — as if we ever know such a thing — but I have come, through many years of foolishness and failure, to a point where trust trumps knowledge, for He whom I trust has never let me down — though my eyes have often seen Him but dimly.

When Waters Break


When waters break, their power spent in fine mist on the breeze,
to thus retreat, and gather up and hurl again
against those jagged boulders yet unfazed;

What purpose, they, whose molten age in fiercest shapes did freeze,
their faces polished now by salt and sand,
igniting foaming fury upward raised?

And why the rolling wave from distant endless seas,
a trifling ripple swells in vast expanse,
to end its path in agony and praise?

And thus thrust skyward power breaks to knees,
in roar of prayer with lifted pleading hands,
now gently laid to rest on rugged place.

When waters break, He draws the fine mist high from troubled seas,
in glory does the breaking fury stand,
to shape the hardened heart which wounded lays.

The Path – II:

A journal of one fool’s journey, and the faith which found him.

It happened by accident.


Just off the lot, spanking new, a canary yellow convertible Beetle with black canvas top: her first car. She never saw the woman as she backed out of the parking stall. Fender-bender, to be sure–but deeply distressing, as only the first wound on new wheels can be. “Why?!” her muttered prayer, angry yet submissive by will, seeking to understand what could have no meaning beyond divine capriciousness. Her unintended target, an older women, gracious and composed, proved more merciful than mad–and by twists quite serpentine, two women met by accident that day, mangled fenders forging new friendship. The older woman’s daughter–a remarkable young lady who lost her sight in early adulthood–soon became Cynthia’s good friend as well. And before long she was introduced by this new friendship to another woman–who was a medical student.

Linda was funny, smart, sassy, and tough as nails. One of only ten women in a medical school class of 200, she could throw a punch as well as take one–a highly useful skill in the days before robust friendships between men and women were castrated by PC speech codes and university thought police. She excelled in the dark, sarcastic humor of the urban Northeast–a skill I too had learned in home and high school, a drop-forged survival shield guarding wounded spirit with sarcastic put-down humor.
Continue reading “The Path – II:

Goodbye, My Old Friend

Today is a day filled with many tears and much heartache: a loved one has passed on.

The call came late in the day. Lucy, our 13 year old chow, had been showing her age, but still seemed in good health, generally happy and active. Over the past few weeks, however, she had had some days of pronounced lethargy, and had been eating very little and losing weight. Nevertheless, she seemed herself most days — until today. She refused to eat, was unable to stand, and was taken to the vet. The news was grim: she had widely metastatic cancer, and was in her last days. The choice was difficult, but we knew it was the best for her, and after saying our goodbyes, she was gently put to sleep in my wife’s arms.

I stayed late at work, doing nothing either urgent or important, but simply passing time, not wanting to go home. My family was together at my wife’s mother’s house, and I knew our home would be empty. I drove up to the house, dreading my destination. No raucus barking proclaiming my arrival. No smiling face at the back door, no gently wagging spitz-curl tail, no pinned back ears joyful at this reunion, no vocal squeals nor licks on legs.

There was only, silence.

I walked around the house, knowing she was gone, but still in some irrational hope thinking I might see her. Her spot by the window, where she spent endless hours watching the neighborhood, stood empty. Her food dish, barely touched, sat where final attempts to give her nourishment had failed. The fire in my heart burned hot, its acrid smoke tightening my throat, and tears flowed freely.

Lucy as puppy

She had been a fine dog, noble, reserved, deeply affectionate with her family, loyal to a fault. She was strong of will, and needed a firm hand at times, but always came around. You could always get her to lie down — even against her will — but you’d better expect some sassy backtalk when she hit the ground. She had her idiosyncrasies, as most pets do: a passionate love for Kleenex, cookie dough, marshmellows–and toilet paper. If you left the bathroom door open, you could always find Lucy: just follow the paper trail, carefully unraveled–and there she’d be at the end, happy as a clam, munching on her paper snack. Her sweet spot sat beneath her curled tail — an area which you simply could not scratch enough. We used to joke that you could go for days without seeing Lucy’s face: she would butt her hind end right up to you like a trucker at a loading dock, demanding that you scratch her back. “No” was not an acceptable answer, as she snapped her head around and sassed you until you complied. Give her a new bone, and she would trot in circles around the house, proudly parading the spoils of her most recent kill, until finally, in sheer exhaustion, she lay down to savor her repast. She was inconsolable when any one of her pack left the house: whimpering, crying, pacing from door to window, desperately hoping to see you. It mattered not one whit that everyone else in the family was still inside with her: she only wanted to be with the one who had just left.

There are some who will not own a pet, because they cannot bear the thought of losing it. The pain of loss can be so great as to overshadow the joy of their companionship. But the years of friendship, humor, affection, — and yes, maddening frustration — cannot be replaced at any price — even at the price of so great a loss. Our animals bring out the best, and sometimes the worst in us, drawing forth our love and affection in almost boundless measure, even while testing our sanity and patience — and always crushing our hearts and breaking our spirits when they leave us.


The death of an animal is the death of its spirit: so say the philosophers and pundits. But they are wrong. Our animals are redeemed by the passion of love which we pour out upon them — a passion which enlivens their spirit throughout eternity, as they live in our hearts, and in our memories, and in the richness they have brought to our lives. I have no doubt that this fine animal is now at peace, and that our spirits will never be separated from her throughout eternity.

UPDATE: Thank each of you from the bottom of my heart for your thoughts and expressions of sympathy. Frank Porretto, of the always-excellent Eternity Road, has also written about his loss earlier this year of Bruno, his Newfie, in prose far more moving and powerful than my simple words. If you have ever lost a beloved pet, read this, for you will understand–and weep.

Paradise Found


Well, it’s back to reality…

After a wonderful week on Maui, where my oldest daughter got married in a small family wedding, it’s back to the daily grind of work and life problems large and small. But the rest was a tonic, the ceremony and time with family a true blessing. A week with no newspaper, no TV, no computer or internet (aargh!!), no pagers or night calls, mostly spent with feet up, basking in warm tropical breezes, catching up on my reading (Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and Richard Weavers’ classic Ideas Have Consequences, if you must know–and yes, I do find such reading relaxing), dining on Maui’s extraordinary seafood–such is true heaven, Paradise Found. But like all Paradises on earth, temporary and too fleeting. Sigh.

Anyway, I hope to start posting again soon. Thanks for visiting and reading.

Taking a Break

Norwegian waterfall
Norwegian falls, Europe 1972
I will be taking a break from blogging for a while, at least several weeks. The reasons are both joyful–my oldest daughter is getting married next week–and more reflective, as I plan to spend some time thinking about short and long-term goals in both personal and work domains. Life is good right now, with peace in the midst of a fair amount of turmoil and uncertainty. But change is in the air, and time with friends and family, time for prayer and reading, time for thought and reflection, and a hearty laugh with good friends over coffee or dinner, sound just about right to me now.

For those who may be relatively new as readers, below are some links to prior posts and series which some have found helpful, interesting, or annoying. Comments are turned off on most of the older posts to keep the spammers at bay, but feel free to e-mail me if something catches your fancy.

When I return, there’s still more on the medical coding series, lots more Tall Ships photos, updates on the new Narrows Bridge, perhaps a series on Christianity for Dummies, –and who knows what other blather and bloviation may flow forth.

The Maze–Medical Coding and Reimbursement

Building the New Tacoma Narrows Bridge

  1. History of the Tacoma Narrows Bridges
  2. The Two Towers I: Intro
  3. The Two Towers II: Concrete Thinking
  4. The Two Towers III: Anchor Management Classes
  5. The Two Towers IV: Out & Down
  6. The Two Towers V: The Struts
  7. The Two Towers VI: To the Top
  8. The Two Towers VII: Stairway to Heaven
  9. The Two Towers VIII: Spinning Beginning
  10. The Two Towers IX: Wheels Over Water
  11. The New Bridge at Christmas
  12. The Two Towers X: Compacting the Cable

Topics on Faith and Religion

Medical Ethics

Take care, God bless, thanks for reading–and be back soon.

Meet Gentle Ben

BenThose who have been reading for a while may recall that last June we got a chow puppy. In the process of describing the history of dogs in our household, I mentioned our first dog–a standard poodle named Walter. Walter was, to make a long story short, a demon dog, a black bastard from the depths of sheol, possessed of every bad trait a dog can have. When we gave his dark heart away to another owner, there was dancing in the streets and more gunfire than a Palestinian 9-11 celebration. Life was good again, and we have spent our years in peace and prosperity with many other critters–cats, dogs, rabbits, even a horse or two–always looking back on Walter as the Dark Ages of Dogdom. Stories of Walter graced every family get-together, as we relived the horror of our vindictive vexatious pet peeve. There was one doctrinal creed, one unimpeachable Truth in our house: we would never get another poodle. Ever. Not in this life, nor the next. ‘Till death do us part. Amen.

But life moves on, and God’s a funny guy sometimes…

Mimi, our chow puppy, started off life as one of the calmest, most affectionate puppies we’ve ever had. Her hidden demons did not appear until she was four months old, when she began to aggressively attack our older chow Lucy, nearly three times her size, with a tenaciousness which had to be seen to be believed. Food contention was first, followed by chew toys, followed by territory, then simply random, vicious attacks which often injured our older dog–and some pretty close calls with our cats as well, whose 9 lives assets lost substantial credit worthiness. She remained very affectionate with us–but despite intense socialization with strangers, was increasingly fearful and started to be aggressive with people as well.

By seven months the decision was clear, after much discussion with trainers and animal behavioralists: Mimi was a dangerous dog. We had to put her to sleep.

Anyone who’s had to put a pet down–even a troubled one such as Mimi–knows how gut-wrenching an experience it is. It is something you never want to deal with again. So we decided, after the events of last fall, that we would let our old chow live in peace before risking her well-being with another dog.

But the desire to get another dog–like the call of the roulette wheel to a gambler–proved too strong to resist. We researched breeds, went to countless dog shows and kennels, trying to find the perfect dog–unwilling to take a chance on another potentially aggressive animal, but still wanting to have a dog with some heft and personality. My wife loves long walks with the dog, and was also interested in doing therapy work at a nearby children’s hospital. Each breed got measured against a long list of positive and negative attributes: friendly with children; medium to large size; easily trained and housebroken; not overly destructive when bored; not requiring huge amounts of activity to stay sane in the house; not aggressive with other dogs; minimal shedding and “dog smell” (which bothers my wife far more than I).

One dog kept popping to the top of the list, again and again: a standard poodle. Yeah, right.

Each time it did, my wife and I looked at each other, laughed, shook our heads–and went on to other breeds. Each one had some fatal flaw, some Achilles heel which made them unsuitable. We kept coming back to the standards. Are we crazy??

We found an excellent breeder in Montana, and grilled her time and time again by e-mail and phone. She heard–many times over–our travails with Walter, and repeatedly swore that her dogs were nothing like that.

So, yes–we’re crazy, certifiable. Our new friend Ben arrived by plane last week. It was love at first site. A light mocha color, calm, devoted, loyal and very affectionate, this dog has all the potential to be a wonderful companion–one of the most special animals we’ve ever owned. He is truly the anti-Walter.

As I said, God’s a funny guy…

Now, before I wreck my reputation as a manly man and a true patriot, let me say this: Ben is not a French poodle–he is a Freedom poodle. No cheese-eating surrender dog here, no sirree. Glad I could put that notion to rest.

Poodles–especially the miniature and toy varieties–are often considered to be “sissy” dogs. The standard–actually the original breed, the others having been bred down in size from them–still maintains this image in many people’s minds–in no small part because they get clipped and groomed like this:

white poodle

The original poodle clip was a functional one, however–the fur over the joints helped keep them warm when retrieving water foul. The poodle, it turns out, is a very old breed–dogs resembling them appear on Greek and Roman coins, and they were first described in literature in the 16th century. Although the French consider them their national dog, they were in fact first developed in Germany, with some breeding input from Russia and France–the name “poodle” comes from the German word pudel, meaning to “splash in the water.” For they were developed as water retrievers, especially for duck hunting. They were excellent hunting and gun dogs–fast, agile, and easy to train–a fact still widely recognized among the elite:

poodle kerry gun

They excel in agility work and are exceptional athletes:

ski jump

One little-known fact about poodles is their involvement in the U.S. space program. Poodles have been used to help identify the planet Mars. And recently declassified military documents have revealed–to the surprise of many–a pilot program for training poodles for space flight:

kerry poodle NASA

The pilot program was dropped when the poodles proved too intelligent and nuanced for the job–and their French connections posed a security risk. It was also rumored that they opposed space flight before they supported it.

Well, we’re not sure our Ben will live up to the high standards of his canine predecessors–but we’re sure glad he’s part of our family now.


The Jewel

This letter is a compilation of four, written to my family members in celebration of Christmas and thankfulness for the gift they are to me.

diamondIn the beginning, it was there.

It was there–at the razor’s edge: that infinitesimal instant between nothingness and creation, at the flash of brilliance so fierce no universe could contain it.

It was there–as light and fury and elements yet unformed flew outward at velocities without limit, hurtling from the center towards destinations yet unknown–but to One.

It was there–as suns nascent and immense, coalesced from blue-white clouds, purity of energy become forges of creation, gathering to themselves their anvils of yet-unseen wonders.

It was there–as spheres formed in subservient orbits, obsequious to their newfound masters, ablaze with the raging inferno born of lightspeed journey to destined repose.

It was there–as continents split and drifted, crusted craft navigating their way through molten seas, divining stars yet barely formed.

It was there–deep in the earth–fused by forces immeasurable, fires unthinkable, pressures unbearable, ordering its scattered atoms to hardened lattice and crystalline clarity.

It was there–discarded by ancient fools as curious oddities, worthless beyond some measure of inspection.

It was there–a secret treasure, entombed in base elements, formless in shape yet priceless in potential.

In the beginning, it was there–the treasure of eons, the Jewel of great worth.

The Jeweler caresses his find, scooped from the earth, envisioning in its soiled soul a masterpiece of light and beauty. Each cut is imagined, planned yet predicated by events and energies of ancient millennia. Were this stone sentient, hardened in darkness and molded by forces unimagined, the brutal shearing would be agonal, as faces held dearly fly distant to reveal still-unsung beauty. Each facet–lovingly crafted, precisely chiseled–brings forth some new unspoken glory, some aspect anticipated yet astonishing still in its surprise and wonder.

The rough shape forms slowly, revealing in hewn form only the coarsest image of the Designer’s thoughts. Imperfections appear: some to be sundered, yet others multiplying the beauty and infinite variance of darkness made light. This stone, this jewel–like all others–is unique in synthesis yet designed for one purpose: to radiate the light within, to carry the brilliance of that instant before time existed, when the Voice of Light spoke softly and creation rushed forth.

And you, my most precious of treasures, are that Jewel.

To my wife:

You were there, in the mind of God, long before time and thought existed.

You were there, in the moving of Spirit, as creation spun forth in its wildness and majesty.

You were there, by the gentle hand of God, moved silently by hope and hardship, grace and grief, drawing us softly, inexorably toward oneness of spirit.

You were there, in the beginning, when I, without direction or purpose, found my course steadied and my orbit set.

You were there, through the darkness, with pain your companion, fury your friend, confusion your compass–yet faithfulness your light.

The Jeweler has chosen us two–each common stones of lesser measure–to create in one something greater than two. He has given to me in you a precious jewel, magnificent in its brilliance and beauty, reflecting the luster of His light within. We have by turns sharpened the other’s facets, hewing away rough edges, making angular and sparkling that once muted and smooth. And so we become, by timeless progress, the Jewel the Designer seeks, through fusion of spirit and heart, becoming His prize.

It is with joy unspeakable that I share such union, such life, such wholeness, such love.

It is with hope unshakeable that I share both life and eternity with you.

It is with love beyond measure that I thank Him who has bestowed on me such priceless treasure, this Jewel of great worth.

To my son:

Born in storm of pain and loss, my hand raised high in defiant defeat, you were a flash of light in that darkness of time, a promise of hope, a future of brilliance. I held you in my arms, drawing you close, seeing in your face my future, yet far brighter than I could ever hope. I watched you grow in quiet wonder, hurtling toward your destiny in outer peace and inner passion.

Our journeys grew separate, as I the fool in wisdom sought that which cannot endure, and you by distance and destiny sought light in loneliness. Each heard in our music the song of the spheres, hoping by chords and cadence to find in each other the harmonies of our hearts. Yet our pilgrimage was long, and painful, each through the darkness of coldest space. Could I replay those years, when you were hurt so deeply and I so foolish, I would do so gladly–but ours is not to relive the journey, desirable though that be, but to move in harmony with the present, and grow in grace, and strength, and love, in the places where we now find rest. And so, our orbits are again entwined, as they ever were, drawn by the gravity of service and care.

You, my son, my firstborn, my namesake: you are my pride, my passion, my treasure beyond words. In you is the heart of love, the tenderness of spirit, the quiet depths of eternity and time, the joy, the humor, from which springs the greatest works of Him who designed you. Never could a man be more blessed than to have such a son, and I shall thank Him evermore for such a priceless jewel.

To my oldest daughter:

In gentleness and peace you came into this world, a gift beyond measure to me. Your generous spirit and joyful soul were evident from your earliest days, gifted as you were with tenderness and love for others. Yet deep within that heart, so filled with love for man and beast, was a fire of determination and purpose–sparkling, brilliant even–hurtling you toward destinies unknown yet surely glorious.

I watched you grow with great love–yet in my blindness turned away, to follow that which is ephemeral and without substance, neglecting that of priceless worth. Those years, those wasted years, will remain a loss irretrievable, a casualty incalculable, an emptiness which cannot be filled. Could I travel through time, and undo the past, I would do so at any price–yet the Designer by His grace has bestowed on me the joy of watching you, the child of joy, become a woman of strength, and integrity, and love, and conviction. No greater gift, no finer jewel–nor one less deserved–could be bestowed on a man–fool that I am–in a thousand lifetimes.

To my youngest daughter:

A fire burned brightly at your birth, a singular star in the heavens–passionate, deep, powerful, brilliant. I knew that day as I held you in my arms that God had poured out His blessings on earth, that greatness would surround you and accompany you all your days. Your journey has been often dark and difficult, pierced with pain, yet shining shards of glory have never ceased to burst forth from the forge of your suffering, transcending the darkness with light unparalleled.

You have since your first day been my pride and my precious one, filled with the power of life, a jewel of great brilliance and beauty. You grew and prospered, a bright star always in my heaven, leaping to heights unbounded with grace and elegance. If you could but know your own passion, your gifts, your beauty so deep and glorious, there would be no worlds you could not conquer, no universe beyond your grasp.

Yet I have bound this very power, as foolishly I neglected that which is precious in you for baser, empty baubles of no value. Would that I had power to change such a fate, bending backwards the hands of time to start anew, to be fresh in my awe and admiration of you and all you would become and ever be. Such gifts are not granted to man–but by God’s grace I have been given this gift: that you are still my prize, my jewel, the daughter whom I love and cherish. And from this day forward shall I ever treasure this priceless jewel, this gift of God in you.