Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An Attitude Gone to the Dogs

Yesterday, my attitude went to the dogs. I should have known it was going to happen. After all, I’d been feeling a little too cheery; happily bantering with sales clerks, customers, and co-workers and feeling quite unburdened. It all had to come to an end, and I guess the day after a good sermon on anger is as good a day as any.

You see, I have two dogs: Xena, an 85 pound bundle of love, and Leo, the 25 pound package of unbridled energy. Xena, is reasonably quiet and docile. Leo is the snappy, yappy little king of our backyard, and he likes to bark at everything and everyone that passes within earshot. I didn’t know how yappy he was until we’d had him too long to let go of him.

Well, yesterday, about an hour before I was scheduled to go participate in an elder’s meeting at our church, the lady who lives next door had had enough, so she decided that it was time that I knew exactly how she felt. Now, I had known that she and her husband were less than pleased with our little furry character. They had told me before that he was bothering them with his constant barking, and we had taken some steps to alleviate some of the nuisance. We have confined the dogs to the backyard. We bring them in at night so that they aren’t out there barking at all hours. I bought a little anti-bark device and placed it at the corner of our deck closest to their house. I even go out on a regular basis to scold the dog and quiet him down when he goes barkingly belligerent.

Leo has actually gotten better this year. He doesn’t bark at their dryer vent anymore. He doesn’t go crazy when they go into their backyard to grill some chicken or burgers or whatever it is that they grill over there. He is in fact a quieter dog. However, he is still not a completely reformed yapper.

I should also add that I’ve grown a little lazy in dealing with the grumpy little guy sometimes. I’ve slowed down my onslaught of reproofs when he starts to unload his fury at a passing cyclist, and I haven’t always been silencing his protests about the guys that walk their quiet little pooches down the street. I let the battery go unchanged in the anti-bark device. My bad.

So, we are back to yesterday. My oldest daughter was running on our treadmill in our sunroom at the back of the house, while I was fiddling around with some email stuff for work or checking Facebook or something. She was in clear sight of Leo, and he wanted her attention….and he wanted it BAD! He was running in circles, barking and yapping at my daughter through the window. I heard her tell him to be quiet, which is kind of unusual, so I got up to check on the situation. When I went to the door to tell him to “hush it!” there was my neighbor standing at her kitchen window staring at Leo…and at me scolding him.

I succeeded in shutting him up, so I went back to my computer. A few minutes later, someone came to the door. Yep. You guessed it. It was the lady next door who had decided it was time that I knew just how much Leo was getting under her skin. I should add here, that she didn’t scream at me, and she didn’t cuss at me. I think she was actually trying really hard to be as nice about it as she could. The problem is that it was a completely one-sided conversation. She couldn’t hear what I was trying to say. She couldn’t have a logical discussion of possible solutions. Pretty soon, neither could I.

I was now angry. How could she not recognize the steps I’d already taken? Could she not tell that he had improved? Why could she not trust that I meant it when I told them to call me if the dogs were bothering them and I’d bring them in? Why did I see disdain in her eyes when I told her that I really did want to be sensitive to the problem? She went away unsatisfied and upset; leaving me disturbed and angry.

Now, comes the part of how I dealt with that anger. There’s what I “thought about doing,” and then there’s what I am actually doing.

Ideas I thought of:
1. Throwing rotten tomatoes over her house so that they splattered on her driveway and her husband’s truck
2. Placing a whiteboard on the railing of our deck so that it faces her kitchen window in order to leave her some choice messages
3. Spray-painting their privacy fence

I probably thought of some others, but they are lost in the blur of my emotions. My family thought of some others too, but I’ll leave that alone. One woman angry at me is enough for one week.

The problem is…I really understand my neighbor’s problem. You see, I have this empathy streak…and, the truth is that Leo’s yappy bark gets under my skin too. It is kind of shrill and high-pitched when he really gets going, so I can understand how it could really bug someone who might be a little extra sensitive to it. The thing is that I love the little canine mosquito. So, rather than throwing tomatoes and putting up signs, we are going to work harder to deal with Leo. He’s coming in earlier in the evening. We’re looking at an anti-bark collar. I’ve recruited the rest of my household to assist me in squelching the yappiness.

We’ll keep looking for additional solutions. I do want to be a good neighbor. “Do unto others” can be hard to do, but I’m going to give it my best shot. After all, it is the dog days of summer, and I don’t want to stay in the doghouse with my neighbor any longer than I have to.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Apologies and Concrete Turtles

Let me start this installment with an update on my friend in the CCU at St. Francis. If you’ve just happened upon my writings for the first time and you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you might want to read my previous two posts. As for my friend, at my last writing, things looked very much like he was going to pass on. I think I said something like “short of a miracle” or something like that. Well, two days after our prayer gathering in the hospital, he was breathing on his own, responding to people, and they have him sitting up in a chair occasionally. I guess God isn’t quite ready for him to go home.

Today, though, I’m going to change the subject just a bit. Yesterday (Saturday), I attended my family reunion in Muncie. Family reunions are interesting events and fodder for all kinds of funny jokes. I think Jeff Foxworthy has one that goes something like: “If you go to your family reunion to pick up girls, you might be a redneck.” Well, my family isn’t quite that “down home,” but it is true that not everyone knows everyone else. A stranger could easily come in and get a free meal and no one would be much the wiser.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to enjoy these events a great deal more. Learning about my ancestors and my extended family is starting to become a minor hobby, and this was a good chance to extend my knowledge. Only recently I’ve learned that my great, great grandfather, William (Billy) Terrell was a minister. He lived near Windsor, Indiana, but apparently he traveled around the countryside preaching in various churches. This would have been in the mid to late 1800’s. The Terrell’s are my mother’s side of the family, and the cool thing about learning this bit of history is that my dad’s grandfather was also a minister.

On to my two main points from the title of this little blog entry:

First, I ran into a cousin that I had not seen in about thirty years. We aren’t closely related cousins. I think he is the grandson of my grandfather’s brother. Scratch your head and think that one through. Anyway, we were around each other as teenagers, went to the same church, and were active in the same youth group. The thing is, I’ve always regretted some ways that I treated him. I was a bit insecure as a young person, and was often the butt of other people’s jokes, but with him, I could turn the tables and pour a little his way. At the time, I sort of thought it was funny, but I also knew on the inside that I was out of line.

He walked up to me and said, “Mike DeCamp!” and stuck out his hand. I didn’t know who he was, but when he told me I was both happy to see him AND again struck with my own guilty conscience. We visited for a bit, and later we were in the food line together. I decided to take the opportunity to apologize. “I think I owe you an apology,” I said. “What for?” was his reply. “I don’t think I was very nice to you sometimes back when we were kids.” He gave me a blank look. “You don’t remember that?” I asked. “Nope” he said. “Well, good. I’m glad.” Later, I got to visit with his mom, and I got to meet his wife. We had a nice visit, and I have a small load off my chest. Apologies are good for the soul.

Secondly, just outside the shelter we were using is a very old, concrete turtle. It sits in the middle of a grassy section now, but back when I was a kid, it was part of a sandbox play area. This little hold-over from another era has a fond spot in my memories. You see, when I was very small, say three or four years old, my dad used to walk me down Hackley Street to Heekin Park to play. Sometimes, he would even carry me on his shoulders. One of those trips ended at the turtle. At the time, it was an unpleasant thing, but now, as I recall it and think of my dad, it is a fond memory and a sort of connection to my father.

I’m posting the picture so you can see it, but imagine me as a four year old sitting in the sand underneath this turtle playing with some other kids. Well, one of those kids was a little girl who didn’t want to share a shovel or bucket or some other toy, and I got mad; so mad that I grabbed a bunch of sand and threw it in her face. Of course, like all little girls, she had to cry and run off to her mommy. My dad dragged my little behind out from under that turtle, gave it a really nice new shade of red with his belt, and off we went back home. It’s funny how I can be so fond of that turtle when it was such a traumatic event at the time.

I shared the story with my nearly eighteen-year-old daughter, showed her the turtle, and we shared a good laugh about how impossible it would be for me to get under that thing these days. Later, I took a long walk with my great, great niece, and we ended up at the turtle. (She is my brother’s, daughter’s granddaughter…another one to wrap your mind around.) A new generation gets to pass by a place that holds many memories for I’m sure an uncountable number of other people. I’m glad I got to share a visit to it with her.

I don’t know that I have a moral to this posting. I just thought I’d share these things with you. If there is a moral, I guess it would be to apologize when you need to, and hang on to your memories. And, don’t skip your family reunions!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Time is Filled with Swift Transition

In my most recent post prior to this one, I wrote about eating lunch with a couple of customers and receiving a very distressing phone call about a good friend of mine who had suffered a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. As I published the post, he was still in the CCU at St. Francis Hospital, and we did not have a good idea of whether he would recover or not. Well, today…one week later…I was again having lunch with a couple of customers, and again I received a distressing call regarding my friend. He is still in the CCU, and the tests are showing that his brain activity is well below the level that is normal. Let us just say that hope is waning for his recovery short of God working a miracle. As I write this, I am expecting more information tomorrow.

During the lunchtime phone call, I was honored as his friend to be invited by his wife to join the family in a meeting this afternoon to discuss his condition, and as I drove back to Indianapolis from the Louisville area, the following song began to resonate in my mind:

Hold to God's Unchanging Hand
(written by Jennie Wilson)

Time is filled with swift transition,
naught of earth unmoved can stand,
build your hopes on things eternal,
hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Hold to God’s unchanging hand,
hold to God’s unchanging hand;
build your hopes on things eternal,
hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Trust in Him who will not leave you,
whatsoever years may bring,
if by earthly friends forsaken
still more closely to Him cling.


Covet not this world’s vain riches,
that so rapidly decay,
seek to gain the heavenly treasures,
they will never pass away.


When your journey is completed,
if to God you have been true,
fair and bright the home in glory
your enraptured soul will view.


At the time, I had no idea why this song suddenly came to mind. It just “out of the blue” started playing in my head and I began to sing the lyrics to myself…and to God. I found it comforting somehow as I contemplated my friend’s circumstance and the pain that his family was feeling.

However, during the family meeting, the “why” became quite clear to me. This meeting was not the typical gathering of distraught family members breaking down with the pain of the overwhelming loss of a loved one with no hope beyond the life they know. Rather, this was a gathering of friends and family bolstered by the hope of God. The pain of the loss was evident, but so was the knowledge that my friend was in fact a Christian, and as such, he has the sure expectation of passing from this life to the better one with his Lord. One after another, I heard the voices of loved ones placing their pain in the hands of God; placing their trust in His wisdom and will; knowing full well that their son, brother, father, husband, and friend had spent his life walking with his savior; holding on to His hand. There was no hint of doubt; no underlying fear. There was only the confidence that a real walk with God can bring.

If my friend’s journey is in fact completed, then I am confident that through the Grace of God, his soul will soon be viewing his bright home in glory. Selfishly, I’d rather keep him here for a bit longer…well, years longer…, but if God is calling him home, who am I to stand in the way of his reward. After all, this is what his life has always been about.

Time truly is filled with swift transition. It waits for no one. The older I get the more I realize two things: 1. Don’t take your friends for granted, and 2. Hold to God’s hand…because His hand truly is the only unchanging thing we CAN hold to.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Best Friends Forever...Really?

As I write this, a good friend of mine is lying in a hospital bed in the Critical Care Unit at St. Francis Hospital. He is fighting to survive after suffering a pulmonary embolism at age 50. When I heard about his situation, I was sitting with two customers and a coworker at lunch at a nice little restaurant in Warsaw, Kentucky. It was all I could do to contain my emotions for the duration of the lunch. Even contained, my emotion was evident. As soon as I could, I broke free of them and headed home so I could get to the hospital.

Last year, I lost another friend. He had a massive heart attack at age 52. He died alone in his home over a weekend, and it was a day or two before anyone found him.

These two situations have made me think about how we (I) tend to take our (my) friends for granted. When I got word about the hospitalized friend, it had been months since we had spoken and perhaps a couple of years since we had spent any time at all together, and even longer since it was “just us.” When word passed to me about the death of my other friend, it had been almost a year since I had spent any time with him. I still can’t believe he is gone, and I often think about calling him when I’m down close to where he lived.

You know, some people change friends like they change shirts just jumping from one to the next, to the next. That has never been the case with me. If you become my friend, it is very difficult to get me to drop you. If you look down my friends list on Facebook, you’ll find people I’ve become friends with very recently, and you’ll find people like Tena and Cheryl whom I’ve considered my friends since I was just a small boy.

That being said, I am ashamed to say that I have neglected a great many of those friendships. Some of that neglect is natural, I guess. We’ve grown up and gone in many different directions in life. I’ve moved. They’ve moved. I’ve gained responsibility. They’ve gained responsibility. Situations change. It is the nature of life, I suppose.

Some of those disconnected friendships, are really surprising when you suddenly realize that it’s been 15 or 20 years since you last spoke. I mean, when you parted the last time, you had no idea that you wouldn’t connect again for so long….right? At least that has been the case with me. I had no intention of letting that much time go by. A few days become a few weeks, weeks become years, people move, phone numbers change, and the next thing you know, they are just gone like they fell of the face of the earth or something.

I mentioned Facebook earlier. That little creation has done wonders for reconnecting old friends. I mean, I have reestablished friendships that I had thought were long lost. I’ve found people that I previously had absolutely no idea how to find. Some of the most recent are Collin, Jerry, Karen, and James. I love that.

You see, I really cherish friendships. What is life without friends? Some are closer than others just naturally, but regardless, they are all very important. I really like the quote from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Clarence the Angel leaves his little Mark Twain book for George Bailey, and he writes this quote inside the front cover: “No man is a failure who has friends.” That statement is so very true!

So back to my friend in the hospital, I visited him today. He was lying there with so many tubes running from him that I couldn’t readily count them all. He was sedated. He had a ventilator tube running out of his mouth so a machine could help him breathe. There he was…my friend whom I’ve been taking for granted…fighting for his life. I told him to keep fighting. I told him that when he got better and got out of there, we were going to go to a late movie like we used to. I pray that happens.

To you who are reading this…find an old friend and reconnect this week. The fact is that they will NOT always be there.