Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Words of Wisdom for the Young

 I was born just before the Dodgers left Brooklyn, so that makes me a junior senior citizen, or as I prefer, a late-stage middle-ager (which does not mean, as my children think, that I was born in the Late Middle Ages). After all these years, I think I’ve acquired a little bit of wisdom. Anyone who survives six or more decades has to learn at least a few valuable lessons that can be shared with young people.

For example, my friend Ace, who is one of the most impulsive persons I’ve ever met, recently offered these words of wisdom to one of his grandkids: “Don’t ever ride a dirt bike through the woods at night. While drunk. Without a helmet. Shirtless. Barefoot. And far from the nearest Emergency Room.” 
When Ace offered this advice, he whistled on every “S” sound because the dental plate he wears to replace the teeth lost that evening doesn’t quite fit anymore. After hearing this information, Ace’s teenage grandson, Ace the Third, asked, “But is it OK to do that if I’m close to a hospital?” to which Ace replied, “Um, sure, why not?”

Here are some other words of wisdom that experienced folks, also known as “seasoned citizens,” can offer to the younger generations (courtesy of various Google searches):
  • “I thought the dryer made my clothes shrink. Turns out it was the fridge.”
  • “Your parents aren’t nearly as dumb as you think they are.”
  • “I’m not sure how many chocolates equals happiness, but so far it’s not 27.”
  • “Relax, we’re all crazy. It’s not a competition.”
  • “It amazes me how Exercise and Extra Fries sound alike.”
  • “It’s OK to be angry. It’s never OK to be cruel.”
  • “Think about how stupid the average person is, and then realize that half of them are stupider than that.”
  • “Some people cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”
  • “Always remember you’re unique. Just like everyone else.”
  • “The unhappiest people in the world are those who care the most about what other people think.”
  • “Life is good, but it ain’t fair.”
  • “Do what’s right, not what’s easy.”
  • “Don’t make decisions when you’re angry. Don’t make promises when you’re happy.”
  • “Don’t take things personally. No one thinks about you as much as you do.”
  • “I regret all the time I wasted regretting things.”
  • “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”
  • “Too many people are buying things they can’t afford, with money that they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like.”
  • “Most situations are not as bad as you think they are.”
  • “Sometimes when someone says, ‘It’s for your own good,’ they really mean, ‘It’s for my own good.’”
  • “Your relationship with other people is more important than money. But a steady paycheck can keep you from having a relationship with the bill collector.”
  • “Real people are much more interesting than video screens.”
  • “Don’t text all the time. Talk face-to-face once in a while.”
Over the years I’ve learned a couple of things I’d like to share. The first is: “Don’t sweat the small stuff. And the big stuff becomes small if you give it some time. So, don’t sweat the big stuff either.”

My second piece of advice is: “Don’t go to skinny doctors. They always nag about your eating habits. Try to find a doctor who’s a little chubby. And if he or she smokes, even better.”
Many of my readers are fellow seasoned citizens. And I’m sure they have a lot of wisdom to share. So, please do me a favor: send me an email with the words of wisdom you’ve learned over the years. I’ll do a follow-up column and share them with everyone. Thanks.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Fr. McGivney and the Call to Sainthood

Did you watch the Beatification ceremonies about a month ago for Fr. Michael J. McGivney? Fr. McGivney lived in the late 1800s. He was born in Waterbury, CT, and served churches in the Naugatuck Valley and New Haven. He founded the Knights of Columbus, and by all accounts he was a faithful and dedicated priest who focused all his energies on serving the people in his parishes. Sadly, he died at age 38 when a pandemic swept the area. (Sound familiar?)
The Beatification Mass was broadcast on TV, not only on local stations here in Connecticut, but worldwide on EWTN. During the ceremony, one of the commentators mentioned that Fr. McGivney is the first native of Connecticut to be beatified, that is, declared by the Church to be a saint in Heaven.

This caused a good friend of mine to exclaim, “You mean there’s only been one person from Connecticut during the past 350 years who made it into Heaven?!”

No no, that’s not what it means at all, although based on the way people have been behaving in recent years, you might think so. A person does not need to be beatified by the Church in order to make it into Heaven. In other words, it’s not only the folks on the Church’s official list of saints who are in Heaven. Yes, there are a lot of people who have been named saints by the Church over the years; right now the number is well over 10,000. But compared to the number of people who have put their faith in God during the past 20 centuries, 10,000 is a drop in the bucket. Just because the Church did not officially declare these countless millions to be saints Certainly doesn’t mean they all were condemned to Hell.
The Church beatifies someone only when there is a wealth of evidence that particular person lived a holy life of faith. It can be a very long and drawn out process. Here are the four basic steps to sainthood:
  1. A Cause for Beatification and Canonization begins and the candidate is called Servant of God.
  2. The Positio (or case) is created to document the person’s Heroic Virtue and they are voted to become Venerable.
  3. Evidence of a first miracle is investigated and verified, and they are declared Blessed.
  4. After a second miracle is proven, the person is named a Saint and is canonized by the Pope.
Right now, Fr. McGivney’s cause has reached the third step, and one additional miracle is required for him to be canonized by the Pope. If you’ve followed the process for Fr. McGivney, as many here in Connecticut have done, you know it’s been going on for years and years.

So, being declared an official saint by the Church is the final result of a grueling and detailed process. This is why most of the saints were not just holy and faithful, but spectacularly so. They often were brilliant and powerful and influential, with a lot of historical records chronicling their lives and achievements.
The primary reason the Church goes through this long process to declare that certain people are saints is fairly simple: it’s to give the rest of us examples to follow. The lives of the saints are powerful witnesses of how to live faithful and fruitful lives. The more we know about these holy people, the more we can be inspired by them and strive to live our lives in a similar fashion.

Here is a point that must not be overlooked: we are all called to be saints. We do not need to be canonized and officially declared a saint by the Church to make it to Heaven. In case you’ve forgotten how, here’s the formula for getting into Heaven: put your faith in God through Christ, and love your neighbor as yourself. 

It’s wonderful that someone from Connecticut is well on his way to official Sainthood. Fr. McGivney’s selfless love for his neighbors is a shining example for us. But we are all called to join him in Heaven, even if there won’t be a TV broadcast letting the world know about us. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

On a ‘Quest’ for a Flawless Online Appointment

Recently I had to get blood drawn before my annual physical. In the past, this task always has been quite a “quest.” For the blood test to be accurate, you have to fast for at least 12 hours. When going that long without food or drink, time goes by anything but fast. Instead of a “fast,” they should call it a “slow.”

Because of this fasting requirement, every morning at 7 a.m., when the testing facility opens, there are usually eight or 10 people waiting impatiently to begin their “quest” to scribble their name on the first-come, first-serve sign-up sheet. Last year, I got there at quarter to 7, but I didn’t get my blood taken until after 8 o’clock. By the time I was done, the snacks in my car (coffee and a glazed ham) had gotten cold.
This year I began my “quest” by going to the facility’s website, to confirm that it opened at 7 a.m. I discovered they now have an online sign-up procedure. By clicking on a calendar and searching for an open time slot, I could make a personal reservation. I found an open spot, 7:30 on the following Wednesday, and reserved it. The website immediately sent me confirmations via email and text message.

My first thought was, “This is never going to work.” You see, I’ve done online sign-up and ordering in the past. Once I ordered six grinders for a Saturday afternoon party, using the website of a local deli. When I went to pick up the food, they had nothing ready. The guy behind the counter apologized and said, “The computer thinks your order is for next Thursday.”

Another time I placed an order online for a pharmaceutical product, and when I went to the drug store to pick it up, the clerk searched his computer and finally exclaimed, “Oh, the computer says you’re gonna pick it up at our Torrington, Wyoming, store.”

So, I was convinced my blood sample “quest” was going to be another high-tech, online disaster. The possibilities for a screw-up were endless: wrong day, wrong time, wrong location, wrong procedure. I mean, maybe instead of giving a blood sample, the computer decided I needed a kidney transplant.
Finally, the day of my “quest” arrived, and 15 minutes before my scheduled appointment I received a text message. It contained a link so I could inform them I was in the parking lot, and it said they would send another text when it was time for me to go inside to get my blood drawn. 

“Oh sure,” I said to myself. “I’ll probably be here for hours waiting for a text message that will never come.”

I began outlining a newspaper essay in my mind, which would chronicle this high-tech disaster, and how computers and the internet are ruining everything nowadays, even something as simple as getting a blood test.

Well, at exactly 7:29 a.m., I received a text message saying they were ready for me. I hoped this didn’t mean they were ready for me at the Torrington, Alaska, facility.
I went inside and they ushered me into a small room, where a very pleasant young man took my blood sample. I was never so relieved to have someone stab a needle into my arm. I was back in my car by 7:40, washing down a warm glazed ham with hot coffee.

The only problem with this whole adventure is that I had to ditch all the sarcastic and critical things I was going to write. Now, instead of saying I was on a frustrating and futile “quest,” I can say I had a terrific experience at Quest. And I don’t mean Jonny.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A Holiday Season Unlike Any Other

 Here we are, at the beginning of America’s unofficial six-week long Holiday Season. Thanksgiving Day is Thursday of this week, and on Sunday the liturgical season of Advent begins. Then at the end of December the two big holidays of Christmas and New Year’s occur. However, this is 2020, the year when nothing is normal. And our traditional holiday festivities are going to be quite different compared to anything we’ve experienced in recent times.

I remember when the Coronavirus appeared back in March. One so-called expert on TV said this virus, like most flu viruses, would just fizzle out when the warm weather of summer arrived. Well, that never happened. Another expert predicted the virus would not be under control until an effective vaccine was developed, which might take 12 to 18 months. Unfortunately, it seems like this is the way things are panning out.
Anyway, the pandemic surely has altered our way of life in unprecedented ways. This holiday season will be a prime example. Health officials advise that people should not gather in large groups for Thanksgiving dinner this year. Only members of the same household should dine together. So, for the first time since the horse knew the way to carry the sleigh to grandmother’s house over the river and through the woods, large extended family gatherings will not be taking place. There will not be houses full of people feasting on turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and football games on big-screen TVs. (Back in colonial times, when folks traveled by sleigh to grandmother’s house, obviously they did not watch football games on big-screen TVs. Instead, they streamed the games on their iPads.)

This means the recommended Thanksgiving feast this year will be with two or four or maybe five people at most. Or in a lot of cases, one person. Don’t forget: there are plenty of Americans, especially among the elderly, who live alone these days.

The same goes for other cherished holiday traditions, such as Christmas shopping, workplace holiday parties, Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve celebrations. With the cancellation of office parties and New Year’s Eve parties, at least there should be a reduction in DUI arrests and liver damage. However, a different kind of damage is being inflicted by this COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s only going to get worse during the holidays. I’m referring to emotional damage, as the social isolation we’ve endured the past eight months will be magnified during the Christmas season.
For many people, the time period from Thanksgiving through New Year’s is the only opportunity they have to see their loved ones face-to-face. It’s a fact that a lot of people now live and work far from their original hometown.

Because this is 2020 — the year when nothing is normal — the holiday season also will be anything but normal. A lot of folks are just starting to realize that they will not see many of their loved ones in person this year, and this realization is increasing the emotional damage already inflicted by the pandemic.

As Catholic Christians, it is our duty to comfort those in distress. This year, some of the distressed people in our society very well may be our own relatives. Since it is risky to see them in person, we have to do the next best thing: pick up the phone and give them a call.
In his letter to the Ephesians in the Bible, St. Paul wrote, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called” (Eph. 4:4).

St. Paul used the word “called” twice, and I think it’s pretty obvious he was referring to telephone calls. Because there is one Spirit and because all believers make up one body, it is imperative that we call our lonely relatives during this holiday season. See? That’s irrefutable proof right from the Bible.
And don’t forget, if you take the time to phone relatives and cheer them up, God will reward you. In Romans, it says, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). But keep this in mind: if God does call you, don’t let it go to voicemail.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

LinkedIn Is Far Out

Last week I discussed the “digital media” initiatives at my place of work. We have a new, slick website, and as the Engineering Marketing Manager, it’s my job to do multiple blog posts each week and to be actively involved with social media each day.

In the business world, the primary social media platform is LinkedIn. If you’re not familiar with LinkedIn, it’s basically Facebook for business, except without all the demonic influences. That is, you can go weeks at a time on LinkedIn without seeing a single comment equating Trump with Hitler (except that Trump is more evil), or equating Trump with Jesus (except that Trump performs more miracles). 
It’s quite refreshing that wild-eyed, foaming at the mouth political screeds are not present on LinkedIn. It almost makes the shameless self-promotion and product marketing tolerable. Oh, by the way, my main mission on LinkedIn is shameless self-promotion and product marketing.

However, since my jobs during the past four decades all have been sales and/or marketing related, I was able to fit right in quite easily.

There is one thing about LinkedIn that cracks me up. One of the main thrusts of the website is helping people connect with other business folks with the goal of getting a new and better job. So, in addition to all the sales and marketing info posted on the website, I constantly get reminders from LinkedIn to check out new job openings that are “a perfect fit” for me.

LinkedIn already knows that I graduated from Bucknell University in 1979. Which means, barring the possibility that I was a child prodigy who got through college at age nine (well, that’s certainly not the case), LinkedIn knows that I’m approximately 63 years old. And since LinkedIn is supposedly so savvy about the world of business, it certainly must know that not a single employer on Planet Earth has any interest in hiring a person my age. Yeah, yeah, I know, there’s a law against age discrimination during the hiring process. There also is a law against driving 40 mph in a 35 mph zone, too. Both laws are routinely ignored.

On the bright side, I don’t WANT anyone to want to hire me. I like my job, and I hope to keep doing it for another five years or so, and then retire.
Another humorous aspect of LinkedIn’s constant push to find a new place of employment for me are the actual job openings themselves. I’m not sure how LinkedIn defines the phrase “a perfect fit,” but some of these jobs are doozies. Here are just a few:
  • Customer Service Representative at an animal hospital in Wethersfield. Sorry, but I’m not bilingual. I don’t speak Cat.

  • Event Marketing Coordinator at WWE in Stamford. This is the professional wrestling outfit, and even if I were interested in that job, my wife would divorce me in a heartbeat because she thinks the popularity of professional wrestling is all the proof we need that our culture is about to collapse.

  • Senior Consultant, Product Development, at Lincoln Financial in Hartford. If their products include heating and ventilation equipment, then maybe I could help. But if it’s anything to do with money and finance, then my only input would be, “Hold on 17 while playing Blackjack.”

  • Director, Software Development, in Windsor. If these guys saw me on the phone for two hours with Tech Support a few months ago, when I purchased a new computer but couldn’t get the stupid Microsoft Office software to load, they wouldn’t even hire me to sweep their floors.

  • Special Agent, FBI, Hartford office. Well, this position is right up my alley. I watch so many crime and detective shows on TV, I won’t even need any training. And when I turn 93, I can retire with a full pension. 
Well, that’s enough commentary about LinkedIn. I have to get back on the website and do more shameless self-promotion and product marketing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Jesus’ Relatives Thought He Was Insane

 Sometimes when I listen to the Gospel readings at Mass or read the Bible at home, the stories are familiar enough that I just gloss over them without thinking very deeply. After all, I’ve heard the various events described in the gospels dozens of times during my life.

Well, once in a while something in the gospels just jumps out in a new and different way. That’s what happened to me recently when I was reading from Mark’s gospel, chapter 3. Jesus was healing people and big crowds started following Him. There was a lot of “buzz” around Jesus, and when one particularly large crowd gathered to see Him, this is what we read in verses 21 and 22: “When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘By the prince of demons he drives out demons.’”
So, the religious authorities from the Temple were trying to discredit Jesus and claimed He was demon possessed. That’s nothing new. We know the Pharisees and scribes from the big city didn’t like Jesus and were upset at the large crowds that came out to hear Him.

But did you catch that first sentence about Jesus’ relatives? The Bible says that Jesus’ aunts and uncles and cousins thought He was nuts! They are quoted as saying, “He is out of his mind.” Also, it says they wanted to seize Him, which means have Him locked up!

Well, I’m not completely sure about the locked up part, since I’m not familiar with the state of mental health services in first century Palestine. I suspect emotional counseling wasn’t very impressive back then, even if you had a good health insurance plan through your employer. (That’s a little joke, by the way. There was no such thing as health insurance back then, and no such thing as mental health services, either.)

Years ago, if someone was suffering from mental health problems, the family probably brought the person home and prevented him or her from going outside. The person likely was a major embarrassment to the family, and they did their best to keep the afflicted soul out of sight so the neighbors would not gossip so much. (By the way, this is just another reason we all should be thankful we live in the 21st century, where mental health problems are better understood and can be treated successfully, rather than the old method of assuming the person was possessed by a demon and needed to be banished from community life.)
Anyway, Jesus’ own relatives were convinced He was out of His mind. They were so embarrassed they wanted to drag Him home and lock Him away so no one could see how insane He was. Wow, and I thought it was uncomfortable to have some of my relatives think I’m a “religious fanatic” because I go to Mass each week, write these essays, and occasionally give talks at churches. 

The impression I’ve always gotten from the gospel accounts is that the common folk in the countryside were attracted to Jesus and His message, while the sophisticated religious rulers in Jerusalem were unimpressed and wanted to stop Him. But this episode from Mark’s gospel makes it clear that not everyone in the rural regions were attracted to Jesus, especially His own blood relatives.
How do you think that made Jesus feel? Sure, He already knew the leaders in Jerusalem would oppose Him. But what about Uncle Lou? Auntie Helen? Cousin Lenny? Did Jesus expect these loved ones He’d known His whole life to completely misunderstand His divine mission and try to stop Him?

I guess this Gospel story is meant to teach us a couple of things. First, if God calls us to do a particular task, we must do it even when we face opposition. Second, if even Jesus had difficulties with His relatives, we shouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see eye-to-eye with our relatives once in a while.
At least in my case, my loved ones don’t claim I’m out of my mind. I think.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Time to Upgrade the Digital Presence

 Recently, my employers made the decision to increase our online “digital presence.” Apparently, the guys who own the company have concluded this Internet thing is not a passing fad.

At first, I thought “digital presence” was an odd way of saying someone flipped you the bird. But it turns out the phrase means a major upgrade to our website, along with new opportunities for blog posts, which then are linked to popular social media platforms, such as Face-Chat, Linked-Out, Insta-Scam, or whatever they call those time-wasting, soul-sucking things. (Oops, someone’s bad attitude accidentally leaked out again. What I, of course, meant to say is: “Or whatever they call those innovative, brilliant, business-enhancing networking and marketing tools.”)
Well, anyway, since my official job title is “Engineering Marketing Manager,” guess who is most responsible for utilizing these brilliant networking and marketing tools? That’s right, it’s me, also known as “Mr. why can’t we do everything with a Bic pen, legal pad, and typewriter, just like we did in 1981?”

So, in addition to all my regular duties (and if anyone actually knows what my regular duties are, please drop me a line), I now am responsible for three new activities: 1) Create and send out an email newsletter each month to every engineer in our territory; 2) Create and upload short blog posts onto our website three times each week, and then link them to the aforementioned Face-Scam, Insta-Linked, and Chat-Scat social media sites; and 3) Go on those social media sites multiple times each day and “Like” various industry related articles, along with offering my “comments” wherever appropriate.
The net result of all this extra work, or so I’ve been told, is that our “brand” will have a greater “digital profile,” which in turn will create “synergy” and make us an “industry trend-setter.” (Again, if anyone knows what any of that actually means, please drop me a line.)
Now, many people might think the real net result of all this is that I no longer have time to do my regular work. After all, who cares how many “links” and “likes” I have online if I can’t get a fan-coil unit selection and dimensional drawing to a consulting engineer on time? Or, does it really matter if an HVAC contractor in Arizona is impressed by the photo I took and posted of a roof top air-conditioning unit, when our sales territory stops at the New York border?

However, there is one saving grace that will get things back to normal very soon. Alert readers may have noticed an oxymoronic phrase a few paragraphs back. I mentioned that one of my new duties is to go online and offer my comments wherever appropriate. If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you know the idea of “my comments” and the word “appropriate” should never appear in the same sentence.
I’m sorry, but I just can’t help it. Whenever I perceive an opportunity for a snarky or sarcastic remark, it just spills right out of my mouth — or in this case, just spills right out of the tips of my fingers onto the computer keyboard.

After only a few weeks doing my new digital duties, I’ve received a lot of, um, interesting feedback, half of which is along the lines of, “Hey, that was funny,” and the other half more like, “Are you allowed to say that on Linked-In?” 

I’m pretty sure that quite soon I will be suspended from all these social media platforms for violating their “terms of service.” Then I’ll be able to do my job once again. I’ve got my Bic pen, legal pad, and typewriter all ready to go. I’ll drop you a line.