On Sunday May 23 2010 the St. Francis Xavier parish came together to offer blessings to the C4C members.

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It was a somber moment as we contemplated leaving our homes and families. We were mindful of the dangers that lay ahead for each of us.

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After Mass Catholic Charities of Kansas City hosted a sendoff luncheon. This would be the last pre-departure event.

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Most of the members flew to Seattle later that week. We were to assemble there prior to driving to Cape Flattery, our Memorial Day weekend departure point.

5 of us were tasked with driving the vehicles and equipment from Kansas City to Seattle, a journey of over 1,800 miles. Bethany Paul and Jeremy Ruzich drove one of the vans, while Stephen Belt and Carol Beckel drove the other van with trailer in tow. Christine and I drove the SUV which would be our “chase car” during the rides.

Christine and I passed through South Dakota where we made the obligatory stop at Wall Drugs.

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We passed through Butte Montana where long deceased members of my family had been employed in the copper mines.

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Onward we drove through Idaho and into Washington where the majesty of the northwest was on full display.

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We arrived in Seattle on May 27th where we joined other members of the group.

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The day before leaving for Seattle I was given to contemplation and I began journaling my thoughts… tapped out over the course of the next 3 months one finger at a time on my early generation palm sized iPod:

May 23, 2010, Unanticipated Sacrifices

Tomorrow my wife and I drive to Seattle, Washington. We are transporting one of the three vehicles that will provide support for me and the other C4C bicyclists. My professional life will be “on hold” until September 13th. We will miss the near daily contact with our children and grandchildren. Our clothing and personal effects for nearly 4 months have been packed into two “carry-on” sized bags. Space is at such a premium that we have focused on carrying the minimum of such things as socks (4 pair), shoes (one pair), long pants (two), shorts (one), and enough “unmentionables” to get us from one wash day to the next. These items are separate from our bicycle specific clothing. Except for 3 nights in July when we pass through Kansas City, we will not enjoy the comfort of our own bed for nearly 110 days.

We have been mentally and emotionally prepared for the anticipated sacrifices. Sacrifices of comfort… sacrifices of family… sacrifices of finances… sacrifices of privacy…. But, as tomorrow has drawn near I have been troubled by an annoying disquiet. I have pondered this to the point of distraction because it has caused me to be more critical, a bit less adaptable, and according to my wife, a bit more annoying (than usual). I have come to the conclusion that my reactions are the product of some unanticipated sacrifice.

For most of us, childhood was punctuated by the litany of “When I grow up, I won’t have to …”, “When I grow up, I can … whenever I want to.” The light at the end of the tunnel of childhood was self-determination and control. As adults we continue to embrace the illusion of achieved mastery of the management of our personal kingdoms. Such “mastery” is an illusion, since most of us have schedules, employers, responsibilities, duties… but these are shrouded in the trappings of our “rights”, and our “command” over our homes, persons, and property. We are comfortable in the illusions of our personal security and control.

Tomorrow, I leave the camouflage of my “grown-up” security. I again must accept being told when to rise, when to sleep… when to eat, and even what to eat. I will be a nearly anonymous servant. In some respects I have accepted a vow of 110 days of poverty and obedience. Since I will travel with my wife I hope to avoid the vow of chastity. The loss of the illusion of control over my life is a sacrifice that I had not anticipated. It will take some getting used to, now that I am a “grown-up”.

Next: Part 5. Cape Flattery Washington.

Peace Everyone. Pete

 

 

In 2010 46 million people in the United States lived in poverty. 15% of the population… one in every six people. Worse: 22% of children under the age of 18 lived in poverty.

Next to the Federal Government, US Catholic Charities is the largest social safety net provider in the Country, delivering services to over 12 million people from its 2,600 locations.

In 2010, its Centennial year, US Catholic Charities announced an initiative to reduce poverty in America 50% by the year 2020. Father Matt saw in this the prospect of making his departure from St. Francis Parish (SFX) and 3 month sabbatical into something grand and good. Matt often focused upon a core message in the Gospel of St. Matthew; Our duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked… minister to the needs of the poor and forgotten. Father Matt saw that bicycling across the United States could draw attention and contributions to the Catholic Charities campaign.

Matt had already established himself as both an adventurer and gifted fundraiser. In 2004 he sought to reduce or eliminate the SFX parish debt. Seeking donations, Matt kayaked from the headwaters of the Missouri River over 2,300 miles to St. Louis. He raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

“Cycling for Change” was Matt’s creation and his message:

“I can not think of a better way to spend my sabbatical than by helping those most vulnerable across the country… Our Cycling for Change Team is a small group of pilgrims helping those in poverty all over the country by supporting the work of Catholic Charities and raising money to expand the services of the Caritas Center in Kansas City.”

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The C4C campaign stood exclusively upon two pillars; raise awareness and raise money. There was a third pillar, individual in nature. It was the pursuit of an adventure. I confess that but for “the adventure” I would not have committed to those first two “pillars”.

2009 and 2010 lay before us heavy with an array of events, duties, and tasks.

In addition to phone and in-person solicitations I sent out over 150 letters and countless emails to friends, family, and colleagues in the legal community. Christine engaged in similar personal fundraising efforts. Together we raise over $25,000.00 on behalf of C4C.

There were meetings and committees.

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I began assembling the tools and supplies to be our bike mechanic on the road, including building and “trueing” spare wheels for the group.

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We began cycling together, joining the SFX parish “Flying Fish” bicycle group in organized metro rides.

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Matt spoke at Kansas City’s Irish Fest.

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We staffed a booth at the Tour of Missouri event.

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We rode together in the 2 day MS-150 event.

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We sponsored and headlined our own C4C group ride event in Kansas City.

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There were informal C4C gatherings that cemented our group identity.

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A grand fundraiser was hosted at the Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City.

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A weekend retreat was held at Conception Abbey in northwest Missouri. … and there were (many) training rides. The most significant being in Colorado; a week in June to give us experience riding roads and highways in the mountains.

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Until the June 2009 Colorado ride Christine had been content to let me pursue C4C on my own. No thought had been given to her personal participation. She was not a “cyclist”, however Christine was an organizational wizard and gifted manager of people. She accompanied us to Colorado for the fun of it, but by the end of the week everyone acknowledged the virtues of including Christine as the chief “cat herder”.

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Matt’s original vision was to ride from the farthest northwestern point of the contiguous 48 states, Cape Flattery Washington, to the southernmost point, Key West Florida. (We traversed the Card Sound Bridge which is just north of Key Largo, the farthest southeastern point.)

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Matt is a person of vision, but not necessarily detail. As of June 2009 others had begun to assemble the day-by-day routing and logistics. Christine became an active part of that planning after the Colorado ride.

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C4C was taking shape in a serious way, inertia enough that Catholic Charities of Kansas City secured an SUV, two large vans, and a dual axle trailer for our use on the campaign across America.

The C4C van, outside of our rooms at Hermiston

Next: Part 4, Sendoff to Seattle.

Peace Everyone. Pete

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2008 ended with a collision of bitter and sweet. In October our daughter Renee’ gave birth to naturally occurring quadruplets. They were very early and very small. Our other daughter, Alexis, announced that she was pregnant and would deliver in 2009. Renee’ encouraged Alexis to seek an early sonogram on the chance that mega-multiples now ran in the family. When later told by her doctor that she was carrying twins Alexis exclaimed in relief, “Thank God!”. In a span of 30 months our family would grow with the birth of 9 grandchildren.

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Tragedy arrived in December. All four of the fragile babies remained in NICU. (Simon would not join his siblings at home until he was 6 months old.) Daphne was losing her struggle with life. On December 6th she drew her last breath while held in her mother’s arms. The family was devastated.

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Father Matt arrived at the hospital the next morning to give solace. Lissa Whittaker, a Eucharistic Minister at St. Francis Xavier Church (SFX), called to say that she would take care of the arrangements for Daphne’s service. That eased one burden. We knew of Lissa and her husband Tom, but I was not yet aware that they would be among those bicycling across the Country. From the moment of Lissa’s call she and Tom became dear threads interwoven into the fabric of our family.

Father Matt officiated Daphne’s funeral and a few months later he baptized her three surviving siblings, all of whom have grown and thrived in spite of their early difficulties.

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The Cycling for Change (C4C) through riders would number 12. In addition to Father Matt and his parish assistant, Bethany Paul,

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we would include:

Dr. Tom Whittaker, JD MD. Physician and surgeon, University of Kansas Department of Ophthalmology.

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Lissa Whittaker, Owner of Rapid Transcript, a Federal Court Transcription service.

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John Mocella, retired and a volunteer with Catholic Charities of Kansas City.

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Sara Terhune, Graduate student.

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Karl Schafer, Physical Therapist.

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Jeremy Ruzich, Photographer.

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John Stigers, Retired postal worker.

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Deborah Hellinger, DO. Musculoskeletal Radiologist.

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Jason Christiansen, CEO of Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs.

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and me.

Our support team on the road would consist of:

Stephen Belt, Flight training director St. Louis University.

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Tom and Joy Comeau, SFX parish members. (Joy passed away late in 2018. In less than a month Tom followed. Love long shared resists separation.)

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and my wife, Christine, owner and Director of Northland Dependency Services.

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Logistics and administration in Kansas City would be in the hands of  Catholic Charities staff Suzanne Cronkhite and Kathy Conwell.

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C4C was scheduled to begin on Memorial Day 2010 in Cape Flattery Washington and conclude 100 days and 5,000 miles later with riders crossing the “Finish Line” on Labor Day in Key West Florida.

As viewed in January of 2009, Memorial Day 2010 seemed a long way off, but there was so much to do. Each participant had committed to engage in considerable group and individual fundraising. There were events to plan and host, promotional rides to organize, meetings… and of course the training. Each of us had to continue with the routine challenges of home, family, and work while juggling the significant requirements of C4C. The 16 of us began 2009 as relative strangers. By the end of that year we were family.

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Next: 2009-10 Promotion and Preparation.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Every story has a beginning and this one dates to 2008: I was 56 years old. Married for 31 year, a father for 30 years, an attorney for 28 years, and we had welcomed 2 new grandchildren into our lives early that year. There would be a total of 9 born within 30 months of that January. I had dreamed of riding a bicycle across North America… never… not even once.

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After a 40 year hiatus I had rediscovered bicycling in 2006 and stood as proof that once learned, one never forgets how to ride a bike. My bicycle was a far cry from the 26” chrome fendered beast that I rode as a young teen. My “Seven” (the brand name) was a sleek custom build titanium job that had cost almost twice what my first new car did (a 1974 Toyota Celica GT). “Guy jewelry.” was my curt reply to Christine as she gasped upon reading the invoice. It explained everything, and nothing. I ride it to this day.

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My father had long suffered from Multiple Sclerosis and so it was natural for me as a bicycle enthusiast to participate in the MS-150 charity rides sponsored in Missouri. In 2006, 2007, and again in 2008 I had ridden over 150 miles in the course of the 2 day event. I considered that to be quite an achievement.

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Bicycling 5,000 miles coast to coast, crossing through 16 States, was unthinkable… certainly beyond my contemplation.

In 2008 we lived in Liberty Missouri but traveled weekly to Kansas City for Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church (SFX), the Jesuit parish next to Rockhurst University. From 1977 to 1989 we had lived a short walk from SFX and were very active in the parish. I had served a term as President of the Parish Council and Christine served as President of its School Board. By 2008 we had long retreated to pews nearer the back of the church.

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In the 1950’s SFX could boast 1,500 registered parish families. In the 70’s and 80’s there were perhaps 150. The architecturally significant church was cavernous. In the early years of our attendance it rarely approached capacity except at Easter and Christmas.

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The church was the spiritual home for a small but dedicated core of parishioners.

Around the year 2000, SFX experienced something of a renaissance with the arrival of its newest pastor, Father Matt Ruhl, S.J.. Among homilists Matt was a “rock star”. He drew a following from across Metro-Kansas City and SFX once again enjoyed near capacity attendance each Sunday. Matt was never one to presume the mind of God. Words like “God wants you to…” were usually absent from his sermons. Instead he challenged us to know and love ourselves and thus our neighbors in thought provoking presentations. He preferred to forego looking down upon us from the pulpit, instead walking up and down the aisle among the congregants. Mid-sermon he would often shake a hand, pat a shoulder or wink an eye without skipping a beat of his message.

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His popularity was legendary and perhaps the source of jealousy from Kansas City’s Diocesan  bishop at the time who ended up ordering Matt to return to the pulpit as was “expected” of a dignified clergyman. That bishop would later find notoriety as the first of his standing to plead guilty to the crime of failure to report the sexual abuse of children.

It is said that all good things must come to an end and so it was with Matt Ruhl’s tenure at SFX. One Sunday in mid-2008 he addressed the congregation and announced that in May of 2010 he would be leaving for another assignment. Those were sad words for his dedicated followers.

It was a rare Sunday for us as we were joined in the congregation by our adult children, their spouses, and our two infant grandchildren.

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Matt’s message was not of particular interest to the family until he added an unusual twist: Father Matt had received permission to take a sabbatical over the Summer of 2010. Joined by a few hand chosen riders he would bicycle across the United States, delivering the message of the Catholic Charities’ campaign to reduce poverty in the United States. He and his cycling companions would raise both awareness and funds as “Cycling for Change” (C4C). Matt would be seeking riders to join for segments of the journey. The members of my family collectively gasped as they turned to look at me. Mesmerized, I stared up at Matt. Bicycle… across the United States… across America… Wow. My family knew me all too well.

After Mass I sought out Bethany Paul, Father Matt’s assistant. “I would like to sign up for the entire ride.” Bethany looked at me without expression. I am sure that my face was familiar to her and Matt, but beyond that I was an unknown. I repeated myself. Politely, Bethany found a blank piece of paper and took down my particulars. They would be in touch. It never occurred to me that I might not be chosen to ride. I began regularly calling Bethany for “status updates”. I ignored that no one had acknowledged my “application”. In retrospect I am sure that I was something of a nuisance. My persistence won out and I was taken seriously. I would be one of the “through riders”. Eventually we would number 12, including Matt and Bethany.

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There would be segment riders, and there would be support participants who would drive the vans, one pulling a cargo trailer that would be our SAG (“Support and Gear”).

I had not yet considered how I would meet my commitment to raise $25,000.00 on behalf of C4C. I had not considered how I would suspend my law practice, and thus my income, for an entire Summer or how in my absence I would continue to pay my office overhead and my assistant’s salary.

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I had not given thought to being away from Christine for over 3 months. Those were just details. I was going to ride across the United States on a bicycle!

Next: Part 2. Joy, Tragedy, and Becoming Family.

Peace Everyone. Pete

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Our days of sheltering in place and complying with social distancing guidelines are following one upon the other. A pattern has emerged. Wake up, coffee, turn on the news… take in the latest infection and death counts, shower, dress, breakfast… For we who are retired it is not so difficult. We know that the same cannot be said for those who are not.

Some things are changing. Events and the news are taking on a more personal note. Last week a friend in Illinois suffered a non-covid health emergency that resulted in hospitalization. His issues resolved and he was back home in a couple of days, but not before he witnessed firsthand the war being fought by legions of health care workers. His admission was not covid related, but until his lack of infection could be confirmed he was presumed contagious. Hospital staff “suited up” whenever they entered his room, and upon leaving they disrobed and discarded the facemask, gloves, and gowns. It became obvious to my friend how hospitals are consuming and running short of personal protective equipment in the pursuit of patient care. These items are not “disappearing out some back door”.

Chaos and crisis surrounded my friend. With fatigue and fear in his eyes, a physician shared that he had personally attended 24 “code-blues”. The doctor wanted to get my friend out so that he did not become the 25th. “Pete, you can’t believe how bad it really is for them.”

Thankfully, the experiences that are close to home for us are not yet so dramatic. Our daily walks take us by a number of neighborhood shopping districts. They have become ghost towns.

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Where one once had to circle the block to find a parking space the streets are empty.

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Shops where we were once greeted by name are now locked, signs hinting that the question of reopening is not only one of when, but perhaps if.

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A recent visit to a store saw us waiting in line outside to enter as the number of customers inside was being limited. Wearing gloves and facemasks, Christine and I were in the majority. Surreal. Out in the parking lot a frustrated middle aged woman berated an older man for the “silliness” of his mask and gloves. She railed that it was all the result of fake news. “I don’t believe any of it!” were her parting words as she slammed her car door and drove off in disgust.

We live in Missouri, but just a few blocks west of our home is the state line that we share with Kansas. Earlier this week the Kansas Legislature overturned the Governor’s emergency declaration that had limited in-person gatherings, including church services, to 10 people. In recent days Kansas has experienced a sharp upsurge in infections and deaths with twelve new disease clusters, three of them directly related to church group activities. The Governor’s order, issued upon the urging of health experts, was decried by the Legislators as an extreme and overreaching attack upon religious rights and freedoms.

I am reminded of a modern-day Parable: A man is called to his door by a police officer, “Floods coming, we are urging you and your neighbors to leave your homes and seek higher ground.” The man shook his head and replied, “No sir, I put my faith in the Lord to protect me.” A little while later as the floodwaters began to cover the street a firetruck stopped in front of his home, “Sir, evacuate your home before it’s too late.” Again, his response was, “No sir, I put my faith in the Lord to protect me.” The waters continued to rise, reaching the top step of his porch. Resolute, he stood at his door as rescue personnel in a boat again implored him to join them to safety. Crossing his arms he glared, “Nope, you go on. I place my faith in the Lord!”… Eventually the man found himself sitting on the roof of his home, the still rising torrent had reached to the eves. A Coast Guard helicopter hovered above him and extended a line and harness down to him. Secure in his faith he shouted above the roar of the whirling blades, “Go away!! The Lord is protecting me!!!” (continued below)

Academy Lafayette (“AL”) is a charter elementary school here in Kansas City. It is noteworthy that its entire curriculum from kindergarten through the 8th grade is taught in French. Six of our grandchildren attend school there (five of them are in the same grade!). Kansas City schools, including AL, are closed due to the epidemic. The children are continuing their studies online by participating in daily virtual classes. Many of the less fortunate families rely upon the school to provide breakfast and lunches for their children. Unfortunately, virtual school does not provide virtual meals to fill the real stomachs of the food insecure.

As an “AL grandparent” Christine keeps informed of matters that concern the AL community.

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She learned that an AL parent, Meghan Downey who is an owner of the Kansas City restaurant Komatsu Ramen, had been soliciting food donations in order to provide breakfast and lunch groceries for the AL families in need.

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Because of covid-19 Komatsu Ramen is closed except for a limited carry-out business.

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Christine talked to Meghan. Food donations were still meeting the current need, however Meghan was desperately short of grocery sacks. She had resorted to using gift bags, but those too were at an end.

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Christine phoned Gary, a manager at the local Cosentino’s Brookside Market.

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Gary, who is an AL supporter, donated a bale of 300 grocery sacks which Christine and I delivered to a grateful Meghan Downey.

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(Back to the Parable): The flood waters continued to rise unabated and the man drowned. Standing before the Lord he desperately sought to understand… “Lord, my faith… I believed in you. I placed my trust in you. Why did you forsake me?” In judgment God replied, “I did not forsake you. I sent you a police officer. I sent you the firetruck… the boat… even a helicopter. In your arrogance you presumed to know my mind and you turned your back upon the help that I gave.”

Easter is a celebration of resurrection and redemption. It is not a celebration of architecture. It is not necessary to assemble inside a human wrought structure to obey the First of the two Great Commandments, and in light of the current contagion it is a violation of the Second of the two Great Commandments; “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”, when one intentionally risks the infection, illness, and possible death of oneself and ones neighbors.

In the above parable the Lord’s Salvation came in the form of a police officer, firefighters, a boat, and a helicopter. In real life today they are the physicians, nurses, and health care workers. They are grocery store clerks and a local store manager. They are a restauranteur… and my wife, Christine.
Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: We are an inventive society, even in the charity of our giving. Health care workers live in fear of bringing the covid infections home from the hospital to their loved ones. I learned from Meghan of “RVs for MDs”, a recent endeavor promoted on Facebook.

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RV Owners make temporary donations of their RVs for use at hospitals by critical care staff. In just a couple of weeks members of this Facebook group have come to number in the tens of thousands with hundreds of “matches” being made. The RV that Meghan’s father owns is now providing a temporary “home away from home” for staff at Research Hospital here in Kansas City. Apparently, in Meghan’s family charity doesn’t begin at home, it was learned at home.

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I celebrated my 68th birthday this past week. April 1st came 7 days on the heals of my Mother’s passing (March 24th). It would have been my first birthday in memory to have not received a card from her, however on April 1st I received in the mail 15 of her funeral home cards… enough for each of our children, grandchildren, and us. Not exactly a birthday card, but cards “from her” nonetheless.

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Her life left much to be grateful for, certainly more than enough to salve the wounds of grief. We were recipients of an outpouring of empathy, support and condolence. A week later the outpouring hit a second wind with congratulatory expressions for still drawing breath into my 68th year. In a time of isolation I have been the beneficiary of contacts from friends here and abroad, friends from my high school youth, my college days, my working years, our travels, and our community. I even enjoyed a lengthy telephone call with a high school friend with whom I had no contact for at least 45 years. It was as if time folded to connect then and now with nothing in between.

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In the 1990’s Christine and I hosted a number of foreign exchange students. In turn, our children were each exchange students and provided links for us to their overseas friends and families. We remain in touch with many of them and are still fondly referred to as “Mom and Dad”. They remain as dear to us as our children. The impact of the pandemic overseas takes on a personal note through their eyes. The societies that they live in face the same struggles that are presented to us in heartland America. Christine is fond of saying that these “children” put faces on far-off places.

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We have always been travelers, never allowing a year to go by without at least a 2 week vacation. In the early years we tent camped because that was what we could afford. Later, we saved for the occasional trip overseas. In retirement we have been “on the road” here and abroad almost half the time. With each venture we have expanded our world of friends… all are people we care about. The amount of time that we shared with each of them is not the measure of that caring. Be they our family, our local friends, an island innkeeper, couples met on a single night in Scotland, hikers on the Camino, passengers on a cruise ship, or campers we have shared a fire with, the connections remain as does our concern for each of them.

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A phrase that is now often repeated is “…in these uncertain times.” I smile. The times have always been “uncertain”. No day comes with a guarantee. The only thing that is certain is that the sun will rise and that it will set. Whether or not we are there to experience the day is and has always been uncertain. Some might say that there is a depressing fatalism in that thought. However, I find encouragement to “not put off until tomorrow the things you may then find you are unable to do”. I hope as a society these “uncertain times” bring that lesson home.

So much that we have taken for granted has now been put on hold. When the rush to return to “normal” occurs, I hope that all of us will consider which parts of “normal” are worth restoring. The pandemic was never “if it occurs”, only “when it occurs”. The efforts to plan that followed the pandemics of 1918, and the more recent Ebola and Swine flu epidemics, were all short lived. Here in the United States there has been an effort to enact universal health care since it was proposed at the dawn of the 20th Century by Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican). The closest that we have come to enacting it was the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). From the day that legislation was passed there have been tireless efforts to repeal it. Unfortunately, the energy put into the repeal of the ACA has not been evident in any effort to replace it with something better.

There has been speculation that nine months hence there will be a mini-baby boom. Of this I have no doubt. I also have no doubt that the future holds a bankruptcy boom as well. Approximately 40 million Americans have no health insurance. Covid-19 does not isolate itself to just the insured. Even those who are insured likely face crushing deductibles that are occasioned by any emergency care or hospitalization. For the uninsured it will be much worse.

We look at the impact of covid-19 in Italy and Spain and now see that we are on the same dreaded trajectory. What is different, is that in those countries the cost of care will be carried universally as a basic social right. It is the same in all other developed countries. Only in the United States does healthcare remain the individual’s burden.
“It’s Socialism!” is the shouted warning. Yet what are our streets and roads, our navigable waterways, police and fire protection, elementary and secondary education, Social Security, Medicare…? Each of these are a part of the social contract that we embrace; things that we all contribute to and all universally benefit from. Why not health care.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: Climate change is real and no longer just the stuff of scientific theory. As with covid-19, if we wait until the point of critical then we will have waited too long, and it will be too late. In the meantime, Have Fun, Do Good, and Be Safe for the sake of those who love you… and of course wash your hands.

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The “dashboard” of my blog software allows me to see the countries where people are viewing my posts, typically 15 or more. I can’t tell who the readers are, but in the case of a few countries I have a pretty good idea… Philippines, Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, New Zealand, Australia, Jersey Island, Japan, Norway… to name a few that cause me to smile. I am clueless when I see Korea, China, India and a number of others.

The only way that I know with certainty that a post has been read by a particular individual is when they make a comment. Recently this comment caught me by surprise:
“I love the stories you tell. They are so persuading and realistic. My mom makes me read for an hour for home school, so I always choose your stories.” – Olive

Olive is 10 years old. We have known her, her parents, and her 13yo brother Liam since she was a toddler. Early on we happily assumed the role of their “adopted” grandparents, Papa Pete and Grandma Chris, including them in family gatherings and pictures.

The same day that Olive posted her comments (there were three of them) she sent me an email message, “Hi Pete, I sent you a comment and I just wanted to say I love your stories…” She added that she would like to talk. I called her Mother, Jenni, who was aware that Olive had reached out. Jenni said that Olive had some questions and just wanted to talk about some of the things that she had read. Olive was especially taken with the post, “Through a Child’s Eyes”. She discusses her readings with Jenni who shared with me a few of Olive’s reflections:

“Through a Child’s Eyes is how I really think. I agree with the description about time, especially about the birthdays. It’s really how time works for kids.”
“He says things I’ve never thought before, but he explains all the pictures and all the things that have happened in his life.”
“I like his blogs because it’s not thoughts I would think that he might say out loud… I wouldn’t know that he’s thinking those things…”

Wow… Olive, at 10 years old I would never have known that you were thinking those things either! Perhaps you have hit upon an idea for those like you who are spending so much time being homebound.

Jenni arranged a “Facetime” session which allowed for some real-time questions, answers, and just plain conversational catching up. Jenni added some insights about both children. Olive is a big helper at school and has the gift of foreseeing problems before they arise. She is in the 5th grade and loves to read. Mom requires an hour of reading each day from both children and Olive chooses “Papa Pete’s blog”. Liam is 13 and a huge “bookworm”, often reading mom’s novels and books when she has finished with them. He is a deep thinker. Big concepts and heavy topics are comfortable for him. Both children speak French fluently.

For her part, Jenni is thrilled that the writings are both informative and challenging for Olive. She absorbs the vocabulary and is excited to learn about new places and experiences.

I asked Jenni if it would be ok to feature Olive in a post. She and Olive were thrilled. I am thrilled to share something that is not about covid-19, the economy, or politics.
Recent news programs have highlighted teens endlessly partying away their Spring vacations, intoxicated and oblivious to the looming pandemic. The stories are deemed “newsworthy” because of the controversy and ire that they generate. However, Olive and her brother are the real story. They are examples of the millions of young people who are guided by parents who care… parents dedicated to raising thoughtful, moral, and well educated children. They are the next generation, the one that will have the tools and know-how to fix the problems that we have left them with.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. This post was the result of a comment posted by Olive. I read and enjoy every comment that readers make. Most readers remain silent, some of you comment but occasionally… a few of you regularly. My number one commentator was my 94 year old Mother, Pauline Schloss. She rarely missed an opportunity to throw in her “2 cents”. Mom was proud of me but in her eyes I remained her willful child. We clashed on politics, and she was ever concerned that I was too much the risk taker. She thought I should have been a teacher, to which I would reply, “No Mom, I’m a lawyer.” It’s funny how our impressions of others change but slowly. For most of my life Mom saw me as a bit of a spendthrift with a poorly developed work ethic. My posts provided her with fresh insights into me that she treasured. Mom died March 24th. Christine and I are grateful that we were able to spend time with her a few weeks ago when she was still her sharp and alert self. The day that we left her side she was transferred into the care of Hospice. Her decline to a peaceful and painless death rapidly followed. But for the pandemic related “social distancing”, her funeral would have drawn quite a crowd. As it is only 3 were permitted to attend her funeral Mass. I am at peace that Christine and I could not be among them. When things loosen up we will drive to her home near Chicago and retrieve some personal effects. I will take some time to sit by the final resting place of my Mother and Father, expressing my gratitude for everything and forgiving them for anything.

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The closest that she ever came to flirting with an untruth was to claim that she was 5’2” tall. The only sign of anger that she ever gave was to include middle names when calling any of her four sons… Peter Michael, JD (Christine), Patrick Joseph, PhD (Maureen), Philip William, CDR USN Ret. (Kathy), and Paul Kevin.

Born in 1925 to Lebanese immigrant parents, Joseph and Labibe Frances, her heart was forever connected to her West Virginia roots.

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Her parents valued education and encouraged her to explore life pursuits unfamiliar to most women of her time. She sought a career in Physical Education, receiving her Master’s Degree at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. It was there that she met her soulmate, Peter Schloss (1922-2009).

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He too was the child of immigrant parents, Germans from Russia, and hailed from North Dakota. Fresh from his duties as a soldier in the European theater of WW2 he arrived at Madison to pursue post graduate work in Physical Education. Their origins could not have been more different. Arabic was the language of her home and German the language of his. She from the mountains of West Virginia and he from the plains of North Dakota. Nevertheless, education, athletics, and their shared Catholic faith were the bridges that joined Pete and Pauline’s otherwise contrasted lives. They married in 1949 and moved to Illinois where they made their home and pursued their careers.

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In the 1950’s Pete and Pauline became the proud parents of 4 sons. The “6 PS’s” made their home in South Holland Illinois, moving to Crete Illinois in 1966. Pete and Pauline remained lifelong residents of Crete, and parishioners at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Monee, Illinois. Pauline retired from her teaching position at Thornwood High School in 1988, and Peter preceded Pauline in death in 2009. Pauline’s indominable spirit and extroverted nature kept her engaged in many of her favorite pursuits, golf, bridge, Women’s Club, and cheering on her favorite teams from the Universities of West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame. She was also blessed with the love of her 9 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.

In her later years, Pauline assumed the role of family matriarch with accomplished grace. Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren made their homes across the United States, but it was Pauline and her home in Illinois that continued as a bond for the family. She will be missed, but her legacy of love and devotion to family, friends, and community will live on in those whose lives she touched.

Peace Everyone. Peter Schloss

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NBC, CBS, FOX, NPR… Our eyes are glued to a world caught in the grip of seismic change. For most there is anxiety, for some it rises to fear and even panic, others are fixed with disbelief and disgust. This is not a time given over to the more moderate and passive emotions. But what about the children. What does this life appear like through their eyes.

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Recall if you will life as a 7 year old. The first 2-3 years are a haze of dim recollections, virtually no solid memories. The entire conscious experience of that child is compressed into a span of 4 years. Through the eyes of that child it takes FOREVER until the next Easter, birthday, or Christmas arrives! Those events will have only occurred 4 times in her memory, only celebrated at that point every quarter of her lifetime.

Put into perspective: I will soon celebrate my 68th birthday. For me birthdays are separated by only 1/68th of my lifetime… only 1.5 percent of my life now passes each year. For the 7 year old a year feels nearly 17 times longer. When a 7 year old looks back to when he turned 6 it is the equivalent of me looking back to when I was 50. Imagine the span of time and the experiences that occurred from then until now and then understand that this is what 12 months presents for that 7 year old child.

We live in a time of uncertainty that will pass and then normalize within the next 1 or 2 years. However, for the children a year or two can permanently define a childhood.
A child wakes in the night gripped with fear. Clutching a blanket to her cheek she wanders uncertainly into her parent’s bedroom. “Mommy, I heard a noise and I think it came from under my bed.” The mother gently raises her head from the pillow and with the lilt of a knowing smile screams, “SNAKES, I KNEW IT!! THERE ARE SNAKES UNDER YOUR BED!!!”

Absurd? Isn’t that what we do when in the presence of our children we glue ourselves to every “Breaking News” story? Do our children have the capacity to understand the anger, frustration, and fear that their trusted adults mouth? There is another option.

Recently I have witnessed afternoons where children are taking walks with their parents. They play ball together in the yard. One gentleman was building a fire in his yard that might serve to toast marshmallows and perhaps make “Someores” this evening. Parents are listening to their children’s questions and answering them. Neighborhoods are being rediscovered by parents through the eyes of their children and children through the eyes of their parents. These fortunate children and their fortunate parents may remember this as a time when life went on hold and it was a gift that will be remembered and shared as… “I remember back when your great-grandfather and I…”

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: I share this wonderful and timely bit of prose written by Kitty O’Meara:
“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”

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William Alden Nichols, a charter member of the “Greatest Generation”, passed from this life on February 24, 2020.

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“Bill” was 101. He was preceded in death by his wife of 74 years, Doris Irene (Robinson) Nichols, son William A. Nichols Jr., and daughter Lelani (Albert) Himegarner. He is survived by his daughters Kathryn Wimett, Christine (Peter) Schloss, and son Robert “Bob” Nichols. In life he was a blessing to his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.
Bill lived a storied life which included his presence as one of the first members of the United States Armed Forces to occupy Hiroshima at the end of World War 2. For pictures and to read more of this man’s remarkable life please see the tribute posted in celebration of his Centennial Birthday:
http://mediationkc.com/2018/11/11/november-11-2018-william-alden-nichols-100-years-and-counting/
Peace Everyone. Peter Schloss