Many have wondered how we can go “on the road” in a tiny camper for weeks on end. The answer is that my wife and I share a good marriage. She is a good person (however, I will not self-proclaim my own character). A good marriage is not dependent upon whether or not the partners are good people, but rather upon the people being good partners. In this I am doubly blessed to have married a good person who is a good partner. Each year on our anniversary (June 19th) we take our marriage off of the shelf, admire and polish it for the next year. It really doesn’t tarnish since we continually work on keeping it polished throughout the year.

We do not cast responsibility upon each other for our individual happiness, but we do find our relationship is a source of happiness. It is also a safe place where we find support in the other’s strengths and talents, refuge from our own weaknesses and shortcomings. Like I said, ours is a good marriage. Many people find that that they need solitude in order to examine their thoughts without distraction. With a good partner one can also better know one’s thoughts by dialogue, but only when there is absolute trust that the exchanges are free from criticism and judgment.

In our marital life, the depth of sharing can be challenged by the daily distractions of work, finances, current events, and all of those things that comprise the background noise of “real” life. I find that most days we are able to shrug off the burdens of such distractions.

After over 40 years we still find strength and support in our partnership. We love our life at home, and we love our life on the road. The commonality is that we love our life together. Have I said that I have a good Marriage?

Peace Everyone. Pete

Please follow and like us:

Once again, the media is saturated with the tragedy of children gunned down and parents wringing their hands in grief-stricken despair.
Most of us sit as observers of the unfolding drama. We are like those who sit ringside at a brutal cage-fight. We see the chaos unfolding within the cage, but we are safely separated from the real damage occurring within the enclosure. We see the emotions and the pain play out but remain insulated from anything more than a reflexive emotional flinch. When we walk away from the television our day remains undisturbed. The pain is theirs, not ours, and try as we might we cannot know the full depth of the loss… UNLESS, one has endured the suffering of having lost a child.

Some of you who are reading this have lost a child, and I apologize in advance for the inadequacy of what I am presenting. I have not lost a child, but I have been present at the passing of a grandchild and witnessed my child thus endure that loss.

There was another occasion when I found myself in a circumstance that gave me the smallest and briefest inkling of what a parent’s grief might feel like. Years ago, Christine and I were actors in a community theater presentation of “A Christmas Carol”. I was Bob Cratchit and Christine played my wife, Martha. We fell easily into our roles, to the point that the death of Tiny Tim became larger than life for us on stage. “Bob” had returned home from visiting “Tim’s” grave. On script, “Martha” observed, “Your walk seemed a bit longer than usual.” I understood her meaning and with a slight hesitation I replied, “Yes, I went to see him today.” In a real flood of emotion, I forced myself to continue. “It is such a lovely place, and as soon as I arrived I wished that you had been there with me.”
It was too much for me. No longer acting, my head bent toward the table and my hands extended flat on either side of a teapot. My fingers contracted and drew the tablecloth into my fists. The sugar and cream moved upon the table. Christine’s hand found my shoulder as she leaned over me with real concern. A tear drop fell from my eye, darkening the tablecloth as the second, third, and countless other tears, mine and hers, fell to the table. I became dimly aware of the sobs which now came from the “Cratchit children” who were gathered around us. I knew I was supposed to say something, but the words that I had practiced were lost. From the deepest pain in my soul I looked into my wife’s eyes and I cried off script, “I just miss my child… I miss him so much!”. She, and I and the children all found one another and embraced in sudden and unrehearsed anguish as the lights dimmed.

I stood from the table and gazed upon the tear-filled eyes of my “family” wondering at what had just occurred. When Christine and I left the table, we left behind the ghosts of Bob and Martha Cratchit. We left behind their pain.

Our intention that night had been to act out roles in a community theater presentation of “A Christmas Carol”. But for those few moments at the table, we were parents who mourned the loss of their child… parents who felt the pain of every other parent who has lost a child. For just a moment we had an insight into that unspeakable, searing, suffocating pain.

The loss of a child is a horror beyond the capacity of the English language to describe. There are words to identify other family losses… widow, widower, and orphan, but there is no single word for a parent who has lost a child.

Peace. Pete Schloss

Please follow and like us:

Years ago, during a Lake Michigan sailing passage from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Washington Island Wisconsin, Christine and I encountered a sudden gale force storm. What had started for the two of us as an idyllic 8-hour sail quickly deteriorated into a terrifying cacophony of wind, waives, and lightning. The anchor broke free of its mount on the bow and threatened to hole the side of the hull. I slid along the deck going forward with line in my teeth while Christine struggled against the tiller. The bow alternately rose and fell against the crashing waves… one moment I was 8 feet above the water, the next submerged. I succeeded in securing the anchor and reversed my crawl to the cockpit aft. Shaken by the experience I asked Christine if she had identification zipped in her fowl weather jacket. I was serious, and she knew it.

On our marine radio we monitored a Coast Guard rescue of a vessel that had foundered within a couple of miles of us. We had been towing our dingy, but the wind and waves had capsized the 9-foot rowboat… I had to cut it loose. Eventually we were in sight of the harbor entrance, protected waters and land.

On shore but still shaken, my wife and I proceeded to the marina restaurant and saw in the distance a rainbow which appropriately marked the end of our terror. We noted that the other patrons spoke of the storm as a “pleasant distraction”. I will ever remember the contrast between the “distraction” for those ashore and the struggle for us on the water.

This stands as a metaphor that there are those among us who live the same day but are instead burdened by vastly different experiences… days filled with hunger, poverty, and desperation. The rainbow never appears on their side of the storm.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Please follow and like us:

We have become accustom to visits from random strangers interested in our home, our Casita travel trailer, or both. This morning was no exception as such a visit occurred while I was removing 7 weeks of road grime from “Rigel”, our home away from home.

While scrubbing a wheelwell, I became aware of the presence in my driveway of an older Buick that had seen a better day. A wizened man, on the north side of 80 years old, exited the Buick and hobbled toward me with hand outstretched. He introduced himself as Bill and turned his eyes to Rigel. “She sure is a nice trailer… looks like you have done some traveling.” I thanked Bill and acknowledge that the map on the back of the trailer accurately displayed the many States that we had visited in the last 17 months. “Wow”, Bill remarked, “Mind if I look inside?” I ushered Bill to the door and became a bit concerned as he reached for the handle and displayed a large purple bruise that extended the width of his trembling arthritic hand. His step up into the trailer was tentative and uncertain, but to my relief successful. He stood in the entry and with a wistful, almost vacant gaze he scanned the interior. “When my wife finally passes from her Alzheimer’s, this is what I want to do.” We both stood silent, Bill continuing his imagined travels and me allowing his words to sink in.

Without further comment Bill sighed, smiled, and began the difficult task of stepping back down from trailer to driveway. He once again extended his hand and thanked me. He looked tired, but at the same time grateful. I expressed to Bill my wish that matters resolve kindly for him and his wife. With tears in his eyes Bill nodded and again thanked me. He returned to his car and left me to ponder what had just occurred.

Bill and his wife are traveling a difficult journey. For a few minutes he borrowed our trailer and found peace in an imaginary detour to a different destination. He also reminded me that his path is one that one day we may all share.

Peace. Pete
Originally Posted October 3, 2016

Please follow and like us:

Years ago, I read that if a frog is cast into a pan of boiling water it will immediately react to save itself and jump out of the pan. However, if the frog is placed in a pan of cool water and the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will remain in place oblivious to the fact that it is being cooked.

I have accepted this account on faith but I still wonder if it has ever been experimentally proven. I would never consider torturing some poor frog to satisfy my curiosity, however recent events have brought me to the realization that the sacrifice of a frog is unnecessary since I have the example of a teacher, my father.

My dad began teaching in 1949, which was the year that he and my mother married. By 1959 they had brought 4 sons into the world, of which I am the oldest. My mother was also a teacher, but she chose to stay home to raise the children until I started high school. Dad’s teacher’s salary, supplemented by summer work and the small stipends he received for coaching football, basketball, and track, were the family’s sole source of support. From his income, my parents provided our family with the following:

• A custom-built brick home in south suburban Chicago

• Parochial grade school educations

• One newer car and a second older car

• A camping trailer that we used for annual summer vacations, traveling throughout the United States and Canada

• Excellent health and dental care

• Undergraduate state college educations for the children that included our tuition, books, room and board

My dad was not a financial wizard, he was a teacher. Teachers in the 1960’s, along with firefighters, police officers, factory workers, truck drivers, and a myriad of other professions, were the pillars of middle class America. The real strength of the “American Dream” was not in the strength of our military or the wealth of the “top 1%”, but in what average workers could accomplish for themselves and their families.

Had something suddenly occurred in our society to deprive these workers of their ability to provide for their families in the manner that I have described then there would have been a declaration of a national emergency to address the crisis. In other words, the frog would have immediately reacted and leapt from the pan of boiling water.

Unfortunately, the America of my youth was bathed in a pan of cool water. The temperature of the water has gradually risen over the last 50 years to the point that the middle class of America it is being cooked out of existence.

As for the experiment, frogs need not apply. We have enough teachers, firefighters, police officers, factory workers, truck drivers…

Peace. Pete Schloss

Please follow and like us:

It is June 26, 2015. I woke up this morning with my wife of 38 years at my side, it was the start of just another day.

As with most married Americans, we have come to take for granted the tax benefits of marriage, the property rights associated with marriage, and the protections offered to us as a married couple by our Social Security contributions. I have never questioned that my wife would be at my side in the event of a serious illness or injury or that she would have the opportunity to express my wishes to my physicians if I were rendered silent. None of this changed for us today because this was just another day.

There are some voices raised in anger and disgust about this day when nothing has changed for them. They cry that god will wreak a vengeance upon us, and that life as we know it will end… even though for them nothing has changed.

There are those among us, our friends, co-workers, brothers, sisters, even our children, who woke up this morning and it was not just another day. Much changed for them in this land of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Those things of marriage that I have taken for granted for the last 38 years are now afforded to them without regard to the gender of the person that they are bonded to by Love. It’s about time… and welcome to my club.

Peace, Pete Schloss

Footnote: On June 26, 2015, same-sex marriage was established in all 50 States as the result of the ruling of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges.

Please follow and like us:

Remember, this is just about a tree…

I don’t recall exactly when she first came to my notice, but when she did there was so little hope for her.

We had purchased a home in an old established part of Kansas City. The home was a derelict sitting upon a long-neglected yard that had gone wild. The house was deconstructed, and the salvaged materials were donated to Habitat Restore. Heavy equipment was brought in to fracture, crush and pulverize the concrete foundation. Machines tore the earth leaving a crater where a home once stood. The yard, where it could still be identified as such, bore the scars of tractor treads and heavy trucks. Two wonderfully monumental trees gave their lives, doomed by the crush and cuts to their roots. Virtually unnoticed and soon forgotten were the destroyed flower beds, plowed roses, uprooted shrubs… the plantings that had adorned the property and once given it character. The wildings, vines, weeds, and mix of volunteer foliage were no less the victims of the onslaught, but they were always destined to go unmourned.

Perhaps she was one of the last plantings of the former owner, a five-dollar sapling found in the backlot of a Home Depot. Perhaps she was just another volunteer that had sprung from the earth in the eternal competition for sunlight and water…

Construction of the new home proceeded. Endless sorties of men and machines savaged and then reformed the earth. Wood, iron, and stone were dropped, saturating the site and crushing life. Materials slowly and methodically became structure.

I recall a fork-loader lifting a huge pallet of lumber. A small sapling rebounded from the horizontal press that had been enforced upon her. The earth around her had been scraped bare. I thought nothing of her at the time…

Over the months that followed, minerals and metal, the creation of industry, and wood that had once known life, were forged into a reality that had been the spark of an architect’s inspiration. We lacked only landscaping to transform the ravages of construction into the peaceful repose of a dream that my wife and I had shared. Even here the process of cladding the soil with sod required more equipment to make a final assault upon the ground.

She was still there! Not quite straight but there was a spring in the few pencil thin branches that had not been torn from her. The long deep scars on her inch diameter trunk did not encircle her and I knew that there was a chance she might live. In that moment I appreciated that Nature may give life, but it is for us to grant opportunity. I found a piece of orange flagging and tied it near her crown, just 4 feet above the ground. I asked the workmen to leave her undisturbed. I asked nothing of the tree.

I watched her grow that first year. I saw the scars become bordered with new wood. Buds became leaves, and I watched leaves come into crimson glory in the Fall. In the second year she reprised the first but with surprising vigor. She was strong, straight, and tall. Her smooth sapling bark was developing the lines and grooves that along with her leaves would identify her kind. She is a Sweetgum.

It is year three and she is over ten feet tall! I have shared her story with my grandchildren. They love the tree, often walking up to her and hugging her broadening trunk. She is special to them as she is special to me. Her wounds are nearly healed, but she will carry the elements of damage deep inside of her long after any outward sign of her struggle has vanished. I know that she is not a tree favored by many. Her kind is vilified for the spikey seed balls that they produce. But out of the opportunity that she was given she has returned a lesson for me and my grandchildren. She brings a smile to me whenever I gaze upon her. She offers the promise of shade and she is a glory in the Fall. Those of my generation with whom I share her story often think no further than those “spikey balls” and counsel that I should cut her down. Those of my children’s generation tend to smile politely, giving salute to my eccentricity when I speak of her as a friend. It is the third generation, my grandchildren, that grant the refugee tree their full acceptance and love.

Maybe this was about more than just a tree.

Peace. Pete Schloss
Originally posted February 15, 2016
Update 2/14/18: She now towers nearly 20 feet tall.

Please follow and like us:

Sisyphus, that tortured soul from Greek mythology (and the inspiration for Dante’s fourth circle of hell), was doomed for eternity to endlessly roll a boulder to the top of a hill only to have it roll back down just before he reached the summit. It is a strong metaphor of herculean effort, searing pain, and intolerable frustration, followed by defeat playing out in an endless loop. Over the years I have associated this image with the lives of many people that I have encountered as an attorney and Mediator.

Relationships which have their roots in addiction, abuse, deceit, or dysfunction are stones such as Sisyphus was partnered with. These are relationships where one person appears to assert a superhuman effort to push for the preservation of the relationship, enduring physical and emotional pain, frustration, and finally failure. If it ended there, then the comparison to the struggles of Sisyphus would fail. However, like Sisyphus there are some souls who immediately return to that “stone” (or another like it) to renew the effort, pain, disappointment and defeat. Why? No doubt hundreds of books have been written on the subject by researchers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. Jerry Springer has made a fortune show-placing the lives of folks caught up in this revolving door. I am an attorney, not a social scientist. However, attorneys are usually keen observers of human interaction. We represent people who are caught up in dysfunctional relationships.

Any experienced family lawyer can tell of storied divorces which played out to conclusion only to have the client return to the office a few years later with the same problems, just a different spouse… sometimes even the same spouse! We scratch our heads, shrug our shoulders and go forward to represent the client to the best of our abilities.

At the end of a divorce proceeding I usually offered a straightforward piece of advice to my client, “Please, do not become engaged in a committed relationship for at least two years.” Occasionally a client would ask “why”, but more often there would be a polite smile and no other acknowledgement of my remark.

I believe that we develop habits of interpersonal interaction and communication. Some of these habits are formed by our experiences as children observing our parents’ relationship. A child raised in a household with spousal violence faces the likelihood of growing up to either be an abuser or a victim of abuse. Some habits of interaction are impressed upon the inexperienced and malleable by the object of their affection. Witness the case of a naïve teen who runs away with a man of ill intention, or one who blindly follows a cult leader. One who is raised in a household burdened by dysfunction has a greater likelihood of becoming an adult member of just such a household. Of course, some of these habits are formed merely as the fallout from a long decomposing relationship.

Why fall victim to the repetition of such misery? Familiarity, no matter how painful, may still be more comfortable than that which is unfamiliar. If a person has learned only one dance step, then that person will naturally tend to dance with the people who dance the same step. Selecting a dance partner who dances to a different beat is uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and threatens to make one look inept or foolish. Learning a new dance takes time, effort, and courage.

Many clients have said “I’m done with marriage forever” but missed the point that they were not done with relationships. I think that real change takes two years, but not two years sitting on one’s hands. This kind of change requires a good support system, counselling, and at the very least “new playmates and a new playground”. It also takes the acceptance that there are things that cannot be changed (the other person), it takes courage to change the things that one can change (oneself), and wisdom to know the difference.

Like Sisyphus, we may make our own hell in this world by trying to change the other person, confusing relationship with endurance. Had Sisyphus taken a 2 year break he might have found the insight to leave that stone for someone else to bear. Of course, that would have been Dante Alighieri’s loss.

Peace Everyone. Pete

(Posted May 28, 2015, amended February 13, 2018)

Please follow and like us:

Everyone should have a “Next Thing”. That is not to say that one should not fully enjoy the “Current Thing”, but while the “Current Thing” engages the person, the “Next Thing” engages the imagination.

As Christine and I approached retirement I became aware of the insecurity of not knowing what we would do, what our purposes would be. We began an active dialogue about what our lives would look like. It struck me that the discussions felt a lot like other times when we engaged our imaginations to visualize an upcoming event, plan, or possibility… a “Next Thing”. “Next Things” are not the “Ordinary Things” of job, bills, household. They are the larger things that excite the mind and engage the spirit. They are the things that one feels compelled to think about, talk about, even doodle about. In order to have a “Next Thing”, one must have the mindset of “how can I make that happen!”. Folks who reflexively address a new possibility with all of the reasons why it cannot or will not be, rarely have a “Next Thing”. That mindset serves only to extinguish the spark of imagination.

Individuals may have “Next Things”, but like fine dining they are best shared with someone else. Dining alone is rarely more than feeding the body while a fine meal savored with someone special nourishes the spirit. I am blessed to be married to a very good woman who is open to the possibilities of “Next Things”. At times Christine has tempered my enthusiasm for a “Next Thing”, but never smothered it. She is one who listens and brings her own perspective into play which usually adds extra dimension to mine. At times, she has opened the process with her own “What if we…”.

In 2012 we went to see a movie, “The Way”, which is about a man’s 500 mile walking journey across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. As we left the theater Christine suddenly stopped and turning to me declared, “I am going to do that!”. My reply of the moment was “Can I go too?”. Thus was born one of the larger “Next Things” in our relationship. Scarcely a day went by that we did not share our thoughts and engage our energies in planning to walk the Camino. Neither of us ever cast doubt upon the sanity of our musings and thus in 2013 the improbable became the actual. Such can be the way with “Next Things”.  (Originally Posted May 24, 2015)

This coming March, 2018 we embark upon our “Next Thing”. For those of you who enjoy following our travels, this “Next Thing” is truly exceptional. More on that in the future.

Peace Everyone! Pete

 

Please follow and like us:

In August of 2014 Christine and I decided to retire from our professional lives. Our “exit dates” were set for the Spring of 2015. Planning went well, however I encountered an unexpected wall of anxiety at the prospect of losing my “purpose”. The following post is from May of that year and acknowledged the unknown to come:

May 23, 2015
Forty years ago I entered upon the highway of purpose. Early on the journey I slowed for the urban congestion of law school and then accelerated, merging into the lanes of profession and parenthood. I have grown comfortable with being on this journey of purpose, adapting to the rhythm of the mile markers of mail, bills, returning phone calls, and commitment to calendar. There were occasional vacation rest stops, and even the detours of adventure, but always the return to the highway of purpose.
Since last August I have become consciously aware that purpose is a journey and not a destination. The vista of my life path is not endless and to proceed in disregard of this reality is as reckless as to ignore a flashing yellow light. The thought of retirement has been unsettling but only because of the fear of loss of purpose.
These past few months have provided me with the opportunity to reexamine and reconsider my journey. Looking up from my road map I see a sign in the distance and it reads: “Reduce Speed and Prepare to Exit, New Purpose Ahead”.
It is time for a new map.

Peace. Pete Schloss

Please follow and like us: