The days after

Photo from the Federal Highway Administration

The day after 9/11, we were numb. Grief-stricken. Overwhelmingly sad and tremendously angry.

The days after, we were glued to our TVs, until they finally broke twenty-four-hour coverage four days later, on Friday evening.

Immediately, we were patriotic. United. Filled with the spirit of the Great Seal of the United States, e pluribus unum: out of many, one.

This was our seminal moment. We waved our flags in our front yards and even affixed them to our automobiles. We plastered “Never Forget” and “United We Stand” bumper stickers to our cars and on our t-shirts.

We were so determined to be and remain united that it was even heard across the land that partisan politics would finally be a thing of the past. This was reflected in the Patriot Act, which was signed into law on October 26, in a now mind-numbingly-quick forty-five days after 9/11.

Eighteen years later, the spirit we Americans displayed seems like the good old days.

We forgot every important thing and went back to business as usual.

Oh, we remember a lot. We remember the dead, just as we should. And we remember the families of the dead, and the survivors. And we have built monuments—important places which will serve us for generations.

And we have almost constant reminders that we are still at war—the longest war in our history.

But we forgot the most important thing. We forgot to continue to give a damn about people who are different from us.

Far too many Americans now only care about those who are like them. Who share the same political party. The same skin color. The same religion. The same sexual orientation or gender identity. The same language. The same culture. The same …

We are like the drunken, abusive husband, whose wife gives him the ultimatum—Stop drinking or I’m gone!—who swears he will stop, that he will get help. But the next chance he has to party with the boys he’s right back at it, and right back at abusing her.

It was only the moment for him. A reaction. He didn’t take it seriously.

9/11 was only the moment for us. A reaction. We thought we would take it seriously.

We did not.

If the collective citizenry of the USA is going to change, the impetus will not come from without—from 9/11, or another attack, or the worst natural disasters—because the excitement always wears off.

If we are to change, it has to begin within. In the hearts of each of us. With every American vowing, “It begins with me.”

E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. Either united we stand, or divided we fall.

We’ve done a lot of falling since 9/11.

Today is the day for us to reclaim e pluribus unum. Today is the day to reclaim the spirit of the days after 9/11, for the good of us all.

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What I love about Julie

December 2018, celebrating our 17th anniversary.

I’ve noticed that lately I have been pondering my Julie more than usual. I’ve noticed what so many say is true: I love her more now than when we got married.

I decided that I needed to put into words some of what causes me to love her, and for my love to have deepened. It’s important for me to fully appreciate who she is, and who she is for me.

And I want the world to know. I hope her qualities impress others so that they imitate them.

Julie is kind to everyone

This comes first, because I find when a person is kind it allows others to see everything else about that person, but when a person is not kind others can’t get past it to see other good things. Julie is completely and constantly kind.

Julie is humble

I’ve never heard her brag. Not once. Her work speaks for itself. Her life speaks for itself. When she talks about herself, or something she has accomplished, she does so in a matter-of-fact way, never to feed her ego or make herself look better than someone else.

She can show some sass when it’s called for.

Julie is smart and wise

I’ve often said that she’s the smartest person I’ve ever known. Smarts aside, that she’s also wise is what makes the difference. She uses her smarts in ways that benefit everyone in her life.

Julie is a hard worker

I can’t think of a single time when she was lazy. She rests and relaxes—which is wise to do—but never to excess. She always has a list of things to be accomplishing, and she’s always working on the list.

Julie is a team player

Since we’ve been married, Julie has worked four places. In each place, without hesitation she’s learned everything about each job, each place, and used her knowledge to improve things and to help her coworkers. Where there is a need, she learns new things so that a job can be done.

Circa 2004. My kids became our kids because of Julie.

Julie doesn’t gossip or run down people

When Julie talks about others, she’s either sharing something important or interesting, or seeking to help or improve a situation, and always from a positive perspective toward those about whom she is speaking.

Julie has a can-do spirit

Julie lets nothing defeat her. Before calling a plumber or taking a car to a mechanic, she investigates the situation, often figuring out the problem, and frequently fixing it on her own. That spirit is seen in her in every aspect of her life.

She loves being behind the wheel of a tractor.

Julie is patient

I experienced this one the most beginning in 2013 when gender dysphoria crushed me, and all the years since because of the roller coaster my life has been. Rather than push and prod and pester, Julie has hung in there with me.

Julie is reliable

If you are expecting her, she’s there. When you need her, she’s there. And she will be pleasant, and kind, and friendly, and helpful. Reliable. Faithful. Constant.

Us, in 2002.

Julie is thoughtful

It’s never a surprise when the answer to my question, “Honey, what’s that for?” is, “It’s for so-and-so, because …” and it’s because she learned the person liked this thing, or it’s a coworker’s birthday, or she knew one of the grandkids would enjoy it, or because I had mentioned my need or desire for it, or …

Julie is selfless

After ten items on this list, selfless naturally follows. Self-centered people neither possess nor display more than a few of the ten.

Julie is fun and funny

Julie laughs easily and is not afraid to laugh loudly. And crack a joke? She can do it with the best. She’s not afraid to get down on the floor and play with the grandkids, or go you-name-the-place for a good time, or dance herself weary at a wedding reception or in our living room.

A few years ago. Holding granddaughter Maggie, with granddaughter Margot looking on. Who’s having the most fun?

Julie has helped me become a better person

Julie has not shied from showing me where I could have expressed something more helpfully, or handled a situation in a better way. Because she has talked gently with me, I could trust her when she brought up challenging things. The result is that I have grown more patient, more careful with my words, less apt to make foolish jokes and, I hope, an all-around better person.

Julie loves me

I’ve said many times that I love Julie because she loves me. That’s too simplistic, of course, but it sums things up. Everything I love about Julie, she applies to me.

I will always strive to give to her what she gives to me. With joy!

Us, in 2014.

Why I can’t vote for Donald Trump

It took me months of pondering to recognize how I could write about Donald Trump in a way to keep it from politics or how the media talks about him.

This is about neither politics nor the media.

If it were about politics, alone, I might be a Trumper. I’ve always been conservative. And pro life.

But, it’s not about politics. It’s about what comes from the man.

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When I was a pastor, if I had spoken in the manner our president too often speaks and tweets—making fun of people, berating people, belittling people—I would have been kicked out of office.

At first, I would have been given a stern talking to. If I kept it up, I would have been gone.

If I had previously held the respect of the members of my congregation, I would have lost it. I would have deserved to have lost it. The blame would have rested where it belonged: on me.

Pastors are held to high standards. A few of the biblical criteria are that ministers are to be self-controlled, gentle, with behavior that is above reproach. And don’t forget the Golden Rule, to treat others as one wants to be treated.

If pastors are to model such behavior, shouldn’t the person holding the office of President of the United States be similarly obligated?

If—the way our president has done—I called out those who perhaps could stand to lose weight, before the leaders of my congregation had a chance to corner me my wife would have asked me where my head was.

If—the way our president has done with opponents, those who no longer work for him, and even some in his own party—I referred to anyone as a clown, or a spoiled brat without a functioning brain, or a low class slob, I would not have even gotten out of the room before I was nailed for my behavior.

And if I used such language on Twitter or anywhere online, my wife Julie would have taken my phone away and blocked my internet usage the way parents have to punish their children who cannot mind their manners.

And all of the behavior that would have been unacceptable would have remained unacceptable no matter how well I ministered to my congregation, no matter how well I might have preached.

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I framed this as when I was a pastor. I’ve not been a minister for five years. But I’ve remained Julie’s husband. And my children’s father. And an Eilers. Not to mention my most important standing: Christian.

And all of the behavior that would have been unacceptable from me when I was a pastor remain unacceptable.

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People who don’t act in a respectable manner do not deserve respect.

Donald Trump too often does not speak or tweet in a respectable manner, thus I do not respect him.

He’s my president, and I respect the office he holds. I pray for him every day. I long for him to serve our nation that we might live in peace and prosper, that we might be a shining example to other nations.

I do not wish him ill, but because I do not respect him I don’t want him to be president.

I would prefer he recognize his boorish behavior for what it is. I would prefer he change the way he too often treats others.

If he were to do so, I could come to respect him as a human being.

Leave the ear buds home

I was running the Fall Creek Trail on August 16. It was a glorious morning—upper 60s, low humidity, mostly sunny—so there were a lot of walkers, runners, and bikers.

Perhaps I was hearing voices because I had just encountered the two people of whom I write in this piece.

I had already been overtaken by several bikers. Two of them were zipping along at a quick clip. I was glad to be in the stretch, which I captured in the photo, where the foliage is away from the trail and I could keep out of the way.

Signs are posted about every half mile reminding trail users to keep right. When bikers are coming up on you, it’s important for both you and them to be out of the way. Joggers, too, of course. I don’t like to have to go onto the grass—a twisted ankle is always but one misstep away—but it’s more dicey for bikers.

I saw a man ahead, walking in the direction I was running. He looked about my age. He kept drifting into the center, staying there too long, then moving back over. I noted the speaker buds in his ears. I wondered if his wandering might be due to his losing track because his concentration was in his ears.

I pondered saying something to him. Generally, I keep it to a friendly “Good morning!” But this guy had me concerned. I decided to warn him.

Coming up on him, I called out, “Excuse me, sir!” He turned, looking as if I’d caught him off guard. He offered a clunky, “Hello.” I said, “Be sure to stay to the right. There are bikes coming from behind.” He just looked at me. I kept running.

When I reached my turnaround point, I wondered if I would again encounter him. I wasn’t happy with how he reacted to my warning. I rehearsed what I might say. Sure enough, in a few minutes there he was, also having reversed course.

As I neared him, I called out, “Hello, friend!” He turned, saying nothing. “I didn’t mean to sound bossy. I was concerned for your safety.” He just looked at me. I was now past him and kept going.

I still didn’t feel good about it, but what was I going to do? I really wanted to say, “Those ear buds might get you hurt. They are distracting you. And if a biker hits you, he or she could get hurt worse than you.”

I wasn’t two minutes past him when an older woman approached. She was walking a dog. Well, she had the leash on her wrist. She actually was reading her phone.

Her dog was, you guessed it, drifting all over the trail. And, this time, I saw two bikers coming up on the woman. As I got near, I offered a friendly, “Good morning!” She looked up and returned it, so I continued, “Watch your dog. Bikers are coming up on you.” She thanked me, pulling her dog from the center of the trail.

The Fall Creek Trail is a lovely place to walk, run, or bike. It’s safe from motor vehicles, but that doesn’t mean one doesn’t need to pay attention. And be a good neighbor.

Besides, have we lost the ability to be alone with our thoughts? To soak in our surroundings? To engage our minds, perhaps even using this quiet time to work out something that’s troubling us or, shoot, simply to plan the evening meal?

We whine about how busy we are. When we are out getting some fresh air and exercise, it’s the perfect opportunity to unbusy ourselves.

Enjoy the outdoors. And be smart. Leave the ear buds home and the phone in your pocket.

Meme what you say

I remain vigilant in my search for the memeing of life.

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I don’t like to stop when I am jogging, but I had to snap a pic of this. Within seconds after resuming my run, I knew what this tree was telling me.

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I bet this makes you wonder what I do to remember that I have an appointment to take my car in for servicing.

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Your bark always bites.

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Two things our mothers taught us, wrapped in one thought.

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. . . or delusional.

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I created the following after the El Paso and Dayton mass murders. The next day, my cousin—a guy whose personality matches up with my own—died after an accident at home.

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For as hard as life can be at times, I am always able to bounce back. Thus, I return to the hopeful spirit that had me create this one even as I have been mourning this week.

. . . and so can I.

So long for now, dear Kurt

Kurt’s most recent Facebook profile photo.

You know that type of person, the ones you are always glad to see. The ones who light up a room with their natural smile and witty remark. The ones with whom you can pick up a conversation as if you’d just talked the day before, even when you hadn’t seen each other for years.

My cousin, Kurt Mackey, was one of those. On August 5, the light he shined on earth went dark. In our hearts, his light will continue to radiate with the joy he brought us.

Kurt was fifty years old. On August 3, he took a spill, hitting his head. Hidden internal bleeding was the culprit that finally overwhelmed his body.

It took a lot to overwhelm Kurt’s body. He lived with diabetes. He was just a young kid when that nasty condition struck. A decade or so ago it caused him to require a kidney transplant.

I’ve known many people who are diabetic. I can’t think of a one who didn’t handle the malady with grace. The daily checking of their blood sugar. The ongoing doses of insulin. The ways in which the ailment attacks the body, one of the common evidences being what Kurt experienced with his kidneys.

If you didn’t know they were diabetic, you wouldn’t know it by their words or actions. That was Kurt.

I’m just about the last relative who should be writing about Kurt. I didn’t know him nearly well enough. What I know, I hope adds up to a fitting tribute, because what I know is that Kurt was one of those people I was always glad to see and, for how little time we spent with each other over the years, when we saw each other you’d think we hung out together all the time.

Kurt is noteworthy for me, because he is the first person in my life whose birth I specifically recall the date. It was Columbus Day, 1968. I was eleven. At the time, I told my mom that I couldn’t remember when any other cousin had been born, or even the date my youngest brother, Mark, was born. But, Kurt’s birth stuck, and never slipped from my mind.

With eleven years between us, we didn’t have a natural bond when it came to family gatherings. Yet, when he was old enough to show his keen wit, it was on display. The kid made me laugh. Sheesh, that punk was almost as funny as me.

Because I moved away, there was a long time that we didn’t see each other. Facebook reconnected us, and his goofiness, which matches up so well with my own, came through on many of his comments online, but it wasn’t until 2015 that we spent time together.

And that he gave me two hours of his time filled in everything I needed to know about him.

My sister, Sue, had undergone back surgery. She lives in Grand Rapids. I drove up from Indy to spend a couple of days with her while she was hospitalized.

As I arrived, doctors and nurses were rushing to Sue. She had suffered a pulmonary embolism—a blood clot in her lung. A huge one. Soon, her doctor revealed to Sue’s daughter, Cara, and me that she was very pessimistic that Sue was going to survive.

We kept vigil with Sue.

Kurt, and his lovely wife, Cindy, lived nearby. The third day I was there, Kurt walked into Sue’s room, his natural smile bursting from his face as his surprise entrance brought me to my feet with instant joy.

This was the day we got to know each other. Kurt showed that he knew how to hold a conversation, as we bounced questions back and forth, this one filling in how he went to college, and got married, and the work he did, and then the other having the chance to do the same.

And we laughed. That natural ability he had to find the funny aspect to you name it. He was still almost as funny as me (wink).

I’m sure I said a half dozen times, “Hey, you’ve been here awhile. I bet you need to get going.” “Nope. I don’t need to meet Cindy until…” and we kept talking.

Those were a few tough days in the hospital, not knowing whether Sue would make it and, even when she rallied, she mostly was out of it and slept. That afternoon, Kurt bridged the boredom gap for me. Thanks, bud.

Finally, there was last month. Indeed, it was exactly one month before he breathed his last and went home to the Lord. On July 5, we enjoyed a splendid reunion.

Julie and I were in my hometown of Montague for the first week of July. I posted something on Facebook about it, which our cousin, Kim, picked up. She said that a bunch of them would be in Muskegon for the weekend, for the graduation party of the daughter of yet another cousin. Kim put together a gathering, nicely enough, at my son’s pizza joint, Rebel Pies.

Here’s the gang who gathered that evening.

Kurt just can’t contain his youthful exuberance. That’s him, making the “hang loose” sign, behind me. Cindy, with her lovely smile, is to his left.

I could write plenty about each one at this hastily-arranged reunion. Indeed, I had not seen Uncle Ky, my Godfather, since we laid to rest his wife, Aunt Ginger, a quarter of a century earlier.

I hadn’t seen Kurt since that day in Sue’s hospital room. Four year’s time meant nothing. We met, we hugged, we were off and running. I tried to keep pace with his quips.

As wonderful as was being with Kurt that evening was that Cindy sat next to me. This was the first conversation I ever got to have with her. What a delight it was. I can best sum it up by quoting from her Facebook post from the evening of Kurt’s passing.

She called Kurt her best friend.

Getting to know her a month earlier, I saw why it was so. One as lovely as the other. A nicely-matched pair of human beings.

The Lord be with you, Cindy. With the spirit you showed me last month, I know you will continue to shine brightly wherever you go, in whatever you do.

Everything else I might say about Kurt—for instance, he was a fine musician—my telling pales in comparison to what his six older siblings and good friends can tell, so I will leave it to them and conclude with another thing Cindy noted when informing us of Kurt’s passing.

She rightly stated that Kurt had gone to our heavenly Father.

Because God gave His only Son to be our Savior, Kurt, you are safe in Jesus. Now, we will keep the faith that we might join you in the best reunion of all, the eternal one of Paradise with our Jesus.

The Lord Jesus is the reason I titled this piece, “So long for now, dear Kurt.”

And you, dear cousin, are the reason I will enjoy being with you, forever.

The first blare

On day six, I blew my horn.

On day five, I encountered the dog that pushed me over the edge, to equip myself in case of attack. Whence last I saw that dog, busy 46th Street was closed for construction, and he had no traffic to keep him from pursuing me from his side of the four lane road.

That day, he entered the road. I stopped, turned to him, and yelled as loud as I could, “Stop!” He stopped momentarily. As he was resuming his pursuit and I was still yelling, his owner appeared and called him back.

46th was recently reopened. The speed limit is 45 mph. When he (with both dogs in this piece, I don’t know their sex; I call both “he” because I don’t like calling a pet “it”) spied me, he went to the edge of the road, barking his lungs out. Thankfully, car after car zoomed between us, he stayed put, and my horn remained clipped to my waist.

The next day, my sixth carrying the horn, as I ran down Marilyn Street, more than five miles into my run, I recalled that a small dog sometimes runs out after me. Sure enough, there he was, and out he came.

I quickly slid the horn off my waist, put my finger on the trigger, and waited for him to approach me. As I continued to run, he got within ten feet of me. I let loose.

I gave him a one second blast.

And what did he do?

He stopped.

His ears went erect. He looked at me funny. He didn’t seem dazed, but he definitely looked confused.

Soon, I was past him and he resumed running. Now, however, he didn’t approach. He ran parallel to me, remaining on the edge of the street.

He returned to barking. I kept the horn pointed at him, my finger on the trigger.

Calmly, I kept saying to him, “Staaay. Staaay. Staaay.”

Finally, either he tired of the game or we got to his boundary (which should include the street, for Fido’s sake!). I holstered my weapon and finished my run.

Now I know the horn achieves what it advertises … at least on this dog.

I’ve vowed never to use the horn unless a dog enters the street. I’ll keep the vow but, having felt the power of my horn, I now have an itchy trigger finger.