Airdale Chronicles: Blesséd Bruno

IMG_20180319_174442886Bruno is eight months old today, napping in his crate in a Super 8 outside of Green Bay while Gabe and Trevor read and I write. We spent the past few days at my folks’ place in Michigan, which means Bruno got to spend time with their dog, Maggie, an older, big-boned Oorang type Airedale. Too old to roughhouse too much, but not too old for Bruno to begin to notice something different about her.

What’s it like having an eight-week-old male Airdale pup? I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again: like having a preschool boy who’s somehow going through puberty.

He got his first adult haircut a week ago. What a difference a day makes: he went in a big, woolly pup and came out a much lighter, leaner dog, clearly an Airedale despite a shorter than average cut (due to matting) and his corkscrew ear. He seemed an odd combination of energetic and embarrassed when we brought him back from our groomer—especially when Rosebud said he was naked.

He’s hardly the same dog. But then, he’s been different for the past two weeks. You see, Bruno is blessed.

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting with Fr. Nathan LaLiberte at his parish in Delano for Confession, among other things. The other things took almost too much time, which led Father to check the time near the end of an hour and say, “I’m sorry, but I have a call coming in—let’s get you cleaned up quick!”

The sacrament was not rushed, of course, but afterward we said our goodbyes, and he walked me toward the door.

“We’ll have to reconnect again sometime when you’re not pressed for time,” I told him. “This is the second time I’ve brought Bruno along and…”

Father put his hand on my arm and stopped us both. “You brought your dog?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I love dogs! Is he out in the car?”

“Yup,” I said. “You were very encouraging when we were considering getting him. I was hoping to introduce you two.”

“Just a minute.” He called into the parish secretary: “I’m expecting a call. If it comes in, tell them I’ll be just a minute. Don’t let them hang up—but I gotta meet Jim’s dog!”

“I love the name,” Father said as we walked to the car. “Did you get him on St. Bruno’s feast day?”

“Nope—it’s kind of a family name, or nickname, I guess. My Polish great-grandfather’s name was Bronisław (bro-ne-swaff), which means defender of glory, but when he came to America, people called him Broni or Bruno.”

I opened the car door, and Bruno, who lay curled and napping on the back seat, stood and stretched: seven and a half months and fifty pounds of fluffy brown and black puppy. I took his leash and called him out, warning Father that he can be a bit mouthy but that he doesn’t really bite.

As if to spite me, or out of respect for the Roman collar, Bruno exited the car, sat promptly and politely at Fr. Nathan’s feet, and allow our priest friend to thoroughly rub his ears, neck, and shoulders while praising his canine nature.

“He’s a beautiful dog,” Fr. Nathan said. “Would it be alright if I blessed him?”

“Of course,” I said, and Father knelt and took Bruno’s head in his hands. Again as if on cue, Bruno’s eyes half-closed and he stretched his face toward Father’s.”

Whether the blessing was memorized or improvised I could not tell, but with beautiful words and through the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi, Father blessed and consecrated Bruno, among other things, to bring joy and peace to our family. When he was done, Bruno loaded up on command and rode home a happier, holier dog.

He’s getting better day by day. Good boy, Bruno. Good dog.

Bruno, or Feeding the Mouth that Bites You…

bruno21.jpgMany of you know by now that a few weeks ago, we welcomed a new, four-legged member to our family—an eight-and-a-half-week-old Airedale Terrier pup.

This is monumental in some ways. First and foremost, Jodi is not big on pets. Early in our marriage, not only did she deal with multiple dogs and pregnancies, sometimes simultaneously, but she also dealt with a boneheaded, dog-loving husband who was away from home a lot and failed to see why leaving her home with child and with a puppy was a big deal.

Second, I am a dog lover and do not remember a time when we didn’t have at least one dog, and usually two or more. Our most recent canine companion, a mini Schnauzer named Puck, passed away almost three years ago. The kids and I have been pining, but very carefully not pressing, for a dog ever since. Continue reading

Will It

I am not much of a sports fan, outside of high-school and intercollegiate wrestling (and even then, I’m not a superfan). I watch professional sports from time to time, not out of a love for any particular sport or loyalty to a particular team, but because I was never much of an athlete myself, so great physical performances are amazing to me.

This also helps to explain why I have so often been a fan of the greatest players and moments in sports. For example, I was a Detroit Pistons fan as a teen, but loved to watch Michael Jordan do his thing, and I still rewatch Gibson’s homer and Jeter’s flip anytime I want to shake my head and grin in disbelief. The ability to anticipate the action, to slow down the speed of the game, to perceive the field clearly, and most importantly, to will your body to respond, is beautiful and incredible to me—especially when I remember my own athletic career. As a young baseball player, I was lucky to make contact with the bat and struggled to stay focused in the field. As a tween basketball player, the pressure to move my body and the ball on offense (or worse yet, shoot) caused the ball to bounced off me and my fumble-fingered hands. As a high-school football player, I finally settled in as a backup noseguard…the one position simple enough for me.  And as a wrestler? I loved the sport, but could rarely make my body respond quickly enough to my opponent’s moves and counters.

So I watch athletes in any sport, willing their bodies to do the beautiful, the amazing, the impossible, and it captures me.

* * * * *

Something changed in me as I approached (and since then, entered fully into) middle age. Whether I’ve grown more accepting of and accustomed to my own strengths and weaknesses, or no longer feel pressured to perform, I can do things I never could before (although I still can’t hit a baseball for any money).  Continue reading

We’ll Always Have Poland

Poland Family

Last Sunday we were blessed to host a party of sorts. What started as my attempt repay the “Poland daughters” who took me out to dinner for my birthday last fall  turned into a mini-World Youth Day reunion, with many of the teens and a couple of the adults from our trip to Krakow a year ago.

We visited, prayed together, and shared a meal: grilled kielbasa and pierogies, pasta and sauce and salad, cookies and root beer floats. We shared our favorite memories and laughed and laughed. We talked about future plans—many of my Poland daughters are starting college this year. And I think we all longed to go back to visit the Motherland.

The next morning I thought I should re-share the post I wrote after the pilgrimage—only to realize I never wrote a recap. I thought about doing a standard Top-10 list, but no matter how I counted or grouped things together, I had too much to share.

So I’ll keep this to three moments that stand out to me above the others. Continue reading

Book Break: Manalive

“Madness does not come by breaking out, but by giving in; by settling down in some dirty, little, self-repeating circle of ideas; by being tamed.” 

– G.K. Chesterton

I’ve quit believing in coincidence. When seemingly random events culminate in a meaningful way, providence is my line now. Such was the case when I was searching the Great River Regional Library website for an audiobook to accompany me to and from Michigan over Divine Mercy weekend. I searched for several titles by name, and several topics by keyword, to little avail. Then I stumbled across an audio version of G.K. Chesterton’s Manalive, narrated by athiest-turned-Catholic and Theater of the Word founder and actor Kevin O’Brien.

I didn’t know what the story was about. That it was Chesterton told me it should be good — but as I’ve said before, Chesterton can be too clever by half at times, and I’d never tried his fiction before. I put in a request for this book and for Mark Twain’s biography of St. Joan of Arc, and Manalive arrived first.

I hesitate to say too much. It is the story of an apparent madman or idiot who invades a British boarding house and turns the humdrum lives of the inhabitants upside down. Ultimately, he is accused of insanity, theft, polygamy, and murder  but how can a man as wicked as that make others feel so alive for the first time in years?

On the other hand, why would such a joyful simpleton  a holy fool  carry a revolver among his holiday luggage and playthings? Our protagonist has a mission, which sounds ominous and, indeed, mad: “I am going to hold a pistol to the head of the Modern Man. But I shall not use it to kill him – only to bring him to life.”

Like Myles Connolly’s Mr. Blue, which I reread over Holy Week, the book portrays a man who had dedicated himself to a worldview that the world has little use for and who pursues it at whatever cost. As a result, he makes us think about our own worldview and priorities. Manalive is chock full of great Chesterton quotes and paradoxes and memorable characters made moreso by O’Brien’s theatrical reading, voicing each of the characters as clearly as if he were several people himself.

By way of criticism: The work does wax poetic at times – particularly the introductory chapter – and at all times Chesterton’s presence is felt in the thoughts, wit, and turn of phrase of the characters. I would also be remiss in not pointing out Chesterton’s use of racial and ethnic stereotypes and language, particularly in drawing the character of  Moses Gould. In the context of this story, it was unsettling, but it struck me more as a product of his time than of strong personal animus. As to his actual views of minorities, I need to read more.

By way of endorsement: I listened to it start to finish on the way to Michigan, again on the way home from Michigan, and yet again on the trip back from Florida with Rose and Trev. It has climbed to the upper heights of my list of favorite stories — and if you want a fictitious explanation for why I’m leaving a good job at the church for a nebulous next step involving writing, this is it. I could not have stumbled across a better novel to bolster and encourage me in this time of transition.

That, friends, is providence.