What to Put in the Box?

T –minus ten days until we move. We have already packed most of our stuff into U-Haul boxes in preparation for our “take off” to Cranston, Rhode Island. We have even crammed tons of boxed and un-boxed possessions into our cars and delivered them to our new house. Until the renovations on our new home are complete, most of the deliveries have taken shelter in the garage, basement or closets. Their final resting place will have to wait until construction is complete.

The packing and unloading was easy. The difficult part was deciding what to put in the boxes and how to explain to Pako the Cat that his well marked home of eight years would soon be history. Through continuing and intense therapy, Pako is beginning to adapt to the idea, but what to take with us, give away or haul to the dump is much more difficult and, at times, painful! For example, my comfy chair and ottoman upon which I have napped and watched three Steeler Super Bowl victories, but has been ripped to shreds by Pako’s fine-tuned claws, did not make the cut. I am not sure where it will go yet, but it is not moving to Cranston. I do not suffer alone. Karin’s desk upon which she slaved on the way to her doctorate did not make the cut either. Deciding what goes or stays has definitely been an exercise in shared pain.

Other than the stuff that has outlived its usefulness or has been beaten into submission, what goes and what stays? We both worried about how our downsizing would be achieved. Karin is a bit more of a packrat than I am, but her ability to shed several layers of possessions has been impressive. I threw away or put in the “do not move” pile more than I thought. How did we do it? With credit for the idea given to Karin, we made the decision based purely upon sentimentality. On any item hanging by a thread, we asked, “Does it have any meaning to either one of us? Do we remember how it was acquired or who gave it to us? Does it have a story?” Any item that has meaning, brings to mind a person we love or has a story that brings joy to our souls is on the truck. No meaning, no story, no box, it’s not going. It will either find a new home or get re-cycled at the Barnstable Town Dump.

The moving experience is a reminder that, just like each of our prized possessions, everybody has a story. Every person is unique. God does not create with a duplicator. God creates each one of us, one person at a time. Then, we make our way down the path of life in our own peculiar way. We decide which twist or turn to take. Whatever twists we give to life or whatever turns we take, however, are of our own creation. They are our own unique possessions. We pack them away and they move with us no matter which way we go.

Here is an afterthought: Maybe if we all respect each other’s story, the little corner of the world in which we live will be a much more peaceful place.

In any event, we are ready for “TAKE OFF!”



Demolition and Renovation

How many episodes of HGTV’s “Property Brothers” and “Flip or Flop” have I watched?


            For God’s sake and my sake, why?

            Neither require a single ounce of concentration.

            Turn on the DVR and veg out.

            Any other reason?

            As I grow up, less DRAMA is better.

            What is my favorite segment of each episode?


            Ripping out kitchen cabinets.

            Sledge hammering and poking holes in ceilings.

            Finding the life-threatening problem hidden behind the “wall-that-has-to-come-down.”

            OMG! Asbestos! Leaky pipes! Knob & tube wiring!

            It’s the end of the world.

            Commercial break.

            Quick! DVR through the endless commercials.

            The world is teetering on the edge of disaster.

Thank the Lord who created the world and who cares enough to deploy Property Brother Jonathan to come to the rescue. With both skill and imagination, the “fix” is found. The renovation is completed on time and on budget. Tears of joy trickle down the property owners’ cheeks.

Thank the Lord that “weeping may linger into the night, but joy comes with the dawn.” Flipper Tarek’s “unrealistic-to-begin-with” $30,000 “reno” budget” may be shot, but Christina’s decorating genius saves the day. The flop is flipped quite profitably. “Now it’s time to find the next house to flip.”

           All is right with the world!

In the course of human events, sometimes television’s fake dramas “take on flesh and dwell among us.” We bought a house in Rhode Island. The kitchen and bath were, to quote Flipper Tarek, “total tear downs.” We decided to do much of the demolition ourselves. Lo and behold, it was as much fun as the Brothers, Tarek and Christina made it out to be. It is great therapy. Rip out those gross old kitchen cabinets and take a sledgehammer to the ugly green 1920’s tile on the bathroom floor and do not worry about making a mess. It does not matter. In demolition there is no harm and no foul. Once the wall comes down between the galley kitchen and the dining room, resurrection will be sure to follow, even if the Lucifer of knob and tube and asbestos wrapped pipes lies trapped behind the ancient lath and plaster. All will be well. The expert contractor and crew come on Monday.

            Go home.

            Take a couple of Ibuprofen to kill the pain from over doing it.

            Peacefully nod off to Never-Never Land.

A revelation: Maybe I have found my retirement calling: “Holy Moly Demolition & Destruction Company, LLC.”

A serious footnote: Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could demolish so simply the old stuff from the past that haunts us and trust that the future will be taken care of by an expert? Then, we really would be able to peacefully sleep.

A second footnote: Perhaps the One we acknowledge as Divine, the expert Higher Power, will help us take a sledge hammer and de-construct the residue of painful pasts and free us to face the future unafraid.

Maybe it’s time to offer the Divine Expert a job.

John E. Holt, Cotuit, Massachusetts

Working to Live!

Maiori. A beautiful little town on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. I knew there was something quite different about Maiori the minute the taxi dropped us off at our hotel. At first, I thought it was the fact that the town is squeezed into a small space between steep cliffs and the Mediterranean Sea. I soon learned, however, that it was more than just Maiori’s “squeezed” setting that made it different. It was the smiles on the faces and the friendliness of the people who live there that made it different. It was the fact that it was far more important for “Maiorians” to stop and talk to friends or acquaintances, than it was for them to get where they were going. And, as it has been said, in Italian villages such as Maiori, people “work to live.” They do not “live to work.” That the village closes down every afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. during the height of the tourist season so that everybody can rest and refresh is ample proof of the “work to live” ethic. There is, however, one more major difference between Maori and most towns in the U.S. of A. We didn’t learn about this difference, however, until a few days after our arrival.

Dinner at our hotel was served at 7:45 p.m. We were assigned to our own table and the same wait staff consisting of Marcello, Antonio, Lydia and Vincenzo served us every night. Each had an assigned role. Marcello presented the menu and noted our selections. Lydia took his note to the kitchen, while Antonio brought the drinks and poured the wine. Vincenzo served our food and, during the rest of our dinner, took care of our every need. He often kept us entertained, unless another table demanded his attention. It was from Vincenzo that the new revelation of “difference” came upon us.

On our second or third night at dinner, we told Vincenzo that we were planning to walk to Minori, the next village up the coast, early the next morning. Vincenzo rolled his eyes and grimaced.

What’s wrong Vincenzo?” Karin asked.

No Minori,” he said.

What wrong with Minori?” We inquired.

He replied. “Maiori better. No Minori.”

After Vincenzo’s obvious display of distaste for Minori, we, with a bit of trepidation, still decided to make the trek. What we found was a serene village that was just as beautiful as Maiori and with people just as friendly.

Over the next several evenings we engaged in a friendly “Maiori vs. Minori” battle with Vincenzo. And yet, it was very clear that Vincenzo was in love with Maiori. He loved everything about it from the beauty of the sea to the annoying fireworks that were set off at all hours of the day and night. He loved the people. He loved the annual San Maria de Mare summer religious festival. He loved the food and the nightly stroll along the promenade that ran the length of Maiori’s beach. Not only did Vincenzo not give two hoots about Minori, but he could not have cared less about any other Italian city or town. In fact, he could not have cared less about Italy. Maiori was home. Maiori was his neighborhood. “Italy, NO! Minori, NO! Maiori, YES!”

One night, after eating way too much pasta, I suggested to Karin that we take a walk along the promenade before retiring for the night. That walk resulted in a “Holy Molly” moment! Almost everybody who lived in Maiori hung out on the promenade. Older folks strolled or sat on benches talking, children watched the nightly puppet show, lovers walked hand-in-hand, teens did whatever teens do and old men walked the “Italian Stroll.” Everybody was out and about.

This is what made Maiori different. It is one big neighborhood in which relationships are nurtured, children are cared for, where people walk toward one another, rather than walk away from each other and a neighborhood in which one who is lost might be found and one who feels invisible has a good chance to be noticed. No wonder Vincenzo loved his town.

Maiori reminded me of the neighborhood of my childhood. Richmond Circle in Pittsburgh was a neighborhood in which everybody knew everybody. Dads carpooled to work with one another. A Mom could borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbor next door. Kids had multiple parents looking out for them. Where did neighborhoods like Richmond Circle go? Has our mobility de-constructed neighborhoods? Has the inter-net and social media rendered neighborhoods obsolete? Do we live in an “out of sight, out of mind” world? Has our “splendid isolationism” negated community? Maybe instead of building more apartment complexes, housing developments or condominiums, we ought to move the dinner hour to 7:45 p.m, build a promenade and take a stroll every night. Maybe, we should reverse our priority from “living to work” to “working to live.” It might bring a few more smiles to our faces. And like Vincenzo’s Maiori, our village might become a place that we love, rather than simply the place where we live.

John E. Holt, Cotuit, MA

It Speaks for Itself

Any religion that does NOT provide a supportive community for those who belong to it or for those seeking it, should sell their property, liquidate their assets and give all the proceeds to those in need. Sadly, more often than we think, somebody seeking to connect with a group of people or maybe just in need of a friendly ear will wander into a faith community only to have their desire for human contact short-circuited. It reminds me of an old story about a little girl who went to Sunday school one morning. When her Mom picked her up after her class, she asked her daughter how she liked it. The little girl said, “It was awful!”

“Why?” the Mom asked, concerned that something really bad had happened.

The little girl answered, “They put me in a room full of people all by myself!”

What happened to that little girl was not so bad as it was sad. Wanting to be connected, she instead felt disconnected.

I had such an experience myself. At a very difficult time in my life, I went to a church looking for an opportunity to get over myself by conversing with somebody…anybody. When I arrived, a program was handed to me, but nobody said “hello.” When it was time to greet one another, I was ignored. Later in the service, I could not get the guy collecting the money to acknowledge my presence even when I flashed a twenty-dollar bill in his face. Nobody said “goodbye” as I escaped the building. Like that little girl’s Sunday school disaster, I felt like I was “in a room full of people all by myself.” I left that church feeling worse than when I arrived!

Having taken yet another swing at organized religion, however, I now have to cut it some slack. I confess that after nearly 30 years of making my living by collecting a percentage of the proceeds from church offering plates, I have more frequently witnessed people connecting rather than disconnecting. But supportive community is much more than simply making superficial contact. Real community is about the connecting of human hearts.

I was not at my new position on Cape Cod long before I met Ty. You could not miss him. He and his buddy Alex were like cyclones whirling around; a couple of bundles of non-stop energy. It was not long, however, before I frequently found Ty under foot…sometimes annoyingly. I did not really understand why I was tripping over him until my first Father’s Day with my flock.

For a number of years, I have written a letter to my Dad on Father’s Day and shared it as my Sunday message. Even though my Dad died in 1973, I still have a “hole in my heart” that my Dad once filled. It is not unusual, therefore, for my Father’s Day letter to be a bit emotional for me and to cause a few tears to well up in the eyes of those sitting in the seats.

After ending my first Father’s Day service on Cape Cod, I felt somebody tug at my shirt. It was Ty. Before I could say a word, he said to me sadly, “I don’t have a Dad.” He didn’t. His Mom was and is an incredible single Mom who I admire greatly, but there was no Dad anywhere to be found in Ty’s life. As I looked at Ty, who was still hanging onto my shirtsleeve, I said to him, “You DO have a Dad. I’ll be your Dad and there’s a bunch of other guys here that will be your father, too.”

“Thanks, P.J.,” Ty said and scampered off to find Alex in order to create yet another perfect storm.

That was over six years ago and I am overjoyed to inform you that Ty has never lacked for a Dad. In fact, I think he might, on more than one occasion, felt as if he had a few too many. There is one guy in particular who really stepped up to the plate. Gary has known Ty forever. Gary’s family has become Ty’s second home. Gary rarely misses being present at any significant event in Ty’s life. I am deeply moved watching the two of them together. It brings back memories of my Dad and me.

Ty grew up so fast that my mortality has come into view. He graduated from high school last spring. At his graduation, Ty was asked to give the commencement address as the representative of his class. There was more than one of his adopted Dads at the ceremony. We were all so proud of him.

After graduation, Ty began to prepare for college. He had been accepted at a great college in Western Pennsylvania. Finances are always an issue for Ty’s family, but his adopted Dads have often stepped up to the plate when a need arose. A few months ago, one of the Dads gave me a check for $500 and asked that I give it to Ty anonymously so he could buy stuff that he needed for school.

Even though Ty worked at B.J.’s for several years to save money to go to college, he still made connecting with his Dads on Sunday morning a priority. He also dragged his little brother Jake along with him. Little Jake has some serious health issues, but he is also a whirlwind of energy just like his big brother and there is another similarity between the two. Jake is already finding a few “adopted” Dads chasing him around on Sunday morning. The story of Ty (and Jake) has been incredible to watch unfold, and something happened last week that put an exclamation point on it.

Ty left for college last week. As happy as everybody is for him, it was a mite sad to see him go. I personally felt like I was sending my own kid off to school. Ty and his Mom headed west on Route 6 to exit Cape Cod via the Sagamore Bridge. Unbeknownst to them, Dad Gary and his family had arisen early to get to the Sagamore before them. They assumed a position by the side of the outbound lane of the bridge, As they neared the bridge, Ty was completely surprised (shocked!) to see them standing by the side of the road holding a huge, handmade banner that read, “We love you Ty!”

There really are no words that can truly describe the amazing love on display by the side of the outbound lane of the Sagamore Bridge that morning. Wordlessly, it is the heartbeat of community and when it speaks, it speaks for itself.


John E. Holt

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

August 27, 2014

A Fairy Tale

            I am a political junkie but, unlike my kids, I am still hooked on old-fangled newspapers. I need to hold newsprint in my own two little hands every morning as I wander my way through the Boston Globe. I start with the sports section, before bracing myself to withstand the latest stench emanating from the sorry state of our nation’s leadership. On the face of it, it appears as if there is little honor left amongst the leaders of our nation. Even though I know that there are some leaders who are honorable and seek to serve their country with integrity, I am distracted by those who are corrupt, power hungry, have sold out to special interests or could generally care less about their constituents or our nation as a whole. They make me quite cranky, to the point that I once announced that I was forming a new political party called the “Disgusted Party.” I was only kidding, but I was amazed at how many took me seriously and wanted to jump on my bandwagon!

            This leads me to spin a fairy tale for you. This story, which reeks of impossibility, is completely a figment of my ever-hopeful imagination. After all, it is a mortal sin to live without hope.

            Once upon a time to come, the good old “US of A” embarked upon yet another presidential campaign. At first, it was the “same old same old.” The candidates were seasoned politicians, most of whom were TV “charismaniacs,” who promised that, if elected, they would instantly end the gridlock in our nation’s capitol and lead our nation to new heights of power, prosperity and glory: “Just vote for me and I’ll save the world!” Of course, these old pros, most of who had been sipping the Kool-Aid of arrogance, had lined up massive financial resources long before the primaries began. Millions of dollars were spent to inform the people as to why, if they voted for one of them, heaven was near, but if they voted for an opponent, they should prepare to plumb the depths of hell. This, of course, was nothing new. Everybody knew that all the candidates were really one and the same. The cynical citizenry knew that, no matter which candidate they voted for, not a thing would really change. So they collectively yawned and tuned out the media noise. They felt discouraged and disillusioned. They longed for something new.

            Then a strange thing happened. Actually, a strange woman happened. From the tiny village of Cotuit, Massachusetts, a different voice was heard. At first, she did not attract the attention of the nation’s big-time media, but rather her voice and message went viral on the Internet. Her message swept across the land via Facebook and Twitter and her presence became familiar on Instagram and YouTube.

            She was a simple woman. She worked most of her life in retail. She had virtually no charisma, but her honesty was undeniable and her vision of a compassionate country and a government that existed for the people, rather than above the people, echoed the founders’ dreams. She became too big to ignore. The mainstream media picked up the story. The woman declared that she was running for President, but that she would not raise any money or buy TV ads. What she would do, however, was cast a new vision for the nation, without making undeliverable promises. She said that she would represent store clerks and bankers, the upwardly mobile and the down-and-outers. She would do her best to work with everybody to make real the vision expressed in our nation’s creeds: the vision of a nation in which the unalienable right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness were a tangible reality, not a shattered dream. She also promised she would not run for a second term. One and done. “After all,” she said, “if I can’t do what needs to be done in four years, I don’t think four more years will be any different.”

            To make this fairy tale short and sweet, the strange woman from Cotuit won! Through the electrifying stimulus created by social media, millions of people turned out to vote, many of whom had never voted before! Running as an independent, and often a write-in candidate, she clobbered both the “old guard” candidates. A tweet announced the stunning news: “A woman rules!”

          Inauguration day dawned bright and sunny. It truly reflected the rejuvenated mood of the country. Madame President was sworn in by the Chief Justice and then moved to the microphones to speak. This is what she said:

“My fellow Americans: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.You prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

            Then she paused for a moment. One could sense that the crowd was wondering, “Where is she going with this? Really??? The 23rd Psalm??? Is that all she’s got?” Then, however, she struck a new chord. She created a new harmony.

            “As your President, our Creator has called me to be your shepherd, a shepherd to every man, woman and child who lives in our cherished land. I will do my very best to care for your needs and your wants. I will work to create a sense of peace in our country and in our world. I want to do nothing less than to lift our nation’s spirit, to heal its tattered soul. I promise I will always try to do what’s right so that my actions reflect the eternal values bequeathed to us by our Highest Divine Power. No matter what happens, even when fear and death confront us, I will strive to comfort you and walk with you in our shared journey. Our enemies will have no sway over us. They will only be able to marvel as our joy overflows like a cascading waterfall. I firmly believe that goodness and grace will always tag along behind us, because this is not only your land or my land. This is God’s land. And in God we trust!”      

          Then, she sat down as the deeply moved crowd stood on the mall and chanted: “In God we trust! In God we trust!”

            Drats! Too bad this is only a fairy tale, but it is a fairy tale with a point. It is to remind us that our ancient, psalm-singing ancestors had an incredible vision of leadership. A true leader is charged to be shepherd-like: to govern, not with coercive power, but with a persuasive power motivated by goodness and mercy. Every member of a leader’s flock is important; every sheep and lamb is to be cared for and kept safely in the fold. And a true leader is always on the lookout for strays!

            What a leadership concept! Imagine if the kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, popes and pastors of our age and the ages to come embraced a shepherd-like leadership. Perhaps this ancient vision of shepherd leadership has the potential to be a refreshing wind that blows away the stagnant smog of a political leadership that, too often, believes itself to be above and beyond the people. If only our leaders would assume such leadership. Then, with perhaps a Divine nudge, my over-the-top fairy tale might be converted into a new narrative for our nation; a narrative that reeks, not of impossibility, but of the possibility for a restoration of our nation’s spirit and the healing of our tattered soul.

John E. Holt, Cotuit, Massachusetts