More Than Elephants and Donkeys

Growing up in Knoxville, one of my favorite local attractions was the Knoxville Zoo, and for good reason. It’s easily one of the best in the southeast. I suppose there is some irony this particular zoo (at least, when I was a child) kept the elephants and the donkeys toward the front. Yet I was always more interested in the other animals; the red pandas, the African penguins, the cheetahs.

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised in the least that I turned out to be the most politically moderate member of my family. I was raised in a very conservative home; I actually listened to Rush Limbaugh as a 10-year-old. I still remember his rants when then-Governor Clinton was elected President. I didn’t know why, but I knew Rush didn’t like him, and Mom didn’t care very much for him, so I sure wasn’t going to think very highly of him!

Given my upbringing, it should be no surprise when I turned 18 in 2000, I proudly voted for George W. Bush, and every other Republican on the Rock Hill, South Carolina ballot. Was I naive? Maybe (Although in hindsight, today’s Steve may still have voted for Bush, given what I knew at the time). I again voted for Bush in 2004 (to be fair, I didn’t truly care for either candidate).

It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I realized I wasn’t doing my own thinking. I was doing my family’s thinking, and for the large part, my friends’ thinking. I fell into the trap of throwing my support behind a person to whom I didn’t give careful consideration.

Six years later, I consider myself a political moderate. And it didn’t take me long to realize that’s a very lonely position. Any political talk you have with a Republican or Democrat, no matter how civil it is, is usually pointless. Most people can’t understand that just because you support one Democratic idea, it doesn’t mean you support ALL Democratic ideas. I kid you not, one right-wing thinker once compared me to the church in Laodicea.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. -Revelation 3:15-16

The way this man saw it, since I wasn’t supporting either political party, I didn’t care about politics. In his eyes, moderate equaled “dispassionate”. I do have political ideas and positions. to him, they are nothing more than holy backwash.

Further complicating things is the fact that 2010 is an exceptionally difficult year for moderates. The talking heads on the 24/7 cable networks are nearly all so skewed to one side or the other, they are barely listenable. The political tone of the country has lent itself to some extreme right-wing candidates this year, but finding more centrist Democrats can still be a challenge as well. And both sides are labeling the other as out-of-touch, extreme and generally altogether a bad choice for America.

But the truth is you don’t have to blindly support Republicans or Democrats. Just because you consider yourself a Republican, it doesn’t mean you have to like that party’s stance on gay marriage. Just because you call yourself a Democrat, it doesn’t mean you have to support that party’s platform on illegal immigration. Each party has its own agenda; there’s no reason you should automatically subscribe to it!

I can count at least two issues where I take an extremely conservative position, and two issues where I take a very liberal stance. For the purpose of not stirring up a nest of hornets (and the purpose of keeping my job), I won’t identify what those issues are. But if you’re caught in the middle, if you’ve had enough of both parties, don’t worry. You’re only at the beginning of the political zoo. Because here, there are a lot more animals than just the elephants and the donkeys.

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Reflection: Life and Death and All of Us

Think about the happiest moment of your life.

For me, that time came this week when my daughter was born. My heart swelled up with pride and joy as I held her for the first time. But what made it even better was watching my parents hold her, reaching their long-time dream of finally becoming Poppa and Grand-Mary. Their smiles and laughter and congratulations; all of it will stick in my mind forever. There was so much sunshine in the delivery room, so much happiness.

That all changed just five days later. We got a call from Jen’s family that her aunt, who suffered from lung cancer, had a heart attack and collapsed. We rushed to the hospital, where doctors worked for hours to restore her aunt’s pulse and heartbeat. But the inevitable came. Two doctors emerged from the double doors, and I knew. Not everybody realized it immediately, but then came the words.

We did all we could, but there’s nothing more we can do.

Jen’s aunts and uncles cried as the realization struck them. A family member, snatched away. And as the grief filled the room, clusters of two and three people formed all around, holding and consoling one another. I didn’t know her that well, so I stayed apart, gazing at my newborn daughter and watching the tears come down. And as nieces, cousins, sisters and friends wept and hugged, I began to see the parallels with the joy that took place less than a week ago. And it all reduced to one critical point.

We are not meant to do this alone.

Think about that. Go back to the happiest moment in your life, when you felt the most fulfilled, the most excited to be alive. How much better was that moment because you got to share it with a loved one or family? When a baby takes its first steps, what do the parents do? They take pictures and video, and send it to everyone else so they can share in the joy. When I make a meal I know is really good, it’s that much better when somebody else is enjoying it with me. When you get that promotion, or buy a new car, or win a competition, you share it! It’s not bragging; rather it’s amplifying your joy by bringing in your friends and family to share in the excitement.

And the same is true in the worst of times. Where the presence of loved ones increases your happiness in good times, it tempers that sadness of heartbreak and pain. When a child scrapes his or her knee, that child runs to mommy, because she makes it feel better. When a boy breaks up with his teenage girlfriend, she calls her friends to talk it over. And when a loved one leaves us for good, the presence of our family makes the pain easier to bear.

We are not meant to do this alone.

No matter what you’re going through, your friends and family can improve it. Whether it’s people you “know” on social networking sites, or your best friend, or your brother, sharing in the joy and the pain helps all of us along. And if you aren’t going through anything noteworthy right now, reach out to a friend who is. You can increase their happiness and relieve their sadness, without doing anything at all. Because none of us were meant to do this alone.

Filet Mignon with Lemon-Parsley Butter and Basil Corn

Ingredients

12 Tbsp. Butter, divided

1 Lemon

2 Tbsp. Parsley leaves, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

1/4 c. basil leaves, packed

4 ears corn

Olive oil

4 6-8 oz Filet Mignons, 1-in. thick

Preparation

Let the butter sit out until soft. Put 4 Tbsp. in a small bowl. Grate 2 tsp. of lemon zest onto the butter. Add parsley. Squeeze 1/4 of the lemon’s juice onto the butter. Mash together using a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put butter onto small piece of saran wrap, and tightly wrap into a cylinder. Put in fridge to harden.

Put remaining butter and basil into a food processor, and pulse until mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside in refrigerator.

Brush corn with olive oil and grill over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, turning every couple of minutes. Remove from grill, and turn grill to high heat. When cool enough to handle, cut kernels from the ear. Set aside.

Brush filets with olive oil, season thoroughly with salt and pepper. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Place on hottest part of the grill until desired doneness is achieved (8-10 minutes for medium rare). Turn only once during cooking. When done, remove from grill and let rest 5-10 minutes.

In a deep saute pan, mix corn and basil butter over medium heat, stirring continuously. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir until butter is melted and corn is coated, then remove from heat and cover.

Serving

Cut end of filets to show doneness, place on plate with dab of lemon-parsley butter on top (a fresh parsley leaf also makes for beautiful presentation). Serve with generous helping of corn.

Working Ahead

The lemon-parsley butter and basil butter can be made up to a week in advance. The corn can be cut and grilled several hours before serving (just allow more time for corn to mix with basil butter in saute pan to reach a desired temperature).

Blogging, babies and bilirubin…

I don’t know why I wanted to start a blog. I’m not the kind of person that trumpets my achievements, or publicly bemoans my misfortune. I’m smart enough to know most people don’t care about my opinions. But I also felt like I needed somewhere to hammer out my thoughts. Like another avenue to develop my reactions toward what is going on around me. And the biggest thing going on around me right now is my newborn daughter.

Avery Grace was born October 2 at 6:18 A.M., a healthy 7 lbs., 1 oz. And any first-time father can tell you, seeing your child born is a feeling that you never get over. One minute you’re squeezing your wife’s hand, urging her to the end of her pregnancy, and the next minute, your life changes completely. They took her away to clean her up and check her vitals, but that first cry is something you don’t forget. I knew right then and there I would die for her without a second thought.

We went home after a night in postpartum, exhausted and cranky. And that carried over into the night. After we laid her down, I fell into a deep sleep and woke up to the sound of crying. Both Avery and Jen in tears. Apparently I slept through two hours of hysterical screaming where Jen couldn’t get her to rest. It was terrifying. How did I sleep through that? How in the world could my wife and my daughter be in such a state while I stay unconscious? It took about 20 minutes to calm Avery down and get her back in bed, but I couldn’t sleep again.

The bad news came the next day, when Avery’s test for bilirubin came back too high. Bilirubin is a chemical present in the baby’s blood that the liver should filter out. However, sometimes there’s too much, and the baby has jaundice. Of course, it all sounds terrible, and it can be if it goes unchecked. Thankfully, the treatment is easy. The doctors put Avery under some blue lights and let her sleep there overnight.

The treatment worked beautifully, but another problem arose. Avery now isn’t urinating enough. Now it’s possible Jen and I overlooked it in her diaper (because, let’s face it, the poop is pretty impressive), but the dry diapers are a possible sign of dehydration, or worse, kidney problems.

So that’s where we are now. We’re now just hoping she starts peeing a lot and the doctors let us go home. Because staying in a hospital, surrounded by babies born way too soon and with way too many problems, can be depressing. We’re just ready to get our new family at home for good.

UPDATE:

We’re finally home! Avery is eating, peeing, pooping and sleeping as good as any newborn in the world. Amazingly, I think her two-night stay in the NICU was a blessing. Jen and I learned a ton of new information and tricks to better take care of her. Though it was one of the toughest few days of our lives, I think it’s going to make us better parents in the long run. Thank you all for your enduring support.