Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Certainty Never a Given in Remarriage

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

#Divorce #Remarriage #Therapy #Doubt

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

“You didn’t!” a friend exclaimed when I told her that I posted my most recent article. “I’d have thought you’d write it and throw it away.”

“Why? It was part of my life, all those years ago.”

“But why now, so long . . . What, over 30 years . . . after it all happened?” she continued.

“Gosh, I was hoping I’d get credit for keeping my mouth shut all that time.” My friend laughed. She knew I was kidding.

It is difficult to know just how far one should go writing a autobiographical piece. I struggled with it, especially when it came to deciding how much of the truth should be told. There is always more. More is almost always worse. Worse is almost always hurtful, or at least embarrassing, to others, if not myself. I had more that I didn’t write. I still question whether I went too far or not far enough. I tried to draw a line between what seemed to me to be deliberate acts – those one makes as a matter of choice – and idiosyncratic behaviors which are habituated to the point of being unintentional, predisposed and a likely reaction given a person’s psychological makeup. To illustrate, most of us learned as preschoolers that lying was not a nice thing to do. Unless we are pathological liars, a rare condition, when we are untruthful it is usually by choice. When I lie, for example, I am usually trying to make myself look better in the eyes of others or to avoid negative consequence of the truth. I think I am very much like others in this regard. (Or the one I really like: What do you call a person who lies 99.9% of the time?  – Answer below*)

My friend thought that I sounded angry in the piece. If that is true, I failed.  I was angry then. I’m not now. There’s a huge difference between who I was at the time the events took place and the guy who is finally writing about them today. If I regret one thing in the piece upon rereading it, it’s that I admitted to any anger at all. I wish I would simply have owned the hurt that fell to me through the actions and thoughtlessness of others.

A Watershed Event . . .

What my friend was probably trying to say is that I should have let go of my anger and my hurt years ago. I’m going to insist that I have. Any conclusion reached to the contrary upon reading my article is evidence that I failed as the author. Those things happened. They happened to me. I wept about them. I stormed around in therapy to overcome them. They are real moments out of my life. Today, I am glad that they happened.

The failure of my second marriage is a watershed event in my life. I would never have found the happiness that has been mine for the last half of my life had all not taken place. I won’t even attempt to imagine what my life might have been like had I chosen to stay put. I had no guarantee my children would have been happier. No guarantee my spouse would have been happier. No guarantee that I would eventually be more solvent financially because, with my marriage stabilized, I’d be more successful at work. No guarantee that I would be happier even if those around me were, although I usually take others into account. Doing nothing would have spread the misery out for years. As it was, I took a short hard dose of it and moved on. If I failed in writing, I failed on the side of not sounding grateful, of not acknowledging the courage it took to move on with my life. I benefit from 20/20 hindsight in all this, but I counter that I was resolved then and ever since never to give up on my own mental health and my own happiness.

Author John J. Hohn and Melinda F. Hohn Married, 1986

Author John J. Hohn and Melinda F. Hohn Married, 1986

Some therapists might want a person to believe that eventually all memories can be stripped of emotion and brought to mind as clinically sterile facts. They should stand stainless on the sanitized slate of a lifetime. I’ll don’t agree. Dump the excess, yes, the disabling tsunami of emotion that sweeps away all perspective and rational explanation, but memories always carry some feeling in them. A person who claims not be troubled in the least about the past is a person who seldom bothers to think about the journey of life and the path it follows.

Most of us, or course, live as our beliefs direct us. We like to think if we live by the rules we will be happy. Sometimes, however, it is important to question the rules. Who made them? Why? Suffer in silence, for example, is really idiotic. Whoever made that rule must have wanted terribly to avoid being inconvenienced by responding compassionately to the cries of another. Best possible interpretation is that we all need to avoid a crippling case of self-pity. But then, how does one overcome self-pity in silence. Sounds like a real challenge to me. Fairness and sense of justice ultimately have a role to play as far as I am concerned. If the victims of cruelty never speak out against their fate, their oppressor is free to move on with impunity to make others miserable.

Up for Grabs . . .

Of course, if you shed all your baggage, including most, if not all, of your beliefs, you encounter life on a different plane altogether. You make a good friend of doubt, not always the most congenial of companions. Where once you enjoyed certainty about life, heaven, hell and all the rest, suddenly everything is up for grabs. It very uncomfortable at first. You may not really be ready to move forward with your life, to grow and expand your horizons, until you confess in all humility that you really don’t know much at all. When you’ve nothing left to be indignant about, it becomes a comfort to know that you cannot possibly be wrong. Doubt, by definition, is never wrong.

Doubt gets a bad rap because people who are certain equate doubt with intellectually lazy. They’re wrong, of course. (I’m certain of it.) What’s really going on is that a belief system relieves a person of the need to think. Beliefs are intellectually slothful, bordering on self-indulgent. Think about it. It’s comfortable  to wake every day to the certainty that life is meaningful beyond question. Your life is on auto-pilot because what you believe tells you that everything will turn out all right. Suppose the thought trots in on little cat feet to question, “What if none of this has meaning? What if man is an accident of nature? What if death is the end of me?” It takes a perverse kind of courage to let tabby back in the house if these are the messages that tag along after her. Doubt is like the coat you took off upon entering the house only to find yourself wandering around wondering where to hang it up. You may go the rest of your life holding on to it. You may go the rest of your life without the comfort of certainty.

What can happen is that doubt brightens a person’s life. It opens doors that stood closed and forbidding. It leads to doors that you didn’t know were there. Doubts, open, intellectually honest doubt, a state uncertainty, leaves the mind and the emotions open again almost as child’s to let the sights and sounds and events of every day register as fresh and new. I’d bet if a survey were taken the results would prove that the most unhappy people around are those who cling to some system of belief as a way of making life make sense to them. Doubts don’t need to make life makes sense. Life is to be lived, not understood. Travel alone, or travel with a partner. The choice is always there but don’t do either because somewhere something is telling you “you’re supposed to.”

*A liar.

To be continued . . .

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Poet Robert Lax – Michael N. McGregor’s Powerful Biography

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax by Michael N. McGregor is a powerful biography of a poet who only recently has been recognized for his contributions to the evolution of contemporary poetry. The book succeeds on several levels.

Lax was born to immigrant parents in Olean, New York in 1915. The middle class values of his Jewish upbringing instilled in him a deep desire to achieve. His mother nurtured his aspirations and his loving relationships with his siblings, especially his sister Gladio, lasted all of his life. Coming of age during the depression – a time of financial hardship and open antisemitism in America – Lax enrolls in Columbia where he finds himself quickly at home among some of the brightest of his generation, including lifelong friend, Thomas Merton. Here also, Lax meets the Hindu monk, Mahanambrata Brahmachari, who Lax describes as the first true ‘holy man’ they’d (Lax and Merton) met.” McGregor writes:

The influence of Brahmachari’s words and way of being was so pivotal and long-lasting that Merton mentioned him in his last letter to Lax, days before he died. By then, based in part on decisions Brahmachari had led him to, Lax was living in a manner much like that of the guru in blue sneakers.

A list of all who influenced Lax during these impressionable years would be long indeed. Lax, however, was not part of the mainstream. Rich in detail, McGregor’s narrative never bogs down, a credit to his easy, flowing style. Sensitive readers will walk away from the book feeling that they have spent time in the company of an enlightened holy man – a rare and beautiful accomplishment for any writer.

Precursor to the Beatniks . . .

Robert Lax - Poet, Essayist and Philosopher

Robert Lax – Poet, Essayist and Philosopher

Merton and Lax room together upon graduating in a cottage near Lax’s hometown of Olean. The cottage becomes a hangout for others who, like Lax and Merton, were ambivalent about starting a career. McGregor suggests that their community was a precursor to the beatnik subculture that would emerge twenty years later. Nevertheless, during this time, Lax read the Bible and the works Shakespeare, Dante, Eliot, Blake, Donne, St. Augustin, and St. John of the Cross and others – all of which bring about a deepening of his spiritual beliefs.

All of Lax’s friends grow apprehensive about the conflict in Europe. Lax frets about what he should do and decides finally to register as a conscientious objector, a decision that put him at odds with some of his friends. I do not believe in killing, he writes. I will not kill. McGregor reports the poet writes with the unshakable conviction that “what he did and said had wider, even eternal implications.” In working out his position, Lax writes further, The world is, or seems to be (except for disease, unfortunate accidents, hostile beats, poison plants, murderous thievish, blaspheming, idolatrous, lying, adulterous, scandalous man) for joy.

These statements, all part of a single journal entry, might seem grandiose and naive – almost to the point of humor. Lax knows his mind. What his statements measure is not the young poet’s maturity but his passionate commitment to a view of mankind in the world and his place in it among his fellows.

Michael N. McGregor, Biography

Michael N. McGregor, Biography

Author McGregor seems aware that readers may misjudge his subject, perhaps to the point of dismissing Lax altogether. Yet McGregor never assumes the role of apologist for Lax. The author’s view is not idealized. He trusts his readers and gives a balanced account. Lax is his own victim at times. He is listless and eager to please, indecisive and often unwilling to confront even when it is in his best interests to do so. But McGregor depicts rather than judges, subtly affirming the reader’s judgements rather than enumerating Lax’s shortcomings.

Almost Paradoxical . . .

Friends eventually leave the cottage near Olean, Merton enters a Trappist monastery and Lax is fusses over what to do professionally. Despite holding positions with prestigious publications, He inevitably finds himself out of place. He abhors what the American world of commerce asks of people of talent. His solution is to seek solitude and live a life of poverty. Alone, his quest to discover and live as his true self will be unencumbered. As a man discovers his true self, he also draws closer to God. Man’s inner voice prays and talks to God. From the same voice poetry springs. McGregor writes:

In seeking to hear his inner voice, he was seeking as well to be a center of calm in the world. In making decisions or answering questions, he wanted to take his time, to let the answer rise quietly and naturally from his inner being – not a partial answer but a full one he could agree with completely.

As Lax takes up solitary residence among the residents of the Greek Isles, it is apparent the poet holds an idealized view of his neighbors, a view that is almost paradoxical – so fragile that if it were to be challenged, the impact would be profound, perhaps a shattering disorientation. Yet, his beliefs shape his perception. He sustains his view with the sheer power of his intellect. He wants to believe humans can live simply in the moment, congruent lives, where spirit, mind and body function as one, to live as a circus acrobat dashing toward a trotting horse, leaping into a somersault and landing upright and sure-footed on the animal’s back. Circus performers become yet another fascination for the evolutionary poet because in their movements, Lax see humans approximating his ideal of a pure act.

A Passion for the Essence . . .

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax as featured on Amazon

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax as featured on Amazon

Lax’s poetry and other works did not receive much recognition during his lifetime. He worked in the shadow of Merton and persisted with little support from the larger literary community. In his passion for the essence of words, almost an obsession, he sought to strip every word of the accepted connotations and associations so that each would appear on the page, strike the reader’s mind, as a primal, discrete entity. McGregor credits him with the discovery of vertical poetry. In his restricted vertical poems, Lax dedicates a single line to each syllable. Syllables are to words what atoms are to molecules. Finding the true intended self requires purity of language. Pure prayer requires the same. His more expansive pieces are reminiscent of e. e. cummings in form, cummings being among the poets of the previous generation much admired by Lax.

In the 1950’s he meets Jack Kerouac and is impressed with Kerouac’s spontaneous writing, which Lax sees as akin to the work of one of his idols, James Joyce, in the freedom it enables and the belief that it accesses pure thought directly. Lax briefly weighs the merits of a theory emerging among mid-twentieth thinkers that art is to be created as art, as a being with itself as its reason for existing rather than as a mirror of life. Art is art. Life is life. Or so it is argued. Back on his island home, watching a girl weave a simple rug and fisherman repair their nets, Lax rejects the new wave of thinking. Art springs from life.

McGregor refreshes his narrative at intervals with engaging first-person accounts of his own travels and visits with Lax. The author’s voice is unpretentious and authentic. If his personal beliefs ever differ with those of his subject, it is never evident. Catholicism figures prominently in the lives of Merton and Lax. When Lax is asked why he converted, the poet states  that as a young man he needed more structure. Readers expecting more from a man of profound reflection and immersed in the writings of Aquinas, Augustine, John of the Cross – to name just a few – may be disappointed. Merton and Lax, aside from profound respect for the teachings of Christ – especially the Sermon on the Mount – are not reported as engaged much in the life of Jesus, the mystery of the redemption and resurrection. Both men seem more theist than Christian. In the end, Lax realizes almost as a concession that no one religion is ever enough. It is important to go beyond.

Pure Act is a book to own. Beautifully written, there is wisdom within its pages. Everyone’s walk is different. Pure Act has a place along everyone’s way to be read once, slowly, and referred to again and again. Life is to be lived slowly, Lax admonishes, because answers come slowly – as slowly yet persistently as questions do.

This review, in somewhat condensed form, first appeared on the web site,

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Coronary Bypass Surgery Commonplace and Life Extending for Many.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer

John J. Hohn, Writer

Coronary bypass surgery has been around for more than 50 years. Yet to the patient, most of whom experience the procedure only once, undergoing the operation can give rise to anxiety. The survival rate is actually very high. Less than 5 percent mortality in the first thirty days and less than 8 percent in the twelve months following. Survival rates increase slightly with age and depend in large part upon the general health of the patient going into the operation.

I can’t say that I was anxious at first. Astonished would be more to the point. I thought that with my diet and aerobic workouts, I was invulnerable. As reality settled in, my feelings changed. If I was anxious at all, I feared pain. I’ve never liked pain. I’ve avoided it all of my life. I hoped that the repairs to my ticker could be performed using the newer less invasive techniques. The thought of sawing through my sternum and spreading rib cage to access to the chest bordered on terrifying for me.

I had been on a been on a blood thinner (clopidogrel) since I had three stents inserted into my coronary arteries almost five years earlier. Consequently, I was hospitalized on a monitor (my left descending artery was 90% blocked) for four days before the operation. During that time, my blood was checked every four hours to see if the effects of the blood thinner had worn off and it was safe to operate. The frequent blood tests were a serious annoyance. My guess is even the janitor on the floor knew that it would take at least 48 hours for the effect of the blood thinner to wear off in a six-foot-two-inch male weighing 210 pounds. But no! Every hour hours, beginning right after admission. Forget what would be reasonable. It helps run up the lab bill, after all. The markup on lab procedures is probably several hundred times. But the wait gave me plenty of time to stew about my chances and my future.

When it came to not surviving, I knew only that I did not want to leave. That sounds a bit silly, but dying didn’t really bother me. I embraced my mortality years ago. Most writers do. It’s all but forced upon them. I didn’t want to leave my wife and children. I wanted to hang around and enjoy loving them and time with them. I didn’t want them to grieve. As a consolation to myself, I decided quite calmly that I had lived a good life. It was certainly exciting, perhaps more at times than I would have wished. But I was completely comfortable with the realization that I was not an evil man. A fool, yes! But evil, no. I never deliberated set out to hurt anyone or deprive anyone of anything he or she needed. I made a few mistakes. Some of them quite serious. (Don’t ask.) But mistakes are not as important as how one recovers from them. I felt, all in all, if I was on the threshold of departure from this life, I could make my good-byes with a degree of satisfaction that my life was a successful one, especially given then last 35 years, or roughly half.

Lights  out . . .

For a man who lives by his imagination, I had no idea what I was going to experience. My last hospitalization for surgery was minor when I had the stents implanted as I mention earlier. This time, I was rolled into the operating room, a huge, overwhelming gray and white space. Several humans were milling about in light green surgical suits. I had to scrunch a little to get onto the operating table.

Coronary Bypass Surgery  Illustration

Coronary Bypass Surgery Illustration

Then. blam! Lights out. I am guessing that the anesthesia for coronary bypass surgery takes the patient about as far under as one dare go. I jokingly said that the anesthesiologist has a “death meter” that must be watched as the needle hovers precariously above zero. After all, my heart was going to be stopped. A machine was going to breathe for me. So. I ceased to exist as I know myself. I would like to write that it was pleasant, but it wasn’t! It wasn’t anything. I continued to exist with no awareness of myself and life around me. If death is like that, I’m thinking it’s not to be feared.

Waking up, however, is another matter. My wife and stepson were at my bedside side with the anesthesiologist and a nurse. Apparently, I struggled and thrashed around for a couple of hours or more. I’d give thumbs up and nodded when asked, but I do not remember anything. At one point, in the darkness, I heard my wife’s dear voice, “John? Why are you here?”

“To know, to love and to serve God,” I responded with great pride that the answer felt so right and came to me so readily. (Never underestimate the power of early catechism lessons.) It was a response that I respect to this day and one that I still question because I really want the answer to be an honest one. As it stands, it may be something learned and recited by rote. On the other hand, I felt an innocence flow through me in making the reply. I felt like a babe being lifted dripping naked from the bath. My response was mumbled. Nobody understood what I tried to say. The borderline between consciousness and stupor bends and sways at this point in overcoming the anesthesia. Taking it seriously, I do love God. I intend to serve God in all that I do. (I can’t imagine deliberately undertaking to not serve God.) The heart of the matter for me is knowing or striving to know God. Lots of pretend, sometimes ludicrous knowledge clutters the path.

Suddenly, I am aware. Alive! The people in the room appear as silhouettes. “I love you guys,” I proclaimed in my joy at being awake. The fact that I only knew two people present concerned me not in the least. I was in a recovery room in the intensive care unit (ICU). I was comfortable but groggy, drifting in and out of consciousness, so much so that I remember very little of the day.

Extremely Depleting . . .

When the next day rolled around, I was more myself. I was immediately challenged to stand up which was a struggle. I began to realize how much the body gives up enduring major surgery. It is extremely depleting. The nurse was impressed with my leg strength, given my age. Why not? I had been working out regularly for 40 years, but I felt horribly weak. Later, when I was asked to walk,

Interveneous Insert = I Needed Two.

Intravenous Insert = I Needed Two.

every step required effort. I tired very quickly. The heck with my heart – what had been done to the rest of my body? Apparently, experience proves that patients who get back on their feet immediately, recover much faster, and thus the effort to get one out of bed and strolling about even if it requires assistance.

All of my systems were coming back onto line. I could not get to the bathroom on my own, but I had a bottle. I hacked up a lifetime-best slug of sputum from my lungs. “Oh good!” my nurse exclaimed when I told her about it. “Everything’s working.” My appetite returned. I had not eaten for two days. I ordered lunch, but before it arrived, I was told that I was doing so well that I was going to be moved out of ICU into a coronary care area. The lunch was directed to my new room The nurses in ICU, however, did not want me to be transferred until they had two working intravenous inserts (IV’s) established.

My arms looked like the no-man’s land of a World War I battlefield. Blood had been taken from the back of my hands up to my elbow on both arms. My fatty arms. I don’t have rope veins on the surface al a gym rats everywhere. They could not find a place to insert the new IV. I kept telling them to try above my elbow. But no, they’d rather not. Finally a doctor was called and she found a place using a sonogram locator. Guess where. Above my elbow. Lunch hour was long gone. It was 4:00 pm.

Locating the right place for the IV took so long that my lunch was returned to the kitchen. I was starving. I told the nurse on the floor to which I was transferred that I needed something eat. She insisted on completing a questionnaire on a monitor in the room that repeated all the questions I had been asked every day for six days. What good, I thought, was a system if it didn’t retain the answers from one day to the next? When the nurse left saying nothing about my lunch, I called my wife and asked her to bring me a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich from home. We live five minutes from the hospital. It seemed the only way.  I really did not, as I feared, experience much physical pain. The only pain I experienced during for my entire stay was hunger in the face of indifference toward it and multiple attempts at inserting an IV. But there is more to my story . . .

To be Continued . . .

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Widow Maker — The Left Main Coronary Artery

Friday, June 12th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer

John J. Hohn, Writer

#heartattack #widowmake #coronary

Widow Maker. That’s what they call it – the widow maker. The left main coronary artery. “They’d never have been able to resuscitate you,” my friend Bruce Walley said, as he viewed the video of the angiogram. Bruce would know. He’s a retired heart surgeon. The artery was 90% blocked. I had been running around all over the southeast at huge risk to my survival. His word, and the fact that I went directly onto a monitor and into the hospital cardiac care unit told me I had been taking huge risks. I had no idea of perilous my condition was.

I’ve known for years that I had high cholesterol – stratospheric – in the mid-300 range. I also found out early that I could not tolerate statins. Lipitor, Mevacor, Crestor Zetia, etc. I tried them all. At one point, in fact, I signed up with the lipid clinic. Under a doctor’s direction, I started taking massive dosages of statins. My cholesterol totals were checked twice a month. Finally, my total LDL and HDL combined total dropped to less than the magic total of 150. Then one night, as I was getting out of my chair, a bolt of pain in my left leg dropped me to the floor. It felt as though a rod had been driven down my thigh from my buttocks to my knee. It was the worst pain I had ever felt. It hurt to lie still. It hurt to move. My wife was aghast. Call 911?

Cure Worse than the Affliction . . .

Then, after what seemed like minutes, the pain subsided. Instinctively I knew it was a reaction to the medicines I was taking. I stopped altogether. The cure was worse than the affliction. I dropped out of the clinic and began doing my own research. I found, for example, that the statistical viability of venerable Framingham Study weakened once subjects passed their 70 birthday, a milepost six years back in my review mirror. So many other factors entered into considering the mortality rates in the eight decade that high cholesterol shared its grim reaper status with a host of other diseases and physical anomalies. I found experts did not agree that high cholesterol was a problem. Of course I had a vested interest in believing I was not threatened by the waxy buildup in my arteries. Some authors even made a case against the pharmaceutical industry for pushing statins onto medical providers who were too busy or too tired to do their own research.

I found that my wife and I were doing a lot of the right things. I had been a regular at the gym for over thirty years. I did my cardio. Three times a week, I got my heart rate up to 80% of its max for a sustained 20 minutes or more. I was not overweight. We rarely ate red meats. We avoided sugars and sweets.  I abstained from soft drinks. We avoided hydrogenated oils and fats, high fructose corn syrup (or as has been allowed, simply “corn syrup). I started taking daily doses of Omega-3, niacin, Co-Q10, clopidegrel, coated aspirin. Every meal I sat down to a mini chemistry set in front of me. My ratio of HDL to LDL was right where it needed to be. Vegetarian, vegan, low-carb diets all had advocates, many of whom contradicted the research of those with a differing view. I decided that nutritionists shared a position with economists – if they were lined up head-to-foot around the equator, they would all, nevertheless, wind up pointing in different directiosn.

One thing is certain. No one can trust the rulings and proclamations of the Food and Drug Administration. Lobbyists hammer away at our congressional representatives, venial humans like the rest of us who are no brighter, no more enlightened, and perhaps more greedy and narcissistic than the rest of us. Money in the billions is made available to sway legislation and policy formation. The FDA does not have the best interests of the nation’s health in mind any more that the SEC seeks to protect the average investor from the scams and crooked dealings of the big banks and brokerage firms. .

In May, 2010, my cardiologist detected an anomaly in the results of my stress EKG. “It’s up to you,” he counseled my wife and me. “If it were me, I would have the procedure. Then we will know what we are talking about.”

Moving Confidently Ahead with Our Lives . . .

The procedure to be considered was an angiogram. We consented to it and it revealed that I had minor blockages of three coronary arteries. The left main – the widow-maker – was not among them. Two short hospitalizations and I walked back into my life ready to begin my aerobic workouts and my exasperating golf game without a hitch. The results seemed to substantiate that I was on the right track, that what I was doing as far as exercise and diet were concerned was working. We moved confidently ahead with our lives, proactively seeking a healthy, happy lifestyle. Our long term aspirations led us to decide that, for all the attractions of our current residence, we felt we would be happier moving back to Winston-Salem, the town we had lived in for more than 30 years. We bought a house and moved.

Major Coronary Heart Arteries. The Widow Make is upper right.

Major Coronary Heart Arteries. The Widow Make is upper right.

The move, of course, meant that I needed to gain entry into the medical care provider system in my new community. My cardiologist in Wilmington had sent me on my way in December, 2015, after checking my EKG and a routine physical. “You look great. Keep it up,” he announced cheerfully. My new physicians were more thorough. But, in fairness, even they seemed convinced by my general healthy appearance, my diet and workout regimen that nothing could be too seriously wrong. I enthusiastically affirmed everything they said that was positive. But slowly things began to breakdown.

The results of a new stress test were positive (in medical terms “positive” means “bad.”) “There’s trouble with the early part of your heartbeat,” my cardiologist observed. He prescribed Isorsorbide, a blood vessel dilator, and somewhat more alarming, an emergency supply of nitro tablets to be taken if I experienced chest pains again  (see my previous article). An angiogram was scheduled and the full scope of my troubles became apparent. In five years, my left main coronary artery – the widow-maker – was 90 percent blocked. I had been hoping that another stent or two would solve the problem. “It would only make it worse,” my cardiologist reported. If not stents, then perhaps the newer non-invasive heart surgery procedures would spare me the horror of having my sternum cut from my clavicle to my diaphragm, pried apart, and all manner of other fantastic manipulations of my vitals. But it was the only way. I was rushed to the hospital.

It’s Not My Time . . .

“This is not my time,” I confided in my good friend. “I just don’t feel that I am through with my life yet.”

“I don’t think that it is your time either,” she replied, a survivor of not one but two open heart surgeries. I took some comfort in recognizing the open heart surgeries were no longer experimental. They had been around since the 1960’s and what once was considered pioneering surgery had become routine.

Even so, I thought, I have lived a good life. I can’t change my past. What is done is done. I had deliberately set out to atone for my most regrets. There are so many foolish things in my past that cause me to cringe to this day when I recall them. But they were not evil acts. I am a foolish man. I know that. Yet given that, I have been thoughtful about my beliefs and my faith. I have wanted my beliefs to be reasonable. Once reason is abandoned in the name of religion or any belief system, a threshold is crossed in man’s intellectual makeup that makes anything possible, be it Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin or the notion that every human soul enters life unacceptable in the eyes of the Almighty because the child inherits a sin from an illiterate savage human ancestor.

I don’t know if I pray any more. Certainly not in the traditional sense which often is nothing more than repeating a composed piece from memory. But I  find I am thankful for the life I have lived. Of course, I would have chosen to avoid the pain of divorce, of parting with my children, and of bearing with financial failure at the height of my earning years. Thorns among the roses. I want to learn more. I want to become wiser and more understanding. Perhaps I can write something better than anything I have composed so far. But when a summing up takes place and the end is a tangible possibility, my first and nearly overwhelming utterance is that I am thankful. I have loved as well as I was capable at the time. I have enjoyed the love of so many. My life, up until the time the anesthesiologist turned out the lights, was a success.

I have so little that I would ask for by way of any supplication. In fact, I may not believe in prayers of supplication. They may relieve stress at the time of crisis but the record on them being answered is not encouraging. Hind sight shapes the answers. There is no control group data – the outcome for others suffering the same crisis but choosing not to pray.

I believe in praise and thanksgiving. I do not know my Creator well. I know dishonesty and cruelty when I see it. There is too much of both in the world. I believe in truth. I believe we are drawn to beauty because it reflects the Divine. I believe nature strives, if often extravagantly, for perfection and sometimes overshoots the mark. Beyond that, I will continue to search and sing songs of praise and thanksgiving.


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Heart Attack, Death, Immortality and Taxes at a Glance

Friday, May 1st, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer

John J. Hohn, Writer

Immortality! What a concept. Nothing lasts forever, of course. Even the sun will change in four billion years, become a red giant and expand to incinerate Mercury, Venus and probably Earth. Earth, if it survives, will be uninhabitable.

Four billion years, then. At this point in the history of our solar system, that is as good as forever. 3.99998 billion years from now, if anyone is still walking the planet, he or she will be looking at things differently. But we are a long way from that. In fact, most of the time, most of us do not give much thought to the end of things, be it our individual lives, the welfare of our country, or the continuation of an ecological balance that enables and promotes life in profusion.

Perhaps it takes an event of some gravity to move us consider the end of life. Last month, while walking our dog Buddy, I turned toward home and began trudging up a long hill. About half of the way up the grade, my chest began to cramp painfully. My breath came in short gasps. Inching forward became a deliberate effort. Buddy looked at me as if to ponder why we were going so slowly. A heart attack? I wondered. At one point, I didn’t think I would make it the last three blocks to home. I had my cell phone on my belt and thought of calling 911.

I’m on Walker Avenue between Collingwood and Magnolia. I think I’m having a heart attack. I’m with my dog. You’ll have to get him home first, I imagined myself saying to whoever answered my call. The dog! Of course. I needed to call my wife to come get him. Maybe she could take me to the emergency room.

From the Author's Front Yard

From the Author’s Front Yard

The taxes! I thought, taking another hesitant baby step. Melinda will need to finish the taxes. For some reason that became unthinkable to me. Melinda has an MBA. She’s more than capable. But I found I was spurred on by the thought of leaving that dreary task behind for her to complete. I finally reached our front door.

“I’m having chest pains,” I panted.

“Do you want me to take you to the hospital?”

“Just let me sit for a minute.”

“Do you want an aspirin?” Melinda is wonderful  She was alarmed but unshaken. She is my rock, the center of my life.

“Yes. I don’t think it’s a heart attack but just in case.” (A serious mistake as later tests proved I was on the brink of a heart attack.) In a few minutes I was feeling better. Acid reflux, I reasoned. I experienced a milder episode a week or so earlier. I had discussed it with my doctor. The belching, the absence of any radiating pain up my neck and into my jaw, the fact that the symptoms went away quickly – everything pointed to bad gate-keeping between my stomach and my esophagus. The cardiac sphincter asleep at its post. But, back to my point.

Too Important to Die . . .

My mind protected me from contending with the fear of dying, just as it does every day. I wasn’t ready to think about death, heart attack or not, even though I might have collapsed in a writhing heap with my next step. None of us thinks about it, or as one author put it, “We can’t think about it for long without going crazy.” Every one of us is far too important to die. The things we do each day are too vital, too important. Eric Berne wrote that we structure our time to avoid thinking about our mortality, sometimes to the extent of setting up elaborate and destructive games to occupy our minds and hearts. We use religion to take the edge off of death. Life in the hereafter is glorious beyond belief, or rather, as a matter of belief. Some who have reported near-death experiences testify that passage from this life to the next, at least at the  onset, is peacefully  mysterious, but none ventured into the hereafter deeply enough to send back detailed reports of its sumptuousness and grandeur. My guess is that any form of an after-life will not resemble life on earth in any detail. A thousand virgins are not milling about in the foyer.

It seems, if anything, that as a race we over-reach ourselves, not so much with our science, but with our desire to become more than mammals with amazing but limited intelligence. Human knowledge goes beyond anything dreamed possible even half a century ago. Our knowledge increases exponentially every decade – curiously an argument used by some theologians to prove that knowledge leads nowhere. Not that it ever made pretense at doing so, but science has yet to prove that God exists, or as the theologians fear, does not.

Knowledge on the other hand, especially in science, threatens to dispel the basic myths in man’s religious systems, and the religions of the world put up a formidable defense by insisting what must be believed as dogma over and above what can observed and proved. Science grows, whereas our belief systems stagnate, even as their moral guidelines change. The tenets of faith are reinterpreted but rarely dismissed as false and in need of redefinition. Fine tuning of the incidentals is acceptable from time to time. It’s true, for example, that St. Christopher was not a saint even though for decades invoking his name saved countless travelers from harm. Even the Catholics have found a way to undo til-death-do-us-part marriage. The doctrine of the assumption of the Blessed Virgin, papal infallibility, the virgin birth did not come from the mouth of Jesus, but put forth centuries after His death.

The cultural lag created by religions in areas like the acceptance of homosexuality, birth control, equality among the races and the sanctity of marriage all too frequently fosters intolerance and creates strife and suffering.

The Beginning of Wisdom . . .

It seems to me that humble acceptance of man’s undeniable ignorance and a discipline of honest doubt inspire greater awe and reverence for the Divine than anything most religions insist upon as true. Accepting that we are ignorant is the beginning not only of wisdom but of devotion. As we add to our myths – the Assumption, the Ascension, Papal infallibility, apparitions and appearances of saints – we move away from that part of our nature that experiences wonder and awe and pander to our need for certainty. Beliefs shape perception. Man seems to love the knowledge he created of God more than the Godhead itself.

We need to live within ourselves as our fellow creatures do, accepting our limitations; playing, as the saying goes, within ourselves and letting the game of life come to us. The fantastic stretching to claim we are created in the image and likeness of God, the horrible pretense that we are special children of a Heavenly Father, often proves destructive in the end. What we lack is true humility, a willingness to accept how both wonderful and limited we are as beings. We need to learn to love ourselves for who and what we really are and let the supernatural take shape in our minds and hearts as something largely unknowable, possibly beyond anything we can experience. Religions too often seek to create certainty where none exists. A better goal would be to promote wonder and doubt.

Jessie. Her eyes Bespeak an Undeniable Intelligence at the Canine Level

Jessie. Her eyes Bespeak an Undeniable Intelligence at the Canine Level

Jessie, my dog, had almost no knowledge of what it is to live as a human. Yet she loved me with her entire canine nature. Her ignorance did not limit her love for me. The supernatural exists independent of man’s knowledge of it. It, They, Whatever, don’t need us to sustain their existence, any more than mankind is sustained because our pets love us. Nothing we believe will change what happens in life or death. Belief changes only how we react to events, how we perceive them in the first place. Inscrutable destiny, the fate of the ancients, makes more sense than asserting “everything happens for a reason.” Things happen as a matter of cause and effect, but that’s it. If we look for the hand of God in what occurs around us, then we need to admit all of human experience into the equation including the tsunamis, the earthquakes, the urban riots, the holocaust – the list is endless.

We need to acknowledge our yearning, not explain it away. The capacity for faith is reduced when knowledge and beliefs are dumped into it. Faith accepts that the reason for man’s existence is beyond his comprehension at this time in his history. Faith can be a void, standing empty as a bowl on a table. It senses its own capacity as a starving man endures pangs of hunger. We can love without knowing. We can love in almost total ignorance because we see, hear, breathe and feel the wonder of life within and around us each day. We can love the source of all life, of all created things.

Nature has done amazing things within us. Consider the heart of man. Nature formed this complex and wonderful organ out of blind, unrelenting desire to thrive. The heart is so exquisite and complex that we want to  call it a work of the Divine. The same can be said for all the organs of the body. We want to believe a Deity of some sort lives within nature. Yet nature is extravagant. It fails almost as often as it succeeds. Why cancer? Why cholesterol to clog the circulatory system? Why insanity? The ignorant, sometimes aimless drive to prevail often creates forces destructive to its own flourishing. The attraction to life, the immutable, undeniable urge to thrive, lives within everyone whether heeded or not.

Awe is not a matter of how things happen but that they happen at all.


Catholic Growiing Up — Doubtful Growing Old

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014
John J. Hohn, Author and Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Author, Reviewer and Survivor of Catholic Elementary Sch0ol

I was raised Catholic. I look back in amazement to my boyhood when reasoning, educated adults imposed pointless regimentation on children in the name of religion. The Church, gratefully, has changed over the years. But in the early and mid-twentieth century, adults often invoked faith to justify the harsh treatment of the children entrusted to them. raised Catholic

Some assert belief requires a leap of faith. I can’t say. I do insist, however, that any act of the intellect requiring suspension of judgment and human capacity for thought and compassion is a forsaking of the best of man’s nature. Only blindness induced by belief explains the flawed psychology, sometimes questionable theology and stern, often abusive, treatment of children that was accepted practice when I was a boy. raised Catholic

My elementary education began in 1946. I went to Mass every day of the week except Saturday once I entered the first grade. Each morning, all students at Sacred Heart Elementary lined up grade-by-grade, girls in front of boys for the processional to church. No talking! We marched half a block to the corner, across the street, and into the vestibule of the church. raised Catholic

The nuns glided along with us, their arms folded underneath the scapulae which made them look very pious. Snow white wimples framed their pink faces. The scent of scorched starch on cotton trailed after each.

Talking and Horseplay . . .

They marshaled us into the nave, and we filed into the first several pews nearest the sanctuary. Oldest in the back, girls on the left side of the aisle; boys on the right. Each sister took a position near the center aisle so that she could watch for any talking or horseplay.

Main Alter and Interior, Sacred Heart Church, Yankton, SD circa 1950. Taken During Mass

Main Alter and Interior, Sacred Heart Church, Yankton, SD circa 1950. Taken During Mass

We learned to stand, kneel, genuflect, and sit at the appropriate times throughout the Mass. Ranging in age from 6 through 13, we were expected to be reverently attentive throughout the hour long Latin Mass. Yes! Latin. We understood nothing. To occupy us further, the nuns had us pray the rosary aloud. The girls would start, Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you . . . and would fall silent with. . . of thy womb Jesus, which concluded the first half of the prayer. Then the boys would pick up, Holy Mary, Mother of God . . . and conclude,. . . now and at the hour of our death. Amen. The prayer is repeated fifty times.

The rosary was at least in English. Still none of us understood. What was Mary’s womb? Why was Jesus the fruit of it? Why repeat the same prayer over and over? How would anyone know the hour of death? Liturgically it was all ludicrous, of course, but we prayed on and on, knelt and stood, genuflected and sat.

Kneeing was the worst. My knees got tired. My back got tired. To find relief, I settled my butt back on the edge of the pew. Before long sister would get up, step forward and motion to me to kneel up straight. Eating or chewing gum was a dreadful infraction. When Francis Flevares was caught chewing gum, Sister made him paste the wad on his nose and wear it there all day. When he returned from home after lunch, the wad was gone. That angered sister. She had not given him permission to remove it. She made him chew up a new slug, paste it in place and wear it all day and the next for disobeying her reprimand. Francis’ nose was red for a week afterwards.

In most Catholic churches there are three altars. The main altar is centered at the front of the nave in an area called the sanctuary. Two smaller flanking altars stand at either side of the main altar.

Author 11, and his sister,12, going to church for Confirmation

Author 11, and his sister Mary,12, going to church for Confirmation

The altar of the Blessed Virgin stands on the left. It featured St. Mary, the Blessed Mother and the mother of Christ, and on one side, a statue of St. Theresa, The Little Flower. The girls occupied the pews in front of the altar of the Blessed Virgin. The boys sat facing the altar of St. Joseph whose position in the life of Christ was never very clearly defined. He was the husband of Mary but not the father of Jesus. It would be years, of course, before any of us understood what was involved with becoming a father. We accepted that the father of Jesus was God, the Father. Providing for Mary and Jesus, however, fell to Joseph. When Jesus was 12 years old, which we calculated would have placed him in the seventh grade, He spoke in the temple. He announced He was there to do His Father’s business, and it was clear that Christ was not talking about Joseph, a carpenter. Joseph, however, was held up as a model of the self-effacing male — resolute, caring, hardworking, responsible, and not one to claim credit for anything.

To provide balance for St. Theresa, the altar of St. Joseph also featured a statue of St. Anthony, patron of lost causes. I never got the connection between St. Anthony and St. Joseph; nor for that matter, between St. Mary and St. Theresa. I just supposed the both were really holy, and I didn’t have much of a chance at being as good as either of them.

Throw My Worthless Self Away . . .

In fact, it was that first thought that led me to fantasize about how I could throw my worthless self away and find glory in doing it. During the Mass, the entire congregation was required to strike the breast and repeat three times, Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul will be healed. Three times! Nobody was worthy. Healing was required. (more…)

Viral Mythology Explores How Myths Are Created and Broadcast

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014
John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

The subtitle to Viral Mythology, by Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman, reads “How the truth of the ancients was encoded and passed down through legend, art, and architecture.” The authors present an ambitious explanation of how and why the ancient myths and those we create today continue to roll forward in time often without benefit of  a structured conduit or academic discipline. Humans, it seems, inherit knowledge and a propensity for awe that cannot be explained through scientific study. The problem with the subtitle, however, revolves around the use of the word “truth.” Readers should substitute “perceptions” or “beliefs” for the word “truth” to reach a clearer understanding of what is in store for them. All kinds of questions are raised by the authors, but it is a mistake to assume that a credo of any kind is buried deep within the pages of the book.

Given the internet, readers know how stories can go viral. Technology enables it. Technology, however, is only the delivery system. The style and content of the message are two major variants. Style and content are determined by the originator of the message and may change from time to time in the retelling. Going viral depends upon how disposed, or vulnerable, everyone is to the contagion of dissemination. All humans are conditioned to a degree.

Negative messages or rumors spread more readily than positive ones. Messages that create “buzz” in the mind of the beholder spread. Buzz is a heightened mental state, a sense of urgency that builds upon several factors. Messages resonating with fears, beliefs, and prejudices tap into the subconscious to excite promotion among others. Jungian collective unconscious may play a role analogous to cloud technology in data storage on the internet. Some evidence points also to the possibility that beliefs and the openness to them can carry forward from one generation to the next in DNA.

Viral Mythology Book Cover as picture in the Amazon listing.

Viral Mythology Book Cover as picture in the Amazon listing.

Cosmological issues and issues of faith and doubt can develop terrific velocity. Rumors, beliefs and moral convictions have spread virally since the dawn of man, long before the written word, in the form of storytelling, art and architecture dating back 40,000 years—all of which are explored in the book.

The authors discuss the universality of many myths, including the story of Christ, which were indigenous to many diverse cultures that were geographically isolated from one another. One such story, with compelling parallels, precedes the Christian version of Christ’s life by 600 years. The story of the great flood likewise is an example of a tale handed down in many different cultures from primitive times. Morality based upon the Golden Rule emerges almost spontaneously as a variety of diverse cultures mature in the understanding of mankind’s shared nature. The authors see themselves as reporters and abstain from taking theological positions on these issues.

As far as we know, man is the only animal who has developed in conscious thought to the extent that he can entertain questions about who he is, how he came to be on earth, and what is his destiny. Without or without science as a guide, he has sought and continues to seek answers to these questions in order to find meaning and comfort in his existence. The legacy left by the ancients is often provocative. Enigmas keep questions alive, but by definition, do not provide the answers. Archenigmas, especially, embody the questions of the ages. Enigmas bring a person to the threshold of the profound mysteries of human existence. They elevate the mind to consider what lies beyond daily concerns, joys and tribulations of every day life. In the security of the present, beliefs of antiquity can be viewed as a curiosity; intriguing but seldom comforting in their wisdom. The deeper meaning of most, in fact, has been lost to modern man.

Larry Flaxman, Author

Larry Flaxman, Author

The common denominator at play when considering mythology is man’s capacity for entertaining belief itself. Belief fills in for proof. The strength of a person’s faith is measured by a willingness to accept as true that which cannot be proven. Perhaps man is pushed to believe because science does not provide the most important answers in life. Greater comfort is available in a credo, no matter how tenuous, than in accepting that some things about man’s existence cannot be known or understood. Serenity can be found, in other words, in the illusion of belief more readily than in the honesty of inquiry and doubt.

Jones and Falxman cover a wide range of subjects in Viral Mythology in a conversational style that makes for enjoyable reading. Their approach is especially refreshing given the usual ponderous treatment the subjects of their interest often receive. The book capitalizes on

Marie D. Johns, Author

Marie D. Joness, Author

several recent stories and events — Columbine, the marathon bombing, and Sandy Hook — that increase its relevance and impact. It is mildly annoying that the authors choose interrogative sentences a little too often  rather than straightforward declarations of their opinion or findings. Readers can accept that every issue is an open question and do not need their curiosity baited.

Viral Mythology is a cornerstone piece for any reader wishing to begin study into the history of human communication and human belief systems. It is an awesome book that doesn’t seek to proselyte, promote or sensationalize.

This review was initially prepared for, a book lovers web site.

Thanks for visiting my web site. While you are here, please take a few minutes to look through the other pages and the many earlier posts on a variety of subjects.  My novel, Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds is available on Amazon Kindle for $1.99. Watch for my next novel, Bloods Lots, due to be released in the summer.

Propinquity — John Macgregor’s Exciting Mystery about The Holy Grail — A Review

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

This review of Propinquity by John Macgregor first appeared on www.Bookpleasures. com  I have added some comments to the original here because I do not have the space constraints.

John J. Hohn, Writer

For centuries the Monks of Joseph of Arimathea guarded a secret – The Holy Grail is in their possession, but it is not a vessel. It is, instead, a discipline of the spirit – one that enables those who undertake the study of it to attain gnosis, “enlightenment, the absorption into God,” and “. . . the aim of human life.”

Gnosis is carried forward from the time of Christ by masters who attain the visionary state. They become the teachers for anyone who chooses the path.

In time, the church condemns Gnosis. Its followers are persecuted. The Order of Joseph of Arimathea dies out, and the Holy Grail, as gnosis, vanishes – or so most believe.

John Macgregor’s novel, Propinquity, first published in 1986 but rereleased in 2013, challenges the legendary view of The Holy Grail. The last known master of gnosis is Berengaria, wife of Richard I of England. Berengaria is buried deep below the Thames in a tomb with a temperature near freezing. Her interment is known only to two people on earth – Samantha Goode and her father, Dean of Westminster Abbey.

John Macgregor, Author

Macgregor takes perhaps too much time introducing this premise to his mystery. The book opens with Clive Lean narrating. A student in prep school with all its trappings – chums, pranks, disdain for adults – Lean’s narrative is so well done that the reader can be excused for thinking the book is an entertaining coming-of-age novel. The prep school mates go off to college, most into studies in the medical specialties.

Lean’s college work is interrupted when his father dies and he inherits the family business. Never excited about a career in medicine, he leaves school and takes over his father’s company despite, as he acknowledges, “Factories had always intimidated me: too much life and not enough soul.” When the business fails, Lean sells his shares in a legally suspect transaction and heads for England to resume his medical studies.

At Oxford, he meets Samantha Goode, and she shares the secret of Berengaria with him. They visit Berengaria’s tomb. The cold conditions have preserved her body almost as if she were asleep. Lean pledges to keep Berengaria’s secret but divulges it to his school chums. They want to see Berengaria also.

Further visits, conducted surreptitiously, lead the merry band of intellectuals to consider the possibility that Berengaria is not dead, but in a drug induced suspended state. If she can be revived, of course, then a gnosis master walks the earth again and can instruct others in how to attain enlightenment. The prospect is too exciting to ignore.

Macgregor is a masterful writer. His prose moves with an elegant, engaging cadence. As an Australian, he treats the reader to a down-under view of the world that is laced with wit and cynicism. As Lean’s good friend Lake laments,

“You go on and on into your life until everything you thought was real, everything you thought was true, all of a sudden feels like ash.”

About the United States, he muses,

Cover Art to “Propinquity”

“Successive American Presidents have failed to grasp one fact: if they helped the developing socialist countries (instead of trying to shoot and bomb and rape them back to the Stone Age) they’d very soon have a whole new alliance on their hands.”

The outrage expressed, published almost 30 years ago,  can find its context today.

Macgregor treats the readers to an enjoyable condensed history of Great Britain, worth referring back to from time to time. Of the British, however, Samantha acknowledges that, “England’s historical use of naked power is without parallel.”

The cynicism is the backdrop to an eagerness to believe that something lies beyond that makes life meaningful, that perhaps gnosis is possible.

The attentive reader is likely to conclude Macgregor’s work, for all its eloquence and erudition, is a bit too contrived. Prep school mates choose careers that happen to be exactly what is needed for the investigation into Berengaria’s state. One chum happens to live in exactly the right place to secure the exotic herbals required for the test in the tomb. Samantha, Lean’s not-quite-in-love-with-you girl friend just happens to speak Old French, the language of the entombed queen. The plot has been thought through meticulously, but the effort shows.

Macgregor wanders out of bounds with his narration on a couple occasions and fails to respect that the vision of a first person narrator is limited to what he or she sees. Authors can change from first-person narrative to omniscient third-person but the change in perspective is usually signaled clearly for the reader with a break in the text.

Whereas, The Da Vinci Code tackles the same theme, and runs itself out, ending in a muddle, Macgregor powers his story through to a clear conclusion. As I finished, I found myself wishing that, given Macgregor’s mastery, he picks a different genre for his next work, something realistic. He has the gifts to command a place among the in best in contemporary fiction.

Adoption Papers were Ready for Signature. My Son Needed to be Baptized First.

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

The following is an installment in a series of posts dealing with the options available to the underage parents of a child born out of wedlock during the 1950’s, before the advent of outpatient abortions, the pill, and a dramatic change in the public view with regard to sex prior to marriage.

John J Hohn and his dog Jessie

John J Hohn and his dog Jessie

My son was born on Thursday, April 18. The very next day, Monsignor Reilly and I drove to the hospital in Norfolk, Nebraska, 90 miles distant, to see Elaine and arrange for the Catholic Baptism for my son as my father demanded. Once in the car, Monsignor could see that I was anxious, so he decided to regale me with stories of his own boyhood and seminary years. I knew that he meant well, but his stories came right out of the Stone Age as far as I was concerned. I half hoped that we could just keep driving, that we would never reach Norfolk, even if meant listening to Monsignor for the next 10,000 miles. We finally arrived and parked Dad’s big Buick Super in the hospital parking lot.

I went directly to the single room where Elaine was recovering from her labor. I noticed the snow white bed covers as soon as I entered. She turned toward me without raising her head from the glistening white pillow, her face framed by her soft brown hair. Our eyes met. All my denial was washed away. I felt ashamed that I had abandoned her, that I had put her out of my mind for so many weeks. She had gone through everything alone. The usual gleam in her brown eyes was dulled by a dusky haze that spoke of her fatigue and her weariness at being alone. I knelt down at her bedside and without a thought, begged her forgiveness and blurted out how much I had missed her.

Mother and Child Had Not Been United

Elaine had not seen nor held our son. Hospital policy regarding children who were up for adoption dictated that the mother and child would not be united after birth. Looking at her, I did not want to talk about our son’s baptism. It seemed an absurd request, utterly out of keeping with what I felt and in no stretch responsive to what her needs may have been at that moment. Instead, I pleaded with her to give us the time to see if we could work things out so that we could be together and we could have our son and raise him as the first in our family. We did not want our child to be given to another, to be taken out into the world so that we would never know who he was or where he was. Time, a few days, was all I was asking.

She agreed. She wanted to see her son and to hold him. Word went out to the nursery, and in a few moments an nurse entered with a white bundle and placed our son in Elaine’s arms. Elaine pulled back the blanket to look at his round red head as he slept. She looked up at me and smiled. The adoption agreement, at least for the time being, was tabled. Elaine had to know that in taking her son into her arms she made parting with him immensely more difficult. If she did not, her mother did.

I was relieved. I did not have any idea of how we might work things out. I had not given it any thought. But now we had a little time, and we could try to make the most of it. It was our decision, made in the moment of our reunion. We never discussed that day and those first few minutes together ever again. (more…)

Decorating the Christmas Tree Signaled the Start of the Season.

Sunday, December 18th, 2011
John J. Hohn as a boy at Christmas, 1948

John J. Hohn — A boy at Christmas, circa 1948

#christmas  #1950s  #decorating  #christmastree

My earliest memories of Christmas, reinforced by family movies, include decorating the Christmas tree, a task that signaled the beginning of the season in our home. I became aware of it as a wonderful ritual when was I seven or eight years old.

“You can bring the tree in now, Daddy,” mother would call after she had spread an oilcloth on the carpet in the living room where it was to be placed.

In the 1940’s, Christmas trees were not the full, manicured beauties displayed on the sales lots these days. Spindly, with wide gaps between the branches, trees were bought with an eye for their bad side—the side that did not fill out as completely because it was away from the sun as it grew. The bad side was always turned toward the wall.

My dad placed the tree in its stand and left it on the back porch for at least a day so that the limbs would fall naturally into place before we brought it into the house.

“Let it stand for a few hours,” mother directed once the tree was inside. “The branches will open up to the heat.” I could feel the cold trapped in the branches when I reached in to the trunk. Even in the warm living room, the interior of the tree remained cold for a couple of hours after spending days in the sub-freezing South Dakota winter air.

412 Pine Street, Yankton, South Dakota in Winter

My Boyhood Home in a South Dakota Winter, 1948

Our Christmas decorations were stored in Jippy’s Box. Jippy, long deceased, was mother’s first pet Boston Bull Terrier. I don’t know how the box became so named, but it was as large as a blanket chest with a hinged lid and four wooden casters that screeched whenever the box was pushed across a bare floor.

The lights came first, old fashioned strings that were wired in series so that, if one light burned out, the entire string went dark and the search was on to find the offending dud. My dad, who took pride in a host of small inventions, realized that the strings of C-6, 15-volt bulbs were manufactured for 120 volt household circuits without any tolerance for a variance in the quality of mass-produced lamps. 120 volts divided by 15 volts, he calculated, came out exactly to 8, or the number of lights on the string. Thus, the lamp with the weakest filament would burn out first, and the tedious search would be on again to get the string back on line.

Dad cannibalized one string for its sockets and spliced two additional sockets into each remaining string so that the total number of lamps was increased from 8 to 10 and the voltage to each lamp was reduced to 12 volts. The lamps lasted much longer. The splicing job, once done, became permanent, and the splices were wrapped tightly with black electrician’s tape, something to which mother objected. As a result, Dad always made sure the splices were shoved deeply into the branches and out of sight.

Dad would check each string before placing it on the tree. The red, yellow, blue, green, and white lights would glow like a bouquet in his fist and the season was underway for me with the first string to come to life. (more…)