Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

30 June 2008

The Weather Gods

After my long, nearly 2.5 hour flight from Birmingham, Alabama to Columbia, Mississippi on Sunday, I'd hoped that we'd have a nice tailwind on the way home.

No such luck.

Storms moved through the area all day long. But by the time we finally got to leave at 6:00 pm, the weather had cleared up nicely. And calmed down. The ripping wind out of the southwest had died. I climbed up into cool air at 3,500 feet for the flight home, but we only were able to attain a groundspeed of 115 knots - a mere eleven greater than our airspeed. And it was more of a crosswind than a pure tailwind. Still, I'll take any tailwind component I can get.

Chris's wife was concerned as we readied to leave. It was storming in Birmingham, she said. I knew this, as I'd been watching the various weather resources all day long. I knew that the storms would move out of the Birmingham area well before our scheduled arrival. And that's just what they did.

However, as we neared Birmingham I could see little traces of fog forming in valleys and riverbeds. This normal in an area of high humidity after a rain event. But it is never a good sign, especially so close to sundown. Birmingham Approach Control wanted me to stay south of their departure corridor for runway 24. While the airport was just in the clear, the hills immediately to the south were completely blanketed in low clouds that went right down to the trees. I would call it "fog" but it really wasn't. It was just a lot of visible moisture in the air behind those storms. The temperature and the dew point were very close at the surface, and evidently came together at about 1,600 feet above sea level.

It was right at sunset. I was still way up high, over the cloud deck, but still with the ability to turn and glide to a clear area if need be. The Tower controller kept asking me if I had the airport in sight, and was puzzled as to why I didn't. But I did not, technically, because the clouds were blocking my slant-range view. Finally I was able to see the flashing runway-end identifier lights of their north/south runway. The controller cleared me to land on that runway, and since the wind was light I did just that with only slight manuevering to stay out of the clouds.

Helicopters don't need runways and we generally avoid them to stay out of the way of the airplanes that have to use them. But when it's dark and you're approaching an airport in an unfamiliar area, you can be confident that the route leading into a runway is fairly obstruction-free. The Birmingham, Alabama airport is surrounded by hills on top of which are scads of tall towers. It's a really tough place to get into at night when the cloud ceiling is low and you have to fly under them.

I needed to get back to Home Base, some 150 miles to the south. As I shut down to take on more fuel, I thought about the flight back...at night. Although the skies were generally clear, I didn't like the idea of the low clouds/fog forming below me. Being caught on top of a widespread fog layer or cloud deck is no fun. Plus it had been a long day and I was tired. So instead of continuing for home I just overnighted there in Birmingham.

As I tied the main rotor blade down and gathered my bags, I looked up. Those clouds that had been south of the airport had rolled over us. The weather observer was calling it a 1,000 foot ceiling. The hills and antennas surrounding the airport are higher than that, especially in the direction I needed to go.

Sometimes you have to know when to say, "Enough." I probably could have scud-run my way out of Birmingham and probably could have found a clear enough area to climb to altitude. And I probably would've been able to get back into Home Base. But why chance it if you don't have to? It's nice to have options. And in this case, the best option was to just stay put for the night.

And so this bright, clear, sunny Monday morning, I took off at a little after nine a.m. for home. It was a beautiful flight. I even had a little tailwind the whole way. The weather gods might have been messing with me yesterday, but they sure were smiling on me today.

29 June 2008

Being A Corporate Pilot

Ah, the life of a corporate pilot. It’s a trip, man.

The Bossman wanted to go to a wedding on Saturday evening. That meant picking him up in Destin, Florida and flying him to Fairhope, Alabama. It’s a 45 minute flight or about a two- or two-and-a-half hour drive. Hey, if I owned a helicopter I’d want to do the same thing. The plan was for him to spend some time at the wedding, and I’d take him back to Destin afterward.

Scheduled departure time from Destin wasn’t until around 4:30 in the afternoon, so Matt and I figured we spend a good chunk of our Saturday working on cars, something we do less and less of these days. But although he, Alisha and I all have good cars now, they still need the occasional servicing and stuff. His car needs brakes, and Alisha’s has a squealing belt that’s driving her crazy, if you’ll pardon the horrible pun.

I had no sooner pulled into Matt’s driveway when my cell phone “beep-beeped.” It was the Boss.

”Bob, I need you to pick up Chris in Birmingham tomorrow around noon and take him to Columbia, Mississippi where he’s got a meeting. Then take him back to Birmingham when he’s done.”

Okay, let's see… Hour-and-a-half from Home Base to Birmingham, Alabama. Then two hours to Mississippi. Hang around. Then two hours back to Birmingham and another 1.5 to home. Busy Sunday, lots of flying. Bottom line: Sure can do!

Then Chris beeped me. “Bob, can you pick me up at seven a.m. instead of noon?”

“Well sure, *if* I come up to Birmingham tonight after I drop the Boss off after the wedding.” In my head, I calculated that I’d arrive in Birmingham around midnight. Chris, the Boss and I all agreed that we had a plan.

And that’s pretty much how it worked out. After four hours of sleep I was back at the Birmingham Airport. Chris showed up and we left right at seven.

So here I sit in tiny Columbia, Mississippi. I got a room in one of the few motels in town. At least it has high-speed wireless in the rooms. It also has a pool. So after a little nap, I think I’ll scoot down to the pool and hang out until Chris calls, which will probably be around five pm.

Being a corporate pilot means that you’re pretty much always on-call. It’s not always great. I get a lot of time off, but I don’t get many “hard” days off where I can plan stuff in advance. Sometimes the days are very long, and I work a lot of weekends. You might think that such an arrangement would be too much of a hardship, and certainly this lifestyle is not for everyone. On the other hand, the Boss takes care of me very well, and if I ever do have weekend or personal plans all I have to do is let him know in advance.

Chris and I had a ripping headwind coming down here this morning (and I mean it was directly on the nose). While our speed through the air was the usual 104 knots, our groundspeed only averaged 88 knots, which is just crawling. So we were losing 16 knots (a little under 20 mph) to the wind. The good news is that we should have a nice tailwind on the way home. “Should have” being the operative phrase; the weather gods do not always cooperate. With any luck at all, I’ll be back in Birmingham by 7:00 pm. Then I’ll grab some fuel and head back to Home Base, getting there around 9:00. If that luck holds out I’ll pull back into my own driveway around 10:30 tonight.

Yeah, a couple of long days. On the other hand, I could still be flying roustabouts from oil platform to platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Or sightseers around Manhattan. All things considered, I’ll keep my present job, thanks.

26 June 2008

Yet Another Cell Phone Rant

I guess I really don’t like talking to people on the phone all that much. It occurs to me that perhaps I really just don't like talking to people all that much.

But young people these days…and yes, I know just saying that makes me sound terribly old…but young people these days just loooove their cell phones. They talk on them constantly, yakking away incessantly, interminably. It seems that they cannot stay off their cell phones.

I flew up to New York City recently. As I waited for my flight to be called a young, 20-something guy was pacing back and forth in the gate area, talking on his cell phone to his girlfriend. I’m pretty sure it was his girlfriend because I heard him say (very loudly), “ARE YOU STUPID??” I’m not kidding. This gate conversation continued for a good 30 minutes (I like to be early). He was still talking on the phone, presumably to the same person, when he finally boarded the plane with the last few stragglers. I cannot say for sure when…or if…he finally shut the phone off. I thought to myself that he must have some kind of terrific battery in that phone. Mine never seems to last very long, even as sparingly as I use it.

Then the other day I was driving home from the airport. In the town of Milton, Florida I nearly bumped into a young Navy guy in a white Ford Explorer. (No, not the same guy-in-a-Ford-Explorer that I really did bump into some time ago.) This one was wearing a military flight suit and had obviously just come from the Whiting Field Navy Base. I nearly bumped into him because he began changing lanes from the right to the left – into a space occupied by my Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is not a small, hard-to-see car but it does have a nice, loud horn, thank goodness. This Mr. Ford Explorer/Navy Guy was busy talking on his cell phone and not paying attention to what he was doing, to wit: driving.

Mr. Navy Guy and I stayed even as we left Milton westbound on the four-lane Highway 90, and then southbound on two-lane Avalon Boulevard where he’d somehow gotten in front of me, a distance of perhaps five miles in heavy, stop-and-go traffic. The whole time I could see him holding the phone to his ear with his right hand, while his left hand was out the open driver’s window, gesturing animatedly (talking to his wife or girlfriend, I’m sure). He must have been steering with his knee, which explains why he almost ran into me during his inadvertent lane-change. We got onto I-10 and Mr. Navy Guy kinda/sorta accelerated up toward the speed limit and at that point I left him to carry on his highly-important phone conversation while being a hazard to all around him.

They have invented devices now that jam cell phones. Churches, auditoriums and movie theatres could certainly use them, if they weren't, you know, illegal (wink-wink). They blanket the crowd with a radio frequency that renders cell phones inoperative. What I want is a portable device that I can put in my car, so that I can jam the cellphones of the drivers around me. If someone marketed such a thing, I would buy it today. If it wasn't, you know, illegal.

I’m not exactly sure what it is about cell phones that I so dislike. Perhaps it’s because they are not user friendly. You have to hold the damn things up to your ear *just so* to hear them, and none of them seem loud enough for deaf ol’ me. Cell phone reception around Pensacola sucks to the point where dropped calls are still very common, no matter what people claim.

My friend Matt loves to call me while he’s driving. As we talk, our conversation is often accompanied and interrupted by various gaps, buzzes and other interference. Very frustrating, as in “extremely.” Plus, the microphones on most cellphones are what we in aviation call “area mics.” In other words, they don’t have to be close to the speaker’s mouth, and they’re not directional like the ones in our clunky old handsets used to be, if you remember those. These new ones pick up *all* noise and transmit it with the same volume as the person’s voice. Very annoying, especially if the person has their radio on or window open…or someone else in the car who’s also on his cell phone.

In fact, Matt got royally bitched-out the other day by his fiancée. He had just gone out to the store - a quick out-and-back. The trip had taken a little longer than it "should" have. Alisha was urgently trying to call him while he was on the phone with...me, now there's a surprise. Matt did not take her call, and she quite naturally assumed that he'd had a fatal accident. Those two cannot be out of sight of each other for more than five minutes without "checking-in" on the cell phone. The sad thing is (if that isn't sad enough) that I know plenty of other people who act the same way.

But I don’t much like talking on my home phone either. So maybe it’s not simple cellphoneophobia.

If you're going to see someone soon, you do *not* need to talk to them on the telephone.

Back to my original rant...err...topic. I see these people on these extended phone calls and I think to myself, “Who on earth could they be talking to for so long?” I try to think of someone with whom I’d like to have a long a phone conversation, and no names spring immediately to mind, present or past. I think if Jesus H. Christ himself called me up, after two or three minutes I’d still be, like, “Oooooookay Jesus, look, I gotta go."

My boss issued me a company cell phone with Southern Link service. It’s got this thing that everyone calls the “beep-beep” feature, which is basically just a walkie-talkie mode. It makes a little double-beep sound when you are summoned. My boss uses it a lot. A lot. The bad part is that he can easily contact me at his whim, whenever the mood or a thought strikes. The good part is that our conversations are mercifully short. A couple of back-and-forths and we’re done. They’re almost not like phone calls at all. It’s a good trade-off, believe me.

(Beep-Beep) "Hey, Bob."
"Yeah, man."
"Can you pick me up at nine tomorrow morning? We're going to Gulfport."
"Can do!"
"See you then."

Done. Quick and easy. Efficient. Almost surgical. I like that.

I don’t understand why people love talking on the phone so much. But I do know this: If a parent is having trouble communicating with a taciturn teenager, all that parent need do is call the child on his/her cell phone. The floodgates will open for sure!

You can thank me, but just don’t call me on the phone to do it.

How Stuff Works: Jamming Cell Phones

16 June 2008

The Definitive Religion Post

As I've mentioned before, churches down here in the south like to put up signs outside with cute or pithy or profound sayings on them. Sometimes they make me think, sometimes they make me chuckle.

Now this is a little extreme...

Is it any wonder why people are getting turned-off from religion?

P.S. It's fake.

There is a small church I pass on a back road on my way to work. I wish I had taken a picture of the message they put up around Mother's Day, but I did not. This is what it actually said:

A nice sentiment, right? And it's true!

But me, being the sick, twisted, mentally-unbalanced person I am, could not help but adding a line in my head. It got so bad that every time I passed that sign, this is the only way I could read it:

I know, I know...I'm incorrigible. And I probably am going to hell.

If it exists.


Church Sign Generator (Make your own!)

Speaking of mentally-unstable...

I love the look on the face of the guy on the right in the first panel. I've seen that look before...on the faces of my friends when I say something completely inane, or go off on one of my (many) rants. They get that look right before throwing their hands up in the air and storming off, muttering "Why do I even bother talking to that guy?"

Have a nice day :)

14 June 2008

Come Fly With Me

As I've mentioned, I spent thirteen happy years working for Petroleum Helicopters and flying around south Louisiana and offshore thereof. That part of Louisiana is very flat and mostly swamp. And when I go back to that area of the country now, as I did the other day, I always feel comfortable in the familiar surroundings - that weird sense of deja vu. In the picture above, (you can see it better if you right-click on it and select "Open Link In New Window") we have just left New Orleans and are headed sort of northeastbound to Gulfport, Mississippi for fuel.

Couple of things about the picture that you might notice if you expand it.

Yes, the instrument panel "cowl" is covered with deer hide. The boss is an avid hunter. When he suggested it, I was skeptical of how it was going to look. But the custom-interior shop that did the job really made it turn out nice by adding some leather of a complementary color to the sides and fitting the whole thing really well. It looks a whole lot better than you might assume. So basically, the instrument panel in my helicopter has more hair than I do at this point. (Mechanics who work on the ship facetiously ask if the next modification will be a set of steer horns mounted on the nose, Cadillac-style?)

If you look at the Garmin 496 GPS you'll see that we are well to the right of a direct-line course. We did some sightseeing around New Orleans before leaving. We are 35.3 miles from Gulfport and yes, we are only doing 96.6 knots (about 110 mph) across the ground. The Bell 206B is not the fastest helicopter in the sky, especially when heavily loaded and fighting a headwind.

That little grey unit just to the right of the GPS is my Zaon XRX collision-avoidance thingee. There's an antenna inside that pyramid-shaped area that can sense when other aircraft are in my vicinity (*if* they are equipped with transponders and have them turned on). It is wired so that the traffic is displayed on the GPS screen, which is super cool.

To the left of the GPS is the XM Radio "hockey puck" antenna, which gives us satellite weather (also displayed on the GPS screen) and all of the XM Radio channels, which play through our headsets. The system is designed so that the XM Radio goes on "mute" when there is any ATC radio chatter or anytime someone talks on the aircraft intercom. Sometimes, when the passengers are being overly talkative, I'm tempted to say, Will you guys please keep quiet and let me listen to "Me And You And A Dog Named Boo?"

We certainly didn't need the XM Weather to see that huge rain shower up ahead, right along our route of flight. Knowing that it was drifting to the north (i.e. to our left) I aimed for the south (right-hand) side of it. We got just wet enough to wash the bugs off the windscreen. The boss laughed, "You did that on purpose, didn't you?"

Sometimes out in the Gulf of Mexico it's hard to tell which way a storm is drifting. Choose the wrong way and it can make your life miserable. Alas, I have chosen the wrong way on occasion. Win some...

When you fly on the Gulf Coast, you deal with these pop-up rain showers and thunderstorms all the time, especially in the warmer weather. It's a little easier for us helicopters than high-flying airplanes, because I can usually see under the clouds to where the storms are and fly around them. But if push comes to shove, I can always just land. And yes, I've done that a time or two.

Here we are (above), just a little west of Gulfport, Mississippi. The area just to the north (left) of the beach highway used to be chock-a-block with houses. That was, until 2005, when Hurricane Katrina came through and dismantled or relocated them. This stretch of the Gulf Coast is representative of what you'll see for miles and miles and miles as you fly east from New Orleans across Mississippi to almost the Alabama state line. The amount of destruction is simply astounding. The place was just leveled. We've flown over remote places where there is evidence that there once was a settlement of some kind - a group of what they call "camps" down here - but not anymore. Just gone.

The strange thing is that, like in New Orleans there is very little rebuilding going on. Oh, some businesses and homes have come back, but when you drive around down here, you just don't see a lot of construction happening. And it's been nearly three years! The Mississippi Gulf Coast has been so badly damaged that it will probably never be back to what it was, pre-Katrina, in my lifetime. I don't think people in general realize just how much destruction was left in Katrina's wake. The human toll must have been unimaginable.

Finally, see that big storm up ahead? Well right underneath it is the Gulfport Regional Airport. That's where we were headed. Were headed. That particular storm was hardly moving at all (and was in fact growing as we approached), and had lightning popping out of it to boot. So I gave it a wide berth, circumnavigated well around to the south, and continued on to Mobile, Alabama instead. Stayed far enough from it that this one didn't even put so much as a sprinkle of rain on the bubble.

One thing I've always like about helicopter flying is that our arena is down in the contour of the land, not way high up in the clouds like airplane guys. I am licensed to fly airplanes too, and I do like them, and could even see myself at the controls of a big jet as it zooms off to Europe or other far-off place. Each has its own attractions, but all in all, I have preferred to be a tree-top flyer.

And I probably always will be.

12 June 2008

The City of New Orleans

The other day the boss mentioned that he and a business partner had to go to New Orleans for a meeting, and that we'd have to overnight there. He wondered if we could land at the Superdome Heliport, which is right downtown. I checked and sure enough, the public heliport is not only open, but has (cheap!) jet fuel and is secure enough to allow for overnight parking. Thus, we could land and leave the ship there instead of going to one of the two New Orleans airports, Louis Armstrong International (nee Moisant), or Lakefront, and then having to rent a car to get the rest of the way. This was much more convenient!

In the thirteen years that I flew for Petroleum Helicopters, I never landed at the Superdome. Although the heliport is on the roof of a parking structure, it is still surrounded by tall buildings, obstacles and elevated expressways. In other words the approach is challenging. Luckily, I'm not a newbie at this stuff.

The New Orleans Superdome with the heliport in the near corner of the elevated garage building

As we approached but were still up on the north side of Lake Ponchartrain, we could see a big rain shower directly over downtown New Orleans. The radio guy at the heliport responded to our call with a cheerful, "You're gonna get wet!" But by the time we actually got there the storm had dissipated. They usually do.

The boss and his buddy hopped out and sped off in a cab, leaving me to fend for myself in "The Big Easy," which natives do not call their hometown. (Oh, and by the way? They pronounce it "Nu Orlins" or "N'awlins." None of this sissy "Niew Orleens" stuff.) The Holiday Inn I stayed at was literally within walking distance of the heliport. After checking in, I hopped a cab to the French Quarter, for why else does anyone go to New Orleans?

I was bad hungry, hadn't had lunch. Now, I could've eaten in the hotel, which has a nice enough restaurant. I could've eaten fast food. I could've sought out one of the many faux-Creole tourist traps in the Quarter. Or I could try to find an authentic local place. The cab driver suggested a place called Irene's Cuisine. It's a Creole/Italian place that's slightly off the beaten track. Local - no tourists, he said. Works for me, I said.

"Table for one?" I asked, and they immediately showed me to a table like I was an old friend. Right from the get-go they treated me special. The atmosphere is dark and romantic with small rooms - made me wish I'd brought a date. Yet the table were not crammed one on top of another like they are at our favorite restaurant here in Pensacola, Bonefish.

The wait staff was great - friendly, helpful, animated, and very knowledgable and enthusiastic about the food. While I perused the menu, my waiter brought me over a plate of delicious bruchetta to munch on. During the meal, the waiters all worked together with camaraderie, and none of that "not my table" attitude you sometimes see. Different waiters were always buzzing around, filling my water glass, bringing more bread or clearing away empty plates. But they were attentive without being intrusive, which is what you want. And even though I'm sure they could've used my table for a party of four, they made absolutely no effort to rush me out. It was a fine, leisurely dining experience.

Some people don't like eating in a restaurant alone. They're not comfortable with it...maybe a tad self-conscious or something. Me, I like it. I like just sitting back and being served a great meal that I for once did not have to cook. Plus, the staff treats you better when you're by yourself. They know they won't be interrupting a conversation, so they're more inclined to stop and chat or expand on the menu selections. And me, I love to talk almost as much as I love to eat.

The meal itself was simply awesome, starting with the tomato/mozzarella/basil appetizer and a shrimp bisque that was out of this world. As an entree, the waiter suggested the stuffed pork chop (apples, walnuts and chorizo!). Indescribably delicious! I finished it off with a slice of their famous (and not on the menu) cheesecake and strawberries and some good, strong Community coffee. I finally waddled out an hour and a half after going in, $72.00 lighter (including my cocktails and wine with the meal but not including tip). I had planned on hitting the bars, looking for booze and sex. After that meal, I needed neither. I really do love to eat good food.

I did roam around the Quarter for a while, pretending to myself that I was "walking the dinner off." Heh- yeah I may have burned 100 or so of the 4,000 calories I ingested. I'm sure it helped.

New Orleans is a strange town, very bizarre. In a lot of ways it's like New York...or at least the Manhattan I remember...but a grittier, dirtier, more grimy version. And a whole bunch of young, odd-looking kids who I guess were once or would still be called "Bohemian" (I would just say "dirty hippies"). A shop was selling a t-shirt that read:

Not Our Problem, Dude

I had to laugh. Because there is this permissive attitude in the city that anything really does go. And the t-shirt neatly encapsulated the easygoing nature of the place. I was going to have my fortune told or palm read in Jackson Square, but all of the people who do that were already occupied with customers.

Although Hurricane Katrina was nearly three years ago, New Orleans is still a very damaged city. There are whole areas that have simply been abandoned and will likely never be rebuilt, residents who will probably never return. It's sad. From above, it's deceptive initially. Oh, the houses are still there. But it takes a while until you realize that there are no cars moving down there, no people walking around, nothing happening like you'd expect and that you're looking at a veritable ghost town.

And we're coming into the 2008 hurricane season. Each one brings a sense of dread to the residents of this city that is almost entirely below level, bordered by a huge lake, a river and a swamp, totally dependent on pumps to keep the water out. The area where the main levee broke is stronger than ever. That point will never break again like it did before. Trouble is, the rest of the levee system hasn't been similarly beefed-up. And there are already reports that the levees are leaking in other places.

If New Orleans takes another direct hit, there is no telling what might happen. And I think that nobody really wants to commit to rebuild fully until they can be sure they won't have a repeat of what happened in late August of 2005.

Could you blame them?

11 June 2008

Prayer, Part II: Does It Work?

There was a time when I got myself into some trouble. Bad trouble. Go-to-jail type of trouble. I won't go into the gory details, but it was a stressful time during which my future as a free citizen was in serious jeopardy. At the time, neither my family nor friends could help. I felt very stranded and desperate, panicked into inaction, and at my wit's end (which isn't a long trip since I am equipped with only half of the normal complement). I had nowhere to turn and no one to turn to.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do: I prayed. I believe in God, so I turned to Him. I did not ask God to bail me out of my situation, nor did I ask Him to solve the problem for me. What I asked for was simply that He help me find a way out. Every night I prayed for this help, confident that it would come. And it was odd. As d-day drew near, I became calmer. I knew...somehow just knew that God would not let me down. Instead of being scared and worrying myself into a nervous breakdown, I was able to see and think clearly, confident that things would somehow work out.

At the very last minute...and we're talking 11:59 pm here...a strange thing happened. A set of unpredictable circumstances fell into place that gave me an option I did not have before. Quite suddenly, some quick decisions and moves were made that literally allowed me to solve my problems and walk away. It was quite astounding. Looking back even now, I cannot explain the exquisite timing of the whole thing. But here I am, never having seen the inside of a jail cell.

Now, does this prove conclusively or scientifically that prayer works? No. But could you convince me otherwise? Hell, no! For me, my prayers were answered.

For most of my life I never really believed in the power of prayer. Oh, I "prayed" all right, but it was without conviction, without the confidence that God was actually hearing, and moreover cared about my prayers. I'd never seen it work first-hand, and you know that is how we humans relate to things. We can read it in a book, but it means little until we experience it for ourselves.

Anecdotally, I have over the years heard many stories of how people have had prayer work for them. Most of the time, the skeptic in me chalked it up to coincidence...even when "coincidence" was hardly the appropriate word to describe the supernatural event described. My mom can talk your ear off about how prayer has worked for her in a positive way throughout her life. (In fact, in getting my thoughts together for this post, I relied heavily on her counsel and advice.) All I can conclude is that it works for her because she believes so strongly that it will. There's a lesson there; one that took a long time for me to understand. Prayer and faith are inextricably linked (see Part I).

And so, when the shit hit the fan for me, it became a matter of faith. I believed in God, no question about that. But something changed inside of me. I had grown to a point at which I could overcome my skepticism and just...just...rely on my faith that He really does exist and He really wants to help. It may sound simplistic or silly. But when I did that, my life changed.

I pray every day now.

First of all, I thank God for letting me see this very day, for it is through His grace that I do. I thank Him for my wonderful life in general, of which I am extremely grateful. I thank Him for my family, and their continued safety and good health. I thank Him for my incredible friends, who make my life so rewarding and fun. I apologize for my sins; I ask for His forgiveness. I ask Christ to come into my life, and be my savior. I ask that He give me the strength, the courage and the wisdom to always do the right thing in every situation I encounter.

There's a little more to it, but that's basically it.

Growing up, something that troubled me was the fact that prayer does not always seem to work. I could ask for a million dollars but I could not reasonably expect to get it (at least I haven't so far gotten it). Does this invalidate prayer? No! There just may be some other unexplained reason why that particular prayer is not answered. Does this bother me? No! Why not? Because I've seen other prayers answered in the affirmative. And I don't hold it against God when my prayers are not answered right away and in the manner I desire. I know that prayer works. The fact is that we cannot petition God with our specific needs and have them immediately met, like ordering computer parts online and having them delivered right to the house in two days. The scientist might say that if prayer doesn't work one single time, then the whole process is negated.

Me, I do not focus on the fact that prayer does not always seem to work. I cannot explain it, but it does not trouble me very much. I try to see the bigger picture, that in the whole universe we are on God's time, not ours. This physical life is a mere blink of an eye compared to eternity. Nor does not stop me from praying. Nor should it stop you. We pray because we believe that God hears us. And cares.

When I pray, do I believe that I am talking directly to the Big Man Upstairs? Yes. Does that make me crazy or delusional? Could be. So far, God has not responded verbally. Then again, I do not expect Him to. But I see no harm in praying, no futility. By doing so, it helps me to utilize energies and qualities that are already within me, and to tap into supernatural forces. Could I do that on my own, without praying? Perhaps, but I doubt it, and in any case I don't want to. As I've said, my praying is inextricably linked to the fact that I believe that I'm not alone, spiritually. Praying gives me peace of mind and helps me to focus. It also provides me with some "outside" help that is difficult to document and more difficult to prove empirically.

If this is an unnecessary crutch, or an emotional or intellectual deficiency, well, so be it. I can live with that.

10 June 2008

Prayer, Part I: You Gotta Have Faith

Since I mentioned prayer in a previous post I have been asked to say a couple of words on the subject. Well, why not? I pray every day, and I believe in its power, believe that it works.

But before we can discuss prayer, we must talk about faith. For if you don't have that, then all the praying in the world isn't going to do you any good. Prayer works for the believers, and it is not illogical to think so. God wants us to believe in Him.

What's that? God wants? One might legitimately ask, "How the hell do we know what God wants?" Good question. We don't, really, other than what it says in "that Book" which, for the sake of this discussion we will refrain from using or referring.

All we know is that we were created, much the same way as a parent creates a child. We want the best for our creations, and we can safely assume that God loves us and wants what's best for us. At least, that's the premise upon which my life is based.

But isn't saying that I "know" we were created a huge, unprovable, unsubstantiated assumption all by itself? Yup, you got me there. The Big Bang, the primordial soup, and humans evolving from the sea could have all "just happened" I suppose, with no intelligent design behind it. But my brain...my spirit...my very soul all argue against it. No, I don't see a big cosmic accident in all of "this." I see the hand of a very fine artist.

And it is with that inherent, conscious and subconscious knowledge that I go about leading my life.

We can choose to not believe in a Creator. We can choose to go through life thinking that we are completely on our own, that our current physical life is all there is, and that when we die that's it, we're done, end of story, sayonara. That's easy. Such a belief system takes very little thought and, in some ways make perfect sense. We're here for a while, then we're not anymore.

But we believers see God's presence in our lives. We feel His presence, and experience the joy that it brings. When you know that there is a God, and you know that He wants the best for you...and will help you if you ask Him, then that faith gives you hope. And without hope, our very existence is lonely and depressing. Without hope, all you have is the sad resignation and realization that things are out of your control and "stuff" will just happen the way it happens, too bad Charley.

I like Wikipedia's definition of hope, which is simply "...a belief that a better or positive outcome is possible even when there is evidence to the contrary."

Hope is what gets me through each day!

Truly, can there be hope without faith? That's rhetorical; I do not think so.
I've wrestled with my faith for a long, long time. Being brought up in the Catholic church, we are told to believe in God. And a lot of us probably did without question because our parents told us to, and why would they lie? But Christians tend to humanize God. They ascribe to Him certain human characteristics, and often pretend that He has dictated His desires and rules for us in a very clear way. At some point any thinking person would have to say, "Uhh, a lot of this is just a bunch of bullshit." Because it is, let's be honest.

When you start to question things, it can take you down some dangerous roads. For a while I discarded everything that I'd been taught - completely deconstructed my faith. Starting from zero, I rebuilt my beliefs one by one. With an open mind I asked myself, "What do I really believe?"

And as much as I would have like to believe that there is no God, no Creator, nothing more to this life than just Bob, I could not get there. Everywhere I looked, I saw God's handiwork, His presence. I'm a big skeptic...a huge skeptic! But I found that even I am just not a big enough skeptic or hardened cynic to presume that this universe just sort of, you know, happened. No. It was created, of that I have no doubt. Moreover, it was created specifically for us. Pompous? Perhaps. You are free to believe anything you want. That's the fascinating thing about being a human.

Okay, so starting with a belief in a Creator (whom for the sake of convenience I call "God"), what else is there to believe? Well, if I was created, then it was for some purpose. This has so far not been revealed to me, or perhaps I'm unable to perceive it at this point. Maybe some day I'll find out - maybe not. And if I was indeed created, then I am loved - by both my natural parents, and also by the Creator of my spirit and soul. That right there is some powerful stuff!

I know for a fact that my natural parents have always wanted what's best for me. If I ever went to them with a sincere request, they would move heaven and earth (oops!) to get it, for that is what parents do. Mine demonstrated this time and again. Why should I not expect the same from my spiritual Father?

Televangelist Joel Osteen preaches over and over that God wants what's best for us. I mean, he harps on it like a broken record. He says that all we have to do is believe and ask, and God will provide it. It's a simple message, really, but one that we sometimes forget. Believe and ask. Believe and ask.

I know my parents love me. I know that God loves me. They all want what's best for me. It is with this comforting knowledge and faith that I go through life with hope and optimism.