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Diary of a Worm’s Life in a Home “Growing Power” Box and Garden

Rain Garden
August 2010

Tomatoes & Basil
from Front Lawn
Garden 2010

Back Yard
Garden 08/02/09

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Eyes and Ears to Do the Right Thing - Monday, June 30, 2014

On the two social justice issue I have been working on recently, keeping the basketball rims up at the neighboring park and getting a St. Vincent de Paul Thrift store in North Central Milwaukee where it is needed and not in the suburbs where it is not need, I have been asked by African Americans how come people, white people, do not understand these issues and the harm it does to African Americans, especially those most in need. I really do not know how to answer that type of question but am reminded of the frequent words of Jesus: “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” (Mark 8: 18)

Part of the answer I feel is the experiences of a person, their friends and family and sense of being a brother or sister to everyone. When I was studying in the seminary at St. Louis University in the 60′s yet living with some of the poorest people in the city. I remember going out to suburbs to see a movie with some white seminarians and some religious sisters. As I approached the theater I felt an overwhelming feeling of being out of place. The feeling has dwindled somewhat over the years as I attended many events with my own kind, middle class white persons, in the majority. However, last Sunday attending Mass at a Catholic Church in an all white suburbs some of the same feeling came back. This was especially true because an African priest was con-celebrating the Mass with the pastor. I found out later he was Kenyan and a member of a religious missionary order that attends the Archdiocese training for priesthood in exchange for serving in the Archdiocese for a number of years. Instead of assigning him to a parish in North Central Milwaukee he has been assigned to this large white parish. I thought that many of the white persons in attendance could probably trace their family history to living in North Central Milwaukee at one time. Whites fled as African Americans moved in, be they Catholic or not. The Catholic Church moved where its people (white people) moved, leaving Milwaukee the most racially segregated city in the USA.

I know of no way to give people eyes to see or ears to hear but now know that you seek the truth, speak truth to power and try to create a healthy environment for all you are doing the ‘right thing.’


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Evolving with Family and Friends - Sunday, June 29, 2014

My young godson and his brother recently went back home and my ten year old granddaughter will be here for a few days. My younger brother called today and wondered if he could stay here with his two young adult sons as they attend Summerfest, one of the largest music gigs in the world. Naturally I said yes.

We have not had many guests to what I call our “Willie Graf House of Hospitality” recently and now we are booked for awhile with family.

Today we went to Madison to attend the high school graduation party of the older brother of the two boys that were visiting. This is the family of my daughter-in-law sister and this family, with six children, has remained close with us. In fact, their grandfather and my grandchildren’s other grandfather met twice last week to transform kids back and forth from Milwaukee to Madison and back and will meet again this week as I take my granddaughter part of the way to Madison to visit her other grandparents and cousins.

When I grew up we had family members visiting us and we visited, mostly on my mother’s side of the family. However, though Facebook I have recently connected with some family members on Graf side.

One of the positive factors of the new age of digital communication is that it allows family and friends to be more connected. However, I had to draw the line tonight when my granddaughter texted me a message from the couch she was laying on a few feet away from me. She was joking around and it was funny but a little too much.

With all this digital communication it is too easy to ignore the old fashion way of communicating, in person or on the phone. In fact today I forgot to check by phone on a friend who is now living by herself, not by choice, and suffers the tremendous pain she sadly has had for years.

More communication that the digital allows offers does not necessarily mean better communication. In fact more can mean less in quality of communication.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the famous Jesuit and paleontologist conceived the idea of the Omega Point , a maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which he believed the universe was evolving called the no sphere. Perhaps evolution is still happening and digital communication is one step in bringing us all closer together. Coming together with family and friends is a basic step in the continuing evolutionary process.


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Digital Age Is Here to Stay - Saturday, June 28, 2014

Family in Digital Age

My grandson was in town today for a basketball tournament. His two games were early this morning with two more scheduled for tomorrow morning. So he was around the house this afternoon and for most of the time, even during a hour of lost of electricity, on his smart home, conversing, listening, or texting. He is 14 and at one point I asked him if he remembered what people did before the computer and digital revolution. He had some vague memories and I reminded him of how we played games, real and imagining, talked and joked together. He has some memories of these things but his sister, my granddaughter, 10, only knows the digital age, where everyone, including her has an IPad, smart phone, computer, tablet or some other digital item.

One time tonight I looked around our living room and all of us, my son and his wife, my granddaughter, my wife and I were on a digital device, IPad or Smart Phone or Computer. I made an observation to that effect and some looked up from their screen as I was criticizing them. I said no but just making an observation. My daughter-in-law reminded me of how I was an early user of digital items, which was true. Now when my granddaughter shows me a slide show she made on her IPad with music, pictures and words from a family trip we just made to Mackinaw Island, I realize how much I lag behind on the new digital age.

At our conversation at dinner tonight, where we still talk while we eat, I said I knew some people that do not use the internet. My grandchildren found that hard to believe but it is true for many elderly people as well as low-income persons. The digital age is here to stay; the media is the message in many ways. How we use it, as a distraction or to focus our attention remains to be seen. More information does not always mean more knowledge or wisdom.


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Youth Reign or White Adults Diminish - Thursday, June 26, 2014

Godson and brother enjoying
the sand

Tonight I took my young godson and his brother, 5 and 7, over to Doyne Park to play for an hour or son. We played a little basketball and soccer but the two boys ending up in the sandbox playground with a group of children, of all races and parents. Around us they were golfers, people walking, running or cycling on the bike trail, lots of youth, boys and girls of various races and one day with his two sons playing basketball. People of all races and ages were having a good time on a nice summer night, although I must admit I might have been the only old white guy in the crowd.

Meanwhile in a vacant lot nearby local politicians, police and white neighbors except one gathering to talked about the way to rid the park of basketball playing, code word for young African American males. One new neighbor, who is new to neighborhood and African American, attended for awhile but had to leave after some of the statements politicians and neighbors made. I am glad that I did not go, since some persons have been waiting for a year and half to make another attempt to get rid of basketball courts after African American young adults started to use them. Gun shots in the park last Sunday night gave them the excuse to start their campaign again.

All was peaceful and full of joy in the park. Soon I will add to web site a picture story of the park this night. The reality between enjoying the reality of the park and the friendliness and joy people of all ages, genders and races showed and the white people’s to destroy part of it is a real contrast of how we have taken away logic and reason from any discussion. There is no connecting between playing basketball or in the sand playground and violence. Tonight on the news a man in a suburb was accused of brutal murders, another man in the suburb of shooting his two sons, killing one and a fight between two household in city injuring five. Nights like we enjoy tonight in the park will probably be diminished by the white adult who just do not understand that taking something away from the park will not solve the problem of violence but just lead to more. Let youth, young and old reign and white adults diminish.


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Bit of Beauty - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

In a discount grocery store where I shop, every once and awhile they have easy-to-care for orchids. If they do not sell them in a few weeks they discount the already low price and that is when I move in and purchase one. The orchids that are blooming will last for awhile but eventually they will die. The trick is to care for them and hope they bloom again. Sometimes they do and sometimes they do not. Recently I have been using casting tea to water the orchids and it seems to have made a difference. Now I have three beautiful orchids blooming at one time. One of them has ten flowers on it with two more buds ready to bloom.

We all need some beauty in our lives to help us through tough times. With all that is happening in the world with violence, in Milwaukee and neighborhood with racial discrimination I can get a little low. Orchids provide a ‘bit of beauty’, something we all need.


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Endless Wars - Monday, June 23, 2014

I remember some of the first acts of ‘terrorism’ when Westerns were being kidnapped and held hostage on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon. Someone did a study of who these early ‘terrorists’ were and discovered that many were people whose families had suffered at the hands of Western powers. A number witnessed homes and family members destroyed by US planes flown by Israeli over Lebanon to get at Palestinians who had taken refuge there. The kidnappings were called ‘terrorist’ while the bombing by planes were called ‘defensive actions.’

I remember a friend telling me a story about a boy watching his younger brother die in a hospital in Iraq due to the US boycott of Iraq in the 90’s. The hospital did not have the very basic and simple supplies, due to the boycott, to save the child’s life. As a brother watched the death of his younger brother he told his mom and my friend that when he grew up he was going to kill Americans for what they did to his brother.

Now we are back in Iraq helping the Shiite president we installed in Iraq to fight the Sunni militants called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, (IRIS). This is the same group, IRIS, who is fighting on the rebels’, our side, in Syria to overthrow the secular government of Syria. Iran, an Islamic State who the USA dislikes, is supporting the secular government of Syria against rebels like IRIS and is now also supporting the government of Iraq, our side, against the militant IRIS group. If all this seems confusing and stupid it is because it is. Our enemies are on friends and when they are on ‘our side’ and terrorist when on other side. People are fighting and killing each other over land, country or wealth. War is hell but profitable for some like the USA military/industrial/educational complex.

In some ways, and in more subtle way, the endless wars at home are happening. A few years ago there was a conflict over the long time basketball courts in a nearby county park when African American youth started to play basketball there. They were disruptive to some neighbors but instead of talking with them a few neighbors gathered and had the basketball rims on some of the backboard removed. After a complaint to County Government by some of us that this was discrimination the rims were restored on all the courts. For a year and half white, Asian and African American youth and young adults have been playing basketball on the courts without any major incident. Last night there was a conflict on the courts and some claim gun shots were fired in the air. The youth scattered and now the neighbors will meet again. I am hoping that race and basketball will not be a factor but already one of the leaders to remove the rims, someone who grew up playing basketball on the courts but since has moved out of the neighborhood, is associating basketball playing with shooting. He is calling again for removal of rims although he does not live here. In any all white neighborhood, all black neighborhood, all Hispanic neighborhood if there was a gun fired in the playground, basketball count or park and if the person doing the firing of gun and any victims were of the same race of the neighborhood people, would there be a move to close down the basketball courts or park. Of course not. I recently attended the prayer vigil of a young man, African American who was killed over a dispute at a basketball court in an African American neighborhood. There was talk of making the neighborhood safer, of removing the guns but no talk of eliminating the basketball courts.

As with the wars so with the park incident, violence breeds violence and discrimination breeds discrimination. The way to end endless wars and endless violence is to stop making war and reacting to violence with discrimination and more violence.


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Storytelling Message - Sunday, June 22, 2014

I spend my writing time today on a response letter to the CEO of the USA office of St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVDP). He asked me to cease and desist from my criticism of the Milwaukee office of SVDP to spend 3–5 million dollars to purchase and operate a SVDP thrift store in the suburbs rather than create one at little or no cost in low income neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Since he, like many others, ignored by arguments from reason, common sense, research and the mission of SVDP I decided to answer him back first with two stories from the heart of recent experiences. If you check below the stories you will find a more conventional response, the kind he ignored.

Dear Mr……

This email is to acknowledge I received you cease and “desist” email of June 20, 2014. Since it was clear to us that you are not reading the emails and seeing the information Jim, Marvin and I are sending you let me first try another tact, storytelling, in communicating the message.

The other day Jim, Marvin and I met with the two Catholic Church pastors of the two Catholic parishes left in North Central Milwaukee. Not too many years ago there were 17 Catholic parishes in this area. As the whites move out when blacks move in, so did the Catholic Churches. These two SVDP conferences of these two parishes are source of the largest number of home visits each month in the poorest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, the fourth poorest city in the USA. According to the last two censuses this area is the most racially segregated area in the most racially segregated city in the USA. This area is the most criminalized, with 50% of adult males, having been in prison in Milwaukee which is in Wisconsin, the number one state in USA in imprisoning African American males. This area has the highest unemployment rate of people, over 50% and the environment is conductive to crime and violence. You can see more about this information at M.A.P.S.. These two Catholic priest, one a diocesan and one a Capuchin both believe that what a few SVDP staff and leaders are doing behind close doors with 4–5 million dollar investment in suburbs is immoral. Marvin is the African American president of SVDP conferences for both Churches and is on the Executive Board until his term is up in November. The majority of board and Presidents of conferences, even ones in city are suburbanites and follow blindly whatever staff and consultants, highly paid, tell them to do.

One of the priest said at our meeting that even if we could call another Presidents meeting where more of the Presidents showed up the vote would probably go in favor of staff and consultants proposal. I tell you this to let you know that I may be a loud voice but am not alone in urban residents in Milwaukee who see this investment to suburbs as shameful and unjust. One of the priest also said that the reasons SVDP is losing funding by people and the reason, ministries like the large meal program in his parish is gaining funding, is twofold. People know that donations to meal program is going to feed the hungry while people donating to SVDP central office sense that the money and donations are not going to needy but to administration cost and soon the suburbs. The nearly 2 million dollar five budgets of the central office, according to their own numbers goes, 99%.4 to administration and only .6% to direct services. (I probably have sent the “approved 2013–2014 project budget” given to me by the highly paid bookkeeper of SVDP central office. If not or you deleting it, I can send another) The second reason is that people working in the meal program have person to person contact with people in need where less and less Vicentians and supporters do.

We have developed a trickle up plan for a thrift store in North Central Milwaukee with little or no new investment of money. We can give it to President of Board and Executive staff but conference presidents will not be allowed to see it or discuss it. We can send you a copy to you if you want. This message or Cry for the Poor has little to do with Bob Graf.

The other story I would lie to tell you, if you have ears to hear and eyes to see, is about a home visit my wife and I made Friday to young single mother. She lived in an apartment in 53206 Zip code, the most criminalized neighborhood in USA. She needed a table and chairs and bed, two of the items we provide vouchers for at the present South side SVDP store which is 7 miles away from her. She also needed a couch and living room chair but with the high demand we have our conference cannot afford to pay the SVDP central office store 50–100% of retail price of donated items.

When she got the voucher she realizes that is the store she ‘volunteers’ at to receive her W-2 (Welfare) small payments. She works mostly in the basement of the store, with no pay from SVP, sorting clothes. The collection and sorting operation is planned by staff to move to new suburbs. She could get a ‘volunteer’ or low paying job there but the new store in suburbs where all donations will go, is twice as far, 14 miles, away from her home. This is true if she has car. Most people in North Central area do not and the proposed multimillion store is 1 1/2 hours or more by bus, service of which is poor in Milwaukee.


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Friends in Disastrous Enviroment - Saturday, June 21, 2014

When my wife came home from work today to the dinner I had prepared I asked her how her day was. She said: “It was a long day.” I did not realize the full implications of her statement until watching the weather on TV news tonight. The weatherman said this was the longest day of the year with something like 15 hours and 22 minutes of sun light. It is the summer solace, the first day of summer. However, it is only 57 degrees outside now and tomorrow the high will be around 70 degrees. My tomato plants and other warm weather plants are waiting for hot weather to burst out and up. Will real summer ever come this year?

The flowers in the gardens and the orchids in the house are doing well. The peonies are fading away but some of the lilies are ready to bloom. Flowers come and go. Last year between March and October and this year between May and who knows. There is something timeless about climates and gardens. They change but just go on.

Today, with friends, I help some friends scrape and paint their house. This was something our friends really needed to do and with a little bit of help we got most of it done. Repairing a house, like painting, is not something that comes and goes naturally. It just comes with time and weather and stays or becomes worst, until you repair it.

An urban environment is like a house. It is something you must constantly work at. We all want a safe neighborhood, with good schools, high employment, good housing stock, in short, a neighborhood where it is easier to be good.

However, in Milwaukee we have bordered out part of the city, segregated by race and poverty living there. It is not a safe neighborhood, has high unemployment and has increasing number of slum landlords not taking care of houses they rent. North Central Milwaukee is an environment where it is hard to be good. It is an area surrounded by an invisible wall where the city, county and state can just neglect.

In fact, mass transit, has severely been reduced in this area where many people do not own a car. Mass transit money is going to road projects for cars, like the proposed two billion dollar expansion of the expressway near my house so people in suburbs and get in and out of city, for ballgames, basketball games, entertainment and eating establishments, cultural places like the theaters, museum, Hawley Davidson museum and Casino without traveling any city streets. We do not have any mass transportation system, like trains, between city and suburbs where most of the jobs are. This racial and poverty segregation, unlike the gardens is not natural. It is like in Milwaukee County we live in one big house and we just neglect an area of the house and found news ways around. If you check out M.A.P.S, Maps of Segregation, Poverty, Criminalization of African Americans you can visually see what we are talking about. You will also notice an area on the South Central side with also high unemployment, poverty and segregation. This is the area where many Hispanics live or are assigned to.

We now call it racial segregation. In the 60’s when it was not as pronounced and severe as it is today we call it racism. Whatever you call it. the truth is that we have all created areas of the city that are neglected and ignored, where poverty reigns and it is very hard to be good, like so many of the blessed people who live there are. We do not need to go to foreign countries to experience poverty, hunger, and houses in bad shape without refrigerator, stoves, beds and furniture. Just come to North Central Milwaukee, walk the streets, meet the many wonderful people that live there, visit their homes and, most important of all, become friends. How many friends do you have that live in a disastrous human made environment?


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Being With or Helping People In Need - Friday, June 20, 2014

A Society (St. Vincent de Paul in Milwaukee) dedicated to works of mercy wants to build a thrift store for the rich in suburbs for millions of dollars with hope and wish of some money trickling down for the poor; the other chose is to build a thrift store, where it is needed, in neighborhood of persons in need and marginalized for little or no cost. The thrift store in suburbs does not make fiscal common sense and certainly does not fit the mission of the Society, for person to person contact with people in need.

This effort makes no sense but not many care. The poor and marginalized do not even know what is happening and leaders of the Society, mostly from the suburban do not want to know the facts that this 4–5 million dollar investment in the suburbs will bring harm to those most in need. This leaves a few of us who live in the city, do the works of mercy promoted by the Society and understand that no matter how you hope and wish “trickle-down economics” does not work and is actually ‘immoral,’ as the Holy Father of the Catholic Church, clearly states. Even if borrowing millions of dollars to serve the rich with a thrift store would work, it would not meet the mission of the Society or its Thrift store for direct person to person service to people in need.

The Society, as other groups like the Catholic Worker movement, understand that systematic change only comes with person to person service. If we try to compete with the ‘powers that be’ by money we will lose. When Jesus talked about how ‘blessed are the poor’ and doing the works of mercy. He made no mention of trying to make money to help the poor. The success of the Society worldwide has been because of the appeal and value of direct person to person contact. The failure of the Society, like in Milwaukee, has been in efforts to build a social agency and raise money to ‘help’ people in need. Being with people in need, like my wife and I did this morning with five home visits to the poorest of the poor brings blessings and grace. Donating or making money to help people in need may make people feel good but does not make for system change.


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The Selfie of War - Thursday, June 19, 2014

“The dominant theological
perspective on War among
Christians,Jews, Muslims and
Atheists,Bishops, Rabbis,
Mullahs and Academics of
the First World in the 21st

Here is picture send to me today by Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, the Director of the Center for Christian Nonviolence. The subject of email is “The Selfie” but the title of the picture is called “The dominant theological perspective on War among Christians, Jews, Muslims and Atheists, Bishops, Rabbis, Mullahs and Academics of the First World in the 21st Century.” This is quite a title for a ‘selfie’ but I think the picture, on the side and bigger below after ‘continue’, explains why, or maybe it does not.


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My Friend Is Lost - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My friend is lost. My friend, Marvin (not real name), is lost. He is a African- American male in his 50’s that left a note to his wife a few nights ago that he was going to check himself in at the mental health complex since he had been seriously thinking of committing suicide all that day. His wife called the mental health complex and the police and there was no record of him at either place.

Marvin has lived a hard life with a felony conviction when he was young stigmatizing him and hurting his opportunity for employment. He had suffered a serious beating that seemed to have triggered his mental illnesses. As many in this position he had turned to drugs and drink for relief only to find that it made him worst.

About five years while he was straight he met my friend Carol,(not real name), who at the time was a member of same Church as we. They got married but the marriage quickly was troubled as my friend Carol got very sick with great pain. Marvin was in and out of her life. In the meanwhile she became more and more in pain and all the medical solutions for relief have not worked. She, understandably, had a hard time dealing with her own illness let along his problems.

About a year or so ago my friend, after sometime in jail and a treatment center, seemed to have really got his life together and he and Carol were united. He could not find a job but with her small income they were able to rent a nice small apartment. Marvin walked the streets for miles around the apartment looking for a job but could not get one. He stopped taking his medicine for his brain illness and had good days and bad days in his care of Carol. She needs a reliable living companion to stay in the apartment as her pain gets worse.

Marvin was very intelligent. I remember taking him to get his driving license which had expired causing him to have to redo the written and driving test. One time I was reading the book “The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” He said he had read it a few years ago and that it was excellent. I challenged him since the book, to my knowledge, had just come out. But then I looked at the copy-write date and found out the book had come out a few years earlier in another edition with different name. He was, sadly, living the message of the book.

Marvin and I had some good heart to heart conversation as often we waited together for Carol on her many hospital and doctor visits. I was glad when he had got himself together since the burden of driving Carol to her many medical appointments was lifted from me. She has a van but cannot drive or even sit up. She laid in the backseat as one of us drove.

Marvin had no possessions in life and was torn by his inability to find a job due to his criminal record and his skin color. Once I had picked him up somewhere to take him to the new apartment they had rented and all he had with him was a small gym bag that contained his few possessions.

He tried to do a little legal “hustle” to get some money but he got more and more frustrated with life and not finding a job. Gradually he went back to drinking when he could. This strained his relationship with Carol whose pain grows worst.

Hopefully my friend, although he had no money and possessions, is still alive somewhere and just lost.


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Defensive or Offensive, Does It Matter? - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In my previous writings I talked about how people in the peace and justice movement are always on the defense and how we needed to be on the offensive. However, this is hard to do since we live in an age when the ‘powers that be’ throw so much at us, teaching killing on campus, destruction of the environment, endless wars and the lists goes on.

Looking at the causes I am involved with, stopping the multimillion dollar thrift store of St. Vincent de Paul in the suburbs, slowing down the traffic on Wells Street Speedway, ending military training at Marquette University, eliminating racial segregation in Milwaukee and they are all ‘against something’, negative or defensive. Yet they all have positive sides, locating a SVDP thrift store in North Central Milwaukee over suburbs, making Wells Street safer, making Marquette a school of peace not war, civil rights for all in Milwaukee.

I guess an issue can be negative and defensive or positive and offensive, depending how you present it. For example, tomorrow I hope to start my personal campaign to close the “Wells Street Speedway”, from 45th and Wells to Hawley road. I tried complaining to alderman’s support and community support without many results. Now I will start my offensive campaign by placing a sign on grass strip on front of my house that reads: “Wells Street Speedway Is Closed, 30 MPH Strictly Enforced”. This will be followed by checking speeds of cars going up and down Wells street. I have some primitive means, Speed App, and clocking cars between two points but I hope to obtain a full scale speed gun. The third step will involve some method of stepping on the street to slow cars going 40 mph plus. I have not yet figured out the other steps but the campaign may get attention of media, neighbors and speedy cars.

We would consider the ‘civil rights movement’, getting basic human rights for African Americans as positive, but some could say it was a negative movement, working to change law and practices of discrimination. So negative or positive, defensive or offensive, the important thing seems to be taking nonviolent action, appealing to hearts, for change.


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Persistent as a Marching Band - Monday, June 16, 2014

Grandson & Marching Band

Over the weekend we drove to Mackinaw Island in the Upper Peninsula to watch our grandson march in the Pulaski High school band in the lilac parade. The weather was chilly and the wind was tremendous yet the band marched on.
Following our grandson’s marching band has taken us to a number of places, last year it was the 4th of July parade in Philadelphia.

The marching band is a good symbol for the persistence in life we need to get things done. I pray that our persistence to get the new and expensive St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in the suburbs stopped is successful and that we can get one in North Central Milwaukee where it is needed. I pray that the Mayor and Police leaders learn from the past that complaining about the violence and the using more force cannot stop the increasing violence in North Central Milwaukee. I pray that our President and military leaders learn that the violence of our country imposed on the people of Iraq has only led to more violence and more killing will only mean more killing.

There are no easy solutions, a suburban thrift store, more policing in North Central Milwaukee, more war to our social and human concerns. However, if we could be as persistence in nonviolence action, persistent as marching band that keeps on going, it will work. As Benjamin Franklin said “Energy and persistence conquer all things”.


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Sad but Glad - Thursday, June 12, 2014

Weather was nice, we got to work in the garden, found out that the article Proposed St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop causes contention in Milwaukee will probably be published in the next National Catholic Reporter newspaper. What more can one person asks for?

Yet I feel sad, sad about the news of all the suffering and death in Iraq as a group of militants now present before we invaded Iraq are now taking over. What of waste of life of Americans, Iraqi and people around the world. Now we are still doing the same thing in Afghanistan, creating conditions of constant conflict and war. We are making the world more unsafe and dangerous.

I was reminded again at a St. Vincent de Paul meeting today of how we stigmatize and treat the poor. We become all worried that the poor might cheat some of us while our congresswoman supports the greedy on Wall Street that have hurt us, not the extreme wealthy. Gun violence continues in our streets and schools and the courage to do something about it is outnumbered by the money to do nothing.

Sad or glad, at least I feel at peace, at peace with suffering and joy. I feel a sense of gratitude yet helpless. Sad and glad, does it make a difference?

P.S. Time for retreat and reflection for a few days. Will be back soon!


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Working Together To Make A Difference - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Working Together To Build
the DMZ Garden

A few years ago I had this bright idea, generated from my days as a community organizer, to gather leaders from a number of peace and justice groups; outline all the causes of each group; pick one that is winnable; all groups focus on this one issue and then move on to another one from one of the groups. The idea was inspired by the theme of “Working Together We can Made a Difference.” I ran the idea to a few friends and they thought it was a good idea and feasible. However, it could never work even with groups they were already coalitions of groups with different cause. One leader of a coalition of groups told me you got your issues and causes and I got mine. You work on yours with your group and I will work on mine with my group. Somehow the ‘powers to be’ have ingrained in us to “do our thing” knowing that divided we are defeated.

I noticed that when nonviolent leaders like Gandhi or King brought large group of diverse people around a common cause and by working together people made a difference. Now leaders like this are not allowed to emerge unless, like our politicians, are owned by the ‘powers to be.’

When I was a community organizer out East in 70’s I saw the power of groups to make a difference and change when the focus was on one thing at a time. The biggest concern I had was that when people got power they did not know how to handle it and often turned it on themselves, organizing against each other. Experiencing this is why I got out of this type of organizing.

We can talk and talk about the power within all of us to make a change or difference but when two or more come together to make change there is often discord and divisiveness. Sports figures are always talking about working together as a ‘team’ to win. Growing Power, a nonprofit supplying good food in an urban environment has the model: “Working Together We are Growing Power.” However, now they have grown big and have worldwide respect and drawn major money from corporations like Wal-Mart, tours and worms that were once free now cost and access to leaders is hard.
I guess this is part of the price we pay for success but giving up working together to make a difference is something we can still do.


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All Ill are Human Beings Not Illnesses - Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The condition of mental
healthcare inside Los Angeles
County jails is so poor that
it is unconstitutional, the US
justice department has said.

Yesterday I read a story on the BBC news service called LA jail conditions ‘unconstitutional’. The US justice department has said the condition of mental healthcare inside Los Angeles County jails is so poor that it is unconstitutional. I already knew that the Los Angeles County jail was the largest mental health facility in the USA. The reports said the “deplorable” conditions violated a ban on cruel and unusual punishment in the US Constitution.

Today I was reading in “Commonweal” magazine an article call “Cruel But Not Unusual, The Scandal of Solitary Confinement.” The increasing use of solitary confinement by jail and prison officials does great damage of prisoners, especially those with mental health or brain illnesses. He says the lack of sensory stimulation and human contract, the petty control over inmates’ daily lives; the disorientation with regard to time; and the threat of indefinite isolation” are, in his opinion and mine, “designed to do harm to the men and women subjected to it.” This seems like an obvious case of cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. But it is not seen that way and the beat goes on.

I recalled my deceased son’s, Peter, experience and that of his best friend when, at various times, they acted out with their mental illnesses and were thrown in county jail in Milwaukee. They were thrown into isolation padded cells where there was nothing but them and the lights were on 24 hours. For a person with a mental illness this is the worst horror you can place the person in. Both suffered serious problems as a result of this experience. These experiences led to increase mental health problems and, in my son’s case, contributed to his eventual suicide. At the time I tried to communicate to the County Sheriff, still in office, and to the County Executive, now Governor, the horrors of this experience and how it was cruel and unusual but they simply dismissed or ignored my objections.

Now probed by the local newspaper on the lack of proper medical care and treatment in our country mental health facility the county and state government are planning, not to improve the facility, but to gradually close it down and replace it with “community treatment”. In the 80’s we tried this, closing mental health facilities rather than reforming them and it lead to persons with mental health issues being homeless or being placed in prisons or jails. Would we treat people in a serious car accident, with severe forms of cancer, persons with heart attacks, liver or kidney diseases this way, without first placing them in a hospital or health care facility before sending them to the community for treatment? Mental or brain illness are not considering illnesses like cancer or heart issues. Even in this very good article about cruel and unusual solidarity confinement in jails and prisons the author calls persons with mental illnesses “mentally ill”. Would we call persons with cancer “cancerous?”

When will we consider mental illness, be it PTSD, Alzheimer or Schizophrenia an illness just like cancer? We must first see persons with a mental illnesses as full human beings just like anyone else with any other type of illness. Only then will we open up our hospitals to persons with these illnesses. We will then provide full medical care in our mental health facilities and treat person with these illnesses not as ‘criminals’, clients or ‘mentally ill’ but place them in a hospital, not a jail, when they are very sick and after treatment send them back to the community. Equality of treatment starts with recognizing all persons with illnesses as being human beings not their illnesses.


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Come Holy Spirit - Sunday, June 08, 2014

Come Holy Spirit
Bring down your fire on our troubled earth.
Melt “killer drones” into classrooms for all our children
Melt our hard hearts so we see all persons as human beings
Who we or the State have no right to kill.

Come Holy Spirit
Breathe down upon our leaders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
So they invest in people in need and marginalized in Milwaukee
With a Thrift Store in North Central Money rather than in suburbs
So as they say: Donations of clothing, household items and furniture
Will go the poor and free gifts or sold at low cost.

Come Holy Spirit
Clarify our vision so Marquette University can see
That the way to peace is peace not teaching war and killing.

Come Holy Spirit
Enflame the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, leaders and Catholic members,
So they understand that the “evangelical option of the poor” means more than talk,
And how live the way of the Gospel in practice and not just talk more about it.

Come Holy Spirit
Enflame the dying embers of our weariness,
Shake us from our complacency
And give us the courage to Break the Silence.

Come Holy Spirit
Bring down your fire and enthusiasm and energy on us
So we can proclaim the Word of God without fear of suffering, insults and even death.

Come Holy Spirit
And Break the growing divide between the rich and poor,
Those on the left and those on the right.

Come Holy Spirit


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Children of Haiti and USA Go Hungry! - Saturday, June 07, 2014

Children of Haiti waiting for meal

In October of 2011 I went to Haiti with a delegation from SOAWatch, where over a year earlier an earthquake had devastated the country. Millions of dollar from around the world poured into the country but the country was much the same as right after the earthquake. Officials from non-governmental agencies (NGOs) drove around with big vehicles over the barely travelable roads. One of the places we visited was a tent where a meal program run by the What If Foundation offered children a hot meal, mostly rice with small bit of meat, once a day after school. Hundreds of children sat around bare tables waiting for the meal to be served. Some children had containers to take some of the rice home for their parents and elders.

Today I went to a basketball tournament my grandson team was playing in at a nearby school. On the front lawn of the school were signs announcing a free meal program for children during the summer when they do not get meal in school? I imagine this food is better than for children of Haiti but just the thought that we need to provide food for children of families in need is a chilling one. A country that can pledge and extra billion dollars for military aid to Europe and give Israel about 7 million dollars a day for military aide to occupy Palestine cannot provide families with basics to prepare food, like a refrigerator or stove. Landlords used to provide basic appliances with rent. Now they do not. Low income families can get good food but how do they store it and prepare it? More and more children in the USA go hungry each day and more and more schools are the place for a meal.

Children go hungry in Haiti and the USA. Food is easier to get in this country with food pantries and such, but it is difficult to preserve and prepare. When there was million dollars floating around from the closing of my Catholic Church in North Central Milwaukee I wrote a parable of what could be if the money was put in a sustainable works of mercy fund for refrigerators and stoves for low income persons. Not one penny made it to those in need for food or appliances. Where did the 3.6 billion in relief and recovery aide to Haiti go?. Where did the million plus go for closing another Catholic church in North Central Milwaukee? Where is the 3.2 million dollars going that the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Milwaukee seeking from bankers going? The money from all these sources go to bankers and rich not to the poor and marginalized. In the meanwhile the children of Haiti and the USA go hungry.


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Leap Into Life - Friday, June 06, 2014

Sophia with parents and

Last night I went to the 8th grade graduation of my goddaughter, Sophia. She graduated with 12–15 other youth from a small private school in Milwaukee. Her parents and grandparents, pictured on the side, were present. Today Sophia came over to work a few hours on our gardens. Tomorrow my grandson, Dustin, is coming over with his parents and sister. He is also graduating from 8th grade. It will be next Monday with 75–100 other youth from a large public school in a small city in Northwestern Brown County. He and family are coming tomorrow for his basketball tournament this weekend in West Allis. This is the graduation events I will be attending. My grandchildren’s cousin, my daughter-in-law sister’s son is graduating from Middleton High school next Friday. However, we cannot attend the ceremony.

I think back to my own eighth grade graduation fifty seven years ago from St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School, one that no longer exists. Eight grade graduations is no longer such a major event as it was in 1957 but still is a milestone in life. It marks the end of childhood and transition into a full bodied teenager. Life was slower in 1957 but the change from grade or middle school to high school remains a big leap.

When I was teaching in school or religious education I always thought that youth between seventh grade and sometime around 10th grade where the hardest to teach. They had lost the innocence of childhood and had not yet the ability to reason and conceptualize that high school youth possess. If you cannot play with their innocence or reason with them they can be difficult. Youth in these middle years, I observed, say what they say and do what they do, without the hesitation of a child or rationale awareness of a teenager. As a teacher and religious educator I would console parents at time by saying they would grow out of this stage. I found it is better to go with the flow in being with them.

Rap music was big with this age group so I told the youth that I could rap. They asked me what my ‘rap name’ was and, after some thought, came up with the name ‘reject.’ My raps were just silly rhyming but the kids thought they were funny. For a few years when I was a youth minister for a Church and had to organize some middle school dances. With the help of one of the parents we found an excellent young man who was a DJ and good at playing rap music. Our dances became very popular with middle school teens who came from across the city to our dances. Near the end of my time at this Church, after teens wanted me to rap more, we set up a ‘rap off’ between me, ‘reject’ and this DJ, who I think was called D Rock. The DJ, with some of his friends helped me with my rap. I thought the DJ who played rap music so well would be excellent at rap. I went first at the ‘rap off’ and, to no one’s surprise, was not very good. The D.J. went next and, to everyone’s surprise, had not prepared a rap, and was just awful. One of the students sum it up when he told me in young teen language, that I sucked by the DJ sucked worst.

I learned with experience how to be with young teens who say what they thought but without the innocence of a child or reflection of older teen. In fact, people today, although I am the ripe age of 71, say at times that I still do the same thing, think fast and say out loud what I am thinking without considering the consequences. Maybe I really never outgrew ‘reject’ and at times am just a young teen making the leap into life.


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Wrongs of Obama, Moore and SVDP Become Rights Thru Suffering? - Thursday, June 05, 2014

President Obama, dedicated to bring our USA debt down, pledges a billion dollars more of military aide to Europe. Our St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVDP), dedicated to the poor, is working on a multimillion thrift dollar to serve the middle and upper middle class people in suburbs. Now I am just learning the our congressional representative, Gwen Moore, African American congresswoman, representing Wisconsin’s poorest congressional district and most segregated area in USA has been supporting a bill that would help big banks by exempting them from U.S. regulations when they trade derivatives through foreign subsidiaries. Now along with Republicans she is attempting to unravel key sections of Dodd-Frank , the 2010 financial reform bill that was meant to curb the very same excesses that, not so long ago, devastated the economy and put many of Moore’s constituents out of their jobs and their homes. What is going on here?

After getting an email today from the editor of liberal Catholic newspaper, National Catholic Reporter, attacking my character for pointing out how the newspaper is quick to print articles about liberal white causes, like my trial last year due to the banning by Marquette, but are slow or reluctant to put into print articles about injustice to the poor and marginalized, like their online only article Proposed St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop causes contention in Milwaukee. What is going on here when following my conscience brings insults from a newspaper whose editorial mission statement claims to be “a voice for the disadvantaged and the marginalized”?

I looked to some of my spiritual mentors for advice and direction, like Dorothy Day, St. Ignatius of Loyola and Mahatma Gandhi. I remember Dorothy Day’s advice on conscience in her writings: “My understanding of the teaching of the Church is that we must follow our conscience, even an erroneous conscience.” Or I read again her statement in the Catholic Worker Newspaper about disturbing people with words and I just substituted ‘racism’ for ‘pacifism’ and ‘censorship for ‘anarchism’: “When it is said that we disturb people too much by the words racism (pacifism) and censorship (anarchism), I can only think that people need to be disturbed, that their consciences need to be aroused, that they do indeed need to look into their work, and study new techniques of love and poverty and suffering for each other.”

I looked to St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, Jesuits, to find these words in his Spiritual Exercises about accepting insults and rejection: “I deeply desire to be with you in accepting all wrongs, all rejections and poverty—both actual and spiritual—and I deliberately choose this if it is for your greater service and praise.” (Spiritual Exercises #98 in translation by David L. Fleming, S.J.)

Too much talk about accepting suffering here for my taste. Thinking that Gandhi may have some better news I received this as my daily quote from India by Gandhi: “The quest for truth involves tapas – Self Suffering—sometimes even unto death.” (M.K. Gandhi, “Truth is God”, p. 21)

So, reluctantly I get it. The only way to struggle with the wrongs of Obama, Moore or SVDP is by accepting suffering?


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Stop Expose and Walk - Wednesday, June 04, 2014

“Tank Man” temporarily stops
the advance of a column of tanks
on June 5, 1989, in Beijing,
in what is widely considered one
of the iconic images of the 20th

Today it the anniversary of Timmerman Square revolt in China in 1989. The Chinese government not only suppressed the revolt of the people but have successfully deleted it from history in China. The famous symbol of the revolt, the picture of single man stopping a row of Tanks, the Tank Man, is not even recognized by the majority of Chinese students in leading Universities. The Chinese government has filtered out this embarrassing event form Chinese history.

I believe we all see reality though filter lenses. Some filter out things they do not want to hear about, even though they might have some truth to them; some filter out poor, people with mental illnesses or people with crime records; some filter out individuals of racial groups, just seeing them as part of stereotype of group. Why do we filter what we see and hear? Sometimes it is just too depressing or sad to see and hear with wide open hearts and minds.

Watching an interview that Travis Smiley had done in the past with recently deceased Maya Angelou I heard some words of wisdom that I have learned the hard way. She mentioned that when she is in a group of people, be it white or black, and hears some racial demeaning comments she just gets up and walks out of the room. I tended to react to person making racial slurs, which only made the situation worst. Finally the other day when I attended the ‘open house’ for the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift store the wealthy whites want to create in the suburbs to help the poor blacks in the central city, a member of the society started to talk negatively about the people he serves. I just said “excuse me, I cannot hear this any longer” and walked away. Arguing with someone who sees and hears with racial filter is useless.

As Mara Angelou and Jesus said when people cannot see or hear it is better just to walk away. If they do not have “ears to hear or eyes to see” arguing with them will not make them change their minds or attitudes.

I was talking with a retired priest friend of mine about this incident of just walking away rather than arguing with person who makes, what we hear, as racial slurs. He said he had to do this all the time brother religious in his retirement home making racial comments that he finds offensive.

It is now easy to understand how to walk away when we hear or see overt racial slurs or unjust comments about persons. However, what do we do when we see or hear covert racial slurs or unjust comments about a person or group? Walking away does not seem right when they do not even know of what they are saying that offends you. Arguing with them will not matter much. What do we do? Perhaps all we can do is to expose the racial slurs or code words as what they are and then walk away. It seems to me that when we hear or see convert racism, we, like the Tank Man, should put our body in the way to stop the injustice and after exposing it, walk away without holding resentment or anger.


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New Roof for White People - Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Raising the Roof for
White People

Today we literally got a ‘new roof over our heads’. The roofers we hired finished putting new roofing on our house. Pat and I hope to stay here as long as our health is okay and it is best to get a new roof while Pat is still working. We are blessed to have a house, two cars and no debts. It is easier to live simply when you have wealth and you owe no money.

Sadly this will not be the case of our St. Vincent de Paul which should be an organization simply serving people in need, person to person. Instead leaders are trying hard to dump a 3.2 million loan on us to purchase and renovate a thrift store serving the suburbs. Purchasing this building, renovating it as well as operating it will place a tremendous debt on the poor, especially low income African Americans in North Central Milwaukee. Instead of making money for poor as organizers of store say it will, it will probably doom the organization and it is ability to serve persons in need with clothing, beds, furniture and appliances.

Attempts at dialog, arguments based on facts, common and business sense, Catholic Social Justice are falling on deaf ears. No one wants to hear how a Society of good people with good intentions can commit a ‘racist’ act, furthering the discrimination against Blacks the Catholic Church in Milwaukee is noted for.

We hear stories about a thriving Black Catholic community, small but growing, in the beginning of 20th century. The Catholic Church responded to growing number of African American Catholics by just ignoring them and closing Churches so African Americans needed to look to other faiths to serve their spiritual needs. A pastor once told me that when he was a young priest in a changing neighborhood in North Central Milwaukee his pastor asked the bishop of the time what to do about serving the increasing number of African Americans moving in the area. According to the pastor the answer from the Archbishop was to stick with serving your own people (white) and let the them (Blacks) go. The two Catholic parishes left in the great North Central Milwaukee where there was 17 Catholic Churches are called ‘black churches’ although they both have a white pastor and significant white membership.

Black Catholics in Milwaukee got their own Church, school and hospital at St. Benedict the Moor at the beginning of 20th Century, “Separate but Equal”. When they outgrew this neighborhood and moved north the Catholic Church refused to put a ‘new roof over their heads’ so many wandered away from the Catholic faith. Now we say we do not have Catholics churches in Milwaukee because “blacks are not Catholics”, a code phrase for racism. We need to spend millions at a St. Vincent de Paul Thrift store in the suburbs so “we can make money to help blacks” in North Central Milwaukee, more code words for racism.

I am collecting the new Jim Crow code words for racism but unfortunately there are so many and the list is growing each day. In the meanwhile we have put holes in the roof of poor and marginalized, especially people of color, and are investing our money in a new “roof for white People” as a way of helping poor blacks. Racism is going wild in Milwaukee and all we do is avoid the words “racism” and use code words while putting more holes in the roofs over our brothers and sisters. God forgive us.


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Racism, NCR, Trickle Down - Monday, June 02, 2014

Today I printed the first copy of an email newsletter focused on Racism in Milwaukee and the USA. Here it is minus the Trickle up or down poster, since I do not know how to, yet, attach a document to a web page.

Overt racism in modern society is rare and is a media sensation when it is displayed. Covert racism, sometimes call ‘color blindness’, in society is common and mostly ignored by media. Jim Crow laws and practices have been replaced with “The New Jim Crow”. Cornell West calls the book “The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander “ [An] instant classic. . .The New Jim Crow is a grand wake-up call in the midst of a long slumber of indifference to the poor and vulnerable.” The book helped me to see and articulate something I was feeling that was happening in Milwaukee and other major cities.

Articulating the “new Jim Crow” or covert racism in Milwaukee is made easier since Milwaukee is the most segregated major city in the USA, one of the poorest, and has the highest number of African American young adults who are or have been incarcerated in a state, Wisconsin, that features the highest percentage of African Americans incarcerated in the USA, the country with the highest percentage of citizens incarcerated in the world.

This newsletter “Racism in Milwaukee and USA” will eventually find its way to web at but for the first issue I start with something very dear to me The Society of St. Vincent De Paul, the largest lay Catholic organization whose Mission is for person to person visits with the poor and marginalized. Also there is TED talk about racism in USA included. (See M.A.P.S.Maps of Segregation, Poverty, Criminalization of African Americans and the Catholic Churches in North Central Milwaukee. Bob Graf

Racism in Milwaukee and USA

Volume 1, Issue 1
The New Jim Crow or racism is growing and spreading everywhere. I use Milwaukee, my home city, as a starting point for this infrequent newsletter but you can find this covert racism everywhere.

National Catholic Reporter

The National Catholic Reporter is holding back from print an article on racism in Milwaukee called Proposed St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop causes contention in Milwaukee. It appeared on NCR Online but, in the last two publications has not appeared in the print edition. Check it out:
Why is NCR not printing it as is the norm when they hired a free lance reporter to do a story.

Racism in USA
Color Blind or Color Brave

As I was writing the above a member of the Marquette University Alumni Association sent me this TED talk by finance executive Mellody Hobson who says we must talk about racism. The TED promo for the talk says: “The subject of race can be very touchy. As finance executive Mellody Hobson says, it’s a “conversational third rail.” But, she says, that’s exactly why we need to start talking about it… that speaking openly about race — and particularly about diversity in hiring — makes for better businesses and a better society. Check it out at


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Grow In Darkness - Sunday, June 01, 2014

We got most of the tomato plants in the ground today. With the hard rain tonight they should be in good shape tomorrow. The late starting gardens are taking shape. Much more to do but will have help from my wife, Pat, a young friend and my veteran friend. Hopefully the rain will be scattered and we can get a few hours of garden work each day.

Someone came by today as we working on the vegetable garden and asked us if we were doing a garden again this year. I pointed across to our rain garden and said those flowers were perennials and came up each year. However, I said, the vegetables, like tomatoes and basil, in the front garden need planting each year. It would be nice if all herbs and vegetables were perennials, like flowers, mint and grape leaves, but they are not. They die and must be planted each year. Sometimes even some perennials like kale do not come back as they should each year.

When we were in Florida we visited our friends who were landscapers that had moved there from Milwaukee. They were just getting their landscape business going when our friend was struck with a liver failure. He now is on hold waiting to go on the transplant list. The business has ended and now they are enjoying nature and the warm climate but the business is not working out, due to the illness. In this area of Florida it is spring or summer all year along but all they can do is watch and enjoy what they can. Our friend has greatly aged due to liver failure and we pray he gets on the list and a transplant soon.

A friend once told me that plants need sun and light but actually grow at night. As I know the darkness of death’s shadow can come even in the spring and summer and all we can do is keep on planting, looking to the light and earth and grow despite the darkness inside.


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