Splat and the New Year

Splat“You want I should wash the dead bugs off the windshield?”

Elwood, The Blues Brothers

“Life seemed to be going along fine and then, splat,” was how H phrased it.  We were talking about how a moment occurs when life suddenly changes. S-P-L-A-T.  It’s the fly breezing along in the wind when suddenly — it becomes little more than road kill on a car’s window shield. Its ride is over.  There is no way to reclaim its former life.  It no longer looks like it once did.  Like it or not, realize it or not, in a seeming moment, transformation occurs.

In H’s case, it was her multi-decades marriage to a seeming pillar of the community that collapsed under the dual strains of alcoholism and affairs.  No matter how much she might have anticipated the end, seen the signs, the “splat” moment felt like a surprise.  The big house was sold.  She moved to the city.  Took a job, then another.  The old life becomes a distant memory.

S-P-L-A-T.  Until the conversation with H, I hadn’t thought of these situations under the auspices of “splat” but it certainly made all the sense in the world.  If you live long enough, the “splats” simply can’t be avoided, which isn’t to say they don’t occur when you are young, as it did when I was just two years old and climbed up the stove that would change my life.

As far as I know, there is not an instruction manual to guide you through a splat.  As a child with a life-threatening injury, I think my coping mechanism was to fight.  Fight, in the sense of pushing hard to regain my physical ability not only to walk to but swim, do gymnastics, play tennis and the like.  Fight, in the sense of pushing myself to achieve socially and academically.  Today, when I think of my “splat” situations, my approach is very different — more surrender than anything else.  Pema Chodron, the beloved Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother says it this way, “Don’t run away from your fear.  Lean in to it.”  Our natural tendency is to fight, flee or move away from what is uncomfortable just as I did as a child.

From talking with H, it seems she did what Pema suggests in per post-splat life and that is to open her heart and experience what it is to be genuine.  What it is to be human, what it is to experience life truthfully in all its pain, with all its beauty.  Even when you still don’t believe life will get better.

And then there is another thought that seems to go hand-in-hand with her new-age advice:

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

As today drew to a close not only for the work day but for the year, H and I were the last to leave the office.  “Here’s to good things in 2015,” I said.  “And to a no-splat year.”  She who coined “splat” nodded in agreement.

Good luck to us all in the New Year.  May we not be squeamish about taking a good look at ourselves.  Let’s not let life harden us.  Let’s try to always see the tenderness, beauty and grace in being alive, together.

Tell me about your S-P-L-A-T moments.

“God Always Loves a Singer” – A Tribute to the Green Bay Boys Choir

St. John's Welcomes the Boys Choir

St. John’s Church Welcomes the Boys Choir on April 14, 2013 for a Mass of Celebration

When it came time for the final goodbye party for the Green Bay Boys Choir on Sunday, April 14th, I and all of my siblings — Kathleen, Susan, Jim and Michael — found their way to Green Bay to take part in it.  Our dad had been gone for nearly 20 years and it was hard not to feel grateful that a group of “boys” thought enough of him (and my mother) to invite us to participate.  There is a power that endures when good men stand together.

While it is true that None of Us Live the Life That He Had Imagined, there are times when an actual event surpasses all of your expectations.  The Compass, the official newspaper of the Green Bay Catholic Diocese, asked our family for an article about the event.  Here is a summary of that article:

The Original Green Bay Boys Choir:  40 Years of Song, Friendship and Fellowship

By Anne Gallagher

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,

Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.

  • A favorite song of The Original Green Bay Boys Choir

In the beginning, they came together to sing.  In the end, they created a legacy of enduring friendship and fellowship.

It was 1972 and Green Bay stockbroker Bob Gallagher organized about 50 middle-aged men under the name, “The St. John’s Boys Choir” to sing at the 5:00 p.m. mass at St. John the Evangelist Church, located  in downtown Green Bay  and  the oldest continuous parish in Wisconsin.  Accompanied by organ or piano, they often punctuated songs like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,”,  “Oh Lord I am not Worthy,” and “God Bless America,” with the big sounds of cymbals and drums, which added both interest and drama to their singing.

“We’re a group of good guys who came together to sing, but mostly it was about the fellowship.  The choir became the way to cement our friendships,” said Ron DeLain, for 19 years the Choir’s final director with and formerly Green Bay City Clerk.  “We were really something special for our generation.”

Ron DeLain Leads the Boys Choir in their final song

Ron DeLain Leads the Boys Choir in their final song, “Let Their Be Peace on Earth” (Photo by Jim Gallagher)

After 40 years of singing together, the “boys” – now mostly in their 70s and 80s – formally retired in 2012.  Originally singing only at St. John’s, the Choir’s popularity grew and took the group to no less than 10 surrounding counties for performances at masses, weddings, funerals, anniversaries and Christmas programs.  To reflect their new-found growth, they changed their name to “The Original Green Bay Boys Choir.” They sang at veteran’s homes, nursing homes and Our Lady of Good Help Chapel.  As they tell the story, in the early days Bob Gallagher would rent a school bus for their out-of-town transportation and contract with the prisoners at the Green Bay Correctional Institute to create bus signage and banners.  With the blessing of the warden, Bob paid them in cigarettes, as was the custom in those days.

By the time they retired, 112 “boys” had filled the various choir lofts, garnering the attention of Green Bay’s Bishop, David L. Ricken.  “I am deeply humbled that so many of you participated in this choir over the forty-year period.  How wonderful that so many senior members of the Catholic Church continued to sing at the Masses throughout the years.  The sounds of hymns coming from the choir certainly brought much joy to each Mass,” wrote  Bishop Ricken in a tribute letter to the Choir, as they prepared to celebrate one last Mass together on April 14th, 2012 at St. John’s.

———————————————————————————————————————————————

“We offer our music to our God, our family and all who hear us.”

From the invitation to the Boys Choir Celebration Mass on April 14, 2013

_______________________________________________________________________

Forty or so men arrived that day at St. John’s, each dressed in a blue blazer with a red rose in his lapel.  They sat together at the front rows of church, sang the last hymn “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and presided over the dedication of a framed commemorative plaque telling their story of service.  The plaque will hang in the parish hall.  With friends and family, they gathered after mass at the Rite Place at Bellevue Street and Allouez Avenue for lunch and friendship.

“You know, I had an affinity for choirs when I joined the group in 1993 or 1994.  I met my wife one day when I was singing in the Cathedral choir so I thought it might be fun to join this group,” said Norb Kalinoski, who served as Choir Director for about a year and was a high school principal during much of his working career. He heard of the choir when it formed in 1972 but had just accepted a job in Shiocton.  When he returned to Green Bay years later, one of his first orders of business was joining up with the Choir. “The driving force of the group was social.  We were not the world’s greatest singers by the way, but we got by.  When you sing, you are happy.”

Liturgical and classical musician Lester Bleser Jr. joined the Choir as its accompanist (organ and piano) about 20 years ago.  “The choir did the music I enjoyed and at the time there was an opening for an accompanist,” he recalls.  The group’s only female member – an organist – was moving to another parish.  Les joined in a heartbeat.  “I enjoyed the camaraderie.  We got together once or twice a month to socialize and I liked the all-male environment.  Plus we were a unique group – there are very few all-male choirs.  We were really one of a kind for our time.”

Boys Choir Members Sing from the front rows under Ron DeLain's direction

Boys Choir members sing from the front rows under Ron DeLain’s direction.  Traditionally, they sang from the choir loft at the back of church. (Photo by Judy Lepak)

Choir members came from all walks of life.  There were educators and social workers, doctors and lawyers and judges, public officials and business owners.  At one time, the local sheriff – Norb Froelich – served as the Choir organist.  “It didn’t matter what you did.  We came together for a common purpose and shared a love of God, Church and family,” said Dr. Jim Falk, the Choir’s final president and a member for 40 years.

“Oh, they came together to give praise and glory to God with their voices and wasn’t that a good enough reason to be together!” added Gwen Falk, Jim’s wife of many years and the mother of their 15 children.  “Plus, the truth is that Bob Gallagher made it fun to be a Catholic.”

If there was one story about Bob Gallagher at the Choir’s luncheon, there were 100.  Bob, the original Choir director, died after a lengthy illness in 1993.  “If you ask me my favorite memory of the Choir, it is Bob Gallagher.  My life changed dramatically because of that man.  He had the ability to join us together and make us do things we never would have done otherwise,” said Jack Smith, now retired but for many years a parole and probation officer at the local Green Bay prison.  “You know, I’m not even a Catholic and when I joined this Choir I wasn’t the only non-Catholic.  Bob brought us all together as friends.”

He told the story of Bob Gallagher’s run for an officer position at Green Bay’s Junior Chamber of Commerce, or JC’s.  With a hand-lettered sign, “Vote Gallagher – Don’t be a Chicken,” Bob gave an election speech, and then released about a dozen live chickens into the crowd.  “Well, people were howling with laughter.  Bob just had a way with people and a way of creating fun.  I owe that man so much,” Jack Smith said, explaining that he wasn’t really a singer but with Bob’s urging, regularly sang before as many as 400 people.

As Bob’s illness progressed in the late 1980s, Jack said Bob developed a great difficulty with speech.  “It was hard to understand him at times, you really had to work at it,” he said.  “But you know, we would take Bob up to the choir loft in his wheelchair and when he sang, every word came out clear as a bell.”

As Choir members and their families finished their meals, Ron DeLain rose to say a formal goodbye. “It was so great to be part of this group because of what we represented and who we are.  I hate to say goodbye.  I don’t want to say that we are finished.  So until we meet again, we’ll see you all again soon,” he said.

Jim Falk stood beside him and said, “God always loves a singer.  If we have an encore, that’s going to be up to the Holy Spirit.”

Some of the remaining members of the Boys Choir pose for a photo at St. John's Church

Some of the remaining members of the Boys Choir pose for a photo at St. John’s Church on April 14, 2013 (Photo by Jim Gallagher)

ORIGINAL GREEN BAY BOYS CHOIR MEMBERSHIP 1972-2012

FOUNDER

Bob Gallagher

DIRECTORS

Ron DeLain

Bob Gallagher

Norb Kalinoski

Rollie Macco

Bernie Schlafke

ORGANISTS

Lester Blaser, Jr.

Norb Froelich

Ms. Val Niraz

Mert Mueller

David Seering

MEMBERS

Jim Baenen

Don Bailey

Arnie Beimborn

Dick Bender

Ron Benzschaewl

Ray Berker

Milt Besanson

Dan Boettge

Jim Brawner

Carl Burkel

Keith Campbell

Jerry Chapman

Tom Coe

Harry Cygan

Larry De Groot

Jim De France

Bob Delacensarie

Bernie Delwiche

Steve Deneys

Gary Des Jardins

John Dolan

Dan Drossart

Steve Everson

Jim Falk

John Finco

Bob Flatley

Tony Frederichs

Bill Galvin

Ray Gantenbein

Larry Goeben

John Harrington

Dick Heardon

Leon Herlache

Cal Hirn

Gil Hoffman

Brian Holloway

Bud Huebner

Ralph Jenquin

Chuck Jones

Ray Josephs

Bob Juley

John Kafka

Dick Kalishek

Ed Kaufman

Tom Kiedinger

Peter Kiefer

Jeff Klarkowski

Rick Knaus

Larry Kust

Jerry Lemere

Carl Lewis

Chet Lewicki

Ron Liebergen

John Loritz

Tom Lukas

Joe Mader

John Mancheski

Ardo Mariucci

Ken Martin

Ken Mathys

Don Melberg

Bill Mielke

Tom Mielke

Francis Moes

Mark Monfort

Dean Mraz

Roland Murphy

Roger Navarre

Jim Neuser

Leo Nikowitz

Ivan Nowak

Ken Payette

Fred Pergande

Bill Phillips

John Prosser

Bud Pytlak

Pat Reed

Bill Ricker

Maury Robinson

Bob Rockstroh

Pat Sands

Jim Schiebel

Greg Schmitt

Ken Schuldes

Urban Schumacher

Bob Seering

Al Siudzinski

Del Skelton

Jack Smith

John Smits

Ron Spielbauer

John Thornton

Bernie Van Camp

John Van Rens

Jim Vande Walle

Don Van Straten

Earl Verheyden

Paul Wagner

Len Walczyk

Tom Washienko

Mike Wichowski

Larry Younk

“None of us Lives the Life that He Had Intended”

So you liked The Power of Myth...

So you liked The Power of Myth… (Photo credit: jay mann)

Reading from one of my favorite writers, mythologists and lecturers, Joseph Campbell, I remember:
“[Life] seems to have had an order, to have been composed by someone, and those events that were merely accidental when they happened turn out to be the main elements in a consistent plot. Who composed this plot? Just as your dreams are composed, so your whole life has been composed by the will within you. Just as the people who you met by chance became effective agents in the structuring of your life, so you have been the agent in the structuring of other lives. And the whole thing gears together like one big symphony, everything influencing and structuring everything else. It’s as though our lives were the dream of a single dreamer in which all of the dream characters are dreaming too. And so everything links to everything else moved out of the will in nature…It is as though there were an intention behind it yet it is all by chance. None of us lives the life that he had intended.”

Reading the Campbell quote seemed to connect to my thoughts this week when my siblings and I received a final draft of a tribute to my father Bob Gallagher.  Of his many talents, Bob loved to bring out his baritone voice and sing.  Nowhere did he enjoy doing so as when he started the “Boy’s Choir” in 1972 at St. John the Evangelist Church.  Every Saturday night at the 5:15 p.m. mass, the “Boys” – adult men who enjoyed singing — walked up the stairs into the choir loft with cymbals, drums and their sheet music to add their own version of musical prayer to the mass.  As Bob became ill, then wheelchair-bound, the choir carried on, electing a new director after he died nearly 20 years ago on Christmas Eve, 1993.  Last year — 40 some years after the choir began, Ron DeLain, one of the original “Boys”, reached out to my sister Susie and I.  It seemed the choir had reached its end and Ron wanted to create a memory of its existence.  He asked for our help to remember the details, and edit the copy, of a tribute he put together to commemorate all those years of song.

It was also a tribute to Dad.  Twenty some years after his death, they still remembered him and his earthly contributions.  If only we could all be so lucky.  But I wonder:  was it the life Dad intended?  Filled with family, business success, more than a few pranks and a great deal of laughter as well as the very real challenges of a debilitating illness that lead to his death at 65.  So somber and sad.  And still, someone from that inter-connected circle of his life remembered and found a way to keep his memory alive.  Maybe it is as Joseph Campbell says, “one big symphony, everything influencing and structuring everything else.”

Thank you Ron DeLain.

DeLain Ronald-Original GB Boys Choir-035316-035317-(160627)