Every so often, a person must look back into their past and evaluate who they are, from where they come, and perhaps the source of their genetic material. While I have no documentation to prove it, I believe I have a little Scot in my blood. I base this on the fact that I love the movie, Braveheart and look pretty good in a Kilt. Continue reading “Getting To My Roots”
Here’s the plan: Stop going so fast. Stop thinking about your next move. Stop looking forward without considering your current location.
It’s hard not to respond immediately to emails and telephone messages and texts. It’s hard not to flow with traffic on the interstate when it’s flying along at 75 miles per hour. It’s hard not to go fast. It’s hard to go slow. Continue reading “Slow It Down”
I don’t think I ever sent the letter. If I had, I doubt that it would be in my collection of important memorabilia. But at some point in my educational career, I wrote a note to a teacher that changed my life. In it, I thanked him for his advice concerning my spelling. But in reality, he gave me so much more.
I don’t remember his giving me this advice but given the state of my spelling in 6th grade (and to this day), I assume this interaction took place…frequently. Continue reading “Thank Yoo, Mr. Z.”
True story: I was sitting in a local Paradise Bakery working on my laptop. A local priest took a seat one table over and got out his laptop to work on his own project. A woman came in, spread her coat across a chairback a few tables away and started talking on her cell phone…very loudly.
It’s not uncommon for us to be interested in our legacy, and truthfully, I often wonder about the mark I will leave on this planet when I’m gone. We want to stand out. We want to make a difference. We want to be unique. We want to be known for something.
But the truth is, you are only one of the 7-BILLION people living on the planet today. A 2011 estimate suggests that at least 107-billion people have populated this planet over the course of all recorded time. Of those, only a rare few made it into the pages of your 5th-grade history book.
It’s the 2nd day in my new job. The office is only 4 miles from my house so I made the decision to ride my bike. I’m not a great cyclist, in fact, I’m pretty average. My bike is no racing machine. It is painted a funky shade of pink and has an extra-wide seat to make it more comfortable on my delicate back-side. Really, all I’m missing are tassels dangling from the grips, a little bell on the front, and a woven basket attached to the handlebars. But I should at least get points for trying, right?
As luck would have it, I pull up to the back door of the office just as two of my coworkers and the co-owner of the company get out of their cars. As I roll to a stop, I ask if it would be safe to lock my bike (a highly valued piece of equipment) to one of the guardrails posted around the parking lot. Before they can answer, I swing my leg over the seat of the bike to dismount. Unfortunately, I fail to account for the backpack strapped to the bike and my leg doesn’t make it over, which means neither do I.
In front of my new work team and my boss, I tumble over the bike, falling under the chain guard, and roll like a turtle into the parking lot.
As you can imagine, this is EXACTLY NOT the impression I was hoping to make after knowing these people an entire 8 hours.
So what do I do? How does one respond to this situation? What are my options? Well, Option one: I figure I can lay on the ground and pout about how unfair life is to me; how fate seems to have it in for me and how the world never cuts me a break. I could decide to never ride that stupid, pink bike again. I could decide to go home, turn in my resignation, end my employment with this new company because in their eyes (and certainly in mine) I look like a fool. I feel stupid and therefore, I must be stupid and they’ll never respect me again.
Option two: I could announce that I intended to do that pratfall as a practice move for my part-time job in the circus. On holidays and weekends I am, in fact, a member of a tumbling troupe of fellow clowns (Jocko and Bongo, my mentors, are old hands at this move and make it look so easy). My stage name is Splat-O.
Option three: I could get up, straighten the handlebars that are now at a 90-degree angle to my front tire, walk the bike over to a post, lock the bike and head upstairs for a day of work. After all, there are no bones broke. Nothing is hurt but my pride. There is work to do, processes to learn, training to complete.
My fall was only one of many that are sure to come in the days ahead. The bike tumble was a very visual representation of a minor misstep. But there will be others. It’s been true in every other job I’ve ever held. It’s been true of my family life. It’s certainly been true of my personal life.
The falls are going to come. It’s the way you respond that matters.
Learn from your mistakes and lean into the wisdom gained.
It was my leg that didn’t clear the bar. It was no one else’s fault.
I am not a clown. I am not stupid. I made an error in judgment related to the height of the bar and the extension of my leg. I own it. I pick myself up. I get back in the game.
THAT’s the impression I wanted to make after knowing these people an entire 8 hours…and every other day.
Perhaps it is because the season of winter bridges those seasons of autumn and spring that we bestow so much power to the New Year. We quickly transition from the dying of fall in which flowers, trees, and even the grass lose their color and their foliage, into a cold and barren landscape of winter that drapes itself in a blanket of white and long shadows, and finally, and for many, slowly into a season of new life; spring.
The old year passes. The new year begins. Dark at first, yes. Cold in its beginning, certainly. But the landscape, lonely and forsaken, contains a hidden hope for a brilliant spring; one filled with color, sound, and scents.
I never regret the winter months. They give me the opportunity to reflect: Sitting beside a warm fire, with a coffee in my hand on dark mornings, I ponder the meaning of life. I think about the things I can accomplish. I plan great and daring feats and dream big dreams as my dog sleeps at my feet.
January is a month for short days and long shadows. It is a month of solitude and visions of what can be. If I strive to be my very best when the days grow longer, and the sun once again warms the earth, I can achieve anything. January is a month of new beginnings, even before the snow has had a chance to melt away.
If my car tires and battery are new and my hat and mittens are at my side, I say bring on winter in all its glory. In my estimation, winter is not the end, but an exciting new beginning. It opens new chapters to the book of my life, and I am glad for it.
Modu likes to draw, and while he is not professionally trained, he has been able to create some beautiful work. On the wall in the lunch room in the Nessima Camp of Catania, his map of Africa is a featured image. To the right of the map, he’s added a proud lion, a towering giraffe, and a stately Baobab tree. He is quite good.
Together we sat at the table sharing our love of drawing. He drew an alligator. I drew a dragonfly.
Then we tried an experiment: I drew a squiggly line and asked him to make a picture out of this. He’d never played this “game” before, and it was quite a challenge. He couldn’t readily think of any option that might complete the picture. So, I asked him to draw a line, and then I finished the drawing adding some eyes, a nose, and a mouth. His squiggle became a man’s face.
We tried again. I turned Modu’s jotting into a car. I gave him another simple line, and he turned it into a box on top of a truck. He wrote the number 32, and I turned it into a man with glasses. I wrote the same number, and he turned it into a starling.
Finally, we returned to the original, complicated line. We studied it together for a few minutes. Even I found myself stymied by the nonsense image. And then inspiration hit. Modu picked up his pen and started to draw. In a matter of seconds, he’d turned a meaningless form into an original, creative image.
It was a flash of inspiration and a quick sketch, but a perfect example of cooperation and creativity. The image might not be gallery quality, but in my judgment, it wins an award any day.
I believe everything we need to know about life, we can learn from the birds. For instance, did you know that ducks are waterproof? Really. It’s true. But more on that later.
First, let’s talk about how hard life can be and how people can be very mean. It’s true, and you know it’s true. You can’t deny it. There are days when you walk out of your office, church, school, home, or beauty salon and wonder if you can ever return.
People say hurtful things. It is almost as if they relish in the painful look on your face. They search for ways to stab at your heart and wound your spirit. I don’t know why this happens; I can only assume that their pain must require this kind of pathetic response. This mode of living is sad; it is unfortunate for them and tragic for you. A life lived at this lowest level, day in and day out is toxic, and it can become debilitating and life-threatening if we don’t protect ourselves.
Here’s where the duck comes in. Did you know that there is a special gland located near the base of their tails called the Preen Gland? This fantastic adaptation produces a special oil that ducks use to coat their feathers. This oil, once applied to the surface of the feather, creates a protective barrier that keeps out the water and life-draining cold temperatures. It helps trap in their life-sustaining body heat.
But here’s the thing: The duck has to spend much of its time preening to benefit from this protection. Otherwise, the water world in which they live will kill them. Without self-care, the water will seep into the down feather layer and make it impossible for them to survive. Their self-maintenance saves their lives. Without this protection, they can’t float above the water. Without this self-care, the weight of the water in their down makes it impossible for them to fly away from danger. In short, without taking the time to take care of themselves, the ducks will die.
When is the last time you protected yourself from the constant barrage of negative statements and hurtful comments? When did you last take some time to prepare your outer shell, preen yourself, oil your feathers? Does the constant barrage roll off your back or does it seep in where your protection is weakest?
Allow me to offer some suggestions you might consider to strengthen your protective layer, keeping you safe from the hazards or interpersonal life:
Spend five minutes in solitude.
Speak words of encouragement to yourself and especially to others. (By the way, did you know how smart you are?)
Take time to look at art.
Go for a walk in the woods.
Take up a hobby. My wife enjoys knitting. I enjoy playing guitar.
Laugh. Watch a funny movie. Go to a comedy club. Read a comic book (I suggest the Far Side, whenever possible).
Sing at the top of your voice when you are in the car.
Pet a cat.
Walk a dog.
Eat an excellent meal.
Drink a fine wine. One glass will do.
Smell a beautiful flower.
Hug a good friend.
In short, preen. Take time to take care of yourself, and in the end, the vitriol of others will quickly roll away, like water off a duck’s back.