Posted on: Thursday, March 2, 2017
Maggie waits patiently for her turn to place the few groceries she has chosen for their dinner, trying hard not to acknowledge the sideways glances of those around her. Their awkward smiles and furtive looks, the meaningful whispers between friends at the sight of her little boy are all too common, sometimes too mean, but mostly just tiring in their regularity. She hardly sees the young man in the apron standing behind the register, focusing instead on her son as he eagerly steps up for his turn.
“Hello mister! We got all this stuff for dinner tonight and I’m buyin’ it for my Momma!” he announced unabashedly. The young man in the apron crouched slightly so the two of them were nearly the same height and replied, “That’s awesome! Your Momma is really lucky to have you to buy dinner for her!” as a smile broke like a wave across the little boy’s face. In that same instant the young man’s eyes met the young mother’s and he gave a slight nod to her saying, “Well then, let’s see what the damage is! Your little man must really take good care of you.”
In that instant, in that golden moment, all the sideways glances and mean-spirited whispers melted away under the light of grace as warm and soft as her son’s sleeping breath. Glancing at the tag on his chest, she whispered “Thank you, Richard” to the young man in the apron as he counted the change and deposited the shining copper and silver coins in her son’s small hand. Such a simple thing, a non-thing really that transpires between people all the time, which meant so much to a young mother and her son.
Grace seems such a rarity. Dignity seems so unexpected, so surprising to us when it rises up among us. But both go with us wherever we are waiting to be given, received, witnessed. They are both our gift and our strength which we give and receive from each other. They point out our humanity to us. With grace we are able to acknowledge our moments of weakness or vulnerability. Our sometimes less than perfect selves. Dignity lifts us up and holds us up to each other. It gives us hope when we see it in others and fortifies us when see it on ourselves.
Posted on: Friday, February 24, 2017
Recently I’ve been watching a documentary about the Eagles from their beginnings in the early days of the southern California music scene through their hiatus (because, for the record, they never really broke up), and their eventual reunion when hell indeed froze over. It was so interesting to me to listen to Glenn Frey and Don Henley talk about their start in music and how they ended up in California learning to make music together with the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Bob Seger, and Jackson Browne.
One of the stories that really stood out to me was hearing Glenn talk about the time he spent with Bob Seger. At the time Glenn had been playing with a cover band and Bob was telling him that if he really wanted to be successful, he would have to write his own songs. Glenn said he had written a little, but his songs weren’t very good, to which Bob said to write them till they are good! That story really stood out to me. Growing up with the Eagles as part of the soundtrack of my life, it struck me that Glenn Frey, who would go on to write and sing some of the best songs ever recorded, struggled with doubt about his ability just as he was beginning his career.
When they got going, when Glenn, Don, Bernie, and Randy became the Eagles, the one thing they all had in mind was to be the best musicians and song writers they could be. Their journey took them to places they probably only dared dream of. Along the way they were joined by others for the trip (the other Don, Joe, JD, and Timothy) that took them all down life in the fast lane and on dark desert highways.
Listening to them all tell their stories, it was clear that they were all working hard to achieve a vision. They all had an idea, a something to shoot for that kept them going. And so they were propelled forward. It wasn’t always easy and the occasionally had to adjust course, but they kept on toward something important to them.
Finding that “something” to shoot for is important. It gets us up in the morning and keeps us looking somewhere out on that horizon. Some of us take the first steps of our journeys with uncertainty. Others blast away from the launch pad in a blaze of fire and confidence. Either way, the thing we have in common is that we began somewhere on our journeys. Even if we find ourselves stuck on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and have to change course, we are closer to having reached our “something” simply because we started.
Posted on: Friday, February 17, 2017
Weekly Wisdom 2-17-2017
“It’s snowing still”, said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“Yes”, said Eeyore. “However”, he said brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
We’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Cold winter days with more snow than we’ve had in a while, a closure (which might have been good news for some!), and that swashbuckling sea captain from the East telling us we’re in for more. And yet the days are getting just a little longer, the robins have returned to our trees, and the forecast is calling for sunnier days. Soon the snow will begin its stubborn retreat, the breezes will shift and begin to whisper of spring, and the earliest of flowers will defiantly bloom through the snow. Optimism is in the air.
I’ve always lived in places where time is marked by the changing seasons. I remember the smell of hay in the barn on the cold Ohio air. I’ve borne up to the sweltering heat and the weight of the humidity of August days in Missouri. Each had its time and each eventually gave way to spring or fall in accord with their appointed time. And in following their turn, each has given us not only a changing of seasons, but a sense of optimism and of future. A sense of reassurance that the patterns of life do change just as the tides rise and fall.
Just as our fathers and mothers before us, we look ahead. Even as the cold days of winter frost our windows and drive up our heating bills, we look forward. We know change isn’t far away, and so we plan. We day dream. And we hope.
I remember the story of Viktor Frankl’s time in concentration camps, of being separated from his family and his wife. Yet on a cold day he had a vision of his wife standing before him as if she were there with him, even though he had no way of knowing where she was or if she was even still alive. He discovered the power of love and a sense that he still had something he must do gave him the strength to survive. To look to the future. To find some small reason for optimism in one of the worst places in history.
I like to think people are generally optimistic. We all have reasons for looking ahead.
Unfinished business, unfulfilled goals or unspoken words we hold on to till we see each other again. We find reasons with each other every day to be optimistic, to be hopeful, supportive, or to be strong for family we love, friends we spend time with, and maybe even for the people we work with. On the worst days of my life I’ve known two things; the sun will come up tomorrow (and no, that’s not a reference to Annie!) and things to get better. And on my best days? Well, I try not to take them for granted like I did when I was younger. I hear the little voice in my mind reminding me that “right here, right now is the best place I can be.”
Posted on: Thursday, February 2, 2017
Punxsutawney Phil was a bold explorer and grand adventurer who led a rough and tumble crew of society’s rejects and cast offs aboard the good ship Earnest up and down the east coast of North America from Halifax to St. Augustine as privateer or pirate depending on the profit to be gained.
Okay, that’s not really true, but I’ll bet that version of Phil would have some great stories to tell! We know Punxsutawney Phil is a groundhog in Pennsylvania whose been predicting the arrival of spring for over 130 years. The celebration we see today was carried over by German immigrants in the 1770s and has its roots in Candlemas. Originally, the task of predicting spring’s arrival was assigned to the European hedgehog, but the Germans found the groundhog was an intelligent animal who could handle the responsibility and there were a lot of them in the Pennsylvania country side! In 1886 the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper made it official when it printed the first observance of Groundhog Day and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today Phil is a celebrity who draws crowds of as many as 30,000 to the small town in Pennsylvania every year to try to catch a glimpse of him rising from his burrow and the tradition continues. But what really happens every February 2, what really matters is that for a few moments at least, we are all joined in the question of when spring is coming. We’re joined in that question because of tradition. In an article in the Huffington Post, Katharine Rose supposed the reason traditions are important is they call us to remember and grow.
I think it’s also true that our traditions unite us as friends, family, coworkers, and countrymen. Sometimes we don’t even know why we celebrate a particular tradition, which may or not even be all that important in and of itself. We don’t even all observe the same traditions because we don’t share the same history and customs which can separate us if we let it. But as Americans we are and amalgam of histories, cultures, and stories which become uniquely our own larger story and become the fabric of our shared culture.
So the observances of Groundhog Day might be more important to some of us than to others, but the real reason it’s important is that for in those few moments we look to the east to see what a small animal in Pennsylvania predicts, we are united. We are one.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 25, 2017
There is a philosopher and his small group of friends that just about all of us have known just about all our lives. He ponders big meaningful things like friendship, patience, and love, but somehow he’s able to express such great big thoughts in small little ways that reach us all. These little truths have become part of the back drop of our lives and hang on the boughs of our own experiences waiting to be heard again at the tug of a memory from a place and time we once shared with him.
“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you,” is a popular, sentimental quote I’ve seen a lot of recently. I came across a pair of his thoughts the other day that felt meaningful to me when I read them. Like most of his thoughts they’re a little funny, innocently expressed, but they ring like tiny bells of truth when we hear them. Probably, I think, because we see ourselves a little bit in these simple words of Pooh.
“Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
There was a long silence.
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything.”
Some may find this exchange meaningless, some might even be a little offended by it…I guess it depends on who you identify with. Of course we all have brains and we’re all reasonable people, but we’re also all a little bit of Rabbit and a little bit of Pooh, which is why we don’t always understand each other.
“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”
We do have stresses that burdens us, weigh us down, keep us awake at night, and make us afraid to say or do something. We’ve read articles or heard news about how stress can be both good and bad for us. It can motivate us to achieve or it can grow into an awful thing that hurts our health, hurts our relationships, and holds us back from doing things we wish we could. A wise little bear reminds us our stress is often much more Thingish when we carry it around inside because we fear what might happen if the terrible Thing gets out. Whether we confide in a good friend or a family member, or meditate, or exercise to relieve ourselves of the Thingish Things in our lives, finding relief is important. It’s not always easy, though. Fear is a terrible guardian of Things while it’s having its way with us it is, but maybe there is one last bit of wisdom that can help when we find ourselves hurting and worrying over our Thingish Things. I’ll bet more than one of you already knows
“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Posted on: Wednesday, January 18, 2017
By Stephen Sarchet
I find it odd to be writing a column called Weekly Wisdom because I don’t believe by any stretch of the imagination to be any wiser that anyone else nor to have answers of any importance. With that in mind, please accept my musings with a grain of salt for in the end, that’s all they really are!
This week we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day and enjoyed a long weekend in recognition of one of America’s historical figures. In the evening of the holiday, I found myself wondering about him, which in turn got me to thinking about how knowing someone makes them more real to me, which in turn got me thinking that I don’t really know much about Dr. King. That circular thought rolled itself around my mind through a restless night and was my first thought on waking. I needed to know more about the man so that I could “know” the person he was rather than the name on a calendar.
I learned that he was born Michael King Jr. in Montgomery Alabama in 1929. His father, Michael King Sr., changed his name to Martin Luther King after a trip to Germany in 1931 as an homage to the theologian Martin Luther. Michael Jr. became Martin Luther Jr. when he was two years old. I learned that Martin Luther King Jr. entered Morehouse College when he was only 15 years old and he wasn’t originally interested in pursuing the ministry like his father until the college president, Dr. Benjamin Ray, influenced him to pursue it. He entered Boston University to get his graduate degree, and after completing his doctorate in systematic theology, and became a pastor like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him. Boston U is also where he met Coretta who was studying music and singing. I like the thought that these two people, he from Georgia and she from Alabama, should meet in a place so far from either of their homes and become a family. It is a personal story that is similar to my own story of meeting the girl who would become my wife.
He helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was elected its president in 1957, a position he would hold until his death in 1968. After being arrested for helping organize a voter registration movement in Montgomery, Alabama in 1963, he wrote Letter from Birmingham Jail, which I had never read before this week. In reading his words I found I admired the man who wrote them for his conviction in his ideals, not just for himself, but for all of us. I admired his personal courage in living up to his own beliefs. I recalled the images of the police attacking protestors with dogs and firehoses as the backdrop of his words, I believed him when he said “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”, and was moved by his description of having to explain to his six year old daughter why she can’t go to an amusement park she sees advertised on TV and the knowledge of the impact it will have on her, of seeing the “ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky”. I could see that he found himself caught in the cross roads of change. His personal belief in peaceful means for change stood at odds with the rising tide of proponents of change by any means necessary. I could feel his frustration with those he hoped would add their own voices and support, but who remained silent.
So I come back to where I started. I know better than to pretend I can relate to the struggle, but in knowing more about the person he was, he becomes personal for me, more human, which I think is the same for any of us.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 4, 2017
The Ultimate Affirmation
Every accomplishment is based on action, not on thought...yet the thought is always father to the deed. Achievement starts with an idea, a perspective, a point of view, and an attitude: the attitude that no matter what, you will do what it takes to reach your goals -- and live the life you want to live.
To do that, here's one affirmation you should repeat at the start of every day. It's referred to as "The Man in the Arena" and is an excerpt from this 1910 Teddy Roosevelt speech…Try it. But don't just read it to yourself -- read it out loud. Stand tall. Stand proudly. Don't just say the words -- feel the words:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
The best way to be different is to do the things other people refuse to do.
The best way to life the life you want to live is to stop worrying about what other people think.
The best way to succeed is to outthink, out hustle, and outwork everyone else.
You may not be as experienced, as well funded, as well connected, or as talented... but you can always do more than other people are willing to do. Even when everything else seems stacked against you, effort and persistence can still be your competitive advantages -- and they may be the only advantages you truly need.
Dare greatly. Know victory. Know defeat.
And every day, commit to living the life you want to live.
Available here at www.inc.com. By Jeff Haden. Published December 28, 2016.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 28, 2016
The end of a year is nostalgic for many and I’m no exception. I’m not big on resolutions. Just like a large percentage of the population, I don’t keep them. So why make them? But I’ve considered one, just one, this year. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about those other people. You know, those who think about the world differently than I do. I know they are people just like me. I know they don’t hope that the world “goes to hell in a handbasket,” as my father used to say. I’m making the commitment to purposefully interact more with people who I perceive think differently than I do. Maybe I’ll setup a lunch or coffee date and ask some questions. I’m hopeful this will help me be more positive about the future. Who knows what it’ll bring. The older I get I become more and more aware of what I don’t know. How about you? Making any changes?
I read this recently in The Sun, “…an independent, ad-free magazine that for more than forty years has used words and photographs to evoke the splendor and heartache of being human.”
I met Betsy in College on the first day of Comparative Religious Thought, when we clashed during a classroom debate. She called me intolerant while I played the role of persecuted martyr standing up for my Christian faith. The professor watched us go at it for fifteen minutes. Betsy made a few points that challenged my beliefs, and I was embarrassed not to have a better defense.
When class was over, I made a swift exit, but Betsy found me outside. “I disagree with everything you said,” she told me, “but I like you. Want to have lunch?”
I accepted, and for the rest of the semester we would argue our beliefs in class and then eat lunch together afterward as if nothing had happened. Betsy inspired me to dig deeper into my faith and to ask questions rather than accept the platitudes I heard in church. I stopped trying to convert her and learned to appreciate her for who she was. She taught me to think for myself and not be afraid of not having all the answers.
Years later Betsy was a bridesmaid in my wedding. We still joke that our friendship doesn’t make sense, but that’s precisely why it works.
Will be available at http://thesunmagazine.org/ in February 2017
From a TED Talk by Elizabeth Lesser: Say Your Truths and Seek Them in Others (available here):
So those are the three lessons I took with me…
One: uncover your soul.
Two: when things get difficult or painful, try to stay open.
And three: every now and then, step off your hamster wheel into deep time.
You don't have to wait for a life-or-death situation to clean up the relationships that matter to you, to offer the marrow of your soul and to seek it in another. We can all do this. We can be like a new kind of first responder, like the one to take the first courageous step toward the other, and to do something or try to do something other than rejection or attack. We can do this with our siblings and our mates and our friends and our colleagues. We can do this with the disconnection and the discord all around us. We can do this for the soul of the world.
Happy New Year, Everyone.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Inspiration comes in all forms. I get a lot of mail selling things from training ideas to computing solutions to rewards and recognition programs. I also get information from other institutions. I received the following as a marketing campaign from Berea College. Berea is a small Christian-based college in Kentucky. I liked the story, by Ernest “Ernie” Graham, Class of 1949:
One Sunday afternoon in the 1940s, a former student told me that a friend of ours was in the hospital and needed blood. I got in a car and left campus immediately, without permission. I gave blood and returned to the campus that evening.
On Monday morning, I received a note to report to Dean Shutt’s office immediately. Dean Shutt was very stern and asked me if I had left the campus on Sunday without permission. I informed Dean that I had left the campus in a great rush to go to Lexington, Kentucky to give blood to a friend.
Since I left without permission, Dean would have to find me $5, as this was a very serious violation of the rules.
I informed Dean Shutt that I did not have $5 and that I would have to work a long time to pay the bill. At that time, I made twelve cents an hour at my Berea College campus job.
At the beginning of the next quarter, I went to the Labor Office to settle my bill for the next nine weeks of school. The cost was $36.20, including the fine, and I knew that I was going to be short and would have to get a student loan.
I stood in line wondering what I was going to do when I was told that I did not have enough money to pay the bill. A college student was in charge of my line, and I gave her my name. She pulled my file out and hesitated for a brief moment.
A great smile appeared on her face, and she told me that I had received a scholarship for the full amount of my bill for “my willingness to help others.” Dean Shutt had recommended me for the scholarship and I was very relieved to be debt free.
I feel like we have the ability every day to do good work as this story illustrates for both Dean Shutt and Mr. Graham. Each led with their heart and did the right thing. Here are CWU, we call this the Wildcat Way. Have a great week.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Pearl Harbor Day
It's Pearl Harbor Day. Seventy-five years ago today, at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appeared out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II. The next day, President Roosevelt called it, “…a date which will live in infamy.”
From the Boston Globe, 12/7/16, available here.
When Robert Greenleaf closes his eyes, he still sees the red circles painted on the wings of Japanese warplanes headed toward nearby Pearl Harbor. He was 19 then, a gunner’s mate third class in the Navy. Suddenly, he was at war, frantically loading Browning .50 caliber machine guns.
“When we saw the red meatballs on the wings,” he recalled, “we realized who they were.” Greenleaf, now 94, is among a dwindling number of veterans who were on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941, when a Japanese surprise attack killed more than 2,400 people, and propelled the United States into World War II.
Now, 75 years later, the impact of that day — ingrained in the psyche of earlier generations — is softened by the passing decades and the more recent tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. The front page of the Globe’s morning edition on Dec. 8, 1941, was dominated by coverage of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Greenleaf was promoted weeks before the attack, which claimed at least 1,177 lives when the USS Arizona sank.
“I asked a girl one day at the high school track what she knew about Pearl Harbor,”Greenleaf recalled, “and the girl said, ‘Who is she?’”
The number of living veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack is not known, according to the Pentagon and Navy. But Lou Large, department president of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor survivors, said he had heard only 400 remain alive. Greenleaf, who is house bound, does not plan to be there. Neither does George Hursey, a 96 year old Brockton man attached to the Army artillery on Oahu 75 years ago.
“We did what we trained for,” Hursey said. “It’s years and years and years ago. My God, 75 years.” As vivid as those memories are for Greenleaf and Hursey, that day is ancient history for nearly everyone else.
Seventy-five years is a long time. My dad at 92 remembers. He wasn’t at Pearl Harbor, but he was alive and he remembers. Lots has changed in 75 years, but some things haven’t. I hope we all remember, on this day and every day, that we live in a country where we are free. Free to say just about anything that is on our minds. Free to make mistakes. Free to make a million dollars. We must remember we owe our freedom to many, many people who sacrificed much.