Vaccine Drive Illustrates Sense of Community

I could not shake the feeling of sitting awash in a moment of history in the making.

This week joined volunteers at the Galveston County Health Departments’ mass COVID vaccination site in League City. With more than 2,000 expected to receive their initial shots, the human faces were as diverse and colorful as tiles in a piece of mosaic art. Each face, each smile, carrying a distinctive path to moment.

My job was to work with a team of volunteers fanning out deep into the traffic, checking paperwork, confirming names, and placing bracelets on the wrists of qualifying individuals.

“Thank you, and God bless you.”

While the grey skies drizzled throughout the day, the warmth of smiles and kind words inside the cars insulated me from the cold.

Lines were long, but the payoff would represent a decisive step to protect them from the dangerous virus, which has taken over 500,000 American lives.

On a human level, spending a day looking into the eyes of people eager to get their first shot proves emotionally powerful. You see the lines on their faces, the wrinkles around the eyes, and the occasional tear welling up as the plastic bracelet snaps around their wrist.

A white full-size pickup truck pulls up, a sheriff’s deputy behind the wheel, his beige western hat nodding to the passenger. There sits a quiet older man wearing a blue WWII veteran’s hat. As I confirm his name, I can’t help but imagine what his eyes witnessed up to this moment and how he must feel. As a member of The Greatest Generation, he is here, again, front and center in a vital moment of history.

The bracelet snaps around his thin wrist; he thanks the volunteer and the truck pulls forward – the soldier’s next personal moment in history one step closer.

And then there are the cars filled with adult children driving their elderly parents for appointments, some playing the translator’s role. And with each interaction, you are reminded of the rich and powerful melting pot of our region. So many individual backstories, but all aligned with one purpose on this day.

Long lines extend beyond my view, but people are excited and almost – if I say – giddy. Today is their day, the opportunity to protect themselves, their friends, and their loved ones. Their effort is every bit as important as the volunteers working the site. They, too, were playing a critical role in pushing back the COVID threat.

And then, behind the scenes, are volunteer health care workers: retired medical doctors, nurses, and others showing up to play their part. And long after the lines ended on my side, they continued for the better part of an hour.

Thanks to the Galveston County Health Department, the volunteers, and everyone who played a part in receiving their initial shots this week. Each contribution is critical.

This vaccine effort is our moment in history, each shot bringing us closer to winning this war against the virus.

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If you wish to learn more about volunteering, please visit https://gcoem.org/volunteers-needed-for-covid-19-vaccine-hub-sites

Warm Hearts Melt Icy Conditions

The worst of times seem to bring out the best in people.

This week’s deep freeze event set records in not only temperatures but in levels of pain and frustration for people across Texas. Overnight, water, electricity, and heat became the most valuable commodities on most people’s minds. And for many, the pain and memories will remain in the present long after the temperatures return to normal.

But we need to not let the memories of the most honest of human gestures melt away with the ice and snow. No, we need to make ourselves pause and give the better nature of people the respect due. For those anonymous hands and voices can make the difference between despair or inspiration.

My experiences are probably no different in intent from those of others, but the cumulative effect on others is what makes our community special.

This week I know of a husband and wife living in dangerously cold conditions, declining offers from friends and others to leave their home. And while understandable, here is where an angel with hot home-made pasta dish landed.

People who tend to help others tend to have oversized hearts and undersized egos. Their concern and motivations, rooted in the servant leadership calling, allows them to selflessly and effortlessly work to help others. Self-attention is the last thing they want.

But word gets around.

This individual drove across icy roads to deliver a hot meal to the husband and wife iced into their home. Days without electricity and heat are difficult; for people with few options, a home-cooked meal is a godsend. And navigating frozen steps to deliver is, pardon the pun, icing on the cake. I also heard of another person opening up a small rental house they owned to help others get much-needed showers and heat.

Personally, one friend came over to our house to show me how to properly prepare a specific outside plumbing fixture, while another allowed me to tap his reserve of dry firewood for days.

But I’ll bet my list is pale compared to what you are hearing. As challenging as circumstances can be, people tend to rise and help each other and those in need. No matter how difficult, our better instincts and actions – however humble and not wanting attention – win out the day.

For every scuffle in line for gasoline, there dozens of acts of kindness going on around them. A nod to the next car, allowing them in, to another offering a tip on how to manage flushing toilets without running water. The shared experiences of kindness will always outweigh the isolated incidents of selfishness.

Importantly, let us not forget there remains a lot of pain and need out there. Commit to focusing not on what you lack but on those who lack more than you. Making a positive difference in the world each day can be a simple as asking around. Call your Salvation Army. Call your local houses of worship. Be the difference.

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Deep Dish For Deep Love

For Valentine’s Day, my wife and I are going to bake a homemade pizza. And to be truthful, we do not know how this will work out. But the tradition of a low-key Valentine’s Day is alive and well in our home.

Understand we love Valentine’s Day as much as the next person. And over the year, we played a role in keeping the greeting cards in business. But for extravagant gifts, not so much.

Being as we are now on our 39th Valentine’s Day together, the holiday remains stubbornly low-key. For decades we would watch a splotched VHS version of Disney’s Lady and the Tramp on a small television screen and order a budget-friendly delivery pizza. As perennially broke college kids, you do the best you can with what you have. And as for money, again, the best generally came in the simplest of terms.

As the years passed along and circumstances improved, I learned bringing home a dozen red roses more likely to put me in the doghouse than her arms. The cost of the crimson red sirens of love during high season hung over the holiday like a low-country fog, seeping into every crack and cranny of the holiday. A total backfire and one I learned not to repeat.

The funny thing about traveling side-by-side most of your life with the same person is no matter how the circumstances change, you essentially remain rooted in the humble ground where you began.

Mark that down as reason number 1,382 that I love that woman so much.

I am confident we could win a million-dollar lottery, and she would remain grounded and unselfish. Go find a way to help someone who needs a hand, she would tell me. Make a difference; we have a roof over our heads and shoes on our feet.

One of our most prized Valentine’s Day decorations cost mere pennies to bring into our lives.

Created with a leftover red poster board and a can of black spray paint, we would not trade the artwork for anything from the Louvre Museum in Paris. The honest emotion and simplicity, the letters scrawled on the hand-trimmed heart-shaped board are priceless to us. Now faded and a veteran of nearly a dozen moves around the county, the artwork adorns our fireplace this year.

The letters are simple as if carved into a fencepost: LW + MW

As I said, this year, we will be baking a deep-dish Chicago-style pizza from scratch. A culinary experiment, and we have no idea how this will work out. But we do know, no matter what, the memories in our minds will last far beyond those of our tastebuds. Many times, you define success is by the moments you create, not the outcome.

Valentine’s Day is for lovers. Jump in, make memories, and never forget happiness does not always come with a receipt.

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When in doubt, Drink The Champagne


My wife and I are drinking a lot of champagne these days.

Well, I am not speaking literally.

A New Year’s Eve a few years back, we were searching for the perfect bottle to kick off the coming year. To help us make a good selection, we even asked for advice from an employee in the store. Big man, warm smile, and a silver ponytail resting between his shoulders.

Reaching into a black metal case, his muscular hands extended a blue bottle towards us, cradling as if holding a newborn baby.

“This is one I’d highly recommend,” he said. “I have actually visited this vineyard in France. I first tasted this bottle will sitting in a grove outside the building.”

The story sold us hook, line, and sinker. We left the store with a discovery under one arm and a romantic tale planted in our hearts.

The story, however, runs out of fizz here.

Getting home, we placed the blue bottle into the refrigerator. And for one reason or another, the blue bottle spent the next twelve months taking turns standing next to jars of pickle spears and or salsa.

But in those same twelve months, a good friend of mine went from healthy to abruptly losing his life from an unexpected illness. For me, his death continues to leave a loud dent in my soul.

His spirit was one of loving life and taking every opportunity to learn and greet new experiences. In retrospect, he lived as if somewhere along the way, he somehow peeked at the end of his personal story and tried to outlive the number of remaining pages.

As the new year approached, my wife and I, still stinging from my friend’s passing, spotted the blue bottle nested in the back of the refrigerator. Now sandwiched behind a carton of Almond Milk and bottled water, we recognized the bottle as a as a reminder of missed opportunity, one my friend would certainly not let slide past.

Looking at each other, we agreed the bottle would never see the closing of another year. From that day, the bottle silently shouted a reminder of moments missed. And in the name of my friend, my wife and I decided to live differently. Never would we carelessly push aside the opportunities under the false flag of believing our future days remain unlimited.

Three words now scroll across a chalkboard in the kitchen: “Drink the champagne.”

Drinking the champagne is not about alcohol, although the results of living life with your eyes wide open are intoxicating.

Something inside says to call a friend? You call your friend. Feel like learning to cook a new dish? You cook it. A book you want to read? You read it.

Being predisposed to action or no longer putting off life is powerfully rewarding. After all, living is for the brave, those with the courage to balance life with responsibility and dreams. Doing less is to sentence yourself to a deathbed of painful and needless regrets.

Drink the champagne.

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Art of political discussion a kitchen table lesson

My mom and dad would return from the voting polls, each laughing and claiming they’d canceled each other’s vote. She, an immigrant from Scotland and naturalized citizen, and he a Mid-Western with his boot planted deeply in the traditional values. Voting was equally important to each of them.

I was young, and the concept of voting was only beginning to take shape in my mind.

Interestingly, I never heard an argument. Discussions, yes? Raised voices and name-calling? Never. And for me, this became a formative point of view of how to discuss politics. Adults, so I witnessed, exchanged ideas with skill and fact-based discussions.

Somehow, I find myself out of sync with today’s world.

As kids, many of our lessons on life play out at the kitchen table. And I am no different. My parents, while viewing the world from slightly different angles, openly discussed their differences of opinion. And remarkably, both, on occasion, one might inch towards the other after such a talk.

The kitchen table proved a great training ground for me as an adult.

Granted, I regularly get labeled as a secret member of the far end of either the liberal or conservative scope in the same week. But the truth is, I’m more of a reflection of what I learned at the kitchen table—listening, considering, and asking myself if I can take away from the other person’s view. And many times, I gain valuable insight.

That is how our democracy works – or at least, so it did at our kitchen table.

I know I’ve more salt than pepper in my hair, but I do pang for a more civil environment for political discussion. Top-shelf, emotional generalizations seem more the norm today instead of the art of debate. The putting up walls reduces both sides’ opportunity to learn more and – just maybe – come always feeling a bit different.

From the kitchen table, I learned to speak with respect, listen, and be willing to accept I may not always be right.

President Ronald Reagan and then-Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil shared a similar understanding. With both approachings from different political parties and a list of platform wishes, they understood that finding a way to move forward took precedence over individual ego and needs.

History tells of how Regan and O’Neil would sit down – one on one – and share each other’s point of view, both understanding neither would walk away until they could agree. Some sessions were longer than others, but both understood neither stood larger than the common good for their constituents across the country. No bully pulpit, no silly posturing, and no name-calling. They were getting the people’s work done.

I miss the kitchen table. Know if you want to discuss a difference of opinion, I’ll always extend you respect, listen for quantifiable and well-sourced facts, and never, ever call you a name.

And if I do, I fully expect my mom to reach down from heaven and slap me.

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Dogs and Man Share Special Bond

I’m sitting outside a quiet roadside dinner in western Texas, a sea of cloudless skies arch above. Blue is the designated color of the day in Marfa.

A white Ford F-350 truck sits behind me, exhaling as the motor block cools. Tick, tick, tick. I take a pull from my chilled Topo Chico.

I feel eyes on the back of my neck. Turning, I look up to find a small black and tan ranch dog resting on the roof of the pickup, and nose pointed down for the best herding view. Today, we are his livestock, his charge.

A sucker for dogs, I get up and walk over. The dog jumps up, making sure I understand the truck is his turf, and I shouldn’t think of making any stupid moves. My boots pause in the gravel, and I offer a hello. Another head pops up to greet me.

A voice comes from out from behind the truck.

“Hello,” says the young man, sharing his dog’s name.

“She’s a sweetheart, don’t worry,” he says.

Dressed in worn blue jeans, a western work shirt, and a pair of boots worn on a ranch, he smiles and tips his hat. There is a welcoming air to words.

“She’s my newest, the other’s ones offspring.”

Both dogs share a black coat with tan accents and effortlessly migrate across the truck bed filled with tools to his voice. Neither weighs 30 pounds wet and caked with mud.

“Love them both.”

We get to talking dogs.

“I was looking for just the right size dog, ones I could take anywhere, go anywhere. They fit the bill perfectly.”

He tells me he moved to western Texas after years of wishing to work a ranch and do the work himself. He needed help and went looking. Soon he ran across the older dog and was hooked.

Inviting me to brush my hand against the dog’s coat, he explains wire-like texture allows it to run through nearly any brush. Steel wool comes to my mind.

The young man is polite and well-spoken, as friendly as a screen porch in summer.

The dogs keep a watchful eye from the roof of the truck. He and I talk breeds, share dog stories, and wallow around knee-deep in general dog fandom for a few minutes. They may be his working dogs, but they are much more that – each is a part of the things that bring joy to his life.

The younger one comes over, nudging her head beneath his hand, begging for more attention.

And if I didn’t think he could soften more, he leans in and speaks softly to the pup. The bond is unmistakable.

His breakfast comes out in a takeaway bag. He settles with the waitress and tips his hat.

The dogs jump back into the bed as he fires up the big motor.

I watch as the dogs and young man head down the dusty road, knowing there is a whole lot of love riding in the truck.

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Returning to Old-School Friendship

Friendship is one of the most valuable gifts we can extend to another.

“To have a good friend, you must first be a good friend.”

These words, written to me last month by a friend in Georgia after learning of my loss of my lifelong childhood friend, broke out from hundreds of other condolences, and refuses to leave me alone.

The author, too, is a good friend.

In today’s world, we tend to toss around the currency of calling people friends like feeding carp at the end of a wooden fishing dock. From considering everyone we connect with on Facebook to stretching a passing relationship into our once guarded legion of friendship, we dilute the value of one of our most precious gifts.

The author is someone I consider a friend. We know each other’s character, family, and a fair bit of personal history. My wife and I feel he and his wife are role models for marriage – always laughing, extending respect, and family-centered.

He was there when a seagull let loose a deposit from above, splattering across my head. I think once you share a moment like that, friendship is like a natural progression.

But his words ring so true. Friendship isn’t earned or passed out like free samples of ice cream on a hot summer day.

Friends are someone you know – warts and all.

I thought about how this applied to those I consider – at least in the 20th-century definition – friends. The investment in time, love, and ups and downs all require effort on each other’s part. My old-school definition tends to be those we’ve never really been out of contact with, always finding reasons to speak to one another regardless of what state or stage of life we live.

As for my friend who passed last month, he and I called or spoke to one other on each other’s birthday for more than 50 years. Each year we’d open the call with “Happy birthday, old man,” and laugh our way into wherever the next 15 minutes wandered. The good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between.

My Georgia friend’s words will forever alter my understanding of friendship after losing my childhood friend.

A friend is someone you share a relationship string with like no other. You’ve most likely gotten sideways at times, helped through a family crisis, and known when to silently sit while they vent – knowing your advice is not wanted, only your presence.

Friends also share embarrassing experiences, many you hope would just as soon remain between the two of you. And friends, no matter where they are at the moment, will drop everything to be by the other’s side in a time of need.

And finally, a friend is never looking for something in return on their investment. You being you is all that is required. And that is true friendship. 

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2021: The Year We Take Back Our Lives


Finally. Welcome, 2021. Many of us thought you’d never get here.

One year ago, we shared a handful of aspirations for 2020. Many of us likely planned to lose a few pounds, spend more time with friends and family, and committed to cutting back our growing binge-watching problem on Netflix.

Well, 2020 rudely hijacked that plan.

Here I sit on the first week of a new year with a new friend I’ll call “Mr. COVID Fluff” tugging at my midsection. I am also thirsty for the faces of friends and family. And somehow, in 2020, I consumed enough British crime series episodes to give me a faint accent.

Let’s take back our lives in 2021.

First of all, let’s keep calm and carry on (oops, here come that British influence again) as we support our health care and front-line workers managing the disruptive nature of the COVID pandemic. Science proves we need to ramp up our end of the equation, not let down our guard. Mask up, give space, and wash your hands. Doing so is the best way we can get to the next part of our list.

I miss my friends and family terribly. Sorry, but Zoom isn’t quenching my thirst. As we cross over to a safer environment in 2021, hugs will be on the menu. Extra helpings will be free, no coupons necessary.

Earlier this week, a friend told me she’d gone three months without human contact – and doing was so painful. As humans, we need the touch of another, in love or pain. Let’s not forget this when on the other side of this pandemic.

As for my new friend, Mr. COVID Fluff, he’ is going. Hit to door, do not collect $200, cheerio (sorry, British vocabulary sneaking in again.).

Yes, staying at home for extended periods allowed us to exercise regularly, take walks around the block, and focus on our health. But the newfound time also meant walking through the kitchen about 100 times a day. Make the 101 some days.

Stress eating is real – and I am proof. No matter how much I ramped up my exercising, some of those 10,000 steps a day took place in the kitchen. One snack won’t hurt, I’d kid myself. Eventually, I considered putting up a pet gate and yellow crime tape during certain hours to protect me from those tiny frosted cookies behind the cabinet doors. Still might.

Mr. COVID Fluff needs to take a deep dive into the Thames River (dang, British crime shows influence again).

As for binge-watching British crime shows, well, that one might stick. The shows are so darn good. And now I’ve discovered equally good shows from Australia, New Zealand, Poland, and other far reaches of the globe. In short, subtitles changed my life forever. If you need recommendations, feel free to ask.

I’m optimistic about 2021. We shape our world with our thoughts and actions. And, as they say in England, a stiff upper lip doesn’t’ hurt either.

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With a little looking, we can find the good in 2020

2020 is going down as the year people love to hate.

To be honest, that’s not a hard train to jump aboard. With the devastating effects of COVID, widespread economic disruption and corrosive politics, many would like this to be the year to forget.

We cannot — nor should we — be sugarcoating the pain this year inflicted on so many.

But what if we searched the year for the positives to take forward into the new year?

Below are a few of what I’ll call revelations for me during this year of (you fill in the blank).

Personal reflection: I remember a friend first bringing this forward during a particularly frightful period of the year — a period with more unknowns than answers, more pain than healing. A dark window. She told me she found herself more reflective and appreciative of her life and those around her.

Her words stuck with me, and I, too, found her truth bubbling below the surface of my radar. Her words changed my life that day.

Our medical community: Too often, we under appreciate those who quietly perform a great job behind the backdrop of our daily lives. If I’ve come to elevate my appreciation for anybody, it’s for health workers and the immensely critical role they play in my life — even when I don’t know they are there.

2020 is demonstrating we have a remarkable health care system populated with immensely talented and committed professionals. Imagine crews of people working in fogs of exhaustion for weeks and months without a break, never knowing when the rush would slow or a solution would show up on the horizon.

I remember a nurse telling me she’d been working seven days straight for several months. The difference was she was not complaining but rather remained committed to saving people at her expense.

I will always remember this particular moment.

The little things matter the most: Much like the economic crash of 2008, conspicuous consumption is out. Again, people recognize chest-thumping and collecting new shiny objects are an outward sign of insecurity or thirst for validation from others.

Instead, I’m finding myself viewing excess or shallow spending as insensitive to others who are genuinely in need. Time sitting alone with a good friend is better than a rare bottle of scotch sitting on the shelf.

Waking up in the morning in good health is worth more than a winning lottery ticket.

And to recognize that each word we speak, each action we take will make a difference in the world, radiating as a pebble dropped in still water, is so rewarding.

Contextualizing 2020 is not going to be easy. The list of pain and discomfort easily out shouts the quiet, positive moments occurring in the shadows.

But let’s not forget, we alone own our attitudes, perspectives and actions in the world.

Let’s use this incredibly challenging window of time to reinvent ourselves from the inside out. The world will smile.

Take that, 2020.

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Cancer Can Take Lives, But Never Love

Entering a hospice a week before Christmas was never in my friend’s plans.

Cancer may be coming for his life, but it’ll never take his spirit.

“You know,” he said, his voice scratching like a coarse piece of sandpaper, “if someone told me I could trade some of the crazy things we did for an extra five years, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

I first met my friend walking out from beneath a tray of home-baked cookies his mother baked for my family. A green and yellow moving van parked in the driveway, my family’s belongings packed inside, our new life on the outside. New town, new neighbors, and new adventure.

In a week or so, I’d begin the first grade, but more importantly, I started a friendship spanning more than a half-century.

My hand rests in his, his fingers drawing towards mine. The room is quiet.

We shared our first beers. Today ice chips are on the menu. White plastic spoon, small Styrofoam cup, and tiny ice nuggets like the BB’s we sprayed into tree branches hoping to bring home a squirrel.

I don’t remember if we ever succeeded. Still, I remember tramping in the woods like explorers, imagining we were hundreds of miles from home, acting like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches didn’t wait for us a few hills back.

No one thinks they might have once met my friend – you either did or you did not. His energy, tender soul, and ability make everyone who meets him feel like a spine-tingling cosmic connection occurred. Kindness, embracing demeanor, and intensely thirsty about the world around him are his hallmarks. And the more he learns, the more he appreciates this crazy journey we call life.

We jumped into swollen creeks during flash foods, not knowing where we might end up. We jumped off roofs to see if we could fly and cried to each other after breakups with girls.

A nurse comes, reaching down to a small hose running from his torso. She begins pouring a clear fluid when the twinkle in his eye stops her.

“That the good stuff?” he said.

“Sure is,” she said. “Might even be tequila today.”

And there it is, the soft laugh, the sparkle, and nurse willingly joins the club of thousands before her.

He asks about our kids, both of who know him as their uncle. Both adults now, they recognize they are fortunate to have someone like my friend in their lives. Each learned first-hand blood does not define family, but rather it is love cementing lives together.

Fifty years is a lot of territory to cover in a few hundred words. Impossible to justly do for someone you once sliced pinky fingers with a pocket knife, swearing to be blood brothers for life.

Today those same two hands are resting on the hospital-style bed, one cradling the other. We’ve loved each other for a lifetime – and then some. And cancer will never take that away from us.

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