Losing Your (Musical) Virginity Powerful

The first time I heard the Rolling Stones it cost me ten cents. Same for the John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Standing in a neighbor’s garage, I picked up a stack of small black discs from a dark green Ping-Pong table turned garage sale display case.

“Ten cents a piece,” came a woman’s voice. “There are some good one’s if you look hard enough.”

Nixon was president and our family sedan consumed gasoline like a thirsty dog laps up water on a hot July afternoon. My ears were about to lose their virginity.

I’d only recently earned double-digit candles and didn’t know any of the cryptic names printed on labels. Forty-fives, the lady called them. They seemed almost mysterious and different. I bit.

“Hard Day’s Night” / Lennon and McCartney said an orange and yellow label. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” / Rolling Stones read another. I grabbed a half dozen.

At that point in life I dealt exclusively in coin currency. I handed the lady the correct change. Putting down her cigarette, she counted the coins and sent me on my way– a short walk across our shared backyards.

I remember walking through the back door of our small house, down the hallway, and into my back bedroom. Closing the door behind me, I went over to a small, portable record player sitting on a repurposed cabinet.

Not knowing one song from the other, I randomly selected a disc and dropped the needle arm. Keith Richards came out of 2-inch speaker. To this day, the opening riff instantly transports me to standing in my childhood bedroom being indoctrinated into a magical world of sound and emotion. Suddenly a demarcation line was etched in my lifeline – one with Walt Disney on one side and Mick Jagger on the other.

Losing your musical virginity is a powerful thing.

The morning consisted of me flipping records over and over, not knowing the difference between and A and B-side. My room became a Pandora’s box of musical discovery, me carefully dropping the needle onto the discs for hours.

This changed everything in my childhood home – suddenly I had my own music. And as if a root of independence was planted with the opening riff from Richards, my music exposure was no longer limited to jazz, Dixieland, and classical music – the music of choice in our home. The discovery of rock music was as if I’d somehow walked into a Baskin-Robins after only knowing three flavors of ice cream existed – vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate.

Today I have an AARP card, two adult children, and sometimes find myself standing in the kitchen not knowing what I came in looking for in the first place. I also mindlessly take a cocktail of prescribed pills in the morning in hopes each is going down for a reason and will result is something good.

But no matter how many years pass the best medicine for whatever ails me was purchased long ago for a handful of coins.

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Dates On Calendar Simply Digits

“Oh, that was last Tuesday I think.”

You know you’ve been together a long time as a couple when significant dates in your relationship quietly sneak by unnoticed and afterwards you both only laugh.

My wife and I are now in our 36th year of being together. The math consists of 6 years of me trying to gain her confidence and another 30 with rings on our fingers. Mix in two children, two dogs, and living in over a half-dozen cities and you get the idea of why we are easily confused when asked to provide a zip code when checking out of a grocery store.

I am still not sure why she said yes between classes that day in college. Like I’ve said before, she is smart. Maybe I caught her on an off day. It happens.

So here we are decades later laughing with each other because we can’t seem to remember dates on the calendar. Empty-nesting they call this stage. Whatever it is, we call it awesome.

We’ve seen things we never ever dreamed existed, discovered emotions we never knew could be felt, and already realize there are not enough days left to spend with each other.

Today as empty nesters we are in a new stage of life. Together we’ve raised and launched two remarkable adults into the world yet can’t wait to see each other at the end of the day. We had no idea there was this figurative pot of gold was waiting at this stage in life.

The other day a friend was telling me about how he and his wife loved their newfound freedom to simply drop and go. No questions asked, no worries. He laughs as he says this is the best part of marriage no one tells you about. Sixteen days exploring Utah without a schedule will do that to you I guess.

But arriving here together is so rewarding. We are both comfortable with who we are, don’t feel threatened by the other, and can’t imagine where we end and the other begins. Not to sound sappy, but this could turn out to be the best stage of life yet.

One night my wife and I were sitting around talking about society’s reverence of youth When we asked what age do we see each other, we both landed on a window when our relationship went from dating to falling in love. Between our ears we seem to see each other as some version or continuation of the person the other fell in love with decades ago. It is as if maybe love has the magical ability or distort time between our ears.

Along the way we’ve been broke, more than broke, and not broke. We’ve also faced births, deaths, and times not knowing if we would survive another day. But somehow, by the hand of God and a little maturity, we’ve arrived at a place where dates on the calendar mean more inside our hearts than on a piece of paper.

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Hurricane Upends Life in Paradise

I can’t stop thinking about my friend, Jimmy.

Jimmy is a small boat captain in the British Virgin Islands. We are about the same age, both easily laugh at ourselves, and view the world as a beautiful place to be. He’s a big man with an even larger laugh. He rarely wears shoes and can instinctively read the teal blue Caribbean waters like master chef surveys ingredients on a countertop. To both they see a canvas, a world where the magic happens.

Hurricane Irma has changed all that. His home – that is the islands where he grew up and lives – looks like the aftermath of a nuclear bomb. And the worst part is Jimmy is now off the grid and unable to be reached.

We met years ago as Jimmy guided 8 of us for a week through the BVI on a small boat. While we slept below deck in a room the size of an SUV, he slept in a space the size of a small bathroom. But Jimmy quickly went from our single crew member to friend within a day. And before returning us safely to harbor, he was forever family.

As beautiful as the islands and waters are in the BVI, life is as equally hard. The land is barren, built on volcanic outcrops. Farming is difficult. Roads are narrow and dangerous. A flat piece of ground is rare. Making a living in paradise is difficult. Tourists attracted the beauty are the primary trade.

With limited employment opportunities, Jimmy learned to sail the waters at an early age. A good small boat captain is one part instinct, one part skill, and one part being leader. And Jimmy is all of those and more.

As Hurricane Irma violently crossed over the BVI I found myself saying prayers for not only Jimmy, but the faces I’d seen while walking the small, economically depressed communities doting the barren island landscapes. What American’s consider abject poverty is what most residents on the islands consider normal. The standard of living is difficult to imagine.

When photos after the hurricane began to trickle out I was stunned. The lush green landscape, foliage and vegetation covering the mountain inclines lay barren and brown. The housing, many times built with more concern for keeping rain off one’s head than with any semblance of structural integrity, were gone. And the boats Jimmy earned his modest living lay crumbled up along the shoreline like a pile of wooden white matchsticks.

I pray for my friend and hope his disappearance is simply related to damaged cell towers.

The beautiful landscape is gone. Tourists are not there or coming soon. The economy in shambles for who knows how long. Life changing is an understatement in this now third-world economy.

Pray for Jimmy. Pray for the students I saw walking along the narrow street to school. And pray for the fisherman who lived by selling his modest catch to tourists each day. For them, life may never be the same again. Pray.

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Difficult Times Require Perspective

My mother, when faced with a difficult situation or going through a trying time, would always step back and put things in perspective with a few simple words.

In her rolling Scottish accent, she would take deep cleansing breath and repeat five words of solace – her personal mantra.

“And this too shall pass.”

She was a happy person. Always smiling, always thankful. And her words, when said, would wash over her and magically – at least from my perspective as a child – making all her troubles wash away. As a child, I would follow her lead and relax.

I hear these words in her voice rolling out whenever I find myself in a difficult situation or my nerves ready to explode. While the wisdom is valuable, hearing her voice adds a powerful and soothing impact on me. Suddenly I’m back in kitchen, her making breakfast, and hearing her voice.

I recently read a piece in the Harvard Business Review about my mother. Well, not her specifically, but encouraging the practice my mother employed. Teams of researchers determined one of the key elements of navigating periods of uncertainty, extreme stress, and facing an unknown outcome, can be better managed by taking charge of the situation through adding a dimension of perspective.

My mother didn’t need a Harvard education to know how to successfully manage life.

The piece recommended taking what you fear or packaging what you are going through at the moment and asking yourself how would you view this a year forward. Or ask yourself will the outcome change the most important aspects of your life such as your family or those you love.

Personally, after both saying and hearing my mother’s words, I dial back to what matters most in life – and they are never material. Will my wife still love me tomorrow? Will my children be safe? Will my heath allow me to wake up the next day? Honestly, after that, the list runs dry. Everything else is simply everything else.

A good friend of my recently lost a lifetime of possessions in flooding. Household furniture, her car, and all the appliances. But as traumatic as this is, she is remarkably calm and confident.

“It is a hard thing to see your life piled up on the curb waiting to be picked up,” she said to me. Then, remarkably, she shrugged her shoulders and offered a hint of a smile. “But what can you do but move forward,” she said.

And there it was – another example of taking the worst the world could dish out and taking control over the situation by defining the impact across what is considered most valuable. She has her health, her husband, and her family. She is remarkable and strong.

We all go through moments in life where we can’t seem to imagine coming out of the other side. We ask God for guidance, we ask others for help, but in reality, the answer will always begin deep inside each of us and our hearts.

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The Texas Miracle

Hey America. Are you watching Texas? No, not to floodwaters – the people and how they are getting along during the largest natural disaster in US history.

A couple weeks ago our nation was a powder keg of emotionally-charged division. The streets and media channels seemed to be flowing with an ever-increasing volume of hate and divisive words. This was not the America we all knew and loved.

And then came Tropical Storm Harvey.

If you didn’t know, Houston is not only the fourth-largest city in the US, but also carries the distinction of being the most racially and ethnically diverse major metropolis in the nation. To visit this part of the country is to witness what experts project America will be inside of a generation.

Were Houston a box of Crayons, this region would be the big 64-count set – with every nationality, creed, or orientation generously represented.

And herein lies the what I believe is the Texas Miracle.

Tropical Storm Harvey put a hurt-on Texas like nothing ever before in history. Dumping feet of rain in short windows of time, people found themselves fleeing fast-rising waters. The storm’s damage, now estimated at $160 billion, is the largest ever recorded. And Harvey, unfortunately took innocent lives and displaced tens of thousands of people.

Stress, displacement, fear, and uncertainty  – the perfect storm for people to turn against each other.

But Texans are different. Fiercely independent and determined to always do the right thing, the DNA of the state is on full display for the nation to witness. In this region populated with every race, creed, color, or orientation, people repeatedly pull together with a higher purpose. To help one another is normal. To help someone during times of need is an unspoken tenant of the Texas fabric.

What some may see coming through television screens as remarkable acts of kindness or generosity is truly not unusual in this fiercely independent part of the country. Texas is a place where a long strong steak of independence continues to run close to the surface. And for those on the coast, getting knocked down repeatedly by Mother Nature is simply part of life. Getting up, rebuilding, and moving forward is a discipline forged over dozens of generations.

When I first arrived on the Gulf Coast of Texas a friend explained to me why, at least in his interpretation, this immigrant-rich region is so welcoming to others and repeatedly rises together during times of crisis.

“During a hurricane, if you see a hand coming up from the water you never stop to wonder who is behind it,” he said. “One day it could be you.”

With all apologies, excuse me if I am not too surprised at seeing people pouring out their hearts or putting themselves into extreme danger to help one another. Learning to respect, value, and put the needs of other ahead of yourself during these trying times is normal. And if this represents the future America, our nation is in good hands.

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The Flood Damage No One Talks About 

Now we rebuild. With Tropical Storm Harvey behind us, Galveston County is left with the monumental task of rebuilding lives, homes, and businesses. And in many cases, these threads creating the fabric of our communities are at risk.

Furniture can be replaced, cars repaired, but there is something much larger here – the potential for psychological suffering as people face the long road of rebuilding their lives.

Mental health is an underreported aspect of disasters. The lasting effects on our emotions or psyche tend to live quietly beneath the surface of our minds, quietly brewing or festering until a trigger moment arrives. And it is the trauma of the recent flooding that may put many people in Galveston County at risk 

According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, studies point to 50% or more affected from natural disasters suffering from clinically significant distress. And unaddressed, such psychological scars can lead to depression, feelings of helplessness, and create a corrosive force on impacted individuals. This condition is more widely referred as post-traumatic stress disorder or simply PTSD.

Times of disaster can cut people off from their natural world of interaction, creating feelings of being overwhelmed and an unsettling sense of depression. These elements can lay in wait for days, week, months, or even years. But they are real. 

In Galveston County there are thousands of people unable to either return or to live in their homes in a normal fashion. And to most, a home is a safe space, a place where you retreat to when the day is done or you need to unplug your mind. The challenges for children can be even more dire and unsettling as young emotions are less developed. 

The World Health Organization regularly deals with the emotional challenges of disasters. Key contributors to the condition include family separation, loss of employment, concerns for safety, and a low level of familiarity in those helping or providing resources. And if anyone remembers Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation, these elements are rooted in the foundation of our basic needs.

This is not to say the outpouring of generosity from individuals, companies, and organizations from across the nation in unneeded. On the contrary, they play an important role in the rebuilding of both the immediate and near-future needs of those impacted. And we thank them for opening their hearts.

But as a community we need to understand there is something that cannot be trucked in from surrounding states. What we need to do is recognize the need to offer support and care to those who are in the crosshairs of this tragedy. For every truck filled with water, we will also need to understand those on the receiving end may need our help as they navigate this life-changing event.

 Galveston County needs to recognize and take action to address the potential for this power symptom of natural disasters taking hold. Not doing so could further destroy the lives of people who unknowingly slip into a dark and dangerous place.

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Define Harvey’s Legacy Now

This space is usually dedicated to thoughts or observations of the world we all share. This week, with Hurricane Harvey coming ashore, is no different.

But today I’d like to encourage everyone to focus on looking around and finding ways to help one another. There are people who may very well be in need during this time and even a well-timed phone call to a shut in can make a difference.

Hurricane Harvey, while now ashore, is now only potentially getting ready to drop dangerous rains on Galveston and surrounding communities. From weather reports, we’ve more rain ahead of us in the next  than behind us. For this we should be careful, cautious, and thoughtful.

I am sure all of us are on the receiving end of emails, calls, and text messages from friends around the country. They mean well and we should be thankful for their concerns. We should also all feel fortunate someone thinks enough of us to reach out during this time. What I’d suggest is to remember the gesture and pay if forward.

Even a forecaster only reports what they think will happen in the future. And we are no different. But what we can do is keep our minds focused on others, looking for opportunities to help not only today, but in the days and weeks ahead. The people who tend to lose the most are many times those with the least to begin with.

I make no secret I am a support of both the United Way and Salvation Army. Both groups do great work in helping those in need. I would encourage you, if you are sincere in your wishes of helping and unsure where to reach out, start with either group. Both can serve as a powerful connection to a larger network of smaller agencies and people working to help others.

Also, take care of your circle of influence – that is family and friends. Make sure older family members are safe and staying put if at possible. Encourage them to not take unnecessary risks. And if a phone call to them would be reassuring, make that call.

The big picture is Hurricane Harvey could be that one day you always talk about – the time you stepped up to lend a hand or help someone else during a time of need. Make that one day be this day.

When the rains pass, here is to hoping the legacy of Hurricane Harvey is it brought out the best in people during a difficult time.

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Reach out:

The United Way of Galveston: 409.762.4357

United Way Galveston County Mainland: 409.948.4211

The Salvation Army of Galveston County: 409.763.1691

 

Hate Not To Be Taken Lightly

Charlottesville reminds me of what a powerful word hate can play in our lives.

As a child, I hated beans. White beans, navy beans, any beans my mother would serve. And I would use the word protesting them on my plate.

But one day my mother had a talk with me about hate. She was calm and quiet. Hate, she told me, was a word we should carefully reserve for only the most evil of things in life. She also told me, the emotion of hate was to give someone or something else power over me. Considering I had not yet reached double-digits candles on my birthday cake, this might have been a bit difficult to comprehend. But somehow, her words stuck. To this day I sparingly use the word.

Don’t take my mother as a Pollyanna or simpleton to the world around her. At the same kitchen table, she also shared her memories of the Nazi’s destroying her childhood in Europe, and the taking the lives of her neighbors by reducing their homes to rubble as bombs and rockets fell from the nighttime skies. Her stories shook me to my moral compass – some I refuse to ever write or tell others.

But she never outwardly hated anyonep. Sure, she would get upset or angry with others, but to put them in a bucket labeled hate, was something reserved for only the strongest of convictions and moral principles.

This week I am hearing and seeing this word, hate, spewing across everything from apps on my cell phone to newspaper reports. And this is troubling.

The terrible events that unfolded in Charlottesville are horrific. People and lives are forever changed. But will hate go mainstream in America? I pray to God this does not happen.

Hate is a learned behavior. We see it in third-world nations where generations of people hate others without ever looking them in the eyes. ISIS is building an entire generation of fighters against the West with this primitive formula: embed and incite hate against another.

Hate is evil. In the truest sense of the word, hate is a sledgehammer preventing two people from ever being able to trust or respect one other. And once that bridge is destroyed, rarely does one come back.

What I fear is that people will too easily surrender to hate, turning on one another, forever destroying a chance for us to be one people working towards one goal in this nation.

You are not born hating another. Rather, you either learn it through experiences or being taught to hate. But rational people don’t cross the line without first understanding what awaits on the other side: anger, pain, and a smaller world.

I hurt for Charlottesville. I also hurt for families explaining these tragic events to their children. This is one of the most important responsibilities of parenting. I pray – and trust – they will make the right decisions and not plant the seeds of hate. Our nation may depend on it.

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Every Day Is A New Day

A friend was telling me about how in when in high school he missed an important test. He had gone out of town on a Thursday night with a friend to a concert and on the way back their car broke down. Unable the get home, they stayed the night with a friend’s family member, eventually making their way home the next day.

He missed an important test on the Friday morning. Being the honest person, he told the school about the car breaking down on the way home – keeping him from taking the test. The school, however promptly issued an unexcused absence, preventing him from taking the test.

My friend was crushed. Not only was the test important, but also he was being shown his honesty was costing him the opportunity to take the test at all. Asking his parents to fib an excuse for his being sick, would have allowed him an excused absence – therefore be able to test with the other students.

“But you know what?” he said. “As big of a deal it was then, it’s not like it kept me from seeing the world.”
My friend is not kidding. He’s lived and seen the world – and he’s not done. But the lesson he took from his experience was no matter what, you alone chart your own course in life. Each and everyday you accept the world around you, try to understand the circumstances, and make decisions to move you forward. Every day is an opportunity to live your life as you dream.

Perspective is an important element over the course of life. My friend and I are now in the second half working towards living a century. He even refers to this stage as mid-life. I remind him of the math – how we’d have to exceed 100 by nearly a decade.

But both us understand, from this vantage point in life, very little that seems a big deal at the moment is a truly a big deal in life. Life moves at its own pace and, if you will make the effort, it will let you chart your own course over time.

Life is a bit like sailing a boat. Waters can become difficult and unpredictable. And winds can be in your face or at your back. But the one thing for sure is your direction rest solely in your actions, your mindset, and your hands.

I wish I’d known when I lost a parent. I wish I’d known that when I found myself on the outside looking in after a particularly difficult semester in college. I wish I’d known that when I found myself in what I thought was a dead end job.

In the end, the outcomes all rested with me. There were moments that changed my life, but like a winds, I was able to use each as a catalyst to redirect my attention, my efforts, and where I ultimately wanted to sail.

The difference is I know now I can sail anywhere.

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Being Grounded Key to True Happiness

A friend was recently telling me about he deeply admires his father-in-law.

“He is so content, wants for nothing, and almost kind to a fault with others,” he said.

My breathing paused as his love for his father-in-law pieced my heart. I thought about his words and how any of us would be honored for someone to one day say the same of us. If only we could all one day measure up to such a humble and honorable standard.

Going through life is not easy. While the earth is home to 7.4 billion people, we tend live within tiny fraction of people – listening, watching, and interacting with them. And no matter how many or few, we must always protect against allowing the outside world to overly shape our personal self-worth or self-importance. To do so is to let go of the anchor of reality and set sail in across a sea without a rudder – a dangerous journey.

I’ve been there. And I also believe to a certain extent, most of us have been there at one time or another. The road through life is filled with material attractions and ego-stroking words. Like the Sirens in Greek mythology, they work to pull us away from the anchor of reality. And most times, that center of reality is your family and those who genuinely love you.

In today’s world, the Siren’s words can be interpreted as the need to accumulate large and glamorous amounts of material objects, accepting hollow praise as genuine, and losing your perspective that you are simply another rider on this big blue planet. Our journey and time is temporary – and to a great extent, so is our influence on the world around us.

Which brings me back to my friend’s father-in-law. Many times, the most successful people in the world are playing a different game – one scored by being humble, helpful, and honest. They understand the value of not what the world around them thinks, but what those who love them feel. And they know the collection of material objects beyond what they need falls into a larger bucket labeled wants. And finally, they know their word is this bond, their actions the signature on which truly defines them to those who they love.

Recently my brother-in-law passed. To say he would give you the shirt off his back would be a literal example of his generosity. He lived a humble life with a few good friends and surrounded by a family’s deep love. And like my friend’s father-in-law, he was content, wanted for nothing, and kind to a fault with others.

The world needs more people like my friend’s father-in-law and my wife’s brother who recently passed. They are the symbols of who and what we should all strive to achieve in life – a place where we are comfortable with ourselves, focused on the needs of others, and know the real riches in life are measured by the love surrounding us and not in our bank account.

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