Tea Bag Tastes Of Journey

Each morning a small white tag dangles from a cotton string leading back to the tea bag gently dancing in my mug. And written on each tag comes a phrase from which to launch my day. Wisdom, inspiration, and soul-stirring caffeine in one tidy package.

Today’s message resurrected painful memories of someone I don’t care for – a person I left behind years ago. Specifically, an earlier version of me.

“Love is to live for somebody, love is not to live with somebody.”

The tea bag’s words kept dragging me back to a time for which I am ashamed but accepting of a journey that needed to happen.

I’ll admit I was a bit of a mess coming into adulthood. A recipe laced with selfishness, materialism, and overly judgmental was a bad road for me that those around me. Maturity, by practice, is learning to leave your adolescent tendencies behind and embrace the values of serving others. And nowhere is that formula more important than with love.

IMG_2042Imagine a traditional shooter’s target with a bulls-eye in the center. As an adolescent, we identify ourselves as the bulls-eye with the world circling around. Things we say, do, and think are crafted to serve the needs of the center – or in this case, us.

One day, if we are lucky, we realize it is lonely in the center.

I may not be alone in having to grow through this stunted stage, but in life, you must hold tightly your failures as you do your successes. From your failures, you learn humility and a greater appreciation for the world around you. Inside are lessons you will never learn anywhere but on the playing field of life.

For whatever stage I am at now, I can promise you I did not start out here. Ask my wife. And God as my witness, she deserves the nod for reshaping this mess of malformed clay into something worth her keeping around.

Love is a painful journey. And to travel the road successfully requires two people to facing each other, not standing side by side. Only by looking into the eyes of the other will your hearts ever meld together. This is where you cross over from living for someone verses living with someone. Marriage is a man-made business agreement in one sense; love is a human bond, full of powerful mystery and emotion. If you are lucky in life, you find yourself blessed with both.

I read once if you are happy in your relationship you carry a haunting feeling as if not enough time remains. Conversely, if you are unhappy or unconnected, time hangs like a heavy blanket of daily dread.

Recognizing the bulls-eye is where everyone else should reside is life changing. The moment you see your earlier mistakes and commit to change, you effectively must start your life over one day at a time, relearning what is important, retraining your instincts.

The road is hard, bumpy, and bone-jarring but I highly recommend the journey.

-30-

 

Advertisements

Holidays Offer Reason To Believe

I believe.

Every year around this time we run across reminders to ‘believe’. But in each instance, the message is incomplete – never really telling us what to ‘believe’. Here, over the course of 500 words, I hope to share a few personal suggestions.

First of all, I still believe in God – regardless of how cool or uncool, this might seem. The reality is He is there and if you don’t believe me, I’d invite you for a test drive without Him. Traveling without this copilot can be unnerving. Over my lifetime I’ve done it both ways. Having Him along for the ride has made mine a difference of night and day.

Secondly, I still believe in the spirit of Santa Claus. How can you not believe in the power of thinking of others and giving the gift of time, love, or small expressions of your gratitude to those we hold most dear? Also, Santa is one sharp dresser.

Next, I’d have to say I still hold great faith in my fellow mankind. At times most of us will find ourselves questioning what the future holds. But if we’re honest, we’ve got a pretty good track record of doing the right thing when it comes down to it. I’ve seen this too many times to deny that most people are, by default, good and decent. And I intend to continue to invest my energy and strength in supporting them.

The American Dream, bashed, battered, and run over in the public court of opinion, is still the best thing going on the planet Earth. If you’ve ever really traveled outside these borders and touched, tasted, and experienced the other side, you know what a blessing it is to live in this country. Doubt it? Ask around. I’ve spent more than my fair share with people who want nothing more than to call America their home for the simple reason of having an opportunity to break free of the shackles of economic, political or religious restraint.

I also still believe in America. Remember, this is the country that put a man on the moon, invented instant coffee, and where individuals contribute to charity more per capita as a measure of gross domestic product than any other nation on the planet. Not only are we a resourceful and innovative nation, but we’re also generous to others via’ giving beyond anything the world has ever seen. I don’t know about you but I don’t mind being associated with smart, generous people.

And finally, I believe in you. Granted, many of us have never met, but odds are we’ve more in common than separates us. If I’ve learned anything in my continuing accumulation of years it is most of us value our families, friends, and neighbors. We even value strangers we’ve never met before – lending a hand or other resources to help someone in need. Aside from needless divisiveness, we are all pretty much alike.

So next time you see a sign encouraging you to believe look inside of yourself for the answer.

-30-

Zombie Apocolypse Has Arrived

I’m pretty sure I am living through the zombie apocalypse.

Looking at the water Gulf of Mexico, waves rhythmically crash onto the beach. I notice two people sitting on a concrete bench. Backs turned to the blue horizon, their heads stare down at the tiny screens anchored in their hands. The only hint of life is the twitching of their thumbs, repeatedly asking the screen to keep them entertained.

The couple is somewhere – but certainly not a few yards from Mother Nature’s big show.

I am increasingly worried about the unintended impact of people disengaging from life, addicted – for a lack of a better word – to tiny devices in their hands. Their world is less about where they are or whom they are with at the moment and more about the environment pouring from a tiny screen.

Looking back at the concrete bench, waves dancing behind the couple, they have yet to move or say a word to each other. Mother Nature is doing all she can do short of splashing them with salt water.

You don’t have to look too far to see what I’m talking about. People are so engrossed in the tiny screens in their hands they blindly plod along city streets, dangerously unaware of their surroundings. Restaurants are filled with couples on dates, both pouring their valuable attention into millions of pixels instead of each other. And more and more you see entire families sitting around a table, each with a device in their hands, totally disengaged from each other.

This zombie apocalypse could change the world, as we know it.

Humans are social animals. And the art of conversation is a skill you hone over time, drawing out and listening to others. And as predictable as the algorithm feed is before your eyes, real life is as equally unpredictable. While one is based on feeding you the cotton candy of what you already like, the latter is like a form of Russian roulette – you never knowing exactly what will come your way. And therein lays the fun, the development of skills, the appreciation for others and different points of view.

I can’t help but wonder if our new zombie culture won’t lead to our undoing or at least severely damage our ability to built successful families, friendships, and society.

Today’s zombie culture is fed by a diet of predetermined content and interests and the reinforced by like opinions. The very platform heralded as the opening Pandora’s box of information is instead closely controlled by sophisticated formulas designed to sharpen, narrow, and shallow out our pools of interests. We are, technologically speaking, not too far removed from cattle being led to the slaughterhouse.

We could all end up as tasteless and homogenized hamburger.

I look back at the couple at the water’s edge. I wish they would speak to each other, learn something new about the other, and building a deep well of conversations to one-day build upon.

But then again, zombies don’t feel or speak.

-30-

Growing Pains Not Exclusively For Kids

Our daughter ended up in the hospital last week. Eight hundred miles and another time zone only added to the anxiety. Parenting from a distance is unsettling.

A doctor’s voice scratches from my wife’s cell phone, the speaker on.

“Appendicitis,” she said. “We’ll do the surgery tonight and keep her overnight.”

My watch sweeps towards 9 pm local; our daughter an hour ahead. My wife aches to be there. Flights are done for the day. Fourteen hours by car won’t work. This is going to happen without us.

“Don’t worry,” the doctor said. “We do these regularly. The doctor performing the procedure is very good.”

She didn’t, however, solve our time zone and distance problem.

As much as I know my daughter is a full-grown and mature woman, someone who is working her way through college and keeping up her grades, who on the spur of a moment jumped a flight so she could wake up alone in New York City on her birthday, she remains the fierce bundle of energy I first met on a snow-covered morning in Pittsburgh. In that delivery room, she kicked and screamed her way into my heart like an angry hurricane. And I gladly made room.

The doctor again reassured us all would be fine. I thought of the bundle of energy twisting in a blanket – putting the world on notice she had arrived, loud and proud.

The doctor closed the call and my wife sat with the phone between us. I did not need words to understand what she was going to do next – my opinion not invited. Marriage is like that, learning to read between the lines, understanding what is being said without having to say a word.

We said a prayer and parted ways – my wife to pack her bag and me to book her on the first direct flight the next morning.

Letting go as your kids become adults is not easy. While you need to give them their space and the opportunities to fail, you soon realize it is more difficult on you than them. They are ready; you are not or never will.

I thought about teaching my daughter to ride a skateboard at the age of 3. I’d put her brother’s Batman helmet on her head, one so large it tilted to one side. I’d have her place her small feet between mine, her facing me.

We began by coasting down a gently sloped driveway. Eventually, we moved to larger hills and faster speeds. We took a few falls, but each time I’d pull her close and take the tumble on me, pulling her safely between my arms. And each time as we would get up I’d hear a giggle.

“Let’s do that again,” she said.

That is what I was thinking of as the doctor wheeled her to surgery – and all I wanted to do was pull my little girl tightly into my arms and protect her, taking away any pain or danger.

-30-

 

IMG_5673.jpeg

 

 

 

Cash No Longer King

Apparently, cash is no longer king.

I’m standing the branch of a nameless mega-national bank to deposit money into my out-of-state daughter’s account. It is the first of the month and rent is due in another time zone.

“I’m sorry, but we do not accept cash,” said the bank teller.

On the counter between the teller and me are five crisp $100 dollar bills, so new the bouquet of the distinctive ink still leaves a trail when handling. The edges of each bill so sharp, mishandling could risk getting a paper cut.

I look down at the bills between us. I can see a shock on the face of Benjamin Franklin, whose portrait graces the currency.

“You’ll need to go get a money order and come back,” she said.

Benjamin Franklin’s face is now wincing.

“But this is cash,” I said. “Like real money.”

The teller then drops her get-out-of-jail-free-card in hopes of ending any further discussion.

“Sorry, that is our policy.”

I take a breath. Looking down I see Benjamin Franklin’s hand planted squarely on his forehead, his eyes closed.

“But this is real cash and I’m only trying to put it my daughter’s account – the one she has with you – this bank.”

article-2258475-16CB515F000005DC-735_638x420.jpg

The clerk repeats the distancing phrase, this time completely absent of any discernible emotion. Nothing I can say is going to change the situation. Turning around, the man in line behind shrugs his shoulders.

I turn back, reach down and pick up bills. I notice Benjamin Franklin has pulled a horse around. Franklin was always a smart man with a keen political sense. He must be sensing his job may no longer be secure and it is time to get out of town.

Together, Benjamin Franklin and I leave the bank, he on his horse, and me on foot to find an 89-cent money order.

Days later, my concerns slowing fading, I walk into a local pizza delivery shop. Handing the man behind the register bill, his hand pauses in mid-motion.

Having a flashback, I ask if they take cash.

“Yes, but not too often,” he said.

The next few minutes are consumed with conversations between he and the manager sharing passwords and codes to get the register to open. Finally, the clerk squats down, disappearing from view, and the register springs open.

I don’t have the courage to look down at the portrait of Andrew Jackson afraid Benjamin Franklin has spent the week sharing his traumatic banking experience.

The young clerk, as polite as can be, delicately hands me my change, a couple bills, and five coins. I sense his touching cash is not something he’s particularly familiar doing – his fingers touching the currency like it might be carrying some sort of long-forgotten plague.

Putting away my change, I notice George Washington looking back up at me. His mouth is open as if he’s seen a ghost. All I can figure is Franklin and his horse are back at the US mint spreading the word.

-30-

Polishing Life Requires Discipline 

Standing outside the window of my truck, a man is holding a bowl of Halloween candy. A large motorcycle rally is in town, the island flooding with chrome and a constant deep rumble.

“Here, please take some,” he said.

He is friendly, but with a hint of desperation to be separated from the colorful bowl of treats. Unclaimed candies from Halloween, no matter how small the colorful packages appear to the eyes, turn radioactive to adults – the mere proximity a threat to contributing to expanding waistlines.

We strike up a conversation. He is working detailing motorcycles in the corner of a narrow parking lot along the water. His disposition is sunny, matching the sky above. Across the road, incoming waves twinkle as if a bag of children’s decorative glitter dances across the surface.

The day is much brighter than the night he came to town.

“I’d parked my truck for the night,” he said. “Then the storm came through, flipped it over. Totaled the 8 bikes I’d brought.”

His voice was even in tone, almost as if speaking about someone else’s experience. There was a disappointment in his voice – but a disappointment absent of anger.

He shrugged his shoulders, pushing the movement back into the past.

“Figured I was already down here. I might as well hang around and do something.”

We talked through the window about how he’d once owned a company selling detailing polish. He proudly held up a bottle for me to see.

But what struck me most was his total acceptance of his circumstances. What had happened had happened. Nothing on his part would have stopped the high-winds from coming to town. Maybe, he admitted, he could’ve moved the bikes out of the trailer, but he didn’t. His bad, so the saying goes.

Two Kit Kat bars moved from his bowl and into my truck.

But he’d given me much more than two pieces of candy. What he’d really shared me was a reminder of how to deal with situations we cannot expect to control in life. Here was a man, polishing rag in hand and 8 motorcycles mangled and twisted in a trailer, with a smile on his face. What was done was done. What he controlled, he demonstrated, was the now.

To him, and the success he’d found in life – the one led by a positive attitude – saturated his being like an inland marsh during high tide.

Everyone gets upset or mad from time to time. But what separates people seems to be their ability to successfully control the moment, somehow putting the proverbial genie back into a bottle without creating lasting damage. Careless words used in anger or emotional decisions made without thought can linger uncomfortably afterward – serving as stubborn reminders long after the original moment has passed.

Candy in the truck, we laughed, wishing each other a good day. But pulling out into traffic it occurred to me that for him, that was already a given.

-30-

Dog’s Heart Finds Home In Stranger

“Wow, he’s beautiful.”

I’ve stopped along a downtown street in Galveston. I extend my hand down to a grey and black dog.

“Go ahead, he won’t bite,” says the man on the other end of the leash.

The dog’s dark eyes look up at me, his nose knowingly nuzzling my hand to his square forehead. My fingers scratch the back of his ears and are welcome. I have a new friend

“Catahoula or Louisiana Leopard Dog?”

The man’s head shakes in non-commitment.

“Don’t really know,” he says. “Picked him up from the shelter a two days ago.”
Our son adopted a Catahoula a few weeks back. Before then I couldn’t have identified one beyond a grey dog with interesting spots. I’ve been reading up as of late.

“Can I check out his paws

Webbed feet are one of the tells of the breed.

The man nods and I drop to one knee. Slowly I move my other hand towards my new friend’s feet. Before I can get there, a large paw meets me halfway.

“He’s

a sweetheart,” the man says. “Loves to be around people. Even has an odd bit of separation anxiety.”

The webbing between the toes adds into my suspicions. The man’s description of the dog’s quirky personality, however, seals the deal.

“I was working construction around here and one day someone just dropped him off. He was wandering the neighborhood until animal control came. After a few days, I went and checked in on him and ended up adopting him.

My new friend leans towards me, another tell of the breed. I run my hand down the long, unusual coat. Short grey and black hairs easily slide by my fingertips as if wet to the touch. A remarkable dog, for sure.

I can’t understand why someone would abandon a dog that obviously wants to unconditionally love someone back.

The man looks down. His new friend sits down near his feet. The bond between man and dog is in place. I am happy for both.

I hope the afterlife carves out a special place for people who adopt animals in need. As much as we’d like to think we have this big life under control – our phones can take stunning photos, electricity moves across the country to heat and cool our homes on demand, and we can travel through the sky in a metal tube – we still have too many animals making one-way trips to local shelters.

History proves mankind, in great part, owes his existence and survival to the remarkable bond between himself and dogs. In a unique relationship unlike with any other animal, man and dog share a co-dependency technology will never replace. Survival, food, and companionship are as mutually entrenched in our DNA as the hairs on our heads or coats.

I suddenly notice I’ve met these two at the footsteps outside the building where I attended a church service two hours before. And suddenly I believe our meeting was no coincidence.

-30-

Momentum is Both Friend and Foe

Momentum is a funny thing – equally powerful in either action or not.

My mother liked to toss around sayings to drive home points into my impressionable head.

One about a big grey bolder blundering down a green hillside, however, required a bit of maturity from me to finally understand.

“A rolling stone gathers no moss,” she would say hustling around the house. When on a mission, my mother never slowed down. Perpetual motion so to say.

But in the head of a ten-year-old boy, the saying seemed more about the physics of how moss couldn’t attach itself to moving rock than an insightful life lesson.

Decades later, knee-deep into adulthood, I finally got it. Momentum was my friend.

IMG_5993 2.JPGA silent force of nature, momentum is a dramatic difference maker in life.

Changing is fleeting and temporary. But when combined with momentum, the world transforms in meaningful ways. Momentum becomes the important mortar between the bricks of good intentions and the creation of something impactful in life. Without it, the wall of good intentions is without strength and structure.\

A shotgun approach to anything meaningful in our lives tends to return shotgun results. Momentum, or the consistent applying of pressure to the right actions, can transform a pattern of actions or choices into meaningful and tangible. Game changer-type results.

When I was a runner, years before my knees began to bark at me, I would have to build up mileage in order to run a long-distance race. While I could certainly show up for a 10K race and cross the finish line, to do so at a time that would make me proud would require a daily investment of time and accumulation of mileage. Without the momentum of investing tangible actions or decisions towards my goal, my dreams were nothing more than an illusion – easily defeated in the face of the output required on race day.
The momentum, or therefore lack of, played the determining role in my results.

This applies to my daily life as well. If I want to be a kinder person, I must be a kinder person each day. If I wish for those around me to know they are important, I must regularly tell them so. If I want to lose ten pounds, I need to eat carefully every day. If I want to have a good relationship with God, I need to put aside a few minutes each day.

Moss grows on a stationary object. Trees, boulder anchored deep into the ground. And on us. The moss of life can be viewed as our dreams and desires we didn’t have the courage to put in both the effort and commitment to make happen. And like moss, these broken dreams or the compounded results of unrealized desires stubbornly cling to us forever.

Momentum is not a single action, but rather the result of consistent behaviors resulting in inconsistent outcomes. And in life, the difference between us gathering moss or not is found between our ears.

-30-

Breast Cancer Deserves Our Attention

For years I thought of the color orange whenever thinking about the month of October. Pumpkins, leaves, candy corn. But now I see pink.

Earlier this week another friend of mine had her life intersect with breast cancer.

Statistically speaking, one out of eight women will experience invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Think about that for a moment. Picture nine players on the field for a softball team. All smiles, ponytails, and focused on winning. Pick one, say the catcher. Maybe the third baseman. Odds are one of the players on the field will have their lives interrupted or least disrupted by breast cancer during their lifetime.

October is National Breast Cancer awareness month.

According to the American Cancer Association, more than 250,000 women in the US experienced invasive breast cancer in 2017 resulting in 40,000 cancer deaths. Additionally, the greatest rates of mortality due to breast cancer occur in minorities, with the highest rates for African American women.
AP-895.jpgThe good news is the survival rate continues to improve as awareness and self-testing become more ingrained in daily lives. The sneaky thing about breast cancer is that it is considered painless cancer – one people do not generally find their body telling them something is wrong. Many cancers, as they take hold, begin to compromise or impact organs creating discomfort. Breast cancer, however, is a generally considered silent cancer – most times not discovered without either a clinical or self-examination. This alone makes breast cancer even more dangerous – allowing cancer to grow and expand in the body unchecked.

The lower rate of medical or self-exams appears to be the driver of higher rates of breast cancer incidence in minorities, according to medical professionals. Being as breast cancer is silent aggressor makes education and regular medical exams an important part of early detection and treatment for all women regardless of race, creed, color.

Surprisingly, family history is not necessarily a predictor of a woman getting breast cancer. With 90% of breast cancers being termed “spontaneous” or occurring without genetic markers, the incidence rate is more random than most would believe. With the exception of the aggressive BRCA1 gene (which carries a 50% predictor rate), which actress Angelina Joline both carries and elevated in the public’s awareness, the highest indicator of risk to women is age. Women under 40 years of age carry a 9% rate of experiencing breast cancer while women over 80 carry a 24% rate. Having a regular examination schedule becomes increasingly important in early detection when more options and treatments are possible.

AP-895.jpgAt one time I didn’t know of anyone who experienced breast cancer. Now I know more people than the fingers on both hands. I also once thought of breast cancer as something spoken in hushed tones – but not anymore. The more we educate, the more we make early detection possible, the more lives we can save. The rate of mortality has dropped in the past few decades, but we’ve still a long way to go.

Think pink. Think breast cancer.

-30-

 

 

 

 

True Friendships Make Life Special

You are considered blessed in life if you have one true love, one true passion, and one true friend.

Recently one of those came to town for a visit. Not any friend – the one I first met while the Mayflower moving truck sat parked in the driveway unloading my family’s belongings into a new home in a new town. First grade waited patiently a few weeks ahead of me.

Between the pumpkin colored sofa, four metal kitchen chairs, and a dozen brown cardboard wardrobe boxes, he and I first met. His mother, younger brother, and sister in tow had walked through the green space separating our houses. A large plate of cookies proved the perfect icebreaker as we kids mingled in the ankle-high grass.

Nearly half a century later, we remain the closest of friends but rarely see each other. We’ve not lived in the same ZIP code let alone in the same state in decades. Yet we still find ways to remain close and making opportunities to get together.

Our friendship is like most – filled with highs and lows. We’ve fought, cried, and experienced many of our greatest memories together. Some of the moments I am proud of; others downright ashamed. But the one constant is that they happened with us an arm’s length apart.

I remember us rolling in a front yard, arms locked, punching, spitting, biting until we finally gave up. A few days later we didn’t remember why we ended up in the dirt in the first place. We, as they say, walked it off, letting the episode blow off into the summer dust.

We were battery mates on the little league baseball diamond, me on the mound and he behind the plate. We climbed out of windows and scaled dangerous rooftops to check out the views. We even skateboarded competitively together – a thread that altered our lives forever. As teenagers, we even drove a car with broken alternator thousands of miles because we wanted so badly to go camping on a beach. For a week or so we each took turns pushing the small car down flat coastal roads while the other sat inside ready to drop the clutch.

Fast-forward a half-century. We both have experienced marriage, parenthood, and can legally claim a senior citizen discount at McDonald’s. But we’ve never let time or distance keep us from remaining the closest of friends. We are joined by time.

Friendship is like an investment – an investment you make with your heart. Today the word can simply mean you accepted an invitation to an emotionless social media platform. Tb11d00db-4ea2-4282-84b0-3acdf5089551.jpgo me, friendship is paid for with love, pain, and shared memories.

This past weekend my wife said she thought was watching two 10-year old kids. He and I went to the local skatepark, rode bikes, and even went surfing a couple of days. We were, for all practical purposes, the same kids who shared that first plate of cookies in the driveway. And for that, I consider myself a blessed man.

-30-

wblw.jpg.jpeg