Banana Spreads Seeds of Humanity

Glancing at the side driver’s rear view mirror, I noticed a yellow banana sitting on the mirror of the pickup truck behind me. The light ahead remained red and I found myself watching the image.

Bananas may grow on trees, but the gesture behind the banana reminded me of the hidden acts of kindness in the world.

Looking to my center rearview mirror the lights on the white pickup truck behind me flashed on and off – repeating the pattern twice. Knowing I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I didn’t know what the driver was trying to communicate.

Then the banana’s purpose came into focus.

A man, walking against traffic, passed my driver’s side window. Stopping at the truck behind me, he gratefully accepted the banana from the man in the truck and a few dollars passed. They briefly spoke and shared a smile.

It is moments like this that remind me the world is going to be okay, that good is waiting to get out and make a difference.

This can be a rather self-centered world. Social media feeds our thirst to put ourselves in the center of the universe, society fawns over celebrities who are famous for simply being famous, and we dismiss tragedies with the casual thumb stroke on a the newsfeed of our cell phone screens.

Fortunately there are still people who look outward, stubbornly focusing on others in the word around them. It may seem old fashioned to some, but our instinctive kindness to others is what the world needs most now.

For days now I have not been able to shake the image of the yellow banana in the rear view mirror and the hand reaching from out of view to accepted it. Behind the exchange was a beautiful under-the-radar moment of humanity. I feel as if God wanted me to see this as a reminder that I, too, can make a positive difference in the world around me with most humble of actions.

You do not have to be a billionaire to change the world. Most of us have been blessed with more material items than we can ever use of need. If you don’t believe this open a random closet in your home. For most, we’ll find shirts we’ve not worn in a year, shoes that have not left the house in months, and a scarf we are saving for the one day a cold front that never arrives. But for the most part, the items sit under our roof taking up space and not doing anyone any good.

I read of how in cities people will take old winter coats and tie the arms together around a utility pole for someone in need to take. The gesture is painless and heartfelt. A cold night can mean life or death to someone living on the streets.

The light changed, the banana gone, and I pulled forward. The fruit, however, planted a seed to never forget to make a difference in the world.

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Everyone Creates A Body Of Work

We tend to refer to the collective paintings by an artist or writings by an author as a body of work. And in doing so, we form opinions or project a value to their efforts. This exercise allows us to believe our conclusions are based on true substance.

While this practice is common, we should also have the courage to look in the mirror. Every day of our life, every decision or opportunity, every action or non-action, is a contribution to our personal body of work. We control the paintbrush, the keyboard, and the outcome.

I value concept more with each passing year. The lesson was underappreciated in my youth. I knew my actions were important, but I did not fully understand the world was keeping score.

Our society is an odd one. Material objects rule, short-term attractions tend to be glamorized, and the carcass of bad decisions are left behind. Under the darkness of the past, we simply smile and move on.

But like any artist, our body of work is always there, available for the same scrutiny a film critic projects onto the film director. We are always on display. And our decisions will define us in the end.

One of the most unusual benefits of walking around with head of grey hair is you increasingly see the world from a different vantage point. In this newfound scope, your life – or body of work – finds itself under a more introspective lens. Suddenly you realize you have nowhere to hide – nor did you ever. You recognize were only kidding yourself to believe otherwise.

When we get to the latter stages of life we begin creating our Greatest Hits album, one that we believe what represents us most accurately to the world. An award give to us by local organization, a school record established back in high school or the story of when we played in a cover band one summer. But in reality, these are not the pieces the most important people in life will remember us. No, the best tracks are hidden between the hits of life, the ones we believe no one noticed along the way.

The real body of work is the one resulting from who you are a person. Your relationship with your spouse, your children, those whose lives you directly touch.

The world is full of materially successful people living alone in giant houses. Or maybe surrounded by people nodding yes to his or her every word, but they’ve not shared a conversation with their adult son or daughter in more than three years. A family reunion to them is measured more by a headcount than an experience or making of a memory.

If one day someone looks over my body of work, I hope they see a good friend others could count on, a man crazy in love with his wife, and a father who loved his family with all his heart. To me, that is a body of work worth being proud.

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Gearheads Deserve Love, Too

I’m reading article about a new sports sedan coming to the market. Low-slung lines, throaty exhausts, lines that appear to be in motion while the car is in park. As happens with many males, involuntary sounds erupt from deepest spaces inside, eventually finding a way onto display in an open room. If you are one of us, you have no control over this reaction.

“Whoah. Top speed 165,” I said.

Without delay my wife replies.

“Wow, like everyone needs to go 165-miles an hour,” she said back. Her deadpan sarcasm, insulating from me from reality for the briefest of moments, led me to believe she was serious. Then I thawed.

And so goes the life of a gearhead.

My wife, for the record, does not share the gearhead gene.

Being a gearhead is an odd and distracting affliction. I’ve always loved automobiles. I can find something about every generation of cars and trucks to love. Tail fins still excite me. As of late I’ve began to secretly harbor a day when vinyl tops might make a retro-inspired comeback. And don’t get me started on T-Tops – leaks and all.

Fist thing people should know is gearheads see the world differently. Cars and trucks not merely items designed to transport us from point to point. No, we view the best ones as works of art standing on a canvas of asphalt. They are remarkable examples of human engineering. To us they represent how human emotions and raw materials can bend and blend into something both evocatively beautiful and powerful.

You may know us by our odd public behavior. We are the ones who when pulling up to a traffic light, turn off the radio and lower the window to allow the sounds of a nearby V-8 motor next fill the cabin. And we are the ones when walking across the parking lot will wander down a lane because we spotted a tail light to an old car we might not have seen in years. This is a sad affliction without any known cure.

Fortunately my family is understanding and supportive. This week our daughter, who lives in Georgia, began texting me photos from an outdoor car show she somehow ended up at. To her, a car is a point A to point B proposition. Does is start? Does it play music? Does it get me where I’m going? Her list is short. But for me, she knows few things make me smile more than a trip down memory lane with cars and trucks. I take this as a sign of love on her part.

My first car was a hand-me-down sedan with a 455-cubic inch motor. I promise you those afflicted with gearhead syndrome are already thinking what they’d like do with that motor. Others see the numbers as a meaningless reference points.

My eyes return to the article of the new sedan, my ego smarting a bit. But in the end I know my wife loves me like a set of tail fins on a 1959 Cadillac.

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Smallest of Details Prove Large in Life

“A lot of times its small things that are really the big things to people.”

My friend is in the construction business. While he will do any type of work, more often than not he finds himself helping put people’s lives back together after a storms or natural disaster. According to him, while some projects seem bigger than others in scale, everything he touches is a big project to the person on the other end.

“Doesn’t have to be a total house redo – it can be a simple piece of baseboard along a wall. But to the homeowner, that piece of trim could be the most important thing in the house.”

He shakes his head, his personal experience pouring out. Large, powerful hands clasp together on the small table in front of us.

“There are no small details in life,” he said. “They are all big.”

“There are no small details in life,” 

Earlier I’d asked him to come by and take a look at a small amount of storm damage. Compared to the tens of thousands who had lost their homes, cars, and other life-changing experiences, the repairs seemed relatively modest.

“I know it’s a small job compared to helping a family back into their home, but let me know when you can get to us,” I had said.

Small things are big things in life. And he’s right, we never really know how important what we say, do, or promise to another. And many times, we don’t know until we’ve followed through with our commitment.

We all know this from experience from us being on the receiving end of the equation. Could be taking our car in for an oil change and finding an oil smudge on the carpet afterwards. Or maybe a painter leaving behind paint drips on the driveway after painting the garage. These details, while seemingly small, tend to remain – festering into frustration or hard feelings. We never feel that same after discovering the smallest of details were not big enough to matter to someone we’d trusted.

Which is exactly why the best experiences are those where we are made to feel as if the time has stopped and we are most important person in the world. And most times it is the smallest of details that make us feel whole. For example, I remember how I felt getting my car back from a routine service only to discover the dealership ran my car through the car wash for me. Imagine how I felt. A small detail led to a big feeling inside of me. And to this day, I confidently recommend them to my friends.

Small details have a way becoming big details. And through them, the opportunity for us to impact the world around us is easily within reach. We should remember my friend’s words and make sure to deliver the unexpected, to over deliver, and to remember, you never know when the smallest of details – or words – can be the biggest indicator of how you value others.

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Guns and Monsters Lead to Questions

During my high school days, students brought guns to school without a second thought. Earlier this week students at my old high school in the Missouri walked out of classrooms in a plea against gun violence. What a difference a generation or two can make.

I’m not here to offer solutions or argue one way or the other. Rather I am painfully wondering what has changed since I last walked the grounds of the campus and why these violent actions are occurring against students.

As students we cobbled together wooden gun racks as part of the required shop class curriculum. Outside in the parking lot hunting rifles hung in the windows of old pick up trucks. Guns were simply a part of the social fabric of our world.

My high school was not in the sticks. My school sat squarely in the middle of a middle class suburb in a middle class city in the middle of the country. Norman Rockwell would have been right at home.

But life and attitudes towards guns were different from today’s world. Walking past a truck with a rifle hanging in the window symbolized deer season. The rifle being used as a weapon against a student never crossed my mind.

The recent deaths of 17 students in Florida reflect something is significantly different in the world today.

The helicopter shot video clip above the school this week showed nearly 700 students standing on the same outdoor rubber track I’d competed in the 440 and 800 in high school. Standing side by side and holding hands, I couldn’t help but feel closer to the event. In an unexpected way, this brought their angst and me closer.

Guns are dangerous – but I knew that walking by an old pickup truck on my way to a morning class. Yes, the AR versions are much more lethal, but which weapon is the real danger – the gun or the mind? Beside the given incredibly high value of life, what is the difference between 17 students shot with an AR and that of 4 with a less rapid-fire model? Both are tragic results but both point to something principally different in today’s world.

My wife learned to shot a pistol at cans in a quarry before she graduated the first grade. And her older brothers, all skilled shooters, drilled into her the responsibility and respect she should always show to a gun. Teaching and passing along the respect for guns in her family was an important rite of passage. To this day she carries this with her.

Which brings me back to my original question of what has changed? Is this a sign of the intoxicating draw and access to high firepower or the declining state of mental health or other another cultural / behavioral change?

I don’t pretend to know the answer. But what I do know is 700 students who share hallways of my former high school are genuinely scared of a monster – one who did not exist in my generation. Let’s find the true monster.

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Waitress Delivers Time Travel

“My boyfriend’s a skater,” said the waitress.

She’s old enough to carry and AARP card, wears her blonde hair tied behind her head, and her smile is one of a teenager in love.

You never know what you’ll find when you pick at a random string hanging from the universe. This day is no different.

Sitting in a small diner a block off the Pacific Ocean along the 101 in Southern California, I’d asked the waitress about the skateboarding stickers covering her black order pad. I knew the names well.

“Yeah, I know it sounds weird, but sometimes when we are at a skatepark someone will ask which one is mine – I’ll point to the old guy and say the big one out there.”

When I was fifteen years old I dreamed of skating the asphalt hills rolling out to meet the ocean along the Southern California coast. Posters and random pages torn from skateboard magazines replaced the kids wallpaper in my bedroom. The names of skaters, Jay Adams to Tony Alva – the notorious Z-Boys, were my heroes.

“Who is your boyfriend?” said a voice from the next booth. He could easily pass for the parent coach of a youth traveling soccer team.

She sheepishly shares his name.

“No way. That’s sick.”

The next booth joins our conversation proving that even in Southern California, a small roadside diner operates as under the same community conversation rules as one in Topeka, Kansas.

Our new friend in the next booth, he in his forties, knew the skater’s name instantly.

The waitress tells us about how her boyfriend traveled the world touring and is talking about building a new wooden ramp with some friends.

“He is pissed at the city’s skatepark,” she said. “Not enough vert.”

She tells us about how he came home one day stomping and sulking like a little kid.

“He’d jumped the fence when the park was under construction. He wanted to test it out since he’d helped design it with them. Found the city had made the vert only 8 feet instead of ten like they said they would. It was like living with a ten year old for an entire week.”

She laughed.

“When he told me he’d jumped the fence I was like, dude, how old are you?”

Our conversation, the one including our new friend in the next booth, turns to a local skateboarding shop down the street.

“McGill’s skateshop is just down the road,” she said. “Most legit shop around.”

The guy in the next booth speaks up.

“Yeah, he invented the McTwist, right?”

The waitress nods her head.

The coffee tastes a little better sitting here in the epicenter of skateboarding universe.

My fish tacos arrive. The waitress gets called away to another booth, her black notepad in tow. The veil on the universe begins to drop, returning us all to our adult lives. But for a moment, for all of us, we were nothing but a bunch of skate rats trading stories in paradise.

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Maternal Pride is Universal

“I always told my son when he dreams to dream with big wings.”

Sitting in the rear passenger seat of a silver Uber, the driver is telling me about her life. She’s friendly, she’s passionate, she’s only lived in America for a half-dozen years. In her accent, gently rolling with a hypnotizing melodic rhythm, she tells me is from Canada.

“My son has tried lots of things,” she said as we pick our way though the traffic. “But he always gives it his best.”

The last part of the sentence bubbles with the pride only a parent can project.

She’s been in the US for a short time, moving to California only after her 49-year old son finally convinced her to pull up stakes and join him in San Diego.

“At some point you also get tired of shoveling snow,” she said as we merged on to the parkway.

She’s young but she’s not – at least in terms of someone who is only measured by the dates registered on a driver’s license.

“My other son, he’s retired from the Army,” she said. “Lives down here.”

Mothers are remarkable. No one can project more pride than that of someone who literally brought you into the world.

She mentions a movie her son helped on after retiring from the military. The story is of Navy Seals going in to rescue a kidnaped American.

“He helped get the actors trained for their parts,” she said. “After watching the movie I got a better idea of what he did.”

She mentions watching the movie with her son and now being scared to death about what he did while serving in the military. She’s glad she didn’t know at the time.

Our silver SUV weaves back and forth as she darts between other cars. Her son’s confidence apparently comes naturally.

Both her sons carry her DNA and her drive to shape the world around them. As a mother, she has done her job well.

We pull into the circle drive of the hotel. A bellman walks out as she brings the car to a stop. She quickly hops out and heads to the back of the SUV. I offer to help.

“I work out at the gym,” she says. “This part is like getting in an extra workout.”

Grabbing the heavy suitcases, she effortlessly places them on the ground. The SUV quickly empties and she turns to say goodbye.

“Well, I hope you enjoy your visit.”

We shake hands. Her eyes are bright, her smile broad.

And like that, a force of nature, one beaming with maternal pride, boundless energy, and optimism, she slides back behind the wheel of the car.

As she pulls away I can’t help but feel as if God wanted me to meet this person. Life is an odd trail and if we pay attention, God puts the most interesting people in our pathway. I’m glad I met this woman who lights up the life of everyone she meets.

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Must Be Present to Win

A friend once shared one of the hidden secrets to life he’d discovered.

“When I was doing handyman work, a lot times I get job because I was the only guy who would show up.”

My friend is right.

I also remember my mother saying, “The early bird gets the worm.” At the time I thought she was explaining why some birds were bigger than others. Only years later did the words reveal themselves as a key marker on the roadmap of success.

Life is hard, but many times harder than we make it by not giving it our all.

Looking back on life I recognize the most anxious moments or those that would try and drag me mentally down were generally self-inflicted. Worrying without taking action is a dangerous cocktail.

I enjoy reading autobiographies. Doing so is like getting to live extra lives and experiences in what little time God decides is appropriate. And woven through most engaging biographies are stories of great failure – and what came next.

Right now I am working my way through an autobiography of Richard Branson, founder of Virgin enterprises and billionaire. And with nearly every chapter comes another example of him sticking his finger in an electrical outlet until he finds the one opportunity that hits. His number of business failures far exceeds the number of those that gone on to succeed. And the same is true with Bruce Springsteen’s biography and that of automotive manufacturer Tesla Motors and Space-X founder Elon Musk. All three showed up early, never let their vision be clouded by the periodic failures along the way, and changed their piece of the world.

Like most people in the world, each carries a vision. And like most people, they believe the world needs what they have or see.

But unlike most people, they act.

I have a friend who is saying the worst thing you can do in a crisis is to do nothing. He’s right. Doing nothing is pretty much a guarantee nothing will change or most likely worsen. And from that comes added anxiety, stress, and almost an ironclad guarantee of a self-fulfilled failure.

Which brings me back to my first friend’s testimony of why he was able to be successful as a handyman.

I don’t need to look to far to see this play out in my daily life. Recently I needed gutters on the house. I phoned three or four different people and companies. Guess who got the business – the one who showed up to perform a bid. And to top it off, he showed up on time the Sunday morning he said he world and his work was exceptional.

Look at the formula: he showed up, offered a bid, said when he’d do the work, and did the quality work as promised.

Life is hard when you don’t give it your all and can’t take a punch or three along the way. Get up, show up, make it happen.

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Social Media Dependency A Real Risk

The breakup was hard. We’d become so close over the years. With each day, our lives become increasingly intertwined; my secrets no longer mine and mine alone. My thoughts consumed by my need to share, the need to tell, and an increasing expectation for validation.

Breaking up from social media was one of the most difficult experiences in my life.

This may seem odd, but I’m so glad this chapter of dependency is behind me.

I wasn’t a heavy user and could quit anytime – at least that is what I said to myself. But was it changing the way my mind naturally worked? And was social media taking away valuable time with the most important people in my life? And how did my digital dependency become so powerful?

Social media is developed on scientific behavioral data resulting in the intentional numbing our self-awareness. And our organic brains are no match for learning algorithms written with the intent of manipulating our behaviors.

Facebook claims US adults spend nearly one hour per day scrolling, clicking, and uploading photos. The math equates to more than 2 weeks annually – nearly equal to the time the average American takes off for paid vacation. Imagine that. There are as many people spending more than 2 weeks scrolling, clicking, and making comments. And the end result is nothing of any real value or able to carry forward.

Breaking up is hard. It is more than deleting the apps from you phone or removing from your bookmark menu. There is a chemical dependency you must first break – the very one the rewiring of your brains are feeding you with every like, every share, every view. Through these we become literal dope addicts – the neocortex releasing small doses of highly addictive dopamine as a reward for the visual or emotional input. We become, chemically, dope addicts. Thus simply deleting the app or saying you will eliminate will bring on mental withdrawal pains.

For weeks my chemically dependent brain instinctively fought for its shot of dope – urging me to check my social media accounts, upload a photo of something I might see, or thumb scroll a the never ending feed of images or posts. Breaking up was hard as my brain chemically unwound itself.

Recently a friend said she, too, deleted the Facebook app from her phone and discovered something remarkable.

“I was standing in line at the grocery store and suddenly struck up a conversation with a stranger,” she said. “Before that I would’ve been scrolling my app.”

“It was like going back in time and I loved it!”

Recently more of my friends are sharing their recovering journey from social media dependency. Afterwards they admit to being surprised how deeply social media had encroached into their lives. And getting their life back altered how they would forever use the media in the future.

Social media is not too unlike fire. Used purposefully it can be remarkably beneficial. But unchecked it can destroy you and all things you hold dearly.

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America’s DNA On Display In Desert Town

Terlingua is hard to spell and even more difficult to get to. No one ends up in small desert town by accident. Located west of Big Bend National Park in Texas, the small town is at the crossroads of nowhere and hard to find.

But among the quirky atmosphere and desolate landscape, life is remarkably familiar.

With a newly filled tank of gas, I turn south and pull into a small Mexican restaurant on the eastern side of the highway. Dusty pickup trucks outnumber cars about 10 to 1. And eleven is about how many vehicles are parked in the gravel lot. The single story building is modest, roughly the size of a double-car garage.

But as far away from what many of us consider normal, life inside the four walls is surprisingly recognizable. In the kitchen an eclectic sound of pots, pans, and a microwave beeps fight for attention. Mom and dad work together to manage the orders coming through the window. Wooden shelves struggle under the weight of large cans waiting to be called into action. Everything in the kitchen is at arm’s reach – even each other.

The front is managed by a teenage girl, daughter to crew working the kitchen, who shares orders in Spanish through the door or window. She’s young, her decorated fingernails tapping her iPhone between handing out menus to whoever comes through the single door. Copied so many times, the words and descriptions are faded and running together.

Behind the register on the wall is a framed newspaper clipping. A ribbon and medal lay across the story of the local boy who set a record in track and field. His family is proud as they continue to work in the kitchen around the corner.

We sometimes get lost in the popular narrative of business’s success being measured by what a financial talking head might say on television: is the business scalable and will it grow? Are they maximizing their prices and preparing to expand into another market? What is the financial exit plan?

Success in this small business located along the unforgiving desert is measured by a completely different yet equally valuable set of metrics. Inside a family is working together, each dependent on each other to play an important role in the restaurant, and to never lose sight of what is important in life – their family unit.

Diners come and go while I am sitting near the door. There is no tension between family members – only a fluid and well-oiled process of operating a small family business. Conversations bark back and forth, orders are delivered to tables with minimal fuss, and no one is rushed out the door. Their home is for the sharing with those who have come in from the hard environment.

The family business is the backbone of America. Generations of small businesses raised their families beneath their feet while serving customers. Work ethic and respect for each other were burnished into the DNA. And in Terlingua, the true American small business is still alive and well.

 

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