Broken Heart Syndrome Very Real

Driving past a modest home near our home the other night a single light behind a window caught my attention.

You see, as happens surprisingly often, both the husband and wife passed within a few months of each other.

Their neat home sits quietly now – gone are the grandkids running across the lawn during the holidays. Gone is the wife standing outside surveying the lawn in spring as flowers break the ground. Gone is the husband who each morning rested just outside the garage on a lawn chair reading his newspaper.

Life is full of mystery. No matter how much science and medicine would have us believe otherwise, something else factors into these equations. Some point to statistical indicators on charts to rationalize life expectancy trends. But others point to a broken heart. But the truth probably lays somewhere in the middle.

I think everyone knows one of these couples – the ones so close you can’t imagine one without the other. And then one day, nature takes one home.

My aunt and uncle shared one of the most beautiful romances I ever witnessed. He adored her and she him. Both independent and not afraid to hold their ground, they shared over fifty years together.

One night after a date – them driving to a favorite local restaurant – my aunt came home, and after getting her home ready for the night, she sat down and quietly passed away while relaxing in a favorite chair.

My uncle was a strong man. Raised in the old school, he found himself in the rather unusual role of being the survivor.

In a lesson learned from the sidelines, I watched as he prepared to rejoin the love of his life. Quietly and methodically he began to ‘put his life’ in order by selling his home and possessions and finding a smaller place to live. Next I heard he began volunteering at a local hospital lending a hand wherever needed. He was committed to make a difference while he waited.

Shortly afterwards I found myself with him, somewhat ironically, at a funeral when he pulled out his cell phone.

“Look at this,” he said.

As the photo came up I instantly recognized the face of my aunt, his love.

“Wow,” I said, “She’s beautiful.”

What struck me was what happened next. As life continued to swirl around us, his eyes never came off the screen. It was as if time became frozen for a moment as he drank one extra sip from a glass holding a lifetime of memories.

I swear time paused for both of us while we stood together looking down at the image of a young woman with decades of life ahead of her.

My uncle obviously ached each and every day for the love of his life.

I remember going back for his funeral. I was sad for our collective loss, but inside I knew there was a much bigger picture going on.

The light I noticed the other night served to remind me that there are those who truly give themselves to each other, living a life so intertwined not even death can separate them.

And regardless of what medicine and statistics say, I truly believe you can die from a broken heart.

– 30 –

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Time to Shine Up the Presidency?

Once upon a time – in my lifetime, that is – parents encouraged their children to chase their dreams. Anything you put your mind to can happen if you work hard, keep your nose clean and study hard. And one day you might even become president of the United States.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe this is even on the radar screen of most American parents in 2012.

At one point in history, and it is worth pointing out not too long ago, this was the moon shot, the highest target anyone would dream of achieving. As a matter of fact, so iconic, becoming the president of the United States of America was woven into the fabric of the American Dream.

Today, I’m pretty sure parents are more likely to encourage their kids to create a website than plot a course to one day becoming president.

When I was a child the president was revered across not only our nation, but the entire planet. A cowboy in a white hat, so to speak.

Even in my home, my parents always respected the president, even if they didn’t vote or agree with him. If the president came on the television, we’d all stop everything and sit down to watch the event together. I even remember being called in from playing catch in the backyard to watch President Nixon resign on national television.

But something happened – and I’m not quite sure when and how – and the luster is somehow off the position.

The media is relentless in a game of “gotcha” with elected officials and celebrities. Transparency is now interpreted as more of MRI looking for any possible mistake, error in judgment, or questionable action to ridicule an individual. The level of scrutiny is arguably so intense many a good person is no longer willing to put themselves or family members through such an ordeal.

The president of the United States earns $400,000 per year. In comparison, Albert Pujols recently inked a deal to hit a little baseball for $240 million (or $24 million per year). Even Hollywood is willing to pay a Eddie Murphy, a comedian with a mixed box office track record, $20 million for staring in “Meet Dave” – a box office flop.

So we think $400,000 is a good figure to run the free world? Is something out of whack here?

Granted, the president earns some very nice perks, but we all tell ourselves elective office is a “public service” and shouldn’t be concerned with what an individual earns. For the past decade or so, the brightest graduates headed straight for Wall Street or the technology world to make their fortunes. And in many ways, who can blame them?

But at the end of the day, the president is still the most powerful position in the world. We need the very best possible people to strive to make a choice to pursue a pathway to the White House.

This just might be the time for us to collectively step back and ask ourselves where this behavior will one day lead – and if this is what we want for our nation.

 

– 30 –

Some Memories Will Always Be Fresh

I remember the day my son was born as clearly as if it were only yesterday.

That said, I couldn’t remember a simple list of six items to pick up at the grocery store if not written down.

Funny how our brains can reach through years – even decades – of time and present memories in crystal clear vision of certain important events in our lives.

Speaking the other day with a friend, she said her son would soon turn 2-years old.

“It seems like only yesterday,” she said.

“Fortunately,” I said, “it will always feel that way.”

This week our son turned 21 years old. To me, if I measure the time by calendars, this is two decades plus one year. But for some reason, the clarity of the moment is so strong I believe I could probably recall the color of the chair I was sitting in when called from the waiting room.

There is something special about the birth of your children. The moments are nothing short of monumental shifts in your being. No one can ever fully prepare you for what occurs inside of you when you first lay eyes on your own flesh and blood. You’ve changed the world – and it will forever change you.

I am so proud of our two children. While our son is now a full adult in the eyes of society, our daughter is quickly closing in as she prepares to turn seventeen later this month. Time will most likely have captured them both from under our roof in the blink if an eye.

But I’ll always have the memory of the day they were born.

Our son, true to this day, was ‘on’ from day one. As they brought him out of the surgery room, I looked down to see his eyes intently staring back at me – already processing his surroundings. This would become a very telling indication of how he would navigate the rest of his life. Emotions in check, gathering and digesting information, became his standard procedure from the day we brought him home. So focused, my wife once left a note on his 4th grade desk telling him to ‘lighten up’ after a teacher suggested during an open house that parents should leave an ‘inspirational’ message for their student. The teacher didn’t find the note funny.

Our daughter, on the other hand, came into this world kicking, screaming and bent on figuring out how to mold it into something designed to satisfy her wants and desires. For her birth I actually was allowed in the room and  got to witness her very first breathe outside the womb. If you want to truly appreciate the miracle of life, watching you own child cough and take its first breath will forever alter you.

But like most people, my memory leaves a lot to be desired. If not for my habit of always keeping notes on yellow legal pads, or scribbling ideas on the back an envelope I found on the Ping-Pong table, there is no telling how much would fall off my plate. My memory is just not that good.

But when it comes down to what really matter is life, for some reason, God gave us all 20/20 vision.

– 30 –

Are Toolboxes An Endangered Species?

The repair shop sign passing outside the car window seemed fairly unremarkable to me.

“Television repair shop? Why would you want to repair a television?” our teenage daughter said, her voice genuinely incredulous.

Her words struck me odd as yet another increasing indicator of how different her world is from the one where I grew up.

In my childhood, items – radios, washing machines, and small kitchen appliances – could be found taken apart in our home with my dad’s go-to toolbox alongside them. His standard box, a dark green with a silver handle on top, opened much like a tackle box. Only inside rattled loose wrenches, different types of hand pliers and maybe an occasional spark plug. I can still here the exact pitch of forged wrenches while his hand sifted though the box in search for a specific tool.

My daughter, raised in the ‘disposable society’ of today, would never consider attempting to fix a kitchen alliance. The thought would simply never cross her mind.

In today’s world of low-cost, practically disposable items, repairing a broken (fill in the blank) is quickly becoming a lost art.

Recently I stopped by a neighbor’s house. Parked outside on his driveway was a late 1960’s Pontiac Firebird convertible. While I found the simple lines timeless, what I really remember is the engine bay. Carefully leaning over the front quarter-panel and examining the engine, I spotted something unheard of in today’s cars: you could see the concrete driveway below. While this might not seem to be a big deal to many, years ago, this was normal. If ever a wrench got away from you, the tool would harmlessly bang once or twice before finally resting on the concrete below. Many of today’s cars, with an engine spouting enough houses and belts to rival Medusa, are much too intimidating for most of us to even know where to start.

Historically a television set found itself a significant investment for most homes. And my dad, with a box of tubes and electrical testing tools with dangling red and black probes, never considered replacing it because of the color not being ‘just right’. And when, after spewing parts around the living room and then reassembling the television over the course of an afternoon, he determined he couldn’t fix the problem, we’d carry the television to a small repair shop up by a local pizza parlor.

The thought of buying a new television – or anything else broken – found itself relegated to the very last possible option on the list. Not too many years ago, the replacement choice severely injured the ego – a sign you’d failed.

Today our world encourages us to simply dispose of items. Low replacement costs combined with the difficulty of repairing integrated electronically circuitry make the days of my dad’s toolbox increasingly rare.

Several years ago at our home the television stopped working in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Instinctively I researched the problem to see if the television was repairable. Fortunately the answer came back yes – but the parts would cost the better part of a brand-new unit with better resolution, more options and larger screen.

My toolbox never saw the light of day.

– 30 –

Being Distracted by Distractions Distracting.

This year I’ve decided to simplify my life by doing away with needless distractions.

Granted, easier said than done, but so far, so good.

Believe it or not, the other day I did not turn on my email until after an hour of arriving at the office. Then, of all things, I checked my email and then promptly turned off the application.

I darn near had the shakes.

Life for me, and probably many of you, is a seemingly endless stream of ‘noise’ of people reaching into our lives. Email, Facebook, Twitter – whatever is your poison. But today’s world seemingly demands we be in constant contact with everyone on the planet. I don’t know about you, but this can be a bit distracting to getting anything done.

The other day I read an article in which claimed people who constantly multi-task are operating at about the same IQ level of someone who is ‘partaking’ in a certain substance illegal in most states of the nation. Additionally, the article claimed men were found their IQ’s depressed even more so than women in this scenario.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I surely need all the brain cells I have functioning at full capacity at all times.

I’ve spent a couple days observing what ‘distracts’ me during the day. Turns out, it is just about everything around me. And in an embarrassing turn of events, I seem to be in control of them – allowing them to run my day.

My plan is to take my life back under my control in baby steps.

Enemy number one is my email. My fault. Once I felt if it was important to read each email as it arrived into my inbox. I’d, in my self-appointed importance, set mine to ‘ding’ every time and message arrived. Some days my laptop sounded like popcorn in a microwave oven. Easy fix. Yes, I know I can change the little preferences to check at different intervals (2-minutes, 5-mintues, 30-minutes, etc.) but to be in true control of the distraction I simply turned the entire application off.

So when do I check my email today? When I think about it. And after I’ve read a checked them I simply put the email monster back in its cage but quitting the program. The silence is simply beautiful.

First day I corralled the monster I killed the day from a productivity standpoint.

The second big distraction is my cell phone. If anything, these ‘live’ devices are becoming electronic leaches first, cell phones second. Today nearly 75% of phones are deemed ‘smart devices’. Between capturing email, intrusive text messages in the middle of the night, and an occasional live human being calling, these devices are morphing into massive time suckers. And the sad thing is, we willing give them our time and attention.

In fairness, I must admit my affliction with ‘smart devices’ is now several years long and a self-inflicted wound.

My current solution is to put the phone on vibrate. Now this sounds silly, but a vibrating phone on my desk still gets my attention but in a much less intrusive way. Plus, it is much easier to let a call go to voicemail when it is gently vibrating on my desk as opposed to shattering the silence of the room. Thus again, putting me in control of my time.

The third problem is me -– or simply my seemingly hyper attention span. I’m not going to claim any affliction, but rather I believe I’ve self-taught myself to jump from one item to another of a period of years. This could take time and commitment from me.

My new plan is to start – and finish something – at one sitting. Again, easier said than done. I can many times be my own worst enemy.

So far this week, not bad. I actually completed this column in one sitting. Like I said, baby steps.

– 30 –