Paradise a Powerful Force of Nature

On this particular day, my mind tries to convince me the only thing between me and paradise is the sand between my toes.

I’m standing on a beach, millions of tiny soft white granulated rocks pushing up between my toes, contemplating how I’d love to live in this particular piece of real estate. We all harbor our own personal paradise – a secluded cabin in the woods, a small place along a lake, or maybe even the allure of spending our days chasing a little white ball along green fairways.

On this special day, I’m standing in mine – a place where ‘dressed up’ is generally defined by wearing some sort footwear.

In a small town located on a tiny island in the Caribbean, my mind is racing of how I could one day call this place home. Business development – or the skills to successfully operate a business seem as rare as finding an ice scraper. I could make this work, I say to myself as my toes sketch a random design in the sand.

We all dream. And for the most part, dreams are free.

On this particular day I’ve made a new friend. For him, the sand below his feet is a long way from his home where tall buildings are the norm and trees are considered a curiosity.

We are both looking for ice – a commodity controlled by a single person on this little town consisting of a handful of buildings in different stages of disrepair.

Our conversation moves to our temporary visit to paradise and how even searching for a simple bag of ice can become an adventure.

“Someone needs to drop a couple self-service ice machines in this place,” I said in a statement intentionally laced with both jest and seriousness.

My new friend laughs.

The man from the land of tall buildings mentions he personally knows someone who actually made the jump to paradise only to discover there are some diseases a shot from the local health department can’t protect you from.

“Yeah, a friend of mine one tried to move his business down to a place like this once,” says my new friend. “Said after a while he contracted ‘Keys Disease’.

At one point or another, everyone dreams of chucking it all and moving to the place of their dreams. Sure, we tell ourselves, I can make a living there, these people just don’t know what they are doing. Just wait until I get there.

“Yeah, he moved down to the Florida Keys with intentions of doing some building and living in paradise.”

“He was making a go of it until he slowing began finding himself a beer or two in the afternoon. And before long, he found the Keys changing him. In the end, he became one of them.”

I think of his words as I look around at this place where an old woman owns the key to only ice shed in town and the phrase ‘hours of operation’ is an unfamiliar string of words.

I guess my new friend is right. I’m pretty sure the fire burning in my belly would eventually cool over time. And with that cooling, the fresh inventory of ideas I’d plan to import would fade as paradise’s invisible influence began to change me.

In the end the attraction to paradise is probably more between the ears than in the actual surroundings of where your feet stand. Paradise is a state of mind – a place where our dreams live and thrive in a blend of the unknown reality. And in the end, thinking we can change paradise to our expectations is probably the worst thing we can do.

– 30 –

Walking a Tightrope Requires Effort

Which of the following statements is true:

A: Life is very long, and you’ve so much time to live; experience and enjoy.

B: Life is not very long, and you’ve so little time to live; experience and enjoy.

C: All of the above.

The answer, not surprising to many of us, is C.

Recently I visited with a coworker and friend whose son is graduating from high school.

“You remember when you and I first met,” he said. “My son was about this tall.”

His right hand hovered a mere six inches above the desk he sat behind.

I silently did the math – we’d worked together for nearly 15 years and during that time, both our sons became men.

“It feels strange,” he said, his voice trailing off.

His feelings are leading him to a place where many of us have already found ourselves – a place where we abruptly realize we might be moving from “chapters” of a book to one where we pick up an entirely new novel. The next steps will be dramatic and for the most part, significantly independent from the first 18 or so years.

In many ways it is like the old saying “a watched pot never boils.” When you are so close to the moment – like the daily activities of your children – life seems to move in small, somewhat measurable chapters. T-ball moves into Little League, T-shirts go from children’s to adult sizes. Then one day you look at a pile of shoes of your child’s shoes at the door and realize you could easily wear them.

But very few moments in life more strongly remind parents of mortality than the graduation of their child from high school. The list of lifetime markers most of us refer to is relatively finite. I remember when our son took his first steps, his first day of school, and his graduation from high school. Everything else seems to fall comfortably into a series of chronological chapters of life. Today we’ve a few more ahead on the horizon – most people would likely suggest graduation from college, marriage, and first grandchild. But while those may seem as if they are waiting pretty far down the road, I need only to look back at how fast his childhood passed.

My friend’s son is an only child, therefore, putting a much stronger period on the end of the sentence. For me, at least I can take false comfort in the fact my daughter won’t graduate high school for a few more years. But the funny thing is, in a few short years she’ll push me to my very same threshold where my friend stands.

Life moves so quickly – particularly when life distracts your eyes of the ball. Work, health, even other siblings can naturally draw our attention away, creating an odd realization of the passing of time when our attention returns.

But we all must remember, while life is generally measured by a calendar, it is our emotions and experiences that we will one day look back upon. Each of us must walk the careful balance between answers A and B in order to capture the best of what life offers.

Remember the past, celebrate the day and dream of tomorrow.

– 30 –

Father’s Day Ultimately Defined by Memories.

While the Lords of Commerce would lead us to believe the celebration of Father’s Day is best addressed by a special sale on power tools, a funny card written with marginally funny puns or maybe a colorful new tie, the truth is much different for many of us.

Truth be told, I’d rather just sit around with my wife, laughing as we retell stories of experiences you can only gain as a parent.

The other day she and I were driving along when we somehow wandered into a story of how our daughter created a scene walking into her first-grade classroom on Career Day.

The young teacher, in her first couple years of teaching and newly married, pulled my wife aside.

As our daughter mingled with friends dressed in a simple blue tank dress, a wide black belt around her waist and her blonde hair pulled into two giant pigtails, the teacher pulled my wife spoke to my wife in a concerned voice.

“You know today is career day, right?” she said as our daughter met up with her friends in the classroom. “What is she dressed as today?”

My wife smiled and looked the teacher in the eyes.  “Bubbles the Power Puff Girl.”

The teacher, to our surprise, was offended – a feeling she reflected in the tone of her voice.

“We really want the kids to pick careers that are more like doctors, lawyers or the like. Maybe we could tell her she’s a police officer.”

My wife just took deep breath and said, “No, she’s Bubbles the Power Puff girl today. It’s who she wants to be – and I’m fine with it.”

My wife told me later of how she’d wished you could’ve told the teacher, “Just you wait until you have children end up doing battle with strong-willed child. Then we’ll see when and where you pick your battles.”

The story brought back a flood of memories of the days I’d come home and our daughter would be running around the house dressed as the cartoon crime-fighter Bubbles as if the costume were just another outfit she’d found in her closet.

As my wife and I drove down the road the other day I think we both found ourselves laughing at hard at that memory as the day it happened. Parenting is, after all, a tag team sport.

You see, I really don’t want anything for Father’s Day other than the time to sit around and talk, visit and take an occasional drink from the memories parenting supplies me with. Nothing housed inside a giant, big-box store will ever make me laugh or smile as much as my journey as a parent. As nice as a tie can be, one day I will determine someone might need it more than me and place it a box of donations.

But when it comes to the memories only parenting can bring, the only place they will be found is safely tucked away in a heavily protected box called my heart.

– 30 –

Life at Arm’s Length Not Forever

After over twenty years of having our children – both figuratively and literally – at arm’s length, my wife and I are finding ourselves adjusting to a strange new world.

When you’re young, in the midst of discovering the world, you can do just about anything, when you want, where you want. There are very few limits beyond your imagination.

Then comes baby and changes everything.

The other day a friend was announcing to the world he and his wife are expecting – triggering memories of when my wife and I were arriving at the same point in our lives. We loved life. We drove the coastline from the Florida panhandle to Mexico, exploring seemingly every beach and interesting small town along the way. We discovered wineries and began a lifelong interest in finding interesting regional destinations. We, like most people during that age, were working hard trying to figure out who – both individually and as a couple – we wanted to be ‘when we grew up’.

Then came the day we found out we were to be parents.

Still in the first few years of marriage, each of us pretty much accountable only to each other, we did not fully appreciate what a life-changing event this would become.

Babies are cute. They make interesting sounds and find their toes possibly the most fascinating objects on the planet. Just being around is a reminder of how beautiful the journey of life is. But the commitment is 24/7/365. The result is you are committing to being within arm’s length of this new being for the next couple decades.

While the transition on the front end, the arrival is rather abrupt; the exit from this arrangement is much different. Our children arrived with the fanfare of rock star – new furniture, toys, and a learning curve we thought we’d never master. But fast-forward a couple decades, to when children are leaving the proverbial nest, the transition seems to happen in bits and pieces. An overnight at a friend’s house here, then a weekend trip with friends another time and you can truly feel the erosion of their need to be us within arm’s length.

But then one day you realize this stage is harder on you than your children – the realization giving you serious pause. Time, you recognize, to get ready for the next stage.

My wife and I both believe parenting is the greatest calling we have on this earth. God put us together for this very journey. And we came to realize whatever sacrifice we might feel in the short-tem, they alway seem to fade into the background of the longer-term perspective we accumulate over time.

Our oldest moved off and out of “arm’s length” several years ago. In his sister, now going into her senior year of high school, my wife and I are seeing the all-to-familiar signs of no longer needing us at arm’s length. With each day, her maturity and confidence expanding, my wife and I know now each step forward for her is creating an expanding distance between her and the incredibly intimate distance we’ve all shared throughout her life.

I guess as parents this is our endgame – to raise strong, intelligent and independent children. The pangs of separation are, in essence, the growing pains of love being stretched across a new stage. And in the end,  our children’s successful transition out and away from arm’s length is our reward.

– 30 –