Challenges Come In All Sizes

Sometimes getting angry is the right thing to do.

Earlier this week, while listening to a speaker talk about his life-long challenges with cystic fibrosis, a handful of words seemed to stay with me beyond the length of his talk.

“My life changed when I became angry with myself,” he said.

His words hooked me.

“For most of my life I was angry at God, the doctors, my parents – you name it, I was angry at them. But then one day it occurred to me there was really only one person to be angry at – me.”

No one would criticize someone who, as a 9-years old, ran across an encyclopedia entry telling him he was approaching middle age. According to the set of hardback books in his living room, the average cystic fibrosis survival age projected to be twenty-five years of age.

I’ll be somewhat of a spoiler here and let you know this remarkable man is now approaching his fortieth birthday, married and blessed with a family. This point really helps drive home the speaker’s discovery, one he made while in college, and underscores his journey.

One day the speaker found himself literally knocked down to the ground during a pickup basketball game and needing help to get up. As guys do, a bit of trash talk came to the surface, but with an unusual result. The words triggered anger inside of him that manifested not at the other player, but himself. This basketball game would be become a tipping point for a young man who’d spent most of his life focusing his anger outward.

Shortly afterwards he found himself focusing on his personal self-improvement – signing up for weight lifting classes and committing himself to exercise and fitness. As his body changed, so did his mind and self-confidence. By focusing on what he could do, what he could control, he found his world and surroundings improving.

Suddenly, because of focusing his energy inward, his life changed forever.

I found his lesson powerful, not just because of his medical challenge, but because his realization of understanding he – and he alone – would be in charge of the direction of his life. This powerful moment is one of those we all can relate to – only most of us do not face the extreme challenges of the speaker.

Today he’s a successful athlete, running and competing in road races and triathlons. He also donates a great amount of time helping people understand what cystic fibrosis means and how others can help. He even holds an annual softball tournament, named after his sister who died near birth of cystic fibrosis, raising over a million dollars in a few short years.

The lesson for me is here is a guy just like you and me — only most of us do not carry the challenge of cystic fibrosis in our daily lives. And to him, he’s cutting a giant pathway through life and changing the world around him for the better. If anything, this should inspire all of us to live our lives with a bit more purpose.

(To learn more about cystic fibrosis, visit http://www.cff.org)

– 30 –

Not All Emotions Created Equal

 

“You just can’t help but feel a lump in your throat when finally find yourself standing in front of the wall,” said a friend.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is everything everyone has ever told you – and more.

Earlier this week I found myself waking up at sunrise to bike through Washington, D.C., and the national monuments around it.

Minutes from my hotel I found one of the community’s public bike rental racks and was quickly on the road.

With traffic low and the monuments silent from visitors, with the exception of an occasional runner or a squirrel hunting for breakfast, this was my opportunity to explore the city in an almost intimate manner.

Over the course of a couple of hours I visited nearly every site along the National Mall while the sun silently worked to illuminate the eastern horizon. And as if the morning needed any additional poignancy, the date on the front page of the newspaper in my hotel room reflected the date of September 11th.

But with all the visits I made that morning, I found myself completely unprepared for the emergence of emotions residing inside me while at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

With all respect to the other monuments you’ll find in the National Mall, there is a tangible pall that overcomes you when you arrive at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Approaching he monument I noticed a statue of three life-size soldiers standing together, gazing in the direction of the subterranean stone. In contrast to most any other statues in D.C., these are laden with realistic touches so as not to needlessly glorify those they represent. Clothes are well worn, shoelaces untied, and no two are dressed alike. The one thing they share is an almost haunting look that seems to reveal exhaustion and the need to be together in a brotherhood. Glamor, rightly so, is completely absent from the presentation.

Stepping down into the monument, which spans 70 black granite tiles, you find yourself seemingly absorbed into the powerful structure. Again, your body is involuntarily reacting to an overwhelming presence. And then you notice the names.

The sun was now beginning to leak through the leaves of the trees, reflecting directly onto the dark stone.

As I began to read the more than 58,000 names, I found myself noticing the breadth of ethnicities before me. The placement of each, completely uniform in typeface and size, only worked to emphasize that all were equal regardless of rank, family name or from what side of the tracks they were born. In this solemn space, much like in the face of death, everyone is equal.

As I reached up to trace a few of the names, I could feel my body reacting to its powerful surroundings. My heart rate became slow, my footsteps softened, my head slightly tilted downward. And much like my friend warned me, I could feel my throat tighten in reaction to the realization of where I stood and what it represented.

Sometimes we can get busy with life and temporarily forget to fully appreciate the families who offer the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, however, will reawaken your emotions for all who’ve fallen for our nation over time. And this, to me, makes it a masterpiece.

For while standing before this modest, imposing structure, you’ll discover all of you emotions are not the same.

 

– 30 –

Lifetime Not Measured By Calendar

Next week my wife and I will have been together for a lifetime.

Actually, I mean this not as a measurement of time, but rather a description of culminating events. As a matter of fact, most people can say the very same. A lifetime is not measured days on the calendar, but rather the experiences we share with another person during a window of time.

A simple calendar hangs on the back door of the pantry in our kitchen. And of those 30 days in the month of September, one date finds itself with a little notation. This year — and every calendar I can remember — my wife marks the calendar of our first date: a lunch at a small deli after morning classes on a fall day while we were both in college.

For us, this is an opportunity for us to reflect on how life can blossom around you while you’ve your head down trying to get through the day.

When we did get married, we signed on for ‘better or worse’ – and like most couples I know, we’ve probably tested both of those boundaries at one time of another. The combination of mixing two independent people, the financial challenges of marriage and children, always challenged the ability to never lose sight of each other throughout the process.

But along the way, you grow – many times life dragging you along kicking and screaming. And your world, like a child’s fill-in-the-color picture, begins to bloom in colors and shade you never imagined. Where you once saw a simple landscape of connecting the dots – marriage, children, and career – you suddenly begin to realize life is really so much more.

A lifetime is not measured by the years you are together, but what you do with the time you have to share with someone else.

Both my wife and I lost a parent while we were young. But, fortunately, we both watched as our parents lived a lifetime together in their abbreviated time together. Both sets of parents raised families, faced challenges, laughed, cried and successfully navigated any challenge life threw at them. We as children, just helped fill in the colors around them.

Many times I look around at others – some as near our neighborhood friend – and marvel as they continue to live their ‘lifetime’ together with absolute passion. To them, they’ve the wisdom of knowing where they’ve been, what today holds. The only thing they know about tomorrow is they’ll be experiencing whatever the world holds together.

And to me, a lifetime is just that – the sharing of whatever life can throw at you with someone else.

Recently my wife and I spent a week with an extraordinary group of people who, although taking different routes through life, loved each other so deeply you couldn’t imagine one without the other. Everyone’s story was different, but the one common thread was his or her absolute love for each other. To them, they understood the journey, the commitment, and value of each other. They knew a lifetime is built one day at a time.

So as the calendar moves along, remember to live life as if it were measured not by a calendar, but the experiences in your heart.

– 30 –

MAN CAVE ETCHED IN MALE DNA

 

Most men would be happy to live in a cave.

The other day a friend and I were talking about how the ‘man cave’ phenomena continues to spread across our culture. The concept of the ‘man cave’, by the way, is rather primal instinct for men – a place to go hide and be alone. A safe place away from distractions and all things not doused in testosterone. Anthropologically speaking, I’m pretty sure this practice goes back to the days of our long-haired, Neanderthal ancestors who holed up in literal caves to get away from the pack.

Last night my friend joking lamented about how when they bought their house he envisioned the basement becoming his own personal ‘man cave’. His wife, however, promptly – and rightly – converted it to a playroom for the kids.

“Yeah, I figure when I do get around to it, the place will most likely be an ‘old man’ cave. You know, one with a recliner and one of those little refrigerators in the corner.”

Men and women are without a doubt, very different. Somewhere in the male DNA is a natural urge to be left alone for periods of time. I’m not really sure why, but we seem to get antsy without having a place to call our own. And contrary to what popular culture would have people believe, we don’t really need a fancy place with a giant cinema screen and a dozen powerful speakers to rock the foundation of our neighbor’s house. We just want a space to imagine as a home base, so to speak, a place to reach out and tag once in a while.

Garages, if you think about it, have always served as a natural environment for men to retreat to for hours at a time. The fact the car could be parked inside just served as a bonus.

The other day another friend told me of how when her father retired he basically retreated to the detached garage and launched into an endless list of ‘projects’ – basically piddling away with his tools and anything mechanical.

Sounds like a cave to me.

Fortunately for my wife has always seemed to understand this biological tick of maleness. For as long as we’ve been together, she’s always helped carve out a space in our home for me to spend time immersed in my favorite past time, tinkering with words. Over time I’ve had a desk sitting on a plank of wood in an unheated and uncooled attic to eventually working my way up to unused bedroom. And over time, these spaces, so Spartan and simple, found themselves named by our kids as ‘the boring room’ – a place they’d certainly never want to spend any amount of time against their will.

So in the end, a ‘man cave’ is nothing to fear. The crazy, over-the-top versions featured on television are just another example of pop culture gone wild. Men are simple creatures. We need love, food and a place to call home.

And if you can work a little cable TV into the equation, all the better.

– 30 –