Holiday Season Arrives Early

While standing among thousands of holiday travelers in a crowded airport this week, the spirit of Thanksgiving appeared before my very eyes.

“Welcome home, Dad!” read the white cardboard sign.

The letters, each handwritten in the best a 5-year old boy can muster with a box of crayons, filled the sign along with shooting stars and rainbows.

Sometimes we seem to get all caught up in the holidays – the worries and stress we tend to place on ourselves. Who is coming to dinner? Will everyone like the side dishes? How will we get the house ready?

For this little boy, seeing his dad was all that mattered.

Across the airport lobby an elevator pushes people up and out into a small waiting area for those waiting for travelers. You see all kinds of people – drivers for hire, grandparents waiting to see their grandkids, or business travelers returning from a long flight.

But on this day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays – whatever – were coming up the elevator any minute now for one little boy.

His mom stood nearby, rocking back and forth of her the balls of her feet. Nervous excitement is harder to hide when you know what is coming.

With waves of people washing up onto the platform, the young boy adjusted his sign, peering around the sides hoping to catch a glance of his dad. With each passing wave, he’d turn to his mother, somewhat confused. And each time, she’d look down, encouraging him to be patient.

Patience is not a virtue of little boys.

As a few more moments passed, a new wave of passengers rose up through the elevator exits. His mom voice involuntarily screamed.

The tall man, dressed in his army battle fatigues, stepped out from the crowd and ran towards his family. The little boy, seeing his dad, dropped the sign and ran towards him – leaping into his arms.

The little boy’s mother, her hands pressing hard against her cheeks, began racing to her husband – the three of them embracing – as passengers were swarming around them like stream water around a boulder.

As beautiful as the moment unveiled, then came the unexpected. The crowd of people waiting on others, noticing the reunion of the military man and his son, broke into applause and cheers for the returning soldier and his family.

With the little boy hugging his dad’s neck, I noticed the only feet planted on the ground were the sand colored dessert boots of the solider.

Suddenly the applause and cheers began to pierce the privacy of the family’s reunion. The boy, looking around and realizing the applause was directed his way, buried his head into his father’s shoulder. The soldier, noticing the love being sent his way by those around him, smiled proudly as he held his entire world in his arms.

And for one little boy, Thanksgiving, Christmas and his birthday all came on one day.

(This holiday season let’s make sure to include the brave service people and their families in our thoughts and prayers. We all owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.)

– 30 –

Old Man Winter Does Not Discriminate

 

On a cold November morning, a long line of warm-hearted people patiently waited outside the church doors to gather items to protect them and their families from the winter cold.

We sometimes forget the term “community” is not some abstract term – the reality is filled with faces, names very real needs.

Near the front of the line, trying to stay out of the direct force of a cold wind, a mother with 3 small children waited patiently. Behind her stood two sisters who’d arrived even earlier. Behind them were over a hundred others – each with their own story and needs.

Winter, as we all know, does not discriminate by gender or age.

Recently I found myself working with a group of friends from our local Rotary club to distribute thousands of dollars of donated coats, sweaters, gloves, and blankets to those in need. The items collected and donated by individuals, was a part of the annual Share the Warmth community drive.

Within minutes of the church doors opening, dozens of people fanned out into the church community room, each looking for something to help insulate them from the cold temperatures everyone knew would soon arrive. Tables filled with thousands of donated items waited patiently for a new home. The room, however, was quiet and respectful of the reason for everyone in attendance.

Children tried on stocking caps, adults wrapped their arms around colorful blankets, men tried on heavy coats.

“Here,” said a man with his bag of warm clothing under his arm. “I’d like to make a donation.”

“No,” said the Rotarian sitting at the table, “That’s not necessary, but thank you.”

“When the Lord blesses you,” said the man, “You should always bless back.”

With that he reached into his pocket and pushed forward a small handful of dollar bills.

“Here,” he said, “This is all I have — but please take it.”

Standing there, I couldn’t help but be struck by the combination of selflessness and generosity of the man. His shirt, with well-worn holes, struggled to cover his body.  A single pass to a nearby table could’ve easily upgraded is wardrobe. But to him, he saw a much larger picture.

Looking down at his bag, I couldn’t help but notice how few items he’d collected. To him, he only took what he needed — others, he knew, would need items as well.

We spent the next couple moments talking. His smile was big — nearly as big as his heart. After a few moments, he turned and quietly slipped out the door with his modest collection of items.

People, for the most part, are good-hearted. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget this little detail in the rush of our daily lives.

But for me, the experience of a single man with the big smile offering up all the money in his possession will forever serve as a reminder to me of why must always must never lose sight of literal faces of “community.”

 

– 30 –

Big Brother Is Looking Over My Shoulder

The terrorist’s assault began slowing – a simple email here or maybe an envelope with happy, healthy active people on the front a few weeks later. Soon I even found myself getting an invitation to join a discount club claiming to be for individuals “just like you!”

Who do these people with AARP think they are?

I’ve always known achy joints, sporadic memory loss, and moments of confusion were just a few of the generally accepted challenges I might face as I continued to age. But being the focus of a multi-million dollar organization’s targeted effort to enlist me into their “army” is something I never anticipated.

I remember the first time an email arrived inviting me to visit their website and look around.

“Gosh, AARP will send spam to anyone,” I said to myself.

Then came another. And another. In a short time, they were no longer blindly addressed to anyone in the cyber-sphere – they began to focus their message on me.

Big Brother, I realized, was alive and well.

But these folks at AARP are just for “old people”, right? Silver-haired folks who eat dinner between 4 and 6 PM at local restaurants, the same people who proudly ask for a senior coffee at McDonalds? Heck, I still wear jeans with holes in them – and I paid good money for them to be that way.

There is a saying “you are only as old as you feel”. Well, for me, that is a moving target. One day I might feel as if I’m thirty years old and the next, well, maybe 40 (there are actually days my wife might claim I’m fourteen). But overall, I never feel as if I’m ready to head out to pasture.

But then something odd began to happen. These people showing up on the emails and envelopes began to look “not so old” in my eyes. Some actually looked like some of the people I hang around with on the tennis court, golf course or grab lunch with during the week.

This week I read Mick Jagger, lead singer of the Rolling Stones rock band, is now 69-years old. James Bond – or the film series I should say – is turning 50 years old this month. Even iconic automobiles of my youth (Camaros, Mustangs, and Challengers) are now updated and reissued. What does this mean?

Well, maybe these folks at AARP are getting between my ears. Maybe they know something I don’t – or want to admit to myself.

A couple weeks ago I found myself in a cool little coffee shop in downtown Chicago with my brother when he gently helped me with my growing acceptance of my age.

“Hey,” he said, “how does it feel to be the oldest person in here by at least a decade or so?”

Looking around I noticed he was right. We were swimming in a sea of hipsters – scruffy beards, earth tones, thick-rimmed glass frames – all sprinkled with an occasional hat never designed for promoting a sports team or product. Laptops and smartphones outnumbered salt and pepper shakers.

And then it hit me as my mind wondered if I might be able to get a senior discount on this four-dollar cup of coffee?

The terrorist are winning.

– 30 –

Be Honest – Do You Count?

 

We all know we should vote. The reality, however, is that many do not.

Picture yourself in line at the local grocery store. There is a nice older lady ahead of you speaking with the young man running the cash register. Looking over your shoulder you see seven other people in line. How many of these people – including you – will actually take time to cast a ballot for president this Tuesday?

According to the America Presidency Project (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu), barely six of 10 people (58.8 percent) found their way to the voting booth for 2008 presidential election.

“I’m not going to vote,” said one man recently, “because I might have to serve jury duty. I don’t really want to risk it.”

Unfortunately, there are many people who seem to be forgetting democracy is a participation sport, so to say. Democracy, particularly one like the republic in existence in the United States, is still very much an experiment in human history. But without a doubt, never have so many lived so free for so long.

Granted, our republic is a work in progress, and that is exactly what propels our nation forward. We’ve made bad decisions in the past, and probably will make more in the future. But the beauty of this amazing democratic republic is that it is a self-correcting society. As principles and values change or evolve, then so does the direction of our government.

Historically speaking, women and minorities only recently gained the ability to vote. As a matter of fact, early on, just being a white male was not enough to guarantee the right to cast a vote. Through the 1850s many states required a white male to be a property owner or be a current taxpayer to participate. Combine this to other tactical moves to create barriers to potential voters (poll taxes, religious qualifications, etc.) and you see why the current pool of potential voters never had it so good.

Only we continue to struggle to get voters to the election box.

What is so hard about this? You register, you show up, you cast your vote. Big deal – probably takes more time to sit through the drive-through at your favorite fast food restaurant. Recent studies from the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media claim people spend, on average, eight hours a month on Facebook. I’m sorry, but no one is that interesting.

So why is it so many essentially “opt out” of participating in this grand experiment? Everyone has an opinion. Why not be heard? Why not join in and cast a ballot? We, as a society, can’t win if you don’t play.

This year let’s encourage someone we know to go to the ballot box. Voting is a right and privilege forged from a literal combination of blood, sweat and tears. If you doubt this, all you need is a brief tour of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

So this year let’s all work to carve out a few minutes to join in the grand experiment known as the United States. Vote with your ballot – and then update your status on Facebook to read, “I count. Do you?”

– 30 –