Temperature Gauge Gauges Level of Love

 

It was a cold, wintery day. No, actually it was May.

My wife, a native Texan, walked unannounced into my office located mere blocks from Lake Michigan. A beautiful body of water with white sand beaches and home to spectacular sunsets, our living outside Chicago was still relatively new to us.

I should’ve known something was up when she walked in without saying hello.

Holding out her hand, she spoke in an odd, almost possessed tone reserved for late night horror movies.

“This is snow. This is May. This shouldn’t be happening.”

Plunking the wet snowball on my desk, she turned and walked out as quickly as she arrived.

Stunned, I held the phone receiver to my ear as watched as the snow began to melt on my desk.

Yes, I married a woman who truly knows how to communicate.

Sometimes in life you make mistakes. Taking my Texas girl so far into the north county was one of my bigger missteps in our long marriage. And she let me know.

For five years our family spent wonderful summers in and around one of our nation’s most beautiful cities – Chicago. But the little known secret is summers are approximately 6-weeks long – and that might be generous. I’m pretty sure Old Man Winter keeps his summer home somewhere in the metropolitan area of Chi-town. It can go from stunningly beautiful days to the weatherman projecting a snowfall in feet instead of inches.

Don’t get me wrong, our tour up in the North Country was nice. We met some wonderful people and made some terrific friends. If asked to name a downtown I’d like to wander for a few days, Chicago would be on a very short list of amazing places to visit. But as for taking a native Texan there for an extended tour, well, that might’ve been pushing my luck.

One day I found myself checking my voicemail and ran across a missed call.

“Hey,” my wife’s voice said — again in that eerie tone. “I just dropped the kids off at school and temperature gauge on the dashboard said minus 8 degrees. If I didn’t love you so much, I’d put them back in the car and drive south until it read sixty.”

Click.

It is said God listens to us all. Well, he must’ve been tapping my phone line as shortly afterwards He arranged for us to return south by sending us back us to Georgia.

Much like a great bowl of gumbo, life is an interesting mix of experiences and side trips where we accumulate the special influences that make us unique. Without them – and how they affect us – we just might end up as a dull bowl of simple chicken broth.

Recently life brought my wife back to the state she’d missed for so long. Now home within the safe borders of her native Texas, she is planning on holding tight. The reality of my life as a media vagabond may finally be coming to an abrupt end.

“You know,” she said, “if you ever decide to move north of the Mason-Dixon line again, you’ll be going as a single man.”

I know she loves me – but not even I am stupid enough to test her on this one.

 

– 30 – 

Work Ethic Rewards From Inside

 

A man is armed with a handful of paper towels and a squirt bottle.

“Looking good,” I said, genuinely enjoying the clear window beside me.

Turning, the man smiled.

“Anything worth doing is worth doing right,” he said. “Am I right?”

We both shared a few more words before he returned to his work, tipping his hat as we parted. But after I left it wasn’t the clear view through the window that remained with me, but the pride beneath his words. To him, there was nothing more important than to do his job to the best of his ability.

I think about this often – of how many of us really understand the principle driving this man to leave behind a window so clean you’d think he’d signed his name in the corner.

There is honor in a job well done.

I remember my dad telling me about being a child during the Great Depression and men on his street going to work in factories that could not afford to make good on their payroll checks for weeks in a row. My grandfather, it turns out, was one of those men. According to the story, he told my dad he’d rather be busy with a chance to cash a paycheck one day than sit around and do nothing. Work rewarded the soul, made you whole.

I once heard someone say you can’t teach ‘give a damn’. That is, your motivation comes from inside or it does not. The drive to do your best regardless of the task must come from somewhere deep inside. Lectures don’t work nor do berating someone into working harder.

My cousin, now a retired electrician, told me you could always tell if his team installed the light switches or electrical outlets by merely looking the direction the screw head.

“Ours always finish horizontally,” he said. “That is our calling card.”

There is an often told story of how Apple founder Steve Jobs was so fastidious about the quality of the products his team was creating he insisted they sign the inside of the exterior casing. Every circuit on the board, so goes the story, had to be properly aligned and squared up to the edges. When a frustrated engineer once asked him who would know once the outer shell covered up the motherboard, Job replied, “I will”.

Which brings me back to the gentleman who worked so patiently to ensure the windows he worked on would be free of smudges or streaks. To him, this was his canvas, his reputation. The only thing missing was his signature in the corner of work.

 

– 30 – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Life at Arm’s Length Is Concerning

 

In case you missed it, the greatest magic trick in history occurred right before your very eyes.

According to scientists, the surface of the earth is 196,940,400 square miles. But thanks for our friends on a relatively tiny patch of this real estate better known as the Silicon Valley, our planet was effectively shrunk to approximately 3 inches.

Yes, I’m talking about the tiny glass screen surface of our so-called smart phones.

Our friends who occupy this very small patch of land near San Francisco (25.79 miles to be exact) are changing our lives forever. As for better or worse, that is still out for the jury to decide.

Recently I was in a restaurant when I noticed a family of four sitting down for dinner. Nice, traditional – almost Norman Rockwellian – family sharing a nearby booth. But what stood out to me was how not a word was spoken among them. No one looked at one another but instead each was fixated on the tiny screen of their phones. No words were being exchanged, no one was asking about how each other’s day went. I believe a man in a clown suit juggling fire balls could’ve walked by not one of them would’ve noticed.

Everyday I see increasing evidence of our big, beautiful world being pushed aside for a digitized version occupying a few inches of real estate located in the palm of our hand.

Granted I’m from a generation of rabbit ears, rotary dial telephones, and taping a penny on the arm of a record player to keep it from skipping. Yes, I am that old.

But I’ve always embraced technology – almost mesmerized by how my life could be enhanced or improved by the flood of advances. But this latest development – or evolution – does give me pause. It is not the tool, but rather how we are choosing to incorporate the technology into our daily lives.

Everywhere I go – be it walking along a beautiful coastline or standing in line at a local grocery store, everyone seems to be focusing their attention on the world located at the end of their arm. Personally, I like to meet new people and strike up conversations. People are like browsing though a used bookstore – sometimes all you need to do is pick up a book and flip through the pages to discover a gem. People are like that as well. You simply never know what you’ll learn from others.

Which brings me back to my thoughts on living our lives at arm’s length – so to speak.

Are our lives being increasingly consumed by a digital version tailored to our taste and interest? Are we, instead of discovering the world one person (or experience) at time, now finding ourselves in one determined by an algorithm based on our past interests or behaviors? Where is that gem – the one with a dusty, torn book cover — for us to discover if we keep looking at ourselves in a digital mirror?

Living life to its fullest requires effort. You must get out each and every day actively seeking out new people, experiences, and knowledge. The architecture of our new world — the one we are building in the palm of our hands — could very well be forcing us to live life at arm’s length.

 

– 30 – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listening to Your Heart, Acting with Your Feet

 

I’m sitting in the booth of a local restaurant when I find myself talking with a friend about the good work he does for the homeless. Tireless in his compassion, he and a handful of others work year around to help those who’ve dropped of the grid of society – sharing a simple brown bag meal, bottle of clean water, and a warm smile.

I thank him for his service to others and tell him I’ve long admired his compassion for those in need.

My friend is humble; quick to deflect credit to others. But I know he is there – right alongside the others who wade deep into the darkness beneath the interstate overpasses where many retreat to avoid the abrasive elements of nature’s elements. To him, the nightly weather forecast projects images of not what he should wear the next morning, but rather of those he spends so much of his time and heart to help.

We talk about his constant commitment and what motivates a person to reach out to others.

His answer, so succinct and simple, moves me.

“A lot of times making a difference in the world is as simple as using what we feel in our heart and taking action on it.”

I think about his words – and how they apply to me.

How often do I find myself saying ‘someone should…’ when I see someone in need? How often do I, as my friend’s words remind me, actually move to action? It is one thing to feel what your heart is telling you – it is a completely different thing to step forward and do something.

The other night as I pulled up to a stoplight I noticed a man with a cardboard sign slowly walking down the lane of cars. As my wipers cleared away the light rain I noticed him step and stumble – only to notice the prosthetic attached below the knee of his right leg. His head and eyes focused intently on the uneven and dark ground before him.

My wallet was empty and I had nothing to share. He paused alongside my car as if to give me a moment before eventually moving on to the next car. Looking in my rearview window I noticed him move towards the window of the car where someone held out a dollar for him. A few words were shared between the two, the light changed, and the cars all moved forward leaving him alone in the dark.

But I couldn’t get the moment out of my mind – but then I recalled an amazing sequence I saw the week of Christmas in a very similar situation. As unseasonably weather visited, I watched as a car came to a pause before a man stationed at stoplight. The window rolled down and from it came an arm and a brightly colored scarf – red, green, yellow and orange. The man, startled, quickly took the scarf and wrapped it around his neck.

I’ve thought of this beautiful moment – and how this person did exactly what my friend suggested. From the warmth inside of a stranger’s car, someone felt the pain of another – and acted. Maybe they, too, did not have any spare change or a few dollars to give. But what they did, was to take action on what their heart told them with whatever resources they had to make a difference.

I can learn from my both my friend and the arm shooting out in the car – all I have to do is remember how one brightly colored scarf changed another’s life.

 

– 30 –