No Place Like Home

“Welcome home.”

These simple words, surprisingly refreshing and unexpectedly welcoming, awakened a powerful emotion inside of me after being out of the country for few days. Nothing feels like being home again.

“Than you,” I said, pausing to make contact with the uniformed man at the US Customs checkpoint. “Good to be home.”

We don’t seem to think too much about traveling outside the United States in today’s world. Every place is like home – only different, we tell ourselves. Along dusty roads we see familiar Chevrolet tags on cars and trucks, we recognize the Golden Arches sandwiched between buildings, and Coca-Cola is listed on every menu.

But in the end, regardless of the familiarity around us, we are not home.

Home is a powerfully emotive word – something we all are gravitationally pulled towards. Even if we don’t know we have a void, the warmth of feeling comforts us like a blanket. Sometimes all we need is to be home.

Traveling abroad always reminds me of why I love America as I do. Yes, we’ve our issues, our problems, our disagreements, but in the end this is my home. And nothing feels as wonderful as coming home.

This past week I spent time in someone else’s home. The people of Mexico are gracious, kind, and share the same hopes and dreams we all do for our families. In a small fishing community off along the southernmost Baja California Peninsula, the men who worked our rented fishing boats got up early to prepare for the day. At makeshift dockside tables, women assembled sandwiches and placed fresh fruit and crackers in plastic bags for fishermen to eat while on the water. And when the fishing went soft, our crew kept boat on the water for a few extra hours in hopes of bringing back a larger catch. Their reputation mattered.

But I also walked by a diamond jewelry store where few steps later I found a woman breastfeeding her infant child while calling out for me to come look at the brightly painted dishes she hoped to sell. And to wander too far from the illumination of neon and commercial signage, a sense of uneasiness would creep into your being.

Again, like home – only different.

As a friend once said to me, a majority of the world’s citizens care about 99% of the same things: roof over their head, food on the table, and an opportunity to provide for their family. The other 1% are dedicated to man-made concepts such as politics, borders, and money.

The more I travel, the more I believe he is right. Citizens of the world do generally hold the same wants, needs, and desires to make friends, help others, and share their experiences. I see it in those I meet, the ones who want to communicate, share, and give without receiving. Mankind is a beautiful thing.

But in the end, there is no place like home. Home is where my heart resides, my soul lives, and my spirit runs free.

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A Voter’s Apology to Millenials

Last week I found myself apologizing to both my voting age children for the state of today’s national election.

“It wasn’t always like this,” I said. “People used to disagree, as did the candidates, but it was never this ugly.”

Each of them, both in their first decade of presidential voting, gave me a blank look – which in itself worried me.

“I’m sorry my generation is leaving such an important responsibility in your hands in this sorry condition.”

I wish my apology could reach the rest of the Millenials.

This presidential election began ugly on both sides and finished the gutter. For that I hurt. Call me old-fashioned, but I still hold the office of the presidency in the highest regard, almost in reverence. I  passionately believes the United States of America is one of the greatest manifestations of mankind’s better intentions. I also believe, while as humanly flawed as the people our government represents, for the most part, our nation is a beacon of inspiration to the world.

This election cycle, however, makes me sick to my stomach. I feel as if the American flag itself is being dragged though the mud.

My parents often disagreed on whom they would vote for on Election Day. But never did the disagreements become ugly or personal. They respected each other’s ability and right to make an independent decision. Afterwards they’d joke they’d simply cancelled out the other’s vote. But then life moved on.

Today I see people, even friends I’ve know my entire life, practicing anger and venom towards each about their choices. Social media is simply become a toxic platform for people to spew without listening – never taking the time to discuss or emphatically absorb other points of view. A nation where the people’s greatest tool for democracy is to ‘unfriend’ someone is a sad state indeed.

Passion has a rightful home in the cycle of presidential elections. And to say our history was nothing but conventions filled of peopling sitting around singing the happy sounds of  Kumbaya is delusional. But the reality of today’s politics is toxic and threatening to poison the fabric of our nation.

Like most people, I witnessed this presidential election process devolve into not who is best qualified to lead the nation, but least likely wreck office. And, anyone can agree, this is in no way a threshold of excellence.

Again, I apologize to those to whom my generation will be leaving this important civic responsibility. The cart is wobbling.

Please don’t get disgusted or disengaged with elections. This is your country. Fight for it. Make it better. Shape this country into your dreams and aspirations of what a great nation can and should be. The United States is truly one of the most exceptional experiments in the history of mankind. The world is truly better because of our 240 years of existence.

Don’t fall prey to the ugliness of the lowest common denominator. Disagree, but respect. Don’t become the problem, but rather be the solution.

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Skating Down Memory Lane

“I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today.”

I’ve made a new friend in Lufkin, Texas. In a small storefront tucked next to a vintage movie theater, the two of us are skating down memory lane while standing in his newly opened skate shop.

“They want to ride pipes, rails, and benches,” he said.

I shake my head.

“Yeah, I know. Where’s the vert?” I said, my eyes drinking in electric energy of the exposed brick walls lining his new shop.

Colorful skate decks hang from the walls, t-shirts drip from racks, and years of experience awaits behind the counter.

Kindred spirits are rare in life. When you meet one, you need to stop and let the moment unfold. On that night, I let the universe have fun.

Old school skaters, particularly those of us who grew up with makeshift wooden ramps or jumped fences at the sight of flowing concrete waves, are still holding onto our memories with clenched fists. No matter we own mortgages, have kids in college, or watch our 401K plans like we once poured over the baseball standings, we will never let this particular ember of our lives fully extinguish. Like the long healed scars on our elbows, the memories are always just below the surface waiting to escape into the daylight.

I look away from the dozens of colorful skate decks displayed on the wall and turn to my friend.

“Is there anything else in the world like the thrill of dropping-in off the side of a half-pipe or deep concrete bowl?”

We both discover our heads slowing shaking from side to side as we reignite the familiar rush of adrenaline of those moments – at least in our minds. His black, flat brim cap dips downward in either holy reverence or the pure muscle memory of the last move you make as you push yourself down a vertical wall of concrete.

Granted, it is difficult to explain the rational for stepping off the edge of a perfectly good concrete swimming pool-styled bowl and pressing tiny rubber wheels against the vertical wall as you feel-fall to the bottom. Each drop-in contains that ever so brief moment of chaos laced with the potential for seriously dangerous bodily harm. And it is exactly that moment my new friend and I are remembering as our heads sway together.

I tell him about the favorite decks I’m currently riding – both from one of our favorite skaters from our youth. I call out the lengths, the trucks, and wheels like a couple of old men leaning over the open hood of vintage muscles care discussing cams, carburetors, and horsepower.

I guess in a way, we are those old guys. While my friend wears colorful sleeves of tattoos and my hair refuses to give up the 1980’s, surrounding ourselves with the tools of our youth is akin to a shot of double-espresso to our souls.

For those brief moments we are time travelers; only we roll on little urethane wheels.

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Version 2

Some Hands Work Better Than Others

 

My wife once framed and displayed a broken piece plastic from the refrigerator to remind me not to try to repair things around the house.

So of us are better with our hands than others.

I try – and that might be the root of the problem. Some people have it; others don’t.

“Don’t worry honey,” my wife will say to me. “You have other strengths.” The gentle pat on the arm, I believe, is a nice touch on her part.

The odd thing is I come from a long line of men who could fix anything with pair of pliers, roll of silver duct tape, or an odd screw discovered on the bottom of their tool box. My grandfather worked for decades in a wire manufacturing plant – touching, bending, and shaping metal into long ropes used in industrial construction cranes, oil and gas rigging, and or loggers clearing forests. My uncles worked their farms – a world where calling a local repairman is not an option. The combine jams or shuts down? Figure it out or starve.

As a child, I don’t believe a repairman ever darkened our doorway. Screen on the television going bad? My dad always kept a cardboard box filled with vacuum tubes stored away in the basement just in case. And doesn’t everyone use a broom handle when replacing the alternator on the car in the driveway? Silver duct tape, for the record, was so common around our house I began to think it was a fashion statement.

Skip forward a generation and you find me failing to perform an unsophisticated fix on the refrigerator door. Nothing particularly mechanical or requiring me to dig out the instruction manual. No, simply figure out how get the water line flowing again. Apparently beating on a flimsy plastic part with brute force was not the best solution. This clarity only came to me only after picking up half of the offending part off the kitchen floor.

Or toss in the time I changed a flat tire on my wife’s car and remembered to only tighten one lug nut. She drove for a week before we discovered what all the noise coming from the rear of the car was about. We now have AAA.

Our how first dog, sweetest soul in the world, would run to the furthest back bedroom whenever he spotted me with a toolbox in hand. Animals apparently have those keen senses.

Eventually my family developed an official standard operating procedure when repairs were needed around the house. My wife, the love of my life, pulled the kids together to make sure they knew not bring up when something broke around the house.

“I’ll call someone on Monday,” she said to our kids. “Until then, let’s keep this between us.”

So yes, some of us are better with our hands than others. My wife, in her kind way of protecting my ego, is supportive.

“Your hands seem to work fine on the keyboard. You might stick with that.”

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Alzheimer’s Deserves Our Attention

My grandmother was gone long before her body gave out.

The effects of dementia diseases can be among the most painful reminders to each of us the frailty of life. My grandmother, God rest her soul, was not an exception. Near the end, she would look directly into my wife’s eyes and call her – with complete confidence – a stranger’s name.

“Hello, Wendy.”

By that time, like the families of over 5 million individuals afflicted with the Alzheimer’s disease each year, we understood. I remember recognizing of the cruel conflict of how I could physically touch her hand, but the disease had walled up my ability to reach her mentally and emotionally.

We spend a great deal of resources promoting healthy living. Exercise right, eat well, and keep regular visits to our doctors. From breakfast cereal commercials to someone hawking a pill promising increased vitality, we are fixated on living forever.

But like our house, no matter how well we take care of the plumbing, if the electrical goes bad, everything changes.

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, scientist believe there are two types of identifiers found after the mental short circuiting occurs: “beta-amyloid plaques—sticky clumps of protein fragments and cellular material that form outside and around neurons; and neurofibrillary tangles—insoluble twisted fibers composed largely of the protein tau that build up inside nerve cells.”

While that sounds clear and clinical, scientists admit they aren’t sure if this is a contributor or result of the disease. And that underscores why we need to continue to drive – if not accelerate – the funding and research behind the treatment of dementia.

According to the Pew Research Center, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 years of age each day. And considering there are 75 million baby boomers aging into the sweet spot of when dementia related issues are most likely to begin unfolding, we are staring into a statistical bubble. Respectfully putting all emotional pain and suffering aside, the economic impact on families and healthcare services could be crippling.

As of today we know less about dementia that we actually know. But what we do know is genetics can be a big driver as can taking a personal role in keeping our minds active and challenged. In the end, however, this problem is much larger than simply doing a crossword puzzle each day. Solving the merciless effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia will take money for research, raising awareness, and providing comfort.

And for us believers, a flood of prayers wouldn’t hurt either.

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How you can help:

On October 8th there will be over 600 communities participating in a national Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Locally in the Bay Area there will be a walk Galveston Island. A short 5K (3.1 miles) walk will be held on Stewart Beach Pavilion. The 2016 goal is to raise $142,500. Registration begins at 8 am; walk kicks off at 9 am. For more information, visit www.alz.org for more walk information as well as additional resources.