Train Plays Role In Slowing Down Time

My friend’s son lives at the far end of a 1,497-mile trail of iron rails. For him, the distance might as well be a million. Divorce can do that to a man.

“We’re hopping the Amtrak to California,” my friend said.

Church services are over and we’re standing outside giving hugs. He looks down, I can see his head shake thinking about his son’s visit time coming to a close.

“Yeah, we’ve driven it lots of time, but the train kinda slows things down,” he said. “All about making the memories these days.”

They are hopping the train in Houston. The end of the line, ironically, finalizes at the Pacific Ocean – four blocks from his son’s home.

“He can literally walk from his house to the train station.”

While I’ve only known my friend for a few years, I feel as if somehow, we known each other for decades. Maybe that happens as you get older, the ability to see through the murky veneer of people and more quickly recognize what makes them tick from inside.

“We’ll get to sit in the double-decker car, play games, and just talk,” he said.

I think my friend is more excited about being locked on an island on iron rails with his son than anything else.

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My friend is a good man. He works long and hard. He loves his kids and he hurts for having to live apart from them. I’ve seen smiles as large as the Pacific Ocean cross his face; I’ve seen tears roll off his strong and deeply tanned checks only to be wiped away by his pride. He’ll freely admit he is not perfect. But he’ll also freely admit God is always working on him and he’s listening best he can.

If you know the make up of a good man odds are you pretty much already know my friend.

What is so moving to me is how my friend’s priorities, even with half a continent separating him from his kids, are so solidly grounded in them. Never are they far from his thoughts or far from his actions. He is all in.

We never really know what life will deal us. But what we do know is, most times, life must be embraced and measured between sunrises and sunsets. Bank accounts run empty, fancy cars eventually wear out, and big houses get sold. But what really matters in life is the blood we share with others.

Families, genetic or by choice, are really the only things that matter. From them we reward our souls like ice water on a hot Texas afternoon. Droplets make deposits in memories, our hearts, and in help keep our internal compass from being pulled from our true north.

My friend is on this journey – one where his compass in now aligned to invest in his kids and making the best of a difficult situation. But I also know my friend is just the man to do it and he is not alone.

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Success In Life Requires Falling

A friend of mine recently said 90% of surfing is paddling, only 10% surfing.

I thought about his words and how relatable they are to life in general whether work, home, or in relationships. Without a significant investment up front, the opportunity for the payoff rarely presents itself.

Earlier this week I found myself sitting on the beach watching a young surfer offshore. Hearing my friend’s words, I decided to see how close his words applied to the reality in front of me.

With a cross-shore breeze and the waves breaking to the left, the surfer found himself repeatedly paddling his board back to where the breaks began. And many times, after paddling what could amount to half a football field, he’d stand up only to lose his balance to the wave within seconds. Hardly a fair payoff for the minutes it took him to get into position.

But then again, and it could be five minutes later or 45-minutes later, he’d hit the right wave and dance along with the violent water as if he were a master dancer.

And what follows his moment of joy? More paddling, more scrutinizing the approaching sets, and more preparing to be in the right spot at the right time. In other words, back to the 90%.

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I began to think about this in my life and how true this formula seems to play out.

In my relationship with my wife, we cruise along each day, both living life and doing our best to keep our world moving forward. We are making deposits in each other’s life by complimenting, supporting, and listening. But then come those moments that will always remain as fresh as if they happened only yesterday, the moments you realize a life shared with someone you love deeply is one of most powerful experiences in life. The payoff might be the birth of a child, navigating raising children, or simply finding yourself standing in front of a beautiful sunset, your fingers entwined.

In our professional lives, the people who tend to move ahead are those who never sit still on their existing skill or knowledge sets. They are always self-learning or exposing themselves to new experiences, unafraid of what they do not know. And to them, a new set of waves is always coming and they want to be prepared.

The surfer offshore continues to fall, his footing not quite right for the wave. But again, with each attempt, he is preparing for the moment he can see in his mind. Learning anything difficult in life is to understand you will need to put in extraordinary amounts of time before you can ever realize the reward.

The surfer offshore falls yet again and is quickly back to paddling. But, importantly, he is not discouraged.

Thomas Edison never considered how many times it took to get a light bulb to work – considering it the necessary preparation to the successful outcome.

Do not be afraid of the 90% for inside it lays the important ingredients for success.

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Childhood Memories Taste Like Darwinism

Summer always brings to memory a phrase my mother would say to me my brother.

“Remember, you boys be sure to wipe off the end of the hose before you drink from it – your dad sprayed weed killer on the lawn the other day.”

Yes, that was the world I grew up in and somehow survived.

By today’s standards the world I experienced as a child seems like a twisted suburban version of Darwinism. With little direct supervision and the light-handedness from our parents at the time, we were left to learning lessons from our childhood experiences.

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To this day I can detect the taste of weed killer in my drink. Now that might not sound like a life skill, but if you considered every neighbor’s garden hose a free drinking station as a kid, you’d better learn fast. Far as I’m concerned, if the zombie apocalypse arrives one day, I’m ahead of the game.

Our parents cared for us. But in my childhood the term nanny-state had yet be uttered. Honestly, we didn’t even know what a nanny was in the first place.

Our parent’s didn’t have email or smartphones, but they all seemed to operate with the same playbook. While one might be grumpier than another, there were certain universal understandings between them.

  1. Being outside was the default for kids during the day.
  2. If kids happened to be at your house at lunch, you fed them.
  3. Don’t get hurt or in trouble, and be home when streetlights came on.

Believe it or not, those rules encompassed about every situation.

Each house was a local ER station, complete with Band-Aids, and ice water. And when it came to eating, no one ever balked at a peanut butter sandwich because of a nut allergy. And after you ate, you said thank you and quickly got back outside.

We crawled beneath neighborhoods via’ underground storm sewers, pushing up manhole covers like Christopher Columbus discovering new worlds. We jumped into flash flood waters, riding them hundreds of yards without ever a concern of drowning. And we engineered plastic bats with small cutouts to allow us to shoot bottle rockets at each other with deadly accuracy.

And for the most part, our parents simply viewed these activities as within the universal parameters outlined.

It was a remarkable time. We’d fight and make up without the need to a therapist asking us how we felt. If hurt, the default was to walk it off – that is unless blood was evident.

To us this world seemed remarkably normal. That is until I began telling my wife about what we did as kids. Apparently not all kids climb out of second story windows and across steeply pitched rooftops simply to take in the view. And apparently finding a bag of gunpowder did not lead most other kids to make small exploding bombs out of glass Gerber’s baby food jars.

But I do know if the zombie apocalypse does arrive, my childhood skills will come in handy.

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Heaven Gets A Great Journalist

My friend is dead. Rear-ended while parked at a red light, the impact crushed his Ford F-150 and pushed him into the intersection. He died a few days later from complications resulting for head injuries. Already the world feels a bit less exciting, a little less complete.

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I first met my friend inside a small conference room without windows. Sitting across from each other, his resume in my hand, we looked at each other. He needed a job and I was unsure the mysterious ball of nervous energy sitting across from me. To this day I’m not sure he could ever sit still for longer than the brief spit of time between flashes of a firefly. His strong hands, tightly clasped in front of him, seemed to be anchoring him to the table.

“I know you don’t know me,” he said. “But if you will give me this chance, I’ll work harder than anyone you’ve ever met. And I’ll promise I’ll work to be the best journalist you’ll ever hire.”

Out of most people’s mouth this would sound like someone trying to blow dust into a place it should not go. But something was peculiar about the man. Maybe it was the twinkle in his eyes – a twinkle like I imagined I’d see if I’d ever ran across Santa Claus.

And then there was his voice. Something was different. Nine-nine times out of a hundred your gut says walk away. And generally that is the right call. All I can say is that day must have been number one hundred because I put my trust – and comparatively smaller hand – into his and we shook.

I was sitting at home last week when the text came though about my friend’s accident. Details were sketchy but you didn’t need to be a doctor to know he needed God to be at his side. I prayed out loud repeatedly.

My new editor soon proved his word. Many times I asked him if he was sleeping in his office. He denied it, but that darn twinkle in his eye told me I shouldn’t press my luck. Within days he was teaching me what a real journalist was – the kind born, not made with a university degree. Over the course of the years we worked together we banged heads over deadlines, filing Freedom of Information requests, and his unorthodox manner of conducting business. I remember him once confronting a district attorney with damning information while they were out alone fishing on a nearby lake. Right there, with God and 213 striped bass as witnesses, the two of them negotiated an early retirement for the district attorney.

That was how my friend did business. If unorthodox is not considered a compliment, it ought to be. Watching my friend do his version of journalism was like witnessing naturally brilliant self-taught pianist play as Beethoven originally heard it in his head. You don’t see that twice in a lifetime.

The next day a call brought the news I knew I might hear. God called my friend home. From what I hear, St. Peter waved him through. Something about heaven needing a man of true character and a penchant for the unorthodox. Score one for the good guys.

[Mitch Sneed passed away on Sunday July 1, 2018.]

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