Rudder Result Of Respect, Trust

Everyone needs a rudder in life.

My wife and I are speaking on the phone. I’m sharing something weighing heavily on my heart. I’m struggling for an answer, blinded by dozens of trees before me.

Calmly she straight up tells me what I need to hear. Like that intimidating machine used during eye exams, the confusing clutter clears. Gone is the self-inflicted pressure, allowing a new focus comes into view. My rudder, excuse me for mixing metaphors here, finds its groove again, firmly takes hold, and my mind moves forward with a completely different point of view.

Being married to the right person – someone who intimately knows you to the core as well as being the one person in your life you can trust without question – makes all the difference in life.

Life is about learning one plus one, if done right, equals three.

Earlier this week I ran into the wife of an elected official who also happens to share an occasional handshake in the highest office in the nation. Married long before their journey took off towards the life they now experience, they recognized it takes two in life to be successful. While both are independent thinkers, I also know they unquestionably trust each other’s instincts and judgments. In many ways, if you meet her, you are meeting him. If you meet him, you are meeting her as well.

I’ll admit my life is a long way from a kid who spent countless hours beneath a corner streetlight on a skateboard figuring out a way to make a flat piece of wood twist in the air as I’d read in the pages of a copy of Skateboarder magazine. God sure has a sense of humor is all I can say.

But a few years later He also connected me with someone who would change my life – someone I wanted nothing more than to earn her respect and love. Doing so meant making wholesale changes to what I did, where I was going, and learning to trust another person unquestionably.

Forged metal is considered among the strongest pieces of manmade materials, created under intense pressure. Doing so takes all the elements contained and condenses them into something many times stronger, able to withstand whatever comes. Whenever you run across a relationship indeed forged from time and experiences, you know you are looking at one worth taking mental notes.

My wife jokes I live a good part of life off-script. I tend to study what I’m trying to learn and then out it comes out through a somewhat unpredictable filter resulting in an equally unpredictable interpretation.

But over time she became the guiding rudder in my life that, even when living or making off-script decisions, became the deeply rooted predictor of where the limits would be. And I can assure you this is a serious upgrade.

I am humble enough to admit I need a rudder in life. And I am also proud of the fact that she helped us break the rules of schoolroom mathematics.

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Time Traveler Tells Tall Tales

Once upon a time, in a world close to us all, people did not carry cellphones.

“What do you mean?” said the driver as we drove along the interstate south of Atlanta.

Quickly sliding past the passenger side window is the 1996 Olympic Stadium turned Turner Field turned Georgia State University stadium. Red bricks and green metal project upward making a shadowy silhouette between our grey four-door and the orange sunrise.

I’ve told the driver I was inside the stadium watching a track and field event the night the bombing at Centennial Olympic Park.

The driver is asking what happened in the minutes following the explosion, which in reality, was a mile or so from the stadium.

“I never knew it happened until I got home,” I said.

“What? Was your wife freaked out when you didn’t call her?”

I explained this we before everyone carried a cell phone and our pants legs would vibrate with every news alert. In 1996 we were living in the moment without the help of the world calling us or social media siphoning away our attention spans.

The driver is quiet. I can see him attempting to solve a puzzle in the air between him and windshield. My backseat math puts him at in his early 20’s.

“So how did you let your wife know you were okay?”

“When I walked through the door at two in the morning,” I said.

The driver shakes his head. He is a good young man. His generation knows no differently than a life where the world feeds through a cell phone and into our lives with the fury of an open firehose. I feel my age quietly advance a year or two as the stadium fades into a blur of cement overpasses.

Our conversation migrates to email and fax machines. I begin to worry the driver may feel he collected a time traveler at the airport curb – one filling his cabin with stories of a mysterious universe. A place where people we disconnected from each another, alone in their thoughts most of the day, and left to their survival skills.

The driver is an intelligent young man. His mind is artful, curious, and sincerely trying to figure out how he might survive such a dystopian world bubbling up from the backseat of his car.

I tell him of life before email, describing how we would send business contracts to each other in the mail. I say it might take a week or two to arrive on one end, be signed, and then mailed back. His head shakes in disbelief. I’m willing to bet he doesn’t even own a book of stamps.

In ways, I guess I am a time traveler, someone who brings mind-bending stories challenging the listener to separate the truth from absurd fantasy. Only I’m not crazy. I know of a world without incessant communication, one where although the planet rotates at the same speed, life itself was slower. And for some odd reason, I miss it.

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Life Filled With Curveballs, Knuckleballs

One of my favorite lines is “if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.”

Too often we make the mistake of believing we are in total control of our lives, that if we carefully plot a dotted line and follow along, we will arrive precisely at a predetermined destination. Life, we like to tell ourselves, is a linear equation.

Then it isn’t.

Recently my daughter, after planning of her college timeline, found out firsthand how life can throw you a curveball. In her case, she saw an especially nasty knuckleball arriving over the home plate.

She’s not alone. Unexpected life changes happen to a lot of people. And learning to deal with unforeseen changes is a part of life. One day we learn to appreciate we are only in so much control of our lives. How we deal with the changes, however, determines what happens next.

The doctors have told our daughter she is going to have to live life on a different pathway going forward. Not a dead-end road, but one where her choices will be more complicated and requiring making more educated decisions about her health. Life, but different.

But the good news is how our daughter is embracing this as a challenge, a medical condition she is completely throwing herself into, learning and consuming large amounts of complicated information in a short window. For some reason, God selected her to place on this pathway, apparently believing she is the right person for the journey. No victim here – she is merely figuring out what the best road forward will be to her.

In football, the quarterback after looking at the defensive alignment makes what is called an audible – that is changing the plan to adapt to the circumstances. Doing so allows his team an opportunity to make the best of the situation in front of them. And as in life, learning to call an audible is a critical skill. Nothing is forever nor is will circumstances play out exactly what we expect. Life requires both strength and flexibility. Being upset by changes beyond our control is nothing but a fruitless fit of wasted energy.

Maturity comes in lots of shapes and forms. Learning to successfully deal with both good and bad news and appreciating we are only in control of life to a certain degree all contribute to our to maturity. We can set up all the plans we wish, but we must always be aware life can change in an instant.

I believe we are caretakers of our life and those around us. And in life, my responsibility is to work to live my life and serve others to the best of my abilities. But I also understand God has a plan for everyone – including me and those around me. To expect a steady diet of easy-to-time fastballs is unrealistic. My job is to take care of the daily details but always be ready for the knuckleball.

And as for my daughter, I am confident she will hit this one out of the park.

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City Of Dreams Comes With Baggage

“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve driven to the airport without luggage and they said they had to get out of this town.”

The man behind the wheel is a part-time limo chauffeur, part-time Uber driver, and part-time front seat philosopher. Las Vegas is his town, his canvas.

“Been here 30-years now,” he says.

His voice is harsh, his Michigan accent nearly bleached from his words.

He tells me he has done a lot of things in life, much like the landscape rushing outside the tinted windows of his car. Driven celebrities, worked as a casino dealer, and helped people get people their life right.

“The single most important skill to living in Las Vegas comes down one thing – self-control,” he says. “Everything you could ever want or fantasize about is available to you 24/7. Without self-discipline, Vegas will eat you alive.”

He tells me about his days running a casino blackjack table.

“You learn to read people, and not just cards,” he says. “I can clearly remember the look on someone’s face when I flip down the winning card for the house and their face suddenly changes – instantly telling me they are playing with their bill-paying money.”

He slowly shakes his head. He’s a good man with a good heart.

The landscape outside the window changes. He tells me about the history of the community going past, of how the eccentric millionaire aviator Howard Hughes bought the once raw desert land for practically nothing and named the area after his mother’s maiden name. Today a sea of mansions and tech hubs sit atop the former sandy dessert scrub. As the driver said, anything is possible in Las Vegas.

I think about what I’ve seen in my first few hours in Las Vegas. Slot machines lining the walls as I walk off the morning flight, rolling billboards on the backs of flatbed trucks pumping out music and smoke to promote a show, and girls dressed in more feathers than fabric. People walking the streets with open beers, every language of the world filling the air, and people taking selfies in front of iconic neon signs. And my watch declares it is still breakfast time.

“Yeah, this place can eat you alive. I’ve known so very talented and successful people who just had to pick up and move out of Las Vegas because they couldn’t resist the temptations.”

I picture the driver pulling up to the curb at the airport, the door swinging open, and out stepping a beaten soul preparing to board a flight with only the clothes on their back. Unfortunately, my driver does not have to imagine this picture as he’d delivered too many to catch the flight out of town.

The driver unapologetically loves his adopted city. While Detroit is decades in the past, he came to Las Vegas to chase his dreams. And in the city of dreams – or fantasy – he’s done just that. And along the way, he’s helped others find their way home.

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