Giants Walk Among Us Each Day

This week the local Rotary Club held a program honoring and celebrating military services contributed by attendees.

On any other Wednesday, the person sitting next to you might be Bob or maybe Charles. In Rotary, the tradition is to only refer to attendees by their first names, wash references of occupation aside, and focus on coming together on behalf of the community. But on this day, a special brethren of the club stepped out of the shadows into the light of the moment.

Veterans come in all shapes and sizes. They also come from different branches, hometowns, and live in different neighborhoods. But the one commonality, regardless of their age, is a brother and sisterhood of having served our nation.

During the program a member stood behind the podium calling out the names attendees, asking them to rise and be recognized. As they rose, the speaker shared a brief bio of the individual’s branch, rank, theaters of service, and years of service. And with each, those in attendance offered their respect through applause.

I found a powerful humility in each as they stood. Until then I might have known each as a member having shared a table with dozens of times, casually speaking about everything from road construction to baseball scores from the night before.

But on this day, I met someone much different.

These moments are odd, almost like glancing at a well-worn book cover, recognizing the title, and telling yourself you know the story contained inside. But in reality, you don’t.

Veterans, for the most part, consider their service a contribution – a personal continuation in the line of millions who came before them – and then modestly go on in life. Some are doctors, other lawyers. Another owns a small local business, another the editor of a local newspaper. And while each leads an individual life, the one thing you won’t hear cheaply dropped in conversation like a celebrity’s name, are references to their service. To do so would be considered disrespectful to those who came before them as well as to the spirit of those who tragically did not return.

Let me tell you what I saw in that room this week.

A man who came ashore Iwo Jima in 1945 with 3,600 men, he one of only 800 to survive. Imagine what his gentle eyes witnessed.

Or another as the speaker told of how the man flew nearly 150 missions over Vietnam in the fabled F-4 Phantom II – a tremendous number over incredibly hostile skies.

Or another comparatively younger man who stood up as the speaker told of life-threatening injuries received during his service in the Middle East.

Or a woman who served as  JAG officer in the Navy, working with captured prisoners during the Iraqi War, working to ensure justice proceeded fairly.

I lost count of how many stood up, each story marking time like news clips in time.

On this Memorial Day, we owe them and those who did not return our deepest respect for their service and sacrifices.

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Manual Transmissions Shift Into Memories

“The young man outside said your car won’t start.”

I’m sitting in the lobby of a local carwash. My car, as far as I know, is on good behavior as of late.

“Did he push in the clutch?”

A knowing look washes over the manager’s face.

We walk outside. He climbs in, pushes the clutch and a throaty rumble belches out of the exhaust.

“You know,” he says, “these have to be the best anti-theft devices. Young people don’t have a clue how to drive them.”

We both laugh knowing we are among the keepers of a lost art – those who know how to perform this mechanical task in a world managed by computers.

For most of us today the manual transmission is a throwback in time. Our memories conjure up deep memories of the first time we found ourselves sitting behind the steering wheel, terrified how we could ever tame the bucking beast of metal under our control. Ask anyone about their first experience learning to drive a manual transmission and stories will flow flooded with passions generally reserved for first loves.

Three-on-the-trees, farm roads with grandpa, or the terror they felt when a red light stopped them on a hill, sure they’d roll into the car behind them.

I feel in love with a blue 1975 Datsun 280 Z parked alongside the road while in high school. Love at first sight. Beautiful, graceful lines, an engine that purred like a sewing machine, and strange stick poking up from between the two black seats. Sexy, exotic, and mysterious all presented in one stunning package.

She was everything I ever wanted but didn’t know I ever wanted. But she was also out of reach as if she spoke a foreign language. But I was not to let the communication barrier keep us apart.

Getting back into my hunkering V8 muscle car, I drove across town at 7 miles per gallon.

I confessed my love to a friend outside his house, begging him to teach me to speak the unknown language separating me from my new love.

“It’s easy,” he said, “let’s hop in my car and I’ll teach you.”

I remember that dark night, learning how to press and depress the clutch. Flat surfaces, hills, downshifting to brake, we practiced for hours.

The next day, armed with my new language skills, I returned to the side of the road to court my new love. We married.

For the next 150,000 miles, we traveled long road trips across the country, camped on the beaches, took mountainous roads a bit too fast, and never looked back.

The day we parted was one of the most difficult days of my life. I remember standing in my driveway with a roll of cash wrapped in a rubber band in my hand and my love leaving with another man. A tear or two might or might not have been present.

But to this day, rarely do I fire up my car, depress the clutch, and not think of her.

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Moms Are Forever With Us


Odds are you never met my mother.

Since her passing when I was a teenager, time has slow-dripped my understanding of how a mother’s influence can last a lifetime – seeping into the most mundane or difficult decisions, how we view the world and those around us, and playing the role of an endless reservoir of strength when life deals us an unexpected blow.

Even in her passing, I could never have made this journey through life without her.

My mother never laughed at anyone as hard as she laughed at herself – her humility wouldn’t have it any other way. For her, laughter was the soundtrack of life. And to her, when she found herself the center of the humor, all the better.

Humility was her secret. Never was she better than anyone else, never was she mean to another, and never was she unable to laugh at herself.

One of her favorite stories was visiting an elementary school in the town where we’d recently moved. Dressed in her Sunday best, she walked the entire school, met with teachers and administrators, only to later discover she’d also worn a red plastic toy airplane propeller hanging from the seat of her yellow linen dress.

Or the time she attended her first professional football game and, looking up at the scoreboard, turned to my dad and suggested they get some of those ‘balloons for 29 cents’ advertised to take home to my brother and me. Long after my Dad explained what she was reading indicated the football team had the ‘ball on the 29’, she always laughed the hardest when the story was retold, flashing her genuine and disarming smile.

Life was too short not to learn to laugh at yourself, she’d say.

But beyond the sparks emanating from her blue-green eyes, she preached compassion, understanding, and a perspective only a difficult life can teach someone. Raised on another continent in another time, living and raising a family in the safe and comparatively comfortable environment of a modest American suburb never diluted the roots of her childhood. While she was living the American Dream she’d heard whispers of while a small child, she never forgot the lessons learned of being the rich you appreciate when you have nothing at all.

If asked, I’ll confess the good things in my heart are a result of a seed being planted by my mother. The rest, well, those are on me and me alone. I truly believe this.

Like I said, my Mom preached life was too short not to learn to laugh at yourself. Ultimately, she was right about the timeline God had for her – taking her while as my brother and I crossed into double-digits. But the reality is, she never left us – and never will. Because each day we face the world, we see it through a lens she created. And for us, that is the greatest gift anyone could ever give to us.

Happy Mothers Day, Mom.

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Life: There’s Not an App for That

Today the screen of our smartphone contains clever solutions and shortcuts to nearly every problem but one: life.

As much as software engineers develop sophisticated tools embedded with predictive behavioral algorithms or endless deep pools of information, life continues to prove the one area no App can ever solve.

Each day my phone tells me where and when to be at nearly every moment of my life. If an event, appointment, or task is not on my phone, it may very well not happen.

By some twist of technology, my brain is offloading the mundane aspects of life into an App, converting them into lines of code. And while all done in the spirit of progress and allowing my brain to focus on more important items in my life, I have to wonder about the endgame here.

For example, the app for my local grocery store allows me to create my shopping list as well as tells me what aisle to locate them. And no matter how often I visit the same store, I still struggle to find where the salad dressings are located without my App.

My brain, it seems, is being retained to simply do the mundane input of information, not perform the critical calculations of life. And that, frankly, concerns me. My brain at times feels as mushy like an overly ripe avocado.

But as of late I’ve begun to take life back from my phone and these sophisticated software engineers. And the tools I’m using is as old school as it gets: my own brain and a pencil and paper. Granted these are remarkably unsophisticated, but I am really enjoying to learn to explore life off the App grid. I love to wander the aisle of a store with prehistoric 3 by 5 cards crumbled from being in my pocket, crossing off items or remembering the moment I scribbled the imperfect letters.

But there is more.

No App can tell me when the person I am speaking with is hurting or distracted by something in their life. Only through being fully attentive to the other person, listening for both the spoken and unspoken, can we perform the difficult and rare task of being able to read another person. And no App can ever help us know when to offer a hug or drop a card in the mail to someone who has lost a loved one. And when it comes to know to take out the trash, well, if we ever need an App for that, we are in even bigger trouble.

As much as I offload the details of my life to a magical data hub locate in the clouds – and not the white puffy clouds dancing across the horizon – I am determined to fight for my ability to remain human. I am increasingly valuing the fact I am imperfect and can at times be incredibly fallible. I like being flawed and, well, human.

And, God willing, no App will ever take being human away from me.

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