Growing Pains Not Exclusively For Kids

Our daughter ended up in the hospital last week. Eight hundred miles and another time zone only added to the anxiety. Parenting from a distance is unsettling.

A doctor’s voice scratches from my wife’s cell phone, the speaker on.

“Appendicitis,” she said. “We’ll do the surgery tonight and keep her overnight.”

My watch sweeps towards 9 pm local; our daughter an hour ahead. My wife aches to be there. Flights are done for the day. Fourteen hours by car won’t work. This is going to happen without us.

“Don’t worry,” the doctor said. “We do these regularly. The doctor performing the procedure is very good.”

She didn’t, however, solve our time zone and distance problem.

As much as I know my daughter is a full-grown and mature woman, someone who is working her way through college and keeping up her grades, who on the spur of a moment jumped a flight so she could wake up alone in New York City on her birthday, she remains the fierce bundle of energy I first met on a snow-covered morning in Pittsburgh. In that delivery room, she kicked and screamed her way into my heart like an angry hurricane. And I gladly made room.

The doctor again reassured us all would be fine. I thought of the bundle of energy twisting in a blanket – putting the world on notice she had arrived, loud and proud.

The doctor closed the call and my wife sat with the phone between us. I did not need words to understand what she was going to do next – my opinion not invited. Marriage is like that, learning to read between the lines, understanding what is being said without having to say a word.

We said a prayer and parted ways – my wife to pack her bag and me to book her on the first direct flight the next morning.

Letting go as your kids become adults is not easy. While you need to give them their space and the opportunities to fail, you soon realize it is more difficult on you than them. They are ready; you are not or never will.

I thought about teaching my daughter to ride a skateboard at the age of 3. I’d put her brother’s Batman helmet on her head, one so large it tilted to one side. I’d have her place her small feet between mine, her facing me.

We began by coasting down a gently sloped driveway. Eventually, we moved to larger hills and faster speeds. We took a few falls, but each time I’d pull her close and take the tumble on me, pulling her safely between my arms. And each time as we would get up I’d hear a giggle.

“Let’s do that again,” she said.

That is what I was thinking of as the doctor wheeled her to surgery – and all I wanted to do was pull my little girl tightly into my arms and protect her, taking away any pain or danger.

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Cash No Longer King

Apparently, cash is no longer king.

I’m standing the branch of a nameless mega-national bank to deposit money into my out-of-state daughter’s account. It is the first of the month and rent is due in another time zone.

“I’m sorry, but we do not accept cash,” said the bank teller.

On the counter between the teller and me are five crisp $100 dollar bills, so new the bouquet of the distinctive ink still leaves a trail when handling. The edges of each bill so sharp, mishandling could risk getting a paper cut.

I look down at the bills between us. I can see a shock on the face of Benjamin Franklin, whose portrait graces the currency.

“You’ll need to go get a money order and come back,” she said.

Benjamin Franklin’s face is now wincing.

“But this is cash,” I said. “Like real money.”

The teller then drops her get-out-of-jail-free-card in hopes of ending any further discussion.

“Sorry, that is our policy.”

I take a breath. Looking down I see Benjamin Franklin’s hand planted squarely on his forehead, his eyes closed.

“But this is real cash and I’m only trying to put it my daughter’s account – the one she has with you – this bank.”

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The clerk repeats the distancing phrase, this time completely absent of any discernible emotion. Nothing I can say is going to change the situation. Turning around, the man in line behind shrugs his shoulders.

I turn back, reach down and pick up bills. I notice Benjamin Franklin has pulled a horse around. Franklin was always a smart man with a keen political sense. He must be sensing his job may no longer be secure and it is time to get out of town.

Together, Benjamin Franklin and I leave the bank, he on his horse, and me on foot to find an 89-cent money order.

Days later, my concerns slowing fading, I walk into a local pizza delivery shop. Handing the man behind the register bill, his hand pauses in mid-motion.

Having a flashback, I ask if they take cash.

“Yes, but not too often,” he said.

The next few minutes are consumed with conversations between he and the manager sharing passwords and codes to get the register to open. Finally, the clerk squats down, disappearing from view, and the register springs open.

I don’t have the courage to look down at the portrait of Andrew Jackson afraid Benjamin Franklin has spent the week sharing his traumatic banking experience.

The young clerk, as polite as can be, delicately hands me my change, a couple bills, and five coins. I sense his touching cash is not something he’s particularly familiar doing – his fingers touching the currency like it might be carrying some sort of long-forgotten plague.

Putting away my change, I notice George Washington looking back up at me. His mouth is open as if he’s seen a ghost. All I can figure is Franklin and his horse are back at the US mint spreading the word.

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Polishing Life Requires Discipline 

Standing outside the window of my truck, a man is holding a bowl of Halloween candy. A large motorcycle rally is in town, the island flooding with chrome and a constant deep rumble.

“Here, please take some,” he said.

He is friendly, but with a hint of desperation to be separated from the colorful bowl of treats. Unclaimed candies from Halloween, no matter how small the colorful packages appear to the eyes, turn radioactive to adults – the mere proximity a threat to contributing to expanding waistlines.

We strike up a conversation. He is working detailing motorcycles in the corner of a narrow parking lot along the water. His disposition is sunny, matching the sky above. Across the road, incoming waves twinkle as if a bag of children’s decorative glitter dances across the surface.

The day is much brighter than the night he came to town.

“I’d parked my truck for the night,” he said. “Then the storm came through, flipped it over. Totaled the 8 bikes I’d brought.”

His voice was even in tone, almost as if speaking about someone else’s experience. There was a disappointment in his voice – but a disappointment absent of anger.

He shrugged his shoulders, pushing the movement back into the past.

“Figured I was already down here. I might as well hang around and do something.”

We talked through the window about how he’d once owned a company selling detailing polish. He proudly held up a bottle for me to see.

But what struck me most was his total acceptance of his circumstances. What had happened had happened. Nothing on his part would have stopped the high-winds from coming to town. Maybe, he admitted, he could’ve moved the bikes out of the trailer, but he didn’t. His bad, so the saying goes.

Two Kit Kat bars moved from his bowl and into my truck.

But he’d given me much more than two pieces of candy. What he’d really shared me was a reminder of how to deal with situations we cannot expect to control in life. Here was a man, polishing rag in hand and 8 motorcycles mangled and twisted in a trailer, with a smile on his face. What was done was done. What he controlled, he demonstrated, was the now.

To him, and the success he’d found in life – the one led by a positive attitude – saturated his being like an inland marsh during high tide.

Everyone gets upset or mad from time to time. But what separates people seems to be their ability to successfully control the moment, somehow putting the proverbial genie back into a bottle without creating lasting damage. Careless words used in anger or emotional decisions made without thought can linger uncomfortably afterward – serving as stubborn reminders long after the original moment has passed.

Candy in the truck, we laughed, wishing each other a good day. But pulling out into traffic it occurred to me that for him, that was already a given.

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Dog’s Heart Finds Home In Stranger

“Wow, he’s beautiful.”

I’ve stopped along a downtown street in Galveston. I extend my hand down to a grey and black dog.

“Go ahead, he won’t bite,” says the man on the other end of the leash.

The dog’s dark eyes look up at me, his nose knowingly nuzzling my hand to his square forehead. My fingers scratch the back of his ears and are welcome. I have a new friend

“Catahoula or Louisiana Leopard Dog?”

The man’s head shakes in non-commitment.

“Don’t really know,” he says. “Picked him up from the shelter a two days ago.”
Our son adopted a Catahoula a few weeks back. Before then I couldn’t have identified one beyond a grey dog with interesting spots. I’ve been reading up as of late.

“Can I check out his paws

Webbed feet are one of the tells of the breed.

The man nods and I drop to one knee. Slowly I move my other hand towards my new friend’s feet. Before I can get there, a large paw meets me halfway.

“He’s

a sweetheart,” the man says. “Loves to be around people. Even has an odd bit of separation anxiety.”

The webbing between the toes adds into my suspicions. The man’s description of the dog’s quirky personality, however, seals the deal.

“I was working construction around here and one day someone just dropped him off. He was wandering the neighborhood until animal control came. After a few days, I went and checked in on him and ended up adopting him.

My new friend leans towards me, another tell of the breed. I run my hand down the long, unusual coat. Short grey and black hairs easily slide by my fingertips as if wet to the touch. A remarkable dog, for sure.

I can’t understand why someone would abandon a dog that obviously wants to unconditionally love someone back.

The man looks down. His new friend sits down near his feet. The bond between man and dog is in place. I am happy for both.

I hope the afterlife carves out a special place for people who adopt animals in need. As much as we’d like to think we have this big life under control – our phones can take stunning photos, electricity moves across the country to heat and cool our homes on demand, and we can travel through the sky in a metal tube – we still have too many animals making one-way trips to local shelters.

History proves mankind, in great part, owes his existence and survival to the remarkable bond between himself and dogs. In a unique relationship unlike with any other animal, man and dog share a co-dependency technology will never replace. Survival, food, and companionship are as mutually entrenched in our DNA as the hairs on our heads or coats.

I suddenly notice I’ve met these two at the footsteps outside the building where I attended a church service two hours before. And suddenly I believe our meeting was no coincidence.

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Momentum is Both Friend and Foe

Momentum is a funny thing – equally powerful in either action or not.

My mother liked to toss around sayings to drive home points into my impressionable head.

One about a big grey bolder blundering down a green hillside, however, required a bit of maturity from me to finally understand.

“A rolling stone gathers no moss,” she would say hustling around the house. When on a mission, my mother never slowed down. Perpetual motion so to say.

But in the head of a ten-year-old boy, the saying seemed more about the physics of how moss couldn’t attach itself to moving rock than an insightful life lesson.

Decades later, knee-deep into adulthood, I finally got it. Momentum was my friend.

IMG_5993 2.JPGA silent force of nature, momentum is a dramatic difference maker in life.

Changing is fleeting and temporary. But when combined with momentum, the world transforms in meaningful ways. Momentum becomes the important mortar between the bricks of good intentions and the creation of something impactful in life. Without it, the wall of good intentions is without strength and structure.\

A shotgun approach to anything meaningful in our lives tends to return shotgun results. Momentum, or the consistent applying of pressure to the right actions, can transform a pattern of actions or choices into meaningful and tangible. Game changer-type results.

When I was a runner, years before my knees began to bark at me, I would have to build up mileage in order to run a long-distance race. While I could certainly show up for a 10K race and cross the finish line, to do so at a time that would make me proud would require a daily investment of time and accumulation of mileage. Without the momentum of investing tangible actions or decisions towards my goal, my dreams were nothing more than an illusion – easily defeated in the face of the output required on race day.
The momentum, or therefore lack of, played the determining role in my results.

This applies to my daily life as well. If I want to be a kinder person, I must be a kinder person each day. If I wish for those around me to know they are important, I must regularly tell them so. If I want to lose ten pounds, I need to eat carefully every day. If I want to have a good relationship with God, I need to put aside a few minutes each day.

Moss grows on a stationary object. Trees, boulder anchored deep into the ground. And on us. The moss of life can be viewed as our dreams and desires we didn’t have the courage to put in both the effort and commitment to make happen. And like moss, these broken dreams or the compounded results of unrealized desires stubbornly cling to us forever.

Momentum is not a single action, but rather the result of consistent behaviors resulting in consistent outcomes. And in life, the difference between us gathering moss or not is found between our ears.

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Breast Cancer Deserves Our Attention

For years I thought of the color orange whenever thinking about the month of October. Pumpkins, leaves, candy corn. But now I see pink.

Earlier this week another friend of mine had her life intersect with breast cancer.

Statistically speaking, one out of eight women will experience invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Think about that for a moment. Picture nine players on the field for a softball team. All smiles, ponytails, and focused on winning. Pick one, say the catcher. Maybe the third baseman. Odds are one of the players on the field will have their lives interrupted or least disrupted by breast cancer during their lifetime.

October is National Breast Cancer awareness month.

According to the American Cancer Association, more than 250,000 women in the US experienced invasive breast cancer in 2017 resulting in 40,000 cancer deaths. Additionally, the greatest rates of mortality due to breast cancer occur in minorities, with the highest rates for African American women.
AP-895.jpgThe good news is the survival rate continues to improve as awareness and self-testing become more ingrained in daily lives. The sneaky thing about breast cancer is that it is considered a painless cancer – one people do not generally find their body telling them something is wrong. Many cancers, as they take hold, begin to compromise or impact organs creating discomfort. Breast cancer, however, is a generally considered a silent cancer – most times not discovered without either a clinical or self-examination. This alone makes breast cancer even more dangerous – allowing cancer to grow and expand in the body unchecked.

The lower rate of medical or self-exams appears to be the driver of higher rates of breast cancer incidence in minorities, according to medical professionals. Being as breast cancer is silent aggressor makes education and regular medical exams an important part of early detection and treatment for all women regardless of race, creed, color.

Surprisingly, family history is not necessarily a predictor of a woman getting breast cancer. With 90% breast cancers being termed “spontaneous” or occurring without genetic markers, the incidence rate is more random than most would believe. With the exception of the aggressive BRCA1 gene (which carries a 50% predictor rate), which actress Angelina Joline both carries and elevated in the public’s awareness, the highest indicator of risk to women is age. Women under 40 years of age carry a 9% rate of experiencing breast cancer while women over 80 carry a 24% rate. Having a regular examination schedule becomes increasingly important in early detection when more options and treatments are possible.

AP-895.jpgAt one time I didn’t know of anyone who experienced breast cancer. Now I know more people than the fingers on both hands. I also once thought of breast cancer as something spoken in hushed tones – but not anymore. The more we educate, the more we make early detection possible, the more lives we can save. The rate of mortality has dropped in the past few decades, but we’ve still a long way to go.

Think pink. Think breast cancer.

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Learn more: https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures-2017-2018.pdf

 

True Friendships Make Life Special

You are considered blessed in life if you have one true love, one true passion, and one true friend.

Recently one of those came to town for a visit. Not any friend – the one I first met while the Mayflower moving truck sat parked in the driveway unloading my family’s belongings into a new home in a new town. First grade waited patiently a few weeks ahead of me.

Between the pumpkin colored sofa, four metal kitchen chairs, and a dozen brown cardboard wardrobe boxes, he and I first met. His mother , younger brother and sister in tow, had walked through the green space separating our houses. A large plate of cookies proved the perfect icebreaker as we kids mingled in the ankle-high grass.

Nearly half a century later, we remain the closest of friends but rarely see each other. We’ve not lived in the same ZIP code let alone in the same state in decades. Yet we still find ways to remain close and making opportunities to get together.

Our friendship is like most – filled with highs and lows. We’ve fought, cried, and experienced many of our greatest memories together. Some of the moments I am proud of; others downright ashamed. But the one constant is that they happened with us an arm’s length apart.

I remember us rolling in a front yard, arms locked, punching, spitting, biting until we finally gave up. A few days later we didn’t remember why we ended up in the dirt in the first place. We, as they say, walked it off, letting the episode blow off into the summer dust.

We were battery mates on the little league baseball diamond, me on the mound and he behind the plate. We climbed out of windows and scaled dangerous rooftops to check out the views. We even skateboarded competitively together – a thread that altered our lives forever. As teenagers, we even drove a car with broken alternator thousands of miles because we wanted so badly to go camping on a beach. For a week or so we each took turns pushing the small car down flat coastal roads while the other sat inside ready to drop the clutch.

Fast-forward a half-century. We both have experienced marriage, parenthood, and can legally claim a senior citizen discount at McDonald’s. But we’ve never let time or distance keep us from remaining the closest of friends. We are joined by time.

Friendship is like an investment – an investment you make with your heart. Today the word can simply mean you accepted an invitation on an emotionless social media platform. Tb11d00db-4ea2-4282-84b0-3acdf5089551.jpgo me, friendship is paid for with love, pain, and shared memories.

This past weekend my wife said she thought was watching two 10-year old kids. He and I went to the local skatepark, rode bikes, and even went surfing a couple days. We were, for all practical purposes, the same kids who shared that first plate of cookies in the driveway. And for that I consider myself a blessed man.

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Bracelet Invites Belief In Mystery

With the clever misdirection of a seasoned magician, a small woman made a tiny beaded bracelet appear on my wrist.

Below the towering skyline of Chicago, I am speaking with a woman a few inches south of five feet tall. Cloaked in a red and gold silk jacket, oriental golden calligraphy covers the surface. Her somber face reveals the scars of a lifetime of first-person stories I’d love to hear.

She speaks softly, nodding repeatedly. Her broken words reveal she is most likely a long way from her birthplace. Or, maybe not.

I look down at my wrist where 22 red wooden beads rest around my wrist.

The woman gently turns my wrist, my palm now open to the sky. She places a small golden foil card in the center. With a Buddha-like image on one side, the reverse offers me the blessings of a lifetime of peace.

The woman continues to nod and opens a spiral notebook with small print. The bracelet and card are a gift, but a donation will help rebuild a temple in Southeast Asia. The notebook shows a black and white photo of what, to my eyes, shows what appears a temple in great distress.

I reach into my pocket and pull out a few bills. The woman invites me to add my name to the list of people who’ve done the same ahead of me.

And with the same sense of invisibility she arrived, she nods, takes three steps backwards, and fades back into the crowd of busy tourists.

Looking down at the bracelet and card, two pathways become apparent – each offering contrasting emotions and outcomes. First, I can resent the fact I handed a few dollars to a woman who is working a crowd, handing out costume trinkets for dollars. The other pathway is to absorb the moment and default to the wisdom of the universe and knowing there is a chance – however slight – my actions may pave the way for good things to come my direction.

The red bracelet probably carries a cost value of less than a dollar – the foil card most likelyIMG_1595.jpeg a few pennies. But, I wonder, what is the value of the human experience of meeting the woman? And like the ever so brief belief we put in stage magician, what about the similar feeling washing across me while she and I interacted?

Much like a child, I’m increasingly open to enjoying the mysteries of life. The rational side of me knows most of the stories I was told as a child were nothing but well-meaning tales designed to inspire and shape my actions. And for the most part, I was especially careful in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

So if I could then, why not now? What is the harm in letting a bit of harmless mystery and serendipity into my life? After all, I now know I have a lifetime of joy and peace on my side – and the card to prove it.

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Ferris Wheel Rolls Back Time

From the top of the Ferris wheel, I could clearly see over 35 years into the past.

The other night my wife and I are at the base of a tall Ferris wheel. Colorful lights chase each up against a dark night sky. Blues, reds, greens spray down on us like mist an evening shower.

I don’t know why, but I was nervous about what came next.

“Do you want to ride the Ferris wheel?” I said.

My words felt likIMG_1456.jpge those of a teenager on a first date – clumsy, unsure, and tentative.

She said yes.

I don’t know why I was nervous. We’ve ridden dozens of Ferris wheels together. Add to the formula we’ve been doing this since we’re still figuring each other out as clumsy teenagers. The truth is, she still makes me nervous.

What makes someone nervous to ask someone else to share a ride in an amusement park after 35 years? Together we’ve raised two wonderful children, laughed and cried into each other’s shoulders. There is no home like being in the arms of each other.

But for some reason, she can still send me back in time to where I am unsure if she will say yes if I ask for a second date.

The ride operator waves us onto the ride, his voice fighting for air in the loud music swimming around us.

As the car rises into the air, she smiles at me. Again, I am unsure of myself. I’ve been here with her before and the feeling is always the same. I am in love.

She playfully swings the car knowing my discomfort with heights. I hear her laugh, the one she reserves for a time when the moment is shared only between the two of us. I love that laugh, drinking in the sound in like cold water on a hot Texas afternoon.

The car climbs into the air and stops at the top. Before us, we look out across a sea of lights. The world is small before us, below us, around us. The car gently rocks in the wind. I am nervous again, only know because I know I’m out of my comfort zone. I put my arm around her, not for show, but because I need to.

Suddenly it is 1980 something. We’ve stopped at a roadside carnival that sprung up unannounced alongside the highway. It is dark and we are tired. We pull over for a break.

Soon we are on top of an old Ferris wheel. She knowingly rocks the car. Her laugh dances around us. The smile is knowing, playful, but I trust it all the same.

I put my arm around her, pulling her to my side. The moment becomes magical – one where you realize it is okay to let someone else in, to share your deepest fears, your grandest dreams. And then it happens – my life is changed forever. We plunge more deeply into love.

I hope she’ll continue to say yes.

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Crossing Over to Vintage Humbling

Apparently, I am now considered vintage. Let me explain.

In something like a twisted episode of an old Twilight Zone I left on a week-long road trip as a what I considered a middle-aged guy and somehow and, inexplicably, returned old man. The for one week, the universe seemed to have it in for me – kicking at and shaking my ego onto its knees.

Strike one came early. While stopping at roadside gas I walked in to grab a bottle of water. Walking up to the counter, a young girl, roughly the age of my own daughter, looked up.

“Wow, I like your hair,” the young girl said. “Not too often when you see an older gentleman wearing taking an interest in his hair and wearing it with style.”

For a moment – ever so briefly – I wondered who the young girl might be speaking to. And then, like the revealing payoff moment in each episode, the iconic theme music dancing a terrorizing jig between my ears. The older man was me.

We all like to think we are perpetually young or at least immune to the march of time. Old is always for someone else. We even manufacture life preserver-type phrases hoping to distract us from the face changing the mirror. This list of greatest hits includes “you’re only as old as we act” or “age is only a number” and other well-meaning but hollow phrases.

None of these turn of words rescued three days later. Riding a small bus, a young lady stepped aboard. With seats filling up I instinctively heard my mother’s voice. Rising up I offered my seat to the late boarding passenger.

“Oh no,” she said. “I’m young. Thanks all the same.”

Strike two hit me with the force of a Nolan Ryan fastball to the ribcage – even taking away my breath and another piece of my already bruised ego.

Sitting down, I wondered what I did to piss off the universe.

Strike three came later that night when a young man walked up, did a double-take, and stopped.

“Dude, awesome vintage watch,” he said. “What’s the story here?”

Again, I found myself momentarily confused – what vintage watch I wondered.

Looking down I saw my favorite watch, one accompanying me from mountain hikes to diving into teal blue waters. A traveling partner of tens of thousands of road miles and a survivor of being whacked into walls and submerged into cold mountain streams, the watch is practically a part of my being.

vintage.jpgThen I did the math. My watch began traveling with me before the young man could grow a beard.

Leaning in, the young man admired my timepiece with reverence – as if seeing a rare fossil from a time long passed, from a time when watches told time and phones only made calls. To him, my watch served as a cool reminder of authenticity.

I cried uncle. If age plus authentic equals vintage, then count me in. Just don’t call me old.

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