Bride And Groom Wear Age Proudly

The new bride is glowing from the inside; the groom so proud he can hardly get the words out fast enough.

“We’ve been married exactly 2 hours,” he said. “My first and her last.”

True love does not arrive on a schedule convenient exclusively to the young.

I’m standing outside a hotel, valets moving back and forth like leaves swirling winter breeze.

“We both last saw each other in high school,” he said. “If you flipped the pages of the yearbook, there we were together.”

She tells me how they were good friends years ago before they went their separate ways – she created a life and family one world, and he went off to Europe and other faraway places. They reconnected recently.

They are heading out for their first dinner as husband and wife. There is no flowing white wedding gown or stuffy black tux in front of me. On the contrary, they are entering the world this night as man and wife dressed with confidence gained experiencing life.

My wife and I share hugs with them and head inside the hotel, leaving the newlyweds to their night. I can’t help but feel as if all is right in the universe this night and I’ve seen something special.

Love is strange. Hard to define, difficult to accurately describe, but when you see the real thing, you know it instantly.

“Youth is wasted on the young,” so goes a saying handed down from one generation to the next. And as each of us gains another year on the calendar, we tend to agree more. “If we only knew then was we knew now,” we say to ourselves.

Love is one of those areas, too.

The other day I found myself apologizing to my wife for my immaturity early in our relationship. And as much as I realize I am not the only husband wearing a badge for selfish behavior, that does not relieve me of self-aware guilt I carry for my actions.

“Hey, you’re here now,” she says. “And we’re here now.”

When young, you feel as is if love is something magical, bursting into fire and forever burning in hearts. But the truth is, as intense are the fires of young passion, so are dangers of inexperience in the hands of youth. Many of us do not have the needed toolset to manage and navigate the fierce heat of passion. Too often, we find our immaturity dousing the embers with self-inflicted mistakes, sucking out the oxygen, a critical ingredient for the fire to continue.

Love is like a campfire. A good one burns long and healthy, putting off the needed energy to cook a nourishing meal, providing warmth to cut the chill on a cold night, and offering an added layer security from threats or predators.

As for the newlyweds outside the hotel, I’m betting they are in a better position to navigate the unpredictable road of love. As I said, when you see the real thing, you know it.


Brown Thumb A Real Affliction

Last week I watched a potted lily jump from a store shelf and onto the concrete floor below in hopes of discouraging my wife from putting the plant in the back of the car.

I might be a bit incorrect in my first assumption, but I fear the word is out: my wife can kill a plastic plant.

We all have our God-given talents. You won’t find a more beautiful and caring heart than the one beating inside of my wife. Tough as galvanized nails when need be, her heart also swells ten times, large enough to absorb all the pain from the person in her arms.

But plants simply do not have a chance.

Know this is a time-honored fact in our family. Our kid’s regularly mentioned her brown thumb. And the sight of an empty dirt pot around the back of the house is viewed with a little surprise as walking across a tombstone in a graveyard.

There does not seem to be a logical reason for the untimely demise of the botanical wonders. She gently showers them with water and fertilizes them with encouraging words of love. One day the branches are flowering and pushing upward into the sky and the next are jockeying for a spot in the long lineup against the back of the house. I quietly fear if plants can spawn ghosts, we are in some serious trouble.

“Shh,” she said to me last spring as we walked into the house. “Don’t look at it, but the Crepe Myrtle has some blooms on it.”

This roots from her planting one in the yard at our home in Georgia. It never bloomed – that is until the year we sold the house. All I can figure is the plant was trying to not call attention to itself.

The chronicles of plant deaths read like a Stephen King novel. One time when in college, we walked into her apartment to find a bedroom window blown open. As we wiped the snow from our shoes, I found the plants frozen so stiff the green leaves shattered with a single touch.

The deck of our first apartment after getting married was decorated with a gas grill and depository of plastic pots – absent living plants of course.

But she won’t give up. We stop along the streets and study landscapes, searching for the perfect blend of color, low-maintenance, and impossible to kill with water, love, and attention.

To this day a visit to a nursey is accompanied by the phrase “so who will your victims be this year?”

Recently she ran across a vine-inspired flower that reproduces with the productivity of a tank of guppies and seemingly can’t be killed with $20 gallon of weed killer. Maybe there is a positive to this genetic engineering after all.

My wife has two remarkable children-now-adults to her name. God blessed her with a heart like no one else. But when it comes to plants, I am convinced that plant jumped.


Time and Technology March Together

Later this week will cIMG_5435.JPGross into not only a new year but a new decade.

Time is a funny thing, marching on continuously oblivious to whatever is happening at the moment. Wars, technology, even climate change (ask the dinosaurs). But the one thing for sure, no matter how smart we think we are, the future will always be unpredictable.

At the turn of the 20th century, many thought technologies rendered war fruitless. The invention of the airplane would allow scouts to fly over troops formations and record their positions and movements making field maneuvers useless. Technology would finally end the scourge of war forever – or so was the original thought.

Then, as legend has it, a reconnaissance pilot took a firearm up and shot at another observational pilot and the rest is history. Bombing was introduced in 1911 during the Italo-Turkish War and soon became fully an offensive tool during the Great War of 1914 – 1918. Technology, in a story as old as time, was again weaponized.

Fast forward to the development of the internet – a remarkable network of connections between scientists to share information. Tracing back to 1983, the idea was to flatten the world of scientific research and accelerate the speed of developing solutions for the benefit of mankind. A decade later the door to commercialization began trickling in and quickly compounding its intrusion into our daily lives at a head-shaking speed. Today’s economy and even how we contact our dear old aunt two time zones away is unrecognizable to a shoulder-padded citizen of the 1980s.

The original promise of easy sharing of opinions and information and allowing everyone to make informed decisions based on trusted information quickly came off the track. While commercialism prospered, so did the attraction of bad players with a different set of goals – to use the platform for their gain. Thieves will always find a way into a room full of gold and political forces will always show up where a group of people is hanging out. And in the blink of a historical eye, the internet became stained with residue of bad actors using the platform for their gain.

As we sit on the cusp of a new decade we are staring into the eyes of AI or artificial intelligence. And today’s narrative sounds remarkably familiar, one filled with ultraistic potential: the ability to make your life easier without any sacrifice on your part. Self-driving cars are no longer science fiction. Limitless server space gathers and indexes everything you do and say. We even now have digital devices in our homes, aptly named ‘digital assistants’, serving as little more than fancy tools to tell us the temperature outside in exchange for hearing and capturing every word we say.

AI is fueled by Big Data. And as much as the caretakers in the clouds assure us that the collection of our information harmless, I can’t help but be skeptical of their promises whenever I see a plane fly overhead.


Learning To Help Is Not Exclusively Holiday Spirit

Did you ever think of how little each of us would have if we only had what we needed?

The holiday season seems to bring a reminder of how truly blessed we are and how many others need our help.

God promises He will provide. And to His word, he generally does. But too often, we tend to split hairs here, allowing our selfish wants to blend in with our needs. We need to get over ourselves.

Each day I drive past people with nothing more beyond the shirt on their back. To them, everything is disposable and temporary. Survival does that to one.

I understand there are reasons for people to be displaced, in pain, or alone. And many times, this is self-inflicted. But if we are honest with ourselves, this should not prevent us from us helping them gain – or regain – their self-respect.

God put us on earth to do good towards each other and watch out for those who can not. Unfortunately, most of us, me included, come up short. The distractions of daily life – the need to earn, the keeping up of outward appearances, and the managing of all that comes with our everyday life – can prove to be powerful distractions.

Forgive me as I blend the gospel of Jesus Christ with Dr. Seuss, but both support the concept that happiness does not come wrapped in ribbons and bows, but rather in our love for each other. Material possessions are temporary. Regardless of what many believe, we do not leave this life with our toys.

Most of us live better than 98% of the earth’s residents. And if you want to argue this point, I’ll be happy to suggest a few spots to visit. But better yet, you might want to look under the bridge you are driving across in the morning.

In the past few months, I’ve seen children run along the water’s edge chasing plastic bottles they’d tossed into the waves. They laughed, played tag, and not one owned an iPhone. They were happy in the absence of all the essential material possessions a kindergartener in our zip codes would expect.

Here is a painful exercise if you dare: how many pairs of shoes do you need? How many shirts? How many boxes of cereal? How about knives and forks?

It does not take long to appreciate most of us harbor enough possesions to change or improve the lives of many.

Let’s do a better job of taking care of each other, especially those in need. Regardless if you are religious or a big fan of Dr. Seuss, we all owe it to ourselves to help improve the world we occupy – no matter how large or small.

Give generously to charity or volunteer your time – or both. Find opportunities to help, even if that means slipping a few dollars to someone who looks like they could use a hand. The world needs all of us – even those who are afraid to or can not ask.


Storytellers Wield Magical Powers

I love a good story.

Being raised in the Midwest, embellishment was frowned upon if not outright discouraged. In a land where the terrain rolls as flat as the accents, directly speaking was the rule. Wasting time with unnecessary words was considering insulting – regardless if the absence ruffled a few feathers or hurt one’s feelings. Walk it off.

Then I moved away and discovered storytelling was not a linear equation, but rather an art form as captivating as any gallery painting. And in the hands of a true master, few emotional experiences can compare.

Traveling the South on back roads is always a treat. Beneath the proud, majestic homes, landscapes with trees melting into the ground like something from a Dr. Suess book, lays the artistry of storytelling crafted over generations of time.

My wife and I recently stayed in a circa 1836 home along the banks of Mississippi River. There we discovered deep pools of master wordsmiths. In the South, the ability to tell a story is an honored – if not a critical – skill of survival. An artform where truth is blended with – or possibly absent of – a handful of details to deliver the listener to the desired destination of the storyteller.

“My mother once said her cousin was an outright liar,” said a new friend in the small town. “She’d say ‘I’ve known her since she was seven years old, and a good 20% of what comes out of her mouth is a damn lie.”

Curious why she would continue to associate with his aunt, he asked.

She leaned in and said, “Because it is that 20% is so darn interesting.”

Storytelling, like any art form, requires the knowledge and respect of the tools at hand: word choice, voice inflection, and a surgical sense of timing. Each must effortlessly play in the background, never revealing themselves for fear of breaking the intoxicating spell.

The owner of the house we stayed in was one of these men. With each story came a firey ignition of my imagination, willingly transporting me to whatever moment in time or place he wished.

Standing in a dining room filled with furnishings as foreign to a Midwestern boy’s eyes as the tall skyscrapers in New York City, he extended his arms as if to invite us.

“My grandfather always said to us, ‘surround yourself with beautiful things and beautiful people.” And then, after a pause, he nodded in our direction as if let us know we were now a part of his collection.

As he toured each room of the four-story pre-Civil War home, each room, each piece, each painting, carried a critical story to tell – as if they were books in a carefully curated personal library. And I melted effortlessly into each tale.

I cannot begin to catalog what I learned or heard, but then again, that is the result of true storytelling. Instead, I left drenched in the magical and emotional majesty of the artist. And I don’t care what part of the stories was 20%.


Angel Arrives Early For Christmas

Angels come in all shapes and sizes.

“Stop, stop!”

To my right, a woman runs out onto a street where a car and pickup truck are aggressively accelerating away from a nearby traffic light.

Her arms wave wildly overhead as if to make her body appear even larger. Shoulders and body squared towards the oncoming traffic, she is not giving up her ground. Her voice echoes off narrow buildings with the terror only a parent instantly recognizes.

The traffic pauses, and so do the sounds of life around us. The woman, dressed in an animal print top and black rubber boots, is looking to the other side of the street.

To my left, I see a man scooping up a small boy and racing back to the safety of the other side. A small car seat is tossed aside, abandoned when the man realized what was happening. The two jump back behind the protection of a silver pickup truck.

The small boy, now safely in the arms of his dad, deeply burrows his head into the flannel shirt of his dad’s shoulders.

The woman makes her way back to the other side of the road where a group of friends waits. I can see she is shaken. Her friends hug her, thank her, and kiss her.

Back across the street, the man is speaking with his son, at times holding the boy’s face in his large hands so they two can connect eyes.

From where I am standing, all I can hear are small passages escaping over the sound of the resumed traffic.

“Never, never,” seem to be repeating themes followed by extended and deep hugs.

About 50 feet of asphalt separate the boy and the woman who saved his life by putting herself in danger. At no point was she going to give up her ground to save the boy’s life. Adrenaline is most likely still powerfully pulsating through her body.

Her actions were selfless instinct, most likely those of someone never considering the danger to herself, but instead singly focusing on pain or death of a small child.

Today’s world is hyper-charged with people spouting hurtful words towards others based on everything from failing to signal a lane change in traffic to one’s choice of a political candidate. Unfortunately, we seem to be focusing more on what pushes us apart rather than what brings us together. And a pot of boiling separation soup never tastes good.

The man, with the boy in his arms, walks across the street to the woman. The boy gives her a hug next one, followed by the dad.

“I was a bad boy,” I hear the little boy says.

Soon his eyes spot Christmas decorations in a nearby window. A tree is dressed with blinking lights and decorated with boxes with bows below. The boy’s imagination is thinking of that magical day only a week or so ahead on the calendar.

Fortunately for him, angels also wear animal print tops and black rubber boots.


Books Hold Special Place In Us

As if the karma Gods of the world would look down poorly on me, I never throw a book into the trash.

Last week I was sorting through a wicker basket near my side of the bed. Magazines, sections of newspapers, and books tend to find themselves filed away until I am encouraged to straighten up my side of the room.

Near the bottom, I spotted a worn copy of a book a friend loaned me more than a year ago. Opening the pages, I could see his handwriting and notes in the margins – and in some odd trick of magic, I could also hear his voice. While an author originally drafted the manuscript, my friend made it his own.

Books are remarkable creations. While generally simple thoughts placed on paper, books maintain a curious sense of value to us. No matter how old or worn, people hold on to books like few other objects. The act of opening of an aged book sends people into a curious set of motions like they are holding a newborn baby. Using our fingertips, we gently leaf brittle pages open and closed. And for those moments, we feel as if traveling backward in time, swimming in smell and aroma of yesteryear.

Looking down at the notes in the margins, I could clearly hear my friend’s voice. The thoughts, the concepts, and the ideas all came spilling out from him over the years we worked alongside each other. His passion is as colorful as the scribbling decorating the margins of the pages.

Several years ago, my brother and I closed down the old home where we grew up. Clearing out my room, I began sorting through piles of paperbacks I’d read growing up while leaning back against the headboard of my bed. The pages yellowed and book covers with a tear here of there, but they still spoke to me. I remember traveling across the country with John Steinbeck and his dog Charlie. Another carried me to walking alongside Holden Caulfield and his personal journey of teenage angst and trying to make sense of the world around him. And finally, an extremely worn and yellowed book my mother gave me when I was wrestling with paralyzing shyness as a kid in school. Dale Carnegie’s words gave this nervous 5th grader the courage to walk up to girl in our class and start a conversation by complimenting her necklace.

Good books can become deeply personal markers for each of us. And the magic inside of them is not exclusively the words on the pages, but what happens once the words lift off the pages and become a part of us.

Some books speak to us, while others do not. But one thing I know for sure is there is always a chance a book will connect with another in a profoundly personal way.

Sealing up my friend’s book into an envelope, I knew I was returning a piece of personal property – one he’d help create.


Understanding Life Key To Living Forever

Last week I found myself standing in a room mostly filled with strangers. Considering the event was a wake service for a friend, you would say he built a remarkable off-the-balance-sheet inventory of deep and powerful love. To him, touching lives was his currency – and my late friend built his life around doing so.

“I remember how when I’d sit down and talk with him, and he’d listen,” said his nephew.

“No, I mean really listen. I mean, he’d actually respond and ask questions about what I said.”

Making genuine connections in life is one of the most important, if not currently endangered, opportunities we share as human beings. Doing so, creating a meaningful and emotional fusing of our selves with another, is powerful.

The younger man swiped away tears.

“He made me feel like the most important person in the world at the moment.”

A small parade of family and friends spoke. But what we heard, and what my friend would be most proud to hear, was how people spoke of how their lives were positively impacted by their lives crossing.

The nephew continued.

“He not only impacted me, but he also impacted my children, making their lives better.”

He spoke of sitting at a table with my friend, leaning in and talking with the kids over dinners.

“He’d spend all his time visiting with them, not hardly saying a word to me. But he was making them feel important, too.”

My friend was a successful professional. But in the small back room wake, only a few words of his career were mentioned. The rest, the vast majority of testimony was of how he had helped others achieve their dreams, lent a hand when they needed it, or simply was a good listener when a good listener was just what the doctor ordered.

I met my friend a few years ago. His handshake was solid, his words strong, and his heart large. I knew right away we would get along. There was no doubt his word was his bond, and he would always work find a way to push the credit to others.

Today’s world could learn a good bit from my friend. Never would he take credit for something – even if he earned it. All you might get is his trademark slow burn smile and then maybe a gentle tilt of his head.

To quote the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “this life is more than just a read-through.” We only get one shot to show who we are and our servitude to a higher calling. Knowing how to build a successful life without being derailed by the intoxication of our shallow reflection in the mirror is difficult. Instead, as my friend knew, we should aspire to be remembered by those we positively impacted through the course of our lifetime.

When we meet such remarkable people, they are never gone – no matter how many years ago they’ve passed. Because, as we all know, they live inside each of us.


Bread Served Warm and With Love

Quietly, the older man approaches. His feet move slowly across the sand to our table near the water’s edge of a tiny island off the coast of Central America.

Our small boat rests in the sand nearby; we’ve stopped to grab a bite to eat on an island so small cars are not allowed on roads.

“Would you like to buy some freshly baked bread?”

His hands shake ever so slightly, his words as soft as his steps across the white sand.

“My wife baked it this morning,” he said.

Looking down, I see small bricks of cake topped with a slice of pineapple wrapped in cellophane.

His nods and edges his wares closer to me.

Skin darkened from a lifetime of living on sun-bleached sands isolated by teal blue waters, and he is as much a part of this island as the palm tree raining shade on us.

I take a piece, the bread still radiating heat from the oven.

Passing a couple of dollar bills to him, I ask if he would take a photo of my wife and me near the water.

He smiles and nods.

“I’m sorry I can’t. I’m blind.”

He explains he can barely see, and this is what he does each day. His wife bakes, and he goes outside selling the pineapple-topped bread. Together they make a living in spite of the challenges of their age and circumstances.

I pause and thank him and ask him to thank his wife for baking the bread.

Moments later, our lunch is delivered to our wooden picnic table, cooked on an open fire pit a few feet away.

Eating, I think of the man – a man living in a paradise he can barely see, struggling to earn a living from strangers coming ashore from small boats. I think of him and his wife’s routine, getting up at sunrise each day, scratching together another batch of bread, cutting the cake into individual cubes, and wrapping each in the clear plastic.

And then the man walks out the front door and into a world his vision has long since silenced to his eyes.

I finish my beans and rice and reach over for the small dark package. Moisture from the heat contents decorates the wrapper with dimples of water. My fingers feel the warmth of the man’s home transporting to me in my imagination to picturing the journey of my bread that day.

The bread is soft, the pineapple a perfect blend of sweet and bitter. The surface bends beneath the pressure of my fork, its freshness allowing it to break away only at the last moment. Afterward, my wife and I take turns picking at the leftover crumbs.

One day after returning home, my wife mentions to someone about us visiting the tiny island. They ask about the blind man and his bread and is he still there selling his wife’s banana nut bread. And suddenly, through magic of small brick of bread, the world becomes smaller.


New Watch Watches Over Me

As of late, I have an unsettling feeling as if an ominous shadow is peering over my shoulder. From the always-listening speaker in the living room to a wrist device recording the hours I slept the night before, I’m finding myself increasingly uneasy.

More and more I feel tethered to a modern version of Big Brother, an omnivorous consumer bent on capturing the most intimate details of my life. And with each passing day, I am questioning my comfort of being linked to a bank of computers located in the figurative clouds tracking everything from my heart rate to what streets I drove to the local grocery store.

Last week I took a dramatic step – I bought a new watch that does nothing but tells me the time.

In a world where we are swimming in a feature-rich society, I love the pure simplicity of my new watch. In an odd way, I admire the single purpose of its existence – to passively sit on my wrist, only stepping into action when I tilt my left wrist upward and reflexively glance my eyes downward. Like a great friendship, we peacefully co-exist without asking of anything from the other but can pick up at a moment’s notice and feel as if time never passed.

I realize this might seem odd, but I want my life back – or at least regain a sense of control of what information is being captured.

A friend of mine makes his living pouring and sorting over what is called ‘big data’ or large unsorted data dumps collected from digital devices. His job is to look for both commonalities or individual patterns of behavior from which companies can leverage to make money.

I’ve another friend in the tourism business who told a group of us she can track behaviors down to when a person arrives in town, whether they turned left or right, where they ate dinner, and how much the spent. Doing so helps her better understand how to better develop strategies to get someone to spend more money.

My new watch will have none of this. Instead, it quietly sits on my wrist waiting for me to cast a glance in its direction.

With a black face adorned with a single hand for the hour, minutes, and seconds, the watch travels as lightly as seasoned hiker crossing a desert landscape. No creature comforts, nothing extra – utility rules the day.

And did I mention, like a good friend, it keeps my secrets? Never does it upload my activities, my bodily reports, or vibrate when my phone rings in the other room. Together, we share a peaceful coexistence based on mutual trust and respect.

Maybe this is age, maybe not. But with each passing day, I ache for simplicity in a world awash in intrusiveness and purported convenience. And with my new watch, I consider this my first symbolic salvo in returning to a more simple time, one I control.

Pardon the pun, but only time will tell.