Marsh Provides New Reflection

Hindsight is a remarkable thing – a moment of clarity that can only come from a different point of view.

This came to me while riding my bike along a wooded marsh trail along the east coast. But the reference was not to choices in life, but rather how differently my eyes interpreted my surroundings backtracking along the same trail. Even though I was in the same state, same town, and even the same GPS coordinates, my perceptions of my surroundings dramatically changed.

On one stretch, crossing a wooden bridge through a lush green marsh, a sun-bleached and decaying cypress tree lay fallen half in the water. As I approached, the silhouette gave the appearance of a bony skeletal hand reaching upwards out of the water. The light pouring from behind added an element of harsh starkness catapulting the image from all other surroundings. My bike wheels came to a stop to admire emotive Mother Nature-created sculpture.

Ten minutes later, backtracking the same trail, the arresting image didn’t even catch my attention. Instead this time the sculpture faded into the background of trees draping Spanish Moss down into the grass below, colorful finches darting around branches, and long reeds of grass slowing dancing in unison in the coastal breeze.

Pausing again I found myself realizing I had been there before – not the stretch of trail, but when reflecting on moments in life and seeing items and events in different ways.

Hindsight is not always about being right or wrong, but more about having the clarity to see the same objects or events from a different perspective.

I have crossed this figurative bridge many times in my life. Evolving goals, values, and behaviors become fluid as we mature. As a teenager, an attention-getting car with a big V-8 motor and loud tailpipes consumed my brain time. But today, a car that starts each day is safer than average in an accident, and I don’t need to worry about how much gas it consumes represents my current values.

In life, I have seen the same arch of life play out. My younger self thought to have the right house, in the right neighborhood, and the right clothes were the image a successful adult would project. But I was wrong. Today I realize a successful adult lives a life of loving and respectful family and friends, does not fall trap to the material game of who-dies-with-the-most-toys-when-they- die game, and can find time to read a good book now and then.

Along the way – or my trail of life – the sun moved across my shoulders and allowing me to view the world from a different point of view. Not right or wrong, but simply different. Today I see the world through a different set of eyes – as different as backtracking across the wooden bridge through the coastal marsh.

Truth is life is an evolving experiment. And while we are naturally encouraged to always be moving forward, a little backtracking can prove both rewarding and revealing.

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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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Real Cowboys Do Cry

Real cowboys do cry.

While a physical tear did not make a journey down his cheek, the man’s voice revealed the unmistakable sound of longing pain.

“First time I’ve had to be away from my family on business,” he said. “I sure miss them something terrible.”

We are standing in the parking lot outside a small Mexican restaurant. We’ve met inside, sharing stories about dogs, cattle, and family. The sun already checked out for the day leaving the air temperature to gently free fall like a wayward feather dancing in still air.

He blinking pattern changes, a tell of his emotions trying to secretly escape through his tear ducts.  Soft crow’s feet gently shape his eyes.

“Here,” he says pulling out his phone. A photo comes up of a young couple, his arm around her shoulders.

Ten minutes before we were total strangers. Sitting five feet apart, the only thing we had in common was we were both served Spanish Rice.

“Excuse me,” came the voice. “I hate to make you think I am eavesdropping but I do believe it was the Indian Red Wolf.”

Back at our table, we were discussing the unusual heritage of our son’s new dog, a Catahoula Leopard Dog.

“It was the result of the Spanish Conquistadors bringing their greyhounds to North America in the 16th Century and cross-breeding them with the Indian’s dogs.”

“I have thirteen running with my cattle back home in Louisiana,” he said.

I get up and we shake hands, I offer my name. He nods, shares his.

“I run cattle on a little place in south Louisiana,” he says.

Pulling out his cell phone he scrolls to a video of a team of dogs corralling a herd of beige cattle.

“That’s them,” he says. “See how they keep the cattle tight, baying them towards the gate?”

The dogs, heads down and barking, run tight quick circles around the tightly clustered cattle.

“They start running circles at 8 am and don’t stop moving until 3 pm,” he says.

He shows us a few other videos and then offers to share his Facebook page if we are interested in seeing more. He is not selling anything, only being polite.

Back in the parking lot, he tells us more about his family.

“I’m here working on a temporary job for an oil company. Hate being away from my family.”

It is here I spot the reflexive hitch in his voice revealing even real do cowboys cry.

“Gotta pay the bills, though.”

We shake hands, say our goodbyes, and he climbs in a full-size pickup truck. The bed is equipped more for oil than ranching. An oil company logo is painted on the driver’s door.

Meeting people isn’t hard, just a numbers game. Meeting genuine people, those who will stay in your heart long afterward your one meeting is much rarer.

The truck comes to life, belching back smoke into the air. Inside, however, is a man missing something only time and distance can repair.

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Slowing Down Time Takes Time

“Aim for the front or right edge,” says the man standing next to me.

I am in the most unnatural of settings for me – a shooting clay club in western Houston. Or maybe not. All I know is I am so out of my sorts; I can barely remember how to stand.

“The right edge?” I say. “I can barely see the thing flying across in front of me.”

The man chuckles to himself and reaches for the shotgun.

“Here,” he says, “like this.”

“Pull,” he says. I push a small button on a box. An orange clay shoots up from the left side against a backdrop of green oak trees and quickly dissipates into tiny fragments.

Without a word, he hands the gun back to me.

For the next few moments, orange clays are set free in front of me – all flying safely to their destination. Front, back, or middle of the clay are irrelevant terms when your inability to control time.

Contrary to common logic, you can control time – it just takes work.

Time is can be our friend or enemy when completing a task. But to get there, you have to first invest an extensive amount of time building a deep well of knowledge. Standing on the shooting map reminded me of how uncomfortable I could be when out of my element. Exciting? Yes. Challenging? Yes. Humbling, you bet.

The best hitters in baseball claim to be able to see the rotation of the seams of an approaching pitch to in order to decode what may come next. This not all about eyesight. Repeatedly experiencing the same task increases your ability to react to the surroundings or timeline you are managing.

While most may only hear a 100 MPH fastball, a major league player’s library of experience of processing what is happening to him with the white object leaving a pitcher’s hand is as deep as a rock quarry pool. And after a certain point, your body defuses the pressure of time, magically slowing down the moment. Doing so allows you to focus on the smaller details, think differently and react accordingly. Or hit the right edge of a clay.

I learned this firsthand public speaking. While most find getting up to speak in front of 1,000 people unnerving, for those who’ve done so more times than memory allows, it is like stepping into an alternate universe where time slows down. You find yourself already forming the next sentence before the current one is out of your mouth. Adjusting on the fly is more akin to the baseball player reading the spinning seams of an approaching pitch than an interruption. After all, in these situations, time is moving in slow motion.

This applies to one person sitting in front of a keyboard or another faces a complicated mathematical equation – you simply evoke the ability to slow down time. It may sound crazy, but this is real.

If I could only slow down time with a shotgun in my hand.

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Open Door Policy Of A Different Kind

Everyone loves an open-door policy. But earlier this week I saw a different take on the phrase.

Sitting at a red light in traffic, a young couple walked across in front of my car. Holding hands, they stepped into the parking lot. It was then I saw a different open-door policy play out.

Instead of each walking to their respective doors, he walked with the young woman around the front of the car and around her door. Reaching down, he opened the door wide and stepped aside for her to get in. And only when he was sure she was comfortably settled in did he close the door. He then walked back around the car and got in.

To some this 15-seconds of life might not seem particularly noteworthy. But I can assure you there are plenty of us out there who are seeing less and less of what we once considered common courtesy.

This is not about gender, but rather respect.

My wife and I have a son and a daughter. And for our entire lives, we’ve encouraged them to treat each other with respect based on reverence instead of perceived weakness or thinking less of the other. Chromosomes are never an excuse to treat another with anything other than the utmost respect or extending opportunities.

The best thing about raising both a son and daughter was the opportunity to teach through example. And we believe teaching respect should begin at home – giving our children a front row seat to what we hoped they would one day carry forward. And in our house, even the simple act of passing the scalloped potatoes was to include a please and thank you.

As kids, they plain wore out the words thank you and please. When particularly young we even ignored requests without the critical word. We hoped doing so would painlessly allow them to become adults who never found themselves having to remember to practice the basics tenants of respectful manners in any given situation.

I have always opened the door for my wife – beginning on our first date. Not because she couldn’t do it herself or I felt like as the male it was my job to open a door for her, but because I never wanted to miss an opportunity to show her how much I valued and respected her in my life. This is not about gender, but me wanting her to know how lucky I feel that she is letting me be a part of her universe. Being with her made me happy and a better person. Why wouldn’t I do everything I could to let her know?

This young couple reminded me of the journey. Our kids are both now adults. And I can say each understands the value of treating others with respect.

And the lessons must have taken root as my daughter once stood next to the car door while on a date and told the former boyfriend “this door isn’t going to open itself.”

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Survival Without Technology Uncertain

Technology is going to be the end of civilization – and I’m not referring to weapons.

“You know, I’m terrible at directions,” says the sales associate behind the register.

He is scanning the barcode on a metal wall hanging of a compass.

“My dad keeps telling me I need to learn how to tell my direction but I just can’t,” he finishes, the register beeping in the background.

I pause. I’ve heard this before. It worries me. I wonder about the day technology all goes offline. We’ll be doomed.

“You know,” I say “there are only four directions. North, south, east, and west.”

Silence. I’m not making any headway.

“Here is a helpful hint. The sun comes up in the east and sets in the west. Figure that out and you can pretty much go from there.”

The young man smiles.

“Yeah, thanks,” he says handing me a paper receipt.

I really do worry about the day all these networks and all the electronics go down. I’m not a doomsdayer, but at some point in life, we are all going to find ourselves dependent on our wits and ability to think on our feet. And not getting a signal is not going to be an excuse.

There is something to be said for a Kindle that never runs out of battery life. Yes, I mean a physical book with paper pages and if recycled, will decompose into the dirt.

The other day my son called to tell me about a car sold in Japan with roll-up windows. He was honestly intrigued at the simplicity. And I guess for anyone born in a world where a cell phone quickly became an extension of your arm, this would sound fascinatingly and refreshingly simple.

The next battle may very well happen on a field of ones and zeros – that is software code. Every nation currently contains groups who work feverishly to crack into the digital vaults of whatever adversary – or ally – they wish. Why blast missiles from submarines when with a well-placed change in a code so one can take out a strategic electrical grid or create false data?

Which goes back to the day we potentially looking at our phones or other computer sources and having to step back and ask if what they are saying passes the sniff test. Will we have the critical mental skills to operate outside of a world absent of computer-generated information? Can we read the clouds and tell us what is going on with an approaching storm? Or can we figure out how to troubleshoot when the vehicle we are driving suddenly stops on the side of the road?

I am not a survivalist by any stretch of the imagination. If the dinosaurs reappeared on earth today I might be one of the first snacks they nosh on.

But I can promise you if I ran across a secret note telling me to head west for safety, I am confident I would successfully find my way.

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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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