Dreams, Prayers, and Pain Very Real

“You know, while I appreciate your words, people saying they are sending prayers is pretty much a throwaway line these days.”

I’m somewhere in a dream, it is early morning, and this conversation is going on in my head.

In the story, a friend is telling me he recently learned the doctor is telling him his cancer is a one-way road, no U-turn available. All he knows is the pavement will run out too soon.

“People tend to type those words into a keyboard and never think of them again,” he said. “Like I said, translucent platitudes.”

As is in dreams, my voice speaks from a strange third-person way. I am outside the body speaking but somehow connected. I know what I’m wearing and the color of the bike I’m standing next to.

“Prayers are real,” I said. “I’ll grant you some people might toss out words of encouragement in certain situations, but I can tell you prayers are very real.”

“If you say so,” he said.

“Look, if I tell you you’ll be in my prayers, you will be in my prayers. And I can tell you, from my personal experience, they are very real and very powerful.”

As is dreams, the surroundings ebb and flow into different locations. I then realize we are on a cell phone, his voice carrying a bit of static.

I hear my voice again.

“I’ve been in some difficult spots in life and there is no other way to explain what came next other than someone listening on the other end. Call it God, call it something else, but I’m telling you there is someone there. I believe it with all my heart.”

“Well, I’ll be counting on yours. Maybe you can put in a good word or two,” he said.

Professionals tell us dreams are unpredictable manifestations of churning emotions inside of us. In the last several days I’ve learned someone I knew in school taking his life. I also learned another friend quietly being treated for cancer yet never sharing with me. Instead, he selflessly focused his attention on the difficult medical journey my daughter was on at the time.

I am not a professional at much beyond a keyboard, arranging letters and words in order to tell a story. But I am sure these two items deeply disturbed and impacted me deep inside.

I’m going with the following: all around us, people are secretly going through difficult times and highly personal challenges. And while we may or may not know about them, we need to not be afraid to ask for prayers for those in need. The clerk at the grocery store, the homeless man pushing a cart alongside the road, our spouse.

In the end, and there will be an end, let us cast our net of prayers far and wide, asking of help on behalf of those we may not know who need it most. Because, in my experience, someone is out there waiting to receive your words.

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Kale Becoming Uninvited Dinner Guest

A stranger is working into my lunches and dinners. Rough around the edges, lacking any redeeming sense of taste, and abruptly showing up when least expected, I’m done with him.

I am hereby declaring myself not aborad the kale train.

The first time I spied Kale was the vegetable department of a local grocery store, my friend holding out his fresh catch at arm’s length like he had trapped a rabbit in the woods.

“You tried kale yet?”

I shook my head, his grip seemingly tightening on his catch as if primal instincts were kicking in.

“Kale,” I said. “What does it taste like?”

The conversation stalled right there.

The concept of so-called super foods is like a train hurtling down the tracks without an engineer at the helm. Granted I understand the premise of higher concentrations of vitamins or some other healthy appeal. But how did I get over a half-century though life without knowing certain foods were slightly better for me and therefore should cost a small fortune?

My wife likes kale. Well, “likes” might be an overstatement, but she is increasingly finding ways to sneak the green leafy vegetable into my diet at home.

Last week kale showed up in my fish tacos.

I love a good fish taco. Grilled, blackened, even fried. Large or small, fish tacos are a separate food group for me.

But nowhere in the great recipe book of fish tacos, does kale show up.

Picking at the leafy contents, I asked my wife what going on between the flour tortilla. Something was askew, so to speak.

“I used some of the salad from last night,” she said. “Figured why not?”

My mind quickly identified the intruder hidden inside my taco: kale.

My wife is strategically blending kale into meals. Not that she is a huge fan either, but kale is seemingly included in more recipes or dishes at local restaurants. Recently I’ve gone to defensively asking waiters if the salad includes kale.

“We can add some if you wish,” comes the reply.

I then share with my quest to keep kale from being subversively pushed onto my plate or into my palate. Not that the taste of kale is bad – a taste that reminds me of getting a piece of cardboard accidentally stuck in my mouth – but I do wish to have some semblance of control over what shows up on a plate.

Believe it or not, I am not alone. Unscientifically-speaking, half the waiters volunteered they, too, were not on the kale bandwagon. But sprinkling a bit into a salad allowed them to charge a bit more on the menu.

I love vegetables. My mom would be proud. But at kale, I am drawing the line. Superfoods be darned, I am taking back control of my vegetable intake no more cardboard-tasting veggies in my food for the sake of being fashionable.

That is except for at home. There I’ll eat what is on my plate – or fish taco – and like it.

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Drowning in a Flood of Choices

I’m ready to dial back the choices in my life.

Last night I found myself 20-minutes deep down a rabbit hole of a streaming service for the television. And the longer I scrolled, the more overwhelmed and disinterested I became. Finally, in frustration, I clicked off the television and tossed the remote onto the coffee table.

How did life, with all the time-saving choices before us, become so overwhelming?

My television is home to several paid-for streaming services, each promising to make my life richer, easier, and more rewarding. And my truck, music streams from a satellite service with more flavors of curated music, news, and sports than I can find time to explore. And my phone, now filled with little-used apps, is similarly bloated beyond everyday use.

I need a break from the world’s generous offer to help simplify my life.

Technology is a funny thing – original promises regularly being amped up to a level most of us eventually decide is beyond useful or helpful. Unfortunately, we – as consumers – end up drowning in the success of helpful intentions. I know I am.

I am reading a book chronicling the settling of western Texas. Pages describe small mail-order houses built on rugged grounds struggling to simply grow vegetation let alone support a family of six and their livestock. And from what I read, they got along fine without thousands of commercial distractions in front of them. Honestly, I envy them.

Somehow we have become geared to believe more is better. More movies, more music, more choices of tomatoes in the grocery store. At one point, however, when are the number of choices creating the opposite effect – stunting our curiosity and appreciation for variety?

I consider myself an average person of average intelligence. And in addition to that, one with a lower than normal attention span. Focusing deeply and for extended periods, unfortunately, could be a skill being groomed out of us by an onslaught of the never-ending noise of choices.

Recently I’ve begun turning down the noise. At home we have cut the cable cord, eliminating hundreds of little-if-ever watched channels, now relying on streaming from three subscription services. I now subscribe to only three newspapers (The Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, and New York Times), and reintroduced a handful of favorite CDs into my truck. I’ve even worked to remove social media from my mind and attention, only rarely checking it to keep up on a few friends and family members. I don’t miss the noise one bit.

I guess in a way, this is akin to being a pioneer in the twenty-first century, turning away from the invasion of choices in my life. I appreciate a good apple, but I don’t need ten choices in the grocery store. I appreciate a good movie, but I don’t need 100,000 choices from a dozen streaming services. What I need is the time I control. And as of late, I got to tell you, this is a battle worth fighting.

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Music The Ultimate Time Traveler

I don’t need a gull-winged stainless steel sports car with a flux capacitor bolted to the rear to experience time travel. The magic of music is my chariot.

First of all, I love the now. The serendipity of the unknown and or being able to predict with whom my path will cross, or what lessons life might unwrap before my eyes are my favorite drug. If there is a default direction for my feet to point, it is forward.

The one exception, however, is music. I love the instant journeys brought on by hearing a song I first heard decades ago. The firing of millions of electrical connections inside my head quickly transports me back to moments in life I couldn’t remember on a bet.

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Last night an Allman Brothers tune began filling the living room. Before the first six notes expired into the air, my mind placed me into a chair me twenty years ago. Sitting in a screened-in porch in Georgia, surrounded by a swarm of tall pine trees and thirsty mosquitoes, my fingertips remembering the cool sweat dripping from a phantom bottle of beer.

Any song by Creedence Clearwater Revival surfaces memories of my wife’s late brother, complete with his gentle smile and electric eyes. Or whenever the band Journey boomerangs me to the sound of my wife reminding me how I stupidly declined her offer of free concert tickets during the first few months of dating. The music of Queen reminds me of my brother bringing their mind-bending music into the house. Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road delivers thoughts of a friend who, I swear, wore out the grooves of his first copy of the double-album.

The sound of the keyboards dancing by Thelonious Monk never fails to catapult me to Iowa. Driving gravel roads in Iowa with my wife and young son, clouds of white dust billowing behind, we were in search of the remote farm from the movie Field of Dreams. The memory of pitching a foam baseball to our son with the sun melting into surrounding cornfields remains as magical now as it was that night.

One of my favorite memories is tied to Mussorgsky’s Pictures an Exhibition. While famous for cultural reasons, the notes never fail to transport me to laying face down in the living room with my brother, surrounded by sheets of paper and wax crayons.

Holding up the colorful cover of LP, my mom encouraged us to draw what we heard in the music. After a brief explanation of the music, she left the room.

“I’ll check on you boys later,” she said. “Have fun.”

Today, as a parent, I can read a time-killer a mile away. But at that moment, my brother and I were locked into an exciting journey of unwrapping a riddle. And for that introduction to creative thinking, I will always be thankful.

Music is as emotionally powerful as the spoken word. But only music can send us back in time without a flux capacitor.

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Even Puppies Deserve Love

Sometimes even your children surprise you.

“We got them both into the car,” our daughter said.

Her voice fills the cabin of my wife’s car.

I don’t have any scientific proof, but I swear, but I would my heart runs a smidge faster when she calls. Maybe that is a not-yet-discovered setting on the Fitbit wrapped about my wrist I should investigate.

Our daughter is a full-fledged adult and living out of state. She’s eight hundred and six miles and a different time zone to boot. But when she calls, she is right here, sitting next to us.

One of the things I’ve learned about raising kids is how they take on the tendencies or instincts of their parents. Our daughter, although tough as nails when the time calls, carry her mother’s heart, one as deep and gentle as any spring you’ll ever run across.

Our daughter is telling us about the result of her three-day campaign to rescue two abandoned dogs alongside the road.

“They were living in some bushes off the road,” she said.

The two dogs were an unusual pair. The older was a brown and black mix of a Dachshund and something brings a bit more bulk. The other was a Pit Bull-Lab mix and only a couple months old. Together the two holed up alongside the road, the Dachshund adopting and serving as the protector of the younger dog.

For a couple of days, our daughter and friend would stop by the side of the road, working to build a bond with the skittish puppies and talking softly, coaxing them out from below branches, and offering them snacks. And in the end, our daughter and friends would drive away empty-handed.

Then the puppies invested in the time and trust.

“They were hiding, being suspicious,” our daughter said. “But then the puppy recognized us and began wagging his tail.”

The dog cautiously approached the girls.

“When we finally got the puppy dog into the car, the other followed,” she said.

It is important to point out our daughter does not need a dog. Where she lives does not allow for a dog. The entire episode was purely her heart leading her feet.

“One has already is adopted, and the other is now in a foster home,” our daughter said.

The phone screen begins populating with photos of the two dogs. Pictures of the Dachshund looking up, it’s ear pinned back, initially nervous of what was happening. Another shows the younger puppy drinking clean water from a plastic cup brought by the girls.

I guess what moves me the most is this is unusual. Today’s life moves quickly and is filled with distractions – most powerfully, the phone at the end of our arm. Looking out the window of a moving car, noticing someone or something in need, demonstrates living with your heart wide open.

And because of our daughter following hers, two abandoned puppies are in the arms of someone who loves them.

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Never Forget Who Is Inside

“Today is one of my anniversaries.”

The woman behind the cash register grabs a bottle of water for a customer. The fishing pier is congested with tourists and fisherman.

“One of your anniversaries?” I ask.

“Been married three times,” she says. “Found out it is not the third time is the charm, more like three strikes and you are out.”

She laughs and turns and walks to an older man sitting on a bench, his fishing rod and walker beside him. He nods, thanking her.

I tear at the clear cellophane on a frozen watermelon Popsicle in hopes of softening the morning heat.

Love is not an easy thing. And like the beachfront, love is delicate and susceptible to disruptive storms.

I turn to my wife, the two of us now on 38 years figuring out our relationship.

With the cellophane removed from our Popsicles, we head back out the open door and down a long wooden pier to the beach. Ahead of us waves find their final destination on the sand, noisily downing beneath their own weight.

Relationships are complicated. If ever there was an understatement, this is it. No two relationships are ever the same. People change and evolve along the way. Predictable is rarely a word used to describe long-term relationships.

My wife jokes I am here second or possibly third husband. And her joke is a polite way of driving the point we have changed a lot since we first met. The truth is, we all change over time. Learning to evolve while holding on to the most essential elements that first brought you together, however, is not easy.

My aunt once shared an innocent nugget of wisdom about marriage. My wife and I newly married, we now believe my aunt intentionally dropped this knowing what lay ahead of two strong-willed people equally filled with a white-hot passion for each other.

She warned us life gets hard – but hang on.

“Never forget that person who you feel so madly in love all those years ago with is still inside – don’t let go,” she said.

Her words seemed innocent and idealistic at the time. Of course, I thought, life gets hard. And of course I’ll never forget why my wife and I first fell in love. How could I?

And then life proceeded to whack us two newlyweds around with a stiff two by four. Starting out life broke, then kids coming along, and then balancing family life, career, and each other. And the whacking continued. Honestly, it got rough requiring some serious growing up on my part.

But we followed my aunt’s advice, at times repeating it aloud to each other. A mantra for tough times, so to say.

I’ll skip the personal details, but we held as tightly to my aunt’s words as storms came and went. But in the end, – and fortunately – we’re still those two kids who fell madly in love all those years ago, only now we’re sharing Popsicles while walking the beach.

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I Believe In America

I am proud to be an American. Proud of our collective and individual strengths, our ability to be knocked flat and get back up again even stronger and more committed. I am proud of our compassion towards one another. I am proud American is not perfect but is a people willing to admit so and work togetherScreen Shot 2019-07-04 at 8.48.57 AM.png becoming a better nation. I am proud to be a part of a country of people, who on balance, want what is best for their families, their friends, and their neighbors – and the neighborhood regularly extending beyond borders and to around the globe. I am proud no other nation on the planet peacefully evolves as America, changing leaders in the highest of offices without revolutions, without tanks in the streets, and without shots being fired in political anger. I am proud to be a citizen of the nation who not only first put a man on the moon but also whose citizens donate more to charity and aid around the world in the history of mankind. I am proud how for me catching sight of our nation’s flag always gives me pause, my eyes lingering on the colors as it gently waves across a blue sky. I am proud while we may not all look alike, speak alike, of hail from the same ancestry, we are Americans first. I am proud to be an American – and I am in this with all my heart, all my passion, and all I can ever be. I feel God Blessed to wake up in this land and to call this nation my home. I believe in the great American Experiment and always will. I believe, even with all its warts and faults, American is great, compassionate, ever-evolving, and its finest days are still ahead.

– Leonard Woolsey, first-generation American, July 4, 2019

Shoes Walk Back Time

Getting older continually brings along unexpected challenges.

The other day I found myself waiting for a red light. Looking to my left I spotted an old friend looking back my way – a pair of black and white checkered Vans tennis shoes propped up on the truck’s dashboard. It was, as the saying goes, Deja Vue all over again.

I first owned a pair checkered Vans in 1982, the same year the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High hit theaters. One of the key characters, a fun, life-loving surfer name Jeff Spicoli, sported a pair, forever elevating the shoes into pop culture.

Fast forward 37 years and here the shoes again staring me in the face. And now for the third time around the fashion universe.

As an adult, you learn to appreciate you can – or should – only wear a fashion once in your lifetime. The theory is in life you grow and evolve into a new person over time. But on a more honest level, many of us would look ridiculous in the clothes we wore in our younger days. I’m sorry but I am not going back to the over-the-top mullet located a few feet north of my first pair of checkered Van’s.

But at what point, or how many times, can a fashion come around before you can hop back on the train? Or, maybe, more importantly, should you?

Recently the women’s fashion world welcomed back the high-waisted jean from the ’80s along with the smattering of the abrasive acid wash finish. Looking at them brings back happy memories from when my wife and I were younger and pretty much making up life day by day. More ahead of us than behind us, so to speak.

But today, looking at returning fashions is like watching reruns of my life. Florescent colors, shoulder pads, and geometric patterns seem to be escaping from the dark corners of closets and back onto streets and runways. And at this rate, I almost feel as if the fashion world if following a predictable dotted line back through time.

I loved my black and white checkered Vans. As a skater, a pair of Vans was a staple in my closet. Long wearing gum soles, tough canvas tops, and no-nonsense design made these a favorite. That and they were from a mystical land called California.

But where do we draw the line? My closet still contains four pair of Vans, two lace, one slip, and another model designed for, ahem, their older clientele featuring lavish padding an elevated and squishy sole for comfort.

But I ache for my black and white Vans. Maybe they represented my youth as tie-die did for my older cousins wore in the sixties. Maybe they remind me of a carefree time when if I carried enough change for a burger and didn’t stay out too late, life would be fine. After all, summers were all about skating, hanging with friends, and more skating.

Maybe just one more pair for old times’ sake?

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Father’s Day Never Ends

In a strange turn of events, I am learning to be a father all over again.

No, there is not an unexpected addition coming to our current empty-nesting stage of life. Rather, unexpectedly, the change is coming from inside of me. What I’m learning is once your kids bloom and leave the nest, the tools in your parenting toolbox find themselves being reshuffled.

My wife and I have two wonderful young adults. Both honest, hard-working, kind-hearted, and are genuinely concerned about those around them. And with their independence comes us searching through the parenting toolbox for assistance, using familiar tools but in different ways.

I remember Day One with each of them. While I didn’t know what to do, friends assured me my instincts would bubble up and I’d be fine. If that didn’t work, there were millions of books in print to help me become an uber-parent. I soon owned a library.

Today, however, is a new world. As suddenly as children came into our lives, they are gone from beneath the protection of riding out storms beneath the safety of our wings and nest. And the role as a parent, or my case as a father, are now noticeably different.

The rules of life have not changed – honestly, caring for others, and knowing your happiness is self-selected choice remain universal. But as a parent, migrating from instruction to coaching is increasingly important. Not every challenge in their lives requires input or action on my part. And that, if anything, is a difficult instinct to suppress as a parent.

Recently our daughter found herself on the front end of a life-changing medical condition. And while we are blessed to be able to help her on both medical and emotional support fronts, the real battle is being waged inside of her mind. And increasingly we realizing this a moment in life where the outcome of her internal struggle will be shaped by more of what is inside of her than anything we can do or say. For the best outcome, she needs to be in charge.

Now, nearly 6-months into this chapter, we’ve met a new person, one suddenly mature, able to look forward without being unsettled by fear, and genuinely interested in helping others with a similar condition. She is truly a remarkable person and one I am proud to call my daughter.

And our son, who seems to have a denizen gene sewn into his soul, is possibly one of the most caring and kind people I’ve ever met. With his mother’s heart and itch to wander and explore all the world offers, he makes me proud to know he calls me dad.

When I thought of parenting, I pictured the window from infant to teenager. What I’m learning is there is a whole different spectrum ahead, one as demanding of change on me as it was on them as children. And for that, I thank God for the opportunity to be a father and this rewarding journey.

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Magic Discovered In Small Town

Apalachicola, Florida is either in the middle of nowhere or the center of the universe depending on who is doing the talking.

“There is magic in this town,” says the man, his gravel-voice resonating inside the four walls of the 100-year old brick building.

“I don’t know why, but it keeps calling me back.”

I’m standing inside a small room filled with tools, spare bicycle parts, and a man who can’t get the tiny panhandle fishing town out of his heart. With a population of an average family short of 2,300, making a living with a bike shop could be considered a long shot. For many, their regular work transportation is rhythmically bumping up against the wooden docks a few hundred yards to the east.

Apalachicola is one of those special places in the world where you can sit in a wooden chair eating oysters confidently knowing they were recently in the water you are staring across.

My new friend’s soul is as colorful as a tie-dye t-shirt. As a wanderer, he biked across the country several times, both east to west and north to south. He also paddled a canoe along the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific coastline. One of those trips included a stop in Apalachicola.

I look around the room and ask the obvious, wondering about how he came to learn to work on bikes.

“When I was about nine or ten my dad bought me a starter set of Craftsman tools, probably more than anything else to keep me out of his.”

A smile as warm as a humid bay breeze washes through his voice.

“I’d take my bike apart trying to figure out how it worked. After I put the thing back together my dad would then take it to the local bike shop to get it running again.”

One small toolbox led to a life that included working on yachts in the Caribbean, taking mechanical jobs in Alaska, and learning to fix about anything that could break. An artist with his tools, so to say.

But in a remarkable twist, the gift led him to create art from spare bicycle parts laying around his shop in a town that captured his heart.

The ground around the storm-worn red brick building is populated with animated sculptures, some whimsical, others as curious as to the materials used to create them. A giant sphere, much like an oversized rubber band ball, sits in the sun, created with thousands of recycled bicycle tubes. Nearby a large hexagon shape, one similar to found playgrounds years ago, is built from old bicycle rims.

His modest ego, as flat as the panhandle itself, points to a framed paper certificate on the wall.

“Yeah, the city even once gave me an award for the art out there,” he says.

A room fan hums in the background as I read the proclamation.

And it is then I realize he is unknowingly a part of the magic in the small town. And he is finally home.

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