Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Up On The Pedestal

On the mantle above our fireplace sits two decorative but small candelabra with scented candles.  A small musical picture frame that contains Kim’s and my wedding program.  A gift from my sister-in-law.

We have a small side table in our dining room, void of any furniture except for that. On it are pictures of our kids, our dog Bailey, and two pictures of Kim and me.  One from our wedding and the other on a trip when we were engaged.  Our favorite pictures.

I’m sure you have similar items, trinkets and knickknacks in your house or office.  Reminders.  Things near and dear and valued.

Sometimes we put people on mantles and pedestals.

Not sure why we do.  But they are there nonetheless.

Famous athletes who earn millions of dollars for hitting a small round ball.  For shooting a ball through a hoop.  For throwing a football.  Maybe catching or running with one.  Sometimes the glamorous who appear in movies and in our television shows acting funny, romantic, serious or dramatic.  Perhaps ones who sing so sweetly and play guitar.

Not sure why they’re there.  But there they are.  Up On The Pedestal.

The problem is, at least one of the problems, is that they are human.  Very human. 

When they don’t act as we think they should, off the Pedestal they fall.  Some slowly, gracefully, like the actor or actress who age beyond the action hero role they normally play.  Perhaps the face becomes too wrinkled.  Hair turns too gray.  Can’t quite sing as they used to once upon a time.  We’re shocked that this singer, that actor turns 50 . . . 60 . . . 70.

Even worse when this person or that person makes a mistake.  Takes a wrong step.  Heaven forbid he or she fails to live up to our expectations.  The role that we’ve assigned to them. 

No longer Up On The Pedestal.

Some of it their own tragedy.  Drugs.  Sex.  Stupidity.  Lack of guidance.  Lack of direction.  Too much money, glamor, notoriety too soon.  Far too soon at such a young age.

Human.  Very human.

I’m careful of who I put Up On The Pedestal.  Very careful.

Because once up, the only place they can fall is down.  Knocked down by accident.  Taken down because . . . well, just because.  I’ve decided long ago that I don’t really want to be Up On The Pedestal.  Not really.  It’s a long, and often lonely, way down.  Besides, I’m not that famous.  Not famous at all.  Too old.  Too wrinkly.  Too many mistakes.  Too many missteps.

Human.  Very human.  Our heroes.  Those we think are heroes.  Those who we think we like and want to be like.  All human.  Very human.  And they, like we, make mistakes.  Take missteps.  Human.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sinner And Saint

I’m a sucker for the guy who’s down and out, but climbs back and makes it.  The underdog.  Seemingly beaten at every turn.  Knocked down.  Even kicked while he’s down.  But somehow manages to get back up on his two feet and keeps walking.

Been there.  A whole lot of times, but then again, I think I have a lot of company.

I’ve always been intrigued by some of the characters in the Bible.  Perhaps it’s my growing up in a very traditional, Catholic home and educated through elementary in a Catholic school that I’ve always been intrigued by Sinners And Saints.

I have several favorites.

Peter jumps to mind.  He just seems like a good guy to me.  Good heart.  I picture him gregarious.  Full of fun.  Full of laughter.  Impulsive.  Remember the story when he’s out fishing in the boat with the rest of the Followers, the Apostles, and he recognizes a familiar voice from the shore telling them to throw the net over the other side of the boat.  I mean they’ve been fishing long hours and caught nothing.  Here’s this guy from the shore telling these experienced ‘professional fishermen’ what to do and how to do it.  But, they throw the nets over the other side of the boat and what happens?  The nets almost break because of the number of fish they caught.

But Peter is impulsive.  He recognizes the voice as His Friend walks on the water to meet them.  Peter jumps overboard and decides to walk on the water too.  Doesn’t work so well for him.  Probably not for us either.

Peter also denied His Friend when His Friend was being tried by a kangaroo court on trumped up charges in the middle of the night.  Peter ignores Him.  Peter decides “he doesn’t know Him.”  Harsh thing to do for a friend, don’t you think? 

But . . .

Somehow, Peter overcame all the impulsiveness.  Peter overcame the betrayal of His Friend and was given charge over the Followers, the Church.

Hmmm . . .

Then there’s Paul.  Before he was Paul, he was Saul.  In today’s vernacular, Saul was a ‘hit man’, an enforcer.  He had people killed.  Thrown in prison.  

But . . .

On a trip to go round up or kill some more Followers (probably), the story goes that he had a vision, heard a voice.  He was blinded (like he wasn’t blinded all that time before???) and he changed course.  Took a new direction.  In so doing, he changed his life.  Saul, now Paul, became one of those he persecuted.

Lots of other stories.  I’m sure you have some of your own.

As a teacher and counselor, it gave me no greater pleasure than to see a kid ‘turn it around’.  Somehow, someway, change from bad to good.  Perhaps the kid was always good, but we, nor he/she, didn’t recognize it for all the bad we did see.  But he/she changed.  Turned it around.

Lots of kids.  Lots of stories.

It makes me realize that there is a very thin line between a Sinner And Saint.

In some ways, a Sinner And Saint are the sides of a coin, separated by a very thin edge.  One side Sinner.  Other side Saint.  All it takes is to flip the coin over and you have one or the other.

A change in thought.  A change in action.  A change in a life.

It can happen.  It does happen.  To you.  To me.  To those who drive us crazy.  To those who in one moment we can’t stand, but in the next, we sit back and think, ‘. . . not so bad after all’.  Happens all the time.  He/She turns it around.  Changes.  Decides on a different course.  A different life.

Sinner And Saint.  Different sides of the same coin.  But the same coin.  Just flip it over.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Footprints (republished)

I was thinking about footprints.  

Various shapes, sizes.  Easy to find on a beach as you walk along the shore.  Perhaps not so welcome when you find footprints on your newly cleaned floor.  As a kid, my family would drive to the dunes at a state park along Lake Michigan and we'd see signs requesting visitors to watch where they walk, to stay on the path and not disturb the ecosystem.   

I wonder about the footprints I've left behind and what became of them.  Were my footprints welcomed like the ones at the beach?  Were they seen as an intrusion like the messy ones on a clean linoleum floor?  Did I care enough to not damage the "ecosystem" of the people I walked with?  

Teddy Roosevelt had a famous line: "Walk softly, but carry a big stick."  While I admire TR greatly, I'd like to amend his statement to: "Walk softly, and carry a big heart."  

We never really know what happens to our footprints, but if we carry a big heart, they can be lasting, and loving, impressions for people to follow.  Sort of like a trail for the ones who come after us.

Live your life and make a difference.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Gift Of Hope

Five years ago, we bought a house and moved in.  The girls lobbied most of the summer for a dog.  Hannah and Emily would search the Internet and each morning, Kim and I would find a new picture of a dog.  On the refrigerator.  In our bathroom.  Taped to the TV.  Somewhere.  Everywhere.  Each morning.  Every morning.  Some evenings, too.

I was won over pretty quickly, but being the dutiful (and scared that I might end up sleeping on the couch or in the garage) husband, I kept to the party line.  “We don’t need a dog.”  Eventually, Kim wore down too.

And Bailey came into our life.  A beautiful Golden Retriever.  Two years old.  Housebroken. 

And near death.

When we picked Bailey up, we could easily count her ribs.  She was more than shy, more than timid.  She was afraid.  Noises.  Quick movements.  If I took off my belt, she’d run.  It was weeks before we realized she could bark.  She was silent.  Quiet.  Almost sullen.  And like I said, afraid. Neither Kim nor I said it out loud, but we didn’t think Bailey would last more than one or two weeks.  If that.

The Vet said she’d be fine, though she was malnourished.  Started her on a regimen of pills.  Vaccinations.  Food.  Water.  Mostly love.


Still timid, mostly with men and boys.  Playful.  Protective.  Sleeps in Emily’s room, though Kim is her favorite.  Funny how that happens!

As a counselor and teacher, I saw many kids like Bailey. 

Afraid.  Malnourished- not only from a lack of food and clothes, but from a lack of care, of compassion, of love.  One as sad as the next.

Without Hope.

When we would have visitors in California, I enjoyed being tour guide.  One of the places they wanted to see was Hollywood Boulevard.  There was a major discrepancy in what they imagined it looked like and what it actually looked like. Gone was the glamour, the elegance, the money.  Instead, dark, dirty, grungy.  Run down.

I remember following one street kid.  Probably late teens, early twenties.  Walked quickly.  Some popcorn had spilled on the sidewalk and without breaking stride, he reached down and scooped up some with his right hand and shoved it into his mouth.  A few steps later, there was a half-eaten Twinkie.  Again without breaking stride, he scooped it up and ate it.  How hungry he must have been.

It’s been years since I watched that young man.  As I write this, I can still see it happen.  I see him.  I picture other kids like him.

I’ve always wondered what his life . . . their life . . . was like that would chase them out of their homes and onto the street.  How bad it must have been.

Certainly no love.  No Care.  No Compassion.  No . . . Hope?

A rather one-sided view, I’m sure.  Don’t know the reasons these kids landed on the street.  Just that they are there.  Existing, not living.  Functioning day to day, night to night.  Surviving.

You know, I believe in kids.  Always have.  Their resilience.  Their toughness.  Their ‘smarts’.

I think as adults, beyond food and shelter, beyond clothes and a place to sleep, we need to give our kids a future.  We need to give our kids lessons of love, of compassion.  We need to care.  We need to help them understand that they have a place in life, in our homes, in our hearts.

We need to give them The Gift Of Hope.  For it is with The Gift Of Hope where our children see their future, our belief in them.  Without The Gift Of Hope, there are no dreams.  There are no wishes.  There is no future.  Hope gives our children a chance, an opportunity.  We need to do this for our children, for ourselves.  We need to do this.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!







Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What's In Your Suitcase?

Go on any trip lately?  We’re in the middle of summer, so vacations abound, I’m sure.  People coming.  People going.  Long trips.  Short trips.

Ever go on a trip and forget to pack something?  Something as simple as a toothbrush or deodorant?  Easily remedied at any convenience or grocery store.  Forget a pair of shoes?  A sweatshirt that you meant to take “just in case”?  A little more costly, but again, easily remedied with a stop to a department or shoe store.

When I was growing up, we traveled around in a beat up green Plymouth station wagon.  The radio didn’t work very well, so we sang.  Each of us.  Didn’t matter how old or how young.  It was expected.

Well anyway . . .

On a trip somewhere, we stopped for gas and to use the facilities.  We took our turns, dad last because he worked the gas pump and paid the clerk.  We climbed in, took off and began singing. The sound was off.  Didn’t sound right.  A voice was missing.  Mom turned around and counted heads.

Yup . . .

My brother, Jim was missing.  We turned the car around, went back to the gas station and there he was.  Sitting in the dirt near the front of the store.  Crying.  Angry.  Scared.  All of us scared.  Being a father of three, I can’t imagine the worry, the fear my parents must have felt.  Having worked with missing and exploited kids, well, I don’t even want to go there.

But Jim was forgotten.  Something not easily remedied by a trip to a convenient store or a grocery store or a shoe store or a department store.  Pretty serious.  Don’t really know how it happened.

I don’t remember just how far we had gotten because I’m four years younger than Jim and he was pretty young at the time.  But, really scary.

Back to the suitcase . . .

I think each of us have suitcases.  Some large.  Some small.  Some fancy.  Some plain.  And in it are all the things we might need to bring along on a trip called, “Life”.  To a lesser or greater extent, each of us has tools and skills.  Some born that way.  Some have to learn it.  And for others, they might not have the means or skill to acquire what is needed on that trip called, “Life”.

And at times, what we have in our suitcase just might fail us.  We forget what’s in that suitcase. 

We lose our patience.  We lose our temper.  The listening skill we’ve learned along the way is abandoned.  The ability to reason and see all the options is left at the gas station just like my brother Jim was. 

We end up hurting feelings.  We end up causing anger.  Might even cost us a job.  Sometimes not easily remedied.  Sometimes more than just a turnaround and head on back.  Sometimes much more difficult than that.

Might be the time to see What’s In Your Suitcase.  Might want to check out just what is . . . or isn’t in it.  Might want to take the time to take stock and determine what exactly is needed before we proceed on that trip called, “Life”.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, July 12, 2013


Those of you around my age, remember watching the last episode of “M.A.S.H.”? 

Hawkeye tried to get B.J. to say goodbye, and he wouldn’t . . . at least until the very end, the last scene.  The episode was titled, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”.  Fitting, I guess.  There was an attempt at a spinoff or two, but not very successful.  I think it was because of the original characters.  Their affection for one another.  Their interdependence on one another.  Their annoyances with one another.  Their togetherness.

Hawkeye, B.J., Hot Lips, Frank, Charles, Klinger, Radar, Father Mulcahy and of course, Colonel Potter.  They were real to us . . . to me . . . as much as our next door neighbor is real, perhaps more so. 

Hated to see it end. 

Not so much the show, but the characters. 

To me, movies and television shows are all about the characters.  Same with books.  I have to love or hate the characters.  Nothing in terms of indifference will do.  As a viewer or reader, I have to care.  And care deeply.  I do that, I hope, in my own writing.

Yesterday, Emily and I watched the replaying of the last episode of “iCarly”.  It was so sad.  So very sad.  I got choked up and had to fight tears.  I’m not sure why it hit me as it did, but it did. 

I mean, these were kids!  Having to say goodbye to one another.  Having to leave one another.  Carly left for Italy to be with her dad.  Her older brother, Spencer, stayed behind and would be by himself.  Freddy and Sam somehow separate because Carly was their glue.

I know it happens.  Lord knows I’ve had many Endings in my life. 

My dad passing away along with two of my sisters.  Leaving Wisconsin and my family three separate times.  My son moving away from home.  Hannah heading off to college.  Friends and their friendship, who I thought would last forever, somehow left my life . . . perhaps, I left theirs.  Not sure.  An Ending though to be sure.  All Endings.  And sad.  All sad.

I don’t do Endings very well.  Not well at all.

Yes, I know that each Ending is an opportunity for a new Beginning.  I get that.

But Endings hurt too much.  There is so much pain involved.  To me, more pain than the fear of beginning again.  I don’t like Endings.

My youngest, Emily, has told me many, many times that, “Everyone deserves a happy ending.” 

It’s a rule with her.  For each of us, too, perhaps.

I try to explain to her that life doesn’t necessarily have happy Endings.  Her reply is simple: “Well, it should!”

Perhaps if we focus on new beginnings instead of the Endings, maybe it would be less painful.  Perhaps if we focus on the excitement of change, of the opportunity to begin again, to begin anew, it might hurt less.  Not sure, really.  Honestly not too sure.  But, it’s something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wish Upon A Star

“Star light, star bright;

First star I see tonight;

Wish I may, wish I might;

Have the wish I wish tonight.”

And then we’d shut our eyes and make a wish.  Right?

I think each of us grew up with that little poem, those hopes, those dreams.  Those wishes. 

I wonder sometimes how many wishes I’ve made looking up at the stars in my lifetime.  Stretched out in the backyard.  Sitting on the dock at the lake.  Around the campfire while we stuffed ourselves with s'mores.

My daughters, Hannah and Emily and I decided that the brightest star nearest the moon was their grandfather . . . my dad . . . watching down over us.  Just keeping a watchful eye. 

I know that I’ve spent some nights in silence as I considered him watching us, wondering what he thought of me, my life, my family.  I wish my dad would have been around for my kids.  How they would have loved him, and he, them.  But he had passed on well before I met my wife and we had our kids.

And, about those wishes . . .

As a kid, my wishes were simple.  Kid stuff.  All about me, as most kids’ wishes tend to be.

As I got older, the wishes were more like bargains.  You know the kinds where we’d say something like, “If I get this, then I’ll . . .”

And then as I got older yet, and after Kim and I had children, my wishes became about them.  Keeping them safe.  Having them grow up strong and confident.  Finding someone to love and more importantly, someone who will love them.  Someone to take care of them.  Keeping them from harm. 

Wishing for their happiness.  That their lives be fulfilling.  That their dreams would come true.

But the thing about a dream is that it doesn’t happen on its own.  Dreams must be pursued.  Dreams must be worked for.

I mean, if wishes just happened because you saw a star and made a wish . . .

No, wishes like dreams, have to be worked for.  There should be some sort of effort.  A plan. 

Wishes are like life . . . they have to be lived.  Any wish worth having is like a goal . . . gone after, pursued. 

Otherwise, wishes like dreams, are just hopeful and happy thoughts.  In time, forgotten.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, July 5, 2013

My Favorite Room

My Favorite Room is our downstairs family room.  Hands down favorite. We just painted it in a warm tan, almost but not quite adobe.  The color embraces you, welcomes you. 

It’s decorated with Navajo art.  Sand paintings, small and large.  Painted tiles of pueblos and a desert ranch.  A peace pipe.  A large painting of a native women gazing at a pueblo dwelling from a balcony.

I’m not sure why or how I’ve come to love the Navajo culture.  I think it was early on when I’d read Louis L’Amour westerns.  My dad had a large paperback library and I’d snatch them after he’d read one, sometimes rereading the same one over and over.  My dad knew I was reading them, so every now and then, I’d find one on my dresser or my pillow.  He and I liked the Sackett adventures the most. 

Later on I started reading Tony Hillerman and it was he who introduced me to Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn and the Navajo culture and country.  Since then, I’ve read and studied a bit on my own.  And our downstairs family room is our . . . my . . . tribute to those people.

My Favorite Room is peaceful.  Cool in summer.  Warm in winter.  Restful. 

I can think.  Imagine.  Watch a movie.  Rest and sometimes take a nap.  Write a little . . . okay, a lot.

It’s my sanctuary.  My get away.

My Favorite Room.

I think each of us has a place where we go when we need to.  We need a place to go.  To recharge.  Retreat.  Regroup.  To think and plan.  Perhaps quietly celebrate.  Maybe lick our wounds.  Sometimes alone.  Sometimes with others.  Mostly alone.

Each of us needs a place like that.  Without it, we run out and get used up like a battery that loses its power or energy.  Without it, we wind down and can’t wind back up.  Without it . . .

I suggest you discover one of your own. 

Within your house like mine.  Maybe outside of your house.  The back deck facing a woods.  A riverbank.  A route you take for a walk or for a ride on your bike. 

Make it your own.  Use it when needed.  And perhaps, even when it isn’t needed.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!