Friday, January 31, 2014

Low Hanging Fruit

Ever notice that fruit trees have a beautiful blossom and that the fragrance is wonderful? 

When I lived in California, you could smell an orange grove way before you actually saw it.  The smell is that powerful.  Ever notice that apple trees, in particular, look like they are in pain, especially when the leaves and fruit fall?  Almost old and arthritic.  Branches at odd angles, jutting this way and that way.  Best I can describe it is that it looks painful.

One of the benefits of growing up in the country on the river was that we had our own orchard.  Now, I wouldn’t exactly call it an orchard, but we did have one green apple tree, four crab apple trees, a pear tree (without the partridge), and a cherry tree (without George Washington threatening to chop it down).  And, it wasn’t the kind of orchard we spent a lot of time on, nor did we do a lot of work to it.

The trees would bear fruit.  We picked the fruit when the time came, and we filled our beat up bushel baskets, and then carried the lot of them to the end of the gravel driveway where the driveway met the blacktop of Highway 33.  We would set up our lawn chair next to the mailboxes, and sold them to any willing passersby.  Didn’t make a lot of money, but it was something to do on a fall Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

My dad would instruct the shorter ones among us to pick the fruit off of the branches we could reach, while the older, bigger ones among us climbed the ladder or the tree itself and picked the fruit off the higher branches.  It was an all day, many day chore.  After the picking, the apples, cherries or pears that didn’t make the baskets were raked up and disposed of. 

Got me thinking . . .

You’ve heard the expression, “Low Hanging Fruit.”  To me it means, that which is easily obtained without much effort, without much work, without much sweat.

Low Hanging Fruit.

Nothing wrong with picking Low Hanging Fruit.  Nothing wrong at all.  It’s there for the taking.  It’s easy and doesn’t take much effort.

We see opportunities in our daily lives:  a simple “Hello!” “Thank you!” “I’m sorry!” None of these take much effort and there are plenty of opportunities for us each day, many times a day.

Low Hanging Fruit.

A compliment.  A pat on the back.  A willingness to listen.  A willingness to help dry someone’s tears.  Showing empathy.  Showing courtesy.  Showing respect.  A gentle touch.  Reaching out to another in time of need.  Giving the gift of self.

Nothing great, glorious or glamorous.  But what a terrific reward for both the giver and the receiver!

Low Hanging Fruit.

No need to climb a ladder or climb the tree, unless you want to . . . are able to . . . reach for more, reach higher. 

Some have the ability to climb without fear or trepidation, without fear of falling.  And perhaps the benefits are just as great, maybe greater, than picking off the lower branches.

It comes down to comfort level and a willingness to pick.  All it takes is a willingness to gather.  All it takes is a willingness to protect before the fruit falls to the ground and is ruined, or damaged, or judged no good to use or eat.  Whether you pick the Low Hanging Fruit or climb up a ladder to pick the fruit off the upper branches does not really matter, as long as you Pick the Fruit.  Each day.  Every day.  And many, many times a day.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Very Bottom Line

It’s amazing to me that one person can see one thing, while another person can look at the same thing and see something completely different.  The same might occur in a song.  One person can only hear the melody, while another person hears the harmony.  One person interprets a painting one way, perhaps sees one thing that stands out, while another person sees something quite differently within that painting.  One person might find one passage in a reading significant, while another person finds another passage even more significant.


Kim and I have very dear friends, Dan and Jenny, who love the snow, especially Jenny.  She sees the beauty in snowflakes.  She delights in her children playing in the snow, making snow angels, building snow forts, and sledding. And after their time outside is over, when their cheeks are red as apples and their lips blue, there is hot chocolate with marshmallows.   Personally, I like snowflakes, but I’m willing to skip over everything else and go right to the hot chocolate, minus the marshmallows.  Kim and I deserted Wisconsin willingly and happily because neither of us likes the cold, the snow, or the ice.  We do, however, like hot chocolate.


We have other dear friends who moved back to Alaska.  They find delight in cross country skiing, moonlight walks, and hikes in the woods, and they love that nature resides right outside their backdoor.  Personally, I’d rather watch life in Alaska from afar or read about that sort of life in a book or watch it unfold in a movie. I would be willing to visit, perhaps take a vacation, but not much more than that.


I believe it’s all in one’s perception.  But even deeper than that.  More than that.


I think our view of the world, our view of events, and all that is within our world . . . all that surrounds and all that is within the events of our world are colored by our perceptions, our experiences, and our thoughts within those moments.


I come from a very humble background of growing up in a large family.  We lived on the river.  It was quiet and peaceful and well, lethargic.  Kind of boring, in retrospect.  Kim grew up in a town that has a smaller population than the school I’m principal of.  Her big getaway was when her family drove ten miles to “the city” which by many standards is small.  I like the hustle of the city, of noise and crush of crowds, and the gray concrete and steel of a city skyline.  Kim wants nothing to do with it.


Because of my poor background, my heart wrenches when I see poverty, especially as that poverty affects children and families.  I immediately empathize with them.  I feel their pain, their anguish.  My stomach hurts with their hunger.  I’m anxious over their worry, especially as parents try so very hard to provide for their children.  Like my dad and mom did for us.  I grew up in poverty.  I experienced that life.  I know it.  I feel it.  It’s in my blood, my heart and my soul.


You see, my eyes are different from yours.  We see life differently, experience life differently, and feel life differently because our experiences, while perhaps similar, aren’t the same.  They can’t be, because what life presented me with was different from what life presented you.


And even more than that. 


The way I reacted to what was presented to me was perhaps different from the way you reacted to what life presented you.  And that reaction was based upon my own . . . and your own . . . unique experiences in life.


The Very Bottom Line?


Who are we to judge others . . . each other?   Who are we to question the reasons, the reactions, the motives of one’s actions, each other’s actions?  One’s words, each other’s words?


The Very Bottom Line?


Viktor Frankl wrote that “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is the power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”


The Very Bottom Line?


“In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 


As the Knight in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” states, “Choose wisely!”  Yes, we must choose wisely because the choice we make sets in motion an everlasting ripple throughout time and space affecting not only ourselves, but each other.  Something to think about . . .


Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!



Friday, January 24, 2014

Chasing The Dream

I’ve been on stage one way or another since fourth grade.  That year, the grade school choir had a concert and I was chosen along with three others to be in the Wee Four Quartet.  We sang barbershop. 


In fifth grade, I was asked to be in the high school musical version of “Bye Bye Birdie” where I played Randolph McAfee.  In sixth, seventh and eighth grade, I was a soloist for the school choir.  In sixth grade, I started a rock n roll band and that continued through eighth grade.


In high school, I was a featured soloist in the show choir, Music Explosion, which was a sort of “Glee” before there was a “Glee.”


It was also in high school when I sang radio commercials for the boarding school I attended, and cut several demo tapes for a recording company. 


That was my dream.  I wanted to sing and record and live that life.


However . . .


My parents talked me out of it.  They counseled me, guided me, and sort of pushed me into choosing a different path.  At various points they told me that I “wouldn’t make it” that I “wouldn’t make a living” and told me that I “had better choose a career that was more solid.” 


My parents told me I was Chasing A Dream.  A dream that was unattainable.


Did it hurt?  You bet!  Do I sort of wonder, even now after all these years what could have

been . . . what might have been?  Absolutely!


Why do I bring this up now, so many years later?


I believe kids are natural dreamers.  Kids dream of being lawyers and doctors and pilots.  Kids dream of being firemen and policemen and football players.  Kids dream of being veterinarians and teachers and politicians.  Kids dream of being singers and dancers and artists.


Kids dream.


I think that as adults, we owe it to kids to guide and shape their imaginations.  I think that as adults, we need to not only provide nourishment to their bodies and minds, but also provide nourishment to their heart sand souls.


I think that as adults, we need to provide a balance between a child’s dream and the reality they face.  That’s a delicate balance because while we want children to face reality, we cannot . . . we must not . . . crush their dream.


Truly, I believe the world needs more dreamers.  More dreamers, not less. 


There is a satisfaction in the pursuit of a dream . . . in Chasing The Dream. 


Aren’t we happier doing what we love?  Aren’t we a little happier pursuing that which speaks to our heart, our soul?  Don’t we owe it to our kids to help them find their way, their path, and their reality without imposing our boundaries . . . our restrictions . . . on them?  Shouldn’t we help our children Chase The Dream instead of discouraging them?   


Sooner or later, hopefully later, our children will understand the world and the limits of what they can do, what they can’t do, on their own.  And I believe that on their own is the best way to learn about Chasing The Dream . . . Their Dream.  On their own.  In their own time.  We need to allow that to happen.  We must allow that to happen.  We simply must.  Something to think about . . .


Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Anticipation Of . . . Nothing!

It’s normal to worry.  It’s normal to plan for and prepare an eventuality.


Yesterday, we had reports of a large snow storm headed our way.  Like most everyone in our area, Kim and I drove to our grocery store and stocked up “just in case.”  We didn’t want to be caught short or caught without.  We filled up the cars with gas.  Kim drove to her school to pick up papers she needed in order to complete her grades “just in case.”  Emily studied “just in case” we did have school and she had to write her midyear exams.


“Just in case.” 


School was called off last night “just in case” it would get bad.  When we woke up, there wasn’t any snow on the ground.  None in the air.  The temperatures weren’t unbearable.  Now I say this as a former Wisconsinite who braved feet of snow and icy temperatures and who attended school with both in the forecast and on the ground.  Yet, it wasn’t until 10:30 AM when the first flurries fell.  Flurries, not snow.


“Just in case.”


As the day wore on, it got nastier.  Icy roads.  Wind.  Temperatures dropped.  Good call to close school.  It would have been tough for student drivers to get home.  Maybe tougher for buses on the back roads.


All of this planning and all of this preparation “just in case” made me think . . .


It is good to plan and prepare ahead.  To make sure everything is in order for an eventuality.  We need to protect ourselves and protect our loved ones.  Planning and preparation is necessary.


What isn’t necessary, however, is worry.  What isn’t necessary, and what can be harmful and hurtful to yourself and others is the stress that results from worry.  


We can’t control weather.  Sometimes . . . most times . . . we can’t control people, their actions, their reactions, and certainly not their feelings or emotions.  Best we can do is plan and prepare and take care of ourselves . . . our own feelings, our own actions, our own reactions. 


How many times do we plan and prepare in The Anticipation Of . . . only to find that we planned and prepared for Nothing?  We stressed.  We worried.  We fretted quietly, silently, and sometimes even loudly only for our worry, our planning, our preparation to result in Nothing.  We get ourselves worked up over Nothing at all. 


Sometimes it might be best to plan, to prepare, and then take a step back, take a breath, relax, and then let whatever happen knowing that we cannot control it all anyway.  For your own health . . . physical, mental and emotional.  And just as importantly, for the health of those who are near you, who you love and who love you.  Something to think about . . .


Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Anchor Can Drown

I had a teacher stop in to see me at least twice a week with a coffee cup in his hand and a story, usually a joke, to tell.  He did this for the six years I’ve been a principal at this school.  The laughter was good, and the company was even better.  His visits didn’t take long.  Only a minute or two, maybe three.  I looked forward to his visits.

One day, he came in with the cup of coffee, but without the story or joke, and told me he was retiring.  Sad for me.  Very sad for me.  He was looking forward to his “new chapter in life” as he phrased it.  He gets to spend more time with his grandchild.  He gets to do parish work in a ministry he enjoys.  Maybe sleep in more often.  Maybe go to bed a little later.

He observed that as a principal, there are very few people around me that I can call “a friend.”  That there are very few people around me that I can confide in.  And it isn’t me, actually, but the title I hold and the “natural reservation” and “distance” I have to have.  He said he never understood or recognized it until he had a conversation with a pastor friend who expressed the sentiment.

In a word, lonely.  Sometimes, kind of lonely.

I was reminded of this conversation by two postings I saw on Facebook.  (Yeah, I know!)

One picture was of an anchor being sucked into mud.  The caption read: “Sometimes you don’t realize you’re actually drowning when you’re trying to be everyone else’s anchor.”

Hmmm . . .

The other picture was of a lion, proud and strong looking, head titled up slightly as if gazing at the horizon.  The caption read: “The worst part about being strong is that no one asks if you’re okay.”

Hmmm . . .

Been like that.  Felt like that.  Seen it in myself.  Seen it in others.  Those who are near to me, dear to me, and in those who I casually observe from a distance.

I know at least three individuals who come to work every day, work with the kids in my school and who do incredible things with them, and yet, who are either battling their own illness or worrying about a family member’s illness.  They place themselves and their own needs behind the needs of others.  They epitomize the statement that “kids come first!”  That statement and sentiment of “others before self!”

I believe most of us suffer silently, often while we try to help those around us.  We wear a brave face.  We smile.  We ask others, “How are you doing?”  “Are you okay?”  And we do this with little thought to our own struggle, our own worry, sometimes our own pain.

And like the anchor, we risk drowning.  And like the lion, because of the strength we show, no one asks if we’re okay.

We don’t know the day to day, moment to moment struggle, the worry that is carried by those around us.  Sometimes we take for granted the laugh, the joke, the witty comment and assume that all is well.  When like the anchor, there is the risk of drowning.  And like the lion, there might be pain and sorrow and struggle behind the apparent strength. 

Maybe we need to be more aware of those around us, outside of ourselves, and wonder- even out loud- if all is well, if all is okay.  Maybe a kind word, a kind gesture, a knowing nod or smile might be enough to help lift the anchor out of the mud and keep it . . . him . . . her . . . from drowning.  Maybe just an offer of a silent presence might be enough for the lion among us.  Maybe.  Perhaps.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Epitaph

As someone who has always been interested in ancestry and history, every now and then I might wander around older cemeteries reading gravestones. It’s not uncommon to find inscriptions such as, “Beloved Husband and Father” or “Beloved Daughter, Taken Too Soon” or something sentimental such as, “Loved In This Life And In The Next.”  I’ve wondered how these individuals earned these inscriptions or if they were just ascribed to them by a caring survivor.

My wife, Kim, and I watched an episode of “Raymond” where Raymond and his brother, Robert, were sitting in the front seat of a car arguing about who was “going to get mom.”  And it wasn’t so much as to who was going to “get” her, but who was going to end up “taking care” of her.  Because their mother was overbearing, a meddler, and rather outspoken, neither wanted her and Raymond and Robert went to great lengths to convince the other why the other should be the one to take care of her.

Sitting around our dinner table one evening, Kim, Hannah, Emily and I were talking about the future.  Hannah wants to stay either in Virginia or on the West Coast.  Emily would just as soon head back to Wisconsin because she doesn’t mind the snow and cold and wants to be around family.  Kim and I want to be warm.  We would joke with them about marrying someone rich or getting a nice job so that they can take care of us when we get older.  They announced to us that if something should happen to Kim and if I was left, Emily would “get” me.  Wil and Hannah had already decided that.

“Get” me.  I know it was meant as a joke, but  . . .

“Get” me.

Got me thinking . . .

I know I love our kids dearly.  Each one is unique and special in his or her way to me, to us.  I’d written in an earlier post that I would gladly give them the sun, the moon, and the stars if I could.  I really mean that.  And, I know they love me.  As a parent, sometimes there are uncomfortable conversations and sometimes uncomfortable consequences for decisions, words or actions that all parents and their kids face.  I get that.  And deep down, they get that.

But “Get” me?

I have to admit that the “joke” stung some.  Sort of like a pebble in one’s shoe as one tries to walk a great distance.  Am I a “pebble” in their shoes?  A stone?  A boulder?

Makes me look closely at what I say and do.  Makes me look closely at my intentions, my actions, my reactions, my purposes. 

“Get” me?

Makes me look at my relationship with each of them . . . with others . . . with Kim . . . with myself.  I know I’m not, nor will I ever be, perfect.  A long, long way from that.  So very far from that.  I have a better shot at winning a marathon or becoming the next Pope. 

“Get” me?

Makes me reflect on my life as a parent . . . a husband . . . a teacher . . . a coach . . . a counselor
 . . . a principal.  Not perfect by any stretch of any imagination.  A long, long way from perfect.

But . . .

I know I can . . . and will . . . do better.  Each day, I can . . . and will . . . make the effort for them, for others, for myself to improve upon what I did the day before.  Will I fall short?  Sure.  Will I come close at thinking, at doing a bit better each day?  Sure.  I’d rather not be someone . . . or something . . . to be “gotten.”  Rather, I’d like to be “wanted.”  Because whatever is written as my Epitaph, I’d like it said that “While He Wasn’t Perfect, He Cared and He Loved, and We Cared and Loved Him.”  I want that to be my Epitaph.  That’s how I’d like to be remembered.  I want a life like that.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Mornings (edited and reposted)

Morning is my favorite time of day.  I like the peace, the solitude, the quiet.  There is no noise except a car passing on the street, the furnace turning on or off. 

I observe the Indigo of night give way to the gray of morning and then later, to the pale pastel of blue and pink.  My wife is typically out running her six miles or swimming her forty-five minutes.  My daughter is still sleeping.

Most times, I lie in bed and think, meditate.  I might read.  I might think about the book I’m writing, the characters within and what they’ll be doing the next time I turn on my computer.  Sometimes I step over to one of the windows in our bedroom and look out at the woods behind our house.  If I’m lucky, I see a deer grazing on the tall grass.  At other times, I see the rabbit that made our yard a home. 

On some mornings, snowflakes float in the air and land peacefully and softly on our deck and lawn.  Not necessarily heavy or thick or wet, but light and fluffy.  Or there is a gentle rain providing nourishment to life around us . . . to us.  Sometimes the snow or rain stops as suddenly as it starts, gray clouds giving away to blue sky and sunshine.

Aren’t mornings an opportunity for a fresh start and a new beginning?  Aren’t mornings the opportunity for the ultimate do-over?

You get to look back on what you did yesterday and improve upon it.  You get to undo the things you did, the things you said.  You get to fix the things you didn’t do or say but should have, and correct them. 

A new day brings about a new beginning, a new hope.  You’re not locked into yesterdays, or where you’ve been before, or the things you said or did the previous day.  A morning gives us a chance to course-correct, to get back on the right path.  And the really wonderful thing about mornings is that they keep coming.  There seems to be an endless supply of mornings, years of them actually.

Perhaps we need to take advantage of this gift: to change, to course-correct, to do over, and make anew.  To rectify.  It’s your choice, really.  A choice you get to make each and every morning.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!