Friday, March 28, 2014

99 Years, Sorry, And Goodbye

Last night, my daughter Emily and I were talking about her grandmother, my mom, and all the things she saw, witnessed, and lived through in her 99 Years.  Short answer . . . a lot!  A whole lot.

Born in 1914, she watched her mom vote for the first time in the election of 1920, the first time women could vote in the United States.  Probably too young to realize the importance of it all, but still, a witness to it.  Born just after the first automobiles were built, I know she lived a long, long time before her family could ever afford one.  A lot of their farm work had to be done by hand, by foot, by horse and mule.  I know her family wasn’t well off, so many of the household chores, like laundry, had to be done by hand. 

Lived through Prohibition, also in the 1920s, both the banning of alcohol and then the reinstatement of it.  She drank a little, smoked a little.  Gave up smoking once, picked up the habit again much later in life, and then gave it up for good.  Up until a few years ago, she enjoyed a glass of white wine before bedtime. 

Lived through the Great War, the “War To End All Wars” only to live through it all a second time, while raising her family along the way.  Lived through the Korean Conflict- not technically a war, though there seemed to be quite a bit of bloodshed and bombs bursting in the air.  Lived through the Vietnam War, and worried when one of her sons served over there for a year or two.  He made it out in one piece.

Lived through the racial unrest, the March On Selma, listened to Martin Luther King’s great speech.  Mostly listened to the radio, but had a black and white television, and then one that broadcast in color.  She traveled the country in a station wagon and a Winnebago travel trailer.  Before that, a good, old-fashioned green canvas army tent with a dirt floor and cots. 

Seen a lot.  Did a lot.  Lived a lot in 99 Years.

Last night I received a call from my brother that mom wasn’t doing very well.  Not well at all.  We had hoped she’d make it to 100 Years, but now we don’t think she’ll make it next weekend. 

My sister, Judy, was with her when my little brother, Jeff, called.  In the course of the conversation, mom told him she was sorry.  Said the same thing to my sister, Mary, when she called.  Said the same thing to Judy just before she left for the evening.

99 Years, and Sorry.

Hmmm . . .

I guess she, like we . . . each of us . . . have things to be Sorry about, to be Sorry for.  Never perfect lives, though we do try.  Maybe in that striving to be perfect is where there really is the need to be Sorry . . .  for those we’ve wronged, including ourselves, along the way.  Sorry for those we’ve pushed aside, trampled over, in our efforts to be perfect.  Rather ironic, I think.
So, 99 Years, and Sorry.

So when I heard mom said that to Jeff, to Mary, to Judy, made me realize that mom is coming to an end, to a close.  She’s making amends, as best she can, in the best way she can, using the best words she can.  And I think to myself, I’m Sorry too.  A lot to be Sorry for.  A lot.

My family is already making plans.  Phone calls have been made, will be made again.  Notices sent and given.

For each of us to appreciate, to celebrate a life filled to the brim in those 99 Years.  To pay our respects, for each of us to say, we’re Sorry. 

And finally, for each of us to say, Goodbye.

Only for a little while.  More of a “See you later, alligator.”  And I can hear her answer, “In a while crocodile.” 

99 Years, Sorry, and Goodbye.  Mom.

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Samaritan Woman

There are many characters in the Bible that I find fascinating.  I’ve written about the Prodigal Son and his father, two of my favorites.  A loving father who gave his son some time and distance in order to find himself, but continued to watch and wait faithfully for his return.  The other, a truculent youth, who perhaps thought he knew it all, eager to step out on his own, only to fail miserably as he made mistake after mistake, but came to his senses, came home and said he was sorry, offering to live the life as a servant.  And the father accepted the apology and loved his son, happy that his son came to his senses.  A lesson of contrition, remorse and repentance, and forgiveness.


I can relate to Jonah, the guy who tried to run from his call, who tried to run and ignore his duty, who just didn’t want to go and do what he was supposed to do, and as a result, ended up getting swallowed by a whale.  Eventually he ended up going where he was supposed to go in the first place and could have avoided the whale.  Several lessons there, I think.    


Elijah, the fiery prophet, who thundered and shouted his message, yet had to listen at a cave entrance to whispers and gentle murmurs, learning that not all messages need to be loud and forceful, but can be soothing and gentle and come in the least expected ways, and can be taught and conveyed by the least and lowly.


Peter is one of my favorites because he tried so hard, screwed up, and tried some more.  He denied ever knowing his Friend, even swore in his denial, but repented, tried again, and became a leader.  A lesson of perseverance, of never giving up or giving in.


The Samaritan Women.


Five husbands, living with a sixth.  Traveled a mile or so to a well to get water.  Wondered about that.  Maybe cast out, ignored, shunned.  Seen as evil, a tramp.  Seen as having no ethics, no morals.


Yet . . .


The Lord stopped to chat with her.  He was thirsty and asked her for a drink of water.  Interesting because Jews didn’t get along with the Samaritans.  The two groups disagreed with one another, didn’t share the same beliefs, didn’t live the same lifestyle, and didn’t have customs in common with each other.


Yet . . .


The Lord didn’t seem to recognize the differences, the disagreements.  The Lord overlooked the disparity in belief.  The Lord questioned The Samaritan Woman’s husband(s), but didn’t seem to judge her.  And she, in turn, went back to those very people who shunned her, who looked down on her, and invited them to come and listen to a “great prophet.”  And come they did.  And the Lord stayed two days with these people, these very different people.


Perhaps there is a lesson for us there, too.  For all of us.


Perhaps we need to stop judging and start accepting.  Perhaps we need to seek to understand those who are different from us, who happen to live a different life and lifestyle from us. Perhaps we need to seek the common ground between those who we see as different, who we see as less than, and accept, talk, converse with them.  Perhaps they have something they can share with us, give to us that is beneficial, just as water was given to quench the thirst of The Lord.  And perhaps we have something beneficial to share with them.  Our gifts, our talents, a hand to help, words to guide, and ears to listen.  Something to think about . . .


Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Through Their Eyes

Kim and I adopted our son, Wil, from Guatemala in 1993.  His mother placed him up for adoption when he was five and it was a good thing she did, because in Wil’s own words spoken to us much later in his life, “I’d be dead by now.” 


In order to survive, to eat, he begged and panhandled.  School?  No way.  Sports or any of the other activities kids enjoy?  Nope.  Wil told us that if he wouldn’t have been adopted, he’d end up in a street gang like a couple of his older brothers and sisters. 


There was plenty of poverty and even more abuse.  One of the sad stories he shared with us was that he was afraid to play outside because every now and then the guerillas would come down from the hills, take kids- especially boys- and train them to be guerillas.  He didn’t want that.  I can’t imagine the fear he had, perhaps the lack of hope in his future he faced. 


Such a sad thing- the lack of hope.


Many years later at a different high school, an organization sponsored kids from Belfast to come to the United States in order to share their story.  Share they did.  Some of the same horrors, the same misery, the same lack of future, the same lack of hope.


Within the last week, there have been a series of articles on the children of Syria caught up in the raging civil war in that country.  Beautiful kids, boys and girls, kids of all ages.  Some with dirt smudges on their faces.  Some with bruises.  Some with cuts.  All with the same fear.  The same despair.  The same lack of hope that Wil and the kids from Belfast had.  All of these kids facing the same desperate future . . . if they even had a future, for their future was . . . is . . . a great unknown.


Through Their Eyes, no hope, no future.  Only uncertainty, only the question of, “What will happen to me?”  Indeed, what will become of them and the many, many children who come after them?


How very sad.


How very sad to face a future of the unknown.  How very sad to face a future without hope.


There are some who might say, “They need to learn about life, that life is unfair, that life can be hard.”  There might be others who might say, “What can we do?  I am only one man . . . one woman . . . I am struggling myself . . . they are so far away . . . there is nothing I can do.”


Perhaps all that is true.  Perhaps.


But, perhaps not.


Perhaps it might not be possible to help all the kids like Wil, to help the kids from Belfast, to help the kids living in Syria.  True.  I get that.


But perhaps we can love those kids whose lives we touch on a daily basis, on a regular basis, who walk into and around our lives, into and out of our lives.  Those kids who sit at our dinner table, who sleep under the same roof, who sit in a desk in front of us.  Those kids who, with eager anticipation, wait for us to read to them, or who climb onto our lap and want to be held.  Those kids who want us to play catch with them, who want us to sit at the end of the pier and fish with them, who want us to walk through the woods with them.  Those kids who want to be heard, who want to be listened to.  Those kids who want . . . and need . . . a hug.


Perhaps if we stop to see the world . . . their world . . . Through Their Eyes, we will come to understand what they long for, what they need.  Perhaps if we stop to see the world . . . their world . . . Through Their Eyes, we will come to understand what they fear, what questions they have, what it is they truly cannot comprehend nor understand.


And then and only then, if we take the time to see the world . . . their world . . . Through Their Eyes, we can begin to make their lives a better place, a safer place, a more loving place.  For them.  For us.  For all of us.  And Only Through Their Eyes.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

In The Course Of The Race

There is a sophomore at my school who drag races and holds a track record at two different race tracks.  This student is rather quiet, almost shy.  Always smiles.  This student is also a girl, named Carly.  Honestly, when I found out, I was shocked.  I had never, not in a million years, pictured her as a drag racer, and not because “she’s a girl.”  Only because she just didn’t “seem to be the type” whatever “the type” seems to be.  She told me she loves it and finds it exciting and can’t wait to get out there this summer once again.


In 2012, we had a senior, Devin, who was a speed skater, and he was good enough to compete in South Korea.  I have a picture of him on my file cabinet.  I’ve had other kids at different schools who raced Moto Cross and dirt bikes, and some were more successful than others.  But they competed and raced just the same, like Carly, because they love it and find it exciting.


I never really cared for NASCAR or motor racing in general, I guess mainly because I didn’t have any contact with it.  My dad wasn’t interested in it, and neither were my brothers or sisters.  But that being said, I am curious enough to check out how Matt Kenseth did after each race because he’s from my home state of Wisconsin.


The interesting thing to me . . . the really fascinating thing to me . . . is that these men and women travel at such a high rate of speed . . . seemingly fearlessly.  And they do this in such close proximity to each other.  Side by side.  Bumper to bumper.  Fighting to take a lead into and out of turns.  Strategically taking a pit stop for more fuel or a tire change.  As I said, interesting and fascinating.


In The Course Of The Race there just might be an accident.  A wreck.  Sometimes just one car, sometimes several cars.  It might be caused by a slight turn of the wheel at the wrong time.  It might be caused by another driver.  In any case, a wreck occurs.


Happens in life, too. 


In The Course Of The Race of life, we might be sailing along at top speed, circling the track, braking a bit into a curve and speeding up out of the turn.  We dodge that person, those people, pass them and on we go.


And then just as suddenly, In The Course Of The Race, there is a wreck.  Sometimes the wreck is caused by someone else and we get caught up in it.  Other times, we cause the wreck ourselves.  And sometimes, God forbid, we cause others to crash along with us.


Sometimes, In The Course Of The Race, we veer off course.  Sometimes, we fail to take the pit stop when we should have taken it.  Sometimes we’re so blinded in the pursuit, the goal, in winning, in seeking the checkered flag that perhaps we aren’t as cautious as we should have been . . . should be.


In The Course Of The Race, sometimes we’re so intent on our own lives, our own goal, that without thinking, we run others into the wall, cause them to crash, or we burn up our own engines to the point where we have to fall out of the race and can’t compete. 


And sometimes In The Course Of The Race, we cause others to fall out of the race so they can’t compete.  Sometimes we place ourselves in this position, and sometimes through no fault of our own, we find ourselves in this position because of someone else’s lack of thought, carelessness, and ruthlessness.


The words “cut throat” “ruthless” “in it for themselves” “without a thought for others” come to mind and can be applied to us.  Sometimes we’re not even aware of our actions.


Perhaps it’s important to remember to take a pit stop every so often.  Change our tires.  Fill ourselves up with fuel.  Listen to our Crew Chief.  Get some direction.  And make sure there is enough rest and relaxation in between the races to be effective.  Then we can head back out onto the track and continue with the race.  Something to think about . . .


Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Human Kindness Overflowing

Michael was a senior at a high school in a different state where I was the principal a while back.  He was an above average student, usually wore a smile, was rather quiet and unassuming, but popular with both students and staff.  He loved participating in sports, particularly football.  The problem was that Michael struggled with a rare form of cancer and had to put up with surgeries, with chemo, and with radiation treatments.

Towards the end of the football season when Michael was a senior, the head football coach wanted him to have the opportunity to play in a game and as a wide receiver, and to even catch a pass.  This was tough because physically, Michael wasn’t in any shape and certainly couldn’t take a hit from an opposing defender.  But the coach, Mark, contacted the opposing head coach and arranged that on the first offensive play, we were going to pass to Michael, who would hopefully catch it, and then run out of bounds.  In return, one of our captains, a senior lineman, would false start on purpose, moving us backwards five yards.  The opposing coach agreed.

That evening, just as it was planned, on our first possession on offense, Michael ran a quick out, the pass was made, he caught the ball, and ran out of bounds.  There were cheers.  The fans on both sides of the field stood and gave Michael a standing ovation, and I believe there were not too many dry eyes anywhere.  I get choked up remembering the moment.  I can’t remember the score or even who won the game, but I remember that moment.

Human Kindness Overflowing.

Earlier this week, there was a report on the news of two teams playing for a state basketball championship.  Towards the end of the game, there was little doubt who was going to win.  One team had a manager, a student, who had Asperger’s.  He had never played, but they suited him up for his first game and towards the end of it, put him in. 

There wasn’t much time left in the game.  I believe it was under a minute.  They passed him the ball, he shot and missed.  The other team had it, turned it over on purpose, and the boy received the ball again.  He missed.  It was rebounded by the other team, and the opponent passed the boy the ball so he could shoot again, even directed him to get closer to the hoop.  The boy shot and made it.  The buzzer went off, and everyone cheered.  I don’t know the names or schools of the two teams, but I know it’s a story I won’t soon forget.  Sort of like Michael’s story.

Human Kindness Overflowing.

I stole that line from a Randy Newman song, one of my favorites.

I think that at times, maybe even more than you and I know, Human Kindness does indeed Overflow.  I think of a girl and her family who doesn’t have much at all, yet she has contributed bags full of things to distribute to needy families.  I remember a story about an elderly lady who lived alone.  Her church was going to gift her with the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner.  When they rang the doorbell, the lady saw who it was, stated, “Oh, I’m glad you stopped by.  I have something I wanted to give to the needy.”  She went back into her kitchen, grabbed a can of cranberry sauce and handed it to the priest, and said, “Sorry, I forgot to bring it to church this morning.”  The priest accepted it with a thank you, and took the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner to someone else on the list.  How could he not when this lady didn’t see herself in need?

Paying it forward at a Starbucks or at a toll booth.  Someone paying for someone’s groceries when the person in front comes up short.  Someone paying someone else’s bill.  It happens.  Sometimes we hear about it, and sometimes we don’t.  But it does happen.

So, I ask you . . . today, right now, what can you and I do to help spread kindness in our world?  Doesn’t have to great and glorious.  Doesn’t have to be a headline in the newspaper.  But what can you and I do?

Michael, the boy I mentioned earlier who caught a pass in a football game his senior year?  He died a year or so ago.  Gone way too soon.  But for that one moment we know about, and for possibly many other moments we don’t know about, he was the recipient of Human Kindness.  That’s the memory I choose to remember about Michael.  That, and the players and coaches who afforded Michael to have that opportunity.

Human Kindness does indeed Overflow.  Perhaps more than we know.  Hopefully, more than we know.  What can we do, you and I do, to contribute?  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

We All Have Scars

I think my daughter, Hannah, is on first name basis with every nurse, aide and doctor in several Emergency Rooms between Wisconsin and Virginia.  Between gymnastics, soccer and swimming she’s had concussions, breaks, sprains and one damaged rotator cuff.  I’ve always wondered, if not marveled at Hannah’s ability to get hurt in swimming.  Exactly how does one do that short of drowning or perhaps ramming one’s head into a wall (which she actually did when she was younger)? 

One particular break, a wrist, was placed for a time in a hard cast.  No swimming.  No soccer.  No much of anything.  When it came time to have the cast removed, the nurse took the saw and started cutting.  Hannah started to cry silently, saying that “it hurt.”  Hmmm . . . That wasn’t supposed to happen.  Come to find out that the blade on the saw actually cut deeply into Hannah’s forearm, leaving a scar that is present and visible today.  It is raised and turns a pretty pale pink, almost purple, in the summer sun.

In my senior year of high school, I had just gotten out of a dress rehearsal for a music show.  The final performance was that evening.  I had three solos to perform and I was in several group ensembles as well.  I was eating dinner and someone playfully threw something at me and I ducked.  When I did, I hit my chin on the corner of the table and split my chin open.  It hurt, but not terribly so.  And then there was blood.  My chin was swollen and I had to wear a clumsy bandage on it.  Perhaps I should have gotten stitches.  To this day, I have a scar on my chin.  Not very noticeable, but I see and feel it each time I shave.

We All Have Scars.

Some scars are big, some are small.  Some scars are noticeable, some not so much.  Some scars are visible to the eye, some hidden beneath clothing.  Some scars are a sort of “trophy” from this game or that contest.  Some scars are a result of just everyday living, and some scars are an accident in childhood or adulthood.

We All Have Scars.

And . . . each of us has scars that are not visible to the eye, scars not visible anywhere on our body by anyone, maybe not even to ourselves. 

These scars are the emotional scars we carry with us.

We might have been born into and spent childhood raised in a less than loving, supportive, or nurturing home.  A childhood where going without was the norm rather than an anomaly.  A childhood where hearing the words “my dumb one” “he’s not so bright” “she’s not very pretty” “he’s not very handsome” “she’s a difficult child” were (are?) as common as “hello” “goodnight” “see you later” might have been.  The words “I love you!” might never have been uttered or heard.

Or . . . a childhood where we were ignored or treated as indifferently as a chair or the living room curtains might have been (is?).  Taken for granted.  Assumed.  An afterthought. Nothing special, just there. 

We All Have Scars.

We might have been the product of meanness, neglect, or unfortunately, abuse.  We might have wondered (and perhaps still wonder?) where the next meal will come from and what it might be, if the electricity or heat will remain on, when the next fist might be felt, the next curse might be heard.  Who might be there for me . . . for us . . . when it seems no one is there now and perhaps, never was in the first place.

Yes, We All Have Scars.

The question I have for you . . . for each of us . . . is, are we, have we, learned from the acquisition of the scar?  What are you, we, doing now that is different and is a result of what we have learned?  Are you, we, continuing on with the cycle or are we going about life . . . our life, other’s lives . . . differently?  What have we learned from our scars?  Just what have we learned?  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!