Friday, May 30, 2014

A Really Good Man

By all accounts in the Bible . . . and even within various interpretations of the story, Zacharias was considered to be a kind of scoundrel.  He was a tax collector and back then, tax collectors had a reputation of being unfair, of sort of picking and choosing who he would collect from, and even how much he might collect from them.  I’m not sure if, back then, they kept records or if they did, what kind of records, or even how accurate the records were.

Zacharias was a little guy.  I kind of picture him about my height, probably shorter.  I say that because as the story goes, he had to climb a tree in order to see what all the fuss was about.  There was a crowd around this Preacher, this Prophet, and Zacharias couldn’t see.  As the Prophet came closer, He looked up and saw Zacharias and said, “Zacharias, come down from that tree.  I will be staying at your house tonight.”

Wow!  Talk about controversy.  I imagine the crowd murmuring, complaining, and at the least, questioning as to why this Prophet, this Holy Man, might want to be near this scoundrel, this heathen, this thug.

So in his own defense, Zacharias defends himself, explaining to everyone who would listen- and I imagine not to many were interested in listening to him- what sorts of things he might have done right, what he tried to do, owning up to mistakes he might have made in the past, but indicating a willingness to atone for them.  A willingness to do better, to make things right.

But what was remarkable, at least to me, was that this Holy Man, this Prophet, had decided to spend a night with him before Zacharias defended himself, before he even uttered a word.  It seems that this Holy Man, this Prophet, knew something that the crowd didn’t know.  This Holy Man, this Prophet, knew something that Zacharias didn’t even know about himself.

That deep down, at his core, Zacharias was A Really Good Man.

Springsteen has a lyric in his song, Human Touch that goes like this: “. . . Yeah, I know I ain't nobody's bargain; But, hell, a little touch up; And a little paint . . .”

One of my favorite songs and one of my favorite lines.  “Yeah, I know I ain’t nobody’s bargain; but, hell, a little touch up; And a little paint . . .”

Kind of describes each of us, doesn’t it?

Zacharias.  You.  Me.  Certainly, me.  Absolutely, me.

But give us a chance, an opportunity . . . give us someone who might look beyond what we’ve might have done to see what we might do . . .

And, there’s something endearing about this short scoundrel who had to climb a tree in order to see.  Seems to me there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.  Having to rise above a crowd.  Having Someone look up in order to see him.  Not down, mind you, but up.  And, for Zacharias to see clearly, to see what the fuss was all about, he had to rise above the crowd.  He had to lift himself up in order to see.

So . . .

Seems to me that we have two Really Good Men in this story. 

On one hand, a Prophet, a Holy Man, who was able to look beyond the crowd, who was able to look beyond the reputation, the clothes, the present day actions, to see a Good Man’s heart, A Good Man’s soul.  To understand that just because someone trashes your reputation, that just because two or three might disagree and spread gossip and innuendo, it just might not be so.  That there can be A Really Good Man right in front of you, standing there in plain sight.  That perhaps, there can be A Really Good Man up in a tree where you and he and she can see each other clearly and notice and understand and believe what others cannot see or notice or understand or believe.  Yes, Like Zacharias, you and I . . . we, each of us . . . are A Really Good Man.  A Really Good Man.  We just might need “a touch up and, hell, a little paint.”  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tied Down And Chained

When I was a little kid, I remember a story I read about Sampson.  Because he was so strong, his enemies Chained him to keep him in control.  As the story went, at least that I can recall, he pulled the chains from the brick wall and brought down the house, so to speak, on his enemies.


Remember the Incredible Hulk?  You know, the guy who was fairly meek and mild that when angry, turned into a green monster?  Somewhere along the line, at least in one of the episodes of the TV show I watched growing up, scientists tried to control him with sedatives.  Worked a little, but eventually, the sedatives wore off and the green guy was back to himself, or at least a version of himself.


When I was in college, my friends decided to bind my hands and feet behind my back as a practical joke.  I protested, begged, pleaded for them not to.  They didn’t listen to me.  Instead, after they were done, they put me on a bed and left the room, shutting the door behind them. I was alone.  I was by myself.  And I was terrified. 


I can’t tell you how panicked I was.  Anxious.  Nervous.  Angry.  Helpless.  Truly, absolutely helpless.  I know my heart raced.  I became claustrophobic, like the walls were truly closing in.  I had the terrifying feeling that I might die.  When my friends finally relented and untied me, one of them remarked how white I looked.  Really?  He was surprised at how white I looked?  Master Detective, he was not!


I have to tell you it was quite a while before I forgave them.  I mean, how could they possibly think that was a joke?  How could they possibly think doing something like that was funny?  What if I had begun choking?  I was already having trouble breathing, so what if, while they were out of the room laughing or whatever they were doing, something happened to me to the point it was irreversible?  I was helpless.  I had no control.  None.  What the heck were they thinking?


That unfortunate and ugly memory got me thinking . . .


How many times do we feel Tied Down And Chained?  In the course of a year?  A month?  A week?  A day?  Sometimes from our own doing or sometimes from others doing to us?


Sometimes, we do it to ourselves by our words, our actions, our interactions with others, our decisions especially without considering the consequences of our words, our actions, or the decisions we make.  Sometimes it is the position we might find ourselves because of the actions or words or decisions of others.  Of course, it isn’t our own doing that places us in these predicaments, and that fact might cause us to have that helpless feeling, that feeling of hopelessness. We might feel hurt, anger, despair.


I’m not sure which is worse, really: our own doing or someone else’s doing.  Both are awful places to be, especially if what is felt is what I felt when I was tied up and left alone.


I guess in those cases where we might feel Tied Down And Chained, we might actually need to depend upon others for help.  Not necessarily easy to do, especially if our view of ourselves is one of self-sufficiency.  Not easy to accept if we have the kind of personality and belief in ourselves that we can go it alone, perhaps that we somehow should go it alone.  That no matter what, we can do it ourselves.  That in spite of it all, we can take care of ourselves. 


No, not necessarily easy to do at all.


But it’s never wrong to seek help from someone if and when it is needed.  It’s never wrong to admit that we cannot go it alone, that we need support, that we need someone else’s shoulder to lean on, someone else’s hand to lift us up.  I think it’s rather idiotic to think we can get ourselves out of the hole that we dug for ourselves or out of the hole that someone else dug for us.  Sometimes the most courageous thing, the bravest thing, the smartest thing we can do is ask for help, for advice, for someone to listen.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Trials, Tribulations And Lessons Learned

My parents differed from each other on what we were allowed to do, try out, fail in.  My dad seemed to be more lenient in general, allowing each of us to do this, that, or the other thing and let us struggle, succeed or fail, and learn from it.  My mom was different in that there were many warnings and cautions, or perhaps just an outright “no!” 

I find myself more towards my mom’s side of that, than my dad’s.  Kim is more towards my dad.

I tend to worry.  A lot.  I don’t like it when the kids struggle unnecessarily.  I like it even less if they get hurt.  Yet, I do realize that it is only in the struggle, the Trial and the Tribulation, that a Lesson is Learned.  I get that.  I really do.  I just don’t like it. 

I remember Hannah and Emily going to their first concert together.  It was quite a distance away and they had to travel on an interstate to get there.  Scary!  I had them text me when they got there.  I had them text me when they left.  And, I waited up until they got home.  Same thing when they go shopping at a mall up North.  Same interstate and I have them follow the same routine.

Am I too cautious?  Perhaps.  Do I worry too much?  Yes, I already admitted that I am a worrier.

When Hannah went off to college, she started out as a Computer Design major.  That lasted one semester.  Then, she decided on Athletic Training.  That lasted two semesters.  And now, she is an Elementary Education major.  The thing is, Kim and I knew all along that she’d end up in elementary education.  We could have told her from the outset that’s where she should major because that’s where she belongs.

How did we know?

She works as a lifeguard at our community swimming pool and at that pool, she also teaches swim lessons.  Each time she comes home, there is one or two stories about this kid or that kid.  I think it’s rather telling that because parents get to select an instructor, if two instructors are giving lessons, Hannah ends up with far more kids than the other instructor by almost a four to one ratio.  Several parents have contacted her to do private lessons.  And, at least one parent asked her to teach the parent swim lessons.

But Hannah had to discover this on her own, without Kim or me telling her.  She had to discover the Trials, the Tribulations of one major, a second major, only to discover the Lesson Learned in that she is a natural, dyed in the wool, true blue, elementary teacher at heart.  Kids flock to her.  Always have, and I believe, always will.

I’ve always believed that there is a light somewhere out there in the darkness.  I’ve always believed that there is a door that we all, each of us, must walk through.  I’ve always believed that we are on this earth for at least one great purpose, and perhaps several purposes at that.

Life is a journey.  Life is one step after another.  Life is a trip over a path, a road.  And along that path, that road, there are rocks and ruts, there are hills and valleys, and there are days filled with rain as well as days filled with sunshine.  There will be smiles, as well as frowns.  There will be joy, as well as sadness.  There will be success, as well as regret. 

But in the end, it isn’t the end of life that makes the person.  It is the journey one makes to the end of life that makes the person.  It is the journey that makes the person, with all of its Trials and Tribulations and the Lessons Learned from those Trials and Tribulations.  I believe it is in this journey and in the people and experiences great and small all along that journey that help us find our purpose.  Our true purpose.

No one ever said it would be easy.  No one ever said it would be trouble free.  Only that it would be a journey.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Typhoid Mary, Typhoid Mark

When Hannah comes home from college for the summer and gets together with her younger sister, Emily, there is a lot of laughter, a lot of teasing.  Hannah provides the appropriate setup, and Emily finishes with usually some sort of sarcastic observation of life.  Kim and I enjoy sitting nearby and listening to them and I catch myself with a smile and generally laugh along with them.  They’re just fun to be around.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I was asked to take part in a graduate study that took place through the University of Wisconsin.  For my part, I volunteered at a day care center with three, four and five year old kids.  I lived in Madison for about a month in the summer in a room in a house of a family rented by my parents.  I supervised the playground, read stories, and took the kids swimming.  I loved it.  I loved being around their laughter, their smiles, the energy and their enjoyment with life.

That experience led me to work with my hometown’s recreation department where I worked for several summers as a playground leader in a sort of day camp situation.  Kids would play organized games, we’d have a special day of the week, and even did arts and crafts.  Again, I liked being around kids.  I liked their innocence and sense of adventure.

I enjoy being around my older brothers and sisters and their families.  Stories are shared.  Laughter is shared.  I think after a visit or two, I end up with a smile that lasts for days.  As I write this, I think of this person, that story, and I end up smiling because of the memory.

I think for each of us, there are those among us who we let into our lives who bring and share joy.  We seek them out because they make us feel good.  They lift our spirits and raise us up.  They make our life, our world better just by being around us.

And then . . .

There are those who bring us down.  Their words, their actions, their attempts to engage us in the game of “Yes, but . . .” where there is only one winner, appropriately named, I would suppose: the “but.” 

“The sun is out!”  “Yes, but it’s supposed to rain.”  “I’m thinking on taking my family to see the newly remodeled Washington Monument.”  “Yes, but the traffic!  And then you have to stand in line along with everyone else!”  and on and on and . . .  The “but” always seems to win.

In the end, one’s spirit is dampened, perhaps darkened.  At the least, the excitement, the energy is zapped from us.  Sadly, we might lose our enthusiasm.  Our smile.

Sad to lose our smile.

Like the story of Typhoid Mary, (or Typhoid Mark) who spread disease from one person to another, I believe there are those among us who spread the disease of negativity.  There are those among us who spread the disease of doubt.  There are those among us who steal our energy, our strength, our joy, our spirit, our fun.  There are those among us who steal our sense of well-being.  Who steal our smile.

It’s easy to get caught up in it if we’re not careful.  It’s easy to fall into their trap, to fall victim to their game.  Perhaps they aren’t aware they do it.  Perhaps they know full well what they are doing.  I’ve not spent much time wondering about their psychology, their reasons, because frankly, I’d rather spend time around those who bring out the life, the love, the joy I have within me. 

But it is easy to become a Typhoid Mary, a Typhoid Mark.  To spread the ill of the world . . . their world.   I guess I’d rather be a Pollyanna, as naive as that sounds.  I think a Pollyanna is much more fun to be because one gets to spread joy and light, instead of sadness and darkness.  My question to you is: which person are you?  A Typhoid Mary, a Typhoid Mark, or a Pollyanna?  It is a choice and a choice that can have an impact not only on you but on those around you.  Something to think 
about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Driving On The Wrong Side Of The Road

A scary thought, don’t you think?  Hadn’t ever done that before, until . . .

This past Tuesday, I watched Emily play soccer for the high school team.  Tough game.  Two overtimes.  The other team scored at the very end of the second overtime.  Sad.  Hard fought.  A tough way to lose.

Kim had to drive from supervising a track meet at her school, so she had one car and I had the other, and after the game, Emily chose to ride home with Kim.  I was thinking about how hard the kids had played and what a tough loss it was.  Lots of things running through my mind and absolutely none of it about driving home.

The major road that leads me to our house is under construction and it’s a hassle for everyone driving on it.  I approached an intersection and noticed that my green light had just turned from yellow to red.  So, instead of going straight as I had planned, I decided to make a right turn, which is usually no big deal.

Because the road is under construction, I looked for the big orange barrels that are used to designate lanes and turns.  I didn’t see them.  I swear they were there in the morning when I drove that way to work, but they weren’t there later that evening.

It was dark.  There isn’t much light on that road at night anyway, but it seemed darker to me.  Perhaps it was just my imagination.  And as I said, no orange barrels that I had expected, except the ones on the other side of the boulevard.

So I made what I thought was a correct right hand turn at the orange barrel, only to find out that I was Driving On The Wrong Side Of The Road. 

I had no way to cross back to the other side because the median was all torn up due to construction.  There was no place to turn off for at least a quarter mile, maybe a little longer.  None.  Nowhere.

I began to panic.  I worried.  Traffic was heading towards me.  I really didn’t know what to do except to keep driving until I had an opportunity to get off the road.  But that quarter mile or so sure seemed like a long way to go.

The few cars that I did encounter didn’t beep their horns at me.  No one hung their heads out of the window to yell or gesture at me.  None of the cars came at me head on.  But instead, each driver slowed down, moved over, and allowed me to continue on my wayward journey.

Finally, in what seemed like a lifetime or three, I was able to pull off and travel through a parking lot to get to the road . . . my road . . . and my correct side of the road. 

When people say or write that they breathed a sigh of relief, well, I know exactly what they mean.  I was shaking.  I had been hunched over the steering wheel, holding onto it in a death grip, and I could finally, finally, relax.

There are times when we . . . you and I . . . Drive On The Wrong Side Of The Road.  We don’t mean to.  It’s accidental.  We certainly don’t intend to.  We think we’re doing the right thing- at least in our own mind we think so- we think we’re doing the right thing, only to find that we’re traveling against traffic, against the way it’s supposed to go, against what everyone else is doing.  I guess sometimes that’s okay, but not in a car, usually not in life, but every now and then, I guess it’s okay.

But when we find ourselves Driving On The Wrong Side Of The Road, we panic.  We don’t think straight.  We don’t think correctly.  We run out of options, and sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be any options.  It’s dark and we’re alone, and we grip the steering wheel . . . our thoughts, our lives . . . in a death grip and hope and pray it comes out okay.  And perhaps, we don’t necessarily find other drivers willing to slow down and move over.  Perhaps, we don’t find other drivers who let us pass without incident, but instead, yell and scream and shake a fist.  As if we really don’t know we’re Driving On The Wrong Side Of The Road.  I mean, really, who doesn’t know something like that?

I guess the best thing to do is go slowly, watch carefully, try not to panic (at least too much), and when one can, get off that road in order to find the correct one.  The best thing to do is to regroup, rethink, to calm down, and approach the road . . . life . . . our way of thinking . . . a little differently.  Maybe begin again.  Maybe start over.  Nothing wrong with beginning again.  Nothing wrong with starting over.  It happens all the time, to even the best and the brightest among us.  Happens to both you and to me.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!