Saturday, July 26, 2014

Some Not So Final Thoughts

Last week, we laid to rest our son, Wil.  It was, and is, difficult.  As I reflect on it, I wanted to share with you Some Not So Final Thoughts.


When I read the newspaper or watch the TV news and when a story comes on about a gunshot victim or people dying in a plane crash, of course I’m saddened.  No one likes to read or hear about death, especially to the young, certainly not children.  However, there has not been the “personal” connection until my son, Wil, died in a homicide while taking a break and walking to a restaurant for noodles.  Shouldn’t have happened to him, and it should not happen to others.  But now it is difficult to read the newspaper or watch the TV news because those stories are all the more real to me, to Kim, and to Hannah and Emily.  Too real.


When it was my turn to speak at the service, I didn’t say all I wanted to say . . . all I needed to say.  I did the best I could, and I think Wil was okay with that.  Yet . . .


I talked about his struggle learning the English language.  For a new learner, it takes from seven to ten years to become fluent.  Wil worked hard at it and there were some funny moments.  In Wil’s ears, birds were “burps” and clouds were “ballooms.”  Yes, I spelled it correctly, at least how Wil pronounced it.   There was a cartoon that Wil liked and its theme song and lyric went: “looting and polluting, it’s up to you!”  What Wil sang as he danced around the family room was: “oony ah balloony estass to you!”  But it wasn’t all on Wil.


One evening, I wanted to tell Wil that I was a little upset at him for not working hard on his homework.  My Spanish was and is awful, and I said, “Yo soy un poco mojado” but when he looked at me in wonder, I ‘corrected’ myself and said, “Yo soy un poco morado.”  He laughed at me and I looked up what I said and found out that I told him I was “wet and purple.”


Those of you who read my posts regularly know that I use three phrases most, if not all, of the time and I use each phrase deliberately.


The first is: “Something to think about . . .”


I believe what we read, what we hear, and what we see should be considered and thought about.  It should be reflected on.  Obviously it is a choice whether one does so, but all of life has a lesson, some big, some small, and most can be applied to our lives.  Reflection is important in the growing process.  What did we learn?  How does this apply?  How might this change me?  What can I do differently?  What should I keep doing?  What must I stop doing?  All great questions.  Evening works best for my reflection, but so does morning.  We have a gift in each Morning (a previous post)- a ‘do over’.  How great is that?  We’re not bound by the past.  We’re not doomed to repeating it.  We can grow from it, learn from it, and each Morning, we get to begin again.  But it all begins with “Something to think about . . .”


The second is: “Live Your Life . . .”


Your Life!  Not someone else’s.  Certainly not someone’s idea of what Your Life should be.  It is yours to live!  Wil didn’t necessarily do things the way I had wanted him to.  Wil made his own way.  Sometimes he struggled until he got it right.  Sometimes he sought out my advice and went with it, but other times he sought it and didn’t use it.  That’s okay.  It worked for him, because it was Wil’s life, just like Your Life is yours!  When you get in your car and drive to a destination, chances are there are several, if not many, ways to get there.  Some might take you longer.  Some might take only a short time.  Yet, you arrive!  You always do!  Live Your Life . . .  I have your back on that!


The third is: “Make A Difference!”


One can move through life without feeling, thinking and one can merely exist.  One can move through life and use others, trample on them to get to their goal, their prize, their result.  Or one can lift up, one can support, one can help along and encourage.  And I believe in so doing, each of us is helped in perhaps greater measure.  It makes the journey easier.  The pain we sometimes have becomes, if not less, at least a little more bearable because it is shared.  Our pain is, on some level, understood.  Each day, each minute, we have a choice to make a positive impact on others.  Judging by the comments shared with us on the In Memory of Wil Lewis page on Facebook and the comments shared with us at the visitation and the luncheon that followed the memorial service, Wil made a positive impact on many.  And the beauty of it was that perhaps Wil was unaware he had done so.  Wil just Lived His Life and in so doing, Made A Difference!


That’s all I really ask of you.  Each of you.  Each day, each moment.  Just Live Your Life and Make A Difference!  Not too much to ask, is it? 


In Apollo 13, there is a scene when the three astronauts are in their little capsule.  They aren’t sure if they will survive the reentry into the atmosphere.  They aren’t sure if they will make a safe and soft landing.  Their hands are in the hands of some unknown folks thousands of miles away.  I don’t know the historical accuracy of the scene, but the character played by Tom Hanks turns to his partners and says, “Gentlemen, it has been an honor and a privilege.”


Wil, it has been an honor and a privilege to be your dad.  It has been an honor and a privilege for you to be my son.  A real honor and a real privilege.  I regret that I wasn’t walking along the sidewalk with you July 12th.  I regret that I didn’t have my arm around your shoulders and I regret that I didn’t tell you one more time how very proud I was . . . am . . . of you.  I will live with that.  But I will also live with the fact that you called us the day before, on July 11th to wish us a happy anniversary.  We laughed because you weren’t sure of the date and we laughed because you had a bit of trouble remembering dates.  The laughter was good, is always good.


Yes, it has been an honor and a privilege, Wil.  Always.  You had a positive impact on many and you probably didn’t even know you had.  A life well lived.  Very well lived.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Our Family, To You

There has been such an overwhelming outpouring of support from so many, that on behalf of my family, I want to say, “Thank You!”  Though each experience is unique, those of you who have suffered through something like this, a loss of a loved one, especially under senseless and tragic circumstances, understand what Kim, Hannah, Emily and I, along with Wil’s wife, Maria, are going through.  The support, the expressions of sympathy and empathy, and the faith you’ve shared are appreciated.  I sincerely mean that.

Wil has a unique story and had a unique journey. 

At the age of five, at least on two occasions that we know of, Wil was taken to an open-air market in Guatemala and abandoned by his birth mother.  Yes, at the age of five.  But each time, Wil found his way back home.  Clearly unwanted by his birth mother for some unfathomable reason, Wil had scars from cigarette burns, had boiling water poured onto his back, and had a scar on the crown of his left foot because it was stepped on by someone with a stiletto heel.  The reports from the adoption agency stated that his birth mother was an alcoholic, drug abusing, prostitute.   One night Wil overheard a lawyer speaking to his birth mother about how she might earn some money if she placed one or more of her children up for adoption.  Wil volunteered.  Yes, seriously.  He volunteered.

Wil was supposed to arrive in time for Kim’s and my wedding, but paperwork moves slowly, and our government and then the Guatemalan government put up a hurdle or two, so he didn’t make it in time.  A year later on November 11th, Kim gave birth to Hannah.  One month and one day later on December 12th, I flew to Guatemala to get Wil to bring him home.  So there Kim and I were suddenly with two children: a one month old and a seven year old, neither speaking English, and our Spanish was really bad.  So we became tri-lingual of sorts: English, Spanish, and Charades.  A lot of charades, but it worked for us.

Wil overcame a language barrier.  He had no formal education before coming to us and was illiterate in his native Spanish.  He couldn’t write or read, but that never stopped him. 

When we spoke to him in Spanish, he would try to answer in English.  We tried to encourage him to keep his Spanish, but he stated later in life that it reminded him too much of the past.  He wanted to put it behind him.

Persistent.  Very persistent.

Wil overcame a learning disability.  What took other kids a short time to do, Wil spent hours doing. 

I remember one story from his special education case carrier.  One day in his resource class, there were kids not working and just screwing around as some students might do.  The teacher was working with another student at the time and had asked the couple of kids to stop and get to work.  They didn’t, so Wil took it into his own hands.  From what the teacher told us, Wil lost his temper and told those students about his background, that he had to work for everything he received and that these couple of students were wasting his and the teacher’s time. He told them to be quiet and get busy or leave the room, actually standing up as he told them this.  The students stopped what they were doing and got to work.  From that point on, if those students got out of hand, Wil would stop what he was doing, stare at them, and they would get to work.

Earlier this week, I received a message from one of Wil’s English teachers, Cindy.  She relayed the story of Wil’s report on the novel, Catcher In The Rye.  Wil didn’t particularly care for the book, and liked the main character, Holden Caulfield, even less.  Wil referred to him as a “whiner.”  Hmmm . . . from Wil’s perspective, I can see where he was coming from.

You know, it isn’t easy being the ‘Principal’s Kid’.  To a greater or lesser degree, Wil, Hannah, and Emily have it somewhat harder than some.  In some eyes, anything one of them might earn, it was because they were the ‘Principal’s Kid’.  Hannah was actually told once by a teacher that she “can’t get by on her cutesy smile, because her daddy wasn’t going to be around forever . . .” Nice, huh?  Emily was told by some kids at school that she is a starter on the varsity soccer team because she is the ‘Principal’s Kid’.  Just great, huh?

To Wil’s, Hannah’s, and Emily’s credit, they have never ever played the ‘Principal’s Kid’ card.  What they earned, they did it on their own, and in their own unique way.

Wil, very much so.  He struggled.  But Wil persisted and overcame.  He set a wonderful example for both Hannah and Emily, which is why they are and forever will be, close.  Always!

Wil overcame a language barrier and graduated from high school.  He graduated from college.  The week he was shot and killed, Wil was offered a full-time job and was so excited about it.

On July 11th, Kim and I celebrated our twenty-second wedding anniversary.  Wil called to wish us a happy anniversary, and we could tell he was so excited about his new job.

Then one day later, on the afternoon of July 12th, Wil was shot and killed.  As I wrote last week, senseless.  Tragic.  Heartbreaking.

But I would like to leave you with this, because it is important for me, for Wil, and for my family that I do so:

Wil might not be of this earth any longer, but he is still with us and always will be.  Wil’s life is like a pebble one throws into water:  the ripples extend outward and beyond causing other ripples.  I have faith to believe that Wil is with my God, with my dad and my mom, with my two sisters: Donna and Joanne, with Kim's sister, Deanne, with four of his cousins: Jackie, Jared, Sue and Jared.

Mostly, Wil lives in my heart.  I still have conversations with him.  I know Kim, Hannah and Emily do, too.  I’m sure his wife, Maria, does.  Mostly, we love him dearly.  Always will.  Always.

Wil’s life was too large, too big, for it to end and for him to be gone.  His accomplishments too meaningful.  Wil accomplished much in his twenty-eight years, and I believe he would have accomplished even more had this tragedy not occurred.

As I stated in my last post, please use this tragedy, this loss, as a reminder to live in the moment.  Wil certainly did.  Use this tragedy to remind yourself that you cannot, must not, take life for granted.  Use this tragedy to remind yourself that you must, absolutely must, let those who are near and dear to you, those who are important to you, that you love them, that they are indeed important to you.  You must do this and not put it off any longer.  It has to be done daily, often during each day.

And lastly, from Our Family, To You, thank you!  Sincerely, thank you.

And please, Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

With Sadness

Late last night, or early this morning, my wife and I received a phone call informing us that our son, Wil, was shot and killed while standing at a bus stop waiting for the bus to take him home.  Senseless. No rhyme. No reason. Another individual walks up and shoots our son.

Police think it was a case of mistaken identity. The shooter fled on foot. Police eventually found the shooter's car. They are still investigating.

Numb. Not really comprehending it. Certainly can't find any meaning in it. None.

It's a call no parent should ever receive.  Ever.

Wil was 28 years old. Married less than two years. This last week, he just received good news on a new full time job. Now gone. Gone.

I will close at this point with the caution that you cannot, must not take life for granted.  Not ever. Hug those who are near and dear. Never let a day or minute go by without telling those close to you that you love them, that they mean something to you.

Hug and love your kids, your wife or husband.

Above all, Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Joe, Kim, Hannah and Emily.  And Wil and his young wife, Maria.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Light Behind The Clouds

When I lived in Southern California, the blue sky was never really blue.  As one looked up, there seemed to be an orange-colored tint to the sky.  It was because the pollution, the smog layer, that dulled the brilliance of the blue.  I remember a quip by Fritz Coleman, a weatherman on one of the local stations that like other parts of the United States, Southern California had air that could be chewed.  What set Southern California apart from the rest was that it had a nice mesquite flavor to it.


When Kim and the kids and I would fly home to Wisconsin, the plane would take off and rise above that smog layer and when we looked down, we could see the orange layer.  But above and behind that orange layer, was a brilliant blue sky. 


The same happened when the plane took off and rose above a particularly heavy cloud layer.  Gray and gloomy one minute, but sunny the next.  Light Behind The Clouds.


We’ve run into a patch of stormy weather here lately.  The day would begin sunny, perhaps with a few clouds, but by late afternoon or evening, the sky would become overcast, and boast a dark bruised sky, that would eventually burst with a sudden, sometimes pounding downpour.


Sort of like life.


Happy one minute.  Everything going your way.  Things falling into place nicely.  And then in the next moment, and sometimes without warning . . .


It is human nature to get pulled in and to succumb to the dark and the gloomy, the foreboding and formidable.  We’ve all been there.  Perhaps there are those reading this who are still there.


But I might remind you, perhaps not so eloquently, that there is always Light Behind The Clouds.  Always.


Just as when a plane takes off, it rises above the smog layer and one can see the brilliance of the blue.  Just as when a plane takes off, it rises above the clouds and one can see the sun, the Light Behind The Clouds.


And, storms don’t last.  They run their course.  The clouds burst, rain pours forth, and then there is sun.


During those dark days when all seems gloomy and ugly, when all seems painful and lost, when there doesn’t seem to be any direction or help forthcoming, remember . . .


There is always Light Behind The Clouds.  Always.  Always.  And until then, let the rain refresh you.  Or as Fritz might say, enjoy the mesquite flavor.  Smile.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Back Through The Rearview

I remember teaching my daughter, Hannah, how to back up when she was first learning to drive.  At first she wanted to use the rearview mirror, but she soon found out she had trouble steering just like we all did once upon a time.  Looking backward, it was tougher than I first thought it might be.  I had to remind her that she needed to look back over her shoulder so she could see more of the area behind her.  A bigger, better, and clearer, more unobstructed view of what was there lurking behind the car.

And now there are some cars with the camera that shows the area behind the vehicle.  One of our cars has one, and to be honest, I’m so used to turning around and looking, I forget that it’s even there.  Old-fashioned, I guess.

Interesting concept though: looking backward.

The thing is . . .

Looking Back Through The Rearview is really only good for one thing: moving backwards.  Looking Back Through The Rearview is really only good for one thing: going in reverse.  And while going backward or going in reverse will get you moving, and while going backwards or going in reverse is sometimes necessary, it’s often uncomfortable and one can’t sit like that for very long.

Got me thinking . . .

It’s nice to reminisce every so often.  It’s nice to go back and “remember when” once in a while, but often we end up telling and retelling the same stories over and over again.  We tell ourselves the same things over and over again.  We end up dwelling on our foibles, our faults, our shortcomings, and we kind of fall in and remain in a rut of old stories and old memories, sometimes funny, sometimes bitter sweet, and sometimes downright painful.

And just like driving and looking Back Through The Rearview, we don’t really go anywhere important, anywhere really meaningful.  Nowhere at all, really.

I do know it is important to take a look back every now and then because by doing so, we learn from where we’ve come.  By looking back, we see just how far we’ve gone.

But by keeping our eyes on the sights already behind us, we don’t progress.  We review the same road, the same traveled territory, and I believe it can, and often times will, stunt our growth.

Just as when we drive our vehicle down the road, it might be best to glance every so often Back Through The Rearview to check on our travels, to check on our progress.  But just to check.  Only just to check.  Because if we keep our eyes fixed on where we’ve been rather than where we’re going there are accidents- to ourselves and to others.

Life is meant to be lived in the forward rather than in the backward.  Life is meant to be lived moving forward, and seeing where one is headed, and only every so often, looking backward to see where one has been.

Life is more exciting, more interesting looking ahead, looking forward, rather than looking behind.  We need to allow the past to remain there.  Perhaps remember it every so often.  Obviously to learn from it.  But we cannot grow and become by dwelling in the past, by remaining in the past.  Learn from it and then move on.  Always, move on.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Pursuit Of Perfection

At least once a month, Kim or one of the girls pulls out the DVD of Remember The Titans and we watch it together as a family.  The most recent viewing was two nights ago.  Kim made popcorn and we sat in our family room and watched it.  We’ve watched the movie so many times, we can recite the dialogue along with the characters.  At various parts in the movie, we laugh.  We get annoyed, if not downright angry.  We cheer.  We tense up even though we know the outcome.  We tear up.  And in the end, we smile.


There is a scene when Coach Boone, played by Denzel Washington, tells his team that they are to Pursue Perfection.  No fumbles.  No missed blocks.  No missed tackles.  Perfection.


Quite the notion, Perfection.


I’ve coached high school and college basketball.  I’ve watched my son and daughters play basketball, soccer and softball.  Now it’s exclusively soccer, though both Emily and Hannah play Powder Puff football.


When I coached, I told my teams, my players, that basketball was a game of mistakes: the team that makes the least amount of mistakes is the team that usually wins.


It doesn’t matter what the sport is.  A wrong pitch.  An ill-timed error.  A missed free throw.  An interception.  Blown coverage.  It doesn’t matter what the sport is. 


We see it in high school games.  We see it in college games.  We witness it in the pros.  It’s a game of mistakes.  Any game, every game, is a game of mistakes.


But knowing that shouldn’t prevent a team from The Pursuit Of Perfection. As Boone says in the movie, if we aim at Perfection, we might achieve excellence.


And that is the way of life, isn’t it?


We Pursue Perfection.  And if we do, perhaps we can achieve excellence.  And for those of us who really, really struggle, if we aim at Perfection, perhaps we might hit pretty good.  Or on a bad day, we might hit okay.


But there is a risk in the Pursuit Of Perfection.


Sometimes in our effort, we might trample on others to be Perfect.  In our effort, we might ignore the beauty that surrounds us, the love that embraces us, the help that is offered to us. 


In our Pursuit Of Perfection, we run the risk of feeling down and defeated if we achieve less than Perfection.  We run the risk of judging ourselves too harshly, not recognizing that we are, after all, human, and prone to making mistakes.  That seldom, if ever, was there ever someone who was Perfect.  In fact, I can only think of one individual who was Perfect, and He lost his temper with the money changers in the temple.  In fact, the one individual who was Perfect was eventually whipped and crucified.


So . . .


Perhaps we can Pursue Perfection, but still enjoy the life we live.  Perhaps we can Pursue Perfection, but still see the beauty around us, feel the love that embraces us, and every now and then, accept the help that is offered to us.


And perhaps, in our Pursuit Of Perfection, we can help others along the way as they, too, Pursue Perfection.  And we can help each other recognize that we are all, each of us, only too human, only imperfect creatures, and in that realization, we can smile and nod and recognize that we, each of us, are really pretty good in spite of our lack of Perfection.  That it’s okay to be pretty good.  Even okay to be, okay.  Something To Think About . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Power Of We, Importance Of I

For a long time, I have believed the notion and concept of “it takes a village.”  While Hilary Clinton’s book formalized this for me, I’ve grown up with the idea, this belief probably because of the family I grew up in, the ideals and ideas instilled in us by my mom and dad, by my brothers and sisters, by the folks who entered and stayed in my life these sixty years.  I’ve seen it again and again in my own life and I’ve seen it in the lives of others.

For example and most recently, the home of one of our seniors burnt to the ground earlier this week.  There is little, if anything, left.  Maybe a few clothing items.  Maybe one or two other items, but by and large, the house and all that was in it is gone.  It happened in the middle of the night and thankfully, there wasn’t any harm to the family.

Now, our seniors graduate one week from tomorrow.  This young man will walk across the stage and receive his diploma.  This is a moment of celebration, but I have to believe, for this young man and his family, even if they try, the celebratory mood literally went up in smoke and flame.

But . . .

A teacher came to me concerned about this young man.  We talked, and I walked her over to the guidance office where we met with the young man’s counselor and our social worker.  A plan was developed and an email . . . an SOS . . . was sent out to the staff asking for gift cards for the young man.  I, and they, and my staff realize that we can’t replace everything.  No way.  I mean, seventeen or eighteen years of “stuff” . . . how would it be possible to replace everything?

But . . .

More than any other school I’ve been in, this school community is family.  It was family before I arrived and it will be family long after I’m gone.  It’s in our school culture.  It’s in the way we do business.  We might not necessarily agree with each other all the time, but what family does?  In the end, we come together because we’re family.  It’s our way.

So . . .

It is our hope that we can lessen the load.  Perhaps, help this young man lift a bit of the weight off his shoulders.  That is our hope.

And that is the Power Of We.

Things get done when We are involved.  Ideas take off and become airborne.  Projects and plans take root and grow.

But . . .

It took that one teacher who came to me and asked, “Can we help?  Can we do something?”

That is the Importance Of I.

We can’t sit around and wait for someone else to step up.  We can’t wait for someone else to step forward. That brief moment might pass and then nothing happens.  How tragic is that? 

For something to get done, for anything to be accomplished, it takes someone willing to step up, to step forward.  Because, I believe, it is only then that We becomes powerful, a force.  I don’t believe we can have one without the other.  There is Power in We, but We doesn’t happen without I.  There is something Important about I.  But there is something even magical about the Power Of We and the Importance Of I . . . together.  Something to think about . . .