You’re In Luck

“You’re in luck,” I said.  And with that, I turned to my second son and smiled.  “I don’t need my car tomorrow, and am glad that you can use it.”

It was a beautiful March evening; and, Timothy and I stood for just a moment in the driveway before he drove off.  As I handed him my keys, he thanked me and added just a little more. I knew the next phrase was coming well before he said it, but I looked forward to him saying it anyway.

“We’re both lucky, mom, aren’t we,” he said.  And I replied with a “Yes, son, we are.”

As he pulled away from my house with what he came to borrow, I began to consider all the times that he and I have uttered those phrases.  I tell him he is in luck and he tells me that we are both lucky – a mantra we have completed a thousand times a thousand.  But this time, I think I meant it a little more.  And I was hoping that he equally heard my words and delivered his with more meaning.

For during the early part of my day, I wasn’t feeling the luck in any way.

Though my daily work doesn’t bring me into direct, one on one contact with students often, this semester, a series of unusual events had caused me to work with three very different people for three very different reasons.  Each of these three students had challenges throughout their lives that I nor my children had ever experienced or imagined:  parents who at best could have been described as absent –  a lack of funding not only for school, but for basic needs like food and shelter – no reliable means of transportation – no steady employment of any kind – non-supportive family and friends – and in general, a day-to-day existence that was more difficult than ever delightful at every turn.

Lately, I had spent a great deal of time wondering about the what-ifs for these three young students.  What if just one thing was different in any one of their lives? Just one thing? What if one of their parents put effort into raising them?  Just one? Just a little? What type of difference would that have made?  What if each one of the students could say that they had never gone hungry – not for one day?  That they never thought about how they were going to secure their next meal? Wow.  What type of difference would that have made?  Or what if they never once had to worry about transportation to and from college, to and from work, to and from anywhere? What type of difference would that have made? If they had just had a little luck, in any direction, for any reason, at any time, what type of difference would it have made for any or all of them?

My work is not to sit behind a desk and wonder all day long.  But, there are days that wondering is the best that I can do.

For although I tried my hardest with each student and they tried their hardest, neither my effort nor their efforts has been able to provide them with enough success to eliminate all of their problems and challenges.  In fact, we hardly made a dent.  The road in front of each of them still seems long and bumpy with admittedly a tiny glimmer of light at the end  – but I wouldn’t call it a streaming beacon at this point.

Through my contact with these three individuals, I swiftly came to realize that all they really need is a little luck.  Somewhere in their frantic worlds, they need to come across a road block and suddenly be handed just a bit of luck and . . . voilà . . . the challenge is averted, the problem is eliminated, the story has a happy ending.  In fact, all anyone really needs is just a little luck.  Trouble is . . . getting to the point that such luck appears is often a journey of a million miles.

That’s why it is so important to recognize and realize when luck occurs. For when it does occur, we have normally waited a long time, planned a great deal, put in time and effort, tinkered around, and worked hard to reach such opportunity.  Benjamin Franklin said it well defining “diligence as the mother of good luck”.  Likewise, Tony Robbins calls luck “the meeting of preparation with opportunity”. Neither diligence nor preparation has a short time frame.  Both take awhile, a long while. Likewise, luck takes awhile, even for the luckiest of folks.  In considering how luck works,  I sincerely hope that the three students I have personally met during spring 2014 are in it for the long haul and are willing to persevere, waiting for their lucky moment.

Connecting all the dots in some fashion, I am grateful for the conversation between my son and me on that beautiful Wednesday evening.   He and I – in less than 100 words – acknowledged that luck had been a part of our lives and that we were and should be thankful for it and for each other.  Such a brief conversation between two people, but an important one – a conversation that gives me plenty to wonder about. A conversation that I am hoping that we will continue to utter and build on for years to come.

 

A flower seen on that Wednesday evening. Lucky me.

A flower seen on that Wednesday evening. Lucky me.

 

 

 

 

Bring On The Goofy

I am quite sure that under the term ‘nice guy’ in the dictionary, you would likely find a photo of my cousin, Michael.

It is easy to describe Michael – because it is all good.  As a young man, he went to a great college, joined a great fraternity, graduated with a solid degree, and secured a great job right out of the chute.  He is typical tall, dark, and handsome – with a penchant for smiling.  Today, he is a wonderful family man with equally wonderful family members.  He is calm and responsible with that caring demeanor the rest of the world envies.  He has a stellar career, is involved heavily in his community, and happens to be a rather good athlete.

He lives a thousand miles away from me.  And over the past 40+ years, I have been fortunate to have spent a week-long summer vacation each year with Michael.  Sometimes the vacation is longer; occasionally it is shorter.  With all that time together, I thought I knew him as well as anyone might.

But I was wrong.

Turns out . . . he is willingly . . . goofy.  Yes . . . goofy.

As an adult, it’s tough to be openly and enthusiastically . . . goofy.  Children can be goofy and all is well. Goofy dancing in the grocery store at age three – great! Goofy attire in junior high – great! Singing goofy songs loudly at high school football games – great! For youngsters, it is all great to be goofy.  In fact, we often encourage the goofiness in our youth as a way of increasing those crazy-funny moments in our lives that lead us to laughter, hilarity, and merriment. I readily admit that my day is brighter when I run across the goofy-side of the world. Goofy is fun.  But goofy isn’t all that common once we exit our childhood and enter that mysterious adulthood.

I am not quite sure what my definition of goofy has been, but rarely if ever, would I have associated that term with my cousin, Michael . . .  until recently.

Michael is a charitable guy.  He works hard at service to others.  And he isn’t one to want the recognition that comes along with his actions.  In fact, he usually likes to be in the background – doing his thing to help in any way possible. It turns out that Michael is the chair of a fund-raising event in his home town.   It is a great cause and a good, solid charity.  It is in need of funds.  It always is in need of funds as there are more folks who need assistance than current funds available.  So, from my vantage point, it looks like Michael has been asked to lead the efforts in his community to reach a fundraising goal.

And, lo and behold, captured via camera, the world was introduced to his goofy side.  With photos forever etching the moment, Michael is seen standing dressed up in a full-fledged, head to toe Superman costume -including cape – standing in that well-known  Superman-pose that had me do a double take when I saw it.

I laughed . . . and chuckled . . . and smiled.   Michael – in a Superman costume – goofy as can be – putting himself out there for a cause.

Working on causes . . . charitable ones . . . philanthropy . . . isn’t easy for many reasons.

First, the opportunities are endless.  There are hundreds to thousands of great causes – and each one of them deserves assistance. Narrowing the scope and finding a good fit is nearly impossible.  There are local charities, state-wide causes, national organizations, and activities that may have personal ties.  There are opportunities to volunteer time, opportunities that require specific skills and those that just seek donations.  All of them require some type of effort in achieving their goals, and all of them are worthy, but how do we, as humans, make selections?

To add to the dilemma, the older I become, the more I see a world in great need.  From children to adults, the number of people facing daily challenges seems to be growing and growing and growing.  In fact, that number seems to far outweigh the number of folks who can assist.  As a teenager, I was just sure that by the time I entered my later years, I would see a reduction or elimination of the suffering, hunger, or poverty in the world.  How could that not happen?

I recall thinking – and probably chanting at some rally during the 70s – that if I was not part of the solution, then I was part of the problem.  Thus, reaching out and helping was and is the only direction to take.  And as I have aged, I continue to pursue more opportunities to make differences.  But, it doesn’t seem to be making even the slightest dent in the world.  For all of us, it can be disheartening to try so hard to make the world a better place, knowing that the fruits of our labors may come to fruition years, decades, centuries down the road.

And that is where my thoughts of Michael enter the picture.

Sometimes to make that difference in the world – to be a part of the solution – to help those in need – we have to step outside our normal and average selves and go for it!  If that means slipping over to our goofy side and dressing like Superman, then so be it!  If utilizing that sometimes inert goofiness inside all of us positively changes the world just one iota, then we all should strive to engage in the goofy more often.   I can think of no better use of crazy-funny actions than to save the world.

The willingness of others, like Michael, to be goofy to serve the greater good is, well, motivating.  If one person helps for one moment or gives one dollar more because of one action on the part of one person doing something relatively out of character, I am grateful and forever indebted.

So, today, I say . . . bring on the goofy.

mIKE

A photo of my cousin – in his everyday attire!

A Man of Few Words

Recently, my little brother, Rich, and I entered into an interesting partnership.  And during the time we were considering whether to do so, both Rich and I consulted with our father. And in comparing notes, my brother and I found that we were both asked the same questions:

“Do you trust him?” my father asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Do you love him?”

“Yes,” I replied again.

“Then do it,” he said, “Everything else will work out fine.”

In this conversation, my dad was brief and to the point. If the time elapsed was more than one minute, I will be shocked.  My pop only had two questions – one about trust and the other about love.  Never having been a man of many words and certainly never having been a touchy-feeling type guy, he assumed that the two question eight-word piece of advice was enough and it would be all that I would need.  And odd as it may sound, it was.

But it was only odd to me. Clearly, it was not odd to him.  For, as I sat next to my dad listening to those two questions and watching him deliver that very brief message, it became strangely clear that this wasn’t the only time that he had used this advice.

Throughout the next several weeks, as my brother and I cinched our partnership (keeping our dad apprised of the smaller subsequent decisions and choices we were making), my dad began opening up about the times that those two poignant questions guided him.

Should he marry my mother – the love of his life – and the love of ours? Yes.  Should he take a risk and move his family to a great new frontier called Florissant? Yes.  Should he listen to the advice from his father and take a job with a company formerly called Union Electric – now Ameren UE?  Yes.  Should he, himself, enter into all types of adventures and mis-adventures with his own brother, Bud – his dearest and lifelong best friend? Yes.

With love in his back pocket and trust at his side, he had no fear of his decisions.  He just didn’t. He still doesn’t. The outcome of his decisions may not always have been as planned, may not always have been perfect, and may have led down new and unexpected paths, but with love and trust, he always felt that his decisions were . . . correct . . . right . . . just.  Where some may have fear, he had confidence.  And at the moment he was asking me his two greatest questions, he wanted me to be confident, to have no fear.

When my father asked me if I trusted my brother, he made the term . . . the idea . . . seem so simple. He didn’t want frivolous conversation from me.  He didn’t want a lengthy discussion on trust, the origins of trust, and the positive benefits of trust.  He wasn’t planning on spending hours and days introducing the concept of trust and pondering its definition with me.  He wanted me to answer his question with a brief but confident yes or no.  He really didn’t want me to discuss the degree to which I trusted my brother or any reasons why I should or should not trust him or the dangers of doing so.  In fact, I think he was hoping that I wouldn’t speak, rather simply move my head yes or no – preferably yes, which I did.

When he asked me if I loved my baby brother, the same premise applied.  Yes or no.  Did I love him?  My pop didn’t want to know the details that could have been attached to that question.  He didn’t want to know any challenges surrounding it.  In fact, I think that had I begun some type of discussion when my pop asked that question, he may have given me the awe-inspiring, dad-blaster ‘no time for talking’ look – the look that fathers use to pretty much stop space and time – in order to refocus me.  He just wanted me to give him that one word answer, again with confidence – which was yes.

In less than one minute, with eight words in two questions, my pop did it again.  It was masterful advice in the blink of an eye.  He didn’t say it this way, but I definitely heard: Trust those you love . . . and love those you trust . . . everything beyond will fall in place.

His confidence in knowing that if I had trust and if I had love, then I should have no fear was moving.  And my dad has been right.  My brother and I are having the time of our lives – and couldn’t be happier with our decision.

I know that I, like my father, will keep those two questions handy.  And as I face complicated, challenging decisions in the future, I know that – like him – I will hope that those eight words give me the same type of guidance that they have done for my dad.

But I do have to chuckle.How in the world am I ever going to meet that standard!  Heck, 1000 words isn’t always enough for me to convey whatever it is that I want to convey. Well . . . at least I have a target!

Dad

Dad

Why is the ocean salty?

A couple of evenings ago, my younger brother sent me a question via a text and I immediately knew the answer to what he was asking. “Why”, he asked, “is the ocean salty?” I didn’t know his whereabouts, nor did I know why he had picked this moment to ask me that question, but I knew what he wanted. I was positive that he didn’t want me to head to Google to find a true and correct scientific reason why the ocean is salty.

I was curious, however. I wanted to know whether he was in the middle of a family discussion about poverty versus wealth or in a discussion about what should be the wishes in our lives. I wanted to know if he was looking for a way to convey a message about empathy, about selflessness or maybe hunger. Still, I didn’t ask the circumstance of his request. It really wasn’t important to know his reason for asking. It was more important for me to respond.

He and I, along with three other brothers and one sister, grew up with an array of folks moving in and out of our family home. Grandparents, cousins, aunts, friends came and went. And these individuals brought with them all types of fascinating personalities, interesting behaviors, and memorable moments. Oddly enough, one strength they all had – (as if it were an unwritten requirement of my parents to move into the house) – was the ability to tell a story. And in particular, it was my Grandma Polly who did so with regularity, precision, and looking back on it, perfection.

She told her stories at very unusual moments – while helping us dry the dishes, while playing card games with us, while walking to church, while waiting in line by the sink to brush our teeth – mainly while we were a captive audience. And she told the same stories over and over and over – so much so that most of us know them by the funky names we assigned to them. So when my brother asked me if I knew why the ocean was salty, I did. It was one of my grandmother’s most famous and most favorite stories.

What I did learn from his question and my later answer, however, was that storytelling isn’t a lost art, a thing of the past. In fact, with all the technology the world offers us today, storytelling is most likely in its golden era. People can tell stories using blogs, through email, by telephone or video, in print, via the U.S. mail, and, of course, in person. Storytelling can convey those unwritten and complicated rules of life in a simple, unassuming, and understandable fashion. It’s easy. It’s simple. And for some reason, storytelling has the uncanny ability to leave an indelible impression on the listeners. I know it did for me.

So, without hesitation, I began to text the story back to my brother – in fifty character segments:

A long time ago, before the world was known, there was an old woman who was hungry and poor.

She came upon a family who had everything they needed and wanted. She asked them for food and drink to save her life.

They looked at her, sneered and said, “Old woman, why should we help you? What can you do for us?”

She said, “I am old and poor, but I still have a favor, a wish, remaining that I received many years ago from the wise king and queen of my village. I have saved this last wish and I can give it to you.”

They laughed at her and said, “If you have a wish remaining, then why don’t you wish for food and drink for yourself?”

She lowered her head and whispered, “Wishes are never meant to be used to save yourself. They are meant to be used to help others. So I would never wish for something for me.”

“Well”, the family who had everything said in unison, “Then use your wish for us. We would be happy to take your wish for something we want. In return, here is just enough food and drink for you to live.”

So the tired and starving old woman traded her last wish for food and drink; and, she lived a long and productive life for she had learned to share what she had and to be generous and selfless in her actions.

While eating their own supper, the wealthy family talked about the many ways they could use their wish. They could wish for more gold, for more land, and for more possessions. The choices were many.

As the eldest took a bite of the meal of many meats and vegetables their servants had prepared, he pushed back his chair and bellowed a most unhappy sound.

“Bah!” he exclaimed. “This meat may be plenty, but it has poor taste. It has no seasoning, no salt. We need to punish those who prepared it.” And without thinking, he added, “I wish for more salt.”

At that instant, there appeared a salt mill on the banquet table in front of him. Though tiny, it was mighty and it kept grinding and grinding and grinding salt, never ever stopping.

Suddenly, the wealthy family realized that they had used their wish; and, all they were receiving was an endless supply of salt. No gold. No land. No possessions.

They beckoned for the old woman and said, “We order you to make it stop. Make it stop now. And return our wish to us immediately!”

The old woman shook her head as she gazed at the wealthy family. “I am sorry,” she said, “but your wish has been granted. There is nothing I can do. The salt will be a reminder to you that when you wish for something, make sure it is used for the benefit of others and not just for yourself.”

The wealthy family was so angry that they took the salt mill and threw it into the ocean, where it has kept grinding for centuries. To this day, it reminds us to always think of others before ourselves.

That is why the ocean is salty.Salty Ocean (1 of 1)

 

Fishing

I don’t like fishing.

And as a vegetarian, it isn’t any great surprise as to why I don’t like fishing.  I normally try, as best I can, to keep my personal views concerning something like fishing to myself.  It’s something that people do – and I don’t.  ‘Nuff said.

However, recently, while visiting the great state of North Carolina, my third son, Patrick, invited me to go fishing with him.  Twice.  And, as odd as it seemed to me, twice, I went.

The first time, he asked me to tag along with him to the ocean around noon.  His plan was to fish while slightly off-shore in a kayak.  With a pole, bait, oar, and a very small back pack full of odds and ends, he waded into the water with me behind.  My job was two-fold:  steady the kayak until he made it past the first barrage of waves and then return to shore and wait for him to return . . . which I did.

I sat on shore watching the yellow kayak swaying back and forth with the tide.  And at first, I could see him clearly.  I could see him casting, I could see him rowing, and I thought I could see him smiling.   But as time passed, he moved farther and farther towards the horizon, and it became more and more difficult for me to see anything more than a flash of yellow between ocean waves.

My mind moved away from my thoughts about fishing and towards my thoughts about my son and the danger of water, in particular ocean water.  Though thankful that he had put on a life jacket moments before jumping into the kayak, as time ticked forward, I still had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that says anything, anything can happen.  So, I began to walk and wade into the Atlantic – as if I could somehow wade and swim to the bobbing kayak.  Which realistically, I could not.

Within ten minutes, he either ran out of bait and decided on his own to end his journey or he saw me and figured that his mother was going to get herself into water-trouble and might need help, because the kayak was heading swiftly towards me.  Once we were within shouting distance, I could tell that he was delighted with the fishing.  Usually a quiet sort of guy, he rattled on about the ocean, the fish, the waves, those he caught and those he lost.  He was happy and wanted nothing more than for me to be happy for him.

The second fishing experience was quite different.  As the sun began to set one evening, he pointed towards the marsh, grabbed a pole, his tackle, and two chairs.  He could see that the weather was perfect and the tide was up.  The plan was to quickly – faster than lightning fast –  head out with him to fish.  Again, he asked me to go, and for some reason, I went.

With me literally running behind him, we stopped when he found the perfect spot. He set up my chair, dropped his, tossed me some stuff, waded out just beyond the water’s edge and began casting.  He fished and I watched him fish. It was a fairly quiet experience with the reel making the most noise of the evening. We stayed for as long as we could see, which wasn’t all that long.  In fact, it wasn’t long enough for him to actually catch anything.  When the sun dipped below the horizon, he gave me the ‘let’s pack up’ signal, and we did.  Walking back to our place, he explained the difference between fishing in the marsh and fishing in the ocean, between fishing in the morning and fishing in the evening, between fishing from shore and fishing in a kayak.

Though I am opposed to fishing – at all levels – and he knows it, I must admit that I did enjoy my fishing experience.  First, he caught nothing that I could see.  What he caught in the ocean, he tossed back.  And he caught nothing in the marsh.  Great for me.  Not so great, I suppose, for him.

Next and more importantly, it was interesting entering someone else’s world – in particular a world that I would never enter.  It was interesting changing my perspective – stepping out of my box and seeing something from a different viewpoint.  I went fishing.  Okay, my role was very limited – at best.  I didn’t use a fishing pole. I was my son’s crowd, his groupie, his audience.  I was there to observe . . . to learn . . . to understand.

And I learned that it is one thing to talk about having an open mind and talk about being accepting of the differing viewpoints and activities, and another thing to actually have that open mind and be accepting. I always thought I was accepting of his choice to fish, but in reality, I was only accepting of it at a distance.  I really knew nothing about it.  I was more critically sarcastic than honestly accepting.

But, walking in the shoes of others truly does heightening understanding. It takes time and effort to do so, and I had to jump out of my comfort zone and hope that I could see whatever it was that he was seeing – use his eyes, his mind as my guide.

I still do not want to fish, but I know a little bit more about why my son fishes, and I think I am a little more embracing of his choice.

And as the sun went down while we were standing in the marsh fishing, I thought about the poetry of yesterday . . .   with e.e. cummings (1894 – 1962) drifting through my mind:

now the ears of my ears awake and / now the eyes of my eyes are opened
fishin (1 of 1)

The View From Above

I work on a college campus, and I love it.

Though my days can be somewhat varied, most of the time there is a carefully plotted out routine to what I do. There are countless committee meetings, reams of email, tons of telephone conversations, numerous one-on-one discussions, lots of small decisions, and large decisions, significant time working with students – faculty – staff on problems, concerns, challenges. . . and the list goes on and on.

It’s normal, average college work and it’s what I do everyday.

As expected, I am generally busy. I come early and stay late.  Sometimes I stop at noon to eat, but more often, I use the lunch hour to catch up on reading, signing things, thinking.  I find my college activities quite interesting.  But, for those on the outside looking in, the picture might not seem so exciting. Instead, it might be viewed as . . . tedious . . . tiring . . . a little too much of the same old – same old, and not enough of the knock your socks off, type stuff.

Admittedly, I spend most days in my office or in conference rooms.  I listen . . . I talk  . . . I read . . . I jot something down . . . I confer with others. I squint my eyes, looking up just in case an answer to whatever problem being discussed floats through my mind. (Rarely happens, but I look anyways.)

Sometimes the day passes without me ever standing up and moving from behind my office desk to the doorway. The two chairs in front of my desk are like seats on a merry-go-round that bring all kinds of folks into my office to chat. Suddenly, I look up and the day is over. I head home. I eat, sleep, wake up and start the process over again. It’s been this way for many years.

Most of the time.

For this is a college, and I know that college life is full of both the expected and . . . the unexpected.

As was the case on December 5th, 2012.

The sun was shining, the weather was perfect, and I was ready.   I slipped out of my regular work attire and into worn-torn jeans, work boots, and a college sweatshirt.  The faculty in the West Building had invited me, and I jumped at the chance.  I was – flat-out – super excited about the opportunity.  It was as if the world leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder for a great, great adventure.

In a few moments, I met my partner-in-crime.  Joe quickly ran through the must-do rules, and I suited up.  One hard hat. Check. One pair of leather gloves. Check.  One cell phone and one camera. Check, check.  And one safety harness with tons of carabiners. Big time check.  And I stood – at the ready – waiting for more instructions.

Joe looked at me and smiled.  He and I both knew that this day wasn’t going to be the usual.  This day wasn’t going to end with me turning out the office lights, shutting the door, and carrying my shoulder bag out to my nearby car.  This day was going to be different.  It was going to be a memory in the making.  This day was going to be one of those crazy-funny college days.

Our campus is a proud one and like other locations, we are becoming more energy-efficient. We have hundreds of geothermal wells throughout campus and several solar panels perched on building rooftops. We recycle everything, drive energy-efficient college cars, collect dead batteries, drink water from the tap, and turn the lights out when we leave our offices. And, most important for this occasion, we have two brand new wind turbines strategically placed on our college farm.

And I was in luck for It was my turn to climb one of those turbines.

The time came, and Joe started to climb first.  Once he was a healthy distance ahead of me, he peered down, motioned for me to connect my safety latch, and begin.  For just a moment, I hesitated.  I was delightfully excited, but from the bottom rung, it looked like a long way up.  I could hear him telling me to take that first step, but my boot seemed glued to the ground.  It was like my mind said go, but my feet said no.

I glanced up and Joe, who was already about fifty feet ahead of me, glanced down.  He smiled and called out my name one more  – and most likely the last – time. And finally, I started to climb.  What I thought I couldn’t do and wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to do, I began to do.  And it was fun – crazy fun.

One step at a time, one foot at a time, rung by rung, I climbed.  I have no idea how long it took me to reach the top.  I only know that it took me longer than it took Joe.  He coached me through the last trap door and onto the top platform enclosure – where there was just enough room for the two of us to stand.

He opened the top hatch, and from that vantage point, the view was stunning.  Farm fields, nearby highways, barns, lakes, silos, the college buildings, athletic fields – the best word to describe it was magnificent.

Oddly enough the only thing that had really changed was that I was no longer at ground level.  I was seeing the same sights I saw everyday – the same farm fields, the same nearby highways, the same barns, the same lakes, etc., and it was like I was seeing something completely different.

I changed my perspective and everything changed.  Everything. Everything.

Today as usual, I sit at my desk with paperwork and people swirling around me, with a routine that feels safe and comfortable, with my shoulder bag waiting to go home right after I click off the office lights at the end of the day.  But I know that if I take the time to look at my world from a slightly different perspective, I will see something totally different  – something very interesting and exciting.  Just depends on where I am standing.

College is crazy-funny that way.

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I Am A Runner

I am a runner.

A very slow one at all times, but I still call myself a runner. Most days, I put in three to file miles in terms of distance. In fair weather, I run outside. In poor weather, I seek asylum and run inside. Regardless of speed, distance or location, I would describe myself as a fairly consistent year round slow and steady runner.

And until recently, running for me wasn’t a team sport.

Decked out in average, normal sporting apparel, wearing the most basic of running shoes, my routine has been to get settled with my IPOD, turn on the most eclectic music playlist, and hit the pavement – all by myself. One and only.

My running routes are those of the most basic sort. I start at my home, swing around the neighborhood in a three to file mile circle, and end up right back in my driveway, sweating and tired, a little while later. Each day, I wave at the same folks, walk up the same hills, listen to the same music, and mutter the same complaints about this sport being too hard, too difficult, too challenging for someone like me.  But each day, off I go.

Most of the thinking I do while running isn’t that earth shaking. I think a lot about how much further I have to go both in time and distance until I am done. (That’s my favorite subject.) Or about what song will follow the one I am already hearing. Or about whether I am swinging my arms too much or holding my hands too high. Odd as it my seem, those types of topics can actually fill up all of the thinking time available throughout a normal run.

But, as average and mundane as my running may seem, for me there has always been something about it that has made me repeat the process each and every day by myself for many, many years. I just like it – start to finish – day to day – month to month – year to year. It’s fun.

Recently, however, I have kinda surprised myself . . . because I have started to participate in organized running. In April of 2012, I participated in the Illinois Half Marathon in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. In October of 2012, I participated in the Rock and Roll Series Half Marathon in St. Louis, Missouri. There were approximately 20,000 participants in April and equally as many in October. I went from me running around my local neighborhood with my little headset and dorky shoes to joining with a big group of folks – all looking much more spiffy and speedy than I – and running around big cities.

And until last night, I really couldn’t figure out why I made such a drastic change. Keep in mind, I don’t think about these things when I run. My understanding on this issue happened while I was sitting in the living room watching late night television.

Last night, I once again watched the movie Miracle – the story of the 1980 U.S.A. Olympic Hockey Team. Like many other people, I remember where I was and who I was with while watching that particular game. I remember the animated announcer Al Michaels asking me if I believed in miracles, and goalie Jim Craig wrapped in the American flag scanning the crowd looking for his father. I can still see the pile of young U.S.A. hockey players on the ice man-hugging in jubilation.

Me? I remember cheering, smiling, and laughing with my family as we watched the Americans celebrate at Lake Placid – which was thousands of miles away from me. It was a great moment – a fun time.

And then it hit me. Why have I suddenly started running with others?  And what is it about running with others that makes it fun?  Well . . .

At the beginning of the half marathon, I stood toe to toe with thousands of other folks waiting to hear the starting bell. Once we did, we trotted off – up and down all kinds of interesting city streets. Lining those streets were crowds of folks cheering, waving signs, clapping, handing us water, and just in general supporting the runners. They rang bells, shouted out words of encouragement, sang songs, and turned long distance running  – which for me had been a solitary sport – into one crazy-fun time.

I laughed along the way, gave out my fair share of fist pumps and high fives, reached out for the finish line and smiled widely at the entirety of my sag-wagon – which consisted of one person – when I did cross it.

And through the whole process – from the years of running alone to becoming  one runner among many and to connecting these moments to a 1980s hockey game, I have learned much.

First, it’s fun having fun with people who are having fun.  It is.

It’s fun to be part of crazy fun moments that make people smile for no other reason than something like running together.  There is something terribly groovy about sharing the times of our lives with others whether it be cheering along with millions of  Americans while watching a winning hockey game on television miles and miles away from the action or participating in a crazy-fun organized run.

It’s also fun to have fun with only one person who is having fun.  It is.

It’s fun to do something alone.  It’s fun to be incognito and smiling for no other reason than running on my own. There is something equally groovy about experiencing the time of my life with only the fanfare of me whether it be eating alone, working alone, sitting alone or running the streets of my neighborhood alone.

Finally, I learned that alone or with others, I like watching Miracle.  It’s just fun.

Stopping For A Photo While Running Alone

                             Stopping For A Photo While Running Alone