You’re On Your Honor

Those were the words. One simple statement.  Five little words. Spoken quickly and directly.  First a brief hug, followed by a look that recognized that adventure was going to abound, then some kind of glare that probably meant I was going to be missed, and finally just as my foot would reach for the first step towards leaving, he would lay it down . . . “You’re on your honor.”

My mind would have been filled with the promise of high jinx, with plans of spending time not so wisely, in the greatest of crazy-funny ways, with hopes of avoiding all rules and breaking those that accidentally cropped up.  And then he would add, “You’re on your honor.”   

He didn’t tell me to behave.  He didn’t tell me to make good choices.  There was no lecture and reminders of rules and such. He went for something  subtle and crafty.  He went for the big picture, using tiny words that I could easily remember.

You’re on your honor.

Honor wasn’t foreign term to me.  In fact, it was something that had been a part of my culture starting at a very early age. First, growing up in a large Catholic family, lots of time was spent talking about whether or not I honored my father and mother enough or in the right way. Like most kids, I was amazingly imperfect and caused my fair share of ruckuses. So, the term honor popped up regularly.

After all, honoring thy mother and father was and still is one of the big ten. I must ashamedly admit that it was one of my favorite venial sins to report in my weekly confession sin list because A) most likely I had done something to dishonor my parents within the past seven days, and  B) reporting that sin was better than reporting some of the other nine. At one point in my life, I distinctly remember a moment when my father looked at my heap  o’trash-  (with freedom at the heart) – filled bedroom and quizzically asked me, “Is that how you honor your mother? Clothes everywhere, bed not made, school work – dishes – and trash on the floor.  I’d say this is the definition of total dishonor, young lady.”   

The term honor also popped up at my childhood home when it was our family’s turn to house the traveling statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The OLF statue made its rounds throughout the entire OLF parish.  As the parish was quite large, the statue made its way to my family home  only once every few years.  But when it did, my mother was a force in teaching me what it meant to honor the life of Our Lady of Fatima.  We read her biography, said appropriate prayers, talked about why she should be honored, cleaned and polished the statue, and in general acted honorably for the period of time that it resided with us.  It was natural for me to equate the term honor with the term respect.

Finally, my childhood put me in routine contact with honor as all of my gal pals who moved with me from Brownies to Juniors to Cadettes to Seniors during the 1960s/1970s can attest.   For at each gathering, whether it be a weekly meeting, a special activity, an overnight event, or a multiple week long camp, we Girl Scouts would proudly recited the promise which put us in a state of honor at all times:

“On my honor, I will try to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times and to obey the Girl Scout Laws.”

Through thick and thin, I pledged to do all that . . . on my honor.  This type of honor was still about respect, but it was also about something a little bit more.  We – my girlfriends and I –  were respecting the world and everything that was in it.  We were promising to give it our all to improve what we could, fighting for all that was right.  We were placing trust in each other than whatever the situation, we would behave in a way that brought pride to ourselves as individuals. We did not want, nor did we need anyone standing right behind us to tell us the best way to behave.  We were on our honor to just know what to do and we expected each other to do it. I was being held accountable by no one other than myself.

Hence, when my father told me that I was on my honor, he wanted me to remember that there were rules in the world and that some of them – for sure the big ten – needed to be followed.  There was also a belief when he mentioned those words that I would be able to recognize that there are individuals out in the great beyond that have lived lives that deserve honor. Some people show leadership during times of great hardship.  Some people lead saintly lives that should be remembered and revered.  They have done things that I can only aspire to.  Lastly, being on my honor meant that  I understood and respected the basic rules of society that can lead everyone to the greater good. And that someday there would be no one other than myself to make sure that I led an honorable life.

Currently, I am on my honor. But, I am not exactly on my ordinary honor.  Instead, it feels like I am standing on a tiny ledge on a high mountain in a vast world of what it means to be on my honor.  I know that it is not the time for me to step outside the lines of my honor right now.  It is important for me to look beyond myself in all of my actions.  I have a duty to assess the simplest of actions in order to honor society appropriately.  Honorable and dishonorable actions have so much more consequence today than they did a mere few months ago. 

With so much unknown in the world, I am very thankful. 

I’m thankful that I was sent out to practice being on my honor so many moons ago.  It becomes important when it’s no longer practice. 

Flowers

Nature is always honorable!

Perfect / Not Perfect

I am not perfect.

In fact, I often believe that I am so far from it and that its target is way too small and the journey is beyond too tough.  Because I make a million mistakes . . . all the time.  And each mistake is bigger and larger and more daunting than the one before it. 

And I don’t seem to learn from my mistakes.  Too many times, I make a mistake, understand the mistake, live another day, and make the same mistake again, repeating the cycle more times that I can count. 

On top of that, it is not easy to personally or publicly admit that I make fantastic, blunderous mistakes. 

Hmmm . . . well, check that. There are some mistakes that are easy to own.  I spent quite a bit of an evening not too long ago ripping out all kinds of mistakes in a quilt that I am building.  I did not see them until I was a long piece down the mistake trail, which meant that not only was I required to spent time undoing what I had wrongly done, but I had hours of time to ponder out the origin, cause, and cure of my errors. And from my boisterous grunts and growls, (meant to alert those within earshot that I was upset), my family knew I was so.

Likewise mistakes with my recent construction project are easy to own.  I am a newbie to building, to using power tools, to measuring, cutting, and hammering pieces of wood together.  My expectations on how perfect I should be are skewed to the lower end.  Thus admitting that I make tons of mistakes is rather easy.  Besides that, construction mistakes are something that are easy to see and difficult to hide.  Admitting them is a matter of course rather than a matter of being honest and forthright.

It is everything else that fits into the box called mistakes that I find hard to admit.  The list of those types of errors is a list that grows day by day.  I fail to be empathetic.  I fail to curb my vocabulary, choosing words that harm way more than words that help.  I fail to complete and keep my promises.  I make mistakes in terms of what I think, gravitating towards thoughts that generate negativity quickly rather than positivity slowly.  I think things, say things, and do things that I shouldn’t.  It can be and is embarrassing.

Recently, after reading some news story about a senseless murder, I thought and said that the perpetrator “should be shot and I’d be happy to do it.” Not only did I think it, I said it. To hell with justice, a fair trial, to wading through facts and fiction, I read a few paragraphs and spouted off as if I was in the know about it. I went directly from non-violent to violent in a flash of a moment. Mistake.

I also had it in my mind that I was smart enough and bright enough to figure out the immigration issue, the next steps with the Mueller Report, climate change, and the workings of social security – generally all by myself. Big mistake.

Finally, I thought that my solutions to everything that was happening within my immediate family, friends, community, tri-county area, state, and the near midwest were spot on correct.  And sharing those solutions was a good to great idea.  Well, big huge mistake.  All wrong. 

While ripping out those quilting mistakes, I had time to think about it.  All of it.

I am not perfect.

Yet, there is much in the world around me that actually is perfect, that has no mistake.

Rain. The Forest. Animals. The Sky. The Ocean. Time. Stars. The Solar System. Math. Plants. Color. Wind. Ice. Mountains. Apples. I could go on and on and on.  And it is actually a great list to generate – a list of everything one considers perfect.

Horses running in a field – perfect.  Light bouncing off a hillside – perfect.  Twenty-four hours in every day, every week, month, year – perfect.  Gravity keeping everything in place – perfect.

I’ll let it be known that I have worked on the perfect/imperfect list many times.  And my result is always a lopsided list, showing me that there is by far more perfect in my world, than imperfect. 

And as much as I would like to add my name to the perfect list, I can not.  In fact, every time I spend time wondering about the perfect/ not perfect list, I have never made the cut. I think I am imperfect by design.  Making mistakes, being well less than perfect creates a great balance in my world. I always have a lot to work on.  I have much to improve.  Much to change. A lot to consider.

I keep up my hope by seeking the thoughts of others in terms of mistakes, failures, imperfection / perfection.  

Wayne Gretzky – “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Henry Ford – “The only real mistake is one from which we learn nothing.”

Maya Angelou – “Every mistake is just another lesson.”

Sandra Day O’Connor – “No one learns more about a problem than the person at the bottom.”

I would be a wise woman if I put these types of inspirational thoughts in front of me at all times to remind me that everything is possible, even perfection.  But, as you might expect, I often fail to do so. Thus, the journey continues.

In the meantime, my deepest apologies for all the mistakes I have made today alone, and an advance apology for the mistakes I will make tomorrow.

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Nature always manages to be Perfect!

What’s In Your Wallet?

My husband is a very consistent type of guy. And for his four children plus me who know him well, we all know that he carries an odd conglomeration of whatnot everyday. All of the items fit comfortably within the corners of his pants pockets, and each of the them is practical as the day is long. None are overly expensive, and yet together they create more interest than he ever expected.

I, too, have a short list of items that I always carry. My grouping, however, is nowhere near as compact as his. In fact, mine can’t fit in a pocket and are instead kept in a dingy, yet rugged, ziplock bag, plopped in whatever purse I’m using. Mine aren’t near as purposeful and I am very uncertain about the message they generate. Still, I carry them.

His list is simple – a freshly laundered handkerchief for him and for sharing, a few dollars to buy him out of any monetary jam, a scrap of paper with an early morning minted ‘to-do’ list, and a pen. My list is a little more harebrained and non-sequitur-ish.  In no particular order, I carry a pocket-sized copy of the constitution of the United States, my first communion prayer book, a full rosary & a bracelet rosary, and one $2.00 bill.

If I sneeze or if someone else sneezes, I have no immediate particular solution. I’m like a dog chasing its tail, looking round and round for tissue somewhere, somehow.  I have witnessed my husband, on the other hand, reach into his pocket, pull out a crisply folded handkerchief, and use it for the save. In his line of work with patients, I am sure it is more than comforting to have him – without fail – carry an immediate solution to a potential germ crisis.

On the flip side of this coin, I may not be able to circumvent the common household sneeze, but I am able to quickly read the list of names of the Supreme Court justices in order – which happens to be part of the pocket constitution addendum, page 87, seventh edition. I can give guidance on the amendments, offer “Fascinating Facts about Six Founding Fathers,” and help if someone gets stuck reciting the Declaration of Independence. My mini-book is filled to the brim with great stuff to solve all constitutional crises.

However, if traveling on tollways or tipping valets or purchasing a food cart meal, it’s my husband who carries the right stuff. He’s absolutely correct that cash can quickly circumvents calamities. It just does. Need a five, he has a five. Need a ten, he has a ten. Need a twenty, he’s got it. He has all denominations and all combinations of cash and coins too.

He’s always cash rich and I’m always cash poor. Except when it comes to the two dollar bill. That’s my strength. Twenty dollars may cover costs, but a two dollar bill always buys a smile. The two dollar bill buys little, is used little, and is worth little.  But, it’s fun – which I believe is its sole circulation purpose.  No other paper denomination has such crazy-funny power.  And spending a twenty dollar bill is easy, but carrying and spending ten two dollar bills takes a little more courage and thought.  Just try it.  It’s not as simple as it sounds.

Moving on, having possessed my Saint Joseph Children’s Missal since 1964, it is showing severe signs of age. The spine is taped.  The pages are tilted.  And the cover is worn. But, the gentle message inside has the ability to keep me grounded. It’s not a matter of me reading it at a moment of need, just a matter of me being reminded that the world is still in front of me, that I have a group standing with me, and that there is nothing that is impossible when my God is with me.

Likewise is that little ‘to-do’ list that my husband carries. Threaded among the bullet points that remind him to run past the bank or pick up some grocery item are notes that remind him to follow his dreams, to think big and broad, to care for others, and to see the glass half full, not half empty. I only wish I had the fortitude to create and carry such a daily list. He’s got it. I don’t. Nuf’ said.

Then there’s his pen. The purpose of the pen is writing – and the majority of the time that’s what he does with it. But, I have seen him use it to pry things open, to clip something together, and to wedge something apart. He thinks he’s MacGyver.  Always has.  He sees a pen as a tool that happens to contain a little ink. Clogged sink – use the pen. Barefoot and a bug needs to be killed – use a pen. Burgers flaming out of control and spatula is missing – use a pen. There is no problem that the pen can’t solve with a little thought and ingenuity.  In the future, I am hoping to film his uses of the pen to create what I think would be one of the most viral YouTube videos this side of the Mississippi.

Me – my skills with a pen are limited to only those that include paper and writing. If I’m in need of an inventive solution to a difficult problem, I go for the rosary every time. In the short term, the pen might be more successful, but in the long run, the rosary – whole or decade version – may be the best choice.

In the end, the items that we collectively carry are only purposeful to us as individuals. He can’t use my rosary to pray his way out of a sudden sneeze and his handkerchief won’t help me understand the Bill of Rights.

I only hope that my tattered and nearly torn ziplock bag remains in tact for a few more decades. I gotta lot of trouble to explore and I may need its contents.

And I might add a pen for the just in case moments.

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Need a pen?  Or a two dollar bill?  Just ask us.

What We Need

Everyone needs help.  There isn’t one of us alive who – at some time in our lives – won’t rely on help from others.

Clearly, we need help in our youth.  Baby to eighteen is a time when most humans need loving care and support from a variety of individuals starting with parents and ending nowhere in sight.  Caregivers, teachers, neighbors, friends, extended family members – There are just too many individuals to mention, and yes, it does take a village – or as I often call it a boatload of folks all rowing in the same direction – to help one person reach the average and usual milestone of adulthood – which often times stretches well beyond eighteen.

We need help during the middle of our lives.  The help we receive is much different than the diaper-changing, hand-holding, tuck-me-in / keep-me-safe assistance we received in our youth.  Often times, we need that gentle push behind us, telling us that our next steps are okay.

We need to know that there is a safety net – strong and wide – even though we have no intention of using it, hopefully.  We need comfort when we make mistakes.  We need to be reminded to laugh when we want to cry, and to cry when we think we can’t.  We need to know that the village is still there, that it hasn’t left us, but is instead standing with us like a herd of elephants at the ready.

During the end of our lives, from what I can see, we need a substantial amount of help, too.  I have watched far too many parents, aunts, uncles, friends and acquaintances reach a different life milestone, the one that is way beyond that middle part, further to what is that end part.  When facing the end, we need help with almost everything, again.

It seems like we actually need more than the village and the herd.  The needs become so great that it isn’t the number of individuals in the village that matters or the size of the elephants in the herd, rather a combination between the two plus time.  We need the village and herd to offer buckets of time and more buckets of time.  And as the journey of life becomes more and more complicated, we need them to double those time buckets again and again.

Caregiving – at any stage – youth, middle, end – isn’t easy.  We all know that it requires skill, patience, attentiveness, and mental acuity that keeps us one step ahead of the people for whom we offer care.  It also takes great models.

It has been my great fortune to have witnessed some of the best – a friend who cared for her dying brother, offering up nearly a year of her life for his care . . . a brother who opened up his home to my father for months. . . my parents who opened up their home (which was my home, too, at the time) to nearly every relative – young and old – who needed anything for any length of time.

I have watched friends adopt children with disabilities, relatives foster teenagers who lack family and guidance, acquaintances move from their homes and devote portions, and sometimes all, of their lives to the care for those in poverty-striken countries.  One of my cousins just recently and reluctantly detailed his work with a local homeless shelter.  He is out caring for those who can not care for themselves a couple miles from his home.  Impressive.

After a couple of years pondering this particular issue  – I am on the slow but sure train –  I have learned that throughout the time that we are caring for the needs of others, we actually are in need ourselves.  Though our needs as caregivers are quite different from the needs of those requiring the care, we still have needs.

We need time to refresh.  This need is perhaps the most common and the most apparent.  Ask any individual caring for the 0-18 set.  After hours, weeks, months of meeting the needs of youth, even the best of caregivers needs break time, recess for adults, a pause moment.  If this time comes with a little solitude – all the better!  Sometimes it only takes a few seconds, sometimes longer to refresh, but we need to refresh.

Call it a coffee break or a vacation.  Whatever it is called, I am a strong advocate for allowing folks who are going above and beyond in their offering of  service to others . . . time.  I am all for a national holiday that celebrates the efforts of those who so selflessly attend to the needs of others.  Call is Bravo Day – and let everyone helping others rest.  It is such a lovely idea, but of course, impossible to do, because we know that caregiving actually has no holiday.  So much for refreshing!!

We also need some type of confirmation that what we are doing is worthy.  Confirmation is different from refreshing.  All of us can provide confirmation.  That confirmation can emanate from the person receiving the care, from the rest of the village members who are also assisting, or from those who are simply watching from the sidelines.  Regardless of source, we need to know that we are of benefit, that we help, that we make a difference.

Even if we are humble, private or modest, we still need affirmation of our efforts.  That affirmation can be as small as a pat on the back, a wink of the eye, a card in the mail, or an utterance of two very powerful words that can never be used enough.  We need it.

So, thank you.

Thank you to every single person who is doing anything to help anyone else.  Thank you for being great parents.  Thank you for being great friends.  Thank you for taking care of someone who is in need.  Thank you for being part of the village and a member of the herd.  Thanks from the bottom of my heart. Please know that I need you.  We need you.  The world needs you.

Flowers

A Moment of Refresh – Missouri Botanical Garden April 2016

 

 

 

The Fine Wine Dine

I can’t explain why.  I really can’t.  All I can say is that the evening stood out.  It was a first among equals night. It was one of those moments . . . a moment that as it happens everyone knows that it is destined to become a memory.

Ten of us had gathered.  All of us were friends.  Each of us had a strong connection to one or more of us. Yet none of us were childhood friends with all of us.  Our interests were diverse – nature, health, the spirit, the spirits, enterprise, numbers, learning, teaching – with a lot of some and a little of others.   We met at twilight – the time of magic between daylight and darkness on a cool crisp mid-winter evening.

Those hosting had planned and prepared and welcomed the rest upon arrival.  Though all of us had seen each other over the past couple of months, our greetings were as if we had not. Handshakes, hugs, kisses, pats-on-the-back, smiles – it was a tete-a-tete for ten that started the evening out perfectly. Again, I can’t explain why, but from the moment our feet crossed the threshold of the door, the aura of the making of a memory began.

Our intent was simple – food and wine and conversation followed by more food and more wine and more conversation.  The emphasis here should be, in particular, on the conversation about the wine, of which there was a great deal, for nine of us were learning from the one of us who was a master in that area.

For this year’s fine wine dine, the table setting included numerous wine glasses which to me looked like birds on a wire – straight, dainty, orderly and whimsical.  In addition, each setting included two black goblets, mysterious in both color and shape.  The first four wine flights to be served at the table had been pre-poured.  So all was ready.

However, like most gatherings, our first moments were spent in the kitchen.  We stood, and mingled, and chatted.  We listened and learned about recent trials and tribulations that occurred in our lives.  We watched as those cooking finalized the meal with brief finishing touches.  We were served our first wine flight coupled with a much appreciated antipasto.  Most importantly, we were pausing our busy lives for something beyond the ordinary. Worked stopped.  Fun ensued.

As we moved out of the kitchen, we soon learned much more about the mysterious black goblets.  Regardless of our viticulture ability – (me, a mere novice) – we were to identify each of the goblet’s contents without the ability to see it.  A better name for this portion of the evening might be the fine blind wine dine, a puzzling, curious challenge that had nine of us laughing on edge.

And laughter kept coming, from beginning to end.  We laughed at our ability or inability as hopeful wine connoisseurs.  We laughed at ourselves, at each other, at our futures, at our days gone by, at everything and anything.  At times, we laughed until we cried. We just laughed.  For hours.  For fun.  With friends.

Hours later, as we all departed, we seemed reluctant to cross over that threshold and head in the opposite direction.  If I had thought about my thoughts at that time, I probably was thinking about my luck – to be with a group of friends for a moment of fun on that mid-winter’s night.

I can’t explain why.  I really can’t, but I am going to try.

Like everyone else, there are twenty-four hours in my day and seven days in my week.  Of those twenty-four hours and seven days, the moments that I can recall are few and far between.  I remember the spectacular – the weddings, the graduations, the holidays, the birthdays, the anniversaries.  I remember the somber – the deaths, the funerals, the illnesses.  Most of my memories revolve around my family who are the individuals with whom I share hours upon hours upon hours of my time.   My mother, God rest her soul, has been gone for many years; yet, I can still hear her calling my name from the days of my childhood.

And somewhere in those memories now sits something a little bit different . . . unusual . . . unique.  It doesn’t involve the spectacular or the somber or my family.  It isn’t something of tradition or tragedy.  It isn’t marked by a date on the calendar or tied to a sibling, an aunt, an uncle or my parents.

It is a moment in my life that I spent with friends, good friends, doing something rather ordinary in an extraordinary way – eating, drinking, laughing, talking – personified.  The exact stories we told and why we laughed . . . I am not sure of it now.  I think it was all funny, but . . . then . . . it could have been the wine speaking.

What I am a little more sure about is the value of good friends.  I may not know my wines (to even the basest level of knowing the difference between red or white wine when placed in a black goblet), but I do know that friends are treasures beyond words.

Lesson learned. Enough said.

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The Mysterious Black Goblets

The Untold Stories of the Word of the Year

“Challenge.  It’s my word for 2015,” she said.

At that moment, for reasons I cannot explain, we knew that the conversation to follow would be memorable.  It was just clear that the four of us had moved from frivolous, fun, no-direction chatter to a much higher, sequential, magical plane.  We were about to discuss life and its importance. And from my vantage point, we weren’t disappointed with what followed.

Her plan was to select one word.  Just one word.  She would use that one word as a guide, a beacon for her journey from January until December.  She offered no additional rules, and asked if we wanted to participate.  Just choose one word and keep a steadfast focus on that word until the end of the year.  We all nodded in agreement.

In less than one week, my three friends had landed on their words: Challenge . . . Change . . . Zen, all intriguing, inspiring, daring, complex choices. But, within the same week,  I was still in some type of holding pattern.  Wordless.

Along with starting off 2015 searching for the right word, it just happened that I had been reading some very interesting writing.  A blog, familiar to me in the year past, was detailing circumstances in countries beyond my experiences.  The topics varied from post to post with what I identified as a golden thread of humanity holding it all together.  I would see the photos and read the words, and quickly my mind was blurring with thoughts.

Suddenly, I had a plethora of potential 2015 word possibilities: free, help, center, food, happy, others, world, poverty, irony, give, get, lost, woman.  The more I read, the more words floated to the top.  Now, my problem was no longer a lack of words; it was finding and selecting the right word from the crowded list.

Hmmm . . . what to do . . . .

Though my friend provided no particular rules, by default there seems to be a couple.  First, the one word that I choose must fit all occasions.  It must be able to balance between moments of distinct joy and happiness as well as moments of considerable pain and sadness.  The word must be able to lead me to new adventures, remind me of the difference between good and evil, give me an anchor when I need it, and allow me to laugh, love, and learn throughout an entire year.  It should be bold, blessed, and at times, comical . . . humorous . . . fun.   It should have an intent.

Even with knowledge and consideration of such rules, the days of 2015 began to pass in rapid succession without me finalizing my pick.  I truly was headed towards a million choices and not the selection of one, floundering in a pile of words, until . . . today.

In an odd moment early this morning, I found my word.  I happened to be walking through a snow-covered field at 7:45am.  It was a quiet moment.  The snow had settled, the morning had no wind, and the hour was too early for any traffic. The sun was peeking over a ridge of barren trees and a lonely bird swooned overhead.  It was a picturesque moment, an outdoor winter splendor.

A Crazy-Funny Winter Moment

A Crazy-Funny Winter Moment

Regardless of the extent of the beauty before me, my attitude was not following in kind.  My feet were cold, my shoes were wet.  The 6+ inches of snow buried the trail for my walk, and each step felt like I was trudging through cement moments before it solidified. My iPod blared out all the wrong music, but with a temperature below zero, I wasn’t about to remove my gloves to change it.  And the struggle in walking through the mounds of snow was causing me to be what I thought was late for my eventual rendezvous with my family – who were all comfortably inside about two miles away.

In that moment, at that time, just as my frustrations were nearly getting the best of me, it happened.  After nearly fifty days and after some interesting thinking on my part, I found that one word that I could hang my hat on for the rest of 2015.  As a matter of course, the one word is actually two, but its essence fits the bill.

So for 2015, I am going with crazy-funny.

For good or for bad, I have a tendency towards the serious side of things.  No doubt, I often see the world as having many challenges and problems.  And I know, deep in my heart,  that I must do all I can to help solve and resolve issues that press at all humans.  I must focus on the greater good at all times, lending all of my talents and treasures to such. It is easy to know that I all should do so.  But it is difficult to follow through with that focus for all of us. –  always.

That’s where my word crazy-funny works for me.

As I seek the greater good, I can see that it is important to laugh – laugh at myself, at life, at the crazy-funny situations that happen each moment.  This morning, I had chosen to walk to my destination through that snow-covered field.  I should have known that the entire experience was going to be nothing more than a crazy-funny circumstance and have expected nothing more.

Once I started to laugh at the strange pickle I was in, (wading through piles of snow with an attitude that was creating a huge weight around my neck), my trek became my pleasure.  It was a classic crazy-funny moment.  It just depended on how I looked at it.  Seeing it as crazy-funny made it so.  Still the same amount of snow, still the same distance, still the same challenges with walking, but it was all different because of the way I interpreted it.

I am hoping that my word choice will allow me  – and force me – to look at my 2015 with a truly different vision. Here’s hoping that I can hold onto the crazy-funny year ahead of me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nature and History

The view was nothing shy of spectacular.  And it was certainly not what I had expected to see.  I stood quietly with my companions for what can be described as more than awhile – with only the steady clicks of our cameras interrupting the silence.

The day was ending with evening approaching much more quickly than any of us desired.  Soon our tour would be over, and the six of us would be headed back from whence we came.  Thankfully, from beginning to end, the weather had kindly cooperated, offering us a smattering of sunshine, wind, clouds, and rain.  Eighty degrees and balmy would have been ideal, but autumn is a season of surprise when it comes to outdoor conditions, and we were prepared.

In the last of the moments, I still had not come to terms with the landscape surrounding me.  The cliffs were more than beautiful; the water calmly lapping their edge.  A lone bird was swirling back and forth, seeming to have no particular destination.  And it was quiet . . . so quiet.

I thought I was going to see something quite different.  In fact, I was most positive that the experience was going to be one hundred and eight degrees away from what the experience actually was.  Part of my quiet was due to my inability to quickly move from my past expectation to my current reality.

I knew that to visit this site meant that I would be stepping on ground where many – too many to count – had died before me.  I just didn’t know what to expect.  World War II started and ended well before I was born with every subsequent generation since June 6th, 1944 having chronicled the horrific battles that transpired on and near Omaha Beach.  All six of us had studied the history well in preparation.  But, it absolutely did not prepare me.

I saw magnificent colors in the water swells.  I saw green, moss-covered cliffs with auburn, crimson, and turquoise hues.  I saw a blue and white-painted sky with moments of gray pushing towards shore.  I saw serenity, peace,and calm.  I saw majesty.

I listened as our most reverent tour guide spoke about lost lives on Omaha Beach.  He mentioned those who scaled the cliffs in twenty minutes and survived both the climb as well as enemy fire. And he mentioned those who did not survive.  He described the men who exited their boats and headed towards sure-death on the beach.  He described the deafening sounds of that day, as all sorts of explosives were launched from sea to shore and shore to sea.  The more he spoke, the more I realized that all the ground around me – as well as the tiny piece beneath my feet – held the memory of the death of many.  My heart ached – and still does ache – for all of those who died in pursuit of freedom for others including me.

Yet, when I looked out towards the horizon, I saw beauty.  In fact, the nearby rock formations were mesmerizing.  Likewise were the sandy shores and the surrounding vegetation. Here and there were tiny cottages, some vacant, some inhabited, all that clearly had stunning views of the Omaha Beach of today.  There were many memorials to those who had fallen in service to their country seventy years earlier, all of which were impeccably landscaped and maintained.  A scenic coastline, serpentine road cut through the hillside, bringing visitors like me to see and experience the history of the area.

I must admit that I still have not come to terms in any way with Omaha Beach’s unbelievable beauty juxtaposed with the reality of the heightened degree of suffering and death that occurred in the same place.

Perhaps the generations that follow me will offer greater clarity and understanding of how we, as humans, can come to some understanding of the balance between nature and history.  I know for me it is something that I will ponder for much time to come.

The Cliffs of Omaha Beach

The Cliffs of Omaha Beach

39 Years

It was October in Paris, and he asked me if I wanted to take a walk.  It is a question that he has asked me many times in the past, and it is one that I never tire of answering.  With an enthusiastic yes, I grabbed all necessities – including camera – and stepped out onto the street with him.  It was cold and raining, but right away, I knew that I was on another lifetime adventure.  We had no map and no agenda.  We were just out . . . in the city . . . walking . . . to anywhere.

From early morning to late evening, we walked throughout the city – browsing, touring, chatting, pondering, eating, and drinking.  We saw both the glorious and the ordinary – with both sides of that spectrum equally as interesting.  Our feet led us through the inside of famous and not-so-famous museums, through elaborate and not-so elaborate churches, down prominent and nondescript boulevards, and towards both landmarks and unknown hidden gems.

Heading for home at the end of the day, we took a right turn and found ourselves in what can only be described as a park of plenty.  I saw remarkable gardens and teenagers – dressed in preppy school uniforms – playing pick-up games of basketball.  At the edge of a large fountain, which state side we would call a pond, I saw a line of children using sticks to push small sailboats across the water while their parents relaxed nearby reading books.

In the middle of the park I witnessed two men, both dressed in “Jimmy Fallon – I love my tight” pants, playing tennis as if their lives depended on the outcome.  Fifty yards away, I saw an additional ten men, pairing off for friendly yet seemingly fierce chess matches.  And fifty yards from that point, I saw an endless stream of mothers with strollers, infants, and toddlers playing on some of the most extraordinary playground equipment I have ever seen.

But what caught our attention  – as if gardens, tennis, chess, basketball, sailing, reading, and the merry-go-round wasn’t enough – was actually tucked away near the edge of the park. Initially, we were drawn to a bench – more importantly a vacant bench.  We had journeyed for several hours, several miles – all by foot, and as we closed in on the bench, the idea of sitting became more and more appealing.

Had we not sat down, we would not have noticed the rest of the story.

For directly in front of us were two of the most interesting teams of people, playing one of the most interesting games, for what looked like was an interesting mix of both pride as well as a few, no doubt lucrative, side bets.  All of the members on both teams were seemingly old enough to be my parents, with only one of the approximately twenty team members being female.

In the middle of Luxembourg Gardens, these two teams were sparing and jarring over a very competitive game of Boules.  They would toss balls, run to the side of the court, measure the proximity of balls thrown to the stationary ring, and shout out words in their language that needed no translation to be understood in mine.

There were players with their own polishing rags and players wearing specialized shoes and players using pocket play-books to strategize with each other.  The most interesting feature, however, was something that I just had never seen in a park – or anywhere outdoors for that matter. It made me chuckle; it still makes me chuckle.   For sitting just outside the rectangular, rocky playing field was a sturdy, silver, shiny coatrack.

A coatrack. A coatrack.

The day was chilly and wet, but no one was wearing a coat. They were all carefully hanging from the court-side coatrack.   Crazy-funny at its best.

Moments – or an eternity later – we continued our walk.

Like many moments over the past 39 years, neither one of us said a word about what we had just witnessed.  In a relationship, there are many times when words are really pointless.  A look, a smile, a frown, a glance, a wink can convey an entire conversation. Words just lack the power, the ability, the nuances.

I am not sure when we learned the art of not speaking. I am quite sure it wasn’t in our first decade. I do know that as our early years passed, our security in our ability to speak without words has grown.

And in that moment in the park, as we watched twenty people shout and skirmish over a game played by grown-ups tossing balls on a pebble-laden court, with a random coatrack in the background, i knew that I was experiencing a day for the ages.  It is a memory that needs no words, that is memorable, in fact, because of the lack of language – which to me – is nothing shy of awesome.

Soon thereafter, we walked in silence for quite awhile – beyond the Boules courts, the tennis courts, and the chess courts.  I snapped a few more photos, we laughed at the young boy who accidentally fell into the pond chasing his boat, and noticed that the boys in the school uniforms had left for greener pastures.

We, too, did the same, with the silent hope that we will experience more such moments.

The coat rack :-)

The coat rack 🙂

Though I don't know the rules, the game was beautiful.

Though I don’t know the rules, the game was beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation All The Way

J.J. Richardson – an unknown name to me until recently –  must have had a most creative mind. He saw something, knew something, thought something, did something that took innovative imagination to a level unfathomable by me. I have no idea what he did with most of his life. Really, I know little to nothing about him. He lived and died way before my time, and I am sure – like all humans – he had his fair share of successes and failures, ups and downs, positives and negatives.

Though I have never met him and know only a thimble-full about him, what I do know is quite amazing. In fact, as odd as it may seem, I enjoy thinking about his invention, wondering exactly how he came up with it, and pondering just how and when it leapt off the list of innovative devices and into mainstream America. For sometime in 1863, J.J. Richardson invented a tool that I – even with my lack of skills and abilities in all things mechanical – use on a regular basis: the ratcheting socket wrench.

There are many times – with my not so nimble skills – that I reach for the ratcheting socket wrench to solve my woes when working on projects that involve nuts and bolts. It’s a great device – sturdy, dependable, simple, useful. It’s a go-to tool with little to no fanfare – a standard in today’s toolboxes.

Each time I hold the wrench, I wonder about its development. Was Mr. Richardson a home tinkerer who sought solutions to his individual challenges or was he an inventor who set out to improve the functionality of the world way beyond himself? When did he finish his invention?  Did he know that he invented something for the ages? Did he even consider that someone like me would be using his invention 150+ years later?  When he finished developing it, did he celebrate?

And finally, was there a moment when he smiled that smile that combines confidence, hope, panic, fear, and glee all in one?

Innovation is an interesting beast.  And I have been lucky enough to live during a time of significant innovation. I would be remise if I didn’t mention the high-tech innovations of my time: the internet, computers, cellphones, the rocket ship, email, texting, wifi, the digital camera.  But, I would be even more remise if I didn’t consider the lesser innovations that may have had equal impact on my life with less notoriety: plastic paint buckets with pourable spouts, self-rising flour, perma-press clothes, contact lenses, power washers.

Innovation isn’t only an interesting beast because it has made my life easier.  My interest in innovation stems from something much different.  Though I am 57 years into it, I am still looking for my role and responsibility with innovation. My search has been on for many years.  It is the quest of my life time, a chase that is worth the effort because it is simply fun. I am looking for something that most likely has no end.  With that said . . .

I am almost certain, though not positive yet, that my role with innovation doesn’t sit on the inventor side.  Not sure.  I  have high hopes that one day in the future I will join J.J. Richardson or Tim Burners-Lee or Ruth R. Benerito and invent whatever it is that sets a new course for the world at large, but I don’t think that is the focus of my talents.  I know several folks who are set to do so – youngsters, much younger than I with brilliant minds, and I am banking on their abilities to do so.

I am almost certain, though not positive yet, that my role with innovation doesn’t sit on the inventor-patron side.  Not sure. I have high hopes that one day in the future, I will join the Scientific American Patent Agency or Berkshire Hathaway or Eli Lilly or NCSA and underwrite whoever it is who is inventing the next greatest innovation that reverses whatever tide needs to be reversed and rights whatever wrong needs to be righted. I know several folks and groups of folks who are set to do so, not necessarily young, but certainly those with financial wherewithal,  and I am banking on their desire to do so.

For me, I am certain, actually fairly positive already, that I do have a role with innovation – a significant one, a necessary one, one that I enjoy and find myself entwined monthly, weekly, if not daily. It is within this area of innovation that I have high hopes that my talents fit.  My slot doesn’t exactly call for me to have that brilliant mind nor does it require finances beyond my means and dreams.  It does, however, require action and continued attention on my part.

I think my role is to encourage, to mentor, to be enthused.  My role is to do the fancy-pants-dance when others share their innovative thoughts and ideas with me.  My role is to be genuinely thrilled and supportive as I listen to whatever out-of-the-box idea I hear.  My role is to say yes-yes-yes when everyone else around the most brilliant mind may be saying no-no-no.  It is also my role to help those on the go with innovation navigate whatever waters they find challenging.

On the surface, my role may seem slight.  But I have witnessed all too many times the demise of tremendous innovation due to lack of that spiritual support that helps to move crazy great ideas beyond conceptualization.  I am a firm believer that everyone needs to hear that their ideas are worthy, more importantly they need to be shielded from hearing that their ideas are unworthy.

I know that one day someone will invent an invisibility cloak, a Jetson flying car, a wheelchair that never fails, and a cure for all cancers.  And while these innovations are in progress, I am going to faithfully fulfill my role of being an enthusiast-extraordinaire. After all, it’s my role!

An Innovation from my past.  Some may call it a board with jar lids attached.  I call it the ceiling tool bench organizer.  Simply fill jars with items like nails or screws and attach jars to the appropriate lid.  Voila - organized and stored.

An Innovation from my past. Some may call it a board with jar lids attached. I call it the ceiling tool bench organizer. Simply fill jars with items like nails or screws and attach jars to the appropriate lid. Voila – organized and stored.

We Are Many Parts

As I glanced around the room, I felt that time had finally stood still.  All of us had obviously changed, grown, aged, but none of that change seemed to matter.  It was clear that many years had rolled by us, but somehow we were collectively channeling back to what had been such a glorious time in our lives.  We were chatting, laughing, gabbing, and smiling with each other as if we hadn’t missed a moment, as if we hadn’t aged.

There was plenty of food, lots of drink, and a band that beat all bands.  The weather was stunning, the setting was appropriate, and the cost was a drop-in-the-bucket of what it should or could have been. Our conversations were incredible – bringing forth the best in all of us.  It was an evening for the ages as the 1974 graduating class of St. Thomas Aquinas High School had reconvened in full force to celebrate its fortieth anniversary – in style.

We danced, we drank, and we ate.  More importantly, we talked.  Denise become a grandmother three times over earlier in the day.  Jerry traveled to Italy with his entire family.  D’Anne found a bottle of wine with our high school name on it.  Bought it and brought it, of course.  Viv sang with the band.  Larry had rehabbed a house. We all sat and listened to the stories of our lives, and learned a great deal about the actions and activities that had happened over four decades.

I initially thought that what kept us together was that we graduated from the same place many moons ago.  We all attended a Catholic co-educational high school, with rules out the ying-yang, faculty whose behavior today may have been cause for alarm, classes that challenged us to the bone, and tuition that forced our parents to sacrifice.  It was a tough school, whose primary goal wasn’t to produce students who scored well on standardized tests.  Nor was its main purpose to ensure steady and successful transitions to college and or employment.  As a youngster, I didn’t really know why it existed.

I do now.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to care.  I listened to story after story from my classmates about my classmates finding themselves in situations that required caring and self-less attitudes and actions.  Folks volunteering to help newborns and their mothers.  Men and women reaching out and helping relatives in any way possible,  moving moms, dads, aunts, and uncles into their homes if necessary.  Classmates participating in fundraising activities and, in general, looking out for those who can not do so for themselves.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to think.  We studied algebra, chemistry, world religions.  But, we learned to problem solve, critically think, innovate.  It wasn’t about ensuring that we would forever and a day be able to remember and use the Pythagorean Theorem.  It  was ensuring that we could and would create a successful life for ourselves and our families.  At the reunion, there were folks who had recently retired, who had started new jobs, opened their own companies, raised successful families, and in general, used their wits to live glorious lives. Everyone had different narratives, but all of them seem to indicate lives worth living and lives lived to the fullest.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to be accepting.  And on this one, I was most surprised for the 1970s weren’t necessarily a time where people embraced differences.  In fact, differences were often shunned.  But somehow, the Class of ’74 seemed to have pushed beyond the past.  The 80+ people gathered for the reunion were quite different from each other.  No two characters were alike.  But, we – forty years later – were capitalizing on those who were unique – which was everyone – and details on that which made us different, not on that which made us the same.

Learning to care, learning to think, learning to accept are topics for the ages.

To me, these topics are just as relevant today as they were in 1974.  High school students have an inherent tendency to focus more on self than others.  Placing them in settings where they are forced to put others first does build that first needed foundation for caring.

And teaching students to think is a learning gift – a gem. My high school used quirky and unconventional methods in this area, but they worked.  Classroom days built on the pursuit of learning about learning will build a society of great thinkers.  Class of 1974 – case in point.

Finally, the trilogy is complete when students are taught to accept.  There are so many paths that lead high school students towards the low road of non-acceptance.  It can be a time of either fearing those who are different or fearing being different.  I hope – and pray – that those who are leading learning in today’s American high schools, much like those who did so at my high school, figure out ways to encourage students to becoming people who thrive on the differences in others.

At the end of the evening, I had hoped that I would have a memorable take-away.  I thought it would have been something more comical, something that may have happened throughout the event that raised eye-brows and caused chuckles.  Perhaps something that involved some kind of excess and the police.  Something to take me back to my high school days – and the moments when we broken the rules just enough to surprise, but not enough to cause concern.

Not the case.  My thanks to all my caring, thoughtful, and accepting classmates from STA 74.

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St. Thomas Aquinas 1974