And the Trophy for 27th Place Goes to

We need to face the fact that our country has gone pathetically soft!  We have managed to transform ourselves into a nation of underachievers.  It has become categorically unacceptable for us to compete with one another.  Instead, we have adopted a feel-good mentality that postulates everyone must be validated through recognition merely for showing up!  Here is a hard and simple fact! Lack of competition breeds mediocrity; whereas competition fosters achievement.

What was once the most prominent educational system in the world has withered into obscurity.  Our fifteen year-olds can proudly boast that the United States globally ranks 30th in mathematics, 23rd in science, and 20th in reading.  We are importing scientists, doctors, and engineers on a daily basis.  Our corporations are consistently pummeled by what were third world countries a generation ago.  To top it all off; we have created a culture wherein everyone can claim to be a victim!

Somewhere along the line, it was decided that people no longer had the capacity to feel good about themselves.  As a result, society stepped into that role.  We now award “participation trophies” to members of youth sports teams.  In the classroom, teachers do not instruct to a recognized standard; instead they cater to the slowest learner in the room, holding other students back!  In short, we anesthetize the masses so that nobody feels badly about themselves.

I can only imagine where this trend will take us next.  The memo was addressed from the CEO to the entire company.  It stated that from that point forward; everybody in the company had been promoted to a VP level.  This action was taking place not because everyone had earned it; but rather it was because everybody had shown up for work!  So let the feel good about ourselves games commence!

My beloved Denver Broncos are on TV.  I am comfortably nestled on the couch, Fritos and bean dip in hand.  Suddenly there is a stoppage in play; one of the officials has thrown the “reward flag.”  The camera zooms in on the Referee midfield.  He reaches to the side and turns on his microphone.  “We have a reward on the field,” his deep voice echoes.  “Number 93 on the defense is rewarded for allowing the runner to get into the end zone untouched.  The reward will be enforced on the kickoff!”

No matter our level of diligence and commitment; not all of us will become professional athletes or physicists employed by NASA.  Every five year-old girl out there is not destined to be a premier ballerina simply because she donned a tutu.  A high school hockey player will not be named captain of the team merely because he looks sad, dejected, and unfulfilled!  No matter how many medals I hang around your neck; if you cannot balance your checkbook, I seriously doubt you will become a world-renowned economist!

As I was growing up, nobody put a bib around my neck and spoon-fed me validation!  I learned that it was pleasant to feel good about myself.  I synthesized that into the observation that positive accomplishments made me feel good.  That then was generalized into competing with myself, or others, to attain my goals and chalk up accomplishments.  In other words, I took responsibility for my actions, feelings, and the subsequent outcomes!

If we submerge into the deepest levels of pathos; all of us can find a reason to label ourselves as a victim.  Once we have that mindset, we have sabotaged our ability to feel good about ourselves.  Instead, we become addicts; looking for that next hit of “I am valued” from everyone around us.  We can no longer self-validate our own self-worth.  The cycle then just perpetuates itself; leading us to reward others merely for showing up!  This heritage then becomes our legacy, cursing our future generations.

It is time to wake up!  Coming in second place simply means that you were the top loser!  We must all relearn how to compete, especially with ourselves.  There is nothing wrong with achievement and the pride that comes with it.  In victory, you will learn grace.  In defeat, you will learn ways in which to better yourself.  Each time you better yourself, you will also better the world around you.

It is not too late for us to abandon this culture of entitlement.  We can teach future generations that it is permissible, nay commendable, to compete for those things that are near and dear to us.  We can reclaim our place in the global community as leaders of progress.  But it all has to begin with you!  Are you ready to take responsibility for yourself and your thoughts?  Are you willing to pay the price that comes with accomplishment and recognition?  Are you committed to validating yourself?

Today I felt the thrill of competition; I had to get the attention of a community of millions of people who are inundated with more information than the human brain can possibly juggle.  I felt the comfort of accomplishment in completing this essay and sharing my thoughts with the world.  My sense of self-worth will come from knowing that I may have positively touched the life of a single unknown individual through my humble words!

I frequently travel internationally.  It is always with great anticipation that I enter the airport immigration and customs hall at major US ports of entry.  I feel like I am receiving my own personal homecoming.  I only hope that on my next return flight I do not see a sign high overhead; proclaiming “Welcome to the United States of Complacency!”

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Life in the Slow Lane

As regular readers of my blog will recollect, my trusted hound Xena and I go on a walk virtually every morning and every evening.  Weekday morning excursions are centered in our neighborhood; since much to Xena’s chagrin, I still go off to work each day.  In the evenings and during the weekend, our strolls are in a massive park near the house.  On those walkabouts, we have the liberty of extending the time we have for our constitutional.

With the longer walks, there comes a secondary ritual; the coveted cool-down ride in the car.  Xena is a creature of habit; to the point that any disruption in her routine leads to brooding.  So needless to say, after each walk in the park we end up spending the next twenty or so minutes driving around the area.  Unless it is terribly cold or raining, the back left side window is rolled down all the way.  This allows Xena to hang her face in the breeze, have her long ears flap about wildly, and make her jowls fill with air!

One particular portion of our standard route (I did mention Xena’s need for routine) involves driving along a nicely tree-lined stretch of road that twists and turns with numerous hills.  Although this street segment is paved, there is only one lane in each direction with a landscaped median in the center.  The speed limit in this area ranges from 30 to 40 miles per hour.  In order to take in the serene beauty of the area, as well as not draw too much wind into Xena’s face; I typically like to drive around 25 miles per hour.

Now taking into account my preferred automotive cruising speed and the fact that there is only one lane; there is a tendency for me to back up traffic from time to time.  Some of the drivers behind me take the slower pace in stride.  Then there are the speed demons who decide to ride on my rear bumper.  When you look in the rearview mirror and cannot even see the other car’s headlights; it is safe to assume you are one brake tap away from being rear-ended!  What you may ask is my response to this aggressive driving?  I take my foot off of the accelerator and drive even slower!

I have had everything from leaning on the horn to flying of the universal one finger salute shared with me in response to my leisurely pace.  The ingratiating element of these actions is that they have absolutely no effect on me.  I am too busy taking in all of the splendor that nature is sharing with me.  In short, I am living in the moment!  Occasionally I will glance back in the mirror and see everything from nervous tapping of the steering wheel to veering in a vain effort to somehow get around me.

All of us are in too much of a hurry in this age.  We are either the victims of poor planning and always running late or we are slaves to some cruel master who holds a stopwatch that we are compelled to obey.  Either way, our distraction over time holds us captive.  We forget to take in all that is around us.  We forget that the journey is more important than the destination.  We lose sight of the fact that the world will continue to turn, whether we arrive early or late!

I have a unique and wonderful affliction.  I have come to realize that the past has already slipped through my fingers and I will never be able to alter it.  I acknowledge that the future is mostly beyond my control.  That only leaves me with the present moment.  I would be insulting that moment if I allowed myself to become distracted by the artificial measure called time.  I have a need to observe every aspect of what is happening in the here and now.  I am compelled to have all five of my senses overwhelmed by my surroundings.  In a few seconds the present will become a not too distant memory; and I have a burning desire to make all of my memories cherished ones!

Therein lays the root cause of my slow driving!  How can I hope to be connected to the world around me if I do not take it all in?  How can I take it all in if it is speeding by me in a blur?  Too many of us are so busy paying homage to time that we live our lives in a blur.  We do not find ourselves connecting with nature or even with other human beings.  We become isolated islands of complacency.  Our souls become blunted in the process and that saddens me.

On a more practical side, I hope that my slow driving has perhaps saved some lives.  If not deterred from speeding by me, would that tailgater behind me have flown over a blind hill and rear-ended a stopped school bus?  Would they have turned sharply at too high a speed and rolled their vehicle?  Would that driver have hit one of the many deer that like to cross that road?  Yes, in this vein you can consider me your own personal public safety service!

Tomorrow is Sunday, which means that early morning will find Xena and me at the park.  After a good hour of sniffing and exploring, my faithful hound will lead me back to our car.   As is her custom, she will expect me to take her for her cool-down spin; which I will obligingly perform.  I only hope that when we get to that one-lane road; I will need to slow down because you are in front of me and driving even slower than I am!

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A Salute to a Fallen Giant

My place of work is in a well-established business park, featuring a campus that is lined with majestic elm trees and pines.  The maturity of the landscape is one of the drawing features for new tenants.  I have enjoyed many a pleasant morning stroll between buildings; allowing my mind to clear as the refreshing power of nature reinvigorated me.  For me, it is a place of harmony and peaceful reflection.

I have often looked up to the towering elm trees that line the perimeter of the interlaced sidewalks connecting the four buildings in the office complex.  Most of these arborous wonders rise upward at least fifty feet, if not higher.  In the summer, I have rejoiced at the refreshing shade that the leaf-filled branches have been kind enough to share with me.  In the autumn, I have enjoyed the sharp sound of crunching leaves underfoot, as I craned my neck upward to see if there were any branches still bearing yellowed or crimson foliage.

My office window looks out into the quadrangle that forms the inner courtyard setting of the campus.  It is always nice to look out and give my eyes a break from the tediousness of the computer screen that holds me captive at least eight hours a day.  I always have to resist the urge to gaze outward for too long.  It would be all too easy for me to lose an entire afternoon contemplating the wonders that nature has repeatedly blessed me with.  Alas, the curse of the hopeless philosopher chases me even in the corridors of the corporate world!

This past Monday found me coming into the office once again.  I would have preferred to awaken to a sunlit cay on St. Thomas; the temperate tropical breeze blowing in through the patio screen door.  Given no immediate sign of an early retirement; the view out my office window was a more than adequate second choice.  I glanced out the window at the courtyard and immediately felt my body relax.  As I sat down in my office chair and fired up the laptop computer; a sense that something was wrong erratically crossed my mind.

As I looked back out the window, I played grudging witness to the horrible scene of devastation.  One of the majestic elm trees at the far end of the quadrangle had toppled over!  I could clearly see that the entirety of the massive tree was now lying horizontally across the manicured lawn.  The midsection of the thick trunk had shattered a picnic table under its colossal mass.  Hopefully the tree had dropped sometime over the weekend; when there was minimal likelihood that the picnic table had been in use!

Mid-morning, I decided it was time to stretch my legs.  I went outside and walked slowly towards the site of the fallen elm.  I noticed that my stride was exaggeratedly slow, almost as if I was approaching the natural calamity in reverence.  It was interesting to see that all of the great branches were filled with dark green leaves.  There was not a dead or dying limb to be observed.  This tree had been healthy for all visible purposes.

Then I took in the part of the tree that had been below ground.  We have been taught that the depth of a tree’s roots go down as far as the tree rises above ground.  That meant I should have seen some fifty or so feet of root structure.  Instead, I was perplexed to see that the roots extended only about six feet.  Looking down into were the tree had been planted, I could see a tangle of roots down in the six foot deep crater below.  Turning back to the base of the trunk, I could see where the roots had rotted out.  They were splintered, dried, and black in color.  Some illness or a colony of insects had eaten away at the roots.  Small wonder that the elm had toppled down!

Over the course of day, a landscape crew was dispatched to the scene of the travesty.  Using chain saws and a chipper; they quickly cleared the mammoth tree.  For good measure, they also cut up the splintered picnic table and tossed the remnants into the back of an already overloaded trailer.  Two laborers scooped up the dirt around the hole where the tree had stood.  Soon the cavity was filled and patted down firmly.  That was it!  There was no sign left of the great tree’s prior existence!

All of us are rooted in the ground, in some fashion.  We each have our families, friends, coworkers, congregants, and neighbors to hold us in place.  With that foundation, we are able to grow strong and flourish.  As time marches by, we become taller; and yes our trunks happen to thicken too!  Our life accomplishments spread out as mighty limbs and the good that we do in this world is reflected in countless leaves filling the skies.

But we too are susceptible to root rot.  When we live in fear or anger, it weakens our roots and threatens our foundation.  When we fail to show compassion, when we lose sight of our humanity; the insects begin to bore at our roots.  When we forget that we were put on this earth to know joy and to share happiness, to better and enrich the lives of all we meet; the roots of our life begin to turn black.  If we allow negativity, doubt, insensitivity, or complacency to enter our roots; it is only a matter of time before we too topple.  At that point, our foundation, that in which we are rooted, cannot save us!

I will miss that magnificent old elm tree.  It is as if I have lost an old friend.  I wonder if anybody was around when it took its plunge to the ground.  If not, did it make a sound?  I only wish I could have been there to know what its final words were!

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Better Than I Deserve

There are those glorious days when my faithful hound dog companion Xena manages to forget that she is over eleven years old.  Today was one of those splendid instances.  As we walked through the neighborhood park, Xena was a puppy at heart.  She would clumsily scamper from tree to tree; checking out the latest “pee-mails” from her canine friends.  As we walked down the cement pathway, her tail and nose were proudly up in the air as she cantered with reclaimed youth!

As we worked our way down the path, I took notice of an elderly man walking up the incline towards us.  In each hand he held a well-worn walking stick; using his arms to take over part of the load that challenged his slim legs.  He took notice of Xena and paused momentarily, a broad smile forming on his tanned and weathered face.  I imagined that perhaps we might be bringing back memories of some fond dog in his long past.

Xena is a highly social dog by nature; believing that everybody she comes across will be her next best friend on Earth.  I always restrain her eager lunges, assuring that the individual in front of me really wants to be sniffed by one hundred plus pounds of happy hound dog.  In this case, the old man brought his hand forward to be smelled by Xena.  It was not long before he was scratching behind her ears and she was happily wagging her tail.  Another stranger conquered by the Catahoula-Plott Hound princess!

I am the type of person that will speak with anybody.  I am fascinated by humanity and yearn to long from every encounter with a new soul.  As the man looked back up at me, I asked how he was doing.

“Better than I deserve,” was his pleasant reply.  With that he smiled at me, patted Xena on the head one last time, and continued his climb up the cemented incline.

We worked our way towards a marshy area as I chuckled to myself.  I just love these crusty old retired types.  They always have some well-rehearsed and comical reply to my greetings.  This character had been no different, what with his retired US Air Force cap and all.  I was certain that he cracked them up at the Friday night American Legion social gatherings!

Pulling Xena away from a muddy pool of rainwater, the man’s words rolled around in my head.  The more I thought about it, the odder his retort seemed to be.  Was he truly doing better than he deserved to be?  Was there some deep dark secret lurking in his past that he was awaiting atonement for?  I dismissed the entire line of questioning that my mind was undertaking.

As I bent down to give my hound dog companion a drink of fresh cold water, it struck me!  In a roundabout fashion the elderly gentlemen had been expressing his gratitude to me.  He was relating the fact that he felt his life was full of blessings.  He was eager to show the world, even a complete stranger; that he was giving thanks for the positive things in his life!  What a wonderful outlook, I mused to myself.

Hours later, I am sitting on the couch with my laptop across my thighs.  It never fails to amaze me how one of these stories seems to write itself.  It is almost as if my fingers are taking direction from some unknown force that compels them to share these thoughts with the world.  Those same fingers are now keeping rhythm with Xena’s deep snoring as she lies sprawled across one of her numerous dog beds.

I am asking myself how I am doing at this moment.  Am I feeling better that I deserve to?  Are my heart, soul, and mind all giving thanks for the many blessings that fill my life each and every single day?  Is there a burning desire to share the happiness deep inside me with everybody I am fortunate enough to come across?  The resounding answer is a yes; otherwise I would not be sharing this essay with you.

Truth be told, it is not always such.  There are days when I feel tired, worn down by the frenetic pace of life.  There are times where the day’s events taint my outlook.  It is all too easy to fall prey to the negativity of others and to get sucked down into all that is so painfully wrong with this world.  I call this living life on the surface.  Before I know it, I become another one of those sour-faced individuals with nothing good to say.  It is usually about that time that somebody like today’s elderly man comes into my life.  They remind me that I need to live life on a deeper level.

All of us experience our moments of adversity and unhappiness.  It is called humanity.  At those dark moments; we need to remember the positive things in life, the gifts we have waiting to be shared with the world, and the endless blessings that surround us if only we open our eyes to them.  The human being is a creature of habit.  Perhaps it is time for us to form a new habit.  Perhaps we need to retrain our minds to seek the positive in life, rather than dwelling in misery.  Perhaps we need to open our hearts to good and our souls to blessings.

Tomorrow I will awaken to a world full of gratitude for all that is good in my life.  I will open my mind, body, and soul to the beauty of our world.  I will seek to embrace all of the blessings in my full life.  Tomorrow I will also take Xena for another walk.  Perhaps we will run into each other.  When I greet you, I hope you will be able to say that you are doing “better than I deserve!”

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Full Moons and Black Cats

Having a full moon and Friday the 13th occur on the same date is a sporadic event.  The last one fell on August 13, 2011. The next Friday the 13th full moon will be on August 13, 2049.  As you might imagine, I am writing this blog post on the day following this somewhat rare event.  Hey, I had to give myself a day to be sure that I would be around to author it!

Full moons have been linked with increased birth rates, spikes in crime, upticks in accidents, and all sorts of social pandemonium.  Yet studies in respected journals of advanced learning have repudiated the “fact” numerous times.  In the meantime, Friday the 13th has been linked with all types of misfortune and mishap.  Again, the scholarly journals question the very concept of bad luck, with studies unable to substantiate its validity.  If I set aside the world of academia and research; yesterday should have delivered a double whammy to us all.  Speaking for me, it did not happen; and I am disappointed!

I took it upon myself to stand out on the backyard deck and stare up at the full moon.  At the same time, I allowed my mother-in-law’s black cat to cross my path repeatedly.  I felt the side of my face.  It was beyond doubt that I was not in the process of turning into a werewolf.  The deck had not suddenly collapsed under me.  I did not hear the phone ringing with news that the IRS was conducting a full seven-year audit of my tax filings.  I looked down at the cat, who I swear was chuckling at me!

Somehow I thought that the convergence of superstition and folklore would yield more dramatic events.  I kept waiting for breaking news of cataclysmic natural events, civil insurrection, and the rise of the zombie apocalypse.  I checked CNN news this morning, only to find the usual stories of political corruption, celebrity misdeeds, and foreign uncertainty.  It was not a newsworthy night by any means!

Hours later, I sit at the keyboard asking myself why I feel a sense of disappointment and betrayal.  Last night was just any other night by most definitions.  In retrospection, I realize that I allowed myself to get caught up in all of the hype behind the event.  Do I really believe that the full moon somehow uses its gravitational pull to alter the fluids in my body; causing me to perform irrational acts?  Hardly!  Do I believe that there is a mysterious force out there that dictates my fortunes through some type of supernatural lottery?  Not at all!

As a species, we have a tendency to relinquish what we think is control to mysterious forces well beyond comprehension.  In fact, that which we truly relinquish is responsibility.  It is all too easy to ascribe our actions to a nefarious influence outside us.  It is all too convenient to blame our misfortunes on random fates.  Truth be told, all we are doing is shifting the blame and reassigning the responsibility.

We are all responsible for our actions and their subsequent results.  This holds true for the bad we cause as well as the good we create.  As quickly as you should kick yourself, you should also pat yourself on the back.  As human beings, we have the capacity to be destructive both in word and deed.  But once we take ownership of, and responsibility for, our actions; we discover quite pleasantly that the power to sow the seeds of good is uniquely ours.

Luck does not occur; it is created.  There is a famous quote that asserts, “The harder I work, the luckier I am.”  Beyond effort, luck is also the result of the law of attraction.  It amazes me how many happy people are able to inexplicably have good things fall into their lives.  That last statement is presumptive upon still being able to find a happy person in this world.  Luck is not a tangible object; rather it is the result of your mind set.

As I bring this essay to a close, I am no longer disappointed that last night was a bust in terms of calamity.  In fact, it turned out to be everything I should have expected it to be.  By nature, I have a burning need to find good in everyone and everything.  I like to believe that my daily words and deeds serve to better the lives of others.  I am confident that I have the positive mental outlook and inner happiness to attract all that is good in life.  None of this is said out of arrogance.  Believe me; it took years for me to find my happy place.  In fact, I found it sooner once I admitted to myself that there truly was a happy place to be found!

I have presented a hypothesis that happiness and good fortune is yours to be had.  There are no outer forces lurking about, waiting to bring chaos and misery into your life.  There are no superstition-based goons out there, waiting to rob you of your joy.  Inside of you are the keys to happiness and luck.  Like any good scientist, I now need to prove out my hypothesis, so that it can become a law of nature.  That said; look for my blog post on August 13, 2049.  I will let you know if anything has changed in my new thinking.  Somehow I am certain that I will still be a happy go-lucky soul!

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Young at Heart, Strong of Mind, and Lacking in Spirit

Yesterday afternoon found me roaming within the confines of the garage.  It had been a while since I had last reorganized what I would call our storage room.  I moved camping equipment back into place, took items off several six-foot tables that line one side, and putting garden tools back into their designated places.  Yes, some of us are somewhat obsessed with the adage of “everything has a place and everything in its place!”

I took note of a number of cardboard boxes piled up on the BowFlex exercise unit that holds center stage in our garage.  I broke down boxes and set them off to one side of the garage.  There, my prized piece of exercise equipment was once again ready for use!  “Use the BowFlex.”  Those three simple words whirled in my mind.  Exactly how long had it been since I had last worked out?

On the table next to the exercise machine was a file folder.  Opening the manila sleeve, my fingers quickly found my latest workout sheet. It has been a habit of mine for some forty years to record every single one of my workouts.  That way I can track progress and gain motivation from the prior workouts.

I had to look twice to believe what I was seeing!  It had been exactly eighteen months since my last workout.  It could not be!  I sat on the BowFlex bench and let my mind wander.  In December 2012, I contracted Cavitary Pneumonia.  It is a condition where the normal lung structure begins to be replaced by a cavity.  Ultimately in slapped me into the hospital for five days of intensive antibiotic treatment.  Afterward, it took a good four months to feel halfway normal again.

Shortly after the pneumonia episode, I was diagnosed as hypertensive.  It took a good two months for me to adjust to medication and dosage fine-tuning.  Over the past few months, I have felt more tired upon rising than I was when I retired.  My wife took notice that I was either fighting for breath or forgetting to breathe in my sleep.  You guessed it; severe sleep apnea!  As I look back over the past eighteen months; it is no wonder I did not getting around to working out!

There have always been three things that have not failed me in life.  The first is family.  Although sometimes imperfect, it has always been a priority and a steadying force.  The second is my writing.  I began my first novel at fourteen; but it was not published for fear of being sued by the James Bond franchise.  Hey, I was a hormone-driven teenage boy at the time!  Writing has always allowed for a mental release unlike any professional therapy!  The third has been bodybuilding.  By pushing my body to its physiological limits, I find that I a more alert and energy-filled.  It is also a time where I can clear my mind, focus my spirituality, and take the all-too-rare selfish time that we all crave.

As I thought of my not-so-perfect health over the past year and a half; I realized that I was copping out!  Yes, my physical state had been diminished; but not enough to warrant abandoning one of my life’s passions.  I could have gone with working out less often, performing abbreviated workouts, or even reducing the amount of tonnage that I move in any given workout.  No, instead I had walked away from it all; doubting my ability to continue.

As I sit at the keyboard right now; my shoulders are on fire, my knees ache, the calves are intermittently cramping, and it will take some effort to get off the couch later.  You know what?  I love it!  As you might guess, the dust came off the BowFlex and I worked out last night.  In spite of substantial soreness, I am on a true mental, physical, and spiritual high!  I assure you that in two days I will be back in my self-imposed dungeon and pushing through another workout!  As the sign in my garage reads: “Today’s House of Pain; Tomorrow’s Temple of Gain!”

The universe has a need to balance itself.  We are familiar with the concept of “for every force, there is an equal and opposite force.”  Darkness is tempered with light.  Evil is countered by good.  Drought is alleviated by flood.  You get the premise, I am sure.  It is no different with the human being.  We need to keep our mind, body, and soul in balance.  If any one of the triad falls out of balance; the totality of who we are suffers.  That was my case.  The body was willing and the mind was prepared, but the spirit was lacking.  In short, I had fooled myself, which is the cruelest joke of all.

How many things have brought you joy in the past; yet are now stored on some dusty shelf?  What dreams did you have as a child; that have now been kidnapped by adulthood?  What sources of fulfillment have you denied yourself under the guise of “I just cannot do it?”  Have you played that cruel joke on yourself as well?

In the past few months, I have returned to my first love, which is inspirational writing.  Last night I returned to my second love, which is bodybuilding.  It will not be long and I will find myself back in balance.  Inner harmony is the greatest gift any one of us can bestow upon ourselves.  The second greatest gift any one of us can bestow is to give another person the key to their inner harmony!

Chances are that you will not find me gracing the cover of “Muscle and Fitness” any time soon, if at all.  But that will not dissuade my pursuit of physical excellence.  You may not write that novel, sing in a rock group, or discover a new island.  But that will not dissuade me from cheering for you!

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A Certain Dive-Bombing Robin

Spring is in the air, the days are getting longer, and my faithful hound Xena is beginning to draw out our walks.  It is a magical time of year, when new life is breathed into the earth.  Everywhere you look there are signs of renewal and new birth.

Our neighborhood is in a suburban setting; but the land use planners were kind enough to leave natural beltways and undeveloped areas all around us.  The result is that we are blessed with more wildlife than other parts of the city.  This holds particularly true for avian life.  My early morning canine-led excursions come with a soundtrack now.  As we work our way up and down the hills that surround the house; our steps are melodically choreographed to the chirping of birds, greeting the emerging sunrise.

On any given morning, I can easily find several dozen birds in the back yard.  Some are sunning themselves, perched on the fence.  Others are pecking away at the dew-softened turf, hoping to have a worm breakfast.  Typically the birds take little notice of me; going about their instinctive routines.  About a week ago, that idyllic daily scenario was completely altered.

Over the course of the past month, I have observed a fair number of robins gaining significant weight.  I could only presume that they were pregnant; a natural conclusion given that it is springtime.  A couple of these birds had been spending an inordinate amount of time and effort flying under our second floor deck.  Upon further investigation, I was able to see that two nests were under construction just on the edge of the wooden underside.

This morning I went out on the deck with Xena, after having cranked out a forty-five minute journey throughout the neighborhood.  As I felt the warmth of the sun caressing my upwardly turned face; I could not help but feel that I was being watched.  My middle-aged puppy was down in the yard, rummaging about with her nose in the grass.  There was nobody to be seen in any of the neighbors’ back yards either.  Then I spotted the cleverly hidden spy!

Up on top of the fence, partially obscured by a tree branch, was a robin!  It was staring directly at me, observing my every slightest motion.  I was captivated by the intensity of the bird’s eyes, as they locked with mine.  I quickly realized that I will never beat a Robin in a stare-down contest.  Turning side-ward to check up on Xena, I moved towards the deck railing.  As my hand came to rest on the wood, a deafening chirping sound echoed across the yard!

My head spun around to see the robin chirping wildly, its wings anxiously flapping and its head bobbing up and down quickly.  I took a few steps back and the shrill sounds relented.  The robin was back to staring intently at me.  Out of curiosity, I decided to step back towards the rail.  The only accurate description I can give of the resulting event is the bird lost its mind!

By then, Xena had worked her way up the steps and was thumping her paw against the sliding glass door.  I had to get my business day started and went back inside as well.  I could not help but glance back into the yard.  I just managed to catch the robin taking flight from the fence and swooping down under the deck.  It was then that I made the all-too obvious connection; bird-nest, nest bird!

Later that afternoon found hound, man, and mother-in-law’s cat all out on the deck.  It was break time for all of us.  As I took in the crisp smell of a slight breeze blowing in towards our trio, I heard a loud swooping sound.  We had just been given warning by a dive-bombing robin!  Over the course of the next quarter hour; the angry bird flew precariously close to the dog, the cat, and even me!

There could only be one answer; there were now eggs in the nest!  That would explain why the bird was acting this way.  It was a she, and she was protecting her unborn offspring.  Perhaps what struck me the most was the robin’s apparent lack of fear.  Cats are natural enemies of birds, and this one was already batting a paw upward towards its new-found nemesis.  The hound could easily eat the bird in a single bite.  And forget the fact that I am easily tens of times larger than the robin.

Reflecting on today’s events, I have awakened to what is driving this particular bird.  She is passionate about protecting her eggs, at any cost.  That passion trumps any sense of fear she might have.  I have to believe that the robin would give her life if it meant saving her future descendants!  For now, this soon-to-be mother is living with a single purpose!

How many of us are so passionate about someone or something that we would sacrifice our life for them or it?  How many of us are so singularly focused on the moment that all distraction ceases to exist?  How many of us have our priorities firmly set, with no compromise to be had?  How many of us simply exist, rather than live life to its fullest?

Come to think of it, how many of us could stand to learn a life lesson from a simple robin?

Posted in Blessings, dogs, Human Experience, Humanity, Humor, Inspirational, Motivational, Nature, Pets, Self Actualization, Self-Realization, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Preview to Mortality

It has been just a little over a week since I was numbed by the unexpected news.  One of my business acquaintances had passed away after a brief illness.  The news came across my email, courtesy of one of his colleagues.  Attached was a copy of the obituary and the email contained a brief advisory.

I leaned back in my office chair and closed my eyes for a moment.  We had exchanged perhaps a dozen emails in the past month.  We had spoken jokingly on the phone no more than a handful of times.  A few weeks ago he had been visiting in our corporate conference room; full of life and enthusiastically discussing how our two companies could partner for success.

A strange sensation of deep sorrow overcame me.  I had hardly gotten to know this person, and yet the news of his death was taking a sorrowful grip over my mind, body, and soul.  Taking a deep breath, I opened my eyes and returned to the email.  The obituary spoke of the many things he had done for the community and how close he was to his family and friends.  Then I read a sentence that is still etched in my mind.  He had passed away at the age of fifty-eight; a mere three years older than me!  That was entirely too young to be meeting your maker!

I am in tune with the world around me and would like to believe that “any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved with mankind.”  But considering that this person was no more than an acquaintance, the level of sadness overwhelming me did not make sense in the least.  Was it because he had been so vibrant and full of life when he sat across the conference room table from me?  Was it the fact that we were so close in age?  Was it the knowledge that any one of us can pass on at any time?

Sitting on the couch, fingers flying across the keyboard; the reason for my mourning has become evident.  I am not saddened by his mortality so much as I am saddened by my own.  It will never cease to amaze me just how my writing always has a therapeutic effect on me.  It appears that my words are my own best therapist.  As long as I have quoted John Donne once in this essay, a second quote seems appropriate.  “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”  Right now the peal of that bell is deafening to both my ears and my spirit.

My now deceased acquaintance left behind an unintended gift for me.  He managed to open my eyes, my mind, and my soul to the importance of our time on this earth.  He reminded me that we are charged with an awe-filled responsibility; to live every moment of our lives to the fullest, to share of ourselves with others, and to live a life well-lived!

I have not written a blog for entirely too long.  I purposely refused to go to my site before writing this post.  To be honest, I was afraid that I would be demotivated to write tonight if I consciously knew how long it has last been since I blogged.  It may seem ridiculous, but I almost feel guilt over my literary leave of absence.  Come to think of it, I have not worked out in over a year too!  Too many of the joys in my life have slipped through my fingers!

There are activities in my life that bring me sheer joy.  Sitting in front of a blank screen, my fingers hovering over the keyboard, wrestling to craft words that will express my feelings; it is an exhilarating sense of creativity waiting to be unleashed!  The thought of my simple words and thoughts touching another human being, inspiring them to greater things; it gives me a true sense of accomplishment and fulfillment at the very deepest levels.

Working out on my Bow Flex, feeling my muscles straining against unrelenting resistance; it is a feeling that I have been hooked on since my mid-teens.  Bodybuilding has been my asylum over the years; a place for introspection, a source of self-actualization, an escape from the harsh realities of the world, and ultimately my safe place.  I have managed to return to writing tonight; I sense it is time to return to my workouts tomorrow night.

I still feel a twinge of sorrow over the earthly departure of my business acquaintance.  I feel badly for his family and colleagues; understanding their sense of loss.  Yet I am quickly feeling joy as a result of this event.  I will miss him, but he left me a precious gift.  He shared a preview of mortality with me; which I have been able to share with all of you.  For that, he will have my eternal gratitude.

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Living Off of Scraps

As is the custom on weekends; my faithful hound Xena and I go for a long walk in the park.  Given the leisurely pace of the day, we always manage to top off our brisk exercise session with a car ride.  I enjoy having the chance to cool off and clear my head for the day.  Xena, in turn, enjoys nothing more than hanging her head out the open window and letting the wind blow her ears back.

Today was a special day for Xena, in that we came across a small herd of deer in the neighborhood.  I slowed the car down to assure none of the does was going to bolt across the street.  This gave Xena an opportunity to sniff wildly out the window and take in the majesty of the deer.  It did not take long for Xena to begin baying at her wildlife friends.  There is never anything aggressive about Xena’s howls and yelps.  I am convinced that she is inviting her fellow animal kingdom friends to play with her.

It never fails; the deer take notice of my vociferous canine for a moment.  Then they return to their idle grazing in some neighbor’s front yard.  Xena settles down, I pull away from the curb, and the deer give Xena one last parting stare.  We have repeated the scenario enough times that you would thing dog and deer would both become bored with the script.  But it never ceases to amaze me just how much happier Xena is the rest of the day!

As I began to drive back towards the house; my mind drifted back to the collection of deer we had just visited.  I tried to envision what life would be like if I had to subsist off scraps left behind by others.  What would my day be like if the majority of time was spent grazing?  Stopping at a red traffic light, I glanced at one of the buildings on the corner.  The sign overhead proudly proclaimed that this was my headquarters for all scrap booking needs!  It appeared that the word “scrap” was going to have a major presence in my life this day.

I have always wondered just what the fascination is when it comes to scrap booking.  Sitting around on a lazy afternoon, cutting up photos and applying sticker to a blank page of cardstock are not my idea of fun.  Just how many pieces of colored construction paper can you turn into cute shapes without losing interest?  Still, given the number of stores in town that cater to scrap bookers; there must be something to the pastime, besides giving spinsters something to occupy their time!

Having a need to derive the deeper meaning out of everything that crosses my path in life; I zeroed in on the entire concept of scrap booking.  What would possess an otherwise vitality-filled human being to sit at the kitchen table and mindlessly paste doo-dads into a photo album?  Then it struck me!  I needed to look beyond the mechanics of this odd hobby and delve into the motivation driving the participants.

“What is the purpose of scrap booking?” I asked myself as Xena snored at my feet.  Obviously there is a need to preserve memories.  The objects that represent the past are then embellished with stickers, glitter, bright papers, and annotations handwritten in the margins.  Great care is taken to assure that every page is just perfect.  “Is the memory being polished for the sake of the person creating the scrap book, or is it for sharing in the best possible light?”  I sighed deeply when it became apparent that the answer to my question was a simple “both!”

I hate to admit it, but scrap booking began to look a little less like a waste of perfectly good time.  Perhaps this was a purpose-driven pastime after all.  I imagined that the spinsters I had previously mocked in my mind were actually all sitting around a table together.  They were sharing their individual memories, weaving a beautiful tapestry that depicts a collective human experience.  Along the way, a legacy was being preserved for generations to come.

Decades from now, “How many family members would sit around the room, cherishing the loving handiwork created by their ancestor?”  We all have familial relics that are passed down from generation to generation.  It might be a bible or a piece of jewelry or a needlepoint sampler; but it becomes a connection to another place and time in the past.  These trinkets give us a sense of identity and help us gain a feeling of belonging to something bigger.  The bequeathed objects ground us, define us, and make us feel just a little bit less isolated in a world that can be all too cold.  Why should a scrap book be excluded from this pedigree of family treasures?

We all fall victim to little episodes in life that transform who we are and how we see the world.  As for me, please pass the green lace and the tub of paste.  It appears I have a lifetime of memories to preserve and share with the world!

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A Life Defined by Dishpan Hands

This evening found me at the kitchen sink, hand washing a frying pan that has been used to prepare a simple yet satisfying dinner.  I have never cared for putting frying pans in the dishwasher; feeling that they hasten the untimely demise of the Teflon coating.  Come to think of it, I have never really been that fond of dishwashers in general.

At the risk of sounding like a Palmolive commercial right out of the 1960’s, there is a certain satisfaction that comes out of washing dishes by hand.  Yes, one would leap to the conclusion that I have checked in my rugged masculinity in favor of a scrub sponge!  At this juncture, I will enthusiastically point out that Navy Seals hand wash their mess kits right before rushing into harm’s way!

My mother has pictures of me at two years of age, perched precariously on a kitchen chair, joyfully washing dishes at the sink.  Much like the annual school class pictures; there are pictures of me at the sink pretty much every year of my life, from toddler to late teen.  It is like I came of age with a pot scrubber firmly clasped in my wrinkled hands.

Memories rushing through my head tonight; I pondered what it was about washing dishes that was so important in my life.  I can rule out an aversion to dishwashing machines, given that I was in my early teens before my parents purchased one.  My parents asked that we contribute to the household in the form of chores, but dishwashing was never mandated.  I am not Mysophobic (possessing a pathological fear of contamination and germs), so the benefits of antibacterial liquid dish soap fall short with me!

As I rinsed the frying pan, a familiar feeling overcame me.  Suddenly I was filled with a warm sense of accomplishment.  There had been a task at hand, I had gladly undertaken it with pure enthusiasm, I successfully saw the project through to completion, and now I could relax on the couch.  It amazed me that such a simple act could bring so much satisfaction to me.

Washing dishes has always allowed my mind to drift with no limits.  Often times a mundane act of repetition makes us lose our focus.  Automated actions, replicated over years, do not require much in the way of mental acuity.  As the hands labor, the mind is liberated!  I have reminisced about wondrous events from the past, properly trimmed in nostalgia; all the very while rinsing out drinking glasses.  I have mentally visited faraway lands and met exotic peoples; my journeys rooted in scrubbing dried and heavily caked tomato sauce out of a pan.

Each of us has a human need to contribute and be valued by those around us.  Washing dishes is not one of the more glamorous domestic duties.  It is rare to see several relatives arguing over who is going to wash the Thanksgiving dishes!  Immersing your hands into water filled with grease and food refuse is not something terribly appealing.  The individual who volunteers to do the dishes is in fact throwing themselves on a hand grenade, sacrificing themselves for the common good of all around them!

Watching the used dish water spinning down the drain in a tight vortex; the significance of what had just happened become a pleasant realization.  Hand washing the dishes is truly a microcosm of the totality of our lives!  We are driven by need for a sense of accomplishment.  We take shelter in the comfort of warm past memories, using them as a foundation for our hopes and aspirations.  We are at our best when we take a break from the doldrums of the everyday world and dare to dream!  To know that we are valued by friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers is elixir for the soul.  All of this transpires each time we stand at the kitchen sink, staring down at a pile of dishes in the soapy water!

Washing dishes at the sink has never been work to me; rather, it has been a joy!  It took me fifty-three years to finally arrive at the reasons I enjoy the scrubbing and rinsing so very much!  Unbeknownst to me, I have been living my life to the fullest, all the very while situated in a common kitchen.  I consider myself fortunate to have experienced this transformative journey with a Brillo pad in hand.  I may not have known why the quest made me feel good, but I undertook it anyway!  I actually look forward to next time I have to hand wash a dish or a pot.

We all have dirty dishes in our lives, waiting for us to clean them.  I will gladly wash, if you will rinse!

Posted in Blessings, Human Experience, Humanity, Humor, Inspirational, Motivational, Nostalgia, Self Actualization, Self-Realization, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment