Friday, December 30, 2011

Hope for the Future

On the 6th of December in 1971, I kissed my 8 1/2 month pregnant wife and boarded a flight to begin the journey that would take me to war in Vietnam.  My son was born three weeks after my departure on the second day of the new year.  I learned of his arrival  on January 5 when the Company XO greeted me with the words "Hello, Pappy!  It's a boy!"

I have seldom felt prouder or more elated.  I bought a round at the officer's club and another at our Company Bar. Later that night, I wrote letters to my wife and son expressing joy and hope for his future.

That son turns forty this week. So far, it's been a great ride.

Over the past forty years, I taught or watched my son learn to crawl, to walk, and to talk.  I've watched him play soccer, sing in a show choir, and perform in plays.  I watched him fall in love, get married and greet four children of his own.  I saw him ordained as a minister and proudly perform the wedding ceremony that united his younger sister with her intended.

I did not always approve of everything my son did or how he did it, and probably never will.  He is not me and we think and do things differently.  But over the past forty years, I've learned that I don't have to approve of all of someone's actions to love them. And even some of his misadventures turned out kind of neat.

I learned that being a parent doesn't cease when a child grows and assumes his or her rightful position as an independent, responsible and productive member of adult society. Roles and responsibilities may change, but parenthood continues.  Nothing has or could ever stop me from being my son's father, or him from being my son.  And for this, I am grateful.

Forty years ago, I was blessed with the arrival of a son, and in him, joy and hope for the future. Since then, I have felt that same joy and hope as I greeted another son, two daughters, and eight grand children.

What has similarly filled you with hope and joy?

What can you do and what are you doing to realize that hope?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fast Forward Through the Year

(A guest post by Karol J. Lodge)

Life is being fast-forwarded. 

It’s not just Christmas but the entire year. Try buying a roof rake or snow shovel to replace a broken one in February. End of season clearance is over and everything is gone or stored for next year. 

You can buy a lawn mower, rake or garden hose in February, but there are no winter coats.  Do you need a bathing suit before March?  We have plenty!

Time has changed for this generation. Looking forward to anything loses impact when, by the time it gets here, you have been marketed into looking forward to whatever is next. 

June brings the “back to school” sales with warm coats and boots. September looks past Halloween to Christmas, school supplies having been picked over long before.

Songs that were popular when we were young are now popular in advertising, maybe so we baby boomers won’t object so much to life running full force to keep up with all the great technology. 

I object to “Surfing USA”in January and “So This Is Christmas” in July but then I guess I am just not keeping up.  

So, how do you deal with life on fast forward?

How do you keep the seasons in their proper places?

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Holiday Tradition

Call me sentimental but I love Christmas -- the lights, the decorations, the carols, and the general feeling of celebration.  Most of all, I love reading or hearing the Christmas story, not in modern English, or in a paraphrase, but in the language of King James in which I first heard it as a child.  

When I was a child and young teen, the annual reading of the Christmas story was something of a family tradition.  My mother would open her Bible and begin reading with the words "Now it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus" and continuing through a journey to Bethlehem where we learn that "the days were accomplished" that Mary, "being great with child" "should be delivered".  "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, for there was no room for them in the inn." 

The picture is both wonderful and poignant -- the young couple, unable to find a room, the days being accomplished, and the birth of a son who, regardless of circumstance, was properly cared for, wrapped up and laid in the only suitable bed available.    

Next we see a band of shepherds "abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night" on a night that promised to be the same as any other.  We read that an angel of the Lord appeared and they were "sore afraid".  But the angel said "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the City of David, as savior who is Christ, the Lord." And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men."

A child? A savior? Peace? On earth? Good will to men? What is this?  The shepherds were curious and "went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger."

That is the story. 

Reading or hearing it on Christmas Eve is a family tradition.

What are your family's holiday traditions? 

How will you claim the promise of peace on earth and good will to men?

Monday, December 19, 2011

On Being Irked

I am irked.  I am officially irked.  And, even more irksome, I am irked by something I possibly could have prevented.
Allow me explain. 

I have a morning routine by which I assure that all of the essential activities get performed -- medication (check), blood glucose test (check), ID badge around neck (check), correct items in briefcase and pockets (check), coffee brewed and in travel mug (check), car keys in hand (check) -- before I go out the door and flying down the highway.

Clipping my cell phone to my belt is one of my morning routine activities performed each and every workday. I was therefore surprised last Monday to find when I reached for it, that my cell phone was not in its customary place on my belt. After thinking "Bummer, dude!" and "I must have been knocked out of sequence" I thought "No problem.  I'll pick it up when I get home."  I then promptly forgot the whole thing until Tuesday morning when I reached for my cell and noticed once again that it was not there. I relived the same conversation with myself, except this time when I got home I didn't forget to look.

I looked and my wife looked.  Then we both looked together and voila! No cell phone -- not where it was thought to be, not in any pants or jacket pocket, not among the cushions of my easy chair or slipped into the mechanism of the recliner, not on either computer table, not in the pile of half-read books that lives by my easy chair. My six-year-old but still-very-serviceable cell phone was gone, taking with it my frequently called numbers and the pictures I had yet to post to Facebook.

The last time I remember seeing it was when I turned it on after church on Sunday.  After that, I'm just not sure. Maybe the clip slipped from my belt when I removed my coat at the mall on Sunday afternoon.  Maybe it never got securely clipped to the belt after I turned it on and fell off at some unknown location.  Either way, it was gone and gone is gone. 

The bottom line is that Tuesday evening, my wife and I spent some real quality time with the nice young man at the Verizon store comisserating, getting the old phone deactivated -- I don't want anyone using my minutes but me -- and acquiring a new one, a basic dumb phone with no more features than the one it replaces.  All that remains is to manually add my contacts and frequently called numbers. 

The problem is solved.
I am still irked, but have managed to conquer the irksome experience without lasting damage to either my personality or my disposition. 

So, how do you handle life's irksome experiences?
Or do you let life's irksome experiences handle you? 
Have a great day and don't let the irksome things get to you!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Madness

This past week, for the first time in several years, I visited the mall at Tyson’s Corner Center.  I had a special gift to buy that was only available in a store at that particular mall.  The time was available to go get it and I went.  

I was extremely disheartened by the experience.    

The drive was pleasant enough. Traffic, although jammed bumper-to-bumper from the mall entrance to the parking area, was generally light.  Parking near the entrance doors was packed, but I got a good space near the exit ramp and enjoyed the walk.  Once inside, I checked the directory, found the store I wanted near the farthest point from where I was, and started walking.

Let me state for the record that Tyson’s Corner Center is not small.  Known in commercials as “where the stores are”, it is anchored by  Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Nordstom, Lord and Taylor, and Nieman Marcus and supported by over 300 other specialty stores, shops, and dining establishments.  The atmosphere is busy, bright, and ostentatious, filled with lots of shops catering to an upscale clientele.  More than other place I’ve known, "where the stores are" at Tyson’s Corner Center is both a shrine to the American gods of excess consumerism and the quest for ever more ever better stuff, and a monument to the purchasing capacity of those who have a lot more money (or a higher credit limit) than they have good sense. After all, do not we Americans believe that enough is good, more is better and too much is just about right?  

Inside the mall, one’s eyes are assaulted by too many bright lights reflected from too many mirrors and too many highly polished windows.  The ears are assaulted by too much music blaring from too many speakers.  Each establishment seems to have its own particular brand of muzak and to be in audio competition with every establishment near it.  And finally, the mind is assaulted by so many images of so many piles of so much merchandise that it is rendered incapable of appreciation, much less a decision on what to buy.  Rather, the temptation is to flit from one desirable offering or bright shiny object to the next. To the uninitiated, it is mildly frightening.

Most shoppers are “looking”, “window shopping”, or “hanging out” rather than buying. Most are totally oblivious of anyone save themselves.  And that’s sad.

I have never been one for whom shopping is considered a sport or a fun way to fritter away a slow afternoon.  My preferred mode of operation is to know what I want and where to get it and to go there, get it, and get out.  I don’t go to the mall to “hang out” or “look around”. I go to accomplish a mission.  When buying gifts, I may make an exception to the “looking around” part, but still attempt to know the kind of thing I’m looking for and where such things may be found before setting out and to focus my search on those places.  

I find myself longing for the kinder and gentler times of my childhood, when gifts were bought at local stores where you knew an were known by the proprietor and gifts were treasured because of the value of one’s relationship with the giver rather than their monetary or passing fad value.  

Long story short, I found the store, made my purchase and was back home in time to watch the end of a football game I had abandoned early in the second quarter.  I will not be going back any time soon.

So, where do you plan to shop, and what do you plan to buy this season?

And is your gift about the gift itself, or the relationship between the you and the receiver?

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Goose is Getting Fat

"Christmas is coming.
The goose is getting fat.
Please to put a penny 
In the old man's hat!"

I have a confession to make.  Most of the year, I'm a logical engineering type, a cross between Dilbert, of cartoon fame, and Star Trek's Mr. Spock.  But every December first, the clock turns back and I become a kid again, eagerly counting off the days and making all of the traditional preparations for Christmas.  

The outside lights go up shortly after Thanksgiving, a job traditionally reserved for our second son and best accomplished after dark on the coldest night of the season to date.  

At about the same time, the advent wreath and manger scene come out to assume their rightful places for the season.

The tree is put up and decorated a bit later.  We will not have a full-size tree this year, but a smaller one that will live on a table.  We are still negotiating whether to put it in the living room or downstairs with the TV.  Either place, we will have way too many decorations to use them all.

During all of our preparations we will play Christmas CDs by artists ranging from Luciano Pavarotti to Mannheim Steamroller, and it will be good.

However, at our house, it's just not Christmas until we've heard the John Denver and Muppets Christmas Album ( at least once and preferably many times more.  It may be hokey and it may be corny, but for my family  it's an unbreakable tradition.  Nothing does more to put me in the spirit of the season than to hear Mr. Denver join the muppets in "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  Nothing brings home the spirit of the season more than hearing Miss Piggy lead the muppet family in a round of "Christmas is Coming".

"Christmas is coming.
The goose is getting fat.
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat."

Christmas is not about the lights, or the tree, or the decorations, nor even about the gifts one anticipates receiving, but about the acts of kindness and mercy, charity and good-will one can do for those who can never reciprocate. 

These acts need not be large.  As the song goes on to say

"If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do."

We are not asked to give what we have not, but what we have and 

"If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you!"

Every little bit helps.  And you will be blessed.

What acts of kindness, mercy, charity, and good-will will you perform this season?

Why not make it a tradition to continue them throughout the New Year?

"and God bless you!"

Friday, December 2, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Today, we celebrate my wife's seventeenth birthday.  Lest any of you get the wrong impression, let me state unequivocally that I have but one wife and her natal day is much more than 17 years in the past.

Today, we celebrate the seventeenth anniversary of my wife's second birthday  -- the day on which she had radical breast cancer surgery and became, in the language of those who have been treated for cancer, "a survivor."  Like all birthdays, today marks a milestone.

After treatment, remaining cancer free for five years signifies a cure.  During those five years, my wife had  blood work and visited the oncologist every quarter and then every six months.  For the next five years, she visited the oncologist once a year.  On the visit corresponding to ten years cancer free, her oncologist released her with the words "I never want to see you again."  She replied "You're a nice guy, but I never want to see you again either".  That was seven years ago. Today, follow-up consists of an annual mammogram and regularly scheduled periodic physical.

Surviving cancer or any serious threat changes one's outlook.  For the survivor and those close to her there is no such thing as "just another day".  Rather, each day is recognized as the extraordinary gift and occasion for gratitude that it is, each breath and each moment as an occasion for joy.  The sun shines brighter; the rain falls more gently; birds sing more sweetly; kittens, and puppies and squirrels are cuter and more wonderful; and time spent with family and friends becomes more precious as do the people themselves.

It is written somewhere that "You have never lived until you have almost died.  To those who have fought for it, life has a flavor the protected will never know." A survivor knows that the statement is true.

Both my wife and I are truly grateful for the last seventeen years, in celebration of which we plan to drink wine and eat ice cream.  And for all of the days remaining to us, we will celebrate the blessing that is each day.

Is your day a gift or a burden to you?

What do you plan to do about it?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Black Friday

In the retail world, the Friday following Thanksgiving has become known as Black Friday.  On Black Friday, retailers across the nation move from "in the red" to "in the black" as the American public begin the annual buying and spending frenzy that precedes Christmas and culminates only after the final Year End Clearance.

More than anything else, Black Friday has come to symbolize excess -- excess consumerism, excess spending, and excess debt as people with more money than good sense rush to obtain the latest and greatest electronic gizmo or toy that they can't really afford.  As it has come to symbolize excess, Black Friday has come also to symbolize extremes -- extreme merchandising, extreme retail hours, and extreme crowds of shoppers competing for one or two extreme bargains.  People are regularly injured, crushed, and trampled in the press and crush of bargain-crazed shoppers.  And the season of peace on earth among men of good will and of good will itself gets trampled beneath the feet of "Gotta have it, gotta have it, gotta have it NOW!"

I refuse to participate in Black Friday.  I willingly forgo the supposed joy of competing for bargains with an army of rude and impatient people.  Instead, I plan to spend the day at home where the only competition will be with family over who can make the best turkey sandwich and my worst excess will involve the consumption of at least one such culinary masterpiece.

I refuse to participate in the frenzy of excessive spending that is now part of the season.  Instead, I will do what I can to stimulate the only economy that counts -- my family economy -- by paying cash and remaining debt free.  I do not want to spend my next six months paying for my own excesses and lapses in judgement.

For me, shopping is less a sport than it is a necessary evil.  Nevertheless I will shop.  However, rather than a frenzied search for the latest and greatest bargain from China, I will conduct a careful and diligent search for the perfect gift for everyone on my list.  I am confident that these items are out there waiting for me.  I accept the challenge of finding them.  Many of them, like the items pictured above, will be locally produced, and will benefit some worthy cause. I wish to send as few as possible of my hard earned Washingtons, Hamiltons, and Benjamins overseas.

And finally, I will seek to bear in mind that Christmas is not about shopping, or getting presents, or even the lights and the tree and the food but about celebrating the birth of He who is the prince of peace and acting out the vision of peace on earth and good will to men.

How will you spend your Black Friday?

How will you act out the vision of peace and good will this year?

Thanksgiving Proclamation

"It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favors." 
--George Washington, Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1789

The older I get, the more firmly I become convinced that happiness is more often the result of friendship than of circumstances.  And, dear reader, I am profoundly grateful to count you among my friends. 

I would amend 1789 proclamation of George Washington to read "It is the duty of all people to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favors." 

May your day be filled with a sense of enjoyment and gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good Food, Good Friends, Good Times

The day before Thanksgiving is the heaviest travel day of the year, bearing out surveys showing our peculiar American holiday of stopping to give thanks is also our most popular.  On Thanksgiving, the wheels of commerce grind to a halt, traffic ceases, and the world stops and takes a deep breath before sitting down to a table laden with turkey, stuffing, mashed and sweet potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, corn pudding, peas and, if you're from my family, sauerkraut with neck meat and giblets and with all sorts of other delicacies.  

This year, three of our children, with spouses, and all eight grand kids, will join us for the feast, hearkening back to similar feasts at my Grandfather's house.  Then, Grandmother, Grand Pop, Aunt Pat and Uncle Ed, Aunt Elsie and Uncle Bun, and my parents and sisters all enjoyed the feast around a table large enough to have room for everybody.  This year, the old table, even with all six leaves, will probably not be large enough to seat us all and instead of sitting around the table, we will end up sitting around.  Around the table or where ever, it will be good.

Somewhere between the last course and the food and football induced coma that precedes pumpkin pie and coffee, I will slip away and compile a list of things for which I am thankful, carefully writing it out in longhand.  On my list, I will attempt to recognize and consciously give thanks for each of the blessings I have enjoyed over the last year.

I will give thanks for life, and the spirit to enjoy it; for paid work and for labors of love that I am able to do.  I will give thanks for my wife, soul mate, and life companion.  Who would have thought such a thing was possible?  I will give thanks for each of my children, all different and all wonderful, and for their spouses.  And I will give special thanks for my grand kids one by one, each one unique, each one a blessing.  I will give thanks for friends, new, old, and re-discovered, carefully listing each by name. Finally, I will give thanks for food, clothing, shelter and for the comforts, luxuries, and experiences that I have been privileged to enjoy or, if not to enjoy, at least to learn from.

My list will be woefully inadequate.  Remembering everything is impossible.  But, when I pull my list out over the next year and read it, it will be enough to remind me how lucky I really am, and how greatly I am blessed.

Good food, good friends, good times -- Thanksgiving is all that.  But more than that, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect.

So, what will you put at the top of your list this year?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On the Eleventh Hour, On the Eleventh Day

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns stopped.

For four years, the armies of the great nations of the world had savaged each other from Europe to Africa to  the Middle East in a war of such a scale and of such brutality that it became known as the Great War and the war to end all wars.  But on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, the combatants agreed to an armistice, and the guns stopped.  

Some units stopped firing and ceased operations well before the eleven  AM deadline.  Others, not content to let the enemy have the last word, fired at maximum rate until the deadline. But at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns stopped and silence fell across the trench lines and no-man's-land from Switzerland to the North Sea.  It would take another year to conclude peace, but for all intents and purposes, the Great War, a war involving over 70 million personnel and leaving over nine million dead, was over.

It's been 93 years since the day the guns stopped and the generation that fought the war to end all wars has passed from among us.  Even now, as the memory of those men and that war and those times grows dim we remember that no less than five subsequent wars have proven that there is no war to end all wars and no end to the savagery that can be practiced between men and nations.

In 1954, in recognition of the service of those who served and fought after the Great War, Congress amended the law to change the name of the 11 November holiday from Armistice Day -- the day the guns stopped -- to Veterans' Day, in honor of those who have served.

This Veterans' Day, I will remember those who served and sacrificed in the Great War and all wars subsequent to it.  And I shall reflect on the words of the poem, written in 1915 by Canadian surgeon, Lt. Col. John McRae.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

How will you hold the torch high?
How will you keep faith with those who suffered and sacrificed for you?
How will you remember the day the guns stopped?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

To Everything, a Season

A few short weeks ago, when I stepped into a local store to pick up some treats for Halloween I was surprised at the difficulty I had finding them.  This year, the black and orange Halloween candy and treats were almost hidden behind shelf upon shelf of red and green goodies laid out for Christmas nearly two months in the future.  Today, Columbus Day, with it's sales seems to usher in a period of intense consumer marketing and spending that lasts until the end of the final year-end clearance sometime in the month of January.

It was not always so.  When I was growing up before the age of national mass marketing, back in the stone ages of the 1950's, each holiday was separate and distinct to itself.  As a schoolboy, I enjoyed the unique character and emphasis of each.

On Columbus Day, we celebrated the Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.  We celebrated because America was a great place to live.  We celebrated Columbus because we would not have such a great place to live if Queen Isabella had not hocked her jewels to finance Columbus an had he not taken the voyage.  There were a few sales, but nothing like the marketing extravaganzas of today.

Three weeks after Columbus Day, we celebrated Halloween.  Kids in town went trick or treating.  Kids around the farming community went to the annual Halloween party at the church hall.

Halloween was followed by what was then called "Armistice Day", a day of solemn remembrance of those who had given their lives in what was then called "the Great War."  In school, we read and memorized lines of the poem "In Flanders Fields".  I recall them to this day. "In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our graves, while in the sky, The lark, still bravely singing fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below."  Do schoolboys and girls still learn of the sacrifice of so many?  I know not.  If not, our nation is the poorer for it.

Then came Thanksgiving, and we learned about the Pilgrims and Indians celebrating the first Thanksgiving in New England.  No one knew or cared that the first Thanksgiving had already been celebrated in the colony of Virginia three years before.  According to popular knowledge, the first Thanksgiving was in Plymouth, Massachusetts and that's what we commemorated.  The knowledge became part of our cultural heritage. 

Christmas was purposely kept separate from Thanksgiving. Even the Sears Christmas Book, filled with pictures and descriptions of the toys my sisters and I used to drool over, never arrived in the mail until the week after Thanksgiving.  Each holiday deserved and had its own special place.

In a way, I miss that slower, more deliberate time when the distance between Columbus Day and Halloween stretched out almost forever, and the four weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas was an eternity.  In our rush to get from one day to the other with such haste, we are in danger of forgetting the very important reason why each occasion is and should remain a separate holiday in its own right.

So, what will you be celebrating this season?  Will you celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day as the separate occasions that they are or will you rather celebrate the emerging holiday of Columweenvetgivmasyear?

Your answer is important.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Backwards in Time

"There once was a lady named Bright
Who traveled much faster than light.
She left home one day
In a relative way
And returned the previous night!"

In recent news, we read that a team of Physicists in Geneva have measured neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light which, according to Einstein's 1905 special theory of relativity, is something that is just not supposed to happen.  

If I recall the mathematics correctly, when something moves faster than the speed of light in free space, time must run backward, as alluded to in the poem above, in order for the equations to balance. Given the mathematics of faster-than-light-speed travel, science fiction writers and dreamers such as I find ourselves musing over the the question "If I could go back in time and change something, would I, and what would I change?

One friend stated that he would go back to the very beginning and prevent Adam and Eve from eating the apple.  My response was that Adam would probably have invited him home to dinner where he'd eat what was put before him and even compliment Eve on the apple pie!

Others more qualified that I have dealt with the results of a Southern victory in the Late Unpleasantness, chronicling the subsequent breakup of this great nation into the United States, the Confederate States, the independent Republics of Texas and California, and the Greater Navajo Nation.  These speculations lead me to conclude that God causes history to flow in the right direction even if man fails to recognize it at the time.  Therefore, I must limit discussion to what I have lived, what has brought me to where I am, and decisions I have made.  

My bottom line is that I'm not sure I'm wise enough to want to change anything.

Suppose I had not met and married the girl of my dreams, but someone else that I knew?  Suppose we had not ever had that first date in 1962?  Suppose we had not had the second?  Life would be different.  I would not have four great children and eight (so far) absolutely exceptional grand children?

Suppose I had said "No" when asked if I could fly with Ziggy on 30 June 1972?  I would not have gotten shot, at least not that day.  However at least one other person has told me that some one with less experience (I had a bit over 300 hours in the front seat, and most of them with Ziggy) might not have able to help bring that shot up bird home and land it safely.  And Ziggy and Sue would not have three daughters.

Suppose I had not come to rest in Sterling 29 years ago? What then?  
Suppose I had not attended the job fair that resulted in my current job? 
Suppose I had not learned my work ethic on the farm? 

What then?  

I would be different and the world would be different.  How different and whether better or not I cannot know.  In the words of Sinatra, "Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention." Given the opportunity, I would probably change little except to love more, to forgive more, and to enjoy this life that I have ever more fully every day.
Given the opportunity to change the past, would you? 

The past is prologue for the future.  Why not focus ahead and change the future?

Friday, October 21, 2011

What Success Looks Like

As an engineer, I am more than used to being asked or asking during a project definition meeting "What does success look like?"  The point of this question is always the same: to visualize the desired result or end state.  Only recently did I realize that the question, "What does success look like?" can be used to define where we've been, show where we are, and point to where we're going in life as well as work.

When I was nineteen, success looked like a new 1965 Impala, 300 horse with 4 speed, posi-traction, heavy-duty suspension and push-button AM radio, maroon in color.  I dreamed of that car for months before it became mine, but I achieved that vision and have pictures to prove it.

When I was twenty-one, success looked like the girl of my dreams, dressed in white, coming down the aisle to meet me and join her hand and life to mine.  We have pictures to prove that too!

At twenty-two, success was a certificate from the DC apprenticeship council proclaiming me a Journeyman Scientific Instrument Maker, and also a letter of acceptance to Middle Tennessee State University.

Three years later, success was a sheepskin documenting a degree in physics and gold bars and crossed cannon marking me as a 2d Lieutenant of Field Artillery.  Eighteen months after that, success was a pair of Army Aviator Wings.

In Vietnam, success was marked by colorful ribbons, impressive scars, and a flight home in the cabin rather than the cargo bay of the freedom bird.  Although I didn't realize it at the time, that particular success was also marked by friendships that continue to this day, and I have reunion photos to prove it.

Success at Walter Reed was a current flight physical and orders to flying duty when I checked out nearly nine months after I arrived.

Since then, there have been many other pictures of success -- pictures of people, places, and events, pictures of family times and children growing into adults.  One of the latest -- one of my favorites -- is posted above.  It shows me, my wife, and our four children, all of whom have grown to become (reasonably) responsible and productive adult members of society.

On the right, the photo depicts my older son, a writer and minister of the Gospel who just performed the wedding ceremony for his sister and her groom.  I stand next to him, justifiably proud.  One day, he will be privileged to stand in my place.

Our youngest is the bride in the picture.  She is a social worker who works with the homeless, attempting to impart life-skills that will permit them to have and hold onto the home they so desperately need.

My wife, beaming with happiness, is next.  We've been on this journey together for a long time and much of the success is hers.  It has not always been easy, but we did things together and, from the look of the picture, managed to do a lot of things right.

Our older daughter, the matron of honor, is next.  She is a teacher of special needs children and the mother of two grandsons, known affectionately as "Thing 1" and "Thing 2".

Finally, you see my younger son, straight and tall, a Naval Officer and career Navy, himself the father of two.  He too will someday stand proudly in my place.

The point of all this is not to brag about my family or myself (well, that too!) but to demonstrate that success has features that can be seen.  Before achievement, success is a vision and a promise. But when achieved, success can be proven with hard evidence.

So, what does success look like to you?  And, how will you prove it?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Manly Color of Pink

I never considered pink to be a particularly manly color. In fact, I thought rather the opposite.  Then, I went to Vietnam, and was assigned to fly with the 361st Aerial Weapons Company -- the world famous Pink Panthers, the best helicopter company in country and legends in our own minds.

We flew the AH-1G Cobra gunship, escorting lightly armed UH-1 troop carriers into and out of landing zones "way out west".  During the Easter Offensive of 1972, we were a big part of the Battle of Kontum. (  When you saw TV news reels of Cobras over Kontum, it was probably us.  When President Nixon announced on national TV that "Kontum still stands" it was due to in great measure to the efforts of the Pink Panthers.

To a man, we Panthers embraced the color of pink.  The exterior of the orderly room was painted pink as was flight operations.  And, although the helicopters remained OD Green, the very top of each vertical fin was painted pink.  We even dropped a pink sink onto enemy positions on Chu Pao Mountain so we could truthfully say that we threw everything at them, including the kitchen sink!

Being a Pink Panther was and remains a badge of honor for those of us who flew with them.  At our reunions, these forty years later, we are quick to proclaim "There were three kinds of helicopter pilots in Vietnam: those who were Panthers, those who were gun covered by the Panthers, and those who wish to God they were one of the other two."  At our reunions we take pride in wearing out pink shirts and hats and as you can guess, the manly color of pink figures prominently in the decor of our reunion hospitality suite, the "Stickitt Inn".

But I have a second and more important reason to embrace the color of pink.  October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Paula, my wife of over 45 years, is a 17 year breast cancer survivor.

No one wants to learn that they or someone they love has cancer.  Neither did we.  But we did all the research we could, talked to everyone we could find who had information, and made what was, for us, the best decision for treatment and reconstruction.  In our decision process, my wife was mentored by our friend Maggi, herself a survivor.  In turn, Paula was able mentor Patti and Marge and Brenda and others when they were diagnosed.  Maggi and Patti have since left us. Paula, Marge, and Brenda continue to live each day as the gift which it is.  And I embrace the manly color of pink in support of finding a cure for breast cancer.

I am aware that the sentiment is meaningless unless action is taken.  I therefore plan to visit and press the button that says "Take Action" and follow directions from there.

Will you join me?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Life Is Too Short for Matching Socks

My friend Maggi, when confronted with a mound of trivia that got in the way of things both important and urgent, was heard to say “Life is too short for matching socks." 

I am not in the habit of going sockless and I am certainly not in the habit of wearing mismatched hosiery.  But, when faced with a mound of freshly laundered socks that need to be matched and put away, and I know that the washing machine or the dryer or the laundry basket has eaten at least one, I tend to agree with Maggi -- life is too short for matching socks and much too short to spend endlessly caught up in the fat of very thin things.

Mismatched socks are a small thing, easily solved with a tiny bit of effort.  There are a lot of much larger things that life is too short for.

Life is too short for "should have", "could have", and "would have".  Life must be lived in the present.  The experiences of the past not only cannot be changed, but are common to all possible futures.  

Yesterday’s gone.  Life is too short to hold on to regrets about what you should have, could have, or would have done.  No amount brooding over could have, should have, or would have done can change it.  
Life is too short for bitterness and resentment.  Bitterness poisons the personality.  Resentment poisons the soul.  As difficult  as it may be, let go of it. Life is too short to hold onto the cold prickliness of bitterness and resentment. To hold on is a decision you get to make every day of your life.  So is to let go.  Decide to let go, and get on with living. 
Life is too short to carry a grudge. Grudges are very heavy. Grudges weigh you down.  And grudges abrade you like an ill-fitted back pack that leaves you irritated beneath where you carry it.  Trust life to take care of getting things even.  Learn and go forward.  Put down your grudge and move smartly into life.

Life may be too short for matching socks.  Life is definitely too short for a lot of other things.  Let’s get rid of those other things, the should haves, could haves and would haves; the bitterness; the resentments; the ill-feelings and grudges.  Those things hold us in the past. Instead, let's leave what is past in the past and, having learned from it, let us step boldly into the future.

Life is too short not to.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Choice -- My Way

This morning I proudly exercised my one office under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia by voting to select a candidate to represent me in the Virginia House of Delegates.  The general election is not until November, but I like to exercise my rights as often and as early as possible.

Don't expect me to tell you who I voted for. It is, after all, a secret ballot.  Neither will I specifically identify who I voted against.  A secret is a secret, and who I voted for or against is not the subject of this post.  This post is about how I arrived at my decision.

Since this was a party primary, the two candidates are very similar in their views and stands on "the issues".  With the exception of their chosen professions and work experience, there's probably not a dime's worth of difference between them.  So, to differentiate themselves from their opponent, each has seemingly delighted in digging up the dirt and publishing accusations which again were strikingly similar. So I know going in that whoever gets my vote will be someone else's idea of a crook, and I'm stuck determining which of two alleged crooks I want representing me in Richmond.

And then, I determined the ultimate differentiator. 

When they passed the act implementing a National Do Not Call List, Congress conveniently exempted political organizations from having to observe its provisions.  As a result, every election season, I find myself spammed with calls and robo-calls from candidates and their political organizations.  The calls with a person on the other end are easy to take care of.  I politely inform the caller that I don't wish to be bothered at dinner time or in the evening and that any further calls will result in me supporting their opponent.  So far, it's worked every time.

Robo-calls are a bit different.  Since there is no person to which I can respond, I protest with the only weapon available to me.  I vote for the candidate who has done the least to disturb the peace of my existence with calls and robo-calls.  And this time, as in every election, there was one clear winner. 

I mean, given similar positions and experience and putting aside the fact that each considers the other to be a crook, what's left?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Simple Abundance

There are two ways of looking at life.

One friend of mine, when asked how things are going, will almost certainly reply "I tell you, things are rough. They're just rough." I find this reply a bit odd since he is prosperous, gainfully employed, and pulling down a six figure income.  For this friend, things are not rough, and yet he lives as if they are.

Other friends who live in circumstances where things are rough live as though they are not.

One friend, who has much, lives in constant scarcity and the other, who has little, lives in abundance. The difference is their attitude.

Scarcity says "There is only so much.  I must hold on to what I have and use it sparingly lest I run out"
Abundance says "There is enough and to share.  I will use it with joy and share it with gladness."

Scarcity says "When it's gone, it's gone and will never be replaced."
Abundance says "I got it or earned it once.  I can do it again."

Scarcity says "I will keep it safe in my closet."
Abundance says "I will use it. I will enjoy it.  I will share it so that others may enjoy it too."

Scarcity says "It is valuable because I can get something for it."
Abundance says "It is valuable because I use it."

Scarcity says "I will keep it because I might need it someday."
Abundance says "I'm not using it. You are welcome to it."

People tend to associate with others of like attitude.

If I would prefer to be around those who reflect an attitude of abundance, maybe I need to start by adjusting my attitude.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Conceived in Liberty

In November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln began his remarks at Gettysburg with the statement "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." On that day, President Lincoln continued "We are now engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."

The four score and seven years have extended themselves into two hundred thirty five and, while no longer engaged in a civil war, the test continues.  Can this nation, conceived and dedicated as it was continue in liberty and justice or must it decline?

One wonders. 

Liberty is not bondage. Neither is it anarchy.  Liberty is freedom with restraint and that restraint must be the minimum necessary to preserve order and encourage felicity. Such was the liberty in which we were conceived, a liberty in law.

Neither is equality reckoned in terms of outcome or resources.  We are each subject to unique conditions.  We are each blessed with unique resources.  In that we each bring nothing into this world and it is certain we shall carry nothing out of it, we are equal.  In between, our equality is reckoned in terms of standing under the law and the opportunity to pursue our own happiness by making as much as possible of what we have as seems good to us.

At our founding, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Inalienable rights cannot be taken away.  Our rights are inalienable, but not inevitable.  Men have struggled and died to secure them for us, and they are only maintained by continued struggle.

Whether our nation will long endure is always contested.  We were conceived in liberty; will we keep it?

The question is ours and ours alone to answer. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Eulogy for a Pet

The last thing on this earth that I wanted was a cat, so when my wife told me, that one of the families in her pre school class was giving away kittens, I put my foot down -- firmly.

When she told the kids that we were getting a kitten, I put my foot down again, even more firmly.  And finally, when defeat was all but inevitable, I grudgingly accepted that they could have a kitten if they took care of it.

Thus it was that several weeks later I came home to find a small brown ticked feline, the runt, and at the same time, the pick of the litter had established residence in my domain.  

She had enormous ears, so large she reminded us of a rabbit.  And she swivelled them to follow every sound.  With those ears, the only name that fit was Radar and so she became Radar Snyder, our owner, and the ruler of all she surveyed.

That was eighteen years ago.

Early in those eighteen years, Radar discovered that her favorite lap for sitting after dinner and for napping on Sunday afternoons was mine.  She also made certain that I never overslept in the morning by poking her cold wet nose and whiskers under my ear two minutes before the alarm went off.

She sat on the arm of my chair when I read, on the monitor of my wife's computer when she was on line, and was the warm spot at the foot of the bed on many cold nights.

An indoor cat, she sometime escaped to go on adventures and was always either caught or cornered and herded back inside.  Several times, she escaped into the rain and was caught meowing plaintively at the window, as if to beg "Puh-leeze, open the door! It's wet out here!" and rewarded by being wrapped in a warm towel and dried once readmitted to house.

In short, Radar became a member of the family and a fixture at family events.  Some mornings she was a pounce at my feet, all teeth and toenails. She was also the obstacle underfoot as I made my coffee, and the sometimes disdainful presence in the middle of the room, back turned as she actively ignored me and everyone else.

Radar left us this week. After eighteen years, it was inevitable.  But saying goodbye is not easy and there is a Radar-cat-shaped void at our house.

Farewell, Radar.  There was never one like you before, and after you, none shall follow.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Of Remembrance and Gratitude

When I was a Boy Scout, it fell to my troop during the last week of May each year to visit the local cemeteries and decorate the graves of Veterans with flags, each flag placed a boot length to the right of the headstone. Thus we honored those in our community that had served their country during the Spanish American War, two World Wars, and Korea.  It was a small act, but an important one.

One of the stones where I placed a flag bore the legend F/O in front of the name. The F/O stood for "Far Off".  The body was not there but interred on some Pacific Island or buried at sea; but the memorial was part of the family plot. In my mind, it was especially important to place the flag by that one marker, to say "Even though you are not here, you are not forgotten.  Your memory is honored."

This week, similar similar small acts are being carried out at Arlington and other military and civilian cemeteries across the land as soldiers, boy scouts and other service organizations take the time to mark and thereby honor the memories of those who served.

And to say "Thank you."

"Thank you for your Service.  Thank you for the freedom in which we live. Thank you for this nation that you helped preserve."

"You are not forgotten."

"Thank you."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I am a Pack Rat

I have a confession to make: I am a pack rat.

I was born with a strong desire to acquire and, having acquired, to hold on to forever.

I grew up nurtured in the way of "Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do, or do without." Such a philosophy served my parents and grand parents well during the depths of the Great Depression, when items were used, repaired, and reused until they could be used no longer. 

It was a philosophy well-suited to the farm, where income depended on the sale of the crops, and the price recieved was never certain.  It is also a philosophy well suited to the uncertain economic times of today.

All is well as long as the items retained continue to be used and useful.  However, when things are retained past usefulness and use the result the resulting clutter can become overwhelming.  I am a packrat and I know whereof I speak.

The question is what do I throw away, what do I sell, and what do I keep?

If it's broken, and will never be fixed, it's gone -- trash.

It I haven't used it in one? three? five? ten? years, it probably needs to be gone, either given away (the church rummage sale is coming!), sold, or trashed.

It is consumeable, I need to consume and enjoy it, else, why have it?

And, if I have more than one, I probably should keep the one that works best and let the rest go.

After all, a pack rat like me needs room for all of the good and useful stuff that's just waiting to be dragged home!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Path to Happiness

Were I to desribe my home to you, I would use the words "comfortably cluttered".

I am a bibliophile. My house is filled with books. I am also enough of a child that my house is filled with toys. And I'm enough of a tinkerer that my house is filled with things to build and things I've laid aside to fix.

I am now at an age when I realize that I will never have time to read all of the books I would like to read, nor play with all of the toys I would like to play with, nor to build all of the projects I'd like to build, nor even to fix all of the things that need fixing.

I also realize that having a book does me no good unless I have the time to read it. I will probably never have the time to read them all, but reading and studying a select few will bring great enjoyment.

Ditto toys. What use is a toy if one has not the time to play with it?

Ditto projects. Had they been that important, they'd have been completed long ago.

I am finding that most of the things that make me truly happy are relatively simple and inexpensive.

I don't need to have a lot to live the good life. I need merely to appreciate and enjoy what I have; appreciating and enjoying what I have is one path to happiness.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Smells Have Changed!

In the last of the Mowgli stories, author Rudyard Kipling wrote of the coming of spring in the Seoni Hills of India as "the day the smells change". My mother used to refer to it as the day the mockingbird changes his song.

Perhaps you have experienced it yourself. You go to bed in late winter and magically awaken to the smells and sounds new growth and early spring.

This week, the smells changed in northern Virginia. Over the course of 24 hours, the mood and the season has shifted from winter to spring.

Yesterday, few of the trees showed any trace of blossom. Today, the maples all have buds. The spring blooming magnolias have gone from barren to full bloom overnight. And the forsythias, few of which showed trace of life a day ago are now clouds of bright yellow. It shouldn't surprise me -- spring happens every year -- and yet it always does.

Spring has come!

The earth is alive!

The smells have changed!

Enjoy it!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How I Remember Things

I have been blessed, I am told, with a good memory. Friends often ask me how I remember distant events, off-the wall facts, and bad jokes. I generally reply by asking them how they don't. In truth, I don't know exactly how I remember things but I have developed some habits that help me. I learned to memorize stuff. I found out at an early age that when all else fails, rote memorization almost always works. Here's how I do it: I read a sentence or recite a fact. I read it aloud. I close my eyes and speak what I just read. Then, I go to the next sentence and repeat the process. Then I go back to the first sentence and recite them both together and proceed like this until the entire paragraph, poem, chapter, or verse is locked in memory. I may even write it out, in longhand, from memory. That's how I learned the Gettysburg Address many years ago. The next day, I come back, read, recite and maybe write it down again until it is locked in. It may sound boring, but the key is repetition, repetition, and repetition. If the item to be remembered has a rhythm or a tune, so much the better. Poetry sticks much faster than prose. I also write things down. The act of writing makes things stick more quickly and firmly in my mind. I date all of my notes. I may not remember exactly what was said or done, but I will remember when I said or did it. I review my notes regularly and often. The act of reading them further sets them in my mind. If I want to keep something in the front of my mind, I write it on a card or piece of paper and put it in my tickler file to be read once a day for a week, then once a week for a month or so until it becomes part of me. Then, I refer to it once a month for as long as it is important. I read through my notes and suspense items early in the morning when my mind is fresh. Then, I go about the business of the day. And I remember.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Land of Giants

I was raised by giants in a land largely untouched by time.

Except, they weren't giants in the normal sense of the word, but men and women of normal stature. There was little to differentiate them from others of that time and place.

The men were mostly farmers or tradesmen, and often craftsmen of great skill. Most had served their country during the second World War and then come home to marry, to make their living, and to raise their families. Few, if any, had ever seen the inside of a college or university.

The women were almost all wives and the mothers of my friends, yet they were home makers of great skill and prowess.

For someone outside of the community, these giants probably appeared altogether too average. But they were nonetheless giants, at least in terms of their influence on the boy that I was and on those with whom I grew up.

My Dad, who was one of their number, was quick to point to them as examples.

One of the highest compliments Dad could pay was "He'd give you the shirt off his back if you needed it." But it went beyond mere generosity to encompass the kind of charity in which neighbour helps neighbour simply because he is a neighbour and help is needed. And neighbour accepts the help of neighbour knowing that they will one day be moved to return the same kind. It was all a normal part of life.

Most deals were sealed with a handshake among friends. Even at the bank, where signatures were required by law, it was the handshake and not the signature that sealed the transaction. Ditto the auto dealer, the implement dealer, and the farmers' co-op.

Signatures were for transactions between strangers. Neighbours trusted neighbours, and woe be unto the neighbour who proved unworthy of that trust.

Almost everybody in the community knew everybody else. And, to a small boy, it seemed that everybody greeted everybody else when they met, even lifting two fingers from the steering wheel to greet one another when they met on the road.

I went back to the community a while back, and there have been changes. Most of the farms have been supplanted by residences. Instead of dairy barns and corn fields, there are houses and not a few McMansions. Yet, even with the changes to the geography the attitudes that permeated my upbringing remain.

Neighbours still look out for neighbours. Neighbours still trust neighbours. And neighbours still greet neighbours when they meet. In these things, it remains a land untouched by time. I pray that it ever remains so.

One of the advantages of having been raised by giants is that one takes on their characteristics. Perhaps, one day I will be a giant too.