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?