Monday, December 31, 2012

Ring Out the Old!

"I don't know half of you half as well as I would like,
and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve!"
-- Bilbo Baggins, addressing guests at his eleventy-first birthday party.

As I write this, the year 2012 is less than four hours from over. The traditional steak and cheese sandwich has been eaten. The black-eyed peas are soaking for tomorrow's dinner, and we are in for a relaxed evening. It is time to reflect, look back, and remember. On the whole, 2012 was a good year. 

As mentioned previously, I almost met my objective of publishing one post per week to this blog.  It remains a reachable objective for the coming year.

After 30 years at the same address, we saw our way clear and remodeled the kitchen and two bathrooms.  The change is dramatic enough to make me wonder if I'm in the right house every time I come home.  There are still projects to do, but the big ones are done. We're enjoying our "new" house.

In 2012, we spent a weekend in Ocean City, MD with my high school classmates. While there, I woke up and said "I think I'll go para sailing!" and para sailing we went! It was indescribably wonderful -- the view, the far horizon, the silence. I was sorry when they reeled me in at the end of the ride.  Can't wait to do it again!

I also now find myself married to a bionic woman, as my wife had a hip replaced. During her recovery, I became Chief Cook and Bottle Washer (CCBW) and discovered I like it. More importantly, I also discovered that we are surrounded by a large community of friends and caring people. We are, among all people, most richly blessed.

In 2012, we said goodbye to friends, classmates, and more than one person who helped form my character and make me who I am. The world is diminished by their passing, yet they all remain alive in the memories of our hearts. Getting old means having to say goodbye.

We made two mission trips to the mountains of western North Carolina to repair houses, plant and harvest crops, and most importantly, to renew and add friendships.  Few things compare to the beauty of a crisp mountain morning.  And few compare to good feeling of tired after accomplishing a needed task.  

We visited New Orleans for the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot's Annual Reunion where I learned from my flying buds that apparently I am writing a book. Stay tuned for more of that. Although forty or more years have passed since we were there, the Pink Panthers remain a unique unit.  Of the three kinds of people that flew helicopters in Vietnam, I am proud to have been one of those who were honored to be Pink Panthers.

If any year has a theme, 2012 is characterized by friendships. Friendship new, and friendship deepened.  Friendship renewed after half a century, and friendships budding over days, weeks, and months. The song that says "I get by with a little help from my friends" is wrong. I get by because of my friends.  And those friends include you.  Whether you come here regularly or just happen to stumble on to this blog, and it touches you, you are my friend.

In 2013, I resolve to become the kind of friend each of my friends would be proud to have.

Will you join me?


Friday, December 28, 2012

Time for a Change

Tis the season of good intentions.  As the old year passes and a new one takes its place many will pause to take stock of where they are, to plan where they want to be, and to commit to actions that will move them from one condition to the other.  Some call it making New Year's Resolutions.  Others call it "setting goals". Others call it "doing an annual review" or "visioning" or "planning". But, by whatever name, they will do it.

This year, thousands of people will, with the best of all intentions resolve to "loose weight" or to "get in shape" or to acquire this or that skill.  And, as the coming year draws to a close, many of those same people will again resolve to "loose weight" or to "get in shape" or to acquire this or that skill, having done nothing to move from where they were (and still are) to where they want to be, or to do what they want to do.

Perhaps, their goals are too ill-defined. It's easy to say "I will lose weight".  It's difficult to say "I will loose ten pounds by June 15th and commit to taking the steps necessary to make it happen.  It's easy to say "I will get in shape".  It's difficult to say "I will run a marathon (or a half marathon, or a 5K) in September" and then commit to doing the training needed to make the dream a reality.

We are told that, to be effective, our goals must be "smart", that is Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  In other words, for each big, hairy, and audacious thing one wants to accomplish, one must be able to state specifically what is to be accomplished, how success will be determined or measured, which very specific actions must be taken when to ensure success, and finally when the effort will be complete.

For example, last year, I challenged myself and invited you to join with me and end world hunger. The SMART Goal came out something like "In 2012, I will work to end world hunger, one meal at at time. Every time I go to COSTCO, I will buy one extra food item and donate it to the local food bank. Additionally,  when given the opportunity, I will deliver food from the local food bank to the hungry in my community.

So, how'd I do? Not perfect, but better than I expected. Three or four times, I forgot to buy the food, but that's it.  I think I'll keep the same goal this year with the hope of getting it right.

There were other goals, each with one or two concrete actions to accomplish them, and all with measurable outcomes and standards for judging success. This year, there will be more.

The old year is ending. Behold, the new year has come.

Where do you want to be this time next year?

How do you plan to get there?

It's time to roll up the sleeves and get started.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Face of Evil

This is not the post I wanted to write this week. That post was overcome by events, about which I am compelled to comment.

As I write this, the talking heads on the television are reporting and speculating about an act of horror in Newtown, CT. Apparently, a gunman, someone known to the school, walked into a kindergarten classroom and started shooting. As of this time, twenty children, mostly five and six years old are dead as are seven adults, including the shooter. It was an act of pure evil.

I am angered and saddened by this event. As a parent, I mourn with the parents, grandparents, and families of the dead. As a human being, I am angered.

I am angered by media circus precipitated by the event. The ghouls are already interviewing children, asking them to describe what they saw and what happened. Such things should not be. I know if it bleeds, it leads, but show some decency. Please, allow those who escaped to grieve for their dead.

I am angered and saddened that President and other national and local officials have too quickly resolved to take definitive action to prevent such events for ever happening again. I am frightened by potential actions they could take. We hardly know the perpetrator. How can we know the appropriate action? But, government typically over reacts and, to the political mind, it's a crime to let a good tragedy or crisis go to waste.

In coming weeks, we will hear of proposed and real changes to policies, laws, and regulations. And we will know, even before they are put into effect that these policies, laws, and regulations will be ineffective because the problem is not a failure of policy, law, or regulation.  The problem is a failure of morals.

Apparently, in modern society, rage justifies murder, even the murder of innocents.

Apparently, being slighted is an excuse for violence.

Apparently, being angry, hurt, or offended are perfectly valid reasons to end someone else's life.

Apparently, an eye for eye and a tooth for tooth is insufficient.  Apparently only a life or multiple lives are sufficient to pay for an eye, for a tooth, or for making someone angry.

Apparently, there is no need for anyone restrain their reaction to a real or imagined injury..

Where is the voice that says "You shall not murder"?

Where is the voice that says "Why not rather be wronged?", the voice that says "Forgive your enemies", the voice that says "Forgive and you will be forgiven."?

Where is the voice saying "Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"?

Where and in which school are these truths taught and who teaches them?

We have today looked into the face of evil. In the future, maybe as soon as tomorrow, each of us will decide how we will counter it.

What will you do when you look into the face of evil?

How will you overcome evil with good?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sixteen Tons

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go.
I owe my soul to the company store.
 -- from the Song "Sixteen Tons"
as sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Merchants call the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" for a reason since it marks the day that stores  traditionally go from operating "in the red" or at a deficit to "in the black" or at a profit. Not coincidentally, Black Friday also marks the official beginning of the season of consumer excess called "Holiday Shopping." 

For consumers, rather than marking the return to profitability, Black Friday marks the return to indebtedness. The old joke is that on Black Friday, we stop being haunted by the ghost of Christmas Past -- the bills for the last holiday season -- so that we can begin being haunted by the ghost of Christmas Presents -- new bills run up to pay for current season.

Sadly, some continue to be haunted by the ghost of Christmas Past long past the Christmas Presents and well beyond Christmas Future as new bills are added to the unpaid balances which were added to the unpaid balances of holidays past. Like the proponent in the song, the modern consumer continually digs himself deeper and deeper in debt until he "owes his soul", if not to the company store, at least to the credit company.

It is written somewhere that, when you find yourself in a hole, the first step is to stop digging. Refuse to yield power to the ghost of Christmas Past. Remember, although it may spend like cash, credit is debt, and debt haunts the future. "Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go, I owe my soul..."

Scale back. Get creative. Make some gifts. Buy local. Pay cash. Don't dare use credit. And remember, the point is let the recipient know "I love you", or "I'm thinking of you" or "I appreciate what you do." It's not about you saying "I am the greatest" and it's not about buying love..

I challenge you to find, for every person on your list, the one gift that can perfectly express your thoughts without using credit.  

So, what is that perfect something? 

How will you not spend next year haunted by the ghost of Christmas Past?