Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: A Retrospective

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

-- Omar Kayyam

The Moving Finger has written. 2015 passes from us. 2016 takes its place. Tomorrow morning, we start learning to write 2016 on all of our checks.

Some will rejoice the passing of the old year. Others will rejoice at the coming of the new. Some will awaken and wonder what happened. Some will make resolutions to be thinner, better, or happier in the new year. Others will mourn the non-accomplishments of resolutions made in 2015. And for some, the change of year will make no difference.

For me, the passing of the old year is a time of reflection and assessment. The Moving Finger has written. The old year becomes part of the unchangeable past. What was accomplished? What events made it memorable? What do I want to do again and what is best left behind?

In 2015 I settled farther into retired life and decided retirement works for me. Since retiring, I have touched nothing about my former profession, but maintain contact with the people. Sometimes I miss the work. Always I miss the people. I never miss the commute. 

In 2015 I continued to learn to live within physical limitations imposed by pulmonary fibrosis. I am still learning. I'm learning I can still do most of the things I enjoy, only not as fast. I've learned that rather than blithely charging ahead, sometimes I need to stop, catch my breath, and enjoy the moment. I learned that sometimes I really do need supplemental oxygen, and to use it when needed.

I also learned the absolute necessity of maintaining aerobic fitness to slow progression of my disease and to maintain lung capacity. I walk a lot. Walking is pleasant. I enjoy watching changes of weather and season in the neighborhood. And I'm finding the enjoyable part of the walk is not necessarily the walk itself, but the things I see and the people and dogs I meet while walking.

2015 was a great year for gardening. The eggplants and peppers produced prolifically, as did the bush and pole beans. White potatoes were a disappointment, sweet potatoes a pleasant surprise. The charity garden also did well. I may be slow, but I will plant a garden when spring comes. Gardening is therapeutic, and you get vegetables.

2015 was not a good year for writing. I neglected this blog and made faint progress on my Vietnam memoir. Both remain goals. I hope to do better in 2016.

But mostly 2015 was about family, friends, and church, all of which are dear to me. It was about going places and doing things. It was about enjoying kids and grandkids and grand dogs. It was about eating together and laughing together and working together. It was about sharing a pizza, eating ice cream and celebrating a grand daughter's first birthday. It was about watching a grandson play baseball and remembering why I loved the game so much. It was about seeing all four kids and all but two grandkids over the recent holidays. And it was about so much more.

2015 was mostly good. 2016 promises to be better.

How was your 2015? What did the moving finger write for you?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

What Kind of Christmas?

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know..."
Irving Berlin

The words above from the song by Bing Crosby are familiar to us. For many, these words set expectations for ideal Christmas weather. In areas that get snow fall, Meteorologists start predicting the likelihood of a "white Christmas" as early as October.

We like the idea of a white Christmas. Greeting card manufacturers stoke our expectations with pictures of snow, horses and sleighs, and warm and cozy farmsteads populated by cheery people. It's all very romantic, nostalgic and beautiful. 

I love those images. They take me back to memories of Christmas Dinner with Grandma, Grandpop, my two aunts, my uncles, Mom, Dad, my sisters and me all seated around Grandma's table enjoying the meal and the time together.

Even with all seven leaves and the table expanded to maximum capacity, there was seldom room for all the food. There was turkey with mashed potatoes, inside and outside dressing, sweet potatoes, corn, and corn pudding, spoon bread, sauerkraut, cranberry sauce and lots of giblet gravy. For dessert, there were pies, apple  and pumpkin, and mincemeat "with liquor in it" the idea of which which made my aunts giggle. There was applesauce fruit cake and cookies and candies. And there was joy. 

The one thing there was not was snow.

In rural Maryland where I grew up, December is a mixed bag. Some years, Christmas was gray, some years sunny. Other years, it rained. Temperatures ranged from chilly to bitter cold to almost springlike. One year -- the year I got engaged -- we had nearly sixty degrees and a short thunder snowstorm followed by driving rain. 

And yet, as the song prompts, we dream of a white Christmas, but not really. What we really dream of is the warmth and fellowship of family and friends, of seeing the joy in someone's eyes as they open that special present, of the joy of singing carols and hearing the Christmas Story. Our wish is to rekindle that joy and excitement and hold it close to our heart, to make merry and be glad whether the day be warm or cold, white with snow, or wet with mud.

This year, there will be no white Christmas for me. Instead, we will enjoy rain and temperatures borrowed from April. The appropriate song would be

"I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas,
With raindrops falling all around!
Puddles glisten, and people listen 
To raindrops falling on the ground.

I'm dreaming of a warm Christmas,
With temperatures like early spring,
Trees are budding above the mudding,
And dampness covers everything.

I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas,
Where rain will never dim the lights,
Nor silence singing of people bringing
Gifts to celebrate this night.

I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas.
We'll celebrate the Holy Birth.
Our God is with us to love and bless us
And will bring us peace on earth."

With sincere apologies to Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby.

Are you having a white Christmas?

What kind of Christmas are you having?

What makes Christmas special to you?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Time to Give Thanks

To everything, there is a season,
And a time for every purpose under heaven.
     -- Ellesiastes

It is time to give thanks.

Next to Independence Day, Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays. The first Thanksgiving celebrations in the English Speaking Colonies were held in 1619 in Virginia and in 1621 at Plymouth in Massachusetts. Twenty or so years earlier, there are records of Thanksgiving Services in the Spanish Colony of Florida and in Texas. In the new American Republic, Presidents George Washington and James Madison both issued thanksgiving proclamations, however it was President Abraham Lincoln "in the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity" to in 1863 establish Thanksgiving Day as a formal and regular holiday.

To our forefathers, it was important in all circumstances to give thanks to the Creator for His Divine Providence and blessings. Today, between family, the feast, and football, we lose sight of this purpose. Too often, we give more thought to ensuring our gravy has no lumps than to thanking the Creator of the Universe.

This should not be.

This year, somewhere between the feast and the football, I urge you slip away, take pencil and paper in hand, and list the five things, people, or circumstances for which you are most grateful. 

I bet you will be unable to limit your list to five things. That's okay. Make your list as long or as short as it needs to be, but name at least five things.

Write your top five or seven or ten things on a small piece of paper and tuck it away in your wallet where you can refer to it every day and be thankful. Then, I urge you, whenever you feel low, pull out your list, read you top five, and be grateful. If my experience is an indication, it will boost your attitude. 

My top five are

  • My wife, who has put up with me through four years of dating, forty-nine years of marriage, one war, four children, and nineteen addresses.
  • My four children, each one unique, each one different, each enriching my life in his or her own wonderful way.
  • My grandchildren. Had I known how wonderful grand kids were, I'd have had them first.
  • Myriad friends, neighbors and acquaintances, recently met or long time known. My life is infinitely richer for knowing each of you.

My list could go on, and it will, but not here. 

Now, it's your turn. For what five things are you most thankful?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Commencement Address

This June, I realize I will likely never have the opportunity to address a graduating class. Should such an opportunity present itself, this is what I'd say:

"Superintendent Bulgebottom, Principal Grindstone, Faculty, Honored Guests, Parents, Families, and Friends: Thank you for inviting me and thank you for all you have done to make this moment possible. I know it has not been easy. Your efforts need to be recognized.

That said, I am not here to speak to you but to the graduating class of 2015.

Class of 2015, Congratulations!

You did it! You are about to graduate. You may be justifiably proud of your accomplishment.

With the conferring of diplomas you pass from school life to real life.

Tonight you begin the transition from student to adult. From this night forward, you are expected more and more to act as responsible and productive adult members of society.

You have every right to be excited and a little bit frightened over what comes next.

Fifty-two years ago, I was you. Fifty-two years ago, I was sitting in the uncomfortable chair, blowing the tassel on my cap to and fro, enduring the speeches, waiting for the the diploma to be conferred and impatiently anticipating the all-night party. I know you are too.

Fear not. I'll not keep you long.

This evening, once you receive your diplomas, you will all be equal. From the valedictorian at the top of the class to the anchor person at the bottom, you will each be entitled to exercise the responsibilities and reap the rewards of being a high school graduate.

This evening you will all be equal. From this evening forward you will become more and more different. From this evening forward, what you make of your life will more and more be up to you. You have been given a foundation. It is up to you to decide what you will build on it.

At this moment, each of you carries within yourself a dream, a picture of a hoped-for future according to you. For some, the dream involves further study, for others trade school, military service, or immediate employment. Some of you aren't sure and will take time to decide what comes next. Some of you will plan your life some of you will drift into and through it.

However you choose to proceed, I urge you, always have a dream. Always carry in your mind a clear vision of the future according to you. Always act to achieve that vision and make your dream a reality.

I urge you, make it a dream worthy of your efforts! Dream a great dream. Dream a magnificent dream, and then, set out to live it.

Know that as you go through life, your dream may change. What is important now may become less important or totally unimportant in the future. Life is like that.

Know that you will almost certainly experience setbacks and disappointments. When that happens, remember setbacks and changes keep life from becoming boring. Without them life would be a colorless existence. With them, life is a never ending adventure. Great dreams are worthy of great efforts. When faced with setbacks, great people regroup, alter course and move on.

On your way to living your dream I want you to remember four words.

The first two words are "Marketable Skills".

I know. "Marketable skills"


But, even if you are independently wealthy, the day will come when you will be forced to pay your own way. That day may come immediately. It may come later, but it will come. When it comes, you will need to be able to do something that someone is willing to pay you for doing. Whether it be making things, repairing things, selling things, writing things, inventing things, testing things, or performing some act of service, you need to do something to pay the freight.

Skills are developed by practice. Practice takes time. You will not be perfect when you start. Neither will you start at the top. Your parents did not start at the top either. But, if you persist, you can become world class. If exercising a skill is part of your dream, so much the better. And if not, your skills will at least provide a way finance the journey.

The second two words I want you to remember are "Work Ethic".

Work Ethic.

Again, BORING, but necessary.

Work Ethic combines dedication, commitment, and diligence.

Work ethic means not just showing up and putting in your time, it means committing yourself to showing up on time or early, to working all day every day. Work ethic means dedicating yourself to doing your tasks to the highest standards of excellence. Work ethic means working diligently until your tasks are completed not matter how dirty, disgusting, or boring they are. From experience, I can tell you being dirty won't kill you. Being hot and sweaty won't kill you. Being disgusted won't kill you. Being bored won't kill you.

Work ethic means working through the dirt, disgust and boredom to accomplish something. Work ethic means taking pride in doing your job well, no matter how dirty, disgusting, and boring it may be. Work ethic means seeking and striving to always do a little bit better. Work ethic means expending the time and effort to become a world class performer on your field of dreams.

A wiser man than I once sought the secret to success. Because he looked, for it, he found it. I want to share it with you.

The secret to success is this:

Successful people make it a habit to do things that failures don't like to do.

Work Ethic makes it a habit to do things that unsuccessful people don't like to do in order to be world class.

Say it with me.

Successful people make it a habit to do things that failures don't like to do.

Failures don't like to get up in the morning. Neither do successful people, but they do it anyway.

Failures don't like to show up every day. Successful people don't like it either, but they do it with enthusiasm.

Failures don't like to get started. Successful people realize that you can't finish what you don't start and start whether they want to or not.

Failures don't like spending hours to learn and practice their skills. Successful people take the time, put in the practice, and hone their skills every day. Successful people may not like the hours of practice any better than those who will fail, but they do it anyway.

Failures settle for good enough. Successful people seek to become world class. In a lot of things, it takes as little as 25 hours of practice to be "good enough". We are told it takes about 10,000 hours, roughly five years of work at 40 hours a week, to become world class.

Be world class.

Finally learn to recognize and take advantage of every opportunity you get to learn and do things that move you forward to achieve your dream, things that are new, different and exciting.

In my experience, the greatest opportunities began with the words "By the way" and ended with the words "Is that something you might be interested in?".

"By the way, I was talking to a lady from such and such a company. They have a program that will train you to be a scientific instrument maker and pay for 30 hours of college credit. Would you be interested in something like that?"

"By the way, we have a flight program. You can get your private pilot's license and the Army will send you to flight school. Does that sound like something you'd like to do?"

 Remember, opportunity most often arrives dressed in overalls and looks a lot like work. I did a lot of very good work, very interesting work, and very exciting work taking advantage of my opportunities. None of them were exactly what I wanted but each one pointed in the direction of my dreams. Today, they are part of what I am.

As you leave here tonight to begin your life-long adventure, I urge you to have a magnificent dream, to develop a set of marketable skills, to become known for your work ethic, for your commitment, dedication, and diligence to doing the best job possible what ever that job may be. I urge you to make it a habit and practice doing the things that that make for success, the things that failures don't like to do. Finally, I urge you to learn to recognize and take advantage of every opportunity to move your dream along.

You will not be disappointed.

My hope and wish for each of you is that you become the world-class person you are intended to be.

Welcome to life.

Go forth and do great and wonderful things.

Go out and live your dream.

To infinity, and beyond!"

Friday, May 22, 2015

Short Days Ago We Lived

This weekend, we celebrate Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember and honor those who gave their lives in the wars of this nation.

Memorial Day is not for us who served and survive. Neither is it to honor those who continue to serve this day, no matter how grateful we are for their service. No. This weekend is dedicated to the memory and honor of our dead, those who fought and died for us. it is set aside that we might hear their voice in the silence that transcends the clash and clamor of our daily lives.

What do these honored dead say to we who live and remain? Major John McRae captured it most eloquently in the second stanza of his poem "In Flanders Fields"

"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."

For these honored dead, there is no time. No life remains for them to enjoy the pleasures of this earth. Short days ago they lived, laughed, loved, and enjoyed even as we do today. They were once, and are no more.

What have they to say to us? To McRae, the words were clear,

"Take up the quarrel with the foe.
To you from failing hands we throw the torch!
Be yours to hold it high.
If you break faith with us who die
We will not rest though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields."

The torch! We are to lift and hold high the torch of light and freedom, to be a beacon to all who long to be free, to become the city on the hill that cannot be hidden.

Long before Major McCrae, PresidentAbraham Lincoln voiced the same sentiment in "a few appropriate words" uttered in late November 1863 at the dedication of a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield as a cemetery for those who died in that battle.

Lincoln stated that "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." Then, he called upon we who live and remain to complete the work begun by the brave men who gave their lives at Gettysburg.

There have been other wars since Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg, other wars since Major McCrae penned his poem in Flanders. Even today, flowers remain unwilted on fresh graves in Arlington and other cemeteries and churchyards around the nation. Even today, the torch is passed. Even today, the work continues.

In the words of Lincoln, "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

What measure of increased devotion will you take?

What part of the work falls to you?

How will you spend your Memorial Day?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May Song

Birdsong is my music,
The flowers sweet perfume,
White clouds are a tapestry
Wove on cerulean blue.

The sunshine is my brother,
The earth, my faithful friend,
The beeze it is a lover's kiss,
That one hopes never ends.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

It's Only a Number

This week, I attained the age of seventy. I am told that officially makes me old.

Hate to disappoint you, but I'm not sure I agree with that.

Yes, I am aware that according to Scripture, "the days of a man shall be three score and ten, or, by reason of strength, four score." According to myriad external sources I am "past my prime", "over the hill", and potentially "headed for the last roundup".

I beg to differ.

I remind you that age, wisdom, and treachery will always triumph over youth and skill. I may not, in fact, be as good as I once was, but I remain "as good once as I ever was." And once is usually sufficient.

Over the hill implies coasting downhill to the finish. My experience says life is always a climb and rarely level. In a climb, the two options are to continue climbing or quit. Coasting is not possible, and quitting is not me, so I will continue to climb. And I intend sprint to the finish no matter how slow my sprint becomes.

I am not "headed for the last roundup" but embarked on my next great adventure. Who knows that it will not be the greatest adventure of all?

Life continues to fascinate me. People continue to fascinate me. How things fit and work together continues to fascinate me. Exploring and experiencing new things fascinates me. Revisiting and appreciating familiar things fascinates me. My world abounds with interesting and wonderful things.

As I turn seventy, I feel like Calvin in the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes". In the last strip of the series, we join Calvin and his friend Hobbes the Tiger as they burst into the wide world with the caption "There's a wonderful world out there. Let's explore!"

Seventy is only a number.

I intend to keep exploring.

How about you?