Archive for the ‘Author’ Category

Speaking Well of Others Speaks Well of Ourselves

June 17, 2017
Be careful how you speak of others.
That sounds like the start of a stern lecture, so let me word that another way. Take care to think through what you say when you speak of others.
It doesn’t matter whether they are living or dead. The more negatively you speak of others, the more negative the reflection on you.
This stuff is called dirt for a reason.
I’ve always marveled at the interest of others have of drama not on the stage. Soap Operas, Reality TV, and a host of other things suck people in. This in addition to the drama we find ourselves facing on a daily basis. Speaking poorly of others only feeds that beast. How much is enough?
If you wish to speak of someone in a way that might warn others about their behavior, then consider the trust but verify approach. It carries more weight than muckraking.  An example I’ll share involves a referral. I was asked by a stunt coordinator about an individual she wanted to hire. The stunt side of the Film and Live Show entertainment business is different from the acting side. Where actors have to audition, stunt performers typically get their work through relationships and referrals. I was honest with her. I told her this particular performer had presented performance challenges on a previous project, and that I had to chase her for several weeks to get her info for a production I was coordinating, which ultimately opted not to hire her. It would have been easy to say, “the kid is lazy, immature, and unreliable” but there was a better way.
Find the better way.
A word when spoken is a bird taking wing for flight forever. The things you say you cannot undo, you cannot change, and you cannot take back.
This past week found me remembering my brother’s birthday, gone five years, and marking the passing of two people close to me. That qualifies as a pretty crappy trifecta in my book.
Neither who jumped ship this week was perfect, but both were worthy of stories that make us smile. In the one case, an old friend from my Rocky Horror days in the 80’s (and part of the then-famous Wild and Untamed Things) passed away after a lengthy battle with mental and physical health issues. At the memorial, my dear friend Jack and I both determined that stories to make people laugh was the order of the day. The Matriarch from my mother’s side of the family also shuffled her mortal coil. Her story to share (since I was and am still not ready to grieve openly) involved her walking up besides me, in the midst of a group of people we both knew, and rubbed my belly…as she looked at me and said, “Say it, honey. Lower and faster.” and then she walked away, laughing hysterically. In a rare case, I was left speechless.

When we are saddened by loss, someone more callous might observe and say, “boo hoo, people die.” That is not in the least bit mature, and we should not be those people. Nor should we pay any attention to those who demonstrate such ignorant temerity.

Speak well of others, living or dead, no matter how much the temptation to do otherwise. It’s better to be the better person than to live with regret because you said something in haste. Similarly, look for every opportunity to speak well and positively of those you know and those you love. Finding and extolling the good in others brings out the good in ourselves.
That’s how we should immortalize others; this, no doubt, is how we ourselves would want to be remembered.
Speaking of remembering, remember to call someone you love and remind them of how important they are to you.
Do it now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Love, Greeting Card Style

May 9, 2017

It’s a funny thing, a greeting card.
If you walk through a store and happened to pass by the stationary and greeting cards section, take a look. Most people don’t even give that aisle a second look these days.
Why would we? We’ve got E cards, WhatsApp and Skype.

So I’m moved beyond measure when I receive a greeting card for my birthday. They’re just as special when one shows up ‘just because’. Sure, mom and dad usually will send the greeting card although they’re forgiven if they forget.
But when a friend sends a greeting card for your birthday? Think about the time it took out of their day to stop by a store and find that aisle, and then comb through every card until they found one that summarized and embraced their feelings for you.

That is a special person. Made even more so by the fact they feel the same way about you. now I’m not saying run out to your local hallmark and drop a couple a hundred on greeting cards for every occasion. But it might it not be a bad idea, proactively, to visit the card aisle next time you make a grocery run and stock up on a few cards that can be properly inscribed and dropped in the mail. Just keep them in the study, or on your pass through, and the next time you’re thinking of a friend, smiling about a family member you miss, scribe a few words and post.

Here is one way you do your level best to guarantee those people know how important they are to you. We must never forget in this digital age how important it is to do at least this much. They need to know. Emails, texts, messaging through the various forms are great, but this action elevates and enhances.

Consider this: when we receive that card, most of us on our best day might just be a shade better than half the person our family or friend thinks we are.

How We Change The Past

March 24, 2017
We Don’t. We can’t change the past.
I learned a great deal in the presence of my mom recently. Dad died a few months ago and she has managed to summon the strength necessary to move forward through the fog that besieged us all.
I mention we can’t change the past because I have spent so much of the recent past woefully lamenting how horrible a son, brother, or friend I have been I’ve managed to miss a few opportunities to do my level best in a situation.
There are several layers of danger in looking back. The obvious is you’re not looking forward. That’s bad because you don’t see what’s coming, and can’t prepare in the event something whacks, trips, or otherwise reaches out to influence your forwardly locomotion. It’s also not good because you are distracted. You’re so focused on the thing that already happened, and the “what-ifs” that surround it, you are fairly well insulated from anything happening in real time.
Many do this unintentionally. You’ll know it’s happening with someone else when you are sharing a story or insight and you get a “what’s that?” Or they nod absent-mindedly, and offer some form of affirmative answer in the hopes it is the correct one. Usually they’re thinking about something else, sometimes trying to connect the dots with a thought you just shared. Other times their mind is simply wandering.
But it is that other looking back, the one where you’ve lost the ability to move forward, breathe, or achieve on your own. That form of looking back can become a false comfort, providing a seductive darkness.
We miss out on opportunity when we continue to look back. We turn our back on the chance to experience in real time when we look back. People who live their entire holiday, or another event, through the lense of a camera suffer this fate.
An old friend hastened to advise me, with my love for photography, to try enjoying moments as they happened, and not through the view-finder. Another old dear friend, long passed, questioned why people couldn’t just enjoy the memories as they happened, since it was impossible to duplicate in a photo.
I have spent much time pondering how I was not the friend I should have been, that I was never truly there for those few who would have thrown themselves on the blade for me. My brother pointed out, years ago, it wasn’t possible for me to be an active participant in the ‘group thing’ because I was like Hans Solo in my Millenium Falcon (a 1972 Mach I with a 351 Cleveland, 4bblcarbs, and the destinct ability to both turn heads and cause whiplash). He told me I was running solo and had to because that was where I was in my life. It was a sort of Buddhist assessment. But it was also right.
My brother has also long sinced passed; at that moment death became a callous creature that reminded me of all the things we’d never get to do or share again, and of missed opportunities.
With my family the lament was similar. Holiday get-togethers. Phone calls. But it’s all in the past…
We can only influence the future.
Another wonderful and wise person told me the only reason you should look to the past is to see how far you’ve come, and hopefully, what you’ve learned. She’s right. We have to see where we’ve been to know where we’re going. The plus is we can change our behavor at any time.
In that case I think I’m doing ok. I just returned from a week in the mountains of Western North Carolina followed by a week in the coastal lowlands of South Carolina. Both places, rich in history, have residents whose sensibility is entrenched in the here-and-now. I worked hard to enjoy the moments as they came, and found myself living most of them. I spent much of my time around mom, doing work in and around the house, and simply being there without being suffocating. We scattered dad’s ashes in relative silence, hung his plaque, and did a bit of work around the area without somber reserve. Mom said to me, as we walked up the path from the garden, “I can’t imagine anyone else I would rather have done this with.” I didn’t take it as a commentary on how I was the favorite child: I am not; I viewed it instead couched in the context I believe it was meant: even if I devalued my own contributions to the family as a unit, I was appreciated in full and my value should not be be questioned.
Not looking back with regret will be tough, but I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
Perhaps you can do the same, and check in from time to time with your own procedural?

How to Live the Relevant Life

January 4, 2016

Take a look around. What do you see?
Seriously – When you drive to work, what do you see? When you drive to school, what do you see? When you’re running errands, going to the supermarket, or going to meet friends, what do you notice about your surroundings?

Are you taking in the beauty of everyday things? Are you taking delight in the little things?
If you live in a rural agricultural area, have you noticed new animals in a rancher’s field? If you live in a suburban area, have you counted the number of playgrounds?
If you live in a dense urban area, have you noticed the architecture that surrounds you with its evocative expressions and mood?

What about the people you encounter?

Look at the people in your life. Look at the ones who bring value, love, compassion, and respect. Are you reciprocating? You should be.

Take the time to look around… And this isn’t about texting and driving (although that certainly is a worthy topic for discussion, but maybe another time).

This isn’t about unnecessary distractions. It’s about life. It’s about the beauty in everyday things. It’s about noticing something for the first time. It’s about appreciating things that you’ve seen before. It’s about setting your mind, and your emotions up for the kind of supreme awareness that makes you sympathetic & empathetic to your world, to the people, and creatures of all kinds. To the plants and even the stones.

Let everyone in your life, everyone who matters, know they matter. Show them. Tell them. Share with them. Because life isn’t about how we start things, it is about how we sustain and polish things.
Take a look around.
Take the time to make your life one where quality lives in the present moment.
Do it now.

Leadership Lessons From the Rocky Horror Picture Show

August 7, 2015

Life, Leadership, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Mention the Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS) to people, and you’ll hear one of a few responses.
“Never saw it.”
“I knew people who used to perform in it.”
“I remember going to see it.”
“I used to perform in a cast.”
“I do perform in a cast from time to time. We’re called the ‘Rice Chucking Toast Eaters’ (Most casts adopt a phrase, expression, or song title as cast name).
Once, just once, I heard someone reply, “Rocky what?”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the film’s release, with no sign of it disappearing from movie screens anytime soon. Not bad for a film noteworthy enough to be recognized by the Library of Congress as a culturally relevant cinematic offering of the twentieth century.

The history of how I found myself at a showing, with cast performing in front of the screen, mimicking the movements of the actors they dressed to resemble, is a much longer story left to the pages of a certain non-fiction tome. Some of the lessons I took away? These key insights I’ll share.

So, how exactly does RHPS create Leadership, Collaborative, and Learning pieces?

The Learning Piece.
Remember why you are there, remember the story you’re telling, & invite others to be part of the story.
Most every cast has a protocol for entering the ranks of performers. It includes paying dues, beginning at the entry level position as a Transylvanian, and assembling said costume for the performance. The art of collaboration comes in handy here, as most newbies rarely show up with make up. One learns over time what is necessary to carry out the expected tasks for the job (or role, as it were).

One reason why just about every single RHPS shadow cast performer starts as a Transylvanian is the high attrition rate. If you’re not a good partner, or you discover dressing up at midnight isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll quietly slip away, as so many did and do. Another reason the role of Transylvanian is entry level is because it is the only role in the cast where one is not expected to match their onscreen persona. It was a great way to identify those participants who were a good fit or a right fit.
If you are a good partner, you learn the moves and choreography. You might even pick a cross section of onscreen Transylvanians on which to base your style or look. And you’ll pay close attention to the leads, knowing where they go, why they go there, and how to keep out of their way. You also pay attention because there will come a time when opportunity will beckon. a key tenet for highly effective leaders?The well-prepared know enough to recognize & seize opportunity the first time.

The best way to grow and foster growth in others as well as yourself is to make yourself vulnerable (not that you’re thinking any of this as a teenager). It’s hard to imagine being more vulnerable than to be standing practically stark naked in tighty whiteys (or bra and panties), or strutting in fishnet stockings. In this digitally connected world, where the line for what is permissible or acceptable for public consumption is intentionally blurred, no matter who you are, the first time your clothes are stripped down to near nakedness, you become supremely aware of notions such as how cold it is, how many people are staring – STARING – at you, and, with your mom’s admonishing tone in your ear, did you remember to wear clean underwear. Your success is predicated on learning to first lean on and then partner with others, leveraging their knowledge for continued success.

The Collaborative Piece.
Divergent viewpoints permit growth and expansion, improving both morale and performance.
During my very short tenure at the Florida Twin, a discordant undercurrent developed into an evenly heated boil. When it hit, it hit with a whiplash-inspired crack of lightning. The stage manager announced the excommunication of a few members of the cast under the guise of establishing a new theatre. What came next shocked everyone. Several other members (including yours truly) opted to leave as well. Our logic? If they’re leaving, so am I. En masse we left, as one, to the consternation, belittling, and heckling of the remaining cast. They were convinced that in a matter of weeks we’d come back, begging to be accepted into the poisoned bosom of the very same theatre from whence we had been unceremoniously evicted.
The action of displacement proved for us to be immediately cementing.

Once we’d found our stride and the cast had been established, more or less, we were motivated to change things up. To keep things fresh, we had shows like Switch Nights (guys did the female roles and vice versa). These ideas were sometimes crowd-sourced from the cast, on occasion solicited from our guests (the theatre goers), and, a time or two, broached by a stage manager. We even made clear to the world we were committed to each other and the enterprise by adopting the Nom de Guerre “Wild and Untamed Things”, performing at the Ultravision in Deerfield, Florida. The message here? The recipe for success and growth comes when no source for inspiration is discounted.

A couple of things struck the casual observer: we were a most acerbic group, a family with a host of issues, constantly giving each other grief. Yet no ‘outsider’ in their right mind would dare throw the gauntlet at any one of us. In doing so, you invited full scale war with the entire cast. In the rare event someone suffered a lapse of reason and chose this route, they were effectively verbally eviscerated. Usually by the female members of the cast.
Another important aspect of the Collaboration Piece was the keen awareness to maintain balance. For the core group of the cast, this meant staying together from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. Many a weekend was spent in close confines and cozy company. A few times we elected to do a one day road trip to Orlando and visit the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World; other times we went south, to Islamorada. These often took place after our Saturday night performance.

In any “conventional” Operation or Line of Business this might be referred to as a Team Outing, or a Team Building Exercise. For us, it was a necessary part of who we were: a wholly dysfunctional, yet highly capable family.

The Leadership Piece.
In the beginning, we cycled through a couple of stage managers who continued to remain with the cast in the roles they performed, no ill will borne towards either. Ultimately, we found a dedicated leader in a man affectionately known to the cast as Daddy Russ.

A strong leader with vision, patience, caring, and the ability to listen is critical to the survival and existence of any organization.
To put it another way, good leadership is about building bridges; great leadership is about maintaining them.

In the Wild and Untamed Things, presuming you’d made the cut, many began to look at taking on one of the principal roles. On occasion, the Stage Manager made the decision for you. Despite my objections, this is exactly what happened to me. In fact, the stage manager at the time, for the cast I’d been a member of for only a couple of weeks, in Hollywood, Florida gave me an ultimatum. When their principal performer for the role of Brad was a no-show, five minutes before show I was told, “You’re either doing the role of Brad, or you’re out of the cast.” While it terrified little teenager me at the time, it demonstrated a great example of critical, decisive leadership.

Yet no stage manager in my history of RHPS shadow casts demonstrated a more clear and consistent understanding of the nuances required to rein in a bunch of unruly teens while allowing enough lead to guarantee we were happy and professional than Russ. He cared enough to connect with each of us.
Over-managing was something he did without our knowing. He focused on the details most would overlook: generating revenue to maintain and acquire new props and costumes, marketing, and a succession plan. Every performer was an understudy for someone else. Even some of the regular Transylvanians were tapped into service. And to guarantee you knew your understudy role, you performed it once a month.
In this fashion, the Wild and Untamed Things became recognized as one of the greatest shadow casts of the time.
Any doubt was laid to rest when, at our 25th anniversary reunion, we performed to a packed house in a borrowed theatre. The resident cast, in an excellent display of collaborative partnership, welcomed those of us who wished to reprise our roles in their home.
The confirmation of Daddy Russ’s most excellent stage management skills were on full display when he was approached and asked if we’d be interested in coming to perform at least once a month.
I would tell you how that played out, but you’ll have to read the only book ever written about life in a Rocky Horror Shadow Cast, Confessions of a Transylvanian, to learn for yourself.

Russ was not the only person who managed to lead by unifying. Once in a while there comes a person with the kind of Zen personality that begs any within orbit to seek counsel and shelter from the storm.
In this case it was Donny. A quiet leader who observed everything, he was known to all of us as “Donny the Teddy Bear” until one night he demonstrated the kind of no-hesitation determination that earned him the moniker “Donny the Destroyer.” Yet Donny never greeted a member of his Rocky family with anything other than a warm smile and hug.
The key insight here? Leadership can happen anywhere, anytime, and be initiated by anyone.

Donny was so well loved that my dear friend (and co-author) Jack and I flirted with several incarnations of a book about our experiences, until we found the story line that had to be told. That book of course became Confessions of a Transylvanian. Whether you’re a leader, colleague, or part time contributor, such a disposition makes you indispensable.

So the next time you hear about someone going to participate in a Rocky Horror shadow cast, consider the over-arching commitment. there are worse places one could learn bad habits about managing, but not too many better where one can shine as a leader. Those willing to step out of their comfort zone are willing to take bold steps.
That’s some high-hanging fruit.

Interested in the book? check out http://www.RockyConfessions.com

…and remember: don’t Dream it. Be it.

Jim Robertson – A Mission of Love

November 17, 2011

It was quite the gathering, somber and subtle.  The steady flow of people suggested the hope of getting a glimpse of someone known to many and loved by all, their mere presence a testament to the man.  They came from everywhere, current and former work colleagues, and all friends.  Jim’s storied history as an entertainer encompassed everything from clowning around to stunts.  Really.  He was a clown with Ringling Brothers and stunt performer at Wild West, calling upon his ability to make people laugh while doing stunts so effortlessly he made you believe anyone could do them.

It is said we are measured by the company we keep.  If you want to know a little about a man, take a look at the people he calls “friend.”

By such reckoning Jim is a man wealthier in character than most who measure their wealth by something more tangible, yet no more substantial.  His love and connection to those who paid tribute by their presence to him showed a man who had not only made peace with God and the complexity of the human condition, but he made the effort known to each and every soul who reached out to him.

Perhaps that is a bit of a misnomer.  In sooth, he reached out to everyone, one delicate and fragile soul at a time.  It was like watching a receiving line for royalty.  He had special words for every person.  Even in pain, the love on his face shone through his smile, a beacon to each one of us lost in the confusing darkness.  Some of us chose to remain nearby, standing sentinel, others had not the strength to wait for the moment the ferryman would arrive.  His family was never far away, each one at one point or other in the evening offering every one of us a hug as thanks for being there.  Except for his father.  His father sat at the foot of the bed and gently massaged Jim’s feet.  The image is a powerful one that will forever remain with me.  You see, I lost a brother years ago, and the pain and sadness that affected me, while deep, was different from my parents, faced with the unsettling reality of having to bury their son.   No parent should ever have to stare this reality in the eye.

I said goodbye to an old friend tonight, careful to remain sure-footed and stoic in his presence. I’d summoned up the courage (which was nothing compared to Jim’s daily battles of late) to come to the house. I was conflicted about going, because I knew why I was going. By his invitation we all were there. I dug deep as I walked in to see him, bolstered by the presence of so many friends and loved ones gathered under one roof. Most of us tried the same tact.  But our body posture shouted something else entirely.  And Jim? He knew better. It’s why he smiled as he held my hand.  He spoke to me of marriage and of flying, the former a passion of his and the latter a passion of mine.  He offered wisdom to a neophyte married man with the same lucidity of conversations we so recently enjoyed at work.

Have you ever wanted to hug the pain out of someone?  I felt that way, and yet sensed Jim wanted to hug the pain out of all of us, one at a time.

That’s a lot of love.  That’s a colossal giant of a man.

I remarked later that I admired him for so many things, and most recently, for his strength.  To have the wherewithal to make peace with the world in general and accept the hand one is dealt, while capitalizing on the moments still hanging in the pass, takes remarkable fortitude.  I have never been so strong in the brilliant points of my life, allowing rather the crest of momentum to carry me.  I know with fair certainty I could never be so strong faced with the imminent advance of my own mortality.  I will never understand what sort of Herculean strength is required of a person to stave off the advances of organ failure simply to say good bye to those who need.

An anxiety attack is cause for concern in most.  Yet here was a man who found a way to smile as he sat at the portal, refusing the suffering any quarter as he kept the pain at bay in favor of the company of we few who trudge onward, forced to face the day of our own reckoning in the gentle eyes of a man twice as good as most of us will ever aspire to be.

People often use clichés to the point of exhaustion.  One such phrase, “…Charming to the last,” has seen more than its fair share of exposure for causes and people unworthy.  Yet such a simple phrase does not describe Jim in those hours and moments.

To say Jim was charismatic and charming to the last denigrates the statement and does little to stress exactly how much love and charm exuded from this man.  He inspired a prominent local entertainer, himself a charming and charismatic fellow, to take on the task of becoming a concert promoter, building a night of entertainment dedicated to a singular purpose: helping Jim and his family. During the pre-production period of bringing the “Mission of Love” concert experience to fruition, Donn managed on a few hours of sleep a night.  He didn’t care.  Forging forward with this pressing need, he touched upon its importance with every person he spoke to.  And wound up having to turn people down.  What’s that say for a man’s worth that entertainers were lining up when they heard whom the benefit was for?

In times of trouble, and all too often at the expense of a person’s demise, does the kindest of words begin to drift skyward. We too often delay our effortless endeavor until we are robbed of the opportunity to say, “I love you” or offer some other sweetly noble cadence.  We create this sadness for ourselves and then wonder why we waited.

Yet Jim never waited, and he never allowed us to wait, either.  He compelled us to speak our mind, from the heart, in one voice.

Don’t wait.  The world needs the possibility of a universe with love, of people not willing to remain the silent majority, taken to task for thinking, “what if?”

I heard someone question why God takes all the good ones, and leaves the miserable, villainous sots behind.  I have an answer:  He is sometimes a selfish God, and when the mood strikes him, he wants the best for himself.   Or, to put it in the words of Donn:  “Open the Gates!  You got a good one!!!”

If you knew Jim, you’d agree.

Thanks Jim, for sharing your heart and showing us foolish mortals the hopefulness of a world with Love.

Harry and the art of living richly

December 10, 2010

I had one of the best neighbors anyone could ever ask for.  His name was Harry.

His passing was the sort of news I hadn’t any preparation for.  It came via phone.  I received a call from my girl and she knew how fond I was of him.

“Harry was put down yesterday.  Lee isn’t ready to talk about it.”

I stared into space.   I had seen him the previous afternoon.  “I went over to say hi to him and had five good minutes of puppy love before Lee came back out.”

“Yes,” she began, “You were one of the last people he knew to see him and give him love.”

I broke down over the phone as the awareness washed over me, an emotional building collapsing on the foundation of my soul.  It overcame me, a torrent of sadness and emotion.

“I have to go,” I whimpered past the lump in my throat as I hung up the phone.   I let my head collapse into my hands as I quietly sobbed.  I was at work and in an office surrounded by colleagues and didn’t want anyone to notice, although I was prepared to lie if asked.  I would have readily blamed the sniffling and tears on allergies.  Plausible in the Florida climate on almost any given day but not likely in the winter when the weather was clear with a temperature in the mid-forties.  I just didn’t want anyone to ask because explaining would have diminished the impact the little guy had on everyone he met and I didn’t want to put anyone in that awkward position of comforting a grown man with wet cheeks, because big boys aren’t supposed to cry.

A bit about Harry.  Harry was a handsome blonde fellow with the most brilliant golden-yellow eyes one had ever seen.  When we moved into the house across the street from him we quickly became friends with his human companions.  They loved and doted on him in a way that only people who understand what it means to have a canine companion almost from birth in one’s life.  He was already fifteen when we first formally met, and there shone such brilliance in those eyes.

I went across the street to bring Lee a big bronze eagle.  It was the sort of Americana piece one hung proudly over the mantle, or kitchen, or even in the garage, over one’s tool crib.  There was a community garage sale coming up and I decided I didn’t want to sell it; I wanted to give it to Lee.  Something told me he’d appreciate it.

That was when I saw Harry.  I knew I heard him barking, a subtle plaintive call for attention from anyone near enough to hear.  When I walked up to the garage the passenger door to Lee’s old Ford with over a quarter – million miles on its odometer was open.  I expected to see Lee hunkered down, working on something inside.

Instead there was Harry.  I placed the bronze art piece down and began scratching his head.  I leaned forward and talked to him, oblivious to anyone else.  And his eyes? They looked out from a frame that had long ago stopped working to support a soul that was still as energetic and vibrant as any puppy turned loose in a field.  But those eyes were lucid, understanding, comprehending eyes.  Harry could no longer run, but you knew, as he slept, in dreams he was out chasing squirrels and rabbits and running because that’s what retrievers do.  I continued to scratch his ears and jowls until Lee came out.

Lee could be one heck of a poker player, because he didn’t give one tell as to what he was up to or the hard decision he was to make.  I gave Lee the piece and said good bye to Harry, sure I’d see him sitting outside later.

Oh, they fussed over him, and he deserved it.  They loved him in a way that makes one realize the world is filled with good people doing good things who never get recognized nor desire the recognition.  What is more sacred than the preservation and protection of life?  In his golden years they saw to it he was cared for, because they did it with love themselves.  Mom would feed him chicken, and dad would pick him up and take him outside to lie in the grass, where he would paw at it, and bark, and drink water, or just relax.  Nothing brought a smile like watching that tail wag vigorously when Harry was moved to a prime piece of real estate in the front yard, high above the road, master of all he commanded.

The first time we’d been invited inside their house we noticed the layout was designed with Harry in mind. There was a mattress on the floor, for Harry. “Some people say I’m cruel,” Lee once said.  “But Harry’s fine.”

Lee didn’t need defending.  Where the dog’s body had begun to fail him, his mind still served him exceedingly well.  It was a quality-of-life issue.  And Harry’s life was all about quality.  He was a quality guy surrounded by quality people.  I agreed.  Harry was fine.  It reminded me of an expression I once heard.  “I hope I can only be the measure of the man my dog thinks I am.”  Lee satisfied that and more.  In a moment that carried the heft of immeasurable weight the words of Pablo Neruda rang with surprising clarity.

Harry would never have had a better, more fulfilling life anywhere else.  And I know he is running around right now, even as I work through the sadness of the passing for a dog that touched my life. I can only imagine how he enriched the lives of Lee and Cami, two people who loved and cared for him with the sort of selflessness not often evident these days.  I was lucky to have met him.  So was anyone else.

Have a good run, Harry.

Yes … There IS a Santa

December 4, 2009

I have family in town this week.  The good kind.  The kind that if you had the room you’d want them and their brood to stay with you.  The kind you don’t get to spend enough time with.  That sort.  Anyway, we went to one of the holiday offerings in Orlando at one of the Theme Parks that has a special ticketed event that serves all the cookies, hot chocolate, apple juice and pre-packaged apple slices one can possibly consume, as well as parades, decor, and offerings unique to the season.  Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.  This is a winter wonderland for kids of all ages.  Unlimited cookies?  What gets better than that.  And the brilliant logic as a parent is to let your child consume as many as possible and then flame out in a brilliant buzz of sugar-induced energy which ultimately results in a good night’s sleep for all.  Sometimes.

Anyway, back on point.  We had to leave early to pick up more family arriving at the airport.  On the way to the pass-through under the train station I noticed a small crowd gathered and walked over to glance past the toy soldiers.  Just beyond, seated on a plush crushed red velvet sofa-looking bench, was a guy dressed as Santa.  Something inside me said “I want to meet Santa,” even as another voice countered with, “it’s just a guy in a red suit.”  But we did.  We waited a few minutes, not long at all, until it was our turn.  The cast members were just delightful and filled with the spirit of the season.  It had cooled off to the point where, in the mid-sixties and with a slight breeze, it felt like the holiday season was upon us.  One of the cast members handed us little candy canes and admonished us not to eat them until after we met Santa.  The sticky candy gets in his beard and on his robe and had to be cleaned off and all that.  The child in me just wanted to get on with meeting Santa.  I still wasn’t really feeling it until it was our turn and we walked up to Santa.  He smiled at the two of us and patted his knees.

“Oh no,” I protested.  “I’ll sit next to you.”

He shook his head and patted his knees again as he looked at both of us.  “You’ll be fine.”  It was clear, in Santa’s domain, he was calling the shots.  He was the comforting patriarch and we were the children.

As I got closer and sat down and we both got comfortable on his knees the magic transported us.  I was a child taken back to a time that was measured in experiences and moments of joy.  I studied him carefully for a few moments as we spoke to him.  Real beard? Check.  Real mustache? Check.  His face had just the right windburned texture and even his eyelashes had a hint of white.  But his eyes.  There was delight in those eyes.  A joyful magical spark in them as he spoke to us.  Naturally he had the laugh, and the rich, basso profundo voice.  But it was the eyes.  And if the eyes are truly a window to the soul, as many a poet has declared, I saw in Santa’s eyes the hope and belief of a little magic in a sometimes-weary world.  We weren’t rushed away.  He smiled as he talked to us and I thought this must be who Santa is.  I wore a big smile the rest of the evening.

And some of you who have followed these articles know this has been an interesting year.  A year of loss, of unplanned charity of the forced kind, of the opportunity to stumble and not fall, but to recover and move forward.  I have often spoke of how we are measured by our ability to rise and overcome.  But I am beginning to believe we are also measured by our strength and faith.  It is one thing to speak of these things, but another to perform in action admirably.

If you make it out there, and I hope you do, make some time for yourself and your loved ones.  Do yourself a favor and visit Santa.  There is an infectious energy in the power to believe.  He made me believe.  There IS a Santa.  And when you visit him please tell him I said hi, and thanks.  And Merry Christmas.

Ladybug and the art of Rescue and Adoption

November 16, 2009

It’s been a week since my world lost a beautiful little girl.

This may strike some who do not have animals of the four legged variety in their life as a bit much, but most of you will completely understand.  It struck me as I endeavored to let people know, people like her vet, and people who knew her and looked forward to her affections whenever they came to visit.  There was genuine sadness at the vacuum of loss.

I thought about how she had been someone else’s pet, and then someone else’s, and that she had been chipped, and when found, the last owner of record had said they had given her away but didn’t really want her.  Until the evidence proves otherwise, I believe micro chipping is a great resource for both two and four-legged creature.  I am also a believer in rescuing animals.  They cannot help their place in life and how they wound up in that place.  I tell people if they are looking for a specific breed of animal to go to the shelter or contact a rescue.  From the smallest to the largest you’ll find the creature you’re looking for.  I promise.

And a rescued animal knows.  They know they’ve been given a second chance, or third.  And while it sounds a bit sacharrin-tinged, their wants are short list:  They want to Love, they want to be loved, they want to feel safe, and they want it to happen in their forever home.  I have begun the process of looking.  Not as a replacement, but because I know the world is filled with creatures looking for a single chance to prove to a human they are the perfect companion.  The shelters and rescues have them all: puppies, kittens, younger dogs and cats, and older senior animals.   I met several older animals, one seven, one nine, and one 11.  And they’re beautiful.  Everybody wants a puppy or kitten without fully understanding the work involved.  Many people don’t go to shelters and rescues because they either don’t think of it or are working off misinformation on the  conditions of a shelter or facility.  I’m not telling you how to spend your money when it comes to our companions and friends of a furry nature, but you are removing a wide spectrum of options and doing a tremendous disservice to yourself and the animal.  I have met several animals in the past week who have displayed every sort of wonderful temperment from energetic to laid back.  Shelters and rescues benefit from the time donated by volunteers who come in to assist in basic care but also to walk and exercise the animals and to spend time with them training them.  These animals by and large have a tremendous aptitude for learning and for wanting to please.  A wagging tail says it all.  I believe they know what might happen if they don’t find a home.

Ladybug was my little girl, and as a four-legged child she was better behaved in public than a lot of two-legged children.  A close friend of mine asked me if I thought it was too soon to look for another animal; I needed to give myself time to mourn.  Another mentioned that this would give me the opportunity to enjoy my free time.  Time is something we have and share when we’re wise about it.  Time is the sense of knowing we have done something right and can be pleased with the outcome.  Time is the blank slate the Creator has given us to make the world a better place, and leave it better than we found it.  I have of late spent considerable time wondering what I can do to make my world and the world in general a better place.

Ladybug was a rescue.  When she came into my life she was an older rescue.  She had been a stray wandering the streets.  Everything I wrote about her in the last post was absolutely true.  She was sweet with every animal she ever met, even for a short time fostering a small clutch of tiny baby possums, who slept pressed against her stomach as she herself slept curled around them.  Ladybug was gentle in every aspect except eating.  She ate like she was starved, but she liked food.  Who could blame her?

To those concerned, I am going through my period of mourning, I assure you.  The tears still readily come when not called when my mind drifts to her.  I had to toil through the effort of vacuuming the house recently because I found tufts of her hair and as silly as it sounds, I was concerned I was banishing all evidence of her presence.  And in a gesture that might seem certifiable to some, I have set out her water bowl. In case she’s thirsty she’d have something to drink.

I have been touched by those who have read about Ladybug and shared their own heartbreaking stories of loss.  Her memory lives in my mind and her energy lives in my heart.  Saying goodbye to her was one of the hardest things I had to do in a long time.  As I touched and caressed her and comforted her in her transition I believe it brought some small measure of relief to us all.  And I know that for her to say good bye it was even harder because she wanted to leave the world as she found it: a world filled with Love and affection and hope.  In those moments she was not alone, nor were we.  I cried the whole trip back, alone with my grief.  There is so much I miss about that beautiful little girl.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Ladybug

November 7, 2009

I had planned to write another response to USA Today’s recent article once again eviscerating the General Aviation community.  That article will have to wait.

The Unexamined life is not worth living.  This I believe:  this statement not only applies to ourselves, but those around us.

I lost my little girl  Ladybug yesterday.  Lady was a Golden Retriever who had not met a human who didn’t immediately fall for her.  You hear that sort of thing all the time from doting pet parents, but ask anyone who knew Lady and they’ll just silently nod their head.  With us was her mom and our dear friend Vicki.  A comment on Vicki – she is always the calm in a storm that is life and it has to be an exhausting effort to generate the energy she does to care and love her husband, son, and those who are fortunate enough to be covered by her umbrella of warmth and compassion.

When I was told I needed to get to the facility in Maitland if I wanted to see her before she passes I didn’t allow the internal turmoil to interfere with my outwardly stoic appearance at work – or so I thought.  Thing is, people have been aware of things going on in my life for a while, but I do like most.  I keep the walls high enough and thick enough to keep everyone out.

But this last bit of news would force me to rendezvous with my emotions.

I arrived and told the front desk I was there to see Ladybug.  When I walked in to the room she was on the floor, devouring a huge bowl of a delicious looking pasta dish Vicki made especially for her.  Lady was extremely food motivated, and I believe with enough motivation she would recite the Greek alphabet if there was a worthy enough gastronomic prize waiting.

I sat down and began to rub her coat.  Still so soft and luxurious.  She turned to look and see who was touching her and the recognition and joy was unmistakable.  And then she returned to the task of finishing the pound or so of pasta and vegetables.  She managed well despite the enormous mast cell tumor that had grossly disfigured her beautiful lips and face.

Except for bathroom breaks, I spent several hours touching her or rubbing her mane, or massaging her muscles.  She had a mild stroke a couple of years ago and I had taken to doing deep tissue on her joints every morning before I left for work.  It became a ritual for us just as she would come to me to get a good fifteen minute rub under her chin before going to sleep for the night.

Some things non-pet owners should know about our pets:

We love them.  They keep us.  They are moody, and social, and sometimes anti-social, but never complain.  They comfort us because they know when we are down or ill, and they love us in spite of our treatment of them.  Their Love is selfless and sometimes unrequited.  We recognize that having them in our lives is a lifetime commitment.  And all they ask in return is to be kept safe, because they’ll keep us safe, and to be fed, and most importantly, this one thing:

The last time they close their eyes and go to sleep, they want to be able to see us and hear us, and know that we will be there for them, because it is a difficult and uncertain journey to leave such a life behind.

When the doctor came in my heart began to race.  I looked at Ladybug and saw her chest slowly rising and falling as she lay there as relaxed as royalty being attended to.  The doctor explained the process, and a part of me wanted to say, “no, there has to be another option.  There has to be some other treatment we haven’t tried.”  But I knew that we had tried everything, just as they had.  And her body had become too weak even for the chemo.

Afterwards the doctor hugged us both.

“It never gets easier,” she said, with tears in her eyes.  “But we should be as lucky to pass on surrounded in our final moments by those who love us.”

I continued to rub Lady’s mane.  Her eyes were closed, I had facilitated that partially out of fear of not wanting to stare into lifeless eyes, and partly because I wanted to believe she was still gently asleep.

The trip home I cried like I have not cried in years.

Last night my dreams were filled with her.  She was fine and running and happy.

I awoke much earlier than normal and the first thought that filled my head was of every time I had been impatient with her.

She was never impatient with me.

The thought provided a valuable lesson.  We should aspire to become the people our dogs believe us to be.

Ladybug – We Love You.