Posts Tagged ‘life’

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.
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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?

People. People Who Need People.

March 21, 2016

If we’re lucky, I mean truly lucky, every so often someone will come along and offer you the kind of unsolicited advice that amounts to a life talk. It might happen when you’re a captive audience, or it might be something tossed into play from the periphery of a fleeting moment in your day.
That advice? Well, it might come in the form of a sentence or two.
It might also take the form of a full-fledged conversation. Or, if you’re fortunate, it might be a series of conversations than span decades.

I can remember those significant moments now 30 and 40 years later.

The first time was when I was in Boy Scouts. I was at a weekend event and did something really impressive. Once accomplished I proceeded to strut about like a male peacock displaying his full regalia. I’m certain this deed was not nearly as impressive to those around me, but I was a teenager (which really ought to explain a lot). In the midst of this, one man, my best friend’s father, waited for me to finish then pulled me aside. “Ron,” he began, “whenever you do or accomplish something worthy of recognition let other people notice without bringing it to their attention.”

You know, that’s pretty heady stuff for a 12 or 13 year old. Lee Widner was one of those people who just did that sort of thing. While growing up he was, in some ways, sort of a surrogate father. He often encouraged me with expert subtlety to get those Merit Badges and seriously focus enough on getting my Eagle Scout, which I completed all the requirements for, but moved out of the state and territory before I was awarded this honor. (To make matters more complicated, when I settled and located another troop and scout master, Richard Brown he did the research and could find no information I’d completed the process. I learned of two stories later, though had no way of confirming either. One said the troop disbanded. The other story suggested a massive vacuum created by several assistant scout masters leaving because the scout master left. I’ll never know. And I digress). Point is, Lee took the time to provide me doses of attention ordinarily reserved for his son Brad. I have little doubt, in reflection, that he didn’t provide such doses of guidance to others. It was his nature, and no doubt sewn into his DNA.

The second person that saw something in me worthy enough to garner his attention was my history professor, Ralph Clark. Mr. Clark was the kind of professor for whom people took classes they didn’t need nor would apply towards their curriculum credits. In many ways I was reminded of him the first time I ever watched Dead Poets Society. You see, Mr. Clark took the time to talk about history and went so much further. He loved teaching as much as he loved history, and he loved history. After a series of lectures and facilitation in Honors Western European History he set up a road trip. Destination? Vizcaya (if you’ve never heard of this place, look it up).

I went to college in South Florida, getting both my Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree from institutions of Higher Learning. The Chateau Vizcaya was an hour away from school. I signed up and was glad I did. I love history and always have. But what Mr. Clark did transcended anything I’d ever Learned. We walked through the rooms and then went outside and walked the grounds, studying the architecture. Mr. Clark would point out an architectural nuance or an element that had been talked about in class and then quietly step back and watch us engage each other. That keen sense of awareness, of how history would resonate because we were not only exposed to it but we were talking and living it. He was no fool. He knew we’d retain more than he taught.

Last class of the last semester of my Associates degree with Mr. Clark. I was halfway through the room when Mr. Clark said, “Ron take a seat for a moment.” So I did. After the room cleared he came over and sat down next to me. “Ron? You’re about to go into the big leagues. I mean sure, you may have a professor that cares enough for you to get to know your name but in most of your classes your grades are going to be determined by a Midterm and a Final. Extra credit will be a thing of the past.”

He took the time to explain to me what I was getting into. Honestly I had no idea and simply justified his conversation as the rattlings of an old man. But he cared enough to take time out of a day no less busy than any other to talk to me. When he finished he simply said, “Well, that’s all Uncle Ralph has to say.” He retired and went to live in the Shenandoah Valley, a place rich in history. With his departure went a era.

Another advocate was Dr. Peter Roundy. Fifteen minutes into my first class I knew I had to take others. And I did. Much of my  electorate requirements were populated with courses taken where Dr. Roundy was professor. Our relationship developed into a genuine friendship. He travelled the world, gone for six to nine months at a time, teaching English in Thailand or some other fantastic locale. In a turnabout for memorable experiences, he told me once, over lunch, I was one of the only students that wrote him every time he travelled. I liked him and couldn’t help myself. His method for dispensing advice was simple: a few words here and there, doled out like chocolate sprinkles on a double dark chocolate cupcake. It was as if he’d see you starting to slip off the path and he’d turn you right again. Of course, if you were me you chose to bulldoze your way through life, only reflecting later on something said and remarking to yourself, “Oh. That’s what he meant.”

And then there was Christopher Burns. I have written much on the man that became my brother with a bond that could not be broken by words or actions. Every living creature should be so fortunate as to have someone in their life so generous. He was a general in my army, champion to my action, and quiet observer to my missteps. He was wise enough, as any oracle, to let me stumble.

An idea man, he often studied and dissected things (including me), looking for a way to make it better. I was fortunate to be the recipient of those talks, even if the ideas might take years to stick.

I still reflect on those conversations and wish I had the chance, especially with Christopher, to sit and simply talk, letting that wisdom pour over me like a comforting breeze. Those talks never truly resonated with me at the time. But that’s the thing with really insightful advice: sometimes it requires time to germinate, to find purchase in the rich soil of the mind. Many take heed and respond to the call quickly. Others like yours truly sometimes miss the opportunity to give such advice the chance to help us change direction. As a result, when it does seat, we’ve already moved on.

I guess my message is this to you, my dear reader. We need people like that in our lives. They give us contextual insight through objective eyes. They are sometimes our reset button. If someone comes along and gives you the sort of unsolicited advice that peels itself like a Foxtail Palm or an artichoke and reveals more every time you glance its way, here’s what you do: if you can’t actually listen, retain and immediately apply that information, at least try to remember the critical piece of it. Give that advice a chance, just as that person who cared gave you. In time, you’ll not only be applying some of those helpful hints and life coach adjustments, but just as good, you’ll discover someone who might just need a little bit of the same.

It’s another way of making the world better one deed at a time.

Second Chances: Love & the Unrivaled Feeling of One More Day

February 24, 2016

What would you do with a second chance?
What would you give for one more day?
What would you sacrifice for one more moment with someone you love?
What would you do if that day were granted?

I have a friend, dear and close to me in ways not easily definable, who has battled a progressively debilitating physical illness for several years.
Here’s a guy who’s still a bonafide badass to me. In his youth and younger days he lived a life others idolized or feared.
One of the perks of being so close that wasn’t a perk at all? I was privy to seeing how he had to deal with the pain when he wasn’t putting on airs for the public.
Even with the struggle of declining health, Those happy few of us permitted to hold council with him and receive counsel from him are fortunate indeed.

I’ve known about this physical challenge of his for a while. The first sign of impending mortality appeared to me sometime ago. We were sitting at his office and decided to get lunch. I walked out ahead of him and turned. That was when I saw him wince as he went to stand. A simple effort that taxed him mightily.
The next sign came when I visited him in a hospital. He was pointedly angry the medical staff had resuscitated him (because of the pain, as I would later learn).

But the day, a year and a half later, I got a text message that read, “not doing well” followed by a phone call and message that said, “come by the office and get what you want. I don’t think I’m going to be here tomorrow” you can be assured my heart nearly left my chest in panic.
I’d never heard my friend so devoid of life. My mind became quiet as all non-essential thoughts vacated.

I went to his office and saw a man struggling to walk.
All the stuff in his office, always changing as he got new and different stuff, to him was just stuff. Simple entertainment. To me it was stuff I had to have. I always saw things I wanted. I finally got it. It was all just Stuff. He looked at me and in that moment understood my thoughts. And smiled.
“Here,” he said as he reached for something on his desk. “This might be said to be one of my prized possessions. I’ve had it for over 45 years.”
He handed me a well-loved folding knife. I gripped the wooden handle and unfolded a shining, clearly sharpened blade. At the base was stamped the name “Buck.”
“Wow,” I said. “Thanks. I’m going to take it and clean it up.”
“Why? That’s 45 years of life, of experiences. Know what I mean? I mean, do what you want, but I’d leave it like it is.”
I nodded. Once again he was right.
He coughed. “We’ve had some good times.”
I smiled at him as the tears started. “I’m not ready to say good bye. I’m not ready to see you go.” I didn’t know where it came from, but I’d become a 9 year old boy whose best friend was moving to another country.
“I’ve hung on for those few who it would hurt for me to die. I can’t do it anymore.”
I nodded again, wiping my nose on my sleeve.
“Here, take this. That’s a nice shirt. Don’t wipe your nose on it. Haven’t I taught you anything?”
I smiled and took the tissue. His sense of humor was still as strong as his wit.
We sat there quietly for a few minutes, unusual because we always had something to talk about.
“Thanks,” he said, breaking the silence.
“For what?”
“Everything. For camping. For introducing me to your family. For showers with hot running water. For roasting hotdogs on sticks over an open fire.”
“I would give so much to do that again.”
“I know,” he said with a nod. He coughed. “I know you have to get to work, so go on.” He grabbed a green storage container and filled it with fresh produce: eggplant, mini bananas, tomatoes, avocado, celery, and cucumber. “Take this before it goes bad.”
As I took it he tossed a couple of bags of chocolate in with the collection of healthy fare.
“Give my love to the ladies.”
I nodded. “Love you,” I said as I turned and walked out.

That day was a blur.
The next day I steeled myself to go through the motions, similar to when my brother moved halfway around the world. I’d call his phone and leave a message. I’d keep calling until the phone would stop taking calls. And that would be the end of that.
The following morning I reached for the phone. After 3 rings an answer.
It was my friend, sounding groggy and tired, but very much alive.
“Ah hell, guess I’m still around.”
My heart leapt. “Want to go to breakfast?”
“All right,” he growled. “What time will you be here?”
“30 minutes.”
I made it in half the time.

We went out and had a helluva time. Who knew Denny’s could be the epicenter of a carefree morning where 2 friends laughed at themselves and the world? It ranked as one of the best extended moments ever, talking and laughing over runny oatmeal and cold eggs. Best. Day. Ever.
But that’s the point. It transcended magical. It was a second chance. I greedily drank in every second of that morning. Whatever else I had waiting could continue to wait.

The next time I was at his office he was in no less pain, but his spirit was somehow less burdened and buoyed. Mine too.
“I guess it wasn’t time. Dammit, it sure as hell felt like it.”
I nodded. I could have told him I was glad, but I think he knew.
“I’m thinking we should do hotdogs over an open fire again. Think you’d be up for it?”
He smiled. “Let me know when.”

I called that afternoon. “Want to do hotdogs tonight?”
“What time?”
“6 pm.”
“See you then.”
He called me later to tell me he’d gotten dirty and greasy working on his truck, and maybe we should reschedule.
Nothing doing, I thought. “Take a shower at my place.”
“Aren’t I lucky? 2 showers in 3 years.”
“See you when you get here.”

It was another great evening spent with a dear friend. A tasty concoction was fashioned out of the ingredients he’d given, a salad right out of a Gastropub.
Hotdogs roasted on sticks over an open fire, and laughter over candlelight and torches in the cool January evening.
It was an evening of beautiful second chances.

And that’s the point.
What would you give for one more day?
Live every day like you’ve gotten a second chance.
Sometimes we miss the cues when they happen.
Let those in your life know, through word and action, how important they are to you.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, to open yourself up to the experience of the passing moment. Don’t sit and wish you had a second chance, another day, to let someone know what they mean to you.
Now then…go and let those people in your life know what their life means to you.