Oct 032016
 

Many recall at least one teacher who, because they saw something in us, changed our lives. Sadly, we seldom take time to thank them.

In every school there are teachers to be avoided. Sometimes for good reason, but just as often, the object of our terror was the teacher who demanded what they knew we could produce. Our fear lay in our insecurity and lack of self-confidence. What we said to hide our fear was “She’s too tough!” or, “He’s really mean!”

I approached junior year in high school with a fair amount of math success on my very brief resume. I loved geometry, partly because of Sister Barbara, who was young, enthusiastic and smiled a great deal. Algebra was not my favorite, but I managed reasonable grades.

But as I approached junior year, I was about to face, not only trigonometry, but one of the teachers we feared most, Sister Ann.

As the year began, I discovered the most fearsome thing about Sister Ann was that she had high expectations, and was not about to compromise. She believed in us and cared deeply about our success. And while my trepidation remained, especially before exams, it eased greatly as I discovered I was, more often than not, able to live into her expectations.

But no amount of success on traditional lessons could prepare me for one pivotal day during my senior year.

We had a small class of fourth-year math students. Because we were the few who agreed to test our mettle against the most advance math offered, Sister Ann raised her expectations. She devised a truly terrifying challenge. Each of us was assigned a complex mathematical topic, totally unrelated to the fourth-year syllabus. We were told not only to research the topic, but to hone our understanding so we could present it coherently to the rest of the class.

I have no recollection of the topic assigned, but I remember sitting in the library, staring blankly into texts that held my future. I read and reread the words, but understanding eluded me for what seemed like hours. I felt lost and very alone. But I pushed on; I had no choice.

I can still recall—even re-feel—the moment of elation when the shroud lowered. The euphoria emanated, not from a cursory understanding, but from a deep sense of comprehension. I couldn’t wait to share my excitement with my classmates.

So we come to the day Sister Ann helped me, actually she demanded I, see myself in a new way. Those moments, standing next to the, now ancient, overhead projector, tendered a sense of joy I had never before experienced. In those moments, a facility arose in me; I found myself turning complexity into simplicity. It felt magical.

I have come to know, at heart, I am a teacher. In every talk I give, in every word I write, I strive to turn complexity into simplicity. My goal is to help others understand something that may have eluded them. There is a bit of Sister Ann in everything I do.

I am indebted to you, Sister Ann, for changing my life. You may not have been the first to witness me as a teacher, but you were the first to help me witness myself in that way. I am more because of you, and I am so very thankful.

Postscript: I wrote this with a deep sense of regret. Why had I waited 46 years to express my gratitude? I was certain it was too late to tell Sr. Ann personally.

However, thanks to a classmate, I found Sr. Ann Ozog. I called her and had an opportunity to tell her how she changed my life. It filled my heart with joy.

This amazing woman, along with 20 other Felician sisters, including Sr. Barbara, founded a new religious order, Servants of Jesus. Sr. Ann eventually returned to school to get a law degree and spent twenty years fighting on behalf of the abused, poor and underprivileged.

After I sent this note, she emailed, in part: “To one who made my day! The more I listened to your thoughts, the more I was humbled. If you are who you are because of me or in spite of me, I thank you for the compliments.”

Sadly, Sr. Barbara died just four years ago. If there is someone you need to thank, do it today.

Jan 292016
 

Note: The following will appear in the May-June issue of Neighbors of Batavia magazine.

Since leaving my last job, when asked about the next phase of life, I generally reply “I’m seeking my vocation.” As it turns out, my vocation has been in search of me, but I was deaf to its call. Vocations, I have come to understand, can be patient and persistent.

Experiences on the suicide hotline crept into some of my writing, thinking and activities, but I never wanted, nor did I intend, to become “the guy who talks about suicide.” It felt too somber and terrifying. How could talking about suicide, especially teen suicide, bring anything other than grief and sadness?

Then, last summer, a local bank invited me to speak to their more senior account holders. They were interested in several essays from my blog; especially one entitled “A Time I Will Not See.” In it, I wrote how each of us will gain some measure of immortality through the messages our lives leave imprinted on youth. They will carry some of what they witness in us into a future we will not see. In my remarks at the bank, I backed gingerly into the topic of teen depression and suicide.

At the end of those remarks, one elderly gentleman—heavyset, gruff and wearing a baseball cap—pulled me aside. As tears welled up, he told me his grandson had recently ended his own life. Looking forlornly at the floor he continued, “I never saw it coming.” The unspoken words written unequivocally on his face asked “How could a grandfather not see that in his grandson?” When I explained he was not alone, teens often hide their deep sadness, it seemed to alleviate his overwhelming guilt is some small way. When I asked if I could give him a hug, tears returned and we shared a mutual embrace.

I began to speak to more senior communities, but instead of treading softly, I started by revealing that the young people they know and love—grandchildren, great grandchildren, grand nieces and nephews, and others—are at risk. Between the ages of 15 and 25, suicide is often the second leading cause of death. It surprises nearly everyone. I explain the multiple trends and issues that make a young life difficult, and the myriad reasons young people remain cloaked in silence.

In ancestral times, children learned to navigate day-to-day life from their parents, and learned wisdom from their grandparents. Today, we lock away the wisdom of our elders behind the iron gates of retirement communities. As one woman told me, “now that my family is assured I am safe, cared for and comfortable, they don’t come to see me anymore.”

When I speak, my plea to elders—our culture’s wisdom keepers—is that they gently and generously reassert their influence into the lives of young people. “Share your wisdom. Share your stories. Tell of life’s joy and happiness, but also share its difficulties, its heartbreak, and its grief. Let them know that wisdom flows from suffering, and that in its aftermath, life can be, once again, joyful and life-affirming.” When one gentleman admitted that he, too, contemplated suicide as a youth, I asked if he shared that with his grandchildren. What a gift for the young people in his life to learn that grandpa suffered, and still lived a long and valued life.

After a recent visit to a senior community, a staff member sent an email in which she said, “The residents can’t stop talking about you. You left them with so much joy.”

So I come face-to-face with vocation. I am “the guy who talks about suicide” because the devastating consequences are a powerful wakeup call. I am being called to use my experience to save lives, especially the lives of those who are inexperienced in the pain, heartbreak and challenges of being human. I talk about teen depression and suicide and implore elders to help in the battle to slow the onslaught. When I do, a flame of hope arises with the thought that, maybe, just maybe, there is a vital role for them yet to play. And since hopelessness is rampant in the senior community, and suicide an all-too-frequent visitor, we just might save a few of their lives as well.

Jun 102015
 

Note: This has been submitted for the July/August issue of Neighbors of Batavia magazine.

Humanity is, I believe, on the cusp of a new era. Depending on the choices we make, the future will be informed by wisdom beyond our dreams, or imbued with ignorance and wanting.

Am I alone in feeling that many of our species’ collective actions seem self-centered and selfish? It’s as if we are still in our adolescence searching for identity. We grab Earth’s resources because exerting power over Mother Earth—or as I prefer, Pacha Mama—affirms an identity we doubt.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell spoke of the hero’s journey, an individual’s passage through the depths and darkness, emerging on the other side with wisdom and sagacity, the profundity of which can only come from the struggle. What most separates youth from elderhood is a deep understanding and acceptance of self, much of which comes from the many struggles through which we visit the depths and return, burnished, refined and wiser…less ego-imbued, self-centered and selfish.

The people we embrace as wisdom keepers throughout history were, at some point, torn asunder by journeys of nearly unfathomable pain and heartbreak, only to return with an extraordinary understanding of what it means to be human. Mahatma Gandhi’s and Nelson Mandela’s ego-crushing years in prison comes to mind.

As a species, we have faced many journeys through the darkness: world wars, genocides, famines and natural disasters. We have gained wisdom from each, but we seem to forget so rapidly, returning to wasteful, selfish ways—ignorant of the delicate, life-giving balance of the planet. Today, we deplete precious resources at increasingly alarming rates.

Perhaps the hero’s journey that will provide lasting wisdom—move us closer to elderhood of the species—is yet to come.

My brother-in-law, Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of Hawai’i, has spoken of a world depleted of oil…a world he feels is approaching swiftly, much sooner than we can find alternatives. Having read and listened, it is an often frightening picture that can include famine, institutional collapse and chaos. Edward O. Wilson, Professor Emeritus from Harvard, once referred to the 21st century as the bottleneck humanity must negotiate if we are to survive.

I wonder if what lies ahead is a collective hero’s journey unlike those through which we have already traversed. A journey that will refine and burnish the species in ways we cannot yet imagine. If such a journey is in our future, I also wonder if we will find the courage to endure the depths required for our resurrection as wiser, more mature inhabitants of the Earth…to move as a species from adolescence into elderhood.

If we do find the courage to make generosity and compassion our dominant voice, those moments are perhaps the greatest opportunities we have ever had for acquiring wisdom. If we do not, I fear we will never advance beyond our current selfish ignorance.

We could be standing at the doorway, upon a huge welcome mat, inviting us to co-create with Pacha Mama the next epoch of her future. Not a future separate from humanity and not a future for humanity separate from Mother Nature. But a future for a global life force, fully integrated, and intimately intertwined; a future in which we finally understand and fully respect our place as an important, but far-from-dominant species. The next century offers us an advanced degree in existentialism. Why do we exist? Do we truly belong here in this Universe? And if we do, what is our role and how should we be in relation to life itself.

If the hero’s journey I am suggesting transpires, we are approaching a time during which we can allow Pacha Mama to extract from us, individually and collectively, the infinite wisdom of which we are capable. That future holds for all creatures, riches of joy, wisdom, generosity, understanding and love beyond anything we have ever imagined, or ever could imagine. Will we get there without pain, heartache, suffering and sadness? That would contradict the very definition of wisdom. Will the riches we will discover be commensurate with the heartache and suffering we may face? Not only is it possible, I believe the wisdom available to us far exceeds the price we are asked to pay.

I fervently believe it is human nature to be generous rather than selfish. When we stop long enough to re-connect with parts of the biosphere from which we have become aliens, I hope we will re-member we are part of a much larger whole.

I must have hope. Because if I lose hope, what have I left?

Dec 182013
 
Note:The following will appear in the January/February Issue of Neighbors of Batavia magazine.
 
For more reasons than I can recount, I chose well the day I proposed to my bride. Not only is she from Hawai’i and “forces” me to visit her immediate family in Honolulu, but she has family in Thailand and Malaysia as well. We recently embarked on a long-delayed journey to meet them for the first time.
I have loved my in-laws for many years. Now that I have met the extended family in the Far East, I have many more to love…and admire. Being in the presence of a warm and generous family can leave you in awe, but that is an insufficient descriptor for the depth of my love and respect.
I learned of their generosity and acceptance our first night in Malaysia. In a wonderful seafood restaurant, I struggled with chopsticks to extract crabmeat from a tenacious shell and claws. I was the only one with seafood and sauce strewn across the tablecloth. When one last bit of crabmeat escaped the death-grip with which my fingers juggled those two tiny pieces of wood—and splashed another puddle of sauce across the tablecloth—I was mortified and did my best to hide the mayhem with my napkin. One young nephew sitting next to me, with the most understanding gaze, turned to me and said “It’s okay…don’t worry.” It was a generous moment of acceptance I will not soon forget.
The Saturday night we spent in their home, more than 50 family members gathered for an evening of food, fun and festivities. I have seldom seen such a well-orchestrated feast as the family unveiled a cornucopia of cultural treats…and more joy and love than one could imagine.
The final night we were there, after far too many glasses of scotch, they even coaxed yours truly to take to the microphone for karaoke.
If you could choose a family to call your own, it would be difficult to find one more life-affirming. And yet, this family was nearly ripped apart many years ago. When the patriarch, Ivan, was just 19, both his parents departed this earth, leaving him to care for four younger siblings.
I have only the most rudimentary sense of the anguish of leaving a young family to fend for themselves. Many years ago, on a weekend retreat with my daughter, a teen recounted the death of her father when she was in eighth grade. She described the unfathomable grief and heartache that gets only marginally easier as the years pass. In the ensuing moments, I realized, in a way I had not prior, that I will likely depart this earth leaving my children behind to face the world alone. The separation, loneliness and grief brought me to my knees. That night I literally cried myself to sleep. How could I possibly say goodbye to the children who so animate my life and give it meaning?
Before we left Malaysia, I thanked Ivan and his wife for fulfilling his parents’ deepest longings. “I can only imagine,” I told them, “that your parents would be grateful to know their children are well, happy, and loved.” Ivan looked at me with a gentle smile that spoke of his humility and gratitude and said, “I hope so.”
As I sit here, I can easily be brought to my knees again at the thought of leaving my children alone and vulnerable to the vagaries of life. But now, the pain eases just a bit. Ivan reminded me of the indomitable human spirit and our ability to survive and thrive even in the face of unbearable loss.

 

And I am grateful to my bride and her family whose love, support and encouragement make all these experiences, thoughts and words possible.
Sep 152013
 
Note: I am submitting this for publication in the November/December issue of Neighbors of Batavia magazine. 
 
“Imagination is the organ that allows us to thrive on the cusp between danger and opportunity.”
Lee Smolin in Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe


Every morning we wake into a world fraught with both danger and opportunity. If imagination is what allows us to thrive on the cusp between them, how is it we imagine—and reimagine—the world in ways that animate our lives and give them meaning?

We have as many as 100 billion neurons. Line yours up end to end and they would stretch 600 miles. (Of course you’d be dead, so don’t try this at home!) Each neuron can have thousands of branches, and connect with tens of thousands of other neurons.

At any given moment, billions of neuronal pathways can be activated as we interact with the world, but they are most active when we engage with life…allow ourselves to be challenged by new circumstances, unusual problems, different ideas, and unique and difficult experiences. When faced with novelty, we can retreat to well-worn, comfortable ways of thinking…or allow life to captivate us, spawn new neurons and connections, and cultivate our brain and its capacity. Provided we are not struck down by the ravages of dementia, we are capable of mental and emotional growth until late in life.

There are times when being challenged is intriguing, energizing and not overly difficult. I was confronted with new and different ideas when I read Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe by Lee Smolin. Smolin suggests there are billions of universes, and they reproduce inside black holes—of which there are as many as a billion, billion in our universe alone. I feel insignificant in the face of billions of stars and galaxies, but if this is only one of billions of universes, how can I even begin to comprehend the immensity? I could disregard Smolin’s ideas and choose not to be changed by them, but if, instead, I sit quietly and ponder, “What if that’s true?”, I can almost feel the growth of new pathways as my brain considers the astonishing implications.

But engaging with life is often difficult, or even heartbreaking. There is a sliver of the brain—the ancient, reptilian limbic system—from which joy, love, fear, anger and sadness emerge. This tiny lobe activates even before the newer, thinking, imagining frontal cortex is invited to the cognitive party. It’s one thing to read ideas about billions of universes that churn my thinking but leave my emotions relatively undisturbed. It is quite another to engage in ways that roil my emotions, and light up pathways that prevent me from even thinking. In a moment when sadness, anger or fear wells up inside, it’s not thoughts and ideas, but emotions that are the greatest challenge to my brain and its journey on the cusp.

I have been inspired by a woman I did not know well…until recently. Life has challenged her in a way I cannot even begin to understand. Some months ago her twin sister passed away—I have since learned that losing a twin is as horrifying as losing a child. And yet, she has reengaged with life in ways that have amazed me. I asked how she learned to reimagine her life in the new world without her sister. “When my sister died,” she told me, “I had two options: lie down and die or live my life. I chose to live! My heart aches beyond belief some days and that will probably happen for a very long time, but, I will continue to plunge forward. I will not give up.”

So what allows us to imagine and reimagine our world in ways that lead us toward opportunity and away from danger? Choice. We always have the choice to disregard, cower in fear, be overwhelmed by sadness, or overtaken by anger. Alternatively, we can imagine the opportunities present in every trial—no matter how faint and difficult to discern—create new neurons, new neural pathways, new knowledge…and “choose to live” in the new universe in which we find ourselves.

Dec 292012
 

As a result of nearly 10 years on a suicide/crisis hotline and 7 years with a teen anti-drug, anti-alcohol program called Operation Snowball, I am aware there are too many websites extolling the virtues of self-injury, eating disorders and even suicide; and not nearly enough offering a place of refuge and hope. Based on an essay I wrote nearly ten years ago, I am adding such a place: “The-Dream.us”. The original essay is also posted on this blog.

 
In “The Dream,” you will recognize a metaphor for the age-old paradox of human emergence and wisdom flowing from our pain and suffering…the heroes’ journey. My plan is to invite anyone to tell true stories of emergence, resurrection and redemption, so that visitors to the site know they are not alone in their suffering. I hope the site, which will be free to all, will eventually have thousands of stories of hope, joy, wisdom and love.
Here are a few words from the homepage for those who wish to contribute:
“As in ‘The Dream,’ describe a time in which some vile stain may have washed across the landscape of your life, and how, often inexplicably, unimaginably beautiful colors emerged at the edges. How love, care, generosity and wisdom may have flowed from the sorrow, pain and grief. These do not have to be stories of unimaginable pain. Like fractals in physics, challenges, and the wisdom and gifts that flow from them, arrive in infinite varieties. If you would like a road map, begin with what happened and how it made you feel. Then describe the seeds that grew in your life and led to your eventual resurrection and renewal.”
 
Feel free to send the link to those who might add a wonderful story, or benefit from those already there.
 
Happy New Year!
Dec 292012
 

Note: I wrote the following essay ten years ago. It has become the heart of a new website: The-Dream.us. An accompanying post on this blog, “The Invitation,” explains more.

Imagine for a moment you have returned to your childhood. In your infancy, at an age that precedes memory, you were given a blanket, which, in the intervening years, became your constant companion. You ran to find it every time the world came at you in a way far more complex than your innocence could understand. It comforted you every evening as you prepared to enter, with great trepidation, the world of dreams. It protected you throughout the night and greeted you every morning. Some mornings you found it looking up at you from the floor, carefully positioned to keep the monsters at bay…under the bed and in the closet!

One evening, as you lie in bed caressing it, you note with alarm and sadness your faithful companion is aging, and with an increasing lack of grace. Its stained and fraying body seems somehow no longer up to the task of fending off the evils of the night. With a feeling of emptiness, you carefully set it beside you, afraid you will soon have to say goodbye to your friend and face the world alone.

That night, you are visited by a dream of incredible proportions. Lying next to you, where you set your worn blanket, is an exquisite piece of cloth that appears to extend as far as you can see in every direction. The patterns and colors, which moments earlier seemed dull and lifeless, are more beautiful than anything you have ever seen…or even imagined. As you examine it closely, its magnificence continues to emerge. The patterns are in a continuous state of flux. And as beautiful as the colors and patterns were when you first saw them, they become even more beautiful by the moment—the colors are more vibrant, the patterns ever more complex and interesting. The longer you stare, the more extraordinary is the sight in front of you.

As you examine the changing patterns more closely, you notice millions of small bits of color emerging from the interaction of the threads. Most dissipate quickly, with others emerging to replace them. But a few seem to remain longer and grow larger than the others.

Suddenly, you see a vile color emerge and, instead of fading into a pattern, it grows, seemingly out of control. Without warning this blood-red stain is spreading across a large portion of the cloth. Momentarily you wonder how you might stop its desecration of so many beautiful colors. Unexpectedly, you witness an amazing transformation. The blood-red stain is not destroying the other colors! They interact over time—blend to create a new ever more extraordinary palette. Crimson edged in gold. Infinite shades of amber. Purples and oranges like you never thought possible. You notice some of the original vibrant colors emerge unchanged, and for a split second, rather than rejoicing at their salvation, you are disappointed they too did not discover a new beauty by blending with the original stain.

You run for a magnifying glass to study the unfolding detail of the intricate patterns. You are amazed to discover that the patterns that look so magnificent from a distance contain millions of fibers and colors you truly dislike. You notice one particularly stiff, coarse fiber damaging those around it, and, without warning, the fibers let go of their mutual embrace and a tear races across the fabric threatening to rend the piece in two. Once again, to your amazement, the tragedy is instantly reversed as the cloth “heals” itself before your very eyes. And, even though you have no way to know for sure, it is clear the way in which the fibers reconnect adds flexibility and strength greater than had existed previously.

Then you are awake—back in your bed, as the morning sun streaks across the room. Almost magically, it caresses your blanket. With the sunlight streaming down on your old friend, you see it anew. Every shared adventure is written there in the folds. Every tear you shed for a lost toy…every hug you shared with your parents…every experience of sadness, joy, loneliness, love and pain…is there. Suddenly you see a brilliance arise from your very life itself. The worn blanket actually represents the millions of experiences that are now woven into those worn threads. And while they looked dull and faded, when you look closely you discover the colors that came from your life experience are actually complex, vibrant and extraordinary.

Then you notice a bloodstain from the time you skinned your knee and you remember the dream. And you wonder…

Dec 022012
 

 

Note: I beg your indulgence for this particularly long post. I have pulled it from a book I am trying to birth. It speaks to the confusion I face as I try to discern how humanity might find its way home.
The more I learn, the more the explanations I grew up with are being called into question—like mental and emotional rugs being yanked out from under me. For every book or article that proposes one worldview, there is another equally well-documented volume to propose another, often contradictory, view. I wonder if reality exists, or which author’s reality makes the most sense. Then I wonder if sense-making is even what I should be seeking. I wonder if I know anything at all. Are there really any pillars of truth on which I can build my belief systems?
I grew up in a world composed of atoms and molecules that were substantial, measurable particles. I grew into a Universe of quantum entities that zip in and out of existence at a whim, and show up as particles or waves depending on how we observe them.
I grew up in a world of answers and certainty—a world frightened by questions and confusion. I grew into a Universe in which Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle guarantees that I can never have all the answers. Knowledge of one aspect of the Universe makes another unknowable. I have come to learn that answers have a way of ending discovery and learning—while captivating questions open possibilities.
I grew up in a world in which my existence was primarily biological. My soul had a clean slate and one shot, using this body only, to make or break its infinite future in either heaven or hell. I grew into a Universe with legitimate discussion of my soul’s journey through many lifetimes to continue its growth in wisdom and enlightenment.
I grew up in a world where nature versus nurture was the only disagreement about how I came to be the person I am. I grew into a Universe in which some, like psychologist James Hillman and author Gary Zukav, suggest that my soul chose this life, with its possibilities for both joy and pain, because of the work it had to do in order to continue its journey.
I grew up in a world in which dreams were the random firings of 100 billion neurons that yielded meaningless images to be ignored, laughed at or forgotten. I grew into a Universe in which dreams might contain information about what I am called to do, or messages with deep meaning for my life’s journey. My children used Native American dream catchers to keep bad dreams out of their lives, rather than for their original purpose—to capture the meaning of dreams for insight about one’s life and calling.
I grew up in a world that actually had an “other side.” I grew into a Universe where communication technology, especially the Internet, invites the entire world into my living room. The “other side” is now on this side.
I grew up in a world where the American way of life was the envy of all. Consumerism and our market economy were great gifts that had the potential to make every human wealthy. I grew into a Universe in which it is increasingly clear there aren’t nearly enough resources to raise the world’s living standards to those of the United States. Our wasteful ways are raising the global temperature and destroying large portions of the biosphere and may eventually bankrupt the species—financially and emotionally.
I grew up in a world in which every theory, supposition, and belief had, at its heart, the fundamental importance, intelligence and superiority of humanity. Our extraordinary talents and abilities would eventually, I was led to believe, enable us to remake this place into a safe, risk-free and stable home for humans. We either were, or soon would be, the masters of all we surveyed. I grew into a Universe in which order is inherent—order that contains chaos as an integral component—and this orderliness does not require humanity to hold it together or build on it. Not only are we not required, we may be superfluous!
I grew up in a world where lives could be planned and made predictable. It was my job as a youth to find the right career so I could support a certain and stable family. Middle age was for amassing wealth because money was the only route to a bright and happy retirement. I grew into a Universe where the wisest, most deeply spiritual people I know live lives that show up in unexpected ways because they listen carefully to what they are called to do. Their lives are unpredictable and unplanned—filled with terrifying uncertainty, profound confusion…and deep satisfaction. They live lives with unimaginable wealth—sometimes they even have money.
I am slipping from youth to old age with the fear that somewhere along the way, I was supposed to have found wisdom—answers to life’s deep and imponderable questions. What I have learned is that the answers become more elusive with age and the questions grow in number and complexity.
I am a man with significant formal education who knows that his most precious and profound learning was uncovered outside the classroom.
I am a former teacher who discovered that it was not the content, but the context of my relationships with young people that had the greatest impact. And it was they who were the teachers and I the reluctant student.
I am a former manager from a Fortune 500 company who left because there seemed little room for humanity…little time in between sales calls, business meetings and strategy sessions for us to discover who we are as human beings or what we long for. Too much of the conversation was about a bigger bottom line and higher ROI, and not enough about building a spiritual legacy for future generations. There was too much of the masculine voice of decision-making and action planning and not enough of the feminine voice calling us to meaning through relationship.
It is a deeply confusing time. I have many “answers” for the challenges I face. The irony is that most of those answers only work in the world in which I grew up. They are often useless in the Universe into which I grew. The confusion is often so intense I find myself on early-morning walks moving moment-to-moment from despair to joy, terror to ecstasy, sadness to deep gratitude, with tears running down my face to signify any and all of these emotions. I wonder what I am called to think…to believe…to do. While the world offers many “answers” to each of my myriad questions, I know that few will work. I must find my own. I know where I have been—or at least I think I do—but I am profoundly confused about where I am headed.
Aug 262012
 

 

Tomorrow morning you will begin a chapter in your life beyond my understanding. I could not be more proud—more in awe—than I am. You have worked diligently to arrive at this moment, and in that journey I have witnessed in you a sense of purpose, dedication and joy, the depths of which astound me. The strength you have called upon to arrive here is inspiring.
The journey you and your cohorts from Teach For America will embark upon is courageous, important…and overwhelming. Last week. Andrew said that, while his task is to teach middle school science, his goal is nothing short of breaking the cycle of poverty. Millions have tried, and poverty still persists. But try we must, and I am thankful for the 5000 TFA corps members who will begin this year to help ensure that an excellent education be available to every child. I believe it was the theologian Frederick Buechner who first wrote that vocation is where our great joy meets the world’s great need. From what I witnessed last week in Baltimore, you and your cohorts have found that vocation.
As you begin, I know there will be moments of overwhelm…many times you will be tempted to use the word failure to describe a time spent with your students. But remember this; no act of love and caring ever deserves such a moniker.
As you move into the coming days, weeks and months, life will hand you crises…times in which you may feel lost, confused and even alone. You have the strength, wisdom and creativity to overcome the loss and confusion, and you have friends surrounding you to help you feel less alone. Your Mother and I are here, and we believe in you with every ounce of our being.
I once told you of the time when I was in high school and a huge banner of Snoopy hung in our church. He was smiling and leaping into the air; the inscription below said “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God on Earth.” If that is true, than the joy I feel at this moment for having you in my life, is that most infallible sign.
Go get ‘em Pumpkin…the world awaits your great joy.
Aug 122012
 
      “Truth never happens in real time.” Those are the first few words in the book “Sacrament of Fear” written by an old friend, Will Dresser. The moment I read them, they captured a profundity I did not completely understand. Perhaps I do now, if even just a little.
On July 28, I rode the final leg of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa—affectionately known as RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world. This was the 40th annual trek, and 10,000 riders registered for the 7-day adventure. Additional souls can ride any segment, so, on July 28, there were somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 riders who peddled from Anamosa to Clinton—across the beautiful, rolling farmlands of eastern Iowa.
I left Anamosa at 7:15 a.m., and for the next five and a half hours, hundreds—sometimes thousands—of bicycles were captured between the west and east horizons of my world. It was amazing. I have never experienced anything like it in my life.
I will admit my euphoria ebbed and flowed as I rode. There were times every muscle ached. Due to the dearth of natural padding in the nether regions of my backside, I wondered if I might have a “dead end” before reaching the final miles into Clinton. Even though each of the small towns along the route offered refreshments, music and warm welcomes, I took only two short breaks. I feared if I stopped longer, I’d never convince my tender derrière to return to its rightful position saddled atop my metallic steed.
Arriving in Clinton, I felt a bit of a fraud. Lining the streets for the last several miles were thousands of local families, sitting on the front lawns, waving flags and signs, cheering us all on. “You’re doing great!” “Congratulations!” “Well done!” They were yelling primarily to the brave souls who were completing the grueling 7-day ride. Even though I had ridden only 69.4 miles, it was the longest ride of my life, so I allowed myself to accept the warm greetings and congratulations of the kind people of Clinton.
Some weeks later, however, I realize the truth of the ride was not in my euphoria at my accomplishment. It was in the message enrobed by my effort.
Our son, David, is webmaster for the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, the QCCVB—if you go to VisitQuadCities.com, his are the fingertips that animate it. Over the past four years, he has hosted Judi and me for numerous events and extravaganzas. I love witnessing his great delight in having us there to support and enjoy the things that have become important to him. He has come to love the QuadCities and the two states that encompass them.
It was David who encouraged me to challenge the final leg of the 40thannual RAGBRAI. But this invitation into his world was different from those that brought us here before. It was clear, if I accepted, I would be on my own. Neither he nor Judi had any desire to put their body to this test. They were happy to act as “support crew,” and enjoy a leisurely drive from point of departure to the spot were riders dipped their front tire into the “Mighty Mississippi”, attaching an exhilarating exclamation point to the end of the journey.
When I finished that sunny afternoon in Clinton, Iowa, David’s only question was “Dad, did you enjoy it?” The euphoria I felt made my reply clear. But it wasn’t my words that answered his real question…a question many of us have of our parents. The truth, unavailable in real time, was that, having put so much of myself into this event—training for weeks and exerting most every muscle for more than 5 hours—was a tangible expression of my love and regard for him…and who he is becoming in this world. The physical act said more than I could ever put into words.
I have been reminded yet again that our actions do speak louder than words, and the intensity of our actions often speak to the depth of their meaning.
I do love who you are, David, and who you are becoming, more that words can ever express.