How Lucky Am I?

Living in the now is at once cliché and a challenge that I struggle with from time to time. The benefits of living a fulfilled mindful life are many. Living mindfully helps me to focus more on solutions and less on problems in my life. It supports greater relationship satisfaction, less emotional reactivity and reduces stress. Much has been written to help escape the treadmill trappings of this postmillennial existence. It should be easy to let go of the “should-ofs” and “what-ifs” that keep me awake some nights. It should be easy but it’s not. It isn’t easy to live in the now when being bombarded with messages that having it all together looks a certain way.
The perception of what Madison Avenue or Hollywood suggests I should be is perhaps the first obstacle to living in the now. There is where the cliché of living in the now comes in. We all know what real success looks like and yet we allow popular culture to define a distorted reality. The truth is out there. I know that after I die it won’t matter what kind of car I drove, what my salary was or how much money I had in the bank. It won’t matter if I kept our house neat, wore the best clothes or navigated social media like a boss. What will matter is the lives I’ve touched in a positive way.
Maybe that’s why I’m still awake after midnight after a long day. I look at the recent state of our society and I can’t reconcile the divisions in our current culture. I go back to the idea that I had no game in where and when I was born. I could have just as easily been born in a tent in Syria. I could have been born a black woman, a trust fund debutante, an Ohio State fan or a caveman. Turkish Border Guards Shooting Syrian Refugees Daily: Amnesty Intl
What matters is what I do with the life I’ve been given. I see some people today disregarding others as if their world view is threatened by people that were born in different circumstance. As we enter Thanksgiving season I’m thanking God for putting me where he put me. Living in the now means appreciating the life I’ve been given and sharing my good fortune however I can. Sometimes that’s easy. Sometimes it’s hard. I know one thing for sure. None of it will be harder than had I been born in a tent in Syria.

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Thanksgiving Is For Memories

I’m at an age in life, where my wife, who is younger than me, is retirement eligible. That’s good for her and she flirts with that idea from time to time. For myself, I just can’t imagine it. I have no interest in retiring although I suppose one day I may have to. I’m going to do my best to postpone that for at least ten years. I love what I do and I figure it will take at least ten years to get my gardening skills up to a retirement worthy level.
How did so many years pass so quickly? First my grandparents and then my parents warned me that life is fleeting. I’m not sure how I might have done things differently had I internalized that the way I now find myself wishing I would have. I have a fantasy that heaven might be the opportunity to come back and live the same life all over again. Hopefully that feeling won’t change before I die in 2068. I know that is the year I will die because a Facebook profile survey told me so. I wonder how scary that will be.. after my birthday in 2068… knowing that at any time…0E1ADCAE-5C7E-4E9C-9E10-E8D675109E27
Time has a way of accelerating as we grow older. Life is fleeting kids. Make note. I’ve told my kids that this Thanksgiving I want them to start listing the specific heirlooms and gadgets that they would like to keep after 2068. They looked at me like I’m crazy and I had to assure them there was nothing ominous about my request. My hope is the exercise will spark some conversation of memories that make up the core of what the holiday is all about.
There are many things to be grateful this Thanksgiving season. Our shared journey has been supported by some of the peripheral accumulations in our lives. Things will never be what hold the value in our family memories but maybe they are invaluable to reminding us of the special times we have shared together. Have a Happy Thanksgiving my friends. By planning ahead we can preserve our past.

Love Knows No Bounds

I noticed a missed call as I left work yesterday. I knew it was going to be bad. The voicemail was left in a low, almost hushed tone. “Chris, we’ve completed our diagnosis and we think it would be best if you come in to see us.” I jumped in my car and hit redial to tell them I was on my way. As I was navigating the DC drive-time nightmare my mind ran wild with what they may have found. What were my options; Replacement; Retirement; Deferral? Or was this more serious? Was the prognosis terminal? We had enjoyed a good run. We created so many warm memories; Memories that embraced some of the most beautiful things in life. We had shared memories that embodied a lifetime of thrills and laughter, frustrations and joy. I was getting ahead of myself. “Breathe deep Chris. Breathe deep.”

There comes that time in life where you question if you had done all you could to extend longevity. Had I done my due diligence and engaged in the right maintenance or had I taken too many convenient shortcuts? That’s the thing in life. So many times we go about doing the minimum, doing what has to be done and putting the really hard work off to a more convenient day. I started to justify the tradeoffs. The time and money I had saved putting hard choices off until another day had seemed like the best option at the time. The quality of life in that moment had held some value, hadn’t it? I would find out soon enough. I hate that daylight savings time had ended recently. As I pulled into the parking lot the sun was already setting. It seemed to me, to my internal clock, that this moment should have been the prime of days; late afternoon but not yet night.

“Mr. Wilcox?” asked the same voice from my voicemail. Somehow the voice seemed stronger now, more confident. I suppose if you are conditioned to giving bad news it becomes second nature at some point to understand the nuances of tone, inflection and volume. I recognized the tactics. As a trainer of adult learners I employ the same tools to keep my charges engaged. He had my full attention as we rounded the corner to his work station where he punched in what he needed to have the computer help relay his report. I didn’t fault him for this. I needed the whole truth. I needed him to give it to me straight. He hit print. Five pages of diagnostics came spitting out of the printer. If working off of a list would ensure he was thorough then I prefer he worked from a list.

I told him, “Give it to me straight. We’ve been together since 2004 and I know there are no others like her.”

“She’s been yours all along? He asked.

“Yes, it was love at first sight.”AAE222A7-3D3B-4FB3-AAAA-33E121CE1C4B

I knew taking my Harley in for her 50,000 mile check was the right thing to do. Normally I do most of the maintenance myself. The problem with that is the bike isn’t seen by a qualified factory trained technician and I don’t necessarily know what to look for when it comes to some of the more subtle routine maintenances. Some of the stuff I knew. I knew my cables had stretched, some of my oil lines had dry rotted and were beginning to seep oil. A few gaskets and bearings were hinting that they were tired and even more obvious things like tires and brakes could no longer be ignored. I listened and then listened some more. Most of it seemed reasonable and nothing he said seemed outrageous. Nothing until he told me the total of his estimate. $3,743 would be needed to bring my baby back to like new condition. “Make it so Doc.” Really; the service writers name is Doc. Now I just need to figure out what to tell the wife and kids about the void in my Christmas account this year. I’m sure they will understand. They all want me to be happy… most of all… deep down… probably.

 

Glory Days.

I was about ten years old when I got my first motorized bike. It was 5hp pipe framed minibike with a reverse throttle and no brakes. Well… it had brakes. They just didn’t IMG_0190really work all that well. From day one I loved everything about it, the sound, the smell of the exhaust, the bouncing over seemingly any obstacle and all of the dust that was to be kicked up ripping across vacant lots and wooded trails. Being outdoors and smelling the springtime blossoms, the stagnation of summer and trapped waters and the rotting foliage of damp fall Iowa days made a cornucopia of riding experiences for a young wide eyed boy. We even rode in the winter and raced on frozen ponds because we were told not to, because it was dangerous.
I saw a picture on Facebook this morning of two of my old riding buddies. In a flash my memories went back to our days riding along the Cedar River in an area known as the old Shireys Sandpits. Shireys was an amazing place. It had virtually every motorcycle dream ecosystem known to man. There was a long sandbar along the river for beach riding, muddy backwater bogs, creeks to forge, hills to climb and IMG_0189expansive woods where we carved out tracks by racing the same route over and over. There was an abandoned gravel loop that used to serve some productive purpose when the facility was a viable concern. Now that loop served as our flat-track where we would race ala NASCAR riding fast and turning left.
Those riding buddies, Pat and Butch were heroes in my prepubescent eyes. Pat rode a real motorcycle while I was still riding mini-bikes. He had an old Suzuki Street 125 IMG_0192that I seem to recall ran about as much as it didn’t but it was cool all the same. Butch road a bonafide motocross bike with a glistening silver tank, a Hodaka Combat Wombat. There was also a guy named Wade who rode OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwith us. He wasn’t regular and I always kind of thought Wade might end up in prison. I kept my distance. Pat’s family had a home down by the river and we would occasionally camp out in his side yard and it felt like it could have been in the wilds of Wyoming.
There were others who would ride in and out of our group. All were welcome. We were, in fact, a band of brothers. We were just a few kids who spent about as much time sitting on our bikes talking about the things kids talk about as we did personifying our racing heroes and racing about. I’m guessing that lasted all of maybe one summer or two. Eventually Butch would go really race in AMA sanctioned events and I started working for my dad on weekends and summer breaks when I turned 12. It’s too bad those days couldn’t last forever. There’s a lot of shit going on in the world these days. That picture reminded me of a simpler time. Funny. One thing hasn’t changed. I bet we had no idea how rich in life we really were in those days. I’d guess, maybe, we don’t these days either. Carpe diem.

 

Let’s Go For A Ride!

Let’s go for a ride. Last Saturday I pulled into the breakfast joint that was to be our rendezvous in the early morning hours. The sun was low in the sky but was glinting off of the chrome of the dozen or so Harley’s that had already arrived. I backed my bike into a slot at the end. That’s what Harley riders do. We back into our parking spots. When the call comes for kickstands up we want to be ready to roll. The air was crisp but the sun held promise that my beloved leather jacket would eventually be stowed in a saddle bag. It’s paradoxical how comforting it can be to ride in a quality leather jacket and how wonderful it feels to shed it once the air warms up.
After a quick briefing where we covered the days itinerary, some safety reminders and shared enthusiasm about the day ahead we mounted our trusty steeds. There’s something iconic about the sound of a group of Harley’s firing off, the deep throated rumble cracking the quiet still morning air. The excitement is palatable as riders pull away from the curb to line up in formation before pulling out onto the open road. We would ride in a staggered formation until we hit the curves and hills of the breathtaking Shenandoah mountains and pastoral valleys where we would break to single file.
When lining up riders jockeyed for a preferred position in, what this outing was made up of, 17 bikes. There are benefits to line placement. Riding towards the back affords the benefit of watching the bikes in front of you snake through the valleys and around sweeping turns after cresting a hill. Riding towards the front reduces the chances that you will be encumbered by slower riders when you get to the ultimate goal of serpentine byways. I chose the middle but worked my way up as the day progressed.
IMG_0182If you’ve never been to northern Virginia it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful setting for motorcycling. Shaded unmarked highways cut through vineyards, historic farmlands and battlefields like a ribbon fluttering in the breeze. Indigenous flowering trees and undergrowth line the narrow highways and the leaves on the trees are ever so slightly beginning to burst with autumn colors. The smells of fresh cut pastures and mature forests fill your senses as just an added bonus to the sensory overload of being out in the splendor of natures beauty. And then there is the throbbing rumble of the powerful V-twin engines; growling as they eat up asphalt on what most closely resembles a roller coaster ride.
We made three stops on this all day outing. Cruising into a town as part of a large group of bikes is an adventure all in its own. Townspeople stop and look, checking to see if you are friend or something to be concerned about. Old-timers cast a wave and sometimes you can catch a hint of fond memories in the face of a bent over and weathered old mans eyes. Kids wave and share a thumbs up, excited when the gesture is returned. In the town we entered for lunch there was a festival talking place and the quaint historic village was backed up with traffic as we entered the heart of the festivities.
Two little girls adorned in in precious dresses with sashes proving participation in a pageant were pacing us as they walked along the tree lined street. They were curious and offered tentative waves that would have done any parade grand marshal proud. We were all about it and morphed their proper parade waves into thumbs up and peace signs. Eventually the traffic cleared and we made our way to lunch and were pleasantly surprised when our new little friends, escorted by their mother, approached us and asked for a group picture. A collective, “awww” reverberated among my grizzled brethren and we left our meals to go pose for this honor.
After lunch the sun was high enough that I stripped down to my favorite sleeveless tee-shirt and we once again IMG_0183mounted up for the journey home. Not directly home. A Harley rider will divert 50 miles for the right series of curves and valleys. By this time new relationships had formed based on the proximity of our position in line and the shared experience of a glorious day. I should point out that anytime you get 20 or so people together sharing a common bond, all of the bullshit that divides us on social media and in our idle moments evaporates when we share a passion. I wish we could remember that during the week between rides. There is hope for this great land of ours. You just all need to buy a Harley!

Losing My Religion.

On Sunday my church began a new series on the book of James. Our pastor emphasized that the book of James is a message to church going folks and that the message would make us uncomfortable. In fact he advised us to pray that our faith would be challenged in the series. I’ve been around church all my life and if there is one thing I know. Never pray for tests or anything like patience, courage and strength – pray for those and you are just begging for an episode in life where you will need all kinds of patience, courage and strength. I would have to think about it before actually making that prayer.

On the same Sunday our church launched fall community groups. Community groups are little breakout groups where you can meet with other folks and discuss each weeks sermons. The hope is for gleaning deeper understanding of the weekly message. My wife and I hadn’t IMG_5548participated in a community group in quite some time so we decided to sign up for this fall session. In that first meeting there was a fired up Christian who admonished us to confront everyone we meet with the good news of Jesus, a woman who was certain God uses hurricanes to get our attention and another person who believes Christians are under attack in America. I wanted to attack her for that but my wife kept deliberately making eye contact with me as a way to plead with me to keep my cool. After 35 years she kinda knows me like that.

If my faith were to be tested it really couldn’t be tested much more than it has been lately. I recently prayed and told God I don’t want to be a Christian anymore. Nobody could be more surprised hearing those words come out of my mouth than I was. My mind instantly flashed to my youth and Sister Mary Monica, the convent mother at our local parish. I was in a religion education class for public school kids and the Pastor came by to check on us. While visiting he kindly showed us a card trick and for some reason I thought it would be cute to remind him that cards are the tool of the devil. He IMG_5549laughed. Not because he thought it was funny. He laughed, I imagine, because he could see Sister Mary Monica swooping down from her perch with an eagle eye on the back of my head.

I’m not sure what hurt the most. The smack on the back of the head, the simultaneous grabbing of my earlobe and pulling me to my feet in one motion, or the fact that I was helpless and I was drug out of the room into the hall by an angry little Irish Nun in front of all of my buddies. They could do stuff like that to kids back in the 60’s. Then we got beat when we got home. When I hear kids today cry they will call services if they have privileges restricted I have to laugh. But I digress. The point was I sometimes am rather clumsy with proper reverence. God knew I didn’t want to break up with Him. He’s cool. I just don’t know that I want to be associated with “Christians” anymore. I kind of think they do more harm to His message than good. That was my point. I just wasn’t very eloquent expressing that in my prayers.

As my wife and I left our small group the unspoken understanding between us was palatable. My wife is much more tolerant than I am and I imagine she was waiting to see if she’d ever get the opportunity to go back and be a part of this group. At least she maybe wondered if she’d get an opportunity to go back and be a part of that group with me. I could tell it was something she wanted us to do together. I’m not stupid… All of the time… Sometimes. Before I said too much it came over me that this group might in fact be my faith test. I’ve been pretty angry with conservative Christians since, well forever, but most acutely since this last presidential election. Maybe it’s time I sit down and listen to them for a little bit. That God of mine, He’s a funny guy.

Pray for me.

 

Winter Riding in Iowa

Winters are long in Iowa. I mean lose your religion kinda long. That always bothered me when I lived there. Beginning in early November Harley riders soon realize that the more they tighten their throttle grip, the more riding days will slip through their fingers. I know, I know, the Star Wars analogy absolutely did not work there but when I write I like to remember that hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at my side. Deal with it.
Where I live now, by mid September, in northern Virginia, the hottest of hot days of summer are a memory. In Iowa such a turn of the weather would be cause for alarm. A few mornings in the upper 50’s and highs in the 70’s would only mean one thing. It would mean that it would be winter the following Thursday. It IMG_5537would mean that it would be winter the following Thursday and winter would not end until late the following April. The foreboding I would feel at such times were all “That’s no moon, it’s a space station.” kind of foreboding. Ok… I’m done. I promise. I want to share a memory from when I lived in Iowa.

The holidays were approaching and we were in a snap where it was so cold that the snow would crunch under your feet as you walked. Few sounds are as hopeless to a Harley rider as the sound of snow crunching under your feet when you walk. By this time, I’m guessing it was 1996 or seven, we were a full two months into winter and the prospects of trailering out to a warmer climate for some winter riding fun were looking unlikely. I needed a ride. I longed for blended sensations of torque evolving into acceleration and the pull of my seat and handlebars beneath me as the big twin motor propelled my bike forward. It was up to me to hold on and go along. I longed to hear the sound of harmonically balancing my ride with that of the rides my most reliable of riding buddies. There is nothing like that sound. Nothing else in the world. Non-Harley riders who say “I coulda bought a Harley but…” will never know that sound.

What’s a guy to do? I shuffled into the garage and figured I could just sit on the bike and maybe envision a ride. Our garage wasn’t heated but it didn’t take me long to warm to the idea that nobody understood me like my Harley understood me. She was perfectly responsive to my touch taking me where ever I told her to go. The Red Hog actually glinted at me as I opened the door and turned on the lights. The overhead lights twinkled from a thousand points of detailed chrome that accentuated all that American muscle. I could swear that I heard that angle choir sound that movies use to symbolize divine presence or intervention. LaaaaAAAAAAAHHHHHH! And that’s when I noticed.

I noticed a pile of scrap 2×4’s and some milk cartons in the corner of my garage. With a sudden laser like intensity and focus I conceived of a plan to make a stationary bike out of my trusted ride. As my plan came together I’d be lying if I didn’t say my creation looked precarious. It was with some trepidation I eased myself into the saddle and wriggled around a little bit. “Not bad” I thought. So I fired up my beast. The first revolution of the starter groaned as it forced the engine to awaken from its winter hibernation. Suddenly the big twin roared to life not unlike you would imagine an angry bear would roar from being woken from a winter nap.

Now was my moment of truth. With the rear tire propped perilously upon my makeshift pedestal I pressed my luck putting power to the real wheel. The gyroscopic forces were instantly tangible in my seat. The rear wheel spun freely and wobbled ever so slightly as it sought purchase where none was to be found. The cadence of the big V-Twin began to smooth out as I tentatively twisted the throttle. This was becoming like heaven on earth. I closed my eyes and went for second gear. All of the iconic sound minus the wind past my ears was helping me escape the monotony of an Iowa winter. Third gear. The bike had settled into an ever so subtle rhythmic sway like a top spinning at its apex disregarding laws of gravity while riding the wave of an object in motion. Fourth gear: I’m lost in the moment and the sounds in my garage are deafening. The big twin is fully woke ready and capable to eat asphalt and concrete over hills and over dales if only I would let her loose. Fifth gear. My Red Hog is screaming like a war horse charging into battle. I open my eyes and see the rear wheel is registering 80 mph and I imagine I can feel the wind in my hair.

And suddenly I can. The contraption I had built to fulfill a fantasy had not proven worthy to sustain a seven hundred pound machine displacing 100 horse power and 86 foot-pounds of torque with nowhere to go. The rear wheel dropped to the floor and bit into the concrete the best it could while spinning at a now near 90 miles per hour.

Meanwhile… as this was happening my wife is in the kitchen doing dishes. The family room TV was casting a warm glow across the face of our kids who were lost in a video fantasy of their own. To this day I am puzzled how and why no one had been curious enough to step into the garage to see what the hell was going on. You would think the roaring sounds of barely muffled 88 cubic inch internal combustion engine roaring inside your garage on a frigid December evening would peak ones curiosity. I’m assuming they just thought, “It’s just dad. Not my circus not my monkey.” and went about their evening.

The spinning back wheel finally caught traction and launched me forward into and through the framing and drywall that defined the space we called kitchen and garage. Knocking the cupboards free from their moorings and drywall dust billowing through the air like a bomb had gone off I made my unexpected entry into our kitchen. I burst into the house Harley and all. I’m not going to say my wife wasn’t startled but after taking in what had actually just happened and recognizing that most likely the only thing I had broken was my pride she actually returned to doing dishes. I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying as she resumed her task but maybe I’m better off not knowing.

To this day I’ve held on to the idea that some fantasies are better off not acted out and I live my life accordingly. It’s good to have dreams in life. It’s also good to employ a little common sense.

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