How To Beat The Holiday Blues.

Now that Thanksgiving is over and we say goodbye to loved ones it’s not uncommon to feel a bit forlorn. It’s time to get back to work and add the grind of Christmas shopping, office parties, pageants and preparations. Even the mostly avid of Christmas aficionados acknowledge some anguish associated with the Yuletide season. We BB0A349D-498C-4B14-93B7-314F6D9AA6A4long for lost loved ones and languish for the carefree days of our youth. Many of our most magical memories of Christmas are remnants of childhood. It’s not hard to understand how some people struggle with the holidays and it’s not unexpected that most of us experience occasional bouts of sadness this time of year. That’s ok. Our humanity mandates that we cherish the connections of our past.

As our kids pass through our doorways heading back to their lives at school or work and as we recall the loved ones who have passed before us it’s normal to sense a piece of us is missing. To ease your stress this holiday season I recommend you read, “The Book of Joy: Lasting 3C447346-6FF2-4F23-BCB0-1D6A587CB309Happiness in a Changing World” by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams. You can add it to your shopping list for those hard to buy for family members as well. (You’re welcome!) Maybe share it as a book club with those you gift it to and enhance its value immeasurably. The book mentions “the concept of Ubuntu. It says: A person is a person through other persons.” That makes sense. A large part of our humanity is made up in our instinctual need for community.

What better example of community do we witness than our family? That being said, all families aren’t perfect and I would add they aren’t enough. In these days we spread ourselves around the world and getting together is sometimes a major undertaking. Cherish those times together. In the mean time we can grow relationships in our neighborhoods, our markets, our jobs, pretty much anywhere other people gather throughout our day.

In “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” Archbishop Tutu says, “I could not speak as I am speaking without having learned it from other human beings. I could not walk as a human being. I could not think as a human being, except through learning it from other human beings. I learned to be a human being from other human beings. We belong in this delicate network.” It states, “So the best way to fulfill your wishes, to reach your goals, is to help others, to make more friends. “How do we create more friends?” he now asked rhetorically. “Trust. How do you develop trust? It’s simple: You show your genuine sense of concern for their well-being. Then trust will come.”

Our next job, a new car, or next pay raise or even the passing of a debilitating ailment will never bring us happiness. It might for a minute but always looking ahead or looking backward for better times is not how we are meant to live. When we do that we are focused on ourselves and our current condition. Appreciate when times are good but know that science and all of the great religions agree that our most fulfilled life comes from serving others. If the holidays get you down this year take a moment and find a way to help someone near you. When you focus on others that forlorn feeling you’re having will recede and you might just experience again that magical feeling of Christmas you are longing for.

 

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Thanksgiving Reminder

The first Thanksgiving as told in elementary schools is pretty much the version we commemorate as one of our favorite holidays. I don’t suppose it was as altruistic as conventional lore suggests. The Wampanoag people, the Indians around the table at the first Thanksgiving, have a different perspective. The Wampanoag gather on 2FB26B9A-62F2-4655-BA45-918EB453C041Thanksgiving in mourning. The Wampanoag claim, “We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end.” We often forget that without Samoset, a Monhegan from Maine and Tisquantum (Squanto), a Wampanoag, the pilgrims likely would have starved out in their second winter here. I wonder what our celebration would look like had Squanto not befriended and helped those settlers by showing them how to plant corn, fish and gather nuts and berries.

Gone are nearly all of the threats and challenges our forefathers faced. We are no longer hunter gatherers threatened by the challenges of finding nourishment, shelter, safety from predators and such. Those basic instincts no longer require the urgency they once did but remain a part of our DNA. It’s no wonder we can be confused when our body injects inappropriate responses to things that make us uncomfortable. The American story is remarkable but not without atrocities. We have a history of exploiting the people and world around us.

We now have the luxury of seeking a rich and fulfilling life where once the biggest priority in life was to survive. That’s a pretty big void if you think about it. This Thanksgiving I will be grateful for all of the wonderful people and things in my life. I will thank God that he put me in the time and place He did. I will also pray that I remain humble and not overlook the great sacrifice that has been paid to make my world so. It seems disingenuous that we might gather around our feast this Thursday not reflecting on the fact that we wouldn’t be where we are today had people of a different culture and belief system given us aid. We should remember the Wampanoag this Thanksgiving and perhaps join with them and do a little mourning of our own. Perhaps before we give thanks we should ask for a little forgiveness.

 

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.

 

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.

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!

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