Rolling Thunder

Imagine, lining up with thousands of bikes four abreast in a line over a mile long.. The call comes from the front to start your engines. This is Rolling Thunder. Every Memorial Day weekend upwards of 400,000 motorcyclists converge on Washington DC for Rolling Thunder.

From the Rolling Thunder website:

“Rallying for the POW/MIA issue, our mission is to educate, facilitate, and never forget. This First Amendment Demonstration Run has also evolved into a display of patriotism and respect for all who serve our country.”

IMG_0134Huge groups of riders converge from all 50 states. One of the exciting events I participate in is the Patriots Ride. Over 5,000 bikes line up in Fairfax and get a police escort to the Pentagon where we join up with all of the other groups and stage to ride into the nation’s capital as one enormous group. The route is lined with cheering spectators waving flags and holding banners in honor of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Every overpass along the route is filled with families waving, smiling and cheering us on. It could make a guy emotional if he weren’t a tough old biker such as myself. This truly is a day where all walks of life come together to honor our brave soldiers, seamen and airmen.

I saw a few bikes sporting rebel flags and displaying politics I abhor but today, this day, was not about any of that. I’m sure some balked at the Obama emblem I proudly display on my rear fender. The thing is, our service members don’t go into harms way judging the guy in the next foxhole for their politics. When threatened by an enemy we draw together. When hostile foreign governments threaten our way of life we rally as an insurmountable force. It was heartwarming to see that kind of unity today. No red states. No blue states. Just a lot of glittering chrome and black leather. Murica!

Finding My Zen.

I seem to have been born with some perpetual discontent that will never quite allow me to feel as if I’ve arrived. For the most part, over the years, that has served me well. I’ve done my best to channel that angst into personal, professional and spiritual growth and yet I’m coming to realize that this can be a huge obstacle in my life. An obstacle that is separating me from the sense of Zen I so desire. Wait. That’s not true. I think I’ve always been aware of this affliction. I’ve just not found the willingness to confront it.
IMG_0126My dark secret is that all too often I struggle with the simple principle of assuming good intentions.
In my mind assuming good intentions seems to be a derivative of The Four Agreements. The Four Agreements are regarded as a preeminent model for personal growth. I struggle every day with making assumptions and taking them personally. On the outside I’m great at presenting a positive attitude but my inner self is, at times, maybe more analogous to the proverbial duck swimming across a pond; gracefully gliding across the water. Under water, however, its feet are paddling like mad.
Here are some things I know: a principle tenet of Christ’s teachings are that we live our lives for others, a fundamental element of our humanity is that community is an inherent value and finally that we choose our inner dialogue. So what is happening when I make assumptions about others motives, their obliviousness or their seemingly flat out selfish and hateful behavior? Yeah. I do that too often. Could it be that others are just trying to make sense of their world? Could it be that they have concerns about their health or that of a loved one, pressure at work, troubling relationships or any number of the things that create some of the very insecurities I face from time to time?
It’s at those times when that I am focused inward as opposed to the people around me. It’s good to remember that we are all in this together and maybe, just maybe, the more I afford others a little grace the more likely they will be to find relief from their troubles. I can find blame in western culture, that sense of personal aspiration and trickle down charity. To often we can conflate that “take care of yourself first” mentality with a “what about me” pity party. I can find blame in a busy lifestyle and Madison Avenue projections of what my life should look like. I can find blame nearly everywhere I look. The fact of the matter is, this isn’t about the world around me. It’s about what goes on between my ears.
Assuming good intentions. It’s a simple concept. Maybe the next time I’m cut off in traffic or waiting impatiently in the checkout while some shopper digs for exact change I can imagine that their life is about a purpose I know nothing about. As soon as they get where they are going they will make their world a better place. Maybe the next time I feel insecure I can feel assured I’m doing the best I can; just like we all are.

Little Lessons.

After a seemingly long work week I stopped by my favorite store. I won’t say which store but if you were to guess I can tell you it would be as simple as ABC. (wink) As I entered the parking lot an elderly lady, using a walker, fell down as she was stepping off the curb. The car in front of me was loaded with kids who looked horrified but didn’t really know what to do. The oncoming car, also loaded with teenagers chose to point and burst into laughter while yelling comments out the window I’m glad I couldn’t discern exactly what they were saying… And there we sat. From one car back and partially blocking the intersection I put on my emergency flashers and jumped out to give a hand.
By the time I got to her it was obvious she had resigned herself to sitting there, on the curb, contemplating what she might do. She was the sweetest of ladies who was obviously a little shaken up by her predicament. I told her I was there to help and asked the best way to do that. With the confidence of someone who has been there before she instructed, “Place your feet in front of mine and help me up, thank you.” I did as instructed and was amazed at how little effort my assistance required. She smiled and said, “OK now, where the hell did the ABC store go?” That took all of the tension out of the moment and I told her she was in luck. I proceeded to escort her to her destination and then went to retrieve my car. By the time I got in the store she was at IMG_0117the counter with a half gallon bottle of 15 year old Glenlivet. I bantered that “Bourbon is better for you.” and she spun on her heel and scolded me like she’d never seen me before and exclaimed, “I don’t like bourbon I like scotch.” I couldn’t argue with that.
As I made my exit I noticed the car of mocking teenagers was pulling out of the neighboring Wendy’s drive through. It just so happened that they had to wait for me to cross the street before they could be on their way. I took the opportunity to suggest that, in the future, if they witness an old lady falling down they might choose to offer assistance rather than be cruel. Their previous frivolity suddenly seemed abated and one of them offered, “Yes sir.” That was good enough for me. I asked them to have a good weekend and went about my way. I had wished that those kids would have instinctively known what to do. I’m sure, had it been their grandmother, they would have reacted differently. Then I thought back to the dumb things I had done as a kid and was reminded that maybe kids haven’t changed all that much and hope that a lesson was learned.
When I got home, I poured my sip of bourbon, sat down on the back porch and offered a toast to little old ladies and rambunctious kids everywhere. It takes all kinds of people to make this world go round.

Your Hidden Gifts.

My parents met post World War II while big band, dance halls and supper clubs were still the rage. I don’t have many stories of those times but the band names they referred to were the likes of Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, the Glen Miller Band, minus Glen Miller by that time, and the like. I think they actually met at an up and coming band leader Lawrence Welk gig. My dad claimed to not care for Lawrence Welk very much but you’d never know it from the hours of Saturday night time our television was dedicated to his TV program. My dad, while not a musician, shared his love of music with his kids. He encouraged us all to play an instrument but forgot to provide the gene pool. That’s OK. We are all proficient at volume control and tone settings on our music playback machines and my kids would tell you it’s rare to not hear music in our home if I’m in the house. I’m grateful for his gift of music appreciation. It provides a richness to my life I can’t imagine doing without.
Both of my parents are gone now. My main Pandora station is img_4813lightly mixed with music from their era. Every time a Sinatra, Miller or Dorsey song graces my playlist I have fond memories of growing up. Music transcends time and space in a special heartwarming way some times. I was born in 1960 and in the early years of my life a few dinner clubs were still around. The Colony Club sat high on a wooded hill in central Waterloo, Iowa. On special occasions I remember getting dressed up and joining my parents on “date night.” That’s how they did it. I could maybe count on one hand the times my parents went out and left us with a baby sitter. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to get rid of me to this day. I never learned what it was like to be excluded. I always just assume I belong wherever I happen to be.
The Colony Club was a candle lit fine dining establishment with tables surrounding a large hardwood dance floor that was edged by a large stage capable of holding twenty-five or better musicians. By the time I got to hear the bands play at The Colony Club I would imagine few had ever played with the great leaders bearing their name. I don’t suppose that mattered much to my parents much because they always seemed to get lost in the music. And that’s the funny thing. I always thought of my parents as the straight and narrow Ward and June Cleaver types. They were modest, practical and reverent… Until they hit the dance floor. Clayton and Anita would transform into something unrecognizable. Upon taking the floor they bestowed an elegance and grace that could only be capable if gravity did not apply to them. I’m talking Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers grace. In the event you think I exaggerate I’ll tell you, I thought long and hard and decided that is the best way to describe what I saw. I was always in awe of them, of the love they had for one another. What I wouldn’t give to see them dance once more.
We all have hidden little surprises stored away in our gifts and talents. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could go through our lives in such a way that people would share that with us. Wouldn’t it be grand if we felt safe enough to share our gifts with others. What’s your hidden talent? Would you care to share?

Let’s Change The World.

When my kids were young they had this thing about who was the favorite. Now that they’ve grown you would assume that they outgrew that. They haven’t. I imagine the topic still comes up because it always generated a good amount of banter around the dinner table. Accusations and denials of favoritism provided many affirming discussions and faux outrage over the years. It is a topic that is both absurd and compelling and it always felt a little uncomfortable defending how we felt . How could they know, without children of their own, that parenting doesn’t work like that? I look to each of my kids and their unique qualities for various roles in our family dynamic.

This sibling rivalry is not particular to our family. It always IMG_0113used to crack me up when Tommy Smothers, of the Smothers Brothers would suddenly look somber and exclaim to Dick, “Mom always liked you best.” A fond memory I hold about growing up was my Grandpa Caballero having the special ability to make each and every one of his 17 grandchildren feel beyond any doubt that they were his favorite. I suppose it is just human nature to seek the affirmation of those we love. Sometimes we manage that fairly well. Other times we struggle. Why is that?

I look back at the times when I’m most happy, when I am least insecure with my significance among those I love and there is a consistent theme. The times I’m most happy and most at peace is when I’m focused more on others than myself. I suppose that makes sense. It’s a constant in philosophy and religion that inner peace is attainable by quieting our minds in the service of others. There is a profound sense of fulfillment to be gained from helping others. I find that when I’m engaged helping at my church, in civic efforts and coaching weight loss I have less time to worry about my place in the world. We can all make a difference in the lives of others. It doesn’t need to be a world changing contribution to change the world of one or two people. It’s Monday morning. You do matter to the people who cross your path. Let’s get out there and change the world by loving on one person at a time.

Carpe Diem

The older I get the more urgent it seems that I suck every bit of life out of every moment of my day. It’s no wonder that perhaps one of my favorite movies is “Dead Poets Society” where John img_0112Keating, a new English Teacher played by Robin Williams, encourages his students to make their lives extraordinary. “Carpe Diem” Keating whispers to his charges as they stand before images of students who had passed through the same prestigious hallways generations before. “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it?… Carpe… Hear it?… Carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
Commute and journey can at first seem synonymous. Commute is defined as “traveling regularly to and from a place and especially between where you live and where you work.” Journey is defined as “an act of traveling from one place to another.” I attribute a more mundane definition to commute. Commute, to me, embodies a sense of disengagement, of excruciating routine and familiarity. Journey, on the other hand, conjures up images of the unknown and opportunities to see new things. We are often reminded “it’s not about the destination but the journey.” That’s a reminder to live in the moment. A call to embrace the now. The problem with living for another day, with focusing on end-results rather than efforts along the way is that satisfaction can be so fleeting. Who hasn’t worked hard to accomplish a goal and then momentarily thought they could have done better or lost themselves in consideration of what’s next?
I was reminded to embrace the journey from the simple act of riding my Harley into work yesterday. It was a beautiful spring morning. The sun was warm on my shoulders and yet the air was crisp and smelled of spring blossoms. The nimble navigation afforded by two wheels provided a sense of sport as opposed to the reclining comfort of my leather appointed SUV. I felt genuine gratitude for the comforts of my life: the absence of hunger or fear, the love of my family and friends, my good health and the consciousness to recognize how blessed my life truly is. I think I just inferred I have gratitude for feeling gratitude. There’s nothing wrong with that. Carpe diem my friends, carpe diem.

Serenity Prayer

I typically begin my day perusing Facebook and lately it’s filled with stories of oppression, atrocities and scandal. I end my day with the img_4914nightly news and it’s filled with reports of abuse, corruption, war and disasters. “The lens to which your brain views the world shapes your reality.” Author Shawn Achor. The author isn’t referring to the lens of physical sight so much as the way we look at things and how we think about them but I want to back up and consider what we are actually witnessing. Even when we try and escape the harsh realities of the world around us we are bombarded with videos of pranking and bullying or the intellectual wasteland of reality TV. We are witness to incivility and hostility at every turn. Occasionally someone will post a picture of a kitten or their dinner on Facebook and I longingly recall when I used to mock such things as all social media was good for.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
People have been drawn to barbarity and conflict since the ancient times. Gladiators and crucifixions drew huge crowds. Today MMA, polarized news outlets and nasty Real Housewives programs draw huge ratings on TV. We haven’t evolved very much. I struggle with that. I’m more likely to accept that I cannot change something than I am to accept some situations are allowed in the first place. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the best we can do is know that for now, we can only hope reasonable people, decency and mutual respect will prevail. In the mean time we must invoke:
the courage to change the things I can,
Will I speak up or will I be silent when I see wrong in my world? Will I contribute to the discontent and discord around me? I wonder if it is enough to confess that gawking at events and content lacking social value is guilty pleasure. If we aspire to better options we need to support them and abandon those guilty pleasures. So many times we see free markets used to degrade our morality as if some noble justification. We have an opportunity to utilize the beauty of free markets to make our world a better place every time we click (or not) a link, change a channel, purchase a publication or sound off in a comment box.
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Author Shawn Achor also reports, 90% of your happiness is dependent on the way your brain processes the world. Other 10% is predicted by external factors such as money, wealth, success. Choosing what we see can transform our lives and if enough of us are willing to do that we could change the world. Serenity, courage and wisdom: I’ve got my work cut out for me today.

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