Voices Inside My Head.

I’m always searching for the proverbial “keys to life” not so much as a shortcut to happiness but generally to just get me through the day. I swear the world conspires against me some days. Lord knows that people intentionally spite me and refuse to provide for my simple and modest needs. Can ya feel me?IMG_0109
I think the only battle I need ever worry about is the one between my ears. A friend who worries about my occasional self-loathing recently shared a Viktor E Frankl quote with me. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I pondered how that aligned with Miguel Ruiz’s “Four Agreements.”
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions.
4. Always Do Your Best.
It all really comes down to perspective doesn’t it? We choose every day how we act or how we react as we go about our business. That should be easy enough. Things can get messy when spend too much time wishing things were different. It’s all so cliché’ sounding isn’t it? But then I wonder, why is it so hard at times? Why is it that we are willing to beat ourselves up; telling ourselves we are not good enough, not strong enough, not respected enough, we are too old, too fat, too whatever? Part of being impeccable with our word means that we need to recognize that our internal dialogue matters as much as what we say out loud. Part of taking things personally and making assumptions means assuming good intentions and doing our best to avoid self-judgment and regrets. We get to control all that. We get to choose our inner dialogue and thus our own reality.
I like when I lie down to bed at night and feel good about my contributions to, and interactions with, the people who’ve crossed my path. The best way to enjoy that feeling is by guarding against internal negativity and employing the occasional positive self-affirmation. “By golly, I’m good enough, I’m nice enough and people like me.” Ok, maybe we don’t need to go all Stuart Smally and I hope none of us self-deprecate more than occasionally. If at all. I just need to remind myself, once in a while, that words matter. What I tell myself is maybe foundational to how I treat others. That’s a freedom worth protecting.

I Hope There Is A Heaven.

On Friday I got the news that a friend passed away. It was unexpected, out of the blue. I hadn’t known that he was sick. Pete was the kind of friend who I was always glad to see and now that he’s gone, I wish I had seen more. Pete liked to poke me a little bit and challenge me to think outside my comfort zone. I’m going to miss that. We all have those friends; the friends who live on the fringe of our daily routines yet add a richness to our lives. His passing made me realize I don’t know much about Pete’s life but I knew he faced challenges. I always had a sense that I wanted to help Pete but always stopped short of taking a further step. Maybe that’s why hearing of Pete’s death hit me so hard on Friday. IMG_0106

I had recently posted about creating heaven on earth and to be honest, I was feeling pretty proud of myself for all of the no-risk engagement I have with people in the hope of brightening their day. I even wrote, “None of this costs me anything…” I failed Pete. I’ll never call anyone hypocrite again.
Pete administered a weight loss program at the church. We taught some classes together and then always had a nice visit before class if we had separate classroom assignments. We kept in touch on Facebook. Pete was always hungry to share knowledge, to encourage and to share stories. He rarely complained.
So many times, when someone passes we offer condolences to the bereaved that their loved one is in a better place. We are always sincere about that. If we are honest I might suggest that we don’t really think too deeply about it when we offer those comforting words. On Saturday I was still mourning Pete and feeling convicted that we hadn’t been closer.
And then I had the thought of Pete in heaven. I saw Jesus wrapping Pete in his arms and Pete snuggling in, laying his head on God’s shoulder. I imagined Pete’s smile and sense of relief from the warmth of God’s love following through him and washing away all of the pain and concerns from Pete’s life on earth. I will miss you Pete but I am so happy knowing where you are today. Whatever I could have done for Pete he doesn’t need anymore. I sure need him though. He is still challenging me to think outside my comfort zone. Pete was always good at that.

Heaven On Earth.

From time to time I find myself adrift. Maybe overly complacent is more accurate. I’m a little surprised that still happens at my age. I don’t know if it is the same for everybody but from time to time I have to remind myself that trips around the sun are limited. I don’t want to look back on life with too many regrets. I’m not good with regrets. Regrets can lead to icky thoughts and take up space in my head that could be used for good things like love and hope and joy.

I always seem to feel better in life when I’m mindful of my priorities and actually, deliberately, working to maintain them. I need to be deliberate to first accept who I am and then to live purposefully toward serving others. It always seems too easy to get wrapped up with the business of being the things that I do: Father, husband, parent, employee, homeowner or whatever. All of the things I do in those roles require attention and maintenance and time. If I turn from the things I do, to the things I am, I’m better able have fulfillment in my roles. Only attitude, only living purposefully can determine if I’m living fully or merely existing.

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So that are my priorities? Where do I find purpose? Are you ready for this? I want to live my life in such a way as to contribute to heaven on earth. I’m not saying I’m very good at it. I’m not delusional, well not about this anyway. I take stock in the concept of the butterfly effect. (The phenomenon where the swoosh of a butterfly wing on one side of the world can result in a hurricane on the other side of the world.) I pray every day that I can be the kind of man that God wants me to be. Usually I’m lucky if I can finish the prayer before I fail but that mindset might just put me in a place to do some little, maybe even imperceptible thing that could turn something around for someone or someone’s someone later in the day.

What I’m really hoping to do, when I pray to be the kind of man God wants me to be, is doing things like listening to people. Really listening. Just by being present and attentive you can make a difference in someone’s day. I hold doors for people. I greet and engage people where I can. I especially like to engage people who might otherwise go unseen: the security guard, the maintenance guy, the cafeteria server. I try to be helpful where I see people struggling. Maybe they are carrying packages or dropped an item. Maybe they are running to catch the elevator or maybe they just look like they could use encouragement. None of this costs me anything and I find those micro connections, where you recognize that you let someone know they matter, essential to what I value about humanity.

My personality is such that I tend to do most of those things out of habit. On autopilot if you will. But I don’t seem to reap the benefits and fulfillment of those actions without being deliberate. Those are many ways to serve. When I practice these random connections consciously is when I’m most accepting who I am. With that acceptance I feel like I’m better able to be authentic in my engagements. It is built into our humanity to be social creatures. It is our innate proclivity to community that we have been able to achieve so much in this world.

That’s why it bothers me so much to see all of the divisiveness and isolationist rhetoric being normalized by recent trends towards populism. And we should stop calling what’s going on in the world today populism. It isn’t. Populism is defined as “support for the concerns of ordinary people.” That doesn’t seems to match what we are witnessing in society these days. It’s time we took to the streets with a servants heart and see if millions of butterflies can’t just get us back on track and create a little heaven on earth.

Latent Racism

There is a documentary going around exposing Yale students for garish elite entitlement. Support of the point of view is offered by video of interactions between students and university representatives. The film was reportedly made to show us just how over the top the entitled elite students of Yale have become. It is disguised as being about out of touch neophytes browbeating helpless officials who’s response is throttled by fear of lawsuits and perhaps worse, the fear of being politically incorrect.IMG_0101
The thing is, these generational complaints, the ones where comments are made about “those kids these days” are always self-serving and genuinely unoriginal. Socrates, legend would have it, once said, “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” So this has been around forever. My point is, have we forgotten what we were like in college? You may not feel empathy for the students in this story but do you think our parents thought we weren’t just as messed up as these kids are made to look? We were you know. And that’s kind of the beauty of a college education.
We were young, full of energy and ecstatic about the blossoming capabilities of our expanding minds. New ways of thinking were offered not only in curriculum but in the confluence of kids from all over the country and the world in pursuit of higher education. We were no longer isolated in our homogenous hometowns where even if we were lucky enough to have come from a land of racial and ethnic diversity we were still most likely, surrounded by like minded people. College is a place to test out ideas, a place to safely find a voice and learn what works and what doesn’t. It is a training ground for the all too near real world in which they will soon be immersed.
I remember when my kids were young and we would spend weekends in bleachers and auditoriums watching hundreds of kids perform in their chosen extracurricular endeavors. I would hear people then, most likely people without kids at home, complain about the younger generation and the loss of hope for humanity. I always thought, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Those kids then, as I am sure kids now, were as driven and confused and trying to figure things out as we ever were.
But that’s not what bothers me about this video. The reaction to the video, in no small part is veiled racism. The question arises because the issue used to focus our angst at these privileged students was a racial insecurity. I do not condone the actions or comments of the students but I won’t condemn them either. This issue was wrapped in the 1st Amendment but underneath it was about race. These kids aren’t dumb. Not by any stretch of the imagination. They live in a world where nationalism and white supremacy are being normalized. I noticed the filmmaker never offered other instances of Yale students airing grievances. Certainly if the entire campus ran amok with spoiled self-centered egotists they would have been able to demonstrate other examples.
The whole thing reeked of “look at those uppity black folk who don’t know their place.” And the message is working. People are happy to condemn and ridicule the students as entitled elitists and never have to mention the ethnicity at play. The video is the perfect cover for latent racism. It was racism hidden in overgeneralization and supported by opportunistic video clips and clever editing. A better story would have been why, in 2017, are these kids living with that fear.
Yale is going to be OK. I hope the same is true for the students.

Intersectional Grievances And Hope For Unity.

The story of Roberto Beristain and his family has haunted me since his story broke on February 6th. Roberto had been living in South Bend Indiana under an “order of supervision”agreement with DHS. The agreement, under the historical interpretation, allows immigrants with a removal order to remain in the country for humanitarian reasons. Roberto had been doing all the right things. He regularly checked in with DHS, paid his taxes, was raising a family and employing twenty people at the successful restaurant he owned in South Bend. Roberto was arrested at his last DHS check-in and has been deported. His case attracted national attention because his wife had supported Donald Trump. Mrs Beristain claimed she feels betrayed because her husband is in no way a “bad hombre.”IMG_0095

Roberto’s story has been making the rounds on social media where the family is being vilified by the right and the left for harboring a criminal or”getting what they deserved” for voting for Trump. There is a family who’s entire world has been turned upside down and I’m certain if this were someone we knew we would be more sympathetic.

There’s a school of thought emerging that rises in depression and anxiety are the result of our increasingly comfortable lifestyle and resultant insulation from adversity. That’s not to diminish the challenges of modern life but real adversity like hunger, homelessness and persecution are largely removed from the average American’s daily life. With that lack of adversity some of our sense of purpose and ergo hopefulness has diminished. I sense that this void is what leads to a growing lack of empathy for others. Deep down, if feelings of unhappiness undermine our subconscious we lash out at others. I’m just going to leave that right there. It’s just a theory.

I’m a ridiculous optimist. I suppose my privilege affords that. I would hope that others could feel that optimism in this time where we are facing so much uncertainty, dissonance and division. My optimism comes from Roberto’s story and the ugly commentary that has attached to the story. It is my hope that reasonable people might see that and say, “Wait! What?” This family is being torn apart and both sides are piling onto their suffering. We’ve got to be better than that. There lies our hope, our purpose our challenge in the face of adversity. It’s time we quit knee-jerk responding with hostility and dismissiveness. The intersectional grievances of our discontent can be a point of unity. I’m going to chase that idea for a little bit. Will you join me?

 

Riding With My Dad.

IMG_0091My dad lied about his age to join the Navy in 1944. He was worried he wouldn’t get a chance to serve his country if he waited until he was of age. Landing a spot in the Seabee’s he participated in the clean-up of American interests in Nagasaki. His ship docked in Nagasaki shortly after Fat Man, the 22-kiloton atomic bomb, had been dropped at 11:02 on the morning of August 9, 1945. He never did talk much about what he saw there. I can’t imagine. When you witness the specific reality of such horrors it would affect you any number of ways. My Dad took some time to sort all that out in his own way I guess. Typical of some World War II Veterans my Dad found comfort in a Harley Davidson and the associated brotherhood that is now iconic Americana.IMG_0088

My dad was, however, willing to tell us stories about his motorcycling days and that is most likely why I ride to this day. He gave up motorcycling when he met my mom. He never told us why he made that decision but it was apparent he never lost his enthusiasm for two wheels. My dad was a practical man. I’m confident he subjugated his love for Harley’s in exchange for the priority of his family. Still, even in the later years of his of his life, whenever he heard the distinctive sound of a Harley, he would stop whatever he was doing and look for the source.

One of my father’s last rides was in late June of 1950. He decided to visit Yellowstone on a whim. He jumped on his 1949 FL pan-head and rode west. Alone. I asked him why and he smiled and just said, “I had always wanted to visit Yellowstone.” I suppose that’s as good of a reason as any. It was hard to reconcile such a free spirit once residing in a man who so epitomized living his life for others. He worked twelve hour days, six days a week at the gas station he owned. Busting his knuckles in the shop and wiping his hands on an oily rag he always had a smile on his face for any customer who pulled up to his full service pumps. His work ethic extended beyond providing for us. He was active at church, devoted to his family and did all of the maintenance on our humble cape cod.

On the occasions he recalled his trip to Yellowstone it seemed as if he was reliving the wind in his hair and rumble under his seat. He spoke proudly of his Harley which he claimed was the only motorcycle in the world that you could ride at eighty miles an hour all day long. My dad wouldn’t see Yellowstone on that trip. He would never see it from the seat of a Harley. He had stopped in Cody Wyoming to fuel up just outside the majestic park. The attendant asked, “Have you heard? North Korea has invaded South Korea and it sounds like we’re going back to war.” My dad told the man to fill it to the rim and hurry. He saddled up and headed for home. He had the opportunity to prove his bike would run eighty miles per hour all day long. It took him over twenty-four hours to ride straight through to the Naval recruiting station in his home town. Duty. Honor. Character.

Nearly fifty years later, some twenty years after my father had passed, I had the opportunity to trace his Yellowstone ride. I had just completed the glorious ride down Shell Canyon and was a little emotional from realizing this country had probably changed very little since my father had rode there. I had used most of my gas riding through the Big Horn Mountains. Cody lie ahead. I have to admit I watched nervously for anyone who might approach that would have some inconceivable news that might end my trip. God smiled upon me and I was able to spend the next few days with my dad filling my heart and taking in a timeless American treasure. I’d say my dad would have loved that ride through Yellowstone but I had the real sense that he was there all along, riding with me side by side.

 

Lead With Your Heart. Sometimes.

One of the favorite stories I love to share comes up when I introduce lending to new hires in my job at the credit union. I make the story fit my curriculum at work but I’ll share with you what really happened.
A guy, I’m just going to call him Mike, came in to get a loan. The thing was, Mike saw me often to get a loan but I was never able to give him one. Mike had a good job but had made some poor financial choices in the past and held more debt than any man ever should. I knew that every month it was likely he needed to make the decision to eat or pay his bills. I just wasn’t able to do anything for him that wouldn’t make his situation worse.
A lot goes into the measure of a man. Mike could just never say no to his family. The repeated loan requests were always for the benefit of his wife or daughter and never about him. One beautiful spring day he came into my office and sat heavily in the chair across my desk. He had been crying. I acted as if I hadn’t noticed. He needed fifty bucks to get him through to payday because his daughter had been invited to Prom. His wife and daughter would make a dress. He was certain she would be the most beautiful girl at the prom… if he could only get his hands on fifty bucks… to buy a bit of cloth.
Everything about this loan was wrong. Credit worthiness, IMG_0086capacity to repay and the loan fell below my minimum loan requirements. I made the loan. You might ask why I didn’t just hand the guy fifty but I knew he wouldn’t have accepted it that way. I set him up for a ninety day note and by the time you add up the cost of toner, the documents, the statements and the data processing expenses it was a loser of a deal no matter what interest rate I would have charged him. But sometimes doing business isn’t about making the best deal.. Sometimes doing business is affording another a little dignity and that is what this was about. As the papers came out of my printer and I spun them for a signature I noticed Mike sitting taller and looking about ten years younger.
I have made some good loans in my day. College loans, vacation loans, wedding loans, car loans and home loans. Few things are better than handing a check to someone to make their dreams come true. That being said, no loan ever gave me more satisfaction than handing over that fifty dollar loan draft on that beautiful spring day. We locked eyes and shook hands. A lot can be communicated through a handshake when you look a man in the eye. I think I never saw more resolve and gratitude than in that moment. Still, no matter Mike’s intention at that point, I had assumed that I would pay off this loan before it went delinquent. I never had to.  I’ve heard people brag about making the best deals, the biggest deals and so many deals, believe me, I’m just not impressed. I want to know what’s in a man’s heart. If he works hard and struggles for others then I’m impressed.
I got lucky on that loan. I explained it to my board and they weren’t happy but they trusted that my heart was in the right place. We need more of that these days. There are times when leading with your heart is the right thing to do. Oh! And Mike came back after prom and showed me pictures. My favorite was the one where he stood tall beside his daughter with the look of the proudest father in the history of fatherhood apparent in his smile. It’s likely his daughter was the most beautiful girl at the prom.

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