Friday, September 3, 2010

A Change of Seasons

Oh, the dog days of summer. It’s a season of sensations. Open the back door and sweaty kids and dogs swoosh by. Who smells worse? It’s a toss-up. Here’s a summer sensation: that constant bloated feeling from too many cookouts with too many watermelon wedges and condiment laden hot dogs. Holy tummy trouble, Batman! And family vacations: don’t get me started. Cooped up with people twenty-four hours a day, people with whom you would not normally spend more than two hours a week. Help.

But now, summer is essentially over and not a sweltering moment too soon. I’m looking forward to a celebrating a new season. But what is there to celebrate in late summer?

Back-to-school is the closest thing we have to a national holiday between the 4th of July and Labor Day. The seasonal aisle at your local Walmart even changes colors. Gone are the red, white and blue paper plates and streamers. Now it’s black and white composition notebooks, rows of bright blue and orange Elmer’s Glue bottles and the nostalgically soothing green and gold Crayola boxes. Have you seen that Nike has a shoe in each of those color schemes? They are released just in time for the big business that is called back-to-school. The cool shoes and mega-sales pull parents into the maelstrom of the malls.

Whether you are the parent or the child there are emotions that go along with this “holiday” just like any other. There is a heightened sense of frantic joy knowing that the days are numbered. The brand-new school year with its unknown details is right around the corner and it is electrifying. New teachers, new friends, sometimes a whole new school. New clothes, new lunch box, new crayons, oh, such heady stuff!

You probably have indelible memories of shopping for all that new stuff. Those memories can be pleasant or unpleasant depending on your experience. Was it an amazing adventure or a foray into battle? Was it a buying bonanza or did money have to be spread thinly amongst several children? Were there cool clothes and a cool lunchbox or are you still haunted by the ridicule you endured for that faux leather vest?

Rare is the child who did not lay awake the night before school started wondering if the next day’s experiences would match the visions in his head. Hopes were for nice teachers and friends that accepted you, even in a faux leather vest. If you were changing schools, maybe you worried about finding your way in uncharted territory. And do you remember the angst you felt the first year you would have to “dress out” for gym class? Maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, there is no argument that this time of year is filled with what has become an American ritual. I see it happening around me and think: what marks time for me at this stage of my life? I do not participate in the back-to-school frenzy anymore. I’m a little nostalgic for the time when there were clearly defined transitions in life. I need some sort of ritual that draws a line of demarcation from one season to the next. Life indeed has its seasons and it would be nice to anticipate each change with a flurry of joyous activity. Changes in our lives usually descend on us unannounced. I’d like a little preparation time when everything is about to change.

Maybe I’ll work on that; a buying spree before every major change in my life. Buy myself some crayons and new tennis shoes. Oh wait, I already do that. So maybe, I’ll just imagine that tomorrow is the first day of a new “school of life” for me. I can joyously anticipate that tomorrow will be filled with adventures to live, lessons to learn, friends to make and new territory to navigate.

Anticipating tomorrow with joy is like enjoying the aroma of a backyard barbecue. Even the smell is delicious. Enjoying the anticipation that tomorrow may be something bigger, the start of a new adventure, makes today even better. I don’t have to fear tomorrow. I can celebrate it today. That makes today count.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Defining Moments

A defining moment is an instant so significant that life changes -- in a blink. According to writers of popular culture, sports teams, television shows and politicians can all have defining moments. Dr. Phil even has a quiz to help you identify yours. Yet, the reality is, that a person cannot be defined by a particular incident any more than Moby Dick can be fully understood by reading page 371.

What defines you? A house? A car? An occupation? Talent, abilities, accomplishments? You could answer that by determining what you value. Take inventory of the suitcase of values you carry with you. Some stuff was there to start with, kind of like a cosmic travel kit. Talents, intellect, physical attributes like good looks or athleticism; everyone is given a random sampling of the basics. Other valuables are received or attained by us through a series of exchanges. If we value a nice car we will exchange liquid assets to have one. If we value companionship (and regular sex) we will exchange independence for marriage. Ultimately, you define your life by what you decide you will not trade out of your valise of values.

Awhile back I was contemplating an out-of-state move for a new job. In talks with the new employer benefits and perks were discussed. Some were negotiable, some were not. Time off at Thanksgiving and Christmas to go home was not negotiable. I had the realization that if I was going to live that far away from my elderly parents, the time that I had left to spend with them was down to days. Time with my mother and father was so important to me that I would not exchange it.

If I say I value my health, every time I drive through a fast food line, I make an exchange for instant gratification. If I say I value my family and day after day, week after week, I work from very early to very late, leaving them no good part of me to talk to or interact with, I’ve exchanged the joys of family life for prestige or money or whatever payoff the business world gives me. If I say I value faith and spirituality and do not spend time developing my inner life with prayer and quiet reflection and the study of those disciplines, I have traded the eternal for the temporary. The age-old question is, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

The challenge is this: find the top ten things that you will not trade away. Spend some time actually determining what the non-negotiables are. We think we know ourselves but without a little purposeful thought, life usually just happens to us and we drift off course. Then, write them down. Put them on the refrigerator or bathroom mirror. Let your life be defined by them. Be the man or woman who has an unfaltering grip on what is important to you and let nothing take it away from you. Whether it is the lure of abundance or the struggle of hardship that tempts you to exchange it for the immediate, keep what you value with all diligence. And after awhile, if you find that you have exchanged something you thought you valued, be honest with yourself. Reevaluate. And if necessary, make another exchange to get it back. It’s worth it to work at this thing called life. So get your suitcase and let’s make TODAY COUNT.

Friday, March 12, 2010


If you are like millions of other people, you have visited one or more social networking sites on the internet. Two of the most popular sites are MySpace and Facebook. Wikipedia reports that MySpace, with its 118 million users, had been number one site until June of 2008 when Facebook passed them. Since then FB has grown to, a reportedly, 400 million users worldwide. These sites offer the opportunity to make friends, develop personal profiles, post to blogs, join groups, and upload photos, music, and videos.

And because of this phenomenon, the concept of a “friends list” is familiar to most of us. Your friends list is comprised of the people you consider worthy of conversation. People you enjoy interacting with and on some level trust with information about yourself.

There is no doubt that people make lasting and important connections with folks they meet online. But I have a lot of questions. Am I able to really feel emotionally connected to people I never see face to face or touch? Do I even need emotional connections? Can’t I get along just fine avoiding the intimacy that developing “real life” friendships would require? And just who from my friends list will visit me in the hospital, help me paint the house, stand beside me in court or at the graveside of a loved one? Even more importantly who will I be able to help in a tangible way when tragedy strikes them?

I read a quote recently that struck a vibrant chord with me and started me thinking about these things. “The friend who holds your hand and says the wrong thing is made of dearer stuff than the one who stays away." Barbara Kingsolver

There are times when words fail us. There are times when words are not enough. There are plenty of times that words cannot fix a thing but we use them anyway to try to help make sense of life with its twists and turns. Social networking is a phenomenon built primarily on words and the occasional two-dimensional picture download. And plenty of people like it that way. But there is something about sitting with a friend, being fully present, that all the crafted and interesting words in the world will not replace. We need other people and other people need us. We may not always know the right thing to say, but we can take the time to develop relationships and be a true friend. We each can be the friend who does not stay away. Spend some time with your friends today. Today Counts.