Digesting Never’s

The profession I am in is one I often say picked me and I did not pick it.  In my teens there was no other thought besides being a scientist (except wishing I could sign up somewhere to be James Bond).  Having entered and won several of science fairs and breezing through chemistry, physics I & II and even calculus I thought for sure my future was in the sciences.  Then purely by chance through a high school friend I ended up with a part time job in the profession I am still in decades later.

With parents who divorced when I was seven, I promised myself when my age was still single digits that I would get married only one time, period!  That was one of the agreements with my self that kept me in a first marriage a decade longer than I should have been.  Then I married a second time which ended in divorce which when younger I could not have imagined.

In my late teens and early 20’s I did what a good percentage of my male peers did:  I grew my hair long.  At one point my mane was 2/3’s of the way down my back.  In the days when I thought of all in my age group as either “straight” (meaning square, un-cool, not-hip, straight laced) or a “freak” (long hair, liberal, cool, groovy) I swore I would never cut my hair.  By 25 my hair was a business acceptable length.

Being an idealist is one of the reasons I left the Deep South.  There was a restaurant in Jackson,MS next door to where I worked when I was 18.  The owners did not like us long-haired folks and refused to serve us.   Once they knew your voice, they would even hang up on you if you called for a take out order.  That treatment was one of the primary reasons I left Mississippi for Colorado when I was 19 swearing I would never live “south” again.  Now for over a decade I have lived in Oklahoma which definitely has a “southern” flavor even it if it more thought of as being west.  What I know now is discrimination is everywhere.  It is more overt in some places and covert in others.  But it is everywhere.

In my “hippie freak” years I made the commitment to my self to never join the corporate world.  I believed a person should be accepted openly no matter what they wore or how they looked.  I still believe that today but also accept the reality that in business judgment of competence is made to a point by the clothing one wears to work.  I made the compromise in my late 20’s when I realized the jobs I wanted were not held by people who dressed and looked like me.  That was the year that for Christmas I wished for and got blazers, ties, and dress shirts and pants.

Once upon a time I dreamed of having several children, but today am grateful for the one son I do have.  In another time I thought I would be living happily ever after in a foreign country but that seems like a pipe dream today.  I promised myself I’d get in and stay in killer physical shape at some point in my life and got there around 40, but within a year it slipped away. 

Promises, promises…..

Making promises to my self was a good and necessary thing.  And I know breaking them should not be taken lightly.  On the other hand, few things work out the way they were planned, especially from the vantage point of youth.  In my teens and even 20’s I saw the world in a very narrow way based largely on opinion and little on experience.  I had to learn as John Lennon wrote in his song Beautiful Boy:  “… life’s what happens while you’re busy making other plans”.

Today I am grateful for all the promises I made my self and all the lessons experience taught me.  The ones I have kept taught me values and ideals.  It seems the more ingrained the self-guarantee was that was broken, the greater the knowledge gained was.  Being adaptable and living in the present is something I had to learn to do.  Saying “never” has become a more rare personal expression for I have eaten far too many of them.  Yet, swallowing those erroneous “never’s” were some of the greatest teachers of my life.  I will always be grateful for the lessons learned the hard way.

The promise given was a necessity of the past:  the word broken is a necessity of the present.  Niccolo Machiavelli

“Mornin’ Mack. How you doing?”

Frequently I say “Mornin’ Mack.  How you doing?” when I walk by the photo above that hangs in my office.  At other times I have been known to say “I know Mack, I shouldn’t have done that” or simply “I miss you man”.

Mack Jones Pettigrew was one of the best friends of my life.  He died in 1994.  We met when we both worked at the same place in 1975 and for the next 19 years we became closer and closer friends.     The time we became the closest was during his illness.  In typical Mack J. style he made that time uniquely memorable.

The time is clear in my mind when in 1988 I met Mack for lunch on a workday as I frequently did.  He was quieter and less animated than usual and mentioned he did not feel well.  Close to the end of lunch Mack looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said something like “I’m really sick man.  I gonna to die and I haven’t told anyone until now.  Not even my Mama.  I’m scared”.  I was dumbfounded and did not know what to say but asked “what’s going on”.  He proceeded to explain that it had all started with sickle cell anemia and now had turned into full blown leukemia of an incurable type.  I wanted to know if there was treatment that could help and Mack said there were only things that could buy him time.  Nothing else.

To know the man that Mack had been prior to his illness would be to describe a good man with some bad habits.  Frequently cash flow challenged he cut corners that were not always legal but never of the sort that gets a person in serious trouble.  His life was also a constant flow of women.  He had been married for a few years to someone he truly loved and the union produced a child that was dear to him.  His bad habits caused the downfall of the marriage and at the time he became ill he had been single for close to 10 years.  I knew his faults and I knew his heart too.

Over lunch the day he told me he was sick, he explained that the Doctors told him he had 12 to 18 months to live.  But, if he would clean his act up, stay on a strict diet and get serious daily exercise he could buy himself time.  And buy himself time is what Mack did.  He became extraordinarily picky with his diet and he committed even more to working out.

Three years passed and it was hard to know Mack was ill.  He seemed so healthy and normal except when his pancreas would be hurting and he’d put his hand over that spot.  He became a serious body builder and as you can see from the photo above he was handsome with his rippling muscles and killer smile.  Mack went on to take every state of Ohio title for body building for 40+ men.  I remember sitting in the audience watching him flex and show off on stage looking so vibrant and filled with vigor.  I knew what others in the audience did not know:  My friend was dying.

Mack became one of the most loving, caring and gentle souls I have ever known during the seven years he lived from the onset of his illness.  That’s almost 4 times what the doctors originally predicted!  During those years he always hugged me when he first saw me and again when we parted.  Mack also always told me he loved me each time just before we went our separate ways.  It was with him that I adopted that habit where today I hug those men and women dear to me before leaving.  It is an enduring legacy of my friend who taught me it’s OK to show how I felt.

During those years of his illness we had some long and deep conversations that I learned so much from.  Once he said to me something similar to “You will never know what it’s like to be black.  Every day I am reminded what color I am and it’s been going on since I was little.  Some days it’s how people look at me or how they treat me.  Other days I remind myself when I look in the mirror and notice the color of my skin”.  He gave me that perspective and much more I would never have acquired had Mack not been my friend.

The last year of his life he took a job down south and I only saw him once.  We talked on the phone every 2 or 3 weeks and he always told me he was doing well. Even though I knew he was ill, it just seemed like Mack was going to just keep going and going.

That’s what I thought until I got a call on Wednesday March 16, 1994 from his ex-wife who said he had been in the hospital for over two weeks and had come home to die.  I learned she was breaking her word to call me as Mack had made her promise not to until he was gone.  He did not want me to worry and be upset. She said she knew how close we were and just couldn’t keep what was going on from me any longer.  I broke every speed limit getting to the hospital and when I got there my old friend was no longer conscious.  But when his wife called his name and told him I was in the room he moved and tried to raise his head even though he was unconscious.  He knew I was there.

So for the next few hours I sat on one side of the bed and his wife on the other (he remarried her in the hospital so she could receive benefits).  I held Mack’s right hand and she was held his left as he struggled for breathe.  To glance at the man who lay there all rippling with muscles it was difficult to grasp what was going on.  Over about three hours the breaths became slower and slower until there were no more.

Mack was as an MP in the army when he was young and was always proud of his service.  It came as no surprise that he had told his wife that he wanted to be buried in a Veteran’s Cemetery.  And so he was on Monday, March 21, 1994.  Rest in peace my dear friend. The tears I have shed writing this are for the joy of having known you and for what you taught me with your courage and caring.  I will love you always and be grateful for the gift you were to my life.  Happy Memorial Day Mack.  “Ciao, ciao”

Pettigrew, Mack Jones, b. 06/20/1951, d. 03/16/1994, US Army, PVT, Res: Fairborn, OH, Dayton National Cemetery- Plot: 25 0 862, bur. 03/21/1994

Behind the Secret

Close to ten years ago I was at my favorite used book store looking through a box of “new arrivals” and came across a book with a dark blue textured cover titled “The Secret of the Ages” by Robert Collier.  This book turned out to be and today remains in my top 20 preferred books.  I am very grateful for the chance discovery.

Collier wrote about the practical psychology of abundance, desire, faith, visualization, confident action, and becoming your best.  After overcoming an illness he became fascinated with the power of the mind and how to use it to create success in every area.

Originally in 1925 Collier published his most famous book in seven brown hardback volumes under the title “The Secret of Life”.  He autographed the first volume of each set.  A year later there was a second release of the exact same material in a red seven book set under the name “The Secret of the Ages” which became the permanent title.  Within a few years the multiple volumes were combined into one hardback book and it was in-print into the 60’s.

Only in the last few years since the success in 2006 of Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret” has Collier’s book become available again.  Collier is given a little credit in Byrne’s book, but not nearly what I believe he is due.  The new book seems to be a reworking of Colliers concepts and ideas.  However, I am certain that he would be pleased that the material continues to be meaningful and contemporary even without ample credit to him.

As a way of expressing my gratitude to Mr. Collier for this work originally done 85 years ago, I am including a few passages here:

“…We make the world without but a reflection of the world within…Thoughts are the causes.  Conditions are merely effects…”

“…No matter if you seem to be in the clutch of misfortune, no matter if the future looks black and dreary – FORGET YOUR FEARS!  Realize that the future is of your own making.  There is no power that can keep you down but yourself.  Set your goal.  Forget the obstacles between.  Forget the difficulties in the way.  Keep only the goal before your mind’s eye – and you’ll win it…”

“…Just as the first law of gain is desire, so the formula of success is faith.  Believe that you have it – see it as an existent fact – and anything you rightly wish for is yours.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…”

“…If you want more of the universal supply, you must use that which you have in such a way as to make yourself of greater service to those around you.  If you want to make more money, see how you can make more for others.  In the process you will inevitably make more for yourself too.  We get as we give – but first we must give…”

In the “Secret of Life” Collier also included a poem without credit that my research indicates anyone from Anon to Napoleon Hill may have written it along with C.W. Longnecker or Walter Wintle.

If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don’t;
If you’d like to win, but think you can’t
It’s almost a cinch you won’t;
If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost;
For out in the world you’ll find
Success begins with a person’s mind –
It’s all in the state of mind.

Typing Collier’s thoughts here only make me more grateful for “The Secret of the Ages” coming into my life.  Somehow it crystallized what I needed to know at the time I needed to know it.  I have read the book cover to cover three times and am now on my fourth time through.  As before I am benefiting from your wisdom Mr. Collier.  Thank you Sir!

When the student is ready, the master appears.  Buddhist Proverb

In Memory of Strangers

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Boulder.  The sky above was the deep Edgewood blue that Colorado is famous for and underneath to the horizon was a wonderful day to be outside.  My son and I walked around Pearl Street, had lunch and went for ride up nearby Flagstaff Mountain.

The trees are starting to sprout leaves and the ground is greening-up I noticed from my vantage point on the passenger side.  Blissfully lost in the sights and beauty of the day my attention was pulled to a simple little sign attached to a curve warning sign.  It looked liked it belonged there and simply read “In Memory Of Amber McDonald”.  As we continued driving my mind wandered and the questions came.  Who was Amber McDonald?  Was she young or old?  Did the location of the sign have significance?  Was Amber a lover of the mountains?  Did she spend a lot of time outdoors?  Did she ride her bike up Flagstaff  Mountain Road?  Lots of times?  Was she single or married?  Did she have children?  Brothers or sisters?  

Later I spent about an hour searching on the Internet for clues as to who Amber McDonald was.  I found the first and last name combination is fairly common.  Sifting through them all I could not find that name with any ties to Boulder.  Lacking any definitive history I invented some.  

Based on absolutely no facts the story I created and settled on was Amber McDonald was probably a college age girl (University of Colorado Campus is close by).  She was a bike rider and a successful student just about finished with her Master’s studies.  I imagined Amber as single and happy.  Thinking that someone who loved the scenery at least as much as I do could no longer see what I was seeing made me appreciate the mountains more than usual.  It was a gift I got for remembering Amber McDonald through my made up story. 

As it turned out Amber McDonald paved the way for me to “meet” another woman.  When we stopped to take in the view at scenic overlook close to the top of the mountain I noticed a bench with a small plaque made into it:  “In Loving Memory of Judy McMillan Feb. 27, 1941 – Feb. 5, 1997”.  Judy lived until shortly before her 56th birthday.  Was she a wife?  A Mother?  A Grandmother?  Was this scenic point special to her?  I filled in a few blanks and felt she was all of the above.  I added in my thought that the spectacular view where the bench was located must have been her favorite.  I felt like she came there often. 

Adapted from “I Am Not There” – Mary Elizabeth Frye

I give you this one thought to keep –
I am with you still – I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awake in the morning’s hush
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone –
I am with you still – in each new dawn. 

Knowing almost nothing about the two women, but spending time with their memories made my day better and more memorable at a unique level.  I honored the wishes of those who put the signs up for the Amber and Judy to be remembered.  It made me more grateful to be alive. 

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.  Henry David Thoreau

Temporary Friends

A couple of days ago I flew to Colorado to visit my son.  When I arrived at my home airport I saw long lines in front of the counter of the airlines I was flying.  My first thought was this flight was going to be a hassle.  It turned out the lines were backed up from another airline.  Although storms had caused all sorts of cancellations to the east, those going westward as I was were unaffected.  The journey started well.

Once on board in my aisle seat I was soon joined by a late 20-something young woman in the window seat beside me.  She was attractive in an unaffected way and dressed simply in jeans.  She seemed happy, smiled a lot and stuck up a conversation with me.  In a pleasant conversation I learned she was married and had two children:  one a 12-year old stepson and another 7-year old son she and her husband had together.  They lived in Denver and she was returning after visiting family in Tulsa.  Prior to takeoff we talked for about five minutes before the flight attendant moved some people around for weight and balance on the small commuter jet and she was one of them.  For those few minutes we really did relate to each other as we talked about our families and reasons for our trips.  And for that short while she became another on my list of “temporary friends”.  I am grateful to have the conversation logged away with the beaming face of a happy young woman stored with it. 

When interacting with strangers most often all that happens is the waitress or guy at the checkout goes by the script of the customary things they are supposed to say.  Or the person sitting beside you is mentally somewhere else  and in 90 minutes speaks only 10 words:  hello, how are you, fine, excuse me please and thank you .  Outside of the mechanical, necessary word exchange nothing of meaning is spoken and little if any part of the encounter gets logged to memory.  There have been other times on a flight or similar situation where I have had a seat next to someone who drones on and on speaking lots of words and saying next to nothing.  I rarely retain any memory of these non-connections except possibly in a negative sense.

There are also those unique and rare times when real connections happen.  Maybe with a waiter for a minute where there is real eye contact and interpersonal interaction.  These I think of as “momentary friends”.  Or once in a while on an airplane two compatible complete strangers find connection and the minutes float away without awareness as a “temporary friendship” is enjoyed.

I recall the 80-something gentleman who I talked with for three hours on a flight to California.  I was flying out for a job interview and found out he had relocated for his work quite a few times.  As I was considering a move, I asked was all the moving worth it.  He said something like “Yes, at the time.  But looking back now it really wasn’t worth it”.  I have reflected on his statment and his following explanation several times when presented with job prospects that required moving.  It helped. 

In clear memory is an hour of conversation with  the woman in the next seat that resulted in a still practiced long distance friendship.  Through emails from time to time we still stay in touch although we met on a flight 15 years ago. 

And there was the software consultant from Norfolk who was a wood carver, the grandmother from Atlanta who knitted as we talked, the retired NASA worker from Florida who knew the first crop of Astronauts, the college aged newly weds sunburned and giddy from their Cayman honeymoon, the anthropologist who was coming home to see his family after several years in Africa, the dentist from Cleveland flying to Dallas for Superbowl week, the business executive from New York City who talked about her love of horses, the flight attendant returning home to Denver who was excited about both her children coming home for Christmas and all the other “temporary friends” who don’t immediately come to mind at the moment.   To each and every one, I am grateful for the small threads you became within the fabric of my life.  Thank you all for giving me that little piece of yourself.  

There are no such things as strangers, only friends we have not met.  William Butler Yeats

A Recovering Night Owl

There is not a long history of me being a morning person.  The majority of my adult life I characterized myself as more of a night owl who was usually up until 11pm if not midnight (weekends much later).  My wake up time barely allowed me a stretch long enough to get up and get out of the house and to work each day.  I was notoriously late!!  There was a frantic beginning to every one of those days.  It was my strong belief then that those who called themselves a “morning person” were some sort of genetic mutant.  If that is what it takes, now I am very grateful for the personal mutation that allowed the discovery of mornings! 

 In place of jumping out of bed and immediately trotting through the maze of make coffee, shower, dress, eat and drive like a maniac to work; now my mornings have a calmer and less abrupt beginning.  A couple of years ago it hit me that I gave the best hours of my day to the outside world.  I kept for myself the hours at the end of the day when I was the most tired and fatigued.  I was giving away “me” at my most rested and mentally sharp and keeping the leftovers for myself at the end of the day.

In earlier days I really needed to be at work between 8:30 and 9am, but that often stretched to 9:15am or later.  Being the senior person in my jobs for over 20 years there was no one to tell me I was “late”.  I worked hard, but often ended up laboring a bit later than those who got their day rolling earlier than I did.  Over a period of about two years I slowly adapted my rising time in the morning by 15 minute increments until my previous rising time of 7:30 or 7:45am became 6 or 6:15am.  Most recently I am adapting to the alarm going off at 5:45am.

 Am I crazy?  Probably a little, but I find I feel quite different at the start of each day.  The luxury of time in the morning is one of the factors in being able to come here and write each day.  I also read, check email, get up to date with news on-line, read whatever book has my interest at the moment and stay in better touch with those I care about. Previously at the end of the day after dealing with work emails all day long, one of the last things I wanted to do was come home and write more.  Now at the start of the day my mind is fresh when I actually have the time and inclination to write emails that consist of more than “hope you’re good.  Have a nice day.” 

 I know now that I never really was a night owl.  Rather I was just in the habit of being one.  It was challenging to adapt my sleeping habits to get up earlier.  Over time though it became my new habit and I can now say I am a morning person!  If happiness is living in the moment, I was missing a good bit of the joy of living.  My thinking in the later rising and hectic day beginning starts was thoughts like:  Got to run.  I’m late.  Am I going to be on time?  Slow drivers, get out of my way.  I did not eat this morning.  I don’t have time to stop for gas; hope I don’t run out.  And so on….  I was often in such a hurry I’d forget things like my coat, my phone, my wallet and even putting on a belt.  I even wore non-matching shoes to work one day!  What a relief my new schedule is.  It’s a wonderful gift I have given myself.  Bedtime does come earlier now, but sleep seems to come quicker and I seem to rest better.  My counter for the jokes from friends about getting old and going to bed just after sundown (my actual bed time is 10pm) is simply to tell them they don’t know what they are missing.

Early to bed.  Early to rise.  Makes a person healthy, weatlhy and wise.  Ben Franklin

Seeing Beyond Just Looking

I have no certainty where exactly I got the idea.  It may have been from something I read or several things Icame across blended together.  It may have even been a spontaneous realization.  But in the last 10 years I have learned to “see beyond just looking”.  I can’t do it all the time.  Actually that is probably impossible for a human being.  If I could I suspect I’d end up over dosed in goodness like Woody Allen was with the “orb” in the movie Sleeper.  Seeing beyond looking does happen for me frequently and the more I intentionally try the more frequent the activity comes without thought or effort.

My discovery was I mostly only acknowledged what came into view.  I would mostly just walked without really noting  what was right before me.  Mine was a bad habit of hardly ever really “truly seeing” much of anything.  My mind seemed to always be racing forward thinking about where I was going, what I had to do and what issues I needed to deal with.  Or else, I was looking backwards trying to solve some past emotional riddle or find some meaning in an episode of life I wanted an explanation for.

What I began to do, inconsistently at first, was to just stop and really take in visually what I was looking at.  There was amazement the first intentional time I took 30 seconds to study a beautiful tulip, to see its unique form and texture and to take in its vibrant red color.  I was stunned to look and see so much always detail missed before.  It was during the early times of intentionally having these experiences when I noticed how beautifully blue the sky really is (which is still one of my favorites to marvel at).

How touched I became when I locked my vision on an elderly couple watching the man help the fragile woman out of the car and attending to her to get into a restaurant.  Eating at the same place as they were I watched the smiles they exchanged while eating and from a distance the conversation they were having.  I saw a couple deeply in love just moving in slow motion;  true romance at half speed.  Without looking closely I would have dismissed them mentally as “old people” and hardly noticed them at all.

I found delight in watching a toddler in a park giggling wildly while chasing a grasshopper like it was the greatest find of the year.  Truly sitting and watching birds through a window enjoy a feast of crumbled bread I put out for them on top of a big snow allowed me to notice the quirky uniqueness of each breed and what appeared to be joy in the abundance they had found.  And then there is nature!  A walk in the woods or a park became a sensory banquet.

When was the last time you sat and watched a sunset or sunrise?  When was the last time you actually “saw” a person instead of just looking at them.  How long since you gazed in a mirror and actually saw yourself instead of just acknowledging your reflection?  How long has it been since you focused on something to the point to where you found sheer delight in what you were looking at?  For me I am glad to say “no long ago”.   I am grateful to have stumbled across this activity and to have cultivated the habit.  As time passes with consistent effort I find I am able to more truly see with greater depth and frequency.  If life is a feast, then this is the seasoning for the meal.

Taken from “Seeing Past Myself” – Don Iannone

Sometimes I have trouble
Seeing past myself
Blindsided by who I think I am
To the vast world of possibilities…
I clean my glasses twice a day
Unfortunately it’s to see what I want to see
And not beyond that
I guess I’m no different –
Than you, or anyone else.
My self-image directs my eyes.
There’s a solution you know
It’s not as hard as we think
Open our hearts to unknown possibilities
Accept that our version of reality
Is but one of many out there.

The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.  Marcel Proust 

Shoes Don’t Make The Man

There is a wise, but anonymous saying I have come across a number of times that goes: “…I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet…”  While I can’t relate directly to either situation, I do relate to the intent of the thought.  Growing up and through a good part of my 20’s, extra footwear was a luxury not present in my life.  If I was lucky at the time, my shoe collection contained a pair of dress up shoes, a pair of everyday work or school shoes and a pair of athletic shoes of some sort.

In high school it was embarrassing at times to me to have only one pair of shoes to wear to school.  I was not allowed to wear my “Sunday shoes” to school and my school years were before athletic shoes were acceptable dress in the halls of education (unless you were at P.E. (gym was called physical education where I went to school).  The same was true in business as I grew up and entered the professional world.  In my working life self-consciousness came to me about having only the one pair of dress shoes most of the time.  I realize now, probably no one noticed what was on my feet at school and there was even less interest in what shoes I wore to work .

On-line I found this explanation of self-consciousness: an acute sense of self-awareness. It is a preoccupation with oneself, as opposed to the philosophical state of self-awareness, which is the awareness that one exists as an individual being….

It is only human for to suffer with self-consciousness from time to time. For one reason or another there are also those of us who lacking enough self esteem find ourselves concerned with “other esteem” or with being judged by what is outside of us, who we are, what we have and so on.  I grew up to be one of those people and only in my adult life have I been able to see it and realize that it is a self made restriction and unnecessary concern.  Even now I can’t say it is completely gone.  What begins when we are children usually never completely goes away.  Intellectual awareness has improved my thinking and the longer I am cognizant of those thoughts the more they diminish.

As much as I thought the lack of extra shoes diminished me at the time, I am grateful for the childhood days where that thinking taught me humility.  As an adult, I can now give thanks for the times I did not have a dress shoe collection for it taught me the ability to feel appreciation when I was able to afford more.  As a human being, I have gratitude for these experiences as it has softened me and helped me to be more compassionate toward people who have little.

I have a good friend in Peru who grew up in the jungles of the Amazon. He told me long ago that he did not have his first pair of shoes until he was 14 and those were for church and school only.  He said that first pair of shoes hurt his feet and he continued to go barefoot whenever he could growing up.  He even talks about a concoction that his Mother rubbed on his feet as a kid to make the bottoms of his feet tougher.  I have touched the bottoms of his feet and even today as an adult his feet are tough with thick layer of callus on the bottom (with quite an assortment of interesting scars).  Further, his feet are much flatter and more spread out that I am accustomed to seeing.  He says it is from growing up without his feet constricted in shoes. He says he runs faster, climbs trees better and has a more stable stance when barefoot.  And of course as an adult today one of his favorite pastimes is going barefoot in the jungle!  His view of things often flips my traditional views on their head.  I am thankful for that insight.

While I am grateful for all I have learned and the knowledge I intellectually have, today I have a LOT of shoes. The 6 pair of athletic shoes, 9 pair of dress shoes and at least that many pair of casual dress footwear (plus my cowboy and hiking boots) in my closet speak loudly.  The loud mental voice says that while I have over come a good bit of the old thoughts of having few shoes, I will never be over it completely.  It was part of the shaping of me into the unique person I am.  I accept that.  I think what I really need is few months in Peru, get some of that foot toughening stuff on my feet and hang out in the jungle with my friend Jesus.  What stands out most in my memory of visiting his country is how blessed we are in the USA.   The unfortunate part is most people here have no idea how “rich” they are.

The truly rich are not the ones who have a lot and want more.  They are the ones who are content with what they have.

Miss Annie Maude Upchurch

Many people have made a positive impact on my life, but few as much as a handful of teachers.  I don’t remember college professor’s names particularly, but there are several teachers I recall fondly from grades 1-12.  In those preteen and teenage years, the whole world was unfolding before me and I was witnessing it with new eyes for the first time.

The year I was eleven I was in 6th grade taught by a young guy. Mr. Farr was only in his late 20’s and we all thought he was so cool.  Always in a good mood, played guitar and piano and just seemed to always enjoy us kids.  To this day he is still one of my heroes.  The opportunity to visit him and his wife to say thank you came about a dozen years after I graduated high school. During that time together I showed him I wore my watch “upside down” just like him.  To this day the watch on my left arm has the face on the inside of my wrist and the clasp on the outside.  This is my habit and my tribute to a great teacher who I loved like an uncle.

In Junior High I was very interested in science and Mrs. Levi taught that class and encouraged me to enter a regional science fair.  When the actual competition came around at a college about 50 miles from where I lived, she was the one who drove me there.  I remember her having more interest than my family did in my effort.  I was surprised (and so was my family!) to win the Zoology category and to this day that achievement is one of my proudest as a kid.  Without Mrs. Levi it would never have happened.

And there was the teacher who had much to do with the waking my romantic soul.  Miss Annie Maude Upchurch was not far from retirement when she taught the English classes of my high school years.  She was a very strict teacher, but also one respected by students and known generally as a kind woman.  Miss Upchurch was something of a local legend and had taught my Mother when she went through the same school.  Most in town knew her story like one would know the background of a famous star.

What was known:  Miss Upchurch took care of a sister whose health was somewhat frail and weak.  The two of them traveled to New York City for a week each year to get their annual dose of Broadway.  But what was most known is she never married, but wore an engagement right on her left hand.  Her husband-to-be had lost his life in Word War II and she had never moved on beyond him.

The story seemed to usually be told in a sad way by the adults, but for us teenagers hers was a true tragically romantic story we found inspiration in.  MIss Upchurch’s life seemed to be of the bittersweet type found in some of the literature she had us read.  It was her love of poetry from which the roots of my love of rhyming words sprouted.

From Miss Upchurch’s class I learned about “The Road Not Taken” By Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.

Then there was the beautiful poetry by the guy with the funny name.  Algernon Swinburne  in a poem called “The Match” wrote:

If love were what the rose is,
And I were like the leaf,
Our lives would grow together
In sad or singing weather
Blown fields or floweful closes,
Green pleasure or gray grief;
If love were what the rose is,
And I were like the leaf

And it was Miss Upchurch who introduced me to Elizabeth Barrett Browning whose work I fell in love with then and carry that sentiment with me toward her work still today.  My bookshelves have at least a dozen antique books of her work and several newer ones.  Even after my personal experiences of the joy and disappointment of love I still swoon over the mystery and hope Mrs. Browning expressed in “Sonnets from the Portuguese”:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

All my teachers have my sincere gratitude.  Without them it would be impossible for me to be able to express myself here.  Among them all there was that special one who taught me about the beauty of words, how to find the feeling behind poetry, and how to harvest the wisdom found in stories.  Thank you Miss Upchurch.  Rest in Peace.

A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.  Author Unknown

Sweeter Than Donuts

Krispy Crème Donut locations were a fixture in Alabama when I was growing up.  The donuts could only be found fresh in larger cities like Birmingham.  The tasty treats were also sold packaged in rural grocery stores where we were able to buy them on a semi-regular basis.  I had my first one before I can even remember.

There is one Krispy Crème location in the city where I live now and yesterday after a visit to a nearby home store I decided to indulge myself.  The first bite every time of a Krispy Crème donut always takes me back to my growing up years and yesterday was no different … at first.

As I sat eating slowly and enjoying my coffee and donut, in came two young women in their early 20’s I would guess, each pushing someone younger in a wheel chair followed by another in their care who was physically the size of a young teenager.  The caretakers were smiling as they put Kristy Crème baker hats on each one in their charge.  The smiles on the faces of the hat wearers were joyful from ear to ear.

As I watched the scene it became obvious that the two in wheel chairs and the 3rd follower were victims of Cerebral Palsy or some condition of that sort.  Even the boy in the wheel chair whose speech was composed of only varying types of grunts was having no problem expressing his happiness at that moment.  As much of a positive impact the impaired ones made on me, the care takers demeanor was even more impressive.  They both were beaming genuine smiles from their faces as they interacted and attended to the three in their charge.  It was evident their expressions were honest, real and unaffected by all those who stared at their little human caravan.

Watching the keepers buy donuts and milk for those in their care, I noticed the caretakers did not buy anything for themselves.  Instead their time was spent helping the others who’s drinking and eating was not something two of the three could do completely alone.  I suppose I could do what the custodians were doing, but in my heart I know I could not do it with the joy and unaffected caring the caretakers exhibited.  Getting real with one’s self with a thought like that is humbling.

My experience at Kristy Crème yesterday was the catalyst for recognizing a number of things I am grateful for.  I am thankful there are people like the young caretakers who those they were taking care of depend on for their very survival.  There is gratitude within that my son, members of my family and those I care about are healthy and do not need a caretaker to survive.  I am thankful to have seen the joy and just plain fun those being cared for showed.  Their reactions to being at Krispy Crème appeared to be akin to taking some great and rare adventure.  I am grateful for the patience and kindness the Krispy Crème employees showed the traveling troop.  And I am thankful for the reminder to count my blessings.

I am reminded of the lyrics of a country song by Mark Wills:  Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names, Don’t get your pleasure from my pain, In God’s eyes we’re all the same.

And for the young caretakers, I found these lines I dedicate to them.

Blessed are you that never bids us “hurry up” and more blessed
are you that do not snatch our tasks from our hands to do them
for us, for often we need time rather than help.

Blessed are you who take time to listen to defective speech,
for you help us to know that if we persevere, we can be understood.

Blessed are you who walk with us in public places and ignore the
stares of strangers, for in your companionship we find havens of

Blessed are those who forget my disability of the body and see the
shape of my soul.

Blessed are those who see me as a whole person, unique and complete,
and not as a “half” and one of God’s mistakes.

I have come to believe that the emotions and sometime tears that sometimes come when I write this blog each day are some of life’s greatest gifts to date. I am so very grateful for the ability to feel so deeply.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.  Thornton Wilder