More of Myself Than Yesterday

Each evening near bedtime and when I first wake up each morning in my thoughts are questions like “What am I grateful for today?  What am I going to write about on my blog?”  These simple little questions asked of myself so consistently have been profoundly life changing.  The more I find to be grateful for, the longer my gratitude list becomes.

This morning the answer to the usual gratitude quandaries brought new questions instead of answers.  “Am I grateful for myself?  Am I thankful for me?”  My mind is lightning fast at pointing out my shortcomings and mistakes.  My thinking self is expert at chiding my feeling self for any and all indiscretions and missteps.  After stepping past that insidious nature of my thinking the answer to my quandary this morning is “yes, I am grateful for me, but not enough”.

So I began to conduct an internal interview asking things like:  “what about me am I the most thankful for?  What ability do I have I should be most grateful for?  What have I been able to accomplish that I take the most satisfaction in?”  As I began the self examination, the mental judge and jury created their usual negative noise but thankfully I have learned to largely ignore it.  (How about that!  There’s something about me to be grateful for:  the learned ability to not listen too much to my ego’s judgment machine.)

What else about me do I have gratitude for?  My first thought after asking that question again was I am thankful that I have taken better than average care of my body and am healthy.  Much of it was pure luck and not directed intention, but the gratitude is not diminished by that.

Within I find thanks for the mind that I have.  Certainly it’s questioning, always wanting to learn, inability to be still and always trying to make sense of everything can be exhausting.  However, the rewards of a searching and seeking mind far exceed the burden. 

When I was younger I thought as a man my emotional and caring nature was a weakness.  Now I know I just had to grow into the “coat of feeling” I wore.  It was simply too large for me when I was young, but fits well now most of the time.  There is thankfulness to possess the gift of feeling so deeply and to have worn it through the years without letting experience wear it out.

Again I sit here asking myself what I am grateful for about me, the answers do not readily come.  It even feels a bit self indulgent to look for things.  Now popping into my head are things I have accomplished that I have pride about and thankfulness for.  My career has been good and successful.  I grew into being a good father.  Being a good friend to those close to me I am better at than average.  Further, on my list of accomplishments is everything from becoming a pilot to developing photography skills good enough to be published and work professionally.  Yet, such things do not impress me that much any more.  They just feel like my ego talking.

Once upon a time I fancied myself something of a poet and worked hard on that craft.  Often I would write poetry for someone and give it to them as a gift keeping no copy of what I created.  In my heart of hearts, there is much gratefulness that I appreciate and enjoy poetry.  These days appreciating poetry is something of a passing sentiment and poems are largely relegated to the past now.  Just writing the two previous lines made me realize how grateful I am that I once found pleasure in trying to create verse.  Most of what I wrote in my youth was brooding, introspective and often concerned issues within a relationship or one that had failed.  In retrospect, writing those poems was a good coping mechanism.  Not being able to remember the specific subject of each poem I wrote back then allows me today to better appreciate the little webs of words spun back then.

The shadows of springtime slowly fall with the day,
And I find myself wondering with so little to say.
Why do things you’re not supposed to touch, feel the best?
Why do things you not supposed to see, look better than the rest?


If life were only a day,
Then in my last hour I’d think back
To search my mind’s lines and creases
To remember all of my day’s bits and pieces.
Somewhere between nameless faces
And almost forgotten places,
I’d come across a thought of you….
And smile.

Those were written the year I turned 21 and finding them last week in an old journal has been an eye opener.  I had all but forgotten about what capacity I had to string words together into something of a poem.  The desire to attempt to write poetry has long lay dormant.  But it has now been awaked and I am curious to see if I can still piece together such creations.  I will try my hand at it in the coming days.

As I better learn the path of gratitude, I have discovered what appears to be a clear truth.  Whenever I focus and begin to ask myself what I am grateful for, I always find things to be thankful for.  Further, what is abundantly clear to me now is when I am able to keep that focus of gratefulness for a short while; something mostly unnoticed usually rises to the top of my gratitude stack of the day.

I began writing today in a wandering and somewhat disoriented fashion as I attempted to focus and find items about myself I am grateful for.  And in doing so I rediscovered that little bit of a poet that resides in my soul.  At this moment I feel like I am more of myself than yesterday simply because I remembered some good about me I had essentially  forgotten.  No matter how humble or remarkable a life may seem, each of us has forgotten riches within just waiting to be rediscovered.

May you never forget what is worth remembering, not ever remember what is best forgotten.  Irish Blessing

Pretty Ugly and Awfully Good

Marek looked at me with a very confused look when I answered his question “How did you sleep last night?” My reply was “awfully good”.  Thinking he did not understand me I said it again to which he replied “was sleep awful or good?” 

In another conversation during the same trip I was asked by someone what I liked most and least about Warsaw, the city I was visiting.  Thinking for a moment before speaking I answered “we spent over half a day in Old Town.  That is a very cool place.  I just love the look and feel of it.”  Pausing for a moment to come up with something that would not offend my hosts I continued “As for something I like least I think it would the big dark, plain and grimy apartment buildings on the edge of town.  Those are pretty ugly.”   A puzzled look came of both faces of the two people I was standing and talking to.  A man listening asked me in his heavy accent “which, pretty or ugly?” 

It is the nature of many people in Eastern Europe to enjoy alcohol more than many and each business day is often capped with a time of evening drinking.  The favored drink is beer and I can always remember the brand I preferred.  It is called “Okocim Porter”.  For me the brand is easy to remember because the first two letters are the same as the abbreviation for my home state.  Plus the English sounding second part of the name, “Porter”, always struck me as odd to be part of the name of a Polish beer.   

During this particular business trip I think I created my biggest amusement for my Polish friends at a cocktail party one evening.  The previous night I had experienced a really good time at a similar gathering for drinking; a little too good actually.  Unaccustomed to beer with 8-9% alcohol content I ended up getting looped.  Not completely drunk, but not completely sober either.

Knowing I had left early the previous night due to my “happy” condition a guest at the cocktail party asked how I got back to the hotel.   My reply was “Janusz carried me”.  I was standing with a group of four or five people and a puzzled look came over all their faces.  One finally said something like “your hotel is a long way.  Janusz really picked you up and carried you there last night?”  As he spoke he made a motion like one might make if picking up something heavy and I instantly realized I had misspoke.  I said “took me in his car” to correct the impression that a man had literally carried me back to my hotel.  Everyone burst out in laughter.  One said “you speak funny English”. 

Starting within a few years after the fall of communism I was professionally involved as a consultant with a media company in Poland for about a decade.  It was one of the high points of my life so far.  I hosted Polish visitors here in the US at least eight or ten times and I visited Poland several times as well.  I got to know quite well the two men who were the senior managers for the company I was consulting.  One of them became a good friend and I am still in contact with Janusz today.  

When I first met the first two Poles, they were visiting here in the states.  The men were new to my type business they were undertaking at home and our management team had taken on the job of teaching them as much as we could.  This initial visit was for two weeks.  We took turns teaching our guests in the daytime and entertaining them during evenings and weekends. 

On a Monday morning, imagine my surprise when I asked the Poles where one of our management group had taken them on Sunday and the reply was “Gerry took us to hookers”.  It was a very uncomfortable few seconds as I thought surely they had not visited prostitutes, but for a blink or two I honestly thought that might be a possibility.  Being new to Polish customs and habits I just did not know.  My reply was a very puzzled “really?” with about ten question marks accenting my one word statement.  Then the other visitor who spoke better English apparently saw my distress and chimed in with “Hooters, Gerry took us to Hooters”.  What a relief!  We all had a great laugh and it is a favorite funny story to tell even today.  

Deep within there is much gratitude for the people in Poland I got to know.  I gained many insights and learned at least as much as I was able to teach.  I remember clearly being at dinner in Warsaw one evening eating a lot and drinking a bit more when my friend Janusz remarked that he could not imagine us being enemies, but our fathers had been.  Then we toasted our friendship. 

One of the most lasting remnants of my Polish education was to pay attention to what I say and how I put words together.  I believe today I have eliminated things like “pretty ugly” and “awfully good” from my vocabulary.  I do have some fun here and there with my awareness.  When asking someone how they are, the frequent reply is “pretty good”.  My response is usually something like “So you’re pretty and you’re good.  That’s awesome that you have such a good self imagine and you are doing well.”   Most don’t get it, but each time I am presented that opportunity I am grateful to be reminded of my friends in Poland and the gratitude I have for my times with them. 

English is a funny language; that explains why we park our car on the driveway and drive our car on the parkway.  Author Unknown

Gypsies, Jews, Rednecks and Black Sheep


Once upon a time I worked for a manager named Marvin.  At the time he and I had known each other for close to a decade and worked together previously as peers in a different city where we first met.  As friends we got along well and our work relationship was a good one.  

Marvin hired me in my early 30’s as a middle manager in Denver and things were going well.  I was able to make a difference in the business, enjoyed working for him and was shown appreciation regularly.  One day I was very excited about the great deal I had gotten for the company and hurried into Marvin’s office to tell him about it.  What had been accomplished was described in animated detail and I ended the story with “I jew’ed ‘em down pretty good didn’t I?”.  I watched Marvin’s face turn to pale and then red and to this day I remember vividly his reaction.  He said “don’t ever say anything like that in front of me again.  If I did not know you so well I would have come over my desk at you.  I know you meant no offense, but that phrase is extremely offensive to me”.  I imagine you sorted out that my friend Marvin was Jewish. 

For a good while I was embarrassed by what I had said and my apologies to Marvin were numerous.  Being the good man that he was, he told me to forget it and meant it.  It took me a good bit longer to forgive myself.  In my introspection then I realized I had grown up hearing that phrase in an area where there were no Jews, Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons or any faith outside of traditional Christian ones.  All I knew was those folks were people like me, but went to a different church just like Methodists and Baptists did.  

At nineteen I had a buddy who was a Jew and attended synagogue with him. I did not understand the service exactly, but respected its traditions and those attending.  The same was true in my when I attended church with a girl I dated who was Catholic.    

After the incident in Denver I began to take inventory of other things I said from time to time that I really did not know the meaning of.  I discovered there were a few other pejoratives in my vocabulary.  First there was use of the terms “gyped” (verb) and “gyp” (noun) that referred to being ripped off or the person who ripped one off.  With a little work at a library I discovered that the use of these expressions was a racial slur against Gypsies. Lacking a population of Gypsies in the Deep South, this had honestly never occurred to me.  As far as I knew there had never been an occasion where I had offended anyone with that term except possibly those who knew generally it was derogatory slang.  Another term x’ed off my repertory of expression. 

Later I heard my self make reference to a “black sheep” in conversation one day.  I offended no one (that I know of) but mentally caught the phrase and a little homework later educated me on its meaning.  I found “black sheep” is a derogatory colloquialism meaning an outsider or one who is different in a way which others disapprove of or find odd. The term originated from the fact that the occasional black sheep will be born into a herd of white sheep. Black sheep were considered undesirable because their wool cannot be dyed, and there weren’t enough to make black wool. I feared before doing research that is was a slam against people with dark skin and was relieved that in general it wasn’t.  However, I felt it could be construed that way by some and another expression was removed form my usable list.  

My personal standard is to never speak words offensive to people of any particular race, creed, background or color.  Now I am working on deleting “redneck” from my vocabulary.  Considering I think of myself as being descended proudly from a long line ofAlabamarednecks progress on complete elimination of that one is taking a lot longer than the others.  “Redneck” is a historically derogatory slang term used in reference to poor white farmers in theSouthern United States.  In more recent times the term has had its meaning expanded to mean bigoted, loutish, and opposed to modern ways.  While I am the former (descendant of poor white farmers), I mean no disrespect by using the derogatory meanings.  So that one has to go too! 

I am still trying to sort out why we often use “right” to mean “correct”.  Is that is some sort of a put down to people who are left- handed?  Any input on that one would would be appreciated.

This line of growth all began with my boss back in my young executive days that I innocently, or rather ignorantly, indirectly slammed because of his faith.  My restitution has been to seek to eliminate all such words and phrases from how I speak.   As we all are a combination of bits and pieces borrowed from others stirred in with our unique self, I will always be grateful to Marvin R. for being a good boss, an understanding friend and for bringing to life an awareness that is with me still today. 

It’s better to keep your mouth shut and give the impression that you’re stupid than to open it and remove all doubt. Rami Belson

Searching for Gratitude in 100° Heat

The weather forecast for today indicates the temperature will be 100.  It would be easy to complain about that.  My sweating is more profuse than most people and its gets annoying on the really hot days.  I worry that I smell like a goat as the day goes on!  But my doctor says my sweating is a healthful thing and the perspiration removes toxins from my body.  So these days I try to perspire in peace without complaint with some measure of gratitude for the good health contribution my doc says it contributes to. 

The winter weather the last few years has been just as extreme as the heat in an opposite manner.  Record snow and low temperatures were set several times.  When it is hot like today I try to imagine those winter days when the temp was double digits below zero or I bring to mind the massive snow storm last year.  In memory I try to conjure up shoveling snow last winter when I was thinking about the summer heat and wishing for it. 

Having screwy weather does lend a consistent subject for conversation.  What Mother Nature is doing is always the fallback topic for casual talk.  That’s a little feature of weather to be grateful for; an easy topic for light conversation.  (Have you noticed I am digging for reasons to be grateful for 100 degrees today?  If so, you are “catching my drift” as us children of the 60’s and 70’s like to say). 

When the first snow of the year arrives and the white stuff is falling slowly to a light accumulation of 2 or 3 inches, I love winter.  The flurries seem to make everything beautiful and after a snowfall even the sound of walking in snow is more resonant.  (OK, that helped me feel a little better about the 100 degree forecast for today.  The air conditioning vent with cool air blowing on my feet helped.  I promise I will be more grateful for cold weather next year!). 

Now in early summer, the flowers, grass and trees are vibrant, alive and un-bothered by a heat wave of a few days.  As long as rain comes with some regularity all the green seems to relish the hot days and happily makes the landscape beautiful.  (Chalk up another point for gratitude!) 

The clouds of summer are different than any other time of year.  I read there are over one thousand types of clouds and in warm weather we see a greater variety than at any other time of year.  Laying in the edge of the shadow of a big tree and watching the cloud shapes dance in the sky was a favorite summer pastime as a child.  (I have found another gratitude point!)    

I went looking for more to add to my gratitude scales this morning to tip them in favor of the heat that will be upon me today.  And I found a little jewel in a grammar school poem used to teach little kids about the weather: 

I like to watch the way the wind
can spin a weather vane.
I like to wear my big blue boots
to splash with in the rain.
I like to ride my bright red sled
on cold snowy days.
I like to feel the sun’s warm rays
when I wade in the ocean waves.
Wind, rain, snow, and sun
Every kind of weather
is wonderful and fun!

OK, OK.  I am getting there.  With a little more help from oldies from the late 60’s I think I can finally arrive with real and full gratitude for the 100 degrees today. 

Cool town, evening in the city
Dressing so fine and looking so pretty
Don’t you know it’s a pity
That the days can’t be like the nights
In the summer, in the city.
(Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer in the City) 

Just a few more lyrics from another song and I think I have arrived at the feeling of gratitude I was looking for this morning. 

Oh, the sun beats down
and burns the tar up on the roof.
And your shoes get so hot,
you wish your tired feet were fireproof.
(Drifters – Under the Boardwalk) 

There now, I have it.  I found my gratitude today for the summer heat.  I used several routes to get there:  old memories, favorite song lyrics and old-fashioned counting my blessings.  

Gratitude is not always something on the tip of my tongue or a first thought.  Yet, when I stop and focus for a short while I find I am grateful even for things that at first seem like nuisance.  There is a saying used in recovery groups that works and fits my occasion this morning.  “Fake it until you make it” worked just fine this morning to deposit me at my destination of thankfulness.  

PS:  My thanks to Stuart W. Cramer who is credited for inventing modern air conditioning without whom I don’t believe this blog would have been possible! 

The trouble with weather forecasting is that it’s right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it.  Patrick Young

Mark Twains’ Version of Adam and Eve

“…It is my prayer, it is my longing that we may pass from this life together; a longing which shall never perish from the earth, but shall have place in the heart of every wife that loves, until the end of time; and it shall be called by my name.  But if one of us must go first, it is my prayer that it shall be I; for he is strong, I am weak; I am not so necessary to him as he is to me — life without him would not be life…” 

Mark Twain, the writer referred here after to by his real name Sam Clemens, was far deeper in thought and feeling than most realize today.  It is the way of history to over time smooth the corners and keep as the known truth a narrow vein of who a person actually was. The first paragraph above was written by Mr. Clemens in 1905 at the end of a fictional short story called “Eve’s Diary”. 

The story was part of a series called “The Diaries of Adam and Eve” he began releasing portions of in 1904, the year his wife died.  It is widely accepted that these stories were largely part of Clemens’ way of dealing with the loss of his beloved wife Olivia, who he called “Livy” for short.  He called her his “rudder” and seemed to lose a good deal of his energy for living after her passing.  Clemens’ health grew steadily worse after his wife’s death and Sam passed away less than six years after she did. 

Before I was ten years old I had taken several wonderful adventures with Mr. Clemens and his friends Tom Sawyer, Edward Tudor, Huckleberry Finn, Jim, Becky Thatcher, Injun’ Joe, and Captain Bixby.  I did not begin to discover Clemens’ Adam and Eve stories until three years ago I purchased a used Harper book published in 1935 called “The Family Mark Twain”.  Within it I read for the first time Clemens’s story called “Eve’s Diary”.  From there I sought out not only the full set of stories of “The Diaries of Adam and Eve”, but also discovered and became enamored with the love story between Olivia and Sam Clemens. No one to whom I have ever mentioned Twain’s Adam and Eve stories ever heard of them, nor has any one ever been aware of Sam’s love letters to Livy.  In a small and humble way I hope to lend change to that.

From a letter Clemens wrote to his wife to be on January 6, 1869:…I cannot speak of you in tame commonplace language – I must reserve that for the more commonplace people.  Don’t scold me, Livy – let me pay my due homage to your worth; let me honor you above all women; let me love you with a love that knows no doubt, no question – for you are my world, my life, my pride, my all of earth that is worth the having.  Develop your faults, if you have them – they have no terrors for me – nothing shall tear you out of my heart.  Livy, if you only knew how much I love you!  But I couldn’t make you comprehend it, though I wrote a year…”

Later Sam wrote “… I have at this moment the only sweetheart I ever loved, and bless her old heart she is lying asleep upstairs in a bed that I sleep in every night.  If all of one’s married days are as happy as these I have deliberately fooled away 30 years of my life.  If it were to do over again I would marry in early infancy instead of wasting time cutting teeth and breaking crockery…”

 “…Was there ever such a darling as Livy?  I know there never was.  She fills my ideal of what a woman should be in order to be enchantingly loveable.  And so, what wonder is it that I love her so?  And what wonder is it that I am deeply grateful for permission to love her…?

The Adam part of Clemens’  “Adam and Eve” story was done tongue in cheek, yet in an endearing way:  “…This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about. I don’t like this; I am not used to company. I wish it would stay with the other animals…” 

In contrast in a letter to a friend, the married Clemens wrote “…We are very regular in our habits.  We get up at 6 o’clock every morning and we go to bed at 10 every evening.  We have three meals a day – breakfast at 10 o’clock, lunch at 1pm and dinner at 5.  The reason we get up at 6 in the morning is because we have heard that early rising is beneficial.  We then go back to bed and get up finally at half past 9…”  And on the same day Olivia Clemens wrote a friend saying “…We are as happy as two mortals can be…”

Sam Clemens ends “The Diaries of Adam and Eve” with one line that sums up the depth of his emotion for his wife and partner of almost 34 years:  “Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden.”

So the next time you are thinking of great love stories, remember Samuel and Olivia Clemens.  I have long been thankful for the stories I read in childhood and the wonderful adventures Mark Twain took me on.  Now there is much added gratitude within for the true and real love story of Sam and Livy.  How beautifully inspiring and poetic it is. 

I find it interesting and appropriate that Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born during a visit by Halley’s Comet and later he predicted he would “go out with it” as well. He died the day following the comet’s subsequent return slightly over a hundred and one years ago. 

After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.  Mark Twain

If you’d like to read more of Mark Twain’s “Eve’s Diary” click here:

Albert Einstein: The Man Behind the Scientist

As a youngster and through my teen years one of my heroes was Albert Einstein.  In those days I thought I was going to grow up to be a man of science.  Of course I picked the most famous scientist of the 20th century to admire!  In retrospect I realize then I looked up to the fame and notoriety and not the man.  Learning about Einstein as a person came about later in my adult life. 

Even with all the wonders of his brain, Albert Einstein was a far from perfect man.  His first child, a daughter, was born out of wedlock.  Later there were two more children with the woman who became his wife that he later left.  Without ever divorcing his first wife Albert later remarried his first maternal cousin who was also his second paternal cousin.   

Life has a way of revealing more and more of my faults and imperfections the longer I live.  It seems a portion of the wisdom possible is wrapped up in making peace with the mistakes I have made and me finding acceptance of my less than balanced and sometimes darker nature.  The longer I live the more errors I accumulate to potentially learn from.  The deeper into life my years take me the farther the depths of mining into my true nature can go.  The phrase “aging is mandatory, wisdom is optional” means some learn much from this passing of their time, others not nearly so much.  Einstein learned a lot. 

From the book “Albert Einstein:  The Human Side” here are some excerpts from letters to friends and family that show his growth as a person and his insight into life:

With fame I become more and more stupid, which, of course, is a very common phenomenon.  There is far too great a disproportion between what one is and what others think one is, or at least what they say they think one is.   

A happy man is too contented with the present to think much about the future. 

The foundation of all human values is morality. 

O youth:  Do you know that yours is not the first generation to yearn for a life full of beauty and freedom?

Your fervent wishes can only find fulfillment if you succeed in attaining love and understanding of men, and animals and plants and stars so that every joy becomes your joy and every pain your pain.   

What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of “humility”.  This is a genuinely religious feeling. 

Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.

Nothing truly valuable arises from ambition or from a mere sense of duty; it stems rather from love and devotion. 

Learn to be happy through the happiness and joy of your fellows.  If you can find room within yourselves for this natural feeing, your every burden in life will be light, or at least bearable, and you will find your way in patience and without fear, and will spread joy everywhere. 

Never regard your study as a duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn.   

Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth.  What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind. 

The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives. 

More and more I come to value charity and love of one’s fellow being above everything else. 

And in his old age Dr. Einstein was also something of a poet:
Everyone’s greeting me today
In the nicest possible way.
Heartfelt words from far and near
Have come from people I hold dear;
And presents, too, to satisfy
Even a gourmet such as I.
They’re doing all one possible can
To satisfy an aged man.
In tone like sweetest melody
They beautify the day for me.
Now the long day nears its end
And greetings to you all I send.

Today I know that one of my heroes, Albert Einstein had many flaws and made numerous mistakes.  He was as human as the rest of us.  With the passing of his years, he seemed to become more and more a philosopher.  It is his deep and personal thoughts that entrench most him within as one of my heroes.  I am grateful that a scientist with so much fame left us with the thoughts of the man he became.  E(instein) was equal to a lot more than M C squared!  

It’s better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you’re not.  Marilyn Monroe

Old Dogs and iPhones

A dear old friend is visiting me this weekend and sitting talking this morning we ended up in a conversation about our mobile phones.  Most specifically the discussion he and I had was a typically modern one of comparing the app’s we had on our iPhones.  In past years I have often gotten into chats with others where we were recommending books, music, movies, TV shows, vacation destinations, cars and more.  Now in the 21st Century “app conversations” have become the norm. 

The longer one lives the more 5 or 10 years does not seem like a long time.  It seems to be about that length of time since I had the first mounted cell phone put in my car.  As I consider it I realize that was around 20 years ago. The only portable option at that time was a portable phone half the size of a cinder block or an eight pound “bag-phone”.  In those days mobile use cost about $1 a minute so making calls was kept to essential reasons and the contact was very short.  And yes, I admit it.  Early on a few times I did pretend to be talking on a call while driving to show off this new doodad I had.  Car phones were still pretty rare then and people looked when they saw someone on one. 

About five years after getting my first car phone, the first small portable phone came into my life.  At the time it was the smallest cellphone made but even then I did not carry it with me on a regular basis as both incoming and outgoing calls were still quite pricey.  The little phone lived in my briefcase and was turned on and carried when I was either expecting an important call or else needed to make one while on the move.  It’s clear in memory the first call I made from the back of a cab while away from home when my phone was able to do this new thing called “roaming”.  

It has long been my nature to resist a bit of whatever is fashionable and “in”.  I did the same with mobile phones.  While I had them, it was a personal statement to resist carrying one all the time as long as I could.   Only about seven years ago did I give in and that was largely because I lived out of the country where my only phone was my mobile phone.  From there a cellphone began to become an accepted appendage.  The rebel contrarian is still within me though.  When I go on vacation I resist even turning my mobile phone most days.  My resistance is odd since in other ways I have always been an early adopter of electronic technology such as computers, sound equipment and gizmos in general. 

I knew things were changing rapidly from an experience in 2001 at one of the last concerts at the old Mile High Stadium in Denver.  My son who was nineteen at the time bought the tickets and invited me to go to the Moby concert with him.  I was one of the oldest people at the show with the average age being somewhere between 18 and 21.  The music was great and hanging out with him is always enjoyable.  At that show I first witnessed a phenomenon I had never seen before.  One of the favorite pastimes of those attending was to call friends who were there and to try and locate each other in the crowd.  With phone in one hand while flailing the other arm to be seen was how friends hooked up at the show.  I had never seen anything like it.  

At this concert a decade ago there was a big display by Apple which up until then was thought of as just a maker of Mac’s used mostly for graphics work.  Apple’s computers were not mainstream and had somewhat fallen out of favor.  What Apple was showing off was this new contraption called an “iPod”.  Those in their big display were available to try out and were the original large models which were not even for sale to the public yet.  I was impressed with what I saw and heard and knew in yet another way the amount of technology headed into our lives was about to take a leap forward. 

Fast forwarding to today, I carry my iPhone with me all the time and feel somewhat naked and exposed without it.  I have 4+ pages of apps and the phone is on 24/7.  It is difficult now to imagine my life being any other way.  Such things as the ability to text, use apps and receive calls while walking on the street in a foreign country make the computer in my pocket feel indispensable.   I am grateful to have it.  The fact that the cost of making calls, texting, buying apps and moving data is affordable today is also on my gratitude list.  Now that there are many types of smart phones what can be done with these units will continue to amaze and mystify as technology accelerates.  I look forward to it! 

When I began writing this today, my feeling was I was going to express gratitude for my iPhone and all I can do on it.  Now that I am here to the end portion of this blog I feel thankful for something related but different.  The gratefulness I feel at this moment is for my ability to change and adopt this new way of doing things.  Yes, I resisted at first but that was due only to my stubborn nature and consistently trying to be different (which is not always a positive thing).  Not only can you teach old dog new tricks, sometimes the old dog learns the new trick on his on.  Woof woof….  

It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.  Harry S Truman

Gere, Clooney and Me

As best I can remember ‘it’ first began to appear when I was about 35.  At the time I was quite proud my maturity had reached the level where ‘it’ started to come into view.  As time has ticked by the effect grew more pronounced and it has now spread far beyond where it first began to appear.  As the effect has become more pronounced the total quantity has diminished and changed but I am pleased to possess more than the majority of my peers. 

You’re may be thinking “what is he writing about now?”  In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am writing about hair. As you can see in the photo above (hint, hint:  I’m the one in the middle) I have a lot more gray hair than the original dominant dark brown of my youth.  I am very grateful to still have a good deal of hair on my head, but it has thinned out a lot with the passage of years.  At the same time the follicles on the back of my head have replaced quite a bit of my original wavy brown hair with curly gray.  

A few facts:  I’ve read in a lifetime a man’s scalp produces an average of 100,000-150,000 hairs.  Each hair grows autonomously on its own cycle; otherwise we’d molt and shed hair all at one.  The genetics of hair do not come only from a male’s mother although that myth is thought by most people to be fact.  In truth the genes that control hair texture, color and quantity can come from either parent and often skips generations.  So if you’re a bald male and have been blaming your Mom, you probably should apologize to her.  Your hair genetics could be from your Dad’s side of the family and even come from a few generations back. 

Many women say that the amount of hair on a man’s head does not matter.  I believe that is true for some females, others are just being nice while to the remainder it does matter (even though most will not tell a man).  Otherwise why would many men be so obsessed with the quantity and color of their hair?  True or false, a good number of men have thoughts of virility being connected with their hair.  Anyone who thinks this is suffering from delusion as science says there is absolutely no connection.  

Here and there I have thought about dying my hair to be one color.  Most women do it, some to cover gray, while others do it as a fashion statement or some combination of both.  So why not?  If you’re a man who dyes his hair to hide the gray and it makes you feel better then by all means you should continue to do so.  However, if you think the majority of people can’t tell that you dye your hair, you are fooling yourself.  There are men I know who color their hair and a few refuse to admit to anyone their color is not natural.  If you say otherwise to them they will argue vehemently it’s natural.  A psychologist would have a field day with that delusion. 

I know most male movie stars dye their hair as they age and I suppose it is accepted by the majority it has to be done.  I admire those who don’t.  Many who are bald wear hair pieces or have weaves.  I have no issues with that, but it is a sort of adult “dress up” as on most it is easy to spot.   Personally I find it downright funny to see some of the long-in-the-tooth actors with a full head of dark hair.  I think it actually makes them look older.  

With all that said, I want to express my gratitude for my hair in all its phases.  First, I am grateful to have been born with hair at all.  Some are not so blessed.  Then I am thankful the texture of my hair has always been fairly easy to manage and even allowed me to grow it way down my back in my 20’s.  Many men have hair that is difficult to manage unless it is cropped short.  My gratefulness is strong that even thinning, I still have hair on my head as many men I know have little or no hair on top.  It is not something that makes me feel better than my hairless or thin on top friends.  I am just grateful.  

As I age, it is easy to see the destiny the hair on my head has.  With each passing year, it will become grayer, then most likely white.  There will be less and less of it and the texture will continue to change.  Some hair will move from my head to other places where hair did not used to be.  It’s all OK… it really is!  As I have strongly professed, I pray to the power beyond me that I will be allowed to have the full life ride into old age.  Only by being thankful for what is, instead of displeased about the changes my body will go through can I enjoy that trip.  

I have written this wandering, long way around to get to one simple belief:  The quality of my life is tied in large degree to my ability to live in the present moment.  Life does not happen in the past, nor does life take place in the future.  Past is past.  Future is fantasy.  Life is now.  

In the one of my favorite books, “The Power of Now” Eckhart Tolle wrote “Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.  Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now…  Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now”.  

I am thankful to be here, to be living life and to be experiencing this moment as I sit here and type.  I accept the changes, the constant nature of the evolution of this thing I call my “self” (even the gray hair).  I find the more accepting I become of what is, the more grateful I become for my life as it is.  The more present I am to live my life as it is happening the more thankfulness fills me.  

If gray hair is cool with Nick Clooney and Richard Gere, its cool with me!

Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.  Mark Twain

The Wisdom of Innocent Youth

Wisdom is not always something that comes with learning and experience.  If one pays attention, wise insight can be found in the clarity of innocent naiveté within the young.  Such unbridled inate wisdom often presents keen insight.  Just this week a clear example came through into my life. 

The owner of a landscape company who did work for me stopped by for me to pay him one evening this week.  He brought with him his son Hayden.  When the father introduced his son, the boy was polite and shook hands without being prompted saying “it is nice to meet you”.   I asked him how old he was and he proudly responded “I’m nine”.  As Hayden spoke he made direct eye contact and it was easy to see from the sparkle in his eyes there was a lot going on in that brain of his. 

As I stood in the kitchen writing a check and talking to his Dad, the young boy asked if it was ok if he looked around.   I say yes and immediately afterwards “But don’t touch anything” came from his Father’s mouth.  Within 30 seconds we heard statements like “Dad, he has real swords.  Are they real?  Where did you get them?”  My reply included “most are replicas, two are antiques and I bought them at auctions and on-line”.  In a voice that continued to be excited, he insisted that his Dad come look at the marvels the boy had found in my home. 

Not much time passed and Hayden found his way to my library.  Having finished writing the check his father and I joined him there.  I am an avid reader in general and specifically a collector of old books.  My total collection on the library shelves spans around 120 linear feet.  So, there are a lot of books.  His first question was if I had read them all.  My reply was “I’ve read about 2/3’s of them.  Some are reference books that I didn’t buy to read all the way through.  The rest I hope to get around to reading sometime.” 

The next question from the nine year old was “do you have any books on the Roman Empire?”  His inquiry caught me off guard, as ancient history is not a subject I would have thought a youngster would be interested in.  Hayden’s father chimed in to say his son had done a school project on the Romans near the end of the school year.  He had helped his son who had become quite interested in the subject.  We then looked for my antique two-volume set of history books on theRoman Empire.  

The old books in my collection seemed to be of the greatest interest to this big eyed youngster.  He wanted to know how old they were and I responded that most of the old books were all around 100-150 years old, but a couple of the small ones were closer to 200 years old.  While none of the antique books are highly valuable, they are some of my prized possessions.  As he touched one of the older ones I let him hold, his manner was even more delicate than the care I usually handle the books with. I was impressed with this obviously astute, smart and well-raised boy. 

I asked Hayden what was the oldest thing he had ever touched, but he could not come up with a specific answer.  Then I asked him if he’d like to touch something really old.  He grinned and with a glint in his eyes he exclaimed “sure!”  About a decade ago I made two trips to Peru to check out Machu Picchu, the Incas and previous South American civilizations.  My traveling companion was my son who in wide-eyed teenaged mode marveled at what we experienced.  During the second trip I made arrangements to legally bring back a few pieces of pre-Columbia pottery that I now was going to share with my young visitor. 

While I never let it completely out of my hands due to its fragility, I pulled out the oldest piece I have and let Hayden run his hands all over it.  He asked “what is it”.  I told him it’s a bowl made by the Nazca and asked if he was aware of the figures of monkeys, scorpions and other animals made of arrangements of rocks visible from the air in the southern deserts of Peru.  He just looked at me, but his father knew what I was talking about and said “we’ll look it up when we get home”.  When I told my attentive visitor the bowl was around a thousand and four hundred years old he seemed impressed beyond his ability to comprehend. 

It became apparent that Dad was ready to go home as he expressed his appreciation for me taking time with his son.  I replied they would have to come back sometime when I have everything unpacked (I moved about 2 months ago and am far from having everything organized and out of boxes).  Hayden smiled like I had given him a prize when he thanked me as his Father suggested to him.  We shook hands and I told the young man it was a pleasure to meet him.  His Dad beamed when I remarked how smart and well behaved his son was. 

In the minutes after boy and Father departed, I wondered to myself briefly what the young man will grow up to do.  Will he end up in a profession concerning his interest in old things or will he have a usual job but keep his keen desire to learn about the past.  Which ever, I have faith he will do well in life if he keeps his love of learning.  

Knowledge can be a blinder.  Experience can confuse an issue.  Known facts can block the truth.  Familiarity can breed contempt.  I admire Hayden, my young visitor this week.  His wisdom based purely in awe and wonder was a vivid reminder to keep my eyes wide open and my spirit untied to experience new things.   Thanks for good lesson Hayden!

A babe in the house is a well-spring of pleasure, a messenger of peace and love, a resting place for innocence on earth, a link between angels and men.   Martin Farquhar Tupper

Only One First Love

It has been common remark for me to say “there are days when I was growing up I remember more about than entire years of my adult life”.   It is such a memory I share today. 

It was a few hours before sundown on a late summer Sunday not long after my 13th birthday.  My mother, stepfather, brother and I were going to visit a woman and her two young adult children who still lived at home.  This family had lost the man of the house some months before.  Making a visit “to check on them” was a customary gesture of country kindness in those days. As we were driving up the dirt road to their house I was wishing our visit would be very short and we’d be headed home very soon. 

A line in a Garth Brooks song goes “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”.  This was certainly true that afternoon with me not getting my wish for a short visit.  Upon arrival we saw others had also stopped by to visit.  This family of four we met for the first time lived about 50 miles away and included two children.  One was a boy around 9 or 10 years old near my younger brother’s age.  And the other was a girl, but not just any girl. 

Her name was Linda and she looked a little older than her 12 years.  Blossoming from a girl to a woman was just beginning to show itself on her. Once I saw her something came over me I had never experienced before.  I was drawn to her like a nighttime moth to a light.  I had to be near her.  What was instinctively happening was beyond my comprehension, but I didn’t care.  Whatever it was I liked it… a lot! 

Our younger brothers entertained each other while Linda and I walked around the shady yard talking for a while.  Then we sat down on a couple of tree stumps at the edge of the yard for about an hour making small talk, laughing and enjoying each other.  I can’t remember a single thing we talked about, but my memory of her is still vivid today.  She was fair-skinned, tall and skinny with straight brown hair cropped a few inches above her shoulders.  She was pretty, intelligent, funny and sweet.  Being with her seemed almost dream-like as the minutes quickly evaporated.  

After about two hours Linda’s parents yelled for their kids signaling it was time to go home.  For families visiting down south saying goodbye is a fairly lengthy process.  Nothing happens quickly.  Linda and I began to walk slowly toward the house that was about 50 yards away.  With my mind wrapped up completely in the moment I did not notice she had begun to veer toward a big tree between us and everyone else.     

Linda stopped right behind the big tree and asked me if I would write her.  “Of course” I told her and asked if she would write me.  She gently grasped the upper part of my left arm with her right hand and said she’d write.  As she spoke she leaned in close to me in what seemed like slow motion and gave me a quick little kiss right me on the lips.  Later I learned that was her first real kiss just as it was mine.  With her face still not far from mine I leaned toward her and we kissed again.  For a split second we lingered in that magic moment and pulled away slowly looking right into each other’s eyes. 

The moment was broken by Linda’s parents calling for her again.  We hustled up to the house feeling a little like we had something to hide, when in fact we didn’t.  She ran to their car, got a pencil and wrote her address and phone number on a scrap of paper.  As her family’s car drove slowly away down the dirt road she looked out the back window at me as I looked back at her until she was out of sight.    

Linda and I exchanged a letter or two a week for several months.  Once school started that year I was able to call her from a phone booth nearby a few times.  Without physical contact we drifted apart as the months that passed.  Our letters would stop for a while and then we’d start up again. Over time she had other boyfriends and I had other girlfriends, but we kept drifting back to writing each other in between.  Three years from when we first met I got my driver’s license and began to go see her when I could sneak away to make the trip in my little VW.  We got really good at kissing, but never moved past hugging, smooching and holding hands. Our innocence was never spoiled.  The final curtain was when I had to move 200 miles away shortly before my 17th birthday.  I never saw her again and often  have wondered what might have been.     

There has been no sweeter moment in my life than that Sunday in August long ago when I met Linda.  My chest tightens a little and fills up with feeling even today as I think of the experience.  

I do wonder how things turned for her.  I hope she is happy, content and living a good life.  Somewhere I still have a small school picture when she was 14 or 15.  I hope to run across it one day so I can look into those pretty brown eyes again.  

My gratitude is clear, deep and strong for the awakening Linda and I shared.  It is one of my most cherished growing up memories.  The magical innocence of first love comes only once.  I will never forget.       

You know you’re in love when you don’t want to fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.  Dr. Seuss