Here’s Johnny

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Last night Andrea and Kevin wanted to orchestrate a belated birthday dinner for the General. Of course, as part of the entourage, I was also invited. In all truthfulness, I can say it proved to be an exceptional evening.

 

For starters, Andrea and Kevin chose a restaurant where the General and I have never been. Truthfully speaking, I am mostly a stranger to the kind of fine dining that includes something more than a white tablecloth and dinnerware. I am not accustomed to having a myriad of choices for the first course, second course, main course and the grand finale (aka – desert).

 

It was a touching moment when Andrea looked at the menu and said to her mom, “Why don’t we take this and this and this for starters?” She offered several suggestions to include for the second course and pretty much left the third course for our own choosing.

 

Seriously, for the most part, I had looked at the menu and had no idea what was being served. When it comes to culinary choices that include something outside my regular fare or frame of reference, my first reaction is to look for something else on the menu that seems more familiar. I kind of discount the possibility that I will like it if I haven’t already tried it.

 

Andrea has a culinary charm about her where she can get by with promoting a menu selection for consideration. She does a good job of convincing you that you have a treat in store. I had a flashback to the General coaxing Andrea throughout her childhood to try different foods.

 

It was both interesting to observe and experience the role reversal-taking place before my eyes. Andrea was taking on the role of teacher and mentor. Though she’d never suggest that we were her inept students, we were on unfamiliar territory. She was pretty convincing that we would enjoy the taste. Never once did she use the line: “It is good for you”.

 

The waiter was a young man named Johnny. Actually, when he first came to our table, I missed his providing us his name. At least, I didn’t recall his name when he came back around. Consequently, when he came back around I said: “Help me with my memory. I don’t remember your name.” He smiled and said: “It is Johnny. Just like Johnny Cash, except that I don’t have any cash. Okay, so now I had a frame of reference. I would remember his name.

 

As our two-hour-plus dinner took place, I watched Johnny interacting with a host of other folks dining in the restaurant. He was attentive, personable, and had a genuine gregarious nature about him that added to the ambience of the evening.

 

He mentioned early in waiting on our table that he had just returned to work. He had been on vacation. I asked about his vacation and he provided a thumb-nailed sketch. He had gone to Arizona. While he was there, he attended his brother’s wedding. He added: “I also had a great time visiting with my mom. I sprung her from the hospital for a while. She has just finished chemo and radiation treatments”. He mentioned that in four months she has aged about fifteen years.

 

Immediately, I had the thought associated to the complexity of his family’s circumstances. His mother’s health status had to weigh heavily on the family as they rallied around and celebrated a family wedding. I’m sure there were lots of emotions surrounding the celebration.

 

I mentioned that I was sorry he was dealing with that kind of stress. He said, “It comes with life”. Who could argue with that? He went on to say: “It is interesting, but my mother has developed the most magnificent sense of humor. She had never been so funny. I guess she figures, ‘What do I have to lose’?”   He added: “I really enjoyed the time with her. In addition, my brother’s wedding provided an opportunity for me to visit with a lot of old friends I’ve not seen in awhile. It was really nice. I enjoyed my time at home, but it is also good to be back at work.”

 

Through the course of the evening, bits and pieces about his life surfaced in conversation. He mentioned George Straight’s song: “Ocean Front Property In Arizona”. He said he had recorded the song and given it to several friends. His friends had responded with positive reviews.

 

I asked: “So did you come to Austin to get in the music business?” He said he had graduated from high school at the age of seventeen and was ready to advance his career. He had started skateboarding at the age of four and thought he could make it as a professional skateboarder. California was calling his name. He had to go and give that career track a chance”.

 

I doubt that is just the kind of thing every parent wants to hear from his or her seventeen-year-old son? Actually, he told his dad he was going to request court emancipation. The dad countered that he would allow him to go, but that he wasn’t going to be emancipated. The dad wanted to keep him on as an income tax deduction. Did I mention that his dad is a CPA and his mother is an art professor?

 

He had support from his family as he pursued his dreams. In the course of the two hours we shared, he shared several more tidbits about his life. He got a degree in nursing and things began to fall apart with his girlfriend at exactly the same time that he was beginning to see a line of white picket fences.

 

I had the thought: “What a clever way to express where he was in his human pilgrimage.” Romance didn’t work out in California and he made his way to Austin. His story associated to getting into the restaurant business really caught me by surprise. He said, “It was all about the Balloon Animals”. “The what”, I asked?” He said when he was still in high school a friend had showed him a stash of cash in his wallet. He said: “He had twenties and hundred dollar bills.” His friend explained: “I’ve been working at a restaurant making animals out of balloons for children.” He said, “The parents love it and they pay me. Some pay me very well”.

 

“You’ve got to show me how to do that,” was his response to his friend. In short order, he received permission to do the same thing in another restaurant. He said, “I guess it was my gregarious nature, but folks really liked me. When the restaurant decided to stop allowing me to do that, they said I was too valuable to loose. They employed me as a part-time server while I was in high school”.

 

When asked about his passion going forward he said: “I am a writer. I was made to write. I can’t stop writing. I haven’t gotten anything published yet, but I will. I write. I can’t stop writing”.

 

Something tells me, he’s got the stuff to reach his dreams. I liked his line: “I was beginning to envision a line of white picket fences”. What an incredible way to say much in a very different way of expressing it!

 

Johnny gave me permission to share his story and reluctantly provided the same regarding his picture. It would serve you well to find him. He is an exceptionally knowledgeable server who works for an incredible restaurant. You’ll enjoy a fantastic meal and an exceptional waiter.

 

All My Best!

Don

Cultivating Gratefulness During Uncertain Times

Kate Haldamen LPC, Ed.S., NCC

Several weeks ago, I became familiar with a young woman named Kate Haldamen. Kate is another blogger who has a passion for making a difference in the lives of hurting people. In January of this year, Kate and her husband narrowed their possessions down to four suitcases, boarded a plane in South Carolina and headed on a 7,800 mile trek to Zambia, in East Africa.  Kate’s husband was reporting for the job of a lifetime.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and a shelter-in-place environment shortly after arriving in Zambia, Kate found herself wanting to fill her  time with meaningful activities.  Out of that desire, Kate started chronicling information about mental health topics near and dear to her heart as a counselor. Kate is now the author of Mental Health Memoirs https://www.mentalhealthmemoirs.com/about/

I shared with Kate that I would gladly highlight one of her blogs on my webpage, and suggested the timely topic of the importance of living with a sense of gratitude even in the midst of problems and uncertainty.  In addition, to sharing helpful suggestions, Kate also included links to pictures to go with each topic.  Unlike Kate, I am at a loss to know how to  integrate the pictures into each topic. Consequently, I’m sharing the narrative and including a link to the pic that corresponds with the topic.

Cultivating Gratefulness During Uncertain Time

It’s Tough to be Grateful at the End of 2020

If there were ever a challenging time to be grateful, it is at the end of 2020. This year has been fraught with challenges. Widespread loss of employment, health complications, death, and conflict dominate the news. 

The pandemic, social injustices, and a hostile U.S. political climate have not helped. It feels like at the end of 2020, people are less “united” than ever. 

It’s tempting during times like these to feel a growing sense of unease and disgruntlement. It’s even easier to find things to complain about. How is it possible to be grateful in the aftermath of such a stressful year? Especially if you worry that 2021 is not staged to be much better? Below, I give five simple ways to maintain gratitude in the face of challenges. 

  1. Limit Your Intake of News

In a recent article, I wrote about improving mental health during the pandemic. Almost every mental health expert I interviewed recommended limiting one’s intake of news, (https://www.mentalhealthmemoirs.com/23-mental-health-experts-share-their-thoughts-on-coping-during-covid-19/)

Although it is understandable to want to be informed, taking in large amounts of media can lead to stress. In a 2017 survey by the American Psychological Association, 56% of people stated that following the news caused them stress. 59% of Americans considered 2017 to be “the lowest point in American history,” (APA, 2017).

News (especially U.S. news) tends to be focused on the negative. People usually attribute this to poor journalism. In reality, bad news tends to be more physiologically stimulating for people than good news, (Soroka, Fournier & Nir, 2019). This, in turn, means that bad news sells better. 

Tony Robbins once said, “Energy goes where attention flows.” Being preoccupied with the news increases negativity about the world. By limiting exposure to bad news, it is easier to feel grateful.

Link to picture:   https://unsplash.com2

2. Gratitude Journaling

It’s easy to focus on the things that are going poorly in life. What can be more difficult is finding things to appreciate. One simple way to do this is by starting a gratitude journal.

A growing body of research suggests that gratitude journaling improves many health factors. It improves sleep, lowers stress and depression, and enhances social connections, (Wood, Froh, & Geraghty, 2009; Liang et. al 2018; Jackowska, Brown, & Ronaldson, 2015). 

Set a regular time each day or week, to write about 3-5 things you feel grateful for. It doesn’t matter how big or small these things are. Doing so helps you to keep things in perspective and be grateful for what you have. 

Link to picture:  https://unsplash.com/photos/QK1OhZmopBo3. Loving-Kindness Meditation

3. Loving-Kindness Meditation

One of my favorite ways to practice gratitude is by doing a loving-kindness meditation. In general, meditation increases individuals’ positive emotions, (Fredrickson et. al 2017). The loving-kindness meditation can be focused on yourself and/or our others. So, how does it work? 

  1. Carve out time to be alone in a quiet place.
  2. Bring yourself or another person to mind.
  3. Say, “May you be happy,” “May you be healthy,” and “May you be at peace.” Genuinely send good wishes to the other person or yourself.
  4. You can start with yourself. Then move to others that you appreciate. Lastly, move to individuals that are more difficult to feel positively towards.
  5. You can also pray for yourself and/or the other person.
  6. Afterward you can let the person now that y ou rthought of them and wished them well but you do not have to
  7. It seems very simple. But, wishing youself or someone else well incrreases feelings of gratitude and positivity.

Link to picture:   https://unsplash.com/photos/4gcqRf3-f2I

4. Gratitude Letter/Visit

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, popularized the gratitude letter. In this exercise, you write a letter to someone who you feel has truly helped you in your life. But, you feel that you never got the chance to properly thank this person. In the letter, you express concrete thanks. It is best to be specific and concrete in your letter. 

After writing the letter, Seligman suggests that you visit the person. You can tell me the reason for the visit or keep it a surprise. After arriving, you should read the letter to the person. Let them keep the letter. 

I did this exercise during graduate school and found it to be very impactful. Often those we feel the most gratitude for, never truly know how much they mean to us. Doing this exercise expresses care and kindness to those that we appreciate the most. 

Link to picture:  https://unsplash.com/photos/M4lve6jR26E

5. Volunteering

It is interesting that as humans when we give, we end up receiving more in return. This can be the case with volunteering. Volunteering helps us to consider the needs of others above our own. This, in turn, makes us feel happy and grateful. 

The research on volunteering is complicated and a bit mixed due to self-selection biases. Yet, there is still a general consensus that volunteering increases social well-being, (Lawton et. al, 2020). Volunteering for a cause that you are passionate about increases feelings of thankfulness. 

Link to picture:  https://unsplash.com/photos/A4Ax1ApccfA

Conclusion 

We’ve got this. Even though 2020 was a tough year, we don’t need to be victims of our circumstances. Let’s fight the urge to give in to pessimism and disgruntlement. Instead, let’s build one another up and strive to create gratitude in our own lives. References 

  1. https://www.mentalhealthmemoirs.com/23-mental-health-experts-share-their-thoughts-on-coping-during-covid-19/
  2. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/11/lowest-point
  3. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/2Wood-GratitudeWell-BeingReview.pdf
  4. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12144-018-9847-1
  5. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1359105315572455
  6. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10902-020-00242-8

[Closing Note: Kate Haldeman has helpful information and suggestions to share. I encourage you to follow her blog]

Thanks, 

Don

The World Has Gone Nuts

[Reprinted from October 14, 2017]

Last night the General and I visited briefly with my daughter and son-in-law. They are headed out this morning to New Orleans via SWA. They are traveling for a work related meeting that will absorb most of their week, but I suspect they’ll manage to find the time to mix pleasure with business. After all, Andrea is her father’s daughter. In addition, Kevin grew up in New Orleans so it’s like going home for him.

Following the week in New Orleans, they travel Friday to Washington, D.C. for the annual Marine Corps Marathon. Actually, I’m torn that I can’t be with them. I know my way around D.C. pretty well and I would make a great tour guide. On the other hand, can you imagine the crowd in Washington D.C. next weekend? The marathon is on Sunday and it will draw quite a crowd even though the number of runners is capped. According to the publicity I found: “ The event field of 30,000 is composed of runners from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 50 countries. Known as “The People’s Marathon,” the MCM is open to all runners ages 14 and above and is the largest marathon that does not offer prize money.

Last night Andrea was lamenting the fact that they will be away from Colby and Samson for nine days. I started to write: “..away from their two dogs”, but thought better of it. Colby is the oldest and the slowest of the two labs. I’d also add the most well-behaved if you consider jumping up on people and ignoring boundaries misbehavior. Personally, I do, but my daughter probably sees it differently. She thinks the younger of the two labs can do no wrong.

Gram was providing doggie daycare for the two critters (I mean grand-dogs) earlier in the week. Unfortunately a repairman who’d come to service our water well knocked on the door between the inside of our garage and our house. Despite my instructions for the younger dog to “stay” as I opened the door, he was past me in a flash. I definitely remember the startled look on the repairman’s face as he backed waaaaay back.

I managed to grab his collar (the dogs – not the repairman’s) as he made his way past me through the door. It was an awkwardly embarrassing moment. Actually, several embarrassing moments more accurately describes the scenerio. For starters, the man had no idea that the dog is harmless unless you consider an unintentional injury to whoever is foolish enough to hang on to his collar. Trust me, it added a whole new dimension to dirty dancing. For starters, the dog was intent on leading. As you might suspect, he drug me all over the dance floor (garage I mean).   For a good fifteen to twenty seconds he and I did the watusi (or was it the cotton eyed Joe)? All I know is that it was fast moving and I was absolutely not in control.

So as we bid farewell last night, my daughter said: “Dad – Remember that Colby is going to need a kiss on the top of her head each night”. Just for the record, that’s not going to happen. How far can you bend without breaking? I’m not going to play smoochie poochie with Colby. I may be nuts, but I’m not stark raving mad.

I’ve been piecing word pictures together for years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever used the phrase: “Stark raving mad”. I looked it up to find that it means “completely crazy” – synonyms: completely, totally, utterly, absolutely, downright, dead, entirely, wholly, fully, quite, altogether, thoroughly, truly…” Color that anyway you want, but it doesn’t leave any element of doubt that it means totally crazy.

Leo Buscaglia said that: “If you act crazy consistently you can get by with anything; otherwise they call the cops. When you stop to think about it, that is almost like a “get out of jail free” card, but I’m not kissing a dog. I’m not going to talk “baby talk” to a dog either.

Out of fear that someone will mistaken me for an Archie Bunker lookalike, I probably shouldn’t say that a dog’s place is outdoors rather than in-doors. The expression “dog house” has to come from somewhere. When I was a kid and we had a dog, inside the house was “off limits”. Ours was an outside dog and the dog had a dog house. You can ask my little brother (oops – younger brother). He will tell you that dogs belong outside.

If you think I lead a dog’s life, you should see Larry. He has two inside dogs at his house. Trust me, it wasn’t his idea. I also predict that he didn’t get a vote in the matter.

The world has gone nuts; maybe even stark raving mad. Dogs regardless of their size stay indoors in today’s mixed up world. No one needs a dog house anymore unless they write a blog and suggest that dogs should be outside. In that case, the dog house would be for the writer of the blog. 

They say a “man’s home is his castle”. Trust me, while the two labs are with us, I will think I’m royalty. Colby and Samson will sit at my feet. They will follow when I go to another room and once again re-establish their positions by sitting at my feet.

Even the General will change her persona while they are with us. Are you ready for this: She talks “baby talk” to the dogs. I’m not complaining. I’d rather she do that than bark orders. Long story short – I’m not playing smoochie poochie.

All My Best!
Don

Best Friends for Life

[Reprinted from October 13, 2015]

Best Friends For Life – Is the quest for adventure linked to a person’s DNA? I don’t know the answer, I’m simply asking the question. Is a child’s behavior in elementary school an indicator of what to anticipate over the course of their lifetime? If so, then I’m suggesting it may have to do with the innate quest for adventure ingrained somewhere deep inside that predicates choices, lifestyle and emerges with a sense of pizzazz. By the way, those are the fun people with whom I want to share my time.

Sunday morning at breakfast the General and I had the privilege to sit with a small group of former classmates whose history and shared experiences started long before junior high. A couple of the ladies had been friends for life. Their mothers were best friends. They met regularly in the mornings to drink coffee and study Scripture. With the stories that emerged over breakfast, I’m sure they prayed together as well. Trust me, Divine intervention had to be at the top of their list of things they most needed. After all, their small daughters were best friends. Wouldn’t you know it; both girls embraced and yielded to the quest for adventure. The outcome was incredible. They added a sense of pizzazz everywhere they went.  They still do!

My son credits my gray hair to his sister. There is almost a ten year differential between Craig and Andrea’s ages. Craig is right. The gray hair emerged after Andrea joyfully entered our lives. From that day until now, Andrea has added a dimension to all of our lives that makes me grateful she’s my daughter. She never needed assertiveness training. Perhaps she learned the skillset from her mother, but she has consistently been on top of her game and has approached life from the vantage point of making it work. She, too, adds a level of pizzazz to the room.

When I was a kid growing up, the articulated warning from both of my parents was closely akin to, “If you get in trouble at school and have to go to the principal’s office, you will be beaten to within an inch of your life when you get home.” I believed they were people of their word. Consequently, I can truthfully say, I never was called to the principal’s office.

What was true for me was not necessarily true for the two ladies who shared stories from their childhood. As elementary aged students they decided on more than one occasion, “Why eat in the cafeteria when it is a great day to go on a picnic.” Invariably their “great escape” was always discovered. The principal would call the parents and say, “Your daughter is gone again.”

One day one of the parents was surprised to return home from work to discover the two girls decided they wanted to play house. What child hasn’t?   These two decided they wanted to play house outside. Actually, I think they were pretty clever. They opted to move all of the bedroom furniture into the back yard. That takes ingenuity, determination and an ability to color outside the lines. No wonder the two mother’s met for coffee, Bible study and I can assure you – PRAYER.

All of those behaviors and life choices predated junior high school. Can you imagine what junior high and high school years would bring?

Ronnie and I never had a car to drive to school. Some students did. We didn’t. One of the two ladies had the good fortune of having a father who sold used cars. Consequently, he’d go to an auction, buy something for his daughter to drive and in a few months sell it and provide her something else. He obviously made a mistake when he brought home a faded out blue car.

Who could have blamed them? The two girls came up with a solution for changing the faded blue paint. They bought red paint, paint brushes and had the time of their life doing an extreme make-over. Do you think they got permission from the dad to do that before they started? Sure they did! Well, the same kind of permission they got before they moved the bedroom furniture in the backyard. When you embrace life with a spirit of adventure, you can get by with almost anything. You may want to write this down for future reference. “Forgiveness is always easier to get than permission.” When you add pizzazz to life, you can generally get by with anything.

I had the sense that the two friends are not done. Who knows what they will opt to do next, but it may be a cross-country trip to Montana. One of the ladies said, “I really want to go to Montana. Unfortunately, my husband doesn’t want to travel. The friend replied, “Great! I will go with you.”

I interjected, “I can see the headlines now: “Thelma and Louise are at it again.” One of the ladies replied, “We haven’t stolen anything or killed anyone yet.” She then smiled. The friend replied, “I haven’t killed anyone either, but I’ve shot at them. Does that count?” I figure if she missed, she was shooting while she was riding horseback.

Since I don’t have permission to share this story, I’m not giving you the names. However, if you remember a red brush painted vehicle or know anyone who continues to ride horses, you’ll probably figure out the identity of dynamic duo.

You know, I think it’s true. The quest for adventure is linked to a person’s DNA. How grateful I am to be friends with the two ladies who place a premium on adventure and choose to enjoy life to the fullest. Wow! They really do add a sense of pizzazz.


All My Best,
Don

Humor Doesn’t Always Work

[Reprinted from October 12, 2015]

My daughter telephoned last night to ensure that we were safely home. I guess my voice coming from our home telephone provided the answer she needed before she asked the question. The way she asked her next question signaled me that I had done something wrong. She asked, “Why didn’t you tell me that you were co-host for the program at your reunion?” She added, “I had to learn it from someone at work.”  In case there is any doubt, any time someone begins a question with: “Why didn’t you…”, that is code for, “You’ve got some explaining to do”.

My daughter works at Apple Computer. The only other person I know who works for Apple is Karoni. Obviously Karoni had shared the information with someone who mentioned it to Andrea. At any rate, the easiest way to get out of trouble… (You may want to write this down. It could come in handy). The easiest way to get out of trouble is to say something that makes the other person laugh. Laughter is good medicine and it has provided me a healthy escape from harms way many times.

I explained to Andrea that I was invited to co-host the program because my spiritual gift is nonsense. I can’t grasp and retain the important stuff, but nonsense is second nature to me. Sometimes it is the catalyst for laughter.

I mentioned to Andrea that I got all the fodder I needed by quickly thumbing through my high school annual. One classmate wrote: “Donnie – I shall give you the highest compliment I have ever paid another. You have a way with wimmen! There is only one other higher compliment that could be made of anyone: ‘You have a way with horses’”. I went on to tell Andrea that it was true. In looking through my annual, four girls wrote a complete page in the back of my annual expressing that I was the best friend a girl could have.  They also said they would never forget me. The downside is that “the best friend a girl could have” negates any kind of romantic involvement.

Andrea didn’t laugh. Oops, I was still in trouble. Either that, or it wasn’t funny. Maybe she was right.  I moved our conversation to another line, “I don’t know what we were thinking in high school. Most of us signed our autographs over our faces in the yearbook. Did we not know we looked better then than we’d ever look again?”

Silence. There was deafening silence on the other end of the line. Consequently, I thought I’d break the ice with: “Thumbing through my annual reminded me of something I had forgotten. It wasn’t true of Ronnie, but it was true of me. I was not selected as one of the top ten classmates most likely to succeed. That reflects inordinate wisdom on the part of our graduating class. What I can’t figure out is how they knew.”

My comedy routine was not working with my daughter. Consequently, I didn’t share, “Two women met for their fist time since graduation from high school. One asked the other, “You were always so organized in school, did you manage to live a well planned life?” “Yes”, said her friend. “My first marriage was to a millionaire. My second marriage was to an actor. My third marriage was to a preacher and now I’m married to an undertaker.” Puzzled, her friend asked, “What do those marriages have to do with a well planned life? “Oh you know, one for the money, two for the show, three to make ready and four to go.”

My attempt at humor was not working with my daughter.  I dropped the jokes and told her that her mother and I had an incredible time at the reunion. I really don’t have the words to express how meaningful and fulfilling I found it to be.  Several of those in attendance came long distances and needed assistance to make the journey. Because of health issues, life for them is not easy, but you would not know that from their countenance or from shared conversation. Upbeat, positive and grateful to be reconnected with classmates from long ago was the refreshing theme of conversations.

My daughter asked, “Did you have an opportunity to sell any books?” I responded, “Yes, the EHS planning committee asked to purchase four as door prizes. I brought them with me, but I opted to donate them rather than sell them. Two or three people knowing I had written a couple of books inquired about how to purchase them. Instead of selling them, I responded, “I’m giving them away out of the back of my truck. I’ll go get you copies.”

Sunday morning as out time together came to closure, it occurred to me that the folks who likely were more interested in the content of my books than anyone else, were the people I had known in childhood. I told Treva that I was going to give books away. She smiled and said, “I agree.”

Andrea was horrified. She wasn’t horrified because I was giving them away. She was horrified with the thought that I forced my books on other people. I assured her, that was not the case. Hopefully, that was not the case.  Now Andrea has me worried.

In my niece’s presentation on Saturday night, she thanked the graduation class of 1965 for sharing Ronnie Forrester stories with her. She has no firsthand memories of her dad, but each story shared with her about her dad was a gift.  I like the way she expressed it, “Each story shared with me is a piece of my dad that I didn’t have before”.

In similar fashion, I was amazed at the number of our classmates that privately shared with me that before Ronnie left, he stopped by to visit with them. I heard those stories repeatedly. That was over six years following our high school graduation. Did Ronnie suspect he wouldn’t be returning? I don’t know, but what I do know is that he understood the importance of connection and he understood the importance of staying close with others who had been close.

Ronnie’s status of “Missing In Action” was not just a loss for our family. It was a personal loss for each of our classmates. Ronnie stories, stories of friends from long ago who have visited the Wall and were moved to tears were repeated themes of conversations this past weekend. I had the sense that Solomon was right. He wrote that, “Shared joy is double joy and shared sorrow is half sorrow”.

The class of 1965 had its dreams. We still do and we best fulfill them by understanding the importance of friendship and connections. It was a remarkable weekend. It defies description and I don’t know how to explain it, but I think what was true for me was also true for others. It was good to be home. The friendships forged in childhood had not decayed through fifty years of silence. In fact, from the vantage point of adulthood, we gravitated not to just close friends from long ago, but we understand the importance of being inclusive. Folks mingled. They talked. They forged connections that will not be broken.

All My Best!

Don

Questions

[Reprinted from October 30, 2014]

My early morning commute to work sometimes includes listening to talk radio. One station has a segment entitled “Can’t Beat Booker.”  Brad Booker, the lead host of the program, competes with a radio listener who calls in to see who can answer the most of five questions accurately.  While Booker is out of the room, one of the other hosts asks five questions to the caller.  Booker is then invited back in the room and asked the same five questions.  Routinely Booker proves to answer more questions correctly.  The caller then says, “I’m …… and I can’t beat Booker.”  Did I mention the questions are really difficult questions?  I’d be embarrassed to be a participant on the program. Seldom do I have a clue related to the answer.

Do you remember the television game show entitled, “The $64,000 Question?” The first episode was broadcast on June 7, 1955 on CBS-TV.  Contestants selected a category for their questions and when they answered correctly their money was doubled.  Each time the questions became more difficult.  At the $4,000 level the contestant stopped and came back the following week to be asked only one question.  If they answered correctly, they were invited back the following week for another question. Each time the winnings doubled.  The contestant was provided an opportunity to opt out of the show and keep their earnings.  If they answered incorrectly, they lost everything. Richard S. McCutchen, a Marine, whose selected subject was cooking, was the first contestant to win the top prize money.  He became an overnight celebrity.

I remember as a kid, I used to fantasize what it would be like to have the opportunity to be a contestant on “The $64,000 Question.”  I guess, more truthfully, I used to fantasize what I could do with $64,000.  That was a lot of money in 1955.

I’d like to think I have the ability to think of my feet, but the kinds of questions they asked on game shoes only have one right answer. Obviously, I am more in my element when there is “no right or wrong answer” and any answer provided is acceptable.   I could excel in a quiz show like that.  I generally have an opinion regarding any number of issues and when asked, have no difficulty expressing my point of view.  Coincidentally, so does the General (aka – my wife).  Did I mention that we occasionally have a very different answer?

The ringing of the telephone interrupted my train of thought.  The caller gladly announced that I had been selected for a free trip to the Bahamas. That’s the second time since I’ve gotten home this evening that I’ve answered a telephone call.  The other time, the rhetoric began, “Don’t hang up.  This is not a sales call…” You guessed it.  I immediately hung the telephone up both times. 

Sometimes when I’m asked a question, I don’t have an immediate answer. Some questions require meditation and thought before I have a sense that I am even close to being on the right page.  Someone recently told me on an airplane that I looked like a college professor.  I thanked them and told them I was old enough to have made something out of myself, but that I wasn’t a college professor. I think the person meant it as a compliment, but maybe not.  I recently got new glasses.  The first time my daughter saw them she said, “With those glasses you look like a college professor. I don’t like them.  She didn’t imply that I looked sinister, but she definitely saw me as someone who  colors outside the lines. I thought it was cool. Could this be the same child who routinely stayed out past her curfew during her high school years more times that I’d like to remember? 

When Craig says that my hair didn’t start to turn gray until his sister was born, I can’t refute the claim.  It is true.  On the other hand, Andrea has taught me a lot even if she and I are very much alike.  Consequently, I now have better answers than I had previously.  I guess at this stage in my pilgrimage, I’m pleased that she generally colors inside the lines and is concerned that maybe I don’t.  Perhaps that supports the notion, “What goes around comes around.”

Someone recently asked if they could ask me a question.  How do you say “No” to that? If I had been thinking, I would have said, “Not if you expect the right answer.” The way the question was phrased, I processed it as one of those questions where whatever I said would be correct.  I can’t remember exactly how the question was expressed, but it was closely akin to, “What do you think is the worst or most grievous sin apart from murder?”

It was a question I could answer correctly because it included the phrase, “What do you think.”  Yet, I suspected the person asking the question was looking for an answer that carried more weight than one thoughtlessly uttered from my lips.  Consequently, before answering, I wanted time to pray, mediate and ponder my response. 

I haven’t yet communicated my answer back to the person who asked the question, but I know what I think.  You may disagree with my answer.  In fact, I’ll ask the same question of you that was asked of me, “What do you think is the worst or most grievous sin apart from murder?”

To answer what I think correctly, I have to begin by refuting that murder is the worst or most grievous sin.  I don’t think murder heads the list of things most grievous to God.  This may surprise you, but I know people who have committed that sin and people who have been accused of that sin. 

One of the older kids who lived next door to me during my childhood years was subsequently charged with the murder of his wife.  In fact, according to the information shared by his two young sons, they were forced to assist him in butchering her body for disposal.  Just to demonstrate that it is a very small world, years later a colleague who previously worked in children’s protective services, talked about one of the most difficult cases he was ever assigned.  He didn’t provide the identity of the case, but the story he told was congruent with the story of the kid next door.  Can you think of anything more horrendous? There was not a conviction.  The charges were dropped because the body was never recovered.  The only evidence was the testimony of two little boys who already had experienced enough trauma and pain for a lifetime.  They emotionally were too fragile and vulnerable to go through court proceedings.

Later, I worked with an adolescent who in the midst of young adulthood, plotted with his girlfriend to kill their roommate.  They executed their plan and were co-participants in a brutal murder.  They both were convicted.

I don’t live in the 5th Ward in Houston – Never did.  Never have.  Another neighbor (my daughter’s age) was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.  He was involved in a car accident as the result of driving while being high on drugs.  The woman in the other car was killed instantly.  Tragic! While I concur that murder highlights the brokenness of our humanity, it doesn’t head the list of grievous sins.

It was Christ who said, “ If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”   Having worked in the child welfare arena over four decades, I have story after story of children who have been in harms way and who will carry the scars of childhood through their existence this side of eternity. Where does that make the list of grievous sins?

Earlier this week, a man was attacked in the DWF airport because the attacker thought he was gay. There a strong belief by many that homosexuality is the most grievous sin. The video made of the assault made national news.  Hearing the news report, I thought back in time to another news report of a far more hideous crime based on the same mindset. 

Matthew Shepard (December 1,1976-October 12, 1998) was a 22-year old college student at the University of Wyoming.  He was beaten, tortured and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming on the night of October 6, 1998 and died six days later of severe head injuries.  I remember the story of Matthew Shepard because I remember the written response made by the Chaplain of Trinity College, Hartford, CT on the death of Matthew Shepherd:

I saw on the news today that Matthew Shepherd died.  He was the 22-year old man from Wyoming who was beaten and tortured and left to die for no reason other than he was a homosexual…As a person of faith, I will listen, as we all will, to the many voices which will eulogize Matthew Shepard.  I will carry that part of our national shame on my shoulders.  But I will also listen to the silence which speaks much more eloquently still to the truth behind his death.  I will listen and I will remember.  And I will renew my resolve never to allow this silence to have the last word.”

I have a dear friend who has been disowned by her son.  Years ago he wrote her a letter stating in essence, “I love you.  I shall always love you, but I never want to see you again.” Consequently, she doesn’t know her grandchildren and she has not heard from her son in years.  True to life, he kept his word, “I never want to see you again.”  He called it love; I see it differently, but even that doesn’t top the most grievous sins.  Did I mention it really makes me mad?

I don’t know if you caught it, but it is present.  I said, “I see it differently.”  Is that sin? Didn’t Christ say, “Judge not lest you be judged?” I didn’t save it until last to highlight the indiscretion as more grievous, because it is not. Yet the thing I find most bothersome is that we overlook it as sin. We don’t even acknowledge the brokenness of our humanity.

Too often, in our arrogance, self-righteousness, complacency and judgmental disregard for those we have identified as sinners, we forget that we, too, fall short of reaching the mark.  I find it bothersome.  God does too.  Scripture supports it. Somehow in our mistaken mindset, the ability to establish a hierarchy of things more grievous than that which we ascribe to ourselves somehow attempts to placate our wrong by throwing stones at others. 

Who among us would be reluctant to identify the total disregard a drug addict has for life?  It is self-destructive behavior.  Who can they blame but themselves?  Drug addiction destroys one’s ability to have even the cognitive awareness of their need for that which only God can provide.  It is easy for those of us who think we have it all together to throw stones? 

If you think sin can be categorized, where would you put this one?  From 1953 to 1964, the U.S. government secretly tested the effects of LSD on hundreds of unsuspecting American civilians and military personnel.  The information is now unclassified.  If you want information, research the MK-ULTRA program. The Central Intelligence Agency slipped acid secretly to Americans – at the beach, in city bars, at restaurants.  For a decade, the CIA conducted completely uncontrolled tests in which they drugged people unknowingly, then followed and watch them without intervening.  In some cases the agency used the drug to perform interrogations.

The list of indiscretions that highlight the brokenness of our humanity go on and on.  Yet in my mind, the most grievous sin and the only sin that can be categorized in that regard is the sin of disbelief.  God knew we needed that which only He could provide. He purposed to provide that for us through the gift of His Son.  Christ was “the sacrificial lamb slain before the foundations of the earth.”  Through His death, he paid the penalty for our sins in order that “through him, we pass from death until life.” “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.  Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.”

The only sin that separates us from God is our refusal to accept through faith that which He has provided us through His Son.  May we walk in Him.

All My Best!
Don