This year two days before Christmas, I reported to work at the Denver International Airport and found the expected long lines, and hustling crowds. As I came up the escalator into the gate area, I saw something I didn’t expect. My older sister Brande was standing at the top of the escalator with a big grin on her face.
Every Christmas Brande and I (along with our numerous other siblings) would cram into the family station wagon and go over the river and through the woods to Granny and Grampy’s house for Christmas Dinner. When I say cram, I mean squeeze in so close you can barely breathe. You never heard the proverbial – “She’s touching me!” – because someone was always touching you. They were practically sitting in your lap!
Of course, this was long before the invention of portable electronic games, mobile TV, or portable DVD players. So, we had to invent games to keep us busy. One of our favorite games was counting cows (sounds like so much fun doesn’t it?).
To play the game you divide into teams based on which side of the car you were squeezed into. Then you started counting the cows that passed on your side of the vehicle. If you passed a church, you added two more. If you passed a school, you multiplied by two. But if you passed a graveyard, and your opponents from the other side of the vehicle actually saw it, you had to bury your cows and start from scratch all over again.
It doesn’t sound like much of a game, but when you are jammed into a station wagon like sardines, anything to take your mind off of the fact that your brother just passed gas, is a fun game.
As I got to the top of the escalator, I gave Brande a great big hug. As it turned out, she was going to Nashville and I was going to be her Captain. We visited until the aircraft arrived at the gate, and then I got to work preparing for the flight. Once my preparations were complete, I hurried up the jet way and boarded my sister first, thanks to the accommodating operations agent.
I put her in the First Officer’s seat, and we took a picture together. We sat there in the cockpit of the Boeing 737 and caught up on the latest family news. We discussed kids, grandkids, and the health issues of the day until it was time to board the rest of the passengers.
After everyone boarded, I made my usual announcements about the flying time and the weather, but I made sure that everyone knew that my big sister was on board. I didn’t embarrass her though. She knows too many things about me, and she has pictures.
The flight from Denver to Nashville lasted only a few minutes longer than our usual Christmas drive to Granny and Grampy’s house. We cruised in comfort at a smooth 35,000 feet and averaged over 500 hundred miles an hour because of a nice tailwind. Ironically enough, our flight path into Nashville took us almost over the top of Granny’s house.
I put a little extra effort into the landing to impress my sister, and we taxied to the gate. Since I had a little time before my next flight, I walked her to security. We embraced again, shared our affection, and said our farewells.
As she walked away, I was bummed that we flew too high to count cows during the flight. It was just as well. I passed a graveyard on my side as we approached the runway and she would have won.
Merry Christmas Brande!
The minivan’s check-engine light stared me in the face when I started it. It nagged at me and reminded me of all the things I needed to get done and all the reasons I shouldn’t be going to Hawaii for the week. I ignored it. It was probably just a bad sensor, and I wasn’t going to let it keep me from the spontaneous jaunt. With a couple of bags in the back of the van, we backed out of the garage and headed for Phoenix Sky Harbor in the dark December morning.
I saw familiar faces at the airport, and almost got off at terminal four where I go to work, but I didn’t. We went on to the Hawaiian ticket counter where I saw my buddy Veron, a New Zealander of Maori decent with a cool accent and a ponytail. He teased us as always, and told us the flight looked pretty good for space-available travel. We made it through security without a full-body scan or a groping, and onto the flight. We even got to sit together. As the Phoenix skyline disappeared in the soft morning light, I quit thinking of the check-engine light.
We landed in a beautiful Hawaiian sun, got the rental car, and headed for the North Shore – Sunset Beach in particular. David & Peggy, my wife’s cousins, live across from Sunset Beach and rent out part of their house to visiting surfers. They were kind enough to let us stay in one of the unused bedrooms, as long as we didn’t mind using the “surfer’s” shower and bathroom that was housed out back in the bathhouse and storage shed. It was rustic, but clean, and added to the whole north-shore-I’m-here-to-surf-not-be-pampered ambience.
We tossed our bags in the room, and I went for a run while Britt chilled. Then we headed for BYU Hawaii to see my son Cody. We had only driven a quarter mile when the car made an unexpected stop at Ted’s Bakery. Ted’s is a local dive that makes the best chocolate haupia pie, pineapple cheese pie, and Hawaiian plate lunches found in all of Oahu. It’s popular, so you might have to wait in line, or find that your favorite treat is sold out, but it is SO worth the wait. I recommend the pineapple cheese pie.
We made our way to campus and found Cody hard at work in the computer lab, reading a book. It was good to see him, and our spontaneous trip made him smile. When he finished work we took Cody and two of his friends to dinner. Each night of our trip we took him and one or two of his friends to dinner. In spite of their pre-purchased full-meal plan at the “caf” (their slang for cafeteria), they were always hungry. One night we went to the L&L, a local style food joint, just off the BYU campus. It is decorated with yellow stained paint, dripping air conditioning units, and faded oriental paintings. The food was typical L&L, but after Britt went to the bathroom, she swore she would have the place shut down for serious health-code violations. Nobody got sick, but we didn’t go back.
Each morning I ran along the Sunset Beach trail, and Britt ran/walked Chester, David and Peggy’s white labrador. The trail offers a unique running experience. It follows the shoreline just out of traffic with vistas of the Pacific tides and white beaches interspersed with squatty houses nestled among the trees. Local beach bums, school children, and vacationers frequent the trail. A canopy of tropical trees and bushes offer some protection from the spitting rain, the beating sun, and the noise of the passing traffic. Running is good for your heart. Running the trail along Sunset Beach is good for your heart, head, and soul.
A surfing competition was on hiatus at Sunset Beach for our first two days there, due to lack of surf. I watched the surfers on the beach. They stood genuflecting to their god. They gazed out at the incoming tides, staring at the undulating motion of the water hoping that some of the sea spray would rise up and sprinkle them like holy water, but their god did not offer up any tokens of faith that day. The surf was flat.
We snorkeled the calm ocean for shells in the gentle North-Shore surf without conflicting with the surfers. Shells are like relics of a lost civilization that remain to testify of the previous existence of a living creature. Britt found several small shells in the curling tide close to shore. I found a couple languishing in the small coral indentations further off shore. Both of mine had hermit crabs in them, so we threw them back. I found an old marine battery and dragged it out of the water for proper disposal.
The next afternoon the surf gods smiled and the competition began again in earnest. We headed over to snorkel Shark’s Cove (named for its shape, not the presence of sharks). The water was a bit rough, and we proceeded with caution out into to the cove. I was worried about the less experienced snorkelers getting injured on the rocks, but in the end, I was the only one that lost any blood (good thing there weren’t sharks). The churning sea reduced the visibility, but we still saw abundant marine life, and enjoyed the swim.
Our last day on the North Shore, we took Cody to Haleiwa, surf capital of the world. It is a quaint old town with art galleries, shops, and more shaved-ice stores per capita than anywhere else in the world. We ducked in to a couple of art galleries (after feeding Cody three McChicken sandwiches) and admired the art. We wanted to buy the stuff we admired, but our vacation budget didn’t allow for that.
We also checked out one of the surf clothing shops. They had a small shrine to Eddie Aikau, a big-wave surfer that was killed on the open ocean on his surfboard. The phrase “Eddie would go,” has come to symbolize the indomitable spirit of big-wave surfing and the inherent risk associated with flinging yourself into the jaws of the ocean’s fury. Based on the merchandising of Eddie’s tragic and courageous deed, if he had known how much money his name would bring in… he might NOT have gone.
We said our aloha oe to Cody, and made our way across the island to Waikiki for our last night. A light rain had passed over us off and on throughout the drive across the island, and it also invaded downtown Honolulu. We checked into the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel and ventured out to Duke’s for dinner. Dinner at Duke’s is always good. We ended it with the Hula pie, and waddled out.
We stopped at another gallery and Britt was enthralled with the art of Brigette D’Anniable, whose art is a mix of throwback old-style posters and sexy figurines of wahines. Somehow we had more money than before, and my wife began discussing an actual purchase. I objected politely, out of personal reasons (I couldn’t afford it), and slinked to the front of store to wait for her to finish. Fortunately, she only made plans to purchase and didn’t pull out the credit card. I have a feeling that she will put art in the budget for the next trip.
The next day, we woke to a beautiful Hawaii morning complete with a rainbow. We ate breakfast in our room and watched the Waikiki scene from our balcony. On our way to the airport, we stopped at Leonard’s Bakery and bought malasadas for the flight crew (and a few for ourselves). We maneuvered our way through security and onto the eastbound Hawaiian 767.
When we landed in the dark, Phoenix seemed much as we left it. When I started the minivan for the drive home, the check engine light was still on.
I didn’t really want to go to the Veteran’s Day celebration at our local high school. I always considered Veteran’s Day was for men and women who bled and sacrificed, not for some spoiled jet jockey that spent the war buzzing officer’s clubs and wearing Tom Cruise glasses. My youngest son is in AFJROTC (Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps for all you civilian types) and he insisted I attend because he was helping out with the event. So, I went.
I showed up with my Ray Bans and my fighter-pilot jacket covered in multiple cool patches that would surely turn the heads of anyone important or knowledgeable. I was taken back as I strolled into the football stadium and saw the layout. The school had done the place up real nice with a large decorated stage, VIP seating, and displays from each of the armed services. They even had some civil-war cannons. I was directed to the veteran seating area at the base of the stage – it must have been the patches.
I took my seat behind a bunch of old guys with VFW hats and khaki uniforms. They nodded and smiled. A guy with a Vietnam patch and a walker shuffled on to the field and sat down behind me. I remembered why I didn’t like coming to these things. I always felt guilty for all the times I complained about my cushy time in the Air Force.
The guy behind me was named Paul. He had been injured in a vehicle accident and was left disabled because of it. He had a twinkle in his eye and as he told his story he punctuated the difficult parts with laughter. “You have to laugh and keep your sense of humor,” he said. “What else can you do?”
Grow bitter and become cynical, I thought to myself as I smiled back.
“I feel out of place,” I told Paul. “All the veteran’s I saw at Veteran’s Day celebrations growing up had beards, an American-flag bandana, and rode loud Harley motorcycles.” He laughed.
The program began with fanfare and they introduced the veteran’s from WWII and the Korean War by name. All the guys in front of me got introduced. Two of them had been eyewitnesses to the famous flag raising on Iwo Jima. Several of them had liberated concentration camps from the tyranny of the Nazis. A few more had been in the heat of battle on the Korean peninsula. I hid behind my Tom Cruise Ray Bans and pretended to be somebody important in the presence of heroes.
You can’t have a good military-related event without three things – the colors, pyrotechnics, and speeches. This event had all three in just the right amount.
The flags from each of the different branches of services were posted ceremoniously on stage one at a time. Next the Patriot Guard Riders roared into the stadium on their motorcycles with flags waving behind them. Several of them had beards and American-flag bandanas on their heads. Then skydivers with the POW/MIA flag, the Arizona flag, and United States flag dropped in from overhead and nailed their target in the middle of the football field. It was amazing to see Old Glory’s colors against a clear blue sky as the last skydiver came to earth. At last, the color guard formed from multiple ROTC units posted the colors to a rousing rendition of the national anthem, punctuated by fireworks. I was thankful for the dark sunglasses that hid the tears in my eyes as they beheld the majestic symbol of freedom and the rule of law.
The first time the fireworks went off during the program it surprised me. I teased the city councilman sitting next to me that getting approval from the city for the pyrotechnics must have been difficult. He just grinned, and then the civil war cannons went off. I was so close I felt the shock wave from the blasts. He spoke. I think he said, “We’ll approve anything for Veterans,” but my ears were still ringing. It seemed so real I was worried that some of the other members in the audience might have flashbacks, but from the grins on everyone’s faces it was clear that all of us soldiers loved watching things blow up.
Then the speeches began. I thought at first that I would end up playing with my new smart phone during some long-winded delivery of an overstated politician, but I never pulled the phone from my pocket. Each speech was short, passionate, and delivered with sincerity. From the politicians to the war heroes, the words were inspiring and reminded me why I joined the military in the first place. I was inspired once again by the greatness of the common man in our great country, or maybe I should say that I was inspired by how the common man in a country such as ours can aspire to and achieve greatness.
Being a former Air Force pilot, I feel that no military celebration should be without a flyby, and I was not disappointed. Towards the end of the program, a two ship of F-16’s from Luke AFB came roaring overhead just as they fired off a series of fireworks. (Let's see Unmanned Aerospace Vehicles do that!) The cannons roared again to accentuate the roar of jet engines. I never grow tired of the sound of jet noise – the sound of freedom.
As the event wrapped up, the Principal invited the students in the stands to come down and shake veteran’s hands before returning to class. It was an unexpected treat to have those young men and women reach out to me and thank me for my service. I took the opportunity to thank them, and the other veteran’s, for inviting me to the best Veteran’s Day ceremony I had ever attended.
I guess my attitude that day was similar to the attitude of most veterans when their country called them into military service. I was reluctant to go, but I went anyway, mostly out of a sense of duty. Once I got to my post, I was inspired by our flag and everything it represents. I enjoyed the red glare of rockets, and bombs bursting in air. I felt the camaraderie of my peers, no matter the era or difficulty of service. I felt sadness for those who never returned to celebrate the day with us. I was glad I had served, and I was hopeful that the rising generation would pick up freedom’s torch and carry it forward.
Travel should change you. It should broaden your horizons and make you question the status quo. Your experience should leave an indelible impression that becomes a part of who you are from that point forward. I was anxious to see how my oldest son had changed after two years in the Philippines.
Crossing multiple time zones shocks your system, and tosses the pieces of your daily rituals up in the air. That process allows you the opportunity to sift some of the chaff from your life, if you chose. It causes you to evaluate your habits and routines, and prepares you to accept the new surroundings as normal, even though they may be very different. Ironically, the quickest way to recover from the jet lag of crossing several time zones is to get yourself back into a routine as soon as possible.
Our first full day was Sunday, so after breakfast we ventured out and went to church. I found the closest LDS chapel, got the meeting time, drew a map for the taxi driver, and headed out into the crazy Manila traffic. Some things are universal the world over – children, LDS church services, and taxi drivers. Children are cute and loveable. LDS Church services follow the same basic pattern of worship. Taxi drivers try to rip you off. After our first day, I could confirm the universality of those three things in the Philippines.
The second day we did a little sight seeing and ended up in Intramuros, the old walled city built by the Spanish in the late 1500’s. A young man, Ricardo, harassed us until we conceded to take a tour of the old city by horse-drawn cart. His horse, Indian Boy, was a flea-bitten pony that needed some groceries. I was sure we were going to lift the poor creature off the ground when we sat in the back of the cart, but he managed to haul us oversized Americans through the streets.
During the tour we learned the history of the various stone buildings and the people of the Philippines. Ricardo cited dates and names with ease as he rambled on about earthquakes, typhoons, and conquering invaders. I detected a sadness in is voice as he expounded on the various battles that had left so many of his countrymen and women dead or wounded. I wondered if so many invaders had jaded the Philippinos and made them wary of visitors, but I soon had my answer.
If there is a group of people in the world more courteous than Filippinos, I haven’t met them yet. Everywhere we went we were greeted by warm smiles, and friendly greetings. From the hotel staff, to the security guard at the mall, everyone was courteous. I thought at first that I would find a difference when I left the plush tourist area and headed out into the barrios where my son had served, but I found the environment to be the same. People everywhere smiled and offered a greeting as we passed. If we needed help, total strangers would offer us assistance. Even in gnarled traffic that would have brought on serious cases of road rage here in the U.S., people still applied basic courtesy. I think we could teach them a thing or two about traffic control, but they could school us on courtesy.
We Americans are so lazy when it comes to learning foreign languages because we are insulated, and so many people abroad speak English. Because English is the language used in Philippine schools, most Filippinos speak basic English. I learned a few Tagalog phrases before the trip, but found that we could easily communicate in English. Tagalog flows from their mouths like a well-versed song, and their accent in English also carries a harmonic tone. I found their language pleasing to the ear.
The next day, we met up with the Smiths. They are serving a volunteer mission as Humanitarian Service Coordinators for the LDS Church. They gave us the opportunity to join them in service for the day. I always believed that any money I gave to the LDS Church for humanitarian aid was used properly, but now I KNOW that it is used well, and wisely. We visited Mabuhay Deseret, a facility much like a Ronald McDonald house that services children with medical problems such as cleft palette, clubfeet, and vision problems. We then helped deliver goods to a birthing hospital where a child is born every twelve minutes. In spite of the difficult circumstances we witnessed, people were happy. I was also impressed at how little it takes to improve the lives of our fellowman. Consider donating time and money to worthy causes. You will be happier as well.
Seeing our son for the first time in two years was an emotional experience, but maybe not what you think. We were overjoyed, but not the gushing uncontrolled kind of feeling. We experienced a warm embrace, and choked back a tear or two, but overall we felt a sense of pride in his growth and accomplishment. I never did feel sorry for him and his lot. In fact, I have been jealous of his experience. So, when we were reunited after such a long time, it was feeling of mutual comfort and a sense of a new beginning.
I saw several changes in my son. He spoke English with a beautiful Philippine accent, and struggled to find the right words in his native English tongue. His Tagalog made Filippinos stop and gawk since he is very fair skinned with blond hair. Apart from learning the language and culture, he was not the young teenage boy that left our home two years ago. He exuded a deep-seated confidence that comes from building your life on a firm foundation. Gone was the selfish and sometimes undisciplined teenager. He had become a capable and outward-looking adult worthy of our emulation.
We passed through areas of extreme poverty. If I used the word “squalor” I would be too generous. I thought of my rich blessings, and like most of us wondered why I was so blessed, and they were not. I never have an adequate answer for that question, but each time I see such disparity I count my blessings and feel compelled to be more charitable and giving. Likewise, I am reminded of how little we humans require to survive.
We visited the houses of several people Rian had taught, and felt their deep sense of gratitude for our son. His love for the people was obvious. Their reciprocating love was also evident in their faces. They laughed and talked about their mutual experiences, and how their lives had been changed because of each other. We sat in their humble homes feeling grateful to them for treating our son with such affection. I was reminded of the universal goodness that is still available in a world of ever-increasing evil.
As our visit ended, and I boarded the Boeing 747 bound for Tokyo and eventually Los Angeles, I felt fortunate to have visited the Philippines. I was glad I experienced first-hand the sights and sounds of such an industrious and vibrant people. Their warm and courteous spirit moved me. They say travel should change you. As I returned home after a week in the Philippines, I knew that my travel experience had accomplished its task.
They say we dream in black and white. We also try to live our lives in black and white. For me, age has sharpened those colors. Blacks have become blacker. Whites have become whiter. Gray has grown.
Over the years I have watched as Black has sharpened its intensity and deepened its hue. Those shades of black that were perhaps in the background years ago, have come boldly into the full light of day. Black shimmers and entices more than ever before. Black beckons and invites like a black hole waiting to suck all other colors into its immense gravity until it consumes them. Because of its bold push from the shadows, Black, along with its nefarious nature, is easier to recognize. Black has become blacker.
As Black has become bolder, White has become more radiant and pure. In spite of Black’s attempts to tarnish White, it has remained untainted and continues to cast a brilliant light wherever it is invited in. White reflects the good in all the other colors around it. White has become more inviting, and I am more certain of its goodness than ever before. White’s intensity has taken on a depth that mirrors eternity. White has become whiter.
As a younger man, it was simpler to deal in Black and White. I avoided Gray. Maybe Gray made me uncomfortable because of my lack of experience. I wasn’t confident enough in my understanding of Black and White for me to pass through Gray without losing my way. Gray scared me.
As my understanding of Black and White increased, I found that Gray was not so bad. Gray allows for more personal expression. Gray is perfect for discovering how you really feel about something. Gray can allow you to interact better with others. In fact I see that much of life is lived not in the stark colors of Black and White, but in the Gray, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable there without a deeper understanding of Black and White.
I am more certain today that White is white, and that Black is black. Because of that knowledge, I am no longer afraid of Gray.
Someday, I might even understand orange.
It isn’t everyday that you swerve your car to miss a dead body in the road, but then again none of my days were ordinary as an embassy worker in Lima, Peru.
In July of 1996 I boarded an airplane in Dallas, Texas, bound for Lima, Peru. My Air Force records indicated that I was fluent in Spanish. So when the Air Force needed a pilot, fluent in Spanish, for an assignment in Peru, the computer spit out my name and two weeks later I found myself in the back of an airplane headed south.
Lima is a vibrant colonial city ringed by several shantytown barrios that sprang up during periods of civil and economic unrest. More than a million people live without running water or electricity. At night, those shantytowns, and the sections of the Pan American Highway that run through them, can become dangerous. The ill-lit sections of highway allow for numerous accidents and intentional crimes.
One night I confused my turn and got on to the Pan American Highway headed into one of those shantytowns. Realizing my mistake, and not wanting to fall victim to a crime, I varied my speed, and changed lanes often. As I crested a dark hill my high beams shone on an overpass. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a small crowd of people huddled at the side of the road. In the middle of my lane I saw a body.
I jerked the wheel. I slammed on the brakes. The car spun around and I almost lost control. I came to rest along the side of the road facing oncoming traffic. I loosened my death grip on the wheel, and saw the crowd coming my way. I wasn’t sure of their intentions. Sometimes highway bandits would use events like this as a ruse to lure you to stop. Believing the best of these people, I cracked my window to speak with them.
“Did you run over him?” asked an old man in Spanish, apparently the informal leader of the group.
“No,” I replied, “But he looks dead.”
“He was drunk and stumbled into the road. He has been run over several times, but you are the only one that stopped,” commented the old man as the crowd nodded their heads and moaned in agreement.
With the adrenaline still pumping, but not exactly sure how I could help, I rolled down my window the rest of the way and offered to call someone with my cell phone, but no one knew what number to call. I suggested they take some newspaper and light a fire to prevent other motorists from running over him again. Within a few minutes the fire prevented another collision. While I was on the phone with the embassy trying to figure out the best course of action, the flashing lights of a police car topped the dark hill I had crested several minutes earlier. As the police car came into full view, the crowd ran back to the scene to observe the spectacle, except for the old man.
“Get out of here!” he yelled. “They will blame it on you!”
No further prodding was needed. I slammed the car into gear, quickly spun it around, and hurried along the ill-lit highway on my way home, grateful that I had missed the dead body, and any blame for the poor man’s demise.
It isn’t everyday you send a son away to college, especially to a far-away place like Hawaii, but then again Cody wasn’t born on just any day.
Sometime around 2:00 am two days before Cody was born, a young gate guard from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, pulled out his sidearm and shot himself in the head while on duty. At the time we were living in a two-bedroom apartment in Wichita Falls, and I was assigned to the Services Squadron while I waited for a cockpit to open up for me (post Gulf War drawdown). One of my many duties at the time was Mortuary Officer. My phone rang around 3:00 am.
With the death of the young airman, my life went into overdrive. If you think the military controls your life while your alive, you should see how much they control things when someone dies. Long detailed checklists are initiated by several agencies when someone dies on duty, especially if it is a suicide.
When the body had been properly prepared for burial, I had to go through a checklist with the mortician and the funeral home. It was sad to see a life with so much promise terminated early by its own hand. It is even more tragic when you learn that he took his life over a couple hundred dollars in bad checks. It amazed me that someone valued their own life so little, or saw no way out of such a shallow hole, but then again we humans can be quite frail at times, even after exhibiting great strength and tenacity in other situations. I completed the obligatory checklists and went home troubled.
That night around 3:00 am, I made a call of my own. My wife Britt had gone into labor, and I called a family to help watch our oldest son Rian while we headed for the hospital at Sheppard Air Force Base. After several hours of difficult labor, Cody was born. Within twenty-four hours I had been a witness to both death and birth. I had seen the hope and promise of tomorrow snuffed out prematurely, and I had seen new life come charging forth in its mortal glory, all in the same day.
Now Cody is grown. He is a mature man ready to cross the threshold and venture into the world full of that same hope and promise. I don’t know what his future holds, but I hope he never stops believing in himself. I hope he will always value his life. I pray he will never find himself despairing in some shallow hole he might have dug for himself, wondering if he can go on. May he never forget that life, with all its happy moments and tragedies, is meant to be lived.
It isn’t an ordinary day when you send a son to college, but then again Cody isn’t an ordinary son. God speed, and as they say in Hawaii – Aloha nui loa, a hui hou kakou.
Dear Blog Readers,
Thanks for reading. A few months ago I had an idea for a magazine column that could answer questions about flying. I posted something on Facebook and asked what you would ask your Captain. With that feedback, I developed the voice and style of the column. I wrote three articles and had them reviewed by my writing coach. Of course, as soon as I got feedback, I found out that USA Today had just started a similar column.
I haven’t given up, and I am actively seeking a magazine, but in the meantime, I wanted feedback from my blog audience. So, here is the first article.
Since the days of Icarus, we mere mortals have dreamed of flying. Today, thanks to modern technology, that dream is a reality. We streak across the sky in marvelous flying machines cocooned in modern comfort. Uncommon men and women deftly manipulate the controls to carry us up into the blue yonder, and return us safely to earth.
Do cell phones really interfere with the airplane’s systems, or is it simply a big hoax intended to keep people from loudly discussing their personal problems among total strangers at 35,000 feet?
Curious in Columbus
It is true that nothing is more annoying than listening to would-be Casanova loudly ramble on about his love life in the overcrowded line at Starbucks, but the ban on cell phone usage in flight does serve a higher purpose.
The Boeing 737 is equipped with several radios for communication and navigation that operate at bandwidths similar to cell phones. Communication devices, such as cell phones and radios, are susceptible to electromagnetic interference – when the signals compete or interrupt each other. Because of concerns over electromagnetic interference with aircraft communication and navigation radios, the FCC placed the ban on in-flight cell phone use in 1991.
In addition to the FCC, the FAA also requires that any communication equipment used on a commercial airplane be tested before use. That isn’t a blanket application. That means that each time a new phone is released, the testing for that individual cell phone model would have to be completed all over again, a cost prohibitive venture. (As usual it comes down to money.) Simply put, restricting cell phone usage is the safest course of action, and it costs too much money to prove that it isn’t the safest course of action.
Several airlines have begun equipping their airplanes with WiFi, and you will soon be able to Google and Facebook as we slip the surly bonds over Kansas. That equipment has been tested. Just to keep the flight friendlier, we have restricted the use of VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol).
So, to ensure the safest possible flight, since your particular new smart phone has never been proven not to interfere, turn off your cell phone. It is still the safest course of action. Besides, nobody wants to hear you blabber on about your trip to the dentist. Turn to the person next to you and start a conversation. Heaven forbid you make a new friend by talking to someone face-to-face.
Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Here's a recent short story. Enjoy.
I had no idea how much running across the street would change my life. The accident happened so fast. One moment I was rushing to beat the traffic light, and then, suddenly, I was in the back of an ambulance on my way to the hospital - antiseptic smell, rushing medical personnel, anesthesia-induced sleep. I awoke with a pounding head, and a cast on my left leg from heel to hip.
After a few days in the hospital, they sent me home to recover, but after working on the road for most of my seventeen-year marriage, my hospital room felt more inviting. I guess all the nights of separation had subdued the signs of trouble in my marriage, but now that I was home everyday, and depressingly dependent, they lit up like neon.
Cynthia, my wife of seventeen years, feigned a smile as she set the lunch tray on my lap. “Don’t forget to take your medication,” she insisted with a cheerful, yet condescending voice.
“I’m feeling better. I don’t want to take it today. It makes me dizzy,” I complained. “Besides, I thought we could play a game or something.” I tried to sound inviting, but came across more like a pouting child.
“Now Dom, you know the pain makes you irritable. Take the medication so you can sleep the afternoon away, and be in a good mood when Caleb and Ceci get home from school.” She waved her hand as she sauntered out of the den.
I grumbled and picked at my food. I did want to be in good mood when my teenage kids got home, but her dismissive and dodgy attitude annoyed me. I slipped the pain medication into the half-eaten salad and covered it with wilted lettuce. Probably out of habit, I fell asleep in the wheelchair, but instead of sleeping the deep chemical sleep of a drugged patient, an itch under the cast roused me from my slumber.
As I came to, I heard the shower running in the master bathroom – a little odd for two in the afternoon. Since I couldn’t find the coat hanger I had been using to scratch beneath the cast, I wheeled myself to the master bathroom, but instead of finding a way to relieve an itch, I found my wife in the shower - with another woman.
The painful process of the divorce took less than three months to finalize. In those three months, my physical wounds healed nicely, but my emotional wounds deepened and spread. The pain in my left leg was replaced by a dull ache that seemed to pulse in my bones. My casual belief in God evaporated into hopelessness. I ambled listlessly through each day shrouded in a thick haze of guilt, insecurity, and anger. Thoughts of failure ran circles in my head until dark depression overcame me. One night I found myself curled up on my bathroom floor with a gun in my mouth.
I never knew how bitter gun oil tasted until I stuck the barrel of my snub-nosed Glock against the roof of my mouth. The bitterness drenched my taste buds, and lingered like the aftertaste of stale coffee. I gingerly slipped my finger over the trigger.
As my finger warmed the cool black metal, an image flooded my mind. I saw Caleb and Ceci standing at my grave. I witnessed their somber, anguished faces as they watched my casket lowered into the darkness of the earth. I felt their inquisitive teenage hearts cry out and ask me – why?
I pulled the gun away from my mouth, and spat the bitterness onto the bathroom floor. I decided that in spite of my own personal misery, I would not burden my children’s journey through life with the millstone of my suicide.
The next day at breakfast, they threw me a lifeline.
“The school is sponsoring a fun run to raise money for its sports programs, and we are all going to participate,” said Ceci. It wasn’t a request. Caleb gave a forceful glare and nodded in agreement. “It’s only a 5K, but we need to train,” said Caleb. He handed me a piece of paper. “I have a training schedule right here. We start tomorrow morning.” I took the schedule and complied with a quiet nod.
At 6 AM the next morning I heard a loud knock at my bedroom door. Ceci and Caleb were dressed, and ready for the run. I rolled reluctantly out of my bed, stumbled to my closet for my running gear, and shuffled to the living room. They quietly waited as I tied my shoes.
After the accident, I thought I would never run again, but my injuries had healed, and I found myself plodding along the trail, grinning with each step. I was out of shape, but an odd sense of euphoria enveloped me as I struggled to keep up with my kids. The early morning sun, the silent togetherness, the protective green trees that hovered over us along the trail, the daily new beginning transformed our running into therapy. Each day we traveled a little further. Each day we traveled a little faster. Each day I finished the run feeling a little more whole.
As the day of the race drew near, my muscles felt strong, tight, and ready to run. Thanks to our daily time together, my relationship with my kids was on sure footing. Hope had become my running partner, and I was ready to continue life’s race, but I was still avoiding any trail that would lead to companionship. That emotional trail was still grown over with weeds of bitterness, tall grass of anger, and prickly bushes of self-doubt.
The race scene was like a carnival - lines for T-shirts, various booths advertising their running wares, and loud upbeat music blaring out over the crowd of energetic runners and spectators. As I milled about at the starting line, a woman about my age caught my eye. It wasn’t her long brown hair in a ponytail, or her lean legs exposed by the running shorts that captured my gaze. It was the look of private pain I discerned on her face. I knew that look. I saw it every day in the mirror. She glanced at me and saw me staring. I gave her a weak smile, and a manly nod.
The gun went off. I started fast, but then settled into my pace. Caleb pulled ahead, and Ceci fell behind. Spectators cheered and encouraged along the course. At the end of the first mile I was ahead of schedule, and began to slow down, but then I saw her out of the corner of my eye - she was passing me. Our private race began. She pulled ahead at first, and I fell in behind her. When she slowed down, I passed her, but I could feel her on my heels. As we approached the last half mile, she pulled up beside me. I gave her a sideways grin and sped up. She matched my speed and grinned back.
About 100 yards from the finish line we were neck and neck. The crowd of cheering spectators grew thick along the sides of the course. It felt like everyone was now focused on our private race. She pulled a few steps ahead as I sucked air over my teeth and fought for more speed.
A bright pink ball bounced out of the crowd and on to the racecourse in front of us. She must have been so focused on the finish line that she didn’t see it. Her churning feet hit the bouncing ball. She tumbled, and frantically tried to catch herself, but sprawled across the grassy course on her stomach. I heard the air rush out of her lungs even over my own breathing. I stopped.
“Are you all right?” I asked between gasps. She moaned and rolled over onto her back. “I think I’m okay. Nothing hurt but my pride.” I extended her my hand. “Let’s finish this race.”
She grabbed my hand and pulled herself up. She winked. “Race you to the finish line!”
The crowd let out a roar as we crossed the finish line together. We both laughed. For just a moment self-doubt, bitterness, and anger melted away, and I extended my hand to her again. “I’m Dom, short for Dominick.”
Her pale green eyes sparkled as she extended her hand for the second time that day, and I knew that I was ready for another race.
I saw someone get threatened last week. It wasn’t pretty. When I cam to their defense, I was also targeted. It all happened on Facebook.
A Facebook friend of mine had vented his feelings on a particular political issue and drew the ire of one of his friends. His friend called his post “hateful” and “factually incorrect”, threatening to defriend him. When I came to the defense of my friend and to the defense of healthy debate, I was told, “I don’t know you and I don’t want to.” Ouch!
Years ago I fought against a particular proposition that had been placed on the ballot. It did not seem like good policy to me, and I spoke out against it. In the end, I was in the minority, and the proposition passed. In my angst over the loss, I wrote a clever letter to the editor expressing my disappointment in the outcome of the vote. To my surprise, they published it. A few weeks later a letter arrived. It was in a business-size envelope and had been addressed by hand. It carried no return address.
When I opened the envelope, I found a hateful and ridiculing form letter. It basically called me an imbecile and a jackass for my position. It made no argument to counter mine. It carried no facts to support another position. It did not appeal to any higher logic, or sense of justice. It was simply a venom-filled, one-way correspondence meant to make me feel small and stupid. It was anonymous. It might as well have been a rock thrown through my front window with some sort of threatening message because it displayed the same level of vitriol and cowardice.
At first the letter stung, kind of like a slap across the face, but as I pondered the letter, the slap lost its sting and I felt pride instead of pain. I had lost the vote, but in the battle of wits with faceless smear-letter writer, I had won the fight. I kept the letter as a reminder that at least once in my life, I had bested a mudslinging coward.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was elected to the local school board. She diligently went about her duties, and soon found herself in the middle of several controversial issues. I openly disagreed with her on one of the issues, and argued against her position. During that open disagreement, she visited our home on several occasions in a different capacity. Neither of us raised the issue of our disagreement. She never called me names or tried to belittle me personally for my difference of opinion. I followed her lead. In the end we never came to an agreement on the issue, and she proceeded with the course of action that I had openly disagreed with. She voted her conscience, and I lost. To this day, she commands my utmost respect because she courageously stood her ground and disagreed without being disagreeable. It was a lesson I will never forget.
It is seldom that we humans agree on anything. Disagreement is more likely the norm in our daily life. We all believe that we are right on certain issues, and it is impossible for all of us to be right. It behooves us all to learn to disagree agreeably, and not let our differences of opinion degenerate into cowardly personal attacks, or petty name-calling. We should counter arguments with facts and logic. Give our opinion politely and without rancor. Engage in civil debate. For heaven sakes, don’t threaten others with defriending because you disagree with their position. You might need that friend someday to help you repair a window.
An old weathered barn on my parent’s farm struggles to remain standing. The tin roof is rusty and full of holes. The siding is pitted from the elements and graying from age. The beams are warped and sagging. Once a proud and capable structure, each day that passes makes it less useful, and more dilapidated. It has outlived its usefulness and moved beyond its days of storing hay and protecting livestock from the elements. Its days are numbered.
Every two years my siblings and their families converge on the family farm for family reunion. Our ten-sibling family is like a large gangly ten-legged octopus whose tentacles grow longer and stronger each year. We are a prolific bunch – a lot like the rabbits that escaped from their hutches years ago and took over my Granny’s garden.
As we gathered for our recent reunion, Dad informed us that the old barn would soon be demolished because it was considered unsafe. My three brothers and I decided to salvage some of the wood and make picture frames that each family could take home as a reunion memento.
What is ingrained in our nature that sends us back home again like salmon swimming upstream? What deep human need do we fulfill by dragging our spouse and children to some long forgotten place so that they can listen to stories of old family dramas and moments of fraternal joy? What compels us to seek out our roots? Are we individuals, or do we simply exist as a part of something bigger?
The barn gave us a wary eye as we approached with tools for removing boards. Afraid of falling through the floor, we gingerly snuck into the hay loft and looked for wood that could still be used – wood that, although weathered, still had integrity. We found a few floorboards not too warped or worn. We pulled a few boards from around the corncrib. The planks groaned and fretted as we pried out the nails and extracted the selected boards.
We have long since outgrown my parent’s house, and much to my mother’s dismay, we all stayed at a local hotel. She still wanted to feed us all, but we compromised on meals. She hired a cook to prepare food from the farm, and we all chipped in to pay his fee. Our compromise allowed my mother to fill her emotional need to feed us, and allowed us to visit more instead of preparing the next meal, or cleaning up after the last one.
As we plopped the boards onto the table saw and began ripping them to a standard width, my mind turned to the hours I had spent in the barn milking our cow, stacking hay, and shelling corn in an old hand-cranked sheller. My brother and I joked that if we got the right boards, the frames would carry the smell of the barn’s history right into the living room – kind of a “scratch-and-sniff” frame.
Picture time is always the most chaotic at family reunion. Imagine taming this multilegged monster long enough to get a picture of it – with a smile on its face. Invariably parents find themselves yelling for some wayward child that has decided that the zip line installed a few yards away looks more interesting. Without fail at least one well-dressed toddler will have a complete meltdown. Miraculously, we somehow manage to document our existence for posterity one more time. This year the old barn was prominently fixed in the background.
Although aged and worn, the old barn wood proved to be hard and unyielding. The miter saw complained a bit each time I asked it to cut through a board. The wood still maintained an iron-like integrity. Its twisted shape, old knotholes, and pitted saw marks gave each frame a unique look and personality. It was as if the barn, knowing its fate, had imparted some of its spirit to the frames and could speak to the beholder from the great beyond for old barns.
We ate until we were popping at the seams, and while the kids played at various activities organized by my sister, we sat and told more stories, caught up on news, bragged about embellished accomplishments, mourned the passing of loved ones, and complained about the government. New bonds were formed. Old bonds were strengthened. Like the tough old barn wood, we spoke of the marks life had left on us, yet we also had imparted a bit of our spirit into the frame of life.
We ended with fireworks. The old barn watched as the sky flashed a phosphorous red, white, and blue. It seemed to smile upon us as we sat and watched the crescendo. The old tired timbers let out a sigh with the explosion of the last mortar. The old barn has served well, and through its work, it has left a legacy. The grain of its wood will frame a large picture of a vibrant living organization called family.
They say that every man has a mistress, and I guess that I am no exception. What makes my affair different, however, is that I started it a couple of days before I got married, over twenty years ago. I really never stood a chance against her intoxicating perfumes, and heart-catching looks. I was seduced by her strange and subtle ways, and her passion washed over me like the tide. When I came to Hawaii to marry my wife, I started a love affair with the Hawaiian Islands that I have never been willing, or able, to break off.
I met my wife on the mainland. Although a haole girl, she was born and raised in the islands and was as local as poi (a thick edible paste made from taro root). She spoke of her home with zeal, and often used superlatives. I would sometimes roll my eyes as she talked about the breathtaking beaches, strange and delicious foods, and the Hawaiian ohana - family.
When you think about the Hawaiian ohana, you think about food. Hawaiians love to eat. They load their tables with everything from traditional foods such as poi, rice, pork lau-laus, and lomi-lomi salmon, to more modern dishes such as Huli-Huli chicken. You can also find sumptuous Asian cuisine, various fusion dishes that combine the tastes of several cultures, and local-style meals like the loco-moco (a gravy-drenched hamburger patty on a bed of rice and topped with a fried egg). Hawaii even has its own version of the doughnut – the malasada (a fried dough ball covered in sugar and sometimes filled). For one of the most isolated islands in the world, they know how to eat.
Although remote, the islands offer a wide variety of activities to entertain you. Tourism is the number one industry in Hawaii, and there’s no shortage of tourist attractions. For a walk through history, visit the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, or the Bishop Museum. For a taste of the island culture, visit the Polynesian Culture Center. With miles of beckoning beaches positioned against ridgelines covered in lush rainforest, Hawaii offers something for every traveler. You can skydive, or scuba dive. You can learn to surf, or learn to swing your hips and hula dance. You can hike to a secluded waterfall, or read a book on a secluded beach.
The most famous beach in Hawaii is Waikiki. Even though it is crowded by tall condominiums and hotels, this crescent beach still maintains its iconic beauty with Diamond Head rising at its east end. You can play in the sand, soak up the warm tropical sun, or take a ride in an outrigger canoe. If you want to try your hand (or foot) at surfing, the long rolling waves of Waikiki offer the best place in the world to learn how to surf. On any given day a beginning surfer with no experience can walk up to one of the surf shacks, and learn to ride the waves within an hour.
When you’re done learning to surf, a short walk will take you to the international marketplace for spectacular shopping. The marketplace offers a variety of souvenirs and gifts that you can haggle over and bargain for. If you’re shopping budget allows for finer tastes, there are numerous boutiques and name-brand shops that offer a wide range of finer goods. At night the Waikiki shopping district is also crowded with street performers that will entertain and amuse you. Just be prepared to shell out a few bills if you do more than look at them in passing.
Snorkeling is a great way to get a passing look at another world without too much trouble. Hanauma Bay, a short drive from downtown Honolulu, is an excellent spot to view brightly colored reef fish, squid, and even green sea turtles in a safe and comfortable environment. It gets crowded, so arrive early. The entrance fee is five dollars for adults, and you will be introduced to the park with an informative video about the park and its sea life. Since the bay was formed when the ocean eroded one side of a volcano, as you enter the park from above you have a spectacular view of the entire bay and the sparkling blue water below, but the lofty view also means a steep walk up and down. Take a few extra dollars to pay for the tram ride up and down. It’s worth the money.
Cost is what keeps most people away from Hawaiian Islands, but there are several ways to reduce the overall cost of your trip. If you can, try to travel during the off-season months, such as May or October. You will find the prices cheaper, and the beaches less crowded. Look for package deals that include airfare, hotel, and rental car. Since food is your biggest expense while there, try to find accommodations with a kitchen or kitchenette, and prepare your own meals. To save on airfare, save up your frequent flyer miles. You may even consider a credit card that gives you frequent flyer miles. If you enjoy beach activities, your entertainment costs while there will be minimal.
They say that every man has a mistress, but they never tell you the true cost of such an affair. Make your affair an affordable one. Take your spouse to Hawaii, and start an island affair of your own.
I am a conservative. I vote for conservative candidates. I am not convinced that the science of global warming is solved, nor do I support a government cap-and-trade system to stem carbon emissions. I am not a tree hugger.
I am not a tree hugger because of the hypocrisy of the environmental elitists. Their do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do attitude has kept me from being as “green” as Kermit the Frog. They fly around on private airplanes drinking bottled water accepting awards for their groundbreaking “documentaries” demanding us to save the planet - So much for leading by example.
Hypocrisy aside, we do face some serious environmental challenges that threaten other species as well as our way of life. We have been poor stewards of a glorious world bursting with resources that have enhanced and enriched our lives. We have failed to care for Mother Earth and have treated her like an aging and senile mother that only deserves to be locked away in a retirement home and visited occasionally with token gifts of appreciation.
If we don’t do a better job, she is going to write both liberals and conservatives out of her will.
I am not a tree hugger, yet I care deeply about our planet and the health of our environment. I believe that conservatives can save the planet.
In the North Pacific Gyre a huge mass of debris and trash floats along swirling like some large cosmic galaxy of garbage. The currents of the North Pacific act as a gravitational pull that cause the planets of refuse to be sucked into this black hole of trash. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to be larger than the state of Texas, and it is growing.
Who is responsible for this trash catastrophe? We all are.
On average, each person generates almost 500 kilograms of waste per year. This river of rubbish is not always controlled or contained and ends up as flotsam in our streams, rivers, and eventually our oceans. Some of that litter will end up as a constellation in that galaxy of garbage in the Pacific.
As a conservative, I don’t think the problem can be solved by government decree, or through some fancy new cap and trade scheme, but it can be solved by the very people that created it – Us. Since we created the problem, we can fix it. We may not relate to saving the rain forest or feel empowered enough to stop global warming, but each of us has the power to control the trash of the world in three easy steps – Control, Reduce, and Inspire.
Our first step is to take personal responsibility for our own trash and control its disposal. The Boy Scouts have a camping policy – Leave no trace behind. We should adopt that policy in our daily lives when it comes to trash. We make sure that we leave no trace of trash behind us in our daily activities. We must control every single item of debris that we generate, right down to the smallest candy wrapper. We must never litter.
Next we should examine our daily habits and reduce the amount of waste that we create. How many things do we send off to the landfill that could be reused or recycled? If each of us recycled at least ten percent of our waste, we would reduce the amount of waste by over 15 billion kilograms of waste each year in the United States alone. Every piece of trash that we recycle is one less star in that swirling cesspool in the Pacific.
More important than regulating, reusing, or recycling, is our attitude. A conscientious attitude is contagious. If we display a genuine caring attitude towards our Mother Earth, others around us will also become more aware. We don’t have to preach some self-righteous doctrine of environmental elitism. We don’t need to browbeat our neighbors into to ecological submission. We simply need to start with our own individual actions and make our attitude contagious. Some will follow our example.
We can clean up our yard. We can clean up our street. We can clean up our neighborhood. We can clean up our city. Every piece of trash that is left to blow in the breeze or float along a waterway will eventually end up spoiling a vista or damaging a habitat. If each of us were to pick up one errant piece of trash a day, our world would be more beautiful and livable. It doesn’t take a mandate from the United Nations, it only takes the courage of one individual to act.
Future generations deserve a healthy world to live in. We owe them that much. Hypocritical environmental elitism will not accomplish the task. Individual responsibility will.
Before we set out to save the rain forest, let’s try cleaning up our own backyard.
Have you ever had to order food in a foreign country where you didn't speak the language and they didn't speak English? Here's a short segment I wrote for an exercise that shows how much you can communicate without talking. Please feel free to share any similar experiences, or explain some other nonverbal ways of communication. Just keep it clean : ).
A Quiet Breakfast
It was our first day in Brazil, and after a long sleep, Mike and I were starving. “I hope somebody speaks English in the restaurant. I’m starved,” I said as the elevator door closed.
“Who cares if anyone speaks English? You can get by without words in most places,” answered Mike. He had traveled all over the world, and this was my on-the-job training. “In fact, I’ll bet you breakfast that I can get us in and out of the restaurant without saying a word,” he said with clever smile.
I looked at him with a raised eyebrow, “You’re on.” We shook on it.
The bell rang and the door opened. Mike looked at me, winked, motioned with his head, and led the way to the hotel restaurant. As we approached the restaurant a young woman smiled and asked us something in Brazilian. Mike smiled in return and held up two fingers.
She nodded, grabbed two menus, and ushered us to a table with a motion of her hand. I took a seat across from Mike as the waitress served up a menu to each of us. Mike held up his coffee cup and smiled. The waitress nodded and looked at me. A little unsure, I hesitated in surprise, but then realized why she was looking at me and turned over my coffee mug. I’m not a coffee drinker. She nodded and scurried off in search of coffee.
Mike looked over the menu with the furrowed brow of a librarian and pursed his lips. I looked at the menu and saw the reason for his intense focus – the menu was all in Brazilian. He brought a finger to his lips and looked up as if he was searching for a translation to appear somewhere in the air above his head.
Just then the waitress appeared with a pot of coffee and began filling his cup. When the cup was two-thirds full he motioned horizontally with his hand, and she stopped filling. She held up a small ceramic pitcher with her left hand and motioned with her right hand. Mike smiled and gave a big nod. The waitress poured cream until the mug was almost full. Mike gave her a thumbs-up, took a sip, and let out a satisfied sigh. The waitress smiled and held up a pitcher of water to me. I raised my glass with a smile and she filled it with ice water.
Mike rotated the menu on the table towards the waitress and pointed to one of the dishes listed. He put his thumbs in his armpits and flapped his arms like wings. Then he made an oval shape with his fingers and nodded with questioning eyes. The waitress let out a chuckle, and nodded. Mike tapped the dish listed on the menu definitively, and gave a coordinated nod. The waitress wrote it down and looked at me with questioning eyes and pencil poised. I simply tapped the menu on the same dish hoping Mike was ordering us eggs.
The waitress took our menus and orders and headed for the kitchen. We sat like two kids playing the silent game as we waited for our food.
About ten minutes later the waitress brought two plates loaded with thin sliced ham, scrambled eggs, and some rolls with cheese melted on top. Mike gave her a big toothless grin and rubbed his hands together in anticipation, and then readied his silverware and napkin. Getting into the spirit, I motioned to my glass for more water. She nodded and filled my glass with water and recharged Mike’s coffee cup.
We ate in quiet satisfaction, only breaking our silence with the tinkling of silverware. Mike finished before me and placed his silverware on his almost empty plate, put his napkin next to his plate, and pushed his chair back slightly. He slouched his posture and sipped at the remainder of his coffee looking like the cat that ate the canary. I just shook my head and finished my breakfast.
When I tossed my napkin on the table, the waitress approached with the bill. I reluctantly reached for my wallet, but Mike held up his hand in protest and smirked. He pulled out some Brazilian money and paid. You could tell from the waitress’s eyes that the tip was more than sufficient.
In honor of my son graduating from high school next week, I want to share a some gems of wisdom I stumbled upon.
This list is the work of Charles J. Sykes, author of the 1996 book Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, Or Add, and the 2007 book 50 Rules Kids Won't Learn in School: Real-World Antidotes to Feel-Good Education.
Here are fourteen of those rules.
Life is not fair; get used to it.
The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.
You will not make 40 thousand dollars a year right out of high school.You won't be a vice president with a car phone until you *earn* both.
If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. He doesn't have tenure.
Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger-flipping; they called it opportunity.
If you screw up, it's not your parents' fault so don't whine about your mistakes. Learn from them.
Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning your room, and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. So before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents' generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades, they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This, of course, bears no resemblance to anything in real life.
Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.
Television is not real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.
Rule No. 12: Smoking does not make you look cool. It makes you look moronic. Next time you're out cruising, watch an 11-year-old with a butt in his mouth. That's what you look like to anyone over 20. Ditto for "expressing yourself" with purple hair and/or pierced body parts.
Rule No. 13: You are not immortal. (See Rule No. 12.) If you are under the impression that living fast, dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse is romantic, you obviously haven't seen one of your peers at room temperature lately.
Rule No. 14: Enjoy this while you can. Sure parents are a pain, school's a bother, and life is depressing. But someday you'll realize how wonderful it was to be a kid. Maybe you should start now. You're welcome.
Good advice to both high school and college graduates.
Feel free to add a few rules of your own.
What makes a nation a nation? Is it the borders that enclose and define it? Is it the language or languages spoken by its citizens? Does a specific culture determine nationhood? What makes a nation a sovereign entity or does a nation ever really rise to the level of sovereignty? Perhaps the notion of a nation is simply something we invent in our minds to help us better classify and organize our perception of the world. What makes a nation a nation?
It is true that language, culture, and geographic borders are characteristics of a nation, but characteristics do not a nation make. The Hawaiian Islands have a unique language, culture, and clearly discernable borders, yet they exist as a part of the United States of America, not an independent nation.
Only one thing can give birth to a nation and sustain its existence – Law - clear, enforceable, binding law.
A few years ago a member of my church drove into Mexico in search of shopping deals. As soon as he crossed the border, the Federales stopped him. They politely asked to search his vehicle, and he, being unfamiliar with the laws of Mexico, consented. During their very thorough search they found a small amount of ammunition in the glove compartment of his vehicle (a crime in Mexico). It took him several months to get released from a Mexican prison and return home to his anxious family.
Harsh you say? He broke the law in Mexico, and he suffered the consequences of a clear, enforceable, and binding law. That is what makes a nation a nation.
Another friend of mine was taking pictures of the subway in Moscow, clearly a heinous crime worthy of punishment. A Russian “Barney Fife” wrote him a ticket, and except for the quick talking of my friend’s interpreter, the official would also have taken his camera.
Ridiculous you say? He broke the law in Russia, and was punished by clear, enforceable, and binding law. That is what makes a nation a nation.
In 1994 Michael Fay pleaded guilty to vandalizing cars and stealing road signs in Singapore. He was sentenced to four months in jail, fined 3,500 Singapore dollars, and six strokes with a cane.
Cruel and unusual you say!? He broke the law in Singapore, and was sentenced according to clear, enforceable, and binding law. That is what makes a nation a nation.
Every nation in the world has as system of laws in place that dictate the requirements for entering and leaving its borders. Such laws dictate the required paperwork, points of entry, period of stay, and often include such minute details as the size of the rubber stamp and ink color in the inkpad. Nations that don’t control the movement of foreigners within their borders may soon find themselves in peril. Without those laws would a nation really be a nation?
We need only look to the history of the State of Texas as an example of what can happen if a nation fails to control the influx of foreigners. After winning its independence, Mexico encouraged and allowed organized immigration into Mexican Texas, but in few short years immigrants from the United States greatly outnumbered the Mexicans. This disparity fomented the flames of rebellion within a few short years, and the rebellion soon resulted in the formation of the Republic of Texas. Remember the Alamo? The Mexican nation was unable to enforce its laws in Texas, and a new nation rose up in its place.
We face a similar dilemma.
We as a nation need the “huddled masses” of immigrants. We rely on the influx of both talent and manpower to enrich our nation. Our immigration laws are structured to control that influx. But if our government simply ignores those who defy immigration law, then it is officially aiding and abetting criminals, and will not long stand as a ruling body.
Under the Constitution, our legal system clearly allows for freedom of speech, including speech that runs counter to our own established laws. Therefore, people that are here illegally are free to speak out against the very laws that they are breaking, without consequence. We should not change the law to eliminate freedom of speech.
However, if WE, as a governing body, wish to continue as a nation, WE must enforce our clear and binding immigration laws. If we consider our laws to be inappropriate or unenforceable, then we must work to change them. We cannot simply look the other way and pretend that the law will change. We must not be duped into believing that no consequences will follow our failure to enforce our immigration laws. The rule of OUR law is what makes US a nation.
We face a crossroads as nation, if we wish to remain a nation. Will we enforce our clear and binding immigration law, or will we cease to be a nation?
I recently wrote this small segment as an exercise and wanted to share it. It expresses my personal perceptions of my Grampy, Charles Talley.
A Man of the Earth
I can still remember the smell of the tall green grass as I crawled through the field behind my Grampy’s house. My older brother and I would spend hours stealing through the pasture as we hunted each other with “guns” made from tobacco sticks. They were memorable days, but not as memorable as my Grampy himself.
“You boys put your guns away and come in for dinner,” said Grampy as we crawled out of our own private jungle. He spoke with a deep baritone voice that didn’t match his small frame and seemed to reverberate right through us. It was like hearing the horn of a large truck come from a small car, or the foghorn of a large cruise ship singing out from a tugboat.
I never heard him raise his voice, but then again, he didn’t have to. His voice was accustomed to being obeyed, and willed you to do as he commanded without changing in volume. Its rich, solid tones penetrated you clear to the bone, and took away your will to do anything other than what he directed.
In spite of his commanding voice, he was terse and chose his words carefully. He would engage in deep conversation by listening intently, and then speak a few carefully thought out sentences of substance.
A man of the earth, most summer afternoons you could find Grampy in his beautiful garden tending to the soil and nurturing his tomato plants, green beans, and corn. He loved to make things grow, and would carry the smell of freshly turned soil to the dinner table.
His face was often expressionless, except the eyes. His misty hazel eyes seemed to penetrate and look deep into a problem or a person. They also carried a slight measure of sadness, deposited there by the many hardships he had faced.
He had contracted typhoid fever as a child, and the disease had hindered his growth, leaving him shorter than most men and of small build. He had a slight, almost imperceptible limp or shuffle that resulted from the disease, but his size only disguised his strength and quickness. When we playfully challenged him we would feel his vice-like hands clamping down on a shoulder, or feel the playful slap of his soft palm across our cheek. We would laugh as he utterly manhandled us and gave a resonating chuckle of delight.
Charles Talley, my Grampy, was a rock. He courageously faced the adversities of life without asking for quarter. Even as I stood watching him on his deathbed, I sensed that he was a man of substance, not easily swayed by the winds of calamity. In my mind, I could hear his strong baritone voice calling me to dinner, and smell the green grass and soft moist soil.
Fighter pilots sometimes classify other pilots as follows - There are fighter pilots and pilots that fly fighters. I must admit that after a couple of years in the A-10 I still considered myself the latter. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy flying fighters. I loved the flying immensely. It does mean that I never felt completely worthy to classify myself with the first group.
The other night I was helping my son with a school project about the Cold War and the Berlin Airlift. He shrugged off my suggestions, like he so often does, leaving me feeling a bit rejected. I wanted to shake him and let him know that I was there when the Berlin Wall came down. I had taken a piece of the wall, and bought old East German military trinkets at Brandenburg Gate. So, I went in search of my piece of the wall.
I pulled out some old boxes of memorabilia and started digging. I found all my old Air Force awards officially describing my accomplishments. I found old photos of a younger me daring the world to put me to the test. I was able to share a bit of history with him and bring his assignment to life, but I never found my piece of the wall.
I found some old journals, back from when I kept a regular journal like I should now. As I opened the dusty pages of bad handwriting, I recognized that same self doubt that keeps me from classifying myself with the first group. Line after line of self-effacing emotional drivel. No wonder I never felt adequate. No piece of the wall here.
My kids were a little surprised at my awards and decorations. To them I’m just the guy that goes to work and comes home complaining that the house isn’t clean. They asked why I didn’t hang them all on a wall to show them off. They asked me to explain what I had done to be honored with each one. Each time I simply smiled. No piece of the wall here.
Past personal accomplishments hold little value for me. Today is a new day, and demands new achievements. I would rather be trying and failing today than reliving the few successes of yesterday. Yesterday is just a lost piece of the wall.
Fighter pilots may never classify me as one of their own, but I’m ok with that. Today is a new day.
I had the pleasure of taking my sister and her husband to breakfast the other morning while on an overnight in Los Angeles. He found a nostalgic diner nearby complete with walls of stone, wood paneling, and cozy u-shaped booths covered in red vinyl. The staff was very friendly and the menu inviting - except for the eggs benedict. The waitress informed us that they couldn’t serve hollandaise sauce with the eggs benedict because it contains high levels of trans fat, and that is against the law in California.
According to the Los Angeles Times the law requires restaurants to use oils, margarines and shortening with less than half a gram of trans fat per serving and is punishable by a fine of up to $1000. "California is a leader in promoting health and nutrition, and I am pleased to continue that tradition by being the first state in the nation to phase out trans fats," Schwarzenegger said. "Consuming trans fat is linked to coronary heart disease, and today we are taking a strong step toward creating a healthier future for California." (July 26, 2008Patrick McGreevy, Times Staff Writer)
Of course this begs the question, what other self-destructive activities should the government outlaw in the name of personal health? After all if the government is footing the bill for health care then they should be able to outlaw activities that are harmful (or potentially harmful) to our health. You can just hear your parents saying, “As long as you live under my roof, and I pay the bills…”
What will be outlawed next? Motorcycle riding? Unprotected sex? Surfing large waves? Twinkies with chocolate milk? Running with scissors?
Our personal liberties are directly linked to our level of personal responsibility. If we are willing to accept the consequences of our actions, then we should be free to make those decisions, provided they do no harm to others. If we wish to be protected and cared for at every turn, then we will eventually give up all of our personal liberties in the name of comfort or protection. Any risky activities will be outlawed or severely restricted in the name of health and safety.
We all make intentional personal decisions that sometimes carry harmful consequences to ourselves, or even others. But making those choices and suffering the consequences is what freedom is all about. No risk – No reward.
The questions is do we really want the government so deeply involved in our personal daily decisions? I guess that depends on whether or not your want hollandaise sauce with your eggs benedict.
If you were about to board a transcontinental flight and several Muslim passengers from your flight knelt in prayer in the boarding area would you feel uncomfortable? Would you feel the same way about a group of Orthodox Jews with yalmurkas and long traditional beards gathered in prayer? How would you feel about a group of Nuns or maybe even Mormon missionaries? How do you feel about public displays of faith?
As an airline pilot, I see public displays of faith everyday. I guess more people are afraid of flying than care to openly admit. I see Muslims praying in the boarding area. I see Catholics crossing themselves just before they step on to the plane. I see people kiss their fingers and tap them on the plane for good luck. One Bible-carrying passenger stopped and told me how she said a prayer every time she took her seat on the plane. I just grinned and said, “You too!?”
Faith is the motivating force behind all of our lives. I don’t care what you believe about God, if you didn’t have faith that the sun was going to come up, you wouldn’t get out of bed. Unless you have knowledge of the future, your every action is driven by faith. Every accomplishment beyond our simple existence of the moment requires faith.
Various religions require overt acts of faith. These acts include everything from silent prayer, to bathing in the Ganges River. Each public display of faith demonstrates to the world, and to the intended god, that the believer has faith strong enough to evoke action. Action, the highest form of faith, is required to demonstrate one’s level of faith.
But what if these acts of faith interfere with or even harm the lives of others? A suicide bomber in the name of Allah, car bombings to resolve a dispute between Catholics and Protestants, Sikh assassinations to end perceived religious oppression, all have the same thing in common – violence committed in the name of faith.
Clashes between good and evil sometimes do escalate to the level of violence, but I don’t believe that the fight against evil requires the willful taking of innocent lives. The battle against evil requires that we change lives – starting with our own.
So the next time you board a flight, go ahead and display your faith in public. Maybe your overt act of faith will inspire someone. We only hope that it inspires others to do good - not wet their pants in fear.
Years ago while living in South America, I became a fan of a Spanish singer, Jose Luis Perales. His song, “Cómo Es El”, was one of my favorites. The song is poetic, as most of his songs are, and speaks of stolen love as the couple separates. Cómo es el literally means ‘how is he’ or more clearly translated, ‘what is he like?’ The forsaken lover painfully and pointedly questions the departing woman about the nature of the conquering rival, and where exactly did he fall in love with her. I always considered it a poignant and moving song. And then the other day I found out the real meaning behind the song, and it deepened my understanding of the song making the poignancy downright visceral.
I found out that the ‘forsaken lover’ was a father questioning his daughter as she announced her betrothal. With the new information in mind, I played the song again. Since I now have three daughters, an entirely new wave of emotion overcame me as the old lyrics played, and I must admit that I cried. It was, as they say, a significant paradigm shift.
How often does new information completely change our outlook, our feelings, or our understanding of something? Perhaps it doesn’t happen enough.
We often trudge along in life from one event to another without opening our eyes, ears, and minds to other possibilities. We entrench ourselves in our mindset and fight off any new information as if it were an invading army hell-bent on destroying our way of thinking. In the end, like the trench, our thinking becomes narrow, monotonous, and goes nowhere productive.
If, however, we build our house of thought on the rock of truth, then we can gladly welcome in any new idea or thought into the walls of our home for examination without fearing the outcome. If it is truth, we gladly give it space and welcome it as we would a new member of our family. If it is not truth, then we can confidently and cordially show it to the door. Because the foundation is strong, the house can withstand any paradigm shifts.
Truth needs no defense. We need not hedge it or protect it. We need simply learn it, proclaim it, and ally ourselves to it.
My paradigm shift deepened my admiration for a beautiful song, but now when I hear the words, my emotions will be different than before. The song is still poetic and poignant, but the truth about its meaning made me feel its emotional message more deeply than before – perhaps because I now have three daughters that are growing up too fast.
I recently wrote a small segment about love as part of a writing exercise that I wanted to share. BTW, don't forget about Valentines Day!
“Why should I let you live?” said my captor. His accented delivery was smooth and even, but his voice had the quality of wrinkled sandpaper.
I paused. I could smell my own breath as it tried to escape from the coarse bag over my head. The mind is a funny thing, especially under panic. One thought dominated my mind – a line from a movie.
“True Love,” I said simply and clearly.
Silence dominated. No motion. No breathing. Awkward silence. The seconds sped away until the grit from his voice scraped away the silence. “Tell me about her and why you love her.”
In the darkness, I closed my eyes that I might see more clearly the images of her. I took a deep breath and began.
“I began to love her many years ago. Her unabashed smile and unmistakable zest for life attracted me from the first moment I laid eyes on her. She was laughing and talking with a buddy of mine and her bushy blonde hair gleamed in the sun. She smiled with gusto, not some half-hearted reserved smile. It was the kind of smile that starts somewhere deep in the heart and bursts across the face like the sunrise. Her blue eyes sparkled and her laugh was contagious. We dated and everything felt so natural – no jealously, no drama, no weirdness. We became inseparable friends. It was a warm spring afternoon in the mountain canyon when I first knew that I was in love with her. As we drove down the winding canyon road she suddenly made me stop the car so that she could pet some cows in a field beside the road. I laughed! But as I watched her in the afternoon sun gently coaxing the cows to the fence with her delightful voice, my affection for her bubbled up inside of me making me tingle inside. I knew I was in love with her.”
“You speak only of young love or, how do you say, infatuation. That is not true love,” said the captor skeptically.
“We were married a few months later in the summer. The hot summer nights were filled with passion and yearning desire. We drank deeply from the sumptuous waters of sexual intimacy. We discovered the previously uncharted country of giving each other guiltless sensual pleasure as a husband and wife that had become as one flesh. Nights filled with sweet sweat, wet lips, skin to skin, and synchronized scintillating motion. Our love…”
“Now you speak only of sexual desire!” interrupted the voice. “Surely you are not trying to convince me that such emotions are true love!”
I continued, increasing the pace of my words. “The romantic passion gave way to the ebb and flow of two lives combined in the fight to win at the daily grind. We locked arms and focused our efforts on common goals and worthy horizons. We started a family – one…two…three…four children. Each time she stared death in the face and endured great pain to bring our children into this world. Her life became an endless battle against dirty diapers, snotty noses, and cluttered carpets. My life became a balancing act of earning a living and raising children. We adopted two more needy children and brought them into our circle of love. Our family…”
I could almost hear my captor shake his head and roll his eyes as he interrupted again. “Now you bore me with details of family life! Do you expect me to believe that true love comes from raising children?! Bah!”
I continued, even faster than before. “We set off in new directions as our children grew. We encouraged each other and took up new hobbies together. We…”
“Drivel! Love is not learning new things together!”
I continued at a panicked pace. “We grew old together and learned to support each other through sickness and injury. We cared for each others needs by…”
“Enough! Any nurse can do that! Since when is that TRUE LOVE?”
I stopped and sobbed softly to myself not knowing what to say.
After a long pause, I felt the captor’s mouth close beside me. His scratchy voice raked softly across my ear. “I have your wife in the next room. One of you must die. Will you die for her?”
“YES!” I shouted without hesitation.
I heard the legs of the chair squeak roughly against the floor as my captor stood. “THAT is true love!” he said.
I heard the hinges moan as the door opened. I heard the sound of metal against metal as the door swung firmly shut. I prayed for the safe release of my dear wife, and I waited happily to die.
Happy Valentines Day! May you find TRUE LOVE!
Growing up in a big family we had one black-and-white TV, and limited space on the couch. If you got up to go to the bathroom you had to yell, “Seat back!” or when you returned you would find a brother or sister sitting comfortably in your coveted spot. It was our way of laying claim to our place in the family.
“How far we all come. How far we all come away from ourselves. You can never go home again.” (James Agee; “A Death in the Family”)
It is an adage that rings true over an over again. As soon as we cross the childhood threshold in search of our own life, we are forever changed. Our childhood home changes in our absence, and can never be reclaimed.
I recently enjoyed an overnight visit with my parents who still live on the family farm in Kentucky. Amid the discussion of kids, good books, and politics, I felt the usual nagging regret that the choices I made have led me far away from my parents. I mean that in a geographical sense not an emotional one, but sometimes one follows the other.
My parents and I have managed to stay quite close emotionally over the years and across many miles of road and sky, but I can’t help but feel a sense of loss when I let my mind wonder about what might have been - If only I lived closer… Interestingly enough, only two of my parents’ ten children still live nearby. The rest, like me, charted courses and made decisions that took us to far-away (and sometimes strange) places.
What made us all seek new horizons? For starters, we all got luggage as a graduation present. It was their way of nudging, or pushing, us out of the nest. The luggage symbolized our independence and encouraged us to seek new horizons. When I returned home after a lengthy stay in South America, my parents treated me differently. I was no longer a child, and although many unspoken expectations remained in place, a sense of freedom and independence was also prevalent. I could never go home again. It was time to make a home of my own, and I had been empowered and encouraged to do so.
I move forward in life not because I am fleeing from my past and all that it represents, but because I am grounded in it and all its good teachings. I don’t seek new horizons because old horizons have grown stale, but because they have motivated me onward in their grace and beauty. My parents taught me that life is a journey, not a destination. My journey has been good, and I don’t wish to hasten down the highway because the scenery wasn’t good behind me, but because it was so good that it made me anticipate the journey ahead with greater desire.
We are a family of strong-willed individuals, who, happily and surprisingly, have managed to stay close across the miles. Maybe you can’t go home again, but you don’t have to be a stranger to your family either. Just yell, “Seat back!” on your way out the door to save your spot.
Well it’s that time of year again - time for New Year’s resolutions. You resolve to do or become something during the upcoming year. I like goals. They keep your life focused. They give purpose to otherwise empty days or moments. They give you a sense of accomplishment when you actually reach the goal you set. Goals are good… most of the time.
This past year I set several goals, and I even achieved some of them. I distinctly remember looking at my goals for 2009 after writing them down and realizing they looked similar to my goals for 2008, 2007, and several years in a row. I was setting similar goals every year. They were more like “to-do” lists than goals.
This year, some opportunities came along that I never anticipated or even dreamed about. I didn’t feel so bound by my written resolutions that I couldn’t pursue new opportunities. I marched off in new directions, and I am happier because of it.
As I thought about that experience, it made me wonder, “Does God set goals?” I think He does.
I think He has a purpose for all of His creations and therefore He sets “goals” to help those creations. If He sets the planets in motion and creates galaxies full of life and splendor, then He has purpose and knows what He hopes to accomplish. If a sparrow cannot fall without His knowledge, surely He has a plan for our lives both individually and collectively. If He commands us to be “perfect”, then He will provide a roadmap and a means of measuring the fulfillment of the stated objective. I think God is a goal setter.
Not only do I think God is a goal setter, but I also think He wants us to have worthy goals of our own. He wants us to be happy, and He knows that we cannot be happy by seeking only pleasure or by standing still. We must take the resources we have, and with our talents, skills, and sheer effort create “galaxies” of our own.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”
I have felt the hand of the God I worship gently and lovingly nudge me as I strive to become, and to achieve, and I am happier because of it.