Monthly Archives: December 2014

It’s a bad time to do a good thing.

New Year’s is a bad time to do a good thing.

Statistically speaking, that is.  88% of resolutions fail.

Your good intentions have a much better chance of sticking through the new year if you resolve to start today versus a few days from now.

A resolution isn’t so much about stopping a bad thing or starting a good thing. A resolution is a reasoned act, a state of mind, an informed decision which ties itself to no time or place or predicates itself upon no white-knuckled act.

Simply, if you reason yourself into a good enough conclusion, the dissonance you experience when your decision is first tested should produce such discomfort that siding with any decision other than the one best reasoned will make you crazy in the head.

Resolutions begin there and succeed there.

So maybe the best use of the next few days would be to do your research about what you’d like to achieve, begin, stop or otherwise resolve to do.  Write down good arguments for your goal and even the lame arguments against it.  The juxtaposition of the “for and against” list will help you see the empty reasons you’ve been believing that have kept you from making this resolution sooner.

Then, when you’ve completed that list, make a separate list that tangibly describes what you imagine your life to be like having achieved your goal (i.e. $200/month  savings from not buying cigarettes, fitting into your favorite jeans again, a richer spiritual life from morning scripture reading.)

Statitistically speaking, today is the best day to make a meaningful resolve for a better life.

For that matter, isn’t any day?

LMSM,

Don

 

The Christmas we slapped a little black girl upside the head

I could sell ad space here.

With  a title like that, curiosity alone would get me enough hits to  fund my retirement.  But I’ve opted for the noble thing and will tell you the truth. I always tell the truth. All of my stories are true and actually happened at some bizarre  time in my life. In this instance, it was 6th grade and we not only slapped her, we tackled her to the ground and jumped on her head. Many times.

My best friend was Steve Hoenig. He lived across the street and we attended the brand new neighborhood elementary school Cyril Wengert.  It was the same year I had ‘called out’ Tony Francisco in Mr. Saxon’s class at recess.  I had no business calling anyone out (an expression which, in that era, meant “I’m mad and want to hit you but I can’t do it in class so by all means, let’s beat each other up in front of the entire school at the next recess when we can both be horribly embarrassed and humiliated at a critically formative and  impressionable age.” I was pushing 98 pounds fully clothed and wet. Tony, fortunately for me, was the slow moving fat boy of the class and as scared as me as we watched the hours pass, counting down, knowing that when the bell rang, thirty two kids were expecting a show that neither of us were equipped to perform. If he was the class donut that morning, I was the french fry in a highly tweeted mismatch of weight divisions.

But I digress.

Steve and I had good parents. That is to say they were parents who forced us to be well rounded in extracurricular activities, which necessarily included Chorus class.  Nowadays, it would be called Gender Humiliation class because, to my recollection, we were the only boys.  I could be wrong, but when you hear the story, you’ll understand.

It was Christmastime and the last day of school before the Christmas break.  Miss Neurosis (not her real name, but could have been) had drilled us on the Christmas concert rehearsal for weeks. She was less concerned with how we sounded but absolutely ape shit about choreographic perfection. It was her first year teaching in a new school and she had a reputation to build.  The Christmas concert was a pageant in which her disorder would be made public.  It didn’t matter that 6th grade was statistically the worst adolescent betting year for vocal perfection, it was the spectacle that mattered.

Oh, did I mention how I remembered this story?  OMG.

I was in church during the real solemn part of the Christmas eve candlelight service and as we passed our candle flame down the aisle, I began to giggle. By the time the entire congregation was fully illuminated and halfway through Silent Night, I had spent the previous 5 minutes camouflaging my laughter as if it was a spontaneous public outpouring of unrequited grief. When we were instructed to extinguish our candles, I lost it.  I wailed aloud.  Those around me made vain attempts to console what looked like a grief reaction that broke the Kubler-Ross scale.  Before I was found out, I got up and ran down the aisle, through the exit door and to my car while they still believed I was moved by the Holy Spirit instead of Satan.

I will never sing Silent Night again without thinking of stomping on a little black girl.

But I digress again.

Where was I?

Okay, so it was the night of the performance and Miss Neurosis had gone over the procedure for blowing out our individual candles at the very end of the last song for the very last time before we made our dramatic entry.

The room was packed and the choral ensemble was robed in perfectly ironed black gowns with white starched collars that framed the 70 or so partly pimpled faces. Our group entered from both sides of the room. It was quite dramatic.  Steve lead the group on the right and the little black girl lead the group on the left, followed closely by me and a trail of singing 6th graders cascading down the staircase behind as we ascended both sides of the staircase to the balcony above step by step in rhythm like a dirge.  The group on the right, lead by Steve, met our group at the exact center of the platform high above the room. Our candles were lit and we were singing Silent Night in the climax of the evening performance and the end of the school year for two whole weeks.

So there, at the top of the balcony, in the perfect center, was the little afroed black girl, flanked on either side by Steve and I.

I said afroed but what I meant to say was AAAAAFRRROOOOEEDDD. A huge, bulbous, perfectly round, black, afro of hair sprayed so thick with hair spray like flocking on a tree, that it was almost reflective.   The afro was in fashion in 6th grade, but only for a little while longer.

Miss Neurosis’ choreography was for one slow, unified and dramatic move whereby our closely held candles and illuminated faces would extinguish simultaneously as a group at the end of the song on the word “…peace.”  Each student was to blow “Peeeeeaaacceee” as a stream of air that–at least hypothetically– blew out the candle as we bowed our heads in unison. We had never practiced with real flames.

At this point, I’d like to pause for a Wikipedia definition of the term “Roman Candle.”

Roman candle is a traditional type of firework that ejects one or more stars or exploding shells. Roman candles are banned in some countries due to their tendency to cause accidents.   They come in a variety of sizes, from small 6 mm (1/4″) diameter to 10.2 inches, roughly the size of a 6th grader’s head.

The moment had arrived. “Peeeeeaaacccee.”

Try it now. “Peeeeeeaaaacceee.”  There is no consonant or fricative sufficient enough to pucker your lips or give any candle-extinguishing breath velocity with the word. But we all tried and Miss Neurosis was in the back of the room flustered at this huge error in her enunciative judgment which kept the staircase of candles flickering much longer than expected.  But as if that wasn’t enough humiliation….

Afros are flammable.

Add a can of Aqua Net.

6th graders can’t do two things at once.  Especially without fricatives.

We dipped our heads and blew our vowels with open mouths and the like a reverse Oreo filling at the top center of the balcony.  She burst into flames between me and Steve  like some glorious high rise explosion. For a moment, it was beautiful. Like a Chia Pet caught fire.  The flame rounded the outskirts of her head in a circular pattern faster and faster.

She didn’t know what hit her.

With our bowed heads sneaking a glance at each other through the flames, Steve and I recognized the opportunity to be heroes.  So we turned and beat the little black girl’s head, pushed her to the floor and used our feet to stomp out the remnant of her smoldering do. Miss Neurosis had long since fainted in disgrace at the back of the room and missed the rising crescendo of applause at our valiant effort.

With the beaten black girl still on the ground in ashes, we did the next best thing.

We took a bow.

And the audience roared with gratitude.

And Tony Francisco and the entire 6th grade class forever knew me as a hero.

That was the year the cornrow was invented.

And we all had a Merry Christmas.

And let it begin with me.

Peace on earth is wished in greetings of prose and song this time each year. But is peace on earth really possible or just a relic, an outdated greeting from simpler times long ago when there was a lot more of it? Giving up on peace would be a resignation of hope and I don’t think most of us are ready for that just yet.

But fewer and fewer believe peace on earth is genuinely attainable.  It sounds warm, lovely and hopeful like many  season’s greeting cards, but is just as quickly drowned out by the next hostile report of murder, war and mayhem next door or across the globe.

I, however, believe peace on earth is still possible.

Peace on earth is a movement.

What if you abandoned the impossible thought of global peace and viewed peace on earth emerging as a series of individual efforts which, consistent and connected, create the cause of peace and move it forward, if but an inch with each?  Movements by definition, move. They gain momentum.  They don’t stop.  Those who would pay peace forward do so in small, imaginable, deliberate ways.  And not because of a season.

Peace is the easing of pain, the healing of wounds, the comfort of the afflicted. Peace is a warm coat, a hot meal, a ride to the store or a touch to the untouchable?  We can do peace. Each of us.

Peace on earth is a sacrifice.

It takes effort.  Selfish people will never have peace because they never give it.  It’s up to the rest of us.  And this time of year, there is more indulgence than at any other.   But conversely, peace-full people make extra effort.  Stories of individual and family gives, abandonment of conformity to the commercialization of the holidays and ensembles of strangers uniting for the purpose of sharing with the impoverished abound.

Peace on earth is deliberate.

Peace on earth will not ride in on the coattails of a determined leader.  It won’t take residence in a world of good intentions.  It cannot be legislated or mandated.   It won’t arrive in a wave of mass conviction.  Peace on earth will come only deliberately, one act of goodwill at a time.  And peace on earth is not bound by a time of year.

Peace on earth is an all-year commitment.

When the holiday season ends, so does the giving.  Corporate giving isn’t expected to continue throughout the year when PR opportunities are fewer and less available.  Likewise, individual giving drops.  People justify their inaction by complaining they are tapped out.  But the movement of peace doesn’t slow or stop simply because the season is over. It never lacks resources. It doesn’t take a break.  It moves. It has to.

Very shortly, the celebration will be over.

But the cause of peace will go on, feeding the hungry, warming the cold and touching the neglected, with or without you, albeit with less momentum, but never lacking intention.

At this time and at all times, our wish must be

let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Don’t give up the hope. We can get there.  Vow with me to keep the momentum.

 

Christmas is all in my head.

They woke us up at daybreak from what little warmth our lightweight tent provided, promising what was about to occur would be unforgettable.

It was to be the thrill of a lifetime for little boys like us. In about ten minutes, we would experience the climax event of our fifty mile summer backpacking trip through the high sierras at the hands of our fathers who always made life fun and memorable. What could possibly be so exciting at daybreak above the timber line, halfway into our two week trip where we’d seen no one but each other on the trail the entire time?
But they promised. And all three dads were looking to the sky, grinning in anticipation.
We were their young men. They thought us unaware of the flasks they’d stowed in their backpacks for times like this. We had spent the last eight days in blistered boots and full packs across grueling still-snowy switchbacks on summer vacation to arrive here. Along the way, they had taught us how to fall in love with the mountains and the mornings, though we’d fallen asleep early the night before out of exhaustion and a dinner of freeze dried somethings.
But we were awake. Out in the cold at 8,500 feet, Thousand Island Lake’s shimmering surface stretched out before us reflecting the morning sun, and the majesty of Banner Peak glowed rising like an orange God at the very end of our lake. Even at 12 years old, it was a breathtaking view. Behind us were the many miles during which time we’d been becoming men, having traveled together to this glorious elevation alone, seeing no other soul for many miles or days.
We were irritated at the surprise awakening, too young for coffee, too cold for Tang this early. Still, we stood there in the cold morning air, dirty and with frozen breath gazing up as men, awed and beholden by beauty.
And then…far behind us beyond the horizon…and what seemed miles away but on fast approach, we could hear it. Three grinning dads glanced our way, sipped their scotch and coffee and returned their gazes upward as if to welcome the second coming of Christ in our midst. We were increasingly awake, a huddled group of little boys, alarmed at what we were hearing but strangely comforted by relaxed smiles of our dads. A loud rumble at first, it gained deafening high frequency and intensified our way. I feared a bomb or a meteor shot from space and we were at ground zero.
From behind, the lake shook, we vibrated and with hardly enough time to turn to look, the F-15 fighter jet raced in front of our team across the surface of the shaken lake and went seemingly perpendicular up the face of Banner Peak. And as quickly as the deafening noise broke our early morning silence, it disappeared and faded into the rays of the blue morning sky and in unison, our gasped breath.
We weren’t quite sure what we’d just experienced but something had flown into our lake valley and disappeared as quickly over the mountain ahead. It was an incredible sense of awe as if God himself had paid us a very loud and fast morning visit.
Our three dads had made prior arrangement with a family friend on a fighter pilot cruise for a surprise fly by that very morning in this most unlikely place of all.
A rite of passage, that morning, we became men.
If we’re not careful, the frenzy of the holiday season can steal from us the most lasting of all gifts. Memories of our childhood, recollections of times past when we were young, innocent and impressionable. Times when big things happened that made us marvel at the hands of parents who wanted nothing more than to see our surprised faces and smiles.
For older men, nostalgia is a wonderful gift. It entertains, it brings stories of joy and takes us to simpler times and nearly forgotten experiences with people who now only exist in our ability to remember them as they were.
I may have lost my dad, but I will never lose the memories he made for me as a little boy. They are wonderful gifts that give forever and make me smile like a twelve year old even now.

This is a little piece of Christmas I carry all year long.