Night Sky Epiphanies

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Ocean horizons at night are the most beautiful backdrops for deep contemplation and meditation. I have integrated meditation into my daily life for quite some time now. It lets me shed the stresses of the day and decompresses my mind. Sometimes the experience is euphoric and great moments of clarity illuminate the path forward. There is a rhythm to everything – you just have to be adept at finding it and listen. All of the answers are there..

Standing at the Edge of the World

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I have lived near the ocean for most of my life. It’s a part of who I am and I am at my best self there. The edge of the world is a majestic place. It rejuvenates me on a warm Summer night, it makes me believe in what really matters on an early sunrise stroll and it gives me an often-needed kick in the ass during a good storm. It feeds my soul. When I arrive at the edge of the world, I see a canvas unfolding before me. When I walk along it, I am the canvas. It’s a powerful thing in my life..

Lost in Translation: How to Win and Influence Friends at the Coffee House

 

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Have you ever wished there was a reset button on a person? You know, just one of those big, old red studs in the center of their chest that take both of your thumbs to push while you yell “CLEAR!” and their mind re-boots. This sure would have come in handy this morning as I waited in line behind someone at a local coffee house who was clearly having a bad day.

Now, I’m not just talking about someone with a brown aura or body language suggesting that detonation was imminent – though I did take a quick inventory of the nearest exits and did a mental run-through of how I could reasonably escape a nuclear meltdown. I’m nimble like that..

No, this woman was in a funk. Her blouse was inside-out, she had on mismatched shoes and her hair was going nine-ways-to-Sunday. She wasn’t fully enaged yet. What I mean by that is that she (and I know this because I used to do it) was one of those folks who “got” up at 8:00 AM but “woke” up at 10:00 AM. The first couple of hours are completely auto-pilot. Listen, some of us are morning people, and others prefer to be night owls. Neither is any better or worse than the other. Our differences are the stuff that makes the world go ’round.

Back to the java joint incident.. She ordered her morning fuel of choice like a buzzer at the end of a basketball game. As an addendum, she proceded make it widely known that she always gets the wrong order here and could they please, just for once, listen to her – for the love of all that was holy. This went on for at least a couple of minutes. I did learn something from this little diatribe, though. Apparently, standard granulated sugar in an iced coffee is akin to hearing fingernails on a chalkboard. It has to be liquid sugar or the drink is swill. I made sure to make a mental note. Hey, I might be on Jeopardy someday. “What is “swill”, Alex?”

The cashier rang up her order and politely took her debit card for the customary swiping of her soul through a little black box that held her fate. Sounds really dramatic, and it was! The first swipe resulted in an eye roll suggesting that these readers notoriously don’t always work right. The second swipe turned out a quizzical look of concern that the card was not valid – now the line is nervously wondering how this was going to play out. The third (and final) swipe engaged a countdown sequence that wasn’t going to be pretty. None of us said it, but we all thought it: ABORT! ABORT! 30 SECONDS TO CORE IMPLOSION!

My ninja-like reflexes kicked in. Suddenly, I was MacGyver. I had two paperclips, a short piece of string and some bubblegum. I had this. So, I leaned in to tell the cashier that I would gladly pay for her order hoping that this small gesture would somehow have resulted in me making the right choice between the red wire and the blue wire – disarming the whole thing.

Well, it’s true that no good deed goes unpunished. Apparently, I was encroaching on her space, and summarily told that she did not need my charity. I should really just keep my nose where it belonged – out of her business.

It was in that moment, that I realized that everyone in this world has a purpose. Her’s, it turns out, was to serve as a warning to others. Another couple of minutes and she found some paper money at the bottom of her weapons cache (she called it a purse), and all the little Who’s in Whoville sang and sang…

The moral of this story, boys and girls, is that we all form impressions before the people we encounter. The first impression is often a lasting one. Sometimes the best image you can give someone is seeing the back of your head getting smaller as you walk away from them.

A Phoenix Rising: Defining Moments

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Life is a series of defining moments strung together by the passage of time. We gauge our successes and failures by how we act whenever we find ourselves in a gut-check mode; those moments of truth when we have to make a choice of either caving under the weight of adversity or seizing an opportunity to turn things around and make adversity work for you. Every one of us has the ability to be a game changer. At any given moment, we have the power to say: This is NOT how this story is going to end. Even when the chips are down and it starts to feel like all is lost – there exists a defining moment to rise from the ashes like a phoenix. Every test in our lives makes us bitter or better, every problem comes to break us or make us. The choice is always ours whether to become victims or victors.

Defining moments define our character. I grew up in a place where character and community meant everything. It didn’t matter whose kid you were or what street you lived on, every one of your elders held an unwritten and benevolent dominion over you. Opting to challenge or defy these parents-by-proxy was never a good move. We were too young to realize it then, but what was really happening was that camaraderie of families who were preserving the codes of morality and ethics was defining who we would grow up to be. Naively, we felt oppressed. Unknowingly, we were learning things that school could not teach us – that character matters and that your outlook will only ever be as bright as your sense of community. Whenever someone was down-and-out, strong communities rallied together to help another phoenix rise. I was fortunate to witness many such defining moments in my formative years. They humble me to this very day.

I worry sometimes that we may have lost some of that same level of compassion and sense of community somewhere along the way. The city I live in has had hosts of defining moments over the years. Some of them were good, and some of them have been bad. The community is currently facing some of those gut-check moments that will test us and our actions will define which path we continue along. Our moment can be defined as the acceptance of the status quo with little to no regard for change, or by reassessment of our priorities and goals. Sometimes the best path forward involves letting go of the practices that no longer serve us. Dissolving old attitudes, habits and beliefs means that we will once again be like a phoenix rising. This is one of those defining moments akin to a rite of passage into a new era of success. It’s healthy to sometimes fear the unknown, but embracing opportunity with vision makes us good stewards. We hold benevolent dominion over future generations. Character still matters and community still means everything. Together, we forge our collective identity and shape our destiny.

It will take a lot of work, but the payoff will reap big dividends now and into the next generation. What will your defining moment be? Will you cave under the weight of adversity, or will you help turn things around to make adversity work for you?

Ovation for Fathers

fathers-day Today is Father’s Day. It’s a day traditionally reserved to commemorate those that made a significant impact and helped shape who we are, who we will be and the legacy we’ll leave behind after we’re gone. Fathers come in many shapes, sizes and forms. Some are biological, some are surrogate and others are unintended. I know Fathers that have the dual role of also being a Mother and the reverse is also true. There are Fathers who parent with an iron hand, some who parent with a more liberal one and some who choose to not parent at all. Regardless of their contributions, Fathers leave indelible marks on every man, woman and child you have or will ever meet. The story of your Father is a powerful one. How you choose to read it and translate it into your own is what separates coaches from spectators sitting in the stands. Father’s Day isn’t an obligatory recognition. It’s an ovation of all of those things that our Fathers taught us to love and cherish. Father’s Day is an homage to those special people in our lives that are reflected in the people, places and things that we hold most dear.

I was blessed with four children. Three of them are biological, while one of them came into my life as a one year-old fireball whose curiosity of the world around her was a question I wanted to spend the rest of my life answering. See, fatherhood isn’t always about your DNA. My daughter was never my “step-daughter”, my “adopted daughter” or “just Maya” – she was, is and forever will be my daughter. I love all of my children equally and like to think I played at least a small hand in how brilliant and diverse they are. Sure, the awesome and formidable role of being a Father incurs alot of sacrifices and sweat equity. It’s by far not a cake walk, but if you do it right, the rewards far outweigh the efforts. As someone who has spent the better part of his life in the educational system, I can confidently tell you that I learned more being a Father than from any and all textbooks that passed through my hands – and believe me there were many. For me, it all started in the spring of 1963 when my own Father welcomed me into the world. He was my coach, my mentor, my disciplinarian and my greatest friend. When I look down at my hands typing, I see my father’s hands. When I repair a leaky faucet or a flickering lamp, I see my father doing the same thing as I stood by his side, waist-high, holding a flashlight and passing him a wrench or screwdriver. These memories make me wonder about what other aspects of my father: his character, his intelligence, his kindness, humor and artistic talent are also part of me.

One of the biggest things I learned from my Father is that I may not be able to give my kids everything they want but I give them what they need: love, time, and attention. You can’t buy those things. There is an old saying that says a father is a guy who has photos in his wallet where his money used to be. Truth is, being a Father is so much more than an accumulation of wealth and assets. The person that welcomes the mantle of fatherhood around them is really the richest being in the world because the currency of sons and daughters, both literally and figuratively, is priceless. Today is more than a token gift or family get-together. No, today is an ovation for all “Fathers” past, present and future.

Native Sons and Daughters All – Surviving the Storm

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I am a native son. My ancestors came to this continent in 1642. They worked in the great forests, they fished in abundant waters, and they reaped bountiful harvests sewn with their own hands. They came to Biddeford to build homesteads, learn trades, and grow enormous families. They opened up small businesses, taught school, and toiled tirelessly weaving at looms in the local mills. My ancestors are a part of the rich tapestry that tells the story of a great city that has endured both good times and bad.

While some might say that I come from good stock, I would say that I am the product of a caring and tightly-knit community who gave me opportunities as gifts beyond measure. The thread of my life is being woven into this tapestry that is a continual work-in-progress. I am a native son, and I am Biddeford.

At its best, my city was a beacon of hope to unassuming folk seeking only fair opportunity in a place built upon the backs of resolute immigrants who left indelible marks upon the surf, working fields and the banks of a mighty river. The rise of an industry paired with the stubborn perseverance of a faithful people gave way to the inception of an American Dream.  Small town ideals formed the rule of a society where the safety and security of its people was sacred and irrefutable. Words like family, neighborhood and community were interlaced into the fabric and narrative of daily life. Even when times got hard, an unwavering faith and a belief in our identity carried us through adversity. At the end of the day, we were all a part of a proud city called Biddeford and that meant something.

At its worst, my city has endured scandal and controversy paved into mean streets for victims, cynics and downtrodden souls who clung to the sanctity of trust until they could no longer. Sometimes even the best communities can be torn asunder when dignities are robbed and innocence is lost. In turmoil, people question everything, friendships are tested and faiths fall. Those are the dark days that can fragment a city. Reclamation is a long road and recovery is an arduous feat, but there is a lesson in the legacy of all those who came before us – to persevere. Anyone can give up. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But when you find it within yourself to keep everything together when the world expects you to fall apart – that’s true strength. We are still a city called Biddeford and that still means something.

Some of the best life lessons come from when we’ve been underestimated and deemed not good enough. Every doubt cast upon our abilities, every unfounded assumption that we’d never go far, and every knock taken on the chin becomes the fuel that feeds the fire within us to grow beyond the boundaries of accepted conventions. We are survivors. The legacy of our ancestors taught us to fear neither gauntlets thrown nor oppositions mounted. The road behind us is littered with the empty shells of those who misjudged us, while the road ahead calls us to undiscovered frontiers. This makes us as limitless. We are native sons and daughters all and We are Biddeford.

If this message resonates with you, if you share in the belief that we are resilient and are stronger than the trials before us – pass this on. Share it with kindred friends and family. Share it with those who are facing daunting battles that are crushing their lives so that they can be reminded that they need not fight alone. Our heritage and our histories as devout and earnest people define us. We have the power to endure the darkness and heal together.

“There exist limitless opportunities in each of us. Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier.” -Charles Kettering

Holding On and Letting Go

There are special people that happen in our lives that help shape who we ultimately become and what path we will journey upon as we write our life story. Each of these “guideposts” is not always self-evident, and many times we don’t understand their impact or significance until many years later in our own personal stories. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a chance meeting, other times it’s a heady conversation shared with friends. Whatever the circumstances, when that moment of clarity hits you as you finally understand and appreciate what those guidepost friends gave you, it’s very poignant.

I have a friend that I have known for almost all of my 50 years of life. As I write this, he is very ill and nearing the end of his journey. Just typing that leaves me with gigantic lump in my throat. I’ve known it was coming for some time now, and yet I just can’t shake how fast all this has happened and how I wish I had taken the time to communicate with him more. 50 years suddenly feels like nowhere near enough time. Some of the people in his circles knew him for far less time but feel the weight of this event every bit as much as I do. Whether you have known this friend for 50 years or 50 seconds, you just couldn’t help but find him very likable, friendly and that your happiness is important to him. Over the years, I have never run into him when he didn’t have a smile on his face and twinkle in his eye. Have you ever met a person in your lifetime that constantly reminds you that life really is good and that all of our petty daily stresses are really insignificant in the bigger picture? This guy is the genuine article. And it’s not like he ever has to work hard at it. It’s just his nature and it’s thoroughly contagious.

I went to parochial school with this friend. I remember this one time in fourth grade, a bunch of us were having one of those “fate-of-the-world-in-the balance” kickball games during recess in the schoolyard. It might as well have been the Olympics given the way we were so driven to the goal of winning as our competitive spirit was just off the charts. It’s funny how things we count as little now (like a kickball game) were really huge events when we were kids.

The end of recess bell rang and everyone filed into the school for the rest of the school day. Everyone, that is, but our zealous band of aspiring world athletes who just couldn’t let go of the game. Several minutes past the recess bell, dark and ominous clouds formed over the school as several stern-faced nuns began streaming out of the building to tend to the wayward flock. We didn’t have to guess what manner of wrath was about to reign down upon us. We had heard it all before – too many times. As we single-filed our way back into the building, My friend said something along the lines that the nuns might have stopped us for now, but that these times belonged to us and we were going to do big things ahead. I really didn’t think much about that conversation until much later.

Throughout my own journey, there have been both highs and lows. There were many times when I reflected on how I wished to have done this thing or that by a certain age. For some reason, I managed to avoid letting myself get down about it because I remembered that though I might have had a roadblock or two that stopped me in my tracks, these times still belonged to me and there were still big things ahead. I was too young and too naive back in the fourth grade to recognize the impact of what my friend told us in that schoolyard all those years ago. You know, people come into and go out of our respective lives for a purpose and each one has a lesson to give – even when they aren’t aware they are doing it. I could go on for volumes about how this important lesson got me out of some really big jams and got me through to the next mile. Suffice it to say that he made a big impact on me and that I try to pass his life lesson onto my children whenever I can.

A few years ago, I was the General Manager for a very large telecommunications service provider  when I ran into this friend again after about 8 years or so. At the time he was working for a company that dealt with warehouse equipment, forklifts, and other tools. He knocked on the door to my office, I looked up and found that so familiar smile and twinkle in the eye. Though we were in our late 40’s at the time, we might as well have been back in the fourth grade in that schoolyard. True to form, I felt re-energized and good about what lay ahead just because of that encounter.

It is such a bitter irony for me to know that my friend – who so embraces life and touches so many with his positive spirit – has been struck with this cruel and aggressive illness. It isn’t at all fair and I could so easily let myself get extremely angry about it. I don’t, though, because the one guy in this world who unknowingly taught me not to sweat set-backs because there were still big things ahead deserves no less from me. How can I not tell him that even though things aren’t going the way he wants them to, these times still belong to him and there are scores of things he hasn’t done yet. He can still have it all. A really great man taught me that lesson, and I’m eternally grateful.

People have asked whether I believe in miracles. In the past I never knew how to answer. Today, as I watch and wait this last chapter of his life journey unfold, I’m conflicted as to whether I’d rather pray for a miracle or pray for release from his pain. As I sit here, I come to the conclusion that maybe I do believe in miracles. I have had the incredible fortune to have encountered a very important guidepost friend who unknowingly taught me a lot about the precious nature of life and the awesome power of hope. I know, in the very pit of my stomach, that had I not had that encounter in the schoolyard all those years ago, I would be a very different person today. My miracle is the priceless gift that he gave to me. I may not ever be able to repay him in kind, but his legacy will continue as I try as best I can to pay it forward to all those traveling with me on this journey. Life is a balance of holding on and letting go so the next big thing can happen.

Autumnal Life: Rites of Passage

Today marks my 50th birthday. I find myself sweeping through a wide range of thoughts and emotions on entering this phase in my life. They are all-at-once happy, daunting, introspective and liberating. I have been blessed with the great fortune and benefit of being a part of a loving family and ever-widening circle of friends – all of whom have left indelible marks along the path leading to this day. Each and every person that has come into or gone out of my life had important lessons for me that helped shape both who I am and who I aspire to be. I have been lucky enough to recognize them as guideposts along the way and I am certainly all the richer for the experiences.

Among my milestones were children raised, causes fought for, faraway lands lived in and countless relationships kindled. History unfolded before me as I watched the world through a lens that made me a people watcher, artist and writer. I lost as many battles as I won them and survived unfathomable challenges. The mosaic of my life up to now tells a story whose chapters chronicle the wanderings of a mill town boy on a collision course with a world that nurtured his insatiable quest for odyssey. Though there were times when it seemed like the odds were set squarely against me, my wake was littered with the enigmatic stares of all those who underestimated my resolve. I loved being a dark horse.

So now, as the autumn of my life begins, I find there is still so much to do, so many people to meet and so many undiscovered possibilities. Today marks the beginning of a new adventure filled with bold choices and a tenacious drive to blaze new trails. Win or lose, the destination is irrelevant – it’s all about the journey. My best chapters are yet to be written..

The Infinite Power of Hope

Some see a hopeless end, while others see an endless hope. ~Author Unknown

Hope is a very powerful thing. It is one of the most powerful emotions we have. Hope is what gets us out of bed in the morning when our lives seem to be falling apart. Hope keeps pushing forward because it believes you can reach your goal. Hope is the fire that burns inside us when we know tomorrow won’t be any better than today, but it is one step closer to a day that will be good. Hope is a key component that allows us to dare to dream and move toward freedom.

A teacher once told me this poignant story about hope.

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation.

And every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed began to live for those one-hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color of the rainbow. Grand old trees graced the landscape, and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene.

One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man couldn’t hear the band – he could see it in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days and weeks passed. One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.

As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the world outside. Finally, he would have the joy of seeing it for himself.

He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed. It faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. She said, “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.” The man wept for a brief moment and reveled in the gift he was given by his newly-departed friend.

Hope is important to all of us because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.

 

A Tiny Buddha

Several days ago, my grandson Royce was welcomed into the world. To say that my life changed would be a grand understatement. Something very magical happens when your family grows with the arrival of a newborn baby. Somehow, all the stresses of this world and all the challenges we lament suddenly seem so trivial. There is a mysterious therapy that manifests within when you hold your grandchild for the first time. In some way I became reborn and my outlook changed. I felt all-at-once humbled and filled with hope. Babies are a very powerful force in the world that renew the spirit and rekindle dreams long-passed.

In the months and weeks anticipating Royce’s arrival, I was concerned about what I could teach him and what sort of legacy I would leave behind when my time on this Earth comes to close. I always thought of parenting and grand parenting as the act of raising children, but now that my grandson is here, I am beginning to wonder who is raising whom. I now think that Royce is teaching me. Just days old, he has given me a few profound lessons about life.

1. Babies live in the present moment

Babies live in the moment. They do not know any other time except the present moment. The concept of time is alien to them. In their consciousness, everything is in the Eternal Now. That is the only time they know – NOW.

If you’ve ever seen a hungry baby, you can appreciate what I am talking about. When a child wants something NOW, they don’t give in to promises. In fact, they don’t even know anything about promises anyway. They just want it NOW. Babies value the moment so much that they squeeze every bit of juice out of the present. They are so consumed by the present moment. They don’t know how to wait. To them it is either this moment or never.

Obviously, we as adults ought to use the concept of time when it empowers us. But too often, we use it against ourselves. Our minds are constantly filled with the failed plans and promises of yesterday and the fears of tomorrow. All this time the present moment is passing us by without us making the most of it. Babies live in the present moment. Maybe it is time we begin to do the same. Maybe, just maybe, we will be as peaceful as they are.

2. Babies learn every moment

I think that one of the greatest gifts of life is the ability to learn. You don’t need to know everything before you can start the journey of life. All you need is your ability to learn. You must be teachable.

I have yet to see a place where this tenet is more exemplified than in children. I am amazed at the number of things children learn to do in their early days, weeks and months. When they are just born, they can barely do anything consciously. Everything is somewhat instinctive. Yet, they are learning every moment. Not even the sky is the limit for them. The message in this for adults is that learning is a life-long process and something that is critical to our growth and evolution as humans. We are never too old to learn new things.

3. Babies reach out every moment

Another thing I have learned is that children always seem to have the next milestone in sight. It’s really fun to watch my grandson try to attempt a new thing before he even perfects his art. He seems to be always a step ahead. Just when we, as adults are still celebrating one thing, there is a new skill on the horizon.

Seeing this reminds me that there are so many undiscovered things in my world. There are so many lands to explore, people to befriend, and cultures to experience. The richness of life comes from reaching out every moment.

So, you see, my grandson appears to be taking me back to school in a way. Who knew that someone so new to the world could teach me so many wonderful things? Babies are powerful. Babies are therapeutic. Babies are wise. These tiny Buddhas hold the key to what’s important in our lives. Everything else is rather insignificant.