Permanance…

Nothing in life is permanent. Nothing. Not life itself, not family, not friends, not possessions, not health and certainly not our sanity (sorry, that was a little humor to lighten up the harshness of these first few sentences). The knowledge of this impermanence is something we all know deep down inside our hearts and minds, but may not fully realize and think about until age begins its trek northwards. I may have mentioned this in other blog musings, but I am somewhat of a minimalist. Over the years, I’ve found that extraneous “stuff” just didn’t have the meaning it once had for me in my youth or even in my middle age. Stuff really just does and didn’t matter, (plus, I kind of like order too which is most likely from my military and law enforcement backgrounds). So, over these past 10 or 15 years, I’ve been in a constant state of purging…only keeping things that have and had any real significance or importance to me. But, of course, I’ve always known that these things too are impermanent. Some of my favorite books, my climbing, mountaineering and backpacking gear, photos, and other small extraneous odds and ends are all neatly tucked away in a small spare bedroom in my apartment.  Interestingly enough, as much as I’ve moved around the country in the last 15 years, I’ve had about half-dozen yard sales which has netted me a nice little bit of cash in the process.  So, I guess it seemed my unneeded stuff went to other peoples need FOR stuff.  Oh well, to each their own.

The point for all this is now that the New Year is only several hours away, I’ve decided to make a mental paradigm shift. Not a severe or an about face shift, just a moving to or a progression towards things of importance. I’m not a “New Years” resolution type person and never really have been, but the past few years for me has seen quite a few changes (some good and some not so good) and I just want to start out with some firm goals and changes in mindset and attitude.

I’ve decided to begin asking myself several questions…the first being, “is this thing really important to me and will it serve the greater good in my life”. Now, I’m not being selfish here, just realistic. Not to use the age old cliché, but life is just too darned short to worry about all the extraneous bull crap that always attempts to enter into it. The second question is, “do I have control over this?” and if I do, I’ll deal with it.  If I don’t have any control over it, then it’s all in God’s Hands anyway.  For me, it’s as easy as that.  I have way too much to deal with in my own life than to be worrying about or being concerned with politics, junk news, the newest fashions or social media trends or what some celebrity’s view on the life may be.  Honestly, I really just don’t flippin’ care as the mental act of worrying about things like these, or worrying in general is an absolute life killer.  What I do care about is what my impact will be on my life and other’s lives and how I can add value to them.  Again, to me, it’s just that simple…how can I truly add value and goodness to mine and other’s lives?

So, around the mountain and back to permanence….

These so called “twilight years” issues are another load of garbage being fed to us to lull us into inaction and inactivity.  Don’t buy it, not for one second. Sure, our health can somewhat wane over time and we have to deal with that, but no one, and I mean NO ONE, has ever laid on their deathbed and said, “I wish I could have spent one more day at the office”.  The knowledge of our life’s impermanence should fire our butts up to live positively for ourselves and for others. Get out…do things, travel, write that blog or book, spend time with your loved ones, volunteer if you can, go on that hike or climb that mountain, cook something new or try out a new restaurant, sleep on the beach, love others and leave a positive impact on them and their lives. Do it now, for tomorrow is not guaranteed.

So, yes…get out and live folks.  Permanently remove all the extraneous and unimportant “things” from your lives and live for the greater good.

Remember, life is a one shot deal. A. One. Shot. Deal.

So, think about it…what are YOU going to live for?

Kindness…

I recently had the displeasure of being on the receiving end of an act of personal rudeness and disrespect that ranks pretty high in my entire life’s experiences.  This was an episode of the most extreme act of ignorance that caught me so off guard, I almost let my tongue and actions lash out in an unbridled reaction.

While I will forego the intimate details of the encounter, it was my understanding that this particular man was extremely wealthy and very well known in the world of finance and business.  However to me, he is and was just simply a man and nothing more, but as is with all people, worthy of my respect and kindness.

After confirming his identity, not half a sentence left my mouth before he looked at me, his eyes meeting mine, and I could see and palpably “feel” his disdain and contempt for me and the utter audacity he felt toward me that I speak to him and actually give a man of his stature a directive, ANY directive.  Believe me, after being a police officer for 25 years, I knew exactly what that facial expression looks like and meant.  Then, without saying a word, while I was in mid sentence, he simply turned his head and walked away from me, dismissing and brushing me off like I was no more than a common housefly that was buzzing around his face.  I looked over at another person sitting beside me, his eyes as wide as saucers and mouth hanging open.  He saw it too.  I asked him if he truly witnessed what just happened and he replied, “yes, I did, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a display as rude and disrespectful as that”.

The anger rose in me and I walked to find this man and explain to him the finer points of kindness and respect without any thoughts of the personal ramifications.  After finding him a few minutes later, I got about 10 feet away from him when that little Voice inside my spirit said, “Don’t do it, you’re better than that”.  I knew exactly Who was speaking to me.

As I stood there looking at him, I immediately felt sorry for this man and the life he must live.  I also felt sorry for his family, those who work for and with him and any others who come in contact with him in his daily life.  I later thought (while this incident occurred during the Christmas season), that this man’s ultimate funeral ceremony might look like Ebenezer Scrooge’s, with only the cemetery caretakers in attendance.

The simple act of kindness is one of the most powerful things we as human beings can do for another person.  It costs nothing, depletes nothing, can take almost no time to do, but can often dramatically change the lives of others for the better.  It feels good to the person giving it and to the person(s) receiving it, feels just as wonderful.  It is one of the ways we as a civilized society interact with one another that creates a bond.  This is true whether or not you’ll ever see that person again or if it is a loved one with whom you are intimately connected.

Kindness can be manifested in the simplest of ways…holding a door open for someone, smiling and saying hello to a stranger, lending a helping hand to an elder trying to carry packages in a parking lot, letting someone in line in a store or while driving on a highway, giving money or clothing to a homeless person, volunteering or even stooping down to say a kind word to a small child.  These actions can make an immense difference in someone’s life. 

Kindness can also take the form of our capacity to listen.  To truly stop and actively listen to someone who is speaking about their life’s condition and our ability to hear it, understand it, empathize with it and offer comfort in our attention to them as a humble and reverent reaction.

Author and professor Leo Buscaglia once said, “too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around”.

I wonder what happened to this man in his life that made him behave like this and who may have “taught” him to treat others with such disrespect and disdain.  This was learned behavior, maybe passed down to him from parents or others who had an impact on his life and who may have helped create this man’s character as it is and which made him act in this horrendous and repulsive manner.  I guess I’ll never know.

What I do know is that the personal interaction with this man, while repugnant, did to and for me was to further cement my desire to be a much more kind and benevolent person.  One who will hopefully be remembered as someone who lived his life simply as a nice, kind and giving man.  I love it when life’s lessons like these come along.  They are ones that may not happen too often, but when they do, are etched in one’s spirit and soul.

And, for this, I sincerely thank this man.

Stop and Smell the Flowers…

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend Jackie and I were having breakfast at a tiny “down home” diner in a small Lake Winnipesaukee town in New Hampshire.  The fare was simple, good and the place had a great folksy, backcountry feel.  As we talked, I noticed an elderly couple, maybe in their late 70’s or early 80’s sitting in a booth a few feet away from us.  The woman was very attentive to her husband who appeared to be listening to her intently as she spoke.  I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but she kept reaching across the table, touching his hand and arm.  It wasn’t until they were finished, when she got up to put her coat on and he sat there unmoving that I realized he was most likely suffering from some type of cognitive decline.  He looked up at her and she moved over to him, reached under the table and pulled both of his legs out into the aisle to get him to stand up. He could not. It was also then that I noticed this was a very large man.  Not heavy set large, but he looked like he could once have been a professional wrestler.  Even sitting down, his size was deceiving.  He had very broad shoulders, big arms, and a powerful looking build, but the look on his face was like that of a child, simple and unassuming. He had white hair, a close-cropped white beard and was dressed like a lumberjack.  She grabbed him under his arm to get him to stand up and he still could not do so.  I watched her and she again pulled very hard a second and third time as he just sat there. 

I told Jackie I was going to try to help her, got up from my seat, walked over and asked if she needed any help.  She looked up at me, smiled and in a very low voice said “please”.  I reached under his other arm and we both pulled until we finally got him to stand up from the tight breakfast booth.  When he stood, he towered over me by what appeared to be about a foot.  He looked down at me with piercing blue eyes and smiled warmly like he knew me all his life and it took me totally off guard.  I asked him his name and he just looked at me…his wife said “Frank”.  I said, “Hi Frank, do you mind if I help you walk outside?”  He just continued looking at me, smiling and reached toward me.  We locked arms, side by side, the same way a father would walk his daughter down the aisle.  His hand was huge as he grasped mine, and I could feel his strength as he gripped my arm.  He continued smiling, and I could do nothing else but smile back at him…it was infectious.  As we walked toward the door, he took small, measured 6-inch steps.  Finally outside and down the small set of stairs, we started walking toward their car about thirty feet away, Frank still taking 6-inch steps.

As we approached the car, I could see a United States Air Force sticker on the bumper of the white sedan, and I turned and asked him if he was once in the Air Force.  He just looked at me and his wife answered, “Yes, he was”.  Still on the sidewalk, Frank suddenly stopped walking.  I was on his left, on the street side and I looked over at him to see why he stopped.  We had been walking past a very small, quaint looking New England house, which had a well-kept front lawn and a short one-foot concrete barrier angling straight up from the sidewalk. With his right hand he pointed straight down at the lawn. I looked to see what he was pointing at and it was a singular, small yellow flower growing all by itself.  He glanced at it, turned to me, looked me straight in the eyes, still smiling and said “dandelion”.  That one simple word struck me like a thunderbolt.  Here was a man, probably nearing the end of his life, in the absolute throes of dementia, who had stopped to gaze at a simple flower.

Even on our best days, none of us would do that.  Every day, we let our surroundings fly by and miss the most beautiful things, our eyes glued to our cell phone screens, ear buds in or talking with someone or thinking about mindless things as we let life pass us by.  This man didn’t even know how to say his own name, but he took the time to “stop and smell the flowers”. The ironic dichotomy between those of us who are perfectly present and lucid and this man who dwells in an unknown world hit me hard.

I opened the door, helped Frank sit down in his car and lifted his legs inside.  He looked up at me, still smiling with his large, loving eyes and reached his hand out.  I took it and didn’t want to let go.  I wanted what he had. Not his illness, but his simple love of life and the spark of what once was.  I thanked him for his service, shut the door and turned to his wife.  She had her own pleasant, beautiful smile and said, “Thank you so much”.

To have been allowed to be a part of something like this, something that permanently shakes one’s foundation for the good, was an absolute privilege and gift.  I thanked God for granting me this honor.

I will never, ever forget Frank.  And for those of you who read this story, I hope you won’t either.

Folks, take the time to “stop and smell the flowers”.

Our lives are like the flicker of a match, once lit and then extinguished…and we may not get a second chance.

A Constant Reminder…

Wherever I travel, especially in nature, I love the way God accompanies me.  He reminds me, in so many ways, that He is always with me.  No matter where I am.  I am a visual person and when something catches my eye, whether above me, below me or peripherally, my mind immediately thinks, “Thank You for that…it is absolutely beautiful!”.

There have been so many various situations where this has happened, whether I’m alone or with friends, that are too numerous to count. And, I love when they catch me off guard and just happen to appear.

These are just a few…

A strong windswept tree on a remote west coast beach…

A rugged stonecrop plant nestled along the top of a stone wall…

Distant and remote Colorado mountains…just beckoning to be climbed.

A beautiful Hibiscus flower in the morning dew…

A small, singular Maple tree sapling growing in the snow from the wood and moss of a long since downed tree…I love this photo.

A good friend ice climbing…and, me anxiously waiting for my turn.

A wooden fence buried in the sand along a lonely stretch of beach…

Standing below the majestic Mt. Rainier in Washington State…

A heart-shaped piece of driftwood along a Delaware River, NJ nature preserve…this is one of my favorites.

I’ve realized that our lives fly by so quickly, and there is SO much more that I want to see!

And, I hope in your own travels you get to see the beauty and wonderment of all that has been given to us!

Is It Necessary…

Is what you’re about to say kind, caring and compassionate? Yeah, me too…I’m not quite sure I always use this barometer. Marcus Aurelius had it right when he said, “Is this necessary?”. When we’re wronged, we immediately want to lash out, get our pound of flesh and make things right. The Bible speaks of holding the tongue throughout scripture, and rightly so. Our words can have lasting effects and once out of the mouth, they can’t be pulled back in. Simply put, it robs us of our joy. Next time you’re tempted to exact your measure of verbal vengeance, ask yourself first…”Is what I’m about to say REALLY necessary?”.

Warm thoughts…

I took these photos a few years ago during warmer weather. It’s just a reminder of the cycle of the seasons and what they each bring. Each season has its own purpose and everyone has their favorite. Mine happens to be the Fall…all the colors, the lack of oppressive humidity and the morning chill in the air. Anyway, here are a few reminders of things to come…enjoy!

Holding On…

Over the past fifteen years, I have physically moved to new places no less than ten times.  I moved to and from several locations in south Jersey, then New Jersey to Colorado and back, then again to and from several other locales in south Jersey. The reasons why are too involved to explain here, but needless to say I moved a lot and have become somewhat of a pro at it.  Moving had gotten to the point where I made the joke that I would rather have a root canal procedure sans novocaine than move again. Moving is just awful, and those of you who have done it know exactly what I am talking about.  In making all these moves however, I found out that I had become somewhat of a pack rat.  Not the serious hoarding type, it was just that I had a lot of stuff I realized no longer held any real value or meaning in my life.  So, I began purging and became very adept at ridding myself of things that no longer served any purpose.  Some things were more difficult to get rid of than others, but when I came across something I wasn’t sure about throwing away, I asked myself when it was last used? Would I use it again? Or, did it have any real value or purpose for me? So, I ultimately threw out a lot of stuff, gave some away, donated things and had several yards sales that believe it or not yielded several thousand dollars.  I sold bikes, exercise equipment, kayaks, lawn equipment, a car and various other odds and ends.  Craigslist and I were on a first name basis.  Each time I moved, I purged.  It was beautifully, wonderfully cathartic and I began to love this mass personal cleansing.

During this period of purifying (I guess it kind of felt like a purification), I began to like being a bit of a minimalist.  I let go of things that had no real meaning or purpose for me and it felt great.  Other than basic furniture and such, my total worldly possessions now easily fit into a small room and I’m about to go through them again to purge some more!

So, what does this have to do with the title of this blog piece? It is as simple as an old metal roller skate key.  For those of you too young to remember, a roller skate key was used to tighten the grips on the metal skates that would attach or “grip” the bottom of your shoes.  Dependent on the type of shoes you were wearing, they sometimes held really well and sometimes they didn’t.  If the skate grips weren’t tight enough or they just couldn’t hold onto your shoes, you would very often end up either on your face or on your butt…with one or both skates dangling from your ankles by the attached straps.  The skates sometimes just wouldn’t “hold on” to your shoes.

Now to the crux…God sometimes gets my attention using correlations.  It is very often how He communicates with me, as He knows I’ll ultimately understand exactly what He is trying to say or teach me when He brings something to my mind.  This time it was the skate key.  It popped into my mind a few days ago as I was looking out the window from my desk at work and I had no idea why I thought of it.  But after a few moments of contemplation, I knew God was trying to get my attention.  Then, a few minutes later came the Words to my spirit, “you need to let go of some other things that you’re holding onto”.  I knew what He meant and as He knows I like to purge, this was His way of getting me to understand and keep the purging going.  There were some unhealthy attachments I needed to remove from my life.

As humans, we love to hold onto things.  Whether they are physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, I believe we hold very close those things (whatever they may be) mostly for a sense of security.  And, sometimes we don’t even know why we hold on, it just “feels” right or has some intrinsic, unknown value.  Unfortunately, we very often hold onto things that are detrimental or harmful without even knowing it.  Ever pick up a hot frying pan, then immediately drop it and quickly recoil in pain? Of course you have, and that recoil happens very quickly. But, sometimes we hold onto things that are doing unseen and unfelt damage for extended periods of time and these are the attachments that are very often the most dangerous.  I have a few things on my list of things to get rid of and I’ve been going through them meticulously as they are revealed to me.  Some are more difficult than others, but with His help, I will succeed.  

I have grabbed the skate key, turned it, and loosened my grip on several things so far and am looking forward letting go of more.

So, what are some of the unhealthy things the skate key in your life can help you get rid of?  If you’re not sure, just ask…He will tell you.

Grateful…

This was actually a quote from Seneca…

  1. Accept every life’s situation as a learning opportunity
  2. Forgive others
  3. Forgive yourself
  4. Be forever grateful

Do not be concerned with yesterday for it is gone and tomorrow has not yet come. On this Thanksgiving day, live in the moment and be happy, content and grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone…!

Fear…

Folks are trying to hold it together, but the fear is visibly palpable. It’s March 2020 and we’re at the beginning of the COVID19 (coronavirus) pandemic and life as we know it, at least for the present time, is rapidly changing.  And, things are going to be different.  Mandatory school and non life-essential business closings, bare supermarket shelves and people walking around in hospital masks are now the norm.  “Social Distancing”, the physical act of keeping about 6’ of distance between each other to prevent the transmission of the virus, is an everyday practice.  For the most part, the majority of us are just trying to lead normal lives, but the overwhelming sense of “what’s next” is on everyone’s mind.  People are afraid for their jobs, their kids, their loved ones, their money, their future and just about everything else that on a normal day may have been a passing thought and dealt with on a topical level.  Not now though.  It’s become a pervasive worry and the uncertainty of it all is causing stress on a monumental scale.  Fear is the new norm.

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For believers, it’s no different.  We feel the fear, the trepidation, the uncertainty and we worry about the same things everyone else does.  The difference is we know that in a world “out of control”, there is one constant…one thing that is “in” control.  The one entity that will not “leave us or forsake us”.  One unchanging being that knows how we feel, loves us in spite of it and provides the comfort only a Father can provide.  God is that entity.

I recently read an Instagram posting where a woman wrote that the only thing we should be doing about the coronavirus is panicking.  Her elderly mother was going through chemotherapy and with her compromised immune system and the coronavirus at our doorstep, she believed that panicking would be the only thing we could do that would get the attention of “those in charge” to do something to flatten out the rising curve of the epidemic.  I felt so very sorry for her.  To feel so out of control that her first response was to panic in an effort to make others take note of the gravity of the situation made me grieve for her life and her spirit. How very sad…

In the bible, Mark, chapter 4, Jesus and his disciples were in a boat during a violent wind and rainstorm, the waves crashing over the bow.  His disciples were, in a word, freaking out. Jesus however, was asleep in the front of the boat and they were incredulous.  They woke Him and said, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus calmly got up, rebuked the wind, rain and waves and said “Quiet! Be still!”  The foul weather immediately died down and it became completely calm.  He then turned to his disciples and said “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Our faith should reflect that even in the midst of utter calamity, of what on the surface appears to be a possible disastrous and catastrophic future, we hold steadfast to that one calm constant.  We look to the one thing that remains peaceful and still and provides love and comfort, even in the face of possible death to those who love Him. You’ll notice I said, “Should”. Is it sometimes difficult? Yes. Can it produce doubt? Yes.  But, those who sincerely love Him come back to Him. We come back to the Father because that is where those still waters are found.  Remember the boat?

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The future is uncertain.  That is for sure.  All we can do is pray that while God’s will is done, He continues to protect and provide for His sons.  And, we are all His sons.  Our walk on this earth is temporary and as we go about our daily lives, we must be a reflection to others, who may not believe, of the very thing in which we find solace.  Allow the fear to be your strength, allow it to motivate you to now do better.  Look to help others in any way possible so people can ask themselves, “What does this person have that makes them behave this way, to walk without fear?”  The words “Do Not Be Afraid” are repeated in the bible approximately 365 times…an everyday reminder of where we should place our faith.  It is not about us now; it is about all of us.  And, it starts with you.  Crush the fear.

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Keep Rolling…

I work in Center City Philadelphia and walk the two blocks to and from the train every day.  Most days are routine, except for the occasional, errant person yelling or screaming about things like the world coming to an end or telling me my cell phone is on their brain frequency or sometimes even about the conversations they’ve had with the mounted police horses.  Normal stuff.

One afternoon last week however, as I crossed the street and stepped onto the sidewalk, I saw something out of the corner of eye.  It was on the pavement, moving fast but immediately caught my attention.  At first, I wasn’t sure what it was, as it was moving at an angle toward me and I actually stopped to watch it.  It was extremely thin, flat, perfectly round (about the size of a half-dollar), and all rusty with a few small holes in it.  The wind must’ve caught it just right as it was rolling upright on its edge similar to what a Frisbee might do when it hits the ground after being thrown, then rolls vertically.  It slowed as it got close to me, then veered away when it got about six inches from my shoes.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of it because it kept rolling and doing little jumps and just wouldn’t fall over.  I lost sight of it when it rolled out into the street, under a moving car and was gone by the time the car passed by.  It was then that I realized it was an old, flattened bottle cap.

I know…you were expecting something a bit more exotic.  Nope, it was just a flat, rusty old bottle cap, with too many years of age for me to even imagine.  It had probably laid in the street over those years in the heat and in the cold, in the wind and the rain and had been ridden over and crushed by countless vehicle tires. I couldn’t get that bottle cap out of my mind and thought about it on the rest of my walk to the train and even during my ride home.

I thought to myself, “OK Lord, what are you trying to teach me here?”…His response was awesome.

That bottle cap has obviously lost its original intent and purpose and can no longer keep a beverage stored fresh and safely in its container.  But, it hasn’t lost its eternal purpose.  I know it’s an inanimate object, but it got your attention, didn’t it?  How things (or, people) start out in life is not necessarily how they’re going to end it. And, for the most part, that difference can be as vast as the ocean.  Maybe that bottle cap’s final purpose was to get you to write this story so others can read it and learn from it.  But, then again, maybe not…you lost sight of it and for all you know, it could certainly still be doing its little old bottle cap dance for someone else. You won’t know until you stand before me!

The real issue is that My purposes are all that really matter.  Things…and people too, will lose their original size and shape, get old and a tad rusty and over time even get some extra holes in them.  But, it’s MY purposes in life that count.  Age and size and shape and condition and mindset and attitude don’t matter one iota. Whether you’re twenty-six or ninety-six, My purposes for you in this life don’t end until I bring you home.  Don’t let your present age or condition or situation allow you to get comfortable, or worse, lethargic.  You already know from your own life’s experiences, that present circumstances can be fleeting and temporary.  And, even though some transitions may have been unpleasant and uncomfortable at the moment, it always worked out, didn’t it?  Continue to always look to Me for your direction and know that no matter what, I will always have something new for you. Exciting isn’t it?

Continue to roll, dance, jump, take chances and enjoy yourself while keeping Me always present and the Holy Spirit’s counsel always active.  Be like that rusty, old windswept bottle cap…keep moving, have fun and live your life to its fullest.

I plan to do just that…

And, I’ll never, ever look at a bottle cap in the same way again!

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