Heroes…

This is a word when used out of context, very often bothers me and it is also a word that has been written about ad nauseum.  It’s been used so many times that we’ve become desensitized to it as just another banal description of someone who does something “good”.  But, for purposes here, I’d like to embody it in what I believe is its most proper association.  Webster defines “Hero” as “an illustrious warrior, a man (or, woman) admired for their achievements and noble qualities, and, one who shows great courage”.  The problem is that it is a term so often thrown around in reference to a person or persons by others who haven’t the slightest inclination of its true meaning.  We normally hear the word hero casually used by the media when describing a perceived noteworthy act by some politician, sports figure or Hollywood icon…usually on a slow news day.  We’ll be inundated with things like “Senator Pufnstuf is a hero for his work in improving the rights of the people”, or “such and such sports figure or actor is a hero for their work with charities and those less fortunate”.  While efforts by a politician working for their constituents or a public figure’s work for charities are commendable and respectable, they DO NOT define a hero.  Not by a long shot.  And, while the mainstream media swoons in their love affair with the so-called glorious exploits of such people, it is really those working tirelessly behind the scenes, everyday, that deserve this acknowledgement.

Once in awhile though, the media does get it right.  Case in point; Brendan Marrocco.  You may not have heard of Brendan Marrocco between the news reports of the designer who made the ill-fitting dress worn by an actress attending the recent SAG awards ceremony, or the exciting and electrifying preparations by candidates for the 2016 presidential race, or even the reporting of a 5-year old facing expulsion from school for drawing a picture of a gun in crayon.  But, Brendan Marrocco outshines them all.  Brendan Marrocco went to Iraq in 2008 as a soldier with the United States Army.  He travelled halfway around the world to help the people of a country occupied by some who would rather spit on him with a hatred born from an abhorrent religious belief than they would give him the time of day.  Then, he returned home, to a sometimes ambivalent, but mostly grateful country.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that he did so without his arms or legs.  On April 12, 2009, while returning from a night mission, Brendan’s vehicle sustained a direct hit from an EFP (explosively formed/fired projectile).  As a result of this attack and in addition to the loss of his arms and legs, his other injuries were just as catastrophic.  He was kept alive and from bleeding to death by his platoon’s medic and fellow soldiers, and by the grace of God, he lived.  (Above info is from news reports and his website at:  www.brendanmarrocco.wordpress.com)

I came across the story about Brendan while looking at a TV in the gym.  I literally had to stop what I was doing as I was mesmerized by what I saw.  I was watching a true hero.  The news account was of a young man who had lost both arms and legs in Iraq and had received one of only a very few successful bi-lateral (double) arm transplants ever performed.  Brendan now had two new donor arms.  He was sitting in a wheelchair sans legs, but with his new arms and he exclaimed, “It’s given me a lot of hope for the future, I feel like it’s given me a second chance”.  God does that.  He gives us second chances…and sometimes in very different ways.  Brendan is looking forward to swimming and driving and I pray that he is blessed with all that God has for him.  In scripture, Matthew 5:9 (NJKV) says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”.  I know God is looking down with incredible anticipation of the plans He has for Brendan.  I wish I could look into the future and see the awesome impact this young man will have on the lives of others.  I feel in my spirit that that he will touch others in such a way as to change them forever.  This is what a hero does and he did it to me.  Brendan is an “an illustrious warrior, a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities, and, one who shows great courage”.  In a word…he is a hero.

Our military service members…these are the men and women our children and grandchildren should look to as examples of heroes.  Those who put their lives on the line every day in some hostile, unfriendly and unforgiving environment so that we back home can experience the freedoms and luxuries we now enjoy.  I stand in awe of theirs and Brendan’s service…and, I am proud to be part of a humbly grateful nation.

Thank you Brendan, you are a true hero…

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Attachments…

On the heels of my blog essay on simplifying our lives, it came to me that I might expound on the use of the term “emotional attachment”.  I thought I’d write about this because I know from personal experience that it’s sometimes difficult to rid ourselves of extraneous and unneeded belongings.  As humans, we have a distinct propensity to become attached or connected to our possessions longer than we need them.  For some, certain objects can be a definition of who we are or who we may want to be.  For a child, this is very obvious.  They might have an attachment to a toy or other possession, most likely a pacifier, stuffed animal or blanket.  And, that’s fine ‘cause they’re children.  But, I’ve known folks who have kept similar items well into adulthood, (a 2010 survey by the hotel chain Travelodge of 6,000 British adults concluded that 1 in 3 brought and slept with a stuffed animal).  Now, I know everything we read on the internet is true (sarcasm), but that figure astounded me.  How many of you folks still have stuffed animals on your bed right now as you’re reading this, or maybe even in your car? (Big smile here!).  I’m certainly not saying this is wrong, but it may point to other things in our lives that need to be jettisoned.

adult with teddy bear

I’ll use some personal examples as you may be able to relate to experiences in your own lives.  The pick-up truck I’ve owned since 2006, (with 108,000 miles on it) recently died.  I use the term “died” here as when a motor blows, the life of a vehicle is, in essence over.  I wasn’t going to put a new motor in a vehicle with a transmission that had that many miles on it, so I sold it to the owner of the repair shop where it sat.  The day I went to clean it out and sign over the title was a little emotional for both me and my wife.  This was a vehicle in which we spent many, many hours (even, days) and which took us to many wonderful places.  Randi didn’t even want to go into the lot where the truck was parked and to be honest, neither did I.  As I was cleaning it out, a flood of memories came back to me (see my essay on Road Trips) and I actually got a little choked up.  Here was an object made of metal, steel, rubber and other inorganic materials and I felt as if I was selling my first born child.  I gathered my stuff and bolted away from there as quickly as I could, not once looking back at the truck that gave me such great pleasure.  I felt as if it was calling after me…”Hey!!, Yo!!, where ya’ going, why are you leaving me here?”  Even as I write this, I can still feel a bit of emotion.

Robby hugging truck

I also recently threw away a backpack I’d owned since 1982.  You may be shaking your head, not only at the fact that I’d owned it that long, but that I actually remember the year in which I bought it.  This backpack had been all over the world with me and “we” had great adventures together.  I think I kept the Duct Tape Company afloat just by owning this thing.  As I stood at my front door and watched the trash men throw the plastic bag containing the torn and tattered backpack into the back of their truck, I felt as if a part of my life went with it.

For you it may be a vehicle, a backpack or something else.  It could be an old TV, a piece of clothing or even a house.  I remember sitting at settlement when I purchased my first home and the elderly woman I bought it from was sobbing as she signed the papers.  She explained that this house was where she and her husband lived their entire lives, worked and raised a family, retired and where he eventually passed away.  Her whole life was tied to that house…and, I understood.  She was grieving a loss.  The physical bonds we have with the things we cherish can be sentimental, emotional or they can even be financial.  But, I believe it’s the sentimental part that holds the most power over us.  When we touch, caress or even look at an object we own, it can bring back very pleasant memories, (and, it can also elicit unpleasant ones too).  We feel “connected” in some way, there is a definite nostalgia involved and we can re-live those times in our lives when and where we felt the most pleasure, joy or sense of peace.

So, why is this?  Why is it that certain inanimate objects can mean so much to us and why do they very often have such palpable control over us?  There are explanations for this phenomenon all over the internet and I’ll leave that for you to peruse at your leisure.  The point I’m trying to make is when these things control us to the place where “we” lose control, then it can become a issue.  Have you seen the show American Pickers?  The stuff these guys buy from folks all over the country are often stored in rows and rows of out buildings and barns, sometimes taking up acres of ground.  Every time I see the show, I think to myself “why in the world do they keep this stuff, they certainly can’t take it with them”.  In my recent blog about simplifying our lives, I talked about the freedom we can feel when we rid ourselves of objects and belongings once they’ve outgrown their usefulness.  Once we’ve removed these things from our lives, we no longer have to maintain a place for them.  But, when we hold on, it forces us to watch over them, ensuring that their feigned importance is preserved.  That alone is work in and of itself and it can be stifling.  While ridding my life from my own stuff, I’ve come across things I’d held on to that I didn’t even know I still had…sound familiar?

Folks, everything has a shelf life.  Some things last longer than others, but for purposes of our attachments to them, we must realize that the usefulness and longevity of our stuff is for the most part, going to be temporary.  Unless a possession has a specific purpose for daily living, it just doesn’t matter.

Look around.  See what doesn’t matter in your life, then let it go.  Each thing you let go is one less link in the chain that binds you to them.

Once the chains are gone, so is your tether to the unimportant…and in that, there is freedom.

freedom from chains

Road Trip…

Ahhh…road trip.  Two words that evoke excitement and anticipation.  I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to road trips early in my life as we vacationed every year in Virginia where my parents grew up.  Shortly after they were married, my parents moved north to New Jersey where my brother and I were born and raised.  But, their hearts always remained in Virginia.  So, every year after school let out and 99% of our Jersey friends and families were preparing to go “downa’ shore” for vacation, my brother and I knew the time was getting close to making the six-hour road trip to the hills and backwoods of Appalachia.  Seeing our relatives was cool enough, but it was the drive I loved the most.  Motoring past Philly, Baltimore and then Washington DC brought unbridled exhilaration as I knew the remote roads of south central Virginia lay ahead.  The smell of the farmlands, woods and red clay dirt was intoxicating and I never wanted it to go away.  I knew just about every landmark, every building and every rest stop along the way.  When we finally turned onto that long, winding, gravel road that led to my grandparent’s house, I could’ve cared less if I ever saw a blacktopped highway again.  The thrill of road tripping was burned into my spirit.

Roadtrip

While stationed at Parris Island, South Carolina, I would usually try and catch a ride home from someone on base.  But if I couldn’t, I would hitchhike from South Carolina to New Jersey.  Going home on leave was only part of the enjoyment though.  For me, it was the chance to sit in a car or truck for hours talking, listening to music, sightseeing or just being alone with my thoughts.  Let me say that hitchhiking cross country 40 years ago was much less dangerous than today, especially for a U.S. Marine in his green utility uniform.  Anyway, I always looked forward to meeting folks and having new adventures along the way…and, a road trip was always the answer.

After military service, I started doing some short backpacking trips with friends along the east coast.  It was 1980 and I had just finished several long hikes on the Appalachian Trail through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  These hikes took well over a few weeks to complete, but I found I wanted more adventure and it was then that I discovered climbing.  I came across an ad in an outdoor magazine for a rock and ice climbing school in North Conway, New Hampshire.  Whoa, that sounded like fun…another road trip!  I went during the height of the fall foliage season and New Hampshire was majestically beautiful.  The moment I stepped off the ground onto that near vertical, 500’ granite face, turned and looked out across the painted forest and mountains…I was hooked.

fall

Over the past 30 years, my mountaineering trips throughout the continental United States have been absolutely incredible and the accounts of these adventures could fill volumes.  But, it was almost always the journey, getting there…the road trip that excited me.  I loved spending days and sometimes weeks preparing for my excursions and would pour over just about any climbing book I could lay my hands on.  Packing, unpacking and re-packing became a wonderful part of the process as I would anticipate what the next expedition would bring.  I’ve driven cross country literally dozens of times and have put hundreds of thousands of miles on no less than 5 pick-up trucks over the years.  And, I was blessed to have had friends with me who shared the same passion for the road and for adventure.  Today, I am just as blessed to have a beautiful wife who shares a love for road trips and adventure as much as I do.  There is absolutely nothing like cruising down long, desolate “roads less travelled” while looking at incredible scenery and experiencing nature in its rawest form.  It does something to the mind, body and spirit that’s difficult to describe with words.  An example was a trip through some of the most remote areas of northern Alaska which allowed me to see things that most people may not ever get to see in their lifetime.  It culminated one night with a light show from the aurora borealis that will be forever etched in my mind.  Another was a solo trip to the Grand Canyon, just me and my dog.  While driving at night through the four corners region of the southwest (where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah converge) I had a flat tire.  By the time I pulled over to repair it, it was pitch dark and I decided to sleep in my truck.  So, I opened my sleeping bag, crawled in and fell asleep.  The next morning was magical.  I hadn’t realized it but I had fallen asleep in the desert near a Navajo Indian reservation.  A burnt orange sunrise that created a multi-colored landscape greeted me as I crawled out of my bag.  Huge saguaro cactus trees and flat topped mesas loomed close and in the distance as far as I could see.  It was one of the most beautiful vistas I had ever seen.  These experiences are spiritual folks…and if you’ve done it and are familiar with what I’m talking about, I’m sure you’ll agree.

mesa - cactus

Over my many years of travelling, I knew it was God who was calling me to the mountains and I believe this is just one of the reasons we’re now in Colorado.  God has met me on the roads, on the hikes and on every rock or ice laden mountain I’ve ever climbed.  And, He’s met me in the valleys and on the summits too.  I think this is a huge part of why I love the mountains.  It’s because I meet my Father there and He speaks to my heart and to my spirit.  The better part of 50 years in and around the mountains is a testament to this.  Oh, sure, I can also meet Him in my living room, but He has given me a love for the high mountains where I know He feels the same joy as do when I’m there with Him.  Isaiah 2:3 says, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.  He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.”  I know there is more for me there and all I want to do is allow that to happen.  God has given me the love of this journey with Him and I know that is what He desires.  So, I will continue this road trip with Him for as long as He deems fit as I always know He has something there for me, on the journey and at the destination.  It keeps me coming back, time and time again.

So, grab your music, jump in your vehicle and take a road trip folks.  Use an atlas or GPS as your guide and let your spirit take you on an awesome adventure.  Remember, as has been said so many times…it’s the journey, not the destination.

And, I hope the Lord meets you there too…

42991227_MountainRoad_7335

Simplify…

Several years ago, I decided to simplify and unclutter my life.  I don’t mean from excessive noise, thoughts or difficult living, (whatever that is).  I mean from junk.  I realized that I had stuff I’d been saving, maybe even hoarding, for decades.  It wasn’t that I had junk in my house or things that I had to crawl or walk over.  No, I’m pretty neat and keep things in our home clean and orderly, (yes, from a military background).  My issue was that I’d saved things from my past, mostly in the basement and garage, thinking that “one day” I might need them.  As I surveyed my belongings like a king over his kingdom, I thought, Hmmm…I just may want to resurrect that 1990’s Walkman or open that box of clothes to bring out of retirement, (can you believe I actually found a pair of overalls I had from the late 1970’s???), or maybe even play some of those old vinyl record albums I still had!  Oops…no turntable.  However, once I found those overalls, I knew I was heading for my own reality TV show or possibly an intervention from my family.   This all started about 7 or 8 years ago when we decided to move from one town to another while still living in New Jersey.  I recognized that not only did I not need most of this stuff, I also knew that I didn’t want to lug it to a new home.  Plus, I didn’t want anyone seeing me unpack that box containing the long broken “Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em Robots” game.

cluttered-garage

Man, did I have a problem or what?

Anyway, it was time to purge.  So, I “purged & cleansed” by two basic principles.  If I hadn’t used it in a year or the object(s) didn’t add value to my life, it was sold, trashed, given to Goodwill or an AmVets organization.  Now, the “hadn’t used it in a year” principle is pretty simple, right?  It was the “add value to my life” one that gave me trouble.  Because, you know that people can justify keeping just about anything if they want it bad enough.  That’s why it’s been an almost decade long process to finally rid myself of my junk.

When we simplify and unclutter our lives, we don’t have to hold court over our marginal possessions and they then have no control over us.  They’re gone and we no longer have to guard them.  There are things that, when saved or hoarded, cause us to lord over them and keep us attached in an unhealthy manner.   When I first started purging, it was extremely cathartic.  Then, it got harder the closer I came to getting rid of things to which I had an emotional attachment.  I had to make rational and convincing arguments to myself that the things I was throwing away had no real value or that added no enrichment to my life.  And, you know what?…not a thing I threw or gave away do I regret removing from my life.  Not one thing.  I can’t begin to tell you how it feels.  It gives your life such a sense of freedom and release that you can’t imagine it until you’ve done it.

Today, my possessions include obvious household items, clothes (only in my closet), mountaineering & camping gear, photos, books and some personal articles.  Other than what’s in the house, everything else we own fits in a very small storage room.  And, I’m still cleansing from my life any extraneous possessions as I’m constantly on the hunt for them.  Make a pact with yourself…get rid of the garbage.  You’ll truly grow from the process.

simplicity

So, here’s the plan…start small.  It won’t happen overnight…trust me.  Go into the garage, basement, attic, junk drawer or wherever your stuff is and root around.  Once a week, spend a half an hour or so and purge.  Put the stuff aside and decide what you want to do with it.  If you feel overwhelmed, stop, and start again next week.  Then, when you…

Find stuff:

  1. That you no longer need
  2. That someone else may need more than you
  3. That adds no value to your life
  4. That you haven’t used in a year (other than holiday decorations).

Do this:

  1. Throw them away
  2. Give them to charity
  3. Have a yard sale
  4. Sell them outright, (online or newspaper)

You’ll be glad you did.

Oh, one other little nugget…the thing about simplifying your life is that you can find some pretty cool stuff you didn’t know you had, but may be put to other good uses.  What I did find (to my delight) were old photos of my brother in his youth.  One of which was him posing for his 8th grade party in a powder blue tuxedo, bell bottoms and ruffled pirate shirt with all the trimmings.  He looked like he was ready to perform a Vegas magic act.  I was in heaven when I found this little gem and my mind reeled at the possibilities.  Photos are the things you save (especially the funny ones), scan to your computer, then (while chuckling) email to people every now and then, reminding them how much you love them.  And, I love my brother very much.  You know, we do have to keep our siblings on their toes.  I know this because my brother gets immense pleasure in reminding me that I’m 8 years older than he, (it’s actually 7 ½).

Which reminds me…where IS that box of pictures?

tuxedo

Evil continued…

The evil that inhabits the earth is insidious, ever-present and ceaseless. No amount of legal wrangling or reforms, gun control, mental health laws, gavel banging, political grandstanding, or any other man made band-aid is going to stop it. It’s in the fabric of human nature. Since Cain killed Abel (Genesis 4), there has been greed, hate, envy and a host of other basic human drives that have and will continue to cause evil to occur in the natural world theater. The age old questions are obviously why does it happen and when will it stop?

I firmly believe it comes down to a fundamental understanding not of things natural, but spiritual.

As observers in this “world theater”, the majority of us look at things from a linear, natural perspective. In other words, we look at things from a single “line” of dimension. For example, we see the alphabet and the letter “A” and know that straight down the line there are another 25 letters until we get to “Z”. Another example is the knowledge that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Lines are comfortable. We like straight lines. Remember your Mom or kindergarten teacher telling you to try and color within the lines? Sure you do. Could you imagine running to first base on a zigzagged line…kind of funny, huh? Now, don’t lose me here, I’m heading somewhere with this. Our lives are pretty much linear. It’s the natural, human perspective on things and we don’t like deviations from the norm. Oh, sure…we all sometimes break and veer off course a bit throughout our lives when we encounter obstacles and personal challenges, but the majority of us come back to center. And, it’s pretty much a straight line, from birth to death. It’s how we like to comprehend and grasp knowledge and one’s existence.

Linear Photo

It’s when someone’s life strays so far away from the line, thereby causing incredible evil (that they’re unable to return) is when we’re stumped and can’t fathom the reasons why. When an act of evil occurs that defies our linear way of thinking is when we (and, society) get totally freaked out. The human mind always wants to place a plausible or rational explanation to acts of extreme evil. We want to define it. That way, when an evil act is understandable, we can process it and calmly and comfortably return to our linear lives. We say to ourselves “Whew, so THAT’S why that happened.” But, when there’s no explanation or comprehendible reason, nobody knows what to do. Our lawmakers are usually quick to make a new law or two for the general populace to calm down. Then they proclaim”OK folks, here’s a new law, everything’s OK…please return to your regularly scheduled programming.” That’s fine, and I understand the mindset. They’re just as scared as we are and they realize they were elected to provide solutions and answers to things. But, they think linearly too and that has to change because it doesn’t always work. Politicians can’t stop evil, nor can any man made laws. It can’t be legislated away.

We have to adjust the way we see the world. It’s not always linear. As a matter of fact, it’s far from it. There are intangibles present in the world and there are things here we just can’t label. Now, we can surmise and assume a reason for evil occurring, but that doesn’t always make it right. Face it, things happen that are far outside of our realm of understanding and I believe some of it is spiritually rooted…and, not the good kind. Satanic forces are at work in the world and the world is the realm of the demonic. Scripture abounds with clear descriptions of this (Eph. 2 & 6), and it is this evil that can influence the lives and actions of some people. There have been volumes written on the subject, but I’m not going to expound on those particulars here. I just want to portray another picture that maybe we haven’t considered when occurrences of evil are indefinable.

evil eyes

The hope I spoke of in my first essay on this subject is very simple. And, that is to try looking away from the linear and looking up. In Mark 5:36, Jesus said “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” He knew there was hope and promise in this statement. And, in 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV), the apostle Paul writes about hope when he said “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” What is physically unseen is God in heaven. But, He is here…as is the goodness of His Spirit. We see acts of goodness and beauty every day. We see it in our children, in acts of kindness between folks or in an incredible sunset over the mountains. God IS present.

hope2

As for the reason some deeds of evil continue and are allowed by God? I don’t know. They’re the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven I also spoke of before. We’ll just have to wait until we stand before Him before we know the answers.

OK, I know…a lot to think about.

Evil is not going away. It’ll just be packaged differently the next time it rears its ugly head, then differently again after that. I just believe there is an alternative to understanding and processing it outside of our linear boxes. When we bring God into the picture, we can bring our fears, concerns and anxieties to Him. This way, we don’t always have to have an explanation of things. He shoulders our burdens and leads our lives. That’s just the reality of it. What is also just as wonderful is the fact that God is not going away either. He will always be here and He will always be with us if we just let Him.

So, when the next tragedy occurs and its motive is unexplainable, just know that the Lord’s presence in our lives is His comfort. And, for me…that is all I need.