Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Which has more impact ?

It has been awhile since I posted anything here.

Please don't assume the time lapse to be indicative of my lack of "upward" focus or intention. I have attempted to be "eyes-wide-open" to local stories that can be recounted for the purpose of encouraging a positive attitude and warming a person's heart.

It should've been so easy over the Christmas Season - finding people reaching out to others in a spirit of giving. And it's not that I wasn't witness to food and clothing hampers being gathered and gifts being given without a previously arranged exchange.

Somehow, though, the stories, touching as they were, didn't seem to hold the creative potential to fit within this blog... or did they?

If I take some time to ponder the implications, maybe a simple story is more powerful than an amazing one.

Maybe the everyday acts of shoveling a walk, lending an arm or an ear during such a busy time of year is the essence of practicing the "up" side.

And perhaps in the search for the "great and big" the more profound, everyday, ordinary events are overlooked.

Are people interested in reading a simple story about ordinary people doing ordinary things that, over the longhaul, create extraordinary influence and impact?

Or are we desensitized, blinded to the beauty found in the simple because of the glitz and glamor of what our world has declared big and important?

I remain on the hunt for the "Up" side...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

This thing called love

There was a man of great wealth and means. Though surrounded by people he loved and who loved him in return, his life was not complete. Nothing and no one could satisfy the desire of his heart: to be reconnected with his daughter.

Separated since her birth, he’d learned of her likes and dislikes from a distance. Now she was at an age to choose and he had a great idea. Known for being a master at arranging details and using circumstances to accomplish his goals, he was prepared to do whatever it took to win her love and affection. Nothing would stop him.

He planted her favorite flowers on the path she walked each evening and along the route she took to get to work each day. He negotiated with local radio personnel to play songs about love, especially between fathers and daughters. With the cooperation of others, those his daughter knew and those she didn’t, he personalized his message of love - a loyal friend with an embracing arm, her elderly neighbor with a gentle touch, a co-worker with compassionate eyes, the smile of a stranger conveying value and respect.

The father wrote of his love, binding it in a book, and arranged for copies to be set down where she might reach for them: The waiting room of the medical clinic, the spa where she went for regular pedicures, the hotel-room bedside table where she stayed on monthly business trips and even up in her dusty attic where she might find it amongst the last of her mother’s belongings, packed in a few boxes.

It took some time but his daughter started responding.

Like waking from a deep sleep, the world around her seemed fresh, new, and vibrant with life.

Everywhere she looked she saw her favorite blue Forget-Me-Knots, as if the seeds had been carried by the wind, sprouting and growing where they settled. Even the touch of the sun on her skin spoke love to her heart; the gentle, spring breeze whispered her name.

She noticed one day that every song she heard seemed to focus on Love and with that awareness, emotions, long buried, began to stir and revive.

Quite by accident, she stumbled upon a strange book and began finding copies of it in the oddest of places. A wisp of a memory sent her on a search through her attic where, surprisingly, she found a dusty copy of her own. Curiosity kept her mesmerized, and as she read, she discovered startling similarities between the story and her own life. Before she knew it, she was consumed by a need to know the details of her life; the need to find her father.

The man’s heart was full; his daughter was finally ready to meet him. Having tenderly prepared even this moment he made a dramatic, eye-opening entrance and introduced himself as her father.

Just as he’d hoped and better than her wildest dreams, she opened her arms and welcomed him in.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Sandbox Club

Some of us call our workplace “The Sandbox”.

On any given day, with any combination of circumstances and personalities, the atmosphere can be charged with the emotions of a playground sandbox.

It’s not the same as it used to be” some say.

We used to get our work done and still have fun” others add.

When I was a kid, we always had the largest sandbox on the block. Each Spring, my father, an advocate of creative play, would load up the trunk of our 1960's four-door Volvo sedan with enough fresh sand to keep a neighborhood full of sandbox lovers busy for a complete summer. 

At the start of every neighborhood playtime, my brother or I would take charge of the sandbox troops and divvy up the plots of sand; marking off boundaries and property lines. Then everyone would get to work creating their "castle", weaving country lanes or city streets around their buildings and to the box beyond.

On a good day, when harmony reigned, each builder would join their streets or highways together. They’d cheerfully offer their piles of reserved sand to those who had need beyond their borders.

But like the wind can change from north to south overnight, a good day could turn bad with no warning.

On a bad day, the need to defend our space would have been better served by a six-foot chain link fence than the lines drawn in the sand. Even the smallest gesture from another worker would be interpreted as infiltration and sabotage. Motivations were assumed not communicated, prompting reactions that prompted reactions that prompted… (I’m sure you get the picture.)

At best, it involved some sand-throwing. At worst - pushing and shoving. In the end though, the loss was felt by all as the disgruntled workers left the sandbox; discord and disunity hanging in the air like dirty laundry.

Forty years later the size and look of the sandbox has changed, the semantics haven’t. Our clothes have a different look and we do a better job of styling our hair but we can still be called the “Sandbox Club”.

We have many good days, great days even, and on those days you’ll find everyone happy in their corners busy at their job, readily sharing their “reserves”.

But then, without warning, the disunity starts. Sandbox rights are demanded, then justified. Arguments follow, lines are drawn and sides picked and before you know it the wind is not the only thing that has changed direction.

I’ve been reading a book lately that has some things to say about keeping peace, whether in a sandbox or out. I venture to say if we set out each day with these rules in mind, we might find ourselves back in the good ol’ days when “we got our work done and still had fun”. It makes me want to send an interoffice memo:

Live in harmony with each other.

Don’t try to act important.

Enjoy the company of ordinary people.

Never pay back hurt for hurt - to anyone.

Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible.

Don’t let disharmony get the best of you. Conquer it, instead, by being kind.

The “UP” side to the sandbox is whether today ended up being good or bad, we get to start again tomorrow with fresh sand.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The ongoing need for the "up" side

Lately, everywhere you go people are either "coughing" or talking about those who are "coughing". They're either worried about getting the "cough" or annoyed about "all the hype" about the "cough".

The media coverage of the "cough" has been successful in keeping us informed just enough to stir large numbers of the general public into a frenzy of fear and confusion.

What we all need is the ability to pull away, find some peace and quiet and take a deep breath of fresh air... without the fear of catching something.

So I took my hairy boy, Micah, for a walk in the subdivision after work today. I met a friend so that I could make it a hefty cardiovascular work out; a "walk and talk".

We have a nice little Wednesday route, down a few quiet streets, on a wooded pathway that borders the elementary school and then back on those quiet neighborhood streets and home again.

The school kids were on a recess break. The sounds of their laughter and shouts to each other were heartwarming and delightful. A couple of students recognized my hairy boy and called for him from their perch half way up the six-foot chain link fence.

They called and called but Micah didn't even turn his blonde head. He's pretty focused on his walks. The smorgasbord of smells and scents consume his mental capacity leaving nothing for polite social interaction. That and I think he might be on the verge of discovering his manliness. At the age of four he still lifts his skirts (he's a golden retriever) to leave his personal scent but today there was the slightest hint that he might actually be lifting a hind leg and aiming. Don't know if this is a sign of growth or just one of those "up" hill things.

The greatest thrill on my thirty-five minute journey, however, was not the prospect of Micah's development as an adult male canine but rather a surprising discovery on the downhill end of our walk.

Wouldn't you know "Mark" the inspiration to this blog was out in a next-door neighbor's driveway. Our eyes met and as always his smile was huge. He had a ready "Hey, how's it going?" for my friend and I.

"Doing great" I called back. "How 'bout you?"

As we had come up to the yard, I'd noticed Mark's wheelchair on the other side of a vehicle. Their driveway swooped down from the road, flattened in front of the house and then scooped back up again. Mark, balancing on his one leg was standing by the passenger's door, a couple of tools in his hand. "Just trying to help a friend" he said. "She locked her keys in her car."

"You got all the tools?" I ask and then think as if I have any if he doesn't.

"Yup, everything I need." and Mark goes back to concentrating on the task at hand.

"Wow." I said to my friend.

"Do you know who that is?" my friend asks.

"Yeh. He's the one I wrote about yesterday."

Isn't that just typical. Mark doing what he can to make someone's life a little easier. It doesn't really surprise me, knowing what I do of the man I call Mark, but I guess coming from the "stay-home-and-stay-healthy" mentality of the world these days Mark's good deed is refreshing to say the very least.

Once again, Mark proves the value of living on the "Up" side and it inspires me to pay-it-forward on his neighbor's behalf just to help spread the kindness around.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Realization

A friend rolled his wheelchair through the main doors of the store where I worked.

"Good morning, Mark*" I said. "How are you today?"

I watched as he shrugged his shoulders under the brim of his leather "outback" hat, tilted far enough back to expose his lengthening forehead. Despite the gray pallor to his skin, his eyes held their typical light.

"I'm on the up-side" he said and smiled. "Can't complain."

As Mark rolled by I thought of the example he was to all of us standing on two feet.

I'd heard somewhere it was a work injury. You know how "small-town" talk goes. I'm sure, had I asked him, he would fill me in; explain the details. But somehow I get the impression the "how-did-you-get-there?" part of his story is not where he chooses to spend his time. I sense Mark doesn't spend much time wallowing in the "why-me?"'s either. Although he may.

As I heard him joking with the pharmacist while he waited for a prescription to be filled it became clear to me: Mark is one of those rare human beings that uses what hasn't happened to him as fuel for an attitude of gratitude.

I hear the echo of his words: "I'm on the up-side" and I wonder for just a moment: and the down-side is?....

Mark coughs as he wheels past the front counter and through the door, held open by another shopper.

"Poor guy." The customer standing before me says as his eyes move to the now-empty entrance, then back to me.

"Actually, I'm not so sure our sympathy is what he's looking for. He has a pretty amazing outlook."

I let my words hang in the air with no further explanation, and make eye contact with another man in line waiting to buy a lottery ticket and cigarettes. He's a regular, plus he's empty handed.

Just like you and me really - empty handed, that is. It's what we focus on that seems to fill our hands. Or be a burden.

This day, I choose the "Up" side. I declare to myself with noble bravado.

"How are you today sir?" I ask of the empty-handed one.


"Sorry to hear that. Guess things could always be worse." It's lame, but definitely an attempt to shed light on the up-side.

He lifts an eyebrow and gives me the "are-you-done-yet?" look.

"Gimme ten one-dollar Blackjacks. And they better be winners."

Yep, as I smile and nod, Mark is definitely onto something.

* Name changed to protect the valuable.