Monthly Archives: May 2015

Greater Than Self

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” – Rabindranath Tagore

Earlier this week, Good Morning America did a short spot on Martin Passeri, a champion surfer from Argentina who lost this year’s national surfing competition for a pretty cool reason: Passeri spotted Nicolas Gallegos, a thirty-eight-year-old paraplegic sitting in his wheelchair on the beach and invited him along for the ride. Gallegos reportedly never learned to surf due to an accident at age eighteen, but thanks to Passeri he rode with—and like—a champion in the national competition.

On my flight back from Chicago last evening, I read an article in the most recent edition of The Atlantic with the provocative title, “Why It Pays to Be a Jerk.” The article considered conflicting research on where “nice guys” actually finish—first, last, etc. In the end, despite the title, author Jerry Useem concluded that “being a jerk will fail most people most of the time” with an important rationale: “Jerks, narcissists, and takers engage in behaviors that satisfy their own ego, not to benefit the group.”

Passeri lost the competition, which can further the argument that nice guys don’t finish at the top. But I contend that we all instinctively know that Passeri’s willingness to care for another above himself was a championship move.

I propose living for a cause greater than you. Whatever your current struggle, whether studying for a bar exam or struggling in a tough job or facing a health challenge, don’t let the struggle be as pedestrian as a struggle for your own benefit: Consider how your struggle might benefit others.

To quote Tagore, “I acted and behold, service was joy.”

[Check out a little video footage of the Passeri-Gallegos ride HERE.]

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Remember Sacrifice

I don’t like giving up dessert to improve my health. I don’t like giving up a baseball game for work. I resist giving hard-earned cash even for causes I deeply support. Heck, I don’t even like giving up a good parking space for someone who needs it worse than I do.

But to inspire positive change, sacrifice is inevitable.

On this Memorial Day, I recall presiding over numerous military funerals at Biloxi National Cemetery on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It is difficult to have fond memories surrounding death, but there is something special about a military funeral: the peaceful grounds, the perfect order of the markers, and the folding and presentation of the flag to a grieving family that pierces the hardest heart.

As officiant, my back was always turned to the twenty-one gun salute, and I never was prepared for the explosion of gunfire from the seven rifles that shattered the still, humid air. I shuddered on each of the subsequent rounds even though I knew they were coming.

The most poignant moment was the playing of Taps. Even when the family had held it together, the initial notes of that haunting melody, low, low, high . . . burst the tear duct dam every time. I never noticed if the bugler was a pimply-teenage boy or middle-age mother—the identity did not matter. The command was in the music, and the last dying note hung in the air with such rich honor that no one dared to breathe.

Honor.

Surely the cruel specter of death was not honored. Surely the hell of war was not honored. I am sure it was the tragic beauty of sacrifice that was worthy of such solemn respect and dignity.

The very name, Memorial Day, instruct us of its aim—to remember—but I prefer the negative framing—that individual souls not be forgotten.

This nation, in fact every nation has a vested interest in asking its citizenry to remember such sacrifice for a nation needs human resources to carry out its survival goal. And in our deeply divided political climate we can argue national policy that leads to war, and we do, and we should. But today, I wish we could lay that aside for a few moments and stop shopping for a new car and grilling hot dogs long enough to remember and honor sacrifice.

On another day it might be for the firefighter who rushed upstairs while the World Trade Center collapsed. On another day it might be the police officer who kisses her husband goodbye every morning knowing that her chosen profession does not guarantee an evening safe at home. On another day it might be the activist who stands up against abusive power knowing that such a stand may very well leave him a victim of that very power.

But today, it is the soldier on the battlefield willing to die for a greater cause than self.

The aptly-named ultimate sacrifice should not be forgotten, for it is that very willingness to give up all for the good of another that is the heart of our collective desire for a better world.

For the 148th consecutive year at Gettysburg, and at locations all across the nation, the bugler takes her position . . .

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Possibly of interest:

  • The original lyrics of Taps, by Horace Lorenzo Trim:
    Day is done, gone the sun
    From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
    All is well, safely rest
    God is nigh.

    Fading light dims the sight
    And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
    From afar, drawing near
    Falls the night.

    Thanks and praise for our days
    Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
    As we go, this we know
    God is nigh.

  • Decoration Day by Charles Ives (performed by the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas).  Decoration Day was the original name of Memorial Day.

Choose Sanity

My high school buddies and I had great fun with the imagist poetry phase of William Carlos Williams. Wow, that makes us sound so intelligent. Instead, we were clueless teenage boys with no appreciation for anything resembling culture who simply made fun of the poem in our literature book about a wheelbarrow and chickens.

Now, in my mid-forties, well, not much has changed.

But in my advanced years I do at least make an effort. Each morning when I arrive at the office I read a poem from Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems, and a few weeks ago I stumbled across another popular poem from Williams’s imagist phase:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I still think Williams was smoking something.

Regardless, the next poem Keillor shared was a reply to Williams from Erica-Lynn Gambino:

This Is Just To Say
(for William Carlos Williams)

I have just
asked you to
get out of my
apartment

even though
you never
thought
I would

Forgive me
you were
driving
me insane.

Gambino is my kind of poet.

Other than abstaining from your roommate’s frozen plums, please know that this is not an attempt at relationship advice. Instead, I’m aiming at a little life metaphor here when I ask: Are you willing to remove from your life the things that are driving you insane?

I’m not sure about you, but my life is filled to the brim with countless responsibilities, information overload, and myriad relationships, just to name a few major categories. It is more than possible that life can be so full that it explodes like a balloon, leaving an awful mess to clean up—unless, of course, we cull a few crazy-makers along the way.

My guess is that none of us are super hot at giving up the things that drive us nuts—as crazy as that alone is to admit. Author Bob Goff famously quits something every Thursday. I think he is on to something.

If you want things to start looking up, lighten the load by getting rid of some stuff that drains the life right out of you. Even if it isn’t Thursday.

(And, regardless, be careful around plums.)

Introducing: Starting to Look Up

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
– Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Things are really starting to look up.

Check it out: I live with my beautiful wife in Malibu, California. We have two amazing daughters who are making their way in this world, and we are proud of them. We both work at Pepperdine University, where I have the honor of serving as Dean of Students at the School of Law. My job connects me to a phenomenal community of faculty, staff, and students who are already changing the world

There is another way to look at things I guess. Malibu is not cheap. I work too many hours. Law school is a stressful environment. Our daughters are no longer little girls. My parents are no longer alive. My hair is no longer with me, and my body seems to remind me on a daily basis that we aren’t on the upswing anymore.

But I fully believe in the wise counsel of Holocaust survivor and Jewish psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, who taught us that nobody can steal our collective ability to choose an attitude in any set of circumstances. If you are skeptical, imagine trying his circumstances on for size.

The law students I serve have this dilemma in spades. They have the tremendous opportunity to study law in Malibu and pursue a most noble profession that offers power and influence. They also work like crazy with looming fears of failure, bar exams, debt, and difficult job prospects.

This blog is my attempt to help all of us, law students along with anyone else in the neighborhood, to work on the attitude choice in our given sets of circumstances.

“Emerson said that the happiest person on earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So go outside a lot, and look up. My pastor says you can trap bees on the floor of a Mason jar without a lid, because they don’t look up. If they did, they could fly to freedom.”
– Anne Lamott

Things are really starting to look up, and so am I.