Monthly Archives: February 2016

Freeday

So we wait four whole years to get an entire extra day again and it turns out to be a Monday. Darn the luck. Rumor has it that Leap Day will be on a Saturday in 2020—as it should be—but this go around . . . Monday.

So what will you do with this rare gift of an entire day? My guess is go to work, so on, so forth. Just another Monday.

But, what if. What if you really did have a free day, twenty-four hours with no responsibilities, what would you do? And while we’re in make-believe world, what if it didn’t have a name like Monday (work) or Saturday (take the kids to soccer) or Sunday (go to church)? What if we made up a cool name like Freeday so that there was no lurking guilt as to what you should be doing that day instead? How would you spend Freeday?

And what’s stopping you?

My good friend, Wikipedia, told me that Leap Day occurs in most years divisible by four but not years divisible by 100 unless divisible by 400. I’m not making this up. Some cat named Pope Gregory XIII did make this up 400+ years ago, so I’m asking, why can’t you make up some math and declare a day all for you?

I say pick a day and go for it. Time is a precious gift, and observation tells me that it eventually runs out on all of us, so why not resist the forces working against you and seize a (Free)day.

The Judeo-Christian heritage calls such craziness “Sabbath” with a recommended dosage of once a week. But once every four years is better than never.

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Race

DCF 1.0

Go see “Race.” The critics apparently do not think it is the greatest movie in the history of movies, but the story of Jesse Owens is one of the greatest stories in the history of stories, so there. But be prepared. American race relations in the 1930s is not fun to watch, and then you encounter Nazi Germany. It is a tough, hard, heroic story well worth the price of admission, not to mention the attention of your heart.

I traveled to northern Alabama in June 2007 to speak at a church that had supported our church during Hurricane Katrina, and while there, noticed that the Jesse Owens Memorial Park & Museum was nearby. I had to go. Jesse, a grandson of slaves, was born into a family of sharecroppers in tiny Oakville, Alabama, and the museum grounds contains a replica of his childhood home. Mr. & Mrs. Owens had nine children in that tiny house, and the children had no beds. Eventually, the family relocated to Cleveland, Ohio, where life was bad, but better, and it was there that Jesse’s spectacular high school track and field performances catapulted him on to the world stage where he forever defied Hitler’s claim of Aryan supremacy.

This picture is my personal favorite from the museum (and my favorite scene in the movie):

DCF 1.0

The friendship that formed between blond-haired, blue-eyed Luz Long from Nazi Germany and African-American, Jesse Owens, from the United States in the long jump competition at the Olympic Games stands as a testament of hope for the world.

An article on ESPN.com shared the following quote from Owens: “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War II.”

Eighty years after the 1936 Olympic Games, the world sure seems to remain a mess. But there is hope. There is always hope. And it begins when people defy social expectations and form the most unlikely friendships.

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It Will Be Alright

SCENE 1: It was August 2012 and the worst moment of my life. My mother was dying more rapidly than I and my sisters imagined, and I had spent the last hour holding her hand while she dozed in a special lift chair. The clock taunted me like an executioner. I knew that I had to fly back to California and leave her for the final time, and eventually, that time arrived. I went to grab my bag, but when I returned to say goodbye it was obvious that this would not go well. I stepped into another room to gain composure but failed, so I simply collapsed in loud tears into her shallow, yellowed chest, and through my sobs could hear her raspy, comforting, motherly voice whisper, “It’s going to be alright.” It sure didn’t seem so. When I stood to leave, I strode quickly out the door knowing that I would never leave if I looked back. A man should never have to turn his back on his dying mother, but I did.

SCENE 2: Three weeks later, I am on an afternoon flight from Los Angeles to Memphis. That night, through the miracle of air travel, I would sleep in the bed my mother died in that morning, two thousand miles from where my fateful day began. I reviewed the eulogy fortunately written the day before and fought off tears on what otherwise appeared to be a normal flight. Troubled and weary, I put away the notes and plugged in earbuds in a futile attempt at distraction and scrolled through the flight’s music offerings. For some reason, I selected Three Little Birds by Bob Marley and soon heard his hopeful, comforting, spiritual voice say, “Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be alright.” The tears flowed easily now, and if anyone noticed, I didn’t give a fill-in-the-blank.

SCENE 3: It is February 2016 in Malibu, California, and I am driving down the Pacific Coast Highway for a lunch appointment with a good friend. It is sunny, blue skies, seventy degrees, and heavenly. Lunch will be served by the Pacific Ocean with surfers bobbing in the waves. It has been a bit of a rough month personally, physically, and professionally, but I am recently feeling better on all fronts. Per usual, my Legend CD by Bob Marley & the Wailers is playing, and my old friend is reassuring me once again that every little thing is gonna be alright. Mom was right. Of course. She always seemed to be.

More vs. Enough

In the mid-1980s, despite pedagogical intentions, Coach Watson’s “Global Studies” course introduced me to The Far Side. We checked in on Gary Larson’s strange mind each day as we perused the newspaper for world events (and/or, read the sports page).

Although impossible to pick an all-time favorite, the cartoon featuring a courthouse broadcast where the reporter said something like, “Dramatic testimony against Mr. Pumpkineater was given today by his sister, Jeannie Jeannie Eatszucchini,” always makes me fall on the floor.

But today, for some reason, one of Larson’s anthropomorphic classics came to mind. Mr. and Mrs. Cow are in the living room, and Mr. Cow is in the easy chair with a beer in front of the television. Mrs. Cow is standing in front of the picture window, a fruit platter by her side, a string of pearls around her neck, and bracelets dangling from an arm holding a glass of wine. She looks over her shoulder and says to Mr. Cow, “Wendell…I’m not content.”

Hee-larious. The drawing itself, the absurdity of the scene, and maybe most especially something about a cow named Wendell is so outlandishly clever.

The disturbing part is when I identify with Mrs. Cow.

Once upon a time in a law school paper on Greed titled, “Enough Already,” I shared Dr. Stanley Hauerwas’s one-word definition of the deadly sin of greed—“more”—and juxtaposed that insatiable desire with the idea of “enough.” “More” vs. “Enough.” I’ll give you one guess which one characterizes my mind most often.

“Enough” is elusive, in part because death comes quickly if taken too far, i.e., life demands more air to breathe; more food to eat; more exercise to stay healthy; more money to pay bills; more goals to achieve; and so on and so forth, but the ability to be satisfied, in a given day or a given moment, is important for mental health if nothing else.

And when you are a cow with a glass of wine and a fruit platter, anything less is just ungrateful.

Hope for the World

As Valentine’s Day bled into Presidents’ Day, I decided to give up any love of politics for Lent. This may be the perfect year for such a sacrifice.

The tragic loss of Justice Scalia over the weekend was quickly followed by the tragic politicization of his passing.  There is political work to do, of course, but it was sad, though not surprising, that a presidential candidate had tweeted an opening shot before the Supreme Court had even published an official statement on the loss of their colleague.

This presidential campaign cycle? Wow.

Best I can tell, nine viable candidates remain—two Democrats (Clinton; Sanders), six Republicans (Bush; Carson; Cruz; Kasich; Rubio; Trump), and one lurking independent (Bloomberg). It is possible that Batman or a Muppet or One Direction (campaign slogan alert?) may enter the field, too, given this unpredictable election cycle.

If the presidential field took the field as a baseball team, I’d put Sanders in left (of course), Bloomberg in center (of course), and Cruz in right (of course). Trump would have to play first because it has a #1 in it. Bush and Kasich would necessarily be the (Republican Establishment’s) double-play combination, and Clinton would be a natural at the hot corner given her experience with controversy. I’d put Carson behind the plate (i.e., coming from behind now anyway), and Rubio could take the mound since he is the youngest candidate and may have the most lively arm.

American presidential politics is both fascinating and disturbing, sort of like a roadside accident elicits a peek. Although I vote and appreciate our system, my personal philosophy is best summed up by the late Will D. Campbell (and speaking of baseball): “I watch the political process pretty much as I watch baseball. I have a favorite team, but I know that ultimately it makes no difference who wins. I gave up on politics offering any hope for the world’s problems a long time ago.”

There is a complex thought system that underlies the quote. Just so you know.

Well, I’ll risk oversimplification and explain it this way: I stand with Will D. Campbell and Dr. King in believing that the hope for the world lies in our ability to see one another as brothers and sisters.

Watching our prospective leaders in a democracy speak as they do is a direct reflection of our own hearts, and it seems that we hate each other. Well, maybe not hate (yes, I do mean hate), but at least we resent or despise or fear each other. Surely not family.

I am happy that the inspiring friendship between Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg has received some attention this weekend.  It is unfortunate that it appears to have zero effect on the presidential campaign.

My best bet as to who will win in November? Nobody. Oh, someone will be elected president of these United States, but in this political climate, I’m not predicting any real winners. I am predicting a lot of angry people. (I’m also predicting a large number of folks will renege on their pledge to move to Canada if ________ is elected.)

It is personally comforting that I do not believe the “hope for the world’s problems” lies in a presidential election, but at the same time, it is troubling that the hope I believe in appears to have zero traction, Scalia/Ginsburg notwithstanding.

I’m going to see everyone as brothers and sisters anyway.

Permanence

Nothing says next stage of life quite like receiving a text/picture of/from your youngest child in her Seattle tattoo parlor of choice. It is a real attention-grabber. The gentleman/artist in the photograph with her did appear to be wearing surgical gloves, which felt like a win all things considered.

She may or may not be my child; I am without tattoo, at least none that I have discovered, and I have been with me at almost all times. My tattoo-less status is not a moral stand, however; instead, my particular phobias include in no particular order: fear of physical pain, fear of permanent markers, and fear of misspelled words. If the tattoo artist was an actual boa constrictor, it would be my worst nightmare.

My dad had a large, prominent tattoo of a battleship on his bicep, which made perfect sense for a WWII sailor, but I am embarrassed to say that it took me a couple of decades to realize that “Ruby” was probably not the name of the battleship. The lack of texting technology during the Second World War worked in favor of the emotional state of my grandmother.

But our daughter is so cool. She carefully chose her tattoo, a Swahili phrase, and described it this way:

Nakupenda was the first Swahili phrase I learned on my first trip to Kenya back in 2012. It means “I love you” and is a constant reminder of my love for Kenya, for the students at MITS, for travel, for education, and for doing all I can to help bring more love to the world. This phrase has meant so much to me for the past 4 years and now, in the handwriting of my Kenyan brother, Paul, it will always be a part of me.

I love it. And her. But I confess that my first thought upon hearing that she was actually going through with it was, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Which, actually, was not a conscious thought, but a deeply-repressed and possibly unspoken lesson from childhood that said, “No, that is not a good idea.” Why not? The voices in my head said something about permanence. This youngest child of ours now has a message permanently imprinted on her body (laser removal technology notwithstanding).

Here’s the funny thing: She chose it because of its permanence. That’s the point.

“…it will always be a part of me.”

Yes, it will, sweetheart, and that makes me smile. You know, come to think of it, ink or no ink, all of us are tatted up by our life experiences and the deep values that shape who we are and what we hope to become.

Permanence has a negative side, but it has a glorious side, too.

A False Sense of Security

Rolling Stone did a great piece on why the NFL sacked Roman numerals for Super Bowl 50, and if your team ended up with the L yesterday, you can just think of it as a big old Roman numeral instead. (Too soon?)

Super Bowl 50 mostly made me feel old since I remember most of them. I was a football fan and a churchgoing kid in the 1970s-1980s, which was a terrible combination on Super Bowl Sunday.¹ Our church had Bible classes at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, followed by a 6:00 p.m. worship assembly, and it was clear that we would go straight to hell for missing either. I lived in a house directly across the street from the church building, so my friend Jamey and I would run across the street² in between class/worship to get a Super Bowl update from my non-churchgoing dad. It was torture at the time, but it makes me smile to remember me/Jamey/Dad and the breathless fun of being a kid.

My dad played football in the 1930s when players wore leather helmets with no facemask. Crazy, right? Recently, I heard some lawyers discussing football’s concussion scandal and someone suggested returning to those days. Super crazy, right? This deranged lawyer tossed in some actual facts (sneaky!) that contact sports like rugby (sans helmets) have a much lower incidence of brain injuries, which if not concussed, takes about half a second to understand: A false sense of security is a dangerous thing.

Well, going helmet-less should never happen to American football, but that’s not where my brain is at today.³ I’m thinking about the other equipment we wear to protect our minds and our hearts that unconsciously liberates us to act in ways that damage us even more.

Like, I won’t let anyone know my weaknesses, so I drive myself harder and harder (you can’t hurt me!) until, well, my weaknesses are pretty undeniable.

And, I won’t let anyone know my failures, so I set out to prove how successful I can be at everything (you can’t beat me!) until, well, I fail in spectacular fashion.

And, I won’t let anyone know my loneliness, so I endear myself to so many people (you can’t ignore me!) that I end up not connecting to anyone.

Among others.

Maybe I should take off the old football helmet. That may force me to consider how my daily actions truly impact my tender mind and heart.

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¹ Arguably a terrible combination period, although I have stubbornly held on to both.

² I never was clear on the state of our eternal souls if we were hit by a car while crossing the street running away from the church on Super Bowl Sunday. Post-law school, I think our mens rea would have protected us, but then again, who would have been out driving on Super Bowl Sunday anyway?

³ Pun? Irony? Terrible writing? All three?

Internal Drive

“And even when we’re doing the thing we love, there can be frustrations, disappointments, and times when it simply doesn’t work or come together. But when it does . . .” – Ken Robinson, “The Element”

I will run the Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach on Sunday morning alongside seventeen thousand other nutjobs. I will try to sleep Saturday night but fail. Known fact. Still, I will rise early, drive forever in the darkness to run far too long far too fast and hurt far too long afterward. I paid money to do this, and I am so excited I can hardly stand it. Logic is obviously not driving this bus.

StrengthsFinder 2.0 revealed my top three strengths as: Discipline; Strategic; Achiever. Maybe my fidgety excitement for an endurance race is not so illogical after all. I love setting a goal, making a plan, relentlessly sticking to it, and going for it all out. That is “me” at my strongest.

The description of Achiever in StrengthsFinder 2.0 says, “Your relentless need for achievement might not be logical.” (You think?) “It brings you the energy you need to work long hours without burning out.” (And/or, run many miles?) “It is the theme that keeps you moving.” (Well, let’s hope so on Sunday morning.)

The race may be a disaster, but it may not, and it is the latter that has me doing such a crazy thing. Deep down, it doesn’t really matter how it goes. What matters to me is the “going” (for it).

What do you love? What is your element? What are your particular strengths? The answers are worth discovering, for they will lead you to places that maybe only you find special. But you’ll know the special.

Adversity

My youngest daughter gave me a LARGE PRINT (appreciated!) book of David Foster Wallace essays titled, “Both Flesh and Not.” She knows that I may have developed a reader crush on Wallace. Among other admirable qualities, Wallace’s conventional knowledge is astounding, but his unconventional approach is stunning. For instance, one of the essays included in the book is composed entirely of bullet points. Twenty-five pages’ worth of bullet points (well, LARGE PRINT, so maybe two pages, but still).

So if the imitation/flattery cliché is true, then consider the following as feeble-yet-genuine praise.

• Adversity: Simple definition: “a difficult situation or condition.”
• Synonyms: misfortune; mishap; tragedy.
• First known use: 13th century.
• Probability that you (and me, but I’m writing here, so you) will encounter adversity: 100%.
• Leading responses to adversity: Popularly (and boring-ly), fight or flight. More descriptively, nausea; all versions of weeping, from softly into a dark pillow to convulsive wailing; bitterness; rage; blaming, from self to upbringing to society to presidents/candidates to God to karma to your stupid ex-whatever; prayer; tubs of ice cream; throwing things; liquid courage; television binge; a life of crime; join the circus.
• Approximate amount of fun in any of these responses at least by the next day: Zero. (Except possibly the circus, which depends so much on your new job description.)
• Common themes from an “adversity” search on Google Images: Mountains; tightropes; Martin Luther King, Jr., loneliness.
• Strangest return item from an “adversity” search on Amazon: Adversity Board Game.
• Opening line of product description for Adversity Board Game: “Become the greatest advertising mogul the world has ever seen!” (Oh, it is AD-versity. Clever.)
• Most fun line of opening customer description of Ad-versity Board Game: “We tried this game both while drinking and while sober, and both times it sort of stank.”
• Why I’m thinking/writing about adversity: Life, lately. Some personal, some observational, from many corners of life.
• What to do when the tendency to criticize how others handle adversity rears its ugly head: Slip on their moccasins. (Figuratively of course, although a literal situation is conceivable, like if maybe someone gets bad news from the doctor and runs screaming on to a sizzling hot highway, and if you’re barefoot and their moccasins are right there anyway… This all seems highly unlikely.)
• How I want to handle inevitable adversity: With love; head on; with courage and strength; at peace.
• Probability that I will do so: Unknown, but greatly increased with resolve, preparation, practice, and reflection.