Monthly Archives: May 2016

Exotic India

Taj Mahal.jpg

The fun folks at Merriam-Webster define exotic as “strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously different or unusual.”  I now just picture India and call it a day.

I followed two colleagues to the other side of the world last week to cultivate relationships on behalf of the law school, and from a business perspective it was a successful trip.  From a personal perspective, I brought home extraordinary memories of…

  • Monkeys swinging over shoppers’ heads at a bazaar high in the Himalayas.
  • The snake charmer on his punji serenading us and his little, slithering friend.
  • Children playing cricket in the dirt in the searing heat.
  • Men paving a road by hand.
  • The “mad poetry” of Indian traffic (as my friend Jeff calls it), where cars, buses, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, cows, dogs, auto rickshaws, motorcycles, and tractors dance to a symphony of horns.
  • The morning sun peeking through the haze on the road to Agra.
  • The stunning majesty of the Taj Mahal.
  • Being one of only two people not wearing a turban in a large business meeting.
  • The powerful aroma and flavors of rich Indian cuisine.
  • Camels on the roadside.
  • The unlimited potential of a scooter, from the wedging of toddlers between adults to beautiful women in colorful saris precariously riding sidesaddle to hauling more people and goods than a typical pickup truck.
  • Cows everywhere—and the jarring appearance of a McDonald’s.
  • A military man carrying a rifle grabbing breakfast in a convenience store.
  • Conspicuously arriving at a skills center in full business suit and the stares from the long line of poor people awaiting an exam that could change their lives.
  • The noble India Gate.
  • Going behind the gates of the President’s House and seeing the formal guard dressed in bright red uniform with a feathered hat standing at attention.
  • The magical city of Shimla at night.
  • Colors.  All of them.  Bright and vibrant blues, greens, yellows, reds, oranges, purples…

I don’t really know what to do with all of these memories just yet.  They are almost too much to process.  Sadly, I suspect that I have already forgotten images that in any other context would be unforgettable.

What I do know is that the world is filled with exotic places.  And that they are worth checking out.

Advertisements

The Ride of Your Life

[Note: I have been faithful to a twice-a-week posting rhythm on this blog but am about to take a week off for a business trip—a trip that should produce enough writing inspiration for another year at least!]

I still consider it one of my better ideas.

It was our anniversary, and I am nothing if not a romantic.  My wife loves (note: loved, but still loves—the use of verb tense in this sentence is telling) roller coasters, and I didn’t mind roller coasters, at least the last time I checked, which admittedly had been several years ago, so we blocked out a full day with zero distractions and beat the early morning traffic to Six Flags Magic Mountain—the real Walley World in the original Vacation!—on an absolutely gorgeous day.  What could go wrong?

We were there early with our faces plastered against the front gates until they opened and strategically shot over to the backside of the park to conquer several big roller coasters before long lines formed.  Our plan worked to perfection.  No waiting for ride number one.  No waiting for ride number two.  I wasn’t sure anyone’s stomach should ever feel exactly like mine felt after ride number two, but there was no waiting for ride number three . . . .

After ride number three, I concluded that it was best for all park visitors that I not attempt ride number four.  My poor, poor wife.

With time, and 7-Up, and sitting V-E-R-Y still, I concluded that I might not die at that exact moment, which at the time felt like a significant victory.  Eventually, I was able to walk around the park, albeit slowly and sadly, holding my wife’s purse as she boarded several other apparently fun rides with complete strangers.  I am such a loser.

At the end of the day, I found the courage (and, literally, stomach) to join her for the Superman ride, although the irony of the name was not lost on me and made the achievement a little less satisfying.

I remember this sad story because the state of my life at present reminds me of how I felt boarding that first roller coaster, i.e., excited, with a few butterflies, but more than willing to go hurtling through the crazy twists and turns, and I confess that a part of me is nervous that it might end up like that day at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Upon reflection, I have concluded that there is only one way to find out.  So here we go.

I still consider it one of my better ideas.

Cardinal Baseball

My favorite baseball team swung through Los Angeles this past week, and I had the rare opportunity to catch the Cardinals in person both at Angel Stadium of Anaheim and Dodger Stadium.  The Anaheim game increased the number of places I have been the “visiting fan” to six stadiums.  For those scoring at home, in such a hostile environment I choose to wear my Cardinals gear but adopt a low-key approach—in part out of respect for being in someone else’s house but mostly to avoid trying out my Jackie Chan impersonation when under attack from inebriated fans in a post-game parking lot.  I hate to hurt people.

I love baseball because of my dad.  He grew up as a Depression-era Cardinals fan in Missouri, and in our daily games of catch in the backyard, told mesmerizing stories of seeing Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang in an exhibition game in the 1930s and of later games at old Sportsman’s Park, including a doubleheader that pitted Stan Musial against Willie Mays.  I was hooked.  My dad, of course, was my first hero, so when your hero tells stories of heroes, well, it is sort of hard not to be forever influenced.

My first trip to see the Cardinals in person was in the middle of a sticky St. Louis summer in 1979.  We couldn’t afford a St. Louis hotel or to leave our family without a car, so my dad bought two bus tickets for our first ever father-son trip.  We left before sunrise and arrived in time to wander around the city.  We checked out the zoo in Forest Park and gazed in awe at the mighty Gateway Arch, but we came to watch baseball—and we watched the Redbirds get destroyed by the Cincinnati Big Red Machine sixteen to four.  The score didn’t matter.  I will never forget sitting in the left field loge seats behind Lou Brock at old Busch Memorial Stadium with my dad.  Afterward, we boarded the bus and rode home through the night with me asleep on his lap.  At that point it was the best day of my life, and now so many years later, it remains pretty darn close.

There is a crazy cool baseball website that has box scores and game information from MLB games dating all the way back to 1913, and I discovered that every play of my special baseball trip with my dad is recorded there.  It was a Thursday evening (July 19), and 27,228 were in attendance.  Dave Collins led off the game by grounding out to Keith Hernandez, unassisted, followed by a walk to Joe Morgan.  Lou Brock went three for five with three ribbies.  Ray Knight hit a grand slam.  Johnny Bench hit a single to left that scored Dave Concepcion.  Mario Soto struck out Tony Scott to end the game.  The game lasted two hours and fifty-two minutes.

Nobody cares about the details but me, but I care enough for the whole world combined.  It reminds me of an innocent kid with a hero dad on a grand adventure.  I suspect that is why I fought Los Angeles traffic twice this past week—just to tap into that special feeling from thirty-seven years ago.  My dad has been gone for over twenty years now, but when I watch the Cardinals play baseball in a major-league stadium, he is right beside me.

 

Don’t Keep Score

My friend, Andrew, gave me a gift titled, appropriately, The Gift, a book of poetry from Hafiz, the Great Sufi Master.  Reportedly, the poems may be more Daniel Ladinsky (the author/translator) than Hafiz, but either way the poetry is great fun.  I try to read a few each morning, and although I am not ready to call it yet, an early favorite has emerged.  Other than a meager attempt at a title for this blog entry, I leave this short poem to your individual interpretations.

THE SUN NEVER SAYS

Even
After
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe
Me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the
Whole
Sky.

Real Love

mom2

I am almost certain that Mother’s Day was not created for my personal enjoyment, but I have to say that it was pretty lonely this time around.  It marked the fourth Mother’s Day since my mother’s passing, and this year my wife was in Arkansas for a high school graduation so even that was limited to a text message celebration.

Of all my mom’s wonderful characteristics, that she was always there for me ranks near the top, which makes her absence more pronounced.  I know that I have tons of people still there for me, including an amazing wife, beautiful daughters, and a bevy of family and friends, but no one, biologically speaking, has “been there” like your mother.  It is a special, indescribable bond.

Pardon my boasting, but mine was the very best.  You can arm wrestle over second place, which is still a pretty great accomplishment given the billions of mothers in world history, but the gold medal stand is already occupied.

One story that describes my mom:  I moved my little family five-hundred miles away from my widowed mother in 1999, which she handled well.  Not long after our move, a job opportunity emerged in my hometown (near mom), and I submitted an application.  The organization decided to interview two final candidates, including me, but after deep reflection, I decided to pull out prior to the interview.  My mom was so happy.

That last line is neither a typo nor sarcasm—it is truth.  Even though my mom missed us very much (well, honestly, probably the grandkiddos most of all), she felt that I would not be happy in the potential job, and she would rather I be far away and happy than nearby and not.

That is how I define real love.  The happiness of the object of your love > personal happiness.

Mother’s Day may have been a bit lonely this year, but it remains very, very special.

The Problem with Judgment

rubybridges

Norman Rockwell’s historic 1964 painting, The Problem We All Live With, serves as an important-yet-disturbing reminder of the enduring legacy of Ruby Bridges.  At age six, Ruby integrated an elementary school in New Orleans, although calling it integration is a little misleading since white parents pulled their children from class and white teachers refused to teach little Ruby.  Thankfully, one brave teacher from Boston agreed to step up, and for a full year Ruby experienced the ultimate in student-teacher ratio.

She also experienced pure hatred.  Rockwell captures the hatred in his painting, but Ruby experienced it firsthand.  The screams, threats, and nastiness came hot and heavy, directed at a sweet little girl simply trying to go to school.

At her mother’s suggestion, Ruby did something special as federal marshals escorted her to and from school each day: little Ruby prayed for forgiveness for the people screaming at her.

Remind me, what is it that I have to be upset about today?

I can think of two things that I have in common with Ruby Bridges: first, both she and I lost our homes in Hurricane Katrina; and second, we were both at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures on Wednesday evening this week, although I was a bald head in a vast crowd while she shared her captivating story from center stage.

Ms. Bridges said that she loved the first grade because of her wonderful teacher.  She said that her teacher looked like the screaming crowd—but she was different—and that the lesson she learned that historic first-grade year is that you cannot simply look at a person and make a right judgment.

Embracing that lesson is the third thing I want to have in common with Ruby Bridges.

ruby-bridges2

First Day, Fresh Start

After four wonderful years as Dean of Students at Pepperdine School of Law, I am transitioning to a completely new position as Dean of Graduate Programs.  I am still at the law school, same wonderful people, but new office, new role, and new adventures.  My new job involves joining forces with the amazing team at the world-renowned Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution as we design, market, and deliver new non-JD programs while continuing to expand the reach of the Institute’s world class dispute resolution program.

Any sadness over leaving such a great job is relieved because my friend, Steve Schultz, will be a rock star successor and allow me to focus on the excitement of the new opportunity.  (I just hope that the students wait to dance until my back is turned!)  I am particularly excited by my new role because the Straus Institute drew me to Pepperdine in the first place, and the opportunity to join the day-to-day work of the Straus family is really a dream come true.  Blessed are the peacemakers.

In the dizzying swirl of activity as I attempt to absorb massive information for the new role and hand off the responsibilities of the fading role, I can test an old trick that I have recommended to many along the way.  Here’s the trick: When cynicism starts to settle in at work and you start to think snippy thoughts about everyone and everything… (Wait, I’m not alone here, right?  This has happened to me once or twice in the past quarter century.)  Anyway, when you notice that teensy bit of bitterness about your work, that why-try-because-who-really-cares-and-I-sure-don’t-anymore sort of fun mood that your colleagues find so endearing, my trick is to imagine that it is suddenly your first day on the job.

Go ahead.  Give it a shot.  Imagine it is your first day.

What do you do?

What you don’t do on your first day is think “well that will never work because so-and-so, blah, blah, blah…”  No, on your first day you have no idea what will work.  Instead, what you do is take a good look around and size up your new colleagues, resources, and surroundings and imagine the possibilities before you.  It is a somewhat scary but always exhilarating time.  Who knows what might come?

I am once again embarking on a fresh start, and just as I remembered, it is a pretty great/queasy feeling, so I think my old trick is still a good one.  If you are in a rut in your present circumstances, you don’t have to quit an old job and start a new one to get the benefit of a fresh start.  Starting to look up simply requires an active imagination.