My sweet wife visited the Field of Dreams Movie Site in Dyersville, Iowa, last week and brought home several souvenirs since she knows Field of Dreams is my favorite movie of all time. And, it seems, because she loved it there.
It still feels strange to say that Field of Dreams is my favorite movie. It has a corny plot–literally–set in that spooky Iowa cornfield complete with ghost baseball players and disembodied voices. It surely wasn’t my favorite movie when I saw it at the theater in 1989. Sure, I enjoyed the baseball history and the touching storyline, but I tend to prefer movies that aren’t set in fantasy world (nothing personal against Iowa).
My mistake was watching it years later. After my father died. That did me in. That famous last scene when a father is reunited with son and they play catch once again and Annie says to Ray, “Introduce him to his granddaughter” . . .
Okay, I might need to change the subject. These darn allergies.
Mother’s days and father’s days mean something different to those of us on the other side of the great divide called death. It can be quite depressing, but oddly enough, it never has been for me. And I don’t even have to work hard to understand why.
As fantastic as it sounds, although Field of Dreams is crazy fiction, I believe it touches on something that is actually very real. In my heart, I believe that someday I will once again hold my mother’s hand and play catch with my dad and introduce him to his youngest granddaughter.
The very thought of it nearly makes my heart explode with anticipation.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged baseball, death, dreams, dyersville, faith, field of dreams, hope, iowa, love, Movies, resurrection
It was just a truck.
I was pumping gas at the Shell station next to the lively Pacific Coast Highway last Friday when I just happened to see a white pickup truck pass by sporting a black bed cover. It was nothing special, but it produced a memory from over a quarter century ago.
At the time I was in college a good five-hour drive away from home, and my meager possessions did not all fit in a regular truck cabin. A bed cover just made sense given the space challenge and the unpredictable Arkansas weather. We couldn’t afford anything fancy, so my dad bought some wood and some black, weather-resistant astroturf, made careful measurements and some posts to fit the corners, and before long my truck bed was in the dry.
It was just a passing truck, but it reminded me.
I loved that old truck: A maroon, stepside, 1989 GMC Sierra 1500 with a short wheelbase and a big ol’ 350 engine that made it fun to pass cars and tractors and chicken-hauling trailers on those long drives across the Arkansas hills. It wasn’t my first vehicle, but it was the first one that I was proud to call my own, and although it was out of my family’s price range, I’m pretty sure my dad wanted me to have it. He sacrificed a lot for me.
I know it was just a truck, but it was where I first kissed Jody and later (but not much) where I asked her to marry me. When we decided to buy our first house, we sold that truck to afford the down payment, not long before that sweet dad of mine died.
It was just a passing truck, I guess, but it caused me to remember another truck that represents home and the love that shapes your life, so it made me smile.
Today is my wife’s birthday, and the specific number is none of your business (or, apparently, mine!). Jody’s parents both worked as tax preparers back in 19-whenever when she made her grand entrance on April 14—talk about demanding attention from the very start! She deserves a lot of attention. Jody is, hands down, the most impressive person that I know.
I could list a thousand beautiful words that describe my wife, but let’s try a story instead.
Less than two years after we married, Jody was hired as a full-time houseparent at Children’s Homes, Inc., and I got to tag along for the ride. Imagine the situation: a young married couple in their mid-twenties living with and “parenting” teenagers from a wide variety of challenging backgrounds. Not sure who was more crazy–us or the people who hired us. One evening early in our three years there, we were walking with several of the teenage girls at dusk when Jody and one of the girls got into it, and a battle of two very strong wills was on. Given the body language of the two, my fear was that the battle would soon move beyond wills, and I should mention that the other combatant was about a foot taller and appeared to be twice as strong. But there Jody stood in the growing darkness, eye-to-navel, looking up at the girl she was responsible for and yet somehow communicating that she would take her out in a second if anyone flinched. None of us flinched. There was never a question who would win.
Our daughters never really stood a chance with a mother like Jody who loves with such courage and ferocity. She will stand up to anyone, anytime, anywhere for what is right, and particularly for (and if necessary, to) someone that she loves. She is strength and beauty and goodness all wrapped up in one amazing person.
I can’t even imagine how many people are better because Jody decided to care for them. I just know that I am at the top of the list.
Some days it feels like my wife and I should move to Nairobi to be with the children we met there who live on the hard streets. On others I consider Delhi where I learned that young girls are vulnerable to sex traffickers. On still others I remember the poor Brazilians we saw living in the favelas of Rio. But today, I live in California.
And then some days I drive down L.A.’s “skid row” and wonder how I can live in Malibu instead of with those in absolute squalor just a few miles away. And then I open my eyes to Malibu and see homeless and un/under-employed friends looking for work at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange.
The needs are simply everywhere.
How does one live in this old world? I have worked for several causes, from at-risk children to poverty housing to disaster relief to homelessness to day laborers…
And then I see those heart-wrenching images of Syrian children on television. And then churches in Egypt are bombed while celebrating Palm Sunday.
The needs are everywhere, and they are overwhelming.
My personal belief system leads to public policy opinions that seems to place me at odds with all presidents, not to mention most of my friends, but it also leads me to devote (some but far) less energy to public policy discussions and more to being with the sufferers. Knowing names. Sharing hugs. Sharing tears.
But there are so many.
So here is my plan:
I will not let such overwhelming need harden my heart so that I give up on caring. I refuse the temptation to apathy.
I will not allow the impossibility of being everywhere at once immobilize me so that I give up on trying. I refuse the temptation to quit.
And I will encourage others to make similar commitments. I refuse the temptation to think that it is all up to me.
May the privileged few share with the underprivileged masses. Everywhere. Together. Today.
Syrian Refugee Children (via the International Rescue Committee)
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged action, california, delhi, favelas, injustice, labor exchange, los angeles, love, malibu, nairobi, privilege, rio, share, skid row, syria
Basketball used to be my thing. I thought about it all day, every day, and dreamed about it at night–and sometimes still do. Hour after hour alone in the driveway getting sunburned, soaked in rainstorms, and frozen in the snow and ice. Dreaming I was Dr. J. Dreaming I was an Arkansas Razorback. Dreaming I was the hero of a state championship game for the C.R.A. Falcons. Alone in my dreams.
Basketball became my community. Countless practices. Pickup games anywhere there were players and some version of a ball and goal. My very best friends and mortal enemies. Jammed fingers. Shirts and skins. Dunk goals. Make-it, take-it. We got next. Cut-off t-shirts and short shorts. High tops and two pairs of socks, pushed down to be cool. Arguments and hurt feelings. High fives and heroics.
Popular culture fueled my obsession. “Hoosiers” hit the big screen when I was in high school, the peak of my love affair with the sport. Rap music became a thing, and I wore out a cassette learning every word of Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball.” Thanks to an NBA commercial, the Pointer Sisters’ “Let’s Get Excited” became my warm-up song–even though I don’t think that’s what they were talking about.
I was valedictorian of my high school class and had options, I suppose, but all I cared about was basketball. Since I wasn’t talented enough to play at the college level, my attention shifted to coaching. I made every home game at Barnhill Arena during my college years. Rollin’ with Nolan. Dreaming that I would some day coach in the madness of March.
I remember the exact day my basketball dreams began a rapid disintegration. It is hard to forget since it was one week before my wedding. Appropriately, I was playing basketball in a outdoor three-on-three tournament at a local festival when a nasty fall shattered my right leg in three places. Emergency surgery led to a four night hospital stay, released in enough time to make it to my wedding in a wheelchair. In sickness and in health, right?
In 1994, I began a love that has grown stronger year after year, and maybe not ironically, began to lose my feelings for basketball. With my broken leg, after the lengthy recovery, I learned that I just couldn’t play all out anymore, and that stole all the fun. I really don’t follow basketball much anymore. Sure, I root for my Pepperdine Waves, and sure, I fill out an annual bracket and will be rooting for the old alma mater today as they take on Seton Hall (Go Hogs!), but it is no longer the center of my life.
I’m not sad about this. I follow other sports as a spectator and am now somewhat obsessed with running. But what I learned is that it is possible to walk away from something that was once important to you without regrets. What is not okay, at least in my book, is pretending something is important and then doing it halfway.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged arkansas, barnhill arena, basketball, commitment, crowley's ridge academy, dr. j, hoosiers, kurtis blow, letting go, love, march madness, paragould, pepperdine, pointer sisters, rap, razorbacks
“Love cares more for others than for self.” – Paul (1st Corinthians 13, MSG)
Tomorrow, on Valentine’s Day, my beautiful wife will be relaxing in a luxury hotel in Maui, which sounds fabulously romantic except for the fact that I will be at work 2500 miles away.
To explain, our oldest daughter teaches at a school that hosts a major fundraising event each year, and last year’s event included a trip for two to Maui as a raffle prize. Guess who won?! Somewhat surprisingly, she chose to take her mother along as her plus one, which I think is fantastic on multiple levels. My wife thinks it may primarily be so that mom will pay for the non-free portions of the trip, but even if so, it is what we call a “win-win” in the negotiation business.
Except for me, that is, who will be home alone enjoying a meal prepared by my favorite Italian chef, Mr. Chef Boyardee.
In the spirit of planning ahead, my wife and I created another daughter a couple of decades ago on the off-chance that our oldest daughter won a trip for two to Maui and invited her mother along on Valentine’s Day so that I would have another beautiful person to spend time with on such a special holiday. But that kiddo is 1100 miles away at college in Seattle.
Despite the three beautiful women in my life, I guess that I am destined to be alone this Valentine’s Day.
And yet I am genuinely happy. Seriously. No, I like those three human beings as much as you can like anyone ever and would love to spend time with them all, but it is so fun to stop and imagine the memories Jody and Erica will make together in Maui this week as well as how much Hillary enjoys being in Seattle. Love does that sort of thing to you. It produces genuine feelings of peace and joy when the objects of your love are blissfully happy without a second thought about what that means for you.
It doesn’t always look so great on paper, but I’m telling you that love is where it’s at.
Mother Nature cleared her throat this week and shut down several roads leading to our life here in sunny (once again) Malibu. My wife and I apparently collect natural disasters, starting with Arkansas tornadoes and ice storms, continuing with Gulf Coast floods and hurricanes, and now that we’ve hit the jackpot, California drought, earthquakes, wildfires, and mudslides. We just need a blizzard, tsunami, and volcano to complete the set. Stockpiling seashells sounds significantly safer (sweet sentence!), but since an ice storm played a major role in the early days of our relationship, I guess the disaster collection is appropriate.
Jody and I met on New Year’s Day 1994 at a high school basketball tournament in Jonesboro, Arkansas. I was there as a high school basketball coach, and she was there, according to her own rendition, in part to meet me. You can picture me there at a guardrail in the arena, standing by myself, watching basketball, unsuspecting, when this beautiful young woman innocently (ha!) walks up to introduce herself. I never knew what hit me that night, but it turned out to be love.
I didn’t have much of a chance according to the Vegas oddsmakers given my dating record yet somehow didn’t mess things up right away. We talked through several basketball games that night, followed by a trip to Steak ‘n Shake since we weren’t particularly ready to stop the conversation. We subsequently went on a date or two in January and could sense that something special was in the works. And then came the infamous ice storm of 1994, a disaster that The Weather Channel ranked as #2 in their list of the “Nation’s Worst Ice Storms.”
Best. Disaster. Ever.
Classes at my school were canceled for what seemed like forever. Jody’s work was not canceled, but since she lived about a forty-five minute drive away on super treacherous roads, she stayed close by at a friend’s apartment throughout the ice storm. Over the course of that week or two we had the equivalent of a year or so of dating. At least that’s what we tell ourselves since we were engaged a month later and married by May.
Jody and I have seen a natural disaster or two along the way, and living in California we can count on encountering more. But we’ve also seen some pretty amazing things emerge “naturally” from both natural and unnatural disasters, and the past twenty-three years of my life is the best evidence of all.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged 1994 ice storm, arkansas, california, disasters, jonesboro, love, mother nature, opportunity, phoenix, socal, steak 'n shake, the weather channel
I resolve to do the right thing even if it appears illogical.
I resolve to laugh more often and at inappropriate times.
I resolve to spend more time with people and less with screens and devices.
I resolve to see otherwise invisible people.
I resolve to spend more time with my eyes closed listening to good music.
I resolve not to listen to music when I’m driving.
I resolve to go for long runs in new places.
I resolve to spend more time outdoors in familiar places.
I resolve to try something new.
I resolve to treasure something old.
I resolve to feed my mind, body, and spirit healthy things.
I resolve not to give anyone or anything the power to choose my attitude.
I resolve to replace a noisy, busy life with a simple, smooth rhythm.
I resolve to read books and learn stuff.
I resolve to use my talents to make the world a better place.
I resolve to love my wife and daughters more than ever.
I resolve to live resolutely.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged 2017, attitude, books, health, laugh, love, music, new year's, outdoors, people, resolutions, running, time
My parents’ birthdays are two days apart in early December. Well, technically, sixteen years and two days apart. My dad turned down an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in the late 1930s but enlisted alongside thousands of other Americans when Pearl Harbor was attacked the day after his twenty-first birthday. Meanwhile, my mom celebrated her fifth birthday in the Arkansas hills the day after the attack. While my dad headed off to the Pacific Theater to defend America’s freedom, my mom was a little girl having her freedom defended.
This week, were they both living, my dad would celebrate his ninety-sixth birthday and my mom would celebrate her eightieth. Ninety-six and eighty are just numbers, but they are hard-to-believe numbers. Where does the time go?
The last time I saw my dad alive he was in a hospital bed facing a wall in the fetal position and fighting the pain. The last time I saw my mom alive she was weak and yellow and exhausted sitting in a lift chair in my sister’s living room. When you go to check out of this life, the checkout counter is just awful.
But that’s not what I remember on special days like birthdays. What comes to mind are happy and healthy times—and smiles. Like the only time I remember being angry at my dad when he couldn’t suppress laughter after a bird pooped on my head. Or my mom’s beaming face when she had the opportunities to spend time with my sweet daughters. That’s what I will remember this week. The smiling people who gave me an enjoyable life.
These milestone days come and go, which must explain the shocking numbers. My sisters and I will text each other in sacred commemoration on December 6 and December 8. I may or may not mention either day out loud to my wife or others. But I always notice, and always remember, and never know exactly what else to do.
I do have an idea this year. This year, I think I’ll plug in the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas CD that I kept from my mother’s things and close my eyes and be transported to another world. I’ll picture being a kid again in that tiny house on West Mueller Street. Mom and Dad are both there in the living room with me. The stove is glowing orange because it is cold and snowing outside. I can see it out the picture window when I squeeze around the Christmas tree.
I’m going to listen to that Bing Crosby sing about Christmas and travel away to that special world of memories. And in particular I will smile when his distinctive baritone voice delivers the signature lines from that old World War Two classic, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged arkansas, bing crosby, birthdays, christmas, death, family, holidays, home, love, memories, paragould, parents, pearl harbor day, smiles, world war two