Just keep swimming

courage-is-not-the-absence-of-fearSitting cross-legged on the floor of my son’s room, I stare at the pile of cards nestled in the palm of my hand. My pile is but a sliver compared to his, but that does not concern me. I always have a firm grasp on hope. The next card from our individual decks reveal a stalemate, a two of hearts versus a two of spades. As if flipping cards rapidly will conjure up the winning one expeditiously, three cards from each of our hands go face down. Snap, snap, snap. Revealing my final card face up, the mischievous grin across the battlefield seals my fate. Another game of War is in the books and I have been conquered yet again. It seems that my son always has the upper hand when we play this game, quite literally. I understand what it means to have the cards seemingly stacked against you. As it turns out, I would discover a lot more on this particular subject.

Life has a mysterious way of drawing parallels between an entertaining game and real life situations. Like that card game, battles rage around and within us. In a somewhat callous fashion, the world delivers a stage where these conflicts become the focus of our attention. The unfolding drama of these productions tug at the emotions of our heart like a puppet string, pulling one moment on the strand of melancholy, and the next instant on the thread of joy. I felt like Gepetto’s creation this past weekend, experiencing the pull on each of these strings within a twenty four hour period.

sunset-cocoa-beachWith our son out of town on a scouting campout, the weekend ours alone to define, my wife and I seized the opportunity to do something off the cuff. Fat Kahuna’s is a restaurant on Cocoa Beach, tiny in size, but reputedly big in flavor and atmosphere. With a half hour wait on this Saturday evening, we strolled out to the beach, admiring the breathtaking performance being choreographed between the sun, sea, and clouds. It was a carefree and relaxed atmosphere that we carried into the restaurant. The entire experience, including the meal comprised of calamari, seared ahi tuna, and coconut shrimp, was simply delightful. Sitting across the table from my wife, I had a view of carved tikis along with pictures of the South Pacific islands. Her line of sight faced the window, looking out to the street. We were less than four feet apart, but looking into two completely different worlds.

As we departed the establishment, our focus swiftly changed course. Away from the charming experience we had just savored, and towards the homeless man who had humbly entered the restaurant, offering to clean dishes in exchange for a meal. My wife shares “No one deserves to be hungry, let’s go offer to buy him something to eat.” Without a moment’s hesitation, I said “Let’s go.” With a purposeful gait, we trimmed the distance between us. “Excuse me”, I called out to get his attention. He turned around, somewhat confused. Upon offering to buy him a sandwich, he just nodded, with a questioning look on his face, as if to uncover our ulterior motive. Once we entered the adjacent Subway restaurant, he opened up, sharing his name and story, always interleaving words of sincere appreciation for our thoughtfulness. I remember being called upon as two little angels, for providing a hot meal on an evening that wasn’t even his birthday. When a foot long steak and cheese sandwich from Subway looks like a gourmet meal, when you learn that the same sand between your toes will serve as both a bed and a pillow for another human being on this evening, you gain an entirely new perspective on the term compassion.

Perseverance, secret of all triumphs. ~Victor Hugo

On the following afternoon, my son finds himself slipping into the aquatic pool at the local YMCA. I take for granted that I know how to swim. Learning to do so at such a young age, the ability to swim was always present, like the ability to breathe. My son was not afforded that same luxury. Beset with numerous ear infections and surgeries throughout his younger years, he was refused admission to enter the world below the water’s surface.

Now, as an eleven year old, he is undertaking a Herculean task. Coordinate movement of arms and legs. Take periodic breaths. Swim in a straight line. And forget all about the fact that you are in water that stands taller than you ever will. If there ever was an accurate depiction of jumping into the deep end, this would be it. In so many different ways. Less than a month ago, he was anxious if his head was underwater. Today, he is in a pool next to his Scoutmaster, bravely preparing to attempt the swim test required for advancement to the rank of second class scout.

Rolling over onto his back, he tentatively begins the backstroke. Although his goggles obscure his eyes, I can sense the battle raging inside. With one stroke, he exudes fear and uncertainty. In the next stroke, sheer determination to triumph. I never completely understood why my parents were more anxious than me throughout the pursuit of my personal endeavors. I know now. I could have cared less whether my son earned second class rank on that day. What I cared about was his desire to overcome fear, to vanquish those internal demons, leaving them in his wake as he determinedly took one stroke, one kick, then another, over and over again.

Within a few short strokes of the finish, my wife exclaims in a trembling voice, “Dave, he’s going to make it!” In that moment, my heartbeat fluttered. As his hand reached back to touch the wall, he stood on his feet and looked around, almost surprised at where he found himself. The far side of fear, the near side of personal pride. The beaming smile on his face etched an indelible mark on my heart.

Just-Keep-SwimmingAs I think back to these two experiences over that twenty four hour period, I could scarcely fathom just how different they were from each other. One person fighting to survive, another one wrestling with personal achievement. And as disparate as these struggles are in principle, a common thread emerges. The desire to prevail. We all find ourselves, at times, adrift in the sea of adversity, metaphorical waves crashing around us. This past weekend awakened within me the notion that the best we can do is to take a deep breath, swim one stroke, and then another, and then one more. Just keep swimming.

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Castle in the sky

intuitionGoose bumps. Chills. Tears. Unbridled smiles and laughter. These are the external manifestations of past experiences that have inspired my fingertips to dance over a keyboard and share my story. Without any physical evidence or immediate cognition, a different force is at play in the creation of the thoughts that follow. Intuition. It is a sacred gift that often remains sealed in our own personal rendition of Pandora’s box. A seemingly innocent decision to dismiss the voice from within, its guidance remains untapped and its power is relinquished to the influence of the rational mind.

My childhood was played out in a house sitting on a half acre of land. My imagination overflowed with the most creative uses of this space. On one day, it was a medieval village requiring protection from the attack of invaders to the north. And on other days, it was the stadium where the seventh game of the World Series hung in the balance. There was one use of this space, however, that was never in my deck of cards. A tree house. We didn’t have a tree on our property that could entertain the grand plans set forth by the likes of Alfalfa and The Little Rascals. I don’t ever distinctly remember desiring a tree house. Looking back, however, I wonder if this wish was buried deep in the recesses of my mind. For, what I do remember is gathering up all the blankets, sheets, clothespins, and sufficiently tall chairs to conjure up my own secret fort.

Confined to the indoors on rainy days, bar stools were placed in just the right location. Bed linens were carefully measured and spread clear across the room forming the impenetrable roof to my fortress. The clothespins, holding adjacent blankets together, served as the basis of my unassailable security system. Within those walls, magic was present. Secret meetings were held (subjects which I am not at the liberty to discuss). There were no adults. There was no rain outside. There was only opportunity. I was in my own world of imagination where anything was possible.

creative-mindSomewhere along my path to adulthood, the desire to build these private hideaways waned along with my sense of imagination and creativity. It was replaced by a sense of responsibility, a firm resolve to find my place in the world, to become a well-functioning and useful member of society. It is paradoxical that I abandoned the very elements that would allow me to do just that. Sometimes, however, the universe is gracious enough to send us suggestive whispers that rekindle the flame of imagination and infinite possibility from our childhood. In the quiet flap of a butterfly’s wings, in the colorful hues of the setting sun, in the recollection of special childhood memories that have been suppressed by the adult mind.

That breath of inspiration spoke to me most recently through the work of Pete Nelson, host of the television show Treehouse Masters on Animal Planet. As stated in his bio, Pete strives to create private escapes for those with a passion to reconnect with nature and awaken their inner child, one tree at a time. The enthusiasm and dedication to his mission is clearly evident in his personality and creative energy. The show captivated me. It grabbed hold of my attention for several consecutive hours. As I watched, my childhood passions began to emerge from the depths. Each episode served to fan that flame of imagination and creativity with a bit more intensity, revealing what was truly important at my core.

Along our journey, we spend too much time looking in the rear view mirror or far out into the distance. Too often, we neglect to appreciate the here and now. Like, right now. As I write these words, I welcome the pleasure, the bliss, the inner peace, the quiet exhilaration that comes with sharing my thoughts through the written word. Like a carefully choreographed ballet in a ballroom, my thoughts dance between the words chosen on this page. This is me. This is who I am.

I have repressed this yearning in the name of conformity and societal obedience. However, it is in this form of self-expression that I come alive. And what the world needs more than anything is more people who have come alive.

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. ~Henry David Thoreau

tree-house-retreatNestled in the supportive limbs of a towering hardwood, this humble castle reminds me of a breeding place for ideas and daydreams from long ago. Suspended between the solid ground of the earth below and the limitless possibility of the sky above, it is symbolic of the transition between superficial glimpses of reality and our vision of what could be.

Find your personal sanctuary, your own secret fort. Whether you find it in a canopy of trees, on a lagoon in a kayak, or burrowed beneath a carefully arranged set of sheets and blankets, visit it often. Give yourself permission to rest and listen. Deeply. In the moments of silence between your thoughts, intuition speaks. Welcome the voice that whispers to you. Whether it presents itself through a tangible experience or a deeply entrenched gut feeling, embrace it. Allow your dream to take flight and build a foundation beneath it.

Outer space

Space_Shuttle_Discovery_under_a_full_moonAs a fourteen year old boy, the awe inspiring display manifesting itself before my eyes is sucking the breath out of me like the vacuum of outer space. As a nephew of the payload specialist on mission STS-61C, I am able to approach the Columbia orbiter as close as anyone, save for the crew members themselves. At a quarter mile away with xenon light illuminating the only structure for miles around, it stands taller than its physical height. The vessel that will overcome our planet’s gravitational field rests as it prepares to circle our blue sphere 98 times in low earth orbit for a total distance of 2.5 million miles.

I never did get the opportunity to witness that launch from Cape Canaveral. Originally scheduled for launch on December 18, 1985, the mission was delayed a record six times before finally launching on the morning of January 12, 1986. As I watched the broadcast on television that morning from my childhood home in Pennsylvania, I remember feeling a sense of pride, anxiety, and hope. Pride in our country’s space program, anxiety for a safe and successful mission, hope for a future filled with the same determination, persistence, and free-spirited nature characterized by my uncle.

There was no way for me to know on that January morning what events would transpire in the coming weeks, months, and years. We never do.

On a cold January morning just ten days after the successful completion of mission STS-61C in 1986, the tragic loss of Challenger and its crew occurred 73 seconds after liftoff. I learned of this disaster between class changes as a freshman in high school. Location: Pennsylvania.

Thirteen days after the birth of my son in 2003, the same orbiter that faithfully carried my uncle and his crew into orbit and back safely, succumbed to an anomaly upon re-entry. The absence of the signature sonic boom on that Saturday morning was a foreboding premonition. Location: Florida.

hopeBetween those seventeen years of life here on planet Earth, a lot occurred in my life and the lives of others. The time equivalent to an entire childhood passed before me in the blink of an eye. There were moments of joy and moments of pain, moments of intense satisfaction and moments of disappointment that seem to drain all your reserve energy. What never changed during those many years, however, is the desire to overcome, the desire to persevere and courageously confront the risks that the universe thrusts in our direction.

Whether it’s on a manned space flight outside the Earth’s atmosphere, or an introspective journey into the depths of our mind, we have prevailed as human beings in the conquest of what was once considered impossible.

The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible. ~Arthur C. Clarke

I did not launch my first model rocket until I was a grown adult, sharing the first experience with my son. From an open field near our home on the Space Coast, our cardboard vessel is prepped for launch. The recovery parachute is wound and packed. The motor is inserted into the base of the fuselage. The electrical leads are connected to the battery that will create a spark, ignite the propellant, and send our rocket skyward, overcoming gravity if only for a short period of time. As the preparations come to a close, my son’s voice takes on a tone of serious importance. As launch controller, his index finger rests precariously over the launch button, safety disengaged.

As the countdown timer reaches zero, downward pressure on the launch actuator is applied, electric current flows, and ignition is initiated. In a fraction of a second, the magic occurs and is reflected through the wide smile on a little boy’s face. The flame from beneath grows. The smoke trail pours from behind serving as two reminders: where we have been and where we are destined to go. Up, to new heights.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. ~Viktor E. Frankl

view-of-earth-from-the-space-shuttleTime stretches out before us in a beautiful landscape of hope and opportunity. It takes but a moment to seize those opportunities and transform them into magic, like an alchemist converts lead into gold.

As a teenage boy on that morning many years ago, the world is my stage. The impossible is probable. With a tiny spark and a fraction of a second, we are able to launch ourselves to new heights limited only by our imagination. The journey may be filled with fear and risk. It is also accompanied by a feeling of inspiration and exhilaration.

The luminescence in the eyes of my son is reflected back providing a smile and a spark. Thank you Uncle Bob, for inspiring me, and for helping to pass that spark along for at least one more generation to come. The view is truly amazing.

Great expectations

challenge-limitsWe forge the chains we wear in life. ~Charles Dickens

Put a computer keyboard beneath my fingertips and I can work my way through almost any set of problems. Give me a list of numbers and I become a human calculator. These are my domains of excellence. I am ready, willing, and confident of the outcome when put in these scenarios.

Put a hammer in my hand, a tape measure on my belt, and a hacksaw next to a few two by fours and I seize up. My confidence level plummets while my anxiety level escalates. I don’t have tremendous amounts of positive experience to draw upon. In the past, blueprints for a coffee table would have a high likelihood of ending up sloping to the right and wobbling like a see-saw. Accompanied by a few choice words that usually don’t emanate from my mouth, I suppose I save them for these special occasions. Or maybe they come about due to the untimely introduction of said hammer to left index fingernail.

About a year ago, the landscape lights that adorned our front yard for more than ten years had seen the end of their useful life. Beginning to corrode and hunch over like a wilting flower, their last evening of illumination was complete. The removal of these lights left a set of exposed wires, naked to the elements. In the name of safety, the electrical breaker tied to these lights was turned off so as to avoid an unintended short circuit and potential house fire. Sounded like a good idea.

As luck would have it, this particular breaker was tied to many other electrical components in our house. The garage light, the outlet in the laundry room that powered our wireless router, and our doorbell all received a vacation from service at the same time. As a result, a sign was hung outside our front door (Please knock loudly, doorbell does not work), an extension cord snaked across the laundry room floor to obtain internet connectivity, and a piece of blue painter’s tape was adhered to the circuit breaker to serve as a temporary switch indicator when light was necessary in the garage.

This workaround was meant to tide us over for a few days. As weeks and months passed, this temporary fix became much more permanent as we approached the year milestone. With every return trip home, I was constantly reminded of my perceived deficiency in resolving this situation. The two inch diameter PVC pipes sticking out of the ground with exposed wires laughed in my general direction, mocking my procrastination and apprehension.

As the past weekend came upon us, it was decided that it was time to take care of many things on the to-do list around the house. Yard work, weed picking, pressure washing our paved surfaces, and fixing the dreaded landscape lights. For a brief moment, my heart skipped a beat with trepidation. What would the outcome be? How was I going to secure the new lights to the exposed fixture? How could I possibly make this work given my past track record?

Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right. ~Henry Ford

Something inside clicked, an infusion of self-confidence flowed briefly, and I grasped it with expediency and faith, ready to undertake the challenge ahead of me. I was in control of this situation. I was capable of not only being successful, but enjoying the process. I had a choice to believe that I would be looking at a home illuminated by new floodlights come evening’s end.

I didn’t come up with something that worked the first time around. It took several iterations. After many trips to our local hardware store, however, I finally honed in on a solution that was safe and reliable. With the help of my son and a healthy dose of self-confidence, we carried out our well-laid plan to completion with cheers of applause from all in attendance (ourselves included).

You must do the thing you think you cannot do. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Expect-Great-ThingsAs I walk into our kitchen, a framed cross-stitch created by my wife holds this quote inside its borders. It’s time to do the dishes and we are only able to use one side of the sink due to a leaky pipe from the depths below, a place I don’t usually like to go.

And then I hear the doorbell ring. The doorbell that now works only because I had the courage to do the thing that I thought was not possible. A smile crosses my face as I realize the doorbell is a signal from inside that I have more work to do. I have more bridges to cross, more things to do, inside the house and within myself.

And with each return trip home, the illuminated palm trees re-ignite that flame of self-confidence inside and remind me to have the courage to persevere and prevail. You get what you expect. Expect greatness.

Mahna mahna

mahna-mahnaThe most sophisticated people I know – inside they are all children. ~Jim Henson

We all get consumed by our responsibilities as adults. We commute to work each day like obedient herds of cattle. We put forth our best efforts to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We dress in our best clothes. We outfit ourselves with the best attitude we can muster. Coffee sometimes helps. It’s easy to get lost in this world of regulations, procedures, and unwritten rules of modern society. Sometimes, we need to break free. With wild abandon.

Beneath all these imposed expectations, buried deep inside is your true self, your inner child, just waiting to bust out. Wild orange hair, furry green tunic and all.

I recently volunteered to serve as coach for a Lego robotics team in our community. The team consists of five boys between the ages of ten and twelve. The program is sponsored by the FIRST organization (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Among other things, the team is responsible for designing and programming a robot to achieve certain mission objectives. It fosters creative thinking, teamwork, and problem solving within the realm of science and technology.

My role as coach is to administer guidance. The team does all the research, brainstorming, and design. I am simply there to provide course correction if I see them going off on a tangent. I help to educate them on the thought processes involved so they are better able to achieve the goals set forth as a team. The funny thing is, last night they taught me something instead of the other way around. That seems to be occurring much more often the longer I hang around with kids 😉 I like that.

As our team was nearing the completion of another mission objective, various anomalies with their robot design and programming were preventing them from claiming victory. Frustration was beginning to set in and it was showing. And then something happened. One of the boys grabbed the wireless mouse and covertly snuck it into his pocket. As the other boys were attempting to revise the code in their program, the mouse pointer mysteriously and unexpectedly began to take on a life of its own as it danced across the screen.

The devilish grin on the mouse-wielding thief gave it away shortly thereafter. However, in that moment of pure youthfulness, the entire atmosphere morphed from one of frustration to one of carefree exploration and discovery. They allowed themselves to loosen up, become authentic, and in the process become much more productive. The scream of jubilation from these five boys once their mission was successfully completed was more authentic than anything I witnessed that day.

My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here. ~Jim Henson

Most of us would not think to engage in such “ludicrous” behavior at our place of business. We need to fit in. We need to conform. We do what is expected and required in order to be successful. Or, at least, that’s what we are led to believe. Personally, I noticed the opposite occur last night.

When we take the initiative to break out of our mold and do what is in our heart, we achieve so much more. And we have fun in the process. As you go through your day, be courageous and creative. Dance your own dance. Just like the lovable, furry creature in the video below, find a way to be yourself regardless of the pressures around you. Especially if it means dressing in a furry pink coat, horns, and yellow round lips. You will certainly leave the world in a much better place.

And good luck not singing this for the rest of the day. Mahna Mahna! 🙂

A ray of light

Tampa-Bay-Rays-LogoHow can one person become so emotionally involved in a game? That is the question I ask myself as I sit on the edge of my couch contemplating the fact that I may be watching my last Tampa Bay Rays baseball game of the 2013 season.

For the past eight days, my team has played in six baseball games, four of which were elimination games, games that could have been the final one of their season. Yet, in each of these four games, they have found a way to prevail. To live another day, to play another game.

I have been a fan of baseball all my life. I have been a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays since 2006. They have been wildly successful over the last five seasons. Before 2008, however, they were a team that lost more than half of their games played. Some would suggest it was due to their former team mascot (Devil Rays), but I digress.

Even during those unproductive seasons, I enjoyed watching them play. How is it that you can enjoy watching your favorite sporting team lose almost twice as much as they win? It’s all about attitude. No, not your attitude as a fan. Rather, it is the attitude of the players on the team that make all the difference. Regardless of their win-loss record, each of the players continue to play with hustle, heart, determination, and persistence. These are inspiring attributes not only in the game of baseball, but also in the game of life.

I sit in the virtual stadium of my living room. With every heart-pounding and nail-biting moment of anticipation during a game, I live through them as if each were my own moment to succeed or fail. Even though we have no direct influence over the outcome of a game, we feel connected and emotionally invested. Even though we don’t know any of the players personally, we seem to identify with them at some level. These are baseball players and human beings who are dealing with their own type of challenging situations both on and off the playing field.

Therein lays the answer to the question that prompted this post. Why do we get so immersed in a team? Why are we so fanatical? We can identify with these players, our players. There are superstars. There are everyday players. There are flashy and flamboyant personalities. There are quiet and poignant leaders. Regardless of what type of personality we carry inside, there is sure to be someone on our team that we can associate with.

teamworkAnd when we see all these personalities mesh together to form a cohesive team, it is an inspiring sight to behold. Coming together as a group to achieve a common goal is not only an admirable ambition on a baseball diamond. It’s an aspiration in our everyday lives.

As the flood of emotions ebb and flow over the course of a baseball game and an entire season, we become a little more entrenched as a fan of our favorite player, a follower of our favorite team. Yes, they play a game for a living and it is, after all, only a game. But, those players and that team can teach us so much about how we handle our own life. How we can carry the right attitude within ourselves in the face of victory or defeat. How we can work together as a team to achieve a worthy goal. How we can remain persistent and determined regardless of the score. How we can always continue to hope and see a window of opportunity in any situation.

As I prepare to don my lucky hat and situate myself in front of the television, I will imagine myself sitting inside the dome at Tropicana Field. I will cheer. I will sigh. I will gasp. I will pace. Most of all, I will hope. And although I may be watching the final game of the season this evening, I will do it with the knowledge that this sport and this team have taught me a tremendous amount about the important things in life.

A ray of light that reminds me to focus on the current day, the current game and just keep taking one day, one inning, one out at a time. Let your inner child out and enjoy every …  single … moment.

Perspective

final-summitIt’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

As we approached the completion of our trek along Chimney Tops trail, the anticipation of triumph battled with the exhaustion in our legs for supremacy. After two miles and a steady ascent up 1400 feet, we could taste victory. Beholding the final climb, however, it became apparent that our hiking skills were no longer needed. We were now called upon to become rock climbers. Fatigue had taken the lead.

If you could transform yourself into any creature from the wild, which one would it be? I had been posed this question as a youngster in grade school. With so many options to choose from, which direction do I go? Do I choose the mighty strength of the lion? How about the swift speed of the cheetah? Or perhaps the resilient adaptability of the giraffe?

With all the obvious choices already taken, I was reluctant to follow another’s lead. Perhaps I should have chosen the stubbornness of a rhino. I was determined to be different and unique. With a little more thought and a flip through my virtual encyclopedia, I settled upon a bird. As I look back on that time in my life, I realize that although my bullheaded mind insisted on being different, a less obvious influence was at play. Perspective.

red-shouldered-hawkI have always been the person to look at something and twist it around like a pretzel. Looking at everyday occurrences from different angles, I am able to gain a deeper appreciation for what is right in front of my eyes. There is magic in everything. The ordinary can be extraordinary when you look at it with a fresh perspective. Like our avian friends soaring above, a birds-eye view often provides a fresh perspective on our daily lives.

Proud husband interlude 😉 My wife took this stunning photo of a red-shouldered hawk at the Viera Wetlands a few days ago. A talented artist, she has perfectly captured the beauty, majesty, and keen perspective of a bird in this one image that has not been altered in any manner. Way to go sunshine 🙂

Back to our conquest of the Chimney Tops trail. As we gathered our strength and began the final ascent, it became apparent that Mother Nature was intent on providing us with an additional challenge beyond the rocky terrain. Although a delicate breeze whistled through the trees, the blazing sun was heating the rock façade to temperatures worthy of a fried egg.

In an effort to reach the summit and with the noblest of intentions, I began serving as director for my son. Put one foot here. Now, take your left hand and put it there. See that little crack over there. Good, put your right foot in there. With each step, we were closer to the summit, but the narrowing rocks also placed us closer to the edge. One careless step could have dire consequences to say the least. I would venture to say that I was the more anxious one.

After several attempts at a precarious juncture in our climb, my son finally caved in and dejectedly conceded that he just couldn’t do it. With tears streaming down his face, a figurative black cloud settled over us on that mountain. Crestfallen, it took every ounce of energy to focus on the return trip to the base of that final summit.

Never, never, never give up. ~Winston Churchill

The energy expended over those last several hours had left us fatigued, both physically and mentally. To be quite honest, at that point in time, I would have been happy to traverse back down the 2 mile trail and call it a day. I am glad that my son did not feel the same way. After much internal turmoil, his tenacity for setting a goal and reaching it shone through. That figurative black cloud over the mountain was lifted and a guiding light from the sun replaced it.

On that second attempt, my son was resolute and unswerving. His destiny was to reach that summit. Although my wife and I provided insight into the recommended steps, he ultimately chose his path. The route that made the most sense for him. In looking back on that afternoon, I learned a valuable lesson.

We all have our mountains to climb. We can take guidance and inspiration from those around us to help along the way. But, ultimately it is our path to blaze. When we are able to step back and look at things from a different angle, we adopt a new mindset that serves to shed light on the path we are meant to take. A path that is uniquely our own. And when we do reach that summit, the view gives us a new perspective on what it means to be on top of the world.

view-from-the-top

Mountain magic

mountains-portraitMan has created some lovely dwellings – some soul stirring literature. He has done much to alleviate physical pain. But, he has not created a substitute for a sunset, a grove of pines, the music of the winds, the dank smell of the deep forest, or the shy beauty of a wildflower. ~Henry Broome, Posted at Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

What do a faulty master brake cylinder and a mountain vacation have in common? Unfortunately, too much in our case. After a car repair bill just south of $1000 and a two day delay in our departure date, the utopian edition of our trip to the Smoky Mountains did not begin as envisioned. However, we are a resilient clan. Stubborn determination runs deep through my blood. This was one time where I could channel that character trait towards a worthy cause.

We packed up the car that had been figuratively duct taped together and headed for the hills, literally. 685 miles and 11 hours later, we coasted into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With temperatures hovering around 70 degrees and relative humidity near zero, any leftover feelings of anxiety or stress were expelled from our system like the exhaust from a car. Poof. Gone. Vaporized. It’s amazing how nature can provide instant relief like that.

Before the whole debacle surrounding our departure, I remember hearing a story about recent additions to the Oxford dictionary. The new word that piqued my interest, digital detox. Used to describe those times where you unplug from all electronic devices, it is a scary endeavor to consider for many individuals into today’s world. I was up for the challenge.

For eight days, I carried only a cell phone in my pocket. Not a single phone call was made. Not even one e-mail was read or responded to. The only liberty I provided to myself was the ability to use that phone as a camera to chronicle our adventure. The entire experience was soothing, rejuvenating, and peaceful. In one word, it was holistic. It reminded me that stepping into ways of the past may be the way of the future.

Travel is the dominion of the muse. You are out of your comfort zone, in unfamiliar territory, so you are particularly receptive to new input. ~Laura Oliver

wildflowersWith natural beauty pouring into our being from every direction, all our senses were fully engaged. It’s as if the mountains provided us with a magical 6th sense that penetrates the soul and provides a portal to a new dimension. It speaks through the smell of the fir trees, the chirping of the chickadees, the sight of butterflies frolicking from one brilliant bloom to the next. If there is a non-verbal definition for pure bliss, this is it. It needs to be felt, experienced, and fully absorbed in order to appreciate the influence it has over your sense of completeness.

sunset-moonBefore embarking upon this pilgrimage, I had seen a reasonable amount of wildlife in their natural habitat. After watching an absolutely breathtaking sunset unfold before our eyes at Clingmans Dome, we were “clinging” to every last drop of beauty the sunlight painted across the evening sky. Not to be left out, the crescent moon even made an appearance to dance with the sun during the waning moments of its performance (if you enlarge the picture, you are able to see it). Our senses were numb from over-stimulation. The numbness may have been enhanced by the 45 degree wind chills 😉

As we made our way out of the parking lot, the quickly fading sun provided us with the perfect nightcap. Silhouettes that could not be mistaken, a mama black bear with her cub served as gatekeepers to the exit. As the cub playfully scampered across the road, the unabashed smiles across our faces followed. It is a vision and a memory that I will never forget. There is something sacred about seeing an animal in the wild.

In the days that followed, we were blessed with other wildlife sightings: a wolf, a fox, and an entire herd of elk migrating across an open field at dusk. Only one word could come close to describing it. Magical.

Speaking of migration, we felt as though we were members of a migrating herd ourselves. Over the course of 8 days, we hiked over 23 miles on trails throughout the national park. Although 23 miles is not an earth-shattering accomplishment, for us flat-landers from Florida, the 23 miles in the horizontal direction coupled with the 2 miles in vertical elevation hiked imparted a feeling of supreme triumph even if our “well-used” legs did not share in the same level of exuberance 😉

rainbow-fallsAs we begrudgingly prepared to complete our annual pilgrimage, the final day included a trek to the summit of Rainbow Falls. Having a natural affinity for waterfalls and being the tallest in the Smoky Mountains, it was one destination on my must see list. After a 2.7 mile hike up 1700 feet, the journey’s end did not disappoint.

Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. ~Frederick Buechner

There is something therapeutic about the inertia of moving water as it falls over a ledge. It reminds me to have faith and always keep moving. A new type of rainbow connection was made on that day, a connection that stretches across the miles between my physical home in Florida and my spiritual home in the mountains.

Mother Nature provided us with a special connection over these precious days. Our return to civilization has been accompanied by a renewed sense of inner peace and calmness. Perhaps, it’s because we know those memories are waiting at the other end of our own personal rainbow. A pot of gold to be sure.

May the warm winds of heaven blow softly upon your house. May the Great Spirit bless all who enter there. May your moccasins make happy tracks in many snows, and may the rainbow always touch your shoulder. ~Cherokee Blessing

sunset

Have a nice day

Have A Nice DayUnless you are a nomad wandering the hills of Bhutan, you interface with people on a daily basis. Some of these interactions are close knit with your family. Some are more professional with your colleagues or clients in the workplace. Yet others are more impersonal, but still important (like allowing that car with a left turn signal to merge in front of you). All these scenes and the people that play a role in them affect our daily lives. Sometimes more significantly than we might think.

We all have visions of how we want our future to play out. We all have ideas, dreams to share with the world. Some of these plans, however, may be kept close to the vest because we are not sure if and how they will be accepted by those around us. The answer to propagating these grandiose schemes out to the world involve the people we choose to surround ourselves with, those same people that we interact with every day.

You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. ~Jim Rohn

I have read several articles that reference this quote. Most have agreed that this may not be the best way to voice the intent behind it. By casting all responsibility for our being to the five people we choose to hang out with, we are discounting our own consciousness. Therefore, it is probably more beneficial to include your own self as one of those five people.

However, the spirit of this quote remains true. The person you become is heavily influenced by the people around you. And although it may be a bitter pill to swallow, we all have the freedom to choose who is in our circle, and who is not.

Each of us need people in our life that support the direction we choose to go as individuals. I don’t necessarily mean the “rah, rah, go get ’em tiger” type of support, although that never hurts 😉 I’m talking about standing beside a person who shares the same values as you, feeding off the energy created by a shared ambition, and propelling each other in a synergistic way beyond the sum of your dreams.

When you surround yourself with people who share the same ideals, principles, values, and ambitions, a coalescing bond forms creating strength and momentum towards the emergence of revolutionary ideas.

A few months ago, I received a request to help a friend with some computer problems. We hopped into his truck to head over to the local Starbucks for a Frappuccino and the complimentary Wi-Fi. I have a little secret I’d like to share with you, Frappucinos make every problem easier to solve. There you go, the secret to life wrapped up in a nice frozen blended beverage with whipped cream 🙂 As the engine turned over, the CD player kicked into action. “Have A Nice Day” by Bon Jovi was streaming from the speakers.

Every song I have ever liked has begun like a shallow relationship. I become infatuated with the tune, the beat, the sound produced by the song. Only after that initial stage wears off do I pay attention to the lyrics. There have probably been a million lyrically poetic songs that I have failed to include in my musical queue because of my musical shallowness. Note to self, change your listening habits 😉

It was on this day that I finally took notice of the words to this Bon Jovi song. My buddy, Jim, sitting next to me in the truck states “I know the words to hundreds of songs, but I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. When I sing in the shower, the shower turns off and tells me to get the heck out!”

Once I recovered from the ensuing laughter, I listened to the lyrics of the chorus more closely.

If there’s one thing I hang onto
That gets me through the night
I ain’t gonna do what I don’t want to
I’m gonna live my life

Shining like a diamond, rolling with the dice
Standing on the ledge, show the wind how to fly
When the world gets in my face
I say, have a nice day

~Jon Bon Jovi

Not everyone is going to agree with your approach to life. Some may be less civil than others in letting you know so. As long as your philosophy is aligned with the natural laws of the universe and your aim is to improve our existential experience, you don’t need the negative influences from these people. Let them go.

Sometimes you need to be a little stubborn, a little selfish. When you have an innovative idea that can positively impact the masses, you need to don your track shoes and run with it. If someone wants to call you crazy, politely smile, tell them to have a nice day, and carry on your way. You have the choice to surround yourself with people who will support your dreams and aspirations. If they aren’t supporting you, they’re keeping you from realizing the next great thing. Everything was impossible until somebody did it.

Find those that back you and spend more time with them. Tune the naysayers out. Shine like a diamond. Stand on that ledge, roll the dice, and show the wind just how much you know. Everyone’s a rock star in their own way. Rock on towards greatness.

On the write track

moment_to_memoryMemories are amazing communicators. The scent of a candle may awaken feelings of your first dance with the love of your life. A song echoing from the car next to you in traffic brings back images of cruising through the mountains, t-tops off, mooing at the cows as you pass them. Yes, these are my memories. They are not made up. Memories can teach you an astonishing amount about yourself. If you let them.

My earliest vacation memory occurred at Disney World when I was ten years old. The moments I remember about that vacation are quite peculiar. We stayed at the Polynesian Resort and we had cherry danishes every morning for breakfast. Don’t ask, I have no idea. This is what I remember. I also remember the souvenir I received on that trip. A Mickey Mouse diary. You know, the one with a cool clasp and a key the size of a safety pin. I felt supremely confident that all my thoughts and recordings were safely guarded by that imitation leather strap when in reality a single piece of duct tape would have been much more secure. It is somewhat ironic those feelings kept so closely guarded back then are now being freely shared with the world through this blog. Alas, I digress.

It was around this same time that I remember a particular homework assignment in my English class. We were each asked to craft a short story about any subject, real or fictional. When I was a youngster, I played a lot of golf. When I say a lot, I mean every day of the summer. My dad would drop me off in the morning on his way to work. He would pick me up on the way home after work. In between, I would play as much as I could and drink a countless number of iced teas to stay hydrated. On one occasion, I was fortunate to score a hole-in-one. Or so I thought. That became the subject of my writing assignment.

You see, I was led to believe that my golf ball had found the bottom of the cup in one stroke. This was based upon the wild cheers coming from the green that I could not see. When I got to the green, I found my ball six inches from the hole. No hole-in-one. But, I did hold the feeling of that elusive moment in a golfer’s life for about ten minutes. My short story was all about sharing that feeling with the most intricate detail. The smell of the grass, the rustling of the wind through the trees, my heartbeat going from monotonous to out of control in an instant. It was an amazing feeling that I wanted to share with everyone.

As incredible as that feeling was, what felt even better was going back and re-reading what I had crafted. There was something about creating a vivid picture from a blank piece of paper and my choice of words that left me inexplicably blissful.

Fast forward several years to my sophomore year in college. As an engineering major, I was required to take a certain number of non-major electives. I chose Philosophy 101. For those of you that know me personally (or can tell from my blog content), I enjoy pondering the universe. This course really resonated with me. I remember having a writing assignment that required some deep introspection. Upon completing this paper, that same blissful state washed over me again. I had taken thoughts and feelings inside me and composed a work of art on paper using only words. Unfortunately, my professor failed to agree with that assessment. After receiving a C on the assignment, the course was promptly dropped and the memories of that feeling were pushed to the back burner.

Three months ago, I created this blog out of a desire to wake up my creative side. I was in a funk. I was looking for a forum to express myself, to make some sense out of my feelings (or lack thereof), to probe different areas of my life in an effort to determine what brought meaning and purpose. Little did I know the “thing” that would bring inner peace would be writing itself. Serendipity at its best.

loudest-minds

If there was ever a quote that was custom made for me, this one by Stephen Hawking would be it. I am not forthcoming with my verbal communication. But, if you were able to peek inside my mind, there is a jumble of information moving well beyond the accepted speed limit in a somewhat reckless manner. Chaos would not be an inappropriate choice of words.

The universe has attempted to help me organize this chaos on at least two other occasions. In grade school, it sent me that euphoric feeling after completing my English assignment. In college, it tried again though its attempts were dashed by the subjective judgment of my philosophy professor. With the inception of my blog, the 3rd time was truly a charm.

I liken it to frozen water pipes in the middle of winter. Even though you turn the faucet on, you get barely a drip. However, once you light a flame under the thing that matters, those pipes thaw out and the water just flows. It’s a beautiful thing.

come-aliveI have realized that writing is my way of communicating with the world. It’s how the reckless traffic patterns in my mind have evolved into a highly efficient version of the German Autobahn. The written word is my way of making sense of my thoughts, my feelings, my experiences, my life. It’s as if there is a direct connection from my “true self” through my body, down my arm, and out of my fingertips as they press the keys and transform my thoughts into a concrete entity.

Words for me are like a magic elixir that soothe the most enraging moments, capture the most engaging ones, and allow me to share my true self in the most authentic manner possible. Just as I need to breathe, eat, and sleep to survive, I must also write. It makes me come alive.

I certainly feel like I’m on the write track.