The Inexorable Push of Time

I was reminded today  that it has been over 7 months since I have posted anything here on Senseless Ramblings.

I have had breaks in my writing before. Sometimes it’s due to the infamous “writers block.” That has not been the case over the past several months.  I have probably suffered from the exact opposite. I have felt overwhelmed with things to write about. To the point of creative paralysis.  I haven’t been able to write because the thoughts in my head won’t stay still long enough for me to focus.

I’ve wanted to revisit the topic of heroes, who they are and what they mean. There has been no lack of material on the embarrassment of the current U.S. president, the ignorant voters and a broken system that put him in office, or his ongoing, immature Twitter battles with anyone and everyone that he feels doesn’t see eye-to-eye with him. How about the beauty of nature? Camping? Children? Work? Pets? Craft beer? Hockey? The topics are endless, the words are there, it’s the mental glue to link them together that I am missing.

Today however, I had an unexpected and focused inspiration. It was heartfelt and a little melancholy all at the same the time and it made me realize that I wanted to write about time.

What was this inspiration?  It was a young father, walking down the street, hand-in-hand with his two daughters who were perhaps two and four years old. I was seated at the desk in my study, where I am right now as I write this.  My study is on the second floor of my house and it looks out over my neighborhood and the street below. I was reading the morning news and checking email and caught just a momentary glimpse of them as they rounded the corner.

My heart clutched a little.  I can remember similar days, how wonderful they were, and how long ago they seem.  In my case it was my three kids. When we moved into this neighborhood, my son was eight, and the girls were five and three. Today my son is 25, and the “girls” are 22 and 20. It is just my wife and I at home now. My son is in Los Angeles, and my girls live an hour away near their university.

I wanted to yell out to that father, “hold those hands tight. Remember the beautiful weather and the little dresses that your girls are wearing. Burn the memories from today and all others days into your mind. They will buoy your heart forever as time marches on. As good as that sounds, it isn’t really possible on a larger scale. The memory will sustain the vision that time will rob the specifics of.

Time is relentless. It is consistent.  Think about it. It is truly the most consistent thing in the world. It moves forward, never backward, and it moves at an unfaltering pace. 60 seconds makes a minute; 60 minutes makes an hour; 24 hours makes a day; and, 365 days makes a year.  It can  not be altered by the weather, or by any means that we undertake, or through the birth and passing of us as human beings. Even in the arctic and antarctic regions where there can be almost six months of perpetual darkness, time doesn’t alter its course just because it feels like one long night.

Time allows us to create goals to reach for.  It gives us the memories to look back on.  Every second of every day is an opportunity to start again.  It truly is.  The past is the past: it is said and done and nothing can change the actions that were undertaken.  But the future is open to what we want to make of it.  If I feel joy, I can choose to hold that feeling as long as possible.  If I feel anger, it is my choice to push it away to make the next bit of passing time better or to hold it and let it spoil that time.

Look into the sky as a jet passes overhead.  The small silver object that is the plane is the now; the moment.  The sky in front of the plane, where the plane is headed but has not yet gone, is the future. The contrails left behind the plane are the memory that the plane has passed, and like memories, we will remember to some degree what the contrails will look like, but they will also fade and soften as time goes on.

When I think about that father today, I realize that today is just one walk of hundreds that he will have with his children. He will undoubtedly forget the specifics of today, but the collective of all those walks will remain with him.  I have memories of the hundreds of walks I have taken with my children.  They also are a collective.  Do I recall one specific daily walk if that walk was no more or less eventful than another? No. Will my kids remember a specific walk: probably.  I remember clearly moments from my childhood that I am certain are long forgotten by my parents but as a child we focus on our parents collectively and in our own context.  As a parent I was focusing at any given time on three.  My parents were focusing on nine.

In his song, The Leader of the Band Dan Fogelberg mentions his father teaching and disciplining with what he called a “thundering velvet hand.”  Time is that hand.  It will often knock us down, cause us stress, face us with uncertainty, leave us with humiliation, but it also caresses us, holds us gently, keeps our hearts safe, and fills us up.  All at a steady, relentless pace.

Enjoy your time. It is yours. Fill it with goals for the future and memories of the past. Push love out into it, and let love wrap around it.

To my parents, siblings, wife, children, all extended family, and my friends across the years and miles: Thank you for filling the time that is my memory with joy and happiness, and helping to soften the blows of life; and, for a future that will be rich, and happy, and joyful.


If it rings true…

This past week, I was at a business meeting and on the wall of one of the hallways in the building was a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. The quote was:

“I am not bound to win, but I’m bound to be true. I’m not bound to succeed, but I’m bound to live up to what light I have.”

I was quite taken by the quote. We all have our own interpretations of what great quotes mean, and to me this quote meant that I don’t have to win but I must be honest – with

Lincoln 1858

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

others, and with myself; and, I may not always be successful, but if I live up to the talents that life has provided me, then success is more in that detail than the actual outcome of the endeavor.

Since the quote struck a chord with me, I decided that I wanted to blog about it and its meaning to me. As I researched the quote further, however, I discovered that while often attributed to Lincoln, there is in fact no evidence that Abraham Lincoln ever said this.

I was disappointed. Abraham Lincoln is a hero of mine. When I was a boy, I dreamed that one day I would be President of the United States and Lincoln was my role model (I will also tell you that as an adult watching the embarrassing carnival freak show that is U.S. politics I am DAMNED glad that I am not in politics at all).

Then I had this realization. If it rings true…does it matter that it wasn’t a quote by Abraham Lincoln? Does it diminish the value that the statement had to me?  No, it doesn’t.  It doesn’t really matter who said the words. It’s if the words have value: to me, to you, to one, to a million.

I laugh at all of us as human beings sometimes. We come to place our athletes, our politicians, and our celebrities on such pedestals that if they were to say, “I had tomato soup for lunch,” the world would spin on its head at what a deep and astute statement that was. We are a funny lot.  That was proven to me by my initial disappointment that the quote wasn’t Lincoln’s. I don’t know who made this quote originally, but I thank them for their insight and wisdom.

What else do we do in life that mirrors this type of behavior? We all know that celebrities make great pitchmen (and women) in advertising.  They are frequently in the news supporting politicians, or standing up for animal rights, chaining themselves to trees to protect the forest, and on.  Why should this person have any more sway over your opinion than you have over your own opinion? Aren’t we supposed to be free thinkers? We’re not always going to be right and succeed, but as the quote so eloquently asks, have you been true? Have you lived up to your light?  Only you can decide what your “light” is.

Now let’s set my little rant here aside.  Read the quote again.  Do you agree? How do you live this quote in your everyday life? If one hundred people read this quote it is reasonable that there are one hundred varying interpretations, but that they all probably fall along the same line. Take your interpretation and apply it to your life.

As always, thank you for reading my Senseless Ramblings.  For those of you who have followed my posts in the past, I apologize that I have been away for a while. Life gets busy sometimes. I am hopeful that I will be back more frequently again.

Stay true.

Are We Losing Our Heroes

It seems to me, and I fear, that we have lost the ability to look for and select real heroes these days.  We all need heroes – those role models whom we aspire to emulate, be like, and respect. Their experiences and influence become a basis for our own personal journey and a degree of self-education. More importantly, those we seek to emulate need to have a positive influence on us.  I think we have become a society that uses the word “hero” too freely, in too many situations.

The dictionary defines a hero as:

  1. “a man or woman of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and                                  noble qualities.”

  1. “a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal.”

  1. “a warrior or chieftain of special strength courage, or ability”

As a parent I believe that we should always attempt to be heroes for our children. As parents we provide that first contact, that ability to direct our children on the path of the people they will develop into. I hope that I am a hero for my children and have provided them the core values they need to be not only successful but also kind, compassionate adults. To me, however, this is expected. It is called parenting and part of what we need to do. I really am more concerned with those influences from outside our immediate first-hand sphere of influence.

As a child my hero was Abraham Lincoln. Recently on a survey I was asked who my hero was – the answer – still Abraham Lincoln. Was he outside my sphere of influence? Yes. He died 100 years, 4 months, and 16 days before I was born. The traits that I admire in Abraham Lincoln are numerous, and this in and of itself may be why he remains such a hero for me. He rose from a poor, rural farm life. He worked hard to survive and help support his family and yet he found time to read and self-educate. He went on to become a lawyer. He entered politics and failed, yet he got up and tried again, and again. Ultimately he became the President during what was the worst time of war our country has ever seen, the Civil War.  Death threats, starting before he even reached Washington DC for his inauguration didn’t stop him. He survived the grief of the loss of his beloved son Willie in 1863. He struggled with a demanding and fearful wife who struggled with mental illness. He opposed the oppression of human beings based on their race and skin color. He oversaw the bloodiest conflict our country has even seen and guided the nation through it, only to finally lose his life to an assassin in the closing days of the war. He guided. He persevered. He never gave up. His actions had effects that we still feel today.

Where I have grown concerned is in two groups of individuals.  The first are our adolescents.  So many kids no longer look up to teachers, coaches, athletes and writers/scholars. They have tuned into “reality show” junkies and seem to try to relate more to Keeping Up with the Kardashians, 16 and Pregnant, and The Real Housewives of… (fill in your favorite city here).  I have watched some of these shows with my teenaged daughter because I wanted to see what they were about. I am appalled that as the American public we allow these shows, proffering their false sense of how we should live our lives, to air.  Are these the kinds of people we wish our children to emulate? Do they fit the definition of what a hero is? I don’t think they do.  I would rather see these kids strive to achieve the goals and success of Magic Johnson, Wayne Gretzky, or Fred Rogers.  These individuals showed how to succeed in their given fields, but equally, how to return that success to the communities and organizations that are significant to them.

The other group is that of our young adults, college students, and recent college grads. In the age of social media with pages such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, I wonder how much of their “hero worship” has been turned not to people who have accomplished great deeds, but those who have generated great wealth. Without a doubt, some great and successful business people have also supported community groups, charities, and other noble causes. But many more live their lives for no other purpose than to create personal wealth and further their own interests. Now that certainly is their right, but are they heroes? Simply, No.  What are their brave and noble deeds? What is their heroic act?

I am reminded of the story of Ernest Shackleton.  An Antarctic explorer, he faced unparalleled danger when in February 1915 his ship, Endurance, became trapped in the Antarctic ice. For months he led his men and kept them alive while awaiting the ship to be freed with the spring thaw. Instead, the Endurance was crushed in the ice and sank. Rather thanshack give up, Shackleton continued to lead his men, to keep their spirits up, and to guide them in their survival. Finally, in April of 1916, he and a small handful of his men, set sail in a 20-foot life boat in an attempt to reach South Georgia island and bring back help. Despite the hundreds of miles of ocean they had to cross, they did it.  Shackleton’s men were rescued and he didn’t lose a single man.

To me, Abraham Lincoln and Ernest Shackleton represent the kind of individuals I would like to see more people look up to as heroes. Faced with daunting obstacles they persisted and persevered, they led others, they inspired, motivated, and placed their personal safety above that of others. They fit the definitions of what a hero should be.

As members of society, we need to be careful about how we bandy about a word like hero. It is a powerful word. It does carry significant meaning. I think we have come to use it too often for too many things, and I worry if the true strength and power of the word will weaken.  While I strongly support and am thankful for the men and women of our armed forces, that doesn’t make them all heroes; but during a time of war, such as now, we seem to hear the word used as a general descriptor for every service member when they return home. I absolutely do not want to diminish any service members’ role, but for me the “hero” is the soldier who throws himself on the grenade and saves four others. It is an act of utter and complete selflessness, decided in less than the flutter of a mosquito’s wing that creates the hero.  Equally, as a member of law enforcement I do not believe that all law enforcement officers are heroes. They are out there though. The ones who buy and deliver Christmas dinner to a family in their area they know can’t afford it. Those who take the time to work with at-risk youth on their own time and guide them in a better direction.  These are our heroes. Selfless, noble, courageous people. People who don’t think about what has to be done as much as just get it done.

I am hopeful for a future where we all reevaluate and think about the inspirational people in our lives – our heroes.  What made them that way? What draws us to their charisma or fullness of heart? Their strength and courage? Their noble bearing?  Then, how can we apply the best of those traits in our own daily lives.  Let’s make our heroes members of an elite club again.