The journey

I love watching the Olympics. Always have.

I’m partial to swimming. I suppose when you’ve participated in a sport you’re able to more deeply appreciate just how much better those athletes are than you ever hoped to be and what kind of sacrifice and dedication contributed to their success.

The news has been downright depressing lately. And while all that bad will still be there after the closing ceremonies, for now I’m content to cheer people on rather than shake my head and mourn for what they’ve become.

In past years my focus has been on the gold medal winners, but as I watched the parade of athletes during the opening ceremonies, I decided that while winning gold is a worthy goal, just getting there is a huge accomplishment in and of itself.

Take Irish gymnast Kieran Behan for example. From the New York Times:

As a boy, Behan, now 23, had a series of injuries, two so severe that doctors told him he would never walk again. Nerve damage from a botched leg operation left his foot numb and causes excruciating pain even if his leg is touched ever so gently. Brain damage caused by his head hitting the high bar in training left him struggling to do simple tasks such as moving his head or eating.

Yet he fought back to become an Olympian, a goal he has had since he was 6.

On Saturday, though, the plucky Behan lost focus. On the floor exercise, his best event, he stumbled on two of his landings for a disappointing score of 13.966 points. He also competed on vault and scored 13.933 points.

Behan, the first Irish gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, did not make the final in either event.

When asked about not qualifying for the final event however, Behan was overcome with emotion. Not out of disappointment, but out of gratitude for the sacrifices so many had made to get him to London in the first place.

“It doesn’t matter what I’ve done in there,” he said, gesturing to the arena floor. “It’s how I’ve got to where I am now. But that isn’t the last people are going to see of me. I’ll be back because I’m a fighter.”

There are hundred of stories of sacrifice and triumph in the Olympic games. Most of them we’ll probably never hear about. I’m grateful I was able share just one with you.

Many of us spend so much of our lives focusing and striving for the destination that we forget to appreciate the journey.

As I watch the games over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be cheering the athletes towards their destination, but I’ll also be celebrating the journey they’ve endured to get there. Bravo.

Finding your happy place

my happy place

This feeling of almost overwhelming funk. Watching the news certainly hasn’t helped: tragedy both here and abroad and the constant political back biting. It’s exhausting. Plus, I didn’t go to my happy place this year: the beach. Oh, how I love the beach. But alas, our schedules did not permit such a getaway this year. It’s all left me feeling unrested and restless.

I thought it was just me. But it’s not. I’ve talked to several people who seem to be stuck in a similar funk. Just knowing I’m not alone helped lighten the weight a little.

There are plenty of folks much smarter and wiser than I whom you can turn to for advice. Many will tell you to pray and read scripture, and I’d be the first to agree that those two actions may do you a world of good.

But sometimes you need an immediate anti-funk injection.

And I discovered one quite by accident this afternoon. It worked for me, and I’m hoping it may work for you, too:

Think of a song from your youth.

A song that the 13-year old you would sing loudly and with absolute abandon.

Download it to your iPod or find the CD or whatever.

Get in your car, put on your sunglasses (even at night).

Play that song loudly.

Sing it ever louder. I mean, belt that sucker OUT!

When you get to a stop light, play air guitar. If you draw attention to yourself, all the better.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Will this little mini concert make the world a little less ugly? Probably not.

Is it a long term solution to your heavy heart? Most probably not.

But maybe, just maybe.

It will help you realize what I did.

That buried beneath all that heaviness we all tend to carry all too often,

there is joy.

We just need a little help finding it sometimes.

*Editor’s Note: The above video is the medley I stumbled upon this afternoon. And while I’ll admit that the 13-year old me was a big Journey fan, it could have been any number of belt-worthy songs.

Stuck in the middle

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July is the middle of the year. Specifically, July 2 (in a non-leap year) is the exact middle of the year. And it feels like the middle, doesn’t it?

For me, June seems like a recovery month. Time to take a breath, throw away or file the piles of school papers the kids have accumulated over the past several months, sleep in a bit and be a little lazy. Or a lot lazy. But June didn’t fall into its usual rhythm this year. My son attended summer school for the first time. That, in addition to something called SAC camp (Strength and Conditioning Camp) four afternoons a week has put a wrench in the laziness of summer.

And now I find myself in the waining days of July wondering where my summer went. No beach getaway, no long drives to visit family. Just days on end having to be somewhere at a certain time. Dropping off or picking up. There’s been plenty of laziness in between, but not the kind that makes you feel rested. Just the kind that makes you feel…well, lazy.

August is just around the corner, and while the kids don’t officially go back to school until the 27th, marching band and football practice starts August 1.

I’ve felt like I’ve been in a holding pattern this summer–waiting for one thing to end and another to begin. Filling my time rather than investing it in something bigger, and generally feeling a bit useless. But as I look back on the days where it seems nothing of great importance happened, I remember the two day Psych watching marathon with my daughter. Two days filled with laughter and repeating silly lines from Shaun and Gus. I remember teaching my son how to make grilled cheese sandwiches on the griddle, and how obtaining that knowledge empowered him–even if it was only the power to make himself a hot meal. And a dozen other little things millions of moms or dads never think twice about. And I realize the little things do matter. Or maybe not so much the little things, but the little moments.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, may I present a gratuitous cat video:

This post is part of the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival: July hosted by Peter Pollock. For more summerly posts, please visit him at PeterPollock.com

Analysis overload: Aurora

So much has already been said about what happened at the midnight premiere of the new Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado last Friday. There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said.

One of the dangers of the 24 hour news cycle is that in the absence of new information, media outlets often substitute “expert” opinion, conjecture and innuendo. Just hours after the name of the alleged gunman had been released, the following exchange between Good Morning America’s George Stephanopoulos and Brian Ross took place:

“There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado page on the Colorado Tea Party site… talking about him joining the Tea Party last year,” Ross said. “Now, we don’t know if this is the same Jim Holmes, but it’s Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado.”

ABC later issued an apology:

An earlier ABC News broadcast report suggested that a Jim Holmes of a Colorado Tea Party organization might be the suspect, but that report was incorrect. ABC News and Brian Ross apologize for the mistake, and for disseminating that information before it was properly vetted.

I fully and correctly predicted that the tragedy in Aurora would be used as a platform for gun control, but what Brian Ross did was so blatantly, shockingly irresponsible. He seemed almost giddy at the prospect of connecting a political movement he opposes to a homicidal maniac. The Jim Holmes Ross incorrectly connected with the shooting is a 52-year old Hispanic man who looks nothing like the suspect in custody.

There have been calls for boycotts of ABC and their affiliates, but I will not be participating in any such boycotts. They are just one more distraction which divide a nation who should be coming together in support of the people of Aurora, Colorado. We need to set aside our personal and political agendas and try and remember what it’s like to act like decent human beings again.

People die violent and senseless deaths every single day and each one is a tragedy. I think what’s especially frightening about the Aurora shootings is the familiarity of the venue. The chilling realization that it could have been any one of us sitting in that movie theater–or worse–one of our children.

Twelve people were brutally murdered and many more will sustain life altering injuries–both physical and emotional.We should all be outraged by this senseless violence, but the ultimate blame sits squarely on the shoulders of one man: James Eagan Holmes. May God have mercy on his soul.

Two wolves

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Two Wolves is a Cherokee legend. It goes as follows:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grand son thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The clarity of light

Last year, in a response to a post my friend Billy Coffey wrote entitled The luckiest boy in the world, I wrote a post about my own personal experience with the aftermath of divorced parents. My parents’ divorce was extremely painful for everyone involved, but I still maintain that I’m a better for experience, even though I would never wish it on anyone:

“Not all children of divorce live their lives as victims. Some of us are stronger for it, because we had a parent who didn’t allow their circumstances to dictate whether or not they did the right thing. They did right thing despite their circumstances.”

When we’re going through the dark places, it’s so difficult to see the clarity of light they may someday bring to us.

A few months ago, my daughter told me that the parents of one of her best friends were getting a divorce. While I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised given the divorce rate in this country, I was. I know them to be a close family who love their three children very much. When my daughter told me of the divorce, she told me she didn’t know why her parents were getting a divorce and that she didn’t feel right asking. I told her that was okay, that if her friend wanted to talk about it she would. But her most important role as a friend right now is just to be there, to show her friend that even if her immediate future may be filled with inconsistencies and unknowns, her friendship remains a constant.

There have been many times over the past few months when her friend will call and ask to come over, and each time we pick her up. Sometimes for a sleepover, sometimes just for a few hours. I don’t think she’s escaping anything more dubious than the sadness that comes from knowing the house she’s grown up in will soon belong to another family. I think she just wants to be free of the big, heavy, grown-up worries that 10 year old girls shouldn’t have to carry. Even if it’s just  for a little while. Without fail, when we drop her back off at home we tell her she is always welcome at our house.

The greatest gift of my own personal experience with divorce is the ability to pass on my empathy and compassion to my daughter without her having to go through that particular dark place herself.

And I would never know the beautiful clarity of that particular light had I not gone through my own darkness.

Pardon me while I rant incessantly: Anthropomorphizing your pet

If this dog could talk, it would be saying, "I hate you."

I think I’ve mentioned how much I like the book Watership Down. So much so, that I’m rereading the Richard Adams classic. For those of you who don’t know, Watership Down is a tale of a group of rabbits who leave their warren at the pleading of a little rabbit named Fiver. Fiver has a vision that their home will be destroyed. The book follows their many adventures on their journey to find a new home.

Obviously, Adams anthropomorphizes the rabbits–that is–he gives them certain human characteristics like the ability to talk, otherwise it would be a pretty lame book. But I knew going in that rabbits can’t actually talk because I’m smart like that. Besides, it’s a story of very real human struggles told effectively through the eyes of rabbits. It works.

But here’s what doesn’t work for me.

People who think their pets are their children and the advertisers and pet industry executives who take advantage of their stupidity.

I’ll skip the not-so-subtle message of this commercial which says your cat’s well being takes precedent over your significant other’s. But since when do cats give a crap about breakfast? Are you telling me that the creature who just laid a bloody lizard on your chest while you were napping on the couch has a preference for eggs in the morning? Breakfast food for cats? Seriously?

And then there’s this:

Let’s ignore the fact that the woman is laughing while that big, filthy dog is shaking flour all over her kitchen and then chases him around the island in slow motion and get to the heart of the matter: Dog cookies. I don’t know about your dog, but mine has been known to eat cat feces right out of the litter box, and I never once recall him asking me to chop it up and bake it into a cookie before doing so.

I’m not a pet hater. I’ve had pets my entire life. I know they provide unconditional love (well, dogs anyway) and companionship. Our cat Rudy and our dog Buddy Love are both a part of the family. But they’re animals, not people.

Paul McCartney is quoted as saying, “You can judge a man’s true character by the way he treats his fellow animals.”

And I would agree with that to a certain extent, but when you begin to give the lives of animals precedent over the lives of fellow human beings, the world’s been turned upside down.

Just stop it, please.

What you didn’t say

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“Believe deep down in your heart that you’re destined to do great things.”

“Besides pride, loyalty, discipline, heart, and mind, confidence is the key to all the locks.”

“It’s the name on the front of the jersey that matters most, not the one on the back.”

“Losing a game is heartbreaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy.”

“Publicity is like poison; it doesn’t hurt unless you swallow it.”

“The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.”

“When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality.”

“You have to perform at a consistently higher level than others. That’s the mark of a true professional.”

“You need to play with supreme confidence, or else you’ll lose again, and then losing becomes a habit.”

“Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good.”

“The minute you think you’ve got it made, disaster is just around the corner.”

The above quotes are attributed to one person: Coach Joe Paterno.

On Thursday, July 12, former FBI Director Louis Freehr released the findings of an intensive 8 month long investigation of Penn State University precipitated by the grand jury conviction of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. In a prepared statement, Mr. Freehr said in part:

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest.”

he went on to say:

“The stated reasons by Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley for not taking action to identify the victim and for not reporting Sandusky to the police or Child Welfare are:

(1) Through counsel, Messrs. Curley and Schultz have stated that the “humane” thing to do in 2001 was to carefully and responsibly assess the best way to handle vague but troubling allegations.

(2) Mr. Paterno said that “I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more
expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

(3) Mr. Spanier told the Special Investigative Counsel that he was never told by anyone that the February 2001 incident in the shower involved the sexual abuse of a child but only “horsing around.” He further stated that he never asked what “horsing around” by Sandusky entailed.

Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large. Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky’s victims.” (my emphasis)

The bitterest irony in all this sordid mess is that men of tremendous power and influence allowed the rape of a child by a pedophile to go unreported (which allowed future rapes by the same pedophile) in order to protect the pristine reputation of Penn State University, and in doing so, have most likely tarnished said reputation beyond redemption. At least for the foreseeable future.

Do I think that the Board of Trustees, who hired Louis Freehr’s law firm, threw Joe Paterno under the bus? Yeah, probably. But I also think Paterno and company could have stopped that bus over a decade ago and prevented the future destruction that it caused.

How very sad that of all the inspirational and motivational quotes credited to Coach Joe Paterno, to many–including me–only one will live in infamy:

“I should have done more.”

Trying not to like Penn Jillette

I should really dislike Penn Jillette on principle.

He’s a committed atheist who says reading the Bible is the best way to become a committed atheist.

He’s a magician. Call it a personal shortcoming on my part, but I find magicians annoying, even though I appreciate illusion.

He has a propensity towards being quite the angry potty mouth.

Penn Jillette and I disagree on many things. I should dislike him on principle.

And I’ve tried. But I can’t.

Because he respects my right to believe that he has it all wrong, and he encourages me to do a better job of being a Christian:

And he’s proven to me that a person can be godless and still be moral and attempt to live right:

In short, Penn Jillette is a better person than me. And if everyone was, as he believes, basically good, then we would have no need for God or Jesus.

But that’s a HUGE if, because I believe that people are not basically good.

And I only need turn on the news to confirm this. Or better yet, simply look into my own heart.

Still, I cannot and will not dismiss him simply because he doesn’t believe as I do. While I may not appreciate his views, I greatly appreciate how well he articulates them.

I can’t help it. I like the guy…

Good books

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“There are those who say that life is like a book, with chapters for each event in your life and a limited number of pages on which you can spend your time.

But I prefer to think that a book is like a life, particularly a good one, which is well worth staying up all night to finish.”

~ Lemony Snicket, Horseradish

I couldn’t agree more.

Books I’ve been reading which I would place within this category are The Wind Through the Keyhole (a Dark Tower book) by Stephen King,

Watership Down by Richard Adams, which I’ve read before but is the kind of book which needs to be revisited again,

Note: I wouldn't bother with the movie adaptation. I thought it completely missed the mark.

and a story of secrets, regrets, courage and redemption. But I can’t tell you about that one, as it hasn’t been published yet. You’ll just have to be patient.

What are you reading?

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