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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Old Photographs

My wife acquired some old photographs from years long ago, and I am quite frankly in awe of what I've seen.  Perhaps this is a phenomenon associated with second marriages*, but it's simply fascinating to see photographs of someone you love so dearly back from well before you knew them.  A small part of me seems to fall into a kind of wallowing, wishing I could have known her all those years ago.  The smarter part of me?  Well, it knows that, like any journey of note, you have to go "there" in order to get "here", and quite frankly "here" is where I am meant to be.

One of the reasons why I have a remarkable relationship with my wife is the fact that we've collectively been through a lot in life, up to the point where we discovered we were both occupying some of the same basic emotional space years ago (going through divorces, having career pressures, trying to be good parents, etc.).  Neither of us grew up in any sort of financial privilege, and both of us struggled with difficult relationships in our lives.  Seeing some of these old photographs made me angry in a way because I know some of the stories from when they were taken until now, and part of me wishes I would have been around "back then" to offer some kind of protection from what was to come.  I confess that sounds pretty crazy, especially since, in reality, that's now how life works anyway.  Besides, my wife managed to do reasonably well for herself, in spite of my lack of protection.

It's times like this when I'm reminded of just how lucky a life I've lived.  I say lucky because it just seems that I had been put in the places and situations I've meant to be in, even if (make that "when") at the time I was absolutely certain that universe was conspiring against if the universe, in its grandeur, actually would care what I was up to at any given moment anyway.  It's this perspective that has helped me with my recent job change.  I just need to be more mindful of that fact more often, namely that the here and now is where I am meant to be;  it's where all of us are meant to be.

(Wisdom from THIS page)

So looking at these photographs is certainly a different kind of experience for me.  But I think that, in totality, this is a kind of symbol...a reminder if you will...telegraphed from some other place to tell me that the past is relevant only to the extent that it can help us understand and (more importantly for me) appreciate the now.  Hopefully, the me of 5 years from now will look back at old photos from now and smile, ear to ear.

(Ms. Rivers, late 1980's; used with permission)

(Probably not the best matching sentiment for this posting, but hey, I like the song.)

(*) If you are in a second marriage, how did it feel when you looked at old photographs of your current spouse, back from before you knew them?  Odd?  Strange?  Unsettling?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Makers, Takers, and the Reality of the Gospel

There's been a ton of dialogue bounded about from the religious right, particularly in support of what may seem like conservative principles in government.  Some of that dialogue is centered around the ideas of self-sufficiency, supported by the notion that the "poor shall always be among you", that there are "makers" and "takers" in this country.  Pretty much an unbridled web of anger directed at those who can't seem to be just like them.  It's ironic, given the times, that so many on the religious right (Franklin Graham, etc.) seem to view Donald Trump as a kind of God-ordained savior.  This is a man who, regardless of your politics, clearly believes in the riches of this world, which is his prerogative by the way.

I'm reminded, though, from back in my C.C.D. days with the good Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22, verses 36 to 40:

"Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?"
Jesus said unto him, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and will all they soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and the great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

(King James Version; reference HERE...sorry Sisters!)

The next time a self-proclaimed Christian, such as Speaker Paul Ryan, proposes legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), how wonderful would it be to measure such a thing against those simple few lines?  Call me crazy, but if a new law could cause harm to your neighbor, then maybe it's un-Christian.  Now that could be called okay form a federal budget perspective, but it can't be called Christian, nor should the proponents of just such legislation be called that (Christian) either.  Far too many in federal elected office seem to leverage their "Christian" faith as a tool to woo voters, but yet fail to remember just how that Christian faith actually should operate in practice.

Again, this is pretty simple stuff:  If you are a Christian, you are commanded (not asked, but commanded) to love your neighbor as yourself.  No footnote there; no exclusions for "takers", no special love provided for "makers", no additional requirement to "pull oneself up by the bootstraps".  Just " thy neighbor as thyself".  I would want, for example, members of Congress to have substance abuse coverage in their healthcare benefit so maybe family members of theirs wouldn't needlessly die from a drug overdose.  Yes, if Speaker Ryan enjoys coverage for pre-existing conditions, for mental health care, or countless other benefits in his healthcare coverage (as a member of Congress), then he shouldn't be proposing that those things be excluded for others.  Period.  His willingness, along with President Trump, to strip away many of those things in Affordable Care Act replacement last week, in order to win over hard-right conservatives, is the opposite of "love thy neighbor as thyself".

Gut check here:  Is this a case of the "pot calling the kettle black"?  Am I engaging in hypocrisy here?  Those are reasonable questions, and the short answer is no.  You will not find the public me, as in what's written in over 1800 postings on this website, proclaiming myself to be a good Christian.  I'm not even sure I've referred to myself as being a Christian of any sort.  I simply don't deserve the title.  What I am, in two words, is "deeply flawed".  What I don't do is proclaim being a "Christian" in order to garner personal/political power while simultaneously disavowing the core tenants of that faith when it comes to taking action.  I'll leave that sort of thing to Speaker Ryan.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Repeal and Replace

As I write this, the news of the U.S. House of Representatives not voting on a replacement for the ACA is still fresh.  If anything, this is an important moment for several reasons:

1.  Theatrics.  How many times did the U.S. House vote to repeal the ACA during the Obama administration?  One thing is now remarkably clear now:  Those votes were theatrics, and the GOP knew it.  They were counting of losing, mostly because they knew then, and have been reminded now, that actually replacing the ACA is about governing, not politics.  Which brings me to the following...

2.  Governing.  The GOP can be masterful as an opposition party.  Seriously, they have that locked down.  Governing?  That is, as Ben Hoon observed, "Hard".  They are not prepared.

3.  There is no GOP.  There are GOPs.  There is no single Republican Party.  It's pretty clear now that the party is fractured along ideological lines, as Trump lost the votes of moderates in order to appease ultra-conservatives.

4.  It's Not Reality TV.  The debate about healthcare in this country isn't some slick commercial that runs 60 seconds or slogan that's repeated over and over again at a Trump rally.  No, it's deeply personal for many Americans.  It's about what happens when your grandmother gets sick.  Or when poor women need care.  Or when the middle class have to declare bankruptcy because of catastrophic medical bills.  The lobbyists and the inside the beltway spin doctors can grease all the palms they want, but in the end, healthcare is a common denominator in this country and it can't be "fixed" by a group of congressmen in two months.  Which brings me to the following...

5.  No, They Had Replacement.  There never a serious replacement alternative before Trump's election.  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  They made it up over the course of two months.

6.  This Isn't the Democrats Loss.  Trump is already blaming the failure of passing an ACA replacement at the feet of the Democrats.  That is, to be blunt, horse$hit.  The House could have passed the ACA replacement with just GOP votes.  They simply didn't.

This is a multi-dimensional failure that will have repercussions for a long time to come.  The ACA is deeply flawed, needlessly complex, and divisive.  It needs to be replaced.  The fact that the GOP couldn't execute when given such an opportunity speaks volumes about how ideology can get in the way of substance.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Good Learn'n

I enjoy reading about human behavior.  That's something of an odd statement coming from what appears, at least on the surface, to be a STEM kind of guy.  Yes, I spent two years in Engineering in college, and yes, I've taken enough college level math courses to likely qualify to teach it, but I also suffer from an almost unbridled mental wanderlust.  I just can't keep my mind turned off, and sometimes those though go to that greatest of mysteries:  Why do we act they way we do?

I haven't found many concrete answers, but I'm going to keep looking.

What have I learned?

Well, from Melody Beattie, I've learned that adults are always responsible for their own behavior, unless they are so unhinged that they actually require institutionalization (my words, not hers).

From Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, I've learned that it's perfectly okay to be a little bit weird.  Note that this is a great example of the difference between "learning" and "application".  The former I got in high school; the latter is a work in progress to this very day.

From Eckhart Tolle I've learned to always "be present in the moment".  Not exactly easy for me, but I'm always up for a challenge.  In other news, I just got a new (actually old) Tolle book to read.  His are the simplest most complex things in the world.

From Donald Trump I've learned that it's entirely possible to sell just about anything.  

From my daughters I've learned that what we do, especially as parents, has consequences.  When I look back over the past 30 years, sometimes I see a lot of turmoil.  When I deeply ponder things though, I realize that it was all worth it, because I ended up with three wonderful, professional young women that actually, truly, honestly call me "Dad".  I could fail at everything else in my life, but end up being a success simply because of them.

From Daniel Goleman, I've learned many things, including the fact that empathy is an actual, real super-power that's ours for the taking.  

"Empathy in leadership is particularly important for three reasons: the increasing use of teams, the rapid pace of globalization, and the growing need to retain talent. As anyone who has ever been part of a team can attest, teams are cauldrons of bubbling emotions. They are often charged with reaching a consensus - which is hard enough to do with two people, and much more difficult as the numbers increase. A teams's leader must be able to sense and understand the viewpoints of everyone around the table. The result is not just heightened collaboration among team members, but also growth in business."

From Gordon Livingston, M.D., I've learned that if the ground doesn't agree with the map, then the map is wrong.  Ponder that one for a moment.  How often do we end up following maps in our life that are wrong?

From my (late) Mom, I've learned the value of punctuality.  And cleanliness.  And the cost of harboring bitter feelings for far too long.  

From my first manager at my former employer, Paul A., I learned to "always promptly return phone calls".  Granted, back in those days we didn't have email.  Anyway, I always try to...promptly return phone calls...but the lesson was actually bigger than that, or so I want to believe.  It's more about just being respectful of others.

From recent events in my life, I've learned that I'm sometimes guilty of pridefullness.  This is not something I really wanted to admit, but while I'm being honest about "learn'n", it should be on the list.  In the end, things like job titles and salary figures are important, but they are far less important than the value of simply showing up at work, trying to make a difference, and them coming home.  Really coming home, by the way, both physically and mentally.

From my wife, I've learned that I must be relatively okay, otherwise she would have nothing to do with me.  I know, that sounds horribly self-effacing, and a tab bit over the top, but buried deep within the comment is a chunk of reality:  The company we keep says a lot about us, whether we want to admit that or not.

From Brene Brown I've learned many things, including the value of just simply showing up.

When I find myself not knowing what to do, simply moving forward has seemed to work reasonably well.  The importance of how you show up is something that I learned from a prior leader a few years ago.  

I could go on, but what's the point?  This kind of stuff...this important work...never really ends anyway.  Or at least it shouldn't.  At least not for me.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I'll See You In My Dreams

Related to my last posting (HERE).

If you've never seen the Concert for George, well, you don't know what you've been missing.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


When I have my professional hat on, I often times talk about the need for clarity.  For the uninitiated and/or those who have lives, by "clarity" I refer to the basic desire we have to simply understand.  In the business world, clarity is important because we want employees to understand what they are dong...and probably more importantly why they are doing it.  Clarity is a cost of admission, if you will, for leaders who want their teams to go simply above getting the basics done.  Clarity is, as a respected colleague of mine once observed, king.

I also think that, even beyond my day job, clarity is still king.

There's been a bit of clarity that's alluded me related to my brother Chris, who passed away in January.  Not so shockingly, I might add.  How and why does someone so full of life at one time just seem to have that life snuffed out?  In some ways, it would have been far easier if he would have died in a car accident (although he had a few of those), but instead, he was more or less taken apart almost one molecule at a time.  Those who knew and loved Chris tried our best to help, but in the final analysis, it turns out that all we could do was just watch.  In a world that can be cruel, well, there are few things crueler than this.

As a side note, probably because of a cocktail of prescribed medication that no simulation could model the interactions, I can sometimes have extremely vivid dreams.  Given the utterly bizarre place that is my head normally, put me in R.E.M. (the dream-state, not the band) sleep with the previously mentioned pharmacology and you have the makings of an almost mystical nightly journey into the surreal.  We're talking Rod Serling here.  Thankfully that journey is almost never negative, but it's also almost never makes sense.  Except for the dream I had a week or so ago about Chris.  He was talking to me.  And he looked so vivid, so clear, so clean.  A far cry from the body I found in his house on January 5th.  I don't remember what he said to me in that dream, and quite frankly I don't know that it meant anything of a higher-power sort, but I do know that I woke up comforted.

Back to clarity.

When it comes to my late brother, we've been missing a key element, if you will, that could provide some much-needed closure...and...clarity.  We simply didn't know what caused his death.  Well, we do know now, in a way.  The details aren't important, over and above than to say that what we've learned from his official cause of death more or less repeats a narrative that dogged my brother for many years.  Yes, when it comes to clarity, we now know "what", but we don't know, on a deep level, "why".  That is likely to never change, ever.

In spite of the above, there are other things I do know, and despite my better judgment, I'll share a thought now.

I know that there were people in my brother's life who aided and abetted the choices he made, choices that directly caused his death.  While that's a tough statement to make, I'm going to ratchet it up a notch by saying that some of these people did what they did for their own selfish economic gain.  Over the years, the profit these people made from my brother was, in all likelihood, enormous.  I wish I could express the depths of anger I feel towards these people, but I simply can't.  As I've noted before, I wasn't born with the rage gene.  What I will say is this, directed towards those people who participated in the slow decay of my younger brother:

My hope is that one day all of you will have one still moment of perfect clarity, a moment where you'll be able to finally comprehend just how monstrous your actions have been (both for my brother and, no doubt, others).  In that one moment of perfect clarity, you will be completely and utterly terrified down to the depths of your soul at what you've done.  You will be filled with a blackness that no amount of light will ever be able to penetrate.  You enabled his death slowly, and the people that loved Chris got to see that unfold over years, all while you counted your profits.  Unlike what happened to my brother, I hope that the weight of your actions hits you all at once.  You should be terrified at the prospect.  And you should pray that our paths never, ever, cross.

Consider this my moment of clarity.

* * * * * *

If you or a family member struggle with an addiction, just know that where there is help, there is hope...and there is a lot of help available.  Just don't give up.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Help Resources for Veterans

Addiction.Org:  Help for the Family

Saturday, March 4, 2017

4 Months

What I've learned, looking back over 4 months (mid-October through mid-February) of a life in flux, filled with job and family member loss.

  • Your Body Rebels.  Put enough stress on yourself and your body will, in fact, rebel.  And we're not talking about rebellion as in your kids refusing to eat peas.  No, we're talking various parts and systems screaming "f&^k you!" while falling face first into a gutter, with all the gusto of a drunk at the Scranton St. Patrick's Day parade.
  • You Can Overdose On Thinking.  This one is easy and hard, both at the same time.  I spent more time thinking and contemplating than a human probably should, and most of it wasn't helpful.  Yes, of course, we should all be reflective, but too much of anything isn't healthy, reflection included.  Some things don't have answers, and ruminating over them continuously serves no useful purpose, other than inching you one step closer to psychosis.
  • Emotions Aren't That Predictable.  There have been times when I'd easily give one of my lessor-used fingers for fifteen minutes of pure, unadulterated anger.  Or sorrow for that matter.  It would be a wondrous purge of sorts, a working out of the poison.  And yet, for the life of me, I just can't do it.  I just can't give up that control.  
  • We Search For Routine.  I did:  I replaced work routines with other routines.  Forget about watching all of those videos I've been holding onto, forget about afternoon trips to the movies, or other fun stuff.  My psyche needed to replace what it knew with something very similar.  Oddly enough, I think I was reasonably productive during my 4 months.  I got stuff done.  And yet not much of it felt fulfilling.
  • Who Are You?  I had to face who I was during my 4 months.  Now I thought I knew this, by the way, but I really didn't.  The good news is that I'm closer now.  This isn't about mindless reflection (see above), by the way; no, this is a starring in the mirror kind of thing and seeing yourself with the veneer of "well I'm a __________ (insert title)" fully removed.  Big reveal:  We aren't what we do from 9 to 5, not in totality.  Those kinds of things are fleeting*.  They are a vaporware of the worst sort, as they literally can disappear with a 30-second video call letting you know that your services are no longer required.
  • You're Never Prepared.  No amount of mental preparation readies you for the major shocks in your life.  I'm convinced that mental toughness can't be saved up for a rainy day.  Those sorts of my case, the loss of a job and the loss of a brother...defy preparation at an almost genetic level.  How you face these things, unlike say pride in a job title or a paycheck, actually does define who you are as a human being.
  • Separating The Wheat From The Chaff.  Big shocks help you separate the wheat from the chaff in your life.  I'm convinced, utterly so, that western culture (particularly business culture) creates a kind of phantom universe of sorts, where sincerity is full of dependencies.  The reality is this:  There will be some people you work for in your professional life who will do everything in their power to convince you that they do, in fact, care about you as a human being.  But many actually don't, at least when you cease working for them.  Call that one as you like, but empathy shouldn't be conditioned by employment.  Now, while that may be a downer, there is an upside:  When that change in your employment status occurs, you'll be (positively) shocked at who does reach out to you with a helping hand.  Yes, the disappointment you may feel at some will be replaced and overwhelmed by the satisfaction of knowing that there are plenty of good people in this world who are pulling for you.    

All of this has now happened before, and it very may well happen again, and while I will never be fully prepared, I now have the advantage of experience as a guide.  I'm also committed to being a better human being thanks to these experiences.  I didn't get to choose this path, but I'm going to walk it with purpose nevertheless.

(*)  As wonderfully articulated in the song "Minutes to Memories" by John Mellencamp:

"This world offers riches and riches will grow wings.
But I don't take stock in those uncertain things."