Sunday, August 25, 2019

From Leaves to Roots

I've been thinking about family trees a lot lately, as recently there was a major change to mine. After 82 years of life, my mother passed away.

Family trees are a wonderful snapshot, detailing generations of connected lives. They capture a moment in time, a piece of history, but in reality they are constantly changing. Over the course of our lives, we start out as leaves, but we end up as roots.

My mom had been battling Parkinson's Disease for many years, and month by month it ate away at her strength, her appetite, her speech, and her clarity of thought. Each time I visited with her, it was shocking to see the changes, and I would find myself crying in my car as I drove down the highway, two hours home. I have been grieving for my mom for months.

But the visits were also precious. I told her about all my travels and the amazing places I got to see. I had photos printed of my children, and grandchildren, and my trips, and more. We went through the pictures one at a time, and I would tell her the stories associated with each, and then leave the photos there with her to look at anytime she wanted.

I held her hand, and rubbed her back, and told her how beautiful she looked. One time she asked for a chocolate Klondike bar from the freezer, even though she couldn't remember what it was called, and I sat with her, feeding her ice cream bite by bite, something I am sure she did for me when I was little.

On one visit in particular we were talking about family. My granddaughter had just been born, her great granddaughter. I was showing pictures, and discussing children and grandchildren, talking about the family tree. My mom was more confused than normal this visit, forgetting words and trying to connect thoughts. But for a few minutes she seemed to find clarity.

She looked at me and said, "Love never ends, does it?"

I said, "No, Mom, it never does."

I went on to talk to her about everything I had been thinking about family trees.

We all start out as leaves. We begin as babies. A new bud on the end of a twig, off of a branch, coming from the trunk. A great grandchild of a grandchild of a child of a parent.

But over time that changes. We have children of our own, and we become a twig.

Then they have children, and we move to be a branch. A grandparent.

Then if we are fortunate, we see great grandchildren born, and we become a trunk. A mighty trunk with branches and twigs and leaves reaching up to the sky.

My mom was that trunk. She had six children, 16 grandchildren, and 29 great grandchildren.

But eventually, there is one more change. In time, for all of us, we become roots. At the end of our life we move below the ground, no longer to be seen.

But love never ends, does it?

As roots feed a tree with water and nutrients, we still live on through the people we leave behind.

My mom passed away, but she is not really gone. She is the roots now for my family tree, and she lives on through me, my children, and my grandchildren.

Her unconditional love. Her gentleness. Her eternal optimism. Her kind words. Her willingness to listen. Her acceptance of everyone.

I told her that as we sat there. No, Mom, love never ends. The way you loved me, is how I love my children, and how they love their children, and that love will continue on.

Now I am a trunk. My dad passed away when I was eleven. My mom passed away as I am fifty. I am now the trunk, with my children and grandchildren branching off and reaching up.

And someday I too will move below the ground and become roots for my family. My hope, my goal is to love others the way my mom loved me.

Three days before my mom passed away I was able to speak to her one last time. I was in Texas for a training, but my sister had come up from Florida to be with Mom for a few days, as we knew she was getting close to the end.

My mom had stopped eating and drinking. She could no longer speak. She slept most of the day, waking up only briefly from time to time.

My sister texted me to let me know she had woken up, and that if I could call, she would hold the phone up to my mom's ear. I called right away and spoke to her for several minutes.

I told her about my travels, and made a few jokes. I told her I was sorry she wasn't feeling well.

Then I told her I knew she couldn't speak, but that it was ok, she didn't have to say a thing. She had been telling me she loved me in so many ways for my entire life. It is one thing I have always known without a doubt.

Thank you Mom for always loving me, for always being there, for everything you did for me. I will do my best to pass on your love.

I love you.

I miss you.

[In memory of my mom, Linda Lee Campbell, July 18, 1937 - August 19, 2019]

Monday, June 24, 2019

Hey Men… Don’t be a Chinchilla - Why guys struggle with being open about our problems, anxieties, fears, and pain

Most of my life I have been a chinchilla. Metaphorically obviously, although with my luxurious beard the confusion would be understandable.

No, what I mean is like most men I have unfortunately behaved like a chinchilla. If you are a man there is a good chance you have dealt with this same problem. And if you're not a man this may help you understand us a little bit better.

Let me explain...

So I used to raise chinchillas. Well I didn't actually intend to raise chinchillas, but I did own a male chinchilla and a female chinchilla, and I did keep them in the same cage, so yes, I ended up raising chinchillas. That’s how those things work.

Chinchillas are fascinating critters. They hop like a kangaroo, and have ears like a bunny, the tail of a squirrel, the face of a mouse, and amazingly thick and soft fur. Instead of taking baths, to get clean they roll around in volcanic dust, to simulate what they used to do when they lived in the Andes mountains of South America.

As interesting as all of that is, there's a different characteristic about chinchillas that I identify with as a man. (Sorry, I don't roll around in volcanic ash.)

The first chinchilla I ever owned was named Velvor, because of his velvety soft fur. He was a wonderful pet! He was intelligent, always friendly, loved to cuddle, and was full of energy.

Until one day.

I went to his cage to check on him as normal and found him lying on his side. Don’t panic animal-lovers, he was not dead, although he was very close to dying. He had no energy, no strength, and was unresponsive to me.

I rushed him immediately to our local veterinarian, who thankfully specialized in exotic pets. After a quick X-ray, the very serious problem became clear to the doctor. Over the course of many, many months Velvor had developed a massive hairball in his stomach. The mass was so large it had taken up all the room in his stomach so that he could no longer eat and process food. He was starving to death, and was within hours of dying.

I felt like a terrible failure as a pet owner, but I had no way of knowing. RIght up until Velvor fell over on his side he had been acting perfectly normal. He was active and alert. He had a full fluffy coat of hair. It seemed like nothing was wrong.

And that was exactly the problem.

You see, chinchillas are naturally wild animals from the mountains of South America. Although we see them as adorable pets, there are many creatures in their natural habitat that see chinchillas as dinner. In the wild, chinchillas cannot afford to show any weakness. If they act hurt or weak or in any way sick, they immediately become an easy target for predators. To stay alive, chinchillas will act like nothing is wrong, and will go about their daily lives as normal, to avoid showing any possible signs of weakness. And they will keep on doing this right up until the moment they fall over dead.

Although this may make an odd sort of sense in the wild, it was extremely dangerous in the safety of my home. I was there to care for Velvor and would have done anything to help him, but his instincts took over and he hid his weakness from me.

Thankfully there is a good end to this story!

The veterinarian explained that we had a very slim chance of saving him. We needed to do two critical things. First, we had to find a way to break up the hairball in his stomach so that it would pass through him. And second, we needed to get calories and nutrition in him.

For the first problem, the solution was pineapple juice. Yep, that’s right. I had to take a syringe full of pineapple juice and squirt it into his mouth and down his throat. The acidity in the juice would slowly start to dissolve the hairball so it could break up and pass out.

For the second problem, I had to force feed him a special food paste. It was a tube with this super high calorie, nutrient rich paste. I was supposed to squeeze a little bit into his mouth and hope he would accept and swallow it. Thankfully he ended up really liking the beef flavor (who knew?) and would eat bits of what I gave him.

And over the next couple of weeks this is pretty much what I did every two hours or so. I was teaching at the time, so I had to bring his cage to school with me each day and set him by my desk. Every other class period the students would watch as I would take him out, wrap him up in a towel, and feed him pineapple juice and beef flavored paste, like a baby. Like an odd furry baby that likes pineapples and beef.

And it worked. The hairball broke up little by little. As he got nutrition he also regained his appetite and strength. He lived.

So with that story in mind, why do I say that for most of my life I have acted like a chinchilla? Well just like a chinchilla will hide any weakness or sickness or injury, and will pretend that everything is fine, I (and many other men) do the exact same thing with problems, anxieties, fears, weaknesses, and emotional and mental struggles.

As men, our society often expects us to be strong, stoic, and in control. If bad things happen we are supposed to pull ourselves up, rub some dirt on it, and walk it off. Unfortunately this is not realistic, or healthy for men, or women, or anyone. We all hurt. Sometimes it might just be a day from hell. Other times it’s a failure at work, the loss of a job, the challenges of raising children, financial struggles, relationship issues, stress, anxiety, depression, and more.

Yet, like a chinchilla I know I have often tried to pretend that nothing was wrong.

Just keep moving.

Just keep smiling.

Just keep working.

Unfortunately like a growing hairball, if we don’t let someone know, open up, get the pain and fears out, the problems will just continue to grow inside of us, from something small and simple and normal to something that strangles our energy and joy. Left unchecked it produces more anxiety, depression, bitterness, and anger, and at its worse, hopelessness and suicide.

Although females are two to four times more likely to attempt suicide, men die from suicide three to five times more often than women. In other words, when a man gets to the point that he can no longer act like nothing is wrong, when all of his internal coping mechanisms have failed, when he finds himself alone at the end of his rope, men are on average over 10 times more likely to succeed in taking their own lives. And of the men who do commit suicide, only half have had contact with a mental health professional. Like a chinchilla pretending that everything is fine right up until it collapses and dies, far too many men fail to reach out to someone for help when they are struggling.

So why do we do this?

Well the chinchilla does this out of fear of showing weakness and then becoming prey for some predator. I believe we often do this out of fear as well.

  • Fear of appearing weak.
  • Fear of being looked down on.
  • Fear of our significant other rejecting us.
  • Fear of our job thinking we are not competent.
  • Fear of not being manly.
  • Fear of embarrassment.
  • Fear of admitting failure.

So is this fear unrealistic? Well sadly, like a sick chinchilla in the sights of a swooping hawk, the fear is not always misplaced.

Over the years I have dealt with loss, divorce, death, anxiety, depression, insecurities, doubt, and more. Unfortunately there have been times when I have opened up to someone close to me and they pulled away and put up walls.

But there are other times and other people who have not. They listened and loved. They helped me lift a load I could not bear on my own, until a time I was able to carry it once again.

As men it is critical that we find people in our lives that we can open up to and be honest with when we are struggling. Maybe a spouse, significant other, friend, or family member. We need to be able to ask for help from people who understand this is not a sign of weakness but an act a strength.

I love this quote below from Brene Brown as she talks about the importance of being there for your spouse or loved one when they are struggling and willing to open up to you:

"Show me a woman who can hold space for a man in real fear and vulnerability, and I will show you a woman who has learned to embrace her own vulnerability, and who doesn't derive her power or status from that man. Show me a man who can sit with a woman in real fear and vulnerability, and just hear her struggle, without trying to fix it or give advice, and I will show you a man who is comfortable with his own vulnerability, and doesn't derive his power from being Oz, the all-knowing and all-powerful."

As flawed and broken humans, we need to find people like that in our lives who we can open up to. And at the same time we need to be that person for others in our lives. We all need each other.

So that is what I am trying to do. In my life and in these writings. I want to normalize this conversation. To say we all hurt and we all struggle sometimes. To say especially to my fellow men, don’t be a chinchilla. When life goes to hell, and it will, reach out for help. Open up. Find someone you can speak to. A friend, a family member, a loved one, a counselor.

You are not weak to admit that you struggle. Quite the opposite. It takes extreme courage to be vulnerable, to be open, to be honest.

Sometimes every one of us needs someone to care for us, to help us get through a life crushing time, to syringe feed us pineapple juice to break up the hairball in our heart, mind, or soul.

Don’t be a chinchilla.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Confessions of a Geek Dad

A little over ten years ago, I went from being a father of one to a father of four in one day. I had gotten married for a second time, which brought three young boys into my life, at that time ages two, four, and six. For the adventure I was about to walk into I could have said “Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy” both literally and figuratively.

On one hand, I was not so worried. After all I was already a father, and I felt quite a successful one at that. I had my teenage daughter from my earlier marriage, and in all honesty she had been a joy to raise. She was smart, talented, funny, and mature. This should be a piece of cake. One well mannered daughter couldn’t be too different from three small boys. Right?

Well on the other hand though, this was different. I realized this wasn’t my daughter. These were three boys, and I questioned if I was the right person for the task.

You see, I really did not have much of a father myself. I am sad to say that my dad was an alcoholic who spent very little time with me, made my life a nightmare when he was around, and then died when I was eleven years old. I was a boy without a father. How could I possibly be a father to these boys.

Growing up I didn’t have anyone to teach me the ways of being a man. I did not have a dad with which to shoot hoops, or shoot deer, or shoot the bull. There was no father to explain how a car works and how to keep it working (I have since discovered quite unfortunately that oil is very important.)

I did do my best to pick up what I could from father-figures in my life.  I learned hard work from the dairy farmer I worked for in the summers, commitment from my cross country coach, wit and humor from my brother-in-law, and gentle strength from our aging pastor.

Still though anyone who knows me now, knows I am a nerd. I am a geek. I am a sci-fi watching, video game playing, computer programming dweeb. I rarely watch sports. I care little for cars (as any vehicle I have owned will attest). The closest I come to hunting is searching for meat at the grocery store. So how could I give these three boys what they need?

Over the years that I ended up having the boys in my life, I am happy to say my fears were unfounded. I learned a lot about what it means to be a father to boys, including the following three reasons that prove no matter who you are, you are the person your sons need.

You don’t have to know all the guy stuff

I found out quickly that the activities I thought were requirements of being a guy, were actually just some of many options. For example, you don’t have to know all the rules to all the sports to play with your boys. I could play catch in the front yard, shoot baskets in the driveway, wrestle on the living room floor, or do the ever-popular steamroller on the backyard trampoline. Boys just want to play. And tackle. And crash. It is true when they say little boys are all afterburner and no rudder. I just tried to keep up.

You can learn along with the boys

I also discovered that no matter how little I knew about sports and tools and cars, pre-school children know even less. The great thing about having kids is the chance to be a kid again yourself, to see life anew through their eyes, and do things you never would have done otherwise. Through the lives of the boys I had the chance to make pinewood derby cars, learn how to play soccer, build a double loft in their bedroom, start campfires in the backyard, and snow board down the neighbor’s hill (although maybe not such a good idea after a certain age).

You can share what you do know

And finally, rather than being concerned about what you don’t know, share with your sons the things you are passionate about. It turns out that Carter loved going into work with me in the summer to fix our schools’ computers and I even taught him how to re-image a lab all by himself. My passion for sci-fi and fantasy translated into a love for Doctor Who with the boys running through the house pretending the Slim Jims they were holding were sonic screwdrivers. And even my strange sense of humor rubbed off on the boys as eventually I got more laughs and less odd looks when I would share my dinner table jokes (“Hey boys, how do you make a Pumpkin Roll? Push it down a hill!”)

As the years have gone on, much has continued to change. Unfortunately that marriage came to an end, but I am so happy to say the boys are still in my life. Sure, it is different, but life is always different and always will be. I still see them, still send them corny Dad jokes, and am so amazed to watch them grow up into the men they will be.

And my daughter has now made me into a grandpa! It is so wonderful to be Papa to my grandson and granddaughter. I am so looking forward to everything I will get to teach them, and everything they will teach me.

In the end being a man does not really mean sports and tools and cars and hunting and inappropriate scratching. It means hard work and commitment and compassion and guidance and laughter and a sense of adventure. Well, and inappropriate scratching too.

Thankfully no matter who you are, these are the things you can do for your boys.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Happy Palentine’s Day!

Do you remember Valentine’s Day when you were back in elementary school?

I remember going to the local store to pick out a big box of Valentine’s cards, most likely Star Wars themed (the original Star Wars, that is, as I was in elementary school in the 70’s). Then at home I would fill out each card, one for every member of my class, boys and girls, and of course the one big card in the pack that was for my teacher. At school we would have our party and I would get a card from all of my classmates.

Then over the years something changed.

As we all got older, we no longer received a card from everyone in our class. Instead Valentine’s Day transformed into a holiday for us and a significant other. Some years I had someone special in my life. Other years I didn’t.

And that is certainly fine. Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to do something special for your significant other, to celebrate your relationship, and to say you love them.

But it doesn’t have to be just that.

Many people around the world are single, and Valentine’s Day can be anything from insignificant to awkward to actually a painful day. However, even if you don’t have a sweetheart, you can still celebrate with…

Palentine’s Day!

Just like back in elementary school, we can take this day to let everyone in our lives know that we appreciate their friendship. I know there are so many people who are important to me, who share a laugh, or share an ear, or share the many moments of life.

  • Family members near and far
  • People I work with
  • Friends I have made through conferences
  • Even folks I only know “digitally” and have still never met in person

Certainly this is something we should do everyday in our lives, but it is helpful to get this friendly reminder to remind our friends how much we appreciate them.

And even if you do have a Valentine, you can still have loads of Palentines!

And for those of you who are single, if you are hoping to find love, I truly wish you well! However, I want to make sure that you are reminded of a few things. Although having a significant other is a wonderful thing…

  • You are not half a person. 
  • You are not a puzzle missing a piece.
  • You are whole!
  • All by yourself you are an infinitely valuable person.

And it is when we realize and embrace the fact that we are a whole person, then we can have the most healthy, interdependent relationships with others, whatever those relationships may be.

So this year, I will be celebrating Palentine’s Day, and encourage you to do so as well. Take some time to let the people in your life know they are important to you. To help out with this, I have created a few simple sample Palentine’s Day cards below that you are certainly welcome to download and send along to your friends (sorry, there are no Star Wars cards). Better yet, make your own with Google Drawings (like I did) or you favorite graphics tool.

And a big thank you ... to you! Thanks for being my friend and making my life richer. Happy Palentine’s Day!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Level Up

When you are going through a difficult time, or dealing with a painful loss, or facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge, people try their best to offer words of encouragement. We all do it, and we all really mean well, even when we struggle to find the right thing to say.

Often we will share something positive and hopeful such as:

Hang in there, it will get easier.

It will all work out in the end.

Things will get better.

Now if you are struggling and hurting, I certainly hope all of those things turn out to be true. But I don’t want to lie to you. Unfortunately sometimes it doesn’t get easier. Sometimes life doesn’t work out. Sometimes things just don’t get better.

Thankfully though there is still hope. There is a chance for change. Just maybe not the change we are thinking of.

As usual, since I am a bit of a nerd, my inspiration for understanding this comes from something a bit geeky… video games.

Back in 2004 the greatest video game ever created was released. World of Warcraft. (Please direct any objections to I had played several MMO’s before (From Everquest to Toontown) but I had never seen anything so immersive and expansive as this virtual world.

I created a human paladin, an awesome mixture of might, magic, and holy defender of all that is right. As I ventured around the starting zone of Elwynn Forest, I easily defeated candle-headed Kobolds in the mines, fought gurgling Murlocs by the lake, and collected lots of bundles of wood. Everything was going perfectly.

Then I met Hogger.

Hogger was a level 11 gnoll, the chieftan of the Riverpaw pack. The quest to defeat Hogger is a legendary task in World of Warcraft because for many players it was the first time in the game we actually came across a significant threat. You see, Hogger was “Elite” (with that special embellishment around his portrait) meaning he was much more powerful than anything else at that level.

I died. A lot.

Time and time again I tried to defeat Hogger, and time and time again I found myself respawning from the nearby graveyard.

Eventually I was able to complete the quest, most likely with the help of several other people who joined in the battle to assist. However, like many other players, in my mind Hogger became an enemy of legend, a creature to be feared.

And then I kept playing and moved on to explore Westfall and the Redridge Mountains and Stranglethorn Vale and on and on. And then something strange happened.

From time to time I would have an occasion to pass through Elwynn Forest again, probably going to or from Stormwind, and sometimes I would think of Hogger. Eventually I decided to visit him again. As I rode my horse along the road toward his hill I could feel that old dread and fear mounting up inside me, remembering all of the times he had killed me. When I finally got to Hogger, I attacked.

He was dead in a few seconds.


So what had happened? Hogger had not changed. He was still the same level 11 elite monster he had always been. Something else had changed.

I had changed. I was stronger, with exponentially more health points. I was smarter, having mastered dozens of new powerful and devastating spells. I was better.

Sometimes our challenges in life are a lot like Hogger. I truly wish I could say things you face will get better, but unfortunately that is not always true.

  • It is possible the doctors will not find a cure for your illness.
  • It may be that the person you love will not come back.
  • You might battle anxiety or depression the rest of your life.
  • The memories will always be there.

Things may not change. But you can change. Just like leveling up a video game character we can become stronger, smarter, and better.

Like my paladin, sometimes we level up by going on a quest. We may need to move out of our comfort zone, and try something new that stretches us and gives us a new perspective on life.

Other times we level through grinding. In the game that would be the often tedious tasks of battling dozens of low level beasts or collecting loads of resources for a vendor in town. In life grinding can simply mean pulling ourselves out of bed and facing one more day, moving forward one step at a time, not giving up.

We can…
  • Connect with people who love and support us, who will listen without judgement, but speak with honesty.
  • Find things that build us up, whether it be running, meditation, music, painting, or more.
  • Learn about ourselves and where we are broken and work toward rewriting unhealthy mindsets and destructive habits.
  • Value ourselves and take care of our bodies and minds.

And little by little, day by day, we get stronger. We learn about who we are. We grow.

The world around us may not change. We may still continue to face the same problems and the same pain. But when we do, we can face them as a new person, with a different mindset, perspective, and resolve.

Sometimes it doesn't get easier. You get stronger.

Sometimes life doesn't work out. You work through it.

Sometimes things don't get better. You get better.

Monday, January 28, 2019

You Shouldn’t Be Here

You shouldn’t be here. I don’t mean specifically here reading this blog post (I am glad you are). I mean you shouldn’t be here, like, at all.

You shouldn’t exist.

Back in 2011 author Ali Binazir tried to determine the probability that any specific person would ever come to be. Although an exact calculation would not be possible, he did an impressive job making an estimate.

For example, just take your conception. Your mother had around 100,000 eggs throughout her lifetime. During the years you could have been made, your father would have created about 4 trillion sperm. So the chances that the exact egg and the precise sperm came together to make you would be 1 in 400 quadrillion.

That is 1 in 400,000,000,000,000,000!

But that is just you. The same thing needed to happen for your specific parents to be born. And their parents. And their parents. And so on and so on. You get the picture. When all of these and other factors were combined, Binazir came up with his final estimation. The probability of you existing, the specific unique you that is you, came out to be:

1 in 102,685,000

That is a 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeros! To put that is some perspective there are only 1080 atoms in the entire universe. (For more details, there is a copy of the infographic made from Binazir’s data at the bottom of this post.)

Mathematically speaking the odds of you existing are virtually zero. You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t exist.

But here you are reading this blog. So what does that mean? Does that make you special? Is this the spot where I go on about how you are a unique snowflake. Well… not exactly.

To help clear this up we need to understand probability a little better. Back when I was teaching middle school math I would often use coins, dice, or playing cards to help illustrate chance. Let’s take this ridiculously large problem and make a much simpler, but similar, version to explain the situation.

Let’s say you roll a single die. What is the chance you would get a "6"? Well there are six sides to a die with numbers from "1" to "6", so you should roll a "6" one out of every six tries, or 1/6 as a fraction.

What if we roll a second die. What is the probability of getting a "6" on one die and another "6" on the other die? Well both are a 1/6 chance, and we multiply the probabilities to get the chance for the combined event. That would be 1/36 or a 1 in 36 chance of getting two "6's".

We can keep extending this out with more and more dice. To keep it simple let’s just stay we use five dice, like playing Yahtzee. What is the probability of rolling five "6's"? Well it is 1/6 times 1/6 times 1/6 times 1/6 times 1/6. That ends up being a chance of 1 in 7,776. Not very likely.

If you roll 6-6-6-6-6 it feels really cool, doesn’t it? Like you have done something very difficult, extremely rare, and intrinsically special.

Well, hang on.

What if you roll 2-5-1-4-2. Doesn’t seem very special at all, does it? But what is the chance of rolling those five numbers? Well each has a 1 in 6 chance, so getting those five numbers would also be a probability of 1 in 7,776.

Just like 1-6-4-5-5 or 6-2-4-1-3 or 4-4-1-5-1 or on and on and on. If you roll five dice you are going to get five numbers. That is a 100% probability (unless you lose some dice under the couch or something.) There’s nothing inherently special about 6-6-6-6-6. It is just one of the many equally likely outcomes.

So what does this have to do with you and me and everyone we meet?

Well, it is like the universe rolled a trillion dice. And you are what came up.

As long as the dice were rolled (that is, kids were had by your parents and their parents and their parents and so on and so on) someone would be the current end result. In this roll, that someone just happens to be you.

So what’s that mean? Does that mean you aren’t special? No, not at all. We are all very special for many different reasons. What I am saying is this is not what MAKES you special.

The fact that you have a 1 in a bajillion chance of being alive, that the odds of your existence are virtually zero, that you shouldn’t be here at all, none of that makes you special. It makes you something else.

It makes you fortunate.

Out of the near infinite possibility of people that could have existed, you are the one who gets to be alive. You didn’t do anything to make it happen, to earn it, or to deserve it. You just got it. YOU get to live!

You won the life lottery. You got the golden ticket to the ultimate Willy Wonka factory. For such a brief moment, a mere 80 to 100 years out of the billions of years in time, you got the chance that countless others did not. To be alive.

To live and learn and laugh. To love and lose and love again. To wonder and discover and to still be amazed. To create and give and take a risk. To let your voice be heard. To make the world a better place.

So stop.

For a moment, just stop right where you are. Just breathe, deeply. Just be quiet and still. Feel your heart beating within you. Remember… you are alive. You are so, so, so incredibly, infinitely fortunate to exist. Don’t lose that. Don't forget it. Don't waste it.

It is so easy to get distracted and discouraged. We can get so caught up in trying to win at the game of life, that we forget we already won the greatest possible prize. We simply get to play it. I have been trying, and failing, but trying to do this in my life. To pause and just be. To exist in the moment and see the beauty all around. To cherish the fleeting days I have. To see past the challenges of life, and remember the joy of living.

There is a beautiful line from the song “Saturn” by the band Sleeping At Last that always breaks through my funk and reminds me just how lucky I am:

"With shortness of breath, I'll explain the infinite
How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist"

Don't forget that you are so, so fortunate. You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t exist. You shouldn’t be alive. But you are.

So... live!

(Watch the video version below.)

Monday, December 31, 2018

My Silver Linings

2018 was a tough year.

One year ago, at the end of 2017, I made an end-of-year video showing all of the places we had gone as a family, the activities we had done, and the experiences we had shared.

It is now one year later and very little in my life looks the same. Still though I wanted to make an end-of-year video again this year. Yes my life is different, but I am still alive. Life has moved forward one day at a time, and despite loss and sadness and pain, there has been healing and growth and wonderful moments along the way.

The challenge with any end-of-year video is picking the right song. With my big beard I am required by law to listen only to hipster music, so I chose a song I love from the band First Aid Kit, a Swedish folk duo (you have probably never heard of them). The song is “My Silver Lining” and some of the lyrics feel like they were taken straight from my life:

I've woken up in a hotel room
My worries as big as the moon
Having no idea who or what or where I am

I definitely have had my share of hotel rooms this year, as my training and consulting has taken me to 19 states all across the country and even a couple of places in Canada. It is probably different for everyone, but when I go through a difficult time, the mornings are always the hardest. I think it is because I have not had time to get my defenses up for the day, and am hit full force with the cold, hard reality of what I am facing. There’s been a lot of that this year. And a lot of trying to figure out who I am.

Something good comes with the bad
A song's never just sad
There's hope, there's a silver lining

Yes, it has been a very difficult year. There are many things I have lost and that I miss and will probably continue to miss for a long time. But there are also things I have found. There has been good along the way.

  • I have met so many amazing people during my travels this year. New friendships have begun and old friendships have deepened.
  • I have gone places and had experiences I never had before, from the tranquility of Stanley Park in Vancouver, to the dazzling Christmas lights along the Riverwalk of San Antonio, to the Skyline Caverns of Virginia, to the quaint Jello Museum of Le Roy, New York, and so many more.
  • I have played with my beautiful grandson, and felt my heart leap as he looked me in the eyes and joyfully exclaimed “Pa Pa!”
  • I have learned to embrace and enjoy life just for life. To see the beauty all around me. To be at peace with myself.
  • And I grew a big beard.

Show me my silver lining
I try to keep on keeping on

And so I have and will keep moving forward, one day at a time, looking for and finding the silver linings all around. And they are there. Yes, life is challenging and unpredictable and painful, but it also has joy and beauty and wonder. We need to look for, embrace, and celebrate these silver linings.

My end-of-year video for 2018 shares some of these wonderful moments from my life this year. Thank you to everyone who was a part of my life this year in any way! You helped more than you may ever know.