Memorial Day Walk with Heroes – Respect Their Sacrifice and Each Other

Memorial Day Honoring Tuskegee Airmen
Memorial Day Honoring Tuskegee Airmen

I just finished watching my favorite annual show – The National Memorial Day Concert.  But this year it was different.  Unlike other years, the show was not live in front of a large crowd because of the current pandemic.  Despite being apart, the stories, speeches, and songs of the soldiers that sacrificed their lives for this country served to unite.  And served to remind us we are all in this together.  Also, how important it is to respect the sacrifice of our fallen by being kind to each other and working together to defeat today’s silent enemy. 

I believe one of the most improbable goals in human history was undertaken by our founding fathers and mothers when they established this country.  A country formed for the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But the experiment is fragile.  Too often in today’s time, we do not listen to our fellow Americans.  To see their side and to honor their equal right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  Indeed, there is too much me and not enough us.  And it is a disgrace to the sacrifices that these brave service men and women gave.  They gave all for us.  Can’t we honor their memory by at least listening to the ideas of our fellow Americans and engage in Civil Discourse?

We all must endeavor to see in shades of grey.  To listen with open ears and understand what the other side is saying to honor the memories of our fallen.  Indeed, it is fitting that the uniform of the United States Military Academy is Grey.  Life is seldom Black and White.  It is grey!  And it is our responsibility to diligently discern the grey by nurturing this fragile dream of democracy and listening to our fellow Americans.   To hear a compelling podcast on this topic from a guy pleading to you as I do, listen to Dan Carlin’s Common-Sense podcast linked here Common Sense – Shades of Grey.

A few years back, I walked 50 miles in honor of Veterans.  It at the time seemed an “improbable goal”.  But what is more improbable, is that a citizenry of people of every creed and race giving their lives for a single idea.  So today as a plea for all of us to get along and work together to defeat this pandemic, I take you through a virtual 50-mile walk with each 10-mile marker in honor of the fallen in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.

Mile Marker 0 to 10.  Army.  Col. Richard (Dick) McEvoy.   I will start with the person that I know best.  Richard (Dick) McEvoy, USMA class of 1980, was KIA in Afghanistan on August 22nd, 2015 while training the Afghani police. He was a contractor with DynCorp after serving 28 years in the service. Col McEvoy (then Captain) and I served together. He was the epitome of the USMA motto: Duty, Honor, and Country. He was the S-3 and I was the S-2. I also worked with him when he was the Commander of A Company. His company always got the highest scores in inspections and had astounding Esprit de Corps. I looked up to Dick and he was a role model as a calm, no nonsense commander that balanced mission and troops.  He went on to train other soldiers as the Commander of the National Training Center.   Here’s more about Col. McEvoy here McEvoy Memorial

Mile Marker 10 to 20. Navy. LAUREL BLAIR SALTON CLARK, M.D. (CAPTAIN, USN), NASA ASTRONAUT.  Service is not confined to battle in wars, but also advancing the cause of freedom through the courageous act of exploration.  Captain Clark perished in Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 while reentering the earth’s orbit.  I remember it like it was yesterday since she perished near Palestine, Texas where the Space Shuttle broke apart upon reentry.  She advanced the US Space mission by conducting over 80 experiments.  She also had a distinguished career in the Navy prior to her mission.  Her squadron won the Marine Attack Squadron of the year for its successful deployment.  She represents the brave women that defend our country and advance the cause of freedom.  Nearly 200 women have been KIA in Afghanistan and Iraq alone.  Read more about Captain Clark here Captain Clark

Mile Marker 20 to 30. Coast Guard. Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Brandt Bruckenthal. The Coast Guard is a crucial branch of the Armed Services. They defend our country and embark on humanitarian missions that serve our country and advance our image. Petty Officer Bruckenthal was a damage controlman, who with two U. S. Navy sailors were killed in the line of duty while conducting maritime intercept operations in the North Arabian Gulf.

Bruckenthal and six other coalition sailors attempted to board a small boat near the Iraqi Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal. As they boarded the boat, it exploded. Bruckenthal later died from the wounds he sustained in the explosion.  Bruckenthal was the first Coast Guard member killed in action since the Vietnam War.  His service as well as others in the Coast Guard such as our family friends the Lawrence’s advance the cause of freedom by defending our coasts.  Read more here about Petty Officer Bruckenthal here Petty Officer Bruckenthal

Mile Marker 30 – 40.  Marines.  Ira Hayes.  Ira Hayes was a Pima Native American who was immortalized both in the statue in Washington as he lifted the flag on Iwo Jima during WWII but also in one of my favorite songs by Johnny Cash called the Ballad of Ira Hayes linked here Ballad of Ira Hayes.   Ira did not die on the hills of Iwo Jima but back in the country he defended.  He represents all the Veterans that defend us with all their hearts, guts and souls but when they return we do not care for them adequately or honor their sacrifice.  He is memorialized in a statue; let us remember him in our hearts and our actions as we care for the cause of the Native Americans.

Mile Marker 40 – 50.  Air Force (Army Air Corps).  The fallen of the Tuskegee Airmen.  The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African-American military pilots (fighter and bomber) who fought in World War II. They formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces.  They have been immortalized in the movie Red Tails and they went on to produce 3 Generals in the Air Force – Daniel James was appointed a brigadier general by President Nixon for keeping his cool in the face of Qaddafi’s troops, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the original commander of the 332nd Fighter Group and the first black general in the U.S. Air Force and Lucius Theus, who retired a major general after dedicating most of his 36-year career in the Air Force.  They were one of the most decorated units in WW II and had an amazing record against the German Luftwaffe.  This group of the first African American Aviators fought valiantly in WW II even though they did not have rights in the Jim Crow South.    66 of the 450 Tuskegee Airmen lost their lives in WW II, dying for a country that did not accept them in some areas.  Read more about the importance of memorializing these great Americans and others on Memorial Day here in a letter from the Tuskegee Airman Institute President Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Letter.

Our journey of 50 miles on Memorial Day demonstrates the resilience and sacrifice of the men and women of this nation.  Immigrant or native, white or black, men and women -each gave the ultimate sacrifice.  The least we can do on this Memorial Day is to listen to one another with respect and support this fragile goal of Democracy!  We are all brothers and sisters with one idea – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  So, the least we can do is to love and understand one another!

The Secret

Every day, bit by bit, the secret we reveal,
In every moment, in every thought, in all we feel.
As we try to guard, our soul leaks out,
In drips and drabs, in whispers and shouts.
And with every step, we drown with doubts.

What are lies? What is true?
Where to run? What to do?
Who to trust? What to defend?
And how does this mystery end?

As we discern what to let go and protect ,
In this world we try so hard to dissect,
We spy that discovery is hidden,
the final answer we seek is lost; forbidden.

So, with our last heartbeat and final breath,
We find we must love to reach beyond death.

Bad Times Are Coming

Bad times are coming, and may be already here,
So, bend your back, carry the cross, and prepare to shed a tear.
Good times have come and went, with all the games we played,
We lost our bearing and our hope, as from God we strayed.

Bad times are coming, I am worried that it’s true,
We threaten life and forsake love, with the things we do,
We turn away from nature, and think we rule the world,
It’s a wonder God still loves us, with all the sins we hurled!

Bad times are coming, it is time to take a stand,
We’re off the path, we went astray, in the schemes we planned.
It’s time to stop and listen, to our soul and to our heart,
Before the lies of the deceiver, tears us all apart.

Washington’s Rules of Civility Revisited for Today

George Washington when he was 16 wrote out 110 rules of civility to guide his life. Washington originally wrote down the rules presumably as an exercise in penmanship but later committed them to practice and memory. They helped develop the decorum, civility, and courage that guided Washington through war and the birth of this nation. You can read the Washington’s Rules of Civility here Washington’s Rules

The rules originally composed by French Jesuit priests in 1565 range from the practical to the profound.  At the root of the rules is respect and civility toward friend and foe.  Rule 1 lays this idea out perfectly with the words:  “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present”.  Many currently in the public sphere would do well to take this rule to heart!

Most of the rules have application today.  One of them that I found particularly compelling is Rule 18:  “Read no letters, books, or papers in company but when there is a necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave: come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them unless desired or give your opinion of them unasked also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.” 

The letters, books, and papers in Washington’s time are the cell phones, twitter feeds and social media today.  Here is a brief update of Rule 18 refined for today’s technology.  “Do not look at your cell phone or multitask while in the company of others, whether it be in person or Zoom.  Put your cell phone in silence mode and only look at it in an emergency after asking permission.  Do not stalk or gaslight your colleagues on social media.  If your opinion differs, comment in a civil tone grounded in fact!” Let’s break it down further.

1.  Put Your Cell Phone Down.  We are tempted to pull out our cell phones at the drop of a hat.  Many of our conversations become nothing more than a battle of dueling cell phones.  With information at our fingertips, it is even more important to listen with full attention to your colleague, instead of trying to one up them with the trending twitter feeds.  Washington knew the importance of being attentive even when the equivalent to today’s social media posts were the dueling pamphlets of competing patriots!

2.  Do not stalk, talk.   It is easy today to form a preconceived opinion of someone from stalking their social media feed or what others say about them online.  It is also possible to ruin a person’s reputation by adding fire to gossip or rumor.  Instead of forming an opinion from second-hand thoughts or unclarified comments, build your judgement of a person’s thoughts and character through direct dialogue. Peering into one’s media presence out of context is like ‘looking nigh when another is writing a letter’ in Washington’s time.  Look not nigh, look them in the eye!

3.  Guard Your Opinions with Reason and Civility.  It is easy to react with emotion when someone writes something you disagree with on social media.  Resist the urge to do so.  If you feel you must post your opinion, do so factually and civilly.  Better yet, pick up a phone or meet the person you disagree with to understand the context.  I recognize there are times when the other person may have not acted with respect or is gaslighting you.  Resist the urge to fight fire with fire.  Instead dowse the fire with the cool water of reason and civility.

Rule 18 is just 1 of Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility.  Most still resonate today.  For example, just think how better off some politicians would have been if they followed rule 2:  “2. When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body, not usually discovered.”  Some of them may be of a bygone era but not many!  I encourage you to read Washington’s Rules of Civility.   What the world needs now is more civility, respect, and courtesy.

A Wandering Path To You

I am not worthy, but I’ll try,

Moving forward till I die,

Though I misstep along the way,

I get closer day by day,

To life as you meant it to be,

Loving, blessed and Holy.

I don’t deserve it, but I call,

To catch me when I fall,

To bring me home again,

In your presence, out of Sin,

With a heart meek and true,

In your paradise anew.

Jesus please hear my plea,

Remove the darkness, and let me see,

The path that I should take,

And the one that I should forsake,

On my wandering path to you,

And the mission I’m meant to do.

Christmas in Crosswicks

Christmas is meant for community. We are brought together each year by the light that came into the world.  This joy is to be shared among friends, family, and neighbors!   

I remember sharing this joy and love in my hometown of Crosswicks, NJ.  I have written two other blogs on Crosswicks linked here if you want to read more.   American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise A Penny A Minute, A Lifetime of Lessons

I decided to write this blog after seeing several pictures of my old hometown from my childhood and current friend, Katherine Caldwell.  Other pictures are in the video at the end, also produced by Katherine Caldwell with a new song to an old tune from me.  But the one below of Main Street blanketed in snow got me dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks.

Crosswicks in Snow image by Katherine Caldwell

I never tire of thinking of Christmas in my hometown.   The snow glistening in the trees.  The 100+ year old Christmas tree bursting into light!  Neighbors singing Christmas Carols around a bonfire and later warming themselves with hot apple cider.  The candlelight service in the 200-year-old Quaker Meeting House.    There are four main reasons Christmas in Crosswicks is special and makes the holiday shine brighter.   

1. Christmas in Crosswicks is Historic!  Crosswicks was settled by Quaker immigrants back in 1677.  Christmas celebrations and worship have been ongoing ever since.  The Quaker Meeting House that still stands and holds the annual Candlelight service each Christmas was built in 1773.    This years’ service went virtual except for the musicians due to COVID on Dec. 20, keeping the tradition unbroken. 

The Christmas of 1776 is particularly noteworthy. Crosswicks was occupied by Colonial troops of  General Cadwallader in preparation for the historic Battle of Trenton which one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War.   

I am also proud that despite Covid, Crosswicks celebrated the 101st lighting of the large Christmas tree that sits in the Quaker fields near the Community House.  To see the magic, look at this link for this year’s virtual ceremony.  Crosswicks Christmas Tree Lighting.  

One last historic Christmas moment relates to a historic building that was three buildings down from my home.  Brick’s Mincemeat Factory was built in 1879 and until 1968 was the state’s largest producer of mincemeat.  It is now a historical building but still holds special memories of the mincemeat pies we had each Christmas. Read more here – Brick’s Mincemeat Factory

The historic nature of Christmas in Crosswicks makes it special but not necessarily unique.  I encourage all in this unprecedented year to learn more about the history of your town related to Christmas. 

2. Sharing of Faith and Fellowship. Crosswicks had diversity when it comes to faith and denomination.  I already mentioned that the city was founded by Quakers and the Candlelight service at the Quaker Meeting House is a fixture of the holiday season.  But one of the things that I remember most about the holiday season is learning about Hanukkah at my elementary school each year.  I still remember the dreidel song taught to us by one of my friend’s mother. Also, that Hanukkah was the Festival of Light represented by the menorah. 

We also had the United Methodist Church which was attended by my good friend.  I would sing with her father, a retired Methodist minister, songs like Go Tell it on the Mountain that we did not normally sing in my Catholic Church.  We also had the historic Grace African Methodist Episcopal Church organized in 1868 located 3 buildings down the street from my house.   The church was  the first African American denomination organized and incorporated in the United States. I remember the Christmas hymns of joy echoing forth from the Church.  We of Crosswicks were of different faiths and denominations but we shared our beliefs and joy openly during the season

3. Joining in Civil Community.  We also joined each holiday season in civil community.  Each year our family joined our fellow “Crosswicksians” in the annual bonfire and Christmas Tree lighting.  We would all circle the tree at the Community Center and sing Christmas Carols both secular and religious.  Voices rising together as one community we sang of hope and love! Later we drank hot apple cider and ate donuts as we shared fellowship about the encroaching holiday Season.  To close the day, Santa Claus would ride on the back of the firetruck and toss candy to all of us.  It was all a kid could want!

4.  Exploring the Wonders of Winter with Friends.  After all that candy, cider, and donuts, we needed an outlet to burn off the calories.  Our rural town (imagine that in Jersey) offered a wealth of options in the winter month.  No Netflix for us!  We grabbed our skates and went skating on the Frog Pond behind the library or better, yet we sled down “the Hill” behind the old Firehouse.   I remember leaving the house at 8 am on some days and not returning until 9 PM.  The only break would be a grape soda and some candy at Applegate’s Market. 

We even exercised when getting our Christmas Trees.  No Papa Noel’s or Walmart for us.  We went with our Dad to cut down a tree at Nicholson’s Tree Farm.  I am envious of my cousin since she still lives down the street. 

In closing, Christmas in Crosswicks was full of faith, fellowship and fun.  That is why some forty years later, I am still dreaming of Christmas in the Crosswicks.  You may be dreaming of Christmas in your hometown.  Christmas in the year of Covid just feels different from those of the past.  We are asked to remain apart and not to congregate.  And when we are not standing apart, we are sometimes ripping each other apart with cutting remarks. 

For all, the light of Christmas may seem a bit dimmer this year.  And, despite our best efforts to set our homes alight like the Griswold’s, we cannot capture the brightness of a smile or the warmth of a human touch.  Light does not come from a bulb! Rather it comes from hearts joined with the joy of Christmas! 

I think God and nature conspired to replicate the Christmas star this Solstice, 2020 to remind us that when two planets conjoin their lights, the heavens are brighter.  Let us conspire, like my neighbors in Crosswicks, to virtually cross our wicks to bring the light of hope! Let us share the spark of humanity with each other to break the isolation of Covid and the rancor of rivalry! 

We may not be able to be together in real time this year, but we can strive to be together virtually.  Reach out to old friends on Zoom.  Say a prayer for someone in need.  Donate to a charity.  And most of all honor the light that has come into the world with worship and kindness for all.  And until next year, I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks.  Let me close with a song.  

The lyrics are below:

Photos by Katherine Caldwell, lyrics and sung by Don Grier to tune of White Christmas

Christmas in Crosswicks

I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks,

Just like the ones I used to know,

Where people got together,

In all kinds of weather,

To watch the Christmas tree aglow!

I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks,

And the bonfires in the night,

May all your memories be bright,

And when we cross the wicks with neighbors, we bring more light!

Waking Up to Your Why

Each morning I wake up with a why in my heart and head; sometimes two!  What is a why?  A “why” is the motivation for taking on something difficult and the purpose for doing so.  A why drives you forward even when you feel you can’t go on.  Why’s are imperative to change a bad habit or get out of a rut.

I did not always have a why nearby.  I did not have an overall cause or purpose from 2007 to 2014.  I wandered without a why, for those seven years.  In the process, I gained over 100 pounds, lost my drive, and in general was a bear to be around.  The years of wandering without a why are described in this blog: Fit to Fat: Lessons Learned While Doubling My Weight

Then three things hit simultaneously at the end of 2014 that got me back on track. First, I learned that I had a serious health issue caused in part by my weight.  Second, I received an invite to my 30th West Point Reunion.  Third, I received a discount to Weight Watchers (now WW) through my company.  The three combined to develop that first why.  I decided to lose weight and increase fitness to look presentable for my 30th reunion and regain my health!

I was introduced to the power of “why” at Weight Watchers and have expanded my understanding through my own story and experience.  Here are 4 things you need to implement your unique why.

1.  Visualize Your Why.   It is important to have a visual representation as to the outcome you want to obtain.  A visual representation serves to remind you why you are making the change and helps to keep you motivated when times get tough.  One way to do that is to create a Vision Board; a series of pictures and text snippets that visualize your goal. 

Below you see the visual representation of my first “why” that I created at WW on the Hay House Vision Board app (located here Hay House Vision Board).  I wanted to do two things as represented in this Vision Board: to lose weight to look decent for my reunion and to get healthy in memory of my parents.  Pictures include my company from West Point, a picture of my parents, my WP graduation picture, a picture at near peak weight with a classmate, an image of my family, and me working out in support of my mission!  I topped it all off with my class moto “For Excellence We Strive, 85”. 

I looked at the Vision Board each day.  It drove forward when times got tough.  I looked at it after getting through TSA with my CPAP machine, so I could get good rest on a work trip.  Or when hitting the hotel gym at 9 PM after work.  Or when avoiding a beer and eating vegetables at the concierge lounge.  Slowly but surely it kept my eye on the prize as I lost 100 lbs. before the reunion.

2.  Adapt Your Why.  Once you obtain one “why”, focus on another.  Whys are not static.  The excellence of today is the mediocrity of tomorrow.  A new reason or mission can drive you on to greater things.  Here are three of my subsequent “Why’s” to show you what I mean.

First, my reunion served to stoke two new motivations.  Having lost 100 pounds, I wanted to lose the other 50+ lbs to achieve Lifetime designation on WW.  Second, I wanted to do something to remember a fellow officer who was lost in Afghanistan by supporting returning Veterans.  Combining the two, I created my second Why that led to the creation of the McEvoy Memorial Walk in support of the Merivis Foundation.  I trained from August to Veterans Day in 2015 to walk 50 miles in one day in support of Merivis and the Young Marines of the Capital Area (read more here Go Big to Get Small – The Art of Improbable Goals ).  In the process, this why drove me to my Lifetime weight goal and raised funding for these worthy organizations.  Here is a YouTube clip on the walk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaaijB9ybX4

My next goal was to maintain my weight and support the children of St. Jude’s by becoming a Certified Spin Instructor and riding the entire 4-hour St. Jude’s Ride for a Reason.  I talk about this motivation in the following blog Spinning is Winning! A Ride for A Reason

Spinning helped me maintain my weight, diversify my exercise regime, help a worthy cause, and gain a new skill.  Now I was ready to play it forward with my current Why.

My current why came about due to two events: a milestone birthday and the ongoing pandemic.  Having been given so much, I wanted to pass it on to others.  I came up with a new acronym for my Why – CRAFT.  The acronym stands for Coach, Religious, Author, Friend, and Teacher.  You can read more about CRAFT here 5 by 5, Rumination on a Milestone

In simple terms, I wake up each day whether in this blog, my continued workouts, or wellness programs paying it forward. It is now my mission to teach others how to heal both their body and soul, especially during this difficult time.  To impart what I have learned through example, stories, and wellness programs.  Read about one such wellness program called Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium here .   

3.  Share your Why.  When you determine your why, do not keep it to yourself.  Share it with friends and family to help prod you on and keep you on track.  The ability to share helps you immensely.  I am grateful both to my WW Round Rock Saturday group and my sister in law Sheri and niece Rachel for creating Facebook groups.  These communities allowed me to share my motivation and progress toward health.  Live and share your why with friends to keep moving forward!

4. Wake Up with Your Why.  I end with the beginning.  Each day you can take concrete steps to wake up with your why.  I accomplish this through journaling and meditation.  I use the Kindness Journal (located here Kindness Journal) to help prompt me along to realizing my why. 

Each day I record three “I am statements” to help me visualize my end goal.  Here is a recent example in pursuit of my current why:  “I am a devoted coach that passes on the lessons that have served me on my health journey to improve the lives of others”.  I also visualize my favorite moment from the day before and list the thing that I will do today to help make the world better.  The journal helps me focus on why I was put on this earth.  Along with meditation in the form of prayer, I remain fixed and progressing towards my why.

In closing, do not wander and wallow in the unknown without a why.  Instead, visualize your why with these four simple tricks and build a better future for yourself and others!

Advent: Love’s Everlasting Kiss

The Mount of Olives

In Advent we wait expectantly for God’s Love Incarnate. Not the gooey eyed love that we experience on a porch swing and a first kiss, but rather the long, hard fought victorious love that endures past a last kiss. The love of a God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son. The Love of our Lord who in the dungeons of Caiaphas, the agony of the Garden, and nailed to the Cross loves us, dies for our sins to be resurrected and gain us a path to Heaven.

The Love of Mary who agrees to bring God into this world and stands there at the foot of the cross. She takes that hard-won love with her to the house of John where she leads the apostles until she is assumed into Heaven and crowned its Queen. The love of a God that endures in the church and the sacrifice of the Saints. The Love despite our faults and sins is coming again to the Mount of Olives!

In closing, this poem came to me as a remembrance for my sister in law. This morning I believe that Love in the form of the Holy Spirit asked me to send this poem at the start of a new liturgical year on the Priesthood and Passion of Jesus:

Love does not come easy,
it’s built in trials,
minute by minute,
day by day.
It is built on sorrow,
As much as hope,
Tears and hardship,
As much as laughter.
It does not flit,
It does not float,
It is SOLID,
and it ENDURES!
Why love then?
It is our purpose and mission,
What we were built for,
What God designed!
Because love does not last,
for a minute or an hour.
It lasts a lifetime,
and through eternity.
So, drive on through the pain,
And strive through the sorrow, And with one last kiss,
Reach for the tomorrow.
And, remember in waiting,
Not the words left spoken or tears,
But the smile and loving eyes,
That resound through the years.